"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 »

The Cavil was glaring angrily at them, his eyes burning red like coals. Dark power crackled around him. "What have you done with the blade, traitor?!"

Gina snarled back. "Don't play me for a fool. It's what you're here for, isn't it?"

"You have betrayed your kind, Gina Inviere," her counterpart hissed. "There is no punishment terrible enough, painful enough, to atone for that."

"I've suffered for my part in our crimes," Gina retorted. "And don't pretend that you have the moral high ground. The Inner Circle's been using the Consensus the entire time, hasn't it? All of it, the idea of God's Plan, the promise of a better world, it was all a lie for this!" She swept her hand to the destruction. "All so you could destroy!"

"The Consensus has its place," the man said. "Now give us Swenya's Blade and Reshan's book, and we'll let you die with the rest."

Gina held up her weapon. There was nowhere Talara could run, but if she got them into a fight, Talara might get an opening to escape with the books. "Come and take them," she challenged.

The orbital space over New Liberty Colony was littered with the broken debris of destroyed vessels, victims of the sudden SS attack. One of the few remaining ships, the Asari cruiser Thelana, unloaded a full salvo from its mass effect cannons into a struggling Sedan-class cruiser. The Reich-designed cruiser suffered from the impacts, losing a weapons emplacement. Phaser fire from the Charleston raked across unshielded hull and a photon torpedo slammed into the cruiser's nacelle, destroying it.

The Thelana maneuvered to finish off the SS vessel. It never got the chance to fire again, however, as three thick disruptor beams from the spinal mount of the SS dreadnought - the Reinhard Heydrich by its ID code - smashed through the Thelana's decayed deflectors and tore the ship to pieces.

On the Aurora bridge Locarno noted the loss of the cruiser. That left just the Aurora, the Excelsior-class Charleston, and the FedCom battlecruiser Melissa Steiner in the fight. They were badly outgunned and outnumbered, but to leave would doom New Liberty Colony to bombardment and destruction, so the three ships remained and fought, hoping for reinforcements.

A series of disruptor beams from two of the accompanying cruisers raked over the Aurora's faltering shields. Syrandi returned fire, sending plasma beams into the weak side of one of the cruisers. The Melissa Steiner's naval PPCs and refitted plasma cannons fired on the other side. Large anti-ship missiles from the Commonwealth ship erupted from launchers on her side. With new impulsor drives on the missiles they raced across the distance faster than the SS ship could handle, their warheads degrading the ship's deflectors to the point they were losing cohesion.

Another of the cruisers moved in, absorbing further shots for their weakened ally. Disruptor beams and shield-disrupting torpedoes retaliated against the FedCom ship. "Melissa Steiner's shields are down to forty percent," Tra'dur stated. The Aurora rocked again. "Our shields now at thirty-five."

'Anything on fleet comms?" Locarno asked.

"Still nothing," Tra'dur replied. "I'm not sure if we're being jammed or if something has overwhelmed the fleet comm system."

That was not news Locarno wished to hear. Three ships against a dreadnought with that many escorts? We're not going to win this. Aloud he ordered, "Maintain evasive maneuvers. Our priority is surviving until help can arrive!"

"Aye aye, sir," Ensign Rawlins said from the helm.

It's still a question of whether we can survive, Locarno mused to himself while the ship rocked again.

Jarod brought the op van to a stop outside of what was left of Colonial Security's vehicle garage. A bomb had wrecked the place, damaging or destroying every vehicle inside and burying the entrance in enough rubble to make getting through an insurmountable challenge. Upon opening the door Jarod heard the distant whine of disruptors firing, joined by the familiar sound of pulse rifles. He scanned the area and shook his head. "No way in," he said. "This entire side of the building's been gutted."

"Then we go around," Angel said. "They'll need every gun. There's no telling how many people they've lost."

Jarod nodded and drove on. Rubble blocked the nearest road, but the sidewalk was not covered. He drove the van over said sidewalk.

After the next turn, the sight of fighting was visible. A line of aircars were covering the entrance to Security HQ, men in combat suits using them for cover while firing green disruptor beams into the building. With only a second to spare before being spotted, Jarod slammed the accelerator on the van. The engine went straight to the maximum output. The vehicle shot forward, anti-gravs whining in effort, toward the blockade line. A couple of the combatants had time to notice them coming. Warnings were shouted, but far too late. The van slammed between two vehicles, clipping two of the armed attackers in the process, and broke through. Keeping control of the van was one of the hardest things Jarod ever did. The impacts and the speed made it begin to tip. He resisted the urge to correct too far, keeping the vehicle balanced until he could spin it to present the driver's side to the blockade. He immediately ducked down and scrambled to the back, where Angel and Tony were jumping out already. A disruptor beam damaged the glass that had been beside his head a second ago. A second went through just as he was out of the way. He joined Cat in exiting the van and scrambling toward the broken-open door to Security HQ. They had to walk over fallen figures in security uniforms to make it. Inside, rifle-carrying security officers helped them to cover.

By that point the van gave up the ghost. Struck too many times by the enemy disruptors, it fell apart, little more than a skeletal frame. Disruptor beams sizzled into the open door of the HQ. Angel and Tony joined the other security figures in cover, joining them in returning fire when able.

"Jarod! Some help?" The cry came from Broots, who was kneeling beside the fallen form of Chief Almerda. The former Colombian police officer had a severe disruptor burn on his right arm and, from what Jarod could see, a neck injury that likely came from the bombing. He scrambled over to help Broots. "I've done what I can," Broots said.

"And it's good," Jarod said, looking over the injury. He summoned up his own medical knowledge to assess Almerda's injuries. "Where's your medic?"

"Dead," Broots said, his voice hoarse. "The bomb took out the garage and administration." He indicated the cut on his head. "I was just coming back from the bathroom. If I'd been a minute faster I'd…"

"Don't think about it."

He nodded. "Debbie," he said. "I can't reach her. They… they sabotaged the comm net somehow."

"Cat?" Jarod gave her a look.

"Right." Cat nodded in reply. She wasn't a computer expert, but if there was jamming from an emissions source, she could find it. She used her omnitool and went to work.

"Debbie's out there, Jarod, and I know she's scared and…"

"...and you'll see her when this is over," Jarod insisted, hoping that he wasn't wrong. "Now, I need to get Chief Almerda stabilized. I'm going to need your help…"

A short distance away, Robert came upon a patrolling unit of SS in the combat uniforms and suits of their Marine detachments. His weapon flashed in the air, deflecting the first shot at him. He allowed no time for them to fire another, sending a wave of violent force outward that threw them into the nearest building violently. His lightsaber literally disarmed the two that got back to their feet. Their cries of pain at their mutilation ended with another jolt that knocked them to the ground, unconscious. He took a second to slice up their weapons.

The Government Building was just a few blocks away. If he encountered no more resistance, he'd be there in minutes. Every sense in him told him that was where he needed to go. But a small part insisted otherwise. Insisted that Julia was in danger and that she needed his help.

But Beth needs me more, he reminded himself. He clenched a fist in revolt at the entire idea. Having to pick either? That seemed like a cruel joke.

But it was no joke, it was necessity. And everything in him told him he needed to go help Beth. To face down Fassbinder. He went on that path. Be safe, Julie, please be safe...

Once out of the Lodge Julia went for somewhere that would lessen the risk that innocents would be caught in the crossfire. Given the situation, the Lake Park was the best bet, and it wasn't too far away. Even if it wasn't an urban environment, the forested paths and the lake were all places she could lose her pursuers in.

She crossed Suun Avenue. As always the name of the street brought her back to those first months in the Facility, and Suun Tek's team being the first of their number to die. We got complacent. And here we are, complacent again. The Nazis got the drive and we never saw it coming!

Julia reacted the moment she heard the scuff of feet against the replicated pavement. The SS man came at her from the nearby alley, weapon raised. With nowhere to go but forward she dropped and lunged. A disruptor beam sizzled an inch over her head, singing some of her blond hair. She crashed into the man and didn't quite knock him off his feet. He was left open to her follow-up strike, a palm strike to his throat that briefly interrupted his breathing. As he started to gag reflexively she hooked her leg under his and brought his foot out from under him, knocking him down. A pulse shot to his chest finished him off.

Julia felt a rush of almost feral joy at her triumph, but it was short-lived. She glanced back and noticed an armed team of SS coming from the direction of the Lodge. They spotted her and shouted a command in German. She replied with a couple shots from her rifle before running for the park.

Lucy and Meridina could feel Intalarai and the others pursuing them as they crossed back toward the Council Hall. They also felt that Gina and Talara were in danger. Both facts prompted them to run as quickly as possible.

What stopped them was the sight outside of the Initiates' Quarter. The round structure was partially damaged from the bombing; in the shadow of the Council Hall, it was one of the less-adorned buildings, being the housing and living quarters for the children admitted to the Order for training. At its great double doors, now sealed, two dark-clad Cylons were melting through the door with their lightsabers.

The two only sensed Lucy and Meridina coming at the last moment. One, the second of the younger Caucasian male models, brought his blade up in challenge. He successfully deflected Meridina's initial attacks, but couldn't get his blade in place to stop Lucy from sliding her blue blade through his guts. He fell over in pain, defeated.

The other Cylon was a model neither had seen before, a brunette Caucasian. She turned away from the door. Lightning crackled from her hand. Lucy's lightsaber intercepted it, holding the energy back. Meridina went in for the attack and was parried. Instead of slashing again, she attacked mentally. The Cylon's brain was partially technology, but there was organic matter too, organic elements, and she was able to identify the vision center and shut it down. The Cylon's lightning stopped as she lost all sight of her foes, suddenly plunged into visual darkness. Her metaphysical senses still functioned, but the sudden loss of vision threw the Cylon off-balance. She could do nothing before Lucy's lightsaber blade went through her chest.

Lucy stood over the Cylons, one critically wounded and one dying, then glanced toward Meridina. "I've never seen you go after someone telepathically like that," she said.

Meridina was paling and nodded. "I have had experiences recently in the possible range of my gifts," she confided. "On Babylon-5. Necessity provided the rest."

Lucy wasn't sure she liked hearing that, but she couldn't argue with the necessity part. Not here and now, with the Great Temple itself a battlefield.

Both turned in time to see Intalarai approach. Far behind her the other dark-robed members of the Brotherhood joined her. "Kill them!" Intalarai hissed to her evident subordinates.

Lucy and Meridina nearly started to run. But they sensed staying would provide the best outcome, so they held their lightsabers ready and prepared to fight. Both met Intalarai, who whirled and twisted between, parrying their strikes one after the other Her lightsaber slashed back, nearly missing Meridina's head one moment, the next singing Lucy's arm through the armor. It was clear she was a strong match for either of them and could fend off both for some time. With three allies, she would have the advantage.

Then there was another snap-hiss. A lightsaber blade of dark purple suddenly went through the torso of one of the approaching attackers. The others turned and were thrown violently away by solid will. Behind them, a red-robed man was now visible.

Meridina sensed him. Sergeant-at-Arms Hajamar, she thought.

The leader of the Temple Knights was already in motion again, his lightsaber flashing through the air. It caught one of the red blades and forced it back, after which he delivered a rib-crunching kick to the black-robed Gersallian attacking him. That one went back down. The one remaining foe on their feet attempted to channel lightning at Hajamar. He contemptuously absorbed it with his hand before gripping his attacker and throwing the dark-robed man into Intalarai. Both went to the ground in a heap.

Lucy favored her injured arm for a moment. "Nice timing," she gasped.

"Fools," Intalarai spat, pushing her ally off. "You've already lost! The time of Swenya's Order is over!" With that declaration Goras' former apprentice seemed to shimmer from sight. Even her essence faded from their senses, as if she wasn't there. The remaining dark-clad figure scrambled to his feet and started to run, but Meridina put him to sleep with a mental command that pierced his mental defenses. He collapsed to the ground.

Hajamar approached them. He was still bald, with his tanned skin a shade darker than Lucy's. Brown eyes appraised both. Given the ease with which he'd taken down Intalarai's allies Lucy couldn't help but think back to the day Hajamar and a half-dozen of his subordinates came to the Aurora to arrest Meridina. Robert had held her back from interfering, and it was clearly a good thing he had. "Commander Meridina. Lucilla Lucero." He nodded to them. His voice showed his respect for them. "Swenya's Light, it's good to see you both alive. Did you find Mastrash Ledosh?"

"He bade us to meet with his apprentice and Lucy's," Meridina said. "He sent them to retrieve Swenya's Blade. He believes these Cylons are after it."

"I see. He and Karesl are the only members of the Council still alive."

"Swenya's Light, no," Meridina replied. "We found Tinaran and Hadisina already dead, but I had hoped…"

"They were betrayed," Lucy said. "Attacked by someone they trusted."

"So were the others," noted Hajamar. His expression was dark. The protection of the Council was one of his duties, after all, and Maklir's death on the night of Goras' coup attempt had been bad enough for him. "The Brotherhood right under our noses all this time… where is Ledosh then?"

"Fighting Goras," Lucy said. "We should go help him!"

"The children take priority," Hajamar said. "I have had one of our transports readied for launch. But the anti-transporter defenses must be lowered before we can evacuate."

"You two stay and guard the children," Lucy advised. "I'll get to the Hall and lower the defenses."

Meridina nodded in agreement. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Lucy."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

Lucy took off for the Council Hall.

Gina had never faced a tougher battle than the one she was waging. Three foes, each as well-trained as her if not moreso, and Talara had no knowledge with a blade to aid her in the duel. Talara was trying to help as best as she could, throwing loose chairs and items from the damaged room at the Cylons while Gina matched blades with them. Whenever it looked like Talara might escape, one of the three would break off long enough to cut her off, while the other two continued their relentless assault on Gina.

Her best efforts kept her alive, but just alive. Lightsaber scorch marks left damaged portions on her robes and suit, revealing blistered and burnt skin. Gina blocked out the pain - she was used to pain - but slowly her body was being weakened by the damage. She would lose this fight, and only her own will to stand, to oppose these dark beings that corrupted her people, kept her on her feet. She deflected blows from both, knocked back her doppelganger, brought her lightsaber over to block the Cavil's next attack. She watched the Valerii model come in, lightsaber raised for the kill.

The Valerii's lightsaber slashed through the air… and severed the Cavil's head from his shoulders.

Gina's doppelganger had no time to react. The Valerii turned and drove her blade into the copy's forehead. The red blade easily punctured flesh and bone and destroyed the brain and cybernetic pieces within with ease.

Gina and Talara stared at the Cylon in bewilderment. The Valerii model extinguished her lightsaber and placed it on her belt. "I'm sorry for the burns, Gina Inviere," she said. "But you must leave. Now."

"Who are you?" Gina demanded. "What is going on?"

"This place is marked for destruction," the Valerii replied. "Once the others know that Swenya's Blade and Reshan's book are beyond their reach, they will atomize the Temple. You must flee."

"She's telling the truth," Talara said. "But why did you turn on your people? Who are you?"

A sad, forlorn look came to the Cylon. "I am her, daughter of Altea," was the reply, the Cylon indicating Gina. "I saw my people turn a grand vision into a nightmare, and I have done what I can to change that. Now, you must go, please. The Brotherhood would break the Circle, and the Darkness would win!"

"What Circle?" Gina asked. "Who are you truly? What is your name and why should we trust you?"

Frustration showed on the Cylon's face. Frustration and resignation. "I was once called Athenina," the Cylon confessed. "And I must go now. Please, flee to your ship, and retrieve Meridina and Lucilla. They must survive!" With that she turned and ran.

As the Cylon departed Talara looked back to the stands. "If they don't have the Blade, who does?"

"We'll find out later. Right now…" Gina left the pit area and walked up to the Council's position above the relics and the portrait of Swenya. She ran her hands along the controls while Talara followed. "We need to get out of here," Gina said. "And the quickest way is your ship."

The door to the Hall opened. Lucy raced in. She looked up to Gina and Talara. "Hajamar wants the anti-beaming shields down," she said.

"I'm lowering them now."

Lucy looked to the two fallen Cylons with surprise. "Both at once?" she asked.

"No," Gina replied. "Another of the Cylons, Sharon Valerii's model, she… she turned on them."

"She helped us," Talara added. "She warned us the Temple is going to be destroyed soon."

At first Lucy didn't know what to say. Then a thought came to her. "New Caprica," she muttered. "Someone killed the Cylon who was going to pump poison gas into the bunkers and kill the Colonials." She shook her head. "Never mind. Did you get the Blade?"

"It wasn't here," said Talara. "And the Cylons were still looking for it."

"Dammit," muttered Lucy. By now she was running up to join them. "We'll figure this out later. Right now we need to get those anti-beaming fields down. Hajamar's evacuating the initiates, and if what you said is true, we need to get everyone out of the Temple."

"I'm getting into the system now."

"Do you have a passcode?" Lucy asked.

"No. It's not accessed by passcode," Gina replied. "The system is closed with no access to outside networks. A passcode is seen as redundant."

"Nice to know how secure this place is then…" Lucy went for her omnitool before noticing that comms were still down. She went for the other, less-jammable form of communication, reaching for Meridina's being with her own. She felt Meridina's presence not far away, still with Hajamar, twin bright beacons in the darkness the Cylon Inner Circle brought to the Temple. Meridina, we're lowering the field now. Evacuate to the Rio Grande. The Cylons are planning to destroy the Temple.

I will join you there. But I must evacuate my father first.

Alright. Let me know when you have
. Lucy tapped away at her omnitool. The jamming was a problem, but she managed to get a comm line to the Rio Grande's systems. "I'm keying the transporter to take us the moment that field comes down," she told Gina.

"Field is coming down… now." Gina hit a final key. The display before her showed the image of a circle of light around the temple retracting.

Lucy nodded. "Good. Let's get to the Rio."

Robert arrived at Landing Circle and found a scene right from his nightmares. Fires blazed from buildings damaged by bombing and orbital fire. Bodies of slain residents were lying everywhere. The green parkland at the center of the roundabout, marking the point where the first survey teams beamed down to begin inspecting the colony site, was ablaze. The sculpture of the surveyors was blackened, if intact.

The Government Building started as a prefab Darglan structure. Since then a facade of marble had been added to the front, including the steps leading up to the main entrance and the foyer within. Debris from a bomb filled the steps, as did several fallen bodies. Robert felt the dark presence ahead of him and, moreso, his cousin's fear. Beth was there, along with other hostages. Staff or other officials, Robert thought, seized for this purpose. He felt a surge of pain from Beth and his steps quickened. He was in a full run by the time he reached the top of the steps. His lightsaber blazed to life in his hand as he entered the broken doors.

On the first floor, damage from the bomb was evident. This had been at or near the blast point. To other side Robert saw a line of SS soldiers, all in combat armor. Two large Panzergrenadier suits were looking straight at him.

Beyond the lines were another line of SS troops. This one stood behind about half a dozen people on their knees, hands tied behind their backs. The one nearest to Robert was Beth. She looked at him through black eyes and cheeks swelling purple from the blows rained on her face. Blood poured from a broken nose and from her mouth. Her expression betrayed her fear and her misery. He felt her sadness at his arrival, knowing she'd been bait for this trap. Worry for her people, for Annabelle, for Deborah, filled the rest of her thoughts, and there were tears in her eyes at the thought of all of the people of New Liberty killed this day.

Without waiting, Robert looked up to the second floor overlooking the foyer. Fassbinder stood there in full uniform, flanked by more SS soldiers, his formerly-blue eyes turned unnaturally yellow from the darkness in his being. "Let them go!" Robert demanded.

"Ah, there you are. Right on time." Fassbinder smiled, and it was an evil thing. "You thought me dead, Herr Dale, did you not? At Gamma Piratus." Fury flashed through Fassbinder's eyes. "Now you will pay for your presumption."

"Yeah. Lesson learned." Robert's face twisted into an angry snarl. "I'll make sure you're dead this time."

Fassbinder laughed at that, although the angry look never left his eyes. "Ah, Herr Dale, such a thing to say for someone following that pathetic drivel the Gersallians believe in," he said with delight. "Perhaps there is some stirring in your watered down Aryan blood. It's quite amusing..."

"Let's get down to it, Fassbinder," Robert growled. "This isn't a negotiation. You wanted me, you got me."

"Indeed. And I am happy to see it. There are many things you must answer for. The torments I will inflict upon you for your crimes…" Fassbinder savored the anticipation. "It is quite appropriate you once thought me dead. You thought the Reich slain too. We, the great nightmares of your past, finally vanquished. Such pathetic vision you and your precious Alliance have. Hitler's vision lives on, and it will remain alive long after your pathetic Alliance has been broken into dust and this colony turned to ash! I will ensure it!"

"After today we'll be ready for you," Robert declared. "The SS won't get to pull off another sneak attack like this."

"We won't need to," said Fassbinder, who chuckled with delight. "The terror we have wrought is a toxin that will do the work needed. And it brings me great pleasure to know I am the one who poisoned your Alliance." He laughed and, sensing Robert's incredulity, continued, "Your people will build defenses, yes. They will take measures against another attack like today's. But the need to maintain these efforts will change them. The Alliance was built on softer foundations than the Reich. It is made of pathetic fantasies of collective security and mutual cooperation. With our threat and your other enemies, we will expose the insufficiency of these delusions. To stop us, you will have to embrace our strength and make it your own. You will have to become us, Herr Dale."

"No we won't," Robert insisted. "The Alliance is strong enough to fight you without going that far."

Fassbinder laughed. "So naive, Herr Dale. So naive! I may let you live long enough to see otherwise. A final torment among all the others. Either way, let us dispense with the charade. You are here. You are mine. I no longer have a need to let this degenerate filth you call family live. Beth Rankin will die and you know it. It's just a matter of how long I wish to enjoy your suffering on the rack of false hope."

Robert glanced around the room and drew in a breath. Fassbinder likely did have him, and the only way for him to escape this trap was to go all-out, to throw everything in an uncontrolled, raw wave of power that might harm Beth and the other hostages.

He felt a sense of warning and raised his lightsaber in defense. Purple lightning shot from Fassbinder's hands. His weapon intercepted the lightning.

But Fassbinder wasn't the only one present with this power. Two more of his SS, these on the ground floor, attacked as well, from opposite angles. Robert couldn't deflect them all at once. The darkness-powered lightning crackled around him. His body spasmed and pain filled him, drawing a cry he couldn't hold back. His weapon lowered and Fassbinder's lightning enveloped him, increasing the agony.

"Rob!" Beth cried out, but she could do nothing. The SS soldier behind her pressed a disruptor pistol to the back of her head.

Robert tried to gather himself to fight back, but the attack he was under was too strong, too intense. He fell to his knees, dropped his weapon, and then to his side. His eyes fixed on Beth, and his mind went to Julia, as he felt he was failing them both.

When Julia arrived at the park end of Suun Avenue, she nearly ran right into the trap.

Only her caution at rounding the coffee shop kept her from walking right into a kill zone of SS. She fell back just before a disruptor beam sizzled through the space she'd been standing in. Turning back the other way, her pursuers were visible again. She was left no choice but to go into the shop. There was no one inside, no one she could see, and unfinished coffee mugs at the diner-like bar spoke of a hasty evacuation. Julia went to the bar and grabbed one of the mugs. The coffee was stronger and more bitter than she liked, but the caffeine was welcome. Food would have been as well, but there was no sign of that.

She got behind the bar just as the first SS came through the door. She turned and shot him just before he could shoot her. The trooper behind her target fired even as he entered, a shot that struck the wall by her head. Staying low, Julia followed the bar back to the storage area. She heard others entering to knew she had to get out, if she could find a way through the back.

The backroom was somewhat cluttered, giving it a used look, like something you'd expect from a family business. In her rush Julia nearly tripped over a box of coffee filters and she had to squeeze through two piles of big, industrial-sized coffee ground bags. She looked down and noticed one was still on an anti-grav palletjack. She grabbed the handle, twisted it so the jack was on track for the door, and shoved it with all of her might.

The pile of grounds hit the first SS man as he came through the door, knocking him back and off his feet while briefly blocking the doorway.

Julia continued on, entering a small office area, and went for the door beyond. She slammed into it and pushed the handle.

The moment it opened, disruptor shots filled the doorway. One caught Julia in the left arm, deadening the entire limb. She brought the rifle up and fired a shot with the rifle before the door closed. Swinging back the other way, the rifle lined up with a pursuer entering the hall. She pulled the trigger again.

Nothing happened.

The situation was growing worse by the time Jarod finally got Chief Almerda back on his feet somewhat. The fire coming in the entrance was escalating. The enemy had reinforcements; they didn't, nor could they get any.

Near the entrance, Angel briefly looked out from cover and laid down a barrage. It hit nothing, only succeeding in compelling a charging SS trooper to drop. A disruptor beam sizzled past her head and Angel fell back into cover. Nearby Tony did the same thing. He too avoided getting shot. The Venezuelan criollo beside him was not so lucky, taking a fatal disruptor shot to the head. Angel swallowed and looked to Tony. "Get Cat out of here, Tony. Her and Jarod. Now."

"I'm not leaving you babe," Tony vowed. "You take 'em."

"Dammit, I'm the superior officer here, remember?!"

"And the more badass fighter, yeah," Tony said. "So you'll do a better job protecting them."

Cat came back, although remaining out of the line of fire. "The comm arrays were sabotaged directly, like, physically damaged or destroyed. I'd have to get to one to repair it and get comms back."

"That won't be easy," Almerda said. "The bomb ruined most of the ways up."

"Well, we need reinforcements," Cat insisted.

"You need to get out," Angel said. "You'll be trapped if you go up."

Beside Almerda, Broots looked up. "I'll go," he offered.

"Broots, Debbie…"

"...won't live if we don't kick them out," Broots finished for Jarod.

"And she needs her Dad," Jarod countered. "Cat and I'll go."

"We won't hold them for long," Tony said. "They're getting to the door."

Almerda looked barely able to stand, but he drew his pistol anyway. "Go on, we'll do what we can. But we need reinforcements."

A moment after he spoke that, Angel heard more weapons fire from outside. Not the whine of the disruptor, but the distinctive whum whum whum of pulse fire and the particular thunder of mass effect-field firearms, among other sounds. Shouts in German, Spanish, and other languages abounded, and less and less of it was in German.

Angel crept toward the door and looked out in time to see one of the SS troopers gunned down by pulse fire. The distinctive sound of a Klingon disruptor joined it, creating an emerald beam that vaporized another of the SS troopers. The shooters were coming from the southwest. None were uniformed, all wearing civilian clothing. Some had tattoos over their arms, some didn't, and they were from every ethnicity in the Colony. Angel noticed one couple that looked Vulcanoid and fired Romulan disruptors instead, using them to vaporize another SS attacker.

The SS forces didn't stop fighting, but they did fall back. As the battle was pushed away from the Security HQ door, Angel saw who was leading them and muttered, "I'll be damned."

By the time Almerda came up to the door with the others, they were treated to the sight of the heavyset Hernan de Corelo jumping off of the open bed of a flatbed truck. Bandoleers of charge clips and grenades criss-crossed his torso, making him look like a guerilla more than a bar owner and criminal boss. He met Almerda's eyes, a fierce look on his face. When he finally spoke, it was with a raised fist smacking against his chest over his heart. "Viva Nuevoliberteños!"

Almerda nodded and, despite his injury, repeated the gesture. "Viva Nuevoliberteños!"

Angel nodded to Corelo. "Good to see you, Hernan," she said.

"And you too, Angry Angel," Corelo said. "Like I said before, this is my home, and the people of New Liberty, they are my people. All of them." He nodded to Almerda. "Whatever else, nothing harms them. Nothing hurts them. So if you don't mind, we have some Nazi pendejos to kill!" He raised his voice at the end, drawing a roar of approval from the others.

Corelo and his impromptu, mostly-criminal militia continued on. "And to think I wanted to charge that man," Almerda said.

"You have good reason. He's still a criminal," Angel said.

"True. And I'm here to uphold the law. But on a day like today… whatever his failings morally, Corelo is one of ours, and that's what matters."

"Yeah." Angel approached the most intact-looking of the vehicles the SS left behind. "Cat! Jarod! Come hotwire this damn thing," she said. "We've got to go save Rob and Julia."

Locarno was gratified to find that Ensign Rawlins was every bit the helm officer he'd expected her to be. The African-American woman's maneuvers were just what was needed to keep the Aurora alive and in the fight, and she showed great judgement in shifting the ship's relative positioning and attitude.

But there was only so much she could do to alleviate the numbers difference, as fire was coming at them from multiple directions. Disruptor fire brought their shields down further. "Shields now at twenty percent," Tra'dur warned.

That was not good. What was worse was the other vessels. Again the spinal mounts of the Nazi dreadnought fired. The Heydrich's beams were now targeting the Melissa Steiner. The FedCom battlecruiser's overtaxed shields couldn't resist a full barrage of all three, but they managed to twist their ship to make the third beam only glance against the hull. Nevertheless the shields of the cruiser were brought to the brink of failure, and the fire it was taking would ensure they failed soon.

The Charleston was in even worse shape. Despite Captain Asmund's best tactics, the Excelsior-class ship's shields were gone. Disruptor beams carved through her big drive hull and missiles blasted holes through her saucer section. Locarno was aggrieved at the sight of the Starfleet ship, which he knew was not going to live long.

And yet… they still had a hope. His eyes glanced toward the clock and back to the holotank. They'd remained alive this long, and their maneuvers had the SS ships out of formation trying to finish them off.

Thirty two and a half minutes

The ship shook again. "Eighteen percent shields!"

A second after the thirty-three minute mark, Locarno was relieved to hear al-Rashad call out "Subspace ripple! Someone's jumping in… it's the Pegasus!"

Battlestar Pegasus reappeared in high orbit of New Liberty in a flash of light. The moment after, Vipers and Raptors seemed to explode from her launch tubes and hangers, with a speed that rivaled the best the Colonial Navy ever managed. Some of the Vipers burned hard for the fighter battle, where the outnumbered remaining wings of the Aurora and Melissa Steiner were holding off the greater numbers of the SS fighters. The others kept formation with the hard-burning Raptors, on course for the nearest SS cruiser.

The next-nearest belonged to Pegasus herself. In her CIC, a fully-uniformed Kendra Shaw ordered, "Fire on target!". The Pegasus' bow lit up with thick sapphire pulses from the Darglan-tech pulse plasma cannons the ship had been refitted with. Their target, a Sedan-class cruiser already weakened fighting the dying Charleston, suffered a shield collapse halfway through the volley. Entire chunks of the cruiser's black hull were blown away by the impacts. The Charleston, not dead yet, turned and fired a full salvo of photon torpedoes into her tormentor, adding to the carnage besetting the ship. A final burst of phaser fire, joined by a barrage from the Pegasus, finished the cruiser off.

The Raptors fired their first salvo a moment later. A barrage of naqia-enhanced torpedoes slammed into the faltering shields of their target, another Nazi heavy cruiser. Said shields flickered ruby red until they collapsed, allowing several torpedoes to impact directly on the cruiser's hull. Flame and debris erupted from the new wounds in the black hull. One of the torpedoes annihilated the swastika insignia entirely.

On the Aurora, the Pegasus' return was a morale boost. The battle might not be so unwinnable now… thought Locarno, before he began giving orders to exploit the Pegasus' entry into the battle.

Amidst the ruin of the Temple offices, Ledosh and Goras exchanged another series of strikes. Goras' technique as a swordsman was far superior, albeit rusty, while Ledosh had more experience with the weapons they were wielding. Given the gap in their dueling abilities, it was a major reason why the fight was still raging.

The other was that Ledosh, while not the best with a blade, was more attuned to the life energy within and around him. He combined his attacks with that power, knocking Goras back or channeling energy to hold him in place, forcing Goras to concentrate on his own abilities to break free.

With their lightsabers locked again, Ledosh said, "You have truly fallen, Goras. You revel in this darkness."

"I do. It is the true path for our people. I have had the scales thrown from my eyes, Ledosh. I have seen the truth. Swenya was a fraud!"

Goras pushed off, forcing Ledosh back. Ledosh dodged the next blow and then parried the one after it. "Is this what the Brotherhood has told you?"

The reply from Goras was a smirk. "I can sense the curiosity in you, Ledosh. You, too, have learned more about what Swenya has done to our people."

"She gave us unity. She gave us hope, she made us a better people!"

"Lies!" Goras hissed. "She deceived us!" With fury he drove back Ledosh again. "We were a strong people and she shackled us to her dogma!"

"She gave our people a new future!" Ledosh shouted before parrying another blow from Goras. "She saved us from the Darkness!"

"She was nothing but Reshan's puppet!" spat Goras. "To spread alien dogmas!"

"No. No, that is a twisted claim," Ledosh replied. "Reshan taught her how to reach the Flow of Life, but Swenya forged her own path. She made us what we are!"

"She made us weak! She was not even one of us!"

With that Goras' power surged and he slammed Ledosh with it. Ledosh recovered quickly and parried Goras' powerful blow.

But the blow's power was the point. It forced Ledosh's blade away from the center of his body. Goras' foot came up and slammed into Ledosh's knee. Ledosh didn't go down from the blow, but it left him unbalanced and reeling. In one fluid move Goras' blade whirled in his hand, moving into position so that he could drive it into Ledosh's chest. Ledosh's eyes widened as the pain from the mortal blow filled him. He let out a rasping sound in the moment Goras pulled the blade from his chest. He collapsed at Goras' feet.

"Go to oblivion in this knowledge, Ledosh," Goras rasped. "The Order will die. Swenya's legacy will be wiped from Gersal and our people. Kohbal's way will triumph. And your beloved pupil and those Humans she trained? They are going to die, and with it, your precious Prophecy!"

Ledosh tried to gasp something in reply, but he couldn't find the breath. All he could do was watch as Goras walked away.

Meridina was back at the courtyard when she felt it. She felt Ledosh's pain and knew he'd been struck down. The pain of that fact… for a moment it overwhelmed her. Ledosh taught her everything. He set her on the path she was following, the path to bring about the Prophecy of the Dawn. To herald a new age for their people.

Now he was dying. At the hands of one of their own. The pain worsened, joined by a hot anger at Goras for his treachery. For turning against the Light.

The courtyard battle was still raging, fallen forms in black robes as well as the blues and greens of the Order, but the Cylons were on the defensive. Her father, ignoring a wound to his leg and to his side, ran his shining blade through another of the male Cylons, killing his foe instantly. Another of the Mastrasham absorbed the lightning from one of the Cylons long enough for a Knight to strike the dark-haired man down.

Meridina's lightsaber came up and she met one of the D'anna models. The woman's yellow eyes burned with fury, but her arm was wounded and her skill poor. Meridina easily parried two blows and drove her blade into the Cylon's chest, killing her. She came up to where her father was finishing off one of the Cavils. "Hajamar is evacuating the Initiates," she said. "The Cylons may be planning to destroy the Temple!"

Karesl took the news grimly. "Then we should evacuate too."

The urgency of that was made clear the next moment as, one by one, the living Cylons were pulled away by the bright light burst of transporters.

Gersal's orbital space was a debris field of shattered vessels. More and more of those ships were Cylon vessels, with Gersallian and now Dorei ships responding to the attack. A handful of Alliance starships, led by one of the Excalibur-class battlecruisers dropped out of warp next, coming in from the system zenith to cut off the Cylons' options for maneuver.

Even as the fighting grew intense, the central Basestar of the Cylon fleet stopped firing on the enemies in orbit. A brace of missiles descended toward the planet.

Below, the sense of danger filled every Knight in the courtyard. All understood precisely what was happening… and that there was little they, in their exhausted state, could do to stop it.

Then they, too, started to be snatched away by transporter, while beyond the Temple two ships emerged from the damaged bays of the Temple's private spaceport. One was a blocky personnel transport, the other the runabout Rio Grande.

Aboard the Rio, Gina and Talara piloted the vessel free while Lucy frantically worked the transporter, going as fast as she could get the arrivals off. There are so many left, I know Hajamar is getting the others, but can we get them all?

The answer was no, no they couldn't.

"There's a ship decloaking in the atmosphere above us," Gina said. "It's firing on the incoming missiles!"

"How well?"

"It's already destroyed the first wave. Now it's going for the second. The Basestar is launching fighters…"

Lucy drew in a breath and, upon the feeling inside of her, made her decision. "Talara, swing us back around! Land in the courtyard, we're letting them board directly!"

Talara didn't need to have the order repeated. She obeyed. "The Lankam's Word is hailing, Sergeant Hajamar wishes to know what we're doing."

"Saving as many as we can," was Lucy's answer. "And Talara, when we launch, don't hesitate to hit full impulse."

"Understood." Talara said nothing about the usual regulations against full impulsor use in atmosphere, with all of the negative effects it could have. The situation made those effects moot.

The Rio Grande descended onto the courtyard. Lucy continued beaming in people even as they landed and the door opened. Outside Karesl and Meridina guided people in.

"The second wave of missiles has been destroyed," Gina reported. "Another two waves coming in, and the ship above is being attacked by fighters."

"Do we have its energy signature on profile?"

"Checking, but nothing yet. We're cut off from the Alliance database," Gina replied.

Moment by moment more robed individuals entered. Some in green robes carried the wounded.

"Third wave destroyed." Gina blinked. "That ship above is something else. Direct hits from the Cylon raiders are barely damaging the shields."

By this point the runabout was reaching peak capacity. Outside one of the elderly green-robed figures stopped and stepped to the side of the entrance. Meridina looked at him with concern. "Mastrash Otanam?"

"You and your father should go, Meridina," the old man said. "You have your own destiny, and your father is the last of the Council. The Order will need you to rebuild."

"I am not leaving," Karesl insisted. "Not until all others are aboard." He said this even as it was blatantly clear the runabout was filling to capacity.

Inside Gina called out, "Fourth missile wave destroyed. Another Cylon basestar is firing!" The console blinked. "Incoming hail. I think it's from the other ship."

"Put them on," Lucy insisted, as she weaved through the others to the airlock door. She found Karesl and Meridina there, facing the others who had now stopped boarding. "We're almost at standing room only. Let's go!"

From within, the comm system played a distorted voice. "Fools! Launch now! I cannot stop them all!"

"I cannot abandon so many," Karesl insisted. As he spoke another pair were pulled away by transporter, presumably the Lankam's Word.

"Then we will not board," another of the Knights said. "Not until you and Meridina are aboard."

"I am not even in the Order anymore," Meridina pointed out. "I have made my choice."

"You chose to follow your swevyra, as the Order trained," said Otanam. "And you are working with the Bearers of the Dawn, daughter of the Lumantala. You must survive this day."

It was clear to both that the others would not break, and every moment spent not boarding would simply cost them more time.

Father and daughter alike had tears in their eyes as they stepped into the runabout. Lucy gestured them in, as she did the Knights and others who followed. Finally there was clearly no more room behind her. The runabout was at capacity. Lucy's mind raced, considering what Scotty had done with transporter cycles. But it takes time to rig them like that, we don't have that time!

"Go, Lucilla Lucero," Mastrah Otanam said. "You are a Bearer of the Dawn. Your destiny awaits."

The only thing Lucy could think of to say was, "I'm sorry." Knowing she could save no more, and hating every moment of it, she closed the airlock door. "Lift off!" she cried.

Talara responded immediately. The Rio Grande took off. One of the younger apprentices offered to stand in the airlock, allowing Lucy to weave her way back to the cockpit. Seeing Talara and Gina had everything in hand, she went to the back. Meridina and Karesl were crowded in with the others. Healers were working on the badly wounded, who were provided the beds and the table. Other wounded were allowed the chairs, and the place gave Lucy bad memories of the trucks that the Duffys would pack full of illegal immigrants to work on their farms.

The unknown ship has gone, Gina projected. The missiles are almost to impact. Five, four, three

Lucy blocked out the countdown. She activated a monitor to show the feed from the rear-facing sensors. With it she could see the battered, familiar buildings of the Great Temple, majestic even with the damage they'd suffered. She could sense all of those left behind, the Lankam's Word's transporters grabbing them away as quickly as it could. Those remaining worked to find peace with themselves, knowing their deaths were coming. She felt obligated to watch, as if it let her be with them in their final moments.

And then the temple vanished from the screen. Repeated bright lights represented atomic initiations, one after the other, the ship's computers keeping the flashes from becoming blinding. All of those lives winked out in a sudden, terrible moment. Lucy's cheeks ran hot with tears. She heard some sobs from the others, silent weeping, a cry of despair… and felt Meridina's heart simply break. She worked her way over to Meridina and took her free hand while the blasts became an ominous mushroom cloud over what had been the Great Temple.

"The Library, the Forge, the Council Hall. Swenya's Relics…"

"...are safe," Lucy said quietly. "They're packed in storage. I… I made sure to grab them."

Many heard her. She was almost overwhelmed with the gratitude they felt for her.

But Meridina was unconsolable. "All of our knowledge and history. It's lost."

"But the Order is not," Karesl assured Meridina, holding his grieving daughter close. "And we will rebuild."

Meridina heard him, but it did not stop the pain in her heart at the deaths of so many, the loss of so much. She quietly began to sob.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

In the foyer of the New Liberty Government Building, Robert kept looking from Fassbinder to Beth as he writhed on the floor in pain. He could feel Fassbinder's cruel satisfaction, his enjoyment of Robert's pain, of his fear for his cousin, and of Beth's realization she was about to die.

"I think that's enough," the SS officer said, still channeling the lightning into Robert's body. "Rottenführer, kill the degenerate."

In desperation Robert tried to fight back again, but the cold, deadly energy cascading through him kept him from doing so. He felt like his life was being drained away second by second. He was helpless.

He'd failed. He could do nothing to save Beth.

Beth closed her eyes and stifled the sob in her throat. He could feel her determination to die with whatever dignity she could manage, rather than let the Nazis enjoy it.

Seconds passed, in which Robert struggled to break from the lightning. He sensed Fassbinder's bewilderment, Beth's patience… why was she alive?

"Rottenführer, schießen!" Fassbinder bellowed, briefly directing his attention away from Robert and the lightning he was channeling into him.

But the Nazi didn't. He simply stared ahead. Slowly the disruptor pistol he'd held to the back of Beth's head lowered. As it did, blood started to pour from his nose and his lip, the latter from how tightly he was biting into it. Then crimson fluid started trickling from his eyeballs.

Robert felt the pain recede and realized the same was true for Fassbinder's lieutenants. The two other sources of the lightning cascading through him were gone. The SS men were themselves locked in place, bleeding from the eyes and nose and mouth.

A moment later, all three dropped dead.

Beth heard his body fall. Her eyes snapped open in bewilderment, not to mention amazement that she was still alive.

And then a Hebrew-accented voice sounded through the foyer. “Shabbat shalom, Nazi schmucks.” Then more Nazis started dying. Max was standing in the foyer with death in and coming from his eyes. The small form of Golmar Kuhln stood in front of him, and Colin behind. They lashed out with their minds launching invisible attack probes at the minds of the SS men in the room. Max was lethal enough on his own, but Golmar was somewhere in the liminal space between P12 and P13, and Colin was a fully trained Psi Cop with over a decade of experience tearing consciousnesses asunder. The Nazis were shown no mercy.

Max was particularly fond of making them shoot each other. He seized control of two NCOs, respected by their men, and reveled in their existential horror as their bodies were moved like puppets on a string to shoot their own comrades in the face.

Colin was more utilitarian than that, efficiently attacking their minds, directly erasing their ability to breath, stopping their hearts cold while they were still conscious, lobotomizing them into Schutzstaffel zucchinis.

Golmar was particularly brutal. He didn't use simple fast attack probes. He simply scanned them en masse, sending Nazis to the floor in fully-conscious seizures until their brains literally burned out.

It took a moment for the Panzergrenadier to figure out what was going on and orient on them to begin firing, but Colin put a stop to that. He locked every skeletal muscle in their bodies into contraction until bones broke and tendons snapped, they fell, their armor contorting around them as their own movements overwhelmed the mechanical assist the armor provided and important pieces broke.

Under normal circumstances the mind-screams and open-shut sensations of souls departing the mortal coil would disturb a telepath, traumatize them. Not this time. These were Nazis, and it didn’t matter what you did to them, the screaming, audible or otherwise, was reinterpreted into music.

An angry, frustrated look came over Fassbinder, but he couldn't hide the emotion he also felt: fear. He'd learned enough about telepaths to know even the abilities he'd learned weren't an absolute protection. There were many things those with life force powers could do that telepaths couldn't, but in terms of mental powers, telepaths had the clear advantage. Robert smiled at him and, with Fassbinder's doubt interfering with his channeling of his power, Robert was able to focus his own. He forced himself to a knee and, with his arm struggling and twitching, reclaimed his lightsaber from the floor and brought it back up, using the emerald blade to absorb the crackling lightning.

Fassbinder’s minions within the SS were dropping like flies. Some silently, some died screaming shot by their own comrades, others died writhing in agony, but there were very few left after a few seconds. Some of them tried to shoot back but there was something about the telepaths that kept their eyes from being able to focus on them. As if their minds simply couldn’t pay attention to the telepath’s existence, no matter what was done to them. Then, threat of being overwhelmed eliminated, Colin turned his attention to Fassbinder.

Guten Tag, Evolutionsbremse!” Colin said, beaming, and laid siege to Fassbinder’s brain.

The telepathic attack was the last straw. Fassbinder felt the Psi Cop begin to rip through his defenses as if they were barely there, his will to resist mental intrusion and his own terror feeding his defenses were the only things keeping him alive and both were buckling with startling alacrity. Almost faster than he could process. His lightning stopped and he threw himself faster than any normal human could move out of the room, breaking line of sight before Colin could finish the job.

Ja, du Feigling! Fliehe vor dem Homosexuellen, dem 'minderwertigen' Liliputaner, und dem Juden!" Colin shouted after him in his mother tongue, mocking him.

Lilliputian Colin? Really? Golmar gave him the side-eye. Colin shrugged.

It’s better than midget, and I never claimed to win insult contests.

Anger and frustration filled Fassbinder, giving Robert a beacon to home in on. He jumped up to the foyer's second floor and took off after Fassbinder. The chase took him through the halls of the building, halls that became progressively more damaged until, finally, he got to the large wound in the structure. Fassbinder was already outside, running for the trade association building. Robert leapt down, hitting the ground with a small shockwave of air, and took off after him. "Fassbinder!" he shouted, his lightsaber at the ready. His face twisted into an angry expression. After all of this devastation, it was time to put Fassbinder down. Time to…

Fassbinder rounded the corner of the association building. As Robert approached it, he heard a vaguely familiar humming sound. And like that, Fassbinder's dark essence was no longer here.

Fassbinder getting away was bad enough. But Robert could sense that the danger wasn't over, not by a longshot.

One of the SS destroyers vanished in a white fireball after being speared by the plasma beams coming from the Aurora's starboard side. This left the SS dreadnought in an increasingly precarious position given it was getting increased attention from the Pegasus' air wing. Only one of the cruisers remained intact, and it was currently taking fire from the Melissa Steiner. The Charleston was effectively dead in space, too damaged to continue fighting, its surviving crew scrambling to restore power and maneuvering.

For a moment Locarno thought the Heydrich would attack the Charleston and finish it off. But he noticed its maneuvers turned it in the wrong direction to do that. More importantly, for the moment weapons fire seemed to be suddenly striking the ship. "Are there shields down?"

"Confirmed, sir," al-Rashad remarked. "But it looks like they lowered… I'm detecting transporter signatures. They're beaming up individuals from the surface."

"All fire on the dreadnought, now!"

Syrandi's hands flew over the console and Rawlins turned the Aurora to bring her bow weapons to bear. Their fire started blasting away the dreadnought's armor. One of the plasma beams sliced away at a smaller disruptor emitter, destroying it.

"The spinal mounts are charging," Tra'dur noted. "It looks… it appears the SS dreadnought is targeting the Colony."

Locarno paled. In its current state, the Colony's defenses were out. It would be destroyed with a single super-disruptor discharge. "Put us between them, now!"

Rawlins obeyed. The Aurora's engines went to full and under the young woman's guidance the ship maneuvered into position. The arrival was just in the nick of time, as three powerful lances of disruptor energy slammed into the Aurora's shields. Weakened as they were, they collapsed immediately, and much of the damage was taken on the armor. "Shields are completely down," Tra'dur said. "Generator overloads. Damage on Deck 35, multiple sections. Enemy shields are back up and they're charging for another shot!"

"Keep us in place," Locarno demanded, knowing full well the Aurora's armor could only take one, maybe two more hits before the ship was wrecked. It was still time for something to happen…

"Jump points opening!" al-Rashad announced, a moment before the disruptors fired again. They lanced into the belly of the Aurora, scouring armor and inflicting damage on the lower decks. Locarno didn't need Tra'dur's damage report to know they probably couldn't take another hit.

"On screen," he demanded, wondering if these were reinforcements or the SS coming to finish them off.

The holo-viewer shifted to show the swirling green vortices that the incoming ships had created to transition between universes. From each vortex ships emerged. A handful were vessels of the Alliance.

But it was quickly clear that they had merely opened the jump points for the bulk of the ships arriving. They were of myriad design, a regular hodgepodge of ships and almost all from the M4P2 universe. The most common design were ships with bow sections that looked like wheels, with the rest of the hull trailing from behind. Locarno recognized those immediately, even if he'd only seen them a few times.

"Tac comm links being established," Tra'dur confirmed.

An accented voice distorted by an electronic vocoder came over the line. "This is Admiral Hans'Gerrel to Heavy Fleet ships. Engage the enemy dreadnought."

Locarno recognized the name and accent immediately. The Quarians!

Another voice spoke, this one female, with the same Quarian accent. "This is Admiral Shala'Raan. Patrol ships, move forward. Protect our allies."

Turreted guns tracked toward the Heydrich and began to blaze away. Some were mass effect cannons, others fired phasers and disruptors and plasma, reflecting the Quarians' readiness to adopt technology from multiple sources.

The Heydrich took the brunt of the Quarian assault. The middling damage taken during the time she was recovering forces from the Colony hadn't been much, but it degraded the shield capacity of the Nazi dreadnought enough that the sudden overwhelming barrage from the incoming Quarians began to make localized penetrations of their shields. Other Quarian vessels moved ahead to engage the remaining light ships, clearing them away from the drifting Charleston and the nearly-crippled Melissa Steiner. Hans'Gerrel's heavy ships not only pounded away at the Heydrich but at the last of the intact cruisers as well. The Pegasus joined them in finishing off the Tannenburg-class ship. One of the Quarian mass effect rounds penetrated into the Nazi vessel's fuel bunkerage, turning the ship into a massive white flare from the destructive release of antimatter.

For a moment Locarno thought the dreadnought would fire again, leaving the Aurora as badly off as the other ships, but the dreadnought's commander realized his predicament. The Quarians' fire was too heavy, too vigorous, and certainly too numerous for his deflectors. They would fail completely if he didn't get away. The dreadnought turned away from the Colony, and the battered Aurora. A green vortex began to form ahead of it. "All sensors on that vortex, now," Locarno urged.

"Permission to fire?" Luneri asked.

"No. I need that jump point stable, we have to find out where they're going!" Locarno answered.

The other remaining SS ships were also fleeing, although few would do so successfully given the volume of fire they were taking. The dreadnought made good its escape. Locarno looked to al-Rashad, who sighed and nodded. "I got what I could," she confirmed. "It looks like they jumped for… C1P2."

That brought a small frown to Locarno. "A double jump," he said. "That's what they're doing."

"And the likelihood that we would jump near enough to catch them before they jumped out again is infinitesimally small," Tra'dur noted, her calm voice hiding frustration that the attackers would get away. "And our warp drive is down, so we wouldn't be able to intercept them even if we were close."

"Yeah, that sounds about right," Locarno sighed. "Send out a warning to the C1P2 patrols, maybe they'll spot something." He allowed his hands to cease gripping the command chair arms so tightly. "Signal our thanks to the Quarians and the other reinforcements, and to Pegasus for their timely return."

"Yes Commander."

Locarno tapped at his comm controls. "Aurora to, well, anyone still down there. The SS have withdrawn. The Colony is safe."

Somehow, even as he said it, he wondered if that last line was ever going to be true again.

Far from Gersal, a lone ship drifted quietly in real-space. Inside the cockpit a dark-robed figure again activated her comm system. The blue hologram of her master appeared. "I have heard the reports Tisiphone. The attack was as fierce as I sensed it would be."

"Indeed, my Master."

"Did you acquire it?"

"I did." Tisiphone brought up her hand, and the lightsaber hilt it held. "Swenya's Blade now belongs to you."

A pleased expression came to her master's face. "Now I will get an equal say in the matter. Return to Xanadu. We have much to prepare for, my Fury."

"Yes, Master."

Moments later, the ship formed an interuniversal jump point and departed Gersallian space.


From across the N2S7 universe, and indeed from other universes, ships were converging on Gersal. Hospital ships, liners and transports carrying relief workers, doctors, nurses, engineers and rebuilding specialists… everything. In orbit Stellar Navy and Gersallian military teams were already sorting through the wreckage of destroyed ships and orbiting facilities, as well as the remnants of destroyed Cylon Basestars.

On Gersal itself, the attack was over, but the shock was still reverberating across the planet. The death toll was going to reach to the million mark just from the light bombardments against urban targets. The atomic attacks guaranteed it could spike to well over ten times that.

From the living quarters of the Lumantala family, Lucy and Talara quietly looked out at the cityscape. Damaged and fallen buildings were everywhere. The Interdependency government had a planetwide state of emergency in effect as cleanup efforts commenced. As always the Gersallians were coming together as a community. It was almost instinctive to them, the desire to make themselves and others feel better, to find balance in the needs and wants of all. But now it was joined by a fragility Lucy never felt in them. The Gersallians felt… vulnerable.

Which, given the situation, was not a surprise.

Nearby Drentiya and Leniraya were tending to Meridina. She shook her head quietly while, nearby, her father examined the dagger pulled from Hadisina's body. "All gone," she murmured.

"She is not just referring to the Temple," Talara observed. "What else…"

"The Temple of Perception," Lucy said, recalling said temple. "And Trubin, and the Temple of Birth. The Cylons hit them with nukes too. The Temple is one thing, it's out in the countryside, but Trubin… it's a… was a fairly-sized city. Over a million people lived there. They didn't have a chance…"

"How could this have happened?" Talara asked. "Surely defenses…"

"They were compromised," Karesl said. His voice was bitter, brittle. He set the dagger down beside him, his emotional control straining. "The Brotherhood sabotaged our defenses for the Cylons. They're working together."

"They're not just working together. They're… one and the same, I think," said Lucy. "They've been hiding for thousands of years. Probably waiting for this chance."

"The Order still stands. You saved dozens of our people," Karesl said. "We will recover."

"But we will never be the same," Meridina murmured, glancing at her omnitool now. "And we have a greater foe than the Cylons and Brotherhood. Or rather, their new confederates."

Lucy blinked. "What?"

Meridina responded by relaying the message to Lucy's omnitool. She stared in horror at the report. "New Liberty, they hit… the freaking SS hit New Liberty?!"

"We have already seen indications that they have links to the Cylons. Now they are confirmed. The darkest of our foes, together…" Meridina shook her head. "The Alliance may never be the same again."

As they spoke Talara opened the pack there and pulled out the two books. She marveled at the lovely calligraphy on the Life of Reshan. Inside of it she found a sheath of notes scribbled in very basic Gersallian. Karesl noticed them. "My thanks to you for getting that volume to safety," he said. "It is one of those we did not have a digital backup of."

"Then the other books…"

"Lost," said Meridina. "As is all of the artwork. The catacombs of our greatest. The Forge, where we train to build our weapons, was the work of Gersal's finest architects. They're all gone now. The Cylons, the Brotherhood, they have left us with little save our lives." Her fists clenched from the heartache. "I know I must be strong. I…"

As she broke down weeping again, it was Karesl who went over and cared for her. "This has been the darkest day in the Order since Kohbal fell to darkness," he said. "But the Light is still with us. Many of the others live. The Order can and will rebuild, and in large part thanks to you, daughter."

"There is more to this book than its rarity," said Gina. "Mastrash Ledosh has been studying it for over a year. He tracked down Gartanam's volume to help him translate the meanings of the older dialect."

"He said it was crucial to finding Reshan's knowledge," Lucy said. "And something about protecting a circle. Not letting the Cylons break it."

"I'm not sure what he means," Karesl admitted. "On this matter Ledosh, I am afraid to say, kept his own counsel. It is clear now he cannot be blamed. More than any of us, he may have sensed the hand of the Brotherhood." For a moment Karesl seemed deep in thought. He turned to Lucy. "Lucilla Lucero, I entrust the Life of Reshan to you."

Lucy blinked. "You do?"

"We cannot be certain the Brotherhood did not leave agents who might seize the book from Gersal," Karesl noted. "It will be safer with you. And you and Meridina can continue Ledosh's research. Gina Inviere can assist."

"Of course."

There was an unspoken tension between them. Karesl spoke with a soft tone to relieve it. "I sense your feeling of loss for the death of your teacher, Gina. For now, I would like you to go with Meridina and Lucy. Finish your training with them."

"There's more to it than that, Mastrash Karesl."


Talara was briefly confused, but Lucy made it clear to her mentally. Other Cylons of Gina's model were among the attackers. Members of the Order had seen their own struck down by an enemy with Gina's face. They had fought with that enemy. While Gina's innocence was undeniable, there would likely be an unconscious tension between her and the others. With emotions so raw, it was best for all if Gina came to the Aurora. "We could use you," Lucy said aloud. "Robert can officially sign you on as a member of his operations team."

"I will gladly join him," said Gina. She smiled despite her bitterness. "It is much the same work I expected as a Knight, after all."

"One thing still troubles me," said Karesl. "You state one of the Cylons betrayed the others to aid you?"

"Yes," said Talara. "She struck them down to aid us. The way she spoke, it was clear she is not in league with them."

"Whoever she was, she may have been the one who saved the people of New Caprica by killing the Cylon who was left to release poison gas into their bunkers," Lucy added. "Did she say who she was?"

"She compared herself to Gina, and when pressed, called herself Athenina."

Karesl's eyes widened. From the chair Meridina looked up in surprise. Noticing this reaction, Lucy asked, "Okay, so why are you looking like that? You recognize the name?"

"Yes," said Karesl. "From the historical texts. Athenina… she is a figure in Gersallian history."

"Oh? What was she? Who?"

"The apprentice of Mastrash Kohbal," Meridina answered.

The cleanup effort began the moment the shooting ended. While some of the residents were too shellshocked to act, many went to the work of rebuilding their colony, their home. Hernan de Corelo's militia aided in securing the Colony while Broots and Jarod undid the sabotage inflicted by the SS, allowing communications to be restored. This accomplishment was what allowed Jarod to observe when Broots was tearfully reunited with his terrified daughter, who was among the many children that the schools brought into the bunkers as soon as the attack began.

It gave way to his own tearful reunion with Sydney and Emily, his sister. With his father off-world and safe, it meant Jarod had not faced the loss so many others in the Colony were facing with the attack over.

In their post-attack efforts the people of New Liberty were quickly joined by a people they'd yet to meet, as increasing numbers of envirosuit-clad Quarians arrived by transporter or shuttle to aid in the rebuilding process. They focused on the technical issues, repairing and rerouting utility systems to restore power, running water, and other vital services. The other starships in orbit sent what help they could manage, although most of the aid was from the relatively-undamaged Pegasus.

The Government Building, damaged as it was, remained the nerve center of this effort. While doing what she could to direct the recovery Beth was getting her wounds treated by medical staff from the Colony Hospital, a process only interrupted when Annabelle arrived. "Oh Beth," Annebelle wept, rushing to her wife and embracing her. "I was so worried for you."

Beth's eyes filled with tears. "I was worried about you. They were killing everyone."

Robert arrived at that point. He felt relief that Annabelle was okay. Behind him, a line of the dignitaries Beth brought to safety approached. He felt their consternation, even shame, at what Beth had endured for saving them. Sonek Pran stepped to the forefront, flanked by Princess Syrina, Director Anjilo, Isis Marik, and Princess Yvonne. "Governor Rankin, on behalf of everyone who came to the summit, we thank you for doing so much to save our lives," Pran said solemnly. "It warms all of our hearts to see you survived."

"Thank you, Mister Ambassador," Beth replied. Even here, diplomacy mattered.

"New Liberty is not alone," said Yvonne. "The people of the Commonwealth will aid in your recovery, however we can."

"As will the Federation, and all of those assembled," Pran added. "We will show the Multiverse that your people are not without friends, and the strength of the values we all uphold."

"Thank you again, Mister Ambassador. Thanks to all of you. We will humbly accept any aid available in our rebuilding," Beth said. Her voice was somber and withdrawn. Robert could sense that she felt everything to be almost unreal, and her survival the most unreal thing of all.

"Director, my condolences to your people," Beth added, looking to Anjilo.

The male Gersallian, his complexion a mocha color close to Annabelle's, nodded. "My thanks, Governor. We have both suffered today."

"The enemy struck at Gersal and New Liberty because you are both potent symbols of the Alliance," Princess Syrina asserted in accented English. The Dorei woman looked as regal as she sounded, and there was no denying the angry fire in her teal eyes. "We will show them that we are not so easily cowed."

"I think there's more to it than that," Robert said. "Fassbinder has a personal grudge against us."

As he spoke Robert noticed the looks he was getting. He couldn't hide the worry he felt. He noticed the look on Colin's face and didn't bother to hide it from him. Jarod and the others were tracking where Julia went after she fled the Lodge. She'd undoubtedly saved Lee Adama and Jeong Jin-Taek, but that meant facing SS pursuit alone.

There was a tone from Robert's omnitool. He lifted his forearm and tapped the blue light at the back of his left hand. A holo-display screen enlarged to show Admiral Maran. The stress that had so recently left the man's face was back with a vengeance. "Captain, I've looked over the preliminary reports from New Liberty. I'm grateful that Governor Rankin survived the ordeal."

"Thank you, sir."

"Consider this forewarning to remain on standby for new orders," Maran said. "This attack… intelligence suspected the SS had more resources than what we accounted for, but we had no indications they independently developed the IU jump drive. Intelligence believed their goal, if they had more resources, was to flee beyond Reich borders and rebuild elsewhere. We never imagined they achieved this. Their alignment with the Cylons makes them even more dangerous."

"It's an alliance of convenience for both, but until it breaks up, they could hit anywhere. And they won't hesitate to attack civilian targets."

"Agreed. Every world in the Alliance is on full alert. We've begun reactivation procedures for the reserve fleet to ensure we have the resources for the necessary defenses. And every measure will be taken to discover their new base of operations."

Robert nodded. "I'll be ready to help with the search, Admiral, just tell me…" He looked up in time to see Jarod walk up. He felt his knees wobble at the look on Jarod's face. "Did you find…?"

Jarod shook his head. "She's gone," was all he said. All he needed to say. But he continued. "There's signs of a struggle, but that's it. Cat's scanning to see if there's any… residue from a vaporization."

A sledgehammer of grief and worry crashed down on Robert's soul. His legs nearly gave out from under him. Colin and Jarod rushed forward to catch him if he fell, but he managed, just managed, to keep his footing.

"Captain?" asked Maran.

"She's gone," Robert rasped. "Julia's gone."

With a loud thump, Julia landed on her left side on the deck below her. Zipcuffs kept her wrists bound together at the small of her back, and a similar set kept her ankles immobile. She looked up and kept a blank expression as two gold eyes looked over her.

"Here she is, Herr Brigadeführer," one of her SS captors said. "She gave us a chase."

"So I see," said Fassbinder. He smiled at Julia before turning away. Her eyes tracked the way he turned, toward a display screen. A voice reported, in German, an incoming communication, and Fassbinder nodded.

On the screen appeared several figures in dark clothing and robes. Julia's eyes widened as she recognized some of the faces: they were Cylons. A Gina model, a Cavil, a Biers, and of that unknown model she'd seen during the New Caprica standoff.

Standing with them were more figures that, after a moment, she recognized. Goras?!

"The Brotherhood of Kohbal thanks the Schutzstaffel for their assistance," said one of the women. Julia was pretty sure she recognized her as Goras' missing apprentice Intalarai, the one Lucy dueled in the Senate.

"And we are thankful for the distraction your attack provided for our own operation."

"It has been fruitful," said one of the Cavils.

Intalarai nodded. "After nearly three thousand years, the Brotherhood of Kohbal is whole once more." Her wicked smile was full of satisfaction. "And Swenya's legacy has been wiped from the face of our homeworld."

Fassbinder chuckled. "The Alliance trembles in terror at our combined strength," he declared in a delighted tone. "I look forward to the recording of the Great Temple of Swenya being atomized."

Horror and shock nearly choked Julia at that. Meridina, Lucy, and Talara were on Gersal! Were they…?!

"We have much to plan before we act again," the Cavil model said. "Until then, may your will continue to dominate the universe around you, Fassbinder." With that the image blinked out.

Julia bit back the impulse to call Fassbinder a bastard. She couldn't keep her face from twisting into a scowl.

He nevertheless turned to face her. "I have awaited this day," he said. "Oh, I have long waited to have one of you in my… care. The officers of the Aurora, the founders of the Alliance." His expression flashed hatred at her. "Especially now, when you have so much to answer for. Welcome, Kapitan, to your future. Allow me to give you a demonstration of what it will be."

His hands came up and purple-tinged lightning shot from them, enveloping Julia. As her body spasmed and twisted, with cold energy that seemed to be sapping away at her very life, she tried and, after a couple of seconds, failed to bite back a scream of pain.

Fassbinder started to laugh.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Enigma »

The unknown mystery ship. It wouldn't happen to be the Avenger? :)

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

Post by Borgholio »

Enigma wrote: 2018-11-07 01:28pm The unknown mystery ship. It wouldn't happen to be the Avenger? :)
Does the Avenger even have a cloaking device? I don't recall it ever being mentioned.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

Enigma wrote: 2018-11-07 01:28pm The unknown mystery ship. It wouldn't happen to be the Avenger? :)
Consider the end of the Teaser, or indeed the last scene before the Tag. In short, no, it wasn't the Avenger, it was the Tisiphone, the being who serves the Alekto and used the attack as cover to steal Swenya's Blade.

Like the Aurora, the Avenger does not have a cloaking device.
”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 Jeaxian and Miqo'te guards of the M'nhra Clan Trading Company warehouse were well-armed, well enough that the local security forces of the independent Miqo'te colony T'Chana always gave the facility a wide berth. They had extra incentive given that the operation was one of many for a powerful warlord of the Jeaxian statelets, Uharas avam Tithsa. Tithsa's past responses to police interfering in his operations had been suitably brutal to encourage the forces of the law to stay away.

So it was a great shock to the assembled when the door was ripped from its hinges. Through the door came Robert Dale and Lucy Lucero, in Gersallian robes and body armor, with a green and blue lightsaber blade flashing to life in the hands of each.

The guards brought their weapons up just to be jolted by a powerful blast through the ceiling. Combat-armed Alliance Marines dropped down on zip lines. More blasted through a side door, including in their number a squad of Marines in full power armor. Major Gabriel Anders lifted a rifle and put a shot between the three eyes of the biggest of the Jeaxians. The other Marines opened up as well while Lucy and Robert rushed ahead, slashing with their weapons while using their abilities to their fullest.

When the dust settled, the remaining defenders were zip-tied and under control. The Marines began an inspection of the crates around them. Many had weapons, including the distinctive disruptor rifles of the defeated Nazi Reich of Universe S4W8.

Lucy's expression hardened when she opened another crate and found a stasis crate inside. Within were two Miqo'te children, a male and a female, who were about the age of four in Human terms. Each wore a collar. Another crate revealed an adolescent Dorei of teal coloration.

With that sight Robert looked back to the line of guards. "You cooperate, you get leniency," he said. "Don't cooperate, we give you over to the Miqo'te and the Dorei for supporting slavery."

"You do not make us fear, Human," one Jeaxian rumbled. "You are a weakling. Why should we fear those who cannot defend their own worlds?"

"Oh, but we did, and we can," Robert retorted. The cold tone of his voice brought Lucy's concerned attention. "We've tracked the SS shipment to New Liberty through this warehouse. Tell us what you know."

"I will not betray Lord Tithsa," replied the Jeaxian. "You do not…"

Robert's voice dropped to a cold hiss. "Tithsa isn't here. I am." He swept his gaze down at the others. "Do any of you want to try my patience further?"

It was, perhaps, something in his voice. Something in his eyes. Something that told them this man, with all of these powers, was a desperate man, and like all desperate men, would be willing to do anything.

So they talked.

The orbital space over New Liberty was nearly clear of debris from the efforts of the Quarians. The broken remains of the ships lost to the SS attack were treated carefully, the dead within collected for return to their homes. The process was still underway below as the thousands of dead were identified and prepared for burial.

Among the ships in orbit the Starship Aurora kept her place. Work crews were steadily laboring to repair the battle damage she'd endured, trying to restore her warp power and other systems.

In the Conference Lounge off of the bridge, the staff officers of the Aurora were seated. There was a depressive air to them that none could avoid noticing. A weight on their spirits, not just from the attack on the colony they'd founded, but for the missing figure of their captain. In Julia's place sat Meridina.

On the main screen Admiral Maran spoke to him from his office in Alliance Defense Command, the six-towered structure that stood on the north bank of the Columbia River across from the Alliance capital in Portland. "The death toll on Gersal is still being counted," he informed them quietly. "Currently we expect it to reach at least five million. Proportionally speaking, I am aware that New Liberty suffered greater loss."

"Twenty thousand and nine hundred fifty-three dead," Jarod clarified. "Estimates are as high as twenty-five thousand when you account for vaporizations."

"I understand."

"The death toll on Gersal would have been higher if they didn't manage to get some of their shields going," Jarod added. "We should feel lucky for that.

"We do." Maran's expression slipped briefly. He was clearly exhausted, emotionally and physically. "We've moved fleet units to protect all major worlds. The reactivation of the reserve fleet we established after the war is proceeding. In time we will be able to protect all of our key systems from surprise attacks. And an overhaul of the communication system is being implemented to prevent another failure."

"And the Nazis?" asked Tom Barnes. "What will we do to pay them back for this?"

"Intelligence efforts are still ongoing. When we locate a central base, the fleet will go and wipe it out. I suspect it will be some time before we can finish annihilating them, however," Maran noted. "They will be a persistent threat for years with their current capability. How are your repairs proceeding?"

"We're gettin' there, Admiral" Scotty answered. "Warp power should be up soon."

"Alert me when you're ready to depart. On a related matter… Commander Meridina, as of this moment, you are Captain of the Aurora. Depending on matters here in Portland, we will have a new captain out to you in a week or so."

"A new Captain?" asked Locarno.

"I am afraid Commander Meridina's current command experience does not justify a promotion, at least according to the Promotion Board," Maran said.

"You mean Davies would have an epic hissy fit if Meridina got to be a captain," groused Angel.

"It is alright," Meridina remarked. "If we can recover Captain Andreys first…"

"Personnel is listing her as missing in action and presumed dead," Maran informed them.

"But, we've got no proof she's dead," Cat protested. "And if she's alive…"

"I'm told the vaporization issue is undetermined," Maran said. "And given their proclivities during the attack, it is considered likely she was killed resisting, whatever orders to capture they may have had. That is the current determination of Personnel on the matter. Either way, you do have my condolences. Captain Andreys was proving herself to be one of our best. The Alliance will mourn her loss."

"She's not dead," Angel insisted. "They have her, and we need to find her."

"Given their reputation, Lieutenant, I sincerely hope not. For her sake."

The cold metal of the chair was uncomfortable against the bare skin of Julia's arms and shoulders. Bands over her wrists and ankles chafed the skin there, rubbing it raw from when she would press against them.

She couldn't help but do so. They were too strong for her, but it was an inevitable consequence of the writhing from the spasms shooting through her body.

Standing about five meters in front of her, Erik Fassbinder gave her a delighted look with his unnatural yellow eyes. "One would think you would grow tired of this," he said. "That you would start to cooperate."

Her green eyes flashed defiantly at him despite the lingering pain in her body. "Andreys, Julia Megan," she replied, her voice hoarse. "Captain. Serial Number Bravo Zero Zero Zero Three One Zero One Hotel One Echo Four."

Fassbinder's face curled into a manic little smile. His hands came up and purple-tinged lightning shot from them. The lightning enveloped Julia with pain, an agony that seemed to reach from her flesh right into her soul.

She couldn't hold back the scream.

Undiscovered Frontier
"In Enemy Hands"

With the aid of other ships, the Jayhawk returned to the Aurora swiftly once the mission to T'Chana was complete. Once they were back, Robert, Lucy, and Anders went straight to the conference lounge to meet with most of the others. Scotty and Locarno were not in attendance, as the engineering teams were still incredibly busy, and Locarno remained for the bridge watch.

"We know how they beat our customs scanners on New Liberty," Lucy revealed to the others. "They smuggled the SS operatives and their weapons in on sensor-shielded cargo containers layered with legitimate goods to fool visual inspection."

"We should relay this data to customs authorities. Greater care will be necessary," noted Meridina.

"Did you find out where their base is? Where they might be coming from?"

It was clear the answer was no. Robert confirmed it. "They got the shipments through another neutral world in N2S7. We couldn't track them past it."

"So it's a dead end," Cat sighed. She was taking it as bad as the others.

"They're not stupid," Angel grumbled. "They knew we'd look."

"A usual tactic," Jarod noted. "We have to face the likelihood that the SS aren't based in any universe we are familiar with. Hunting them down will be like finding a needle in a haystack the size of a solar system."

"I don't care," Robert insisted. "We don't give up. They have Julia, and we're getting her back."

"The Alliance is listing her as killed," Jarod said.

"I know. And I understand it. But they're wrong," Robert insisted. "They took her. And we're getting her back. It's just that simple." I made a promise… Seeing their expressions, Robert forced himself into a new conversation line. "Did Dr. Meier and the others manage to get a ship?"

"Beth pulled some strings with Defense Command," said Jarod. "The Maimonides is taking them back."

"Right. Nasira's new ship. I'm sorry I missed her." Robert noticed the concerned looks of the others, especially Meridina, and sighed. "I… thank you for helping with this. I know you're all busy trying to get the ship back into working order after the attack."

"You don't need to thank us," Leo said. "We're here if you need us, like always."

"I know. If you'll excuse me, I need to go file my report to Admiral Maran." Robert got up and departed.

Soon the others did as well, save Lucy and Meridina. Lucy, like the others, couldn't help but notice the fourth gold strip on Meridina's collar. "So you're Captain now," she said.

"Temporarily," Meridina answered. "Admiral Maran does not believe I will be given the permanent promotion from the Board. He is looking into a new Captain to assume command soon."

"That's going to go over really well," Lucy mumbled. It would, of course, not go over well at all. Unless someone like Li Ming-Chung or Madeline Laurent got the command.

"Robert concerns me," Meridina said. "I can feel the weight pressing on his being, on his swevyra. I worry that his worry for Julia may drive him toward darkness."

"Tell me about it." Lucy thought back to that warehouse on T'Chana. Robert had been cold and quiet and utterly terrifying in interrogating the guards there. She hadn't sensed any compulsion, of course, but she remembered their fear they'd felt at being confronted by him. And his emotions, the desperate need he had to get information… "He got a little intense on T'Chana."

Meridina nodded in acknowledgement. "His emotions are raw. I have never felt him in this state. He seems unbalanced."

"Robert and Julia… well, you know how they are. They've been together since they were toddlers. They grew up in each other's company to the extent that everyone considers them inseparable. That kind of bond, it can be pretty powerful. I can even feel it, like their souls aren't entirely separate."

"I have sensed the same. But Robert must be cautious. And in the end, he may have to accept she is gone. Or he could become something terrible."

"I'll keep an eye on him," Lucy promised, knowing full well what Meridina was afraid of.

In his quarters Robert silently read over the reports from Portland. The hunt for the SS base was on, but they had so little to go on. The SS had done an excellent job in covering their tracks when they abandoned Himmlerwelt and flew off to God knew where. All of the leads gleaned from M'nhra went nowhere, it seemed.

He stopped reading and closed his eyes. Tears of fear and frustration welled in them. She was out there. He could feel it. Julia was alive and she needed him to find her, to get her away from Fassbinder.

It's your fault, a part of him said. You could have helped her first! You could have stopped them from taking her!

His mind flashed back over two years. The eve of the war, when they'd just rescued the last surviving Jews of Universe S4W8. Julia had given him a dressing down for staying too long under the guns of the Eichmann, for refusing to accept sometimes people had to be left behind. She'd told him that if it came down to her or the ship, she'd want to be left behind.

The words came back as if they'd been spoken yesterday.

"If that day ever comes, Robby... if you ever have to leave me behind to save everyone else, and the bad guys take me and... start hurting me… I want you to forgive yourself."

"I won't be able to."

"Let me finish. Forgive yourself. Focus on your job. Because I won't give them a thing. And no matter what they do to me, I'll know one thing. I'll know you're coming for me, okay? That you're going to save me. Just as I'd save you. Because we'd all do that for each other."

I'm coming, Julie
, was his response to the memory.

His personal system's controls lit up with a green light, showing an incoming communication. He checked and saw that it was on an encoded frequency. He tapped the key, wondering who it was.

The person that appeared surprised him. Indeed, it was someone he'd only met once, and not on the best terms. His called was an older man, dark-hair just turning gray, clad in a dark uniform with just one adornment on it: a brass pin with the Greek letter Psi.

"Good day, Captain Dale," said Alfred Bester, the most notorious of the Earth Alliance's Psi Cops. "You and I need to talk."

After more hours spent alone in the dark, still strapped to the cold metal chair, Julia was finally released from the confinement. Two medium-sized men in SS suits grabbed her arms and roughly bound her wrists with a strip of zipcord. One barked at her to follow, although with their grips on her arms they didn't give her much choice.

She was brought to an SS shuttle. The Reich craft had a wide-winged design, the warp nacelles at the extent of the wings and lifted slightly above the main body of the shuttle. Inside a pilot was already in a seat. Fassbinder was in a black SS uniform as before. Julia felt distinctly underdressed in her gym clothing. The tank top she wore was still damp from sweat.

Fassbinder grinned at her, but said nothing as the pilot confirmed launch checks. The shuttle lifted off and descended toward a planet that looked like a marginal garden world. The seas were more green than blue, it seemed, and the landmass was whiteish when it wasn't brown or dark green.

They descended toward the northern continent. Julia watched the empty space became less so. As they neared the surface, specifically a series of river valleys flanked by rocky ridge lines, the shuttle raced in on one. In the distance a tower was visible. As it drew closer, Julia noticed that the tower was not alone. Spreading out from the tower and linked structures at the center were five more groups of structures that seemed to be based within the soil and ground below, although none were nearly as tall as the central tower. They were laid out in a pentagon pattern around the central tower, not unlike the secondary towers of Alliance Defense Command in Portland. But the design was unique. Like nothing Julia had ever seen before. It was certainly not of Reich construction.

The shuttle landed at an open area between the central tower and the southwestern section. "Out," Fassbinder instructed. After a moment of refusing to move, Julia prompted them to force her out of the shuttle's rear hatch.

An entrance to the southwestern structures was beyond the shuttle pad. Along the path from the pad to the door, lines of men in SS uniforms were standing at attention.

"Go on, Kapitan," Fassbinder instructed. "Go through the door beyond."

Julia knew it wasn't so easy. At first she refused to move, so Fassbinder pushed her ahead. Sensing she would gain nothing from continued defiance, Julia stepped forward and entered the area between the two lines. She kept a steady pace, steeling herself for what was coming.

It didn't take long at all. One SS man lashed out with a baton, smacking her across the back. A fist flew in and caught her in the stomach. After doubling over for a moment she kept on. A few steps later another baton smacked her in the hip, a fist split her lip, and the attacks of the soldiers lining the way picked up. There was nothing she could do but endure the blows as best as she could, trying to maintain forward progress.

And then a blow came lower than usual. A baton smashed into her knee with enough force to damage the bone. It also knocked her off her stride. She dropped to a knee. A voice barked, "Who said you could stop?!"

At that point all pretense was dropped. More blows rained on Julia. She collapsed to the ground and tried to adopt a fetal position, to protect herself in some way, even with her wrists cuffed behind her back.

But there were too many. Fists and clubs rained on her, joined by shouts and enraged cheers. Muscles burned with pain, skin bruised, bones threatened to break. For a terrible moment Julia wondered if she was going to die here and now.

Then a powerful blow struck her in the head. Everything went dark.

Robert considered the image of Bester on his screen. A year before, Bester tried to capture him and Meridina to turn into lab experiments. Whatever his amended views of Psi Corps since meeting Colin Meier and the others at Tau Atrea, Robert did not have any kind thoughts for Bester. "Mister Bester," he replied. "What can I do for you?"

"Nothing. I, however, can do something for you." Bester kept a quiet expression. His left hand, gripped as always in a fist, was balanced against his open right hand. "To begin with, I have been ordered to apologize for the Kalnit Station situation last year."

"Alright." Robert didn't keep the impatience from his voice.

"I know you've got other things on your mind, so allow me to get to the point," Bester said. "Psi Corps recently raided a slaver vessel aligned with the same people that attacked Tau Atrea. We've obtained intelligence from them, intelligence that confirms the Aristos are trading technology to the SS remnants. They have an alliance forming."

Robert frowned at that. "What's in this intel?"

"We're not sure yet. We just got it ourselves so we've yet to finish analyzing it. But I'm aware of your situation and I'm sending you a copy on an encrypted subchannel."

Robert checked the system and confirmed the incoming subchannel. He directed it into an isolated computer drive. Looking back to Bester he said, "Thank you. I owe you."

"No, you don't," Bester said. "At Tau Atrea you risked your life to protect my telepaths. Your people saved over fifty of them from the Aristo ship. While I may disagree with Doctor Meier's decisions on some matters, he and I do see eye to eye on the matter of the Corps' position toward you. You saved over three hundred of my family members, Captain. As far as I'm concerned, I'm the one in debt, and this is toward that."

Despite Robert's suspicions, there was no denying the genuine feeling in Bester's voice, or the subtle shift in his expression. "You're not used to owing non-telepaths, are you?"

"No, I'm not. I'm not used to cooperating with them either. It's a rather… interesting feeling, I must admit. It's not very easy. The last time I worked with mundanes, Captain, thirty of my people were used as weapons. But you've paid up in advance. I'll forward you any further intelligence on the SS if we acquire it. Good luck finding your friend, Captain. Bester out."

Bester's image disappeared from the screen. Robert turned his attention to the intelligence pouring in. He finally tapped the key on his desk to open a commlink. "Dale to Lucero, Richmond, and Jarod. I need to see you in Science Lab 1 in fifteen minutes."

Sixteen minutes later, the three were watching the data Bester provided flash in code format across a screen on an isolated system. Jarod looked up and nodded. "It's clean," he said.

"I figured it was," Robert remarked. "But with Bester, you can't be too careful."

Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the ship's Chief of Security, went to another screen and started pouring through the actual data files. "Shipping manifests, vessel IDs, IFF codes, bank accounts," she read off in her high-class Australian accent. Her green eyes read along the flowing papers. "And personal identities. A Lord Karex seems to be the primary link in the chain for extrauniversal Aristo operations. He's listed as a Silicate. I'm not sure what that is."

"They're the least-important of the Aristo castes," Robert said. "According to our intelligence on them, Silicates are responsible for economic matters and trade. Primarily the internal slave trade of the Concord, but also foreign trade with the Allied Worlds of Earth and, to some extent, the Skolians."

"Why would anyone trade with slavers?" Lucy asked, incredulous.

"Because they want to make money," Jarod replied.

"That's not what matters right now," Robert said. "There could be a clue in this intel. The next link in the chain leading us to Julia. We need to find it."

"I'll get Lieutenant Liton and his team on this right away," Richmond promised.

"I'll help," Jarod added.

"So will I, but I'm… well." Lucy sighed. "I'm not sure I like getting intel from a bastard like Bester. We all know he got it by mind-raping people."

"Right now, the important thing is that we have it," Robert said. "However he got it, we need it."

Lucy gave Robert a perturbed look. Jarod looked at him carefully. After a few moments he nodded in understanding. "Yeah. We'll go through it and let you know if we find anything useful."

"Thank you," Robert said before departing, Lucy's eyes watching him the entire time.

An interuniversal jump point over New Liberty drew concerned looks from tactical officers across the system. That concern evaporated when the arriving ship's IFF code registered. The ASV Koenig immediately requested landing clearance from the Aurora. Operations officer Sabiha Neyzi agreed to it, opening the support dock to allow the Koenig to dock.

Zack stepped through the airlock and met Tom and Leo. The look on his face said it all. "How's it going?' he asked immediately. "The search, I mean. Robert's been sketchy with the replies."

"The search is just us right now," Leo said. "The Alliance is listing Julia as missing and presumed dead."

Zack's expression turned stormy. "They're what?" he demanded. "What… why would they?!"

"We're still not sure if the SS vaporized her or ran off with her," Leo replied.

"Don't tell me you believe that for a damn moment," Tom growled. "That bastard Assbinder's been after us for forever. He's taken her and we all damn well know it."

"I'm sure of it too," Leo said. "But Maran's trying to get defenses up across the Alliance. That's what he's focusing on right now."

"I don't give a damn," Zack said, heatedly. "We have to find her, and if the Alliance is going to abandon her, I'm going to Goddamned resign."

Leo flashed him an annoyed look. "I'm not happy with it either," he said. "But the Alliance has a lot on its plate right now, walking away won't get Julia back. Julia would want us to focus on protecting the Alliance."

Given the glare on Zack's face, Leo was certain his point was accepted, but not liked.

In one of the smaller quarters on Deck 6, Meridina stepped into the suite to find Gina Inviere sitting at a work desk. The blond-haired Cylon woman was intent on the two books she'd laid out on the table. Meridina immediately recognized them as the Life of Reshan, and Gartanam's translation guide to Swenya-era Gersallian writing. "Mastrash Ledosh would be pleased to see you continuing his work," Meridina said, fighting back the pain in her heart. She and Gina were both trained by Ledosh, and both felt him struck down by the fallen Mastrash Goras during the attack on the Temple.

"He died for this," she replied. "He believed the key to defeating the Brotherhood and the Inner Circle was in this text."

"What have you found so far?"

Gina looked over one paper of notes. "From what I've seen, the translation guide reveals errors in the text. That the book's text does not completely match the dialect of the time."

"Our people suffered much in that era. More than one language was changed or died out," Meridina pointed out. "This may have been written in an alternate dialect."

"Gartanam's guide suggests differently," Gina said. "Or so Mastrash Ledosh felt. He believed the errors were intentional. Extra characters, extra words."

"As in a code."

"Yes," said Gina. "If he is correct, the first chapters of the book speak of something called 'the Circle', which is vital to the future and the past." Gina set the paper down. "I'm not sure what it means yet."

"We will find out, I promise you that."

Gina nodded and turned her head to face Meridina. "How are you feeling?"

"I am… recovering, I suppose," Meridina replied. "As things are, the crew need me to be strong. I am in command, and everyone has taken a shock."

Gina's expression betrayed her own. "I never imagined the Inner Circle was like that," she said. "They were our leaders. The wisest. They knew God's Plan. But it was all a lie. They weren't wise beings leading the Cylons to a better world, they were… power mad monsters out for revenge. That's all it was in the end. All I suffered for, all the blood on our hands, all for… revenge in some millennia old vendetta."

"I am still wondering how the Brotherhood of Kohbal became involved with the last Humans of our home universe," Meridina admitted. "Or why those same Humans began to worship ancient gods their ancestors hadn't followed in millennia. What were they doing?"

"I'm not sure," Gina said. "Maybe it doesn't matter in the end. The only thing that does is defeating the Brotherhood and the Inner Circle. And if Mastrash Ledosh was right… we need to finish his work."

"For the time being, you can focus on this," Meridina said. "Robert is preoccupied with the SS matter, but Lucy is inquiring about your admission to his team."

"If the Alliance will allow it," Gina said, sighing. "I do not wish to cause him trouble. I can't imagine his superiors being pleased with a Cylon on one of their teams."

"Robert has great leeway in these matters, I am told. And your record since coming to Gersal has been irreproachable. None can deny you stand against the evils committed by your people, Gina."

"Even if they can't, that's not the problem. Trust… it is a fragile thing." Gina glanced back to the books. "I shall resume my work. I know you have much to do. If you need anything, let me know."

"Of course," Meridina answered. "May your swevyra grant you the insight you need." With that said, Meridina departed.

Julia's head still throbbed when she woke up. She was aware of a strange feeling of… weightlessness. Was she in a zero G chamber? A moment's sensation told her no to that. She felt wet. As if suspended in water. But her face was (mostly) dry, and she was breathing.

When Julia opened her eyes, everything took on a greenish tint. She was in a canister of green fluid. Her arms and legs wouldn't move. She glanced toward her sides and downward to see, through the green fluid, her wrists and ankles secured by metal stocks, holding her feet to the bottom of the canister and her wrists to its sides.

She faced forward again. Through the green haze of the fluid she noticed Fassbinder standing outside of the canister, not far from what looked like controls. "You are awake," he said, his voice distorted in her ears. "How do you feel? Wait… an answer is unnecessary. You undoubtedly feel rejuvenated, yes? Stronger than you have been these past days?" She noticed the satisfied smile on his face. "We healed your worst injuries. I cannot afford you dying just yet, you understand. And this remarkable substance did the rest." He walked over to the controls. "We found it in a stasis field of some sort. Three thousand years and the field never lost cohesion. The technology in this city… magnificent. And yes, it is a city, Kapitan. We are unsure of its origins, save that it is not Darglan, merely used by them. But its secrets will be ours soon enough." Fassbinder seemed to fiddle with the controls. "This is a substance that the Darglan listed as 'kohltou'. It is a wondrous biological material with quite potent healing capability. It can stabilize the condition of even the most gravely wounded and even provides needed nutrients to a body. We have also provided you with sustenance. Intravenously, of course. I have no intention to give you even the most basic pleasure of food or drink."

Julia pulled at her restraints, but they did not yield at all. She said nothing.

"Now, you may wonder why I've used such a wonderful healing material on you. The answer is that we have many questions to ask you, Kapitan. In your position, your… special status even as a Captain, you are undoubtedly aware of all sorts of interesting facts that the SS might find useful. Collaborators in the fallen Reich, for instance. Alliance plans. Diplomatic arrangements. Things that it is in your best interest to share. Do you understand?"

Julia's response was immediate. "Andreys, Julia Megan. Captain. Serial Number Bravo Zero Zero Zero Three One Zero One Hotel One Echo Four." She spoke plainly, but there was no mistaking the defiant glimmer in her eyes.

Fassbinder responded with a chuckle. "I am aware of your prisoner of war conventions. The Reich did away with such sentimentality long ago. Whatever it is you wish to hide, we will find it out." Fassbinder's hand went to the control. "There is another aspect about this kohltou you should know about. So you don't get too comfortable." He gave her a grin of sheer, sinister anticipation. "It is very conductive." With that, he twisted the dial.

Electricity coursed through the tank.

Light years and a universe away, Robert was at his work desk, asleep from exhaustion. Suddenly he sat up straight, a scream of pain erupting from his lungs.
”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 »

Lucy felt Robert's anguish across the ship and raced from Science Lab 1, fueled more by Hargert's Milchkaffee than anything else. Once she made it to Deck 6 and arrived at Robert's quarters, she smacked the chime repeatedly. "Robert!" Robert, I know you're in there, what's wrong?!

After a few moments the door opened. Robert was sitting on the couch, shirtless and in pajama pants, his head cradled in his hands. When he looked up, baggy-eyed and tired, Lucy saw tears streaming from his eyes down to his bearded chin. "I… I felt her, Lucy," he said hoarsely. "I felt Julie. She's alive… Fassbinder… he's.. he's hurting her."

Lucy stared at him for a moment, but she felt his conviction, his certainty. The feeling that he'd personally felt something like an electroshock reverberate through his body, inflicting terrible agony. He certainly wasn't lying.

But the idea of it. Of a connection across universes. It was beyond anything she'd ever heard of. "Are you sure it's that?" she had to ask. "This… it's never happened."

"I know. It sounds insane," he said. "From what we've experienced, the Flow of Life doesn't traverse universes like this. Connections don't. But I feel her, Lucy. I feel Julia! She's alive and she's in pain and we have to find her."

"We will," Lucy said. "We're making progress on the intel, we should have something later today."

Robert's response was an impatient look. "This is taking too long," he insisted. "It's been days, Lucy. Days. I promised her I'd come for her if this happened!"

Lucy felt his desperation and impatience and it made her heart ache. She wondered how Robert would survive if something would happen to Julia, or if the pain might destroy him. "And you'll get to keep that promise, we all will," Lucy said. "Just… you need to hold it together, Rob. Julia's going to need you to, if we're going to rescue her."

There was a surge of irritation at Lucy's words, as if she was patronizing him. But Robert bit it back. Lucy was trying to help, as always. "I… yeah. I know. It's just…" Robert swallowed. "I saw this coming, Lucy. I've been dreaming of this for years and I still let it catch me by surprise."

"Your dreams of the future have always been potential futures. Not prophecies of what will be. Don't blame yourself for not seeing this coming. None of us saw it." Lucy sat down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Robert, get some sleep. Get Leo to give you something if you have to. But you need to rest, really rest I mean, because we're going to need to be at tip-top shape for this to work."

Robert nodded slowly to that. "Right. I'll… I'll go to bed."

Lucy looked to his work desk and noted the telltale signs of someone having laid their head on it out of fatigue. He stood and she followed, making sure he laid down before she departed back for Science Lab 1 and the intel that might yet lead them to Julia.

Among other things, the attacks on Gersal and New Liberty had brought Defense Command in Portland back to its peak wartime level of strenuous activity, with the officers and personnel present directing the reactivation of the reserve fleet so recently taken out of service, along with the necessary infrastructure to support and man those extra ships. The prospect of SS or Cylon ships launching another surprise attack ensured the presence of a fleet in orbit and the heightened activity of the planet's assigned fighter units.

The need for defense fleets for the Alliance's major worlds occupied much of Maran's time now, as this need had to be balanced with other defense needs, like the maintenance of the 5th Fleet at Horizon to face potential Dominion aggression, and the demand for ships to protect the spacelanes of the fallen Nazi empire. The Defense Committee was meeting daily, requiring updates, and President Morgan required the same activity.

It was thus after a long day that Maran retired to his office in Defense Command. The skyline of Portland showed the twilight visage of the Alliance's capital city, located at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. He allowed himself a moment to enjoy that sight before he turned to one matter he'd been required by duty to hold off: the Aurora's command situation.

The sad truth was that it was unlikely that Captain Andreys would be recovered soon, if at all. It pained him to think that the promise she'd shown was going to be cut short in this manner. Even if she were eventually rescued, after a prolonged period in SS captivity she would be in no shape to resume her command. Likely not ever. The Alliance had lost one of its leading lights and an excellent starship captain.

Another sad truth was that Maran doubted he could arrange a promotion from within the ship's crew. Meridina, as capable a woman as she was, had only the past year of suitable command experience, and Maran doubted he could talk Personnel into giving her command of the Aurora. A year ago Commander Carrey would have been an acceptable candidate, even if his experience was primarily in attackers, but his difficulties with alcohol since New Caprica were not unnoticed by Personnel. Restoring him to the Koenig had required extensive work and Zachary Carrey's own continued sobriety, not to mention his conduct on the Citadel and Germania. A promotion and command of a star cruiser was a less likely prospect at the moment, when his restoration was still a fresh one.

Assigning another Facility hand with command experience was Maran's first choice, but only so many of them had command experience, and they were all in the middle of assignments on key vessels. Personnel would resist such a reassignment, and on the sound grounds of those existing assignments being more important. Thus, after days of thinking it over and testing the waters at Personnel, Maran had one prospect left that didn't involve causing such a struggle with his own people.

He returned to his desk and, after noting the local time for his intended contact, brought his interface online. "Computer, activate IU comms, standard encryption. I need a channel to Rohric. The office of Warmaster Shai'jhur." He waited patiently for the system to work through the needed protocols until it opened the requested channel.

The screen on his desk activated. The tired expression of the gray-tinged figure of the Dilgar Warmaster blinked into appearance, with wide yellow eyes gazing, a bit hoodedly, at the Gersallian Admiral. Maran had trusted her to lead the support forces over Germania, and she had served the cause of light with the same calm aplomb which had let her save the rearguard at Third Balos. “Admiral Maran,” she acknowledged, harboring no ill-will to any. “It has been a tumultuous week.”

"It has," he acknowledged. "I have heard no reports of attacks on Dilgar space. I trust this holds true?"

“Nothing. I thought the Nazis might regard us as a convenient target for their terror attacks, but we also have a fleet out of proportion to our population, and quickly re-mobilised it,” she answered.

"That is good. I am uncertain as to why, but it appears the SS exiles have gone quiescent for the moment. Whether or not this is to build up for a large attack, or if their numbers are lower than we expected and their losses at New Liberty were prohibitive, I cannot say. But I have called you on another matter." Maran set his hands down before him. "You have heard about Captain Andreys?"

“I am afraid not. She was slain at New Liberty, I take it, then?” Shai’jhur’s face twisted into a peculiar sort of grimace.

"She is considered missing, and is presumed dead," Maran clarified. "There is some uncertainty on the matter. Her crew are insistent that she was taken captive, and some of our analysts believe that a possibility given what we know of the attack's commander."

“Admiral… I must say that she would be better off dead. This is truly unfortunate. The Nazis will hate her for destroying all they had.”

"I said as much to her officers." Maran's expression was grave, as Shai'jhur's point hammered home the horror of that outcome. "Either way, the issue at hand is the command situation on the Aurora. That is the reason I have called you."

“I have already given you my eldest daughter, Admiral. I am grooming Tia’jhur for my heir, and the others did not follow command tracks, or are too young. Of the ones not my blood, War Captain Fiy’jash is a psychiatric casualty after the death of one of her children to the mercenaries during the Tiran crisis. I am not sure who else I would recommend.”

Maran nodded. "I understand. But there is a candidate I have in mind, who could make the transition more smooth for the ship's crew." With gravity in his voice, he said, "I would inquire as to the availability of Captain Kaveri Varma."

“My wife.” A fond look crossed Shai’jhur’s face for a moment. “Admiral, she may have commanded Explorers, and have been used to being a negotiator, a conciliator; but she is an Earthforce officer, and a Dilgar officer, and stricter than your Aurorans will like.”

Maran nodded in acknowledgement. "That is true. But the same can be said of many other candidates being considered. I feel that Captain Varma may be the best chance to prevent the crew from splitting up. I…" Maran, for a moment, felt uncomfortable. The thoughts he had were not those he shared. The one man he might have spoken to on the matter was Mastrash Ledosh, and he was now gone. "There is a… matter, Warmaster. It is a delicate one, and one I myself wrestled with for some time, and it pertains to the crew of the Aurora and my efforts to keep them together despite the opposition in my own service."

“By all means, Admiral, you have my confidence. You know I have faced delicate matters before,” Shai’jhur answered, her tone and posture creeping into some sympathy. Shai’jhur’s wounds were old; Maran’s homeworld had been hammered but days before.

"The crew of the Aurora are the standard bearers of our Alliance. That, alone, merits to me every measure I take to keep them intact, regardless of my peers," Maran said. He kept any remaining doubt about this measure from his voice. He would have to trust someone, after all, and Shai'jhur was among the few he would do so with. "But they are more. To a number of my people, a growing number I suspect, they are the Dawn-Bearers."

Shai’jhur braced her hands against her desk and leaned closer, as if to share a secret in person.

"I myself have only come to this view slowly, after consideration and discussions with the late Mastrash Ledosh," Maran continued. "You are aware of Swenya, and what she was to our people. While we lost much in Kohbal's uprising a hundred years after her death, among those things we remember is a prophecy she is said to have given late in her life, using the gift of foresight that the Flow of Life grants to those sensitive to it. That is the Prophecy of the Dawn." Maran reached over to transmit the text to Shai'jhur, in its entirety, the final line once omitted restored due to his correspondence with Ledosh and Robert. He watched her note the incoming data and waited quietly for her to read it.

“To a Dilgar, without the benefit of thousands of years of context and Swenya’s stories, it seems maddeningly vague, Maran,” she said, informally. “But, I also recognise a real power when I see it. I saw what Lucy Lucero and Meridina showed. I would never discount this power… Being guided by a hand, toward a purpose. One might disbelieve, but one would truly be a fool to disregard. And frankly, from what I have heard of the attack on Gersal… Your enemies may believe it more than we do. That begs the question of whether or not they know something we do not.”

Maran nodded grimly. He'd read the reports from Gersal himself. The things said, the things seen. All of the indications that the Cylons were in truth guided by the survivors of Kohbal's dark brotherhood. Given the knowledge lost in that ancient war, how much more did they know of the past than Maran's people? And what was their plan for the future?

With these thoughts still on his mind, Maran continued, "The final lines are, to me, the most important," he said. "There is much my people forgot due to Kohbal, but we remember the stories of Swenya confronting an ancient darkness, and our contact with the time traveling being known as the Doctor confirms that the Darkness do exist. That they are an ancient force, and they are still out in the Multiverse somewhere, on some level of creation, a threat to everything we know. And according to Swenya, the crew of the Aurora may very well be the key to defeating them."

“And if we accept that there is anything good in the universe at all, then… You wish to try and preserve their relevance to prophecy, and also their relevance to hope, as a symbol of the Alliance. You cannot be sure it is enough, but you must try. Am I right?”

Maran nodded. "Yes. We need that symbol. Not just my people, but the Alliance, indeed the entire Multiverse. Especially if our worst fears come to pass, and we do face this ancient threat ourselves."

“Well. Maran, Kaveri is commanding the Wrath, on peacekeeping duties in the former Reich. With this mobilisation her battlecruiser is needed as part of the fleet. But I will raise the idea with her. I will impress upon her the importance, and I will impress upon her the gravity of the request. I had hoped we could be together, but this is serious, and I must convey to her the seriousness of the opportunity. And you can tell the other Admirals of the Alliance that you have her in mind, perhaps that will give you a little more time to find Captain Andreys in.”

There was real gratitude in Maran's expression, as stoical as it usually was, and the same was in his voice when he replied. "My thanks to you, Warmaster, and I do understand that I have asked much of you and of your wife. I can indeed buy more time from Personnel with Captain Varma's candidacy. Enough time for Captain Dale's efforts to be fruitful, if they are not done in vain." For Shai'jhur, or anyone that might observe him and know Maran's usual demeanor, there was a visible weariness to Maran he did not normally evince. The attack on Gersal had left its mark on him as thoroughly as any other Gersallian.

“Then you have my blessing, Maran. The storm breaks, still shall we remain.”

At the bar in the Lookout, Zack sat without saying a word to anyone. He asked for no food, no drink, nothing but quiet. He needed the quiet. He felt like his heart was going to break into pieces.

The idea of Julia being dead was bad enough, and the year had already been terrible. He'd lost Clara, lost his self-respect and only painfully rebuilt it, then survived the attack on the Citadel and the Battle of Germania. For the woman he loved to die too… there were few things worse than that.

One of those things was the alternative. That Julia was a captive of the SS. An SS which didn't have other factions holding it back anymore. The things they'd do to her, the kind of torture and humiliation they'd put her through, he could barely stand the thought of it. He tried and failed to keep his imagination from considering all of the possibilities.

After letting out a breath Zack started looking for Albert, figuring a small meal or at least a soda were necessary. It was when his eyes scanned across the shelf on the wall that Zack spotted the tall, square bottle of green liquid. He recognized it immediately as Aldebaran whiskey.

For the first time in months, it struck him. A deep, raw need for the haze, the obliteration of his senses. To make everything numb and forget, for even a moment, his pain. Zack looked at the bottle and craved its contents like a man dying of thirst craves a bottle of water. One is too much, he reminded himself. But with his imagination tormenting him with the idea of Julia suffering, with his fear giving him grief that she was dead, or worse than dead, that he would never see her again, would never hear her laugh, never get to exchange jokes or tease each other or put up with her well-intentioned take-charge mother hen bossyness…

Zack's hand twitched. Just a motion and the bartender would come, and he could enjoy a drink and just… no, no he couldn't do this, not again, not after he promised, not after all he went through… he couldn't give in and yet he just needed a drink, just a little one, just to take the edge off, just to dilute the anguish. One drink to make the pain easier to bear...

"Hey Zack."

Jarod's voice got Zack's attention. By the time Zack looked over Jarod was slipping onto the stool to his right, the last stool at this end of the bar. He motioned with a raised hand for the bartender to come over and said, "Another pitcher, your best."

"Yes Commander," the young man replied in a thick accent.

When Zack gave him a wondering look he answered, "Coffee. For those of us in Science Lab 1 going through all of the intelligence Robert got from, well, an unexpected source." Jarod gave Zack a close look and then followed Zack's eyes to the shelf. "We're all worried for her. And we're all wondering the same thing. That it might be better if she died fighting. If they took her…"


"She's a fighter. And we'll do anything to find her."

"Even if it means going rogue?" A dangerous look came to Zack's eyes. "The Alliance is writing her off as dead."

"MIA, presumed dead."

"This is Davies isn't it?" Zack asked aloud. "He thinks he can get one of his people in command."

"It's a lot of things, I'm sure. But we're not going to stop looking for her, you can be sure of that." Jarod noticed the dangerous look in Zack's eyes. At that moment he fully believed that Zack would, if it came down to it, steal the Koenig if he needed to in order to save Julia.

Although by that same measure, Jarod was certain the crew would steal the Aurora if they needed to accomplish the same.

After glancing to the Aldebaran whiskey on the shelf again, Zack asked, "Did Sydney ask you to come see me?"

Jarod nodded. "He did. But I would have come anyway."

Zack blinked back tears. "Thanks. To both of you."

While Science Lab 1 was the center of the hunt for Julia, Cat was utilizing Science Lab 2 for the same purpose. It was meant for physics and materials sciences, after all, and analysis of the debris from SS ships was part of that. She looked over the twisted, blackened sample she'd acquired from the debris collection now sitting in the lab's analysis chamber. A formidable array of advanced scientific equipment was giving her everything she could imagine on the debris. Its material composition, remnant radiation traces, atomic makeup, every piece of data she might find useful, data that might yet provide a vital clue.

Results from scans flashed over her screens, and Cat set up comparison analysis to see if anything matched. Maybe a unique radiation trace from exposure to a pulsar or some other unique space phenomena. Or if the piece had a unique element or isotope, the origin of which could indicate a possible base.

Minutes passed, hours. Bit by bit, the results came in. And…

...and nothing. Nothing unique. Nothing she could use.

Cat didn't initially notice that she'd started to weep. She just did. She sniffled and let out a small sob full of despair. Julia was out there, she needed help, and Cat could do nothing for her. She didn't have anything to lead her to Julia. Not one damn thing.

The tears were dripping from her chin when the nearest door to Science Lab 2 opened. Tra'dur entered and approached. The young Dilgar pulled up a chair and sat beside her, her feline eyes focusing on Cat. "Cat'Delgado," she said quietly, using the combination of personal and family or clan name that Dilgar always did. "What is wrong?"

"I thought… I thought maybe I'd find something," she said. "Something that would give us a clue on where they came from. Where they might have taken Julia." Cat sniffled and wiped away at the tears flowing from her reddened, fatigued eyes. She glanced at the time display on the nearest screen, which showed the time as 2350. She was due to be up in less than seven hours to report for her morning watch. "But there's nothing. Nothing I can use."

"I see." Tra'dur nodded in understanding. "I know you want to find her desperately, but there will be the next watch to keep the data reduction going. You also need sleep to do your best, Cat’Delgado. That’s science, too.”

Cat nodded. "But if we don't find her, if I've missed something…" Cat stopped and wiped again at the tears. "I've known her since I was little. I wasn't even ten years old yet, and she was this awesome big kid who could fight my sister and win, and was really cool and nice and… well, she was the first girl outside my family I really liked. Her, and then Susannah. I've already lost Susie…" Cat drew in a breath and the resulting sniffle. "It's funny. Rob was the one who led us into this, and he was the Captain at first, but she was always the one to take the lead for us. To get us to do the job right. And she's done so much and always looked out for us, for me… now I can't even help find her."

"You have tried," Tra'dur replied. "She, the Captain, would understand. She would be proud."

"Yeah, she would. But I just feel… I feel like I haven't done enough."

"Everyone feels that way. Everyone."

"And you?" Cat asked. "Do you feel that way?"

Tra'dur nodded quietly. "Captain Andreys has done much for my people. And she sponsored me through the Officer Training program and gave me my post here. I'll always be grateful to her. I pray that the Gods give her strength and us insight so that we may bring her home."

Cat sniffled again and nodded. "I guess that's all we can do. Pray, I mean." After running her hand over her eyes again, trying to clear the tears, Cat treated Tra'dur to a hug. "Thank you," she said.

Tra'dur, surprised briefly by the embrace, returned it carefully, uncertainly. "You really should get some rest, Cat'Delgado," she said quietly.

Cat responded with a mumbled, "Yeah", and with Tra'dur departed the Lab, bound for her quarters and a good night's sleep.

Even with everything that happened, daily routines were still a part of the lives for those on the Aurora. This included the daily training regimen of Angel Delgado, who was busy pummeling away at one of her punching bags as part of said regimen. Sweat coated her bronze skin, her muscles visibly bulging beneath.

While Angel had a reputation for being hard on the gym punching bags, she was usually not so rough on them. Today was one of those exceptions, as she cut loose, punching and occasionally kicking with enough ferocity that the material of the bag was giving way.

She only stopped when Tony Zah, her boyfriend, called out her name. She turned to face him. He was fresh from a jog, shirtless and in gym shorts. Usually the sight of him like that, with his developed musculature under his tanned complexion, made her appreciate having Tony as a boyfriend. Today she barely gave him a glance.

Tony didn't mind that. He knew why, and he said nothing more until he was beside her. "Want a partner?" he asked.

"I'm fine." She focused on the bag and slammed her fist into it.

"Babe, she's your friend," he said gently. "I understand."

"This wouldn't have happened if we'd been more careful," Angel insisted. "The war ended and we decided it was back to business. We should have been scouring for the damn SS the moment we found out some of them got away! Not building Goddamn science ships!" As she spoke each sentence she picked up the pace of her punches.

"Hey, Babe, look at me?"

Angel turned to Tony, snarling. She looked like she was ready to explode from fury. Wordlessly he stretched his arms open, offering an embrace that by all appearances she was too furious to be interested in.

And yet, she took it, moving up to him and putting her arms around him, letting Tony do the same to her. Tears welled from her hazel eyes. "She's my friend, Tony," Angel said. "They've got my friend."

"I know," he said.

"Aside from Cat, she's the one… I mean, you know about me and Rob, but I met her first. She's my match on the mat. Back in the day, back in Kansas, it was always awesome with her. I'd win, she'd win, and we always shook hands and… and we stayed friends, and did things, and she brought me into the group with the others. As bossy as Julia is, you could, you can always count on her."

"We're getting her back, Angel. Doesn't matter what Portland says, you and the others, you'll find a way. You always do."

The term prompted a small giggle from Angel. The giggle was the only thing stopping a sob instead. "Trying to make me think you're some brilliant therapist type?" she asked.

"I'm just a lunkhead with muscles, what do I know about therapy?" Tony kissed her on the forehead.

"No more than me, I guess." Angel let out a yawn. "I guess I should shower and get to bed. You're due to go on duty soon?"

"Soon, yeah." He let go, and she did too. "See you later for dinner?"

"Your dinner, my breakfast," Angel answered. "Sure."

Tony nodded and walked away. Angel admired the view of her boyfriend from behind before going over to collect her water bottle and towel, which she used to wipe the sweat from her face. He's a keeper, she thought, after which her mind went to the main topic for her. We'll find you, Julia. We'll get you back. Just hold on until we get there, wherever you are…

After being shocked into unconsciousness, Julia spent untold hours in the tank. Her wounds were fully healed by the point that she was fished out, which jolted her back to consciousness.

The men who took her away, two of Fassbinder's troopers, handled her roughly, half-dragging her across the ground. It took several minutes for them to arrive in what was clearly a confinement area. The cells they passed were empty and inactive. All save one, which was to Julia's right. It was to the opposite cell on the left that they took her. One bellowed "Get in!" and drove a black stick in his hand into Julia's ribs. Not only did the impact itself hurt, the stick delivered an electrical shock into her body much like a taser would. Her body seized up painfully. With a contemptuous look they picked her up and tossed her into the cell. The lights around the entrance lit up, warning of an energy field to keep her in.

As they stomped off Julia took in the empty chamber. There was nothing here for her. No bedding, no seats, nothing but a bucket and the hard floor. Fassbinder was determined to make her suffer.

With her energy waning, Julia turned enough to glance to the opposite cell. It was also occupied. She got a glimpse of a figure in red clothing. Before she could notice further detail, her eyelids dropped, too heavy for her to keep them open any longer. Within seconds she was asleep.

Robert's sleep was restful enough. When he awoke he checked for further messages. Finding none, he took the time to process the necessary paperwork to confirm Gina Inviere, as a naturalized citizen of the Gersallian Interdependency and member of the Order of Swenya, was being signed on as a non-military operator for his operations team. He expected it to cause some waves in Portland, but he had the leeway in the Paladins' operating charter, and plenty of character witnesses to Gina's capability and trustworthiness.

Next was a check on the new day's intel reports. There were no further reports of SS or Cylon activity. A major Jem'Hadar and Cardassian force was on sensors near Horizon, drawing in the 5th Fleet, but intelligence believed it was a Dominion test of Alliance defense response after the attack. Another report marked the Romulan activity near Altharra and incidents there. Alliance Intelligence believed it had to do with the pretender to the vacant Romulan throne.

He was just starting to read that report, if just to get his mind off things, when he received the call from Lucy to come to Conference Room 1. He turned off his systems, donned his uniform, and went straight there.

Richmond, Lucy, and Jarod all looked exhausted. Meridina and Anders were present as well, as was a small table with breakfast pastries and treats from Hargert's kitchen. And several pots of coffee. He poured himself a cup and snatched up a jelly-filled strudel to appease his hunger.

Once they were all seated Richmond took the lead. "We've found an item of interest," she said, bringing up an image of several manifests and the image of a space station. It was a ring station with an inner cylinder. Some weapon emplacements were visible. "Toutaine Station," she said. "In orbit over the third moon of a rather nasty desert world in SOT5 Wild Space. The planet is neutral and is home to the Yildiz, a Human nation or tribe of sorts. Toutaine has a marginal habitable zone in the temperate and subpolar regions, and they are for the most part a non-industrial agricultural society going by Solarian records."

"And yet there's a space station in their space," Robert said. "Black market?"

"Officially independent by charter from the planetary government, with links to certain Cevaucian figures of import. They do a hefty traffic in various illicit goods, including, going by this evidence, slavery. In fact, the Amir of Toutaine sells families into off-world slavery as a sort of ultimate punishment."

"And the Aristos are involved now?"

"They're using Toutaine Station as something of a customs point. We're still determining the exact nature of how they get jumps back to A5R0."

"Probably the same way the Orion Syndicate and the Batarians and all of these other criminal organizations do it," Lucy noted. "They pay for jumps like any other ship. And if the jump station network ever gets put into operation…"

"However they do it, Toutaine Station is currently a central point for the trade. Not really surprising given that S0T5 also has a large population of telepaths." Richmond tapped a key and highlighted documentation. "The important part is that we have journal entries and manifests confirming the link to the SS. The SS has been trading captive telepaths and certain technologies to the Aristos in exchange for examples of Eubian technology they consider of interest. And Toutaine Station's position in Wild Space, far from standard Solarian patrols, is an optimal location for these exchanges."

"So we need to go there and find the next link in the chain," said Jarod. "Which is the hard part."

Robert already knew what he was getting at. "The distance is too far for the Jayhawk," he said. "At Warp 6 it would take weeks to get there."

"The Aurora could manage the trip in a few days," Jarod replied. "But Scotty's still working on repairing the warp drive. We're at least a day from warp capability."

"And with the fleet mobilization, we are not free to join you, Robert," Meridina remarked.

"Even if not, I doubt the Aurora could make the journey," said Richmond. "Toutaine is past the far end of Solarian and Cevaucian space. Neither state would appreciate the Aurora entering the area. The Bragulans are another threat. Frankly all of the powers in that region would react badly to the Aurora warping in."

"So what we need is a ship that won't tick them off," Lucy said. "One fast enough to get the Jayhawk to Toutaine." A thoughtful look crossed her face. "Meridina, do you think Kasszas might help? Maybe someone at the Enclave has a ship…"

By this point everyone noticed the thoughtful expression on Robert's face. Lucy and Meridina could sense his distaste and growing resolve. He was about to do something he didn't want to, something he knew would come back to bite him in some way, but at this point he'd do anything to help Julia. "I've got someone better in mind. I'll be back as soon as I'm done." With that he rose from his chair and left.

The walk back to his quarters on Deck 6 gave Robert time to run what he was about to do, about to say, through his head. Over and over he considered his options and knew this was the only viable one. Julia couldn't wait for them to get another ship, a slower one, or to get permission from the Solarians, or any other thing they'd have to do in order to get to Toutaine. He had just this one option. And for Julia, he'd do it, even if it cost him in the long run.

When he arrived in his quarters, Robert immediately sent out a message over the interuniversal comm network. It wouldn't take long for it to go along the relays to its destination. Indeed, only a few minutes passed before the system notified him of an incoming encrypted communication. He confirmed his identity with the system and waited for decryption to process.

When it was done, he was treated to the view of an office desk, behind which a sunset sky was filled with skycars and other vehicles. High rise buildings were plainly visible in the distance. But they weren't the focus of his attention. The figure in the fancy chair was, the chair with the emblem of a winged Moebius sign.

"Hello, Captain Dale," said Sidney Hank.

"Mister Hank, thank you for responding so quickly."

"It was nothing special. I've been waiting for your call," he said. "I have been since I learned Captain Andreys is missing, likely dead."

"She's not dead," Robert said.

"Agreed. Anyone bothering to analyze Erik Fassbinder's known history would know that. He's been after you for a while now." Sidney smiled. It was a very unsettling smile, as if he was savoring the moment. "So what can I do for you?"

Robert had to fight back the urge to scowl. He drew in a breath. It's for Julie, he reminded himself, before answering, "I need your help, Mister Hank."

"Ah." Sidney shifted himself in the seat slightly. His sky blue eyes focused on Robert. "Well, let's be honest, Captain, you can't afford me on a Paladin's salary. Frankly it wouldn't matter, I have more money than I honestly know what to do with, so at this level I don't accept cash payments anyway. And while you have President Morgan's ear, I have other ways of exerting influence with the Alliance Government, I don't need a Paladin to speak for me. In short, there isn't anything you can give me as payment for my services."

"You're right, I can't," Robert said.

"Then you know my price?"

Robert swallowed and nodded. "I do. Just as you offered to me in your office."

"A favor…"

"...for a favor," Robert finished for him.

"And you accept this? Unconditionally?" There was no denying the immense pleasure Sidney showed at the occasion. While he said nothing, the overtone was clear: he was seeing just how far Robert would go, and if Robert was desperate enough to sell his soul. Given that Sidney Hank epitomized the image of being "a man of wealth and taste", there was a certain foreboding quality to the idea.

"Don't make me act against the Alliance, New Liberty, or those I love, and don't ask me to commit mass murder," Robert said. "Those are my conditions."

"Oh Captain, you needn't worry. I'm not a cruel man. I have no intention of ripping your precious conscience to shreds by forcing you to do something you'd find reprehensible. I have people I pay for those kinds of things. People who don't share your peculiar obsession with heroism." The tycoon snapped his fingers. "Your condition is accepted, Captain Dale. Now…" Sidney leaned forward. "...how may I be of assistance?"

Every muscle in Julia's body hurt when she woke up. Her spine protested all of the time spent on the hard floor and her stomach growled a demand for food, food that she was not going to be provided. Her throat was parched dry. Even boiling water would be satisfying.

With her eyes open Julia looked across the cell hall to the other cell and its occupant. Now she could see her fellow prisoner was a Human, a young woman with East Asian coloration and facial features. She had shoulder-length black hair that was disheveled and unkempt. Her clothing was predominately red, a set of loose pants and a short-sleeved vest. Gold trim on the cuffs and neckline, and on the cuffs of the pants legs, provided extra color to her clothing. Julia guessed she was a teenager, or just past twenty at the oldest. Physically she was built solidly, but not thickly, with the faint hint of muscle on her visible arms. The girl's eyes were closed and she looked like she was in a meditative stance.

After a moment's thought Julia prepared to call out to the girl. The sound of stomping feet stopped her. Moments later figures appeared outside of her cell. Fassbinder looked down at her, his unnatural yellow eyes focused intently on her face. One of the troopers with him turned off the cell. "Have you rested well, Kapitan?" he asked, sardonically. "Either way, it is immaterial. The time has come for your interrogation to begin in earnest."

The chamber Julia was brought to was dominated by one large chair with wrist and ankle restraints built into it. A control panel was visible nearby and, along one wall, a flat viewer screen. Fassbinder stood beside it while his troops put her in the chair.

After she was strapped into it a headpiece was lowered, pushing up against her forehead. THe chair began to spin until she was orientated facing away from the viewer. Fassbinder walked into her vision, wearing that small sadistic smile he'd held ever since Julia was brought before him. "This device is a remarkable interrogation tool, Captain Andreys. I admit the Schutzstaffel did not develop it ourselves. We discovered the builders in our initial extrauniversal explorations. Among them was a rather willful, biologically unique individual who was quite willing to trade technology for data on… wurmloch, I believe is the term? Either way, we had data he found useful, and he gave us this." Fassbinder chuckled, as if privy to a brilliant joke. "I am quite amused by the irony. His people refer to this device as the 'Aurora Chair'. It will allow us to pull information from your mind. You will not hide anything from us."

Julia stared at the wall past him, giving no indication she heard him.

"Activate the Chair, Untersturmführer."

Something ripped into Julia's mind, eliciting a strangled cry from her throat as her entire head became alive with pain. She felt like someone was running drills into her brain. Fassbinder diverted his attention past her, where the screen came alive. She felt the chair grab at a memory in her head, the day Maran asked her to become the Captain of the Enterprise, and heard the conversation play over a speaker.

This memory was followed by others. Memories of battles, memories of meetings. Every moment brought searing pain. She struggled briefly against the braces holding her wrists and ankles before letting out another cry.

Whether it was desperation to escape the pain, a desire to feel better, a subconscious impulse to fight the machine… whatever her motivation was, Julia focused on her happiest, most cherished moments. She focused on memories of warm days under the Kansas sun, playing in the Dale farm's endless fields of golden wheat. She thought of sitting and watching movies with her parents. She immersed herself in these happy memories as if they could shield her from the pain.

They didn't. They couldn't. The device continued to burrow into her mind regardless. But all the pain managed to do was redouble her efforts.

She was too focused on these efforts to notice the growing expression of irritation on Fassbinder's face as those same childhood memories played out on the screen. The pain in her head only seemed to grow worse, as if the machine sensed the defiance in her efforts and was determined to thwart her.

It would be some time before the pain became too much, and everything went dark.
”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 jump point generated by the Aurora deposited the Jayhawk in the S0T5 universe. Upon exiting the jump point a wave of nausea filled Robert and the others. Lucy was used to this feeling, but Gina and Talara were not. "I… I do not remember feeling this bad the last time," Talara admitted. "I just felt a little worn."

"You're more sensitive now," Lucy pointed out from the piloting seat. Her skin paled a little. "God, I hate this place."

Robert's stomach was twisting. He could see why the reports on the Fracture were fully justified. The place was simply wrong. Everything felt distorted, as if space itself, as if reality, had been smashed with a sledgehammer and twisted up afterward. Robert noticed something on his screens. "There's a ship nearby. Sending you coordinates."

Lucy activated the main engines on the Jayhawk. The impulse drives gave the ship excellent speed and maneuverability. It closed the distance to the incoming ship in record time. Everyone looked out at the vessel with increasing incredulity. "It's… a giant donut?" Lucy asked.

The craft ahead was a torus in shape, much like the pastry Lucy compared it with. Its hull was a fine, brilliant silver. Robert noted it was at least a kilometer in diameter. Its surface was mostly smooth and unmarked, but he noticed white light pouring from one section facing slightly toward them. The center of the torus was visibly empty, although sensors detected energy fluxes within the center that would certainly keep them out of it.

From the spare seat Gina was monitoring communications. "We're being hailed. Audio only."

"Put them on."

An electronic voice spoke. "Greetings, Captain. I am the Joyride Madonna, and I take great pleasure in saying I am the fastest ship in the Pan-Empyrean fleet. I am here to bring you to the Toutaine System posthaste. Mr. Hank's other agents will be waiting for us there. Please land in the designated landing bay. For your safety, it is advisable that you remain aboard your vessel during our flight."

"What do you mean you're the ship?" Talara asked.

"I am a Computational Intelligence," the voice replied. "I am aware that those outside of Solarian space can be perturbed by excessive interaction with CIs, so I will endeavor to make your trip a pleasant one. Please, inform me if there is anything you need."

Course data came through over the channel, which Robert relayed to Lucy. Their destination was the source of light along the surface. Lucy flew the Jayhawk in. As they neared it, no further detail appeared on the vessel. Its surface appeared completely smooth. Robert checked the sensor readings and noted that while it could determine some of the minerals in the hull, the specific material was not on file.

The landing bay itself had a red and gold interior. Several fighter craft were visible, as were personnel shuttles. Worker drones were visible in one corner, inactive but presumably ready to service returning vessels. When the bay door closed it did so as if it were a liquid. "Memory metal?" Robert asked aloud.

"Maybe," Lucy said. "I'd need a sample for an atomic analysis scanner, and I doubt Mr. Hank will approve." She relayed sensor data to the pilot station. "It looks like the ship is building up to a transition to hyperspace. But this pattern, the wavelengths, it's all atypical for S0T5's drives."

"File it for later," Robert said. Everyone felt a sudden, minor shift through the ship. The sick feeling of the Fracture dissipated.

"We are now in hyperspace," the operating CI said. "Estimated Time of Arrival to Toutaine is six hours."

They exchanged surprised looks. "Only six hours?" Lucy asked. "That's… amazing. I'm not aware of any drive that fast."

"I am built with only the best in technology developed by Pan-Empyrean, Lieutenant Lucero," the CI replied cheerfully. "I am fully justified in stating I am one of the most advanced, capable vessels that exists in the Multiverse. If you wish to know more, I am happy to provide answers so long as they do not counter the interests of Pan-Empyrean Holdings."

"Right. Well, there's nothing for now," Lucy replied.

"Very well. I will inform you when we are ten minutes from hyperspace egress. Good day." The line cut.

"This is… I mean, I thought Sidney Hank was just some ludicrously wealthy tycoon," Lucy said to the others. "But this is… why would someone like him want a ship like this?"

"I have a feeling there's a lot more to Mr. Hank than any of us realize," Robert said quietly. "And we may not enjoy finding out just what he's really up to." As Robert spoke those words he thought again on the deal he'd made. He'd given Sidney Hank something close to a blank check. He wondered when it would be cashed, and just what it could cost him in the end.

Another thought quickly came. Whatever it cost… it would be worth it if he rescued Julia.

Julia awoke with a jolt, her right cheek stinging from the impact of a backhanded slap against it. She opened her eyes to find herself laid out on the ground. A set of cuffs held her wrists behind her back. An iridescent powder, something like fine glitter, covered her skin. She blinked at that, wondering just why she was covered in glitter.

"It is good that you are awake," Fassbinder said, standing over her. On his left hand and forearm was a gauntlet with a control panel of some kind. "I sense you are curious about what we have coated you with, Kapitan. Allow me to explain." He knelt down beside her and looked into her face while she turned away. "We acquired this technology from another of our new trading partners. They were quite… eager to acquire our telepathic prisoners of war and provided us with useful technology and resources in exchange. This… glitzerpulver is actually composed of nanobots. You are familiar with nanobots, yes?" She didn't have to answer, as he could sense that familiarity. "It can be keyed to DNA. We have done so with yours. The nanobots hook themselves into your skin and extend threads that attach to nerve endings. Allow me to demonstrate." He reached for the gauntlet and pressed a button.

The pain was unreal. The surface of much of her body came alive with it. General, unspecified pain, as if the pain was itself a sense. A choked scream came from her throat at the intensity of the sensation.

Fassbinder let out a satisfied little sigh, as if her agony brought him physical pleasure. He knelt there for several seconds, enjoying the sight before him, the screams and cries of pain sweet music to his ears, before he keyed the gauntlet again. The pain receded and Julia sucked in a greedy breath, the screaming have driven the air from her lungs. "Now, Kapitan, what do you know about the defenses over the Reich's homeworld?"

Grim resignation was in Julia's voice as she responded, by instinct more than intent, with, "Andreys, Julia Megan. Captain. Serial Number Bravo Zero Zero Zero Three One Zero One Hotel One Echo Four."

"Still uncooperative. Let's see how much pain you can endure, then." His finger stabbed at the gauntlet.

The pain returned.

Across the Aurora the repair crews were putting the finishing touches on their work. In Engineering Tom looked over the ship systems status display and noted nearly everything was green. The last yellow or red lights went green one by one.

Given that they didn't have the aid of a dockship or a full repair yard, the completion of so many repairs in such a length of time was an accomplishment to be proud of. Ordinarily he would have. But the sick feeling inside of him kept him from that sense of accomplishment. The repair work was all well and good, but it did nothing to get Julia back.

For all of his excitability, Tom Barnes was not normally a hater. He could be angry at someone, utterly livid, but hate was too strong for his usual feelings.

But now he knew what it was like to hate. To hate the SS, who had caused so much misery on his adopted world. Killed so many good people and taken a friend he admired and respected.

The last system went green and there was some applause from the assembled. None came from Tom.

"Tom, how are you feeling?"

The line might have come from Julia, who was missing, or Scotty, who wasn't there. Instead it came through a machine, a vocoder, built into the suit of the speaker. Tali'Zorah took a place beside him and looked over the control display. "Your ship is ready," the Quarian woman said.

"Yeah. Thanks for the help." He glanced toward her. "So you're back with the Fleet? Your Pilgrimage is over?"

"It is, yes," Tali replied. "I offered the Neema captain the Geth data that Commander Shepard allowed me to copy. I'm a member of the Neema engineering crew now."

"Good for you," Tom said, with as much sincerity as he could muster. "How long until you reach chief engineer?"

Tali let out a small laugh. "It will be some time, I imagine."

He nodded.

"I'm sorry about Captain Andreys, Tom. She… she was a good captain."

"Is," he insisted. "She's still out there, she's alive, and we'll find her. That's for damn sure."

Tali went quiet at that. She could see how much Tom was hurting, regardless of what he said. It was a familiar pain to Tali. She felt it whenever she thought of Shepard.

"I'm sorry about Commander Shepard," Tom said. "She was good people."

"Yes. And it's how I know what you're going through."

"Right. Except you didn't have jerks planning on replacing her." Tom made a fist. "There are people in charge who hate us because we don't salute right or whatever. They'd love to take over the Aurora."

Tali looked at his face and understood. Losing his friend was hard enough. Tom was afraid that in the end, he'd lose everything he cared for. His ship, his friends… he might get split from all of them. "I understand, Tom," she said. "What you're afraid of."

Given where they were Tom had already said too much on his private feelings, so he didn't respond audibly. He replied with a nod. "Thank you," he finally said. "Well, I'd better get back to work before Scotty finds me standing around."

"Of course. And I need to get on a shuttle back to the Neema," Tali replied. "Keelah selai, Tom. If she's out there, you'll get her back."

Tom nodded in reply and returned to work. Tali left Main Engineering. Down the corridor she found Commander Scott in an office space, checking a report. "I did what I could, Scotty."

"I thank ye for it, lass," he replied, his accent strange to Tali's ears. "Th' lad's hurtin' more than he lets on."

"How are you feeling?"

Scott gave her a knowing look. "She's still out there, an' we'll go get 'er, even if I have tae steal th' Aurora t' do it." A dangerous glint in his eye made it clear that this was something he'd given thought to. Tali had the feeling that it was something he'd even done before and wouldn't care about doing again.

"Good luck, then," she said before walking out.

The nanobot session was followed by another period of immersion in the "kolhtou", although this time Fassbinder did not turn on the electricity. When the healing session was over Julia found herself being escorted to another section of the "city". That she could even walk was entirely due to the green fluid she was being immersed in. Nevertheless her guards had to half-carry her at points, at one point earning her a vicious punch to the stomach out of frustration and endless insults and curses, some in German and some in German-accented English.

The place she was brought to was essentially an auditorium, or had at least been refurbished as one by the SS. In the seats were various figures, who had just finished listening to an actual SS Choir that had sung the Florian Geyerlied for them, the muscular blondes in uniform filing away as she was brought in. Some were in SS uniforms, others had dark clothing. She recognized one as one of the Cylons, the older male model, indicating the others were Cylons as well. A third visible group were in fine suits and uniforms. She glanced long enough to note their skin was marble white and their hair dark as night--save for one woman, of average height in the group but a powerful figure, whose haughty, perfect face was set with splendid ashen silver-platinum hair and whose eyes glimmered in a lush red bordering on purple, dressed in a black formal dress with white opera gloves. Several other sets of carnelian eyes settled on her, the eyes reminding her of Robert and Lucy's reports from Tau Atrea of the slaving "Aristos".

Her guards marched her up on the platform. The Aurora Chair was sitting in the middle of it, with attached viewer and controls. She was placed in the chair as before.

Fassbinder approached from the other side of the stage. "My fellow Aryans, treasured allies, allow me to introduce our prisoner, the Captain of the hated Aurora, and one of the founders of the Allied Systems. I will now demonstrate the efficacy of this device on her." He walked to the controls.

Julia steeled herself for the chair, but it did little to offset the immense pain of the device drilling into her mind again. She cried out from the intensity of the experience.

"As you can see, it is quite unpleasant," Fassbinder said. "We are still learning how to tune the machine to more accurately attack a Human mind, allowing an efficient extraction of information from the subject. In time we hope to adapt it to other species, including Gersallian."

"Herr Brigadeführer, can the subject trick the device? Resist it?" asked one of the SS officers.

"They may potentially try to guide it, according to our tests so far. We are learning ways to make more targeted scans of the subject's memories. Testing will tell how successful we are." He glanced with amusement toward Julia. "It is that consideration which is currently determining the pace of our subject's interrogation, in fact."

This conversation continued with the backdrop of Julia moaning and struggling against the braces holding her to the chair. Her face was twisted in a rictus of agony all could recognize. Behind her, the screen displayed the sight of a number of Africans, adults and children, running past the viewer. A bolt of blue light appeared from the bottom of the screen and struck an approaching armed man.

The memory of rescuing people during the days of the Facility bubbled up from Julia's suffering psyche. It was a silent plea to the universe, a subconscious one, that after helping so many people, she now asked for the same.

Fassbinder sensed that sentiment and turned, laughing. "As you can see, the subject remembers her days of aiding the weak and unfit," he declared loudly. "The machine shows us this image. In time, it will show everything in her mind. Every memory. Fine-tuning needs aside, there is no secret she or any other prisoner can hide from us once they are in the chair. Over the passage of time, they will be revealed to us."

That brought agreement from the audience, but Fassbinder was more satisfied with how it felt for Julia. He sensed the sentiment of violation building inside of her. While the pain in her head was excruciating, she still had the other senses, enough to hear, enough to know everything being said. Her pain was for the pleasure of others, and the most private memory might yet be plucked out by the Chair for their entertainment.

The idea that her happiest memories could be made into entertainment kept Julia from seeking solace in them. She fought the machine as best as she could, but wherever its drilling probes went, her mind yielded. Memory after memory flashed on the screen.

The pain finally faded. When she was released from the chair Julia thought her head might explode. Her guards roughly handled her, pulling her up and dragging her away.

"Now, if you will follow me, I will answer all questions, while our subject is healed once more," Fassbinder offered.

Another of the halls in the city was now made up as a reception hall. The best food and drink the SS could acquire was on display for the delectation of their visitors. The Cylons were clearly not as interested, mostly staying to themselves, but the Aristos behaved as if this was their due, indeed, as if it was insufficient, but accepted regardless as a gesture of magnanimity toward the SS.

That part made Fassbinder bristle a little. While he appreciated the wealth of the Eubian Concord, not to mention their own approach to racial hygiene and their ruthlessness, he found the Aristos' love of luxury utterly undesirable. It gave them a softness he found palpably irritating. Nor was he blind to the idea that they were out to use the SS, and would reduce Aryans to slaves as swiftly as they reduced others.

At the approach of their delegation's leader, Fassbinder forced those thoughts away. "Yes, Lord Karex?"

"An impressive display, Brigadefuhrer. Your prisoner's pain was an enjoyable diversion." The Aristo smiled with remembered pleasure. "And such a pretty specimen. If only she were a psion, she would make a lovely provider." Karex laughed at the remark. "But onto more important matters. From what you have said, the machine does not work properly on Humans."

"There are certain inefficiencies that time and testing will wean out, Lord Karex. It is one of many reasons why I intend to keep Captain Andreys alive as long as possible."

"Yes, your leader implied you had a special desire to deal with the Alliance founders yourself," said Karex. "Much as any Aristo would love to deal with the so-called 'Ruby Dynasty'... ah, Lady Taruar?"

“Lord Karex,” the woman with her brilliant white opera gloves arrived, her hair pulled back into a bun and still long enough to fall from that in a braid down her back, with a tremendous line of alternating rubies and black opals in a silver necklace around her neck. “You must absolutely take the time to introduce me to the Brigadeführer.

"Of course. Brigadeführer Erik Fassbinder, this is Lady Danaine Taruar, the personal representative, and a most excellent conversationalist I might add, of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Jaibriol III."

Fassbinder appraised the silver-haired woman with interest. He sensed something odd about her. Something he didn't feel in the other Aristos. It may simply be from her being of the higher Diamond caste. Or perhaps she has the metaphysical gifts too, but if so, they are woefully undeveloped. "My Lady," he said politely. "I hope my demonstration will meet the approval of your Emperor as much as it does my Führer."

She answered in flawless upper-crust old-style German of the First Führer’s days. “Seine Majestät der Kaiser Jaibriol ist am meisten interessiert diese Wunder das Deutsche Reich uns zur Verfügung stellen kann.”

Fassbinder found his estimation of Lady Taruar increasing. "Such elegant use of my race's tongue," he said in the same. "I was led to believe the Earth of your universe was another sad example where the German people proved incapable of fulfilling Hitler's dreams for them."

“Unfortunately you are correct, however, during the course of my studies into the humanity of Earth, I had the opportunity to take an education in Germany, at the University you likely still knew as the Königlich-Sächsisches Polytechnikum, and I became quite fascinated with the history of that which was, to me, then, without knowledge of the Multiverse, this brief flowering of potential in which the Germanic race seemed poised in the Sun and Lightning to become a true Master Race. Now I meet you, Brigadeführer Fassbinder, and even in your hour of trial, I do not believe the hour of the Germans has passed. You surely must take heart in the stories of Frederick, in Berlin’s occupation and liberation during his wars, in the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg.”

"Yes," said Fassbinder. "We will yet reclaim Germania, our Earth, our worlds. And the Alliance will burn before this is over."

By this point it was clear to Lord Karex that he was being left out of the conversation intentionally. He stated, in Eubian, "It is pleasing that initiative always wins reward, is it not, my Lady?"

“The only certain rewards are in initiative, when one permits the rival or the enemy to gain initiative one wins victories and rewards alike only by luck, and then rarely. That we have taken this initiative against the Ruby Dynasty means much.” She returned her attention to Fassbinder, but kept speaking in Eubian and let the translators handle it. “Brigadeführer, let me assure you, we are also aware of the risk that the Alliance poses with their interuniversal drives, because of the initiative they provide. We would never be concerned about a trifling alliance of weaker, misguided races and peoples united by the popular passions of democracy, except for the enormous strategic advantages of the drive. But because those strategic advantages accrue against all practicality or sense, we are grateful for the profitable relationship we have established, and pleased to see our estimation correct, in that the hour of your possession of the drive at once brought powerful blows to the Alliance.”

Fassbinder's own translator - a hated concession compared to what things were like before the Alliance - allowed him to understand all that was said. He felt an impatient tic against the Aristos' love of hearing themselves talk and indirect remarks with potentially hidden meanings and allusions. But his orders from Kranefuss were direct; diplomacy was necessary. "It was a great pleasure to watch New Liberty burn," he said. "That it brought pain to my enemies made it all the more satisfying." As he spoke he decided not to say a thing about the IU drive. There would be no opening given for the Eubians to believe the SS had promised the technology to them, for that would never happen. "Do you have any more questions or concerns I may answer for the Emperor?" Fassbinder felt the flicker of suspicion and dislike from Karex. He fears the Emperor will assume control of this connection, depriving him of profit. "I would be honored to assist."

“If I could schedule a meeting with your technical personnel personally to review the documentation and specifications, I would deeply appreciate it. I would like to thank them, and also to ask some questions, on the matters of the faster than light communications and the warp drive. This would be a lovely possibility as well for me to answer any technical questions on our information as well… Of course, Taskmakers deal with the petty details of such things, so we will keep ourselves to high theory and other interesting matters. Your people are much accomplished in technical affairs theoretically and we… Appreciate integrating your worthy contributions to science into our own.”

Fassbinder considered his orders and the request. Warp drive was of little consequence, and he'd already made arrangements with Karex for subspace radio, so there was no harm there either. "I will make the necessary arrangements," he replied. As he spoke Fassbinder allowed himself a grin. By now Captain Andreys was back in the kohltou tank. He would have to check in on things when he was done here, and perhaps, test the nanobots on her again. They hurt quite a bit, he sensed.

Lady Taruar saw the grin and how similar it was to the ones on the faces of her compatriots during the public torture session. “My, my, Brigadeführer, we have heard much about the not-psion abilities of these other universes… Can you actually… Sense her continued agony at this remove?”

"If I focused, I would," Fassbinder said, and did. Yes, he did feel his prisoner's lingering pain. "She is not like me, or I would sense her more strongly." As he said that Fassbinder pondered on just how it was that he did sense her as he did, more than others. Did she indeed have a slight capacity? Was it something else? "My enjoyment is not so visceral as yours is. It is not a physiological enjoyment for me, my Lady, simply the satisfaction that my hated enemy is suffering at my hand."

It was quite clear to the others, indeed, that Fassbinder hated his prisoner. It was the kind of hate that you didn't get just from a sense of superiority. It took wounded pride, deep loss, and a need for savage revenge.

"That is why Skolians make such pleasing providers," Karex remarked. "The hate makes transcendence sweeter. Now, my Lady, may I introduce you to one of the Firsts? I am reminded that a common enemy can make for profitable relations."

Fassbinder observed them departing. There was something about Taruar he found vaguely unsettling, but it made her interesting, in a way Karex never was.

In the long run, the only thing that mattered was that these powerful allies were providing him the means for both revenge against his foes, and the chance to reclaim the Reich from those that had destroyed it.

Talara sat on the bed in the quarters assigned to her on the Jayhawk. The room was small, given the size of the ship, but it was not uncomfortable. In here, she had time to meditate.

On her lap, a digital reader showed the report from Fala. The Defense Fleet was on full alert and ready for a Reich attack. Fala was sending aid to both New Liberty and Gersal. Her parents' reply to her message confirming she was okay was loaded as well. She read it again, if just to reassure herself that they were okay, and returned her focus to herself. To the power within her being.

But it wasn't easy. Robert, across the way in his quarters, seemed to have lost his usual friendly, kind qualities. She sensed anguish and yawning despair. A desperation, a need. He had to rescue Captain Andreys, had to, and she feared that if he were to fail, it would break him.

Any further consideration ended when Gina's voice came over the comms. "We're ten minutes out from Toutaine," she said.

A moment later Robert replied. "Suit up," he said.

Talara left her quarters. Robert was already on his way to the cargo/armory area. Lucy emerged from the engineering division at the back of the main deck, discarding her tool belt. "How are you feeling?" she asked him.

"Horrible," he answered. "But I'll live."

He passed her by and Talara approached. Lucy stopped her from following for the moment. "I have something for you," she said.


Lucy led Talara back toward the four cabins. Her cabin was a little more lived in, with discarded spare suits and clothes over the one available dresser and in the small closet. A collapsible tray by the bed had tools laid on it, along with a crystal of lavender hue, much like the color at the center of Talara's irises.

Talara gave Lucy a surprised look. "You… you believe I am ready?"

"I think you are. But that decision is yours." Lucy put a hand on Talara's shoulder. "Gersal was as bad as Germania. Worse in some ways. And I know it hurt you. But I also saw how you handled it. I think you've found your way to deal with darkness regardless of how sensitive you are. And with everything happening, I want you to be fully prepared. It's up to you, of course. I'll support you either way."

Talara looked to the tray and back to her teacher's face. "I understand," she said, after which she sat down and concentrated on the contents of the tray. She quieted her mind and felt the connection to the Flow of Life, allowed that connection to flow freely, unobscured by thought.

Piece after piece lifted from the table. Talara sensed those pieces, the way they were supposed to flow together, and her will commanded the same of the objects provided. She felt them move toward one another, matching up as they were built to, creating a device of such precision that only those with this power could hope to assemble them.

For a moment, a brief moment, she stopped. This was not a work of art. It was a weapon. It could defend, true, but like any weapon, it could cause harm. It could kill. By crafting it, making it, Talara was accepting that. And a part of her didn't want to.

But Lucy thought she was ready, or she would never have presented the parts to Talara. And as much as she disliked what the lightsaber could do, Talara knew what it represented. What it meant for an increasing number of people in the Multiverse. It was a symbol of hope, of good. The weapon of what she aspired to be, a Knight of Life.

The moment of hesitation passed. Talara's will resumed the task of assembling the pieces and planting the lavender-hued crystal into its cradle in the mechanism. She shifted the housing into place and felt the final pieces snap together. Only then did she open her eyes. She reached toward the silver and blue-colored weapon hovering in the air before her, her will summoning it to her hand. Nearby Lucy watched quiet pride for her to complete the last step. In the confined space of the small quarters there wasn't much room for Talara to do so, but she found enough space to hold her arm out and activate her new weapon. A blade of lavender-colored light surged from the device with a lingering electronic snap-hiss sound.

"Think fast." Lucy tossed a slab of metal toward Talara. Her blade easily intercepted the slab, sending its severed halves between her to thump against the wall of her quarters. "Congratulations, Talara," said Lucy. "You've successfully built your first lightsaber."

Talara extinguished the blade and nodded with respect. "Thank you for your faith, Lucy. I will not cause you to regret it."

"I'm sure you won't. Now let's go suit up. We should be at Toutaine in a few minutes."

The Joyride Madonna emerged from hyperspace in the Toutaine system. With unseen engines the toroid moved toward the space station. From the Jayhawk the assembled group monitored communications. They detected the larger ship transmitting a code into the space station. The ship's operating CI spoke again. "The Wild Geese have secured much of the station. They are awaiting your arrival at the transmitted coordinates."

Under Lucy's control the Jayhawk launched and flew from the Joyride Madonna. Again Lucy kept the ship clear of the inside of the torus, flying around the Pan-Empyrean vessel and toward the similarly-shaped space station ahead. They entered the provided landing bay and found several combat-armed figures with Solarian rifles waiting for them.

Jason Chandra, the head of the Wild Geese, was waiting when they emerged, all four in the Gersallian-style of robes - Lucy, Gina, and Talara in blue, Robert in brown - and armor - again purple and blue respectively. Her new lightsaber now dangled from Talara's belt, and the others could sense her quiet pride in the accomplishment. It was evident to Chandra too.

"Captain Dale," he said. "Nice to see you again. I hear you've had a career change." He gave a diplomatic, welcoming smile. "I didn't take you for the black ops type."

"We're more white ops," Lucy replied sardonically. "Black ops, but without the ruthless jerkiness."

Chandra flashed her a knowing grin. "We'll see how long that lasts. Follow me."

As they emerged into a corridor of rust-colored metal, they found the station mostly empty save for Solarian combat drones and armed men in Pan-Empyrean markings. "Under Mister Hank's orders we've secured the station. Most of it, anyway. There's a section near the middle that's holding out. We considered storming it, but you might be better able to take it and leave us captives alive to be interrogated."

"Good call Captain Chandra," Robert answered. "Take us there."

"Already was." As they continued on to a cross-walk to the inner core of the station, he continued, "We've rescued about a dozen abducted espers, mostly from Wild Space worlds. Looks like they were being sold into slavery to some foreigner with red eyes."

"An Aristo," Robert growled. "Just as we expected."

"Well, he's in the isolated zone with some cyborg troopers. With your abilities we should be able to break in and take prisoners without needing excessive force."


Chandra brought them to a hall with a corridor ahead. Energy fire occasionally blazed through it, stopping at a deflector field. At the field were several troopers with the unit. Robert recognized the cyber-modified assassin Matsubara - the one Zack called a "cyborg ninja" after the mission to Solaris - and the diminutive form of Scirocco Montague, the specialist psion of the unit. Her eyes were about as large as any Human's could ever get, her head larger than normal, and otherwise looked physically puny. Robert had good reason to know she was anything but that; her appearance was from the Apexai DNA that she, as a hybrid, possessed, significantly boosting her psionic power.

Scirocco gave him a penetrating look. Robert felt her presence at the edge of his mind, viewing his surface memories and thoughts. Her look lost some of its intensity. "My condolences," she said. She motioned beyond. "Whatever that… thing is, he's nasty. A Blank of some kind. Just feeling his mind is… annoying."

"He's called an Aristo, Universe A5R0," Lucy said. "They're a bunch of slavers who feel pleasure when they sense the pain of others, especially telepaths. They keep telepaths as slaves to torture them for the pleasure it brings."

Scirocco's face hardened. 'Well, I look forward to shredding this one's mind," she said. "I've faced worse."

The others could believe it. "We'll take the lead," Robert said.

"Right behind you," replied Chandra. He started issuing orders.

The four stepped up toward the deflector field. They ignited their lightsabers in tandem. Lucy's and Gina's were blue, Robert's blade emerald green, and Talara's new weapon the same lavender color as the crystal she'd used. "We'll take the lead," Robert said to Talara. "Just watch our backs."

"Yes sir," she replied.

Together they went through the field, the three experienced fighters in front and Talara behind. The energy fire descending on them was vicious and lethal, and each seemed to come within microseconds of taking a deadly hit, but every time their lightsabers intercepted the shots before they could land. They advanced down the corridor and into the besieged section of the station, a residential hall and attached dining area. It was richly decorated, if now bearing the marks of battle.

The defending enemies, cyborgs all, continued to fight back, even as the Wild Geese stormed in behind Robert's team, even as they fell one by one. The last went down to a strike from Gina's lightsaber.

There were survivors left. Human beings, mostly in immaculate, pressed robes and uniforms that Lucy recognized as similar to those she'd seen on the ship that attacked Tau Atrea. They were the servants then, slaves themselves, if favored ones.

Among them was a red-eyed man in the finest garb, his black hair combed immaculately, his skin almost porcelain in its coloring. He stood at the back, unarmed and no threat, but clearly unbowed as well. He looked them over and a sullen smile came to his face. "I recognize you," he said in an accent Robert previously heard at Tau Atrea. "You are the Alliance founder. The one who helped kill Lord Tyral and his wife." He laughed. "Oh, such timing. Such timing… which, it occurs to me, is the point, isn't it?"

"We know you're trading things with the SS," Robert said. "Start talking. Tell us where their base is."

"I am Lord Haron, and I will do no such thing, Alliancer," the Aristo replied. "Do you think I fear your pathetic people? The SS may be pathetic in their own way, but at least they understand how the universe works. They have a will to power, an understanding of racial greatness, not unlike our own."

"Comparing the Nazis favorably to yourself isn't going to do you any favors, jerk," Lucy pointed out.

"Are you aware of what I sold to them?" asked Haron. When they didn't answer he laughed. "In exchange for captives, I gave Brigadeführer Fassbinder a supply of the nanobots we use on our providers. They are specially made just for what he needed."

"The base. Where is it?" Robert demanded.

Haron ignored him. "The machines are keyed to DNA. Once this is done, they affix themselves to the skin of the selected provider. They thread themselves to touch the nerve endings."

Lucy didn't like where this was going. "The base!" Robert shouted. "Where. is. IT?!"

"I have no idea," Haron asserted. 'I do not study the interuniversal system very closely. The universe coordinate is beyond my knowledge. Or that of my taskmakers." He laughed. "Your friend is a captive of the SS, isn't she? Oh, how awful for her. Brigadeführer Fassbinder will certainly use the nanobots on her. Will coat her with them and leave her screaming from the agony the bots will inflict. I can hear her cries now…"

Lucy felt Robert's patience snap. Before she could stop him he lashed out, grabbing Haron with his power and tearing him from the floor. With a wave of his arm Robert sent the Aristo into the ceiling with bone-jarring force. He slammed Haron into the nearby wall next, smashing the Aristo's nose in with the impact. Blood poured down Haron's face as he went flying backward into the opposite wall for another hard impact.

Gina and Lucy exchanged worried looks as they felt the rage in Robert release. He snarled at Haron and held him in the air. "WHERE IS SHE?!" he thundered.

"Screaming," Haron replied, defiant and vicious. "Screaming like a new provider."

Time slowed for Robert, or so it seemed. He felt cold power surge behind his hot, desperate rage, dark power tied to the most visceral and primal of his emotions. In that moment he felt the temptation to give into it. To smash Haron into things until the Aristo's broken body was at his feet. To give release to the fear and anger in his heart.

But he felt Talara's worry, her sensitive nature, and her warm heart. He felt Gina and her devotion to the ways of Swenya, her ability to rise above the pain of her past. And he felt Lucy, who had taught him through example, who understood the anger in his heart but was even now readying herself to intervene and stop him. For his own good.

Ultimately, as much as Robert wanted the Aristo dead, he wasn't going to pay for the pleasure with his soul.

Robert's hand opened and the wounded, battered man fell to the ground, hitting his knees. Blood poured from his smashed nose. His red eyes glared murderous hate at Robert, as if he could incinerate Robert for his deeds.

But that look went blank, replaced by brief terror and then a loud, strangled cry. Haron's body tensed up, his muscles contracting until they started to tear, ligaments and tendons snapping like twigs from the unnatural pressures Haron's body was being forced to exert. His eyes poured blood as well before rolling up into the back of his head.

And then Haron collapsed like a puppet with his strings cut.

Lucy knelt down and examined him. "No pulse," she said. "He's dead."

"That was the point," said Scirocco. "Something like him doesn't deserve to live." She looked a little pale, but just a bit. Contact with the Aristo's mind had been painful. She turned to face Robert, who was breathing heavily and staring down at Haron's body. "I learned a lot of things from his memories while I tore his mind to pieces, but I'm afraid universal coordinates was not one of them. I'm sorry."

"You were able to tear his mind apart? By yourself?" Robert asked quietly. "It took twenty telepaths to do it the last time I saw it happen."

"I'm not just any normal telepath, Captain, as you well know," she replied.

Robert nodded. In his head he did the calculation. If he wasn't wrong, Scirocco was probably one of the strongest telepaths alive. She may even be at the level of someone like Lyta Alexander, if not stronger.

Chandra stepped up. "Command center's this way. CI should be finished soon with an analysis."

Wordlessly Robert walked away, causing the others to follow.

The woman calling herself Lady Danaine Taruar, as haughty and regal as any of the Aristos, settled into her private quarters on her starship which would, with the assistance of an SS cruiser, take her back to Eube’s Glory, or simply Glory to most. She began to compose the message, written in her native tongue, which none in either universe knew, but that she had taught the Eubian Emperor, for the secrecy it provided.

At her side was a glass of some immensely calming natural beverage of one of the worlds of the Carnelian throne, which a taskmaker had provided to her. She was naturally in command, utterly prideful, spectacularly perfect by Eubian standards, a Diamond who had clear hints of pretension toward being a Highton, the perfect kind of person to be used as a high-level functionary by the Emperor himself, and discarded just as perfectly if she pushed beyond her station. Some, of course, made mock of her imitation of the Empress’ natural hair colour, the white-platinum which was all the rage now that ranking Aristos near the Emperor were displaying it, instead of sculpting to correct that sign of age. It made her look odd, for she could be a woman in her twenties otherwise, but that was normal enough for a bodysculpted Aristo.

The subtleness of the shade of her eyes, a bit more purpleish than the Carnelian norm, different in a completely opposite and more regal direction from those of interbred half-caste Taskmakers, was remarkable and had helped lead to a few marriage offers already. Those she had demurred. She was the Emperor’s woman, not in that sense, she would never think to disrespect the Empress Tarquine so, but if this all worked, she might yet be remembered in the same breath as Talleyrand.

Your Imperial Majesty, Hail!

Sire, the situation is dire. The Schutzstaeffel are providing subspace communication capability including all the necessary equipment to arrange for mass production, and also tactical warp drive. Because of the dissemination through the connections of the Silicate caste, it is now inevitable that these technologies will proliferate throughout the Concordate, and thus give us inestimable tactical and strategic advantages over the Imperialate.

If Your Imperial Majesty desires to complete Your objectives geopolitically and morally, they will be limited by the realities this situation imposes. Of course, it is clear that the SS does not wish to share IU Drive with the Concordate, however that is not of any particular benefit to Your objectives, it merely reduces the pressure for interstellar war. I would nonetheless warn that such a war is entirely possible due to the activities of the Silicates who have been very aggressive in diversifying the sources of Providers. In short, it is necessary and required to consider kinetic alternatives to the current plan.

Honourably Your’s,
Lady Danaine

The woman smiled for a moment, satisfied at the characters she had put on paper. She folded it up and slipped it into her bodice. “Markeina, prepare my bed for me, I am tired after all these discussions with the Reich officers and scientists, and should rest on my return to Glory.” The words slipped from her with all the ease and comfort of someone used to directing servants, and that much about her was indeed very true.

The station's command center looked as worn and used as the rest of the station. Some of the surfaces used hardlight construct controls, others flat panel touchscreens, and yet others physical switches and dials. Screens showed sensor readings and data files. At the center, Robert and the others joined Chandra and his tech people. "We've completed a search of the systems," one man said to Chandra. "Indexing is finishing now. Give us a search parameter and we'll find whatever's in here."

Chandra looked to Robert, who said, "Anything on SS bases. On the SS period. Universal coordinates too."

"Searching now." After several moments the man shook his head. "While I'm getting some info on SS-linked trade, there's nothing in the files on their bases. Definitely nothing on universes."

Lucy tied her omnitool into the system. She ran her own search parameters. Moments passed and she shook her head. "Nothing," she said. "They probably kept it off the systems on purpose." She gave Robert a worried look. "I'm sorry, but the station's not giving us anything."

She felt the little snap in Robert's heart. He grabbed at a console to right himself as the despair filled him. He let out a low sob at the weight of it all.

He'd promised Julia he'd come for her. He'd promised. Now she was being held by one of their worst enemies, one of the most sick and vicious beings they'd ever faced, and there was nothing he could do. Every time it looked like he had a way to find her, it didn't pan out, no matter how hard he tried or how much he gave. He'd put himself in the debt of Sidney Hank, a debt he was already certain would be something he regretted, and yet… and yet it would be for absolutely nothing. Julia was still beyond his reach, suffering, waiting for him to come for her like he'd promised.

Lucy set a hand on his shoulder, feeling Robert on the brink of breaking down completely. "It's not over," she assured him. "Trust me. We'll find…"

One of the Pan-Empyrean operators looked up from a console. "Gravimetric spike. Incoming interuniversal jump point."

"Put it on," said Chandra.

The holographic viewer came alive, showing empty space. A green vortex expanded into view. From it flew a blocky, ugly-looking space vessel painted utterly black. Only the lights of its warp nacelles and the visible lightning rune insignia stood out in the void around it.

Lucy was already checking the profile. "It's an SS ship alright. An armed transport ship, Calypso-class."

As she spoke, Lucy felt hope light up inside Robert's being. He looked up with a look of utmost determination. "We've got to get aboard!"
”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 others followed Robert as he raced for the Jayhawk. Enhanced speed allowed them to get there quickly. By the time they did, Chandra spoke over the comm line. "They're suspicious, but I've got them on approach again through codes we extracted from Haron's personal CI implant. We'll fire to cripple as soon as they're in range."

"And we'll board." Robert rushed up the ladder to the port-side airlock. The others followed.

They were rushing toward the cockpit when all felt a fifth presence on the ship. They turned and faced the black-clad figure of Matsubara. He appraised them with cold eyes. "You will need my services," the figure said in a quiet, cold tone. "Mister Hank ordered me to ensure you recovered the data on your friend's location."

Lucy and Gina felt uncomfortable around the cybernetically-enhanced assassin. Robert merely nodded. "We'll go over by short-range transporter once we're in range. Strap in."

The Jayhawk cloaked and launched from the station. Lucy flew them on a course to keep the ship out of the crossfire when the station opened fire. "They're still on approach," she noted. She turned back briefly. "No shields. We could beam over, but we'd have to decloak."

"Let's leave that on the table for now. Continue the approach," Robert replied. He glanced to Talara. "You'll stay behind and bring us back. The transporter can only handle four at a time at an absolute maximum."

"Yes sir," she replied. Robert sensed she was quietly gratified that she wouldn't face any more violence today.

"They're stopping," Gina observed. "I think they're suspicious."

Robert watched the transport as it hung in space for a moment, not moving. "You're right, they suspect," he said. He glanced at the sensor readings. "They're building a particle charge for a jump. We've got to move now before they…"

Without warning the weapons emplacements of Toutaine Station opened up. Brilliant ruby light played over the warp nacelles of the vessel, wrecking both. More fire cut into the ship's navigational deflector and the sections behind it. On the sensor screen the particle charge dissipated, much to Robert's relief. "Take us in!" he shouted.

Lucy answered and the Jayhawk accelerated, its course and speed now bringing them up to the other ship in seconds. Talara took the helm controls from her so she could join Robert and the others. Lucy tapped at her omnitool. "Remote transport in three, two, one…"

The transporter on the infiltrator snatched them away. The Jayhawk cockpit disappeared in a burst of light. When the light faded they were on a bridge full of men in SS uniforms.

The ship's captain lunged for a control, intending to lock down his ship's database. Just before he could key in the command Robert's power flung him into the air, smashing him first against a roof and then the far wall. Matsubara became a sinister black blur, his superhuman speed and monomolecular-edge blade letting him dismember those whom he targeted. Gina sliced the hand from another officer raising his pistol and pushed away others with force. Lucy cut down one foe before getting to the doors.

Within the span of five seconds the bridge was secure. Two seconds later Lucy declared, "I've locked down the door!" She rushed for one of the nearby control panels and started working her omnitool.

Matsubara seemed to materialize beside her. An interface port emerged from one of his fingers. He pressed it against one of the control surfaces. "Commencing download," he said. "Decrypting enemy database."

"That's fast," Lucy observed. With Matsubara's help her job was easier. The cyborg's software ran smart-decrypt procedures that allowed them to progressively crack the encryption.

Gina looked to one of the consoles. "You'd better hurry. It looks like the engineer is in the middle of shutting down the anti-matter containment system." She started operating the console. "I'll do what I can to stop him, but he's going to cut off my access soon."

Robert went over to the captain and picked him up. "Where is your base?" he asked.

The captain narrowed his eyes at him and said nothing.

"I'm losing access," Gina warned. "We don't have much time left."

"I'm into their navigational data and drive database. Downloading logs, viewing…" After precious, terrible seconds passed, Lucy grinned and looked up. "I've got it! Interstellar coordinates and… universal! N1C4!"

"Containment field going down!"

"Talara, now!" Robert shouted into his omnitool.

The transporter on the Jayhawk yanked them away. They materialized on the small pad in the armory section and dashed for the stepladder leading up to the main deck. Just as Lucy made it to the first step the ship rocked violently, pitching out from under their feet. The lights flickered and went out, replaced by weaker blue and white lights after several moments.

The ship exploded, Talara explained mentally. I tried to get us to a safe distance, but we were still too close. I'm reading multiple systems damaged across the ship.

We'll get to work on the repairs. Do we have IU comms?

Negative. The transceiver took a direct hit.

Then get to work on repairs. Lucy, the data…

His heart skipped as Lucy looked over her omnitool with consternation. She smiled and nodded, relieving his worry. "It's here," she said. "Computers weren't damaged, and I saved the coordinate data anyway. Universe N1C4. That's where we're going."

Robert let out a sigh of relief. I'm coming, he thought. I'm coming for you, just like I promised I would.

Another blow from a stun stick jolted Julia's body and caused her to collapse into her cell. The SS guard who'd happily caused the shock spat into her face before departing. The field imprisoning her popped back into existence. Julia, motionless on the floor of the empty cell, heard the guard walk away. Her clothes were soaked from the green healing fluid and days of sweat. Her muscles twitched from the shock of the stick.

Despite this Julia began to move, crawling slowly on the floor until she was facing the opposite cell. There her fellow prisoner was sitting, leaning across the far wall of the small cell. Her brown eyes were of a light tone, approaching amber. For the first time Julia noticed a collar on the girl's neck. A persistent green light blinked at the front. The look on the girl's face suggested barely-hidden frustration laced with resignation.

After a ragged breath came from Julia's lungs, she spoke, her voice still hoarse, "My name is Julia Andreys. Do you understand me?"

After a moment the younger woman nodded. "I can. They put a device in me so I could understand them."

"An auto-translator," Julia noted. "Who are you?"

"My name is Miko," the girl replied. She gave Julia a discerning look. "They've only put me in that chair a couple of times. They just leave me here usually. They must really hate you."

Julia, despite everything, chuckled at that. "Oh, yeah, they do," she said.


"Because my friends and I founded the Alliance. And the Alliance destroyed their empire. We liberated all of the enslaved nations under their rule."

A satisfied little grin crossed Miko's face. "Good," she said.

Julia grinned back before setting her head on the floor. She needed her rest if she was going to endure.

With their mission accomplished on Toutaine Station, the Jayhawk returned to the Joyride Madonna. The Wild Geese withdrew from the station as well, prisoners and freed slaves in tow, leaving the station's former operators to reassert control when they could manage to regain command of the station's systems.

"It was interesting working with you again," said Chandra on the screen in the Jayhawk's small galley. "I hope the intel you picked up is what you're looking for."

"Thank you," Robert replied, seated at the table. Gina and Talara were seated with him. Lucy was at the stove frying an egg for her meal. All four were out of their armor, wearing an assortment of civilian clothing. "I hope those freed captives can find a better life."

"My boss has some connections to Lyra Saxon and her fellow philanthropists. They'll be well cared for. Chandra out."

The viewer disengaged. "Commencing hyperspace transit now," the Joyride Madonna's CI informed them. They felt the subtle shift of the ship around them at the transit.

For a moment afterward the only sound in the room was the sizzle of the egg on the stove. "Anyone want some?" Lucy asked, checking the small spice cabinet as she did. "I'm making my mother's recipe."

"Sounds delicious," Robert replied. As he spoke there was a clear weight to his voice, mirrored by the feeling within him that the other three all sensed. He held up a digital reader. "From the information we picked up, it looks like the SS got the universe coordinates from Gamma Piratus. They've set up shop in a Darglan outpost."

"Fassbinder must have accessed the databanks of the Facility during the fight," Lucy observed, glancing back to Robert before cracking open another egg. Again the pan let off a dizzle as the yolk hit the hot surface. "Or maybe some kind of data siphoning device was planted where we didn't see it."

"Possible," Robert agreed, distracted.

"Do we know for sure that Captain Andreys is being held there?" asked Talara.

After a moment of silence Robert nodded. "I can sense it. She is. But even if she wasn't, this is still a lead worth pursuing. Going by the logs this N1C4 universe base they have is one of their major ones." He eyed something on the files he was looking through. "And look who's listed as being in charge?"

With a swipe of his finger he loaded the file onto their omnitools. Gina and Talara read it. "Fassbinder," noted Gina.

"Exactly," said Robert.

"Gina, Talara, can you give us a minute?" asked Lucy.

The two glanced from her to Robert before nodding and leaving. Robert looked at Lucy as she came over and sat down beside him. "Let's talk about what happened on Toutaine Station," said Lucy.

"Not much to talk about," Robert said.

"You almost lost yourself," Lucy said. "I felt it. You let your anger take control. You know better, Robert."

"Yeah." He clenched a fist. "I do." There was clear shame in his green eyes, shame and pain. "But I… Lucy, I've felt Julia in pain. Hearing that monster mock what was being done to her, I just couldn't... "

"I know. I understand. But it worries me. This feeling you have of sensing Julia, I think it's causing you a lot of harm." Lucy reached over and set her hand on his arm. "I'm not saying you're not sensing her, I'm just worried about what it's doing to you. You're becoming unbalanced, frustrated. Angry. You're allowing your darkest emotions to come out."

"Yeah." Robert nodded. "It's just, I… I can feel it, Lucy. He's hurting her. He's hurting Julie. She's in terrible pain from what he's doing to her. And we have to get her back, but always seems like something's in the way…" He broke off speaking as a low sob broke his voice. "I can't lose her, you understand that, right? I can't lose her too. I… I don't think I can even stand the thought of it."

"I know." Lucy shifted the chair over and put her arm around his shoulders. "Rob, I do understand. I just don't want to see you break. I don't want you to become something she'd hate."

"I don't either," he said. "But I… what if I can't save her, Lucy? What if… what if Fassbinder moves her before we get there? What if we never get her back, and he just goes on hurting her until she dies from it, and… and I don't keep my promise to her?"

"Don't dwell on that," Lucy urged. "You're just hurting yourself. We will get her back."

He nodded in response. Lucy felt the fear within him persist, fear he struggled against, knowing what it was doing to him. He couldn't quite banish it despite everything. "Maybe Zack was right," he murmured. "Maybe I dragged everyone into this life without appreciating what it could mean."

"We made our choices, Robert, not you," Lucy said.

"But I'm the one who put the idea in your heads. And now… now it might… I feel responsible for this. For this all." Robert gestured at their surroundings. "I know it's not just me, I know you all signed up for your own reasons, but if I hadn't jumped at it, we wouldn't be out here, and Julia wouldn't be…" He shook his head, trying to regain composure, fighting to, and losing. Tears clouded his eyes. "I promised her I'd come for her. I promised."

"And you are. But right now, you need to get a handle on your emotions so you can keep that promise. And you need a good meal." Lucy stood up and returned to the stove. "Including a slightly-singed egg."

He gave her a knowing look. "Only slightly-singed?"

"Well, one is. The other… egh." Lucy made a face and shook her head. "I should've finished cooking before playing therapist."

Despite everything, Robert let out a low chuckle. He wiped at his eyes. "Well, I need to get my game face on."


"We should be at Avalon soon," he said. "And I'll need to get King Galahad's help for what I've got in mind."

"It won't take much to get him on your side," Lucy remarked. "As long as your epic storytelling has improved since last year."

A determined look came to his face. "I guess we're about to find out."

The command staff of the Aurora gathered again in the conference lounge off the bridge. "All systems repaired, sir," Scott confirmed for them. "Th' Quarians did a fine job with th' work, I'll tell ye. Widnae mind havin' a few of them on my staff."

"Perhaps you will one day, Commander Scott," Meridina said. She noted the feelings of the others at seeing her in Julia's chair, wearing a Captain's rank insignia. They bore her no dislike, but the entire situation was a frustration. An understandable one.

"So what are our orders now?" Angel asked.

"Admiral Maran will call shortly to give us our assignment," she replied. "It will most likely be to join a defense fleet. For the time being, Lieutenant Tra'dur will act as Operations Officer and Commander Jarod as First Officer."

Jarod frowned at that, but his nod was one of assent. Tra'dur was up to the task of fulfilling his job. Locarno's second, Rawlins, was still in training for a command role. "It makes sense," he said.

"Have we heard anything from Rob?" Cat asked. "Has he found any clues?"

"Nothing yet, and the Jayhawk isn't responding to hails," Jarod replied. "But given were they're going, I'm not surprised. Whatever means they found of getting out to Toutaine, they're probably still in hyperspace. IU comms don't work."

"Do you think they'll let us go after Julia?" Cat then asked, looking concerned. "I mean, if Robert finds her?"

"It depends on whether they have the response fleet ready, and if they assign the Aurora to it," Locarno said. "I wouldn't get my hopes up."

There was a soft little sound of disappointment from Cat. Her sister, seated beside her, put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Regardless of where we are going, we should make certain the ship is ready for combat. Commander Laurent?"

"Twenty fighters were lost in the battle, twice that number were damaged. Eight pilots and nine sensor officers survived from the lost craft," Laurent said. "That is the final count. We haven't replaced the lost fighters yet, and we won't unless the fleet sends them out. I have deactivated Fox Squadron and reorganized the others to bring the other squadrons up to full strength once fighter repairs are complete. Give us another ten hours and all remaining fighters will be ready for combat."

"We've got a fresh load of solar torpedoes," Jarod confirmed. "And we replaced crew losses with transfers from the Pisces, Rembrandt, and Maimonides. If we end up in a combat situation, we're stocked for it."

"Very well. I…"

Meridina was interrupted by a tone and the voice of Tra'dur. "Captain, we have Admiral Maran on comms."

"Please relay him to the conference lounge, Lieutenant." Meridina and the others looked to the main viewer behind her head, where Maran's image appeared. "Admiral, the Aurora is prepared to resume field operations."

"Good. We're sending you to Avalon, Universe S0T5. King Galahad personally requested your presence to secure the system. You will be under Avalonian command until further notice."

Meridina nodded. Behind her the others exchanged looks, many of them hiding their feelings. "Understood. We will arrive as quickly as possible. Might I ask on the effort to find the SS operating bases?"

"We've made some headway, but we're still gathering the response fleet. The need to establish defenses is delaying us. But we can't afford to allow the Reich to raid our worlds at will, so it's a sacrifice we must make."

"Indeed. Is there anything else?"


"When you have a target, can we be with the strike force?" Angel asked.

Maran considered Angel's request. "I'm afraid that's unlikely, unless Avalon is secure by that time." After a moment he gave them a reassuring look. "If we secure an SS base and discover Captain Andreys or her location, I will inform you as soon as it is practical. You have my word."

"Thank you, Admiral," Meridina said on the others' behalf. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," he responded, after which he disappeared.

There was no hiding the disappointment in the assembled. Meridina acknowledged it with a nod. "Julia would want us to ensure the Alliance's security," she reminded them gently. "Should the worst come to pass, that is how we should honor her memory."

There was clear anger on the faces of Zack and Angel, but aside from that nobody said anything. Meridina gave Zack a worried look before saying, "You are all dismissed."

The assembled officers got up to leave, all save Zack, who lingered while deep in thought. Meridina turned back to him. "Your anger is misdirected," she said.

"No, it's not," Zack retorted. "It's damn well not. Davies is playing politics, I know it. That's how he operates. It's why Julia's being listed presumed dead, he doesn't want us looking for her because he wants an opening to put one of his people on the Aurora."

"I suspect Admiral Maran will be unwilling to do so."

"You're assuming he can stop it. Think about it, Meridina. These attacks happened on Maran's watch. Even if there was nothing he could have done to prevent them, people are going to blame him anyway. It's what people do. And Davies is going to take advantage."

"Perhaps. Either way, we must trust in Robert's efforts, and that Julia will be found."

"I just hope she's alive. And… whole."

Meridina sensed his thoughts at that. Of the catatonic, or nearly-catatonic, prisoners liberated from Nazi control. He was tormenting himself with finding Julia alive but such a broken shell of a person that she was never the same again. Or with not finding her alive at all, but merely confirmation of her death, a lonely and painful death at the hands of SS cruelty. "You dwell very much on such terrible possibilities. Do not forget that Julia is a strong and willful person. She will do what she can to resist, and we may yet recover her whole."

Zack nodded. There was little conviction in it. "That's what I hope to see," he said. "But we all hoped the war was over, and yet… it never was." He stood up. "I'd better get back to the Koenig. You may need us."

"A good idea, Commander. Thank you for anticipating the possible need."

Zack said nothing before leaving.

The journey to Avalon required two interuniversal jumps and a few hours at warp between them. The second jump deposited them in the arrival zone of Avalon's system. Nearby the garden planet and its single moon continued their slow orbit of Avalon's G3 sequence star. Multiple ships were on site, enough that Jarod outwardly mused, "The system looks pretty secure to me."

"They may fear a major attack, either by the SS or other elements seizing advantage of our current situation," Meridina pointed out. "Inform System Command that we are ready to assume system defense duties."

Tra'dur nodded. "Aye Captain… we are getting a signal."

"They wish to speak with us?"

"No Captain." The Dilgar shook her head. "Captain, it's the Jayhawk. They're asking permission to dock and..." She turned back to face Meridina. "...and are advising us to prepare for interuniversal jump."

Robert and Lucy arrived on the bridge to find the others waiting, clearly mystified. "We did it," he said, walking up to Jarod and handing him a data disk. "Universal and spatial coordinates for the base where Fassbinder operates from, straight from an SS armed transport."

Jarod took the disk and used his omnitool to scan its contents. "Universe N1C4," he noted. "It's not on any of our lists."

"They got it from the Gamma Piratus Facility." There was an eager tone in his voice. "We should get going. The longer we wait, the more time the SS has to bail out when they realize their location is compromised."

"I am afraid we cannot," Meridina said. "We have direct orders from Admiral Maran to secure Avalon. We are under Avalonian command until further notice."

The others expected Robert to react negatively, or at least insist on taking the Koenig. Instead he actually grinned. "Go ahead and put King Galahad on, then. Since he's effectively in command. Actually, if you'll let me…"

Using his omnitool Robert re-established the short-term comm channel he'd used to talk with Galahad earlier. The stout, solidly-built King of Avalon appeared on the bridge holo-viewer, his full beard of gray and white long enough to cover his upper chest, partially obscuring the rich regal robes he was clad in. He looked almost like Santa Claus, if Santa Claus were a hard-partying, boisterous bruiser of a monarch who seemed to be permanently bellowing. "Ah, Sir Robert!" he declared. "I see your vessel has arrived!"

"It has. Captain Meridina is currently in command."

"Ah, good, good! A Knight of Gersal you are, Lady Meridina, I do recall that. Perfect for the mission of securing Avalon's honor!"

Meridina sensed the confusion of the others, much like her own. Robert and Lucy did not share it. "My orders were to secure Avalon, Majesty," she replied politely. "I am ordered to place my ship under your command."

"Indeed, and as I requested, you will secure our honor by reclaiming the Lady Julia from the foul clutches of our enemies!"

Jarod gave Robert and Lucy a bewildered look.

Meridina took a moment to consider the situation before nodding politely. "I understand, Your Majesty. And I thank you for giving us the opportunity to perform this duty. Our honor is also at stake."

"I would assume so, and it warms my heart to have the chance to grant you this quest! The stories they will tell of this day, why, they will be grand! Knights rescuing knights always makes for glorious tales! Now, I will not keep you any longer. Sir Robert, I will relay the information you provided to Admiral Maran upon your departure. Now go forth, heroes of the Alliance! Go forth and bring Lady Julia home!"

Galahad's image disappeared from the screen. The others all looked to Robert and Lucy. "This was all you?" Cat asked.

"Much of it," Robert admitted. "The response fleet isn't going to be ready for another day, at least, and Maran would be reluctant to go in before then. But we can survey the area and be in position to call ships in if they start to flee. And if we have an opening..." His green eyes hardened. "...then we go in. I'm not leaving her with them one moment more than is absolutely necessary."

"And since we took out one of their armed transports at Toutaine, it won't be long before they know we're coming," said Lucy. "So we should get going."

"We've made two IU jumps today already," Jarod noted.

Meridina responded by triggering the ship intercom. "Bridge to Engineering."

"Engineerin' here," answered Scott.

"Commander, we have the location where Captain Andreys is being held, and orders from King Galahad to see to her rescue. We will need to commence another interuniversal jump. Can the drive take it."

There was no hesitation from the other end. "To get our lass back? Ye dinnae need t' ask, sir. She'll manage. Might need some time t' get her ready for th' jump home, but she'll get ye there."

"Understood," said Meridina. "Lieutenant, set drive coordinates to N1C4. Mister Locarno, use the positioning data provided to plot a course the moment we are through."

"Aye Captain" and "Aye Ma'am" were the responses.

Moments later the Aurora generated and entered an emerald-colored vortex, off to reclaim her captain.

As always, Julia had no way of knowing how long she'd dozed off. When she awoke she looked across the way and into the other cell. Her fellow captive was seated up by the field now. One of her fists was clenched with what seemed like frustration. Julia noticed her eyes were reddened, as if she'd been crying. "Hey," she said weakly.

Miko glanced her way. Her amber-toned eyes focused on Julia with equal parts pity and frustration. "You're awake," she said. "What are they doing to you? It's not just the chair?"

"No. They're torturing me between sessions," Julia admitted frankly. She gestured to the way her skin seemed to glitter. "Some kind of nanobots that signal pain into my nerve endings."

Miko's other hand clenched. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Not your fault," Julia said. "You're just a prisoner too."

"How did they take you?" Miko asked.

"They attacked a world, well, it's basically my home," Julia answered. "When I'm not on my ship."

"Your ship? What kind of ship?"

"I command a starship called the Aurora," Julia replied. "I'm a Captain in the service of the United Alliance of Systems."


"A vessel that travels between solar systems, through deep space," Julia elaborated.

Miko nodded in understanding. "A voidship, then. You command a voidship? My mother used to as well, when I was little. She left the service to raise me."

Julia felt intense curiosity over Miko. Was she Human or simply Humanoid? What kind of culture did she come from? After considering all of the possible questions, Julia started off with the same Miko gave her before. "How did they take you?"

Miko's expression betrayed anger, at the SS and herself. "I was visiting an outlying colony when the SS attacked it. I joined the colonists in trying to fight them off, but they were too powerful. They… they killed so many…" Miko let out a low, pained sob. "And they threatened to kill more if I didn't surrender. So I did, to protect the other people. But…"

Julia immediately saw where this was going. "The SS killed everyone anyway."

"They're so vicious and just evil, I…"

Their conversation came to an abrupt end at the sound of boots on the floor. Fassbinder appeared with guards. He looked into Julia's cell and smiled thinly. "I have seen off my guests and had a short rest, now it is time to resume our session. You may yet have secrets we can find of use."

At the snap of his fingers the two guards lowered the field and entered to grab Julia. She couldn't resist beyond scowling at Fassbinder. They forced her to her feet and dragged her off.

Once in the uncharted universe, the Aurora immediately warped away from her arrival point, bound for the coordinates the recovered intel showed for the SS-held base in N1C4. On the Aurora bridge Cat was focusing entirely on her sensor returns.

In the center of the bridge, Jarod gave Meridina an interested look. "You seem distracted," he said.

"I feel an… oddness about this place," she answered. "Within the Flow of Life. But it is not debilitating to me as the Fracture was, so please do not be concerned."

Jarod nodded. "Right." After a moment's pause he said, "Have you thought about appealing to the Promotion Board on the issue? With the fleet re-mobilizing we need all of the experienced Captains we can get."

"That is true. But I have less than a year of starship command experience. A vessel like the Aurora would be unacceptable as a first command to many. Julia's appointment undoubtedly cost Maran much influence."

"A new captain is going to be hard on the crew," Jarod observed.

"I know. But we must persevere. Julia would want that from us." Meridina focused inward for a moment before asking, "Lieutenant Delgado, do you have anything on sensors?"

"No ships yet. Something that might be a faint warp trail. And there's a sort of spatial distortion in this area of space. From what I can tell, we're along the outer edge of it. But unless we get closer I can only speculate on the source. And it could be just about anything."

"Log the results and keeping scanning. We may come upon an enemy ship at any time."

Cat nodded in reply. "Yes sir," she said.

Sharp pain filled Julia's head. The Aurora Chair was on, full-power, drilling into her mind to extract memories to display. She let out a breath and focused herself on happy memories. Memories of playing with Robert when they were little, running through the wheat fields of the Dale family farm under a warm summer sun. She thought back to those peals of laughter at all of their games and chases.

The same memories played on the viewer beside the chair. Fassbinder watched the scene with growing frustration. She couldn't hold out much longer… could she? The chair was so powerful. Her mind should be failing to it. But so far… nothing. Nothing even remotely useful, indeed, very little even remotely relevant.

With a curt hand signal Fassbinder had the chair turned off. Julia lost some of the tension in her body while under the machine's mental invasion. Fassbinder stepped up to the chair and glared into her eyes. "This defiance is pointless," he said. "The more you hold out, the harder the Chair will break you in the end! This petty resistance will do nothing for you!"

Julia met his eyes and bit into her lip, as if denying herself the passionate response she felt in her heart. Instead she leveled a look at him and said, in measured tones, "Andreys, Julia Megan. Captain. Serial Number Bravo Zero Zero Zero Three One Zero One Hotel One Echo Four."

"Still fighting, Kapitan? Do you think fighting will make it easier? That resistance will reduce your suffering in some way?" Fassbinder's right hand went for the gauntlet on his left forearm. "We'll see about that." His finger found the key for the nanobots.

Julia screamed.

Robert and Lucy were in the Lookout when she noticed the color drain from his face. He gasped in shock and gripped the table. His right hand locked up, releasing his fork to clatter onto the plate before him.


He took in a breath. "He's torturing Julia again," Robert finally said. "I… I can feel it."

Lucy swallowed and extended a hand. "We're going after her, okay? Focus."

"I… I am. It's different here, though. I can feel it. Not like before, stronger. Like… like whatever he's doing… " He let go of the table. While he was still pale, Robert was at least moving his hand again. "God, Lucy, the pain she's in."

Lucy didn't sense the same, but she sensed how Robert was feeling it. A constant, savage pain, general to the whole body, no obvious cause to promise relief. "She won't be for long," Lucy urged. "Now, focus and try and block it out. Will the connection to quiet."

Robert drew in a breath, a long one. Color started to return to his cheeks. Lucy could sense that he hadn't entirely banished the feeling, however. His connection to Julia was too intense for that. "Doesn't this place feel odd to you?" he asked.

"A little, I suppose. It's not the Fracture, at least."

"God no, just one visit was enough for me." Robert shook his head. "It's just… there's something with the Flow of Life here." As he spoke, Robert felt the pain intensify. He winced in sympathy and kept his focus. It's not my pain, he thought. I have to block it out, I have to be functional. As those thoughts filled his head, angrier thoughts about Fassbinder followed, and he forced them away too.

Lucy sensed all this. To help Robert keep his attention focused, she continued their current conversation. "It feels like the Flow of Life is diverted," she said. "Not weakened, just… like it's weaved in with something. Something we can't sense."

"Right." Robert nodded. "I don't think it'll have an effect on what we do, though. It won't undermine us like the Fracture would."

"Agreed." Lucy took another bite. "Something to consider for later anyway…"

Klaxons filled the Lookout, red lights appearing by the doors. "Ship Status is now Code Red. All hands man battle stations. Repeat, status is now Code Red…" the computer informed them.

Robert and Lucy rose from their seats and left for the bridge.

By the time they arrived the command crew was in position. Jarod was now in a uniform with burgundy red command trim color, although his rank insignia remained that of a Lieutenant Commander. He sat beside Meridina at the First Officer's chair, turning and looking up at them. "We picked up an SS cruiser on long-range sensors," he explained. "We're on an intercept course now."

"The Koenig just completed in-warp launch, Captain," Tra'dur confirmed. "They are cloaking."

"Fighter squadrons are ready for launch," Jarod added.

With nothing to do on the bridge, Robert and Lucy took seats toward the rear and harnessed themselves in. At her station, Cat called out, "SS cruiser on sensors, Tannenburg-class. I've also got another ship, but the configuration is unknown. And the power signature, it's… new. It's not matching anything I've seen before. Nothing in the databanks either."

"Interception in five minutes," Locarno said. "Maintaining Warp 9.8."

"Are they allied to the SS or opposed?" Robert asked.

"I'm not sure yet. We're not close enough for me to…" Cat stopped long enough to check her sensors. "...okay, they're fighting. I'm picking up weapons fire."

"Accelerate, Mister Locarno," Meridina ordered. "Bring us in now."

"Accelerating to 9.86. Interception in fifteen seconds."

The Aurora dropped out of warp within weapons range of the two ships. The Nazi cruiser looked like any other they'd seen under SS command: black hull, a swastika emblem on the dorsal bow, and the sides of the ship marked with the twin lightning bolt runes.

It was now beside a vessel of dark gray coloring. It was a single-hulled ship, broad and flat in shape. Visible warp nacelles pulsed red, integral to the ship's hull to either side of its aft sections. A visible bridge area was built into the bow. Any markings were in the areas of the hull burnt black from weapons fire, with multiple hull breaches present.

"Hail the other ship," Meridina said.

Tra'dur attempted to do so. "No response," she said.

"Looking at the readings, I think their comm systems are down, possibly destroyed," Cat added.

"SS ship is locking on," Tra'dur warned.

"Fire," Meridina said.

The Aurora's main guns opened up on the Tannenburg-class ship. The cruiser's shields held briefly under the barrage from the sapphire bolts… and then yielded, broken down by the full power of the Aurora's bow batteries.

"Alpha Squadron, on me," Laurent said over the comms. "Bravo and Charlie, engage."

The three squadrons raced ahead of the Aurora and hit the cruiser with a full barrage of torpedoes. With its shields broken down, the SS ship was helpless against the attack. One by one, white-blue sparks collided with the SS ship, blasting through armored hull into sections below. A strike to its antimatter fuel reserves atomized it in a white fireball.

"Enemy ship destroyed. And going by these readings, I think they were beaming people over to the second ship while we approached," said Cat.

"Boarding parties," suggested Jarod. "We should probably render assistance."

"Agreed," said Meridina. She tapped her command chair control. "Commander Richmond, Major Anders, prepare teams immediately to repel boarders on a possibly friendly vessel."

As the two gave confirmation, Robert and Lucy released the harness straps holding them to their chairs. "We'll join the counter-boarding teams," Robert said.

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," Meridina replied.

By the time Robert and Lucy were at Transporter Station 1, the Aurora was alongside the unknown vessel. Over the comms they consulted with Anders and Richmond. Lucy would join Anders in beaming near the other ship's engineering spaces, where weapons fire was being detected. Robert, Richmond, and security forces would beam in close to the bridge. Talara was joining the second wave, as was Gina.

Once they materialized Robert and Richmond headed forward through the ship. The corridors were lined by walls of dark red metal with gray flooring. Along the way they found bodies at some of the junctions. Some were SS, and others were Human or Human-like forms in uniforms of dark red and gold.

Behind him, Richmond and her teams swept forward. "Weapons fire in this direction," Richmond said, facing a corridor leading to port. "Disruptor fire and an unknown signature."

Robert nodded. At the fringe of his senses he could sense something, a ripple in the Flow of Life. "You go that way. I'll go this way." He indicated the way ahead.

"Right. Lindstrom, your squad is with the Captain. The rest of you, with me."

WIth Lieutenant Lindstrom and his squad behind him, Robert moved on. After passing several closed spaces, he found metal steps that led to an upper deck. Robert vaulted up them, leaving his security escort behind. He wouldn't get too far ahead of them, or at least he wouldn't try to, but he was eager to find the source of this feeling he was sensing. The sense was not quite like a biotic, he thought, remembering how Shepard and Kaidan and Wrex sometimes made his heightened senses feel whenever they employed biotics.

A port door ahead slid open. He emerged onto an upper deck area for a large bridge area. Control stations nearby were empty and below him the sounds of fighting continued. He went up to a railing looking out over the main bridge of the ship.

It was clearly meant to be a flag bridge, with what looked like a large command holotank in the center. Around it were stations for command staff officers. Further forward were seats for the command crew and stations for, Robert presumed, the rest of the ship.

The SS boarders were mixed. There were no Panzergrenadiers among them, but there were men in combat armor, and all were firing disruptor weapons at the bridge crew. The bridge crew in turn, clad in the same uniforms he'd seen among the slain, sticked to cover while firing rifles. Beams of purple energy sizzled in the air, a couple hitting SS targets, some not.

But his attention was immediately drawn to figures who were not armed, yet emerged from cover. Again he felt a ripple through the Flow of Life, such that despite the difference he half-expected to see them hurl dark matter or some other form of biotic power at their foes.

But instead of the purplish-blue bolts of biotic power he was familiar with, Robert watched as red-hot flame erupted from the palms and fists of the defenders, creating violent projectiles. It was a surprise to see it, especially as it became clear they weren't using mechanical flamethrowers of some kind, but generating flame from nothing.

No, not from nothing. From their own life energy.

One figure in particular jumped past the others, using the return fire as cover to close with the boarders. The woman was on the lithe side and quite agile, evading a shot as she drew close. She jumped in the air and twirled, her leg outstretched in a kick. Pure blue flame seemed to erupt from her heel as it swept through the air, creating a powerful arc of blue flame that slammed into the SS forces, setting them alight or otherwise forcing them back. The attacker turned when she hit the ground and made a punching motion with her fist. Another tongue of blue flame moved through the air at another of the SS boarders. The man screamed as blue flame enveloped him.

All the while, Robert sensed these attacks through the Flow of Life. It was something he'd never seen before, that he'd never known was possible. But there was no denying the truth of what he was seeing.

Below him more SS forced themselves through a side door. The lead figure was exposed; she would be gunned down before she could retreat to cover. Robert jumped down between her and the SS reinforcements, his lightsaber igniting in mid-air. He intercepted the fire, sending the beams back into their shooters. One disappeared in a haze of emerald energy, two more going down to the reflected beams as well. Robert lifted his hand and willed their compatriots to fly backward. The universe answered his will and they did just that, slamming into the far bulkhead with enough force to knock them out. He repeated the action with the squad behind them, knocking them back through the door they'd entered through. With his will he forced the door shut, cutting off that entry to the bridge. A check of his omnitool confirmed that Lindstrom and his squad were approaching the same, taking the SS under fire. Trapped against the bridge door, they went down quickly.

Robert turned and found the armored figure staring at him. Her eyes were a light brown, amber in tone, and there was an intensity in them beyond the rush of combat. Her hair was dark, brown bordering on black, pulled into a tail at the back of her head kept in place by a gold metal band with a red flame crest on it. Robert sensed she was older than her barely-middle age appearance suggested. Behind her, her crew were turning their attention to him now that the SS boarding teams were driven from the bridge. "Who are you?" the woman demanded. "What are you doing here?"

Given how on edge the woman was, not to mention her crew, Robert extinguished his lightsaber to emphasize he wasn't a threat to them. "My name is Robert Dale, a Paladin of the United Alliance of Systems," he replied, trusting in the auto-translator to make his speech understandable for them. "I'm here to find a close friend of mine captured by our enemies." He gestured toward the fallen SS on the bridge. "We'd like to help you, if you'll let us."

The woman's eyes narrowed slightly. But only slightly, and only for a moment, as she made her judgement of him. Robert felt her concern and surprise give way to curiosity… and a flicker of hope. "I see. We did not expect to find friends," she said.

"Can I ask your name, and what you're out here for?" Robert asked.

"Yes," she replied. Her voice took on a firm, determined tone. "I am Princess Ursa of the Fire Nation, a Captain of the Fire Nation Void Navy, and I have come to free my daughter Miko." She gave Robert an inquisitive look. "We accept your offer of aid."
”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 »

Lucy felt the danger and rushed through the engineering spaces of the vessel. The dead and wounded were around her, but for the moment they were best served by stopping whatever the SS had in mind.

She found an entrance leading onto catwalks in an engine chamber of some size. The power plant was visible enough, purple light glowing from its inner compartment, while wounded and dying figures were visible on the catwalks and below on the main deck. Near the wounded, two armed SS men were raising rifles to fire.

Her lightsaber flashed to life with an electronic snap-hiss. The noise drew their attention, too late for Lucy to rip the weapons from their hands with her will. She closed the gap as they went for other weapons. Two slashes were all that was necessary to put them down for good.

Ignoring the sensation of life extinguishing, Lucy looked down at the lower level. The SS teams were trying to get to the power plant, from the look of things, but were being held off by two figures who either were or resembled Humans of East Asian heritage. One was a woman, shaved mostly bald save for a tail of brown hair at the back of her head, wearing monastic robes of yellow and orange that left her thin arms of corded muscle bare. Beside her, a tan-complexioned man in a suit of green and beige stood in a ready stance, his dark hair cut short. Lucy noticed his left hand was held out toward a floating plate of what looked like a metal. It absorbed green disruptor beams that tried to strike both.

Recognizing the danger to the two, Lucy ran up to a point above the two groups before she jumped down. She landed in time to deflect a shot with her lightsaber and into another trooper, who went down with a bad disruptor burn on the shoulder. To keep the SS off-balance Lucy threw out a wave of force, an inelegant but effective strike that knocked two over and left the rest unsteady.

The two defenders behind her joined the attack. She felt energy rippling around her through the Flow of Life, in a way that reminded her somewhat of biotics. The woman twirled on one foot, as if gathering energy, and then thrust her hands forward. A gust of tornado-strength wind slammed into one of the boarders, throwing him back into the bulkhead near the entrance with enough force to knock him unconscious.

The other man made motions in the air with his arms, as if throwing something. Metal plates flew from the man's belt in time with these motions. Some flew in at an angle to cut flesh, others seemed to curve, forming solid bands around the wrists or ankles of the boarders, subduing them and disarming at the same time.

The return fire could have easily killed both, but Lucy's arms were almost a blur as she caught said fire, directing it away. Her lightsaber zipped through the air intercepting every shot while her new comrades of the moment used their unique abilities to their fullest. It was easy to notice the theme; one seemed to control the air, moving and shifting it, and the other focused on guiding his metal weapons in to bind or disarm the SS.

The arrival of Anders and his Marines swiftly brought the fight to an end. Through the doors they came, pulse rifles blazing, and the remaining SS were caught in the crossfire. Seconds after their arrival the SS were down, defeated or dead.

Seeing Anders, Lucy shut off her lightsaber and called out, "I think they were planting bombs."

"They were," he confirmed, his voice somewhat tinny through the electric speakers of his helmet. "I'm trained in EOD, my Marines will handle it."

"Right." She turned and faced the two defenders, who were astonished and curious. She sensed the questions forming in their minds and said, "I'm Lucy Lucero from the United Alliance of Systems. We're here to help."

The two nodded. The woman spoke first. "We are grateful for your intervention, Lucy Lucero. I am Yeshe Beifong. This is my cousin Komin."

"The man I was just talking to is Major Gabriel Anders, the Commander of Marine Troops on the Alliance Starship Aurora, where I'm based from," she explained. "We're already clearing your ship of boarders. We're here to…"

"Attention all assistance parties." The voice was Tra'dur, over on the Aurora. "Nazi vessels are entering range. We are raising shields and engaging."

The arriving SS cruisers were a formidable formation, another two Tannenburg-class ships accompanied by two smaller ships, Innsbruck-class cruisers. Together they posed a formidable, though not insurmountable, threat to the Aurora.

On the bridge of the Aurora Meridina responded to the arrival with engagement orders. The holotank beside Jarod's seat showed the relative position of the Koenig, nearby and under cloak, ready to engage. "Are they launching fighters?"

"Yes," Tra'dur confirmed.

Jarod was already at his controls. "I'll detail the fighters and Koenig to deal with one of the cruisers."

"Excellent. Tactical, fire when they're in range."

That range came moments later. The Aurora's main batteries opened up, battering away at the shields of one of the smaller Innsbruck-class ships. The Koenig rippled into view from "above" the ships, adding its firepower to the attack. The fighter wings of the two groups met in the space between the Aurora and the cruisers, exchanging missiles and energy fire.

Disruptor beams sliced through the open space and into the Aurora's shields. Angel triggered plasma fire in retaliation, focusing her fire on the weaker Innsbruck-class ships to knock them out of the fight.

Meridina activated the comm system to link to Robert and the others. "Boarding teams, what is the status of the friendly ship? We may need their assistance."

On the other vessel, Robert was being joined by Talara and a couple of security personnel when Meridina's call came. He looked toward Ursa, who was seeing to the wounded of her crew. "Enemy reinforcements have arrived," he said. "Can your ship help to fight them off?"

"The General Iroh has suffered extensive damage in our previous battle," Ursa answered. "But we may be able to get sufficient power to our weapons and engines to aid your ship. Another matter is that many of the crew have been wounded or lost in this battle, including our helmsman."

"We'll provide what aid we can," Robert replied. He glanced back to Talara. "Lieutenant, take a look at their helm controls, if you think you can operate them…"

"Yes sir," Talara said, recognizing his intent. While it was likely many personnel on the ship had at least some helm training, helm operation in combat demanded more. She approached the vacant station forward of the command pit and glanced at the controls. They were physical controls, switches and levers and a prominent wheel. She couldn't read the ideograph-based language on the controls. She drew in a breath and focused inward, sensing their intent through her power instead. As she came to recognize the controls in question, she started working them slightly, getting a feel for them.

Gradually she became aware of intense attention from the others. She glanced toward a uniformed man standing beside her. "Is there something wrong?"

"I have never seen a spirit like you before," the man said.

"Spirit? I am a Falaen." A tone from the helm station drew Talara's attention back to it. She didn't recognize the characters that flashed red, but a moment's consideration gave her insight into the meaning. "It would appear that the ship's engines are inoperable. We cannot maneuver."

At her chair Ursa flipped a switch. "This is the bridge. Engineering, concentrate repairs on the engine systems. We need combat capability." Several moments passed without a hint of reply. "Engineering?"

Robert tapped at his omnitool. "Dale to Lucero. What's the status of Engineering?"

"Secured, but there's some damage in the section. And a lot of dead and wounded."

A hard look was on Ursa's face. "Is Chief Lee there?"

A couple of moments passed and another male voice, one Robert was unfamiliar with, came over the line, "He was wounded, Highness."

Ursa seemed relieved to hear the voice. "Komin. You are well?"

"I am, and so is Yeshe. We received aid from these newcomers just in time."

"Can you restore power? More enemy voidships have arrived. Our new allies are fighting them off, but they will need the General Iroh in the fight."

"I'll get right to it," was the reply.

When Komin's conversation with whomever was on the bridge was over, Lucy watched him turn to the reactor. His cousin gave him a look Lucy thought of as wry. "You have always wanted to work on a Varrick generator," she noted.

"I never imagined doing it in a situation like this," he confided.

Lucy walked up to them and to the power plant. She felt a ripple through the Flow of Life from it. It reminded her, somewhat, of what she'd felt from the Balmera crystal powering the Castle of Lions. Although the energy itself didn't seem to come from the Flow of Life, merely disturbing it, making ripples in it.

As she examined it, Lucy felt a sense of something wrong. The machine was being held back. She realized it was likely broken or damaged power relays. She followed one of the lines until she found a point of damage, likely from a disruptor bolt. "Here," she said aloud. "Damaged lines."

Komin followed where her eyes were looking. "Good eye."

"Not just my eyes. Let's get to work."

With a friendly ship to protect, the Aurora was at an inherent disadvantage. Multiple disruptor bolts struck at her shields, green beams causing blue energy to flicker into view where the deflectors resisted their power. On the Aurora bridge Tra'dur stated, "Shields now at fifty-six percent."

At tactical Angel focused the ship's main weapons on a damaged Innsbruck. The pulse plasma cannons built into the bow sent ten distinct streams of thick, sapphire pulses into the enemy ship. This time they slammed through the shields of the SS cruiser and ripped into the main hull, wrecking entire sections of the ship. A spread of torpedoes inflicted further carnage on the light cruiser, leaving it with great massive wounds.

Angel didn't get a chance to finish it off, as one of the heavier Tannenberg-class ships moved into position to take her next shot instead. Missiles erupted from its launcher, aimed directly at the Aurora. The particle interceptors spewed fire into the missiles' path to take them out before they struck, but only some were destroyed before the salvo crashed into the shields. "Shields now at forty-nine percent," Tra'dur said.

"I'm doing what I can," said Locarno, "but keeping us in a position to shield the other ship is reducing my choices."

"We must give them time," insisted Meridina, while the ship shook around them again.

Lucy's lightsaber made another cut, severing the damaged trunk line for one of the General Iroh's main power conduits. "There," she said.

Komin nodded. Lucy watched with interest as he used his gifts to move a new section of trunk line into position. She felt his power ripple and the result of it, as the interior lines pressed together until the connection was restored. He rotated his hands together and motioned as if compacting something between them. Metal shrieked lowly and the new section of trunk pressed into shape with the rest.

"That was a five minute welding job," she said aloud. "You did it in less than a minute."

"I'm a Beifong of Zaofu," he replied. "I've been training in Metalbending since I was a child. It runs in the family."

Lucy felt a number of questions welling up within her that she would file away for later. "What's the status on the power systems?" she asked into her omnitool.

"Looking at their readouts, main power is still cut from the engine assembly," replied Anders. "But you've restored full life support and weapons."

"Relay that to the bridge. We'll go to the next break." Lucy moved on, Komin following, both carrying the necessary materials to effect repairs.

"That sword you have," Komin said. "I've never imagined anything like it."

"It's a lightsaber," Lucy said. "It's a personal weapon for people with my abilities."

"I've never seen Bending like yours," Komin said. "I thought you were an Airbender for a moment there, the way you threw those invaders back, but Yeshe didn't feel you move the air."

Lucy gave him a look brimming with curiosity, but she held it back for the moment. "I can discuss my abilities later, but right now…" They came up to another damaged section of power line. "Let's get this ship going."

Komin nodded and pulled out another section of power trunk cabling. Lucy measured it and re-ignited her lightsaber to make another cut. She felt the sense of warning just in time to brace herself. The deck lurched below them. "The ship's under fire," she said. "Let's get this done now."

A second barrage of disruptor fire sliced along the General Iroh's port side, sundering armor and carving a wound into the ship's hull. Weapon emplacements twisted to face the Tannenburg-class cruiser responsible for the wound. Brilliant purple energy retaliated, meeting the ruby gleam flaring of the Nazi cruiser's deflector shields.

On the other side of the SS vessel, beams of sapphire energy impacted against the cruiser's shields as well, the ship gaining the full attention of Angel Delgado on the Aurora. She acquired a hard target lock and continued the barrage, firing the port plasma cannons. Bigger brilliant beams of blue energy stabbed at the SS ship.

Nor did she ignore the other two craft. A spread of solar torpedoes erupted from the aft launcher toward the more stricken of the two Innsbruck-class cruisers, already badly hurt from the attack runs of Commander Laurent's fighters. The sparks of blue-white light crashed into the unshielded hull of the Nazi cruiser, exploding the blood-red port nacelle and blasting huge wounds in its port side. The aft-facing plasma pulse cannons erupted in sapphire furry, the bolts crashing into those wounds. The enemy cruiser blew apart in a series of explosions.

But that was merely one of four ships in the fight. Even as the Aurora moved to aid the General Iroh, two cruisers remained to focus fire on her. The larger of the ships, another Tannenburg, also fired a disruptor barrage into the path of the Koenig, slashing across the attacker's shields as it bore down on the remaining Innsbruck.

The bridge shook under Zack's feet. At Ops Lieutenant Commander Magda Navaez, his Operations Officer and First Officer, reported, "Shields now at sixty-two percent."

"Continue attack run," he responded

"Yes sir," came the replies from Lt. April Sherlily at Tactical and Lt. Jean Hajar at the helm.

The pulse phaser cannon emitters installed beside the forward-swept warp nacelles of the Koenig opened up, spitting furious amber-toned energy in bolts at the smaller of the two cruisers ahead. Solar torpedoes followed the bolts in, all crashing against thee cruiser's shields and continuing to degrade them.

As the Koenig peeled away to begin another attack run, Delta and Echo Squadrons from the Aurora fighter wing followed them in, firing torpedoes as well and evading the rapid-fire disruptor bolts of the cruisers' point defenses. One fighter took a direct hit from said defenses and nearly disintegrated, the pilot and sensor officer ejecting from their stricken craft a moment later.

The torpedoes hit home. The Tannenburg-class ship's shields held, but the other cruiser's shields faltered, losing cohesion. Recognizing his opportunity Zack bellowed, "Attack Plan Whiskey on secondary target, now!"

"Aye sir!" Hajar responded while performing the ordered maneuver. Under her control the Koenig whipped around in space, straining the G force-absorbing inertial dampeners as she did.


The moment Sherlily spoke, her finger triggered the pulse phaser cannons again. The Koenig's main battery was tremendously effective for a ship of her size. She was, essentially, a flying cruiser battery, and that meant her weapons were a threat to cruisers. With failing shields, the Innsbruck-class ship took damage directly from the Koenig's bow weapons. The bursts of phaser fire ripped into the Nazi vessel's hull, blasting chunks of metal and material from the wounds in said hull. Flame and atmosphere erupted in the wake of the hits.

And then the torpedoes hit home. One blew off a piece of the cruiser's nacelle, another wrecked a disruptor emitter. The others hit at points along the four hundred meter-long ship's hull, blasting more debris away from it, leaving the Innsbruck-class cruiser with significant system damage.

The cruiser's return fire continued, playing green disruptor beams over the Koenig's shields and over the Aurora's. It wasn't out of the fight yet. And its two larger allies were bracketing the Aurora with energy fire.

"Aurora's shields are down to thirty-five percent," Magda said. "They can't take much more of this."

"Return our focus to primary target," Zack said, frowning. That other ship had damn well better join us soon...

Another disruptor beam played over the dark-colored hull of the General Iroh, slicing away armor and hull material and exposing more sections to vacuum. "Breaches in void hull, forward decks, Sections 3 through 6," stated one of the bridge personnel.

Robert noticed Ursa and one of the older men, a man of kept dark hair and a stern expression, exchange looks. Ursa pressed at an intercom on her armrest. "Engineering, what is our status?"

The reply was from a young woman. "They are nearly done."

"We are under fire, we need power back now."

"That is understood."

The ship rocked again under Lucy's feet, nearly throwing off her aim as she cut free another damaged portion of the trunk line. The moment it fell away Komin moved a replacement into place with his Metalbending, tightening it and twining together the new connections..

"Princess Ursa is insistent that the ship's power must be restored shortly," Yeshe said over the internal comms.

"I'm sure she is, whoever she is," said Lucy. "But this takes time, even with abilities. We…"

"...are done," Komin pronounced. "That should be the final repair necessary."

Lucy ran a scan with her omnitool, confirming Komin's assessment. "Power's circulating freely through the system."

"Yeshe, the board in Engineering, is it…"

"...it is, cousin," came the reply. "The ship's engines have power once more."

Lucy immediately keyed her comms to Robert. "We've got engine power," she said.

On the General Iroh bridge, Talara noticed the warning signal disappear, turning to another ideograph glowing green. "The engines have power, Captain," she said. "Engaging drives." From her examination of the control board, she identified the engine thrust lever and pushed it forward.

"Present strong side to the enemy," Ursa ordered. "All weapons, fire at will."

Talara nearly asked what she meant, but she sensed Ursa's intentions and turned the ship to port.

The General Iroh's engines were firing already, due to Talara's initiative. Now they roared to full power. Powerful cannon mounts tracked toward what Robert considered the ship's starboard side. With power fully restored, the weapons were at full effectiveness again. They focused on the Tannenburg-class ship between the General Iroh and the Aurora. Brilliant beams of purple light lashed out in sequence, stronger than before, straining away the ruby-tinted shields of the SS vessel.

The Aurora's maneuvering picked up, the other ship freed now from the need to protect the motionless General Iroh. Robert watched its sapphire beams playing over the SS heavy cruiser's shields and knew Angel and Meridina saw the same opportunity; the chance to overwhelm the SS cruiser's shields and finish it off. Its sister ship was still laying into the Aurora, with the Koenig and the Aurora's fighters harassing it in turn, and the remaining Innsbruck-class cruiser contributing what fire it could given its damaged situation.

The battle wasn't over, but at least they had a shot now.

At that moment, his attention was diverted. Robert collapsed to his knees as phantom pain flooded his being, with it a distant scream of agony echoing in his mind.

Ursa noticed with concern. "What is wrong? Are you injured?" she asked.

"No. Not me," he croaked. "Julia… I can feel it… they're hurting her…"

In the healing chamber with the kohltou tanks, Fassbinder observed with satisfaction at the scream coming from Julia. She spasmed from the Eubian nanobots flooding her nerve endings with pain signals. From where he stood he sensed the enormity of it, the inescapable agony, and he delighted in it.

And there was something more to it now, he felt. He could feel something in Julia's being, the faint hint of a tether, a connection. What was it? Who was she connected to? His grin grew as he considered the possibilities and found further cause for enjoyment in them.

That satisfaction faded when he felt Julia's mind shut down. He'd pushed her too far. She was no longer conscious, and her body was failing from the abuse. He tapped the gauntlet key to shut down the nanobots and dialed down the electrical current to nothing. Another step and the kohltou's circulation picked up, ensuring she would heal effectively. That was the important part, indeed, the entire point of using the miracle fluid. It healed her body, restored some of its vitality, and ensured she would not die from the tortures he was inflicting. And there were so many more he had planned once they finished testing the Aurora Chair with her...

He sensed his approaching subordinate a moment before the Sturmbannführer entered the room. "Sieg Heil!" the man shouted, arm held up ramrod straight in a proper salute.

"Heil Kranefuss," Fassbinder replied, returning the salute. "Report, Sturmbannführer."

"We have received a message from Oberführer Franck of the Dogger Bank. His squadron is engaged with the Alliance vessel Aurora and one of the local civilization's ships."

Immediately Fassbinder realized the implications. A part of him surged with irritation: he'd hoped to have more time to make preparations before being discovered. But then again, this was precisely what he hoped, wasn't it? If they were coming in alone like this, that meant the Aurora and the Alliance were likely not ready for a major effort either.

"Well, how intriguing," he said. "Thank you, Sturmbannfuhrer. I now have much to plan." He looked to Julia's unconscious form floating in the kohltou. "Oh so much to plan," he said, cherishing the anticipation for the scheme forming in his mind.


Another disruptor beam struck at the Aurora, making the ship shudder. "Shields now to nineteen percent," Tra'dur reported. "Cohesion is faltering."

"Maintain fire."

Angel did so happily as she directed more plasma fire to port on the faltering Tannenburg there. Their new ally likewise maintained a full barrage of brilliant purple energy, scouring the enemy ship and keeping its shields at the brink of collapse. Angel likewise directed a solar torpedo spread to aft at the Innsbruck-class ship limping up toward the rear.

The enemy cruiser's disruptors fired, weakening further the Aurora's. With her own gone, however, there was nothing to stop the solar torpedoes from striking. The hits to damaged hull proved too much. The light cruiser was blown apart.

"Two targets remaining," Angel crowed.

Meridina replied with a nod. 'Return fire to our main target"

"Koenig is moving to engage as well," added Jarod.

Meridina observed that process. Zachary's ship threaded the needle of friendly and hostile fire, coming in from a third angle on the enemy ship's ventral arc. The belly of the SS cruiser was barely-protected, their faltering shields desperately directed to repel the batteries of the Aurora and General Iroh.

With the rapidity of a bird of prey, the Koenig struck, diving "down" (by her own relation) at the belly of the enemy ship and opening up with full forward batteries. The shields on that arc failed after the first torpedo spread. The Koenig swung from left to right (relatively speaking), zig-zagging around oncoming fire as her pulse phaser cannons continued to rip through bare hull. Explosions flowered from the enemy ship at every impact. More solar torpedoes erupted from Koenig's launcher, each blowing out more and more guts of the cruiser.

The damage was telling. The enemy ship's shields failed, and now the General Iroh and Aurora joined in the slaughter, blue and purple beams cutting into the ship as it fell apart around its crew. The SS ship fired a last few shots in defiance, but did no appreciable damage before the cruiser went completely dark.

The Koenig shot away from it, and with good reason. Meridina steeled herself at the sensation of what was coming. Somewhere on the SS ship, someone on the crew intentionally shut down the magnetic fields confining the ship's antimatter fuel, allowing the volatile substance to make contact with ordinary matter. Opposites met and annihilated each other in a flare of brilliant energy, one that utterly consumed the cruiser in a white fireball.

That left one foe, the second Tannenburg, which was still firing on the Aurora while fending off the remaining fighters of the same. With the odds so clearly against them, the SS cruiser turned away. "They're preparing to go to warp," warned Cat.

Meridina considered the option of pursuit. But a glance at the battle damage told her it was not wise. This cruiser was still fairly intact, not very damaged at all, and the Aurora's shields were faltering with several systems already harmed in some way. A pursuit would be unwise. "Allow them," she said.

A moment later, the enemy ship warped away.

"Stand down to Code Yellow status, recall all fighters. Lieutenant Tra'dur, signal Robert and the others on the other vessel," said Meridina. "It would appear that we have conducted a first contact mission under fire."

"Yes Captain," replied Tra'dur.


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 23 October 2643 AST. Captain Meridina reporting. Our mission to recover Captain Andreys has resulted in an unexpected outcome, a first contact with a space-faring Human civilization native to N1C4. They are pursuing the SS exiles for their own purposes involving SS raids on their outlying colonies. We are currently providing assistance in repairs for the vessel we assisted, known as the General Iroh. I have alerted Defense Command to the first contact situation.

While there are certain aspects to their technology that are of interest, their 'Bending' capabilities are of the greater interest. It would seem the local Human civilization has developed a unique connection to the Flow of Life. I sense this may be why the Flow of Life feels different in this universe.

The Aurora and the General Iroh were now side by side in the middle of interstellar space. Mongoose fighters from the former were flying outward, forming a perimeter defense should SS ships arrive. The Koenig was patrolling the parsec around them for the same purpose.

Meridina and Jarod beamed aboard the General Iroh with one of the repair crews sent by Scotty. While the engineering personnel went off to help with repairs they were met by Yeshe. Meridina sensed a serenity in the young woman that would have fit well with the more contemplative members of the Order of Swenya. "You are Meridina and Jarod?" she asked.

"We are."

"Please, follow me."

Yeshe led them further into the ship. Their ultimate destination was the officers' wardroom, with a table and chairs of tropical hardwood, the wall adorned with red banners and a gold flame insignia in the middle. Robert, Lucy, Talara, and Richmond were waiting there, with Ursa and Komin present. Meridina sensed vibrant life energy in both, as she did in Yeshe. It was a peculiar feeling, clearly linked to what her people considered an active, connected swevyra, but yet different than she was used to.

"Princess Ursa, Mister Beifong, this is Meridina and Jarod, the Acting Captain and the Operations Officer of the Koenig respectively." Robert turned to the two new arrivals. He seemed pale and tired. Meridina knew it couldn't just be from the fighting. "Meridina, Jarod, Princess Ursa of the FIre Nation and Komin Beifong. You've met his cousin Yeshe."

Meridina nodded. "I am pleased to meet both of you. Your ship's aid was timely in the battle."

"Your arrival was rather more timely," Ursa replied evenly. "We did not expect to find allies against the Invaders."

"That is your name for the Schutzstaffel, then? It seems fitting."

"These… 'Nazis' as you call them have raided several colonies on the frontiers of the Five Nations." Ursa was a woman of clear self-discipline, but the worry of a mother showed through it. "It was their last raid that claimed my daughter. The survivors told us they took her as a prisoner."

"Have they tried to ransom her?" asked Robert. "The SS wouldn't take a prisoner if they didn't need her for something."

"No. Nothing." Ursa clenched a fist. "We have been tracking them for two weeks in the attempt to find wherever their forces are based. We are certain it is not far from here, but the void is vast and the stars spread out."

"It is likely that they took your daughter to the same place they took Captain Andreys," Talara noted.

"The friend you have come to rescue?" Ursa nodded. "We have common cause then."

"That we do."

"You say you are from an Alliance. Will more of your people come to aid us?" asked Komin.

"We've informed them of where we are and of the first contact with your people," Jarod replied. "As things are, we're gathering our fleet to hit the Nazis back, but it may be a day or so before they can join us. We have many worlds that need protecting now that it's clear the SS have copied our interuniversal drive."

That last term caused clear bewilderment and uncertainty in the others. "Interuniversal drive?" asked Yeshe. "What do you mean by that?"

"It is a jump drive that generates temporary transit points between universes," Meridina replied. "It makes our civilization possible. Unfortunately, toward the end of our war with their Reich, the Reich's leadership completed the project to replicate the technology. Or, at least, their SS did."

"I see. So that is how they came to our space, and now you are here as well."

Robert nodded. An old feeling of guilt welled up within him. "We never intended for people like the Nazis to get our technology. I'm sorry that our failure to stop them from copying it has caused your people loss."

"The fault is not yours," Yeshe said. "The fault is theirs."

"We've been telling him that for years now," Lucy remarked drolly, giving Robert a knowing look. He returned it and sighed. "Anyway, your ship should be good to go soon enough. But since we have time, I'd like to know more about your people. The abilities you showed, for instance…"

"I feel the same toward you," said Komin. "You don't move the air or earth, and you don't throw fire, but you seem to know where your enemy's attack is going to be every time. And you threw back the invaders without using any elements."

"We use the connection of our life energy to the universe. Well, it can be more complicated than that, but it's a good starting point. And you?"

Ursa was the one to answer. "The people of our world are divided into the Four Nations. I am from the Fire Nation. Komin is Earth Union, from the state of Zaofu, and Yeshe is from the Air Nation. And there are also the Water Tribes who dwell at our world's poles, Northern and Southern."

"You mentioned that your colonies are from five nations earlier," said Richmond. "The fifth is…?"

"The United Republic," Yeshe replied. "The Republic was founded in the aftermath of the Hundred Years War as a home for people from all nations. Over the last two and a half centuries, the Republic became its own nation. It is the heart of the Five Nations Compact."

"I'm guessing that members of each original nation wield the elements they're named for," Lucy observed.

"Some, although many are non-benders."

"Huh," Jarod murmured. He glanced toward Robert and Lucy. "Is this like your abilities?"

"They may be related," Robert said. It was clear his mind wasn't on the conversation, even with the speed of his reply. "It's something to consider for later. Right now we need to figure out what we know about the SS presence, and how we can get back Julia and Miko."

"Agreed," said Ursa. "Please, tell us more about these SS, and what kind of foe they are."

"I'd like to hear more about your Alliance, and the non-Human life like Talara," Komin added. Noticing Ursa's look, he almost sheepishly added, "When you're done, I mean."

"Very well," replied Meridina. "Allow us to explain."

In the quiet of his room, Erik Fassbinder read the reply from his leader. Kranefuss was displeased to learn their prize had been compromised so quickly after the operation. The SS would have to abandon this remarkable place. And they would do so with maximum destruction.

It would be quite a shame.

But an even greater shame would be losing this opportunity. He sensed what was coming. The Aurora crew were aware that they were running out of time, that if they didn't come soon, they would lose the chance to reclaim their friend. The same was true for the local untermenschen and reclaiming that brat in the holding cells. They weren't going to wait for the friendly fleet. They were going to come now.

And Fassbinder would be waiting for them.

Another stun stick blow caused Julia to collapse into a heap on the floor of her cell. Her guards retreated back across the threshold of the cell's forcefield before activating it, confining her again. She heard them walk away and began to stir. While that green fluid healed her body, it did nothing to ease the ill feelings within her. She crept slowly over to the cell door. Contact with her fellow prisoner was the only thing to help her stay sane.

Across the way, Miko regarded Julia with compassion and clear frustration. Her hands balled up into fists and tears flowed from her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said.

Julia looked toward her, thankful to see mercy and sympathy in at least one set of eyes in this hell. "There's nothing you can do about it."

"I know, but still…" With an ever-more furious look, Miko finally drove her fist into the ground beside her, not quite hard enough to crack the knuckles at the impact. A wince came to her face, but it mattered little compared to the tears flowing from her eyes. "What you're going through, the way they keep taking you to be tortured, it's terrible. I should be able to stop it."

To that Julia chuckled. "That sounds familiar," she sighed, thinking of Robert. "Save your energy for battles you can win."

Julia didn't expect the vehemence that came from Miko. "That's just it! I should be able to fight back! To… to get out of this, but I can't!" She gestured toward the collar. "This keeps me from bending! And… and I don't know how else I can fight them, I don't know how to use their weapons…!"

"Be patient," Julia advised. "You never know when we'll get an opportunity." As she spoke she looked over the collar on the younger woman before returning to looking into her eyes. "It's not your responsibility to protect me, Miko."

"That's where you're wrong," Miko insisted.

"I am?"

Miko nodded. 'You are."

"Alright," said Julia. "Can you explain? You're responsible for helping me because…?"

Miko nodded and drew in a little breath. She was regaining composure from the outburst of emotion.

"Because," Miko said, "I'm the Avatar."
”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 »


Through the clear forcefields of their respective cells, Julia Andreys looked over her fellow prisoner. The young woman, who had introduced herself as Miko, was on the lean side in build, wearing a slightly tattered sleeveless vest of red with gold trim and pants of matching color. Her dark hair, shoulder length, was disheveled, much as Julia's own blond hair was. Amber-toned eyes looked to Julia with shame and frustration welling inside of them.

All things considered, Miko was the better off of the two of them. Julia herself was ragged from Fassbinder's abuses. For the untold time since the ordeal began, she'd been wearing the same clothes she'd had on when the attack on New Liberty began; a white tank top and burgundy red shorts with a sports bra of matching color below the tank top. The colors were now faded from days of sweat and immersion in the fluid her captors used for healing her.

The question of time was bewildering for Julia. Between the torture sessions and the time she spent unconscious from them, she wasn't sure how many days had passed since she was captured during the SS exiles' attack on New Liberty. She wasn't even sure what happened to the others. Was the Colony gone? Had her ship, the Aurora, been destroyed in the attack? She could remember that Cylon working with Fassbinder, the SS officer who oversaw the attack, talking about a similar strike against Gersal. Was it possible that everyone she knew and loved was dead?

No. No, Julia would not let herself consider that. That was the road to despair, a despair that would crush her spirit far more thoroughly than the torture Fassbinder delighted in inflicting on her.

It was as much to escape such thoughts as it was to satisfy curiosity that she returned her attention to Miko. The young woman brimmed with frustrated energy, unsurprising given what she'd said. That she felt she had to help Julia, to stop what was being done to her, and why she felt that way.

"What did you mean?" asked Julia. "When you said you were 'the Avatar'?"

Miko turned her head to face Julia. "It's who I am. What I am. The Avatar is… I am responsible for the balance on my world. The balance between the Nations, between the Human World and the Spirit World. The Avatar is the only one who can bend all four elements instead of just one."


"It is our word, perhaps the translation does not work so well with your language." Miko opened her fist. Julia watched as, for a moment, a flicker of flame flashed into being over Miko's palm.

The collar around her neck lit up. There was the distinct sound of an electrical device activating and Miko's body seized up. She let out a cry of pain and clenched the fist again, banishing the flame from existence.

"The Avatar is reborn in a cycle within the Four Nations, one nation to the next," she continued, her voice more hoarse given her earlier cry of pain. "Air Nomads, Water Tribes, Earth Union, Fire Nation. I am Princess Miko of the Fire Nation, and I am the Avatar of this cycle, born the day that Avatar Komin died."

Julia nodded as understanding came to her. "So… the people from each nation can use, can 'bend', the element their nation is named for, but only you can bend all four?"

"Not all are born benders. But yes," said Miko. "It's a heavy responsibility. The Avatar keeps the peace among the Nations. It's my duty to protect people. People like you, Julia Andreys." She closed her eyes, tears brimming in them. "It's why I surrendered to these 'Nazis', so they would spare the people of Tangshan."

"But they didn't."

"No. They opened fire anyway. They made me watch."

Julia didn't find it hard to imagine who ordered that. "Fassbinder?"

"The one with the evil eyes?" Miko shuddered. "I can feel the darkness of his spirit. The hatred."

"His entire society is built on that. Hating those they consider inferior. Enslaving or exterminating them." Julia grimaced as she shifted into a sitting position. Her body still ached. "Your people are spacefaring?"

"Yes. We first reached into the void during Avatar Korra's lifetime, and it was during Komin's that the Five Nations went to other suns."

"You only said four nations before, what's the fifth?" Julia asked.

"The United Republic. It is a combination of people from all four nations that was founded after the Hundred Year War, created by Avatar Aang and my ancestor Fire Lord Zuko nearly three hundred years ago." Miko's eyes glistened. "It's built around Republic City, the greatest city on my world." After a moment spent considering said city, Miko turned her eyes to Julia. "What of your people? Your Alliance?"

"The United Alliance of Systems is, well, this is the hardest part for people to understand if they don't see it," Julia began. "We're an interuniversal society of multiple systems, including multiple copies of my homeworld Earth, made possible by technology called the interuniversal jump drive. We have worlds, colonies, in many universes, and through them contact with even more nations and species. The Alliance itself has four species currently, we Humans, of many universes, the Gersallians and Dorei of Universe N2S7, and the Alakin of A7R6."

Miko looked at her in some confusion. "When you say other species, you mean... "

"Aliens. Sapient life forms other than Humans. Yes."

"Amazing." Miko's eyes widened. "What are they like?"

"Well, Gersallians actually look Human. Dorei look like…"

Julia stopped as she heard the distant stomp of boots hitting the floor in a steady cadence. The noise increased over seconds until two guards arrived. One lowered the forcefield for Julia's cell. The other reached in and grabbed her arm, forcing her up, shrieking at her in German to come. He and his ally both brandished stun sticks to make clear they weren't taking no for an answer.

Julia got up and approached her captors. As she stepped between them both thrust their stun sticks into her torso anyway. She shrieked in both pain and surprise as her body seized up. She fell to her knees.

"Leave her alone!" Miko shouted.

As one guard kicked Julia in the shoulder, knocking her over, the other turned to Miko and snarled at her. "Shut up, witch!" His hand went to a device on his belt. As soon as his finger pressed down on a button, the collar around Miko's neck lit up. She let out a short cry and doubled over in pain.

By the time she looked up, the guards - and Julia - were gone.

Light years away, the Starship Aurora and the Fire Nation Voidship General Iroh remained side by side, both ships undergoing repairs from combat. The vessels were possessed of marked differences: the four warp nacelles on the Aurora were arranged at the end of pylons from the drive hull while the Iroh's were built into the main hull, the visible weapon turrets on the Iroh in contrast to the emitter banks and emplacements on the Aurora, the Iroh's dark gray hull contrasting to the Aurora's azure sheen. By size the Iroh was barely half the length of the Aurora, although she looked more heavily-armed for her size.

Activity aboard the Iroh was even more hectic than on the Aurora, with repair teams from the latter ship helping the surviving crew of the Iroh return their vessel to full readiness.

In the wardroom of said ship, those looking to aid Julia and Miko were likewise sharing information about themselves. The specific nature of the United Alliance of Systems, the existence of non-Human life in many universes, the actual existence of the interuniversal jump drive, all of these things were taken in with wonder by Princess Ursa and the Beifong cousins.

The particulars of their world invited Lucy to say, "So everyone born into a particular nation has a chance to be born with the ability to manipulate, to 'bend' as you put it, the element corresponding with their origin nation?"


"Is this true for everyone?"

"There are those in each nation who do not bend," replied Komin. "And only one person can bend more than one element, and that is the Avatar."

"The Avatar is reborn into each nation in a cycle," Yeshe added. "Air, Water, Earth, Fire. Every Avatar is meant to be a mediator and peacekeeper, protecting the world from any force that threatens it and standing apart from the other nations."

"And Miko is the current Avatar," Robert said.

The three gave him an intent look. "How did you know?" Ursa asked.

"I sensed it," Robert answer. "Our life energy abilities give us insights. We can sense the truth of things. Although in this case, it was easy to see she was important in some way that the SS would want her as a captive."

"Our world is in turmoil over the issue," confirmed Ursa. "Some advocate negotiation for her safe return. Others support my efforts to find and free her."

"Negotiation with the SS will be futile," Meridina said.

"So I am convinced. And that is why my uncle, Fire Lord Daizon, authorized me to take the General Iroh out to scout for her."

There was a certain fierce desperation, a frustrated impatience, in the older woman's voice, and in her heart. Those present could easily notice it, whether it was from metaphysical insight, telepathy, or in Jarod's case, careful observance and deduction. Ursa, whatever her skills or capability, was ultimately a desperate mother trying to rescue her child from a threat that, to her people, was still an enigma. And all the Aurora crew could do was confirm that some of her worst nightmares might very well be true, given the tendencies of Miko's captors.

The Beifong cousins were quick to pick up on it as well. "Miko has a strong heart," Yeshe assured Ursa. "And I sense she is still with us."

"Are you two friends of Miko?" Lucy asked. "Given neither of you are Fire Nation, from what I see."

"She asked us to train her," said Komin. "Yeshe is her Airbending instructor. When she has mastered Water, she will come to me for Earthbending."

"Although knowing my cousin, he has already shown her some," Yeshe remarked with a knowing smile.

"Why was she out on this colony Tangshan?" Meridina asked. "Given her importance, and the raids on your colonies beforehand, surely the risk…"

Ursa laughed harshly. "My daughter has a fierce spirit. She did not get along with the Water Tribe instructor we sent her to and believed she would find a better one in the outer colonies. In truth, I think she was trying to assert her independence from me."

"Teenagers often do," Lucy noted. "Most anyway." She flashed a grin toward Robert.

He returned it. Just as he went to speak, he felt a scream fill his being, echoed by intense pain. He gasped in shock at the intensity of that pain. Everyone turned to him and watched Robert nearly bend over.

"What's wrong?" Jarod asked him.

"I feel it again," Robert replied. "He's hurting her!"

Undiscovered Frontier
"Trial by Fire"

There were no questions. Not a single attempt at interrogation. There was only the agony, the evil cold energy of the lightning that was a manifestation of all of the hateful and arrogant energy in Fassbinder's twisted soul. And Julia could do nothing but suffer. Her muscles twitched and spasmed, her body burned, and nothing she could do could help her escape it.

Worst of all, she could feel her life slipping away, drained by that dark energy from Fassbinder. An open abyss seemed to open up around her, and she was falling toward it, falling...

Julia was barely conscious when the lightning stopped. She didn't feel herself being freed from the chair, or carried away to another room in this strange city. She remained at the cusp of the abyss until the now-familiar sensation of the soothing green fluid covered her.

From outside of the tank, Fassbinder watched Julia stir slightly. She couldn't move, of course, given the restraints locked around her wrists and ankles to keep her trapped in the open-topped tank. He looked over the controls and noted that her vital signs were improving slowly.

"You should just end her," said a female voice. He turned his head and saw the blond Cylon, one of his teachers in the talents he'd long sought to tap. "Kill the Dawn-Bearer. She is of no use otherwise."
"No," Fassbinder said. "She has not suffered enough. Not nearly enough for what she and her people did to us." The frustrated look gave way to a small, sinister smile. "Besides, do you not sense it? The connection to her?"

The Cylon "Six" seemed to concentrate a moment. "I believe I know what you mean."

"She is connected to one of them. To him, I am convinced. Dale feels what is being done to her. When she suffers, he suffers. And I will use that." The smile grew as his hand went to the dial on the control. He twisted it halfway to full, sending an electrical current into the "kohltou", and watched with satisfaction as Julia's body spasmed despite the restraints.

With the discussions over, Meridina and Jarod returned to the Aurora. Lucy remained, joining Komin in heading to engineering to help in the General Iroh's repairs. This left Ursa with Robert. She gave him a searching look as he clasped the side of the door, the color leaving his face. "You are in pain."

"Not physically. I… my friend, Julia, I can feel it. She's in pain. The SS are torturing her right now." He tried and failed to blink tears from his eyes. "I need to get to that base. To get to her, to free her from… from what they're doing."

Ursa approached him and, with great solemnity and sympathy, placed her hand on his shoulder. "I do not understand how these gifts of yours works. How your spirit is connected to hers. But you have the same assurance from me that your people have given us. We will reclaim your friend as well as my daughter."

There was a quiet determination in her voice that Robert appreciated, even if he sensed her own lingering fears and doubts. They were just two ships, two against however many that the SS might call in. And what if their loved ones were moved? There were still so many ways they could fail here. It was frightening.

As such, her words were welcome, a glimmer of hope, and Robert appreciated them. He nodded to her. "Thank you."

"We should see to our duties. Miko and Captain Andreys will not be rescued by our desire alone," Ursa said. He watched her leave to resume command of her ship.

In the heart of the General Iroh's engineering section, Lucy finished patching the power cable line that their earlier repairs had only partially restored. Afterward she checked the integrity of the repair and reassured herself it was done. She glanced toward the reactor. Purple light filled the ports of said power plant. Even now, with its output dialed down, Lucy could feel it creating a ripple in the Flow of Life.

In a way, it was a marvel. The reactor they used tapped into a powerful energy source, more than the fusion or antimatter power that their technological level would otherwise permit. This greatly helped the Iroh's capability whatever the technological issues they faced. Lucy was unable to hide her interest in that aspect.

And yet… yet she felt wary. Whatever the power systems tapped into, it had some connection to the Flow of Life. She didn't think it was the Flow of Life itself, not in the way the Balmeran crystal worked on the Castle of Lions, but there was some kind of connection there. She couldn't help but wonder if that made the technology dangerous in some way. As she once pointed out to Cat, the Flow of Life was not merely a physical source of power. The same might be true for whatever they were using. And she felt naturally leery about it.

After verifying the integrity of the power trunk with a scan, Lucy turned her head and watched Komin complete a repair as well, using his gift for manipulating metal. After he finished she said, "I suppose that you can move, I mean 'bend', metals so long as they're an earthly compound?"

"That's how it works," he replied.

"Including alloys? Purified metals?"

"That depends. It's possible to purify or alloy a metal to remove the raw earth and make it unbendable. It's what we use in voidship hulls, for instance," he answered. "That's why I carry these." He indicated the metal plates on his belt and trousers.

"I see. Options in case you're not around something earthen or with metal that still has natural impurities." She glanced to the reactor again. "I've never seen a power source like this. It's some kind of energy tap?"

He nodded. "Varrick reactors draw latent energy from an alternate dimensional space. The principles have been around for a couple hundred years."

"And why are they called Varrick reactors?"

"For the family that did the most work in developing them," said Komin. "They were working on these kinds of energy sources as far back as Avatar Korra's time. The Varricks and their company have been refining the technology over the generations." Komin led her over to a board showing the ship's power distribution system. More of the sections were green-lit now, but a few still showed damage. "What kind of technology do you use?"

"Our primary power sources use a material known as naqia, it acts as a power amplifier and absorber," she replied. "Among other exotic properties. We also use fusion reactors as a backup power supply."

"Deuterium-fueled fusion?"

"Usually," she confirmed.

Komin nodded. "We have a backup fusion reactor for the General Iroh. The technology was first postulated by Gan Sing over two hundred years ago, but it was another hundred years before Fire Nation scientists successfully tested the first viable fusion core."

Lucy gave him a knowing grin. "Someone's interested in studying the history of power generation science, I see."

"Well… yes, that's me," Komin admitted, grinning slightly. His green eyes glinted in the light with immense satisfaction. "I've always been fascinated with machines. I've spent years studying Varrick reactors, but actually getting to work on one…"

Lucy nodded in appreciation of Komin's position. It reminded her of Tom, whom she decided to introduce to Komin at the first opportunity.

"Did you always want to be an engineer?" Komin asked her.

"Not really," she replied. "It was just a job for me, at first. But it's been useful, and I'm not sorry I became one."

Komin replied with a nod and returned to examining the power distribution network. Lucy joined him. She couldn't read the language on the displays, but the ideograms looked familiar. She used her omnitool to scan them. To her surprise the translations came right up, or at least proposed ones.

Komin noticed and grinned at her. "Those… 'omnitools' your people use are impressive," he said. "I hope to get one. And they must be very well-programmed to read our language so quickly."

"That's just it. It didn't," she said. "The translation programs are reading your language as Chinese."


"They're a nation of Earth," Lucy explained. "One of the most populous nations, in fact, and a dominant nation of Asia, our largest continent. So maybe your people are descended from Earth as well?"

Komin shrugged. "I don't know. Ancient history, that's not really my field," he admitted. "I've got a cousin who might be interested, though."

"I'm sure a lot of people will be, once contact is opened up between your world and the Multiverse," Lucy said.

There was a look on Komin's face, one of wonder, that made Lucy smile warmly. His people are in for quite a shock, just as we were. I hope they take it as well as he is, she thought.

With her captain a captive, command of the Aurora was now in the hands of the ship's First Officer. Meridina, normally a Commander but currently serving as an Acting Captain, sat in the chair that Julia usually occupied and looked over the things belonging to Julia. The trophies, the family photos, the other personal items… Meridina looked at them all and found herself hoping that Julia would be back here, where she belonged.

But there was more on Meridina's mind than the fate of her superior, someone she considered a friend. For the sake of the others she had to keep a strong appearance, even as her heart still ached with the loss her people suffered from. On the desk viewer, footage from her homeworld played, showing the rescue and cleanup efforts in the wake of the Cylon attack. The reports of the losses taken in the bombardment were stabilizing at an estimate of ten million dead and over twice that number injured.

It wasn't just the dead, though. The Cylons, in their attack, revealed their true nature as followers of the fallen Kohbal, the man who nearly wrecked Gersal in his war to seize control over twenty-nine centuries ago. The attack also revealed that other followers of Kohbal remained hidden after their supposed defeat and expulsion from the homeworld, as said followers had committed acts of sabotage across the planet in the minutes before the attack, ensuring the Cylons complete surprise.

And they had won. That was the worst thing. Meridina, Lucy, Talara, they'd gotten away, as had Meridina's father and many others, but the Cylons succeeded. They destroyed the Great Temple off Swenya in a barrage of atomics. They did the same to the Temple of Perception and the Temple of Birth, as if to wipe Gersal clean of all references to Swenya. Many of the Order's best, many of its wisest, died to the bombs, the blades, or the atomics of the Brotherhood. She had even felt the mortal blow dealt to her mentor, Mastrash Ledosh, struck down by the fallen Mastrash Goras.

It was all so wrong. A nightmare made reality. After all of the fights, all of the hard victories over darkness… darkness, in the end, was not vanquished, and had indeed returned to deal the Light a terrible blow.

And a part of Meridina believed it to be her fault.

A chime sounded at the door. She looked up and called out for the figure to enter. She was surprised to see Doctor Tusana, with her civilian wear, enter. "Doctor, how may I help you?' Meridina asked.

The civilian psychiatrist gave Meridina a knowing look. When she replied, it was with a mental cast into Meridina's mind, a telepath communicating with a fellow telepath. I am here to help you, Meridina. I can feel your grief.

Meridina nodded in acknowledgment of Tusana's point, if not agreement. It does not matter. What matters is reclaiming Julia.

Do not ignore your pain, Meridina. It could consume you.

I am not ignoring it. I am simply leaving it to the side so that I might do my duty
, Meridina cast back. Captain Andreys' life may hang in the balance. I cannot take time right now.

You will do her little good if you can't function.
Seeing Meridina's look Tusana shook her head. I will be here if you need me. With that she turned away and left the room.

Meridina promptly returned to work. She had little time to complete it before a blue light appeared on the back of her left hand, timed with a tone from her omnitool. She relayed the call to the desk. "Meridina here."

"I was just lettin' ye know that th' repairs are complete, sir," answered Commander Scott. The Starfleet legend's voice had the usual pride in getting his ship back in action. "We're ready t' go find th' Captain whenever ye're ready."

"We will be leaving as soon as our new allies are ready, Commander. Thank you for your timely repairs. Meridina out." She cut the line and sat in the quiet for a moment, considering Tusana's words, and the feeling in her heart.

Robert, Lucy, and Talara, along with Komin, stepped onto the General Iroh's bridge. It was a rather larger chamber than the one they were used to on the Aurora, more like a major command operations chamber for a station, with two levels and multiple stations. Ursa sat in the middle chair with Yeshe standing beside her. Ahead of her, another member of the crew was at the helm, freeing Talara from having to execute that duty again. "I am informed our repairs are complete?" asked Ursa.

"Yes, Highness," Komin answered. "Chief Lee is giving some systems a final check now, but the Sato drive is ready."

"Sato drive?" asked Talara.

"It is a space-warp drive," Komin said. "Based on…" He quieted at seeing Ursa's look, as she was clearly not interested in hearing him recite the history of the technology.

"From what I saw, your ship's best sustainable speed is about Warp 7 on our charts," Lucy said. "The Aurora can easily match that."

Robert didn't quite keep the aggravation at that from showing on his face. Warp 7 wasn't a slow warp speed, not at all, but it was still quite slow compared to what the Aurora could do, even at a leisurely cruise warp, due to the Darglan-designed warp drive. But they didn't have Darglan data. We should probably be happy they're capable of Warp 7 and not 5.

"Before we depart, I would ask the status of our communications array," Ursa said. "I would like to update Admiral Hanraq on our situation."

Komin shook his head. "Enemy fire ripped away the transceiver completely. We can't contact home."

"Then I will do so," said Yeshe.

Komin gave his stoic cousin an uncomfortable look. "This far out?" he asked. "Has it even been tried this far from into the frontier?"

"I do not believe so," she said. "But I should still be capable of reaching home. I can relay our situation to the others.

"Then do so," said Ursa. "Captain, your… teleportation machines, they do not work at warp?"

"Only if velocities are matched exactly, and they work best if both ships are using them to ensure a connection," Robert replied. "I'm not sure portable transporters would be sufficient."

"Probably not for warp-speed beaming," Lucy offered.

Robert nodded. He had a look of impatience growing on his expression. "I'll be returning to the Aurora before we depart, I have reports to file for our leaders. I'll leave Lieutenant Lucero and Ensign Talara here so that we have working communications between the ships."

"I will arrange quartering for them," Ursa answered. "We should depart now. We cannot give our enemy time to flee."

"Agreed, we can't," Robert said. He tapped at his omnitool. "Dale to Aurora, one to beam back."

He transported out. Moments later, their ships accelerated and made the jump to warp.

For his part, Robert was not entirely truthful when he attributed his return to filing reports. He went straight to his quarters, a desperate plan forming in his mind.

Sharp, harsh pain filled Julia's head, and her arms struggled in vain against the restraints holding her wrists to the arms of the Aurora Chair. Aside from her instinctive struggles, Julia could do nothing to fight back. All she could do was try to bury herself in other memories, cherished memories.

Whether it was irritation with her condition or perhaps a desire for amusement, the memory she found herself dwelling on was the time Robert put an entire canister of her play-doh into the harvester. She recalled how upset that made her when she was young. "How could you do this, Robby?!" she'd scolded angrily, drawing an uncertain look from her close friend. "That was my play-doh!"

These same words echoed in the chamber. On the screen the image of a young boy dominated, along with an empty plastic container.

Something about the memory drew her in. Not just recalling how upset it made her at the time, but the genuine look of contrition, the realization that an impulsive, selfish act caused harm to someone he cared for. The pain of the Aurora Chair became distant, less a drill boring into her mind and more of a pinprick, a splinter at the edge of it.

"I'm sorry, Julie," the child Robby said. "I just… I thought it'd be fun. I didn't mean to make you upset."

"Why didn't you ask me?! You know better!"

While Julia seemed to grow still, Fassbinder looked at the viewer and frowned. Somehow she was resisting, that he was certain of. How, he couldn't say for sure. There was something about her energy, her being, that the Chair seemed to be failing to reach. But it was infuriating regardless.

"Turn up the chair," he ordered the technician.

"It is already at the maximum setting, Herr Brigadeführer,' the man replied. "I cannot intensify the effect any further."

Fassbinder considered that for a moment. When he spoke again, it was to bark, "Shut it down!"

The technician did so. Julia's body relaxed. She drew a breath in. Slowly, she seemed to come back to recognition of her surroundings. Fassbinder sensed confusion. "The Chair must be having an effect upon her memory state," he said to the technician. "Scharführer, I want it inspected. Thoroughly."


He gestured to Julia. "Take her to the tank," he instructed the others.

Light years away, seated on the floor of his quarters' living area, Robert opened his eyes. He drew in a breath as the sharp pain that he'd felt through his head faded, leaving as its mark the sweat covering his brow and the memory of that pain.

Regardless, a small smile crossed his face. "It worked," he mumbled. "It worked."
”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 »

Activity in the SS base was escalating from the preparations for evacuation. Fassbinder noted with approval the efficiency of his men as they took up everything that could be removed. Engineers started the process of preparing demolition, should annihilating the alien city from orbit prove impossible. Others catalogued the stores of everything from weapons to the powerful combat stims that the SS, given its deficiencies in numbers, was issuing to all combat personnel, preparing everything for transport to an evacuation ship.

From his office, Fassbinder monitored all of this from screens. As he did, he considered whether to escalate his prisoner's torment or not. The way she was interfering with the Aurora Chair was vexing, but the data was still valuable. That argued against any further use of the nanobots or the shocks in the tank.

But yet… he wanted to feel her suffer. His hate for Julia Andreys, for what she represented, for what she accomplished, demanded she suffer. The dark energies within him stirred at the thought, urging him to it. Order them to turn the dial. Commence the shocks. MAKE HER SCREAM.

"Petty sadism does not suit a man of your power, Fassbinder," said the Twelve. Cosmetic alterations aside, she was a clone of one of the accursed Aurora officers, Lucy Lucero. Whenever Fassbinder looked at her, he couldn't help but remember that Lucero had once batted him aside with barely an effort, back on New Brittany. He looked forward to the day he got a rematch with her.

"You waste time," the Six added. "The evacuation plans…"

"...are proceeding," Fassbinder finished for her, feeling a little irritated. He felt a deep suspicion that the Cylons wanted Julia Andreys' death for some unknown reason. He fully intended to give it to them, but only when he chose to do so. "But my plan to destroy the Aurora requires that she remain alive." Fassbinder checked his reports for a moment before continuing. "Dale will sense her death. That would spoil everything. But so long as she is alive, he will feel it, and he will tell the others so. When she is in pain, they will know, so they will be desperate to end it." Fassbinder grinned ferociously. "And I will use that desperation to my advantage."

The Cylons said nothing in response. Fassbinder turned his attentions to his work while his hand reached for his comm. "Fassbinder to tank room. Return the prisoner to her cell," he instructed the guards. "We will try the Chair again soon."

Miko watched in quiet horror when Julia was returned to the cell. She collapsed bonelessly to the hard floor the moment the guards released her, neither bothering to give her a final blow from the stun sticks this time. They turned the forcefield back on and departed. On the other side of it, Julia was on her stomach, unmoving.

"Julia. Are you…" Miko stopped herself from finishing the question "Are you okay?" It was clear she wasn't. She was simply too weak to move.

A deep despair threatened to fill Miko, a despair at never seeing her mother again, nor the Beifong cousins, or her grand uncle… none of those whom she loved. She would be trapped here, alone save for a woman who, at any time, might succumb to the abuse their captives delighted in inflicting on her. And when Julia finally died, she would be truly alone…

Or maybe not, she considered. She recalled some of what Master Gyatsun taught her about the Avatar's spiritual abilities. It took effort, too, and her situation helped with that. The truth was that Miko often felt impatient at the stodgy old Airbender, preferring to train with Yeshe.

But she wasn't such a poor student that she garnered nothing from those lessons. The spiritual side of who she was, that was important too.

Miko sat on the floor of her cell and began the long, slow work of quieting her mind.

The General Iroh had the kind of austere functionality Lucy expected given both their technological level and the behavior of the crew. Her quarters, apparently those for VIPs, were only half the size of those she had on the Aurora, and were quite spartan. The walls were painted in deep reds and golds, presumably to make the living quarters aesthetically appealing, but the bed was little more than a cot and the shower barely a walk-in closet.

After some time using the computer hookup and her omnitool to research the ship and these people, Lucy decided to give the communications system another check. After her trip through the vessel, she found Komin already inspecting the guts of what had been their primary comm transceiver. "What's the verdict?"

"Chief Lee was right," he said. "Even if we could construct a new set, the damage in here is too extensive. They'll have to rebuild the comm system in the docks."

Lucy glanced over it and nodded in agreement. "No secondaries?"

"The designers judged them to be unnecessary, I suppose. Or impossible."

"Or, more likely, a lower priority to other systems. A tradeoff that's biting you in the rear now." Lucy had a thought. "What if we used the Aurora to send a message to your people?"

"I'm not sure your communications are compatible," he replied. "Ours relies on the existence of the Spirit World, and from what you've said, it's unique to our universe."

"Yeah, about that… Different layers of reality are known to us, things like the various bands of hyperspace, but this 'Spirit World' you're talking about…"

"It's linked to our world at a fundamental level," Komin said. "It's played an important role in our development of technology ever since Avatar Korra left the portals open. Observation of the Spirit World is what led Korra's granddaughter Yasuko Sato to the discoveries that proved the possibility of the space-warp drive."

Lucy blinked. "You mean you… you can actually enter this plane? You have openings to it on your homeworld?"

"Three, yes. To enter physically, anyway. There are other ways into it. It's why Yeshe is our best hope of getting a message back to the Republic and the Fire Nation without forcing us to go back ourselves."

"Your cousin?" Curious, Lucy asked, "Is this your way of saying she can enter your Spirit World mentally?"

"She can project her spirit in." Seeing Lucy's increased curiosity, he added, "Follow me."

They went back into the section of the ship with private quarters. In a set of quarters much like her own assigned room, Yeshe Beifong was seated on a map in what seemed a universal meditative posture, legs folded under her and hands on knees.

Lucy felt a kind of rippling in the Flow of Life, not unlike that of the ship's power core. Yeshe's being seemed… diverted, not entirely present anymore. Her body was almost in a sort of stasis, her breathing quiet and shallow, but not labored.

The part that really gained her attention was that the feeling she had from Yeshe was not unlike the general feeling of the Flow of Life in this universe. As if it were also diverted in some way.

"I'm worried for her," Komin admitted.

"Oh?" Lucy turned her head and faced him. The look on his face was drawn and pensive. "Why? Because you're so far from your homeworld?"

He nodded. "It's known that the connection to the Spirit World gets weaker this far out. Our communications systems aren't as effected, but attempting to enter the Spirit World this way is said to be harder. Much harder. There's no guarantee she will be able to keep herself there long enough to find another of the Airbenders, or anyone else, to tell them about what we've found."

"This is dangerous, then?"

"I'm not sure. This isn't something I'm familiar with," he admitted. "Yeshe is convinced she can manage it."

"Then we should have faith in her that she will," said Lucy. "Even if it's not easy."

"You're right, it's just… I've known Yeshe since I was little. I don't want to lose her too." Komin took in a breath before turning for the door. "I'm going to get some rest. You?"

"I think I will too," she said. "I'll see you later."


With that, they parted ways.

The lights in Robert's quarters were set just above the dim level. He was in the living area adjacent to the bedroom, seated on the floor on the mat he'd carried with him from Gersal after finishing the training to control his now-enhanced talents. He breathed in and out slowly, focusing himself in meditation.

The link he shared with Julia was stronger than before. He could sense she was resting. Fassbinder was presumably busy with other matters. That he was sparing her made Robert feel gratified, but worried. Given his whole-hearted embrace of darkness, all of Fassbinder's nastiest traits were stronger now, including sadism and hatred. If he wasn't trying to make Julia suffer now, it implied a reason.

One such reason was that he might be too busy overseeing an evacuation, which meant they were running out of time to get to Julia and Miko.

The thought of her being gone came roaring back, and the reaction was fear. Solid, unrelenting fear. He couldn't imagine a world without her in it, he didn't even want to try, and having to live in it… the mere idea was maddening. A source of maddening anger.

It had more than one source, more than one target. He was angry at the enemy, certainly, for what they'd done to his adopted home, for what they were doing to Julia, for all of the suffering and terror they'd inflicted.

He was also angry at himself. They were here because of him. Because of his mistakes. He'd helped start the war before the Alliance was ready for it, for one, when he let his fears dominate his decisions at 33LA. Two years on, and that mistake haunted him, all the more since those very mistakes brought about the nightmare he'd foreseen. The attack on New Liberty, Julia taken as a prisoner, Beth nearly dying…

That made him think of New Liberty. If he had come for Julia first… then she wouldn't be suffering. He made the choice to not go to her rescue, to walk into Fassbinder's trap instead. A trap he only escaped because of telepath allies that came to his rescue. Allies that would have rescued Beth anyway while he was rescuing Julia.

I didn't know, he thought to himself, but the greater part of him rejected that defense. How could he have not known? With all of this power, his talents, how couldn't he see how it would go? How was it that he didn't know to save Julia instead?

After all, hadn't he lost enough already? His grandparents, his parents, his sister… why should he have to lose her too?

Robert felt power in this anger. A deep power, cold and hot at the same time. He instinctively drew back from it, as one might pull a hand back from an open flame. But even as he did, a part of him felt a visceral rush at the thought of it. That deep, dark part that lies in any living, thinking being's heart, the one that is drawn to power like a moth to flame, drawn to strength, to the means to impose one's will upon a universe that seemed to just not care…

A treacherous voice echoed in his being. And if it's what you need to save her? Fassbinder is more powerful now, and he has allies.

At the periphery of his senses, Robert heard his door chime. He ignored it for the moment, dwelling on the problems before him. The chime repeated. When he gave no answer, it went off again… and again…. and again…

"Fine! Come in!" he snapped irritably.

The door slid open. Meridina stepped in, wearing her uniform. The fourth gold strip on her collar was another reminder of Julia's absence. Her very being radiated concern. "I sense it in you," she said. "Your feelings of anger are calling up the darkness within."

"As you've said before, we all have it," he replied. "I'm not giving into it."

"Not right now. But the next time you face Fassbinder?" Meridina took a seat at his small table and apprised him with a worried look. "You are angry and frustrated by him. It is becoming hatred."

Robert's eyes opened and he looked at her, a hard light to his green eyes she'd never seen before. "We had him on Gamma Piratus," Robert said. "He should have died there. But we were sloppy. We let him get away. And then on New Brittany, when he escaped Lucy, and then in Germania… And every time he gets away from us, Meridina, he causes more suffering, and he grows more powerful."

"I am aware."

"We should have made sure," Robert said. "We should have made sure he was dead on Gamma Piratus. Or any of those other places."

"We did all we could," Meridina reminded him. "You know full well that part of being a swevyra'se is knowing that distinction. We do what we can. We do not try. But neither do we regret those things that we cannot do."

"But because we didn't get him, look at what he's done!" Robert's fists clenched. "Look at what he did to New Liberty! What he did to Beth! He was a moment away from killing her! If Colin and the others hadn't…" He lowered his head, replaying the scene in the Government House foyer again. "I felt her ready to die. Beth stopped herself from weeping. She wanted to die with dignity, to not give him the satisfaction of her crying or begging to live, even though she was desperate to live. What he did to her is going to stick with her forever, Meridina. Because we weren't good enough, I wasn't good enough. And now he's got Julia, and he's hurting her, because I didn't see it coming, because I didn't do what I needed to in order to protect them both!"

Something in his words struck the aching wound in Meridina's heart, echoing with her own. You weren't good enough to forsee the Brotherhood attack. You weren't good enough to save Ledosh from Goras. Irritation with that thinking filled her. "You are being arrogant," Meridina chided. "Presumptuous. You alone cannot do everything, Robert, and your insistence on this matter is egotistical and vain. You are allowing your expanded power to lead you astray. To 'go to your head', the others would say."

Robert's face, his being, betrayed his surprise at her harshness.

"There are things you cannot do. That we cannot do. If we do not accept this, then we create frustration for ourselves. Frustration and anger, and anger is on the path to darkness. Much as you displayed when you attacked the Aristo on Toutaine Station, an act of darkness that I once thought you incapable of."

Robert remembered that dark feeling when he was on Toutaine, listening to the Aristo who called himself Haron mocking him about Julia, about everything. He'd nearly broken the man himself, but stopped before he could go that far. But only just that far; he'd crossed a line, and he knew it.

That she was right only made him feel worse. It wasn't helped by what he also felt. In his feelings and sentiments, Meridina saw her own mirrored. She was feeling frustrated by what happened on Gersal. Frustrated… and guilty.

Something about that gnawed at him. Here she was, dispensing advice to him that she herself wasn't heeding. She insisted he accept what happened and move on, but she wasn't doing the same for herself. "Maybe you should take your own advice," Robert said, not quite nastily, but coldly.

Meridina's expression blanched.

"You blame yourself for Gersal," he continued. "I can feel it in you. You think you should have been faster. Stronger. More prescient. Then maybe Ledosh would be alive, more of your people would have survived. Maybe even you would have prevented the loss of the Great Temple."

The response was Meridina closing her eyes. His words hit home.

Robert swallowed. A bitter part of him wanted to point out the hypocrisy again. To hammer home that she had no right to demand he do something she would not. He only barely kept that bitter feeling down. "It's more than that, though, isn't it? There's a part of you that wonders if this might not have happened if you hadn't made the choices you did. That you and Ledosh, by promoting the Alliance, investigating our place in the Prophecy of the Dawn, by all of that, you made this attack possible. Maybe inevitable. That if you'd listened to Karesl and Goras from the getgo, none of this would have happened."

Meridina's eyes met his. She didn't need to say it.

"I think you're wrong about that. And I think you know that." Robert nodded at her. "And maybe you're right about me. But you're not the one feeling her pain, Meridina. He's torturing Julia and I feel it. And the reason Julia's a prisoner is my choice. I chose to go for Beth instead, and if I hadn't have… if I hadn't have, odds are Beth would've lived anyway, that Colin and Max and Governor Kuhln would have saved her, and I could have helped Julia get away. My choices are why Julia is a prisoner now. Why she's not home. Why she's suffering. You're asking me to ignore my part in that outcome, and I can't. Please don't ask me to. Not now."

Meridina said nothing more. With pain in her own heart, pain at how true Robert's words about her feelings, she stood up and left without a further word.

Robert watched her go before returning to his meditation. Whatever else, he had to be ready if Julia started hurting again.

Julia stirred slowly, fitfully, from her place on the floor of her bare cell, bare save for the bucket that was meant to be her toilet as another act of degradation. While the green fluid she was being repeatedly dumped into was healing her body, she still ached everywhere, especially in her head.

The sound of conversation prompted Julia to turn her head toward Miko's cell. Her fellow captive was seated on the floor in a legs-crossed meditative posture. Across from her was a human figure, a man seated similarly to Miko. An aura of blue light surrounded him, giving him a spectral look. The man's face had a soft expression; he looked to be early middle-aged, with a pointed beard of light gray color, to match the fringe of similar color at the temples that streaked through darker, close-cut hair. He was wearing a suit of dark green fringed with an earthy brown color. His eyes were heterochromatic: one amber, one green. Physically he looked to be in the peak of health even with middle-age, with broad shoulders, although his expression gave the sense of a "gentle giant" sort of person.

Julia had just enough time to take in the features of the figure before he seemed to dissipate into a fog, vanishing completely in the span of a couple seconds. Miko drew in a sigh and lowered her head.

The thought moved through Julia's mind to ask what she'd just seen, but before she could speak, the familiar thumping of boots to the floor heralded the arrival of the SS guards. Julia drew in a quick breath and steeled herself for the resumption of her ordeal.

With the hours to their arrival dwindling down, Meridina took what she imagined would be her last quiet meal period left to her. It was necessary to rebalance herself given her discussion with Robert and the emotions it drew up, her fears for him and her feelings over what happened on Gersal.

Hargert, with his customary diligence, seemed prepared for her with a meal suited to lifting her spirits. The liyume, a Gersallian dish comparable to what Humans called "dumplings", had a rich flavor to it that was authentically Gersallian (Hargert's previous experiments in mixing Earth-native spices or ingredients had been of mixed success, and in this case were undesired). Altogether it worked as a comfort food, and Meridina greatly enjoyed it.

But it did not, by itself, lift her spirits. As much as she tried to ignore it, Meridina was working with a broken heart. The horror of that day on Gersal, with the Cylon attack and the fall of the Temple aided by the treachery of the long-hidden Brotherhood, it kept coming back to her. Indeed, even the welcoming dish seemed to sour in her mouth as she contemplated everything that happened.

The sour look on her face was noted by the new arrival at her table. "Do ye mind, lass?" Meridina lifted her head to notice Commander Scott, a mug of coffee in one hand and a plate of food in the other. When she quietly gestured toward a chair he took it, setting his meal down. "Well now, ye dinnae seem t' be enjoyin' yer meal," he said to her. "Still thinkin' of home?"

"The meal is fine. I am simply distracted." She took another bite of it, as if to ward off any further inquiry.

"Nobody blames ye for thinkin' of home," he assured her.

Meridina nodded in reply. But she said nothing. Se could think of nothing to say, nothing that wouldn't admit of the feelings inside of her.

There was no hiding them from the veteran engineer beside her. "Ye're tryin' t' be strong for th' crew's sake. Aye, I get that," Scotty said gently. "But ye cannae ignore what's on yer mind forever, Meridina. Ye have t' face it."

Behind the gentle persistence in the old man's voice, Meridina sensed his warm spirit, and his desire to help her. Not just out of general concern for the younger officers and crew, but from his understanding of the pressures they were under, and of the terrible things she'd endured.

He was right, of course. Meridina couldn't avoid facing her feelings. Not forever, not even for much longer. She had to face her fears, her guilt, if she was to lead them effectively.

The irony made her want to laugh bitterly. She'd never imagined being in this position, having to command the Aurora herself. Being the Captain. Even when she accepted Julia's request and decided to become First Officer, she'd never imagined it coming about, as logical as it was. Now she felt regret for accepting the promotion and new post. This wasn't what she'd wanted with her life, after all. She was, or at least had been, a swevyra'se, a Knight of Life, sworn to the Code of Swenya. Her place was in the thick of danger, using her talents to aid, not sitting in a chair commanding the fates of two thousand people.

Although that didn't really matter in the long run, did it? Regardless of what she wanted, this was where she was, and whatever her choices, Gersal had burned. The Temple was gone, millions were dead, the Order was reeling. Nearly broken, maybe.

What would this do to her people? For the Gersal she knew? Change was inevitable, but would it be for good or ill?

With all of that weight in her heart, it was no surprise that tears formed in her eyes. They began the journey down her face to her chin in seconds, followed by more tears, an even greater flow of them.

"We have lost so much," she admitted to Mister Scott. "The Cylons destroyed the Temples with atomic weapons. They did everything they could to annihilate the legacy of Swenya from our world. Three thousand years of history that inspired my people to be what they have become, and the Cylons annihilated it in less than a day. They knocked down the Yahana Towers in Jantarihal. The fires they caused burned half of Iltahad's parks. And the death they brought. They… they killed millions in Trubin alone. Ten million of my people are dead. Ten million." She shook her head, fighting back a sniffle. "Light help us, we have never taken a shock like this. Not since… the Brotherhood. Which they are led by!"

"Aye, it's a great loss, an' a terrible shock," Scott agreed. "It's more than that, though, isn't?"

She nodded. "I am haunted by the thought that I brought this about. That if I had not pursued the path I did, Goras would not have fallen. The Order would not have lost its heart. It would not have fallen into the malaise that left it vulnerable. We would have seen this attack coming." She wiped at the tears on her face. "Ten million of my people, Mister Scott, and I may have contributed with my choices. How can I continue this with such a weight on my swevyra?"

The elder Scotsman listened patiently to her. When Meridina's question came his way, he replied softly. "Ye have t' remember that ye didn't make th' choices that caused all this. Goras is th' one who couldn't accept th' way things were goin'. He decided he'd rather murder ye. And nothin' ye did would've stopped th' Cylons' attack. They were comin' for ye at some point. That's clear t' us all, lass." He reached a hand over and laid it on her lower arm, a gesture of reassurance. "Meridina, my heart weeps for what ye've lost. I dinnae know anyone who wouldn't be wonderin' what ye're wonderin'. But ye cannae forget all th' good ye've done with th' crew. The lives ye've saved, an' everythin' good that's come of that. That Cylon lass ye brought aboard, for starters. Ye showed her mercy when it would've been easy t' kill her, an' she helped save th' people o' New Caprica. Ye taught Lucy how t' use these skills o' yers, an' Robert as well, an' look at what they've done."

Meridina's blue eyes met his, tears flowing freely from them. "They have done so much," she agreed.

"Aye. Ye've accomplished a lot since ye came t' th' Aurora, Meridina. It's no wonder Captain Andreys asked ye t' be the First Officer."

"We both know I was not her first choice," Meridina said. "Jarod and Nicholas turned her down."

"Dinnae change th' fact she asked ye," he pointed out. "An' I think she was right."

"But I… now I must be the Captain," Meridina said gently. "And I am not sure this is what I am meant to be. The role comes naturally to Julia in a way I do not share. The others are concerned with Julia's replacement and that I am not being offered the command, but when I consider myself, I must admit I do not wish it. I would only accept it for the sake of the others."

A twinkle formed in Scotty's eye. "Aye, I know what ye mean."

"You have commanded before, have you not?" she asked.

"Well, lass, back in th' day, I was third-in-command on th' Enterprise," he said. "When Captain Kirk an' Mister Spock had t' be elsewhere, I was left in command. An' I admit, I was never happy at th' chance, never at all. I only cared t' be an engineer."

That fit with the sentiments Meridina had long noticed in the older man. Scott's engineering spaces were his pride and joy. "But you commanded when necessary. Much as I am now."

"Aye." The twinkle in his eye remained. "Did I ever tell ye about th' time I took th' Kobayashi Maru test?"

Meridina thought of the name. It sounded like it came from the Human language of the Japanese nation, but she was not familiar with the significance. "I do not believe so. I am uncertain of what this test is?"

"It's a simulation that Starfleet used t' run command candidates through, a test o' character ye might say," he explained. "Well, I'd been put in Command School, an' th' test came up. As ye can imagine, I was nae t' happy t' be in there in th' first place…"

While Commander Scott's story did not directly pertain to her situation, Meridina found her spirits much lifted by the time her conversation with the engineer was over. Her heart still ached at everything happening, but she knew that for the moment she must cast aside uncertainty and be the captain the crew needed. Julia needed them all, and Meridina would do her best to make sure the ship and crew would come through.

After her meal she returned to the bridge. Locarno, Tra'dur, and Cat were all on duty, with Lieutenant Luneri standing in for Angel to allow her a meal period. At the science station Cat was busy examining readings. "This local space is just… really interesting. Some of these readings remind me of the Fracture, but I'm not seeing anything else that matches. Stars are, roughly, where they're supposed to be, there's no spatial warping effect, and no reports of illness from anyone with psionic or metaphysical perception."

"No sign of a DT field yet?" Jarod asked.

"No. But…" She checked something. "The target system is now on long-range sensors."

"And still no DT field."

"Then wherever this is, it is not a former base of the Darglan," Meridina noted. "Or at least, not one they made after acquiring the dimensional-transcendence field technology. Perhaps it is another repurposed base like the one we found in N2C5."

"Going by sensors, there are signs of power signatures in the system, consistent with starships." Cat examined her readings even more closely. "And I am detecting a warp trail near here, the subspace wake is consistent with the anti-matter pulse reactors the Reich uses."

"So we know the coordinates are good," Jarod noted. "The question is, what's waiting for us there?"

"An excellent question. Do you have a proposal to find out, Commander?" Meridina asked.

"Long range probes could scout the system for us," said Jarod. "Even if they're destroyed, the data we get before they're lost could be invaluable."

"Could the Koenig not go on ahead of us and quietly reconnoiter the system?" Tra'dur suggested. "They have a greater chance of going undetected."

Meridina waited for Jarod's reaction to the suggestion. It was a nod. "That would also work," he agreed. "If they stay under cloak and are careful about transmissions."

"Agreed," she said, before keying the tac comm. "Koenig, we have the enemy system on sensors. I would like the system scouted."

"Sounds good to me," said Zack. "We're accelerating now."

The Koenig's warp engines intensified the field around the ship. The ship accelerated until she moved beyond the Aurora and General Iroh.

The drilling agony of the Aurora Chair assailed Julia's mind yet again. She writhed against the restraints of the chair, feeling as if her mind was coming apart under its relentless, mechanical assault. Fassbinder hovered over her like a bird of prey, eager, and frustrated at the prey for not succumbing.

With her brain feeling it was on fire, Julia delved into memories that promised any sort of respite. The pain she was in caused a memory association to form. Her thoughts turned to after Robert's grandmother died. They were just eight years old. That cooling summer day so long ago came back to her; the rolling fields of wheat of the Dale farm, the solemn quiet of the family home… her parents came over to give their condolences for the Dale family's loss.

On the porch, eight year old Julie found eight year old Robby, sitting on the stairway with tears flowing down his face. "Oma's gone," he wept. "Oma's gone."'

Memories of Oma - Anna Dale, Robert's German-born grandmother - were of a warm elderly woman who cooked delicious food and delighted in teaching "meine kleiner" her native language. Those memories reverted back to the porch, where she'd responded by embracing her dear friend and playmate closely, crying with him, not so much for grief over Anna's death as it was sympathy for his grief.

As they embraced, the pain in her brain decreased again. Indeed, it felt like it had never been there. She was just here, a child again, with her poor suffering friend. Her poor Robby, hurt so much from losing his beloved grandmother. She clung all the tighter to him, as if she could banish the deep pain she felt within him.

The image of this on the Chair's viewer brought a derisive, frustrated snort froom Fassbinder. He eyed the technician, who shrugged. "I'm sorry, Herr Brigadeführer. The technology is at maximum."

Fassbinder snarled at that. He looked to Julia for a moment before pulling the headpiece away from her forehead, shutting down the machine automatically. In a rapid motion his arm came up. His fist smashed into her cheek with enough force that it broke one of her teeth. "You will yield!" His face drew close, his eyes glaring hatred at her.

The blow jolted Julia back to reality. She looked into Fassbinder's eyes and contempt appeared on her features. She rolled her tongue inside of her mouth until she felt the broken pieces of her damaged tooth. She collected them, and the attendant blood, and in a moment of impulsive defiance spat them into Fassbinder's eye.

Fassbinder recoiled backward. Only momentary instinct kept the chips of enamel from impacting on his eye directly, his eyelid absorbing the projectiles instead. Red blood covered the right side of his face. His expression twisted into a look of deep rage. His hand went for the controls on his gauntlet.

The nanobots on Julia's skin activated, flooding her nerves with pain stimuli. She cried out from the sheer agony of the experience.

"I have a confession," he said, even as she writhed in the chair, barely hearing him through the intensity of her pain. "Your interrogation is, to me, meaningless. The Führer ordered it and I will obey, of course, but I am not foolish enough to think we can gain immediate benefit. Your command codes have been shut off, your access to Alliance databases rescinded. The Aurora Chair may yet pull some useful intelligence from your mind, but with each passing day the worth of that knowledge decreases. Whatever your exalted status in the history of the Alliance, you are still ultimately just a starship captain. Your leaders do not share everything with you."

Julia said nothing beyond letting out another strangled cry. A tightness in her chest kept the cry from reaching the volume of the last, the pain so intense the muscles in her body were contracting instinctively, trying to escape what could not be escaped. Beyond the pain, she felt a growing sense of despair, a sense that her life was going to end like this. That after everything she'd done, everything she'd accomplished, her fate was to be tortured to death by Fassbinder.

"Ah." The SS man chuckled. "Well, I see you have an idea of it. You realize what your fate is to be, do you Kapitan?" He leaned in closer, her blood still around his eye. "I savor your suffering like a fine wine, yes. After your crimes against my people, how could I not? So allow me to confirm your fears, Julia Andreys. My sole intent is to torture you. To make you feel pain, over and over and over, without end, without mercy. I want you to suffer. I want you and all of your friends to suffer for what you have done." His voice became a bitter snarl, laced with deep rage, and his unnatural yellow eyes glistened with malevolence. "Because of you and Robert Dale and the others, your Alliance destroyed my Reich. You burned our cities! You tore down our glories! You uplifted untermenschen and aliens at the expense of the Aryan race! You humiliated us! And I will have my revenge for that. I will make you suffer as no other human being has ever suffered, Kapitan. Your anguish will be my greatest pleasure. And when the time comes and you are utterly broken - and you will be - and you are a madwoman who can only beg and mewl for mercy… I will continue to torture you anyway. Until your suffering no longer entertains me. Then I will give you to my men to do with as they please, and when it is all over, your broken corpse will be left for your precious Alliance to discover, so that they might all know how deeply they have failed you." He turned to the guards. "Take her to the kohltou tank. And I want the current on. Make her suffer."

"Jawohl, mein Brigadeführer."

Almost as an afterthought Fassbinder turned off the nanobots, merely for the purpose of making her guards' job of transporting her easier. As Julia was dragged off, a Scharführer entered and saluted. "Heil Kranefuss!"

Fassbinder returned the salute. "What is it, Scharführer?"

"Brigadeführer, long range sensors are detecting two of the three vessels that the Dogger Bank reported from its battle. Sturmbannführer Diekmann believes the third vessel, an attacker, is cloaked."

"The Koenig, undoubtedly," Fassbinder said. A thoughtful smile crossed his face. "Scharführer, inform Oberführer Krebsbach to commence the Phase 1 evacuation procedures, and make sure he knows that there is no urgency. He can take his time."


Fassbinder watched the soldier leave and allowed himself a small smile. Everything was proceeding exactly as he desired. Revenge and destiny were at hand.
”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 »

Robert's efforts at meditation were not working out as he wanted. The anger would not fade, nor the temptations of the power within it. The pain in his head from his efforts to shield Julia, to protect her mind from whatever device or being was attacking it, was making it harder to focus. And with the pain he sensed her in, pain he could only partially absorb for her, a deep, desperate need to get to her side now filled him, in defiance of all other considerations.

With that desperate need came the dark thoughts again. Against Fassbinder and his troops, and his Cylon allies, they would need a lot of power to prevail. Even now he felt the sense that Fassbinder was preparing for them. A trap was being laid, a trap that they had no choice but to spring if they were to get Julia back. To deal with all of that, he needed to be at his best. He needed the power to break them down and…

He cried out in frustration, at the situation and himself. He knew what that power was, why he should never touch it. How corrupting it was. He thought of how he'd described it to Zara Tam and Husn Maina and the other Psi Corps children on Tau Atrea, about how corruptive and toxic it was to the spirit. What good would it do for Julia if he stopped being who he was? How much would he hurt her and the others if he abandoned what they believed in?

Again a small treacherous voice, laced with fear and need, whispered in his being as the sensation of electrical shock gnawed at him. That harm is nothing compared to what she suffers now.

Slowly he realized the door chime was going off, repeatedly and insistently. His first impression was that Meridina was coming back to scold him, or otherwise try to deal with him. Maybe even to put him to sleep, to save him from these dark thoughts before they tempted him over a line he couldn't return from. But after a moment he could sense it wasn't her. It was another.

The door slid open without him authorizing it. Robert looked up, surprise and some anger on his expression, and he watched Leo walk in, wearing his blue-trimmed medical uniform with a white lab coat over it. Leo's dark skin softly reflected the lighting of Robert's quarters. There was a hint of stubble on his chin. Robert could guess Leo was just finished dealing with the casualties from the General Iroh that the Aurora medbay was asked to handle.

"I didn't actually invite you in," Robert pointed out.

"No. But given my scan of your vitals showed elevated pain indicators, I consider my medical override justified," Leo said. He sat down on the simple couch beside where Robert was seated on the floor and looked down at his friend. His eyes reflected what Robert sensed in Leo's being: compassion, worry, the need to heal that was integral to Leo's heart and soul. "Everyone's worried about you."

"So this is the first step in an intervention?" Robert asked.

"More like I'm the only one who's not busy with something related to getting Julia back," Leo answered. "So it falls on me to help you."

Robert said nothing. A grimace came to his face as he felt the pain escalate.

"Well, that's something I never thought I'd see," Leo said, glancing at his medical omnitool's scan display. "Your body's showing signs of responding to, I don't know, some kind of electrical discharge." A sour look came to his face. "It's how they're torturing her, I guess?"

"Yeah," answered Robert, his voice hollow. "It is."

Leo took in a breath and nodded. "Yeah. I've seen the results of SS handiwork before." He leaned over in the seat and pressed a hand to Robert's shoulder. "It's bad enough that you're already in torment from the worry over her. Having to feel that, to know for certain how they're treating her…"

"It's not just that. I'm… I'm using our connection to shield her," he said. "To try and alleviate the pain." His fists clenched. The charge was being increased on the other end, and through his connection Robert was feeling it acutely. He groaned lowly before continuing. "I owe it to her to help her, Leo. I'm the reason she's there," Robert said. "I could've gone to her on New Liberty. I could've helped her get away."

"And left Beth to die instead?"

"She wouldn't have. Colin and Max would've saved her, just as they did with me there," Robert said.

"Are you so sure of that?" Leo asked patiently, keeping a nervous eye on Robert's vitals. He didn't pretend to understand this metaphysical stuff, but everything on his instruments told him Robert was being subjected to painful electrical shock. "Fassbinder's people probably kept in contact with him. And I know your metaphysical abilities let you sense each other. If he'd sensed you going after her instead of coming to him, do you really think he'd have waited that long?"

Leo's question brought silence from Robert. He thought the answer over and found only a vexing uncertainty.

"Rob, Julia knows how to take care of herself. Beth, well, she does to an extent as well, but you knew she needed that help. That without you coming, she would have died. Julia had a chance to get away. It didn't work out for her. But that's not your fault."

"I've had dreams for two years," Robert said. "Dreams of New Liberty burning. Of Julia being held as a prisoner. I… I had them the night before we launched the 33LA mission, Leo. The mistake I made… this wouldn't have happened if I…"

"That's all the past. Might-have-beens. I have them myself, you know."

Robert nodded, sensing in Leo the memory of a frail, leukemia-stricken boy of barely ten years of age. "Joshua Marik."


"But it's not just a might-have-been. I should have realized something was wrong," Robert insisted. "I should have seen this coming!"

"And you think that your dreams would be proof enough to get the Alliance to mobilize?" Leo asked. "You really think even Maran could force that through?"

Robert shook his head. He winced again from the pain sensations filling him.

"Listen, I get it," Leo continued. "This… this power you've got. It makes you feel responsible. Makes you think there's something more you could, you should, do. But you're still just Human, Rob. There are some things you can't see coming. Things you can't stop. And dwelling over it, that's not going to help Julia, man."

Leo was right. Of course he was. Robert knew it, he accepted it, but it didn't change the hurt. Not just the torture he sensed and tried to divert, but the hurt inside. The fear. "I can't lose her," he said. "God help me, I can't. She's… she's been a part of my life, a part of me, I can't lose her too." As he spoke he felt the pain recede. He breathed out in relief and wiped at the sweat coating his forehead and face.

"Your vitals are improving," Leo said. "The pain indicators are gone. They stopped."

"For now." Robert swallowed. "Whatever happens, Leo, we have to save her. I don't think I can endure it if she..."

"We'll get that shot," Leo assured him, his answer keeping Robert from considering the alternative. "Just get your head straight first. She can't lose you either, you know."

Robert's reaction was a laugh choked by a sniffle. "Leo, I love her."

"On the 'No Duh' scale, that's an 11 out of 10," Leo responded. "I always find it funny that the two of you seem determined not to hook up."

"We don't want romance to interfere," Robert replied. "All of the emotions that come from it."

"I think I get it." Leo nodded and clapped him on the shoulder.

"I'm scared. Oh God, I'm scared. For her. For what Fassbinder's doing to her. He's killing her inch by inch, drawing it out just to make her suffer."

"That's the kind of man he is, for lack of a better term," said Leo.

"What if he takes her away before we get there?" Robert asked openly. "What… what if he kills her instead of letting us rescue her…?"

"What if he doesn't, and we get her back safe and sound?" Leo shook his head. "Don't let it beat you up on the inside, Rob. Just do what you can, and we'll do the same, and God willing, Julia'll be back in her ready office clucking away like the mother hen she is."

Despite everything, Robert chuckled at that. Tears still flowed down his face. "Yeah. She does have to be the mother hen. Look out for us."

"We look out for each other. It's how it's always been."

As Robert nodded in wordless reply, Leo's words soothed his spirit. He felt the fear and attendant anger recede away gently, replaced by a cautious confidence. With it went the temptation to tap the dark power within that anger. "Thanks, Leo," he said quietly. "For looking out for me."

"You're welcome," Leo replied. "Now, as your physician, I recommend you get a hearty meal from the Lookout. Whatever this is you're doing to help Julia, your body needs the calories to keep it up."

Upon return to her cell, a return she knew would likely be short, Julia laid still on the ground, looking into the opposite cell. Miko sat up and looked at her, despair in the young woman's face. Fatigue set in and Julia's brain, desperately in need of sleep, pulled her into that sleep.

It didn't last, not with the way she felt. When Julia opened her eyes again, Miko was no longer facing her, but rather facing to the side, sitting in a meditative pose like before with her eyes closed and a concentrated look on her face.

Before Julia could speak, blue light formed around Miko. It formed from her, like a fog, and flowed away. A short distance from her it coalesced into a human figure, seated similarly to Miko with legs folded. This time it was a woman with dark brown skin and brown hair. She was in a sleeveless suit of light blue color with white trim lines, a brown animal skin wrapped around the waist of a pair of baggy blue trousers. Blue eyes focused on Miko on the face of someone just on the cusp of middle age, not old, but with the energy of youth tempered by years of hard-earned experience. With her skin color, and the thick muscle of her bared arms, the woman reminded Julia of Angel. There was a gentle softness in the voice that spoke. "Hello, Miko."

"Avatar Korra," said Miko. Her eyes opened. "I… I need your advice."

"Of course." The holographic figure nodded.

"I've talked to Avatar Komin, and he was helpful, but you… you've actually faced this too," Miko said. Her voice cracked and tears formed in her eyes. "I've been taken prisoner. They've made it so I can't bend without hurting myself, and… and I don't know what's going to happen." Miko sniffled. "And… and they've hurt me… and I'm scared. I'm scared I won't be strong enough to get away. I won't see my family and friends again."

The image nodded. "I know what that's like," said Korra. "It's okay to be scared."

"But… but how do I fight it?" Miko asked, almost pleading. "I've never been so scared in my life, but if I'm going to get away, if I'm going to help our world fight this new enemy, I have to be stronger than this. I have to get away!"

"Yes. And to do that, you have to accept your fear. Don't try to hold it down or avoid it. Face it, and then let it go. Do that, and you'll be ready to act when your time comes."

"But without my bending…"

Korra smiled thinly. "I've been there too. It's scary, I know. Without it, it makes you feel helpless. After all, it's part of who we are as the Avatar. When I thought I'd lost my bending, it felt like the whole world was ending." The look in her eyes hardened. "And while it was hard, I accepted it. It helped me, in the end. Your situation isn't the same as mine, but what hasn't changed is that bending doesn't actually make us what we are. It's something deeper than that. You can still fight back, Miko, and find a way out." The image's head turned toward her, and Julia got the sense that whatever this being was, she was not unnoticed. "For you and your friend."

Miko glanced Julia's way. Noticing she was awake, Miko sighed with relief.

"You're not alone in this, Miko," Korra continued. "You've got a friend here, and those who care about you will be coming to help you. Don't hold onto the fear. Face it and let it pass. Believe in yourself, pick your moment to strike, and you'll get home." The gentle smile returned. "Good luck to you both."

The image dissipated back into fog, which thinned until there was nothing left.

"What was that?" Julia asked. "Who?"

"Avatar Korra," replied Miko. "My past life, two lifetimes ago."

"So you really reincarnate…?"

"Yes and no. It's… complicated. We're all bound together by Raava, a powerful Spirit of Light. When one Avatar dies, Raava joins with another in the next nation in the chain, and the connection links us to those past lives. But we're not the same individual each time. Each life is different."

The entire idea was both strange and, in a true use of the word, wonderful. Julia found it astounding even considering all of the other strange and "out there" things she'd seen since the opening of the Multiverse.

"I'm trying to be strong," said Miko. "But I still don't know how we'll get out of this. I can't bend, and with everything they've done to you, you can't even stand. How are we going to fight back?"

"We'll make it work. Trust me on that," Julia urged. "Just be patient and wait for our moment."

Miko almost asked what she meant, but held back at the familiar distant sound of approaching steps. She gave Julia a knowing look as the two guards returned. One opened Julia's cell and the other reached in to force her to her feet.

A little flicker of anticipation built in Miko as she watched Julia's aquamarine eyes. While her face showed weariness and misery, her eyes were busy examining her guards. As Julia was carried off, Miko thought back and realized that was how Julia's eyes always seemed to look.

And despite everything, that thought brought a small smile to Miko's face.

Everyone on the Koenig was ready for action when Jean Hajar disengaged the attack ship's warp drives. From her station, newly-minted Lieutenant Commander Magda Navaez, the Colombian-born operations officer and First Officer of the ship, checked the sensor readings. "SS vessels are in orbit over the fourth planet of the solar system," she said aloud. "It looks like a garden world, Class E, just inside the outer limit of the habitable band."

Zack nodded. "What else can you tell me?"

"Not much from here. An exotic power signature indicates a settlement or base of some sort on the surface of the planet, northern hemisphere. I'm detecting transporter activity between the two."

"What kind?" he asked.

Magda checked and double-checked before answering, "Outgoing. Almost entirely outgoing."

Zack gripped the arms of his chair tightly. "They're evacuating," he said.

"It appears so."

"Get the Aurora on the tight-beam," he said. "They need to hear and see this."

In the conference lounge of the Aurora, everyone looked at the holo-image above the center of their table. The Koenig's systems actively relayed to them the sight of SS ships in orbit. Innsbruck and Calypso-class vessels were the only visible types.

The same image, courtesy of the omnitools of Talara and Lucy, was also displayed on the vidmonitor in the wardroom of the General Iroh, where Ursa and the Iroh's official commander, Captain Saizen, were seated with their officers and Komin Beifong. "This energy trace you are seeing," Ursa was saying. "It is more of the teleportation technology?"

"It is," Cat said. "Definite beaming activity. Not too heavy, but constant."

"And it's all going one way," noted Zack over the line. "They're evacuating."

"Then we're out of time," Angel said. "We need to attack now."

"Admiral Maran's response fleet has yet to completely gather," Meridina said. "He requires another ten hours, minimum."

"We don't have ten hours," Zack insisted. "We may not even have ten minutes! If we're getting Julia back, we have to strike now."

"We do have some time," Robert murmured, his face pale and flushed. Sweat glistened on his brow and he looked very much distracted.

"How do… right." Cat stopped herself and swallowed. "They're… torturing her?"

Robert nodded quietly. "Yeah. I can feel it, and I'm shielding her from it as much as I can. Fassbinder's not pulling out right now if he's busy hurting her."

The others gave him looks that ranged from incredulous to worried. The same went for their new allies.

"I don't think he's taken Miko either. I don't feel like he has," Lucy added. "We still have some time."

"This feels like a trap," Locarno said. "They have to know we're coming. Maybe we should wait for reinforcements."

Robert and Lucy nodded in agreement. Lucy said, "It's definitely a trap."

"We have not heard from Yeshe yet about whether she's gotten help," Komin said. "So we can't promise any."

"Maran may not agree to committing what he has without knowing the extent of the enemy force," Meridina said.

"What if we were to send in the Jayhawk and Gonzales?" asked Major Anders. "Use Marine teams to infiltrate and sabotage their base and retrieve the prisoners."

"We don't know what kind of systems they may have monitoring the planet," Lucy said. "If they pick up either or both ships trying to slip into the atmosphere, we'll be sitting ducks without the big ships to cover us. And we have to enter the system anyway, the Jayhawk's warp drive is still offline due to our damage at Toutaine."

"Not that it would matter. They have to see us on their long range sensors by now, so if we stop outside of the system they'll suspect we're sending in insertion teams," Jarod added.

"So let's spring the trap first," Robert suggested, distracted as he was. "Then when we can see what they've got in reserve, we call in reinforcements or withdraw if they're too much for what Maran has ready."

"And if their forces are too strong for the reinforcements you would summon?" asked Ursa. "The enemy's evacuation could be accelerated after we withdrew. They will take your friend and my daughter..."

"That's why we use the arrival and withdrawal to sneak the teams in," Robert said. His voice was hoarse from effort, a wince almost permanent on his face. "While their attention is diverted to the Aurora and General Iroh."

"I will be joining you," Ursa said. "Captain Saizen will command the Iroh."

"Of course," Robert said. "We'll go in with our best. Myself, you, Lucy, Gina" - he glanced to her, Gina nodding in acknowledgement from her corner seat - "Talara, Komin, Yeshe if she's awake, and one of Major Anders' Marine platoons. If you want some of your Marines too, we'll bring them along."

"What do you suggest, we beam straight to the secondary shuttle bay upon arrival?" Lucy asked.

"Exactly. We take both ships in and we get our people out. Anders, your platoon will cover our mission by going for their command center. There could be valuable intel we could gain if we take control of their systems."

"Understood," said Anders.

"We have a plan," Meridina noted. "Let us enact it, and trust in the Light to aid us."

After everyone was gone, Robert and Meridina were left alone. She gave him a sympathetic look. "I am reminded of our mission to the DMZ, in the hunt for the Mayala."

Robert nodded. "When you sensed the torturing of those Maquis by Gul Evek and his Obsidian Order lackey."

"And you offered to link minds with me. To share my discomfort."

"And we ended up broadcasting it across this ship and to the Enterprise."

"Yes." Meridina nodded. "It was then that I knew what you could be. And now here you are, sensing the pain and suffering just as I did, and trying to alleviate it."

Robert nodded. Inside he felt pain in his head. Much of his attention was diverted to Julia, to maintaining the construct around her mind to shield it. But he had enough presence of thought to say, "I'm sorry for the harsh things I said earlier. I know this can't be easy on you. Having to focus on duty and not giving time for your grief. I'm so sorry about Gersal."

"Thank you." Meridina nodded gently. "Although your words were harsh, they were not untrue. I was not facing my feelings."

"I've been letting myself stew in mine, and in the darkness of it all." Robert shook his head. "I… I could feel myself slipping to that. A little voice in my head telling me that I needed to wield those dark powers if I was going to save Julia. I still feel it a bit. It's so easy with that power."

"Indeed. Which is why we must never use it. It is too easy. And it does nothing but destroy."

"Yeah. I'll hold it back. For Julie's sake as much as my own. She'd… never accept me if I turned into someone or something like that."

Meridina nodded in acknowledgement and agreement. "I am hopeful of her recovery. Being a captain of a vessel is not a thing I have ever considered as an outcome for my life. I am not certain I wish it. Truthfully, there are times I would prefer being Chief of Security. The role is closer to what I wish to do."

"And you miss being on the away missions," Robert noted. He inclined his head toward her. "I'm not surprised." His left hand went to his forehead unconsciously, as if to banish the pain he felt there from his shielding of Julia. "I miss it. Sometimes," he admitted to Meridina. "Being Captain, I mean. But this was what Julia was meant to do this entire time. She probably should've been the Captain of the Aurora from the first day."

"She is quite capable. Among our many personal reasons, this makes it vitally important that we rescue her."

"That's the plan." Robert checked the time. "I have things to get done before we launch. It's going to be hard enough with…" The wince on his face finished that thought for him.

"Of course," said Meridina.

"And I've got a stop first, something that I need done before we leave."

Meridina wondered just what he meant. Then she picked up on the thought with his intention and smiled gently in recognition. "Yes, of course. Let me know if you need assistance."

"I will."

Once again in the Aurora Chair, Julia felt her mind slip deep into memories, the pain sloughing away and becoming, for lack of a better term, bearable. She was back on the Aurora in the first months of their time on the ship, before encountering the Nazis' home universe, before all of this started.

Those memories led her further on to before the war.. To the day they saved the Tikvah. She was in the ready room office beside the bridge, still just the First Officer, arguing with Robert for his dangerous decision to risk the ship to save everyone. She told him to save the ship even if it meant leaving her behind.

"If that day ever comes, Robby... if you ever have to leave me behind to save everyone else, and the bad guys take me and... start hurting me." She swallowed and closed her eyes. "I want you to forgive yourself."

"I won't be able to.".

"Let me finish. Forgive yourself. Focus on your job. Because I won't give them a thing. And no matter what they do to me, I'll know one thing." Julia pulled him into a hug and talked directly into his ear. "I'll know you're coming for me, okay? That you're going to save me. Just as I'd save you. Because we'd all do that for each other."

Although in her state she didn't see or hear it, the conversation played out over the chair's viewer. Fassbinder observed with mounting frustration. He thought he could sense something in her, something shielding her mind from the pain and the machine itself. This aggravation was infuriating.

That same feeling prompted him to have the chair shut down again. He leaned in and frowned into Julia's aquamarine eyes. "You believe he is coming for you? That he will get to you and bring you away from this place? I look forward, then, to showing you his final moments. To destroying him and everyone else you love. And I will make you watch."

For a brief moment Julia considered taunting him. But she reconsidered. This eventuality was why Maran sent them for training back in the time before the Alliance finished forming. Engaging with her captor would violate that training. "Andreys, Julia Megan," she said. "Captain. Serial Number…" She stopped speaking when Fassbinder's hand smacked her on the mouth. Once his hand was away, she continued, "Bravo Zero Zero Zero Three One Zero One Hotel One Echo Four."

Fassbinder scowled at her. He recognized her defiance for what it was, pitting their wills against one another's, and he was not about to accept defeat on the matter.

"When your friends are here, I will bring you here to watch them die, and enjoy the torment that will bring." He looked to her guards. "Return her to the cell!"

The guards took her away. Julia said nothing, gave no resistance, as she was again taken back to the cells. When they arrived her eyes remained on them.

One of the guards responded by punching her in the stomach. Julia went down with a groan, doubling over until the two threw her into her cell. They exchanged remarks in German while stomping away, leaving Julia and Miko alone again.

Miko glared at them as they went. When they were gone, she looked across to where Julia was laying on the ground. "Are you okay?" she asked, more out of habit than expecting any positive answer.

Julia looked up at her. A satisfied smile came to her face. "Better," she said. "Be ready."

Miko almost asked what for, but the look on Julia's face was answer enough to that.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

With their arrival imminent, the crews of the Aurora and General Iroh returned to their combat stations. Both crews knew the stakes and were ready for the risks involved.

On the bridge, Meridina nodded to Jarod, who tapped at the station beside him. "Tac comm established.

"Captain Saizen?" Meridina asked aloud.

"We are receiving you, Captain Meridina," replied the Fire Nation officer. "The tactical communication link is secure."

"Then we are as ready as we can be," she said.

"Our people are ready for your teleport systems to bring them to your ship."

"The transport will commence when we drop from warp."

Lucy and Talara arrived in one of the General Iroh's storage bays for their transport out with the others. Ursa was present with several of what Lucy took to be her ship's Marines, wearing the same combat uniform as they did. The combat uniform was red with gold trim, with a helmet of the same coloring that looked like someone took a samurai helmet and molded it down to work like a motorcycle helmet.

Yeshe was wearing a suit of lighter red with yellow striping, sections of darker red crossing over her chest and ending at the shoulder blades. From what she saw, it looked like they were held in place by velcro strips.

Komin was in a dark green, beige-tinged uniform. The shoulders had what looked like epaulets fashioned from metal plates, similar plates ringing his belt. A disc with metal wire coiled around it hung from the belt at each hip.

"Any luck with calling reinforcements?" Lucy asked.

"I was able to contact Master Gyatsun," Yeshe confirmed. "He assured me that he would call the United Forces immediately and relay the star coordinates your people provided. But he is unaware of where Admiral Hanraq's forces are right now."

"We shall have to hope he is not far." Ursa nodded to Lucy. "We are ready for your 'transport' Lieutenant Lucero."

"It won't be hard at all, I promise," Lucy said. "Think of it as something like a water slide. You're being shot down a slide through subspace."

The look on Ursa's face, and on several of her subordinates, told Lucy that didn't help.

"Dropping out of warp now," Jarod's voice said over the line. "Beaming."

In a group everyone in the bay was pulled away by the Aurora transporters. They arrived in the secondary shuttle bay of the Aurora, built into the stern of Deck 34 to facilitate the Marines on the ship. The insertion runabout Gonzales and Robert's infiltrator, the Jayhawk, were lined up and ready for launch. Komin took the longest to recover his bearings after the transport.

Robert and Gina were waiting at the rear cargo door of the Jayhawk. "Your team should fit in my ship," he said to Ursa. "We should get moving."

It seemed to take him a moment to recognize Lucy was staring at him. When he did, Robert grinned slightly at her and, perhaps for effect, ran a hand over his shaven, hairless chin. His hair was cut back down to what it had been before he left for Umintamil, combed into place.

"So, not the monk look anymore," Lucy said. "Why did… oh. I see."

"It's as good a time as any," he replied. Around him the Fire Nation marines piled into the Jayhawk armory ramp to join the Aurora Marines already aboard.

"And it will make Julia very happy," Lucy observed. "Let's go show her."

They filed onto the ship and went for the cockpit, where Lucy - as usual - took up the helm. With the pre-flight checks already done by Gina, now sitting at Ops, Lucy went right to launching. The Gonzalez left first, wavering out of sight as she did. The Jayhawk's engines fired and she too emerged from the bay, cloaking as she did. Invisible to sensors and the naked eye, the two vessels turned about their mother ship and made a full-impulsor beeline for the enemy-held planet. The Aurora and General Iroh followed, deliberately drawing attention as they moved ahead, as if daring the SS exiles to react.

In the command room at the top of the central tower of the alien structure, Fassbinder stood beside Sturmbannführer Deikmann's station. The advanced sensors of the city displayed the new arrivals to the system on the viewscreen built into the wall. "There are no other vessels on sensors, Brigadeführer," Diekmann said.

"Then it is as I thought. They came alone. All ships remain on standby." Fassbinder grinned widely and glanced toward another of his men. "And have the Alliance prisoner brought to me. I want her to see this."


"Standartenführer, the device, is it ready?"

Another of the officers stood at a different control interface. He faced Fassbinder and nodded. "Ready for activation."

"Good. Do so."

The familiar sound of the guards' boots stomping on the ground drew Julia's attention, as it did Miko's. She looked up from where she was sprawled out on the floor of the cell in time to see the two SS men appear in the door. "Come, Alliancer," one of them said. "It's time for you to watch your friends die."

She scowled at him as the forcefield dropped. The speaking guard entered. He reached down and grabbed her arm. "Come!" he repeated, his grip bruising in its strength. He forced her to get up, first on her knees, and then to her feet.

Julia's arm snapped forward without warning, her flat hand slamming into the guard's throat in a chopping motion right at the vulnerable Adam's apple. The SS guard's eyes widened in shock and pain as the breath was caught in his throat by the blow, causing him to falter.

His compatriot took a second for training to overwhelm shock at his captive suddenly lashing out despite her apparent helplessness. That second allowed Julia to pull free the first guard's stun stick. With every ounce of strength and will she had, Julia forced her body to move fast enough to dodge the second guard's strike at her, barely succeeding. Her appropriated weapon came up and struck the guard in his unprotected throat and neck, sending a stun shock into him that brought him down. For good measure Julia used the stick on its former owner as well, rendering the wheezing guard unconscious. She reached down and yanked the object she'd spied earlier, a flat device with a pair of prongs at the end, from his belt.

Miko watched the entire thing in stunned amazement. "How… how can you move?"

Julia shook her head, a signal she couldn't talk. And she couldn't. Just that spurt of activity took almost everything she had. Grabbing the second guard, stun-sticking him again, and pulling him to the door took the last of it. The mere act of moving was bringing forth screaming protest from her abused body, demanding every iota of willpower Julia had in her to not just move, but to pull the dead weight of her guard with her. Once she had the unconscious guard close enough, Julia brought the guard's hand up to the control for Miko's cell, ensuring any biometric security for the controls would be bypassed. The field confining Miko dropped and so did Julia, toppling to her side in Miko's cell, her strength spent. She feebly offered to Miko the device she'd pulled from the guards. "For your collar," she said hoarsely.

Miko nodded and took the device in question. She remembered when it was first attached to her and lined up the prongs to her collar. It took her several moments to line them up right, given the port was on her neck and out of sight, moments in which Julia slowly turned and crawled back to the guard she'd used to open Miko's cell. Julia's hand sought out the guard's belt until she felt the shape of a cylinder there and pulled it loose. But that was all she could do. With all of her suffering, not to mention the bare necessity of nutrients Fassbinder allowed her through injections, Julia's body simply could not go on.

There was a loud beep and a clicking sound. The collar around Miko's throat fell free, baring lightened skin there to show how long it'd been on her. She knelt down beside Julia. "Take it," Julia said, her voice strained and raw. Her eyes glanced toward the syringe in her hand. "One for you, one for me. It'll give you the energy you need to fight."

"And you?"

Had she the strength, Julia would've shaken her head. "It should give me what I need to move. But I won't be much good in a fight."

"I'll do the fighting," Miko promised. "Where do I…?"

With effort Julia forced her hand to move again, this time tapping her wrist and the veins there. Miko pressed the syringe there and triggered the device, sending the combat drug cocktail into Julia's body. She went for the syringe on the other guard and did the same to her own wrist.

It didn't take long for them to feel the effects. Julia felt the weakness in her body fade. It wasn't gone, simply hidden under the chemical effects of the drug. When it faded she'd be even worse off. With it working, she rose to her feet, taking the time to pull away the pistol holster. She considered the rifle before dismissing the idea; in her state it might be a little too much to carry.

Miko felt an euphoria fill her, tinged with a need for aggression. Weeks of frustration and terror fueled a fury she was ready to unleash on her long-time captors. She noticed Julia wobble a little on her feet. "If you need to, go on without me," Julia said.

"No, never," Miko replied, her voice fierce. "I'm not abandoning you to what they're doing to you, will do to you. We both get out." She put an arm under Julia's right shoulder to help stabilize her. "Can you fly us out if we find one of their ships?"

"I don't think we'll need that," Julia replied, her voice no less hoarse than before. "My friends, my ship, are here. They'll send a rescue team for us. But we have to stop whatever trap Fassbinder's laying for them."


"Let's see if we can find the power plant."

"Right," Miko agreed, bringing Jula alone. With grim determination on their faces, the two continued their escape.

The final approach to the planet was done in tense quiet. The Aurora and General Iroh approached openly, their sublight drives at standard acceleration, while the Koenig moved in under cloak ahead of the two smaller insertion ships. Tight-beam communications allowed the cloaked vessels to remain in contact with each other on their approach.

The enemy ships in orbit, being lighter vessels, withdrew to the other side of the planet as the big ships entered weapons range. On the bridge of the Aurora Meridina and Jarod exchanged skeptical looks. Their gifts, different as they were, led both to the same easy conclusion: a trap was laid for them. A trap they had to spring to cover the rescue party. "Maintain standby on jump drives," Meridina ordered in a quiet voice.

"Aye Captain," Tra'dur responded.

Ahead of them, the rescue ships made atmospheric entry. While Lucy flew the Jayhawk, Gina observed the sensor returns and displayed them for Robert and the others. The one artificial structure on the planet, the obvious location of the enemy base, was a great tower surrounded by five groups of buildings. "They have a theater shield raised. I'm looking for weak points… wait." Gina checked another screen. "Ships dropping out of warp."

"How many?" asked Robert.

"Nearly two dozen," Gina answered.

The same was noted on the Aurora bridge. With the ship already at battlestations no further order needed to be given to prepare for what looked a hopeless fight. The two dozen enemy ships was weighted toward lighter vessels, but with a large Lutzow-class battlecruiser and several heavy cruisers of the Sedan and Tannenburg-classes present, the Aurora and General Iroh were plainly outnumbered.

"Incoming hail from the planet," Tra'dur informed them.

Since every moment bought gave the rescue team more time, Meridina nodded. "On screen."

A chill went through Meridina at the sight of Erik Fassbinder. He and those with him were of a kind - all blond-haired blue-eyed men, all of refined physique brought about by centuries of genetic engineering - with the exception that Fassbinder's blue eyes were now the golden yellow color of a sensitive given over to darkness. His malevolent eyes glinted with satisfaction. "Ah, the untermensch Knight," he said. "I invite you to surrender, Gersallian. You and your vessel are outmatched."

"We will not," she replied simply. "We know too well the fate of those in your mercies, swevyra'kse."

"Good. I was hoping you would resist. I look forward to showing Captain Andreys your final moments. It should break her spirit quite thoroughly. All vessels engage!"

The moment he disappeared, Jarod grinned slightly. "He fell for it. I knew he'd tip his hand."

"Signal Command," Meridina instructed. "Inform them we have found a major SS concentration and request immediate reinforcement."

"Transmitting… Captain, IU comms are not responding."

Cat was quick to explain. "There's some kind of interference pattern coming from the planet. I've… I've never seen anything like it."

"Is it why our comms aren't working?" Jarod asked.

"Likely. The signature acts like a dimensional stabilizer, given the strength of it, it will prevent interuniversal communications or jump drives from functioning in its area of effect."

"And the size of that area?" asked Jarod.

"Most of the solar system, at least," replied Cat.

At that point the ship shook as the enemy's first shots struck them. "Evasive maneuvers," Meridina ordered. "Prepare for warp on my mark."

"I wouldn't recommend that," Locarno said. "They've got us boxed in. A warp-speed collision is likely."

"Then we fight," Meridina said. "Engage at will. Call Commander Carrey into the battle as well."

"Aye Captain," Tra'dur responded, keeping any nervousness about their dangerous situation to herself.

Moments later the Koenig made its entry into the battle, its pulse phasers blazing and wrecking the lead destroyer of a formation approaching the Aurora on a torpedo run. The rest of the destroyers broke away, firing their torpedoes early, and the Koenig immediately came under fire from a nearby Dresden-class cruiser.

And so the battle began.

While the battle above raged, the cloaked ships approached the SS-held facility, or rather the deflector dome protecting it. Gina and the others looked over the area carefully. "The dome is solid," she noted. "And I haven't found an approach that we can fit through. The river is too shallow and narrow."

"What if we vaporized a tunnel through the north ridgeline?" Robert suggested.

"I doubt our weapons are precise enough to make a working tunnel there," Lucy said. "It'll collapse, and the deflector dome will expand to cover the space."

"I can make you a tunnel," said Komin.

The others turned to face him. Even his cousin and Ursa. "Komin, have you ever moved that much earth?" Yeshe asked, a hint of concern in her otherwise calm voice.

"No. But I know I can do it."

Robert and the others sensed Komin's resolve. A tiny sliver of doubt was inside of it, but he kept that doubt suppressed with the weight of his determination to rescue his future student. "Bring us over," Robert said to Lucy. "Present the rear of the ship toward the ridge." He nodded at Komin next. "Come with me."

Komin followed Robert back down the corridor to the armory, where the squads of Ursa's hand-picked troops were waiting. Robert grabbed a cable from one part of the armory and latched it on to a ring beside the cargo bay door. His hand reached up and smacked the controls, causing the ramp to swing down, revealing the beige-tinted wall of rock ahead of them. He wrapped the cable around Komin's waist to secure him before nodding. "Alright. Do what you can."

Komin nodded and took in a breath before turning his attention to the ridge. He shifted his legs, assuming a solid stance, and raised his arms up. He made a spreading motion with both arms.

The rocky surface of the ridge shifted outward, as if it were a portal opening, and the rock beneath did the same. Each second more and more of the raw earth separated. Sweat dripped down Komin's brow as he continued exerting his will on the stone, prompting Robert to put a hand on his shoulder and reach through the Flow of Life into him. Komin was setting a personal record with this, and it took everything he had. Robert tried to help by applying his own life energy to reinforce Komin's.

Beyond light and air started to show through the opened hole through the ridgeline, with a tunnel at least fifty meters in diameter now present.

Komin went down to a knee, sweat coating his face and caking his dark hair. Robert helped him back in, closing the cargo door as he did, and pulled an energy drink from a container of the same. He offered it to Komin, who started drinking from it. He made a disgusted face. "Ugh, what is this stuff?"

"Energy drink with… hell if I know the flavor."

He took another swig and shook his head, the expression on his face intensifying. "I think it's helping but whoever made it has no sense of taste."

Robert chuckled despite the situation. "Tell me about it."

Lucy's voice broke into the conversation. "Alright everyone, we're through the tunnel and inside the deflector shield. But it looks like they know we're coming. This is going to be a hot landing."

Robert responded by activating his omnitool. "Land the ship and join us, Lucy. We're all going in." A determined look crossed his face. "Let's go get our loved ones back."

Julia and Miko didn't make it far before running into a patrol of SS troops. She brought her stolen pistol up to open fire on them.

She never got a chance to pull the trigger.

Miko exploded forward with the kind of eager aggressiveness Julia usually saw in Angel when she was spoiling for a fight. She jumped up to the wall and kicked off of it, bringing her leg up to make a sweeping kick in the air. Her foot hit nothing, but the wave of flame she generated with the move slammed into the four guards, throwing them all back before they could raise weapons. Two recovered by rolling with the hit. As their weapons came up Miko spiraled on one foot before thrusting her fist forward. A gust of tornado-strength wind slammed into the guards and sent them flying into the wall with enough force to take the fight out of them.

Miko turned to check on Julia, who watched with approval at her partner's swift takedown of their opponents. "And I thought I was used to seeing impossible things," Julia said.

That brought a smile to the younger woman. "Let's keep going!" Miko urged. After her time in captivity, the chance to strike at her captors was invigorating, cathartic.

Julia nodded in reply and glanced around. There was still no immediate signs of where anything was in the complex. She doubted the guards' data devices would provide much help on that score either, given the ease of biometric-based security, so she sought out her memories of being taken through the complex. "This way," she said, eyeing one of the paths available.

As the two infiltration craft approached the SS base, it was clear that the enemy had some idea that they were coming, with their troops active at all levels. On the Jayhawk Robert spoke into his omnitool. "Major, you start at the top of the tower. See if you can find and take whatever they're using for a central command center. We'll land at ground level and look for the prisoners."

"Confirmed, Captain. Bring our people home."

"Happy hunting. Dale out."

"Bringing us in low," Lucy said. "They still haven't detected us, but the closer we get… woh!" The ship shifted under their feet. "Never mind, they have an idea where we are. Decloaking and opening fire!"

The Jayhawk rippled into view just as a ground-based disruptor cannon sent an emerald disruptor beam sizzling through the air again, barely missing the infiltrator. At weapons Talara retaliated with the Jayhawk's forward-facing pulse plasma cannons. Bolts of sapphire light slammed into the ground-based cannon and wrecked it.

Others came online and came under fire from the craft's pulse guns, while above the Gonzales rippled into view and started disgorging Marines onto a balcony of the structure.

Under Lucy's control, with Talara's firing, the Jayhawk circled the structure, its main cannons and ventral-mounted pulse gun turrets wreaking havoc on the enemy's weapon emplacements. The return fire the Jayhawk took did not lack for trying. Against another pilot, the infiltrator's deflectors would not have been enough against the volume and resulting successful strikes. But Lucy's skills gave her the means to evade the vast majority of the fire while Talara eliminated the guns.

Once they finished clearing any weapon that could fire on the Jayhawk or Gonzales, Lucy brought the infiltrator in for a landing. The moment the ship hit the ground Robert turned to two of Anders' Marines, an Alakin male and sniper named Sergeant Ijala and a Dorei Marine of lower rank. "Sergeant Ijala, Private Heytam, stay with the ship, you'll be our cover fire for the extraction."

"Lee, Ranjan, you will aid them," Ursa said to two of hers.

Both sets of Marines affirmed their orders. Behind them, Lucy, Talara, and Gina arrived from the cockpit. Komin finished the last gulp of the energy drink provided him with a wince. Lucy noticed it and grinned. "Horrible stuff," she said. "I told him to get the fruit punch-flavored, not the generic."

There was no time for Robert to reply to that before the bay door opened. Outside the Jayhawk's pulse guns were already firing away, suppressing some of the SS defenders behind cover. Robert, Lucy, and Gina went first, their lightsabers flashing to life and catching incoming enemy fire. Behind them Talara personally protected Ursa while she issued orders to her people. The Beifong cousins went to work disrupting enemy cover, Komin ripping the enemy's protective positions out from under their feet while Yeshe sent blasts of wind into, around, and through them. The Marines opened fire with their weapons, blue-white pulses and purple light striking down enemies deprived of their vital cover.

Robert joined the efforts of the Beifongs while deflecting incoming fire. His will lashed out at the enemy, creating waves of invisible force that smashed their defensive positions.

It was while they were working on this that he got the call from orbit. "Aurora to landing party, we have a situation," said Jarod.

"Go ahead."

"We sprang their trap. But they have some kind of IU jammer up, it's keeping us from contacting the Alliance or jumping out. If we're going to get through this, we need that jammer down, now."

Robert clenched his jaw at that. He wanted nothing more than to go to Julia immediately. To get her out of this nightmare. But he couldn't lose their home, her ship, in the process. And everything inside him told him he needed to see to that first. "Roger," he replied to Jarod. "Alright everyone, let's get this done."

In the command center of the base, Fassbinder observed the developing combat in orbit with approval. His ships were arrayed in excellent formation to thwart any attempt at a warp-speed escape, and with the alien jamming device activated, he had the Aurora precisely where he wanted it.

"The second wave of ships is still en route," Diekmann informed him.

"Tell them to come," Fassbinder said. The screens showed that the Aurora's shields, while holding, were already faltering from the sheer volume of fire she was taking. The ship's evasive maneuvers were excellent for a ship of its size and mass, more nimble than any Reich vessel of equivalent size ever managed. The Darglan technology of the Aurora represented the edge that gave the Alliance its victory in the war. Fassbinder felt lingering irritation at the thought of how, if only that fool Lamper had been more Aryan, they might have taken this ship at the first contact, and its technological secrets put to the use of the Reich. Then they would have won the war, would have had a Multiverse to conquer…

"They do not try to flee," he observed aloud. "They must believe their attack forces will remove the jammers." He turned his head and barked at another officer, "Status of our defenses!"

"We have reinforcements moving to pin down the enemy that landed in the tower," replied the junior officer. "And others are in position to slow those who landed on the ground."

Fassbinder nodded. He sensed the others even now, moving to intercept those attackers. His Cylon allies would have a chance to blood the other students against them. Now all he had to do was wait for the arrival of Julia Andreys and…

"Brigadeführer, we have a radiation spike," declared Diekmann. "More vessels are arriving."

Cat noticed the new power signatures coming in later than she might have managed otherwise, given the active jamming of the battle. "Incoming contacts," she said while the Aurora shook under them.

"More SS ships?" asked Jarod.

"No. The power signature isn't right. The signature's similar to the General Iroh… they're dropping out of warp now."

The vessels that appeared all bore some similarity to the Iroh, with some differences of layout and coloration visible. Some were just a little larger than the Koenig, others the size of the Iroh, and one was a little larger than the Aurora herself.

In one great barrage the arriving ships opened fire on the nearest vessels of the SS formation. With their weapons fire concentrated on individual targets, the new arrivals quickly cut up one of the lighter cruisers and a destroyer of the SS fleet. The biggest ship was especially capable with the batteries of guns firing thick purple energy beams that were wearing down the shields of one of the newer Tannenburg-class enemy cruisers.

"General hail from the main ship," said Tra'dur.

"Put them on," replied Meridina.

While the holotank viewer beside Meridina and Jarod kept a tactical display up, the main holo-viewer screen shifted to form the image of a man with a dark bronze coloration. His uniform was red, with service ribbons visible on one breast of the jacket. His long brown hair, whitening at the temples and ends, was braided into a tail at the back of his head. "This is General Hanraq of the United Forces, commanding from the Avatar Kiyoshi, to vessels Aurora and General Iroh. Please respond."

"Captain Saizen here, General. Commanding on behalf of Captain Ursa. She is with the strike team to extract the prisoners."

"General, this is Captain Meridina, acting commander of Aurora," said Meridina. "We are tying your ships into our tac comm channel. We will conform to your maneuvers and provide our knowledge of the enemy's capabilities."

The man on the screen nodded. "Thank you, Captain. Transmitting formation coordinates now."

"Conform to them, Mister Locarno," said Meridina.

"Aye ma'am," Locarno replied, while under his control the Aurora shifted her position to join her new allies, her faltering shields relieved of some of the fire she was under.

In the command center Fassbinder did not let the unexpected reinforcements cause any doubt. From experience the SS knew the locals to have somewhat inferior technology, with weaker weapons and deflectors. With equal numbers, they were not as great a threat. At least, without the Aurora they weren't, but the Alliance vessel would tilt the balance if allowed.

"Call in the second wave," he ordered. As he spoke, he felt a sense of developments that made him frown. "What do we have on the prisoners? Andreys should have been brought here by now."

"Base Command to Rottenführer Dietrich. Report status."

At that moment Fassbinder felt a surge of vicious anger. He didn't need to wait for the lack of reply, he could already feel the truth, that his captives were on the loose. That he hadn't before he blamed for his focus on the arriving Aurora.

"The second wave is coming in," Diekmann said. "Their arrival is soon…"

"Keep me informed!" Fassbinder barked as he headed for the door.

The space around the marginal garden planet was now the site of a furious combat between starships. Fassbinder's ships, by arraying themselves in a formation to encapsulate the Aurora, made themselves vulnerable to a concentrated attack from another vector. General Hanraq's vessels exploited this to the fullest, concentrating their firepower on a handful of enemy vessels.

In his command center Hanraq stood beside a plotting table. A bulky holo-projector system built into it provided a three-dimensional view of the battlespace. This was already shaping up to be one of the largest voidship battles of his career.

The Kiyoshi shook under his feet. "The largest of the enemy void cruisers is directing its firepower against us," one of the other officers reported.

"Maintain formation," answered Captain Mushi, the ship's commander. "Direct all cannons on target."

While the Kiyoshi's impressive array of energy cannons returned fire on the vessel, Hanraq noted the maneuvers of the newly-encountered friendly vessel Aurora. Although the ship was nearly the size of his own, it moved like a void cruiser half its size. Its own energy cannons blazed with pulses of sapphire light that pounded away at the enemy vessel's shields, disturbing their coherence. Projectiles of white-blue light slammed into the ruby field around the enemy ship next, making a partial breakthrough of the enemy deflectors.

"General." Beside him, Engineering Captain Sen Yang observed the ship closely with her green eyes. "This unknown vessel's performance characteristics is superior to anything the raiders have shown before."

"Yes," he agreed. "Which is to our advantage. If anything, the analysts who predicted the raiders were exiles of some sort may have been closer to the truth than previously imagined." His eyes narrowed. "Jagala, Senjo, maneuver to your down angle, give firing clearance to the Zhu Li." Satisfied that the two lighter ships were following his order, giving an easier firing field to the void cruiser Zhu Li against one of their foes' ships, Hanraq glanced toward a readout of the planet. There was indeed an enemy facility there. Good luck finding your daughter, Princess Ursa, he thought. Things have been difficult enough for the Five Nations with these raids. I shudder to think of how things would go should we lose an Avatar so young…

He pushed that worry away, returning his focus to the battle at hand.

The SS defensive forces were on the retreat from Robert and the others, allowing the group to access the structure itself. They entered the central tower along a path coming from one of the five groups of outlying buildings. One squad of troopers tried to hold the hall ahead of them. Lucy and Robert deflected their fire, giving Yeshe an opening to knock them off their feet with a strong gust of air. Her cousin's arms shot forward. Bands of metal left his belt and raced through the air until they reached the fallen soldiers, at which they wrapped around wrists and ankles, binding the SS troopers in place.

Ursa and Robert took the lead in rushing further ahead. They led the others through a large sliding door that proved to lead to a barracks area. Metal-framed bunks in perfect lines filled the room, save a central area where tables were laid out. Opposite their side of the chamber was another large door leading deeper into the tower.

The group barely had time to enter before that door opened. Through it stepped two figures in dark robes. Lucy, Gina, and Talara recognized their headbands as the same worn by the Cylon Inner Circle, and both female figures quickly reached for their lightsabers. Behind them men in dark suits with SS rank insignia and markings filed in. Some went for rifles or pistols, others for their own lightsaber weapons, which flashed to life with the same red color as the two Cylons' blades.

Only as they approached was it clear which models of Cylon were present. Ursa and the others glanced toward Lucy and Gina.

"They copied my DNA to use as a model," Lucy said, her voice brimming with anger at that fact. "And Gina was once one of their puppets before she turned against them."

Her counterpart grinned in anticipation. "The traitor and two of the Dawn-Bearers. We look forward to striking you down."

The fight only took seconds to break out, at which time the room exploded with the buzzing sound of lightsabers whizzing through the air. Lucy and Gina went after their Cylon counterparts. Robert and Talara eyed the students the moment before they charged, moving ahead through the lines of bunks.

Komin was the first to strike. With a gesture of each arm, the bunks toppled over and fell on the approaching foes. Two got caught before the others caught on, jumping over said bunks, using their own abilities to stop their fall, or simply cleaving through them with lightsabers. Some were thrown back as Ursa and Yeshe joined the fight, sending bolts of flame and powerful air gusts at the attackers, acting as flank guards.

Behind them came the sounds of battle. A Fire Nation Marine called out, "We will hold them, Highness!"

"Very well." Ursa returned her focus to the fight ahead, while in the center of the room Lucy and Gina were already locked in a duel with their doppelgangers.

The third SS patrol the two escapees ran into was the biggest, forcing Julia to open fire for the first time with her appropriated pistol. The shot went wide of the target but still sent him into cover, giving Miko an easier time as she tore through the others. She moved with purpose, every punch or kick generating flame and air that knocked around the SS. One brought up his rifle just to have flame superheat it in the man's hands, causing him to reflexively drop it, at which point Miko spun and kicked, creating a gust that tossed him on his back. She pivoted on her foot, evading an attempt to slam the back of her head with a rifle with the motion. Spinning around put her at the back of that foe. Flame erupted from the open palm she thrust at him, enveloping the SS trooper. A cry of surprise at his immolation was stifled by Miko's second blow, this time air that sent the trooper into the wall. He slumped.

Julia's return fire worked to keep two of the foes in cover. When one popped up to fire on Miko she squeezed off a shot that connected this time, the emerald beam of her acquired weapon striking the soldier in the chest.

The other SS trooper charged her. His gambit paid off; in her state Julia was too slow to bring the weapon over to bear on him. He slapped at her hand and knocked the pistol out of it. Pain filled Julia's hand from the force of the impact. She observed the next blow coming and let her training take over, moving to evade it.

Under normal circumstances, Julia could have faced this foe in hand-to-hand with a better-than-fair chance at prevailing. But even with the combat drugs circulating through her body, she did not have the full range of her physical prowess available to her. She managed to dodge and redirect the first two strikes, but the third caught her squarely on the torso with enough force to take the breath from her and crack a rib. She doubled over in pain, allowing a second blow from the butt of the rifle to smash into her right cheek. Bone and flesh cracked under the force of the blow and Julia toppled.

The SS trooper had no opportunity to take advantage of his victory. Miko caught him in the back with a powerful gust of wind that slammed him into the far wall. She gave him a strong punch, no elements this time, to put him down for the count. Once he was she went over to where Julia was struggling back to her feet. "Are you okay?" asked Miko.

"Broken cheekbone," Julia said, wiping at the blood trickling from her mouth and nose. "I think. And a cracked rib. But other than that, nothing hurt but my pride."

"I'll fight better next time," Miko vowed. "You shouldn't have to."

"It's not like we have a choice." Julia drew in a breath. "Do you hear that?"

There was conversation coming from one of the fallen troopers. They approached and knelt over. "The translator, I'm not sure it's working," said Miko.

"Probably a security feature for their comms. I know a little German myself… they're relaying battle information. This place is under attack, there are Marines present."

"My mother has come for me," Miko said, her voice cracking a little. "We should find them."

"Wait…" Julia furrowed her brow. "I'm not catching everything. They're trying to hold out. To delay. Something about a jammer, and my ship's here…" She shook her head. Nothing else useful. But… "This jammer, it sounds pretty important. That's what we've got to take out."


"Like I said, the power station. We cut their power, their jammer goes down. I think." She stood to her height and looked around. Her eyes narrowed at a far wall, just around a corner. She stumbled over to it. "Here. This means power plant." She indicated a German word. "This way!"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

In the barracks Lucy faced a Cylon doppelganger yet again. It was disconcerting to see her face marked with the sign of corruption, a feeling her very survival forced her to keep suppressed. As with prior Cylons she'd fought, she sensed the raw aggression and anger fueling her copy's movements and power. Her foe was given over, completely, to dark power, and it made the Cylon dangerous.

Given the close quarters Lucy kept to the defensive, goading on her opponent with the swift defensive parries that frustrated all the attacks against her. She willingly gave ground as well, and this for another reason: by doing so, she was bringing her powerful enemy further from the others, especially Ursa and the Beifong cousins, that might otherwise be threatened by her doppelganger's sheer power.

Her opposite went for a series of high attacks toward Lucy's head and shoulders, then dipped low with a swipe at Lucy's belly. Her blue lightsaber intercepted the red five centimeters from her armor. The lightsaber pulled back, but instead of another strike the next blow was from the Cylon's corrupted gifts. Her counterpart willed that Lucy be thrown backward. Lucy could not prevent that motion, but she could will herself to stop before she flew into the wall behind her, allowing her to roll from her back and to her feet. Her lightsaber came up and intercepted the overhead swipe at Lucy's head.

Beside her, Gina fell back from her own doppelganger, evading one swipe at her shoulder and deflecting another. Unlike Lucy Gina did not hold back from any attacks, responding instead with a strike aimed at her counterpart's side. This was deflected at the last moment. Another series of exchanges resulted in frustrated attacks.

Without looking at each other, Gina and Lucy knew what they were to do next, and moved in near-sync with each other. They moved away, side-stepping their attacking foes until they were facing the wall of the barracks. After thwarting attacks, they gathered their will and lashed out with their wills, bound together in common action.

Their counterparts were ready for the attack, but they were mistaken about its intent. They steeled themselves for a solid wave of force against themselves. What happened instead was said force acting against the wall behind them, smashing it down and revealing the outside. Individual chunks of debris showered on them, causing injury and general irritation.

This brought the opening for Lucy and Gina to slam their foes with pure force, throwing them through the open hole and outside of the barracks. Both tumbled across the ground before rolling to their feet, meeting Lucy and Gina's weapons with their own again.

Hopefully that will give the others the room they need, Lucy thought before she returned her attention to her deadly foe.

On the Aurora bridge, the deck shook from a missile impact. Tra'dur noted the loss in shield strength but did not immediately relay it, judging the change insufficient to warrant interrupting the orders Jarod and Meridina were issuing.

At those orders, the Aurora continuing maneuvering and firing. Her secondary weapons were busy spitting sapphire light beams at smaller enemy ships while her main bow battery pounded away at the enemy battlecruiser's shields. The enemy ship's super-disruptors fired in reply, aiming not at the Aurora but the vessels in Hanraq's force. One of their void cruisers fell apart from the sheer damage to its structure from the direct hit.

The General Iroh came up and engaged before another super-disruptor shot could be fired, joining their barrage with one from the Avatar Kiyoshi.

With all three ships focusing fire upon it, the Reich battlecruiser's shields were nearly out, and multiple wounds already showed on the dark hull of the SS ship. Around this combat the other ships were fighting Fassbinder's forces to a stalemate, buying time for their ground teams.

Meridina sensed this would not be enough. Whatever shock Hanraq's flotilla caused the SS ships was rapidly fading. They were recovering quickly, and the battle was still one they might win. She looked to Jarod and said, "Have the Koenig break away. They must get out of range of the enemy jamming system as quickly as they can and alert Admiral Maran."

Jarod nodded and transmitted the order.

For his part, Zack took the order without emotion. It worried him in that the battle was tight enough that without Koenig in it, the SS could easily take the advantage back. But the reasoning was clear regardless, and the battle had forced a change in the enemy formation sufficient that the Koenig had an opening to get away. "Break us away from the combat space," he ordered Hajar. "Maintain evasives until we're clear to make the jump to warp."

"Aye sir," Hajar answered.

The Koenig twisted, breaking off from a fight with an SS-crewed A-2000 gunboat and racing for open space beyond a formation of cruisers. Their disruptors blazed away with lethal emerald light, missiles joining them. Some of these hit the shields of the attack ship, but only some: Hajar's maneuvers evaded most of the incoming fire, and at tactical April Sherlily's skilled use of the Koenig's weapon systems eliminated a number of the incoming missiles. The gunboat they were engaged with followed, pulse disruptor cannons blazing away as it pursued its quarry. It might have caused them some problems if not for one of the United Republic destroyer-sized ships, which engaged with missiles and a barrage of purple-hued energy fire that forced the gunboat to break off.

A corkscrew maneuver brought the Koenig through the disruptor fire of an enemy cruiser and toward open space. Hajar immediately started the process of powering up the warp drives.

"Enemy warp signatures!" cried Magda from Ops. "They're dropping out of warp right…"

She didn't need to finish. The viewer showed Zack all he needed to see, as another dozen enemy vessels came out of warp ahead of the Koenig. Which, by its maneuvers, made itself their first logical target.

The disruptor beams and missiles and torpedoes converged on the attack ship as Hajar swiftly changed her heading. With her impulsors to full the Koenig was agile enough to evade much of the incoming fire, but given the enemy behind them firing as well, they could not evade everything. Disruptor hits degraded shields already worn by the intense fighting, with a couple of the enemy missiles managing partial strikes against unshielded hull.

"We have a plasma leak on the starboard nacelle, shock damage," Magda reported. "Warp drive inoperable."

Zack clenched a fist at the news. Now we can't escape. They've got numbers on us. The Aurora will never get away. C'mon, Rob, take out that jammer already…!

The newly-arriving SS vessels not only stopped the Koenig's withdrawal, they immediately shifted the battle back in their side's favor. Meridina watched with quiet grief at the annihilation of one of the Republic cruisers, overwhelmed by three enemy cruisers before it could evade the incoming fire. SS destroyers came screaming in on a torpedo run on the Avatar Kiyoshi herself. Angel's quick thinking and quicker trigger finger kept that torpedo run from completiong, as the Aurora's torpedoes and plasma fire intersected the destroyers' attack vector, forcing them to break off with one destroyer badly damaged. Nevertheless five torpedoes struck the Republic battleship, degrading the shields as they were designed to do.

"Suggestions?" she asked.

"If we could slip a runabout equipped with a portable IU radio out, they might be able to get away," Jarod proposed.

"The enemy's numbers would make pursuit and destruction far too easy," Tra'dur pointed out. The ship rocked from another solid hit by the enemy battlecruiser. "Shields down to twenty-nine percent, Captain."

"We must buy time," Meridina said. "Divert all available power to tactical systems."

"Aye Captain."

It is in your hands, she thought, considering the ground team.

Two crimson lightsabers swung toward Robert while a third nearly clipped Talara's right arm. Her lavender-colored blade came up to catch the next strike. She was holding her own, barely, but with increasing confidence.

Robert caught one of the incoming blades with his own while he maneuvered to the side, allowing the other to harmlessly slash across the very edge of his left shoulder. He felt nothing but a twinge of painful heat, indicating the blow barely penetrated his armor there, not even enough to endanger his arm's function. He continued his maneuver and directed his will toward the SS trooper who gave the successful strike. By instinct he not only hit his opponent with enough power to overcome defenses, he also threw the SS soldier into one of his compatriots menacing the Beifong cousins. Both toppled to the floor. Before they could get up Yeshe bent the air down around them, creating a downward gust to keep them down long enough for Komin to bend the metal frames of a couple of nearby fallen bunks, turning them into ad hoc restraints to tie down the two men.

This opened Robert up to his other opponent, but said foe never got to exploit that opening. A bolt of blue flame slammed into the Nazi before he could strike, throwing him off-balance. Ursa quickly struck him with more bolts, culminating with a vertical kick that created a wave of blue flame that not only set the trooper on fire, it knocked him onto his rear.

Freed from battle, Robert turned to help Talara against her foe. He immediately saw it was unnecessary, as Talara's lavender blade was already scything through the man's extended arms, removing them at the elbow. A cry of surprise was cut off by Yeshe blasting the same with a gust of wind that knocked him back into one of the standing bunk frames. Komin moved his hands in the air and the wire frame parts of the bunks bent with the motions, forming rings around the soldier's arms and ankles to hold him in place.

With only the Cylons left to fight, Robert turned to do so, but they were missing. He'd been so occupied with his own opponents he missed someone blowing out one of the walls, and Lucy and Gina were gone, as were their foes. Lucy, where are you? We can help!

No! The
Aurora needs us to take out that jamming device! We've got this!

Robert felt worry. Despite the confidence, he could sense Lucy forcing some of the confidence. She was in a difficult fight, as was Gina, and victory was not guaranteed at all.

Go Rob!

Her insistence was persuasive. Robert's own feeling that he needed to heed it decided the issue for him. He motioned to the far door, the one their opponents had originally gone through, and said, "This way."

The others fell in with him. It was just the five of them now, given the ongoing battles around them. They continued a path through the central tower toward its heart. "This jamming device, do you have an idea on where to find it?" asked Talara.

Robert shook his head. "Not sure, but I can feel a pull in this direction. I think it's where we need to be."

Behind them Komin was taking in their surroundings. "The design of this place doesn't give any clues as to where to look. But maybe instead of finding the jammer, we should find the city's power core."

Talara responded by checking her omnitool as they ran. "Power emissions are this way," she said. "If we…"

The sight ahead brought them to a stop. Numerous SS men were unconscious on the floor. None showed signs of being shot by weapons, but they had visible burns in some cases and blunt trauma in others. "None of ours have been this way, have they?" Robert asked.

"I do not believe so."

"Miko," said Ursa. "She is free!"

"Not just Miko." Talara's omnitool was on wide-scanning mode. "I've got blood traces in this hall. They match Captain Andreys!"

Robert felt a surge of elation, followed immediately by worry. Julia being free brought that elation, just for him to consider what it might mean if their enemies got to her first. They might just kill her over escaping.

"I wonder where they're going?" Yeshe asked aloud. "Certainly they would try to leave the complex."

As the Airbender posed that question, Robert's eyes ventured to a sign bolted onto the wall, arrows matched with the SS-preferred Gothic German script. Reading the entries, a small smile came to his face. "I think I know what they're doing," he said. "Come on!"

They turned the corner, and danger prompted both Robert and Talara to turn and raise their weapons, deflecting the incoming fire. A squad of SS troopers was approaching from the other direction. "Go on!" Talara urged. "I'll hold them!"

The Beifongs stepped up to join her. "We'll watch your back, Highness," Komin said. "Get to Miko!"

Robert and Ursa turned and continued on, spurred by the desire to regain their loved ones as much as they were the mission at hand.

Miko was the first into the chamber where the city's power was being provided. Julia walked in behind her and fought down the strong desire to just stop. Whatever cocktail of combat drugs had been in that syringe, it was clearly wearing down. Nor was she sure another dose was wise, if it resulted in an overdose.

Fortunately the defenders of the room were not so much that Miko couldn't take them. Again the young woman sprung into action. Julia noted her fighting style and thought she recognized some of it, bringing to mind exhibitions she'd seen of Shaolin practitioners. And another style too, but one she couldn't remember. She was still getting used to the fire and air manipulation involved. Miko's attacks were swift enough that none of the enemy got off more than a wildly-inaccurate shot that hit nothing.

Julia moved on into the room and approached what looked like a control station. It was rigged to a triangle-shaped middle platform, with three distinct circles in the surface with black outlining like a framework, and an orange-yellow glow emanating from within. She examined the station, her knowledge of German tested by the effort.

Behind her, Miko twisted on her foot, her fist coming up in a motion that the air on the floor followed, creating an upward gust of air that blew the weapon right out of the hands of her last opponent. She continued the circular motion and swung her other arm forward, creating a second powerful gust of air, more of a horizontal tornado, that sent the soldier flying into the wall behind him. "Do you know what to do?"

"I'm not sure. My German's never been the best." Julia blinked and forced her tired mind to think. It looks like the SS weren't sure how this worked either. The power source is beyond their technology… looking at these figures, it's even more advanced than naqia-based power generation. What is…

Without warning pain erupted across the surface of her body. Julia let out a cry and collapsed, stunned by the ferocity of it. The nanobots! was the agonized thought that came to her.

Miko heard her scream and turned toward her. Through the portal beyond, Erik Fassbinder stood, flanked on each side by a soldier. A sinister sneer formed on his face while malevolent glee shined in his unnatural yellow eyes. He pulled his right hand away from the gauntlet on his left hand and wrist. "Well well, I see you had some fight left in you," he noted. "Perhaps we should have put you through sessions as well."

"Leave her alone!" Miko went into motion a moment later, diving for cover as a green energy beam came at her, narrowly missing. She hit the floor opposite of the power station. Another strangled cry came from Julia as Miko crouched in readiness.

"We have you cornered, untermensch," Fassbinder continued. "Your… metaphysical talents will not avail you, especially against me." He nodded to the soldiers, who moved forward to flank Miko.

Through the pain Julia tried to command her body to move. To tackle, to retrieve her own stolen weapon, anything, but the nanobots were doing their job too well. She simply couldn't do more than writhe from her body's desperate, instinctive attempt to escape overpowering agony. The only thing her effort gave her was another strangled cry.

"You have much spirit, Kapitan, but it will be broken." Fassbinder tapped at the gauntlet again, or rather an omnitool interface that formed around the same lower arm. A holo-viewer popped into place showing video from orbit. The Aurora was central to it. Blackened patches of hull were visible, and the blue flickering of her deflectors was noticeably weakening. Beside her a small vessel with a dark gray hull was suffering from multiple hull breaches and related fires. "I wanted you to watch as your precious ship dies. With all of your friends aboard."

Through the pain Julia noticed the viewer. Desperation filled her at the sight.

"I have called for reinforcements from the fleet. Your allies on the planet may hold out for a time, but they will be overwhelmed," he continued. "Their rescue attempt will be for naught. I suppose I could just kill you here…" A wicked grin came to his face. "But we have so much left to do, Kapitan, so very many things…"

By this point his troops were almost in position. Each was ready for Miko to pop from cover as well.

Not quite as ready, perhaps, for her to come at one of them.

Which is precisely what she did, with flames streaming from her feet. Instead of bending air or fire at her target, the one coming from Fassbinder's right, she tackled him physically with such speed that both went flying into the wall. Or rather, her foe did, but she jumped away at the last moment, again with such speed that the other soldier was still tracking to shoot at her. She hit the floor hands first and swept her legs parallel to the ground. A wave of flame rushed across the room and slammed into the SS trooper and his weapon, knocking it out of his hands as he hit the ground.

She was turning to Fassbinder when the lightning stuck her. The same purple tinged lightning Fassbinder had tormented Julia with for days enveloped Miko, drawing a cry of agony from her as she went to her knees.

"Do you think your talents are a match for mine?! Against my superior blood, my natural perfection, and the power that it is enhanced by?!" Fassbinder intensified the lightning shooting from his hands. "I know what you are supposed to be, and it makes me laugh! A whelp like you is the champion of your world, their precious Avatar?! How pathetic! You are nothing!"

Through clenched teeth MIko forced herself back up to one foot. The pain was excruciating. She felt like the energy assailing her was not just harming her body but her spirit, draining her vitality. It was going to kill her.

She glanced toward Julia, who visibly struggled with the pain paralyzing her. Her eyes were locked on the viewer hovering over Fassbinder's lower left arm, the viewer showing her ship struggling to survive, turning and twisting and taking fire and returning it. Julia's head twisted to face hers, and while there was pain in her green eyes, Miko saw the same determination she'd noticed before.

They'd come so far, despite everything.

And, Miko decided, they would go further still.

With a roar of pain and defiance forming in her throat, MIko gathered her energy and swung her right fist forward. Flame erupted from the air in front of her fist, forming a vast crimson tongue that enveloped Fassbinder's left arm. He let out a surprised, agonized shriek and stumbled backward, the lightning he was channeling into her ceasing. Freed from it Miko rose to her feet and channeled a gust of wind that slammed Fassbinder against the far wall. It didn't knock him out, but it bought her another few seconds.

Her… and Julia.

The flame hadn't merely harmed Fassbinder. Miko's power made it hot enough to melt the circuitry of the composite materials inside his gauntlet. The loss of signal disengaged the nanobots that were tormenting her. The pain filling her body ceased. She remained on the floor for a moment, gasping for air.

Her eyes remained fixed on the screen still beside Fassbinder's forearm, the holo-viewer displaying the ongoing fight in orbit, and her ship, her friends, continuing a desperate struggle to survive… a struggle to save her.

Why isn't the rest of the fleet here? she wondered. Why haven't they called in help? The comm systems or jump anchor couldn't have been taken out that quickly

Fassbinder got back to his feet and channeled his lightning again. Miko dodged to the side and threw another bolt of flame at him, one he dodged as well with speed beyond normal human levels. Undaunted Miko nearly caught him with a wide-arcing wind gust generated by a roundhouse kicking motion, causing him to fall back into the wall, but not knocking him down.

Julia forced herself to think. They can't call for help… that's it. That's the jammer mentioned before. She wasn't sure how, but something about this city - a city that was clearly made by another species, not the Darglan - something in this city allowed the SS to jam interuniversal technology.

How much power would that require? She wasn't sure, but she suspected it might be a lot. And that meant her instincts had been right. They had to disable the power systems.

Her muscles protested Julia's commands to move. She ignored the resulting pain, the ache, demanding her legs and arms to shift. To get her back on her feet. The effort was taking everything she had left, with the combat drugs now nearly depleted, but she had to move. Her ship, her friends, her comrades, her crew, they all needed her to move.

She got back to her knees while, nearby, Fassbinder caught Miko with a blast of lightning even as she nailed him with another fire blast. Both faltered, which let Miko avoid the follow-up attack. Julia reached up and used the nearby station to pull herself up. She didn't know if she could stand, but at least she could reach the controls. She read over the German language on the display and, by more intuition than knowledge, hit one of the keys.

The three circles on the triangular platform rose. Underneath the flat top of each circle, the rest looked almost like a crystal, still glowing that same yellow color. Black lines ran over the objects. Whatever they were, she wasn't sure, but it was clear they were part of the power system.

Behind her now, Miko somersaulted over another burst of lightning from Fassbinder. Julia overheard the snap-hiss of a lightsaber activating, and the fast buzz of it scything through the air. Fassbinder grunted a moment later, having presumably missed his attack on Miko.

Julia gripped the station and pulled herself up. Her arms threatened to quit. Her legs didn't want to take her weight. She made them. She forced them. This got her high enough to lean over the platform and start removing the crystalline objects. The light within each died as she pulled them out, one after the other.

When the last one came out, the room's lights temporarily died before flashing back on.

Julia had only seconds to feel victorious before Miko slammed into her, sending both to the ground. Before she could even begin to think of moving, Fassbinder's deadly lightning played over her and over Miko, drawing cries from both.

"Enough games," he roared, his voice full of impatience. "Die!"

The Aurora bridge shook once more under the command crew, straining them against their harnesses. "Shields down to nine percent, cohesion loss is escalating," Tra'dur reported from Ops.

Meridina didn't react. There was no point. The Aurora, while fighting back, was under as much fierce fire as the other ships. The General Iroh was nearly crippled at this point, the Koenig was suffering major damage, and multiple flames and hull breaches were visible on the Avatar Kiyoshi. By all appearances, the battle was lost.

And yet, Meridina did not feel like they were lost.

"Maintain fire," she ordered.

On her board Tra'dur noted the damage increasing to the ship's hull. Ensign Mallory, at Engineering, reported the loss of ten percent effectiveness in the armor self-repair systems, while she noted the system damage from the incoming fire no longer being stopped by the failing deflectors.

For the hundredth time since the battle began, Tra'dur checked the IU comm system.

Even as she did, Cat cried out, "Captain, the interference pattern from the planet, it's dissipating!"

Meridina felt the hope fill the others. Tra'dur breathed a silent prayer of thanks to her own gods and preempted Meridina's command of "Contact Defense Command with our situation". She sent the signal out into the network, including a data packet on everything happening, including the enemy concentration.

The ship shook again. One of the remaining Republic ships came apart from an SS-fired missile, leaving only half a dozen of them, most nearly crippled. A disruptor beam created a plasma leak in the lower starboard nacelle.

Did they receive us? Tra'dur wondered. They should have received us, they're not going to just…

Her board blinked. "Multiple signatures are locking onto our jump drive!" she called out.

Moments later, the natural result came. "Interuniversal jump points forming!" Caterina cried.

Given the events of the past week, this no longer carried the immediate and instinctive relief it used to, even given Tra'dur's report. Not until Cat added, "They're ours!"

Even as a multitude of Alliance starships appeared, more jump points formed. Cat tried to identify individual ships, but she gave up when their number hit thirty. Her screens showed a varied number of vessels. Earth Confederacy ships, Sol Republic, Colonial Confederation, a number of the Alliance dedicated designs…

...and Gersallians. Lots of Gersallians.

The arriving Alliance fleet engaged with a gleeful vigor. Weapons fire of all types descended upon the SS flotilla. An SS cruiser trying to finish off the General Iroh found itself assailed by an Alakin warbird, two Dorei starbirds, and a Sol Republic cruiser. Gersallian destroyers launched a barrage of torpedoes that blasted away the shields of another SS cruiser, allowing one of the arriving Excalibur-class battlecruisers, the Zulfiqar, to devastate the cruiser with its powerful pulse plasma cannon armament. Another of the same, the Kusanagi, blew apart an Innsbruck with her starboard weapons even as her bow armament wrecked a Sedan-class ship. SS destroyers attempting a torpedo run on the Avatar Kiyoshi found themselves under the gun from multiple Trigger-class attack ships, cousins of the Koenig, and a light Dorei starbird.

The command officers on the Avatar Kiyoshi were more than grateful from the sight, and also quite astonished. The variety of the incoming ships was like nothing they'd imagined.

"We're picking up a signal from one of the incoming vessels," Tra'dur noted. "It's the Kentan."

"This is Admiral Maran of the Allied Systems to friendly vessels," stated the esteemed Gersallian admiral. "Do what you must to protect yourselves. We will assume your burden."

Even as he spoke, Meridina and Hanraq and Saizen and Zack all noted the Kentan joining the fray, turning her guns on the SS battlecruiser trying to kill the Aurora and Avatar Kiyoshi. Powerful beams started eviscerating the damaged battlecruiser, which lacked the shield strength to resist the Kentan's batteries. The tactical officers on the Gersallian flagship proved efficient in their carving up of the SS vessel.

The SS ships responded gradually, without cohesion, with one clear goal: escape. And with that came an end to the threat against the Aurora and the other vessels that had fought so hard at their side.

Fassbinder's rage, his hate, poured through his being and into the lightning assailing Julia and Miko. They struggled, they cried out, but nothing could free them from the grip of the lightning.

Fassbinder was so focused on them that he failed to notice the arrival of Robert and Ursa. They stormed through the door to find the sight of their loved ones under his assault. Ursa rushed forward, driven by maternal fury, and thrust both palms forward, screaming, "Leave my daughter alone!"

As she did, Robert took in Miko's features. Recognition shot through his mind. He'd seen her before, in his dreams, in the visions the Flow of Life had often given him. The same red and gold outfit, tattered, the same face and amber-colored eyes.

And beneath and beside her, Julia was laid out, spent utterly. Just seeing her brought a surge of emotions through him. Worry for her condition, relief that she was alive, happiness that he'd found her, he wasn't going to lose her...

He was so intent on that that he didn't sense the danger until it was too late.

The blue flame that came from Ursa's palms was so tight as to almost be a beam. Fassbinder reacted almost immediately, moving just enough to avoid the flame. He turned to face his new foe and the lightning from his hand followed, enveloping Ursa. She stopped in place, seized by it, and struggled to move forward.

Fassbinder didn't give her the chance. He shot forward and plunged his lightsaber into her chest.

Robert was already in the middle of reacting as the crimson energy blade came out through Ursa's back. She let out a surprised, pained choke as his hands came up. Raw power rushed from his being and struck Fassbinder, or rather his gathering defenses. Fassbinder turned his lightning on Robert, who intercepted it with his lightsaber.

Whatever battle they might have had was terminated with a loud, terrible wail. "Mother!" screamed Miko. Grief and horror filled the young woman at the sight of her fallen parent. "MOTHER! NO!" Both combatants felt the power shift in the room, a sudden and terrifying thing.

Again Miko cried out, "NOOOO!!!", and with that cry power, pure energy, surged and exploded from around her. Her eyes flashed to pure white and the air beneath her wrapped around until it literally picked her up from the ground. She looked to Fassbinder with pain and rage written on her face, while the SS officer was utterly transfixed by the raw power he felt inside of Miko. So transfixed, in fact, that he did nothing to stop the flame that erupted from her outstretched hand. It enveloped the right side of his body, drawing from Fassbinder an agonized and terrified scream. A wind gust exploded from Miko, throwing both Robert and Fassbinder back into the chamber wall, even pushing Julia's prone form at least one meter away from Miko. The wind and the impact put out most of the flames afflicting Fassbinder.

Robert managed to absorb the impact partially with his own power, keeping it from causing injury. He stared at the sight of Miko, her eyes glowing with solid white light, sheer power circulating around her. The Flow of Life itself seemed to burn with the intensity of the energies. Indeed, there seemed to be an entirely new presence within Miko, as if a second being was manifesting within and through her, fueling this display of raw energy.

With the right side of his face a massive burn, Fassbinder reached his left hand out. One of the crystalline power core pieces flew through the air and into his palm. A finger on the right hand, burnt as well, struck at the omnitool interface over his left forearm. He bellowed "Transport me now!" in German and vanished in a column of bright light.

Miko screamed in frustration. Not just at Fassbinder's escape, as Robert could feel her terror at the realization that she couldn't control this power raging inside and around her. The winds still whipped around her, turning Miko into the center of a tornado. Robert took a step forward and felt like the wind might throw him off his feet.

Nearby Julia's head rose. Her eyes widened at the sight of Miko.

"Julia! Julia, help me!" Miko cried. "I… I can't control it!"

The sudden feeling of a surge of power interrupted the ongoing duel that had now made its way to the outside of the city. Lucy parried a blow from her clone while Gina, behind her, had an offensive strike parried in turn. These were the last strikes made as all four felt the energy whipping up within the city's heart. "My God, what is that?" Lucy gasped.

Their counterparts briefly seemed ready to keep fighting, but their aggressive intent suddenly vanished. Frowns came to them. "We will end this another time," Lucy's clone informed her, her hand going to her belt. Gina's copy did the same, and both were claimed by the buzzing white light of transporters.

Lucy lowered her weapon. "Damn," she muttered at the escape of their foes.

The Six and the Twelve materialized inside one of their heavy raiders, already launching from the tower. They found Fassbinder at the controls with one of the alien power generators beside his foot. The right side of his head was a burnt ruin, as was his right hand, and his uniform was still smoldering. He looked to them with savage fury in his intact left eye and they opted not to inquire. Behind them, more of his personnel were transporting aboard.

The Six sat down beside him at the controls. "Alliance fighters are inbound," she noted. "We must flee."

"The fold drive is already spooled," Fassbinder said. "Get us out of here."

The Six nodded, her disheveled blond locks shifting position on her head as they did. She reached for the controls and tapped several keys. "Rendezvous point coordinates loaded. Jumping."

The Cylon vessel jumped away in a flash of white light.

"I can't control it!" Miko wailed. And she couldn't. She knew what this was, of course; the Avatar State, which she'd never experienced before. She never imagined it had so much power, and that power was now wrapped up with her fury, her horror, while before her Ursa was laying on the ground, wounded badly. Mortally, she feared.

Robert watched her with fascination and worry. He'd seen this before. Another of the dreams, the visions from his life force, was now coming to fruition. But he didn't know how this would end.

Hearing Miko's words, Julia tried to rise. It was a struggle to do so, not just from the winds, but from a sheer lack of energy inside of her for such movement. With a cry of effort she managed to get herself up to all fours. Her limbs threatened to quit on her.

They never got the chance. The winds grabbed her first. She felt like she'd been sucked into a tornado and could do nothing as she was pulled into the air.

Robert, panicked by the prospect of Julia being smashed against a wall head-first, reached out with his own power and plucked her from the air. She shot through the winds to his side, and he held tightly to her, spreading his power to protect her from the winds. "We have to get to Miko!" she called out to him.

"Hold on!" With his right arm holding Julia around the waist as tightly as he could and his left stretched before him, Robert forced himself forward one step at a time. The winds threatened to tear Julia from him, or to draw them both off their feet, forcing Robert to focus the power in his own being to absorb the wind. It sloughed around him gradually, allowing him to make the forward movement.

When they were within arm's length of Miko Julia mustered every erg of energy she could to reach up and take Miko's ankle. Robert took it as well. They couldn't pull her down, but the contact helped as Robert projected himself into both. He became the bridge, allowing Julia to reach for the anguished turmoil and fear inside of Miko. Robert reached into the Flow of Life and its warmth, projecting it into Miko, while Julia's voice filled the room. "Miko, it's okay! You're safe. He's gone. We can still help your mother! Please, Miko, you can control this!"

"I… I can't," she protested. "I'm… I'm not strong enough!"

"Yes you are!" Julia insisted. "I know you are! I've seen you! You can do this, Miko! Trust me!"

As she spoke Robert continued to fill Miko's being with the power of the Flow of Life. He felt it resonate within Miko, and through that he felt her own connection to it, through it. He sensed now the presence within her, a great and powerful force. A gentle blue and white light suffused her being in his senses, and a formless being around Miko took on a translucent appearance as if an aura.

"Mother." Tears flowed down Miko's face. "My mother!"

Robert felt for Ursa. She was hurt. Badly. But her life was there, and he connected Miko to it. Your mother is alive, Miko. She's still with us.

I don't want to lose her!

I know.

We both do
, Julia added.

Together, they shared their pain with her. Their mothers, their fathers, were gone. They knew the pain she feared, and they would not see her suffer it. Not here, not in this way.

The power is within you, Miko, Robert projected into her. You can control this. Just as I had to! He shared with her his fears about his own powers once they expanded. His fears. His need to accept the power, to focus on it and control his use of it.

"You're strong enough," Julia added, speaking aloud. "Take control. You can do it."

Their thoughts, Robert's power, Julia's words, they got through to Miko. She closed her eyes and focused on the power. She felt within. I am the Avatar. I control this, it does not control me. With that thought echoing in her head, in her heart and very being, Miko's will focused on the power and directed it. She bid the winds to die down, and so they did. She ordered calm within, and the calm came, grudgingly, but it did so.

Miko dropped to the ground and then down to her knees. Immediately she crawled over to her fallen mother and pulled her up to embrace her. She wept. "Mother, hold on."

Robert turned toward the door in time to see Komin, Talara, and Yeshe enter. They all showed signs of having been in a vicious fight, but none looked deeply harmed by it. Instead their concern immediately went for Miko and Ursa. "Spirits, what happened here?" Yeshe asked.

"She needs medical attention," Robert said. "We…"

Julia reached for his face. "Robert, help me. I know where to take her!"

Despite the hoarseness of Julia's strained voice, Robert understood completely. He picked her up, lifting her feet from the ground in what was effectively a bridal carry. "Get Ursa!" he called to the others.

The Beifong cousins did so, and Komin took the burden of carrying her while Talara tried to focus her power on Ursa's lightsaber wound.

Julia didn't speak, and didn't need to. Robert sensed what she was thinking and where she thought they needed to go, and he led the others out of the power chamber. Their destination was in the tower, indeed on this floor, and while Julia wasn't completely sure of the direction, Robert felt the Flow of Life direct him toward it. He sensed her recognition of the halls, the rooms around them, the stairs they went past.

They entered a room dominated by a tank full of green fluid, attached to a wider series of fluid tanks. "Put her in! Quickly!" Julia urged.

Komin carried Ursa up the metal steps beside the tank, eventually bringing him high enough to set Ursa into it. Talara used her powers to levitate the breather mask onto Ursa's face in the second before they dropped her in with a splash of the green fluid. Robert couldn't help but notice the restraint frame built into the tank, and he wasn't surprised when the controls Julia directed him toward included a dial marked for voltage. Yeshe stepped up beside him and set her hands on it. "I do not understand this," she admitted.

"Raise the circulation," Julia instructed. "That's what I overheard them talking about."

Robert found the controls for such and shared them with Yeshe, who operated the console. Machinery began to thrum and vital signs flashed on a holo-screen. Ursa's body was in bad shape, Robert was sure, but the system seemed to consider her saveable.

Miko stepped up to the tank and looked into it. She set a hand on the tank while, within, Ursa's eyes opened slowly. "Mother," she said, setting her hand on the tank. Tears flowed freely down her eyes.

Within, Ursa slowly did the same.

Robert and Julia watched as he took a seat on the ground, his arms still holding Julia. He turned his eyes to hers at feeling her hand weakly touch his shaven chin. "You shaved? Finally?" she croaked.

"Yeah." Tears were welling into his eyes. "For you."

"For me." Tears formed in hers as well. She let out a small, low laugh. "And you cut your hair. You look… you look like you again." She giggled. "It took all of this to get you to do that!"

He laughed in response, fighting back a sniffle. "Yeah, I guess so."

For a moment they continued to chuckle and laugh, even as the tears flowed down their cheeks. Robert felt the lingering pain inside of her and tried to soothe it as best as he could, and Julia could feel him try. "You were trying to help me," Julia said in realization. "When I was in that chair…"

"I tried. Until I could get to you. Rescue you."

"Like you promised."

"Yeah. Like I promised."

Julia nodded. She still let out a few giggles, but gradually the giggling became sobbing. All of the pain, the fear that she would never get away from Fassbinder, the despair that she would never see Robert, her Robby, again, never see any of them again, it all just came flooding out of her in deep sobs.

Robert felt that. His own fears and despair that he'd lose Julia, his Julie, to the lingering and horrible death Fassbinder planned for her, and that he'd destroy who he was trying to save her, make himself unworthy of her, it flowed out too. His laughter became sobbing in turn, and he tightened the embrace, as if Julia might yet be yanked away, while he felt Julia embrace him with what little energy she had left.

Given the ordeal behind them, there could be no surprise they cried. But there was happiness in that crying.

After all, they were crying together.


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 24 October 2643 AST. Captain Meridina reporting. Our rescue mission has been a complete success. Captain Andreys and Princess Miko have been recovered from SS captivity. The SS exiles' forces have been dealt a telling blow with our victory over their trap against us. The Alliance fleet is continuing to secure the system and perform search-and-rescue operations for those vessels crippled or destroyed in the battle, with the aid of another force of vessels from the United Republic and affiliated states. There is much we still have to learn about these Humans and their particular nature, but there is no doubting their courage and willingness to stand against the forces of darkness.

While this victory has not removed the threat we now face, I believe it has aided with the morale of not only our crew, but the entire Alliance. I have found my own spirit recovering from the shock of what happened to Gersal and New Liberty.

When Jarod arrived in the ready office, Meridina was staring out the window at the sight of the ships around them. The battered Avatar Kiyoshi was now joined by a sister ship, the Avatar Aang, which looked pristine compared to the damage of the former. She turned from the sight to face Jarod. "What have you found?"

"Anders and his Marines came through for us," Jarod said. "They took the enemy command center before they could complete a memory wipe. We didn't get everything, but we've recovered quite a lot of information and intelligence."

"That is excellent news. Do we know more about their remaining facilities?"

"Some. There are four more SS bases we have coordinates for, and Maran's already sent parts of the fleet to deal with them." Jarod's expression showed his satisfaction at that. "A couple are in universes we haven't entered yet."

"Then we may yet find other allies like Princess Ursa and her world." Meridina returned to her seat. "I feel as if we have made a first contact that, on its own, would have been a momentous occasion."

"People who can literally influence elemental forces with their own will and bodies?" Jarod chuckled. "Oh yeah. I mean, biotics is one thing, there's a physical aspect to it. The same with psionics. But this is more like your abilities. It's all metaphysical. Leo's already confirmed there's nothing in their physiology that powers this."

"Indeed." Meridina gave Jarod an intent look. "And now, Commander Jarod, I would suggest you get some sleep. We all need the rest."

"So do you," Jarod pointed out. Meridina sensed his concern. "Julia… do you think she'll be okay?"

"She has suffered a terrible ordeal. It may be some time before we know for sure," Meridina said. "But I am confident she will persevere. And she will return to us, when she is ready."

"And when the service agrees to it. I'm sure they'll require evaluations before letting her resume command. In the meantime…"

"In the meantime, we will do what we must, to ensure everything is here for her to return to."

"Right." Jarod let out a small sigh. "Well, I'd better get some rest. And so should you."

"As I said, I intend to," Meridina assured him. "And I will see you in the morning."

The door to the medbay OR slid open and Leo emerged, Doctors Opani and Hreept behind him. The latter two went to remove their surgical scrubs while Leo approached the waiting patients and visitors in the receiving area. Julia and Miko were in anti-grav chairs. Robert, Lucy, Gina, Talara, and the Beifong cousins were crowded around them. Miko especially showed deep apprehension when Leo stopped in front of them. "Your mother's going to be fine," he assured her. "She took some severe damage to vital organs and her spine, but whatever that healing fluid is down there, it stabilized her condition enough that we were able to repair the organs with replicated tissue. She's not a hundred percent yet, but I'm confident she's going to recover. Right now she needs to recover for a while before we can begin the spinal repair operation."

"Can I see her, Doctor?" Miko asked.

"When we've got her in the Critical Care Ward, yes. The nurses should have her transferred shortly." He turned his attention to Julia. A deep frown came to his face.

"I'll be okay, Leo," Julia said weakly.

"Right. Well, you're going to be here for a few days," he told her. "And no duty until evaluations clear you."

As he spoke, Robert felt Leo's quiet fury at what he'd found attached to Julia's body. The Eubian nanobots were nothing more than torture machines, and they'd left their mark on her nervous system.

"I figured," she said. "And I'll be a cooperative patient, don't worry. Right now I… I'm just glad to be home." Julia's voice cracked as she spoke.

Leo nodded. "I know. Let me go clean up and write my surgical report." He nodded to them and left.

Miko looked toward Robert and Julia. "Thank you," she said, for the hundredth time it seemed. "For saving my mother. I... the last time we talked we fought. We were each angry. I don't want that to be the final things we said to each other."

"I understand that, and no thanks are necessary," Robert assured her.

Miko gave him a small smile before turning to the Beifong cousins, who pushed her chair to take them to wait in Critical Care.

"Thanks for coming for me," Julia said to the others. "Thanks for everything."

"Just returning the favor," Lucy said softly. "You pulled me out of a torture chamber too, remember?".

"Duffy," Julia said simply.

"We should leave you two to talk," Lucy added, glancing to the others. She looked back to Robert and continued, "Although we should talk about Gina."

"I already processed the paperwork to add her to the team," he said.

"There's… another matter involved with that which we need to go into," Lucy said. "But it can wait." After sharing a look with the others, the three walked out.

Robert brought Julia back to the Standard Care Ward and helped her up onto her assigned bed. They were not alone here, as wounded from the battle filled nearly every bed. Julia laid down and closed her eyes for a moment. She savored the simple pleasure of a soft surface beneath her and a similarly-soft pillow under her head. With her eyes closed she didn't see Robert pull up a chair. But she did feel it when Robert took her right hand and held it within his. She opened her eyes and looked at him again. "You look better this way," she said.

"I suppose I let the long hair and the beard go on for too long," he admitted. "A goatee and a mustache, maybe?"

"I like you just the way you are," she replied. Julia felt her eyes droop close and let out a contented sigh. "I was afraid I'd never feel comfort again. Fassbinder was determined to let me have nothing."

"He's a sadistic bastard. He was even before he tapped his potential," Robert said, his voice heated. "And we let him get away again."

"We'll catch up to him eventually. And I can't imagine his bosses are going to be happy with him."

"I wouldn't think so." Robert looked at Julia's face and let out a ragged breath. His emotions welled up within him again, relief being the most powerful. "Julie, I… I'm so sorry this happened. Maybe if I'd come to you on New Liberty…"

"He would have murdered Beth," Julia said. "Just… be happy you got me back. Don't regret what happened, okay? We have enough regrets."

"Yeah." He sniffled. "I…" Robert blinked back the tears in his eyes. "Oh God, I almost lost myself," he admitted. "I was so angry with myself and with Fassbinder, with everything getting between us… I could've become something terrible. I… I just couldn't stand the thought of losing you."

"You didn't," she pointed out. "I was worried I'd never see you again. That you all died on the Colony. And that I was going to die there, alone, in pain. I was so scared that's how I was going to end. It didn't seem fair, not after everything we've done." She shook her head weakly. "I keep thinking back to all the times he was hurting me. How that might have been what the rest of my life was like."

"He'll never touch you again," Robert insisted. "I swear to it."

"Don't. You don't need to, and I don't want it," she said. "I just… right now, I want to stop that thinking. I want to forget it all happened. I just want to rest."

There was little Robert could say at that point. He simply nodded and remained quiet, even as he sensed Julia gently slide into much-needed sleep.

After leaving the medbay, Lucy and Gina left Talara to go rest and headed to Meridina's quarters. Meridina was in casual sleeping robes of cream white and blue, seated on her couch and reading a datapad when they entered. She looked up. "You fought a hard battle," she noted.

"Tell me about it. I'm getting tired of my clones trying to kill me," Lucy said. "Hell, I wonder why they cloned me in the first place."

"I am beginning to wonder if they knew, from the start, your potential for a connection to the Flow of Life," said Meridina.

"I don't know. Although I thought it wasn't just hereditary? What guarantee would they have that a clone of me could use it?"

"They might terminate any formed versions of you without the power," Gina said.

"Right. Well, we have other things to discuss."

"Indeed." Meridina set the pad down on her table. "Julia has been recovered. We have damaged the SS exiles. Certainly we have won a victory for the Light to offset what occurred. But so much remains unexplained."

"I've got one big question for you," said Lucy. "Who took Swenya's Blade, and why?"

"It wasn't the Inner Circle, that's clear," said Gina. "And the Order has found no evidence it was taken by one of our own during the attack."

"At least nobody who survived," Lucy said. "But we do have another suspect. That mysterious ship that helped us, the one that bought us time to evacuate people. Who were they and what were they doing there?"

"Who would steal the blade and turn around and help us?" Gina asked. "It doesn't make sense."

"There is something about this we still do not know," Meridina remarked. "This calls for meditation."

"And work," said Gina. "Ledosh gave his life to ensure we got the Life of Reshan, not the Brotherhood. We need to figure out the secret he thought he'd found."

"Well, we'll help in anyway we can," Lucy promised. "You've got the books in your room, right? Maybe I can get Jarod to help out too? He finished learning Gersallian, and he's always up for puzzles."

"An excellent idea."

"I'll take it up with him tomorrow, then," Lucy promised. She let out a tired breath. "I think we should get some rest too. It's been a tough week, and I have a feeling things are only going to get worse."

"Indeed they will," noted Meridina. "The forces of darkness have revealed themselves to us, and their strength is greater than we imagined. We must be ready for their next move."

Lucy and Gina nodded, and left to take up their own rest. Meridina, for her part, returned to her bedroom and laid down in her bed. She would get what rest she could, knowing that it would likely not last long for the Alliance, not with their enemies working together.

But whatever came, Meridina had faith they would prevail in the end.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

Other projects have kept me busy, and will for the forseeable future. To hold you over until then, here is Episode 3-19.


Personal Log of Julia Andreys, Captain. 28 October 2643 AST.

Leo's finally released me from the medbay, after four days of observation. I still have to check in with him daily but at least I'm able to live in my quarters again.

Well, quarters anyway. My quarters are no longer mine. I've been removed from command of the
Aurora. Because of… what was done to me. Command is mandating two months of medical leave. And I can't return to duty until I've passed physical and psychiatric evaluations to the satisfaction of Defense Command.

I understand that it's something they have to do. They have to make sure I'm still capable of command after going through that. But I… I hate it anyway. I want my ship back. I want to get my life back to normal… well, as much as this life's been normal anyway. Instead I have to go through this… process, and getting treated like a piece of china that's going to break if you look at it the wrong way.

In a way, it's like Fassbinder is still torturing me. Still hurting me. Even though he's not. <sigh> Alright, I need to finish packing. No more of this for now.

Julia picked up the photograph of her with her parents - and Robert, his sister Susannah, and Angel and Cat Delgado - that was taken after her high school basketball team won the state championship in their division. Seeing her parents always provoked a distant, sharp pain in her heart. If she'd known at that time they only had four years of life left… well, she'd have made different decisions. Robert undoubtedly felt the same way about his parents and sister, taken before their time.

It also reminded her of that frantic night. The tight game, the tension in the air as it went down to the wire, the jubilation when Marcy Lewis hit that three pointer with a minute left and they took the lead for good, and the satisfying swishing of the free throws Julia sunk at the thirty second mark to put the game away. At the time it seemed to be her greatest accomplishment. The idea that she'd end up captaining a spaceship that could jump across universes… that was insanity to the 17 year old Julia in the picture.

She never expected she would get tortured by Nazis either, Julia mused as she set the picture in the bin. She affixed the lid to the plastic container.

"I know the sentiment," said a lilting voice. From the other side of the room, Meridina looked up from the container she was gently laying Julia's trophies in. Meridina was in uniform, as Julia was, and now shared Julia's number of rank strips as well. For the time being, the Gersallian woman - and even after four years Julia was still sometimes put off by the thought she was alien - was the serving Captain of Julia's ship. Since Julia picked her to be the First Officer, it lacked the sting that someone else holding the post might have had.

"Your life hasn't taken the direction you expected either," Julia said, acknowledging the point. "Without us, you'd still be in the Order of Swenya. A field swev… sweev…. Knight."

"Yes. I had no inclinations to this kind of life," Meridina said. "Only to uphold the Code of Swenya. But our destinies are intertwined, and so I am here, a swevyra'se no longer."

"Do you miss it?"

Julia's question prompted a thoughtful look from Meridina. "Sometimes," she confessed. "When I am compelled to deal with the minutiae of command."

Julia smiled at that. "You're telling me the Order doesn't have paperwork?"

"Not nearly the same." Meridina matched the smile. "And do you miss the simpler life you might have had? Playing these sports?"

The answer was immediate. "No. Not at all." Julia picked up another picture, this one from high school graduation. Angel was in it as well, as was freckle-faced, red-haired Marcy Lewis and dark-haired, blue-eyed Jessica Rockledge, another member of the team. She glanced it over for a moment before setting it in her duffel bag, the last available container for her things. "I mean, the games could be exciting. And I had a lot of responsibilities as captain of the team. But I wanted more. I had faith in my ability to be more. Being out here… it's more than I ever dreamed of, and I'd never give it up."

"That answer is true to who you are, yes," Meridina said. "I can sense that. Hopefully it will not be long…"

"I won't be back until the end of the year," Julia said. She gave her quarters, now empty of her personal items, a look before asking, "So, when are you moving in?"

"I am not going to yet," replied Meridina. "Until Command confirms whether or not I will be held on as Captain of the Aurora."

Julia nodded stiffly at that. The thought stung. Even freed from Fassbinder, he's still ruining my life.

There was a little concern in Meridina's voice when she asked, "I am going to Deck 6 to visit Robert on another matter. Would you like me to escort you to your new quarters?"

Julia's first impulse was to say no, but she reconsidered. There were a few boxes to carry, after all. "Lead the way, Meridina," Julia said.

After aiding Julia to her new quarters, Meridina moved on toward Robert's. She met Gina at the door carrying Mastrash Ledosh's protective case. Robert answered the door wearing civilian clothing: a blue T-shirt with the faded insignia of what Meridina knew to be his former "high school" along with a pair of loose blue trousers of Gersallian make. He welcomed them in and to the middle of his living area, where he took a seat while they took the couch. Gina laid the case on the table between them and removed the two books within.

"So this is what Ledosh was working on," Robert said, picking up the newer-looking of the two books. He opened it and read the neat printed High Gersallian text within. "This looks like a book on language analysis," he noted.

"Yes, by a scholar from several centuries ago, Gartanam," noted Meridina. "He studied the dialects of Swenya's time."

Robert checked the other book. It was considerably older and more worn, but the cover still bore fine calligraphy. He read the title. "'The Life of Reshan.'"

"The only existing copy," Gina added. "The volume dates back to Swenya's time as well. It was one of a few books to survive the burning of the Order Library during Kohbal's uprising. Some time afterward, the Order Council placed it on a limited access list. Only a Mastrash of the Council was permitted to even touch it."

"Well, that's not ominous," Robert mused openly. "So Gartanam's book helps you read this one?"

"More than that," said Meridina. "Mastrash Ledosh noticed, and we have confirmed, that there are inaccuracies in the text. Words or lettering that have no place in contemporary language of the time, according to Gartanam's research."

"It appears to be intentional." Gina reached into the case and brought out a pile of notes, all in Gersallian. "Mastrash Ledosh believed they were a code of sorts."

"As in, the out of place letters and whole words are actually hidden text?"


Robert found that interesting. He looked over the notes. He knew enough Gersallian to understand what was written. "'The Circle'," he read aloud, looking over one of the notes. "Didn't that sympathetic Cylon say something to you and Talara about that?"

"She did," Gina said. "We don't know what it means, though."

"There's more to decode, I'm guessing?"

"Yes." Gina nodded. "Mastrash Ledosh's notes are allowing me to reconstruct what he learned. I know it was a weight on his soul."

"I'll give what help I can. Now…"

There was a tone from Meridina's omnitool, and a holographic blue light appeared over the back of her left hand. She tapped at it. "Meridina here," she said.

"We're only ten minutes out from our destination," said Nick Locarno, currently minding the bridge.

"Thank you, Commander," Meridina answered. "I will be coming up shortly."

When Meridina arrived on the bridge with Robert beside her, now in his intelligence branch silver-trimmed uniform with the aiguillette that pretended he was a mere staff officer, she found the rest of the command crew were already assembled and at their posts. Even Scotty and Leo, who normally remained in Main Engineering and the medbay, were present. While Ensign Rawlins, a young African-American officer from New Orleans in Universe H1E1, manned the helm Nick Locarno was seated in the First Officer's seat to the right of the command chair, while Lieutenant Tra'dur of the Dilgar was minding her post of Operations, Jarod's usual place.

Scotty and Leo were not the only visitors to the bridge. The allies the Aurora crew made in the rescue of Julia were around as well. Princess Ursa of the Fire Nation was seated comfortably in an anti-grav chair provided by medbay. That she was fit enough to be present was a good indicator from her recovery from the critical wounds she'd suffered in the rescue. Ursa's daughter Miko, rescued along with Julia, was at the chair's handles. The young woman showed keen interest in the Aurora bridge and those upon it. Both she and her mother wore a matching set of something like Japanese kimonos, colored deep red with gold trim, with Ursa's hair held at top of her head by a metal band marked with a golden fire symbol. Beside them, Yeshe Beifong was standing wearing a set of yellow and orange robes that left her right arm bare, revealing thin, corded muscle on the limb.

The three looked like ordinary Human beings, or to Meridina's eyes, Gersallians. Only she and Robert felt the difference within them. The peculiar energy each enjoyed, particularly Miko, that made them and their people such a unique part of the Multiverse. While there were many in all universes who could feel their connection to the Flow of Life, and use that connection to achieve all manner of things, Miko, Ursa, and Yeshe had abilities that were not quite the same, but just as extraordinary. They were known to the people of their world as "Benders": Human beings with the ability to manipulate basic elements with their wills. Yeshe could manipulate air, Ursa could generate and manipulate fire, and Miko could do both, for she was the Avatar, a being born and reborn to each nation of her world and the ability to "bend" all four of the Elements.

Truly the Multiverse is a magnificent place, with many wonders to find, Meridina considered. She turned her attention to more immediate matters, however. "ETA, Mister Locarno?" she asked.

"We're dropping out of warp in thirty seconds," he replied cheerfully from his chair. "You made it right on time."

"I wonder what the others will think," thought Miko aloud. "About this ship, and your people. We never imagined we would find anything like your Alliance in the stars."

"I only wish we had met your Alliance before we met your enemies," Ursa added solemnly.

"As do we," Meridina replied.

Nothing more was said before Rawlins announced they were dropping out of warp. The warp engines of the Aurora gently quieted and the Aurora was reduced to sublight velocity. Ahead of them a small garden world hung in the void, a distant moon beyond it and a bright yellow star similar to Sol shining in the distance. A series of space stations hung in orbit, two over the poles and three closer to the equator. The amount of space traffic was not quite the level of the most advanced Earths or of major worlds of the Multiverse such as Thessia, Minbar, or Doreia, but every indication was that this was a civilization advanced enough that spaceflight was a part of everyday life.

Tears were shining in Miko's eyes at the sight. "Home," said the young Avatar. "We're finally home."

Undiscovered Frontier
"Finding Peace"

For a short time there was quiet on the Aurora bridge as they approached the homeworld of Miko and the others. Most of those present were simply taking in the lines of the massive continent on the screen.

The first sound was a restrained little squeal of excitement from the port side of the bridge. Everyone turned to see Cat busily examining her screens. "These scans are incredible!" she said. "The stability, the wavelengths in the Groenitz-Hallen bands… this is so incredible!"

"Commander?" Meridina asked, inquiring with her tone.

"I'm reading three distinct energy patterns on the planet," Cat said. "Consistent with rifts in the basic fabric of space-time. But they're all fully stable! I've never even heard of anything like this! It's… it's not even like the Bajoran Wormhole! It's entirely new!"

"You must be referring to the Spirit Portals," Miko said. "They provide our link to the Spirit World."

Meridina considered what Miko said while her own senses felt keenly the peculiar diversion in the Flow of Life. It was not such a complete diversion as to leave her incapable of using any of her talents, but it was more significant here than any other world she'd seen in universe N1C4.

These portals, they seem to have a link to the Flow of Life in some way. As do the powers of the people here. There is much we have to learn, things about the Flow of Life we may never have imagined.

"Captain." Tra'dur spoke English with the same accent her mother used, with tones that Meridina knew to be associated with the Indian subcontinent of the Human homeworld. "We are receiving a hail from the surface."

"Put them on," Meridina answered.

The holo-viewscreen flashed to show a round table. Over three of the chairs, a flatscreen display showed the features of assorted people. Given the appearances, one was clearly related to Ursa and Miko. Two more of the chairs were occupied, one by a woman in a flowing crimson dress and blue-toned business jacket, the other by a man in a brown jacket and beige dress shirt. His lapels had an insignia, a circle with a square cut out of the middle of it.

Meridina spoke first. "This is Captain Meridina, current commander of the Starship Aurora of the United Alliance of Systems."

The brown-jacketed man nodded. "I am Sun Lan, Premier of the Earth Union and current Chairman of the Five Nations' Council. The Council and I speak for the Compact and welcome you and your Alliance to our Homeworld."

"Thank you for the welcome, Chairman," Meridina replied.

"We, and the peoples of the Five Nations, thank your people for your critical role in rescuing the Avatar. We are prepared to open full diplomatic relations with the Alliance of Systems."

"And we have come with a diplomatic team to do the same," said Meridina. "We will beam down shortly to meet with you."

"'Beam down'... ah, your teleport technology. Yes. Please, we await you in Council Tower, and look forward to opening discussions."

"We will be down shortly," answered Meridina.

The Aurora transporters created a spectacle for the assembly waiting for Meridina and the others. She, Miko, and an Alliance diplomatic first contact team led by a blue-skinned, purple-spotted and -haired Dorei woman, Yuria Tashke, materialized in bursts of white light in the South Garden of the Council Tower. Sun Lan was waiting for them with the woman in the red dress and blue jacket. While Sun Lan looked East Asian, she had a darker skin tone and looked more like someone from the Indian subcontinent. Armored figures stood with both, half of them women with their faces painted white.

Also present were news crews, a mix of camera-bearers, reporters for televised news service, and journalists. Meridina noticed the surprise and shock rippling through them. While she looked Human, Secretary Tashke was visibly non-Human, as was her chief of staff, another Dorei of light teal skin and dark purple spotting. One of the cultural analysts was a blue-feathered, gray-skinned Alakin.

Sun Lan was presumably better prepared for meeting alien life. "Avatar Miko. Captain Meridina and honored guests. Welcome to Republic City."

"Thank you, Premier. This is my superior, Yuria Tashke, of the Dorei species. She is one of our diplomats, a specialist in the field of first contact with new civilizations."

"Premier, a pleasure," Yuria said. "I come representing the peoples and species of the United Alliance of Systems, and our President, Henry Morgan."

A Human woman of East Asian background stepped up beside her, looking rather more normal for their hosts. "I am Council Representative Seong Yeo-reum, of the Council Committee on Foreign Relations. I also thank you for the welcome."

Sun Lan nodded again before indicating the woman beside him. "This is Priyanka Dravad, President of the United Republic and Vice Chairwoman of the Council."

"Welcome to Republic City," the woman said, nodding in turn.

As it turned out, the handshake was part of the culture here as well, and so all shook hands, the Dorei keeping their gloves on for the ritual due to their natural touch-based empathic abilities. All the while the cameras kept recording. Meridina sensed the anxiety and disbelief in the assembled, with an undercurrent of excitement that in some cases turned to a sort of giddiness. This was history in the making, something that was to forever transform this world and those who lived upon it.

After everything was complete they entered the Tower. A pair of lifts were waiting to take them up. Meridina ended up in a lift with President Dravad, Miko, and Under-Secretary Tashke. The lifts were windowed and, as they lifted above the structure of the bottom two floors, proved to be on the exterior of the Tower itself, giving an unrivaled view of the city.

"Yue Bay is beautiful," said Miko.

Meridina could not disagree. The waters bordering the city were pristine, a rich crystal blue. In the middle of the bay were two islands. One held the statue of a young man, little more than a boy, in robes similar to Yeshe Beifong's clothing. The other was a series of buildings, all of them being round in structure. Meridina's heart ached at how the architecture reminded her of the Great Temple of the Order of Swenya, now nothing but a memory due to the Cylons.

The bay was ringed by the skyline of a great metropolis. Great and tall buildings soared into the sky, some reaching the heights of the best in Gersal's capital Jantarihal, her hometown. Landward they were framed by the mountains in the distance, snowcapped and beautiful. Yue Bay aside, the city reminded her of Jantarihal.

Yue Bay… and one other thing. While the Bay was ringed by the metropolis, the great towering buildings were missing from the landmass between them. Flanked by two rivers, a peninsula jutted out from the areas to the east of the city center. Only shorter buildings were visible here in similar style to those of the island in the bay. The light of the day did little to obscure the pillar of golden light rising from the peninsula. Even here Meridina could feel a pull through the Flow of Life. Its energies were tied into the pillar at its base. "That is…"

"...the Spirit Portal, yes," said Premier Sun Lan.

"We detected it from orbit, but I was unaware it would look so… beautiful."

"It is the unique one. The portals at the poles are blue in color."

"How were such things made?" asked Under-Secretary Tashke.

"The making of the polar portals is lost to our histories," replied President Draved. "Supposedly the Chaos Spirit, Vaatu, made them long ago, before being defeated by Raava. This portal is far newer. It was created two centuries ago by Avatar Korra to save the city from the tyrant Kuvira's energy cannon."

"The weapon was overloading," Miko said. "Korra re-directed its energies, channeling them into forming the portal."

"I can sense it, even here," said Meridina. "The Flow of Life pools around it. Almost as if it is sustained by the energies of the Flow."

"What is this 'Flow of Life' you're talking about?" asked Sun Lan.

"It is an energy field formed by the life energies of all living things, through what my people call swevyra," Meridina explained. "Some beings, such as myself, have swevyra that is active, and can connect to the universe and the Flow of Life. It grants us abilities beyond the physical."

"It sounds like you are describing chi," said Dravad.

"Chi… I believe I have heard this word before. I may need to investigate further…"

The lift came to a stop, and with it the conversation. The groups filed out of the lifts and through the hall beyond into a chamber. The walls were polished beige and gold, and the floor a fine marble tile marked with the repeated motif of five symbols in an arrangement that brought to mind the pedals of a flower. Meridina recognized the five from the materials on this world already provided: the flame crest of the Fire Nation in black, the three spirals of the Air Nation, the blue cresting waves of the Water Tribes, the circle with an open square in the middle of the Earth Union, and the crest of the United Republic.

The same symbol was on top of a circular table with five seats. Attendants brought up many more for the Alliance contingent, albeit smaller ones.

Sun Lan sat in one of the seats and tapped a button. The screens came active, showing three more beings. One, a wizened old woman with many years showing in the wrinkles on her face, wore an elaborate series of red and yellow robes. A blue arrow tattoo covered her forehead, the blue line going up to the top of her head and the hairline of wispy white strands there. The second viewer was of a dark-tanned man with a bearded face, wearing an elaborate garb of blue and white. The third was another man, with a pointed beard and full mustache of gray hair. His clothing matched Miko's in appearance and coloration, and Meridina could see the family resemblance.

"My colleagues," said Sun Lan. "Master Gewa of the Air Nation, High Chief Iqnarak of the Confederated Water Tribes, and Fire Lord Daizon of the Fire Nation."

Tashke and Seong bowed in respect, as did Meridina and the others. Miko did as well, smiling softly at her grand-uncle's image. Meridina thought she saw his expression shift ever so slightly to relief, but whether she did or not, he remained focused on business.

One thing she did sense was an undercurrent of anxiety. Uncertainty. These people were still wondering what they were dealing with, it seemed, and diplomacy would thus be all the more critical.

Again thanks were given for their role in Miko's rescue. Tashke responded with, "We thank the Five Nations' Compact for their aid in the battle with the SS Exiles. It was the heroism of General Hanraq's fleet that saved the Starship Aurora, and granted the time for the enemy's jamming field to be lowered and our fleet to arrive." The Dorei woman nodded her head. "While our first contact was not made under the easiest circumstances, it is clear that our peoples share many values, and we wish to build upon that."

"Of course. And it would appear we have become part of a much larger community of nations," stated Iqnarak. "I hope you will understand some nervousness we may have at the prospect. Before our encounter, we had no idea that other Human life forms existed, much less species such as your own, Under-Secretary Tashke. The Multiverse is… a lot for our people to take in."

"We have seen such before," said Seong. "And we understand the importance of giving your people time to adjust. If it is your wish that we limit contact for a time, we will do so."

"That will not be necessary, I think," said Daizon. "Care will have to be taken, but your people fought and died alongside ours. We are bound by their sacrifices."

Meridina opted to bring up a question. "Then would your Council oppose my crew being granted leave rights, to visit your world?"

"They are welcome," Dravad said. "The matter that most concerns me is this 'city base' that the invaders were using. I am told that it is a technological marvel thousands of years old, with technology beyond even your own."

Meridina noticed the tension in the room spiking slightly. "That is what it appears to be," she confirmed at Tashke's nod.

"Then control of this city must be determined, and our rights to it guaranteed," said Sun Lan. "It is, after all, in our home universe, at the frontier of our space."

"It is," Tashke agreed.

Whatever Tashke was going to say next didn't get a chance to be said. Miko spoke up. "There are so many important things we have to discuss. The city can wait. We already share it, don't we? There are Compact and Alliance personnel living there and examining the place. Why fight over it?"

Eyes turned to face her. Some were understanding. Many were not. Meridina felt the young Avatar's notice that her remarks were not welcomed, but nevertheless Miko didn't flinch from the negative attention. She felt her point was valid, and wanted it recognized.

Sun Lan did so with a nod. "The Avatar is correct. As things stand, both sides are holding the city. A final disposition can be settled once we have determined the nature of the relationship to come between the Alliance and the Compact."

"We are ready to discuss these matters at your convenience, Excellency," Tashke said in a quiet diplomatic tone.

That discussion picked up. As it did, Meridina pondered what else that the team at the old city had discovered in the time since the Aurora left them for the Compact's Homeworld.

Many light years away, the ancient city in question was in its twilight hours. With night approaching lights were becoming active at all corners of the structure and its five adjoining platforms.

The central structure was the tallest, and it was at the top floor of this tower that Jarod, Tom Barnes, and Lucy Lucero were gathered in a command room, looking over inactive displays.

Nearby, Komin Beifong, cousin of Yeshe, looked over a display of what seemed to be the city. The display, however, showed not five but six of the structures arrayed around it.

They were not alone. A number of personnel, some in Alliance uniform and some wearing the various uniforms of the Five Nations Compact, milled about checking and scanning things. Some of the officers came from the Aurora and others from one of the Alliance ships still present in the system.

Standing with them were personnel from the Maimonides. Commander Philippe Duwala, the First Officer and former Science Officer of the Challenger, was a familiar face, being one of the Facility's rescuees-turned-recruits in the pre-Alliance days. Beside him was Lieutenant Commander Treepk, an Alakin female and the Science Officer of his ship, and Lieutenant Tasina T'Seris, an Asari maiden and the Assistant Chief Engineer of said ship. Doctors Charles Talbot and Indira Vajpayee from the Maimonides science labs rounded out their contribution.

Jarod gestured to the data he'd compiled and asked them, "So, this is what we can estimate for how long this has been here."

"Twenty thousand years," Doctor Vajpayee remarked, astonished. "Incredible."

"So this was around long before the Darglan had their day," said Lucy. She glanced to Komin. "Your people, how far back does their history go?"

"The earliest records date to only ten thousand years ago, and beyond records concerning the Avatar, they're very rare," Komin replied. "We have little idea of what things were like before then. A couple of things. Avatar Korra's memoirs, for instance, describe a world overrun by spirits when Wan became the first Avatar, but the physical evidence just doesn't exist." He glanced back to the display. "You're thinking this city has something to do with our ancient past, right?"

"It's a strong possibility," Jarod confirmed. "There's no proof yet, but given your world's solar system and the dimensional phenomena of your world, it seems the most likely reason. It's why we need access to the computer cores so we can confirm it."

"Hard data is what we're here for," Talbot agreed. He and Lucy remained hunched over a console. "But accessing the data cores is difficult. The SS computer engineers were nitwits, one and all. They brute-forced everything, and there's no telling how much data they corrupted…"

"Nazis suck, but that's like saying the sky is blue," Tom groused. "Me, I want more info on those crystals from that power chamber. The power readouts on those things are insane. They're the best power source I've ever seen."

"The jammer is what is most important, right now," Jarod noted. "If we can figure out how it decreases the permeability of the interuniversal barrier in an area, it won't just keep people from jumping out, it can keep them from jumping in."

"And we would have a defense against further surprise attacks," Philippe said. "Have you isolated it?"

"We're still examining all of the city's machinery," Lucy said. "But we're pretty sure we found the emitters. There are teams checking the attached equipment to give us an idea on where the central core for the system is located."

"All of this technology." Komin turned away and looked into the empty central chamber again. "It's so much. Especially if this is tied to our past."

The others recognized the sound in his voice and knew the city was only part of it. With the fighting done and the danger out of the way, Komin was facing the new truths of his world. The existence of other universes, of other branches of Humanity and other sapient species, and technologies his people hadn't yet discovered… at some point the sheer weight of it would hit the thoughtful. And then it was all they could think about.

Lucy sensed the slight shift in Komin's thoughts. "What do you think those are for?"

She, Tom, and Philippe all noticed what he was looking at. In the middle of the central chamber, the floor was marked by a series of wide, short steps that abruptly stopped. A groove was visible in the floor there, as if something was meant to fit..

"Maybe it was a transporter pad of some kind?" Tom speculated loudly.

"Another mystery to explore," said Treepk. "Oh so many…"

"We'd better get back to work on the computers then," Jarod remarked. "Our answers could be in there."

A gentle smell from incense filled the office of Dr. Tusana, the Aurora's civilian psychiatrist and counselor. Her tanned complexion matched the color of the wood slowly burning in a bowl on the table nearby, the source of the scent. Julia found it relaxing, which she supposed was the point.

While she was officially on medical leave and forbidden from duty, Julia still appeared wearing her uniform. It was, for her, a habit on her ship she wasn't about to give up. Whatever Command said, she considered the Aurora her ship, and she would dress appropriately as the ship's captain.

Tusana noted that sentiment. Her telepathic talents let her sense everything on Julia's thoughts. Julia's frustration, her determination to return to duty, and the shadow of intense pain that still marked her psyche. She was not the first torture victim Tusana considered a patient, so it was a familiar mental wound to the Gersallian woman.

"You resent being here," Tusana observed.

"No," Julia insisted, and she meant it, whatever thoughts might go through her head. "I mean, I feel… I feel some, but that's just feeling. I know that it has to be this way."

"Does it?"

"Yes," Julia said. She sighed. "I was taken for a week. I was tortured, denied regular sleep, mentally violated by a machine, and nearly killed a couple of times. I can't just go back to my command without reassurances that I'm fit for duty despite all of that."

Tusana nodded. "It is good that you acknowledge the necessity for this, Julia. And just as good that you understand your own frustration."

Julia clenched a fist. "I… I want to be back in my command more than anything. I know I can still do this job."

Tusana considered that remark. She did find it convincing. Julia knew others would too. But Command couldn't return her to her ship based solely on her conviction. Julia had to be ready, physically and mentally, for the challenges of command.

Fine, she thought. I proved myself once, I'll do it again.

"You have survived much," said Tusana. "And I understand your feelings. I hope to work together with you on your recovery. Your admission is a vital first step."

"But not the only one."

"No. It is one thing to admit your feelings, another to live with them. What was done to you, it can bring fresh feeling of resentment, if you are not careful."

"What I need is something to do," Julia insisted. "I can't just sit around all day and stew about it."

"Agreed," said Tusana. "Please, tell me about your other activities…"

Julia explained her sports playing, and her martial arts training, and the occasional movie with friends. Robert was already inviting her to join him for a movie night, to rewatch things they saw as children.

Just as Tusana began to comment on this, a blue light appeared over the back of Julia's left hand. She tapped at it and her new omnitool flashed into existence. "Captain Andreys," said the person on the other end. The Turkish accent of Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi was one Julia hadn't heard in a while. Ever since Tra'dur came aboard and Lucy Lucero went off to other duties, Sabiha's work was mostly off the bridge, minding the backup bridge or overseeing the rest of the operations department. Jarod being back at the ancient city-base Julia was freed from was the obvious explanation for Sabiha again being on the bridge, likely for Tra'dur's off-watch period in the shift. Once Julia gave her a note of acknowledgement, Sabiha continued. "I have Admiral Maran for you."

"Put him on," said Julia. The screen of the omnitool shifted to show Maran in his office at Defense Command, across the Columbia river from Portland. "Admiral, sir?"

"I won't keep you for long," replied the leader of the Alliance military. "But I felt you deserved the notice from me in person, not a recording or a note."


Tusana heard what Maran said to Julia, and breathed a small sigh at feeling Julia's heightened frustration.

With the others doing their own work, Jarod and Lucy found themselves the only ones still trying to get through the SS-installed operating software imposed on the city's computer core. For this work they were in the heart of the city's central tower, down toward the bottom where a large chamber held multiple columns that represented the physical cores of the computers. Each was at a screen examining the ongoing flow of steadily-decrypting data. Lucy was wearing an ops-branch uniform for the job, regardless of her new status on Robert's team.

"So, what do you think?" Lucy asked aloud.

"Hrm?" Jarod looked up from the console. "Think about what?"

"How Philippe's doing? And Nasira and Rodrigo too, really."

"Oh." Jarod tapped at a key, sending a new command into the system. "They're doing well, I suppose. Captain, First Officer, and Tactical Officer on a cruiser-sized ship."

"A science cruiser, but yeah, I had the same thought," Lucy admitted. "It's good to see our people moving up in ranks, y'know?"

"Agreed." Jarod thought back to some of the others they'd known in the pre-Alliance days. He'd joined just as the Facility crew started expanding from their own world to other worlds, such as the 1850s Earth of C1P2. In that time they'd saved thousands, and some of those in turn joined them. "We're not even a drop in the ocean in the Alliance forces these days," he noted aloud.

"We've still got a few. Li's still on the Shenzhou, Madeleine on the Challenger. Ibraham will have to be pried off of the Park's bridge, I think. Now Nasira has the Maimonides." Lucy thought back to some of the others. "What about Hava?"

"Hava Ostrovsky? Science Officer on the Atlantis now. Probably one of the oldest fleet science officers active."


"Peter Kpomassie, from Togo?" Jarod thought for a moment. "The last I heard, he was still in command track and is the Astrogation Officer on the Ambedkar."

Lucy was letting more names come to mind of those old comrades, but she stopped when her screen changed. "Jarod, it looks like we've got it."

Jarod came over and looked at what Lucy was seeing: the blocky German text was being replaced by alien text of some sort, completely unfamiliar to him. "I've never seen this kind of text."

"Neither have I."

Jarod used his omnitool to capture the text on the screen. "I'm linking to the Maimonides now, we'll run a search through the database. It should only take a few minutes at most, this language looks pretty unique…"

Twenty seconds later his omnitool flashed a result. Lucy looked to it with him and then exchanged a surprised expression. "That's… wow, that… I never expected that," Jarod admitted.

The screen displayed the result of the search.

Sample Match: Language matches samples of language of "Ancients" species, Universe R4A1. Initial samples provided through treaty-compliant research agreement with Stargate Command, R4A1 Earth.

Upon return from the diplomatic meeting Meridina went to the bridge. A quiet watch period would be just the thing to ease her mind from the quiet anxiety and tension she'd felt among the Five Nations Compact's leadership. It was never easy for non-farisa to understand the strain mindwalkers could be under even with relatively passive emotions, especially of that intensity.

Many of the Command staff were present. Tra'dur was back at Ops while Locarno was in the command chair. Ensign Rawlins was at the helm. Caterina and Angel were manning their appropriate stations. The moment she came through the lift door she felt Caterina's forming question. Just before Cat could speak it, Meridina nodded and said, "They have approved leave. We will be provided relevant packets to provide to those exercising leave so they know how to conduct themselves. A currency exchange has been established as well." She looked to Locarno directly. "With Jarod back at the city-structure, I will rely upon you and Master Chief Rohm to arrange leaves with each department."

"Understood," said Locarno.

"I can't wait!" Cat exclaimed. "I want to examine those rifts so much."

"As do I," Tra'dur added. "It is fascinating to know such stable rifts exist on a habitable world."

"This has the potential to change…"

Before Cat could finish, Tra'dur's station gave off a tone. "Captain, we have a ship anchoring to our jump drive."

Moments later Cat added, "Interuniversal jump point forming."

The point formed far from the orbiting stations and ships above the Earth-like planet below. The emerald vortex expanded from a point of light. From it emerged a large warship, larger than even the Aurora, painted in the earthy colors of the Dilgar.

Tra'dur was the most pleased. "It is the Wrath," she said. "Mother-Ka’s ship." A light appeared on her station. "We are receiving a hail."

"On screen."

The Aurora bridge's main holo-viewer blipped into existence along the front wall of the bridge module. On the screen was a Human woman in the impressive uniform jacket of a Dilgar Battlemaster, black and bluish-gray with shoulders fringed with golden material. Golden buttons went down the middle in two lines toward the edges of the gray material. Kaveri Varma's gray hair belied her age, but her skin looked young, from all her many years spent in spaceships. A lifetime aboard ships with little or no gravity also played a role in her frail physique, whatever her recent experience with ships employing artificial gravity.

But there was nothing frail about what was within her light brown eyes. Meridina once touched the mind hidden behind them, and knew the strength and belief in the core of the elder Indian woman as a being. One such sign of that belief was the red bindi prominent on her forehead, a mark of a practicing Hindu.

"Captain Varma," said Meridina. "Welcome."

"Captain Meridina." Kaveri was using the courtesy of Meridina's acting rank. "Namaste. It is good to see you and your people together after these past trials. Is everything prepared?"

"We are ready to beam you aboard, Captain, at your signal."

"That is good," said Kaveri. "Even with everything that has happened, we have much work still to do."

"I will have a report on the progress of the talks completed before the evening is out," Meridina assured her. "We will see you shortly."

"We will." The Indian woman nodded. Her image disappeared.

“Ka'var is coming aboard?" Tra'dur's voice betrayed her surprise.

"She's joining the opening contact talks?" Cat asked. "Or, what, representing Shai'jhur to the Five Nations?"

"No, she is not," said Meridina. She stepped up between Rawlins and Tra'dur and looked over the others. "Kaveri Varma is here to assume command. She is to be our new Captain."
”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 »

Normally a Dilgar ship was commanded by a Battle Captain, or even in the case of smaller vessels a Battle Expert, with Group Captains leading sections below that level and acting as XOs of frigates. In the case of the Union, however, Kaveri Varma was a Battlemaster and still in command of a ship. That had generally only been the case with dreadnoughts and assault carriers, but the Sekhmets had been so rare it had included them as well.

That meant Mai’jon, as a Battle Captain from Tira, was a perfectly qualified officer for the role. The green-eyed Dilgar woman was in a line officer’s uniform, but wore the familiar badge of the Mha’dorn and intelligence flashes. She had been Kaveri’s Executive Officer for the entire duration of the six month, two week long commissioned life of the Wrath since her reconstruction.

Around them the familiar hum of the Wrath let them know she was a living ship. Fitted with both Darglan shields and Abbai Grav Shields, with an internal warp drive capable of driving her at Warp 8 (at least for a few minutes), and a heavy battery of Hyach spinal lasers, she was a beast by any measure, a capable warship even now. Her secondary batteries were mostly Alliance weapons. She was, in fact, the only Dilgar ship which was not lend-lease from the Alliance to have Naqia reactors (in part) and an interuniversal drive, though all of it had been scavenged excesses from Alliance repair and maintenance depots.

“Battlemaster,” Mai’jon saluted on her feet as she came to attention in Kaveri’s office. “We have arrived in the Five Nations’ Compact space as instructed, using the Aurora’s jump anchor.”

“Well done, Battle Captain Mai’jon.” Captain Varma had her hands folded behind her, grey streaked in her hair gleaming in the overhead lights as she glanced about. “Wrath and her crew have done everything asked of them in superlative fashion.”

“We were ably made into a single fighting body by your presence, Battlemaster,” Mai’jon answered. “I do not understand why the Warmaster has requested you assume command of this Alliance ship, but I obey in ignorance and am ready to take command.” As a Mha’dorn, her emotional state was reserved, but Kaveri had plenty of experience reading Dilgar and could tell she would have rather had Kaveri lead them back to the reserve depot and decommissioning ceremony.

“Such is a matter of duty. Another who has a harsher hand could destroy the cohesion of the Aurora and her crew, and… it will become clear, in time, as to why such is important.”

“I understand, Battlemaster.” Mai’jon was silent for a moment. Then, she gently growled and cleared her throat. “Battlemaster, it has been a considerable honour to serve with you. Of course, at first, the crew was terrified, I will be honest.”

“Terrified, Battle Captain?” Ka’var, which she had invited the Dilgar to refer to her as, raised her eyebrows in visible inquiry.

“Yes, Ka’var,” Mai’jon replied earnestly, wide eyes admitting no deceit. “They wondered if you were an officer of substance, or appointed for the Warmaster’s leisure. And they wondered, too, what it would be mean to be Dilgar serving in war under a human. You overcame both quickly, and now, the crew is sad to see you go; they know they are Ka’var’s children, and though I might share their fur, I am not sure I can be the same for them, in the short time before we stand her down.”

“I shall not be the same to the Aurora - a permanent command differs from a temporary one, Mai’jon. We need both time and stability to bind a crew together, when we rise to a captaincy.”

“It may be a while before I get my chance, then,” she replied softly. “They say the active fleet will be reduced to only a hundred and twenty-five ships, and most of them small for policing.” That was a bit more than a quarter of the mobilised size, and it showed how thoroughly Shai’jhur was trying to cut costs to let a Dilgar economy grow and motivate people to reproduce.

Ka’var grimaced. “I had intended to retire upon handing Wrath to the reserve depot. The Warmaster… understands what our people can afford to mobilize in peace. I cannot deny it will be painful, Mai’jon. There is an old human toast that describes the more juniour officer’s hopes in such a time; ‘to bloody wars and sickly seasons’.

“And this is why we are so similar,” Mai’jon smiled thinly. “I understand that sentiment perfectly. Well, what I hope, then, is that I have earned at least the chance to be Wrath’s designated Captain in reserve. Even if I am back on the family’s kraal on Tira, to bring her to life for the annual exercise, and the call of need, would be … I admit, I wish for it, badly. She has been a good ship to us.”

“I have formally put you forward in my last report to the Warmaster, Mai’jon. I have had the intention since a month into my tenure, that you would follow me in the command chair, as I humbly follow my predecessor.”

“Battlemaster An’jash…” Mai’jon shook her head. “Legends will always be whispered about this ship, Ka’var. But it is good we have added new ones. I don’t think Dilgar will quickly forget Wrath’s fight with the rest of our expeditionary fleet over Germania. I pray to the Gods it never be forgot.”

“There will be a triptych, I am sure. Balos on one side, Germania on the other, and Wrath in the centre. The Divine will never let her be forgotten as long as there are Dilgar to remember.”

“And we may have just insured that. Gods, I pray it so,” Mai’jon replied fervently.

“So do we both, so do we both.”

“Thank you for showing confidence in me,” Mai’jon added, her eyes shining. “I will bring her home safe, Battlemaster. But I do have one request for you. A Mha’dorn request.”

“I would not have recommended she be given to you otherwise… what is the request, Battle Captain?”

“You are going to a dangerous posting, the Aurora attracts danger, but especially operations with telepaths have lately been problematic in certain respects. You need protection, so our Warmaster is not to grieve in this short tour. You also need assistance in making sure that the crew walks a righteous course. Please take Group Captain Bei’tir with you from the Marines complement. She is a fully trained Category Six,” which meant P-7 in conversion, “as a combat telepath.” Her eyes flicked and she folded her hands. “We want to make sure you are safe, Battlemaster, but also that Dilgar interests are upheld where they can be.”

“A Mha’dorn request.” Kaveri leaned back in her chair, her eyes narrowing as she considered the matter. “Her experience outside the Union, Battle Captain, if any?”

“Just this deployment, Battlemaster,” Mai’jon’s lips twitched into a curled grimace. “I know, a more experienced operative in wetwork might be preferred.”

“My daughter needs Battlemaster Fei’nur more than I do. Given the Aurora’s reputation, I think she will do well, for what you suggest. She should be briefed, hurriedly. I will make her aware that some may see a more sinister element in her assignation, but… it will be good and welcome to have a fellow Wrather aboard.”

Mai’jon smiled tightly, and then rose. “Thank you.” She saluted. “Thank you. We are proud to have had you, and when it’s all said and done, we’ll organise reunions. Go in glory, my Battlemaster.”

“Thank you, Captain Mai’jon.”

The senior-most bridge officers of the Aurora were gathered at Transporter Station 1 to welcome their new commander. Meridina, Locarno, and Cat waited patiently while the Caucasian transporter operator finished running her fingers over the controls. "Signal received, sir, beginning transport," she said in a slow, partial Southern drawl.

To their surprise, there was not one but two bursts of bright light that accompanied a brief buzz in the air. Within one light Kaveri Varma appeared, while in the other was a Dilgar woman. Both were still in the uniform of the Union, and carrying bags. The awaiting officers stood at attention. Kaveri stepped down from the pad first and looked to them before nodding. "Captain Meridina, Commander Locarno, Commander Delgado. Please, we may be less formal. This is a difficult situation for yourselves and your crew."

They relaxed somewhat, although for Meridina she retained the same stoic posture as always, not so much relaxed as at peace. She sensed the Dilgar was a fellow telepath. "Captain Varma, welcome again to the Aurora. It is good to see you." Meridina channeled her gift elsewhere. Given what happened before, and the necessities that occurred, she felt it inappropriate to come too close to entering Kaveri's mind, notwithstanding the telepath accompanying her.

"Welcome, Captain," Locarno added.

"Hello." Cat smiled at her. Tra'dur was her friend, and so she was basically meeting her friend's mother again. That said, she did feel a little awkward, as something within her felt off about everything going on. And she wasn't sure why there was a second Dilgar with Kaveri.

"I thank you all for your welcome, though I understand it is an uneasy time." Kaveri considered the room for a moment. She'd only been aboard the Aurora a few times. The initial visits were not happy ones, coming during the tension and violence over the Dilgar world Tira, and including the brutal assault that nearly killed Shai'jhur. Then there had been the surrender over Germania, a happier occasion certainly, if still as a conclusion to yet more violence.

And now, yet again, she was here in circumstances that were mixed, to say the least.

"This is Group Captain Bei’tir," Kaveri said, introducing the Dilgar. "She will be serving as my adjutant for the duration of my tenure aboard Aurora. I would request quarters to be assigned to her near those I shall be using, to the extent possible without disrupting the existing arrangements.”

Meridina nodded at the request. Deck 4 was senior officer and staff quartering by design. But there were a couple of open ones for visiting admirals and staff. "I will make the arrangements. She will be quartered on Deck 4 in the fashion you desire. Might I escort you to your new quarters?"

"Of course, Commander, with my thanks."

This was the cue for Locarno and Cat to return to duty, with Cat in particular urgent to finish her backlogged work and enable leave to visit the portals on the planet below. Meridina led Kaveri and Bei'tir out of the Transporter Station and toward the lifts. "I know this has been difficult for you and your crew," the Indian woman said to her as they walked through the azure-lined corridor of the Aurora. "New Liberty is a home for many of them. It is the work they put so much effort into."

"It has been difficult, yes," Meridina said. "Rescuing Captain Andreys helped, although we paid a cost." As acting Captain, Meridina had been the one to commit the ship's twenty fatalities to the void in a memorial service. Giving a funeral oration was not something she wished to repeat.

"I am aware my assuming command will cause issue," Kaveri admitted.

"They will adjust, just as they did when Julia assumed command from Robert."

"It is more than that." Kaveri stopped at that point, as they arrived at a lift. The three entered and Meridina instructed "Deck 4". With a gentle thrum the lift began moving through its shaft. "Your ship's command staff includes the leading lights of your Alliance. Its spiritual founders. The very beings whom its existence is owed to. I am an outsider to that, much more-so than you."

"You fear dissension from us?"

"I know you will not consciously attempt to undermine me. You all believe in the Alliance too deeply to be capable of such," Kaveri answered. "But subconsciously… I know it will be otherwise."

Meridina couldn't disagree with that. "It could be difficult for them, yes." She sensed Kaveri's instinctive desire to know which ones she would expect the most trouble from, but the older woman said nothing. "How well do you know them?"

"I am most familiar with you and Commander Delgado, to be honest. And I know something of Lieutenant Barnes' character."

Meridina knew her presence on the list to be understandable. Again, they'd touched minds, and not in an optimum way. James Hawk's accusation of Shai'jhur raping Kaveri in their first encounter, decades ago, with Earthforce official findings to back up the charge, was just the kind of thing that threatened the effort at Tira. Against her own wishes, and Meridina's, Julia insisted on Kaveri proving the charge wrong by allowing Meridina to enter her mind and verify the truth.

Meridina still felt haunted by it. Fewer were the times she'd ever come so close to violating the most important rules that the Farisa Genut laid out for telepaths of Gersal, and Julia's guilty feelings persisted for a long time afterward.

When it came to Tom, Kaveri had been the one to lay the Order of Valor on Tom's neck after Germania, so she knew what he was capable of, and the shy way he'd received the highest military decoration in the Alliance.

As for Cat…

"I imagine your adopted daughter has been fulsome with her experiences on the ship?"

"She has." A small smile came to Kaveri's face. "She can be reserved, given her upbringing, but Tra'dur is living a dream by being posted to the Aurora."

"She has proven very able," Meridina assured Kaveri. At that point the lift ceased and they stepped out onto Deck 4 and the officer quartering. Bei'tir remained close, but said nothing. "I imagine your familiarity with Caterina comes from her letters?"

"Yes. It seems that though your Commander Jarod is her immediate superior, Tra'dur spends more time in Caterina's presence, researching in your ship's science labs. And she thinks highly of Caterina as a fellow scientist."

Meridina nodded, aware of the truth of that fact. She often wondered if Tra'dur should be transferred to the science division, but Lucy's re-assignment to serve on Robert's operations team meant Tra'dur fit best with Operations. "Caterina would be pleased to know such, I am sure. She is quite enthusiastic."

It wasn't far from the lift to the Captain's quarters. There was no nameplate, nor was there need for any. "Captain Andreys already removed her personal belongings. The furnishings are standard."

"I will have to call on her at some point," Kaveri said. "But only after the change of command ceremony. I fear things might be too raw for her now."

"Agreed. And on that matter, I have scheduled the change of command to take place at 1200 hours ship time tomorrow. I imagined you would appreciate the evening to acclimate yourself and have time to review our reports on the ship's status."

Kaveri nodded. The doors slid open, revealing Kaveri's new living space. It was larger than she was used to in her Earthforce days, given the Alliance's approach to living spaces. "Very thoughtful of you. I shall see you tomorrow, then?"

"I will be here, yes." Meridina glanced at her omnitool as the screen activated. "And we have an open cabin for the Group Captain four spaces down, in the quartering for visiting senior admiralty staff. I will escort the Group Captain by your leave."

“So granted, thank you Commander."

After weighing a trip to the gym or a holodeck, Julia found herself alone in her guest quarters. They were a little smaller than her quarters as Captain had been. There were better quarters, of course, but Under-Secretary Tashke and her entourage took those rooms up.

Not that the bigger ones would make this feel better. She felt exiled on her own ship, sitting here as she did. There was nothing to do. She had no reports to read or write. No commendation reviews to approve. No requisition forms to sign off on. She simply had nothing to do.

Others might have welcomed the break from the grind of command. The relentless monotony of the paperwork, the quiet watches where nothing happened for hours on end. But Julia didn't. Sure, the watches could be boring, and the paperwork tedious… but they were part of the wider whole. They were part of what she was and wanted to be.

For the moment, Julia found herself at a loss of what to do.

The quiet was broken by the tone of her new omnitool. Even though she was on medical leave, she still had a Stellar Navy model device, made clear by the blue color of its holographic light. A blue circle started pulsing over the top of her left hand. Julia tapped at it with the index and middle finger of her right hand. "Andreys here."

"Captain, we have a signal coming in for you from the surface," said Tra'dur.

"Huh." She went to the desk in the quarters and sat there. "Transfer them to me." She tapped a key on her omnitool control to send the incoming signal to the monitor.

The monitor on the desk activated to show a man in a flowing red and gold-trim set of officious robes. He was in middle-age easily, with gray appearing on his mustache and beard, and from his shape it was clear he didn't let any soft living undermine his look. Dark red walls filled the space behind him.

"This is Captain Julia Andreys," Julia said. "How may I help you?"

"Captain. I am Kurato, Seneschal of the Fire Lord. I am calling to extend the Fire Lord's invitation. He would like to meet with you and personally express his gratitude for your instrumental role in Princess Miko's rescue."

Julia carefully considered her response. Even if the intention was a private one, this was nevertheless a diplomatic situation, and called for her to think like that. The slightest faux pas could cause trouble in the short and long terms for the Alliance.

Even with that consideration, she had no intention to say no. The chance to be even an unofficial diplomat was too much to pass up, compared to sitting around the Aurora until they returned to Alliance space. And declining could very well be taken as an insult.

With her moments of consideration complete Julia smiled politely and nodded. "I am grateful and humbly accept the Fire Lord's invitation."

"I will inform my lord of your response. Coordinates for your arrival will be transmitted shortly." With a final polite nod, the court functionary's image disappeared.

Julia's smile didn't quite go away as she went to find her best-looking uniform.

In the heart of the Ancient city-structure was the power core chamber for the city. It still bore the scars of the battle waged between Avatar Miko and her former captors, particularly the scorch marks from her flames and Erik Fassbinder's metaphysically-channeled lightning. Lucy felt the SS officer's former presence with ease, given her prior experience with it.. Fassbinder's dark energy was a shadow in the room, albeit the weaker of the remnant energies given those Miko left behind.

In the center of the room was a triangle-shaped platform. It had three slots for the city's power supply. Those were on a table beside it. Komin looked over the two remaining crystals, now a dull orange-ish yellow with black lines on the surface. They were inactive and had been since Julia pulled them out during the fight. "To think these things have so much power in them," he murmured. "I wonder how they work?"

At the controls for the core, Philippe looked up for a moment. "Professor T'Rya's theory is zero point energy," he answered in his Franco-Cameroonian accent. "That the devices act as a concentrator of sorts to absorb from the zero point field."

"That's pretty impressive. Although maybe not too surprising." Lucy actively scanned much of the room with her omnitool. "R4A1 has plenty of advanced civilizations."

"What is this 'R4A1' you speak of?" asked Komin.

"Another universe we know of."

"Of course." Komin chuckled lowly. "I'm surprised you people can keep it all straight. It's so much to grasp."

"It can be," Philippe agreed. "As for this power system, we should relay our reports so that the liaison officials in Stargate Command can discuss our finding with their authorities."

"Assuming all of this doesn't violate the Protected Planets Treaty with the Goa'uld."

Komin glanced toward Lucy. "What are these 'Goa'uld', and what kind of treaty do you have with them?"

He knew he'd touched a sore spot at the expression on Lucy's face, as it darkened from memory. "They're a species of parasitic worm, snake things," Lucy answered. "They can enter other life forms' physical bodies and take over. As in they basically hijack control of your body, leaving you a prisoner in your own mind while they use your body."

Komin swallowed at that. "It sounds vile. Worse even than these SS we fought. Why does your Alliance allow them to continue?"

"Because, to put it bluntly, they're strong enough that even if the rest of the Multiverse powers we're in contact with joined together to fight them, they might still beat us," Lucy said. "They have access to advanced technology equal to, or even superior, to Darglan tech, and a big fleet to go with it. The only reason we managed to get a treaty with them is because an even more powerful species from a different galaxy backs it."

"I… see." Lucy felt Komin's discomfort at that. It was sobering to think that a civilization like the Goa'uld might have that much power. "The Multiverse is not entirely a nice place, I imagine."

"It has its share of terrible powers," Philippe agreed. "The Goa'uld, the Dominion, the Eubians…"

"And this world you say Humanity comes from in your universes. Earth. What about our world's Humans?"

"From what I've heard, your genetics are a match for us, so you should be from an Earth," Lucy said. "And your language is such a close match to Chinese I can believe it."

"And yet, the Earth is not in this universe," Philippe noted. "Our long range scans have confirmed Sol itself is not where it should be, and probes jumped into the area show only a distortion in space-time."

Something about that tickled at Lucy's memory. It was familiar. Before she could mention anything of her thoughts, a voice came over their comms. "Treepk to power core team. Do you have the scan results for us yet?"

"Getting there," Philippe said back. "We are nearly done."

"Understood. And you may wish to return to the command center soon. We're expecting visitors."

The Aurora's transporters deposited Julia in the wide courtyard of a grand palace, like few she'd ever seen. The architecture was clearly East Asian, Japanese and Chinese, with red and various dark colors predominating. Around the towers and structures, the earthen walls of a caldera were visible on all sides. Beyond them, massive structures of gleaming glass and steel shot toward the sky, more Chinese-esque markings lining them at points in big, bold lines. It made her think of being in an East Asian metropolis like Shanghai or Tokyo, if any of those cities had a caldera in its heart.

She had just enough time to take everything in when she heard Miko's voice call out to her. She turned in the direction of said voice to face the main palace itself. Miko and Ursa approached, the latter still in the anti-grav chair from the Aurora and being pushed by what appeared to be a servant from the palace. Both smiled at her and she smiled back. "Welcome to the Palace of the Fire Nation," Ursa said.

"Thank you for the invitation," she replied.

"My uncle provided it, although I admit I was quite insistent upon it," said Ursa. "Please, follow us."

She did so. They entered the big double doors of the main building into a hall of red and golden coloring. Paintings and statuary covered both walls, and every few steps a figure in ceremonial red and black armor stood in quiet attention. Occasionally a figure in a red or black-toned robe would walk by. Some looked to be servants and some, Julia thought, might be clerks.

"How old is this palace?" Julia asked.

"The original version was built many centuries ago. For a long time, it remained unchanged," Ursa said. "But after industry spread across the world following the Hundred Year War, the pace of new technology quickened. Fire Lord Zuko oversaw the first reconstruction thirty years into his reign. His grandson Kuzon performed another a century later, to accommodate the new thinking machines of that era."

"Computers, in other words."

"Yes. The last renovation was sixty years ago, by my grandmother Fire Lord Masumi. She added the facilities for space-capable craft and new floors to the main palace."

"And the city grew up around the caldera?"

"Over time, yes," she confirmed. "When the years of peace expanded our industry and economy. The Republic became the most prosperous of the five nations, but the Fire Nation has typically remained close behind."

Julia considered that fact. "How do the other three nations feel about that? I can imagine it can cause resentment."

"It can be a source of some discontent," Ursa added. "The Earth Union, back when it was the Earth Kingdom, was hardest hit by the Hundred Year War, and since the Republic was formed from our oldest colonies on their continent, it's caused trouble before. Kuvira and her Earth Empire, Leng Tu's National Redemption Movement…"

"We are not entirely innocent," Miko pointed out. "We've strived to stay true to Fire Lord Zuko's vision of our nation, but Leng Tu would never have gained the following he had if Prince Zaiban hadn't schemed to detach Omashu from the Earth Union."

Ursa sighed, but there was a small grin on her face. "Komin has influenced you, my little sun."

Miko flashed a grin in reply. "Well, Yeshe too. Komin only cared about Leng Tu and Prince Zaiban because their war involved the first generation of stable Varrick reactors being used."

"Yes. But we can continue this later…"

They went through another pair of tall double doors and entered an audience chamber. At the far end a figure was seated cross-legged on a throne of simple crimson and gold design. A golden ornament in the shape of the flame crest present everywhere showed on top of his head, nestled in the man's hair. His garb was dark red with gold trim, as was those of the individuals around him. Many bore resemblances to Miko and her mother. A few did not.

Julia bowed at the waist, holding it for several seconds. When she looked up, Fire Lord Daizon was on his feet. He bowed as well, although not quite as deeply. When he straightened his back, Julia did so as well. "Captain," he said, his voice strong but not deep. "On behalf of the people of the Fire Nation, we are pleased to have you here, Captain Julia Andreys."

"I thank you for the invitation, Fire Lord," she replied.

"We have been made aware of your critical role in the escape of our grand niece from the invaders. For that alone, the Fire Nation is indebted to you. That she is also the Avatar extends this to our entire world."

Julia blushed a little. "Thank you again, but I cannot take too much credit. Miko did the lion's share of the fighting once we were free."

The bewildered looks on the faces of some of the court prompted Julia to kick herself in her mind. Metaphors like "the lion's share" were best minimized when speaking with newly-encountered cultures, since the context for their meaning was not always available.

One of the younger members of the entourage spoke up. "What kind of lion are you talking about? An armadillo lion? Or a saber-toothed moose lion?"

"Or a lion-turtle," added an even younger one. "Those are huuuuge."

Now it was Julia's turn to blink in momentary bewilderment. Alien animal life was one thing, but the translator didn't usually render names like that. Their language is related to East Asian languages from Earth… are they really describing hybrids of two different species into one? Once the thought went through her mind, she returned her attention to the conversation. "Um… it refers to lions from Earth. I apologize for the confusing metaphor. I meant to say that Miko did most of the fighting once we were free."

"Which cannot be held against her," Miko said insistently. "She suffered greatly at the invaders' hands, and still found the strength to defeat our guards and free me."

"So I am aware," Daizon remarked. He focused his amber eyes on Julia. "Captain, I invite you to stay as a guest of the Fire Nation for as long as you please. At your request a room will be prepared for you in the palace. Additionally, I have called for a celebration feast to commemorate the Avatar's rescue. The crews of the Aurora and General Iroh will be invited, and I wish for you and your officers to be among the guests of honor."

The red on Julia's cheeks intensified slightly. "I would be honored to attend, Your Lordship," she answered. "And I humbly accept your offer of hospitality."

"Excellent," was his response. Going by the look on her face, Miko felt the same way.

At least it'll get me away from those guest quarters, Julia thought to herself.

The work day was over for Lucy and many of the others. While they did their own thing, Lucy took the time to meet Talara and take her to one of the many empty rooms in the complex. Outside the window the sun was going down, creating a beautiful twilight sky.

One of the most daunting challenges Lucy faced in the training was precisely how to do it. Meridina's training of her served as a guidepost, but it could only be that. Lucy had to make her own decisions to fit what was best for Talara and her sensitivities.

The Falaen woman, a descendant of the last survivors of a people known as the Alteans, gave her an appreciative look from her eyes. They could have been Human eyes if not for the brilliant lavender point in the iris. Between her eyes and cheeks were blue half-moon marks, following the contours of her eyes, and the silver-blue hair was pulled back to reveal the points of her ears. The two were close in skin tone, although Talara's brown coloration was a few shades darker. "How shall we train today?" she asked.

"Meditation, I suppose," Lucy said. "This place has had enough violence that adding to it, even as training, doesn't seem necessary."

"I have felt it too. Not just the SS, but there is a shadow of violence on this place. Old."

"Yeah." Lucy stepped into the middle of the room and sat down. She sensed the shadow of violence regardless. This wasn't far from the barracks they'd fought in during the attack, and even SS men left the uncomfortable shadow of violence where they departed. "So we will meditate, and it will settle our…"

A tone came from Lucy's left arm, and blue light formed in a circle over the back of her left hand. She sighed and tapped at it. "Lucero here."

"Would you mind coming back up to the control center?" asked Jarod.

"Given we just started training, it'll be annoying. Why?"

"Because the Enterprise just arrived, and Captain Shaham is preparing to beam down some guests. You should be here."

"Fine, we'll be on our way. Give us a few minutes." Lucy stood back up. "Their timing sucks, by the way."

There was a chuckle from the other end. "Yeah, I suppose it does. Jarod out."

"We can simply meditate later," Talara pointed out. "This sounds important."

"It probably is," Lucy agreed.

Their arrival at the control center at the top of the tower brought Lucy and Talara into the company of the others. Jarod, Komin, Tom, and Philippe, along with the other Maimonides officers and scientists, were joined by Commander Zan Li, the head of the Compact's research and analysis team, and some of his subordinates from the various services of the Compact.

Jarod signaled the Enterprise they were ready. "Transporting now," came the reply.

Five pillars of light formed from nothing. As a buzz filled the air the light intensified until it fell away, leaving in place five people. The Aurora crewmembers present recognized the pale look of Ariel Shaham. The Captain of the ASV Enterprise was a lifelong space-dweller, being one of the five thousand surviving Jews of Universe S4W8, with its terrible history of Hitler's triumph over his neighbors and the ultimate conquest of Humanity by the legions of his ideological descendants. Now he commanded the first of the Alliance advanced star cruisers based on the Aurora.

It was the four individuals accompanying him that drew the attention of those who knew them, and curiosity from the others. While Shaham was in the black-and-burgundy-red of an Alliance command officer, these four were in camouflage field uniforms. All were Human or Human-looking, with the tallest and largest having a golden serpent insignia on his forehead.

"So." The oldest of the four, a man with a bird insignia on his field uniform, glanced around briefly before settling on Lucy and Jarod. "Interesting place you've got here," said Colonel Jack O'Neill. "Mind if we take the tour?"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

Post by Steve »

Act 3

In the command center of the old Ancient city, Doctor Daniel Jackson looked over the data display Lucy brought up for him and the rest of SG-1. "It's definitely Ancient," he confirmed. "It matches every other example we've found of the language."

"So the Ancients either developed interuniversal drive or encountered a species that did," said Major Samantha Carter. She looked toward Jarod and Lucy. "That's… it's a profound discovery. We may have to completely reconsider what we know of their history."

"And what do you know of their history?" asked Philippe. "I confess I know little of these 'Ancients' you speak of."

"They had a large civilization in our galaxy thousands of years ago, before the Goa'uld," Daniel said. "They were one of the Four Races that maintained galactic stability."

"The others being…?" That question was from Lucy.

"The Nox, the Asgard, and the Furlings," was the reply. Daniel glanced over the screens again. Lucy felt his curiosity, but sensed he also had a nagging distraction. That made her curious.

"Can you read what it says?" Jarod asked.

"Well, some," he said. "I've visited the ruins on P4X-639 that the Alliance has been excavating, and exchanged several communications with the linguists working on the ruins." Daniel turned back to the screen. "It looks like a damage report. I can't understand the whole thing, but it clearly references major structural damage and a lost… platform? Pier?"

"It makes sense. There are five groupings of structures around the central tower, but the data readouts show six," Tom said.

"The commander of the city ordered structural repairs on what was left. Their power systems were drained but mostly intact, but their engines were disabled."

"So this place, it was a ship?" Komin asked, incredulous.

"It seems to have been, yeah." Daniel scrolled the text down to where it ended. "They considered this world the only realistic landing choice."

"It's a marginal garden world, so I can understand it," Jarod said.

"Not fully habitable, you mean?" asked Sam.

"Well, the atmosphere is breathable," Philippe noted. "But the planet's barely got enough land mass to not be considered oceanic. While that alone isn't a barrier to habitability, there's also trace amounts of acidic compounds in the atmosphere, especially concentrated in areas with significant biomass. The Maimonides' zoological and botanical researchers have already confirmed that the native life contains significant enough levels to be dangerous to non-native life forms. Even skin contact is ill-advised."

"So no stepping on the grass, for example," said Jack.

"Exactly," Philippe responded.

Jarod spoke next. "Around here it's not so severe. It's probably why the Ancients landed here. You would need to be left outside for significant amounts of time for the atmospheric concentrations to become noticable and even longer for it to be dangerous. At least a week of exposure before the compound would begin to penetrate human skin."

By the time he finished speaking, there was a frown on Jarod's face. "You seem troubled, Commander Jarod," noted Teal'c.

"It's because we didn't get that information from the Ancients," Lucy said, starting to frown herself. "The SS were the ones to discover how long it took for exposure to become dangerous. Through experimentation on captives." She swallowed. "It was one of the methods Fassbinder considered for killing Julia when he was done with her."

There was silence in reply. "So, how is she?" Jack asked, finally ending it.

"Recovering," Jarod replied. "And she'll be back when she's ready." Eying the growing impatience of Commander Zhan Li and his contingent, Jarod said, "Major Carter, I believe the power core chamber will be something you're interested in. Lieutenant Barnes can show you the way."

"In the meantime, I'll keep working on this," Daniel said. "The more we decipher of the Ancients' language, the more we can understand the remaining data. It could tell us more about what happened to their expeditions to other universes."

There was little noise in Robert's quarters on the Aurora, nothing but the faint sounds of the two Gersallian books on his desk being ruffled while he and Gina Inviere swapped back and forth. Gina was pleasantly surprised to find out that despite Robert's notorious difficulties with pronunciation of Gersallian, he was still quite capable with the language.

Due to their respective gifts, Robert caught that thought and looked up. "It helps that my grandmother taught me to read and write German from the time I was three. Learning multiple languages from childhood helps with comprehension."

"That makes sense," she answered.

Another period of silence continued until Gina held up one of Ledosh's surviving notes. "So far everything he wrote fits," she said. "The errors, when you put them together, are forming whole words. Sentences." She read from the note. "The opening is a statement. 'The true purpose of this volume is to be a guide to those still to come, who must close the Circle to keep our universe whole'."

Robert held up the note he'd been writing out, which said nearly the same, save a couple of wording differences from how he translated the Gersallian text. "What do you think this Circle is?" he asked. "Did any other Cylon mention it?"

"No," she said. "We were only told of everything being part of God's plan." An angry look came to her eyes. "The Inner Circle kept everything else from us. The truth of what they are, what we are…"

Robert looked to her with sympathy. "You were lied to," he said. "And you suffered for it. I'm sorry."

"I've found my new path," she said. "I worry for the others, though."

"I sensed that." After a moment's consideration, he asked, "Have you heard from the Agathons at all?"

"They emigrated outside of our home universe," she said. "To one of the Earths of the Alliance, so they could raise their daughter quietly. Occasionally we exchange messages, but they are quiet about where they actually live."

"I can understand the desire for privacy. I'm just glad they're doing well, and are outside of the grasp of the Cylon leadership." Robert considered another scrap. After moments of thought he flipped through Gartanam's book to confirm a translation, then through Reshan's to check the apparent code. "Well," he began, "that sounds good."

"What does?" asked Gina.

"The translation of the opening bits of the next chapter. If I'm reading this right…" He offered her the note he finished scribbling.

Gina read it aloud. "'The truth is not always what we may wish. Much of what you are about to read will dispel beliefs you may have long held. But it is the truth of the matter, and it is vital you accept that truth.'" She lowered the paper. "There is something more to this, then."

"And whatever it is, the Brotherhood wants to know," said Robert.

"Or already knows, and they wish to keep it from us." Gina looked back to the Reshan book. "Just to ask, are you going to be attending the transfer of command ceremony?"

"I don't see a reason to," Robert said. Even as he spoke, he couldn't quite keep the instinctive bitterness out of his voice. Sensing Gina's curiosity at it, he sighed and said, "I hold nothing against Captain Varma. She's a good woman and Maran chose well in asking her to take the post. I just…"

"It reminds you of what was done to your friend," Gina finished for him. When he nodded, she nodded back in sympathy. "I understand. But given your position on the ship, you may wish to reconsider. Until Captain Andreys can return, you will have to work with Captain Varma. It's probably best if you don't seem to oppose her being here."

Robert considered Gina's advice for a moment before nodding. With a bleary eye he checked the time and noted it was zero two hundred and three minutes. "Well, the ceremony isn't until noon," he said. "I'd better get some rest if I'm going."

"We both should," Gina said. She tucked the notes away in the Life of Reshan and closed the book. "We can continue tomorrow before the ceremony."

"I'll see you in the morning then," Robert said, before turning his attention to the same task of securing their materials.

As 1200 ship time approached, the bridge of the Aurora filled with all of the ship's major personalities. Even Hargert was in attendance, by invitation, with Scotty, Leo, Commander Richmond, and Major Anders all present and the Koenig officers and COB as well. Master Chief Levi Rohm, an Israeli-American ex-Navy man from the H1E4 Earth, was present as the ship's senior NCO, with Senior Chiefs Tahrana Fahraz and Isabela Talaverda representing the flight crew and the main crew respectively.

Kaveri arrived with Meridina and Group Captain Bet'tir with several minutes to spare, and the next lift contained Robert, now in his formal fleet uniform. He took up a place near Science, where Cat was seated, to watch the ship he once commanded be given over to another captain.

Meridina started everything at precisely 1200. With a digital reader in her hand she called out "Attention to orders" and won the attention of those present. She began to read aloud. "'To Acting Captain Meridina, Commanding Officer ASV Aurora, 29 October 2643 Alliance Standard Time. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of your vessel to Captain Kaveri Varma as of this date and upon completion of her oath of service as laid out in the Affiliated Personnel regulations. You will then resume your normal posting as the First Officer of said vessel. Signed Admiral Tashan Tiyari, Alliance Stellar Navy Personnel Command.'" Meridina looked up and faced Kaveri, ready to begin the extended section of the ceremony due to Kaveri's transfer between services. "Battlemaster Kaveri Varma, in view of your transfer request from the service of an affiliated state of the United Alliance of Systems, your record has been examined and your request accepted. Your experience and capability merit you the rank of Captain in the Alliance Stellar Navy. Do you accept this finding?"

"I do," Kaveri replied.

"And you are willing to provide an oath of service to the Alliance?"

"I am."

"Then please repeat after me." Meridina consulted her digital reader again, to ensure she got the words right. "'I, Kaveri Varma, do solemnly vow that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United Alliance of Systems against all threats, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the service to which I have entered."

With each clause, Meridina paused to give Kaveri a chance to repeat the oath. When it was done, she let Kaveri decide on her final vow. Most Humans she'd known used some variation of "So help me God". Her mind went back to the day, over three years before, when she'd given the oath. Her choice for the end was to state, "With the aid of the Light of Life", which seemed the best way for a swevyra'se already sworn to the Code of Swenya to do it.

Kaveri repeated the oath and added, “I do solemnly affirm and swear upon the Almighty.”

Once the oath was given, Meridina nodded and said, "Computer, this is Acting Captain Meridina. Transfer all command functions to Captain Kaveri Varma and restore my permissions to First Officer level, authorization code Meridina Sierra India Tango 3806."

The computer's feminine voice responded, "ASV Aurora is now under the command of Captain Kaveri Varma. Commander Meridina now listed as First Officer."

"Thank you, Commander," said Kaveri, quiet and easy formality in her voice. "You are now relieved."

"Thank you, Captain. I stand relieved."

Kaveri turned away from Meridina to look about the bridge at the assembled. "I understand this is a difficult time for you all," she said. "I have not come to make it more difficult for you. While I come from another world, another way of thinking, I recognize that what you have built with the Alliance is truly wonderful. I am honored to take part in serving and defending this grand dream. And I pray Captain Andreys' recovery will be complete."

At her nod, Meridina declared. "Company dismissed," and the assembly broke up. The assembled Chiefs and Hargert followed Meridina and Kaveri to the conference lounge, with Bet'tir still at Kaveri's side.

It was only when they were gone that the remaining command officers slowly looked toward one another. "So, this happened," Angel finally said. "They gave us a new Captain."

"They had to," Zack said. "Meridina doesn't have the experience, I'm a recovering alcoholic who drank while on patrol, and Julia's got two months of mandatory medical leave."

"Well, I mean, it could've been worse," said Cat. "Ka'var, she's a nice lady."

"'Ka'var'?" asked Magda Navaez from the Koenig.

"Kaveri’Varma's name as said by Dilgar," Tra'dur explained from Ops.

"I wonder how things are going to change," Angel remarked. "I mean, Julia handled things differently from Rob here."

"She did, and Kaveri probably will have her own habits," Robert said. "But I think we can adjust. It won't be for long."

"Will it?" Angel asked pointedly. "Do you really think Davies is going to give up on getting us split up by putting one of his people on the ship?"

"Likely not," mumbled Zack. He could remember Davies' attempts to butter him up and turn him against the others after 33LA. "The man knows how to peddle influence."

"Perhaps, but don't undersell the Captain," said Richmond. "If she's fit, they can't deny her the ship. She'll be back, that I'm certain of."

Anders nodded in agreement. "She's a tough one, yeah."

The others listened to the two, who were relative newcomers to the staff (with Tra'dur), and felt a stirring of quiet pride that they'd convinced them, especially the professional Anders, of their worthiness.

Robert's emotions were more mixed. He was proud that Julia had won such loyalty, but the occasion was the reminder that Julia was still leaving the ship. And due to his own duties, he wouldn't be able to be with her while she recovered.

It wasn't that he didn't have faith in her, because he did. That wasn't the issue. The issue was that Robert knew how much Julia still hurt, and a part of him wanted to be there for her if she needed him, not a Multiverse away.

I'd ask for time, but with the attacks… no. All of the Paladins are going to be busy. And Julie would never let me hear the end of it if I shirked work to hover around her.

Besides. with our connection, maybe I can still be there for her.
As he thought that Robert turned his attention to the holo-viewscreen, set to show the planet below. Due to the difference in time dawn was now rising over Republic City below, but it was still the middle of the night in the Fire Nation. She should be asleep…

And yet, he knew she was not.

The glow of the night-lit capital of the Fire Nation filled the sky, and thus the view from the balcony of the guest room where Julia was staying. She stood at it, the light from the city and the half-moon in the sky giving a bright sheen to her silver nightgown. The air was mild, not too warm or cold, which fit the subtropical climate of the capital.

The room was a splendid one, with a soft bed and pillows, silken sheets, and an elegantly carved design for its tropical wood frame. A work desk with a cushioned chair was off to one side, a wardrobe beside it. The bathroom had a big tub with a shower that she'd spent half an hour in before going to sleep.

In ordinary circumstances it wouldn't be so easy to sleep at this time, as this was the afternoon for the Aurora. Fassbinder's schedule for the torture sessions hadn't hewed to anything resembling a Circadian rhythm however. Her sleep pattern was all a jumble.

Which was why she was still awake anyway.

Julia stared up at the night sky, the stars hidden by the light from the capital, and found herself idly wondering what it would be like if things were still normal. I'd be on my bridge watch right now, or having a department head meeting.

Julia's fist clenched. Everything in her life was in turmoil now. Even being rescued hadn't ended that, not with her ship in the hands of another, and her future still uncertain in so many ways. Whatever her understanding of the regulations and the good reasons behind them, she couldn't keep the resentment out of her heart. She just wanted her ship back, not two months of mental therapy while another sat in her place.

"Dammit," she murmured to herself. "Damn you." She balled her fists and wished Fassbinder was before her, right now, so she could punch the bastard. To make him pay. To get some measure of retribution for how he'd disrupted her life.

The mere thought of Fassbinder made her skin prickle with the memory of the nanobots, and how much they hurt. All of that raw pain, inescapable, unavoidable, with nothing to do but scream. Fassbinder's yellow eyes came back to her, the way they gleamed with sadistic glee while he tortured her.

With tears streaming from her eyes Julia stomped off the balcony and into the room. She left the room and entered the halls, the interior lights glinting off the silver material of her nightrobe and pants.

With sleep eluding her and her thoughts so dark, Julia wandered the halls of the Palace. It was a grand home, fit for the royalty that dwelled within, and it made Julia feel self-conscious about her own place here. As a guest she had certain obligations of her own, and diplomatic necessity demanded she be careful in not accidentally failing said obligations.

Her wanderings led her to the reception room for the throne room itself. She looked over the statuary and portraits more closely than the prior day. In a place of honor, beside the entrance to the throne room, was a portrait of a man in the same regalia Daizon wore earlier. There was some family resemblance in the image, although the depicted man was younger. There was a warm look in his eyes, the same amber-like light brown as most of the other Fire Nation royals. The left eye was marked with a vicious, angry scar, a trail of red and pink around the eye trailing backward toward the temple of his head.

At the sound of a slight hum, Julia turned to her left. Ursa approached in her anti-grav chair. She was plainly tired and dressed for sleep, wearing a tan-colored nightgown with the Fire Nation crest in red over the heart. Dragon designs followed the trim lines of the gown and the cuffs. "You have difficulty sleeping as well?" Ursa asked.

"Yeah." Julia nodded. "How is Miko?"

"She is… recovering." A pained look came to Ursa's eyes. "I was holding her until she returned to sleep. She had a nightmare about that strange chair…"

"The Aurora Chair." Julia closed her eyes and felt a phantom pain drill through her forehead.

Ursa nodded. "What was it like?"

"Like having a power drill rammed into my brain," Julia answered. "And then something going through my head, dragging my memories out. Whether or not I wanted them. And all so those bastards could watch." As she spoke Julia's fists clenched. It was bad enough to have Fassbinder and his people seeing her deepest, most fond memories. Knowing that they were broadcast to that audience of Cylons and Aristos, that the latter especially were enjoying the violation and pain she suffered…

"You have both suffered a cruelty that I never imagined possible," Ursa said. "The nightmares are no surprise."

"Yeah." Julia rubbed her face, where the broken cheekbone she'd suffered from a blow during their escape was mostly healed due to Leo. "The physical wounds are the easiest, really. We're both going to need time to heal the mental ones."

That prompted a nod of understanding from the Fire Nation Princess, regardless of her own very obvious physical injury and the fact she was far from healed of it.

Julia looked back to the portrait. "So, this is one of your ancestors?"

"The ancestor, when you consider the modern Fire Nation," Ursa said. "That is Fire Lord Zuko, the peacemaker who ended the Hundred Year War alongside Avatar Aang."

"I notice he had his own scars to deal with."

"He did. The scar was a mark left by his father, the tyrant Ozai, to punish Zuko for a perceived slight." Ursa frowned. "Zuko had a hard life as a child due to his father's abuses. After being his father scarred him in an Agni Kai duel, he was banished from the Fire Nation, and sent on a hopeless mission as his only way to return home. Ozai intended for the experience to break his son, but Zuko proved stronger than he expected."

"What happened to Ozai?"

"He was defeated by Avatar Aang while attempting to wipe out the Earth Kingdom. Upon his defeat Zuko assumed the throne." Ursa looked intently at the portrait. "He was the first Fire Lord in over a century to promote peace and to improve the lives of his people. It took him years to overcome his father's influence, but with time he reinvented our nation from a military-dominated, authoritarian state into one devoted to peaceful industry. Even today his influence is strong in our people and we honor his memory." She glanced to Julia. "My parents named me for his mother, Ursa, the granddaughter of Avatar Roku of the Fire Nation." A wry look appeared on the older woman's face. "It is fitting, I suppose, that I was the mother of the next Avatar to come from our nation."

Julia nodded. As she examined Zuko's portrait further, her mind flashed back, briefly, to her conversation with High Lady Kamea Arano during the visit to the Aurigan Coalition. Barely two weeks had passed since, but for Julia it felt more like two months. "History chooses heroes. Sometimes I wonder what history will say about us?"

"From what I have heard, it will have much to say across this vast Multiverse your people have introduced us too."

"I wonder how much of it will be good." Julia looked toward Ursa and noticed her eyes were drooping. The older woman was clearly exhausted. "May I help you back to your room?"

Ursa's hand went toward the control for her chair, but she only set it gently against the joystick for a moment before pulling it back. "Yes. Mother's spirit would be furious with me if I broke one of the sculptures by running into it."

Julia mirrored Ursa's friendly grin at that while walking around her to take the grips for her chair. The anti-gravs did not entirely cancel out the weight, but Julia found it took little effort to push Ursa through the halls back toward their rooms.

With a buzz and a flash of light, Caterina and Tra'dur materialized in the Old Downtown section of Republic City. The sun was just above the snowcapped mountains to the east. Here, on the central peninsula, the structures were shorter than in the shorelines hugging the bay, and the architecture was different. It reminded Cat of older Gersallian structures, with an emphasis on round buildings and circular shapes. The majority of people around them were clad in the yellow and orange of the Air Nation. Several were bald and looked like monks to her.

Soon they were the center of attention. Drawn by the sound of their transport, passers-by were riveted now on the view of the two "Alliancers". They were in uniform, making identifying them easy, but as a non-Human Tra'dur stood out already.

A familiar face emerged from one group of Air Nomads. Yeshe approached and smiled. "Welcome to the Air Enclave of Republic City," she said to the two. "Please follow me."

"Okay." Cat looked around her and waved. "Uh, hi everyone. We're here in peace and stuff. Nice to meet you!"

As they followed Yeshe into the largest of the nearby buildings. The inside was beautiful, reminding Cat of images of Tibetan monasteries with the architectural style, with the emblem of the Air Nation etched into the design repeatedly. Bushes and flowers were planted along the walls, giving the place a natural feel. "You really like your circles," Cat said to Yeshe. "It's in almost everything you build."

"Airbending is based on spiral movements," Yeshe said. She circled her finger in the air and generated an air current. "As the air itself is in constant motion."

They continued on through the chamber. In the middle was a large statue of a man in Air Nation robes. His bald head was marked with an arrow. Noticing their interest, Yeshe said, "This is a statue of Avatar Aang, the seed from which the Air Nomads rejoined the world."

"The face looks familiar," Tra'dur said. "That statue in your bay…?"

"Is Aang as well," Yeshe said, nodding. "As he looked when he defeated Fire Lord Ozai and ended the Hundred Year War." She led them on through the structure. When they paid some attention to another statue, with a resemblance to Aang, Yeshe said, "That is Master Tenzin, Aang's youngest son, and the first Airbender born in over a century. His older brother Bumi became an Airbender as well after Harmonic Convergence awakened the power in individuals across the world, his statue is on the other side of the dome. Tenzin's daughter, Master Jinora, is over there." She pointed to a statue of a serene middle-aged woman.

"You said Aang was a seed?" Tra'dur asked. "What do you mean?"

Yeshe's expression turned somber. "About four hundred years ago was when the Hundred Year War began. Fire Lord Sozin began the war during a time when a comet was passing through the atmosphere. The heat of the comet blazing in our atmosphere acted as a second source of power for Firebenders, greatly strengthening their abilities, and Sozin's armies used this power to annihilate the Air Nomads."

Cat gave Tra'dur a sympathetic look. Tra'dur's feline eyes grew distant.

"They were trying to kill Aang, so that Sozin's plan to unite the world under Fire Nation rule had no opponent. He did not know that Aang panicked on learning he was the Avatar and fled the temples." Yeshe turned and noticed the look on Tra'dur. "What is wrong?"

When Tra'dur did not reply, Caterina did. "The Dilgar were nearly annihilated by their star shedding its outer layer and irradiating their homeworld. And some of their old enemies recently tried to complete their destruction. We stopped them."

"I see." Yeshe gestured toward the exit. "Let us proceed." The subject change was obvious.

Through the exit they arrived in a park. Beyond it a solid beam of yellow light shot into the sky. The walk through the park was quiet, and nobody spoke until they arrived at the edge of a crater covered in grass and vines. Cat's eyes widened at the sight of a sphere of yellow light in the middle of the crater, the source of the beam.

"Yeshe, these are our guests?"

The speaker approached. He was an elderly man, bald like many of the others they'd seen, with sky blue eyes. A blue arrow was tattooed on his head, the end of a line that went down the back of his skull and neck to his back. Smaller arrows were visible on the backs of his hands, their lines disappearing into the sleeves of his garment.

"Master Gyatsun," Yeshe said, bowing once in respect. Gyatsun returned it. "These are Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, the Science Officer of the Alliance void cruiser Aurora, and her compatriot, Lieutenant Tra'dur." She turned to them. "This is my teacher, Master Gyatsun. He is one of the leaders of the Air Nomads."

The two matched the bow Yeshe made. Gyatsun smiled and returned it. "Welcome, friends. You came to see the Spirit Portal?"

"I've been scanning it since we arrived in orbit," Cat said, her tone breathless. "I've never seen anything like it in any of the universes."

"Well, allow me."

As they journeyed toward the middle nothing was said. The two Airbenders kept looking back and noticing that Cat was busy with her omnitool, holding her left hand out at times. "The distortion level is much weaker than I imagined it would be," she said. "It's almost like something is bracing the portal in space-time."

"Really?" Tra'dur activated her own omnitool and confirmed the results. "This defies virtually every aspect of physics. A dimensional breach like this shouldn't be this stable."

"Like I said when we made orbit, it's more stable than the Bajoran Wormhole." Cat was so engrossed in her readings that she nearly ran into Gyatsun, who was no longer moving forward and in fact had turned to face her. "Oh, uh, oops."

"It is alright," the elder Airbender said with a gentle tone. "I am unfamiliar with your technology, may I ask what you're using it for?"

"Well, our omnitools are specialized with improved sensors for scanning, so we're scanning the area to learn more about the portal," Cat said. "And this portal, it's simply… amazing."

"Usually the people who come here for the first time can't keep their eyes off the portal itself," Yeshe said. "They are captivated by its presence."

"Well, I mean, it's beautiful, and I'm glad to see it. I'm just interested in these scans too, which are beautiful in their own way." Cat triggered her omnitool to expand its scanner display with the holographic function. It showed a stable pattern of yellow and red within a field of blue. "Normally disruptions in space-time aren't so, well, they don't look like this. This is a perfect field. It's not even fair to call it a disruption, or a rip. A hole, maybe. Or a tunnel."

"The papers we can write, they will be profound." Tra'dur's voice betrayed similar awe. "This kind of phenomena will astound the cosmological community across the Multiverse."

Cat felt self-conscious at the way the two were looking at them and lowered her arm. A blush formed on her cheeks. "Oh, I'm… I'm sorry. This is sacred to you, isn't it? Here I am, having a science geekout over something that's important to you spiritually."

At that Gyatsun laughed. It was a friendly laugh. "It is okay, young lady. You seek knowledge for knowledge's sake. It is a pure endeavor. One many Air Nomads throughout history have worked to fulfill. I could never hold offense."

"You refer to yourself as the Air Nation and the Air Nomads, is there a distinction?" Tra'dur asked.

"Not truly. Once upon a time, it referred to how small the numbers of Airbenders were after Harmonic Convergence. But we have grown and thrived. Our numbers travel the world and the worlds in the void, fulfilling the ideals of Aang, Tenzin, and Avatar Korra."

"Korra was… Water Tribe, right?" Cat asked. "According to the cycle you have."

"She was. And when she was still a young woman, she offered her life freely to save the reborn Air Nation," Gyatsun answered. "While she survived that choice, we consider it a duty to honor her decision by helping the Avatar keep the peace and the balance of our worlds."

Yeshe noticed the look on Tra'dur's face. "You seem thoughtful."

"Yes. My people came close to extinction as well, and it makes me glad to see your example of coming back from that fate," replied the Dilgar woman. "It makes me imagine a future where my people enjoy the same recovery."

"That future will come," Gyatsun assured her. "Now, if you are hungry, our meal hall is this way."

"Oooh. Yeah, that works for me."

"I hope you will enjoy our traditional dishes," Yeshe said.

They were led to the meal hall, another round structure in the complex. It reminded Cat of a cafeteria, as a row of food preparers kept a line of food trays loaded with meals. As they went down the line, Cat accepted something of everything. She noticed Tra'dur was looking from tray to tray with growing desperation. A realization came to Cat and she turned to Yeshe. "Uh, your people… you're vegetarians, aren't you?"

"Yes," Yeshe answered. "It is not our way to eat the flesh of other creatures." Yeshe looked past her and noticed the look on Tra'dur's face. "Is everything okay?"

Cat was prepared to be honest about the Dilgar - namely that they were preferential carnivores - but before she could speak Tra'dur declared, "Oh, it is fine! Everything is okay. I look forward to trying your… cuisine."

Yeshe was clearly uncertain of Tra'dur's insistence, forced as her words were, so Cat said, "It'll be okay." When Yeshe accepted and got a final item for her meal, Cat looked back to Tra'dur and whispered, "I'm sorry."

"I pick our next meal," was the response.

In light of the atmosphere the small group that assembled outside were wearing full suits. Lucy checked the reading on her omnitool and nodded. "The acid content is barely registering," she said. "It must be the wind patterns."

"Well, nice to know the atmosphere won't melt our faces off," Jack noted. He, Sam, and Teal'c followed, with Talara and Komin along. "So, this 'Bending' stuff. How's it work?"

Lucy gave Komin an amused smile, and he nodded. "Well, it's like this," he said. He assumed a martial arts stance before stomping his foot on the ground. A chunk of rock erupted in front of him. As it was reaching the apex of its climb, he kicked at it, his foot nearly making contact. The rock went flying until it slammed into the wall of one of the city structures. The impact broke it into several pieces.

"Wait, how did he do that?" Sam asked. "Some kind of telekinesis?"

"Bending is linked to chi," Komin explained. After stating this he made two punching motions. Smaller rocks tore from the ground and smashed against the wall. "Each style has its own form that makes it work. Earth is rigid and strong, you have to stand your ground with it."

He performed another series of moves, pummeling the wall with more stone, until with effort he made a lifting motion and pulled out a large boulder's worth of rock from the earth, at least two meters in diameter. He thrust his palms forward and the boulder shot into the air, eventually landing nearly a hundred meters ahead.

"Woh." Jack smiled thinly. "Now that's cool."

"It is indeed most impressive," Teal'c agreed. "How does it compare with your own gifts, Lucilla Lucero?"

"There's a connection, I can tell you that much," Lucy said. "I can sense it when he or another bender uses their powers. But while it's related, there's some kind of difference between us."

Sam nodded. After a few moments Lucy felt her accept what visual evidence confirmed. This capability existed, the facts were there, so as outlandish and impossible as it seemed, it was a scientific fact. Immediately her mind went to other places. "So what are its limitations? Does it work with refined ore? Do you need raw earth or can a refined material be manipulated?"

"Refined materials are harder, and not every Earthbender can Metalbend," Komin said. "But I've been trained in it." He made a motion and pulled a metal plate from his suit. It followed his hand around as he swept it in the air a few times. "We can bend the impurities inside of metal Even slight impurities. Only the most purified metals and alloys are outside of a Metalbender's ability."

"Huh. Not bad." Jack glanced to the others. "I wonder how they'd do against the lego bugs."

"The what?" Lucy asked.

"The Replicators," Sam clarified. "They're a machine collective that the Asgard have been fighting for millennia. They rebuild themselves from whatever material they can find, so they're often made of metal."

Lucy nodded in understanding. "Explaining why the Asgard haven't put the Goa'uld down. I always wondered what was holding them back."

Komin, meanwhile, was more interested in the very idea of such creatures, although they sounded like a threat as well. "There is a lot of such things in the Multiverse, it seems."

"Well, machine bugs that want to eat everything is on par with some of the nastiest things," Lucy said.

"Yes. There are also things like the Reapers," said Talara. "And those cyborgs from the S5T3 universe."

"The Borg," Lucy said. The Aurora had been on its exploration mission in the Tanatis Sector in A7R6 during the last Borg attack on Earth. Several Alliance ships were lost or damaged in the fight, although under Captain Picard the fleet ultimately destroyed the Borg cube. "And that doesn't count other threats out there. The Multiverse can be pretty dangerous."

"My people learned that before we even knew it was a Multiverse," Komin remarked.

"So, where's Doctor Jackson?" Lucy asked the others. "Is he devoted to the computer readouts?"

"Likely, but he's got some family issues going on," Jack said. "To put it mildly."

"Oh? Oh. Marriage problems, right." Lucy nodded. "Those happen in any marriage, or so I'm told. Anyway, I'm sure Jarod and Tom are waiting for some help with the tech analysis, and Talara's due for training soon. We should go back inside."

"Yeah. I told that redhead from your other ship I'd be joining the exploration teams for the base," Jack said. "What's her name, one of those English cities…"

"I believe you are referring to Lieutenant Manchester," Teal'c offered.

"Right, her. I should probably find where she and that big German guy are at now. Coming, Teal'c?"

Teal'c nodded and joined Jack in returning inside. The others followed to see to their tasks.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

After the meal with Yeshe and Master Gyatsun, Cat and Tra'dur took a ferry over to the southern side of the city along Yue Bay's southern coastline. "Apparently this is the city's financial center," Tra'dur noted, reading information from a tourist guide that her omnitool was translating. "Republic City is the center of the entire planet's financial system."

"Huh. So, why are we here?"

Tra'dur smiled. "To make up for that no-meat meal we just had to endure"

Cat winced. She'd spent the entire meal worried Tra'dur would break down and start gagging. "I'm really, really sorry about that!"

"I know, and I do not blame you. I understand some species and cultures do not appreciate meat, either replicated or made."

"Yeah. Although… huh. I wonder if the Air Nation will amend its rules to account for replicators? It seems to be a case of them not wanting to kill animals for meat, I mean."

"It will make any future dinners with them palatable." Tra'dur's feline grin took a slight edge. "Ugh, it reminded me of some of the ration meals I had to eat as a kit."

"Yeah. Not a lot of meat can be raised underground, I guess."

They walked through the busy city streets, watching the passing sleek forms of vehicles. Cat blinked at the peculiar sight of some of them having the emblem of a cabbage on them. "That's just weird."

Their walk eventually brought them to the edge of a park and a bustling commercial area. It was here that Tra'dur sniffed the air and a gleeful, satisfied smile came to her. "Come on, this way," she said urgently. Cat followed her down one sidewalk and then across the busy street, taking advantage of the crosswalk and the stopped traffic.

Around one street corner were two stands, twenty meters apart. The first one had produce, mostly big heads of leafy green lettuce or cabbage, but the proprietor's attempt to get their attention failed utterly. The second was Tra'dur's stop. Her feline eyes nearly shined with joy at the sight of the rotating chunks of meat over a low flame, glistening from the juices of the meat. With the auto-translator active, she asked the proprietor, "Excuse me, but does any of this contain beef? That is, meat from a cow or another bovine animal?"

At the incredulous expression on the proprietor's face, Cat added, "She has dietary laws from her religion. She's not allowed to eat meat from cows."

"Oh. Like how Air Nomads don't eat meat at all?" The proprietor was bronze-skinned and wore a blue and red outfit. His eyes were a gray color. "Huh, you look like someone crossed a cat and a Human. Are all aliens like that?"

"No, we Dilgar are more Human-like than some other species," Tra'dur explained. "Some species are not even bipedal."

"So… ah, I'm not sure what a 'cow' is, really. Something like a hippo cow?"

"A wha?" Cat blinked and then laughed a little at the mental image of a cow and a hippo combined. "I guess? Just without the hippo part."

"Well, I mostly go with smaller stuff. How about some picken-ka-bobs? Only three yuan apiece!"

Given the first contact was still ongoing an official currency exchange wasn't yet in place, but the Republic's government was authorizing an exchange rate for the Alliance crew on leave thanks to Meridina's efforts. Tra'dur was more than capable of paying for four of the shish-ka-bobs, and Cat decided to nibble on what looked like a Cornish hen on a stick, which she was informed was an arctic hen.

Cat received the hen on a stick and turned to find Tra'dur already gleefully chowing down. "This is delicious," she said after swallowing. "It tastes like pork, but the texture is like chicken."

"Mmm." Cat took a bite of her choice and found that it tasted mostly like chicken, maybe a bit saltier. They walked past the first stall, whose proprietor was loudly proclaiming the quality of his cabbage heads. "So they have hybrid species, but not hybrid plants."

"Yes, very weird," Tra'dur managed between greedy bites.

They got across the street when they heard a loud electronic horn. A loud crash filled the air, the sound of metal and plastics smashing and breaking, followed by another crash. Both turned back to see that a traffic collision resulted in one of the vehicles slamming into the produce vendor's stall. He looked over the broken refuse of half of his inventory and put his hands to his temple in a gesture of hopeless despair. "No, not my cabbages!" he wailed.

Cat and Tra'dur exchanged glances. "Do you think there's something we can do to help?"

"I'm sure their authorities have it well in hand…"

One such authority appeared in the form of a human figure in a green outfit with a metal vest swinging down from above via a wire. A couple more joined in the following seconds.

"So… where to next?" Cat asked Tra'dur. When she received no answer Cat turned and saw Tra'dur chowing down as if she were starving. She giggled loudly. "Alright, I'll pick then…" She brought back up the guide and looked it over. "The Future Industries Air and Voidflight Museum looks interesting…"

The sun was coming over the horizon when Julia stirred from sleep again. There were no nightmares this time, no dreams filled with terror and panic and pain, and the sleep she'd enjoyed as restful.

The shower awaited her, but first came her morning routine. Now that she was physically recovered from her captivity, Julia felt capable of resuming that routine to its fullest. With her robe tied close at the waist she walked out onto the balcony and took in the dawning sun for a moment, centering herself.

When she was ready Julia raised her arms into a ready position and assumed her first form. It'd been nearly two weeks since she last practiced and her movements were stiffer and less smooth than usual. But the muscle memory was there to guide her through the exercise. She followed her preferred flow of t'ai chi to mok'bara stances and back again, fusing the Klingon martial art Commander Worf introduced to her with the one she'd learned since she was a preteen. The differences were there, but the principles were compatible, indeed nearly the same, allowing a flow of movement. Sleep faded from her mind and she felt ever more ready for the day.


Julia stopped and looked to her right. Across the open air of the courtyard below was another wing of the palace, the wing reserved for the royal family. And on a balcony at the same level of hers, Miko was standing, her arm waving. She had on a black and tan-colored set of clothing, pajamas Julia guessed, and her hair was in something of a disheveled mess. Julia waved back and watched Miko take a few steps back.

Then Miko burst into a quick run and leapt from the balcony. Flame erupted from her feet, acting like jets. Her arms whirled in mid-air and a gust of intense wind blew Julia's own hair into her eyes. Through the strands of blond-colored hair Julia saw that the gust was from an intense pocket of swirling air that caught Miko as she landed, cushioning that landing for her. Julia used a hand to brush her hair out of her eyes. "You could have just walked around," she pointed out.

"Ugh, no. My grand-uncle's people would be clinging to me the whole way," Miko answered. "Besides, this way is quicker. And I've done it plenty of times."

"And annoyed your mother every time?"

"Yeah. I always loved that growing up. Annoying Mom was something to pass time when she wasn't dragging me to royal functions." Miko shook her head. "I wasn't the best daughter, I guess."

"Parents understand." Remembering her conversation with Ursa during the night, Julia asked, "So, bad dreams?"

A wan look came to the young woman's face. "Bad ones, yeah," said Miko. "That chair. You too?"

Julia nodded. Over the past couple of days she'd had a few dreams about the chair. As if her subconscious couldn't quite comprehend she was no longer a prisoner. "It wasn't the only way he hurt me, but that chair, it just won't go away," Julia confessed.

"Yeah. I wish we'd smashed it before we left. Maybe the dreams wouldn't be so bad then. Or feel so real."

"Maybe. But dreams don't always make rational sense. That chair left its mark on us and I don't think it'll go away so easily."

Neither of them were interested in continuing that conversation. Miko began the change of subject. "What was it you were doing? I mean, the movements you were making?"

"Oh, my forms? For the last eighteen years I've practiced t'ai chi," Julia explained. "It's a martial art from various Earths that originated in China. I use it as part of my morning routine."

"Oh." A certain look came over Miko. "Because it looked really familiar."

"It did?" Now Julia felt curious. Given the other signs of a link between this world's Humanity and Earth, this could further elaborate on that link. "In what way?"

"Well…" A small blush appeared on Miko's cheeks. "Actually, it sort of ties into my problems."


It was clear Miko felt some kind of shame or embarrassment about what she was about to talk about. Julia was about to give her assurance when Miko said, "Because the way you moved? That's how Waterbenders move."

Julia blinked at that. "Huh?"

"Each Bending style, it… it has its own movements, it's own forms."

"And the people who manipulate water like you do fire, they move like they're practicing t'ai chi?"

"Yes," Miko said. "I mean, I've seen Waterbending. It's the next element I'm supposed to learn. But I've had trouble with the teachers, and how it works."

"By trouble you mean?"

"Well, the way you move, they move, it's too slow, and it doesn't feel right," Miko said. "Firebending is quick and aggressive and direct. And Airbending is really mobile too. It's about spiral movement, being light on your feet. But Waterbending is… well, it's not those things."

"I see what you mean. T'ai chi isn't aggressive, and it's not so much mobile as fluid. You don't attack or evade, you change the flow of their energy," Julia explained. "You stick to a foe and redirect their strength so you don't have to meet it head on."

Miko nodded in understanding. "It's like that. But I'm a Firebender at heart. I meet power with power. I try to hit harder."

"Well, I can see why…"

There was a knock at Julia's door. Miko went silent while Julia stepped back into the room and went over to the living area of the guest chamber. At the door was one of the domestic staff. "Captain, His Highness the Fire Lord requests your company for breakfast with the family," the man said eloquently. Spying Miko through the door, he added, "And Princess Miko is requested to attend as well."

"Uh, right. We'll be down shortly," Julia said. Once the door was closed she turned back to Miko.

"For you it really was a request, at least, as far as Uncle Daizon is concerned," Miko noted. "But not for me."

"Yeah, I got that feeling. And since I'm a guest in his palace, I can't really deny him and not look like a bad guest." Julia went back to her room. "Well, I'm going to go shower, you should probably return to your room."

"I'll see you at breakfast," said Miko before she went out onto the balcony. With a blast of flame beneath her feet she leapt away.

Julia sighed and smiled softly. "I am never going to get used to that."

After the rounds of meetings with the department heads, Kaveri returned to the ready office off of the bridge. The furnishings were nice and there were clear spaces where Julia's mementos were removed.

It was a rather stark reminder of these circumstances. Julia Andreys was no longer captain of the Aurora not due to her own deeds, but to the captivity she endured. Kaveri felt nothing but sympathy for her plight. Kaveri knew enough of the younger woman to know being taken from her command, even after rescue, was not easy.

Such consideration brought with it the reason Kaveri was here. Why Maran asked for her to command, and the secrets he confided to Kaveri's wife, and thus to Kaveri herself. Kaveri's finger found the control for the ship intercom. "Varma to Meridina. Commander, I would like to see you in the watch office."

A short time later the door chime sounded. At Kaveri's prompting Meridina entered. "You wished to see me?"

"Yes. To clear up an important matter, Commander. Please have a seat."

Meridina nodded and took one. Aware of Meridina's telepathic gifts, Kaveri began to recite entries from the Bhagavad Gita in her head, meeting her telepath subordinate halfway as she always tried with the military telepaths she'd served with in her career. Meridina noted the act. "Those are entries from your holy book, are they not?"

Kaveri nodded. "They are."

"I see. You have my appreciation." While Meridina had adjusted to dealing with stray thoughts, it was comfortable to not worry about them for the moment. "Is the ship's readiness to your satisfaction?"

"Yes. You have done well in your time as Captain of this ship. What I would like to speak with you is of a more delicate matter."

"I see. And that is?"

"The Prophecy of the Dawn, and its nature."

Meridina remained still for a moment. "You have been informed?"

"I have. Admiral Maran shared his views on the matter with my wife, and she with me. And your enemies certainly seem to believe something about it." Kaveri folded her hands together. "When they attacked Gersal, your foes were not just launching a terror raid, were they?"

"No. They were not. They were after specific objects. We believe they failed."

"Oh? And what were they looking for?"

Meridina pondered the question for a moment. She felt no deceit or duplicitous purpose from Kaveri. But she was used to not discussing the Prophecy of the Dawn with those outside of the circle who supported it. Even sympathetic Alliance supporters and authorities might have trouble accepting it.

But her own swevyra, it made her feel comfortable with the idea of sharing information with Kaveri.

"They were after the Life of Reshan, a biographical work of Swenya's mentor and teacher, and Swenya's Blade. We know they did not claim them, as Swenya's Blade was already missing when they came for it, and the Life of Reshan is in our possession. We have it now in Robert's quarters."

"Do you know why they wished for these things? One is a relic, the other a book."

"The relic I am uncertain of at the moment, but the book is more than it seems," Meridina shared. "With the aid of a scholarly work on the Gersallian language of that time, we have learned that the Life of Reshan contains hidden passages, disguised as errors in the language and syntax of the period. This hidden information is what we are still decoding."

"Then it is relevant to your Prophecy?"

"Likely," Meridina said. "Although how it is, we are unsure. For the time being the book remains aboard. We are still deciphering the hidden text."

"Please keep me apprised."

"Very well. Would you like me to assign help in bringing your things to your office?"

"No," said Kaveri. "I see no point in it."


"I am not here to be in command on a permanent basis, Commander," Kaveri explained. "I am a caretaker for this ship and crew. I have no desire to settle in, nor provide the impression that would be given in so doing."

Meridina nodded in recognition. "Because you see this as a temporary stop before you return to be with Shai'jhur."

Kaveri didn't have to answer. Her desire to return to her loved one, after decades apart, was clear through the verses flowing through her mind. Meridina already knew something of that love, and how strong it was, from the telepathic scan to confirm the contact was consensual.

You have served so very long a career, Kaveri Varma. With a devotion worthy of the Order's finest.

Meridina hadn't quite intended to broadcast her thoughts. Perhaps she hadn't, and her expression betrayed them. Kaveri reacted with a pleasant look. "I am kshatriya, Captain. Duty is my calling."

"It is."

A tone sounded from the desk. Kaveri tapped the blinking key on her desk control panel. "Captain Varma here. Proceed."

The voice on the other end was Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi's. "Captain, Under-Secretary Tashke is ready to resume the talks with the local government."

"Understood. Commander Meridina and I will meet her and her team at Transporter Station 1." Kaveri hit the key again to end the call. She tapped a final command into her datapad and stood. "My thanks to you on your report on the talks, Commander. It brought me up to speed."

"Thank you, Captain." Meridina said nothing more while following Kaveri out of the ready office.

The family dining hall in the Fire Palace was small, compared to the banquet hall anyway. It was still large enough to fit the Aurora's conference lounge and the Lookout together. At the central table Lord Daizon sat at the head seat. To his right was his wife Ty Lin, a thin woman with ash-gray hair arranged in a braided tail. To his left was the seat of honor which went to Ursa. Miko was beside her mother and Julia beside Miko. Other members of the family were on both sides of the table, about twenty in all. A variety of pastries and meat dishes, as well as some citrus, were the offered breakfast fare. Julia picked that which seemed the most appetizing for her plate. She waited quietly for Daizon to have the first bite. After he swallowed everyone else dug in.

Julia was finding Fire Nation cuisine to be on the spicy side, which was fitting in its own way. It wasn't quite as hot as Thai, just hot enough that Julia was frequently relieving her taste buds of the heat with the water and tea set before her.

They were well into the meal when Daizon, his plate finished for the moment, looked to Miko and asked, "The Council has asked me to look into how you are progressing, Miko."

Julia could tell Miko wasn't happy to hear the question. "Uncle, I love you, but please don't mince words. They want to know about my Waterbending training."

Daizon nodded. "Yes. I personally understand that you need time, but the Council are concerned with your development as the Avatar. You finished Airbending rather quickly, but now you seem stuck. And given Chief Lantak did not work out… I recall you sought out a trainer on Tangshan?"

"I did. Her name was Jenna."

A cousin further down the table gave Miko a bewildered look. "Jenna Kamak? The former Pro-bender?"

"And one of the most accomplished Waterbenders alive." Miko's eyes fell. "At least, she was."

"Fassbinder and the SS killed her, didn't they?" Julia asked.

"Yes." Miko's eyes teared up. "Her, her husband Hunan, and their children. They lined them up and shot them, and they just… disappeared. As if they never existed."

"You surrendered to spare them, didn't you?" Ursa asked.

Miko nodded. Her fists clenched. "I wish I had burned that yellow-eyed monster to ash," she rasped angrily. "He… he promised he'd let the people of Tangshan go. Instead he made me watch, just to be cruel."

"What kind of monster was this Fassbinder?" another member of the family asked.

"Infected with evil," Miko insisted. "His spirit is dark and hideous."

"Fassbinder's people, they represent a movement that thankfully failed in other universes," Julia said. "The Nazis believe in the racial superiority of their nation. They consider themselves supermen, and other peoples and species are thought to be inferior to some degree or another. There are few atrocities, if any, they'd refuse to commit against a people they think is inferior. Even in my history, where they were defeated, they invented industrial mass murder. They'd march people into gas chambers, kill them, and then burn the remains. They murdered millions in just a few years. The Nazis of Fassbinder's universe? They've slaughtered billions over the centuries. They exterminated entire species, wiped out whole nations of Humans they considered inferior. Other peoples they forced into zoos, making them live like animals. And the SS are the fanatical heart of their movement."

"Monstrous indeed," Daizon said. "Their attacks on our colonies made it clear they were a savage and cruel people, but the depths of their depravity were unknown to us." He looked again to Miko. "I thank the spirits of our ancestors that you were freed from them, dear Miko."

"I do too." Miko closed her eyes. "I only wish I could have saved the people of Tangshan."

"The survivors spoke of your heroism, and of your willingness to sacrifice for them," Ty Lin said. "You have nothing to regret."

"Don't I?" Miko asked bitterly. "Had I refused to surrender, had I kept fighting, maybe we would have held out. Maybe…"

"No." Julia shook her head. "Fassbinder would have just kept killing your people until he took you. And if he couldn't, he would have destroyed Tangshan from orbit. You can't be blamed for not knowing what he, what his people, are like, Miko." She set her right hand on Miko's shoulder. "It's not your fault, Miko. Although I know you'll feel otherwise for a long time, you have to remember that. You acted to protect people at your own expense, and if you ask me, that makes you a hero."

Julia spoke the words calmly, and with utter sincerity that none at the table doubted. Miko heard them and nodded in acceptance. It wouldn't stop her from feeling terrible of course, but it would help.

"You speak with wisdom, Captain," Daizon said. "And from what the history files your people provided the Council show, you are deserving of the same title of hero for your deeds."

Julia blushed slightly. "Thank you, Your Highness. My friends and I, we just came out here to do the right thing. To help people."


"I would say you have been quite helpful," Ursa remarked.

One of the younger princes looked theri way from further down the table. He was in his mid-teens, from the look of him, a cousin of Miko's. Julia didn't recall his name at the moment. "The news services are saying a lot about your people. And they showed you have aliens that look like Humans. Are they really aliens?"

"The Gersallians? Yes," Julia said. "Externally they look Human, but there are physiological differences under the skin. And they're not the only ones. The Betazoid, for instance, also look completely Human, except they have dark-colored eyes. And are completely telepathic."

It took a moment for the others to parse that, or at least the term that the auto-translators used in their language for the idea of telepaths. "People who can look into your mind? Really?"

"Yes. Betazoids can do it. Some Humans from the S0T5 and E5B1 universes can too. In fact, most species from E5B1 have some telepaths in their populations thanks to genetic engineering by an ancient race known as the Vorlons."

By this point even Miko's attention was focused entirely on Julia. "I noticed there were other species on your ship," Ursa said. "Your Alliance has four, right?"

"For now. We have Human member systems and nations and the Gersallians, Dorei, and Alakin."

"The Alakin are the bird-people, right?"

"Yes," said Julia. She turned her attention from her meal, recognizing that the others were starving for more knowledge of the Multiverse. "There are also other species that are considering membership, and some of them are already serving in the Alliance. The Falaen, for instance, a species once known as Alteans…"

The Future Industries Air and Voidflight Museum was a treasure trove of information on the progress of the planet's technology. Cat and Tra'dur wandered its halls and exhibits. "I really should get Tom to come here," Cat said. "Or Lucy."

"It is interesting to see where their designs differ from the Humanity of Earth at these stages of development," said Tra'dur. A torpedo-carrying biplane was in the exhibit before them. Their omnitools provided a translation of the exhibit display, remarking that it was an authentic replica of the Future Industries Mark I Torpedo Aircraft. The unfortunate history of the aircraft, designed and built for the benefit of the failed Equalist Revolution, was laid out.

"'Equalists'?" Cat's brow furrowed in thought. "I wonder what they are?"

"We do have an uplink into the planetary extranet," Tra'dur said. She tapped at her omnitool control. "The Equalists…" The holographic screen shifted to show a man in a hooded suit. A white mask with a red circle on the forehead was hiding his face. Text rendered into Dilgar characters was beside it. "Apparently they were an anti-bender political movement from two centuries ago. Their leader, a man named Amon, could take away the metaphysical abilities of benders, and vowed to do this to every bender on the planet to create an 'equal' society. He was revealed to be a Waterbender capable of..." Tra'dur made an unpleasant face. "...of bending the blood inside of Human beings."

"So, equal except for him, I guess," Cat said with evident sarcasm. "And the whole thing about manipulating the water in our blood? That sounds really scary. And creepy. I mean, with how these powers work, you could twist someone up like a pretzel."

"All of these metaphysical powers have some kind of terrible potential, it seems," Tra'dur said. "Which is no different from science, if you think about it."

"I suppose…"

They continued on from that display to find an aircraft marked as the first jet aircraft. It had the jet engines underslung from the wings like most early jet craft from Earth's history. This led to more advanced jets and a scale model replica of the first rocket to make it into orbit. The image beside the model showed a picture collage of the real one. In the middle was a shot of the rocket in the distance with a group of people standing in front of it. The figure in the center was a green-eyed elderly woman in a dark suit with red shoulders. There was an insignia on the shoulders that the angle partly obscured. Her wrinkled face was split by a happy smile. The engraved plaque below the image identified a list of names. They connected faces to names, with the woman in the center listed as "Asami Sato, President of Future Industries, Design Team Lead".

"Sato? Isn't that the name they use on their warp drives?"

"It is," Tra'dur said. She worked on her omnitool again, but Cat beat her to it. Tra'dur looked around Cat's head and shoulder at the English text shining in blue holographic light. "Ah, quite impressive, I think?"

Cat read off the entry. "Daughter of Future Industries founder Hiroshi Sato, Future Industries President, CEO, and lead designer, wife of Avatar Korra… Look at these accomplishments. The first mono-wing plane, the first generation of flying suits for the Air Nation, co-designer of the first supersonic jet engine, design team lead for the first three rocket types… Tom would fall in love with her, I mean, if she were here…"

"And heterosexual?"

"Well, maybe she was bi? But anyway… ah, here. Under family."

Cat highlighted the extranet link for Tra'dur's benefit, listing under "Family" a link for "Yasuko Sato, theoretical physicist and creator of space-warp drive theory". Upon activating it a new page appeared, depicting a woman of dark brown eyes and coloration with thin features. She looked thoughtful and a little stern. "So she's the grandmother for the lady who first proposed warp drive."

"Impressive, certainly." Tra'dur glanced at the next exhibit down. It was a fixed wing craft, or rather the model of one. "Their first orbiter, it appears."

"First reusable one, yeah," Cat agreed. "It's just so interesting… do the Dilgar have anything like this? Something to trace your history of flight?"

"Not any longer," Tra'dur answered.

"Hopefully you'll be able to build something like this one day. Maybe on Rohric after the spores are gone?"

"Or Omelos, if we can reclaim it," said Tra'dur. "But yes, we will. While we have much to be ashamed of in our history, we should honor those who brought us to the stars. The crimes the Imperium committed were not theirs."

Cat nodded in agreement and they continued on.

At Daniel's call, the others headed to the computer access room. They found him looking up from the displays. "Well, it took some doing, but I think I found more files for you."

Samantha and Jarod each took a station and went to work. "This definitely looks like a file directory," Sam noted. "Well done, Daniel."

"Well, it wasn't too hard. Just a few hundred translations I had to figure out…"

"Now you're just grenade-fishing for compliments," Lucy teased. She felt further concern when Daniel, despite his usual readiness to spar wit with wit, only flashed a small smile. "So, what else do we have?"

"Well, we already know this was a ship," Jarod noted. He brought up a full display showing the city and platforms with engine ports underneath. "It looks like the Ancients used them as mobile bases."

"Them, as in plural?" asked Tom.

"They definitely had a fleet of them," Daniel said. "Unfortunately some of the data is just gibberish, from what I've seen."

"The damage to the databank, not to mention what the SS Exiles' engineers did with their methods in asserting control, may have corrupted some of the data," said Sam. "But look at this astrographical time stamp."

Jarod did so and whistled lowly. "Twenty thousand and twenty years since landing. Just as we thought."

"I wonder what happened to them?" Lucy asked. "Why didn't they repair the city to fly again?"

"I'm not sure." Daniel tapped at his screen. "I do know that they came here to monitor planets in this universe."


"It doesn't list them," said Daniel.

"Let me try." Jarod went through the unlocked files. "Even with the corrupted data, there could be a remnant log… found it."

With a key press Jarod brought it up on the screen. Daniel and Samantha looked at it with no obvious recognition. The others weren't sure either.

It was Komin who spoke up. "That's… that's our world."

Everyone turned to face him. "It is?" Daniel asked.

"Yes. I… I can make out the continents easily, even with the different… yes, it's our homeworld," Komin said.

"I've found another planetary profile too," Samantha said. "The data's badly garbled, but I think I can bring up the planet itself." At a nod from Jarod she did so.

The second planet appeared. This time Komin was the one uncertain to what he was seeing. "I've never seen that world before," he said.

"That's okay, because we have," Lucy told him.


"It's Earth," said Daniel. "The Ancients were monitoring your world and this universe's Earth."

"Then… Earth once existed in this universe," Lucy said. "But why is it gone now?"

"If the Ancients knew, it must be in one of the corrupted files," Jarod said. "As it is, all entries seem to stop about twenty thousand years ago."

"That was when the plague hit," said Samantha. "The plague that wiped them out."

"They last for thousands of years, then get wiped out within twenty years of showing up in this universe," Jarod observed. "Do you think there might be a connection?"

"It's possible," Sam said. "But we don't have any evidence either way."

"Still, we're at least a step closer to the truth," Daniel said. "Let me keep going, I'll see if there's anything else."

After breakfast Julia considered what she would do for the day. Miko and her mother were off to a meeting with members of the Fire Nation's legislative council and she still knew little about the rest of the family.

After taking some time to check in with Leo, who wanted her back up for a checkup before the day was over, Julia decided to perform extra training. After donning her white gi and cloth belt she traveled to the ground floor of the palace and out to the gardens. Cherry blossom trees were budding, soon to bloom, and the grass was soft under her sandaled feet. The air was warm and the wind cool, coming off of the pond in the middle of the garden. She stepped up to the side of the pond. Nearby were a line of ducks with turtle-like shells on their backs. They clearly had no issue with Humans as they waddled past her feet and entered the water. As they swam on, quacking much like an Earth duck would, Julia found she was regretting not bringing some bread to feed them.

Instead of assuming her starting stance Julia sat down at the edge of the pond. The beauty of the park and the fresh scents were calming, and something to enjoy. It wasn't often she got to view real nature like this.

"Oh, there you are."

Julia turned and watched Miko walk up. She was still in a formal court robe with the national sigil embroidered in gold on the dark red silk. Her hair was wrapped into a formal bun that she freed with a yank of a ribbon, allowing dark hair to settle on her shoulders. "I see you found the old turtle-duck pond." She sat down beside Julia. "Mother always brought me out here to feed the turtle-ducks when I was little."

"I'm still getting used to your world's hybrid species," Julia said. "On Earth we have several species of ducks, and several of turtles, but I don't think anyone's mixed them."

"You've seen alien animals before, right? How is this any different?"

"Well, alien animals tend to be alien. Sure, there can be some similarities. Targs from Quo'noS, the Klingon Homeworld, look sort of like boars. Big ones, I mean. Varren from the M4P2 galaxy are like big dog lizards. But there's always something different about them that makes it clear they evolved on another world. These are clearly ducks, and they clearly have turtle shells. It's… a little weird, even when you count aliens."

"Maybe I'll feel the same when I see species from Earth," Miko wondered. "I can't imagine a turtle-duck without its shell."

"Maybe you will." Julia reached down and ran a hand in the cool, clear water of the pond. "So, is everything okay?"

"Oh, it's the usual," Miko said drolly. "A bunch of old people telling me how important it is that I learn Waterbending. How I can't be a good Avatar without it. As if I didn't just spend weeks as a prisoner getting my mind drilled by a machine."

Julia gave her a sympathetic look. "It's alright. Take your time. Rushing into a decision isn't going to help."


Something in Miko's voice drew Julia's attention. The young woman gave her an intent look. "I haven't said anything, but I have been thinking of who could teach me. Someone I think I can learn from."

"Oh? You found someone?"

"I think. But I have to ask first."

Julia nodded. "Alright, that makes sense."

"It does. So…" Miko didn't look away. "Julia, will you be my Waterbending teacher?"
”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)

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A silence filled the air between Julia and Miko, only the distant occasional quacking of the turtle-ducks swimming in the pond. Miko's request flashed through Julia's brain once, then twice, as she made herself certain of what the young woman asked her.

"You want me to teach you?"


"To teach your world's Waterbending arts to you."

"Yes," repeated Miko, who nodded.

"Even though I'm not actually a Waterbender? I don't have these powers you do."

Miko shook her head. "Bending comes from the movements and the mentality. That's where I'm having trouble. And you said you've studied the style for years, right?"

"Well, I have," Julia admitted, still quite surprised at what was being asked of her.

"If you teach me the forms, how you move, I think I can put together the rest." Miko shrugged. "If anything, maybe it'll at least get me to a point where even a stuffy old Waterbender like Chief Lantak can bring me the rest of the way."

There was something in the younger woman's eyes that made it hard for Julia to dismiss the request. A vulnerable, needing look. As she considered that look Julia thought she could understand it. With everything that had happened, Miko was looking to get her life back on track, and to do it her way. Having lost control of her life, Miko wanted to take it back.

It was a familiar feeling.

It's not like I haven't trained anyone before. Lucy, Robert, Meridina… I've shown them how to do this. Angel too, even if she prefers mok'bara.

But there was a bit of doubt. Those had been brief teaching exercises, little more than showing the basics. Miko was asking Julia to be her teacher, full stop. That required… quite a bit more than showing the basics. Could she even do this right?

Some of the uncertainty must have shown in her eyes, as Miko shook her head. "I understand if you've never taught before, maybe it you're nervous, but Julia… I think this must be some kind of destiny. Something put our lives on course to meet like we did. I trust you in a way… I know we just met, but I trust you more than most other people I know, and I'm not even sure why. Maybe it was because of how we met each other…"

That was likely. Julia nearly pointed out that their "destined" meeting was hardly a positive one, and that the only hand in it was likely Erik Fassbinder's. But she stopped herself. There was something earnest in the way Miko was asking. Something that didn't deserve a cynical rejection.

"You know that in just a couple months I'm going back on duty, right?" she asked Miko. "When I get my ship back, that's going to demand much of my time."

"Yeah, but that's two months from now," Miko pointed out. "By then I might know enough to make this work. Or at least be closer to the answer I need."

None of the earnestness went away. Miko wasn't begging either, but she was being insistent, in that willful way she was so capable of. Julia considered the request for several moments before saying, "I'll think about it, okay? And I'll let you know by the time of the feast your grand-uncle is throwing."

Miko's face brightened. Julia imagined she felt this was just a deferral of a "yes". "I understand. Take the time you need," she insisted, starting to move her legs as she did. She stood to her full height. "I'll see you for dinner."

"Sure." Julia watched her go and checked her omnitool. Leo would be leaving the medbay for the day pretty soon, as it was getting toward 2000 hours on the Aurora. She should see him for that checkup.

Cat entered the conference lounge off the bridge as the last member of the Aurora command crew to arrive. She took her usual seat beside where Jarod would normally sit, a seat currently taken by Bet'tir, Kaveri's telepath adjutant. Meridina was back in her place across from Bet'tir, at the Captain's left.

A holo-viewer screen was active along the interior wall, showing the command center of what was now known as an Ancient city-ship. Jarod, Lucy, and Tom were present, with Major Carter from SG-1. "So with Doctor Jackson's help, we've deciphered more of the older programming and data in the city," Jarod explained. "The Ancients were here for at least twenty years about twenty thousand years ago, then they abandoned the city ship."

"The timing matches up with what we know of the end of their Milky Way civilization," Samantha continued. "That a plague spread through their worlds and destroyed them."

"Completely?" asked Kaveri.

Sam answered, "There are some indications some of their ships fled to another galaxy, but we haven't found anything to confirm it."

"The most important news is that we've located the mechanical systems for that jamming device the SS used to block our comms and IU drive," Lucy said. "It's going to take some time to examine it. The Maimonides technology and artifact lab teams will be focusing on that until a full team can be permanently assigned."

Kaveri nodded in acknowledgement. "Under-Secretary Tashke is still in talks for a final dispensation with the Five Nations Compact. That will determine the state of a final team."

"Far be it from me to question the diplomats, but I hope they don't take too long," Lucy said. "This could be what we need to stop another surprise attack. These jammers, theoretically, wouldn't just prevent IU comms or drives from operating within the field, it would also prevent incoming jump points from forming. It would either hit the other drive with feedback or force the point to form outside of the field. That means warning time."

"Agreed," Meridina said. "But it is important that we take care with diplomacy first of all. The people of this universe are understandably seeking a measure of security and we should aid them in finding it."

"I can't argue with that. The teams here are getting along, but they're assertive about equal access to the findings," Jarod said. "Anyway, I figured we'd give you a heads up before we left. The Enterprise departs in four hours."

"Of course. We await your arrival, Commander. Aurora out."

The holo-viewer screen shut down. "I am aware it is getting late by your ship's clock," Kaveri said to the assembled. "So you are dismissed."

The SG-1 team was waiting in the command center when the four Aurora officers, with Komin Beifong, arrived to beam out. Nearby Philippe and his commander, Captain Nasira Fanous, were waiting. The Captain of the Maimonides was not a big nor tall woman, but there was a passionate intensity in her eyes that Lucy remembered first seeing years before when the acid-scarred, defiant Coptic girl they'd rescued asked to join the Facility crew. Despite her age - she was about Cat's age, the time with the Doctor not counted - Nasira becoming a commanding officer was no surprise to them.

"Nice to see you all again," Lucy said to them. "I'll tell Zack you said hello, Colonel."

"I'm glad to hear he's doing well," Jack said. His voice was somber. "Tell him that next time I'm around the beer is on me."

"Root beer would be better," Lucy murmured quietly, just loud enough for them to hear. She looked to Daniel. There was something off about how he felt, and it didn't feel like marital problems. "But I'll pass that on."

"Good luck with everything." Tom shook Sam's hand. "It kinda sucks that we won't get to see more of the place."

"I'll pass on anything we find before we leave," Sam promised. She shook hands with Jarod next. "Commander, good luck out there."

"Good luck to you too, Major," Jarod replied.

Talara sized up Teal'c, who looked her over with curiosity. "You are not an elf," Teal'c said suddenly.

"Well, no," Talara answered, confused. "I am a Falaen. Or an Altean, as we were once known."

"Colonel O'Neill and I have a standing wager on when elves will be encountered in the multiverse. He proposed it after we met Secretary Onaran."

"I… see."

Daniel and Sam exchanged knowing, bemused looks.

Nasira and Philippe approached the group. "It is good to see you again," Nasira said to them. "I wish we had more time."

"Congratulations, Nas," said Tom, who offered his hand first.

"Thank you," she said.

"You're off to explore in this universe, right?" asked Jarod.

"We are. It will be the Maimonides' first long-term mission. We are not due to return to Alliance space for six months."

"Good luck with that," Jarod said.

"I'd love to check a Juvap out at some point," Tom said. "I always wanted to see how adjustable nacelles would work."

"You do not have to maintain them, Thomas," Nasira responded. "Lieutenant Tagiya wishes they had simply accepted the reduced warp performance of the lower arrangement."

"I heard you had some trouble after leaving New Liberty," said Lucy. "Is everything okay?"

"It is." There was grief in Nasira's being that she was adjusting to. "We lost people in a fight with slavers."

"I see." Lucy, having nothing to say that wouldn't sound pat, embraced Nasira to give consolation. "Eubians?"

"Eubians," Nasira confirmed.

"Who?" asked Jack.

"The Goa'uld aren't the only civilization with mass slavery," Lucy said to him after pulling away from Nasira. "And they're not biologically hard-wired sadists who torture telepaths for the intense pleasure it makes them feel."

Daniel winced. Jack rolled his eyes. "Oh, for crying out loud, first Nazis, then genocidal robots that look like people, and now this! What's next, horrors from another dimension that eat planets or stars or something?"

Jarod and Lucy exchanged uneasy glances. "Uh, no comment," Jarod finally said.

Jack leveled a glare at him.

"Enterprise to Commander Jarod. We are ready to depart," said a male voice with a Chinese accent.

"Understood, Commander Xiu." The five lifted their duffel bags. "We're ready to transport."

The five figures disappeared in bursts of blue-white light, a buzzing sound filling the chamber.

"Colonel." Nasira gave Jack a nod. "The Greek will be here tomorrow to pick you up and return you to your home universe."

"The Greek." Jack blinked. "Should I be expecting gyros and hummus with olive oil? Or some mob guy offering me deals I can't refuse?"

Daniel gave him a look. "I don't think it means people from Greece, Jack. Or mob nicknames."

Nasira's barely-stifled laughter subsided. "It is an Alakin warbird," she explained, a brief giggle escaping with the words. "We have to find a ship that is compatible with the Goa'uld treaty, and my ship has other orders. Now, please pardon me, I must go and meet with Commander Li from the Compact."

The two officers departed as well, leaving SG-1 to themselves. "Well, now I'm in the mood for a gyro," said Jack. "Let's go see if their replicators can manage to make a good one."

After satisfying Leo on her physical recovery, Julia checked in with Dr. Tusana. To accommodate all three shifts on the ship the Gersallian psychiatrist kept an open door policy and revolving shifts. Julia idly wondered if it caused her any trouble with rest in the moment before she stepped into the room. Tusana was lighting one of the incense candles when Julia stepped through the door. "Captain." The therapist turned to face her. "I hear you are staying with Miko's family?"

"By invitation. And usually it's best to accept, for diplomatic reasons anyway." Julia took her seat. Tusana took her own a moment later. "Not that I don't prefer it right now."

"Instead of being a guest on your own ship." Tusana nodded in acceptance of the thought. "And yet, something has happened?"

"Yeah, definitely." Julia gave a short nod. "I've been asked to do something, and I'm not sure if I should say yes."


"Miko wants me to train her in t'ai chi," Julia explained. "Apparently it's related to the style that the metaphysically-powered people from this world use when manipulating water. Miko's having a lot of trouble with the style and thinks I can help."

Tusana nodded in understanding. By now the room was fully in the embrace of the gentle smell of her incense. "And you are not sure whether to accept."

"I'm not sure I should," Julia elaborated. "You don't teach t'ai chi in two months. What happens when my medical leave is up and I'm captaining a ship again? I doubt they'll let her come with us. Her own people, I mean."

"Your precaution is understandable, even if premature." Tusana folded her hands together. "Sometimes it is best to leave the future to itself. I presume that Miko, with her status, can easily find another to teach her this art?"


"And she choose you. She clearly trusts you to show her what she needs."

"But I can't," Julia pointed out. "When I go through my forms, I don't move water at the same time! I don't know the slightest thing about how their metaphysical powers work, how they really work I mean. I can't teach her that."

"Perhaps that is not what needs to be taught," said Tusana. "Your art is more than movements, is it not? It is a way of thinking. Of ordering the body and mind. It may be that this is what she needs."

Julia nodded once. "I suppose it could be."

"I would advise you to consider the request," said Tusana. "Not just for your friend's benefit, but for your own mental health."

Julia looked at her without saying a word.

"You are clearly restless," Tusana said. "And I suspect you are not content with your leave. You wish to be acting constructively. To be accomplishing something."

"What I wish for is my Goddamned ship back!"

The exclamation escaped from Julia before she stop it. Tusana said nothing at the ferocity of it, the pent up resentment in the words.

"I know, we went over it before, and I said I understood why I've been relieved. And I do." Julia's heated words carried through the room. "But I… I don't want medical leave, I want my ship back. I want to move on with my life! And I can't because my life hasn't been given back to me! It's here, on this ship, with my friends and my crew!"

When Tusana remained silent a dread came to Julia. Would this be held against her? A sign of unhealthy fixation? Inability to accept what happened?

Tusana shook her head at those worries. "This resentment is natural, Julia," Tusana said calmly. "You seek a return to normal. That is natural for someone who suffered an ordeal like yours. That you are being denied this, even with justification, that is a natural cause for resentment."

Sighing with relief, Julia sat back in the chair.

"Do you object to the idea of teaching Miko?"

Julia gave her head a quick shake. "No, not at all," she asserted. "I'm honored. Flattered, really. We just met this civilization and already one of its most important figures is asking me to help them? To train them? I'm just worried that I can't give her what she needs."

"I understand that worry, and it speaks well of you. Would you like advice?"

"By all means."

"It is just what you need," Tusana said. "I think this would help your recovery immensely. I would accept. But it is your choice, not mine."

"It is," Julia agreed, thankful for the advice.

With no further patients after Julia, Tusana decided to take a meal. She departed her office and walked to the Lookout. She found Meridina eating a late meal as well. Albert was quick to arrange food for Tusana, who approached Meridina. Go ahead and join me, Meridina cast mentally.

Tusana did so. You are having a late night she observed.

The talks ran long. We are making progress at least.

That is good
. Tusana's food arrived a moment later, a plate of liyume with lentils. She started eating away at the contents while her mind remained in contact with Meridina's. I do sense you are doing well. Are you pleased to be relieved of the Captain's place?

I am
, Meridina admitted. And I believe Captain Varma's sincerity in working with us.

She began mental recitations of verses when she learned I was a telepath. It is not often you find Humans who do such to make farisa more comfortable.


And you, Meridina? How are you feeling? About the attacks?

Meridina let out a small sigh. I mourn the lost. I wish we could have saved more. But I am coming to terms with what occurred. I know no blame falls upon me.

That is progress
, answered Tusana. And it is good to hear.

Personal Log of Julia Andreys, Captain. 31 October 2643

Today looks to be the same as yesterday. I spent the morning, Fire Nation time, having another breakfast where Miko's cousins barraged me with questions about the Multiverse. Miko herself is waiting patiently for my response to her request to be her
t'ai chi teacher. I am still considering it.

Enterprise is expected to arrive soon with Tom, Jarod, and the others, and just in time for Lord Daizon's celebration dinner. I'm sure the others will have some difficulty from the time difference, but everyone is going to attend at least, with a skeleton crew coming over from the Enterprise to watch things for us.

I'm told Tom has inquired about costumes, since this is Halloween on the Alliance calendar. Now I have a mental image <giggle> in my head of Tom showing up as a zombie <louder giggle> like he did for that high school party. Diplomatically mortifying <laugh> but I'm laughing anyway.

<Deep sigh> I want to give Miko her answer today. But I have a couple of conversations to handle first.

As part of getting her routine back, Julia left the medbay from her daily checkup and went straight for the gym. As usual it had the conflicting scents of sweat and other perspiration from the Aurora's various species. In the nearest ring a new Falaen crewman was showcasing Falaen-style fighting in a bout with a Dorei Marine. A number of others were using the weight machines in one corner, or the treadmills in the other.

The punching bags were mostly open, so Julia stepped up to one and shed her white gi, revealing the burgundy-colored sports bra underneath. She checked her hair to make sure the pony-tail she'd pulled her hair into was secure. After some warm-up movements she pulled on gloves and started to punch the bag.

Punching something felt good. It had a degree of catharsis to it. If she had a picture of Fassbinder to attach to it, this would be even better.

"So, tired of the palace life?"

Julia heard the words between the sounds of her fists on canvas and turned to where Angel was stepping up to the bag beside her. Unlike Julia she didn't need to pull off a robe or jacket as she was quite happy to stroll through the ship in sports bra and shorts. Showing off her muscles was never something Angel would shy away from. "I thought Leo told you to take it easy?"

"He did," Julia confirmed. "But I want to get back into routine."

"I can understand that." Angel gestured toward one of the rings. "So, want to get in a match? Best of three? It'll really get you back into shape."

"Somehow I don't think Leo would approve," Julia noted wryly. "Can you imagine his reaction if I have to go back to medbay today because I took one of your kicks to my ribs?"

Angel could imagine the reaction. "Oh yeah, he'd be ticked, wouldn't he?"

"He'd probably confine me to medbay again."

The bag beside Julia's shook under Angel's first blow. She gave it a few more before asking, "So, what are you doing for your leave? Go find a beach somewhere and try to get a tan?" She grinned and shook her head. "No, that's not you. You need someone to boss around or you'll go crazy," she teased.

Julia struck the bag again before giving Angel a playful glare.

Angel winked and returned her focus to her bag. After landing a few more punches she held back and glanced Julia's way again. "Seriously, knowing you, you've got to find something to do during your leave or you'll go mad, then they'll never let you come back. So got any plans?"

"Well, there's always going to New Liberty to help with rebuilding," Julia said. "But I've actually gotten a job offer of sorts."


"Miko asked me to train her in t'ai chi."

"Huh." Angel thought for a moment before nodding. "Well, yeah, it sounds good. Especially if you get to live in that nice palace."

Julia rolled her eyes. "It's about more than that actually. Which is why I haven't said yes."

"Well, what else is there to it?"

"Because there's a… metaphysical side to it, you'd say. Their abilities to manipulate elements are channeled in a way that is linked to martial arts, to different styles, I mean. T'ai chi is apparently just like moving water. But Miko's an aggressive fighter. She's a bit like you, in that respect."

"Ah." Angel nodded. "And I've never been one for that 'sticking' and 'softness' and redirecting power that you like to talk about."

"Exactly. She's had trouble with trying to learn it. It's why she was out on that colony when she was captured, she was trying to find a teacher."

"And she wants you to teach her?"

"She does."

Angel finally turned back to her bag and gave it a few punches, prompting Julia to do the same. As Julia's blows picked up in pace Angel spoke up, not letting her own rhythm stop as she did so. "Okay, well, you were her connection when she was a captive. I mean, you two, you bonded, you gave each other someone who was sympathetic. I can see how that would work."

"Can you? We still just met. Come to think about it, there's not a lot we really know about each other."

"Yeah, but there's still a bond there, so it could work."

"You think I should do it?" Julia slowed her punches, trying a few stronger ones.

"Honestly? Yeah, why not? If it works out, hey, good for both of you, and you just made relations with these people even better. If it doesn't, well, you at least tried."

Julia's punches became a little fierce. "Except I don't move water when I do my forms. I don't know the least thing about actually sensing how these powers work!"

"Maybe you don't need to know. She does two elements already, right? I'm sure she'll know what she's feeling."

The point was a good one. Miko likely had some sense of when her movements were actively channeling her powers. Even if Julia wouldn't feel anything, she should. Julia found herself tilting more and more toward agreeing to train Miko.

But she wasn't decided just yet. And she knew just who to talk to to help her make the final decision.

Robert's focus on the Life of Reshan was intense enough that he almost missed the door chime. "Come in!" he called out without looking up, the fingers of one hand closely following words while the other hand scribbled away at an anachronism in the text.

Of course, he didn't need to look up to know it was Julia. But he did anyway. As she approached he stood from his chair, leaving the book for Gina to continue. "You're looking better."

"Feeling a little better," she said.

"I know that you're not," he replied. "At least, not entirely. You're resentful and upset."

"That's cheating."

To that he smiled and shook his head. "I don't need metaphysical powers to know you're upset, Julie. You want to be back here, on your ship."

"I do," she agreed.

Noticing she was eyeing the couch in his living area, Robert brought her over and they sat down beside each other. "I'm sorry I've been occupied lately," he said. "I figured after all of that time in medbay you'd want some distance.."

"We said what we needed to, it's fine." Julia glanced back to where Gina was working on both books. "What are you doing? Research?"

"Part research, part decoding," Robert answered. "We think that whatever the Brotherhood and Cylons are up to, we can figure it out if we finish translating and decrypting the Life of Reshan."

"Ah. That does sound important." Julia nodded in approval. "It's good to do important things."

"It sounds like you're worried you're not."

"More like I'm worried I'll say yes to it and mess it up."

Robert's curiosity picked up. "Oh?"

Julia nodded. "A couple of days ago, Miko asked me to train her in t'ai chi. Well, to be exact, she wants me to teach her to Waterbend, which I obviously can't do."

"I think I see her logic, though. Their abilities are tied to martial arts styles. If she's struggling with this one, getting a teacher she feels a bond toward might make things easier." Robert grinned at her. "It's not like you haven't tried to teach it before. You just haven't had a dedicated student."

"And the fact I can't actually do anything metaphysical?"

"Honestly, I think the important part is the mental element. The mentality of the art. Teach her that, and everything should work out," Robert advised. "You're already thinking of saying yes."

Julia gave him a droll look. "Is that intuition or powers?"

"Both," Robert admitted.

"It's been a hard year for the two of us to be together as much as we used to," she observed.

"It has. But I already knew you were going to have to leave the ship. If you remained aboard for your medical leave, if you even could, that wouldn't be good for you." He set a hand on her arm. "I'll miss you, of course. The others will too. But go ahead and take the time to heal, and while you're at it, helping Miko will give you something to focus on."

A slow, understanding nod was Julia's immediate reaction. "So, when I get back…" She put a hand up to his chin, feeling the coarseness of stubble. "Is this going to be back?"

"Only if you want it," Robert said.

"I don't," she laughed. "But don't keep it off on my account."

"It's fine," he said. "I probably did let it go too far."

Playfully Julia teased, "You did. You looked like a hermit. And that's the last thing I want you to be."

"Don't worry. Umintamil was bad enough. No hermitages or abbeys for me," Robert promised, grinning widely. "So, you'll be at the honors table down there?"

"We all will. I've seen the seating arrangements."

"Between our crew and the Iroh's, that's about three thousand people…"

"I've seen the place, Rob. Trust me, there will be even more there, and we might still have room to spare."

"Then I look forward to seeing it."

The courtyard of the Fire Nation palace was filled with tables and chairs covered in foods and drinks. The palace entrance was obscured by the platform on which some of the tables were set, including a chair clearly meant for Daizon. The command officers of the Aurora, Koenig, and General Iroh were seated to Daizon's left, the attending family members to his right. Julia and Miko occupied the positions of honor to each side.

Aside from the tables and chairs, a stage at the far end of the courtyard was ready for performances by entertainers. Paper lanterns in red, gold, blue, white, and green were strung up on wires all around the courtyard. Everywhere liveried and finely-attired servants stood ready to begin attending to the gathered attendees.

The scope of it was astounding. Julia suspected Daizon must have spent enough money to build a starship to assemble all of the food and materials and people to make the function happen.

Robert sat to Julia's left, with Captain Saizen to his left, Kaveri to Saizen's left, then Meridina, Zack, and the others on down by rank. Past Miko was her mother Ursa, then Daizon's wife Ty Lin, the rest of the family on from her.

On both sides were some low levels of conversation, but not too loud. "There's enough food here to feed both ships for two days," Julia heard Zack say.

Silence reigned with the sound of a bell. Daizon stood from his seat. A cleverly-hidden microphone ensured his voice would boom across the courtyard. "People of the Fire Nation, of the Compact, and those from beyond our stars, I welcome you to this celebration. We are here to commemorate the recovery of our Avatar, Princess Miko, from the captivity of a vile and cruel invader. The brave beings who dine with us tonight have earned our gratitude and hospitality through their bravery and skill. We are grateful for their service and sacrifices."

"But there are those who are not with us today." When he finished, Daizon looked to a group of elaborately-robed men. Several turned away and thrust their palms in the air. Flames erupted, crossing together and merging into a whirlpool of red flame that reached a series of torches erected in the courtyard. The fuel within them caught alight. Julia marveled at how carefully designed the display was, as it was not a group of simple torches, but used different kinds of fuel to generate different colors. The colors that formed depicted the five symbols of the Compact arrayed beside the Alliance torch insignia burning in blue, green, and white. "In this way we pay homage to the honored dead of the Five Nations Compact and the United Alliance of Systems, who fell in battle with the invader. Through their common sacrifice we stand at the dawn of a new age for our people. We are now part of a greater community of nations, of species, many of them united by common ideals that we too cherish. In the spirit of this new age, let the festivities begin!"

With that announcement a series of sparking trails flew into the sky, exploding into fireworks. On the stage opposite a group of performers started playing music, accompanied with dancers who literally trailed flames from their hands as they moved. The skill of the performers brought applause and cheers.

Everyone commenced eating on their own time. Conversations picked up among the guests until there was a general din of noise, while the sky continued to light up from fireworks.

"Sometimes it astounds me," Robert said.

Julia glanced to him. "What?"

"Everything." He smiled and shook his head. "The Multiverse. The alien worlds, the different ways life can develop. Worlds like this one, with powers and things I never imagined growing up."

Julia nodded slightly. "Yeah, I can understand that."

"I still remember the first time I met Meridina. The idea of someone who could read my thoughts, do the things she does… and when I got used to that, other things came along. This world and its people, its uniqueness, it adds to it all. Sometimes I wonder if anything is possible. Whatever Tom or Scotty say about the laws of physics."

"I suppose everything is possible, in some way," Julia said, smiling. "Do you think it makes everything bad we've gone through worth it? If you could wish away finding that pressure plate on the old mound, would you?"

Robert closed his eyes. Instead of answering his hand reached over and gripped hers. "I… I'm not entirely sure. With what just happened, I mean. And all of the fighting, the violence, the death…"

"It's okay," she assured him. "I don't think I'd change what happened. Even with all the things we've gone through. The good makes it worth it in the end."

"It often does," remarked Daizon. The gray-haired and -bearded Fire Lord turned his head to face them. "My ancestor Zuko was known for saying that good things come from the bad, so long as you didn't let the bad change you for the worse."

They looked back, uncertain of what to say.

Their silence prompted a short laugh from Daizon. "Surely what I said was not that profound? I may be getting on in years, but I am hardly the elderly master dispensing wisdom. Or so President Dravad has said to me in Compact Council meetings, often." An amused look betrayed the humor of the monarch.

"It was profound enough," Julia assured him. "There was little point in us repeating the idea."

"Now you flatter me. But I am not so humble that I can't enjoy it." Daizon gestured to the rest of the celebration. "I believe the next act are dancing otter-penguins. It is quite good…"

Taking the hint, they returned their attention to the festivities.

After some time passed the celebrants started to leave their chairs and mingle, all while performances continued on the stage. Feeling quite satisfied with her share of the dinner, Julia left the table in search of Miko.

She found Miko by the turtle-duck pond in the gardens. From here the lights and sounds of the festivities were muted. Miko was looking skyward and in thought. She turned at hearing Julia's footsteps. "Is everything okay?" Julia asked her.

Miko gestured toward her court finery. It wasn't a dress so much as a formal robe with the Fire Nation sigil etched into the right breast. Miko's hair was kept in a tight bun held in place by a metal band with a pin. "I don't really like wearing these things," she confessed.

To that Julia grinned. "Uncomfortable, right?"


Julia gestured to her own dress whites. "Trust me, there is worse."

Miko laughed. "Since we're the guests of honor, you'd think they'd let us come dressed as we pleased."

"I know, right?" Julia laughed lightly as she took the final step to stand beside Miko. The stars in the sky weren't visible due to the lights of the capital, even if the fireworks weren't going off again. "The answer is yes."

Miko looked to her and Julia thought she could feel the elation filling the younger woman. "You'll train me?"

Julia nodded. "At least until I'm back in command of my ship. We'll have to see what arrangements are necessary after that."

"That's okay. We'll make it work. And I'll tell my mother and Uncle Daizon. Are you going to stay here, then?"

"I might as well," Julia said. "For a while anyway. But I do want to go back to New Liberty at some point and help in the rebuilding."

"I'll go with you," Miko pledged. "Not just for training, but maybe I can help. I know a little bit of Earthbending, actually…" She blushed. "I'm technically not supposed to, but being around Komin all the time…"

"Yeah. I think I understand." Julia offered her hand and Miko took it, exchanging the handshake. "Well, for the rest of the night have fun. We start bright and early tomorrow."

"How early?"

"Dawn sounds good."

"Oh. Only dawn." Miko let out a relieved sound. "Gyatsun would sometimes wake me up two hours before dawn for morning practice. He likes to meditate when the sun's coming up."

Julia chuckled at that. "No. That won't be necessary. And, honestly, I've lived on a spaceship for four years now. I don't get to see dawns very often."

There was a gentle rippling in the pond water that drew their attention. Despite the lower light level they could make out the cyan-colored form that emerged, as if a primordial slime creature was leaving the lake like in a cheesy horror movie. The shape made a "glurp" sound and a device moved across its surface, viewing them both with a blue eye. "Oh, pardon me," an electronic feminine voice trilled from the device. "I didn't mean to startle anyone."

Miko was staring in surprise, which only made Julia's following laugh all the stronger. "This is Doctor Ke'mani'pala," she explained to Miko. "I'm guessing Cat didn't take you down to meet her?"

"No." Miko shook her head. "And it, she, is... a member of your crew?"

"A civilian science specialist," Julia clarified.

"Greetings, young Human. I am a Gl'mulli," Ke'mani'pala informed Miko politely. "And I must say, your pond is quite well-stocked in delicious microbes. It is not often I get to enjoy such a meal!"

"You… ate from the pond? Not the banquet?"

"Oh, seas no! Your foods would be a pain for us to digest, and much of it we cannot."

"I… see…"

Ke'mani'pala trilled with amusement as she walked off, looking like a gumdrop with two stubby wide legs at the bottom.

"The Multiverse is just wonderful," Miko said. "Are there other life forms like her?"

"Yes," said Julia. "There are plenty of life forms without what we'd call humanoid shape. Or even distinctly bipedal shape."

"I… see. There is so much I still have to learn about the Multiverse."

"We all do," Julia assured her. "And we'd better get back to the party before your family sends search parties."

"Yes, I suppose we should," Miko agreed.
”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 late in the Aurora's day when the feast started to wind down and everyone began returning to the ship. Robert checked up on the repairs to the Jayhawk and used its secure systems to check the official traffic he was eligible to receive from the Alliance's military and intelligence services. He made sure to take everything that related to slaver activity in E5B1 and relay it through channels to Beth and Dr. Meier.

Afterward he returned to his quarters and found Lucy, Meridina, Gina, and Jarod there. They were all arrayed around his table, covered in the two Gersallian tomes and the associated notes. Jarod was busily checking both and scribbling something down. "What's up?"

"I wanted something mentally stimulating after that feast," Jarod confessed. "Not that I didn't like it, but it put me in a creative mood."

"Well, that sounds good."

"Commander Jarod is finishing his decoding of the next chapter's message," Meridina said.

Jarod looked up. His expression matched the deep shock Robert felt filling him. "Okay, this… it's… big."

"What is?" Gina asked.

Jarod finished scribbling and passed the note around. Lucy's eyes widened a little at the contents, Gina's a lot more, and Meridina gasped. Robert took the slip and read it.

"This book's text is nothing but the protective curtain, hiding the truth from those who must never know it. It bears falsehoods for the same reason. The falsehoods are a necessary evil for there are dark forces that would attempt to use this knowledge to prevent my great work from coming to completion. This is no mere boast for the completion of the Circle is the greatest endeavor I have ever attempted in my life, and with the greatest stakes. For the sake of all of our futures the Circle must be completed." Robert read these lines and so far wasn't certain why the others seemed so shocked. It was important, but it didn't seem earth-shattering.

Then he kept reading, and the shock told on his voice.

"If all goes as planned and foreseen, I know you are reading this, Dawn-Bearers of the Allied Systems. Meridina, Robert, Lucilla, Jarod, Gina." He read off their names with increasing surprise. "A great task lies on you. You must find my Temple before the forces of darkness do. Or the Circle will be broken and everything you know will be utterly destroyed." By the time he finished Robert's hand trembled. "This… this is…"

"A profound truth," Meridina said.

"It's our names? In archaic Gersallian?" Lucy looked to Jarod. "I mean, the sounds don't always…"

"That's just it," Jarod said. "It threw me off for a brief moment, since it didn't make complete sense in actual Gersallian. The Gersallian lettering doesn't work quite the same. But if you transliterate those parts of the code into the Latin Alphabet, then our names are spelled out."

"This is… " Gina took in a breath. "Mastrash Ledosh knew. He knew…"

"It looks like this was one of the last bits he translated before…" Jarod stopped there, for their sakes. "He knew our names. That's… how did a Gersallian from three thousand years ago know our names?"

"It is more than that, Jarod," Meridina said. "The book was written over the course of Reshan's known lifetime. These chapters were supposed to have been written when Swenya was just a child. Long before she wrote the Prophecy of the Dawn."

"Some have always said Reshan passed the prophecy to her," Gina pointed out.

"But the Prophecy doesn't refer to us by name," Lucy pointed out. "It makes allusions to sisters of fire and heart and leaders and forgers and stuff. Reshan knew our names."

"This truth, it is… astounding," Meridina said. "His ability to sense the future through the Flow of Life was so profound he knew our names in the distant past. This is the kind of truth that would change everything we know about Reshan."

"A truth that could divide the Gersallians when they learn of it," Robert pointed out. "I mean, one of their greatest historic legends identifying us as the Bearers of the Dawn, and by name? How many would assume this was some kind of trick or forgery? Especially with the Great Temple destroyed and all of the library records to prove this book's authenticity."

"Which is why they must not, for now anyway," Meridina insisted. 'Not until we have learned more about this."

"And it'd be nice to figure out which dark forces he warned about," Lucy added. "Did he foresee the Brotherhood and Cylons? The Nazis? Or maybe those 'Pretender' things that have attacked us over the year?" She shook her head. "Until we know more, we have to keep this secret."

"Agreed. This doesn't leave the room," Robert said.

They all nodded. Even Meridina, who was already wondering how much she could safely tell Kaveri Varma.

Julia made a final check of her guest quarters to reassure herself that she had everything. Almost everything, anyway, save those things being shipped to New Liberty for storage. After her examination was over Julia pulled on a backpack full of things, slung a duffel bag over one shoulder, and clasped a suitcase with the opposite hand.

She approached the door in time to hear its chime go off. Instead of answering she simply stepped up to the door to trigger it to open.

Kaveri stood in the hall. She nodded at Julia. "I hoped to see you before you departed the ship."

"Well, you're right on time," Julia assured her. "Have you settled in?"

"I have." The two began walking toward the nearest lift. "I hope you understand why I have not spoken to you until now."

"I do, and I'm thankful for it." Julia's tone was quiet, meant to be reassuring. "It's not easy, I admit."

"I would think not. And I offer you my promise that I will take care of your people and your ship until you return."

"Thank you." It was a relief to hear it. Julia was aware that, whatever her attempt to instill more professionalism in how the ship was run, other commanders would go yet further, and alienate the others in the process. "I know we don't run things on the Aurora as Earthforce would, but it works well enough, even if a lot of people don't recognize it."

"I confess I find your uniforms lacking, and it is clear some of your crew would not function well in a more military environment," Kaveri admitted. "But I saw your mettle at Tira and over Germania. That is all I need to know. Please do not let worry over your people complicate your recovery, Captain."

"Being the 'mother hen', as Leo likes to call it, I admit I'm always a little worried," Julia confessed. "But I know you can take care of them, so it'll be easy to deal with."

They stepped into a lift and rode it to Deck 3. The lift opened and two lines of senior crew and officers were waiting. Master Chief Rohm, the Senior Chiefs, Hargert, all gave her a farewell. Hargert personally added a strong embrace and handed her an insulated tub. "Stew," he said kindly. "For when you wish a taste of home."

Julia took it and found room in her duffel bag for the sealed container. With Kaveri behind her she moved on, shaking hands as she did. Lieutenant Takawira, Lieutenant Neyzi, Chief Hrakee, Doctors Singh, Opani, and Walker, and yet more. At the door, Commander Richmond and Major Anders bid her farewell.

In the Transporter Station room her friends and others were assembled. Tra'dur was standing beside Cat, Talara and Gina were with Lucy. One by one she hugged them goodbye. Robert received the last hug, and the tightest, before she stepped up onto the pad. "Take care of yourselves, please," she said to them. "And take care of each other and Captain Varma." Focusing on Kaveri, she added, "Good luck, Captain."

"We plan on it," Jarod assured her.

"Aye, now get yerself th' rest ye need," added Scott. "Our girl will be ready an' waitin' for ye tae come home, Captain, that I promise."

After a further chorus of agreement, Julia looked to the silver-horned, purple-skinned Dre'kari crewman and nodded. "Energize."

"Yes Captain." A few key presses came, and with them Julia was whisked away by a burst of light.

For a moment there was silence. Meridina spoke first, saying, "She will do as she needs, and so shall we. Beginning with our departure." After accepting the nod in her direction from Kaveri, Meridina added, "You are all dismissed."

Kaveri tapped at her omnitool's comm key, opening a channel to the bridge. "Captain Varma to Bridge. Take us out."

The Starship Aurora pulled away from the orbit of the unique planet below. The night lights of Republic City and the other cities and towns of the Republic and Earth Union twinkled below as they cleared the orbiting stations and the spacecraft of the unique civilization, the latest of many they had encountered in their time. Once the kilometer long ship was clear, a point of emerald light formed ahead of her, expanding into an interuniversal jump point that took them off to another universe.

The dawning sun shined lush yellow rays upon the great spires of the Fire Nation capital. Gradually the brilliant orb rose high enough in the sky to reach the palace within the caldera at the heart of the city. Some of those rays shined through the open doors of one of the palace's many rooms.

Julia stepped in through one door and found Miko entering the other. The latter was wearing the same outfit as Julia, a white gi with sashes tied around their waists. Both had their hair pulled back into buns, Miko's arranged closer to the top of her head and Julia's toward the back of her neck.

They stopped about three meters from each other. After a second's pause, Miko bowed at the waist, putting her hands together in a gesture that seemed to emulate the flame insignia of the Fire Nation. "Sifu Julia," she said politely. "Good morning."

"Good morning, student," Julia replied with as much politeness. She bowed and emulated the same hand gesture. "Are you ready to begin your studies?"

"I am, Sifu."

"Good. To begin, T'ai chi ch'üan is more than a martial art. It is a method of meditation, an exercise in mind and body. There are many forms and styles. I've done some checking on your world's Waterbending styles so I'm going to start you with forms that fit them the best…"

The two were soon moving in those forms, Miko closely following Julia's movements. The rays of the rising sun around them continued to banish away the lingering coolness of the night, warming them in the process.

And with it came a kind of peace, a soothing balm to their tried, wounded souls.
”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 »

So, even though I've been writing those "Breach of Faith" novels, over the last several months I took time now and then to write the final three episodes of Season 3, usually when I needed a break from the other stuff.

But I'm pleased to inform you that I will be posting those final three episodes starting on the 31st!

3-20 "The Fury" - January 31st
A group of agents threaten delicate peace talks with the Dominion on Deep Space Nine.

3-21 "Sense of Worth" - February 7th
Leo faces prejudice and violence while helping a refugee camp of telepaths on a war-torn Earth.

3-22 "The Closed Circle" - February 14th
Robert and the Aurora crew rush to discover Reshan's Temple before the forces of darkness can reach it.
”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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Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: 12 November 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. We arrived at Federation-controlled space station Deep Space Nine at 0934 hours New Liberty time. Our orders are to support and protect peace talks being held with the Dominion and the Cardassians. Captain Dale and Commander Richmond will be cooperating with Constable Odo of station security in this matter. The Alliance Government hopes to defuse the growing tensions with the Dominion and end the ongoing border skirmishes provoked by Jem'Hadar incursions into Federation, Klingon, and Alliance space. But we can expect the Dominion to extract a high price for any concessions.

I am pleased to report that after two weeks in command of the
Aurora, the crew of this ship has adjusted to the circumstances.

Meridina and Master Chief Levi Rohm were seated in the ready office side by side. Behind the desk, Kaveri examined the performance reviews ordered by Command as part of the fleet-wide mobilization. "I am quite pleased to see this," she said to them. "The crew's performance matches or exceeds all fleet guidelines in every department."

"Thank you, ma'am, but given who we are, it should be exceeding in all of them," said Chief Rohm. The Israeli-American naval veteran was from the same Earth as the Alliance founders, although his presence was not from any link to them but his own decision to enlist following the beginning of the war with the Nazi Reich. It was more chance than anything that led to his assignment to the Aurora.

"I appreciate that, Chief, but with the recent attacks and the changes in command they caused, it is not surprising."

"It is something to work on, certainly," Meridina said. She herself was concerned with the performance of the science section.

"I recommend more drills," stated Chief Rohm.

"That can be arranged." Kaveri signed off on the review. "Thank you again, Chief, for your diligence. You are dismissed."

He nodded and departed the ready office. He knew enough about the weird things that could happen on the ship to figure something on that line was going to be discussed between the Captain and XO, and he had other matters to deal with.

Once he was gone Kaveri looked to Meridina. "Your translation efforts. How are they progressing?"

"Our rate has slowed," she admitted. "We have come to the end of the material partially translated by Mastrash Ledosh before he… died." Pain was evident in her voice, even if she fought to keep a stoic look.

Kaveri nodded. She gave a gentle, knowing look to Meridina. "I imagine it is quite painful," she said. "Ledosh was your instructor in these life force arts, was he not?"

"He was. I was his apprentice from the time I ended my initiate's training," Meridina said. "I never felt so honored in my life before. That he was struck down… even with all the horror of that day, that is the pain I still feel the most keenly."

"I understand that," said Kaveri. "Teachers can be as close as parents. Closer, perhaps."

Meridina sensed an old guilt in Kaveri. Her daughter Zhengli - now Zhen'var, the Captain of the ASV Huáscar - had grown up with teachers more than her own mother given Kaveri's Earthforce career. This was not sensed telepathically, as Kaveri's mind was carefully reciting Hindu proverbs as was her custom to ease things for telepaths in her presence. It was sensed through her swevyra, the part of her that connected to the wider Flow of Life, and gave her insights and abilities.

Kaveri recognized that from the look on Meridina's face. "I am still getting used to the alternate form of telepathy your powers make possible," she admitted. "Even after a lifetime of working carefully around telepaths."

"I have no intention to pry," Meridina assured her. "I promise you that."

"Of course not." Kaveri said nothing for the moment, letting her memories briefly flash back by seven months to Tira, where Meridina had entered her mind to confirm a private matter. Neither of them were comfortable with that recollection as Kaveri, while ultimately consenting, had been understandably upset at being required to give that consent. Meridina, in turn, felt then and now that Kaveri's reluctance undermined the consent, and thus tainted Meridina's use of her telepathic gifts.

Kaveri spoke on a more immediate subject. "This space station, Deep Space Nine. I have heard things about it, but this is my first time here. What might I expect?"

"It is… interesting," Meridina managed.

"Ah." Kaveri smiled at that. "I suppose I shall have to see that for myself during these talks."

The Promenade was as active as ever in light of the coming negotiations. The myriad merchants and traders who usually passed through the station were joined by observers sent from other governments or news organizations, giving establishments like Quark's another set of potential customers.

An electronic trilling filled the air beside the bar proper as another dart hit home on the dartboard beside it. "Another twenty, Chief," said Doctor Julian Bashir, the station's physician. He was wearing the newly-issued Starfleet uniforms, the shoulders now gray with medical blue on the collar instead. "We've got this one."

Chief Miles O'Brien retrieved his darts from the board with a smile. He walked back and handed them over to Zack Carrey, who in turn gave them to Tom Barnes. "Good luck," O'Brien said amiably.

Zack gave him a bemused look. "Given you've got a genetically-augmented doctor on your side, luck isn't at play in this game."

"Ah, but your friend has a rather capable prosthetic right arm," Bashir noted. "It does even things out."

Tom stepped up and started tossing his darts. He made good on O'Brien's points and then some, chipping away the lead of the two DS9 staff. As he finished he asked, "So, how's that Battle of Britain program doing for you? We've been using another one lately."

"We haven't shot down any Jerries lately," Bashir answered. "Miles and I have been running a program trying to defend the Alamo."

"The Alamo?" Zack chuckled. "So which of you plays good ol' 'Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier?'" He said the name and title in a sing-song fashion, emulating the song he'd heard from his childhood.

"We both have, but only sometimes," Bashir said.

"So have you managed to hold the mission yet?"

"Not once," O'Brien sighed. "They always get through in the end."

Tom handed Zack the darts. "I brought us as close as I could," he said. "It's up to you." He stepped back and watched as Zack made an effort to hit the most high-value points.

In the end, he missed one slightly so that the point gap remained, if reduced. He let out a sigh. "Well, that's that I guess." He turned to the bar. "Drinks are on us, Tom."

Zack was surprised to see a holographic viewer, showing a baseball game somewhere in the Multiverse, built into the area above the bar. Another viewer was showing what was presumably a different channel, this one depicting a biotiball game from M4P2. Quark's voice turned Zack's attention to the bar. "I see you lost," he said. "Drinks are on you then?"

"Yeah. And what's this?" He gestured to the viewers.

"Just had them installed," said Quark. Even without asking he already knew what drinks Zack would be ordering and worked on preparing them.

"So you're adding 'Sports Bar' to the 'Casino' part?"

"Not really," Quark admitted. "You'd be surprised how many people watch these things to bet on the outcomes. It's a very lucrative market."

"I know it is," Zack said. He kept his voice from sounding too upset at it. Sports betting only destroyed my career and turned me and my Dad against each other… well, even moreso, there.

Even if he didn't know how he'd upset his customer, Quark swiftly recognized he had and adjusted. "Think of it as an investment. I'm investing in the Federation and your Alliance sticking around. It's not like the Cardassians or Jem'Hadar will be very interested in your sports." He finished pouring the last of the four drinks, specifically Zack's non-alcoholic mix. "I've got a good feeling about the talks too. As the 35th Rule of Acquisition says, 'Peace is good for business.'"

"I thought the rule before it said war was good for business?" asked Bashir.

"It does, but if you ask me, the 35th Rule supersedes the 34th," Quark said before departing.

Zack brought the drinks over to the table where the others were seated. Nearby a cry of "Dabo!" split the air. "So, here we are," he said, making sure to take the non-alcoholic drink offered. "It looks like Quark's optimistic about this summit."

"I'm not sure I can be," said O'Brien. "Between your enemies, our enemies, and the Dominion, it's not going to be easy."

"A lot of people would love to see us go to war with the Dominion, that's for sure, " Zack agreed. "Especially the SS exiles and the Cylons. Our fleet being more spread out means they can hit us easily again."

"Still, with Odo and your Commander Richmond on the job, the talks should be safe," Bashir said.

"I'll believe it when we get through them and actually have a peace," Tom muttered.

DS9's Habitat Ring was built to house thousands in apartments ranging from grand suites to something akin to an Earth motel room. Even with the summit, several sections remained barely inhabited, and their apartments open for rent.

In one such apartment, the renters waited in silence, clad in the dark suits they'd arrived in by various means and ships. They could almost be mistaken for statues with how motionless they were.

The door slid open abruptly and two more figures entered, a man and a woman, both baseline Human. They were wearing traveling jackets, non-descript ones, that they quickly shed. The man revealed his splendid golden uniform, drawing the attention and awe of the others, while the woman was in dark leathers. A prod-like device was attached to her hip. All of those present knew what it was, and all rightfully feared its use.

"All preparations are made?" asked the uniformed man.

One of the dark-suited people nodded. "Yes, Lord Fayd-Taras. Our equipment is prepared, and we have the final intelligence. Everything is in order." The man looked at his golden-suited superior and the woman with him. "Our orders are confirmed then? He has given his final word?"

"Yes," said Fayd-Taras "The decree is given. The Fates are with us."

"The Fates are with us!" the assembled chorused in acceptance.

At that moment, the woman glanced upward slightly, as if she'd heard something she didn't expect. But after several moments she returned her gaze firmly ahead, saying nothing to the others.

And yet, she had good reason.

Above their heads, in the quarters of the deck above, a man and a woman sat in quiet solitude and concentration. Each was clad in white robes and clothing, as if in contrast to those beneath their feet. In unison, their eyes opened and they shared an uneasy look.

"She feels us," said the woman.

"She does," agreed the man. "But we must not let that sway us from our duty. They must be stopped."

Undiscovered Frontier
"The Fury"

Zack took the lead when the turbolift deposited Kaveri and Meridina with him in Station Operations on DS9. The circular chamber, the nerve center for the station, was being manned by various personnel from Starfleet and the Bajoran militia. In charge at the moment was Major Kira Nerys of Bajor. The red-headed Bajoran woman, wearing a red uniform, indicated the office for them. "Captain Sisko is ready to see you," she assured them.

They stepped through to see Sisko reading a PADD held in one hand while the other gripped his beloved baseball. He looked up and gave them a warm, welcoming expression as he stood. "Commander Meridina, Commander Carrey, welcome back." Sisko's baritone voice was controlled as always. He focused on Kaveri. "And welcome to Deep Space Nine, Captain Varma. I'm informed it is your first time visiting the station."

"It is," she said amiably. "Although the circumstances are not as pleasant as they might have been."

"Agreed. To business then." Sisko returned to his seat and prompted them to take chairs as well. "This summit may be our last chance to stop the Dominion build-up in Cardassia and the outbreak of war. The security of the summit is my main concern. I don't want any repeat of what happened last time."

"We will provide you with all assistance required," Kaveri said, understanding what he meant. Meridina and Jarod had already informed her of the sabotage, and the Asari serial killer Morinth, that had disrupted the last diplomatic summit the Aurora crew attended on Sisko's station. "These supply convoys the Dominion is sending, do you have a plan to interdict them?"

"We're working on a solution," said Sisko. "And there's already a convoy preparing to come through the wormhole, although the Dominion is holding it back until the negotiations are over. A slight concession on their part."

"Indeed." Kaveri nodded.

Zack remained quiet while the two discussed the security arrangements further. Commander Phryne Richmond, the Aurora's Chief of Security, would work with Constable Odo and his station security forces. Robert and his Paladin Operations Team - Lucy Lucero, Talara, and Gina Inviere - would be involved as well.

Once they finished the arrangements they moved to leave. "Commander, a moment?" Sisko asked. Kaveri looked to Zack and nodded before departing with Meridina, leaving Zack with the DS9 commander.

Sisko's expression was somber. "I've heard about what happened on New Caprica," he said. "You have my deepest condolences."

Zack nodded quietly and drew in a deep breath before saying, "Thank you, Captain."

"I've been there myself," Sisko continued. "And it left me ready to walk away from everything. I'm not sure what I would have done if I didn't have Jake."

"Yeah, that sounds familiar," Zack sighed. He gave Sisko an appreciative look. "It was kind of you to bring it up. Because I know it still hurts."

"It does," admitted Sisko. He picked up the baseball from his desk and rotated it in his hand a few times. "How is Captain Andreys doing?"

"Recovering," Zack replied. "They have her on mandatory medical leave right now."

"I would expect that."

"I expect she'd be going up a wall over it," Zack added, nearly snorting with amusement. "But she found another way to be her usual mother hen self."

The training room in the Fire Nation Palace was silent. No words were shared between the two occupants as one followed the movements of the other. Only the slightest sound of quiet, careful breath could even possibly be heard.

Julia led Miko through a final set of movements. Miko seemed to vibrate with energy, indicative of her nature as a martial artist, indeed as an individual. The careful forms of t'ai chi were not in keeping with Miko's preference. But she diligently stuck to them through the last form. When it was done she pressed her fist to her palm and bowed in respect to the older woman.

Julia answered the bow with one of her own, repeating the gesture. "You're making some progress, Miko," she assured her student.

"Thank you, Sifu Julia," Miko answered. "You are everything I hoped for in a teacher." An excited look came to Miko's face. "And I'm looking forward to our trip."

Julia nodded. They would be departing for New Liberty in a few days. Julia wanted to give help to the colony she'd helped to found as it recovered from the terrible attack of the SS exiles the prior month, the same attack in which she'd been taken prisoner.

For all she'd endured as a captive, there was a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud. Specifically, without that and the resulting ordeal, Julia would have never met Miko.

"This New Liberty Colony sounds like such a fascinating place," Miko continued. "Like Republic City in its early history, with all of the cultures… I can't wait to see it."

"It can be a sight," Julia agreed. "And they're still rebuilding. I'm wondering what they've changed…"

The door to the room slid open. Seven individuals stepped in, five men and two women in elaborate robes and headdresses of red and gold. They were mostly older, even the youngest being at the cusp of middle age, and the central figure was a man of advanced age with age-whitened hair and beard and a few obvious liver spots. "Avatar Miko," he said, his voice full of reproach. "You were supposed to see us this morning."

Julia glanced to Miko, unaware of said commitment. Miko responded to with a frown. "I received your message, yes, but I thought my silence made perfectly clear that I had no intention of being lectured by the Fire Sages for an hour. I had training to get to."

"It is the matter of that training that we feel we must discuss," the Sage said. "Your training as the Avatar is too important a task."

Julia nodded respectfully. "Is there an issue here, sir?"

The Sage turned his head to face her. "We mean no disrespect to you, Julia Andreys, but…"

"...but they want me to find another teacher," Miko finished for the elder, her voice hot with anger.

"You need a Waterbender to teach you Waterbending," another of the Sages said. "Captain Andreys may understand the style of Waterbending, but she does not have the ability. She cannot train you."

"Funny, because she's a better teacher for me than that miserable old man you sent me to before," Miko retorted. Her fists clenched. "I've made my decision, and I'm not changing it!"

"Be reasonable, Miko. You place an unfair burden on Captain Andreys by making her responsible for teaching a talent she does not possess."

It was a good point. Not that Julia had a chance to bring it up, as Miko immediately countered with, "Bending is not just about moving elements. She may not be able to Waterbend, but she moves, she fights, like a Waterbender. She's helping me to understand that without judging me like everyone else has." Miko's voice lost none of its fire, even as the volume went down. "It's a struggle for me, and she makes me feel like I can work through it."

"That is not our only concern," the lead Sage said. "We have heard you plan to leave for another universe soon. We can hardly accept such a decision, especially given what happened the last time you left…"

"I'm going to a world that's ready to fight off an attack this time."

The youngest Sage spoke up with real heat in his voice. "A world in another universe. What if something were to happen to you?! The Avatar spirit could be lost to us!"

"It wouldn't be. It would be able to come back," insisted Miko. "And I don't want to hear another word of this! I've made my decision!"

"We will speak to the Fire Lord on this matter," the young Sage said, his voice making clear it was a threat as much as a promise.

"Go ahead," Miko answered. "Do what you want, just leave me alone."

With a deep sigh the lead Sage led his people out of the room. Julia set a hand on her shoulder. "They're just worried about you."

"They're worried more about their authority," Miko said sullenly. She drew in a sigh. "I'd like some lunch. Would you mind joining me?"

"Not at all," Julia said.

The activity in Quark's wasn't letting up, giving Tra'dur quite a sight as Cat brought her up to the Dabo table. "It's a bit like roulette," she said. "You place bets on a specific slot, and when the wheels stop spinning, you check to see if the symbols for your slot have matching colors, shapes, or number of shapes. Depending on how many matches you have, you win something back."

Tra'dur examined the shapes. Squares, triangles, and circular shapes were present, in three colors and in counts of one through three for those colors, although the innermost wheel had only non-colored symbols. There were other shapes that she assumed played into the game. She quickly crunched the probabilities in her mind and asked, "And if you manage to get overlapping matches? Say, three triangles from each wheel and the two outer wheels are both red…?"

"The girl at the wheel shouts 'Dabo!' and you win the entire bet." Cat looked to the wheel and noticed that the Dabo girl this time was a new one, an Asari. A brief, instinctive shudder went through her, given what happened the last time she was on DS9.

Tra'dur noticed it. "Cat'Delgado? What is wrong?"

"Uh… nothing," Cat said, not very convincingly.

Recognizing Cat's discomfort, Tra'dur decided to change the subject back to the game. "And the girl is there to look pretty and distract players?"

"Well, yeah," Cat said. "Pretty much." She blushed a little. "And Quark hires some really pretty girls too."

"I would imagine he does. So you wish to play…?"

"Oh, we can go a few rounds. I've had some good luck playing this game. Not that I'm going to get rich off of it or anything." Cat's blush deepened. "To be honest, back when I was burying myself beneath the closet floorboard, I played because I enjoyed getting to be close to pretty girls without feeling self-conscious about how I was attracted to them. I mean, I still felt self-conscious about how puny and thin I was compared to them, but that's easier to deal with."

"And now?"

"Still a little self-conscious," Cat admitted. "But I've been learning to accept I'm just not the curvy type. Vee helped me with that. So…" She gestured to the table. "Want to play?"

"I suppose a few rounds would not greatly hurt my bank account," Tra'dur conceded.

Cat giggled at that and brought Tra'dur over to begin placing a bet on the next spin. The two watched the machine as its spinning approached a peak of activity.

The DS9 security office hadn't changed any since Robert last saw it. He and Phryne Richmond sat side by side and faced Constable Odo at his desk. The station's security chief seemed a little different now, carrying himself more like a normal biped and not as the shape-shifting, naturally-liquid state being he actually was. His face still had its unique shape, the result of Odo's final attempts to emulate a humanoid face based on his Bajoran guardian Doctor Mora. "We have significantly improved our computer systems since the last time," Odo assured them.

"I've read the report," said Richmond. Her voice was a refined one, her accent upper class Australian. In appearance she had skin as close to porcelain in tone as a Human could get, with intelligent green eyes and short-cut dark hair. "Given the consequences of that security breach, it is comforting to hear. And it would appear we are ready for any such disruptions this time."

Robert thought darkly on that. They still had no idea what happened to Senator Kiang, if she'd been murdered or smuggled into Dominion space after her replacement by a Dominion Founder. It was small recompense that the same infiltrator ended up the key to developing the new technology to detect and disrupt Changelings in disguise.

The unease Robert felt inside of himself intensified, and he immediately knew it wasn't from thinking about all of that. Something felt off, wrong.

Odo noticed the slight change in Robert's expression. "Captain?" he asked. "What's wrong?"

"I'm not sure. A… feeling I'm having, that something is wrong here," he said. "I can't describe it beyond that. Just a feeling of darkness and danger on the station."

"I see. I am aware of your metaphysical talents, but you understand I can't do anything to secure against nebulous feelings?"

"I know," Robert said. "If I can I'll tell you more, maybe we…"

A tone filled the air. The voice of Commander Worf followed. "Ops to Constable Odo."

Odo tapped the Bajoran commbadge he was wearing. "Odo here, Commander."

"A Dominion squadron has dropped from warp transmitting diplomatic codes. Their negotiating team has arrived."

"I'll be in place with my security teams immediately, Commander. Thank you for the information. Odo out."

Richmond and Robert stood as quickly as Odo did. Each had tasks to see to to secure the negotiation teams, and now it was time to implement them.

The Cardassian vessel Trager, a Galor-class warship, was the vessel chosen to dock with DS9 and carry over the negotiation team. Sisko, Kira, and Kaveri joined the Alliance and Federation negotiators in coming to meet them, with Odo, Robert, and Lucy among the security personnel present. The long-time Councillor T'Latrek of Vulcan was present for the Federation, as severe and controlled as Robert remembered her being. General Martok - the real Martok this time - was attending with a member of the Klingon High Council, Councillor Porag. For the Alliance Senator Tranu Talam, of the Alakin Union, was leading, joined by other Council members and professional diplomats that included Senator Pensley of the pacifist Tetzelian Republic. He showed no love for Robert at their exchange of glances.

The great red wheel that acted as the inner airlock for the dock wheeled open, permitting several figures to exit. After a pair of Jem'Hadar and a pair of Cardassians stepped out, Robert and the others recognized Gul Dukat as the first official to emerge. Following him as a Vorta, one he sensed Sisko think of as "Weyoun", and after Weyoun a reserved figure in a light pink all-body suit. Given the facial structure Robert was certain it was a Founder.

Whatever his feelings, Sisko was quick to speak. "Gul, Welcome back to Deep Space Nine."

"Ah, Captain Sisko." Dukat's voice had a certain warmth to it, but Robert found it forced. "I am pleased you're keeping Terok Nor in such good shape."

"We have a meeting room already prepared," Sisko said, ignoring Dukat's use of the station's Cardassian name. "If you'll follow me."

The tension in the air remained high even as Tranu and T'Latrek bowed their heads respectfully, getting a return gesture.

The group moved on, led by Sisko, with station security and Aurora Marines clearing the way ahead. Toward the rear, Robert and Lucy suddenly started glancing around their environs, as if they'd heard a noise. Odo noticed this, and the tension in their body language. "What is it?" he asked.

"I'm, we're, not sure," Robert said.

"I feel something. Dark, but there's no threat," Lucy said. "I can't tell where it's coming from."

The look on Odo's face complemented the irritation both sensed in the Changeling, at the apparent uselessness of their abilities in this situation. Neither could much fault him for it, as they felt irritated and uncertain as well. They followed him without another word.

A distance away, a figure clad in dark robes and suit looked at them with bemusement. Her ashen gray skin marked her a non-Human, but other than that she was very humanoid in appearance and general shape. After a moment's consideration she continued in another direction, preparing herself for what was to come.
”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 conference room on the station was set up with two tables facing each other across the middle of the room. The Federation, Klingon, and Alliance delegations sat together with the Dominion and Cardassians at the other table. Jem'Hadar and armed Cardassian guards stood behind the one table while Bajoran and Starfleet personnel stood around the other. Robert stood to the side with Richmond and Odo as part of the security contingent, although the Aurora security and Marine personnel were mostly outside of the room.

Whatever optimism Robert had about the talks quickly started to bleed away as the opening statements made clear the chilliness in the relations of the two sides. Weyoun took the main speaking role for the other delegation and quickly went into the continuing issue of the convoys. "The Dominion is well within its rights to maintain its current convoys into Cardassian space," he said. "Your own agreements with the Cardassian government, and others in this quadrant, have established the principle of innocent passage. Our convoys do not in any way violate this principle."

"A principle the Dominion has not extended to our governments," T'Latrek pointed out. "You cannot claim the protection of a principle you do not hold yourself."

"That was before the Cardassian Union elected to join the Dominion, and be our local representative to the people of the Alpha Quadrant," Weyoun answered. "We are prepared to assume full responsibility for the treaties signed by Cardassia. But we insist on the convoys being permitted through. You may, of course, scan the vessels to your leisure, to affirm their cargos…"

"There are ways to fool such scans," Senator Talam said. "That is why my government insists on direct inspection."

"Under the innocent passage agreements signed regarding access to the wormhole, you have no such right," Weyoun said. "And the Dominion will resist any attempt to compel direct inspection."

"Then we are at an impasse," T'Latrek said. "We have information that your convoys are bearing war materials that are turning Cardassia into a massive armed depot, one capable of sustaining a Dominion war effort against this quadrant."

"Any information you have received is clearly in error, Madame Councilwoman," Dukat said, speaking up. "The Dominion is primarily providing civilian goods and supplies to restore the Cardassian economy. The only military goods sent so far have been to rebuild our defensive perimeter after our war with your own allies, the Klingons." He gave a pointed look to General Martok and Councillor Porag.

"A war your own new allies helped to provoke when they replaced me," Martok retorted.

"From what I am aware, it took very little effort on their part to prompt it," Dukat said coldly. "And if you think we will let the Klingons or any other power steal our rightful territory again…"

"We did not come to exchange threats of war," Pensley began. "We are here to figure out an amicable…"

As Pensley spoke, naturally playing himself up as the peace-loving mediator, Robert considered his feeling that there was something else the Dominion was interested in. The convoys were not the central core of their concerns, as much as they swore otherwise. But as he listened, he could find no indication of what it was.

Pensley's attempt to restore calm to the conference worked, mostly, with Weyoun thanking him and stating the Dominion's commitment to a peaceful resolution. A few more points of contention were raised, the border skirmishes being done so delicately, until the decision was made to end the session so both sides could consider one another's positions. The conference would resume in three hours' time.

As everyone filed out, Sisko and Martok approached Robert and Odo. "You seem distracted," Sisko said to Robert. "What did you make of them?"

"There's something else on their minds," Robert said. "Something they're more concerned about than the convoys or the borders. But they're not ready to bring it up."

"What else is there to consider?" Martok asked, frustration in his voice. It was eerie that he sounded exactly like the imposter Martok Robert met on the last mission to DS9, although this Martok was missing an eye.

"Whatever it is, the sense I got was it was something that they're almost afraid of," Robert said. "Maybe I'll get a better feel for it at the next meeting."

"In the meantime, we should join the others," said Sisko. "We have a lot to discuss."

With Kaveri and Meridina off for the talks on DS9, Jarod was left as the senior officer aboard. It was a familiar responsibility, if still not entirely welcome, and it necessitated that even his off-watch lunch be a working lunch so he could survey the status reports. Master Chief Rohm already had a ship-wide drill scheduled with Kaveri's signature, requiring Jarod to set up the details.

So far his worries about how Kaveri would command the ship had not materialized. She was very much acting the caretaker for Julia, letting Meridina and Jarod maintain the command regimen Julia had established with little variation, save more consultations with Master Chief Rohm and his subordinates. A bemused thought came to mind. Maybe this time we'll actually keep a Master Chief longer than six months, as he thought about the rotating position before. Stasia would probably have preferred things this way. I wonder how she's doing on the Huáscar, wherever they've gone off to…

He noted the shadow on the table and looked up in time to see Gina come to a stop at the other side of the table. Gina was wearing an assemblage of Gersallian clothing, suitable given she was a civilian (albeit a civilian member of Robert's Operations Team, so she was permitted to be armed, as evidenced by the lightsaber on her belt). "Commander Jarod, I didn't want to disturb you, but I could use some help." She held up a digital reader and some scraps of handwritten paper that, previously, she had been holding close to her chest.

Jarod took the offerings while she spoke further. "The translations don't seem to make sense," she said. "I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong."

"The syntax of the old High Gersallian can be tricky," Jarod said. "They hadn't yet absorbed influences from the regional languages." He glanced over the work. As he looked it over he found himself puzzled as well. The results seemed accurate, but they didn't mean anything. He handed it back to her. "I'm going to be busy until 1900 hours, but afterward I can come by and check some of your work. Will that be fine?"

Gina nodded. "It will." She sat down and sighed. "I've learned a lot about Gersallian over the past few years, but it's hard doing this without the others. And they're busy on the station with these talks, so I'm alone on this."

"I understand, I do," Jarod said. "And I know how important this is, so I'll be there when I can. In the meantime, you look like you could use a good lunch." He gestured toward Albert. "So let me get you one."

In the ready office beside the bridge, Kaveri finished listening to Robert's report on the summit. Technically speaking she wasn't involved, as Tranu Talam was keeping the Alliance delegation as strictly civilian outside of the protective detail (likely as a sop to Pensley, who as always was suspicious of the Alliance military). But Robert was keeping her appraised anyway as a precautionary measure given the Dominion's history of deceptive behavior.

If anything it was clear the Dominion couldn't be underestimated. Their arguments were, if self-serving, still accurate as to treaty rights. Kaveri wondered what they hoped to gain by offering to cease their own attacks on Alpha Quadrant ships that entered the Gamma Quadrant. Opening the way to unfettered reinforcements to Cardassia couldn't be the only thing they were after.

The door chime sounded. Kaveri looked up, already certain of the new arrival. "Come in, Commander," she called out.

The door slid open and Caterina entered. She was in her uniform, wearing the knee-length uniform skirt with the jacket and boots. She stood at attention. Kaveri was now used to the lack of a salute, even if it still grated instinctively given her long Earthforce service. "Captain, you wanted to see me, sir?" Cat inquired. Kaveri guessed she was not long returned from her shore liberty on the station.

"Yes." Kaveri gestured to the chair in front of her. "At ease, and please, sit down, Commander."

Cat did so quietly. She gave Kaveri a patient look once she was settled into the chair.

Kaveri brought up the performance evaluations she'd reviewed with Chief Rohm and Commander Meridina. "Commander, I would like to discuss how things are going in the ship's Science Department."

Caterina nodded. "Okay. Are there any projects you're wondering about?"

"I see something here about Lab 3 taking up a greater allotment of computer processing time than they're usually permitted?"

Cat nodded. "Doctor Ke'mani'pala and Lieutenant Patani are running simulations for the Layom Station Multispecies Disease Prevention Office."

"What kind of simulation?"

"It's a virus reported from the S2C3 universe. A government there…" Cat was clearly checking her memories before speaking again. "...the Umojans, they forwarded some samples of a highly dangerous biological agent connected to some species in their sector. 'Zarg' or something."

"Presumably not the same zargs from my home universe?"

"Actually, no, I think it's 'zerg'," Caterina corrected herself. She immediately added, "We don't have any samples aboard, of course. We're only running simulations based on the data they've provided us. I can get the reports if you want to know more."

"That will be fine." Kaveri settled her hands on the desk. "Commander, how are the other projects in your department going?"

"Well, fine, I guess." The young science officer seemed a little confused. "Nothing really of concern, Captain? We're still doing our share of analysis of that Ancient city-ship in N1C4, and the Darglan data found there. Lab 3 wants to see if that 'kohltou' stuff can be replicated, it outperforms medigel in terms of treating critical injuries. Lab 2 is examining reports we have on the shielding technology in A5R0 being based on quantum stasis principles. Tra'dur's astronomical research on pulsars is coming along, if you're worried about her work." Cat frowned. "But it can't be that, is it? I mean, I know she's Operations, but she's a scientist at heart and she's only using Lab resources on her off-time and I've signed off on it all…"

Kaveri shook her head, smiling softly. "No, I am not worried about Lieutenant Tra'dur. It is you I am worried about, Commander."

"Huh?" Cat's expression betrayed her confusion. "Why? What's wrong? Everything's going well…"

"No, it is not." Kaveri shook her head. "Oh, your department is meeting its standards. On any other ship, under any other Chief Science Officer, I would have nothing to concern myself with. But you are not any other Chief Science Officer, Commander Delgado. You are the one who typically leads the fleet in project productivity and scientific papers produced."

Cat lowered her eyes.

Kaveri saw the discomfort on her face and continued. "Tra'dur would write home to her mother about you, how much she admired your devotion to scientific study and endeavor," Kaveri continued. "And your record bears that out. Last year you were even invited to attend a symposium at the Vulcan Science Academy as a guest speaker. From what I have read, you were the only speaker there who did not have a doctorate or more."

"I… it was a subspace subject, one I've got a lot of practical experience and experimentation with," Cat answered.

"But now I hear you are going to turn down the invitation for their next meeting," Kaveri said. "You were supposed to speak on these 'T'Vral Distortions' you found in the Fracture of S0T5. The invitation is clear that they want to hear from you."

"Yeah. It's just… I'm not sure I have the time now, I'd have to take a leave from the ship and with everything going on…" Cat let her wording trail off. "I mean, what if there's another SS attack?"

Kaveri pursed her lips. "Commander, while I applaud your concern for such an event, I am not going to let you deflect the matter. For the last three months your performance has declined. You used to be at the top of the fleet, now you are just meeting the fleet baseline. The entire Science Department on this ship is no longer meeting its old standard. And I want to know why."

Cat swallowed. "It's just… I've had to make some adjustments lately. Personal adjustments."

"Your girlfriend is on the Huáscar now. I know." Kaveri shook her head. "And that is all? She is not around anymore so you are… what, giving up on things? Going through the motions?" Her tone was hard but not harsh as she spoke those words.

"I…" Cat stopped before staying more, as if her words were caught in her throat. "It's a l-lot of th-things, Captain. I'l t-try to im-improve…"

Even as Cat stammered through the sentence, Kaveri looked at the pain in the young woman's hazel eyes. She was haunted by something, something that was weighing on her, and Kaveri was bringing it out. She interlaced her fingers together on the desk and leaned toward Cat. "Commander Delgado…" Kaveri reconsidered that and went for another direction, as her tone notably softened. “I am not trying to find fault with you. When I say I am worried, it is not about your performance review or the ship's productivity rates. It is because I see a brilliant young woman who is a star in her field suddenly losing her light. I want to help you through this, whatever it is. I want you to be as brilliant as I know you can be."

Caterina closed her eyes and nodded. "I'm… I'm working through something," she admitted. "Something I saw. Something I've had to live with recently."

Kaveri's voice was softer, although not soft, when she asked, "Would you like to talk about it?"

Immediately she could see Cat was interested in that. Cat bit into her lip for a moment before she asked, "Can you let me think about it?"

"I can. Just do not keep me waiting too long, please," Kaveri asked kindly.

"I won't," Cat promised. "Permission to be dismissed?"

"Granted." Kaveri kept her pose as Cat stood, nodded in respect, and departed the office. Tra'dur said she once put herself in front of a charging, blood-raged Krogan. What could have given her such fear?

With another practice session ended, Julia was on her way back to her room in one of the palace's many guest suites. She took that time to examine, and admire, the various works of art displayed on the walls of each hall. Portraits and tapestries going back centuries depicted the events of the Fire Nation's history.

Outside of her room Julia stopped to give a closer look to one of the tapestries. It reminded her of textbook pictures of pre-industrial Japanese art, in this case depicting two dragons blowing multi-colored flames into a swirling vortex alive with colors.

"You have an appreciation of our art?"

Julia turned her head. Near her door, the aged leader of the Fire Sages was waiting, hunched over slightly but otherwise looking fine. "I'm not really an art critic," Julia said. "But this does look lovely. Does this species actually exist on your world?"

"Yes. The dragons taught our ancestors how to wield fire, and the most worthy Firebenders go on pilgrimages to see them."

"Including Avatars?"


Julia noted the look on his face. "You're here to talk me into quitting, aren't you?"

The old man nodded. "I do not doubt your sincerity, Captain Andreys. Perhaps if you were born on our world, you might have been a bender yourself, and I would have no objection. But it seems these arts are unique to this world's people." The Sage bowed his head. "The Avatar must master all four elements to be in balance within. You can teach your style to Miko, yes, but without having Waterbending of your own, I fear you lack the understanding to teach her properly."

Julia didn't argue that point. It was her own concern after all. "You're right that I can't teach the metaphysical side of whatever this is, only the style as I know it. And I talked to Miko about it. But she made her choice anyway, and I owe her the opportunity." Julia shook her head. "If Miko changes her mind, that's fine, I'll quit. I won't wish her any ill will. But that's in her hands, not mine."

The elderly man sighed and nodded. "I had hoped you might quit on your own."

"Miko deserves more from me than that," replied Julia.

"I see. I cannot fault you for your loyalty, at least. Be at peace with the spirits, Captain. Good day." The old man walked away.

In their quarters on the station, the white-robed figures sat quietly. Their minds remain linked, as always, allowing them to sense for danger and have a quiet discussion.

We must act, soon. Before the Adversary's minions make their move.

The woman responded with a shake of the head. I do not disagree, but we must be careful in how we approach them. They may not trust us. They know so little about who we are.

Frustration was the reaction. Because we do not come to them, do not explain who we are. If they knew…

Some of them do not trust psions. And they may see us as just another faction of the Fracture.
The woman's thoughts, considerations, filled his mind. If we go to one of the Forcefuls, perhaps. They will understand us. But they are all so busy with the summit I fear we would be prevented from meeting them.

We should just present ourselves to them now!
He shook his head again. We are too used to the needs of secrecy, if you ask me. We worry too much about the need to hide from the Ministry that we let it influence our decisions.

It is how we have survived for millennia
, the woman cast back. She stood. Either way, we should go to the station's commercial area. We may find an opening there.

There was agreement from the man, who stood with her. They stepped to the door. Just as he hit the button to open it, the woman called out No! mentally.

She was a moment too late.

The door slid open, and a woman in dark leather was waiting. Her arm shot forward and pressed a prod against the man's midsection. His clothing was no protection from the device, which caused him such pain that he screamed and doubled over. His compatriot took a step back and reached out with her mind, seeking to grapple the attacker. But her foe's mental defenses were ready. Her attack probes failed before those defenses. Before the absolute certainty within them, the certainty of superiority, of purpose, so like her own.

"Nice try, Magi," the leather-clad woman said simply before lunging forward. She moved with great speed and the white-robed woman barely evaded the strike. Unfortunately, the evasion carried her further into her room, and away from her only escape. She didn't have long; her foe would have backup coming, that she was certain of.

"Go!" screamed her compatriot. Despite the debilitating agony he forced himself up enough to tackle their foe. "Go now!"

There was a moment when she nearly didn't. When she decided to stay, to not abandon her compatriot. But the need of the situation overrode that. If both were captured, their mission would come to naught, and the Adversary would prevail. She rushed for the open door and turned down the hall. When an armed man stepped into her path her mind lashed out, broke through his mental defenses, and seized his motor controls, forcing his legs to give out from under him before he could attack.

Behind her, she heard her comrade scream in agony. He was at their foe's non-existent mercy. And now, she was his only hope.

She had to get help. It was the only way.

Outside of the conference room and its returning delegates, Robert, Lucy, and Talara felt the distant shadow of intense pain. They looked to each other in concern. Each now knew the other sensed it as well. Something terrible was happening.

"The next session is about to begin," Lucy said. "What do you want us to do?"

Given the nebulous feelings he'd been feeling since coming to DS9, Robert quickly made his choice. "Investigate it, both of you," he said. "I'll continue on watch here.

His compatriots nodded and departed.

The Replimat was not a restaurant so much as an open, replicator-served cafe. It was the closest thing the station had to the kind of cozy, romantic cafe one might ordinarily bring a lover to. This is why Angel picked it for the meal she and her lover Tony Zah were having while on liberty. Both were in standard uniforms, much to their regret, as they rather enjoyed showing off the fruits of their physical training regimens (particularly to one another). Before them were replicated meals, tamales and enchiladas respectively. Underneath the table Angel's foot playfully slid around Tony's, and he grinned at her. "You look like you're already looking forward to getting back to your quarters when we beam back," he said.

"Oh, I am, but I like to build anticipation."

"Well, I'm just glad I'm not on the station rotation for this evening. I'm not so lucky tomorrow."

"They'll have you standing watch with the summit?"


"Well, at least the other dignitaries are staying on their ships," Angel said. 'Given what happened the last time…"

Motion nearby drew their attention to new arrivals. Angel recognized Worf and the Trill science officer of the station, standing together and looking for an open table. "Hey, Worf, you can join us if you want," she called out.

The big Klingon turned to them, as did the Trill lady. Angel recalled that her name was Dax at that point. "Ah. You have my thanks," he said.

"Mine too," added Dax. Each had a plate of Human-style food. "I'm surprised to see it so busy."

"Well, a lot of our crew are taking brief liberty periods to visit DS9," Angel said. "So everyone's somewhere."

"It's nice to see the station so busy these days, ever since the Dominion took over in Cardassia the station's been quieter than usual."

"I consider that a good thing," Worf said aloud. He looked to Tony. "Lieutenant."

"Lieutenant Tony Zah, Commander," he answered. "An honor to meet you. Angel showed me that calisthenics program you left her."

Worf glanced to Angel, as did Dax. Angel grinned slightly. "Tony's a good fighter and I wanted extra practice," she answered.

"So you two…"

"...are together? Yeah," she finished for Dax.

"I see." Worf looked back to Tony. "I do not recall you from my time on the Aurora."

"I wasn't assigned until a few months ago," Tony replied. "But I'm aware of what you did for them. A lot of people in the crew remember Gamma Piratus. Those left from then, anyway."

"So, I'm getting a vibe from you two," Angel said, looking from Worf to Dax. "Are you…"

"We are," Worf said simply.

"Oh, nice," Tony said. "So this is becoming a double date."

Worf's reply was immediate. "No, it is not."

Dax chuckled. "Worf's not the type."

Angel's grin was a wry one. "Tell me about it."

Worf ignored that part of the conversation while taking a bite of food. When he was finished he said, "I heard about the attack on the colony you founded. I am pleased to know that you fought the enemy off."

"At cost," Angel said. "But yeah."

"It seems everyone's reeling from what happened," said Dax. "Starfleet's put all of our defensive installations on high alert ever since confirmation of the attacks."

"It's been done across the Multiverse," Angel notes. "I think even people who stayed out of the war are worried the SS will target them too. I guess this is the dark side of our technology. The idea that someone can just pop in out of nowhere and blow you to kingdom come."

"We'll get them in the end," Tony said. "Over something like this, against enemies like that, you don't stop until the job's done."

"Agreed," said Worf.

Everyone turned their attention back to their food, but their enjoyment of their meal barely lasted five seconds. "Pardon me," a female voice said, her English accented finely.

They turned their attention to the source, a red-haired woman wearing a white robe. "Uh, yeah?" Angel asked pointedly.

"I'm sorry for interrupting your meal, but my need is urgent," she said. "My name is Pallina Tormayama. I am a Magi of the Sophia, and your comrades at the summit are in terrible danger."

The next summit session began as the last one ended, with the discussion on the Dominion convoys stuck firmly in the mud. Neither side would give, could give really, and it made Robert's heart ache. We've only had a few months of peace. Now it looks like war's going to break out again.

Pensley was trying again to persuade the Dominion to yield a little, promising extensive aid to Cardassia and the prospect of bilateral arms reductions that made everyone else on his side of the table scowl. "There is no point in conflict between our peoples," he said, looking directly at the Founder. "A peaceful galaxy is an orderly one."

"We see no point in conflict as well, but we have obligations," Weyoun said in reply. As if none of them were worthy of being addressed by the Founder. "Surely your Alliance understands such obligations. You've taken on many worlds to protect in the other universes, you wouldn't allow people to dictate how you protected them, would you?"

Through it all Robert continued to sense an element of deception, from Weyoun and the Founder at least. This was not what they were actually concerned with.

This is going to continue to go nowhere until we get to what they really want, Robert thought. He waited until Weyoun ceased speaking again before looking directly at the Founder and asking, "Founder, I can tell you have something else you're concerned with, not these convoy matters, and you're really worried about it."

"You're out of line, Captain!" Pensley shouted. The anger in his eyes belied the pacific mood he'd shown so far. "You have no place to speak here and I won't have you derailing these negotiations for your own purposes!"

Senator Talam gave Pensley an unkind look, but it was T'Latrek who spoke up. "While Captain Dale's status to speak is questionable, his question is pertinent, and I extend it myself. The principles on which the Dominion is currently standing are not consistent with its previous behavior. That implies a motivation they have as yet refused to divulge."

Robert said nothing, recognizing T'Latrek's point about his not being a recognized delegate, but grateful that she'd still defended what he said. He hoped the Dominion would respond.

The initial response he got was a dark look from the Founder. Then, without a word from Weyoun, the being spoke. "Very well then. The Founders are always skeptical of solids speaking peace, so we were testing your flexibility before getting to the real matter. We have only one term that must be settled to our satisfaction to guarantee peace."

"We are ready to hear you," said Senator Talam.

"The Dominion is aware of your devices meant to detect us and destabilize our forms," the Founder said. "If you want permanent peace, you must eliminate these devices, immediately, and pledge to never build them again."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

The Founder's demand hung in the air. For a moment nothing was said. Robert shared glances with some of the others, including Sisko. Sisko in particular wasn't surprised, but he was clearly not happy over it.

The Dominion posed a threat in a number of ways. It had advanced, capable technology, with its polaron weapons capable of bypassing most standard deflector shield systems. The Jem'Hadar were a ruthless slave race bred only for combat, making them dangerous foes. The Vorta knew well how to manipulate diplomatic and economic situations to the Dominion's advantage. But the greatest threat of them all were the Founders themselves. Not only could they shapeshift, but most scanning methods couldn't discern a real object from a Changeling masquerading as one. With their shapeshifting abilities they were the ultimate infiltrators.

Every power at the table learned that the hard way, too. The Founder infiltrators stirred latent Federation-Klingon differences into conflict and all-out war. They bombed a diplomatic summit on Earth and, just by their presence, nearly provoked a militarist takeover of Starfleet and the Federation. They'd nearly provoked a war between the Federation and the Tsen'kethi beforehand, and even earlier, they'd sabotaged one of Robert's most crucial missions, the investigation into a Darglan base in the S4W8 system of 33LA. The result had certainly accelerated the Alliance's descent into war with the Greater German Reich of that universe, a war that cost millions of Alliance dead, thousands of starships from the Alliance fleets and those of its allies, and lingered on in the SS Exiles' use of interuniversal technology to continue to operate across the Multiverse.

They'd caused some of that damage too, replacing Alliance Senator Kiang and using her position to send sensitive data to the Reich, leading to a disastrous ambush that nearly cost Robert and his friends their lives. Then the imposter Kiang nearly ripped the Alliance apart in civil war by supporting Gersallian Dissenter militants in an attack on the Alliance Senate.

And now the Dominion wanted them to get rid of the only defense they had against those infiltrators.

"You are undoubtedly aware of the damages your fellow Founders have caused to the three governments we represent," T'Latrek said, her Vulcan calm edged with what Robert thought was a measure of disgust. "You are now insisting we open ourselves to further such attacks."

"These devices do more than detect us," the Founder replied. "They distort our cells and inflict terrible pain. You say you use them for defense, but you could also use them to torture us. To kill us, even, with prolonged exposure."

"We would not use them in this fashion," Talam said. "It would violate all manners of laws."

"It is our experience that solids care little for any law if it gets in the way of what they want," retorted the Founder. "We will not tolerate their existence, much less their use. Not only could you use them against us yourselves, you might spread them to other species and cultures." The Founder's voice softened. "We are not unreasonable. Given the importance of this matter to us, we are prepared to make many concessions to the powers of the Alpha Quadrant."

Naturally it was Pensley who seized the offered lifeline. "Such as?"

Without a trace of reservation, the Founder answered, "We would be willing to withdraw from Cardassia and limit ourselves to the Gamma Quadrant."

That brought a number of stunned faces and, Robert noted, a very horrified expression from Gul Dukat.

With all of the speed they could muster Lucy and Talara raced through the dark corridors of the Habitat Ring. Both felt distant sensations of intense pain, the type that only came from deliberate torture. But it was vague and they couldn't sense the central location, only the sense that it wasn't where they were heading.

They felt a pull toward one set of quarters. The door was unlocked. Inside they found that the quarters in question were empty of all but furnishings, some of which were out of place. A chair and a table were knocked over.

"Someone was taken from here. In pain," Talara said. Her sensitivity ran toward feeling such echoes.

"We'd better alert Constable Odo. Whether or not this has anything to do with the peace talks…"

A blue light came alive over the back of Lucy's left hand. Her omnitool was receiving an incoming call. She used her right finger to tap the light. "Lucero here, go ahead."

"Lieutenant, I'm in Station Security," said Angel. "And there's someone here you need to see."

Lucy and Talara arrived to find Odo's security office was already near to capacity. Aside from the taciturn chief of station security and Angel herself, Lucy noticed Lt. Tony Zah of the Aurora's security department, Commander Richmond herself, Commander Worf, and Commander Dax.

Finally, near Odo's desk was a white-robed woman. She had an oval-shaped face and there was a hint of South Asian ancestry in her facial structure while her complexion was as light as Dax's. She had a similar shape to Dax as well while not quite matching her height, and her hair was a solid, brilliant red in color.

"This is Pallina Tormayama," Odo said to them once the door was closed. "She's here to report a threat to the summit."

Lucy could feel the power in Pallina' mind. She didn't have sensitivity to the Flow of Life as Lucy and Talara did, but she was a capable telepath, Lucy believed.

Pallina nodded to her. I am, Lucilla Lucero. Aloud she said, "I need your help. They're here to attack your conference and they've got my brother."

"Who?" asked Worf. "The Romulans?"

"No. The Ministry of Fate, the rulers of NEUROM."

Odo and the two Starfleet officers showed no emotional reaction, and Tony only had a flicker of recognition. But Lucy and Angel exchanged dark looks while Talara was clearly upset to hear of them. "I've never heard of this 'NEUROM'," Odo said.

"I recall several references to them in Multiversal threat assessment reports," Worf said. "They are an alliance of states from the S0T5 universe."

"And they're all bastards," Angel hissed. "Back on Solaris they tried to kidnap Julia and Zack and nearly killed us."

"And they attacked us trying to take the Castle of Lions," Talara added.

Sensing the Starfleeters and Odo were still a little at sea, Lucy said, "They're an alliance of authoritarian and totalitarian states inside of what's called the Fracture, a region of damaged space in the S0T5 universe. We've had a few run-ins with them."

"So we have heard," said Pallina.

"And what are you? Aurigan?"

She shook her head. "No. I am from one of the remaining independent worlds of the Fracture. And I know of them because they are my order's greatest foe."

"What order is that?" Lucy asked.

"I am a Councillor Magi." Expecting them to not understand, Pallina immediately went into an explanation. "Millennia ago, in the horror and chaos of the Reignfall, my order was established by a woman we know as the Sophia. She was a powerful telepath, descended from one of the leaders of the Earthreign itself."

"Who were not very nice people," Lucy remarked.

"No, they weren't," Pallina agreed. "If you know of the Fracture, you know that its instability has a psionic component that can afflict all who dwell within."

"I remember," Lucy said, blanching at thinking of the nausea and illness being in the Fracture caused her.

Pallina nodded, sensing that memory of illness. "The Sophia believed in calming the danger through benevolence and freedom. Make lives better and the fears that fueled the horrors of the Fracture would go away. But she had a great rival, a being that we today know very little of. He was known, is known, as the All-Father."

"What, like in Odin? The Norse god?" asked Angel.

"I am unfamiliar with that allusion," Pallina said. "The All-Father is also a powerful psion. And he preached control and fear. That the chaos of the Fracture could be harnessed with control and powered by deliberate fear. To enforce his will he formed the Ministry of Fate with the mission to turn every psion into an agent of his will. They brought together the initial members of NEUROM and to this day are the secret rulers of the organization."

"Sounds like a bastard," Angel suggested. "So what's going on here?"

"The Ministry of Fate is targeting your summit," Pallina said. "We do not know why. My order dispatched myself and my brother Ignatus to warn you and help you in stopping them. But they have taken him and nearly taken me. Now…" She closed her eyes as tears formed. "...even now, I feel his agony. The Ministry is hurting him. As they would me if they'd taken me."

"We thank you for the warning," Richmond said. "Constable, it's your station."

Odo nodded. "I'll mobilize all of my security teams. I request your help."

"You'll have it."

"That leaves her brother," Lucy said. "Nobody's in their quarters, we found them on our own."

"Then we will have to locate him," Pallina said. "Before the Ministry can kill him."

In the wardroom set aside for their private delegations, the Alliance, Federation, and Klingon delegates found themselves discussing the prickly issue of the Dominion's principle demand.

"They have solid justification," Pensley argued. "This device clearly affects them physiologically. If it inflicts harm we have a moral duty to suspend its use."

When nobody else did, Robert raised the obvious counter-point. "Senator, you're talking about giving up our only means to detect and stop them. Given the damages—"

He didn't get to finish. Pensley's voice roared in fury. "I have had enough of your meddling! Don't think I don't know what you're really after! You want these talks to fail! You want to provoke a war with the Dominion so you can destroy them too! Aren't the millions of dead from the last war you started enough for you?! Well, they're more than enough for my people! If you drag the Alliance into another war, the Tetzelian Republic will not participate! We will withdraw from your cursed Alliance and leave you to drown in the blood you're spilling, and I'll make damn sure history records your name as the man who's caused it!"

Robert let Pensley finish his tirade without another word. He knew there was nothing he could say to convince the Tetzelian Senator he wasn't the aggressive, war-seeking, government-toppling radical that Pensley thought him to be. He wouldn't let Pensley's attitude about him divert the others.

"This exchange serves no logical purpose," T'Latrek said.

"On the contrary, Councillor, it serves a great purpose," Pensley countered. "It is reminding this bloody-handed radical militant that he can't keep dragging the Alliance into wars to fulfill his radical agenda of destroying governments that displease him!"

T'Latrek fixed an icy stare at Pensley that would have chilled anyone into silence. "Senator, I do not presume to comment upon internal Alliance politics, it would be a violation of Federation principle to do so. So I will not allow our common efforts to be diverted by them."

"The Klingon Empire is in agreement," Councillor Potag added. "The Dominion threat is more important than your feud."

Pensley huffed and glared at the silent Robert, but at a similar glare from Tranu Talam, he submitted.

"We should not rush to judgement. The Dominion term must be considered logically, not accepted or rejected in haste," T'Latrek insisted. "If we can secure a withdrawal of the Dominion from Cardassia, much of the potential for conflict will abate."

"That much is true," Talam agreed. "It may be worth the cost to provide us time to deal with the lingering SS threat. But the loss in security from giving up the technology is a grave cost. The Senate remembers what the Changeling who replaced Kiang did, and ratifying an agreement to leave the Alliance vulnerable to another attack like that will not be easy…"

Robert, who was thinking the Dominion term was entirely self-serving and ridiculous, was in complete agreement with that part. But he said nothing. It wasn't his job, after all, and he wasn't giving Pensley another opening to verbally abuse him. He remained silent and tried to think of other things. Ultimately his mind turned to Julia and his hope for her recovery.

As was usual, Julia was invited by Miko's uncle, Fire Lord Daizon, to join the royal family for a meal. She accepted and prepared herself for the hot dishes and foods that were staples of the Fire Nation's cuisine. Their dishes reminded her of Indian and Thai food she'd tried over her lifetime. And she was developing a slight affection for fire flakes, as if her palate was rebelling against her usual preference.

Daizon, his wife, his daughter and heiress Crown Princess Kina, her husband and children, were just one section of the family. A couple of Ursa's siblings and their offspring were around as well, as were Daizon's younger children and related offspring.

Miko still enjoyed a seat close to Daizon, in a place of honor, with Julia given the one beside her. Julia thought a few members of the family were not entirely happy with these arrangements, although she wasn't sure how many of them were against her presence itself or simply not liking the preference showed to Miko.

With much of the meal consumed Daizon signaled that conversation could begin by asking his youngest child, a son, how his education was going. The young man looked to only be a few years younger than Miko and gave an answer about his continuing course studies at Sato Polytechnic Institute in the United Republic.

Once this answer was given Daizon's second-eldest child, Prince Tenzo, looked toward Miko and asked, "Cousin, how is your training going now?"

All eyes turned toward Miko.

Julia waited for Miko to answer, knowing how self-conscious she was about it, and how angry she was with the Fire Sages' constant complaints. Miko, for her part, finished swallowing what she'd been chewing and took a drink. Finally she looked toward Tenzo and said, "I'm making some progress. The style's not an easy one for me. But thanks to Sifu Julia, I'm adjusting to it."

Tenzo was satisfied. Then her Uncle Tzen, Ursa's older brother, openly said, "Perhaps you will find it easier to progress if you took in a Waterbender as your second trainer?" Miko's eyes turned to her uncle. She was looking away from Julia, keeping Julia from seeing her, but she could see Miko was upset given her body language. Tzen continued, apparently not realizing or not caring how Miko took his suggestion. "A Waterbender could help you apply Captain Andreys' teachings to your bending."

Julia considered voicing agreement with the idea, but given the feelings she saw in Miko she remained quiet. Miko's response had to come first.

When it came, it was with clear anger. "A second trainer would only disturb my training," she insisted. "It's not necessary and I'm fully confident that as my training continues I'll start to Waterbend. I only wish my family and everyone else had as much confidence in me!"

"I'm just…"

"No, Uncle, you're not just making an idle suggestion," Miko said hotly. "You're questioning my decisions just like the Sages are!"

"He has a point, cousin," said one of the others. "Captain Andreys may know the style, but if she can't Waterbend, she can't show you how to. Having a second teacher…"

Miko stood and bowed to her grand-uncle. "Fire Lord, I wish to be excused." Her voice lost none of its heat.

Daizon could have ordered her to stay, but he recognized it would lead to nothing constructive. He nodded to her, allowing Miko to depart, her meal mostly done but not quite finished. She stomped out of the room.

"Uncle, I too wish to depart," said Ursa. She couldn't rise given the injury she'd sustained rescuing Miko. As soon as Daizon nodded she did so. "I will help her, enjoy your meal," she whispered quickly to Julia as her hover-chair moved by.

Julia nodded and returned to what was left of her meal, listening as the family very firmly discussed other matters.

Ursa found Miko on one of the balconies on an upper floor of the palace. It gave her, and Ursa, a view of the Fire Nation's capital city. It was the world's third-largest city now, only surpassed by Republic City itself and Ba Sing Se, the great metropolis of the Earth Union. "They mean well," she said softly.

"Maybe. But I'm tired of being questioned," Miko replied.

"I understand that, and it's why I'm not. I know how important it is that you make your own path." Ursa pulled up beside her and put her hand on Miko's. "I trust you, Miko."

Miko faced her mother with gratitude. "I know this will work," she said. "I am getting better at it." Slowly, the gratitude faded from her expression. "Be honest, mother, are you saying these things because you believe I'm right, or because you don't want to fight with me?"

"I don't want to fight with you, true," Ursa admitted. "The last time we argued, you left for the frontier, and I almost lost you from it. And I never want that to happen again." She nodded. "But that's not all. I've seen the potential in you, my little sun. The potential to be a great Avatar, and in one of our most important moments as a people now that the Multiverse is known."

Ursa's gentle worlds soothed Miko's spirit and calmed her doubts. "Thank you," Miko said quietly. "Are you okay with my plans, then?"

"To travel with Captain Andreys to one of her worlds?" Ursa nodded. "I'm always going to be worried about you, little sun, so there's a part of me that will always want you here. But I know this is important to you and I won't stand in your way."

Initially Miko's response was quiet. She turned to her mother and bent over to hug Ursa tightly in silent thanks.

The screens in Odo's office showed the result of another internal scan. Said result was negative and he said as much to the others. Pallina shook her head. "NEUROM has some of the most advanced technology in the Multiverse, and the Ministry of Fate in particular has access to it."

"It wouldn't be the first time the station's internal sensors have been tricked," Odo admitted, although there was still a bit of skepticism evident in his voice. "However, you must understand that this station has a lot of ground to cover if we're to do a search. I don't have the manpower for such a search currently."

"The summit must still be our priority," Worf concurred.

Angel looked up from her omnitool. "Robert's getting my message about a possible attack now."

"And my brother?"

To Pallina's question, Lucy said, "Talara and I might be able to help. You feel him right now, right?"

"I do." She nodded, still a little pale.

"Then we'll use that." Lucy sat on the floor and Talara did likewise. Pallina joined them and extended her hands, allowing each to take one. "Concentrate on that connection, even though it hurts."

Pallina nodded and closed her eyes. She felt Ignatus' pain in the core of her being and, painful as it was to her, concentrated on it. Her brother's life was on the line. She had to save him.

Talara's sensitivity and natural empathy made her the first to feel Pallina's link to Ignatus. She grimaced at the sensation of pain. Lucy felt that and soothed her. While neither of them were telepaths, they shared a bond through the Flow of Life that was just as potent as a telepathic bond between siblings. With Lucy's aid, Talara did the same for Pallina, who was already crying softly for her brother's suffering. Sense his surroundings, Lucy urged. Understand where he is.

Pallina did. She connected to her brother's senses. There was a stale quality to the air. Containers were around him and his captors. One was a man in a great golden uniform and the other…

Lucy recognized it. One of the Ministry's agents, like the one on Solaris. She didn't sense a connection to the Flow of Life in this one, however, merely a strong telepathic capability.

Strong enough to sense the connection.

Both sensitives knew the woman in black would lash out, and both tried to get a feel for where Ignatus was in the moments before it came. The woman's pain-giving prod pressed against Ignatus' midsection with agonizing results. His scream rippled through the connection, the pain with, and Pallina cried out from the same. For her it was so real that she doubled over from it, as if she were the one suffering. Lucy and Talara didn't suffer quite the same. They felt the pain at a remove and kept their focus on trying to get more details on where Ignatus was.

Then the connection was gone. The three looked up, Pallina in the worst shape.

"What happened?" Dax asked.

"They've got telepaths," Lucy said, her voice a little hoarse. "They sensed what we were doing and struck at her brother. I'm betting he's unconscious."

"I could feel their malevolence," Talara whimpered. "Their cruelty. They enjoy hurting him."

"They hate us," rasped Pallina, all of the color gone from her face. "They hate us like nothing else."

"And we'll punch them later for it," Angel promised. "But did you see anything?"

"It was a cargo bay, I'm pretty sure of that," Lucy said. "One of your interior ones."

"We have several," said Worf.

"I felt something from Ignatus." Talara shook her head. Her eyes, with the lavender-colored point in the iris, seemed to be trying to focus on something. "Not from his sight, but his other senses. The air was… wrong."

"In what way?" asked Odo.

Lucy realized what she meant. "Stale," she said. "Like the local air recirculators aren't working right."

"Well, that narrows it down." Dax looked from Odo to Worf. "Didn't the Chief say that the life support systems in Pylon 4 were acting up?"

"He did," Worf said. "He will see to the repairs soon."

That led Lucy to ask, "How many cargo bays are in Pylon 4?"

"Two are in that area," answered Jadzia.

"Then we should send security to both," Richmond said.

"Agreed. We'll need a few minutes to put a team together."

"And the summit?" asked Lucy as she stood up. Talara did the same, helping Pallina as she did.

Odo stood from his chair. "I'll join them to provide extra security."

"Commander Dax and I will inform Captain Sisko and observe from Ops," Worf added.

"Then we'll handle the search too," said Lucy. She looked to Angel and her boyfriend. "You two should probably get back to the ship. Captain Kaveri may put the Aurora on alert over this."

Angel nodded in agreement. "Good luck."

Silence filled Caterina's quarters, save the gentle beeping as she worked the controls of the computer unit on her desk. The screen showed the response from the Alliance Stellar Navy's interuniversal comm network.

Recipient not in standard communication range.

Cat pursed her lips at that. Violeta's last message affirmed they were going on an extended long-range mission, but it was hard to imagine they'd go so far outside of standard spatial aspect range for the Alliance's IU network. Even the M4P2 transceivers couldn't contact the Huáscar, meaning it was heading somewhere far off the Relay network.

It's not like she's your girlfriend anymore, Cat thought bitterly. The two had it as more of a "quasi" status: if they ever had the opportunity to spend time together again they'd try, but both were open to find new relationships if they wanted.

Which wasn't what Cat wanted, really, but she understood why it came up. Not only was it something Sirians tended to do in their situations, but the Multiverse was a big place, and the Huáscar was part of the Explorer Squadron: Vee's ship could be gone for weeks, months, from Alliance space, and the odds of frequently meeting were extremely low. It wasn't fair to either of them if something better came along.

Captain Varma's words came back to her. The more Cat examined her recent performance, the more she could see how badly she'd slipped. She had barely any papers being readied. Her simulations and experimental models were being left alone. She just… she wasn't finding the same spark she used to. Of course the others noticed that. Julia would have eventually called her in, if she were still here.

You know why. It's not just losing Vee. It's those memories.

Just thinking about them brought it back vividly. The wrecked remains of the Aurora from some point in the near future, hurtling toward an innocent planet. Finding her friends, her family, and herself dead on the airless bridge. Those pallid faces with dull eyes came to Cat again.

The Doctor called it a "might-be", not a "will-be". That thought saved her from a deep sense of despair. She almost couldn't get the thought out of her head that they'd meet their end like that.

Be honest with yourself, Cat, she scolded herself, using her mother's voice. That's why you're giving up on your science. You're scared there's no point. You think everyone's going to die anyway.

The worst part was… how could she explain it to anyone? Either she'd sound crazy, or they'd believe her… and then they'd have to carry that burden too. That horrible thought that they might all be doomed.

If I share it, I either look nuts, or I hurt people. If I don't share it… I'm going to lose it. The dilemma faced her and she couldn't hide from it anymore. She had to make her choice.

Blue light appeared on the back of her left hand, telling her she had an incoming call. She tapped it. "Delgado here."

"Commander, please report to the bridge," Meridina said. "There may be an issue on the station and we need you on sensors."

Cat nodded. "On my way. Delgado out." She shut down her computer screen and stood to get her uniform back on. Whatever you do, Cat, it can wait. Deal with this first, she told herself.

With a life on the line, the three moved as quickly as they could through DS9. The lift took them to the outer ring and from there they made their way into Pylon 4. The familiar sense of slightly stale air told them they were getting close. "Cargo bay's here," Lucy said, noting their position on her omnitool and a map display of DS9's interior. She drew her lightsaber. Talara did the same while Pallina remained behind them, her mind prepared for trouble. They didn't sense any danger and Pallina didn't feel any minds. They have a magister with them, she thought to the others. He may be shielding their mental presence from me.

With that in mind Lucy pressed the cargo bay door control. It slid open without effort. Her lightsaber ignited in readiness of a fight, prompting Talara to do the same.

No fight happened, however. They found the cargo bay empty.


Ignatus was in the middle of the bay, wrists held spread-eagled by wires suspended from the walls. It was a painful position to leave someone in. His robes were tattered and his shirt ripped open, revealing bruising and welts on his chest from a severe beating. His face had received similar treatment.

"Ignatus." Pallina stepped forward to go to her brother's aid. She was only stopped by Lucy, who held her arm out to block her path. Lucy's surface thoughts told Pallina what was wrong.

Explosives. Around the room. It's a trap.
”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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