"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 »

Pallina and Talara remained still at the entrance to the cargo bay while Lucy brought her omnitool on. She kept it to passive scan, just in case the detonator was rigged to activate if actively scanned, and waited for the results. As they came to her screen she noted that aside from the explosives there were field emitters active as well. "They've also got an anti-beaming field up," she said aloud.

"Then what do we do?" asked Talara. "I can sense his injuries. They are extensive. He needs medical attention."

"I know." Lucy nodded while still checking her readings. "But if we don't do this right, we all get blown to kingdom come."

The extra security received little comment when the summit reconvened. Kira now sat with the Bajoran delegation with her phaser openly holstered to her hip. Odo and Richmond were in the room as well looking particularly tense.

The Changeling didn't take note of any of that. "We are prepared to hear your terms in exchange for eliminating the technology that harms our people," he said.

"We would propose a compromise," said Tranu. "We will agree to not use the technology widely. It will only be employed to protect our most critical places and will never be applied offensively."

"Unacceptable," was the immediate reply. "The term cannot be enforced without risking my people. And you would still possess the technology and could use it at any time."

"The same is true even if we accepted your terms," Tranu pointed out. "And I will add that if we were to agree to eliminate the technology, we would have no means to effectively enforce any promise by your people to cease infiltration. On two known occasions your people have infiltrated the Alliance. The first infiltrator was only discovered because evidence was found identifying the remains of the officer they replaced. The second infiltrator masqueraded as an Alliance Senator for months with success and was only unmasked by extraordinary circumstances. You understand that we are reluctant to completely eliminate our ability to guarantee against further infiltrations."

"And we will not let ourselves be victimized by solids ever again," the Changeling declared.

"We will never use this technology aggressively," Pensley insisted. "And given time and the building of trust, we can have it deactivated."

"Trust for solids is low among my people, and your decision will not improve the matter." The Changeling's tone was growing harsher. "The Dominion will not accept your continued use of this technology, and I remind you that it will do nothing to stop our Jem'Hadar."

"If it is a war you wish, Changeling, the Klingon Empire is ready," Potag challenged.

"Threats of war are unnecessary," T'Latrek said, glaring icily at Potag.

"We are not threatening you," the Changeling informed them. "We are informing you of the term necessary for peace. It is your choice, solids: peace or your weapon against us."

One thing was clear to Lucy and the others; they were running out of time. The NEUROM team was on the move. And Ignatus, wounded as he was, needed medical care. They had to act and neutralize the risk.

"Do you think we can hold him in the air and pull him out?" asked Talara.

"The sensors might detect his movement and trigger the detonator. That's what we need to deal with." After several seconds Lucy felt an idea form in her mind. "Talara, give me a link to your omnitool, I need the extra processing power."

Talara did just that, calling up the blue holographic interface for her Stellar Navy-issue omnitool and linking it to Lucy's. Lucy operated her own with speed.

"What are you doing?" asked Pallina.

"Using our omnitools to isolate the local bands their hardware is using. Given the layout, the detonator is likely wireless… there. Found it." Lucy's fingers moved over the hard-light controls her omnitool generated. "Okay, this is going to be tricky. They've set it up to auto-detonate if anyone connects to the device, and they're using a rotating frequency for the connection to the bombs. But I think I can fool the auto-detonate for a little while. Long enough to get him clear."

"So we can enter?"

"No. Talara, throw your lightsaber and cut him down. We'll levitate him out."

"Understood." Talara pulled her weapon from her belt. With a press of a button the lavender-colored energy blade came to life with a snap-hiss.

"On my mark. Three… two…" Lucy had to allow the countdown to hang in order to ensure her plan was working. "...one… now."

Talara threw her blade into the cargo bay. She focused her will on it, powered by the Flow of Life, and directed the blade to spin through the air. It turned the blade into a shining lavender disc of light that sliced through one set of bonds and then the other. She recalled the blade to her hand while Ignatus dropped halfway to the floor. Lucy caught him and held him in place. Talara felt the strain on her mentor from this as Lucy was both exercising her power to hold Ignatus and was keeping the detonator from going off.

The moment Talara had her weapon back in hand she extinguished the blade and fixed it to her belt again. She stretched a hand out and took control of Ignatus from Lucy, relieving her teacher of the burden and letting her focus on the detonator. It seemed only a couple months ago Talara would never have been able to hold such a weight as she was now, but with some strain she was able to pull Ignatus toward the door.

Once he was through Lucy slammed the door closed. Talara felt a spike of realization and fear go through her teacher. Without warning Lucy turned toward her and Pallina and pushed them away with a blast of invisible energy, throwing the two and the unconscious Ignatus clear of the cargo bay door area.

A moment later the explosives in the cargo bay went off.

The door contained the blast initially. But a second, larger blast, not even a second later, tore the sliding door from its track. Talara felt Lucy's power flare up in self-defense before the door smashed into her and drove her into the wall. There was crushing pain and then nothing. "Lucy!" Talara cried, scrambling to her feet while Pallina looked on in shock. "Lucy!"

"She's… I think she's…"

Even as flames roared from the opening of the doorway - the station's systems here were too damaged to engage fire suppression - Talara charged forward. She reached out with desperation and pulled the bent metal frame of the door away from where it was half-laying against the far wall. Beneath it Lucy was laying on the ground. She wasn't moving. Her armor was visibly damaged. Talara knelt beside her and instinctively reached through the Flow of Life, terrified that Lucy was dead. She was relieved to feel Lucy's life energies intact. She instead sensed the injuries Lucy suffered. Knowing they were beyond her ability to heal, Talara immediately keyed her omnitool. "Talara to Aurora, beam Lieutenant Lucero to medbay immediately, medical emergency!"

The bombing didn't go unnoticed on the bridge of the Aurora. Cat tore herself from scans of the wormhole the moment she saw the unexpected thermal flare. "Captain, I've just picked an explosion on DS9, one of the pylon cargo bays."

Kaveri's response was immediate. "General quarters, all stations," she said.

Beside her, Meridina sensed the next order Kaveri was going to give and asked, "Captain, may I join the Marines? I believe Captain Dale will need my assistance."

Kaveri nodded to her. With the summit in danger, they'd need every available resource on the station to stop the attackers.

The blast was not so great to cause the station to shudder. Outside of those in the area of the pylon where the blast occurred or the crew in Ops, nobody would know until news came.

Nobody save the lone figure hidden away in the station core, in one of the maintenance storage areas.

The woman in the dark cloak frowned at the sensation. The fools, agents of an overreaching and petulant master, were going through with it. Their audacity was perhaps admirable, but their actions in contravention of their true master's orders were unforgivable.

The woman started to smile. She left her hiding place and started to run.

The summit was in paralysis. The Changeling's terms were fixed and he refused to give particulars on the Dominion's offered concessions until he received assurance the Alliance would accept the abandonment of the Changeling detector device.

It was frustrating for Robert, who could sense the certainty of the Dominion leader. The term would be accepted or war would be the result, and it was a war the Dominion believed it could win now that the Alliance faced the persistent threat of the SS exiles and the Cylons to tie down so much of its fleet.

Robert's thoughts on the matter were sharply diverted as he felt imminent danger. He focused on that sense, ignoring the discussion around him, waiting patiently to see if danger materialized.

Acting on instinct, guided by the metaphysical energies within him, Robert raised his arms and used his will to create a wall of force against the conference room's far wall. A number of people noticed the gesture, but none had time to respond to it.

With a thunderous roar the wall exploded. Robert's bubble of will-powered force caught the blast, weakening it enough that none were harmed by it. Robert's entire body ached with the force of the blast and how it hammered at his will. It knocked him backward and to the floor.

Dark-clad figures came through the newly-formed hole in the wall, firearms raised. They fired a moment before the security in the room could. Green pulses of light scorched and burned the security personnel that they struck, those who didn't get to cover in time. Those who did helped get both sides of the summit to cover.

"Return fire! Cover the delegates!" Richmond shouted. Beside her Odo dropped his customary humanoid form. After a few moments as a shapeless globule of amber fluid, he took the form of a white-furred creature with a horn on its head and jumped from hiding at one of the attackers. The attacker was too busy gunning down a Jem'Hadar guard to stop him from ripping the the gun away.

Robert was back to his feet a moment later. His lightsaber came to life in an emerald flash and hummed away as he intercepted fire. He forced two of their opponents to slam into each other. Around him Richmond and the various security forces, including the Jem'Hadar and the Cardassians, started to return fire with increasing efficiency. Several of their foes went down.

And then a man in an immaculate gold uniform appeared, like some kind of war god, pride and disdain on his bearded face. He didn't move a hand, nor a muscle. Only the intensity in his eyes spoke of the power he unleashed.

Every humanoid being in the room froze. Robert felt the telepathic attack wash over his defenses, paralyzing him by forbidding his brain from operating his body. Even the involuntary grimace he would have formed failed to show on his face. He started to reach inward, grasping for his connection to the Flow of Life to aid him in breaking free.

The only two beings in the room not effected by the telepathic attack were Odo and the Dominion Founder. The former was wrestling with a particularly strong member of the attacking force. The latter, noticing what was happening, took the form of an avian and flew upward.

Whether or not the Founder intended to aid Odo was a moot point. A barely visible ripple came over the room, as if an energy field was being formed. As the ripple went through the two changelings they turned amber again. Their solid forms seemed to melt until they were both puddles of goo on the floor.

One of the remaining shooters came through the hole in the wall with what looked like a cylindrical wet-vac, at least to Robert. She ran the device over the fallen changelings. They were sucked in within a couple of seconds.

The attackers began pulling out of the room. As they did so, the golden-suited man sent one final telepathic impulse to the assembled.


All of them, even Robert, crumpled to the floor.

The bomb blast and attack were not unnoticed in Ops. Sisko, Kira, and Worf were at the central table and Dax and O'Brien were at their stations, everyone prepared for the potential crisis they'd been warned of. "Chief, what's the status on Pylon 4?" Sisko asked while the others confirmed the other blast.

"The damage isn't extensive. Looks like it blew out a cargo bay. Some structural damage."

Kira noticed another update on the systems. "Sensors are confirming weapons fire in the wardroom."

Sisko didn't let his grim thoughts about the result of this attack show on his face. "Mister Worf, get down there with security teams, immediately."

"Yes sir." Worf went for the turbolift.

"It's going to take time." O'Brien looked over his systems. "Something's hacked into our security systems. Looks like a localized takeover of forcefield generators and bulkhead controls. We're doing what we can."

Worf stepped onto the lift. "We will make our way through regardless," he said. "Administration Deck." The lift lowered into the ground.

"I've got the shields up," Kira said. "They won't be beaming out. Locking down docking clamps."

"Get me the Aurora." Sisko waited for his Ops crew to follow the order. The blank flat oval viewscreen changed to show a view of the Aurora bridge. The gray-haired image of Kaveri Varma showed. "Captain Varma, the summit's been attacked."

"We have been notified as well. Commander Meridina and a security team beamed over the moment we detected the explosion. If you can extend your shields around the Aurora, we will send over further security teams."

Sisko nodded to O'Brien. "Extending shields," O'Brien said.

Meridina and Lieutenant Lindstrom's team advanced through the halls of DS9, weapons readied and sensors seeking their foe. The latter part was the most difficult. While the sensors were functioning, life sign readings were not stable. A selective kind of jamming was in place. Meridina found she was relying more on her personal life energy, and her telepathic senses, to discover the location of her foes.

The sense of danger escalated as they approached a junction in the corridor. Meridina's lightsaber flashed to life in her hand, signaling Lindstrom and his people to bring their rifles up. They moved into place.

The enemy was already aware of their arrival, their own weapons raised, and Meridina was ready to repel their fire. But before either side attacked, she felt a mental presence strike at the group. Her mental defenses met the attack and held. Lindstrom and his people had no such defense, however, and their attacker implanted intense terror and fear into them. Lindstrom whimpered and dropped to a knee. "Don't hurt me," he pleaded.

"Fire," the golden-suited enemy ordered, his uniform one Meridina recognized: the uniform of NEUROM's Ministry of Fate.

Even with the mental attack still pressing against her defenses, Meridina was able to lift her lightsaber in defense of herself and Lindstrom's people. She reflected as many of the shots as she could, but there was too much incoming fire. One of Lindstrom's people was hit and went down, critically wounded. Another joined him.

Fire let up, but Meridina had no opening to use that. From the enemy ranks a leather-clad woman leapt forward, a sinister grin of anticipation on her face. The incoming fire kept Meridina from moving away, not if she was to protect the security personnel behind her. She watched the woman's prod come up toward her leg and steeled herself for what she knew would come next.

The weapon made contact with her hip. Pain paralyzed the leg and rippled through Meridina's body in waves. She gasped while struggling to keep her attention forward. It brought her down to a knee. Worst of all, it slowed her, and her enemy knew she was vulnerable in this state.

A powerful force gripped the leather-clad woman and threw her back toward her allies. She toppled into two of them, sending all three tumbling to the ground in a tangled heap. Freed from the savage agony, Meridina was able to get back to her feet and keep her weapon moving.

Talara rushed in with her lightsaber at the ready. She caught fire that would've struck another of Lindstrom's people, knocking it back into the NEUROM team and singing the shoulder of a shooter. Pallina ran up behind her, white robes trailing from the speed with which she was moving. She turned her eyes toward the golden-uniformed man. A determined frown crossed her face. "Release them, Magister!"

"Magi!" the man snarled, while Pallina's mind interposed her power between him and the Aurora security team.

Before anything more could be said or done, a soft, sinister laugh came from the other direction. Several of the NEUROM team turned to face it. Meridina and Talara shivered at the intensity of the dark power they now felt, suddenly revealed as if hidden by a cloak.

Coming down the opposite side of the corridor the NEUROM forces were using was a lone figure. Her cloak was black as night, a contrast to the ash-gray of the skin on her face. Her eyes were a burning red like twin coals, the power behind them searing. Her right hand extended. A lightsaber blade of bright crimson light, brighter than either Meridina or Talara's blades, flashed to life with a snap-hiss. The brightness of the color was one Meridina and Talara had only seen in memory, specifically the memories of Robert and Lucy, of the mysterious woman called "Yellow" who escaped them on the Citadel.

They were distracted by the sheer fear they felt from their foes. One of the soldiers actually wailed in terror.

The Magister did not show fear, although the two sensitives felt it radiate from him instinctively. His voice was still firm as he demanded, "What are you doing here?! This is a sanctioned operation!"

"Not by the highest." The voice was chilling. Talara felt a flicker of recognition at it. "You were warned Magister. Yet you defied that warning. You have crossed the Fates."

A thought rippled from many of the NEUROM soldiers, loud and clear for Meridina and Pallina, even to Talara through her sensitivity. In their terror their minds recited a line memetically seared into their hearts in childhood.

Cross the Fates and face the Furies.

Pallina gasped at the intensity of the fear and of her own realization. "Tisiphone."

The gray woman laughed. "Yes, Magi!" And with that said she charged, her lightsaber singing in the air. The Magister issued a mental command to his soldiers and the combat was renewed.

The NEUROM team was in a bad place, but they fought. It was with the courage of the desperate that they did so, but it was still courage. Talara and Meridina worked hard at deflecting their fire, as most of it was coming against them.

This was understandable given what was happening on the other side of the corridor. The red-eyed being Pallina called "Tisiphone" advanced with relish at her foes. They fired at her to no avail, her crimson lightsaber slashing through the air to deflect their shots before it started cleaving through their bodies, every blow struck a mortal one.

Lindstrom and his people were regaining their footing, aided by Pallina's mental aid against the NEUROM Magister's telepathic attack, returning fire with some effect against the NEUROM team. They had protections, but they had little in the way of effective cover. Their numbers more than anything kept Lindstrom's people from pressing their position.

The leather-clad woman got back to her feet and advanced with a hiss, each hand now holding a pain-provoking agiel. Talara intercepted her and deflected her blows. She felt the woman's anger and need to feel the pain of others press against her mind. The training she'd received from Lucy helped resist this attack for the time being while every impact of her lightsaber seemed to damage the agiels a little more.

There was another battle beyond these, but none could see it The minds of Pallina and the Magister were in direct conflict. The sheer will and drive for control of the Magister's mind pressed against Pallina's. She sensed his name - Fayd-Taras. The All-Father himself sent you to this. Why?

Magi scum!
was his only response. With his will, Fayd-Taras pressed fear on Pallina. He forced the memories of her brother's torture on her. Of the other Magi he'd encountered in his career, their terror and agony as the Ministry of Fate destroyed them slowly and brutally and with sadistic glee.

Pallina resisted as best she could, not by righteous anger for her brother and her fellow Magi, but by the peace within. The peace of her soul, tied to the oneness of all life and the serenity it promised as taught by the Sophia. The freedom to embrace that light in one's own way. Peace brought happiness. Peace brought comfort. Peace banishes fear.

It was soon clear that they were in a stalemate, even as fighting continued to rage around them.

The quiet in the conference room was broken by Robert, who groaned at the headache he felt as he stood up. The telepathic sleep command had broken clean through his defenses, but it'd been weakened enough to lose its grip quickly. He rose to his feet and tapped at the blue light shining over his left hand. "Dale here."

"Captain Dale, what is your status?"

The sleep in Robert's mind cleared enough for him to recognize Kaveri's voice. "Telepathic sleep command got everyone in here, but I resisted enough it didn't hold me for long," he said. "They took Constable Odo and the Founder."

"Commander Worf and security teams are attempting to arrive at your location, but that section of the station was sabotaged. Your attackers, have you identified them?"

"NEUROM," Robert answered. "Ministry of Fate. I need Lucy and the others, immediately."

"Lieutenant Lucero's been beamed to the medbay with severe injuries. Lieutenant Talara's joined Commander Meridina. I'll have Ms. Inviere beamed over immediately."

"Good. I'll get to work, then." Robert lowered his arm and concentrated. Immediately he felt it. Not just the ongoing fight and the fear it brought, but darkness, cold and terrible in its power. It was deeper than even Fassbinder's had been. And it was approaching Meridina and Talara.

So he started running, channeling every bit of his power that he could in the process to hasten to his comrades' side.
”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 Ministry of Fate personnel fought with the courage of the desperate, keeping up their fire against the Aurora security personnel. Talara's lightsaber kept them from effectively engaging the security teams while Meridina duelled the female agent. Their telepathic talents canceled one another out, and the concentration to face those attacks did even the field in terms of Meridina's abilities with the Flow of Life as well. Beside them Pallina, protected by Talara's defensive maneuvering, kept her mind locked with the Magister Fayd-Taras, keeping his impressive telepathic talents from joining the rest of the battle.

Even though they were stymied at this end, it was along the other that the NEUROM team were losing badly. No matter how much fire they kept up, the approaching figure of Tisiphone seemed impossible to hit. Her lightsaber was a streak of bright crimson as it deflected their shots. She deftly maneuvered around others. Nor was the fire very accurate; every member of the NEUROM team was stricken with utter terror at the appearance of one of the dreaded Furies.

And they had a good reason for that terror. Even before she got into striking range, Tisiphone was inflicting death on the troopers. She deflected their fire so that it struck them in vital points. With the sheer dark power at her command she sent the squad leader to his knees gasping for air he could not breathe in, given the force clamping his airway closed. And when she got into range her lightsaber brought instant death to whomever she swung it at. Each strike was a lethal blow.

The troops there tried to fall back, but soon they were the only thing between the Tisiphone and Fayd-Taras' back. They couldn't retreat any longer. They could only stand their ground, blasting away at the ash-gray figure scything through them. Their shots scorched the walls and floor of the station's corridor, blackening the Cardassian-made materials, but no blow landed on the relentless Fury. Her eyes burned like red coals as her lightsaber deflected those shots that posed her a danger. One bolt slammed into the throat of a NEUROM trooper, fatally wounding her. Her comrades moved as she fell, trying to spread out and fire from multiple directions.

It was for nothing. She gained the range. She ducked under one shooter and then slashed upward, a vicious cut that sliced through her opponent from his right hip to his left shoulder. As that foe fell, nearly bisected by the strike, she whirled and caught the blasts of the remaining trooper with her hand, seeming to just absorb them. Purple-tinged lighting lashed back, enveloping the trooper. His scream soon escalated into a death-scream as the energy tore the life from his body.

Fayd-Taras felt the deaths at the periphery of his senses. But his mind and Pallina' were locked in a struggle and he would never pull away from it. Knowing what would come next, he made his choice.

Pallina herself realized what he was doing and tried to pull away, but couldn't. With vicious hatred Fayd-Taras locked his mind on hers, forcing Pallina to maintain contact just to defend herself. Ensuring she would experience what came next.

Tisiphone's blade struck out again. A cry of visceral agony came from Fayd-Taras as the crimson lightsaber of the Fury burned through his abdomen to come out the other end, then moved upward, searing its way through his body until it came out through his head.

It was a brutal death, and Pallina felt every moment of it. She felt the Door open and Fayd-Taras' terror as his being was ripped from his remains. She felt his rage as, in his final moments, he tried to maintain their contest just long enough to pull her in too. To make her feel what was on the other side of the Door.

She managed to avoid that. She disconnected at the threshold, leaving Fayd-Taras behind.

But still the Magi suffered. The agony of Fayd-Taras' final moments as the lightsaber ripped through him echoed in her body, as if it were her guts being speared, her lungs being burnt to a crisp and sliced through by the heat of the lightsaber. She gave a stifled cry and collapsed.

Meridina felt her pain as she felt the deaths around her. More importantly, she sensed the fear in her opponent at Fayd-Taras' death. The vicious woman's attack faltered, if just for a moment, and that gave Meridina the room to strike. With expert quickness she sidestepped a clumsy blow and swung her lightsaber at the woman's arm. The blade cut cleanly through the forearm, causing the lower part of the limb with its attached hand, and the weapon it held, to fall to the floor. A cry of pain and surprise came from her foe and echoed in Meridina's mind due to their telepathic connection.

She forced the phantom sensation away with the sure knowledge that her own limb was still intact. She swung her weapon again and removed the woman's other hand and arm up to the elbow, removing her last weapon. Another gasp and cry, and this time her foe was down, no longer a threat.

She didn't have time to consider her victory. She sensed the danger, the imminent death, and by instinct Meridina's lightsaber struck forward, as if to cut the air before her disarmed foe.

The blue blade arrived in time to intercept the crimson weapon of the Fury a second before it could cleave the leather-clad woman's head in two.

The Tisiphone looked to Meridina and scowled. "This is not your affair, Gersallian!"

"She is unarmed!" Meridina responded.

"She has betrayed her true master," the Fury retorted. "She must pay the price."

"I will not let you kill her."

Meridina felt the rage of the being surge, only slightly leavened by sharp amusement. A wicked smirk came to the ashen gray features under that dark hood. "You will 'let' nothing, Gersallian."

The incoming blow was sensed at only the last moment. Meridina intercepted the Fury's lightsaber only mere millimeters from her body. Another blow came, just as vicious and swift as before, and again she barely stopped it. This process repeated again and again as mere seconds passed. The power of her foe was incredible, like nothing she'd faced before. Even Mastrash Goras paled in comparison to the sheer power of the Fury.

Pain shot through Meridina's shoulder. The Fury's lightsaber ran through the armor, scorching the flesh below, before Meridina's blade intercepted it just shy of her neck. A short laugh came from the being and Meridina got the uneasy feeling she was allowed to stop her own decapitation. "Pathetic," the Fury rasped.

There was a buzz in the air and lavender light rushed. Talara's strike hit nothing but air, however, as the Fury deftly evaded the attack. Meridina attempted an attack of her own, this one caught by the Fury's lightsaber. You have an opening! she thought, connecting to Talara's mind and urging her to land the blow.

Talara, to her credit, didn't hesitate. Didn't dare against this strong a foe. Her blade went in.

A sharp snap and hiss filled the air and a second crimson blade, as bright as the first, came to life between the Fury and Talara, intercepting Talara's attack. The Fury cackled and spun around, a lightsaber in each hand allowing her to duel the two of them at the same time without having to switch back and forth. Indeed she went on the attack, focusing her strength on Talara while Meridina struggled to aid the Falaen woman. Talara cried out as one of the blades striking along her hip, searing through armor and into her flesh. The Fury's armored boot snapped up and caught Talara in the chest. Ribs snapped under the empowered blow and Talara fell back, wounded and in pain.

And yet the Fury now seemed in danger, as the last of the NEUROM team went down to Lindstrom's squad. Pulse rifles pointed her way.

But they never fired.

The Fury slammed her fist down to the floor. A powerful burst of energy radiated outward and blew Lindstrom, Talara, and everyone else backward into the walls of the surrounding corridor. Only Meridina managed to deflect the powerful energies with her own, leaving her as the only one standing. She immediately resumed her duel with Tisiphone.

Or so she tried. The Fury's blasts caught hers, locked her lightsaber into place between them, and the Fury's head shot forward and slammed into Meridina's face. Meridina's nose took the brunt and was broken immediately, startling her enough that the Fury knocked her legs out from under her with a burst of unseen force. She loomed over Meridina. "You are weak. Unworthy." Her blades came up.

But they didn't come down. They swept to the side and caught Gina's lightsaber as it came slashing in. "The Cylon." Tisiphone laughed. "The traitor and exile."

"Leave her alone," Gina demanded.

That brought another laugh. Meridina felt the dark power of the Fury surge with pleasure at the renewed contest. Her lightsabers renewed their pitiless assault, this time focusing on Gina. Gina resisted bravely even as blow after blow started singing armor and robe and, eventually, skin. Ignoring the red hot pain of her broken nose Meridina started to get back up, blood flowing down around her lip.

Even as she attacked, aid came from a third quarter. Robert raced in, catching one of the Fury's lightsabers with his own before it could slice into Gina's right arm. Determination showed on his features; he could sense the power of their foe and knew the fight would be hard.

Tisiphone actually took a few steps back, holding her lightsabers in a defensive position. "The Dawn-Bearer." Her eyes focused on Robert, who met them without flinching. "I was wondering when you would come. And where is the other, I wonder?"

"She's not available."

"Ah." Tisiphone cackled. "Wounded, I take it, by Fayd-Taras' trap? She should have left the Magi to die. My master will be disappointed I could not test her as well."

Talara struggled back to her feet behind the others. She got her lightsaber back up and moved ahead to join them, heedless of her own injuries.

The Fury struck before they could begin a coordinated attack. She became a whirling dervish of crimson, her lightsabers switching without seeming effort from one foe to the next, from attack to defense, and pressing her four foes. Robert took the brunt of the offensive strikes, as if Tisiphone knew his skill with the blade was not as great as his raw power. He grunted as one lightsaber blow ran across his right side and chest, but he did not give way.

And yet, neither did the Tisiphone. Outnumbered four to one, she held her ground, indeed, all four felt the sincere belief she was winning the duel. More than that, it seemed their continued fight was only because she was letting them. Slashes injured lightly but not deeply, never threatening life or limb, while nobody landed a blow on her.

But despite that they didn't back down.

Pallina forced herself to a knee. Her mind burned from the pain of Fayd-Taras' death and how close he came to pulling her into the Door with him. Now she recognized the predicament before her and knew the others needed her help. She pushed away the instinctive fear at the very idea of telepathically assaulting one of the dreaded Furies and sent an attack probe at Tisiphone's mind. It was like looking into pure obsidian coating a roiling storm of rage and vicious fury. The probe faltered against those defenses. She pressed harder.

Tisiphone scowled. "This isn't your affair either, Magi!" Deflecting a strike by Gina, she directed energy at Pallina to throw her back. Robert absorbed it with his own power. The scowl grew. "Very well," she hissed, her mind still resisting Pallina' probe even as her body and power resisted the others. "We will finish this later!"

And then, without giving them a chance to stop her, the Tisiphone turned back on the leather-clad woman still staring at her, terror on her face. The terror increased as the Tisiphone's arm swung outward. Her hand released the lightsaber it grasped, sending the crimson blade spinning forward. The blade cut cleanly through the woman's neck. Her head fell one way, her body the other.

The blade returned to the Tisiphone's hand as she spun backward, evading a strike from Gina and Meridina. She snarled at them and barked a harsh command in a language none recognized. A recognizable transporter effect whisked her away.

O'Brien and Dax both noted the new information on their consoles. "We just detected a transport," Dax said. "But I can't get a fix on where they went."

Sisko frowned. "Intensify scans. Chief, did they go through our shields?"

"Doesn't look like…" O'Brien stopped, seeing something else at his station. "We just had a disruption in the shields near Pylon 2. It looks like a ship just went through it."

"Confirmed. They're decloaking now."

Sisko turned to the main viewer. A vessel showed on it, flying away from the station. The ship reminded him somewhat of a small Klingon Bird-of-Prey with the downward sloping wings, but the engines were far more prominent and the sides mounted with what looked to be armored shields. "Tractor them."

"Trying, but it looks like someone's sabotaged the tractor systems," Dax said. "They're not getting power."

"Alert the Aurora." Sisko's words were heavy with disapproval and frustration: once again someone had sabotaged his station.

The same ship was visible on the Aurora bridge. The moment the ship decloaked Cat confirmed, "They're moving away at high sublight velocity."

"Helm, intercept!" Kaveri ordered. "Lock a tractor beam immediately."

"Aye ma'am," Locarno replied.

"Firing up tractors," Jarod added.

As the Aurora pulled away from DS9 Cat continued her report. "The ship's accelerating faster than usual for a ship of that size. I'm running it through the database now… wait, we have a power spike!"

"Activating tractor beam."

Jarod spoke as he was working, and a ribbon of blue energy did reach out. But even as it appeared, the ship rushed forward as if shot from a cannon, disappearing the next instant and leaving nothing for the tractor beam to grapple.

Kaveri frowned but said nothing. "Can we intercept them?" she asked.

"I'm not picking them up on sensors," Cat said. "They didn't go to warp, or S0T5-style hyperspace. Although the energy pattern is similar…" Something else showed on her screens. "Captain, we've got a match on that ship. Two, in fact."

"And they are, Commander?"

Cat looked over the record to make sure she was right. "It's structure is the same as a ship that fled the Citadel three months ago, involving someone that was stealing debris from Sovereign. And it… it also matches the profile of the ship that protected the Rio Grande when it was evacuating the Great Temple of Swenya last month." She blinked. "Exactly, in fact. It's the same ship. The records from the Rio Grande match it completely."

Jarod and Locarno waited patiently for further orders. Kaveri didn't make them wait long. "Bring us back to the station, Commander Locarno."

With their foe gone everyone stopped in place. Slowly the pain in their bodies from their various injuries began to make itself known, drawing grimaces that they pushed away. Talara, ignoring her own broken ribs and injured hip, went to the aid of the unconscious Lindstrom. Gina used her omnitool to generate a cloth that she used to dab at Meridina's broken nose, wiping up the blood. Robert looked down at the blistered skin showing through his damaged armor and winced. "What the hell was she?"

"A Fury," Pallina said. She was still picking herself up off the floor. "We… I can't believe it."


"They're a myth. A legend of the Fracture," Pallina continued, very pale, as if she'd seen not just a ghost but the most horrific demon imaginable. "The Furies are supposed to be the enforcers of the Fates themselves. Every child born to a world in NEUROM is raised to fear them with intense memetics. 'Cross the Fates and face the Furies.' But, it doesn't make sense."

"What? That she killed their forces instead of aiding them?" Gina asked.

"Fayd-Taras is, was, a Lord Magister of the Ministry. He acts directly as an agent of the All-Father, and the All-Father… he is supposed to be the interpreter of the Fates."

"So he was a traitor?" Talara asked.

Pallina shook her head. "I know his reputation, whispered in fear across the Fracture. It's not conceivable."

"And he claimed he was sanctioned," Meridina added. "And this Fury only stated herself as acting on behalf of the 'Fates', not the All-Father."

The confusion on the Magi was obvious. "It makes no sense."

Robert walked over to one of the dead NEUROM troops. He recognized the cylindrical container there and pulled it loose. As he did footfalls came from down the corridor. Worf and a force of Starfleet and Bajoran security officers had their phasers raised and ready. "It's all over," he said to Worf.

There were more footfalls. Weyoun came up with a couple of the surviving Jem'Hadar. "Did you rescue the Founders?!" he demanded. "What has become of them?!"

Robert found the hatch for the cylinder and opened it. When nothing came out he tipped it over. A blotch of amber fluid poured out for several seconds. Slowly, very slowly, the resulting puddle became two. "They feel weak," he said in sympathy, given how he felt. "They're having trouble regaining their shape."

"We will see to their safety," Weyoun said.

"Constable Odo will remain with us," Worf replied.

"Nonsense. Solids have already threatened the Founders enough today," Weyoun retorted. His Jem'Hadar started lifting their rifles.

"We 'solids' also kept them from getting kidnapped," Robert pointed out, forcing diplomacy when he wanted to snap at the obsequious Vorta. "And Odo's part of this station, the people here are worried about him. How about both of you care for them until they can regain shape."

Weyoun's blue eyes fixed on Robert for a moment. Tense seconds passed in which Robert feared the Vorta might push this further. He felt relaxed when Weyoun nodded. "Very well. In recognition of your selfless actions to rescue the Founders, we'll permit you to assist us."

Robert could see Worf bristle at the wording, but the big Klingon said nothing. He recognized the insulting concession as still, ultimately, a concession.

After all, the sooner they had this handled, the sooner Robert and the others could get to the medbay. I'm starting to envy Julia's extended vacation, Robert thought with some humor.

Silvery light barely broke the deep shadows of the guest suite where Julia was staying. She remained in bed, wrapped in a sheet as she turned and turned in her sleep. Sounds came from her throat that did not form words, coming from the dream that was afflicting her slumber.

When she awoke it was not with a start, simply her body no longer bothering with the pretense of rest. She opened her eyes and found her arm gripping a pillow. Her dreams already began to dissolve like the threads of a weak spider's web, leaving her only with the faint memory of calling out to Robert as he was stalked by… something. Something shapeless, vicious and powerful, a monster of shadow and darkness.

She took in a breath to focus herself and let the dream fade off.

And then she heard the footstep.

She defied the instinct to move, keeping herself still, on her side and turned away from the source. Was it her imagination? She waited.

Another footstep.

As a third joined it, she knew it was not her imagination. She couldn't be sure of the distance, but she was confident it wasn't far. And it was drawing closer. Adrenaline filled her as she readied herself to move.

The footfalls stopped. There was nothing.

Julia pushed herself forward, rolling out of her sheets and off the bed.

As she rolled free heat baked her. Flame erupted from the middle of the bed a second after she was away. She hit the ground, her heart pounding and mind racing. Her eyes, adjusted to the darkness from being closed for so long, focused on a shadowy shape nearby, one of her eskrima sticks. Her left arm shot over and picked up her eskrima stick.

She got to her feet and faced an attacker. He - she was certain her foe was male - was clad in dark clothing. The only light was the dull reflect from the flames consuming her bed and the flames roaring around his hands. Twin eyes of dark amber glared with anger at her. His right hand came up and the flames around it surged.

With only a second to spare, Julia figured out what she needed to do. She ducked low, allowing the fireball from her foe's palm to toast her shoulder and arm but not make any full contact with her body. Seeing his movement she twisted to the right, evading another attack.

Sensing she had her best shot, or at least the best she'd get, Julia's arm shot forward. Her hand released her stick. It flew through the air, tip forward, and smashed into the cheek of her attacker before another bolt of fire could be thrown. She dashed forward with that opening.

Had she struck him in the eye as she'd hoped, her foe would never have recovered before she was in grabbing range. But he did recover, and again flame came from his hands. Julia got to him just before he could renew his attack, allowing her to use her forearms to push his arms around, stopping him getting a strike in. As his frustration spiked his movements got a little sloppy. He moved his arm a little too far, exposing it to a grab. She got her hand on the wrist and gained control of the arm.

Now her foe panicked, trying to twist out of her grasp, but Julia stayed with him. She twisted the wrist in turn, twisted until there was an audible snap and a sharp hiss of pain from the dark-clad man. The pain of his broken wrist stunned him long enough for Julia to get her hand on his free arm, bringing it under control and allowing her to turn him and pin his arms against his back.

The door to the suite bedroom slid open. More figures entered. Julia swallowed, not liking the odds, and turned him toward the others like a shield. But they didn't advance toward her.

Behind her, on the balcony, she heard the roar of strong flames and a sharp impact on the ground. Footsteps sounded and Miko's voice cried out, "What is this?! What are you doing?!"

The man in her grasp groaned, still hurting from her pressure on his arms and his broken wrist. Feeling more confident in her safety, Julia called out, "Lights on!" The system for the Fire Nation Palace, altered to recognize her English commands, obediently activated the lights for the bedroom.

The dark clad men, and her attacker, turned out to be in dark red and gold, and she quickly recognized the faces of the Fire Sages.

Footsteps echoed in the suite outside. Through the open door came Prince Tzen and a squad of the Fire Lord's Lifeguards. "What is the meaning of this?!" Tzen demanded.

"This man attacked me," Julia said, nodding toward her captive. "He tried to burn me alive in my bed." She watched Tzen look to her burning bed with satisfied vindication.

The head of the Fire Sages shook his head. "It was not our intent…"

"Right now I don't care about your intent," Tzen raged. "An honor guest of the Fire Lord has been assaulted in her bed by one of your number!" He gestured to his guards. "Have this extinguished immediately!"

"Allow me, Uncle." Miko stepped toward the bed and motioned with her arms. Powerful gusts of air stamped down on the flickering flames, blowing them out.

"We must speak to the Fire Lord," insisted the elder Sage.

"You will, in the morning, but for now you're going to the cells!" There was genuine mortification in Tzen's voice. Behind him more guards materialized, as did other palace servants, some carrying fire-fighting equipment. Those guards joined the initial squad in taking the Fire Sages into custody. Julia released her foe to be taken. Tzen bowed his head to her. "Captain, we will post guards, and have your wounds tended to."

Now that her adrenaline rush was fading, Julia felt the pain. She looked down to see the scalding on both of her forearms from where the flames of her attacker made contact with her skin. Her shoulder also had a slight burn on it.

Tzen continued. "My deepest apologies for this disgrace, Captain. The Fire Lord will not allow this to go unpunished, I promise you."

For a moment nothing was said. Julia realized Tzen was expecting a response, so she matched his bowed head. "I thank you, Highness, for coming to my aid as you did," she said politely, "and I accept any aid you can give. I trust in your judgement and that of the Fire Lord."

Mollified by her reply, Tzen raised his head and gave her a little nod before departing, bellowing as he did for medics to come.

Julia turned to Miko, was not so easily mollified. "I'll find out what's going on," she promised. "The Sages have gone too far."

"At least one of them did." Julia walked over to a chair and sat down gingerly, feeling the throbbing pain from her burns quite strongly now. She winced before looking up and smiling. "Thanks for coming too, Miko."

Miko forced her own smile to her face, but it was clear she was still upset by what happened.

We can sort it out in the morning, Julia thought. Right now, I feel like I could almost go back to sleep...

Ship's Log: 13 November 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. The investigation into the NEUROM attack on the summit continues. I have reported all of the facts as they are known to Admiral Maran but as of yet, I am unaware of any response to them. The Alliance's relationship with NEUROM is non-existent, to my knowledge, with no standard diplomatic contact between our governments..

While the goal of this "Magister Fayd-Taras" was not met, it appears the summit itself is still a casualty of the attack. I will be present to witness what may be the last session of the conferees.

A different wardroom without a blown-in wall was picked for the final meeting. Kaveri and Sisko joined their delegations.

Quiet reigned until Weyoun stood. "The Founder continues recovering from the treacherous assault we were all subjected to," he began. "I speak for him." Weyoun nodded his head toward Robert, patched up and with the Alliance delegation. "The Founder thanks those who bravely stood up to the attackers and ensured his rescue. Your courage is commended." He turned his attention back to the rest of the room. "Given the situation, the Dominion believes it is best if further discussions are postponed. We are withdrawing our participation in these talks and propose that any further discussions be held on a neutral world considered suitable to all parties."

Porag scowled. Robert felt the disappointment in the room. Another month allowed for all sorts of escalations and crises to begin.

"As a sign of good faith, the Dominion will extend our voluntary moratorium on convoys through the wormhole," Weyoun continued. "This extension will last for one standard month."

Senator Tranu nodded. "The Allied Systems thanks the Dominion for this gesture. We hope to locate a suitable site for renewed talks. In the meantime, we concur with your decision."

The other contingents did so as well. The summit broke up. Robert let out a sigh and glanced to the others. Kaveri glanced back and nodded. She recognized that nothing had been done to untie the knot the summit had been considering when the attack came. Any new summit would have to deal with the issue of the anti-infiltrator devices all over again.

But at least they bought time. Another month was also plenty of time for new developments that might make peace last.

While the groups filed out, Robert did have one last conversation he wanted to pursue. He approached the far door and drew the attention of the withdrawing Cardassian delegation. "Gul Dukat, a moment of your time?" he asked.

The Cardassian leader considered him for a moment before nodding. He stepped away from the others, joining Robert in the corner. "Captain Dale," he said. "I haven't had the pleasure before, but I read our dossier on you during the Mayala crisis. It's quite interesting to finally meet you."

Robert nodded. Nearly three years had passed since the Dorei starbid Mayala was used by its devoted commander, Captain Potana, to attack Cardassian ships in the DMZ. Now that the matter was brought up he recalled Potana clearly. If only he'd held off. The Nazis would've been the evil he longed to fight. "I recall reading your dossier as well, Gul."

"I'm sure you have. So, what is it you wish to ask?"

"Nothing to ask, simply some advice to share." Robert smiled thinly. "If I were you, Gul, I'd be careful about inviting foreign powers to attack my new bosses."

Dukat's face never wavered. Robert felt only the slightest concern come from within him. "And what makes you think I did anything of the sort?" he asked.

"I have my ways." As long as we're being cryptic with each other. "I do have to wonder why you'd have standing contact with people like NEUROM. Or rather, how you would, since NEUROM has no standing connection to any interuniversal-capable government that I know of."

Robert didn't like the amused grin on Dukat's face. "Oh, I have my ways as well, Captain. And as for why, I considered a number of allies to help restore Cardassia's greatness. The Dominion proved the best choice, in the end. Now, if you'll pardon me…"

Robert didn't stop Dukat from returning to his delegation. He walked over to rejoin the allied delegations. Pensley openly spoke as he came close. "I think we can consider this outcome proof that diplomacy may yet work," he said, flashing a challenging look toward Robert. "The Dominion clearly has no hostile intent. They have every reason to be aggressive now rather than later, if that were their goal."

Robert said nothing in response. It was Odo who spoke up instead. "You are sadly mistaken, Mister Senator, if you believe the Dominion poses no long-term threat from their behavior here."

Pensley showed surprise. "Constable, what could you mean by that? Surely you understand your own people as well as any of us."

"I understand them more than any of you," Odo corrected. "And one thing I understand is that my people do not think in the same time lengths you and most other people do. They will give up advantages now for those that will further their interests a decade or now, or even a century. Whatever they say now, they still intend on conquering the Alpha Quadrant and the entire Multiverse beyond it."

Pensley scowled. "I think that's quite unfair of you."

"Unfair or not, it is the truth," Odo said.

Sisko nodded to Odo before looking at Pensley and, beside him, Tranu and the others. "What matters is that we're ready for them, whatever they decide. The Coalition has to hold together against the Dominion threat. So long as it does, we have a chance."

"Our best chance can only be secured through peace, Captain Sisko," Pensley insisted. "I would think that a Starfleet officer would know that."

Sisko responded to Pensley with a bemused look. "I do, but I'm not naive about it either." His tone was diplomatic, but his word choice was not lost on those present. Pensley scowled, recognizing the attack on his own beliefs in Sisko's words.

"We should return to our vessels," T'Latrek advised, clearly not wanting to see another argument involving Pensley. "Our work here, for the moment, is done."

Nobody objected.

The Aurora medbay was more active than usual given the injuries from the security contingent being tended to. Robert had his own wounds that needed double-checking, in this case by Nasri. She examined the pink line across his chest. "I think you'll get away with no scarring," she said. "The regenerators have done their job."

"Thank you, Nasri." He pulled his uniform undershirt back over his chest and looked to the others. Meridina's nose was back into position and healing. Talara sat up on the bed, broken ribs mended, and Gina likewise was in better shape.

Given their status, Robert returned his attention to Nasri to ask, "Can we see them now?"

Nasri nodded. She led them into the main ward of medbay and a pair of beds. Leo was standing beside one, checking the plentiful injuries on the Magi named Ignatum while his sister watched quietly from a seat. In the adjoining bed Lucy was clad in a medbay gown and still asleep. "They're all patched up," Nasri said to Leo.

Leo looked up at them and nodded. Robert sensed smoldering anger in him. "Is everything okay?" he asked his friend.

"I'm getting very tired of treating torture victims," Leo lamented. "This was particularly cruel."

"The enmity between the Councillors of the Sophia and the Ministry of Fate has lasted for millennia," Pallina said. "We are well aware that to fall into Ministry hands means a terrible, brutal death. It's a part of the risk."

That clearly didn't make Leo feel any better, nor Robert and the others for that matter. "There's still a lot about them we don't know," he said to Pallina. "I'd be happy to hear more."

"I can share what we know, but our knowledge is incomplete as well," Pallina admitted. "The Ministry is usually very careful about revealing itself. Entire worlds in NEUROM can spend centuries without coming to the attention of a Magister. This new… aggressiveness in them is like nothing we've seen before."

"They did not enlighten me further," Ignatum added, still clearly weak. "But there is more that worries me. That there was a Fury here…"

The fear the title gave the two Magi was deep. Robert thought it akin to finding out that something like a mythological monster was real.

"The Councillors will have much to consider, but for now brother, you must rest."

"It occurs to me we know as little about your people as we do the Ministry," Meridina said. "But it is clear to me you are followers of the Light."

"The Sophia spoke of the Light of Peace, won through free minds and souls," Pallina said. She looked toward Lucy. "And she spoke also of the sacrifices those in the Light sometimes pay for the sake of others."

"Yes." Meridina and Talara both glanced toward Lucy as well.

It was Gina who asked Leo the question Robert was already wondering. "How is she?"

"Hurt, but alive," Leo said. "We stopped the internal bleeding, mended the broken bones. There's a slight concussion that's going to keep her off regular duty for the next month or so." Leo eyed Robert significantly with that.

"Message received," Robert sighed. "'Don't take Lucy on life-threatening missions.'"

"Don't take her on any," Leo corrected. "Light duty means I don't want her doing more than reading. And only so much of that a day."

"We can certainly manage that, I think," Robert agreed, thinking of the translation work they needed done. He turned his attention back to the Tormayanas. "As a Paladin of the Alliance, I can say that the Alliance would be quite interested in learning more about your people and, perhaps, finding common ground to work together on certain matters?"

Pallina nodded. "My people would welcome allies in the cause of peace and freedom. Our home universe has suffered from too much darkness for too long."

"I'll let the President know in my report." Robert chuckled. "Which I'm due to go write, in fact. Please excuse me."

The others joined him, all save Meridina, who sensed the interest of the two Magi in her. She remained where she was and gently reached out with her mind to touch theirs. I can sense you wish to say more to me?

The siblings glyphed confirmation. Through it came enthusiasm, somewhat ecstatic. You are a follower of Swenya. The Sophia wrote of her.

She did?
Meridina's attention was entirely on them now. I was unaware there was a connection.

Long ago, in the Reignfall, the Sophia learned of Swenya and her Code. She considered it an example for the Councillors to follow. 'Do not injustice to another, defend the weak and innocent…'

Meridina's approval came through the connection. The Order will be pleased to connect with you. Those loyal to the Light must work together in these times… She couldn't keep the grief from showing on her expression, or in her mind.

The two Magi responded with warmth, projecting it through their mental link. We of the Magi were heartbroken to learn of the attack you suffered. It is clear that we must do more to support one another as the dark powers of fear and anger grow.

That drew a glyph of agreement from Meridina. I am afraid I must go attend to my duties as First Officer, she projected to them. Before turning away she gave them the information they needed to connect with her father Karesl, now the leader of the Order by virtue of being the last surviving member of the Order Council. They acknowledged it.

Once she was gone and they were alone, Ignatum gave Pallina a worried look. "Do you think we should have said more? They have been kind to us."

A guilty look crossed Pallina's face. "I feel the same, brother, but we have a duty. The Sophia left clear instructions to us all. The Circle must be protected, at all costs, or the Darkness will take us all."

As expected, Ignatum could not object to that.

With the sun halfway to noon in the sky, Julia followed Miko and Ursa into the audience chamber of the Palace. Daizon was at his seat, flanked by his wife and the Lifeguards. Other guards and Prince Tzen were standing watch on the assembled Fire Sages. They were back in their official robes as well, all save Julia's attacker during the night, who was in a simple vest and pants with restraint cuffs on his arms. The cuffs actually encapsulated his hands, presumably to prevent him from generating flame, and one was joined by the brace for the wrist she'd broken in the fight. His eyes glared her way, suspicion and anger filling them.

Julia bowed respectfully to Daizon. "Your Lordship, you wished to see me?"

"I extend my personal apologies for the attack you suffered last night," Daizon said, his usually calm and friendly voice now firm. It turned harsh as he added, "Our nation is disgraced by the behavior of those it looks to for spiritual guidance." He turned his attention to the Sages.

The elder Sage who spoke to Julia before bowed. "Fire Lord, our deepest apologies. One of our own has allowed our disagreements over the Avatar's training to go too far. We can only beg your understanding and your mercy."

"You can start with an explanation."

Julia knew better than to give voice to her regret about how harsh Daizon was sounding with the Sages. She did regret it, but she recognized why. The Sages had insulted him as deeply as they threatened her, given she was the Fire Lord's guest of honor. Above that, this kind of attack had all sorts of diplomatic and political repercussions. Her death would have drastically undermined the Fire Nation's relations with the Allied Systems and its place in the Compact. Even the attack itself could cause problems.

"Sage Ko Ran is convinced Captain Andreys poses a threat to the Avatar, my Lord."

Daizon gave the unrobed Sage a cold look. "Does he?"

"She would threaten the Avatar's very existence, my lord," the man said, finally speaking. He shot a glare at her which let Julia see the bruise from where her stick struck him. "In her arrogance she misleads the Avatar in her training, and now she plots to bring the Avatar to another universe. A universe in which the Princess Miko's death could spell the end of the Avatar Cycle itself! Once she refused to relent, I had no choice but to act to save the Avatar!"

Miko's nostrils flared, but she held back from speaking.

"So instead of bringing this worry to my attention, you decided to murder my guest?" Daizon asked coldly.

"The Fire Sages exist to serve the Avatar as well as the Fire Lord," Ko Ran said. "I regret bringing dishonor to your house, my Lord, but the Avatar Cycle is the higher concern."

"And yet, what proof do you have that this is a danger to Princess Miko?" asked Daizon. "Have the Sages learned anything new since they last brought their fears to my attention?"

"We have not, my lord," the lead Sage confessed. "We simply believe that given the stakes of the matter, the existence of the Avatar Cycle demands excessive caution."

"Princess Miko?" Daizon looked to her. "What have you to say about this?"

"The Avatar Cycle is greater than the material universe. Raava exists on a plane beyond our own," Miko replied. "And we know that the spiritual abilities of the Humans and other species can be performed in many universes. Why couldn't Raava exist in them as well?" She drew in a breath. "A century ago some feared that Avatar Komin should not leave our world for the same reasons. Yet he perished on Zhongsu, many light years away, and I was born here in the palace."

"A different universe is an entirely different scale, Avatar," Ko Ran protested.

"Maybe so, but you do not convince me it is that different. And with her power, I believe Raava would find her way back here wherever she was." Miko shook her head. "As the Avatar I believe I can do more than just maintain the balance here. In time, I can be a symbol of balance to the whole Multiverse. Let me try this. If I feel a danger I can return."

Ko Ran was clearly not convinced. The lead Fire Sage sighed. "I only wish the best for you and our world, Avatar."

Daizon nodded. "It is clear that matter is decided. Captain Andreys?"

"Yes, Lordship?"

"I will see to this rogue's punishment, and it will be thorough," Daizon said. "As the victim of his treacherous attack, I offer you a chance to determine what that punishment will be."

Julia considered the offer. More than anything, she had to say this the right way to avoid insulting the Fire Lord in one way or another. She contemplated carefully her response before coming to a judgement. "I trust in the Fire Lord's justice."

Daizon nodded in reply. "Then this matter is settled for now. You are all dismissed from my presence."

An hour later Julia was finishing packing the last of her things in the guest quarters. The bed she'd finished the night in was properly made and she'd spent ten minutes tidying things a bit, making it easier on the palace staff. It was unnecessary, but it made her feel better.

She was met at the door to the suite by Miko, a duffel bag in the dark red and black of Future Industries. "Uncle Daizon will not let Ko Ran off lightly, you know. What he did will go down as a black mark in the history of the Sages. Probably the biggest one since the majority of them tried to betray Avatar Aang to Ozai in the last year of the Hundred Year War."

"And that saddens you?" Julia asked, recognizing the tone in Miko's voice.

She nodded. "I… I didn't want to humiliate them, just get them to understand what I'm doing. To trust me. You're the first teacher in these styles to make me believe I can make Waterbending work."

No pressure there, Julia, was the thought that went through Julia's head.

They made their way through the palace to its small shuttle port. An Alliance runabout, the Dravatrusta from the Starship Shenzhou, was waiting for her, a favor from that ship's captain.

Also waiting for them were Daizon, Ursa, and other members of Miko's family. "Miko, Captain…" Ursa nodded to them from her chair. "We came to see you off."

"You're not going to try and talk me out of this?"

"Some of us are worried," Tzen confessed. "But we understand why you're doing this. Just be safe and come back home when you can."

"I will." Miko smiled. "After all, I'll have to go find Komin Beifong to teach me Earthbending, right?"

"Hopefully it won't be long, either," Prince Tenzo remarked. The family laughed and applauded at the idea, and Miko joined in.

That left Julia's goodbye. "I'm honored by having such gracious hosts," she said. "And by the opportunity Miko's giving me. I'm hoping that I can help her reach her potential, and soon."

"We trust you will do all that you can, Captain," Daizon said. "And given everything you've accomplished since meeting my grand-niece, I'm quite confident you'll have her waterbending like a natural."

Julia smiled and nodded in thanks. He was perhaps laying it on a bit thick, but it was a nice sentiment to hear and he meant well.

Miko gave hugs to her relatives, young and old, and the two made their way onto the runabout. An Alakin Ensign of copper feathering and gray coloring was at the helm beside a blue-skinned, teal-dotted Dorei man with a shaven head. He turned and revealed he was a junior Lieutenant. "I'm Lieutenant Jakata nis Tapa and this is Ensign Thees Lanu," he said. "Captain Ming's given us our orders to get you to New Liberty, ma'am. Whenever you're ready?"

Julia took a seat at one of the rear stations. "Launch at your discretion, Lieutenant." She nodded to Miko who took another seat, after which she looked forward with clear excitement on her face.

The runabout lifted from the pad and made its way into space. Through the cockpit window the Starship Shenzhou glistened in the sunlight, her azure hull marked with lines of white and green. Miko admired the ship. "She looks a little like yours."

"The Shenzhou and the other ships of her class were modeled off the Aurora," Julia explained.

"Shenzhou is generating us a jump point in thirty seconds," Ensign Lanu chirped. "Odds are the spatial aspect will be off, it'll take a few days of warp flight to get us to New Liberty."

"Understood, Ensign. If I weren't on mandatory leave I've offer to join the rotation."

"No need, Captain, I brought us a full crew of four," Tapa assured her.

The time passed in which Miko's excitement clearly grew. She gave Julia one final grin, one Julia matched, before seeing the formation of the green vortex that spirited them to her own home universe to Julia's.

Roberrt made sure to be present in the ready office when Sisko arrived to meet with him and Kaveri. She accepted the digital padd offered by Sisko. "Dax and Chief O'Brien have confirmed the sensor readings in the Starfleet databases. It's the same class of ship the Enterprise tried to catch at the Citadel three months ago."

"The ship for that woman called 'Yellow'," Robert specified. "She stole at least one piece of Sovereign that we know of, maybe more."

"And now we know she is also likely an agent of NEUROM's Ministry of Fate," Kaveri finished, looking over the padd. She used her omnitool to copy the data over to her systems and then to Robert's. "I thank you for this, Captain. It's clear that NEUROM is a threat to the stability of the Multiverse."

"Can you think of why they'd want the summit to fail?" Sisko asked.

"I don't think that's it," Robert said. "They were after one of the Founders."

"Why would they be interested?" Sisko asked.

A thought came to Robert. It was an example he was constrained from saying too much about. "There was one on Solaris last year," he said. "When we were there. They tried to capture that one too."

"But you do not know why?"

"I don't, Captain Varma. The NEUROM agent wasn't very talkative about it. But it worries me. They want a Founder, and they wanted pieces of Sovereign. What could NEUROM be up to?"

"Or rather, this faction, since the woman with that ship helped stop the attack," Kaveri pointed out. "There may be an internal matter we're not aware of."

"The chances are good. Better than those of our keeping the peace with the Dominion, I'd bet." Robert spoke the last with some trepidation. One interstellar war had been bad enough. He wasn't sure the Alliance could easily endure another big one.

Whether because she saw his expression or had the idea already, Kaveri changed the subject. She nodded to Sisko. "Captain, before we depart, I would like to invite you and your command crew for a dinner aboard the ship."

To that Sisko grinned. "You beat me to it, Captain Varma. I had the same thing in mind. I suppose it depends on how you feel about Cajun food? My father is a Cajun chef, and I know most of his recipes."

“I find that the style is pleasingly palatable, if missing the… bite of old favourites. Certainly your offer of hospitality is accepted, I can offer no such display of skill in response.”

Robert had his own reason to grin. "Captain Sisko, I think it's about time I introduced you to our lounge host and cook, Hargert."

It was a room of elegant, yet decadent, repose. Atop a pile of pillows sat a being that few knew existed and yet commanded the destinies of billions, ancient and terrible in her power. A heavy brow was set on her face and long, red hair down to her back. A gown hung loosely over her form, comfortable in its make. Some might look and think they saw a soft being, preferring pleasure, but one look into the eyes and they would know their error. This was a being with power, power felt more than seen, and many would think it for the better.

Long ago, she had a name. Now the only name she cared to answer to was "Alekto".

The Tisiphone bowed to her. Her coal-red eyes looked up and a pleasant expression came to her face. "Master, I am pleased to report a complete success. Your son's foolish meddling was disposed of. Fayd-Taras and his entourage are all slain."

The Alekto smiled faintly. "I am pleased. And your encounter with the Dawn-Bearers?"

That prompted a derisive snort. "I have my doubts, Master. They are weak. Unworthy."

"Perhaps." The Alekto glanced to the other figure in the room, a woman wearing shaded glasses over her eyes with pale brown skin and a comfortable set of yellow robes. "Megaera, would you concur?"

The woman considered the matter. "I agree that their strength is not what we require. But I believe they have the potential. And we know they are the best candidates, do we not?" She glanced to Tisiphone. "Did you test them all?"

"One was already wounded, saving one of those Magi interlopers," the Tisiphone admitted. "Her whelp of a student was nothing. The Cylon traitor and the Gersalllian have some skill, but I held back greatly to avoid killing them. And Dale does not yet trust his own strength in the Force. He cannot handle it. And he is terrible with a lightsaber."

The Alekto considered this quietly. She turned to a nearby console. "Xanadu Control, activate hypercomm systems."

The computer system heeded her verbal command. Seconds passed in quiet until blue light formed in front of the Alekto. It took the shape of a man, handsome, well-dressed, at ease. While she was seated on her pillows he was in a high-backed chair, the top decorated with an insignia that made Tisiphone scowl: a winged infinity symbol.

The insignia of Pan-Empyrean Holdings.

"Sidney," the Alekto said, some bemusement in her voice. "Have I alleviated you from the tedium of your stockholders?"

"Not today," he answered, his voice resigned but not hostile. He settled his hands on his lap. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Have you finally considered my argument?"

"I have." The Alekto nodded. "I require further proof. A test, and a personal one. You should make the arrangements."

That did draw a sigh from the wealthy self-made immortal. "I wish you'd take this on my personal word. But I know better. And I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

That made the Alekto's grin turned satisfied, almost wickedly so. From the folds of her gown she brought up an object, a cylindrical device, one many across the Multiverse would now recognize as a lightsaber.

And one many a Gersallian would recognize as the lightsaber: Swenyakesh. Swenya's Blade itself.

"No," purred the Alekto. "You don't."
”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 »


Departure from DS9 was due within a few hours, so the crew of the station and of the Aurora made use of the time they had.

The Lookout's bar was loaded with the dishes emerging from the kitchen, where the assembled from both groups were quick to parcel it all out. It didn't go unnoticed when Sisko, clad in a chef's uniform and apron, emerged with Hargert, clad similarly, each with a jambalaya dish in their potholder-clad hands. They set their work down at the middle of the bara. "Alright everyone, the main course is ready!" Sisko proclaimed.

"And quite the course it is," Hargert added. He smiled and bowed his head toward Sisko. "It's been quite an education, Captain. My understanding of New Orleans cuisine was always a little lacking."

That brought a grin to the commander of DS9. "It's always important to remember the distinction between Creole and Cajun. My father taught me that early. I suggest you stop in at his restaurant if you're ever at our Earth," Sisko said. "And bring that leika spice when you do, Dad'll find a lot of uses for it."

Hargert nodded at the reference to one of the Dorei spices he was familiar with. "Of course. Once you showed me your recipes I thought it might complement the flavor."

This was overheard by the others. "I suppose we're about to find out," said Bashir.

"Oh, I think it'll work," Jarod said, waiting patiently to take his own share.

Cat was getting her own fairly small tidbits while in conversation with Dax on the subject of T'Vral Distortions. "...saw the report, and I was surprised by the intensity of the gravimetric distortion," the raven-haired Trill woman said.

Cat restrained a sigh: Dax was as pretty as ever, but Cat already knew from Angel she was spoken for. Briefly she wondered if the symbiotes had any influence on the sexual orientation of the host, since even if they were always in straight hosts the odds were good of experiencing both genders over time.

"And what about the expanse of the subspace effect?" Dax asked, bringing Cat's attention back to the subject. "Did that conform to Doctor T'Vral's theory?"

"The first one did," Cat answered, recalling the example she saw and the later ones explored by other ships. "A few months later the Kitana found a field with three times the projected volume for the star type. We think it was Betelgeuse, although with the Fracture's messed up space-time we can't be sure. And the Maimonides found other new ones in their recent mission."

"I'll have to look into those reports." There was a passionate curiosity in Dax's voice. "It fascinates me to hear this. Back in Starfleet Academy, before I was Joined, I did a paper in my junior year on T'Vral's theory and the necessary conditions for it."

"I'd like to think Doctor T'Vral would appreciate seeing her work confirmed," Cat said, recognizing that whatever the Dax part of her was, the host Jadzia was at least somewhat a fellow soul on the matter of science. Being an older woman she didn't have the same youthful enthusiasm - and that didn't count having a centuries-old being in her body, sharing a personality and memory - but Cat could see that being her in a decade or so.

The thought came roaring through her without warning. If I live that long. She saw her own death-dulled eyes again, in that slightly different uniform, in her chair on the broken Aurora bridge.

"Is everything okay?"

"Hrm?" Cat blinked and noticed the worried look on Dax's face. "What?"

"You went a little pale there," Dax said.

"Oh. I just… a thought. Just a thought." They sat down at a table where Tom and O'Brien were already present, talking about the damage that NEUROM's agents had done to the station. O'Brien recognized their presence with a quick "Commanders".

After responding with "Chief" and "Tom", Cat dug her fork and spoon into the jambalaya, curious about it. She'd had some spicy food before, and she'd heard good things about Sisko's cooking. Combined with Hargert, she imagined it would be great.

It was.

While she enjoyed eating it, Cat found herself looking over the assembled. Lucy was the only one not present, given her injuries still had her in the medbay, but everyone else, even Gina, was digging in. Her eyes tracked through the room to where Sisko and Kaveri were seated with Zack and General Martok. The latter stood out given the metal mug in his hand, but he seemed content to attempt the Human cuisine as well.

"So, what more can you tell me about the Fracture?" Dax asked.

That drew Cat's attention back. But even as she spoke on the subject, her mind kept wandering back to Kaveri.

Gina was mostly by herself at a corner table of the Lookout, and that suited her. With her portion of the meal finished she was still hard at work over a translation that now seemed hopeless. As much as she tried, she couldn't make sense of much of the message.

"Everything going well?" Robert sat down beside her. "Or do you want to be alone?"

Gina sensed the genuine warmth in Robert. It was annoying in that it was a distraction, but it was also something she couldn't help but appreciate. "I'm… well, I'm still occupied." Gina held up a paper she'd scribbled her translation attempts on. Robert took it and looked over the flowing Gersallian characters. "I've tried to transliterate into modern Gersallian and even your Latin alphabet, but nothing works."

Robert furled his brow. The first line made actual sense. "By my name the way to the truth will be open." But the rest was a random assortment of Gersallian characters. They didn't make sense. "Maybe it's a cipher," Robert suggested. "We should run it through some conventional Gersallian ciphering techniques."

"That's my next step."

"Good." Robert took her papers before Gina could stop him and set them in a chair. She looked at him like he was insane. He grinned. "Now, how about you go and get a second helping, because it's really good, and find some people to talk to? Personally I'm interested in asking Major Kira more about Bajoran spirituality."

Gina sighed. "We need to get this finished."

"We do," he agreed. "But we need to tend to ourselves first. I think Mastrash Ledosh would prefer it that way."

She almost protested that, but sensed Robert wouldn't yield. With a sigh she stood up, plates in hand, and followed Robert out of the corner.

They were an hour out from DS9 when Cat arrived on the bridge. Beta Shift's watches were standing now with Lieutenant Tinashe Takawira as the Officer of the Watch. He'd been moved from his usual position on Gamma Shift by Kaveri as one of her small changes to the running of the ship. He noted her presence with a nod. "Commander."

"Lieutenant. Just here to see the Captain."

"She's in the ready office," he replied, his accented English from his homeworld Nkomo, a Zimbabwean-founded colony.

"Thanks. And congratulations, I heard you're due for the promotion at the start of next month."

He smiled. "Thank you." The smile turned a little bitter. "Captain Andreys signed the recommendation to the Promotion Board. I wish she could be here to see it."

"So do I," Cat said. She missed Julia too. "I'm sure she'll be happy when she hears it."

There was nothing more to say on the subject so Cat approached the ready office door. She took in a breath to steady herself and hit the door chime. A part of her didn't want to do this, was worried the others would still find out…

...but she had to. For her own sake of mind, her own sanity, she needed to tell someone. Needed to have some advice.

"Come in," came from the other side, aided by the speaker system. The door slid open and Cat entered. Kaveri was at her desk, a digital reader in one hand and a cup of hot chai in the other. Cat stood at attention and Kaveri let her relax, replying with "At ease. Take a seat, Commander."

She did so. "I… I've thought about what you said, Captain." Cat settled her hands in her lap and used them to brush at the uniform skirt that went to her knees. She made herself look back up and focus on Kaveri. "It's true that I've let things go, and I'm going to fix that. I… I've had something that just... " She pursed her lips in thought. "Can I explain it to you? It's a lot to take in, and it's a little scary."

Kaveri set the digital reader down. "Go ahead," she said. "Given all I have survived, I can handle scary, Commander."

Cat nodded. "Okay." She felt one last counter-push, one last urge to break this off, but she forced it away. She was committed. She had to do this to keep Captain Varma's respect, and given how much Tra'dur respected her "Mother-Ka", she felt like she wanted it. "A little over a year ago, after the Canary Wharf incident in W8R4, I traveled with the being we encountered there, the Time Lord called the Doctor. For everyone else I was only gone for a few minutes, but for me it was almost a year."

"And something happened to you on this journey?"

Cat nodded. "You could say 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 »


Ship's Log: 13 December 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. At 0756 hours New Liberty time the Aurora arrived on station at Earth, Universe Designate T7C8. Our purpose is to facilitate a peaceful first contact with the planetary government of this Earth and support humanitarian aid. Earth T7C8 is still recovering from a civil war waged against the planetary government. It was a conflict only ended due to outside intervention from the war criminal James Hawk.

It would seem that once again the Alliance is bound to pick up the pieces left behind by that man.

It was 0920 when Kaveri heard the chime on the ready office door. "You may enter," she called out.

She'd anticipated Commander Meridina and the Gamma Shift's watch logs to review and sign off on. Instead Captain Robert Dale was the figure that stepped in, wearing his silver-trimmed intelligence officer's uniform that covered for his role as a Paladin of the Alliance.

As much as the Alliance needed special forces capable of standing against dark forces, Kaveri did not think Paladins, uncomfortably like secret police or unaccountable secret agents, were the correct choice. None of it showed on her face, however. "Your mission went well?" she asked politely and correctly.

"Well, it went smoothly, at least," he replied. He sensed something of her sentiment and said nothing about it out of politeness, not to mention his own occasional concern about what the Paladins could become. He nodded politely to Group Captain Bet'tir. The Dilgar woman had the flying eye pin of the Mha'dorn, the Dilgar telepath organization, and still wore the more elaborate uniform of the Union of Tira and Rohric's military. Officially she was Kaveri's personal adjutant while she was on Alliance duty, but it was something of an open secret that she was here to personally protect Kaveri given she was Warmaster Shai'jhur's wife.

He continued speaking on the matter, as much as he could, while he casually had an old folk song his grandfather loved play in his head. "A face to face contact with a potential pro-Alliance asset in S2C3 that went off without any violence. I never even had to draw my lightsaber."

"If only all our missions were so easy." Kaveri took a sip from her cup of chai. "S2C3. I have seen that universe mentioned in a number of the recent fleet orders. They're keeping a dreadnought squadron active there at all times now. It seems an unwelcome drain on our resources given the lingering Dominion issue."

"The growth of our economic and diplomatic contacts with the Umojan Protectorate makes that inevitable, as dangerous as it might be. For one thing, it means our relations with the dictator of the Terran Dominion are getting frostier by the day." Robert decided not to say anything more about the issue. "Emperor" Arcturus Mengsk was shaping up to be a future pain.

"The reports on the Protoss remind me of what it was like to learn about the Vorlons." Kaveri said those words while glancing at a digital tablet with the report on T7C8 Earth still displaying on it. "But I am being reminded of my home universe's history in other ways today."

"I can see why." Robert leaned forward in his chair.

"You were the one who brought this world to our attention, I hear?"

He nodded. "I did. The coordinates were cast into my mind just before Hawk and his people beamed off of Tau Atrea."

Kaveri replied with a nod, leaving Robert to considering his encounter with Hawk on that mission. The Tau Atrea mission still stood out among the others he'd taken as a Paladin, given the encounter with the Liberationist faction of the Psi Corps and the first indication of the threat posted by the Aristo rulers of the Eubian Concord of A5R0.

The most important part of that mission, at this moment, was his second encounter with James Hawk. The interuniversal rogue — and accused war criminal — fought on his side that day, working with Robert and the Psi Corps settlers to fight off the Aristos' hired guns. The two had even had a face-to-face discussion (or rather argument) that gave Robert important insights into Hawk's character.

But it was Hawk's subordinate on that mission that prompted their current mission. Rebekah bat Gurion hailed from the war-torn Earth spinning below them. She was one of that planet's telepath minority population who joined up with Hawk out of gratitude for his putting down the most vicious of the factions in the war, the telepath-killing "Dissolutionists".

"Before I left the Corps' settlement, Max Cohen let me know of some of the things Becca told him about her homeworld," he continued, for Kaveri's benefit. "Honestly, as much of a threat as they can be to Multiversal peace, this is one case where I wonder if Hawk and his crew weren't doing the right thing. The Dissolutionists were butchers, pure and simple. They committed multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity, especially when it came to telepaths."

"I can understand the sentiment." She glanced to the pad again. She was up to the confirmation on the "psi-bomber" program, when Dissolutionist forces made captured telepaths become psionic suicide attackers to save their families from execution.

Robert didn't have the report from in front of him, but he'd read it enough to remember the key points. "Reportedly some Dissolutionist groups are still active, even though their ability to maintain organized resistance was destroyed by Hawk. They've fallen back on terrorist attacks in several locations and are turning to guerilla war in others. The central government's still trying to crush them, and they're starting to turn authoritarian in the pursuit of that. And they aren't much better toward telepaths. They see them as weapons and tools more than living people."

"A familiar flaw, to me," Kaveri said, a certain harshness in her tone.

Robert nodded once. "I saw the similarity too."

"It is, perhaps, greater than you know." Kaveri set the tablet down. "We like to pretend that our Earth is a fully unified world with a unified people. But the truth is the Earth Alliance's popularity is not and has never been universal. It nearly collapsed several times during the 22nd Century. Without the first contact with the Centauri, a fourth World War would have been inevitable for us." Kaveri turned thoughtful. "Sometimes I believe such a conflict is still inevitable."

"I read that Earthforce has had to put down anti-Earth Alliance coups in some of your constituent nations?"

"The uprising of the African Bloc, yes. The Martians' repeated efforts to break away. The Canal Wars. And the War of the Shining Star saw millions of dead across East Asia."

Robert felt an emotional resonance in her. It coalesced into a memory of a much younger Kaveri finding a small, crying child in the wreckage of that war, a little Chinese girl. "Your daughter Zhengli, Zhen'var I mean. That's how you adopted her?"

She nodded. "It was. My first assignment was in the peacekeeping force in Guangxi during the rebuilding." The thoughtful look remained on her face. "For all the blood shed during the recent civil war, it was at least brief. Sheridan is a true believer in the Earth Alliance and fought to reform it, not break it up. Looking at these reports of T7C8 Earth, I see what we might have become. What we might yet become."

"They might have a chance to be better," Robert pointed out. "From the data we have, the central government has to deal with a reform movement popular in several regions and countries. And while some of their political figures are pushing for authoritarian, arguably fascist measures to suppress the reformist movement, it's not a universal sentiment in their government. Reform is possible."

"Reform is usually possible, but it rarely comes easily. I'm aware you have an interest in the plight of telepaths, Captain."

"I have an interest in the plights of any mistreated people," Robert replied. "I want them to be free. I know it sounds a little canned, but that's why I'm out here."

"It is worthwhile, at least. I've always felt our treatment of our telepaths was one of the great crimes of our society," Kaveri said. "And now I see another world starting down the same dreadful path mine took."

Robert nodded in reply to that. "Part of the talks will be trying to convince the United Earth government to firm up its devotion to civil rights. Stopping them from conscripting telepath children will be a part of that."

"It will not be easy. They will resist it, not just from the usefulness of telepaths, but because they will not want to feel that they were forced into the decision by a greater force."

"So we'll have to persuade them to do it themselves," he said.

A silence followed, indicating the discussion was over. Robert was ready to stand and head off but stopped himself when he remembered what else he'd come to tell her. "On another matter, Captain, I figured you'd like to hear this." Seeing he had her attention he continued. "The Huáscar just re-established contact with the fleet and Zhen'var made her initial report on their mission. It was in my update from Portland last night. They're on their way back to Alliance space now."

A gentle, satisfied expression came to Kaveri, resonating with the relief Robert sensed in her. "That is good to hear. Thank you for sharing it, Captain."

"I can't go into particulars on what happened out there, but going by what I read, Zhen'var made you proud with what she did."

“She always has. My daughter is not faultless, but I have never failed to be satisfied by her upholding of dharma.”

Any further discussion was halted by the chime for the door. Kaveri bid the person outside to enter. Meridina stepped in carrying a digital pad. She nodded to Kaveri and then to Robert, giving Bei'tir the customary telepathic recognition as she did, before stepping up and handing the pad to Kaveri. "The Gamma Shift reports and logs, Captain," she said politely. "And Deputy Secretary Crawford informed me that we are due to transport down at eleven hundred hours."

"We should prepare." Kaveri accepted the pad and brought it up to read. "You have arranged the Officer of the Watch in your place already?"

"Commander Locarno will be assuming the watch, Captain."

"Very good. We shall see you in the Transporter Station, Commander."

Robert stood. "I'll let you get to it, then, and I'll go check on other matters."

He put it carefully, but he sensed both knew what he meant. The decoding of the Life of Reshan was proceeding despite the difficulties of finding the message within had become gibberish. Or, more likely, a code within a code, one they would need to figure out how to decipher if they were to learn the secrets that the Cylons and the Brotherhood of Kohbal went to such great lengths to find out.

"Miss Inviere believes she's found the end of the double-coded segment," Meridina said.

"I'll consult with her then, and leave you both to the diplomacy side of things. Good luck."

He didn't bother adding that they'd probably need it.

Undiscovered Frontier
"Sense of Worth"

Dr. Leo Gillam, Chief Medical Officer of the Aurora, had seen many a sight in his life, particularly after the change that came with the discovery of the Darglan Facility.

He was thus fairly prepared for the sight of a tent city, and that of rubble.

His difficulty came with the location.

While he ultimately made the friends that defined his life after his parents moved to the flat farming counties of the Kansas prairie, Leo's first twelve years of life were spent in the urban spaces of Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up mostly in the environs of Marietta, he had memories associated with every corner of the city in question. And while he'd seen poverty there on his Earth, it was nothing like this.

The tent city was put up among assorted buildings, mostly the broken remains of apartment structures, warehouses, and commercial spaces. Some of these buildings were still partially intact and were being used, but a number were nothing but a pile of rubble. In the distance, he could see the Atlanta skyline now containing half-skeletal remains of skyscrapers gutted by explosions, adding to the sense of ruin and destitution.

The sight stunned him enough that he remained stationary for several moments, only jolted out of it by the voice of the Aurora's security chief, Lt. Commander Phryne Richmond. "Doctor, is there a problem?" Her upper class Australian accent stood out compared to the others on the Aurora command staff.

Before he could reply, one came from the figure beside him. "He grew up here." Lt. Commander Caterina Delgado, the ship's Science Officer, gave him a sympathetic look. "Right?"


By this time a group of people approached, three men and two women. One of each was African-descended, like Leo, and the rest were Caucasian or of brown, multi-racial appearance. They moved with a certainty before coming to a stop a meter in front of the Aurora group. "You're more of the Humans from another universe," said the lead figure, the African-American woman. "Thanks for coming here, I didn't really expect to see more help."

"Going by our preliminary scans this site looked like it needed priority."

"We do. I'm Nysha Williams, and I'm the elected leader of the Atlanta Telepath Community," she replied.

"Ah." Leo sighed. He'd been there for the briefing the night before on what to expect. "Dr. Lenoard Gillam, Chief Medical Officer on the Alliance Starship Aurora. I'm guessing that's why you didn't expect us?"

"We're used to being ignored by the Unies," another member of the group said. "They give us cast-offs that their occupation troops don't need."

"Which is better than what the locals give us, which is the stink eye and violent thoughts." Nysha sighed. "And before you ask, yes, we can sense your surface thoughts, we can't help it, and it's as annoying to us as it's frustrating to you."

"We work with telepaths," Cat assured them. "We know how that works."

Leo noticed the way their eyes shifted. They were surprised but also seemed a little relieved. "The Gersallians have telepaths," he added, elaborating on what Cat said. "Our ship's XO is one, as is our ship's civilian psychiatrist."

"I'll believe it when I see it," said one of the men. "Way it's gone for us, banals either want to kill us or make us their tools."

Leo knew better than to protest their purpose. Actions, not words, he thought, knowing they'd pick it up.

"Allow me to introduce my colleagues. Walter Smith, Irma Michaels, Kevin O'Hare, and Sam Laffler."

Leo took the lead in shaking hands while the others introduced themselves. "Given your situation, I'm betting you have a secure space for medical supplies?"

"This way, Doctor."

Nysha's comrades stayed with them for the walk from their beam-in point towards the center of the camp. Leo looked around at what looked like assorted families and individuals. Some were eating military rations, some were carrying pails or pots of water. Some just seemed to be staring into space. Children ran about from tent to tent, playing, but Leo found children always played when they could whatever their circumstances. Even when everything around them is rubble.

"Just what happened here?" he asked.

"Atlanta was the capital of the New Confederacy," Nysha said. "After that offworlder ship wrecked the Dissolutionists' main forces, the Union and the Pacific Fed broke through the lines. The Dissies scraped together enough guns and troops to fight for Atlanta, but that was just them being diehards. The Unies put them down, hard, and ruined the city doing it."

"I grew up in this city," Leo said. "On my Earth, anyway. I can't imagine how it must've felt to see armies wrecking your home."

"Oh, I was cheering the invaders on," Nysha said. "All of us were. The Telepath Underground helped us find places to live under the Dissie regime, but it wasn't the easiest living. People were always accusing one another of being teeps, even other banals, and heaven help any teep they actually caught."

"I read the reports," was all Leo said on that. Inwardly he seethed at what he'd read. Unethical medical experiments, forced druggings that ruined telepaths' senses and took the will to live from them, straight up executions. The fact that actual medical doctors had participated in these activities offended him at a basic level.

"Yeah, we can tell," the other woman remarked. "Maybe don't make it so loud?"

Leo winced. "Sorry."

"Just to clarify, 'Dissie' or Dissolutionist were those who wanted to eliminate your global government, yes?" Richmond asked.

"Pretty much. And half of the Dissie nations and groups hated the other half, but they could agree on two things." Nysha scowled. "They hated the Unies, and they really hated telepaths. So they started the war to try and wreck the Unie government, make the world ungovernable, and to kill as many telepaths as they could get their hands on."

"They think we're lab experiments, not real people," one of the others added.

"Here in North America, something like half the states voted to withdraw, and when the Unie-backed Union government refused, they declared the New Confederacy and joined the war. Took half of the North American military with them when they did, and the Pacific Fed took another chunk."

"And they are?"

"Pacific Coast. Columbia, California, Oregon. They broke with the Union over the conscription laws and the Federal Telepath Regulatory Act," Nysha said. "They formed their own government with Hawaii and New Zealand and a bunch of Pacific Islands. It's one of the few countries left where telepaths have rights."

"Then why don't you move there?" asked Cat.

"Because the Unies won't let anyone leave the 'security zones'," Lafler snarled. "They arrest anyone who tries without authorized papers."

The conversation ended as they stepped through an intact door into what looked to have once been an office supply company. Nysha led them through a shattered office space to a storage area that was two-thirds empty. "As you can see," she said, "we have a lot of space for you, and we've got people watching around the clock."

Leo and the others looked about the room. Most of the goods present looked like the kind of aid one got from charities, and indeed some was in boxes labeled with crosses and other religious iconography. "Aside from the Unies' leftovers, our only source of supplies are religious charities," Nysha explained.

There was an exception, however. In one corner were stacks of supplies that were clearly from another Earth. Working around these stacks were three people taking an inventory. One was in a pale blue lab coat and the other in something that seemed to be nurse's scrubs while the third was a woman in a black suit. Her hair was dyed a bright shade of pink, causing her to stand out among the others.

"It seems one of the supply ships already came to you," Richmond remarked.

"They call themselves the Jenny Winters Foundation," Nysha explained. "They beat you by about an hour."

"They must have come down the moment we signaled the all-clear," Cat observed. Cat also noticed that as she bent over the lab coat was draped to one side and the slacks underneath caught in just the right places.

The woman turned around and gave Cat a once over. “You know, if you’re going to undress me with your eyes, you could at least buy me a coffee first…”

Nysha and the others sensed a telepathic reply. Sister, be gentle…

Of course I will, but come on, how often do I get to do this?
was the reply.

“Wait, what…”Cat froze, and noticed the black gloves and Psi Corps badge on the woman’s coat. A deep blush came to her cheeks. “Oh God, I’m sorry.”

The coat-wearing woman grinned. “It’s fine! I wouldn’t be a mind-nudist if I thought otherwise. In my own head, I am completely naked.”

Richmond exchanged a curious look with Leo. "I wasn't aware that we had an Earth Alliance contingent with the aid fleet," she said. "I thought it was only Alliance, Federation, and Systems Alliance groups participating?"

“Not precisely accurate.” The reply came from a man in pale blue set of nurse's scrubs. He bore a clear resemblance to the woman. “There is no Earth Alliance involvement here. However, a certain obvious sub-population within the Earth Alliance might have registered an NGO with the Alliance government. I’m Thomas Spencer, this is my sister Dr. Abigail Spencer, and our silent companion here is Kusko Al. And I do apologize for my sister, she gets a bit cheeky.” Tom shot her a glance.

Leo nodded to them. "Good to meet you Doctor." He extended a hand. "I'm Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Starship Aurora. This is Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, Chief of Security, and Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, our Science Officer." He went on to introduce Nasri and the other nurses with him.

“A pleasure.” Abigail replied and shook first, with Kusko second, and Tom last. “We’ve heard good things about you and your ship. As you can imagine after recent events we have an interest in helping the telepaths of this planet. And I do apologize Commander, I only meant to play with you a little bit, not mortify you.”

"No, no, it's fine," Cat insisted, still blushing a deep red. "I'm just, I… never mind."

To relieve Cat from her embarrassment, if nothing else, Leo picked up the conversation. "Well, they need every bit of help they can get from what I've seen. I'll have our coordinates relayed to the ship so we can beam supplies directly in here, and we can get started in cataloguing everything."

"When you say 'science officer', what do you mean?" Nysha asked, speaking up now that the introduction was over. "In some Dissolutionist regimes, their idea of 'science officers' were the ones responsible for experimentation."

"Oh, it's nothing like that!" Cat answered. "Well, we do experiments, but not like, you know, like that. We do good experiments, like studying flora and fauna and running simulations and examining spatial phenomena."

“A lot of their ships do exploration in addition to military duties. They need people for that, in addition to… I’ll call it quantum chicanery, during combat operations.” Tom explained by way of interlocution.

Leo chuckled. "You'll have to pardon her enthusiasm, Cat's always loved the exploration element of science. I don't think there's a planet, asteroid, or star she hasn't happily scanned." His piqued anger at what Nysha described slipped back into his thoughts. "Nothing like what those butchers you're describing did."

“Yeah that…” Abigail shuddered “and the Unies are not much better, from what we’ve picked up. They get a bit close to home, if you understand my meaning. Unfortunately we have the benefit of hindsight.” Which was directed toward Nysha. Kusko Al nodded and glanced between them. It gave Leo the feel that more was being said.

Whatever it was, it wasn't his business. He keyed his omnitool. "Gillam to Aurora Transporter Station 3."

"Chief Jayan here, sir," answered a Dorei transporter operator, her accent sounding like a blend of South Asian and Polynesian in tone. "Are you ready?"

"My coordinates, Chief."

Nearby the first pallet of supplies materialized with a buzz and a flash of white light. More started to within seconds. Leo noted the way Nysha and the others were looking at the supplies, as if divine providence had finally come through for them. Given the way transporters operate, I'm not surprised, he thought. "Commander Delgado will be helping you sort out the bio-sciences gear and Commander Richmond will help any security you have."

"I'll show her to Lawton," one of Nysha's fellows offered.

"Good. I'd like to get everything settled so, with your permission, I can make a round in your medical tent," he offered. "I want to pitch in, if I'm welcome."

"It'll be welcome, Doctor, and honestly, we're not in the best position to refuse it," said Nysha. "We only have a few trained nurses and some untrained ones."

"You don't have a physician?" he asked.

"We did," was all she would answer. The two medical telepaths went stiff.

Leo nodded and sighed. "Well, between Doctor Spencer, myself, and anyone else we can call in, I hope to make good for that." As he spoke a thought went unbidden through his head. I hope Richmond won't be working as hard as it looks she will be.

Abigail gave him a slightly reproachful look, and he knew that he’d tempted fate.

He flashed a weak grin her way, knowing precisely what she meant.

Kaveri, Bei'tir, and Meridina materialized in an open courtyard in front of an elegant ten story structure in Brussels' old "European Quarter". Beside them Deputy Secretary Travis Crawford and a half dozen officials and staff materialized as well.

The delegation were representative of the Alliance as a whole, with one Alakin, two Humans, two Dorei, and three Gersallians beside Crawford himself. They were all in general business wear suitable for diplomacy, but Crawford was clearly here to make an impression. He had a Stetson hat and a bolo tie on a suit of dark green. His weathered face was formed into an easy grin as they were approached by an assemblage of formally dressed persons. Half were in European-style wear, two more had what Meridina recognized as West African formal garb, and a woman who matched Kaveri's skin tone was wearing a formal suit based around a sari. Like Kaveri she had a red dot, a bindi, on her forehead.

She sensed some hostility from the group, particularly a man with a bronze shade and European-style business suit. For the most part that hostility was tinged with worry and fear. This is not going to be an easy first contact, Meridina mused.

"Hey there," Crawford said, his accent one that Meridina was told was a "Texan drawl". "I'm Deputy Secretary Crawford, and these are the rest of my team." He introduced them one by one, revealing an aid specialist, a legal advisor, and an economic analyst among them. "And these fine ladies are Captain Kaveri Varma and Commander Meridina of the Aurora."

"I'm National Affairs Secretary Samira Gupta," the woman in the lead position said. She gestured to the others, introducing the man Meridina sensed hostility from as Security Minister Paul Marias, while another figure was Defense Minister Tochiro Kanegawa. "President Lawrence and Premier Gorchkov are waiting for us."

They were led into the building. Inside the main foyer was a memorial depicting a blue flag with a circle of gold stars and a list of names. Seeing their curiosity, Gupta said, "This is a memorial to the personnel of the old Berlaymont building who were killed in a terrorist bombing that destroyed the structure," she explained. "We wished to honor those who stood for the common unity of Humanity."

The explanation fit what Meridina was feeling. She could sense the lingering specter of death and terror here from that event.

Crawford doffed his hat to the memorial and the Gersallians joined Meridina in a contemplative nod of the head in respect to the fallen.

From there they were led to an elevator. Halfway up the building the car came to a stop, allowing them out into a hallway with a lush carpet. Their route took them to a big pair of double doors emblazoned with laurel-contained globe depicting Earth from its northern pole, every continent visible with the Southern Hemisphere on the outside of the image.

Inside was a stone-faced woman of pale complexion and an older bald man. They were introduced as the President and Prime Minister of the United Earth by Gupta, who directed everyone to their seats.

As they sat down, one figure remained seated in the corner, not a part of the discussion. The woman had a bronze skin tone and dark-colored hair showing under her headscarf, a hajib. Meridina sensed a telepathic talent in the woman. She also felt lingering resentment in her, a sort of resignation to her life.

Once they were all seated, President Lawrence spoke up. "This is Miss al-Ghazi, a service telepath. She's here to advise us and prevent any mis-understandings from any telepaths in your entourage."

"I am a telepath," Meridina said, "and trained as a…" She almost used "swevyra'se", but that would be confusing to their hosts. She opted for "...a Knight in the Order of Swenya."

"I am also a telepath," offered the Gersallian aid specialist, a man named Henjasaram. "Although my talent is quite weak."

"I am a telepath as well," Bei'tir said, and said no more on the matter.

There was an uncomfortable look from Kanegawa, but the most intent reaction was from Marias. His mind filled with singing.

"Thank you for being forthcoming," Lawrence said. "And we thank you for the aid being offered to our world. Unfortunately, we must also lodge protests with your government."

"Well now, we've only exchanged comm calls until now," Crawford said. "What's the problem, Madame President?"

"We're informed that you've opened communications with constituent governments of United Earth," she said. "Such as the Pacific Federation and Iran. It is part of the United Earth Charter that our government will handle any communications with off-world bodies."

Lawrence's tone was firm, if not harsh, but Gupta quickly added, "We understand that you may not be aware of our constitutional procedures, Deputy Secretary, but we do wish this to be addressed. It would be much like us opening negotiations with your Alakins instead of the whole Alliance."

"Ah, well, even under the Alliance Constitution that's allowed to an extent, ma'am," Crawford said. "But I understand the point."

"We were simply attempting to ensure our aid went where it was needed," Henjasaram added. "No offense was meant."

"That is understood, but we wish to be clear on this. United Earth will handle our side of your relief efforts, not component governments."

Meridina sensed Marias' intent a moment before he spoke. His words were in English with a Greek accent. "There's also the telepath issue, and your attempts to support telepath supremacist and liberation movements."

This time the response from the assembled was confusion. "Mister Minister, I'm afraid we're at a loss," Crawford said. "We just got here."

Meridina sensed distrust and uncertainty from the others, and a certain sentiment from Marias that Lucy would've called "smugness". "You claim to have nothing to do with these groups, but what we have proof to the contrary," he insisted. He brought up a digital device and tapped a key.

This brought a holotank built into the table on. They were treated to footage of a raid. Meridina frowned at the sight of armed people being gunned down by figures in tactical uniforms of some sort. The footage shifted to showing open cases with weapons.

Darglan weapons.

The confusion from Crawford and his people was palpable. Meridina noted the telepath al-Ghazi nodding to Premier Gorchkov, who whispered something to Lawrence.

Meanwhile Marias continued. "This was a raid my forces waged last week on a Telepath terror cell in North America. These weapons match yours, do they not? They certainly aren't from our world." Like a prosecuting attorney pressing his case home to a jury, Marias gained a pleased edge to his voice. "In fact, they also resemble the weapons used by the ship called the Avenger when they attacked the Dissolutionists, and your own people admit that Mister Hawk's pirates use the same weapons you do. And they haven't been seen in months. In short, Mister Deputy Secretary Crawford, your government is lying to us, or you've lost control of your people."

It was a blunt accusation and Meridina noticed Crawford's thin frown. "I don't know where those guns came from, Minister, but they didn't come from us. We came here to help you out."

"You came here to wow us with your technology and press change on us. It won't work. We will continue to do what we need to in order to protect the people of this planet from terrorists, saboteurs, and radicals."

"I think Minister Marias has made the point sufficiently," Gorchkov said. "We are sympathetic to the possibility of an error in your government. And maybe this Hawk person did give them guns. Either way, we will decide how telepathy is utilized on our world, no one else."

"It's your world, Premier, not ours. We're just here to give a helpin' hand," Crawford said, his drawl now in an assuring tone. "If someone on our side's doing this, we've got one of our top people in orbit who can find out."

Gupta was quick to take charge of the discussion again. "Excellent. And now that this necessary business is over, we're interested in hearing more about your proposals."

Robert sat with Gina and Talara in the cockpit of the Jayhawk, where the comm station activated to present the bearded face of Admiral Maran. The Gersallian military leader, effectively the man in charge of the Allied Systems' military, looked a little less stressed than before. Robert figured it was due to the reorganization at Command to relieve some of his tasks.

"The President's pleased by your report of the meeting in S2C3. While we hope Emperor Mengsk will continue to observe formal neutrality, it's always good to have options."

"What about the Earth government there? This 'United Earth Directorate'?"

"They've refused communication and the approach of any ships on their settled systems. Intelligence is trying to ascertain if they've gone into isolation due to their expedition into the Koprulu systems, or if this is the start of a retrenchment for further expansionist actions." With that question answered Maran's expression shifted. He was ready to get down to business. "This situation on T7C8 Earth needs consideration. No operation to arm telepath liberation movements or their Reformist states has been approved at any level of the Alliance government."

"Meaning either a rogue op, or someone else. Probably Hawk."

"Maybe, but this doesn't fit his usual behavior."

"Maybe not, but Lyta Alexander could be having an influence on his planning. Either way, I'm ready to look into it."

"Has the local government provided any samples of the technology for you?"

"A rifle, that's all," Robert said. "And Captain Varma made it sound like it took every bit of charm Secretary Crawford could manage to talk their leaders into providing one. He even went as far as giving them an anti-beaming shield for use at their government HQ, as a gesture of good faith."

Maran wasn't surprised at the shield being provided, and he didn't bother speaking on it. "Analyze the rifle, see where it came from, and follow where that leads."

"Even if it leads to someone on our side?"

"Especially if it's on our side," Maran insisted.

"I'll get our people on it right away," Robert said. "I'll report back when I have something."

Maran nodded in reply. "Good. Maran out." He cut the line from his end.

"So this is what we'll be focusing on?" Talara asked. "What about the Life of Reshan?"

"Lucy's still on light duty and can handle that with Gina," Robert said. "But we'd better go see Captain Kaveri about borrowing Jarod's services. Tom's too."

"We seem to be out of the double-encoded part of the message," Gina said. "The errors used as the code are forming proper words again."

"Maybe they'll give us the clue we need to decipher the segment then. Keep on that until I say otherwise." With that said Robert stood and walked toward the rear of the cockpit.

Talara followed. As they stepped out of the Jayhawk cockpit she asked, "Have you heard anything from Captain Andreys?"

"Yeah, she's been on New Liberty for a few weeks now," he said.

"I hope she has recovered enough to return to us. I respect Captain Varma, but Captain Andreys is… I feel like this is her place."

"It is," Robert agreed. "And I'm sure she'll be back soon enough."

Native avians chirped away from their nests and perches in the surrounding trees of the Lake Park, adding to the appeal of New Liberty Colony's specially-preserved park space and providing a soothing touch to the beauty of the locale. Nearby a stream was flowing on its way to the Carrey River, its color a healthy and lovely blue.

On the bank of the stream, Julia Andreys was going through a form in the art of t'ai chi chuan, a martial arts style she'd favored since her childhood. The chirping birds and the gentle rustle of the stream added to the sense of serenity that she felt as she moved her arms and together and around her body.

Beside her the same movement was repeated by her student, Princess Miko, a resident of the Human-inhabited world found in N1C4. The grand-niece of one of that world's rulers, the Fire Nation's Fire Lord, she held a special place on her world as the Avatar, the one being who could "bend" all four of the traditional elements using metaphysical powers unique to their world.

The more Julia learned about Bending, the more she appreciated the art inherent in it. Each element answered to a specific kind of martial art, one that fit that element's nature. In this case, her favored t'ai chi matched the Waterbending arts, and Miko wanted to learn that style from her in the hopes Julia's teaching would work better than other Waterbending masters she'd tried to learn from.

They finished the form and did the customary closing, Miko bowing to her and Julia bowing back. "Well, I think that's it for today," she said.

"But we… oh." Miko caught herself. "Your appointment."


"You seem worried about it," Miko observed. "Why?"

The question prompted thinking on Julia's part. The appointment was with a Stellar Navy-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Schneider, who was on New Liberty to work with residents still suffering psychological issues from the SS Exiles' attack. She held Julia's future in her hands given her recommendation could see Julia's return to her ship… or her forced retirement from fleet duty.

It was a prospect that honestly scared her when it didn't make her angry. While her ordeal as a captive of the SS Exiles was something she did need time to recover from, that recovery was already accomplished. She wanted, she needed, to be back in her place. On her ship.

"It could decide whether I get my ship back," Julia admitted.

"Oh. Right." Miko's own mother, Princess Ursa, had commanded void ships before she retired to raise Miko. It gave the young woman an inkling what this meant to her teacher.

"I've still got two weeks of medical leave left," Julia said. "But this review will determine whether I get to go back on duty or I remain on psychiatric leave. It might not be determined today, but this is my first session with Dr. Schneider and, yeah, it's a little intimidating." Julia sighed. "I'd love it if she approves my return to duty in one session, but I doubt it."

"I understand. I'll see you later, Sifu?"

"Yes, you will."

After ensuring the inventory work was well-handled, Leo found himself in the tent that housed the Telepath community's care ward. There were several injured and sick people to treat and he went to work, dispensing medication with a hypospray when needed. More extensive treatments would have to wait until the resources were ready, but Leo made sure they were properly tagged.

His current patient was a child that couldn't be older than nine. The little boy's name was Patrick. He had a pale complexion marked, on his face, by little brownish freckles.

On one cheek at least, because the other cheek was one big swollen bruise.

There were other injuries consistent with a beating as well. Leo hid his emotions to provide Patrick a reassuring smile he didn't feel. "Hold on for a moment." He ran a regenerator over the bruises, coaxing the damaged, swollen tissue to return to normal by healing that damage. Relief showed on the child's face.

Beside him, a scrubs-clad young woman with bright red hair arranged in a pony-tail was watching quietly. "This technology is remarkable," she said.

"It's a great tool for healing." Leo finished working on the main bruise. "What happened?"

"Antoine threw the ball over the fence," Patrick answered. "I went to go get it without waiting for an adult. I shouldn't have."

"It was a hate crime," the nurse said, her voice resonating with fury. "Locals hate telepaths with a passion, and they don't care for their age."

"Can you report him?"

"The local police would laugh at us, and the Unies only care if the people are openly supporting Dissie propaganda or have firearms," she replied.

Leo shook his head. "I'm sorry." He looked at the boy while reaching into his lab coat pocket. "So, Patrick, where can I find your parents?"

He regretted the question as pain showed on the child's face. In a weak, sad voice Patrick said, "Mommy and Daddy don't love me anymore."

Leo glanced at the nurse. Ill-concealed fury was written on her features. He felt his stomach twist as he asked, "This happens a lot, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," she said bitterly. "The Dissies sometimes executed the families of telepaths, so it's one of those things, you know? It made people terrified of having a teep in the family. Sometimes they drive them away on manifestation." Turning her attention fully to Leo, she said, "I'm Rose, by the way. Rose Williams."

"Doctor Leo Gillam," he answered. "Any relation to Chairwoman Williams?"

"No blood relation."

With the introductions over, Leo returned his attention to Patrick. "What kind of parent can throw out their own child?"

"People convinced telepaths are the spawn of Satan or a biological experiment made by the Unies," Rose replied.

"You sound like you speak from experience." While speaking Leo took the moment to finish the last regenerator sweep on Patrick, finishing off the last bruise. He pulled his hand out of his lab coat to reveal he was holding four sealed lollipops of purple, red, yellow, and blue color. "You were a good boy, Patrick, take one."

"A lolli!" Patrick quickly picked the purple, grape-flavored one.

"What do we say, Patrick?" Rose asked rhetorically.

"Thank you, Doctor," he replied.

Leo helped him off the table and returned his attention to Rose. "He trusts you. I'm guessing your parents did the same to you?"

She shook her head. "I'm not a telepath. But my younger sister Lily, she manifested a few months before the end of the war. When she got detected the government took her without a fight from my parents. Even when the war was over, they didn't try to find her. So I told them to go to hell and came here to help out where I can."

Leo said the only thing he could think of as a reply. "I'm sorry to hear that, you have my condolences."

She opened her mouth to reply, but Leo never heard it.

The explosion and the immediate gunfire saw 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 »

As you can imagine, Alyrium is co-writer by dint of writing the Corps characters.
”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 bomb blast came first. It blew a hole in the perimeter fence of the telepath camp and sent out a shockwave that blew down every tent within six hundred meters. The same blast wave blew through human beings on both sides of the fence with the same destructive effect.

The attackers emerged from the shell of a bank, as its vault was still intact. There were at least twenty, maybe thirty of them, wearing red and white bandanas that covered their faces and carrying automatic rifles. One of their leaders made their intent clear. "Kill all of the psifreaks before they recover!"

They moved with the discipline of former soldiers and trained fighters, heading toward the billowing dust clouds left by the bomb. Upon arrival inside of the blown fence their guns came up and they started gunning down anyone who seemed to be moving. Several of them threw more devices, small explosives that kicked up more debris and dust. Fog grenades went next.

Despite this visual obstruction Richmond observed them through her tactical visor, which formed over her face much like an omnitool interface from the projectors on her temples. A grim expression came over her face as she brought her pulse rifle up. "Lindstrom, Matali, left flank," she ordered. "Use image enhancement, they're trying to keep cover inside of fog."

Beside her, a number of armed telepaths were already bringing out their own rifles, although these were chem-propellant projectile firearms like the attackers' weapons. Their leader, a man named Lawton, had a scraggly beard and a glare in his eyes that was, for the moment, understandably vicious. "We'll go on their right. The banals think their fog grenades will block our line of sight, but my people are ready for this."

"Go ahead and be careful. Above all, I don't want them getting away." The sentiment was shared, and for similar reasons. A firm statement about the result of such a direct attack should provide a suitable deterrent to further efforts.

Richmond watched her teams move in and start engaging the gunmen. She tapped at her omnitool's comm system. "Richmond to Aurora, I want the immediate response team deployed. I'm relaying their arrival point now."

"Confirmed, Commander. Sending them in."

Richmond moved forward with Lawton. By the time she took her first shot Lindstrom and Matali's squads were already laying down fire on their opponents, drawing return fire that dissipated against personal forcefields. This was to the benefit of the telepath militia, who lacked the protective gear of the Aurora security teams. They took some return fire sporadically, and at the ranges involved this ensured some were hit.

But not many. They kept advancing, a few firing regularly to draw attention while the others went to work using their mental powers. They simply stared intently at their attackers.

Chaos spread through the enemy ranks. Some of them turned their guns on themselves or their comrades. Others simply threw down their weapons.

The Psi Corps woman, Kusko Al, came up beside Richmond, a PPG pistol firmly in hand. Richmond openly welcomed the woman to coordinate mentally with her. Kusko seemed momentarily confused by the idea before she followed up on it. A thought not Richmond's own came to her mind. I can't see them through the fog.

I can. Richmond tapped at her visor.

She felt something behind her eyes, seeing what she saw, and more of the attacking insurgents started simply dropping in place. Kusko wielded her power with brutal efficiency, shutting down motor neurons and paralyzing the insurgents one by one.

The check on the attackers prompted the survivors to turn and try to retreat. But Richmond's response team was already at the breach in the fence. Shot after shot stunned the retreating foes, who again found their own weapons were useless against the forcefields employed by the security personnel.

Altogether the attack lasted barely five minutes, at least according to Richmond's timer. "Secure captives!" she ordered, and her people went to work, using zip-ties to secure wounded and downed insurgents.

She turned to Kusko and nodded. "Well done. That helped put this rampage down before it hurt anyone else."

Kusko was silent for an extra second before finding the wording she wanted to use. "Thank you for your flexibility. Most people don't want …” She mentally switched a word, “telepaths in their minds."

"I admit I wouldn't want it all the time, but there's no denying how useful it is."


Richmond turned away. Leo was running up, a medical kit in hand. "If you've secured the area, I'll get to work," he said.

"We're secure," she answered. "Good luck, Doctor. I don't think you'll be finding a lot of survivors."

Their eyes went to the carnage from the blast, including the devastated and maimed bodies. "Probably not," Leo sighed.

Then, with a deep breath, he went to work.

The day's second meeting with the Earth government was going more smoothly, Meridina thought. Security Minister Marias was not present this time, nor were the President and Premier, and the diplomatic minister, Gupta, was taking charge in laying the agenda for her side.

With the war having ended less than a year before, the planet still bore the wounds of the terrible conflict. The presented data on the rebuilding efforts indicated up to a decade would be necessary to provide even a basic level of civil services and economic connection to the entire planet on par with what was known in the pre-war years. The death toll amounted to over a billion.

At Crawford's behest Henjasaram explained the sort of aid effort the Alliance could maintain at the moment. It wouldn't fix the planet overnight, but the materials, and the technologies granted, would hasten reconstruction.

"It is more economical, and feasible, to promote your world's own economic healing than to simply ship in materials," Henjasaram explained to Gupta and the other ministers. "That has been our experience with prior aid and rebuilding efforts. While humanitarian supplies will be provided as normal, our aid efforts will focus on helping you re-establish civic industries and the production of your own supplies for the purpose of reconstruction."

Meridina noted that Kaveri's omnitool blinked once. A priority message was being sent to her. A moment later Meridina's activated in the same fashion.

Before they had a chance to do anything about it, an aide entered the room and went up to Defense Minister Kanegawa. The Japanese man's expression became a frustrated frown at the words whispered into his ear.

"Minister?" asked Gupta.

"I'm afraid I must leave for the moment," he said. "There's been an incident in one of the occupation zones and the military commanders wish to brief me on the matter." He said no more before departing.

"An 'incident'?" Crawford looked to Gupta. "This happen often?"

"More than we'd like," she admitted. "The interlopers eliminated the leadership and military strength of the Dissolutionist nations, but some of the rank and file remain devoted despite the odds. They receive protection from sympathetic civilians in many areas and frequently attack government forces or telepaths."

"Ah. Well, we won't butt in on that, but if you want a helping hand I'm sure we can pitch in," Crawford answered.

"Your aid will be more than enough help, I think. By all means, please continue describing your plans."

During the discussion Kaveri lowered her left arm below the table and brought up her omintool's display. Meridina sensed concern in her being and sent a telepathic query. Has something happened? She noted Bei'tir, as always, was monitoring Kaveri's mind for such a communication, but the two were at a general understanding on the matter by this point and there was no concern in the Dilgar's mind.

A bombing and attack at the Atlanta telepath camp Doctor Gillam is aiding. Our security forces were involved in the fighting.

Meridina nodded, recognizing the reasons for her concern. Not just the danger to members of the crew, but the complications their involvement could cause in the careful diplomacy here. Were any of ours hurt?


That, at least, was a relief, but it made it clear just how difficult this world's situation was proving.

With the area considered secure Leo called down additional help from the Aurora. Dr. Walker, a Tohono O'odham woman, the Alakin Dr. Hreept, and Dr. Roliri Opani - a Dorei - led a contingent of the Aurora's nurses to take charge of the immediate surgeries in a surgical tent beamed in directly from the Aurora.

As one of the first doctors on the scene, Leo was left with the harshest job of them all: triage.

The victim had been on the outside of the fence, one of the nearby residents caught in the blast. He was no older than thirteen, African-American, with frizzy hair and a lanky, lean form.

He was also missing both of his legs and was covered in blood from a plethora of wounds caused by blast shrapnel and debris. His dark eyes stared into Leo's face with no sign of thought within them.

The tears flowed from Leo's eyes at the child, especially at what his medical scans told him. His skull was nearly crushed and his brain was a mess of traumatized tissue and hemorrhages. Even the latest techniques being circulated in the fleet, many of them added to the database by Surgeon-Commander Nah'dur of the Huáscar, would not save the child. The brain damage was too extensive.

Still, Leo felt like his heart would rip in half as he tapped at his omnitool display, causing the micro-fabricators to create a black-colored tag. Leo gently laid it on the boy and murmured, "I'm sorry." Just in case there was enough cerebral activity left to feel pain, he added a massive dose of morphine that would completely numb any surviving pain sensation.

"There isn’t. He’s gone. I wouldn’t waste the morphine in a war zone… not that it matters with replicators, I suppose."

The voice prompted him to look over toward Doctor Spencer whose voice sounded like she was speaking from experience in that regard. She was casually providing a black tag for the battered remains of an adult, this one with the remains of a vehicle fender sticking from the side of the skull. When she looked to him again she was slapping a red tag on another patient - a middle-aged Asian woman in a C-collar - without missing a beat she said, "Saving the body wouldn't have accomplished anything but given false hope to his family."

"I know," he answered, but then he did inject the morphine. "I just… I hate children dying in my care. It makes me feel like a failure." The image of Joshua Marik in his OR came back, as it always did at these times.

"Been there…” she projected an image into his mind. a small shattered girl with catastrophic burns and a half-melted badge in a field operating theater. “My residency was during the Earth-Minbari War, so believe me when I tell you, you’re not a failure. The only failures here are the wastes of oxygen who perpetrated it."

Their conversation was gradually drowned out by the sounds of shouting. Leo stood and turned toward the perimeter of the bomb blast area. The Aurora security teams were watching that perimeter in lieu of anyone more capable at the time. Dr. Spencer glanced that direction, and rolled her eyes in utter contempt.

“Not this again…” she muttered, despite not being able to see what was going on from her position, and went back to assessing another grievously wounded person.

Leo however, could see it. Richmond and three of her people were confronted by a growing crowd. The forward figures in said crowd were shouting something. The situation was getting ugly so he rushed to deal with it. "What's the issue?" he called out as he entered earshot.

The closest members of the crowd were the kind he expected. Mostly male, none into middle-age, and looking very angry. One of them, a bearded Caucasian man, stuck an accusing finger at him. "We've got family in there! Actual people, but you're treating the fake ones!"

Richmond flashed a worried glance at him. She didn't speak, but he could tell that she wanted him to keep his distance in case this got violent.

But Leo wouldn't leave it at that. If the mob got violent, it would interfere with their efforts to save people. It was with that in mind that he gathered his courage and strength and replied, in a loud and firm voice, "We are engaging in triage of the wounded. Our technology allows us to save a lot of people that would die otherwise, but the sad fact is we can't save everyone, so we have to sort the cases by chance for recovery. That is our only criteria! So please, step away and let us keep working on this."

For a moment it looked like the gathering crowd - now even larger - would accept his explanation. But the bearded man didn't back down. He stepped forward, almost up to Leo's face, and brought a finger up as if to poke Leo's chin with it. "How about you let us help, huh?" His expression turned vicious, and he sneered, "We'll kill all of the psifreaks so you can do your jobs and save real people!"

Others in the crowd shouted their support for the idea, which looked to be emboldening the man even more. He took the extra step and was in Leo's face directly. Leo recognized the vicious, blind hate in the man's expression, as if it were exploding out of every pore with the sweat pouring down his face.

Richmond's jaw clenched. "Doctor…"

Leo didn't flinch. "I'm not letting anyone kill anybody. There's been enough death today. Stand back and let us get back to saving who we can."

The man roared a reply. "You're saving the Goddamned psifreaks instead of real people!"

Leo knew better than to argue with that kind of sentiment. Not when there was a mob to fuel it. He turned away from the man and faced Richmond. "Commander Richmond, if anyone interferes with our triage efforts, please stun them. I need to get back to work."

Richmond nodded. He thought he saw the hint of a smile on her face as he stepped past her. "All teams, we're facing a riot situation. Weapons on stun, keep personal forcefields to maximum."

The man that Leo turned his back on chose to defy her. He lunged, as if to tackle Leo. Richmond stepped into his path and let him slam into her personal forcefield. It flickered blue and held, throwing him back.

One of his friends came up, brandishing a crowbar. Richmond remained passive as the weapon swung in mid-air just to be stopped by the same field. He tried several more swings to no effect before backing away, frustrated and, more importantly, intimidated.

Behind the two hotheads and their allies, the crowd started to split up. They'd gotten the message: they had nothing that could hurt Richmond's security people. There was no point to lingering.

"They're dispersing," Richmond said into the comms. "Everyone, back to—"

She was interrupted by the low whine of battery engines. She looked up and noticed a host of aircraft, drones from the size of them, swooping in from the east. They were the size of toys, none reaching a meter in length.

The crowd's reaction was not what she expected. Screaming broke out and everyone seemed to start running.

By now Leo's attention was drawn back by the sound. He watched the aerial craft, drones he figured, swoop in. They dropped canisters like an old World War II dive-bomber dropping their bombs.

Thick, gray gas erupted from the dropped canisters. People in the crowd started choking, many clawing at their clothes to cover their faces. Leo used his omnitool to take a quick scan of the gas, confirming it was a form of tear gas.

In their rush to get away, the crowd ran into a new barrier, as multiple armored, wheeled vehicles rumbled up. Soldiers in digital camo and carrying rifles and batons dismounted the vehicles and rushed forward. More cries came as they laid into the crowd, using their weapons to beat people until they hit the ground, upon which they were zip-tied by the soldiers in the following waves.

Concerned with the possibilities, Leo rushed back to Richmond's side. "I suggest you stand back for this, Doctor," Richmond said. "It's their affair."

At a particularly loud scream from the attack, Leo said, "They were dispersing. What are they trying to prove here?"

"Presumably, they are reminding the people here of precisely whom is in charge," Richmond remarked.

The crowd was in complete disarray, with people trying desperately to get around or through the soldiers, but there was no escaping the ring of shield-carrying riot troops. Said ring was only incomplete due to the presence of the Aurora's security staff watching the bomb blast zone.

Some in the crowd noticed this. They fell back toward Leo and Richmond. One in their number, a woman with a mocha complexion, had tears streaming from her reddened eyes. "Please help us!" she cried. "Let us in!"

"Just minutes ago you were threatening to march in here and begin murdering survivors," Richmond pointed out. "Now you're begging for help?"

A man stepped up beside her, a teenage child beside him. "Please, they'll throw us into camps and never let us go home! That's what they do to anyone they arrest!"

Richmond glanced toward Leo, who met her eyes. "It's not our place," she said. "This is the telepaths' camp. It's their rules, not ours."

Beyond the little crowd of pleaders, the military personnel nearly had the rest of the crowd subdued. Within less than a minute they would be done, and there'd be no more time to make the decision.

Leo keyed his omnitool to connect to the comm device Nysha Williams had. She answered immediately. "We've got people begging to be allowed into your zone," he said. "They're trying to get away from the military."

"I'm no fan of the Unies, Doctor, but I know damn well what these people are like and why that mob formed. Give me a reason to give them sanctuary."

It was a good point. Leo swallowed and said the first thing that came to mind. "Because we're better than this."

A sigh came from the other end. "They'll have to stay at the edge of the camp, and if the Unies threaten violence we won't defend them."

"Understood. And thank you."

"Thank me later, Doctor, if this doesn't blow up in our faces."

The conversation was overheard by the group. Richmond sighed and nodded, gesturing to them while keying her omnitool. "Security teams, we've got seven people entering our zone. Keep an eye on them at all times until I order otherwise."

The group gleefully rushed past at Richmond's permission. Just a hundred meters away a group of armed soldiers were coming that way. Richmond leveled a little glare at Leo. "You've vastly exceeded our orders, Doctor, and it's entirely possible I'll be ordered to hand those people over."

"I know, and this is on me," he answered. "And if you get that order, well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there." With that said he turned. "Now I've got lives to save."

"Somehow I think my job will still be harder," she said as he stepped away. She turned her attention to the soldiers and the officer in their number. From the looks on their faces, it was clear demands were about to be made.

Meridina sensed the impending interruption a moment before it came. The door to the conference room flew open and Kanegawa entered, stone-faced, with a red-faced Marias behind him. "Mister Secretary, guests, we have an issue to discuss," he said somberly. Marias flashed an angry glare his way for what Meridina sensed was his disapproval at the Defense Minister's choice of words.

"What has happened, Kanegawa?" Gupta asked.

Marias spoke up immediately. "We would like to know why Alliance naval security is protecting terrorists!"

The force of the accusation was as unsettling as the charge itself was confusing. "Now just what do you mean by that, Minister Marias?" Crawford asked. "Because that's a mighty big charge."

"And it is true. Observe."

Marias brought out a digital tablet and tapped it a few times before swiping along it toward the table. This action sent a video file into the holotank of the table which came to life. The assembled watched as Leo and Richmond allowed seven people past them. Troops, including the one wearing the camera that recorded the video, approached Richmond. "We're taking those people into custody, stand aside."

"For the moment, no," Richmond answered. "They have asked for asylum and Doctor Gillam granted it."

"In the name of the United Earth, we demand…"

Crawford and the others started looking toward Meridina and Kaveri. "Captain, this Doctor Gillam fellow is one of yours, right?" Crawford asked.

"He is. With your permission?"

"Of course." Gupta nodded, her face frozen into an uncertain frown while Marias seemed halfway between actual rage and vicious vindication.

Kaveri brought her left arm up and activated her omnitool. "Captain Varma to Commander Richmond," she said to it.

A few moments later Richmond's voice filled the room. "Richmond here, Captain."

"We have been informed you are preventing United Earth personnel from taking suspected terrorists into custody."

"Doctor Gillam did win permission to grant temporary asylum in the camp to a group of unarmed people fleeing the military's attack on a local crowd," Richmond replied. "They believed the United Earth military would take them from their homes if captured."

"Commander, are these people terrorists? Did they have something to do with that bomb?" Crawford asked.

"At first glance, no. They were simply part of a crowd of locals observing our triage efforts. The crowd did nearly become violent, but the ringleaders backed down when they realized they had nothing to defeat our protection. They were dispersing peacefully when the local military showed up and started subduing them."

"Subduing them, Commander?" Kaveri shared a certain, somewhat resigned look with Meridina. "In what way?"

"A baton or rifle butt to the cheek or head seems the normal method around here, in lieu of stun weapons," came the droll reply.

Crawford and his people looked to Kanegawa and Marias with a clear frostiness in their demeanor. Their peers at the table were clearly uncomfortable, particularly Gupta and the Finance Minister, a German man named Fluck. Marias returned the frosty looks with a defiant glare. "We are within our rights to confine suspected Dissolutionists," he declared.

"Sounds to me like you're more interested in puttin' your boot on peoples' faces, sir," Crawford said coldly.

"I'm sure the Premier and President would appreciate being informed of these issues," Gupta said in a sharp tone. "Thank you for informing us of the issue, Minister Marias." Her tone made clear that she wanted him out.

His reply was a disgusted look before he turned and departed.

Gupta sighed and turned her head back to Crawford and the others. "Now that we've settled this issue, shall we return to the business at hand?"

Henjasaram folded his hands on the table. "Do your soldiers routinely attack unarmed civilians? And do you take them from their homes?"

Gupta shared an uncomfortable look with Fluck. "There is a proposed policy, and only proposed, to relocate potentially violent Dissolutionists to new homes in loyalist territory where their incitements will go unheeded," she admitted. "The Executive Council has not approved the policy as promoted by the Security Ministry."

"Well now, that's reassurin' to hear," Crawford remarked. "We want to be good neighbors, Minister, and that's the kind of matter that'll be hard to ignore."

The response was an embarrassed silence that lasted until Crawford, turning his charm on again, proposed they take a recess. Gupta gladly concurred.

Doctor Gertrude Schneider's office was in the Colony's central medical complex. The building was already repaired from the SS attack and Julia had little issue finding her way to the office in question. She was in a professional suit, a navy blue blouse with a black business jacket and calf-length trousers with comfortable short-heeled business shoes. The ensemble was carefully picked since a uniform might make her seem obsessed or in denial, and she didn't want any issues with the doctor. As an addition she wore her mother's old silver band necklace, a simple adornment and the only piece of jewelry she regularly owned.

Dr. Schneider herself was a silver-haired woman with a few wrinkles on her face. She looked like she still indulged in some athletic activity, showing an energy and youth that belied her visible age. "Ma'am." Her voice had a slight, soft German accent. Her hand extended to a reclining chair. "Whenever you're ready."

Julia eased into the chair. "I wouldn't want to take any more of your time, Doctor, I know you've got other patients."

"No more today, however. You're my last appointment." Scheider smiled gently while her fingers hovered over a digital pad, occasionally tapping at it as if typing. "You were seeing your ship's contracted civilian psychiatrist before you left, yes?"

"Doctor Tusana, yes."

"And then you spent nearly three weeks on this newly discovered world in, which universe was it...?"

"N1C4." Julia recalled that while the universe was now common knowledge, some of the facts behind its discovery were still either classified or not widely known. "I was a guest of one of the planet's rulers."

"Really? We'd just made contact, you must have made an impression."

"I suppose I did. His grandniece and I were, well, fellow prisoners."

"Ah." Schneider nodded. "So you bonded."

"We did. Then we got free and we helped beat the SS and got rescued in the end. Her mom nearly died."

The doctor took more notes. "I've read the medical record. A device was used on you by the SS commander, a machine that pulled memories to project on a holoviewer of sorts?"

"Yeah. The chair." Her face twisted into a grimace as she remembered the horrible drilling pain in her mind. "That damned chair."

"You were also beaten, healed, subjected to immersion-based electro-shock, and had Eubian torture nanobots applied to your skin." Schneider went down the list. Julia pursed her lips at hearing the ways she'd suffered expressed so clinically, but she said nothing. She didn't need to, given Schneider lowered her eyes briefly. "Miss Andreys, you are not my first prisoner of war. And, regrettably, you're not my first torture victim. But you are the first I've seen to be this functional so soon after your ordeal. I find it inspirational, but also concerning."


"As much as we sometimes try to claim we can do anything, Human beings have limits, and terrible things happen when we're pushed beyond them. And that is what torture does to the human mind, Miss Andreys. Pain is the way our bodies tell our minds that something is wrong. It tells us that damage is being inflicted and we must protect ourselves. Torture prevents this mechanism from functioning. The mind breaks under the pressure of being unable to stop the perceived damage."

Julia nodded at that. "I can testify to that," she admitted.

"And yet you seem like you are here to have a standard examination," Schneider remarked. "You're dressed like a woman going to work, and you walk like someone in control of their life. We both know you're not."

While the doctor's tone never lost its reasonableness, her words put Julia on edge. What was Schneider angling at with this talk? What was the point of it?

"Your medical leave is up in a couple of weeks, provided no further physiological limitation is determined," Schneider noted. "But for the moment, your future is not determined. It'll be decided here, partially by me and partially by the Stellar Navy's senior officers. We can decide you're fit for command, or that you're not."

"Yeah, true," Julia said. Why rub it in?

Schneider eyed her carefully. "Tell me, Miss Andreys, have you considered your future should I determine you're not mentally fit for command anymore?"

Julia forced her facial muscles to freeze, but she could tell her eyes made clear how much that thought angered her. "I admit I haven't," she said. "I feel that, my ordeal aside, I'm fit to command, and I intend to prove it."

"That's not your place, however," Schneider said. "And if you feel this way, why not show it to the world? Nothing in the regulations bans you from wearing your uniform, yet here you are dressed as a civilian. As if you've already prepared yourself for that life?"

Whatever comfort Julia'd felt upon entering was slipping away. This feels like an interrogation more than an interview, she thought. Knowing she needed to give an answer, Julia decided for careful truth. "Listen, I know how it'd look if I did that. It might come off as obsessive, or being in denial about what's happened. Like everything's already back to normal. So I decided to come like this."

"In other words, you tailored your appearance as if this were a negotiation," Schneider observed. "You thought ahead to how I might react to you in uniform, decided it was a risk you didn't want to take, and acted accordingly."

"Pretty much, I suppose."

Schneider tapped away at her pad. "So, to return to my question, you clearly haven't considered that you won't be returned to command duty. I would go so far as to say you're afraid of that possibility, such that you'd rather avoid the thought of it."

"I'm not thrilled by the idea, no."

"Well, please, indulge an old woman." Schneider moved the pad away, looked Julia in the eye, and asked, "Say that I tell your commanders you're not mentally fit for command right now. That I recommend you be reassigned to a non-command position. Whatever your first thought was to that, please, tell me?"

The question came as a brief curl formed on Julia's lips, nearly turning them into a snarl. It went away as Julia searched and searched and found she didn't have such an answer.

"Miss Andreys? What would be your first choice?"

With Schneider looking at her expectantly, Julia finally shook her head. "I don't know," she admitted. "I don't have a first choice. I simply haven't thought of it."

"I see." Schneider considered her carefully for a moment. "Have you considered that maybe you've put too much of yourself into this occupation, Miss Andreys?"

"What do you mean?"

"You define yourself as the Captain of a ship very strongly, that is clear. But that might not be the best for your mental health. Nor is it the best for the service or your ship and crew. It could be a sign that you've suborned your entire identity to this work, to an unhealthy and even obsessive degree. That would have an impact on your performance as Captain, it may even mean you're no longer capable of the judgements necessary. Certainly you would be prone to making decisions based not on the needs of your mission or your ship, but your emotional need for commanding a ship."

"That's not what it is," Julia insisted. "I simply didn't consider the idea because it doesn't make sense. Whatever else has happened, it didn't change who I am and what I am. I'm as fit to command now as I was before."

"Unless you were never truly fit for command."

There was real heat, and challenge, in Julia's voice when she made her reply. "My record proves otherwise."

"Ordinarily I'd agree, and it is quite impressive. But that doesn't change what happened to you, Miss Andreys. You were captured by the enemy. You were abused. Tortured. Your mind was subjected to an attack from alien technology we don't understand."

"That doesn't change who I am," Julia insisted.

"That kind of remark is precisely my concern, because such an experience would change anyone," Schneider replied. "You don't suffer like that and not change. Insisting otherwise seems like denial."

Julia sighed with exasperation. "I have more nightmares now, that's it," she said.

"Ah, nightmares? About your ordeal?"

"Yes." Julia felt leaving off a "duh" at the end was a concession worth something.

"I see." Schneider retrieved her pad. "Do you feel comfortable sharing them?"

"Not particularly, they're not pleasant," Julia said.

"Ah. Well, I don't want to discomfort you, so we'll move on."

That ship has sailed, lady, Julia thought, unkindly.

Schneider's questions at this point went into minor details, about Julia's personal routines primarily. A timer went off to interrupt one of her answers, but she gave it anyway. Once she was doneSchneider tapped at her pad and set it aside. "We are done for today," she said. "My assistant will schedule your next session."

"You're not approving my return to duty, are you?" Julia asked.

"Not today," Schneider said. "We still have more work to do before I can be sure you are fit." Schneider folded her hands together. "And perhaps you should consider honesty about yourself when you return to see me, Miss Andreys."

"Alright." Julia stood. "And for the record, until I'm told otherwise, it's Captain Andreys, not 'Miss'." Without another word she left.

She didn't see the little half-smile that formed on Schneider's face as she typed another little note onto her pad.

The time on his omnitool told Leo that the sun had already set outside, but his focus was on the patient before him. He went back to work removing the shrapnel from the internals of a male telepath his age. His hands carefully operated the controls of the surgical transporter, the holographic control display allowing him precise control over the system. As each piece came out, Doctor Amita Singh used the tissue regenerator to restore the opened tissue, minimizing internal bleeding in the process.

It was long, exhaustive work given the precision needed on such vital organs. Sweat beaded Leo's face and was only kept out of his eyes by the careful application of a sponge held by a nurse, in this case the red-haired nurse Rose Williams. And given it was his third intensive surgery of the day, in a row at that, his exhaustion was becoming evident.

Despite his fatigue, Leo finished in good time and with no visible issues. He pulled away the surgical transporter system while Singh performed the last regeneration. When she was done a scan confirmed the man's survival and condition. "Send him on to the post-op tent," he said. And bring in the next case."

"I will do the next case with Doctor Opani. You will go have dinner and get some rest," Singh insisted. "You are exhausted, Doctor Gillam, and you already had a long and trying day."

Leo gritted his teeth, wanting to argue and knowing he had no argument to oppose her. She was right. As a responsible doctor, he had to acknowledge that. "Alright," he said. "I'll leave this to you."

"Thank you," she answered. "And you'd better get to the camp mess. Hargert sent down a couple of big tubs of sausage stew."

"Sounds heavenly." Leo stepped away as a group of orderlies brought in the next patient. Rose gave him a small smile before heading to Singh's side. He crossed paths with Opani on the way out.

A short walk to the next tent via a connected walkway brought him to the shower and changing tent. Dr. Spencer was pulling on a fresh suit of silver and brown, a brass Psi pin over her heart and well-crafted gloves on her hands. "I see they chased you out," she said. "You look, and feel, like you're about to fall over."

"Of course I do." A weak smile formed on his face. "I'll clean up and get dinner. Hargert sent down sausage stew. It's his signature food and worth the calories."

“Unfortunately manifesting while helping with the slaughter takes all the joy out of meat. My brother and I are vegetarians, even if it is replicated. Beetles are on the menu though.” She replied casually before a gentle smile formed on her face. "I wanted to thank you for your work today. With the triage, and then facing down that mundane mob. You're not the first mundane doctor I've met that treats us like people, but that sets you apart from the others."

"Thank you. I figure it was just the right thing to do, really. Keeping security from having to shoot people is always a good thing."

"Standard procedure in the Corps during mass-casualty events is for Metapol to drop the first rank of rioters and induce a sort of ordered panic in a rolling wave. Crowd dynamics does the rest.”

"I imagine what the telepath militia would've done was much worse, if Richmond hadn't stunned them all first."

“Probably just killed them. I’d have helped, to be honest.”

The sincerity in her voice was impossible to miss. Leo's instinctive reaction was to oppose the idea, that doctors were supposed to heal, but he stopped that reaction as he imagined things from her perspective and the intentions of the mob hotheads to murder people she considered family as well as patients.

“Exactly. Our version of the Oath has caveats, in the same way combat medics carry guns.”

"I understand."

She grinned a bit “I know. Anyway, poor Tom is likely about as tired as we are. I should go track him down and stuff food in his face. He forgets to eat.”

"I'll be joining you soon enough," Leo said as she walked away.

Kaveri, Bei'tir, and Meridina walked into Science Lab 2 and quickly found the lab table where the others were assembled. Cat, Tom, and Jarod were each operating equipment focused on a rifle that looked remarkably like a Darglan-tech pulse rifle, the kind that the Alliance had manufactured in the billions to fight the Reich War. Robert, observing quietly, was the first to react to their approach. "Captain, Commander." He nodded at them. "How are the talks going?"

"Carefully," Kaveri answered. "The incident in Atlanta complicated matters on both ends."

"The Security Minister is inherently hostile to us, he sees us as a threat to his government," Meridina explained. "He was not pleased with Doctor Gillam."

"I heard what Leo did. It sounds like him, certainly." Robert smiled thinly. "And knowing him he's about to keel over from exhaustion after working all day on the victims."

"It might cause us mischief to be seen as shielding possible insurgents against their government." Kaveri looked past him to where the others were working. "Secretary Crawford asked me for an update."

"Well, it's definitely Darglan," Cat said. "But it's not ours."

"How can you tell?"

"The elements that compose the weapon are different, for one," she explained. "And we don't use naqia in our weapons like this."

Bei'tir asked the next question, clearly for confirmation more than anything else. "Alliance weapons use other power methods, yes?"

"Yeah," Tom answered. "We typically use ion-lithium batteries for basic functions, with the charge clips that power the weapon employing ion-trinium composite batteries. Most field chargers don't have naqia either. But this thing does."

"It might be Hawk's," Robert suggested. "A lot of his Darglan tech is more advanced than the stuff we got, at least in terms of military applications."

"I checked the profiles on the rifles we confiscated from his cache on Earth C1P2." Jarod tapped a key and projected holographic readings side by side on the table's holo-viewer. The three command officers looked over the findings. "There are definite similarities, but they're not the same. Again, different elemental construction, and these rifles have a higher power efficiency rating."

"So they are even more advanced..." Kaveri said. "Someone has refined the technology further."

"Hawk must have people who work with the technology, otherwise his forces wouldn't be as potent as they are," Meridina noted. "Perhaps they've done so?"

"Possible, but unlikely," Tom said. "I mean, we're not talking a few refinements from tinkering here. It's not something we could've done in our Facility either, not by ourselves. These are evolutionary improvements at the design level. Someone had the design and improved it from experience and experimentation."

"Your implication is that this was the work of a deliberate research effort," Kaveri said. "As in a government organization, or a corporate R&D lab?"

Jarod nodded. "That sounds about right."

"Which would imply that someone in the Alliance may still be responsible," Meridina noted. "Using both your original examples and the confiscated material from Hawk to create these weapons."

"But what would the point be?" Cat asked. "I mean, if the Alliance was doing this, why are we here with aid? One undermines the other."

"Governments do not always work in unison." Kaveri frowned. "This could hypothetically be someone in our military or intelligence service pursuing another agenda. It may even be a defense contractor selling prototypes to arms dealers as a means of unregulated testing and development."

"Either way, I need to report this to Maran." Robert sighed. "If it's someone on our end, they need to be stopped. This world's not stable and they're pushing it back towards war."
”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 a refreshing shower and change of clothes, from his operating scrubs to his Stellar Navy duty uniform, Leo departed the physicians' tent and traveled the short distance to the big mess hall. It was one of the few intact structures, formerly the dining hall of a technical college, now repurposed to provide daily meals to the camp residents.

It was night time outside now. Portable lights illuminated the walkways between tents and the intact structures, solar cell chargers prominent on their bases, with some of the structures also having lights mounted high on their walls. The relative lack of overhead lights gave the camp a certain feel Leo didn't often see. And the stars were far brighter than he remembered growing up. Atlanta was a thriving metropolis there, here it's rubble, he realized.

At the opening of the hall a young woman met him. She took a quick glance at him and he felt a very slight brush against his mind, one that made his fatigue impossible to miss. A sympathetic look came to her face and she reached into one of three plastic containers, pulling out a green slip of paper. "Use this line," she said. "We sort by priority."

"Right. Thank you." He accepted the slip and entered the hall. As expected there were three lines. One line had children and a pregnant woman, with another woman holding a newborn baby in her arms and a pair of silver-haired elderly behind her, and all had blue slips. Further to the side, the longest line were carrying red slips, adults of varying ages and dress.

Between them was the line with other green slips. He noticed one of the camp's few nurses there and the face of one of the militia he'd seen during the triage work. Leo walked up to the line in a gait he hoped wasn't the equivalent of a zombie.

He didn't say anything, nor even think anything, but that didn't stop the people in the green line from noticing him. One by one they stepped to the side. The invitation was a clear one even without the thoughts being projected into his mind: among themselves they sorted by priority, and surgeons were near the top of the list. Leo knew better than to resist, accepting the gesture and approaching the lunch line. A big steaming bowl of Hargert's signature sausage stew was filled for him. A strawed canister of fruit punch and an apple were added to the tray, as was a cut of lean pork. He took the assembled items to a table.

By the time he was sitting, a few people were looking his way, including Walter Smith from the camp's governing council. He felt good wishes and warm feelings descend on him like a blanket of sentiment, not in an overpowering way but a gentle pressure that proved a balm to his exhausted state. He formed a smile on his face and nodded in appreciation before getting to work on his food.

The dinner was excellent, but given how tired he was, it only added to his desire to get some sleep. Since he was going to make rounds in the early morning, beaming back up to the Aurora felt like a waste of time.

Walter approached. "We've got a place you can rest, Doctor."

"Thank you," Leo said. He followed Walter out, the gratitude of the people still in the mess hall still warming him until he was through the door.

"It's been hard," Walter said as they walked along. "The Unies gathered us here to keep an eye on us as much as to protect us."

"It doesn't look like they were protecting you that well," Leo noted. "Their soldiers would be on your perimeter if they were serious about it."

"Don't I know it." Walter shook his head. "The Dissies shot us, drugged us, or cut us up, the last two in trying to find a way to end telepathy. The Unies aren't much better, they just want us around for our mental abilities. We're tools to them, and possible weapons. Makes me wonder what'll happen if they decide they want us gone too."

Leo understood his fear. It was an easy transition to make. He chose to ask a personal question. "Are you all from around here?"

"Nah. I was born and raised in Tulsa myself," Smith said. "I manifested after the war started and ended up on a train to Andersonville south of here."

"Why Andersonville?"

"It's where the New Confederacy government ran its telepath experimentation center, part of the worldwide Dissie efforts to wipe us out."

Leo found the choice to be diabolically inspired, given the history he associated with that locale. "I see you survived."

"A unit of Pac Fed infiltrators hit the train, got me and a bunch of the others out. Nysha was in charge of the underground cell that helped them. I've worked with her since. After the war, the Unies took every telepath in the North American occupied zones and put them here." Walter shook his head. "Honestly, sometimes I think our whole purpose is to provoke attacks like these so that the Unies can come in and wipe out the insurgents involved."

"You think you're bait."

"Yeah, and I'm tired of it." Walter shook his head. "You know, I always saw myself as North American until after the war. Now it feels like I'm something else, something different. Being a telepath, it's like being part of a nation or a tribe that everyone likes to crap on."

Leo nodded as an answer, as they were now stepping up to a building. Like most of the buildings in the area it was only partially intact, a former hotel or extended stay business. Walter opened one of the intact doors. The inside was dark until Walter held a light up to show the interior. Leo saw that there was a bed and other furnishings. "There's no running water," he said, "but the beds aren't bad."

"I'm glad to hear that." Leo went over to the bed and sat on it. It was a little too firm, but he could sleep on it easily. "Thanks for the place to lay my head."

"You've saved good people, you deserve it," Walter replied.

Walter left him at that point, closing the door as he did. Leo's omnitool lit up the room until he was ready, settling under the sheet and curling the pillows under his head until he was comfortable. He let sleep fill his head to gently carry him away.

A hand grabbed his arm.

Leo's eyes shot open. The light in the room was non-existent, just a little from the outside, creating at least three silhouettes in his vision. Before he could speak he felt more hands take hold of him and force him up. He tried to speak, but he couldn't. Something gripped the muscles of his jaw and tongue, holding his mouth closed, something intangible and unseen.

"You've got him?" a low voice asked.


"Let's go."

Leo's leg and hip muscles moved as if on their own accord, bringing him into an awkward standing pose. "He looks unnatural, make it look right!" another voice hissed viciously.


"Quiet, tube baby!"

There was the sound of flesh striking flesh. For a moment Leo felt the force working his muscles slip away. He stumbled forward and tried to raise his voice, but a hand clapped down on his mouth while others took him by the arms. A new voice hissed. "Get control again, dammit, and stay quiet! We need to get out of here now!"

A stab of frustration went through him. He recognized the voice: the woman who'd begged to be allowed into the camp. No good deed goes unpunished.

The controlling force returned to him, this time with a sense of apology in it. Despite himself and his fatigue he took a step forward, then another, his captors following. One opened the door and they emerged into darkness. The nearby light was out, presumably wrecked for this purpose.

Where are they taking me? he wondered as he was led further from the building. They were heading toward the blast zone, where the fence was still broken. I'm being kidnapped! he thought in what he thought was a loud fashion, hoping a friendly telepath would hear it.

Don't call for help! We need you, we need you more than they do! It was words this time, urgent, female. They'll make me hurt you if you try!

Who are you?
Leo thought, but there was no answer. Instead his muscles went into operation again, moving him along in the middle of the group. Where are you taking me?

Stop talking!

As the command came one of Leo's muscles contracted awkwardly. He felt his balance teeter and he started to fall, just to be caught by one of the men in the group. "Linda, that little psifreak's going to get us caught," he heard a deep voice whisper.

"Keep the song in your heads and shut up," the woman answered, her voice low. "We keep going."

Step by step they moved closer to the fence line. Leo was certain security would be there, but with the darkness around and the guards mostly worried about someone coming in, would they see him? Would they even realize he was being coerced?

He tried to open his mouth, to ask why, but his jaw wouldn't work, nor his vocal cords. They were under outside control and he couldn't force that control away.

Run! a voice urged in his head.

Suddenly he felt a second force in his head, just as powerful but more directed, more controlled. It flowed through him as if it were a purging element, tearing away the outside control on his motor functions.

He nearly stumbled again as his control came back, but he caught himself. Again the arms came for him, trying to grab him, but his jacket wasn't sealed and the fingers gripped it instead of his actual arm. He twisted free, leaving his uniform jacket behind. He dropped low for a moment before forcing his exhausted body into a dash aided by the adrenaline release he'd been feeling since he'd been attacked.

Behind him screams and shouting began. There was no gunfire, but he heard the definite sound of flesh striking flesh repeat. A distant crack indicated a bone had been broken, as did the following scream of agony, but he kept going until he found the remains of an old utility shed in the gloom. The door was gone, probably blown away by the bomb, and he entered it and hid behind an old shelf. Outside the shouting started to die down while he keyed his omnitool's locator beacon.

"Doctor?!" A woman's voice pierced the shed, followed by a light beam. "Security Officer Elisa Chase, I've got your locator. You can come out now. Are you hurt?"

Leo sighed with relief and emerged from his hiding space. Chase was a lower-ranked Petty Officer in Richmond's security department, a stocky, muscular woman of some height. "I'm not hurt," he assured her. "Just damn tired."

"Doctor Gillam is secured," Chase said, presumably speaking to Richmond and the others. "I have him."

As they emerged from the shed Leo said, "They forced me to go with them. I think they had a telepath with them."

"Commander Richmond'll sort it out, sir."

Richmond was already present. The area around them was lit up from a spotlight aimed their way. Leo tracked it visually to a tower set up by the camp militia. The beam itself was focused on the seven people who'd taken him, the same people he'd convinced Nysha Williams to let in the camp.

All of them were now being secured with tie-straps by Richmond's personnel. Some of the telepath militia were present and watching, many of them looking sternly at the interlopers. A couple even glared Leo's way, as if to scold him for having let these people in.

There was no scolding expression on the face of the one uniformed figure among them. Kusko Al beamed with gratitude and a little bit of satisfaction. Leo approached her and asked the obvious. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"I freed you from the control, yes." Kusko extended a hand, showing it was gripping his lost jacket. "We moved in once you were clear."

"Thank you," he said to her, for both her aid and for returning his jacket.

Once he pulled it on she gestured toward one of the smaller figures among the captives. "The girl's a telepath, a little strong but very untrained."

Leo approached them. The group were glaring his way, and there was no mistaking the frustration and anger there. Even the telepath had a sullen look, which fit her ragged clothing and short, dirtied blond hair. "What's your name?" he asked her.

She pursed her lips and stared at the ground.

"Under ordinary circumstances I'd confine them on the ship," Richmond said, "but this isn't our jurisdiction, and we've already tromped on enough toes with the locals." She turned to a figure that Leo recognized as the bearded Lawton, the man in charge of the telepath militia. "With your permission, sir, I'll have one of our modular runabouts converted into a holding site and flown down."

Lawton nodded. "Go ahead. Just keep them clear from our people."

"Of course." Richmond turned her head toward him. Her cat-like green eyes reflected some of the light striking her, and Leo could tell she was ready to give him an "I told you so". "Doctor, until we know for sure that there are no more security breaches, I'd appreciate it if you returned to the Aurora."

"I'd rather stay, we might have further medical emergencies," he replied.

Richmond sighed. "Then I'd like to keep a guard on you at all times, until we verify why you were targeted and that there are no more threats to your safety."

"I'll assign a couple of mine," Lawton said. "It's our camp, after all."

"Of course." Richmond wasn't entirely satisfied by that, but they'd already pressed the camp leaders enough. Her look to Leo made it clear that if she had her way, he'd be beaming right back at this moment.

Maybe I should, he thought, feeling the exhaustion coming back as his body used up the released adrenaline. But I might be needed. We've still got some critical cases. "I'm ready to go back to bed."

Lawton turned to his people. Without a word two of them, an African-American woman and a tan-skinned man, stepped forward, assault rifles still in their arms. "This way, Doctor," the woman said.

Leo fell in, forcing himself to stay walking with much of his waning energy. What a day...

Unlike Leo Richmond had no choice on going back to the ship, not given the security situation being so unsettled. She'd have to settle for resting on the runabout Brahmaputra and its bunks.

But her bunk had to wait. The Aurora operations staff's hard work was on display, as they'd turned the modular runabout's rear cargo section into a makeshift brig. There was just enough room to provide each prisoner with a cot and some room to stretch, with forcefield cubes barring them from interacting.

The accommodations only barely met regulations on emergency confinement. She already dreaded filing the seven separate Emergency Confinement Report forms that would have to go across Captain Kaveri's desk.

Under her direction one of the seven, a large man with the kind of face made for the perpetual scowl on it, was escorted into the middle living section of the Brahmaputra. Officer Chase and another of her squad, Security Officer Hrelu Sat, brought the cuffed man to a chair and set him down in front of Richmond and Lawton. He glared hatred at them both.

"Please state your name."

The glare didn't stop. His mouth didn't move.

Richmond crossed her arms. "You attempted to kidnap an Alliance Stellar Navy officer. We'd like to know why. Cooperate and maybe we'll let you go."

The mouth twisted into a sneer. "I don't talk to puppets," he said, his deep voice smug. He leveled his eyes at the telepath camp's security chief. "You want to speak, lab rat, use the voice God gave you, not your new toy."

Her curiosity at this remark was answered by Lawton. "He thinks I'm controlling you telepathically." Lawton chuckled. "That's how these banals view the world."

"I've seen what you psifreaks do to people who get in your way," the man growled.

"He's singing a song in his head over and over," Lawton continued. "Some folksy old-time music. It's a placebo, he knows it can't stop me."

"You really like talking to yourself, don't you, tube baby?"

"I get it, another slur." Richmond sighed. "You're the kind of man who gets very aggressive when he's terrified, aren't you?" At seeing the telltale flicker in his intense brown eyes, she nodded and grinned. "Because that's what you are. Terrified. This is the defiant courage of the hopeless, and to be honest, I find it overwrought and melodramatic."

The sneer turned into a snarl. "You going to talk all night through this poor lady you've puppeted, lab rat? Too afraid of a prisoner to speak to me? Or are you just glorying in the moment, you sick sadistic bastard?!"

"I'm more amused by the blind bigotry fueling your terrific ignorance," Lawton retorted. "Commander RIchmond is speaking of her own volition, and her people are here helping us of their own free will."

"Like hell they are. They're run by a bunch of alien psifreaks, we already know that much!" the man raved. "And now her alien master's letting you play with them! You want my name? You want anything? Why don't you just rip it from my head?! Why don't you just break my mind down like you do to… to…"

She could tell something was wrong when the sentence trailed off. The man started to cough violently. Panic flashed through his eyes as the coughing fit continued. When it stopped, his body began to shiver and he keeled over in the chair.

"Get a corpsman, now!" Richmond ordered her people, kneeling down to inspect the man. Spotting something along his neck, she pulled back the collar of his jacket.

Blue lines and sores stood out on his reddened flesh.
”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 exhaustion was clear on Leo's face when he appeared on Kaveri's personal monitor in her ready office. She had the model turned so that Robert could see him as well.

"Almost all of the insurgents have whatever this is," he said. "The symptoms we know of start as a dry cough. Then auto-immune responses kick in, blood pressure goes up, the veins enlarge and stick through the skin, and the cardiovascular system starts throwing clots. I'm also monitoring a spike in body temperature and increasing decay in neuro-transmitter levels. Neurological symptoms will likely begin soon."

"Do you have any indication of what this sickness is?" Kaveri asked. "And how contagious it is?"

"Scans don't show any sign of an agent in the air, so it's nor airborne. Beyond that we don't know anything yet." Leo rubbed at his forehead. "We're relocating the sick to the St. Johns, under security watch, and I've sent samples to Dr. Ke'mani'pala and Dr. Diptheek. Between Lab 3 and the iso-lab in medbay, we should be able to identify what this thing is soon."

"Very well. And on the other matter, I am reassured to see you are fine given what happened."

"As fine as I can be."

"If you need more security, we could always send Talara or Gina," Robert offered.

Leo shook his head. "The telepaths have their own security here, and Richmond's teams helping out. That's all we need." He looked off-screen. "I need to go. I'm taking over rounds in the post-op tent for Dr. Hreept."

"Keep me informed, Doctor. Aurora out." Kaveri tapped at the control for the screen, ending the call. She turned to Robert. "You seem concerned."

"Well, he's my friend, for one." Robert sighed. "But the fact is, I feel something is going on here."

"The conditions down there are ripe for epidemics, unfortunately. I speak from experience." Kaveri rose.

"Even so, maybe you should take Gina with you, or maybe I could go. Just in case it's something more than Bei'tir can handle." Robert gave a nod of acknowledgement to the Dilgar telepath at her seat in the corner. "You could always play up my role in the Alliance being founded to justify being there. So it shows that we find their situation important."

"Somehow, I think they will be more swayed by your status as an operative of our government," Kaveri noted wryly. "Secretary Crawford asked to keep our presence down to myself, Group Captain Bei'tir, and Commander Meridina. I do not see him changing his mind at this point."

"Probably not," Robert agreed. "I wish I could give you, and him, more to go on than vague unease."

"When you can, let me know." She stood from her chair. "Until then, we must stick to our duties, and right now I am due to attend the new day's sessions in Brussels."

"And I'll go see if Tom and Jarod have found anything new or interesting this morning."

Given the other prisoners were now under both medical and security observation, the one remaining captive on the Brahmaputra was the telepath. Lawton was off resting so Richmond had the Psi Corps security telepath, Kusko Al, with her for the interview.

By now she figured Kusko wasn't the standard Corps telepath. The way she acted, the way walked around people, she carried herself differently. She'd also been amazingly prescient in intercepting the insurgents before they could make off with Doctor Gillam, a timing that Richmond couldn't accept as mere coincidence.

Their prisoner was young. Richmond suspected she was no older than sixteen, maybe as young as fourteen, although the sullen expression and dull stubborn anger in her eyes was definitely that of a teenager. "So, what was your name?" she asked. "Surely you can give us a name to call you?"


Richmond nodded to Kusko. I'm Kusko Al, a Newtype/telepath like you.

The girl's face lit up with fury. "I don't want anything to do with psifreaks! Get out of my head!"

It was clear Kusko hadn't expected such a virulent reaction. Richmond crossed her arms and spoke with a clear sardonic tone. "A strange opinion, young lady, since you're a telepath as well."

The emotional resonance the word gave the girl was obvious to RIchmond, but it was Kusko who felt the sheer self-loathing from her. This girl hated who she was. She hated herself and those like her, a hate reinforced by the people she'd associated with. The verbal and even physical abuse she'd endured briefly surfaced in her mind before she forced it away, softly singing a pop tune in her mind.

"Why did you try to kidnap Doctor Gillam?" Richmond asked. "Or was he a target of opportunity?"

The telepath crossed her arms and looked away. Given her situation it was striking that she still managed to pull off the "sullen teen" look so well.

"Young lady, your options are not very good at the moment," Richmond remarked. "Whatever your relations with the others, that's over with now. They'll be turned over to the United Earth authorities as soon as their medical condition is dealt with. Given the situation I imagine they'll be spending a very, very long time in a prison of some sort, and it will not be pleasant."

"Why are you working with the Unies?!" the girl demanded. "All we want is to be left alone! To live our own lives without having Unie psi-hunters going through our minds to punish us if we don't like the Union! That's the only reason they even allow psifreaks to live, they're just weapons to the Unies, weapons and spies!"

“From what the people in this camp have told me,” Kusko replied, “the Dissies turn telepaths into suicide troops. You use the term ‘our’, as if they would have ever allow you to live a life. If you hate the Unies so much, why not join up with the Pac Fed forces? Why assist in your own destruction?”

The girl looked away. Richmond could see they wouldn't be getting any cooperation soon. "You're not going to accomplish anything, young lady, by refusing to cooperate. This doesn't impair us in the slightest. All it does is ensure you get into greater trouble."

Kusko decided on a strategy right then and there. “Don’t patronize her. She knows full well what awaits her in a Unie prison, and there’s very little chance they’ll honor any deal a foreign government makes.”

<That strategy won’t work with her, she’s not a common criminal but a brainwashed terrorist. You have to deconstruct her belief system. Give me some time.>

It made sense. Richmond had the feeling it was something Kusko had personal experience with, to some degree. You'll want to start fresh, then. She stood. "Take the prisoner back to her cell, I'm done with her for now." With that said she left the living area for the Brahmaputra cockpit area.

Leo was waiting for her, looking only a little more fresh than he had the prior evening. "Any sign of symptoms yet?" he asked.

"Nothing. The only symptom our young kidnapper shows is that of a sullen teenager that knows she's in deep trouble." Richmond's tone kept its sardonic edge. "It's not unlike stubborn, self-righteous doctors with savior complexes."

Leo chuckled softly. "I guess I earned that. I thought I was helping people."

"And that's what they were counting on. Honestly, I'm starting to suspect yesterday's attack was a cover for what happened last night."

Leo raised an eyebrow. "You think the bombing and invasion were to get those people in?"

"During the chaos, certainly, had we not been there to help they might have masqueraded as wounded inside the perimeter. Their telepath friend would've helped admirably in that respect." Richmond walked over and settled into one of the side chairs, prompting Leo to do the same. "Once the attack failed, they did what they could to generate the mob scene to try again. The local military forces contributed, certainly, and their response could have been easily guessed based on what I've heard."

"And they played me like a fiddle." Leo crossed his arms. "Want to know the funny thing?"

"There is little about this situation I could identify as 'funny', Doctor."

"i know. But it doesn't change the fact that they may have gotten what they wanted in the end. Medical treatment, I mean." Leo looked toward the back of the runabout. "That's why they wanted me. The girl controlling me made it clear I was 'needed'."

"Something tells me the local government will disabuse them of that sentiment in short order."

"Given how this sickness progresses? Maybe not." Leo stood. "Anyway, when you can get them, samples of the girl's blood and a tissue analysis will help us determine if she's infected. I'd do it myself…"

"...but I wouldn't let you," Richmond said for him. "Go back to your duties, Doctor, and I'll get you those samples."

After escorting the nameless young telepath back to her cell, Kusko was beat. Exhausted and at something of a loss. She knew what she needed to do, but didn’t really know how precisely. She needed advice. Which was why she wandered into the tent Tom and Abigail Spencer were occupying. Both of them were still awake somehow and hastily putting their gloves back on when she walked in.

“Jesus, Kusko. It’s a good thing we felt you coming or this could have gotten awkward…” Tom noted. He was doing his charting, while Abigail was reading something on a datapad. Both were easier with the gloves off given the touch screens.

“Sorry.” She replied a bit sheepishly. She had her own set, but that particular cultural quirk — the intense sexualization of hands — was still strange for her, and she suspected it always would be. Or maybe not? Maybe someday she’d slip the gloves off and feel naked?

“It’s alright. You’re new, and I wasn’t kidding about that mind-nudist thing, but we’re not at a German beach or in some kind of bourgeois masquerade orgy so... Tired and rambling. Something is clearly on your mind.”

“It’s this… terrorist girl.” Kusko sighed. “She’s a telepath, and brainwashed so thoroughly she willingly fights for people who want to wipe telepaths out of existence. They abuse her, call her tube baby to her face, and she hates herself so much she just takes it and tries to kidnap doctors.”

“Ah. That. Speaking of which, you did good. Leo is a good person, if a bit naive. I’d hate to see him in enemy hands. You want to try to turn her, don’t you?”

“She has information we need, so yes. But also, what they did to her is just wrong. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since joining the Corps it’s that we aren’t — and should never be — tools to be used.”

“Then start with that.” Tom answered, interjecting in place of his sister. “You have experiences that if you trust her with them, might give you an edge in turning her around.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, Kusko thought, and nodded. “We’ve both been experimented on, I’m certain of that, so it’s an easy place to start, even if the Flanagan Institute was Zeon Pioneers Space Camp in comparison to what they did to her. Worst case, we end up having to break through her defenses. I know I can do that if I have to.”

“Good.” Abigail affirmed “Now come on, hit the sack, I get the feeling that tomorrow is going to be very long. We have the cot set up and everything.” And it was, complete with a memory foam pad. “Hell, the tent is even impregnated with mosquito repellant.”

“The Corps really is Mother and Father, they’re eating me alive.... That sounds like an excellent idea.”

The full Executive Council of the Earth National Union - the United Earth's executive government cabinet - was in attendance for the days meetings, including Kanegawa and Marias. Kaveri, Bei'tir, and Meridina again joined Crawford's team and listened as he laid out an early recommendation.

"I know you folks are worried about terrorism, and we'll be glad to help stop it," he said. "Give you time to rebuild. My team and I looked over the reports and have a few recommendations to make, if you'll hear us."

Gupta looked carefully to President Lawrence, who nodded to her. This prompted Gupta to begin speaking. "We recognize that your Alliance's diversity of experiences may give you some ideas we haven't considered."

"Alright then. First off, you folks expressed concerns about some of your member governments making independent contact with us. That it'll undermine your authority. We recognize that and we'll be cautious about it. But you might want to consider inviting their counsel on these matters. Open some dialogue." Meridina felt Crawford was being perhaps a little too familiar, but she recognized that he was trying to be engaging to encourage their comfort. "If anything, it might help you with some of the folks in the former rebel countries. Folks who might settle down if they think you're going to help them out now that the war's over instead of treatin' them like they're still enemies. And then there's the matter of your telepath population—"

Meridina felt the surge of anger before the interruption began. Security Minister Marias slammed a hand on the table. "This is inexcusable!" he proclaimed. "We are the governing body of this planet, responsible for ten billion souls, and you're lecturing us!"

"Minister Marias…"

"Secretary Gupta, you are disgracing the Executive Council by going along with this… this farce," he declared. "These people claim to be here to help, but their actions speak to their true motives! Their support of Dissolutionists and the telepath underground proves their real motive is our destruction! They wish to conquer us peacefully, and they can only do that if our government is weakened by the Reformist agenda they're parroting to us!"

Marias glared at the entire Alliance delegation. "The lessons of the past century are clear to us. So long as Humanity is divided in leadership, we are doomed to war and suffering. The Union must gain control of the world to stop this. We must make our world a true nation, one people under one flag, to avoid the wars of our past.

“The Reformists are merely the subversive side of Dissolutionism and their way would cause more conflict, not less. And this talk about treating Dissolutionist insurgents as anything but the enemies they are is nothing but an attack on my office and agency! I will not sit here and suffer the efforts to ridicule my brave agents putting down threats to world peace!"

Without seeking permission, he turned from the table and stomped from the room.

"He is not grandstanding, is he?" Kaveri asked in a whisper.

"He is genuine," Meridina whispered back, after a moment to consult with Bei'tir on whom should answer. As she spoke the embarrassment and uncertainty of Marias' peers came to her senses. Kanegawa looked sheepishly at his notes, Fluck rolled his eyes, and Gupta seemed quite flustered. Their leaders were equally perturbed, although Meridina felt a certain sense of quiet understanding from Gorchkov and a few of the other cabinet members. Marias' passion unsettled them, but his arguments resonated with their fears and grief.

Gupta, mortified, was apologetic as she spoke to Crawford. "Please, give us the list of your proposals, and the Executive Council will discuss them," she said. "But understand some of those proposals may not be politically feasible at this time."

"Understood ma'am," Crawford answered politely. "We should probably move on to other business then. You wanted to see some of the treaties that govern interuniversal relations?"

"Yes, that would be useful."

Meridina knew what she really meant was that the change of subject was useful.

The day began with Lucy Lucero cursing yet again the concussion that had brought her a month of boring light duties, as well as curses for the bomb, the NEUROM operatives who set it up, and their mothers for bringing them into the world just to vex her personally.

After breakfast she visited the medbay to get her daily check-up out of the way. Over half of the medical personnel were down on the planet, but Dr. Allen-Epstein from the Koenig crew was on hand to go over the scan. "You have recovered well," he noted. "Neurological scans are all clear, and the injury has healed. Honestly you'll be back on duty in a day or two, I imagine."

"Hallelujah." Seeing the way he was grinning at her, she made a very fake wince. "I mean, oh no, I have to go back to work and probably get shot at, I should find a way to extend my medical leave."

"That sarcasm implies you like being shot at."

"Well, I suppose I'm one of the relatively few people in the Multiverse who can block people shooting at me and send the shots back, return to sender," Lucy conceded, now grinning sweetly. The grin faded after a few seconds. "How is everything holding up here? It looks like you're down to a quarter of your staff."

"Oh, it's… well, it's holding up, I suppose," he answered, his German accent not particularly thick. "And we're at half, actually, Doctor Gilliam's arranged for the rotation between normal duty up here and the aid work to keep half of the medical staff here on the ship, off and on duty."

"Doesn't look like it."

"Well, I had to send teams to the brig to get samples from the prisoners from yesterday, there may be an epidemic in the area. It's not surprising, that kind of thing happens in these situations."

"Did you go down there yet?" Lucy asked

He nodded. "I was at a displaced persons camp yesterday in Iran." He shook his head. "It's not the first such place I've seen. I worry that I'm too used to that level of suffering and deprivation."

"I know the feeling," Lucy said, slipping off the table. "I got a little used to it back in the Facility days. Sometimes it can make someone wonder about the world. Then I met Meridina and learned how to draw on a metaphysical power source that gets stronger by making people feel better, so I just roll with it now."

He grinned at that. "I would too. Have a good day."

With her checkup done, Lucy headed to Science Lab 2. Jarod and Tom were at work on the rifle provided by the planetary authorities claiming the Alliance was arming insurgents. She could see why given it was visibly a Darglan pulse rifle. "So, anything else?" she asked. "Robert let me know what's up."

"Nothing new," Jarod replied. "We know it's Darglan, but it's also a newer model than anything we've seen before. The refinements make it obvious this required a significant effort."

"It's definitely not rigged modifications," she agreed, looking at the scan results on the model. "So now the question is finding out where it came from."

"Cat's running a library search on the elements, but nothing is so unique as to stand out yet," Jarod answered. "But I've had a thought."

"Let me guess. The naqia?" Lucy smiled at him.

"You used your woo-woo powers to sense that, didn't you?" he asked.

"You picked that term up from Tom, and no, I didn't need them. It's something clever, so you thought of it already."

"I did." Jarod tapped the display. "The sensitivity of the sensors will have to be turned up, and some calibrations done to ensure we get accurate results. That's what we're working on now, in fact."

"I'll let Rob know. Need any help?"

"We've got it handled," Tom said. "And you've got that ancient code book to work on, right?"

Lucy's sigh was intentionally dramatic. "Gina says she finally got out of the gibberish zone, but I'm getting tired of it all the same. Do you know the pain of dealing with old High Gersallian syntax, cross-referencing it with other work to find errors, and figuring out the part of the error that makes the code? Is it the subject of a sentence because its out of place, or is it the participle? Is it really an error or am I confusing it with normal Gersallian?"

"I find it fun," Jarod said, grinning. "I like codes that make me think."

"After a while, it gets old," she replied. "Want to swap places?"

"I don't think Captain Kaveri will go for that," Tom said. "The bigwigs want this done."

Lucy sighed and crossed her arms. "Alright, I'll go get back to code work. Let me know if you need my help."

"We'll call, don't worry," Jarod answered.

With intentionally-exaggerated resignation, Lucy left the science lab. We'd better decode that book soon, she thought. I'm going to go stir crazy otherwise.

The lunch hour in New Liberty saw Miko and Julia enjoying the sights. It was, technically, a working lunch, as Julia was running scans to survey the reconstruction of the Market District.

This meant facing the remaining damage from the attack, of course, and she found it a mixed experience. She understood, and mourned, the fact that people died in those broken buildings, slain in an attack that nobody saw coming. To a degree it made her feel like a failure. She'd failed these people by not preventing the attack.

But she knew this was wrong. More than that, even with over five percent of the colony's population killed in the attack and many, many more wounded, the colonists were bouncing back. Like Gersal they were receiving aid from across the Multiverse, aid and volunteers, and they were rebuilding their homes with a spirit that Julia couldn't help but feel warmed by.

When she finished her last inspection she turned to speak to Miko, just to find she'd stepped away. Why she had was soon apparent. A band of musicians had taken up their usual position in the square, and the fusion of Makossa and what sounded like Korean music was attracting a crowd.

The music, and Miko.

The band played merrily despite the impromptu addition to their act, as Miko danced in the street nearby. It wasn't just any dance, but one Julia remembered seeing in the streets of the Fire Nation's royal capital and on the holovid programs she'd seen on their local networks. The traditional dance involved actual Firebending, long and short spurts of flame from Miko's hands and feet in line with her movements and the music. The assembled crowd were cheering the sight, enchanted by her ability and her skill.

Julia was looking into the crowd when she was surprised to see a familiar face approach her. "Liara? Doctor T'Soni?"

The Asari xenoarcheologist nodded at her. She smiled briefly before letting her expression turn to something neutral. "Captain. I'm delighted to see you're alright. I heard what happened and I was horrified to think you were lost."

"It was a close call," Julia answered. "And not easy. But I'm alive and I've even made a new friend." She smiled in Miko's direction as Miko completed a set of dance forms that culminated with her forming a dragon crest from flame.

The crowd cheered approval. She turned and bowed respectfully to the band while the call for an encore rose. Julia didn't hear the exchange Miko shared with the band leader, but it was clear the crowd request was considered acceptable by both. Miko went into a ready stance as the band started replaying the tune from before.

With Miko clearly occupied with another performance, Julia returned her attention to Liara. "Who is she?" Liara asked. "Does she have metaphysical gifts like Lieutenant Lucero and Captain Dale?"

"Something like that," Julia answered. "On her world, people can be born with metaphysical talents to manipulate basic elements. Normally just one, but she's a special case. We were both captives of the SS before the rescue."

"I see. Goddess, she looks very young. A Human maiden by comparison."

"That does sound about right." Julia smiled at Liara. "So, Doctor, what're you doing on New Liberty?"

"I'm waiting to get a response to my application to your Navy's science division," Liara answered. "I followed through on your friends' invitations to become a civilian specialist on one of your ships."

"Wonderful. Whichever ship you wind up on, I hope you do well."

"I admit, I would much prefer coming back to the Aurora. I'm familiar with your ship. And most of your crew are still the same, yes?"

"Mostly. Except for my place, right now." Julia wondered how Captain Varma was faring with the others. The communications she'd gotten had mostly been inquiries into her health and how she was doing with very little besides platitudes on their missions. They want to make sure I recover, I know, but I really wish I could be sure they were fine.

"You're worried about them?" Liara asked.

"Oh, always." Julia chuckled. 'Didn't they tell you, Doctor? I'm a mother hen."

That brought momentary confusion to Liara. "That's a fowl or an avian, I thought? One of the species your people use for food?"

"It's a metaphor, I'm sorry."

By now the music ended a second time, and Miko gave the last bit of her fire show an even greater flare to even greater applause. There were a few calls for another encore, but the band started putting their things away, the signal they were calling it a day. Miko approached, sweating but very enthusiastic. "That music, it's so different, but it sounded just right with the drums and the pipes. I couldn't help myself." She noticed Liara. "Oh! Hello. I'm sorry, I've never met your species before."

"I'm an Asari, from the M4P2 universe," Liara answered.

"The aliens who are all women?"

"That is a very… simplistic explanation, but yes, we're a monogendered species."

"Princess Miko, this is Doctor Liara T'Soni, a xenoarchaeologist my crew worked with in the past." Julia gestured between them. "Doctor T'Soni, Princess Miko of then Fire Nation, and her world's Avatar."

"Isn't that a Human word for someone's appearance in an extranet setting?" Liara asked.

"For us, but for their world, it has a different meaning."

"Of course. A pleasure to meet you, Princess." Liara bowed her head.

Miko returned the gesture. "Thank you, and I'm so glad to meet you, Doctor. There are so many species I've yet to meet in person, and I'm always happy to meet another of Sifu Julia's friends."


"It's a term for teacher," Julia explained. "I'm teaching her my martial arts. It's related to her duties." She checked her omnitool. "Speaking of duties, I have to finish this reconstruction inspection for the Colony Council. Mrs. Soloveitchik is expecting it before dinner."

"We're having dinner with Governor Rankin again tonight?" Miko asked.

"We are, and that's why we need to get finished." Julia nodded to Liara. "I'll see you around, Doctor."

"I hope so," Liara said. She turned away and started walking toward the north exit of the Market Square.

"Now that you've got your jitterbug sorted out, let's get back to work," Julia teased Miko.


She sighed. "Sorry, another of those cultural things to explain. You see, it means…"

As she walked away Liara kept a careful eye out around her. At least she's still safe, she thought. For now.

Once she was alone Liara checked her messages on her omnitool. A new one flashed to life, directly from Feron. His source on Ilum had come through.

The words were not what Liara wanted to hear.

Shadow Broker definitely targeting Captain Andreys. Has arranged clean travel IDs into Alliance. Can't confirm identities. Will find out what I can. - Feron

Liara frowned. I have to protect her, she thought. This is my fault, and I have to make it right.

After the lunchtime rounds Leo went out to the St. Johns to make use of its replicator instead of taking from the camp's own food supplies. It gave him the chance to look up the condition of the six insurgents who tried to kidnap him. The more he saw their symptoms, the more he was wondering just what he was dealing with, and the more impatient he was for Ke'mani'pala and Diptheek to get back to him.

He was partway through a steaming bowl of beef stew and a lunch salad, fresh from the ship's replicator, when one of the security officers stepped in. Rose was beside him. "She wanted to see you, Doctor," he said.

"Hey, Rose." Leo gestured to one of the chairs in the forward section. Go ahead and have a seat.

For her part Rose was looking around the forward cockpit section with widened eyes. "This is a spaceship?"

"A small one," he confirmed, grinning. "The St. Johns is a medical runabout. It carries a surgical theater and bed spaces in the rear modules at the cost of a smaller living space. She's meant to supplement field facilities when the ship's not available."

Rose slipped into a seat. She ran a finger across one of the controls. It blinked red in response, indicating it was locked down. "And you're on a bigger ship, right? I mean, you live on one?"

"I do." Leo took a bite. "Computer, activate main viewer, show a recorded image of the Aurora, front angle."

The holo-viewer built into the cockpit's front window activated, showing an image of the Aurora from the front. She was, as always, an impressive ship to look at, with her long tapered hull shape with gentle lines. The deflector dish was a round golden eye with blue lines running through it that was built into the forward decks of the drive hull. Though the image angle didn't show it, almost precisely above the deflector dish, on the top of the ship, was the Aurora's bridge module, although the Starfleet-style Captain's Yacht was built into the bottom of the primary hull, an addition made by the late Carlton Farmer during the Aurora's final construction.

"It's… huge," Rose said, her eyes as wide as saucers.

"A bit over a kilometer long, in fact," Leo said. "We have our own internal lift car system for moving across the ship."

"And it can fly to other planets?"

"With the warp drive we can go to other solar systems," he confirmed. "And the interuniversal jump drive lets us to go other universes."

"Including different versions of Earth." Rose's smile of wonder turned bitter. "Most better than this one, I'm sure."

"Oh, there are worse."

"Not many, I'm sure." She lowered her eyes.

"Well, not many recently had a terrible war, yeah. There's the Earth where Nazi Germany won the Second World War, too, although we recently beat them."

"And how many where the people murdered entire families because one of them was a telepath?"

"None I can honestly think of," Leo admitted. "Telepaths among Humans aren't common in the Multiverse. So far only six universes have seen Humans capable of it. Yours, the E5B1 universe that the Spencers came from, Ms. Al's home universe of M5G8, and the S0T5, S2C3, and A5R0 universes." He thought about the last three and what he knew of them and their histories involving persecution of telepaths, particularly the last one with its slavery-dominated empire controlled by the telepath-torturing sociopaths called Aristos, and let out a deep sigh. "I suppose each of those universe has had these things happen. Sheer hatred like I saw in that mob, and the insurgents, I have trouble grasping it. I've faced hate before, but never like that."

"A lot of people around here associate them with the United Earth Government, and they consider them to be evil oppressors."


Rose shrugged. "Pick a reason. Because the Unies want to break down national distinctions and make everyone part of one Earth nation. Because their bureaucrats kept trying to impose economic policies on everyone before the war. The Unies act like control freaks, so the Dissies started forming in a bunch of places. And since the Unies started passing laws to make telepaths part of their investigations and security, it made everyone's fear of telepaths worse."

"Even when they wanted nothing to do with the central government?"

"Well, it was an excuse for a lot of people, I think," Rose said. "My grandparents were young when telepaths first manifested, and there were a lot of killings back then too. Telepaths are scary bogeymen to a lot of people." She glanced his way. "You can guess why, given what that one telepath did to you last night."

Leo nodded quietly. It was something to have his own body stolen by another mind. It was terrifying and unreal to go through it. "It wasn't pleasant, but I'm not going to start thinking all telepaths are monsters because one kid did that to me."

Even as he spoke, he considered how others might put that. Some would be clever about it, he imagined. They wouldn't outright be anti-telepath, they'd just make soothing noises about "protecting against the bad ones". They'd sound reasonable to scared people.

"Growing up before and during the war, I never thought about it. All of the adults in my life said just about the same thing, that telepaths were dangerous and bad. That they liked to puppet other people for fun, that they spied on us. They were monsters, probably made in a lab by the Unies to control us. I never thought anything about it or that it was wrong. Not until Lily was suddenly sick and didn't want to be around people. Then I felt her voice in my mind and I knew why."

"They call it a mindburst in E5B1," Leo said gently. "Telepathic powers manifest and the telepath gets overwhelmed by the voices around them. They collapse, usually. Causes them to lose consciousness from the overload in sensory information."

"She said it came in her sleep. That she just heard the rest of us thinking. She was terrified about it." Rose sniffled as the old memories continued to come back. "She came to me because I was the only one she trusted. She begged me not to tell, and I promised not to. I didn't. I swear I didn't."

"But they got her anyway." Leo already imagined how it went. "The change in her behavior. Not wanting to go to school or socialize. Something tipped them off."

"They took my little sister, and I couldn't stop them." Rose shook her head while the tears flowed. "I couldn't do anything. They had guns, and they threatened us, and Mom and Dad let them go. They let them go with Lily, and we never saw her again, and they never talked about it."

There was fury in her words toward the end, mixed with grief and loss, which Leo knew was a wound he was powerless to heal. All he could do was take her hand and offer her the solace of that gesture.

In his office in the Berlaymont building Security Minister Marias waited patiently. His reports for the day were done and his orders were out.

The two figures that entered were other members of the Executive Council. Minister Tobias Winthrope was the Minister of Education and Minister Mohinder Tangri had the portfolio of Minister of Industry and Production. "Kanegawa didn't come?" Tangri asked, clearly unhappy with it.

"He's not in the right mindset," replied Marias. "With time, we'll win him over."

"We have no more time on this issue," insisted Winthrope. "The populace has to be rallied now, before the Alliance's technologies become widespread enough that they're susceptible to the influences from off-world. If we don't assume control of the Executive Council before an agreement is reached, nothing else will suffice."

"Lawrence and Gorchkov will not relent easily," Marias said. His voice was carefully low, not too stern and not too eager. "We may have to use violence."

"It's too late for that kind of thing," Tangri pleaded. "The Alliance is already here. Their technology is just as potent as the renegade ship that intervened against the Dissolutionists. If we act, they'll destroy us with ease. This purpose is hopeless."

Marias slammed a fist on the desk before him. "It is not hopeless, Minister Tangri, so long as we stand true to our beliefs! The Alliance is still a decentralized nation, with aliens that we can play against with careful diplomacy. If we make it clear that any interference will result in widespread military resistance, they will not try to stop us."

"You still believe you can control the Legislative Council?"

"I'm certain of it." He didn't speak aloud his thought that it was easy to control the politicians if you made it clear contrary votes would get them shot. I hope the Reformist scum do try and resist. I'll shoot every one of them.

"I still believe you underestimate the Alliance," Tangri said, shaking his head. "If they fight us, we lose."

"If they fight us, we'll turn this planet into a guerrilla nightmare on them," Marias growled. "It's not like they'll be getting Dissie help since they're obsessed with helping telepaths. And they've admitted to the existence of other governments not in their alliance, governments we might be able to turn to in order to resist them. Now, I just need you two to keep the Premier from signing anything away, give me 72 hours on that, and when I'm done, we'll have the government, and our Union will survive."

Winthrope nodded in agreement. Tangri's face betrayed he was not so supportive, but resignation showed as he finally nodded. "We leave the matter in your hands, Minister."

"We'll make this work, I promise."

Leo was in surgery with Dr. Opani this time. The patient was a woman, a camp resident who'd been a red tag case the prior day and needed several organs treated due to the scope of her internal injuries. This was her third surgery with Leo transplanting new kidneys due to the damage to the previous ones. Nasri was his attending nurse this time, helping with his tools and providing the sponge to wipe sweat from his forehead.

"Looks good," Opani said as he made the final connection for the renal vein. "I'm opening the shunt."

He waited for several patient seconds to see if functionality was coming back. A small smile came to his face as the display showed the kidney was working as intended. "We're set here," he said. "Mrs. Becky Rogers has new functioning kidneys. Let's get her back to post-op care."

"The file says she has a husband and children in the camp," Opani remarked. "They'll be thrilled that she'll make it."

"That they will."

The surgical transporter unit eliminated the need for closing their patient up. Once her vitals were confirmed Nasri sent her off while Opani and Leo prepared the machines for the next case.

When Nasri returned, she was frowning. "Doctor, Commander Richmond says you need to report to the lab immediately. Captain Kaveri and Captain Dale need to speak with you."

Leo didn't like the sound of that.. He glanced toward Opani and received a nod in reply. "We have Doctor Sesantasl on standby in the post-op tent, I'll take over and bring him in to assist."

"He's not yet operated on Humans," Leo remarked. "I'd prefer Walker or Hreept."

"Walker's on Aurora rotation today and Hreept's at the camp in Johannesburg," Opani noted. As if anticipating his next query, she added, "And Doctor Singh's at the Yogyakarta camp."

"I see. Alright, bring in Sesantasl, and I'll go see why I've been called away."

Another benefit to how they performed surgery was the elimination of having to regularly deal with blood and other bodily fluids and matter. Cleaning up usually amounted to changing out of the operation suits and showering off sweat, and given the urgency Leo figured he could get away with a fresh application of deodorant and using a towel. Afterward he donned his usual uniform and added his white lab coat before heading out.

The on-site lab was set up in one of the structures nearby, a partially-intact strip mall. The remaining sign for the space they used indicated it was once been a chain of pharmacies, making the lab location fitting. He walked in to find Richmond present with Doctor Spencer, Nysha Williams, and Walter Smith. He felt their appreciation for his continued efforts and relief that he was okay given the prior night's excitement, but their attention was on the holo-viewer set up.

The screen was set to Science Lab 3. Robert and Kaveri were present with the lab's head researcher. Dr. Ke'mani'pala was a Gl'mulli, an agendered gelatinous species that looked like living gumdrops that, depending on the surface, could either slide along or would walk on two stubby legs they formed from their bodies for that purpose. A device on the cyan surface of the alien scientist acted as both a voice vocoder, allowing her to communicate with other species, and sensors that translated audio-visual data into the electromagnetic spectrum the Gl'mulli used to sense their surroundings and communicate.

Beside Ke'mani'pala was the head of the Aurora's isolab, Dr. Yithiri Dipthreek, a male Alakin from the Shreesep continent of that world. His plumage consisted of blues and greens while his mottled skin was a strong gray tone. His beak had a tapered shape to it, common to Shreesep-descended Alakin.

"Captains, Doctors." Leo stepped up "You've found something about that illness?"

"We have, and the news is not good, Leonard," Ke'mani'pala said. "We are still running analysis on the effects of the virus, but we can confirm a few things about it."

"For one thing, it is not airborne," Diptheek said. Leo felt relief at that, relief shared by the rest of the room and utterly palpable from the telepaths present. "The protein coating breaks down in the gases of an atmosphere."

"Thank god," Nysha muttered. "The last thing we need is an epidemic here."

"Unfortunately, you may get one anyway. While the virus can't survive in atmosphere, it's incredibly virulent on whatever vectors it can survive in. We're still running tests on immune responses, but from what we can tell, the immune system of Human bodies are not equipped to counter this virus."

"Anything else we should know, Doctors?" Kaveri asked.

"There is one final piece of data, and it is the most troubling, Captain." Ke'mani'pala's vocoder made a low, slow trilling noise, one Leo knew wasn't a good sign. It was the equivalent of a sigh. "The biochemistry of this virus is very telling. It lacks the signs associated with the natural evolution of a virus species in nature. It is, in our opinion, a product of deliberate design."

"As in somebody made this?" Walter asked, horrified. Beside him Spencer paled at the realization, but Leo could practically see the metaphorical gears turning inside her head.

"Exactly, sir." Diptheek nodded. "This is a bioweapon, and someone has unleashed it upon your world."
”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 »

Leo felt like he'd been punched in the gut. A bioweapon in an environment like the camp wasn't just an epidemic in the making, it was an outright pandemic, one that could have already spread elsewhere.

Including the Aurora.

"Rest assured, Doctor Gillam, that medbay is preparing for a full bio-scan of the ship, and to receive any cases." The warbling tone to Diptheek's words made clear his own stress at the situation. He was, Leo recalled, a practicing xenovirologist, and this kind of problem was what he both trained for and dreaded to see.

"And we're under quarantine for the time being, until we learn more about transmission vectors," Leo added. He watched as Nysha seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack at the news. He didn't blame her, given the damage a sickness like this could do to her little community.

It was Spencer who spoke up next after remaining silent for the first few beats. “Don’t panic just yet Nysha. There’s someone else on this planet with advanced tech. More than that, the telepath isn't sick. Even with - the way terrorist cells work - prolonged contact. The symptoms are also all neurological, even the cough and auto-immune reaction...” At that point, she almost looked like she wanted to laugh a little bit, but she didn’t. “I think this bioweapon is targeted to mundanes, or rather, designed to exclude telepaths. I’ll send up some clean tissue samples for culturing, but you’ll want to focus in on the serotonin and acetylcholine receptors. They’re subtly different between us and mundanes - practically the only thing that shows up on the surface of a neuron in both latent and active telepaths, so that’s probably how the virus is binding.”

"Doctors, can you verify that telepaths are immune?" Kaveri asked them.

"Easily," trilled Ke'mani'pala. "I will examine the biochemistry of the virus and how it interacts with the samples Doctor Spencer provides. The results should not take very long to confirm."

"Could you use this information to come up with a vaccine or a cure?" Robert asked.

“Oh sure. We’d need a retrovirus, probably something custom to deliver… well I know of CRISPR-based gene-editing but you might have something better. Basically cut the mundane versions of either the AChR or the various 5-HT1 receptors, and replace with the telepath versions, along with a promoter to ensure transcription. It won’t fix the damage that’s already done, but it will vaccinate. Hmm. Will probably need to include something to deactivate the old receptor too. So you’ll need a cocktail of retroviruses that also includes an irreversible competitive inhibitor.”

Diptheek nodded his head once. "I concur with Doctor Spencer, and our iso-lab has the means to create a suitable series of retroviral agents. I'll give priority to the vaccine, we'll need to begin creating preventative zones immediately around the site to avoid the disease's spread."

“We’ll need to figure out if it’s spread by some sort of animal vector too. If it is, that makes our lives more difficult.” She added.

Ke'mani'pala trilled in response. "I will be continuing my examination of the virus. I find its biochemistry interesting."

"Meanwhile we can talk to the cell's telepath and find out more about how they got sick," Richmond suggested, looking toward Kusko.

“I’ll see what I can do. Maybe she’ll open up if she believes we’re trying to cure or prevent the disease.” Kusko paused for a moment, and smiled, though the look was very measured. “By the way, can you stop calling her the cell’s telepath?”

Abigail winced “Yeah… I wasn’t going to say anything because she hasn’t given anyone her name and we don’t want to play the pronoun game forever but let’s not denote ownership or membership.”

"I was speaking loosely, in that she's part of the cell for a reason we've yet to confirm," Richmond pointed out. "But your point is accepted."

"We are due to brief Deputy Secretary Crawford on this situation," Kaveri said. "Please keep us informed of any developments."

One by one the screens shut down. The assembled glanced at one another for a moment. "Just in case, I'm going to make sure the militia's keeping an eye out for anyone else with symptoms," Nysha said. "Let me know if anything else happens."

"I'll get back to surgery," Leo said. "We still have a few cases from yesterday that need follow-up operations. Let me know if you need anything, Doctor Spencer?"

“Will do Dr. Gillam, hopefully some of the brains in the freezers still have viable cells, if not, I’ll have to get creative with a microtransporter.”

"Somehow, I don't think I want to know," Richmond murmured before walking away with Kusko.

The Aurora and Koenig command officers were present with Deputy Secretary Crawford's staff for the meeting in Conference Room 1. Robert waited patiently while Dr. Allen-Epstein, the Koenig's medical officer, provided the briefing to Crawford on the bioweapon. His staff betrayed understandable horror at the thought.

It was Meridina who raised the obvious question. "How do we inform the United Earth authorities?"

"Carefully," Henjasaram advised. "Minister Marias will likely accuse us of creating it, as things stand."

"That man's a few cards short of a pack," Crawford muttered. "But you're right about that."

"Neither can we keep it from them," one of the Dorei staffers said. "And their own intelligence and security services will be aware of this on their own soon enough."

"I'll make the call, and promise full cooperation," said Crawford. "It'll make for an interestin' meeting tomorrow, that's for sure." He looked toward Robert. "Anything on those guns they showed us, Captain?"

"We're developing a plan that might tell us whether there are any more on the planet, and where they are," Robert answered. "We should have the solution ready soon."

"Then I'd better get to work on my end. Now, Captain, I don't want any problems with these people, so I'd like you to be cautious about launchin' your own raids. I'm speakin' with the President's authority on the matter."

"I'll consult with you, of course."

The word "consult" was not the same thing as "seek permission", and both men knew it, just as both men knew the latitude given to Paladins. Robert hoped his tone of voice and sincerity would make it clear he wanted to work with Crawford. The older man answered with a nod and a tip of his Stetson before leading his people out.

Any further departure was stopped by the way Robert pointedly returned to his chair. Once Crawford and his people were gone Kaveri directed her attention his way. "Captain, I can see you have something more."

"Yes. A new discovery, classified, that may shed light on this." Robert folded his hands on the table. "We've been going at this believing rogue elements in the Alliance were responsible. But there's another, more chilling possibility."

"The SS?" Angel proposed. "They could've fooled with captured weapons."

"Worse. What I'm about to tell you doesn't leave the room." Once they all nodded in affirmation Robert continued speaking. "For the last several weeks, the Starship Huáscar has been on a classified mission to F7S4."

"The hothouse Earth, you mean?" Cat asked.

"That's the one. Long-range scans by the best sensors in the Alliance found an abnormality in the Cyrannus Cluster System, or as we know it…"

"Helios," finished Gina. "The Colonies of Kobol."

"Yes. And in F7S4, it was different."

"Wait, different?" Cat's interest was piqued. "How?"

Robert answered by keying the holotank, displaying the star cluster in question. "This is Cyrannus as it appears in N2S7 and elsewhere." With another key tap he created a second image. "This is Cyrannus in F7S4. Admiral Maran and Admiral Davies dispatched the Huáscar to investigate last month."

The differences were obvious. The second Cyrannus had an extra main sequence star and several more smaller stars. Cat gawked and then let out a little shriek of excitement. "Oh my God, ohmyGodthatsawesome. I have to ask Vee!"

"She won't be able to tell you anything, even if you admit to knowing," Robert pointed out.

"Why has it taken so long?" Locarno asked. "They should've made it there in a few weeks, at most."

"The same long range scans identified a subspace dampening field around the system," Robert answered. "It'd make warp entry impossible. They had to spend a month working their way in on impulse power."

"Well now, that's a scary thought," Scotty said from his chair. "A subspace field o' that size, stoppin' all warp? Maybe those extra stars are for powerin' it?"

"They weren't. Because the Huáscar found this."

With another key press Robert replaced the image of the cluster with that of an old hulk of a ship. It was a ship, with something of the form of a squared rocket, tapering toward the nose. Two great squared oblong deck clusters thrust up from the main hull, and what might have been the track of a mass driver lay along the dorsal hull. The armour was thick, immensely thick, twenty metres or more, and was gouged and torn in every place. She hung in space, a ghost ship of an ancient battle, her bow splotched with colours which might have once been a shield or standard. She was enormous, three times the length of the Aurora by the scale on the image--three kilometres long.

"Wait a damn minute." Angel leaned forward. "I recognize that. It was in the Darglans' old records of potential threats."

The way Jarod's face went white brought everyone else's attention. "Commander?"

At Kaveri's comment Jarod rubbed at his eyes, as if to make sure of what he was seeing. "I've seen that before," he said. "From research I started earlier this year. From our trip to the Fracture." He pointed. "That ship matches old records in S0T5. It's a Venguer-class dreadnought, a capital ship of the Earthreign."

A hushed silence filled the room. "The Earthreign, ye say?" Scotty gave him a bewildered look. "Aren't those th' scunners that used t' be th' rulers of S0T5?"

"Most of the people in the Fracture just call them the Reign, and refer to their collapse as the Reignfall," Jarod clarified. "Which happened three thousand years ago." A particular look came to his eyes.

Robert nodded at him, showing he'd already made that connection. "For the benefit of everyone who doesn't know, three thousand years ago was when the Darglan were forced to give up interuniversal travel. It was when Swenya rose to prominence and led the Gersallians of her time into a terrible war that few came back from. It was about the time of the atomic destruction of the Earth in the N2S7 universe, and we believe the ancestors of the Colonists of Kobol would've left just beforehand. And, as Jarod just reminded us, it's when the Earthreign of S0T5 collapsed, their Earth vanished, and an entire section of the galaxy around where Earth is meant to be is now a shattered region of space-time."

"That's a lot of things happenin' at once," Scotty observed. "I dinnae believe in coincidences like that."

"All of these things are related," Kaveri said.

"We know the Darkness War was multiversal in some way," Robert said. "The Doctor's description was clear that they've threatened other universes before. They invaded that Darglan Facility we found at Gamma Piratus and forced the Darglan to evacuate and trigger a suicide charge on the people left behind."

"And now we have an Earthreign warship in another universe," Meridina said. "Did the Darglan bring it there for some reason? To help fight the war?"

Robert didn't answer with words. He tapped the holotank control again. A new image came up, from the interior of a ship. "Commander Fera’Xero and officers from the Huáscar took this image while examining the ship in question."

"Holy crap!" Tom leaned in. "That's an IU drive! An original Darglan model IU drive!"

Cat stared. "It is. How did the Earthreign get their hands on that? The Darglan didn't even share it with the Asgard!"

Robert folded his hands on the table. "I admit I wasn't going to show this to you just yet. I had to plead with Admiral Maran to do it now, since Portland's still going crazy at the ramifications. But given what's happening below us, I think we have to consider how this comes together."

"What, you think that some people from the Earthreign are still out here, causing trouble?" asked Lt. Cmdr. Magda Navaez, XO and Operations officer of the Koenig and an old Facility hand. "That they're behind this?"

"You think some of them survived, Rob?"

To Zack's question Robert shrugged. "I don't know if any survived in another universe, although what the Huáscar found certainly hints at it. But what I'm talking about is a regime we've already met. People who are just as ruthless and totalitarian as the Earthreign was said to have been, who come from the same region of space. People we've already run into that we know have Darglan technology."

"NEUROM," Jarod said harshly. "You think it's them."

"We know they have Darglan deflector technology," Cat offered.

"And they have advanced ships with unique FTL drives, as we saw at the Citadel and DS9," Robert added.

"It'd be easy for them to refine leftover Darglan weapons from the Darkness War into what we've found here, the same thing with any salvaged deflector systems," Tom offered. "But holy crap man, do you get what you're saying?"

"That somehow they have access to Darglan IU drives? I do, and it scares the crap out of me, but it fits." Robert gestured to the screen. "If the Darglan, for whatever reason, let the Earthreign use their drives, then NEUROM's founders might've gotten their hands on an example. Along with all of the other Darglan technology we've seen them use."

"So this entire time, all these last thousands of years, those golden-uniformed jerks with their creepy dominatrix agents have had IU tech?" Zack shook his head. "But you'd think we'd have found a sign of that before now. They're willing to conquer other worlds, right, why wouldn't they conquer into other universes?"

"The fate of the Darglan, perhaps?" Kaveri kept a calm tone. "The material I have been given to read states that the Vorlons and other First One races punished them for something related to using the technology. Maybe they feared having the same done to them."

Robert nodded in agreement. "That's just what I was thinking. I mean, imagine it. They sit on it for millennia because they're worried about letting the Darkness back in, or of getting the attention of ancient races, the forces the Doctor warned us about. Then we come along. They sit, and wait, but there's no sign of any problems. No Darkness, no Vorlons coming after us. The Alliance just keeps going."

"And they figure it's safe now," Locarno said. "So they start looking into other universes too."

“Exactly,” Robert shook his head ruefully. “The final piece is in Yellow warning us about Sovereign's debris. It implied detailed knowledge of another universe which might only come from, say, a Darglan database they have access to and we don’t.”

"So here we are with someone handing out refined Darglan weapons to destabilize the world, in a way calculated to undermine our relations when we came along."

Jarod brought a finger up. "If the bioweapon is theirs, there might be mention of it in S0T5 historical materials. Buried under a bunch of metaphor, most likely, but still there."

"It's something to look into, and it makes this situation all the more important," Robert remarked. "NEUROM's been pushing at us this year, especially that attack on DS9. This might be their opening move for expanding on the interuniversal level."

"Aye, it's always somethin' else," muttered Scotty.

"Well, if it is them trying to get through the door, I say we slam it in their face," Angel said, flexing a fist.

"If at all possible, Lieutenant, that is precisely what we should do," Kaveri agreed. "But our first priority remains the mission at hand. Commander Jarod, how soon until your sensor recalibrations are complete?"

"We should be able to commence scans by tomorrow," he answered.

"Excellent. Let us know when we get results. Everyone else, I suggest we go to standby running. If Captain Dale is correct, there is the possibility we will face NEUROM warships at some point, and we need to be ready."

"We will initiate Code Blue running status immediately," Meridina said.

"Then we are finished here, unless Captain Dale has more to share?"

"I don't," Robert said. "This is the relevant part of the information."

"Very well. You are all dismissed."

Richmond waited with Kusko while the telepath was brought back from the cells installed on the Brahmaputra. The teen still looked sullen and uncooperative, but Richmond thought she could see the signs of relenting she'd hoped for. The time to realize how much trouble she was in would hopefully press the young lady toward more cooperation.

By common agreement between the two Kusko went first.

“Hey, you doing alright? Relatively speaking?” Kusko asked gently.

The girl looked at her with hooded eyes. At first Richmond thought there would be no verbal response, but it came eventually. "I'm not in pain. But I don't matter. Linda and the others, they're real people, you should be asking them."

“You’re a real person too.”

"We're test tube babies. The Unies made us to spy on other people and make them obey the world government."

“Do you think that telepaths across multiple universes were created by this piddly little government?” Kusko pulled up a chair and sat down.

"I don't know about other universes, I don't even know you're really from one!" The girl gestured around. "This could be a trick. A stage you've set up to trick me and make me think this! But I know the truth."

"And what truth is that, young lady?" Richmond asked.

"Psifreaks shouldn't exist," the girl said. "We're wrong. Our powers are wrong. We're not natural. People aren't meant to read others' minds or control their bodies like that."

Richmond kept the pleased smile she felt from forming on her face. "You heard these things from that woman, Linda, right? How did she justify you doing that very thing to Doctor Gillam, after he got you away from those soldiers?"

The girl bit into ler lip and snarled. She crossed her arms and it was clear from her body language she wouldn't be answering.

“Ignore her.” Kusko said flatly. <You’re not actually helping Lieutenant.>

Richmond returned the thought carefully. The more she's angry at me, the more leeway you might have to make this work.

<Point. And I get to play good cop. New at this.> She replied. “Look, here’s what I know. There are human telepaths in six different universes that I know of. This one, my home universe, the Spencer’s, and several others I haven’t met anyone from. There might be more. In all of them, telepaths emerged sometime in the early space-age across a period of thousands of years. In the Spencer’s home universe I live in now, most other space-faring species have telepaths. And in all of them, the genetics are… eerily similar. Do you know what that means?”

"That other governments also want to spy on their people, obviously." The words were not said with much meaning behind them, more out of obstinate defiance than anything.

“No. If that were true, they’d all be different. Similar solutions to the same problem maybe, but not identical. In my universe telepathy manifested spontaneously in many spacedwellers--”spacenoids”--simultaneously. And a heck of a lot of us were anti-Earth Federation. Your equivalent of Dissolutionists. Spacenoid Independence activists, if you want to call us that.”

Richmond turned her head back to Kusko. This is going to take more time. I think I know what will get through to her, although you may not like it.

<I know. But I have to ease her into it a little…> Thinking of memetic transfer for some reason before she caught Richmond’s drift. <Ugh. This is going to set things back…>

You can work on that more later, but right now the doctors need more information. Richmond activated her omnitool. "Young lady, right now our main concern is the illness in the people you were captured with. They may all die if we can't figure out how to stop it."

"Ask the Unies. I wouldn't be surprised if they got us sick."

"The Unies aren't exactly happy with us right now, given we didn't turn you over to them yesterday," Richmond pointed out. "If we're to cure your comrades, we need to know more about this disease. When the symptoms started showing up, for instance." She glanced to Kusko. Her self-interest is warped to the benefit of her captors. She may cooperate to help them, especially if we make her feel like she's a full member of the cell.

<Oh I like this even less!> And Kusko really didn’t, not at all. But then, it was Richmond on the chopping block at this point too. “And think, if they did it, they’re not exactly going to tell us, now are they? But if you tell us what you and your people were up to and when they started getting sick, we might be able to figure out how it spreads and trace it back to the source.”

Richmond watched the girl's eyes as she considered their arguments. Her breathing slowed and her eyes lowered. "It started a week ago," she said. "We keep a cabin out on Kennesaw Mountain, near one of the streams feeding a beaver pond. Bobby was the first to get sick. He started coughing. Then he started getting these blue lines on his skin, and the blue spread to the rest of him. Linda didn't know what to do, she'd never seen anything like it, and she was an attending nurse down in Andersonville."

Richmond didn't need to see Kusko to know how much she had to bury her revulsion at that admission. "Go on."

"Mike got sick next, a couple days later, then Sandra. A few days ago most of the cell was starting to cough and Bobby, he collapsed. He died the day before yesterday." The girl's face twisted into grief. Tears formed in her eyes. "He was always the nicest to me. He… he didn't hit me when I accidentally read his mind, and he'd think jokes to make me giggle…" She sobbed.

Richmond forced any trace of sympathy down, since Kusko was playing the sympathetic one. "I'm guessing that's when they decided to launch this foolhardy attack?"

"Linda wanted to lure a Unie doctor out. She said she knew they didn't have a doctor here because another cell, uh, took care of her." It was obvious to all she meant the murder of the camp's physician. "We thought the attack would do more damage and the Unies would have to bring in their doctors. But we watched while your people stopped them. Everyone was starting to panic when Linda saw your doctor come out and start tagging people. She told Big Tom and Mark to go get a mob together and told us the plan to sneak in when the Unies showed up."

"How did she know we'd let you?" Richmond asked.

"I… I don't know, I think she was just going for whatever would work. Everyone was getting so sick. We had to leave Mike behind before the riot, he couldn't walk, and Sandra stayed with him since she wasn't feeling good either." As she spoke Richmond tapped away at her omni-tool, directing Lieutenant Lindstrom to take a team and scan for the two. "The mob gathered up and your doctor let us in, then we laid low until night. We just wanted one of your doctors, and he was the first one we could find." The girl sighed. "And that's it. Are… Are Linda and the others still alive? What's happened to them? I want to see them, I want to see them!"

"They are, though the disease is rapidly progressing. They’re in isolation though, would video work?”

"I must see them, I mean, yes, video, just let me see them!"

Richmond promptly tied her omnitool into the living section's holo-viewer, then tapped it into the St. Johns' recorders. Moments later the holo-viewer came to life to show the insurgents in their beds. One sheet was already covered, showing the occupant was deceased, but the other five were visible. Their faces had splotches of blue formed by the blue lines of enlarged veins throbbing against their skin. A few coughed loudly.

The girl broke down crying at the sight. Her emotions, to Kusko, were a kaleidoscope of guilt and relief and fear and grief. She didn't want them to die, but deep down she wished they'd stop hurting her, and she wanted to be free, but she didn't want to be because freedom for psifreaks meant everyone else was their slave.

They brainwashed that poor girl rather strongly, Richmond thought at Kusko, unable to keep her revulsion from giving real heat to the thought. Apologies if that was too loud.

<Part of it is the culture she lived in. The rest... She said what they wanted to hear often enough she believed it herself, and rationalized what they did to her so that it would have meaning.>

"Are… are they going to die?" the girl sobbed.

"We're trying to prevent that, and you may have helped us." Richmond stood from the chair. Her eyes met Kusko's. I'm going to look into the others she spoke about, you can continue dealing with her.

Kusko nodded.

"My name is Regina," the girl said quietly. "Since you wanted to know."

"Just Regina?" Richmond asked.

She nodded. "That's the only name I can remember."

"Well, Regina, Ms. Al is going to talk with you some more, and I will return later. Let her know if you need more food, the replicators are open." For you both. She left at that point.

At Jarod's call Robert arrived in Science Lab 1 with Gina and Talara. Jarod, Cat, and Tom were present, as was Lucy. "Aren't you supposed to be translating?" Robert asked her, some bemusement in his pointed tone.

"I needed a break, and this is more interesting," Lucy said defensively. "After three thousand years, it can wait another day, right?"

"Well, unless the Brotherhood of Kohbal beats us there," Robert remarked flippantly. "Then the day will seem rather important, right?"

She had no easy response to that, so her response was to playfully stick her tongue out at him. Robert chuckled at her. "Are we ready?"

"Sensor calibrations are complete," Jarod said. "Cat's got the sensitivity set right, we should be able to make it out."

"Begin the scan, then."

They started working, operating their controls and, through them, the powerful Darglan-designed sensor systems that gave the Aurora such a wide range of detection methods with the precision and resolution it enjoyed with them. At the holotank in the middle of the Science Lab, a likeness of the Earth blipped into appearance.

One by one, returns came, briefly blinking red before turning blue. "Blue are for all naqia traces we account for," Cat explained.

"Right." Even as he replied Robert saw the first red one blink into existence. Another came, then another and another.

"Most of those are cities," Lucy observed. "Tel Aviv, Portland in Oregon, Wellington, Auckland, Seattle…"

"...Honolulu, Samoa, Manila, Tehran, Trincomalee, Alma-Ata." Robert finished comparing the red blips to the cities he knew on the top of his head. "Bangkok too."

"Rio de Janeiro, Curtiba, and Brasilia," Jarod added. "And I'm starting to notice a very concerning pattern."

"Oh?" asked Leo.

"The cities in question." Robert frowned. "They're all capitals or major cities in the nations that are considered Reformists inside the United Earth power structure."

"That would mean NEUROM is arming the Reformists." Cat shook her head. "But that doesn't make sense. The Reformists want freer government. They treat their telepaths the best. Why would NEUROM be for people who oppose everything they want?"

"I can think of a few things," Robert muttered. "Triggering a devastating new war on the planet's the most likely of those reasons, but we've got to be careful for the other ones." He turned to the others. "Thanks for this. Relay those results to my secure systems on the Jayhawk, I need to consult with Admiral Maran and Crawford."

"Sending the data now," Cat answered. "So, you're not going down there lightsaber swinging, are you?"

"No, definitely not, but I'll be doing something," he promised.

After Lt. Richmond left, Kusko found herself sitting at the interrogation table across from Regina. Admittedly, it was nice to finally have ner name. She was still on the verge of crying for people who most definitely didn’t deserve her tears, but there was nothing for that right now.

“I’m sorry about Bobby.” She said after letting a moment of silence pass. He was the only one who might be worth it. “I’ve lost a lot of comrades…that seems to be the one commonality among all human telepaths other than the genetics. Loss.”

“Doesn’t matter…” Regina replied weakly, her eyes still watered over with barely choked back tears. “Psifreaks aren’t real people. We shouldn’t exist so the only good we can do is strike back at our own creators so the world can be put right again…” She’d finally answered Richmond’s question at least.

Kusko mulled that over, turning it around in her head, trying to figure out what the best approach would be. “So what if we were created? We still hurt, bleed, feel, mourn, love. Why does that make us less than human? Is genetically modified corn somehow… not corn?”

“Still doesn’t change the fact that people have a right to not get snooped on. People’s thoughts should be private…”

“Or… people should adjust what privacy means. If the world was blind, but suddenly some people could see, should they put their own eyes out to avoid looking at people; or should people start wearing clothes to hide their nakedness if they care so much?”

The logic of that argument - flawed though it admittedly was given the limitations of analogous experience and language - created a crack and Regina lashed out emotionally. Not telepathically, but in a way that belied the fact that the poor girl had almost certain helped kill people. In so many ways, Regina was still a teenager, a child.

“You don’t understand! You can’t! You don’t know what I’ve been through, you haven’t seen what I’ve seen! You can’t be right, it has to mean something!”

That was when Kusko did it, Regina was relatively powerful, but she’d never actually been trained and her blocks were like tissue paper to someone trained - even briefly - in the Corps. The memories she shared were flashes, horrible flashes of anguish and grief for friends whose bodies rejected the implants and destroyed themselves from the inside-out. “But I do kid. And I thought the same damn thing. I was willing to throw my life away for it. When Newtypes - telepaths - were discovered in my home universe, we were celebrated as proof of Zeon Zum Deikun’s predictions of our evolution as a space-faring people. Then he was murdered, and Oldtypes took over. They did that to us, and I convinced myself it was for the greater glory of Zeon… but it was just power-grubbing Oldtypes.”

Kusko's words were heard, but Regina's reaction was from the memories shared. Flashes of memory came from her mind, of being strapped to gurneys, of drugs, of surgeons poking in her brain, people talking in words she didn't understand. She remembered the bed and darkness, the feeling of the cloth over her eyes that kept her blind, and all of the panic and fear of the minds around her as they languished in the darkness. Kusko though was caught up in her rant, and didn’t catch it.

“We were put into the service of an ideology which wanted to dissolve the Earth Federation--we were told we were special, so we had to sacrifice more. To be experimented on. To harness our infinite potential to win the war. To turn ourselves into machines. They made trading cards with our images and they ordered us to kill, and kill, and kill. So kill we did. Zeon called us the future, the Dissies call you Psifreaks. But you and I got treated the same way, and that’s because Oldtypes feared us. As long as we let them have power over us, we’ll never realize our true destiny, no matter what that is. We’ll just be their pawns.”

“So we're all really tube babies," she said, her voice hollow as the memories kept rippling through her. Kusko's words melded with the memories scything through her psyche. "You are too. Our powers come from things in tubes. And… and at least the people at Andersonville were trying to destroy our powers, they were trying to free people from us!"

“No!” Kusko slapped that down hard. “They were trying to murder something they didn’t understand, like some Oldypes have always done. And what they can’t murder they subjugate. Created or not, the legacy of humanity is ours too, and they have no right to take it or our future from us!”

The words came to her ears. They echoed with a voice from her thoughts. Regina. I'm Regina! I'm Regina! Where did that thought come from?

The anger. She felt the anger again. Was it anger? It was vibrant, red. The fury burned through the darkness.

‘What the hell is this?’ Kusko thought to herself, p’seeing that broadcast loud and clear.

The trembling voice. "What the hell is this?" Then the screams, the cries of agony and the smell of blood, flesh ripping. A door opened somewhere, not just any door but the Door, and people screamed as they fell in. The straps came off, the darkness ended. Her eyes hurt from the light. Through it she saw the woman, clad in darkness, the blades singing through the air as they cut through the men and women in the pale blue suits. The dark woman glared at them and stabbed a finger in the air. "Get out!"

There was running then, a tide that pulled her along. The thought I'm Regina in her head. She felt the door opening again, heard the roaring flames, the cries, the burning that seemed to sear her skin when no flame touched it. She remembered being grabbed and pulled away from the tide.

Thomas’ mental voice came over Kusko’s communicator; loud and clear was an understatement. “That’s one hell of a flashback. I’m on my way.”

The face filled her vision. Linda. The name was Linda. She looked over her. "What's your name, teep?" Regina. I'm Regina! The woman's hand came up, stinging pain on her cheek. "Talk like a real person, dammit, that hurt!"

Linda took her along. Others came. They hid, they fought. She remembered their disgust, she remembered the first slaps for hearing their thoughts. The end of the war, defeat, the Unies everywhere. "If you try to go to them, we'll kill you dead, psifreak", Big Tom warned frequently. "We'll kill you good and dead, like any other freak."

But I only wanted to sing… She asked to sing and they said no, all except Bobby, who made her laugh and never ever hit her, he just wanted the Unies gone, he even stopped Big Tom from beating her one time when she sang in her head. But now he was dead and he wouldn't make her laugh anymore.

The newer memories were sharper, ones she could grasp, but they still hurt when joined with the older ones. They rose again, looping endlessly, and the tears flowed from her eyes. She didn't want them back. She just wanted to hear the song again. "Girls just wanna have fun," she wept, trying to sing. "They just wanna have fun".

Then, the loop stopped. Frozen. Her consciousness felt like it swam in an endless void for a brief instant. A tapping sensation and then her self shattered apart into a million pieces as something sorted through them finding the corners then expanding out to the edges, and found pieces from a different puzzle. Then a voice, another person, this one kind manifested in the darkness.

‘You’ve been through hell little one. Not all of it your own. My name is Thomas Spencer and I’m here to make it right.’ The pieces started to assemble into recognizable events, connected to other fragments, faces she’d forgotten, birthdays she’d celebrated, camping trips, soccer practice, songs, so many songs. Songs she sang with her family, with friends. Then a pause, stasis.

Thomas closed his eyes and sank into the chair Kusko had been occupying. ‘Regina’ was face-down on the table, unconscious in her chair. It had been forty minutes. “This is going to take a while… I don’t have all the details yet, but her memories were disrupted and co-mingled with another person’s drug-induced mania. I have to reconstruct her episodic memory.” He tapped the communicator on his wrist “Sis, I’m gonna be a while…”

“Figures with that mess!” She replied with her typical bedside manner. Which was to say, acerbic. “I’ve got things covered here. Too bad, you’re missing out on some fun virology!”

“Hey, you better fill me in! I can’t remember my first wife’s name without thinking about rancid-” she cut him off.

“Science appreciates your donation. Don’t sweat it, you didn’t need those ones. She was terrible and you need to remember that or else you might go crawling back! Bye!” She cut the connection.

“It’s been twenty years and she still won’t let it go…” he muttered.

“Wait. What was that about not needing your neurons?” Kusko asked, slightly horrified.

“Oh. We needed samples for testing because none of the bodies on ice had good tissues. So I volunteered and she found a cluster of about ten neurons that I…” he paused and grumbled the next few words “didn’t need.”

The next morning Kaveri and Meridina went over the Gamma Shift logs together at a working breakfast with Crawford in Conference Room 1, giving their insights to the questions he and his staff posed as they worked.

Robert arrived as the breakfast came to an end. "Mister Deputy Secretary." He handed him a digital pad. "The scan findings."

"Well now, let me see here." Crawford looked them over. His face grew into a solid frown as he did. "Captain, if this is right, then Minister Marias may very well have justification for his paranoia. Someone's arming the states most likely to oppose their central government."

"For what it's worth sir, this could be a setup of some sort. If we tell the United Earth government, and show them this evidence, they'll certainly launch some kind of pre-emptive strike and start a war."

"And if we don't show it, they might find out, do it anyway, and figure we were involved." Crawford shook his head. "Well, talk about being squeezed between a rock and a hard place."

"I could launch my own operation," Robert suggested. "My team and I could take out these locations one by one, especially with Major Anders' Marines working with us."

Crawford pursed his lips in thought for a moment before smacking them. "I get what you're aimin' for, Captain, but I'm not for that. Not right now. Landin' Marines, or anyone, for an operation like that, well, that'll give Mister Marias what he wants too."

"This may be the best way to prove the origin of these weapons, sir. Recovered information from the cache locations."

"I understand that son, I really do, but for the time bein', I think it's best to let sleepin' dogs lie. We'll keep talkin' to these folks and see how it goes. Why don't you remain on standby in case we do gotta move?"

A look passed between them. Crawford knew Robert could choose to go anyway, and Robert knew that might make the situation worse. He finally nodded. "Of course. I'll stay on standby until it becomes necessary."

"Right, Captain. Now, why don't you dig in to this fine breakfast Mister Hargert's kitchen made? We'll be beamin' down soon ourselves, and nothin' helps diplomacy like a good hearty Texan breakfast."

After a morning run with Miko and some breakfast at one of the cafes in the Colony's Visitors' Quarter, it was time for Julia's next appointment with Doctor Schneider. This time she came in full duty uniform as if she were heading to the Aurora bridge, and she carried herself like it.

Schneider grinned at her and bid her to sit. "How are you doing, Captain?" she asked.

"I'm improving every day," Julia answered.

"Any nightmares?"

"Only a particularly strange dream about a Volus, a Ferengi, and a Brakiri trying to sell me broken down engine parts," she answered. "And the Ferengi threw in my old motorbike, which was a little unfair."

Schneider laughed. "A real dream, or are you being sarcastic with me, Captain?"

"A real dream, I take this therapy seriously. But I'm not happy with it."

"You believe I was unkind?"

"I believe you might have an agenda, or are otherwise pushing something."

"You're being forthright. Good, that's good for you. Did you think on what I said?"

Julia nodded. "I did, and I think it's crap. Yeah, I put a lot of stock into being a captain, because it's the kind of thing I've always wanted to do. But commanding a starship doesn't define me. I could join the colony government here if I wanted, or go become a trader, or maybe even go back to playing women's basketball professionally." Julia listed those items off with steel in her voice. "But I'm a damn good captain and I can still serve the Alliance, and I've put a lot of time into my service so far."

"There are other ways to serve the Alliance, Captain, than starship command," Schneider pointed out. "You could be a naval advisor on diplomatic teams. You could command a space station, or a planet-based facility, or a shipyard. Given your place in this Alliance's foundation, you could even begin a political career. Maybe stand for election to the Alliance Council?"

"Maybe I'll do any or all of those things one day, but right now, I believe I serve best as a starship captain," she insisted. "It's not a role just anyone can have, especially not on one of the fleet star cruisers. It's not just about combat tactics and strategy. It's about managing people. About balancing the act of being a diplomat and an explorer and a fighter, and knowing which role you have to focus on in each situation." Julia knew her voice was getting passionate, but she didn't hold it back. "Being the captain of a ship like the Aurora means getting to be the first face of the Alliance to a newly-encountered world or species. We make decisions that can write history. I've already done that, and I know I have what it takes to do it again, Doctor. And I'm determined to do it."

Schneider jotted down a few notes. "You sound like you're ready to fight the entire service, if need be, to get your ship back. Would you really try to do something like that? A slower, more patient approach might see you given even greater command authority, might even get you into the Admiralty before you're thirty-five given your age."

"I don't think so," Julia answered. "And while I'll love to make admiral one day, right now my place is at the command chair of a ship. I never agreed to give that up, not unless I couldn't do it, and I know I can."

"You believe you can. You cannot know."

Julia looked at the old woman with increasing suspicion. "Why are you trying to talk me out of this?" she asked. "You're supposed to judge my mental state, not try to guide my career."

Schneider folded her hands on the table. "You're being rather aggressive today, aren't you? You feel threatened by me, then?"

"More like I'm getting fed up with what I feel are attempts to manipulate me," Julia answered. "I've seen psychiatrists before, as part of my duties and earlier in my life. I've never seen one act like you. It's like you came out of the gate looking to burn any bridge I might form with you. And all this harping about my future, I'm honestly considering issuing a complaint, Doctor. I consider this inappropriate."

Schneider didn't lose her smile. "You fight for yourself quite admirably, and you're not afraid to be direct. Interesting. I'd say you're treating me in the same fashion you speak of with star cruiser command. In our last session you were the diplomat, looking to set a tone for our discussion and making what you thought was a concession in your appearance to win my approval. Today you are the fighter, finding ground and taking a stand on it." Schneider jotted another note down and Julia wished she could pull the pad to her hands like Robert could. "How does this training with Princess Miko progress? Is she doing well?"

"It's not really your business, but yes, she's learning the style of t'ai chi well, I think," Julia replied. "It's taken her a while but she's learning the forms and the flexibility in it."

"Good, good. Have you had any traumatic episodes related to your ordeal…?"

The questions came and Julia gave honest, simple answers to them, keeping her patience as she did so. Their time was soon up and she got up to leave. "Still no clearance to return to duty?"

"I'm close to my decision. One more session, I think, will do it."

"One more session." Julia nodded at her and left. I need to get ahold of Lieutenant Commander Borja, or Lieutenant Vajpayee. Something's rotten here.

After Julia was gone for five minutes, Schneider noted an incoming call on a private line. She turned it on. "Doctor Gertrude Schneider, how may I help you?"

The image that appeared was that of Admiral William Davies, Vice-Chief of Naval Operations for the Alliance Stellar Navy. Like Dr. Schneider he hailed from the H1E1 universe of the Earth Confederacy. "Dr. Schneider. I'm sure you know the case i'm calling about."

"Captain Andreys, I imagine," she replied. "You're aware that there is attached privilege here, even with military regulations."

"I am, but you're also required to share your general thoughts with us on the patient's suitability in service," Davies answered. "And as I've hoped has been made clear, the service has certain expectations. If we find out someone's not upholding them, they won't be happy with the result."

"I've been made aware of your 'expectations,' Admiral," she answered. "But you may be disappointed. Captain Andreys is going to fight to return to duty. She's even ready to issue complaints about me if I refuse her."

"She said so?"

"She didn't need to. I can see it in her. She's a fighter."

"Don't let it deter you from making the right call, Doctor. Here in Portland we've had grave doubts about her suitability for some time, and the trauma she endured only makes our concerns more acute. We can't let her be returned to service on sentiment. I hope your findings are made as appropriate."

"My findings are not finalized, but I'll give the Stellar Navy the results it hired me for," she replied simply. "Now, I have another appointment coming in soon, so I must be going."

"Of course. I look forward to your final determination being made soon, Doctor. Davies out." He disappeared from the screen.

With the morning rounds done Leo headed for the lab. He found Abigail Spencer present and openly conversing with Ke'mani'pala over an open comm. "The process you describe is fascinating," the Gl'mulli scientist was saying. "Your mental communication ability, unique compared to the rest of your species as it is, holds similarities to how my species exchanges information."

“Huh. I wonder if some of the necessary genes were borrowed… it’s not entirely unique though. Most of the species in my home universe have had telepathy grafted on.” She replied. As Leo entered, she didn’t even look up from what she was going over “Hello Dr. Gillam. Thomas won’t be joining us just yet, he had a memory to reconstruct. ‘Regina’ was a mess.”

"I heard." He stepped up to one of the scanners. "All of the bombing survivor cases are in recovery now. Doctor Walker finished the last surgery this morning." His eyes tracked the readout on the display. "Any luck with the vector?"

“Oh yes!” Abigail replied enthusiastically. “Regina gave us the location of infection. The virus is present in both the water - concentrated in a beaver pond - and in the local mosquitoes, mostly Culex quinquefasciatus. We’re still working up the physiology of how that works, but it’s in the salivary glands, and Dr. Ke’mani’pala is just about to get other results...”

"The cultures you provided have proven the hypothesis presented," Ke'mani'pala said. "The virus is unable to bond with the neurons in the marked cultures, only with the control sample without the receptors your cultures contained."

Abigail took in an exultant breath and grasped the air with her gloved hands, bringing it in to her chest. “Rightness. It is mine. You hear that universe?” She pointed at nothing with her other hand. “Mine. And won’t my brother be pleased!”

Leo felt relief, not just in identifying the vector, but finding a possible weak point to beat the virus. "And now that we've confirmed that, Doctor Ke'mani'pala, how fast do you think we could use this to stop the virus?"

"Oh, I've already begun some chemical work on deriving a retroviral solution. Altering receptors to prevent the virus from binding shouldn't take long at all with all of the samples I have available. A more complicated effort for a counter-viral agent will be a greater undertaking, but I will consult with Dr. Diptheek to begin those efforts as well."

“At home it would take weeks to incubate a vaccine, here… well you can make HIV or whatever with the relevant modifications inside a few minutes once you’ve got the details worked out. We really need to step up our rollout of that tech…”

"Keeping up with the advance of medical technology in the Multiverse feels impossible half of the time," Leo admitted. "Sometimes I think I should relegate one of my staff to nothing but reading medical journals."

“You mean you don’t already? Huh. Memetic transfer is a hell of a drug…”

"Not all of us are born with the ability to share information that easily," Leo lamented with a relieved grin at their success still on his face. "Doctor Paxson on the Discovery did write a paper once recommending a PA-level medical professional be assigned to each star cruiser to brief the medical staff regularly on new advances, but Personnel never got around to acting on it."

“Ah. Bureaucratic inertia. Still, we can’t possibly retain everything. No sapient can, not really. It’s a matter of not being in unknown unknowns territory, but known unknowns and knowing where to look. We cheat shamelessly, but there are definite limits on the degree to which we prosper. Anyway, Thomas probably wants to know that his donated neurons were useful. Then I need to start work on setting up vaccination infrastructure. I’ll back.” With that, she bustled out of the bay with a jaunt in her step. The camp was sprawling and there was a lot to organize. They had to assume that everyone in camp had been exposed if it was transmitted by mosquitoes, to say nothing of off-site teams.

Leo turned his attention back to the reader. "Ke, we'll want to synthesize as much of the retroviral agent as we can so we can nip this thing in the bud. See if the Federation ships can be ready to help out."

"I will communicate with Dr. Selana on the T'Pol and Dr. Eisenburg on the M'Benga." Ke'mani'pala formed manipulating digits from her gelatinous body to use a control in her lab. "It was interesting to speak with Dr. Spencer on communications. Human telepaths communicate not dissimilarly to Gl'mulli."

"So I've heard," Leo answered. "And since the high end ones can sense EM fields, there may be a biophysical connection there."

"Indeed. It will make for an interesting paper. Perhaps I will ask her to co-author one with me?"

At that Leo grinned. "Well, you two will already have first dibs on a paper about—"

A hot, stinging pain struck Leo square in the back. His muscles seized up and he collapsed on his side. He struggled to try and breathe while most of his body's muscles refused to respond to commands. He was barely able to turn his neck enough to look up at his attacker. The name formed on his lips, but he had little air to speak.


Rose Williams finished locking the lab door. She turned back, her hand gripping a Darglan-style pulse pistol. She walked toward him.

"Doctor Gillam?" The trilling in Ke'mani'pula's electronic voice betrayed her worry. "Leonard? What happened?"

Rose got close enough to look into the viewer. She lowered her weapon at Leo and pushed her thumb up the power control. "Destroy all of your work," she demanded, glaring into the viewer at Ke'mani'pala. "Or I'll kill him."

The day's meetings narrowed down to Gupta, Fluck, and Kanegawa, while Meridina had likewise returned to the Aurora to assume the watch given the situation in Atlanta. This left Kaveri and Bet'tir with Crawford's team with the discussion now on the mechanics of Earth T7C8's admission to the Multiversal community. "It is important for us to be capable of asserting our sovereignty over our world," Kanegawa said. "As thankful as we are for your assistance, we feel we must take the time to consider all of the options the Multiverse provides for us."

"We've got no objections to that, Mister Minister," Crawford said. "Our concerns are about your vulnerability. Your world needs time to recover, after all, and while you're rebuildin', you're susceptible to unfriendly governments offerin' you snake oil to get in on what goods you can still make." Crawford gestured to one of his staff. "Now, my people have a suggestion to make for—"

The room's comm system let out a loud ring. Kanegawa sighed and, with an apologetic look on his face, answered. "Is there an issue?"

"Sir, this is Captain Ollanda of the Council Security Unit. We have armed security forces surrounding the Berlaymont Building and other structures of the Union Quarter. We've asked them to disperse and they're not responding."

The Alliance diplomats could tell their hosts were unsettled by that, but it was Kaveri who openly frowned. She'd seen this before, indeed, just half a decade ago. Images of Earthforce Marines and Nightwatch personnel storming EarthDome's offices, the Senate, and ISN came to her. And now it happens here.

"Captain." The voice was Meridina's. "We're detecting a general transmission from a source in Brussels, it's overriding the planetary communication system."

"Put it on to my omnitool, Commander." Kaveri's hand tapped at the blue light controls surrounding her left forearm, generating a holographic viewscreen that got the attention of everyone at the table..

Security Minister Marias' face filled the screen. "Attention, loyal citizens of the Earth National Union. I am Security Minister Paul Marias, and I am forced by circumstance to make this announcement with the support of several of my peers on the Executive Council. After significant investigation, we have determined that those governments that adhere to the so-called 'Reformer' political doctrines are in fact in collusion with Dissolutionist rebels and off-world agencies. We have proof that they have subverted the President and the Executive Council with telepathic agents."

"He's mad!" Gupta shouted, furious. "This will provoke another war!"

"In light of this evidence, as a patriot of our new global nation of Mankind, united under a single flag to a common destiny, I am taking the President and the Executive Council into custody, and have ordered the arrests of all suspected traitors in the Union government." Marias raised a fist. "I take this action with a heavy heart, but we must act to save ourselves from division and off-world conquest! All security forces of the Union, in conjunction with our proud fighting men and women, must move quickly to seize traitorous elements in all of the regional governments of the world, before civil war claims us all." Marias raised his chin. "And lastly, I call upon the representatives of the Allied Systems, as they call themselves, to honor the principles they claim to cherish, and to stand aside while we secure our world from future conflict. I will regard any interference by the Alliance in this action as proof of their collusion in their conspiracy, and all off-world personnel will be dealt with as enemies of the Union. God save the United Earth and the Human Nation!"
”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 »

No sooner did Marias' message end than his troops started entering the buildings. Some of the building security didn't bother resisting, surrendering immediately, while others opened fire and sought to protect their charges. The sounds of gunfire started filling the Union Quarter of the city of Brussels.

In their conference room in the Berlaymont building, the ministers of the United Earth were still struck dumb by what was occuring. "Peers? What madmen would support this?!" demanded Fluck.

"Winthrope," Gupta suggested. "And Tangri. They've favored Marias' authoritarian pushes before. And Gorchkov might back him."

"If he's brought together the security forces for the region for this, we'll never hold him off." Fluck looked with panicked eyes to Kanegawa. "You're the Defense Minister! Call in the troops, protect the government!"

Kanegawa shook his head. "Is… are you sure he's wrong? Look at what's going on! The Reformists have been pushing this agenda, now suddenly there's alien rifles and a bioweapon, maybe something is subverting the Union."

"You can't believe that!"

As they fussed Kaveri leaned in toward Crawford. "Sir, Captain Dale's operations team is standing by. With our Marines we could nip this coup in the bud, and we can beam out any threatened aid workers in short time."

Crawford ran his hand over his chin in thought. "I understand what you're proposin', Captain, and it's mighty temptin'." He shook his head. "But it's not what we're here for. We can't just intervene with these folks' politics willy-nilly, it'll turn on us."

"With all due respect, Deputy Secretary, the way things look, they are going to turn on us regardless. Whatever off-world forces are manipulating the situation will see to that."

She saw the doubt glint in his eyes. He wasn't sure he was making the right call. Nevertheless his jaw set and he shook his head. "They have to ask," he insisted.

Marias' diatribe played over the speakers in the Jayhawk cockpit. Robert finished latching the arm guard of his blue combat armor into place and pulled the brown robe that Mastrash Kilaba gifted him onto his shoulders. It was, perhaps, a silly thing to add, but it was an extra touch that complemented the armor and gave a unique look that he thought was an advantage in conflict. It also served to give a uniform feel as Gina and Talara pulled their robes over their own sets of combat armor. I'd feel better if Lucy were here, but she's still off active duty.

A holo-viewer screen showed the bridge, where Meridina was on duty. "We have no orders authorizing intervention."

"No, but as a Paladin, I've got some leeway on that," he answered. "I'll have to answer to Maran and President Morgan for it, but I'm not going to allow our people to be killed or made hostages."

"What are your intentions, then, Captain?"

"Wait at the Berlaymont building under cloak, move in if absolutely necessary or it gets authorized." He gestured to the helm controls. "Talara, are we ready?"

She took over. "All systems are ready, and a platoon of Major Anders' Marines are in the loading area. The major is preparing another strike force on the Gonzales."

He nodded. "Cloak and take us out."

The Jayhawk rippled from sight as she launched from the shuttle bay, banking down toward the Earth below after she cleared the Aurora.

Self-diagnosis was always a tricky matter for a doctor to perform, but in this case Leo felt justified by the situation he was in. Pain is consistent with a stun shot with a pulse gun. The partial motor paralysis backs that up. I'm still conscious, so it wasn't full power. I should start getting some motor control back soon, although it won't do me any good right now.

Rose's hands shook slightly, but not enough to completely throw off her aim. If she pulled the trigger he'd take another shot, and the weapon was set to kill.

On the screen Ke'mani'pala was manipulating the controls of her station. Rose kept looking back from her to Leo. "Go faster," she urged. "Delete it all!"

"There are redundancies," Ke protested.

Leo found his voice box was at least working. "Rose, what are you doing? What is this?"

"It's about ending this," she said. "Stopping this abuse of telepaths, once and for all. The plague will see to that."

"How will a plague stop it?" Leo found a little strength returning to his voice. "A plague that anyone will quickly see doesn't hurt telepaths? It'll just give people another reason to hate them."

The look in her eyes was wild. Fury, grief, and shame burned alike in the intensity Leo saw there. She met him eye to eye even as her gun shook slightly. "They'll fear them more," she said. "Once the plague's run its course, telepaths will be the majority here. The banals won't pose a threat, ever again."

Leo swallowed to try and clear the lump of fear he had in his throat. Given the mosquito-based vector of the plague and the logistics of trying to deal with them, they were pressed for time. If they could get a vaccine into place now, then they had a shot at containing the outbreak with vaccinated populations. If they didn't, its global spread became more assured with every passing day.

WIth this in mind, he pressed onward despite the risk. "You're talking about a world with billions of dead, Rose! It'll break all of civilization, and telepaths will suffer from it just as much. Even worse, you're leaving them with the stigma of benefiting from the mass slaughter of billions of their neighbors, their loved ones and friends!"

"It'll be better in the long run," she insisted. "It… it has to be."

"It won't. It doesn't work like that."

Rose turned on him with violence in her voice. "What do you know?!" she shrieked. "You weren't here! You didn't live here, you didn't see them take them away! You didn't hear the things they said! You didn't deal with the terrible things they justified, the terrible things they were doing to my little sister!" The ferocity of her tone made her voice grow more hoarse by the syllable. "They're animals, Doctor, and this is precisely what they deserve, what we all deserve."

"Even you? With all the compassion you've shown, you think you deserve this?"

Leo hoped it might make her reconsider, but even with the tears welling up in her eyes, she didn't stop. "Yes," she said. "I do." She directed her eyes toward the viewer again. "Show me your work. Show me you're destroying the data, or I'll kill him."

"Very well. You are making a horrible mistake," Ke'mani'pala answered.

"Just do it!"

Thomas was completely knackered. Absolute, bone-deep weariness. Since breakfast the last several hours had been thirty minutes on, fifteen off to let his cardiovascular system rest and recover, but the repeated strain was starting to get to him. Then Abigail walked in the door doing a little dance. The sort of dance she’d done when she was correct, ever since she was a child.

“Good news I take it?” He asked. His patient was unconscious, so he could chit chat for a moment without interruption.

“Well, you know how much I love being right! A vaccine is almost done, and their working on an anti-viral solution but once it’s in the cell that virus is… well let’s just say it’s in the anomaly file. Spread in water and can hitch a ride in the cells of aquatic organisms like mosquitoes to spread directly, or into new water bodies. We don’t have much time before it goes global.”

“Ah! Good thing you were right then.” Thomas replied, but then Kusko piped in.

“Why bother?” She asked. “The Oldtypes die, it becomes a Newtype planet and Oldtypes can’t hurt them anymore.”

Abigail winced. No one had taken on this conversation with her. “Lots of reasons. For starters, the deaths of billions would traumatize every telepath on this planet and lead to the collapse of civilization. The other reason is a bit more abstract.”

Kusko’s follow up was genuinely curious, if blunt. “I’m not dumb, I can handle abstract. Lay it on me.”

“The Law of Contradiction.” Thomas said flatly, and Kusko, not getting the reference at all, just stared at him. “Basically, everyone is the product of themselves and everything that came before them, interacting with the material conditions of the here and now. The throngs of mundanes here don’t deserve to die. Some of them might have to, but over time many can be educated and change.” He shrugged. “They’re still people. And a lot of them lack any kind of context or framework to do anything but what they’ve been doing. Take Lily here as an exam—”

“What did you say?” Abigail asked, suddenly ramrod straight but also practically ecstatic. But before Thomas could reply, Kusko felt like a die was cast. She held up a hand and sought, listening to the currents of everything around her to peer into the now-collapsing-future possibilities in her immediate surroundings.

“Get back to the lab, now.” She commanded in no uncertain terms. She couldn’t tell them, or it would affect the outcome. “I have to go warn Richmond. Go!”

They didn’t question it. They both booked it. Kusko also left, locking down the shuttle as she did to protect the unconscious telepath inside. She felt as much as heard the snapping of branches outside the camp perimeter, the tiny voices of men and women about to seize tactical surprise, trepidation, guilt. Uncertainty was collapsing even as she ran, finding the Lieutenant Commander at her little command post near the main entrance. For her part, Richmond noticed the commotion and was standing to face her.

“Ms. Al, what seems to be the problem?” She asked. Too out or breath to speak, Kusko spoke directly into her mind.

<United Earth attack imminent, foreign agents inside the camp.>

“How do you—” Richmond’s perfectly understandable question was interrupted.

<Precognition. Alert your men.>

That actually confirmed something Richmond suspected already, and she tapped on her own communicator. “Prepare for imminent enemy contact.” What officers she had commanding the enlisted security forces answered back in the affirmative, without even ten seconds of pregnant silence to spare.

A few calls of warning from those members of the militia who could — and were trained to — sense hostile thoughts was all the warning anyone else got. Gunfire erupted from the perimeter and cut several of them down, but Richmond’s men were protected by personal shields. Bullets shattered against them on impact in puffs of metal and cavitation.

A flash of warning she couldn’t even comprehend, and Kusko violently shoved Richmond a fractional second before a shot from a pulse gun passed through the space her face had occupied. She drew her own PPG and fired back, as additional pulse guns opened fire on Richmond’s men, the camp militia, and the United Earth Forces.

Pandemonium erupted.

The Berlaymont building and its environs showed through the cockpit of the Jayhawk. "Put us on the roof," Robert said from his seat. "That should ensure we're inside that anti-beaming shield."

"Bringing us in," Talara answered.

While she brought them to the landing, the ship's comms activated. Meridina's voice filled the cockpit. "Robert, we have a hostage situation in the Atlanta telepath camp. It is Leonard."

Robert let out a weary sigh. Of course, something else has to go wrong. "What's going on?"

"A member of the camp staff is holding Leonard hostage, and Commander Richmond's units are being attacked by some of their militia and the United Earth military. The hostage taker is demanding we destroy all of our work on curing the bioweapon."

Robert grimaced. "If we lose that work, even if we start over, it'll make stopping this thing a lot harder. It'll kill more people."

"Dr. Ke'mani'pala is presenting them with apparent cooperation, but Jarod has already backed up all relevant data."

"Should we divert to Atlanta?" asked Gina.

Robert drew in a breath and concentrated, considering the matter and seeing how his instincts, tied to the Flow of Life, led him. Both places were important and would require full commitments to see success. Should he save the UE government or stop the hostage situation?

There was no clear or easy answer, but Robert came to a conclusion anyway. "If we don't stop Marias, it means this world ends up in civil war, and we wouldn't be able to stop the plague anyway. We'll have to deal with this first." Robert rose from his seat. "Talara, hold the ship down. Gina and I will be joining the Marines in the hold. Have the transporters ready for squad-by-squad deployment."

"Yes sir," Talara answered.

The arguing in the conference room of the Berlaymont didn't subside, even as renewed reports came in of the approach of the security minister's troops. Kaveri felt a sense of resignation over the folly of it all.

"Minister Kanegawa, there's still time!" Fluck insisted. "Call out the army!"

"I cannot guarantee they won't side with Marias," he countered. "I am not even sure we should be stopping him! The Reformists are a clear threat to the cohesion of our nation. Their proposed reforms would cripple us against Dissolutionist terrorism and would leave us vulnerable to further forced concessions. We might lose the entire Union!"

"You do not know that, you cannot possibly know," Gupta insisted. "The Reformist states want a solidified civil rights position from the Union. It is something we should consider. It would certainly undermine the Dissolutionists' arguments!"

"It will risk another global war in the future," Kanegawa insisted. "We can't afford another one, especially not now with other worlds to consider." He gestured toward the Alliance team. "We must remain strong, and maybe Marias is the best way to do it. He can consolidate the government and we can wait for a better time to reform."

"If you don't stop him now, it will guarantee a new war," Fluck argued. "The Reformists will not allow their governments to be seized as traitors, they'll fight back!"

"If so, it proves their loyalty to the Union is weak," Kanegawa retorted. "Giving in to them will simply lead to another, greater war in the long run. No, the more I think about it, the more that we may need a period of strong central rule to suppress decentralizing forces that would weaken our government."

Kaveri rose from her seat. "With all due respect, you are not considering this problem fully, Minister."

Kanegawa's eyes honed in on her. "This is not an affair of your Alliance, Captain. Your input is neither requested nor required."

"I do not speak as a Captain of the Alliance Stellar Navy," she answered, her eyes meeting his without flinching. "I speak as a child of the Earth of E5B1. An Earth that confronted the same problems your Earth now faces. We have fought our own conflicts concerning the power of EarthGov. We had to deal with the rise of telepathy among our population, and then the existence of alien powers beyond our solar system. Indeed, without the Centauri first contact we may have had a war just like the one your world just fought, with forces seeking to break the Earth Alliance up."

Kanegawa did not respond. Gupta, perhaps seeing opportunity in Kaveri's words, nodded. "Please, Captain, continue."

"Like your Union, the Earth Alliance made choices about its role toward the Earth. I am sad to say those choices were not happy ones. EarthGov has accumulated power and turned toward the authoritarianism that Minister Marias preaches, and you, Minister Kanegawa, consider so lightly. But the result was not greater security. The result was more conflict. Some, like the War of the Shining Star, killed millions. The others were smaller conflicts as different colonies or nations, even continents, sought to break away from an EarthGov they felt oppressed them. Ultimately, these conflicts helped to fuel the rise of outright fascism in our people."

"Our treatment of our telepaths led down that same road. We took them and made them into recording devices under the law, we drove them into a ghetto we called 'Psi Corps', and then we used them as we saw fit. As tools of power, as weapons against the enemy. The result is a captive population of eighteen million souls who live or die by the word of those appointed by EarthGov to oversee them. Men who turned their captives into a tool for the oppression of others."

"We barely escaped the victory of fascism on our Earth, Minister. The right man in the right place at the right time swayed the balance against those forces. But they still remain to haunt us."

"Your world has a chance." Kaveri was speaking to all of the assembled now. "You have a chance to do better than mine did. You can avoid the bloodshed and terror that my Earth has suffered with, all you need to do is make the decision here to walk the better path."

She stopped and waited for them to react.

The range of motion was returning to Leo's limbs. HIs motor functions were recovering steadily from the stun shot. He hoped that soon he might be able to go for the gun with a reasonable chance of success.

For the moment, he kept talking. "You are ready to die?"

"I am," she said, her lip quivering. Not from fear, Leo thought, but the sheer emotions roiling through her. "It's the least I can do for her."

"For your sister, Lily." Leo swallowed. "I know it hurt you to see them take her, and I know it still hurts that you've never found her, but this isn't going to fix it, Rose! I've seen enough death to know that! It never fixes it! It only means more loss!"

"You… you don't get it, do you?" Rose demanded. "You fly around in your ships with all of your technology, and you live like you do, and you don't understand just how evil people can get. How wrong things can be."

"I do understand!" Leo insisted. "Rose, I got into this work because I saw suffering people that needed someone to heal them! That's why I've become a doctor, to heal people, and that's all I've ever sought. And I've had to work hard at it, and sometimes, sometimes I couldn't save them." His lip quivered as his mind transported him back to the Aurora OR where Joshua Marik's leukemia-battered body bled to death on the inside, no matter what he did to stop it. Or all of those over the years he had to black tag in triage because their wounds were too grievous, or who died without him being able to stop it.

The mutilated Turian soldier on New Brittany. Dr. Lumenaram, blowing himself up in the Cybermen "conversion" unit they transformed the Aurora OR into. And all of the other members of the Aurora crew who'd died because he didn't have what it would take to save them.

He swallowed. "Life is precious, Rose. All life. The people who took Lily forgot that. They let their hate and their fear guide them and they did terrible things. Don't go down that road, please. This isn't the legacy you want to leave for Lily."

Rose's lip quivered and Leo thought he was getting through to her. Her hands started to lower the weapon.

A new voice boomed in the room. "Do not let this spineless mute come between you and our work, Rose Williams," a man said. His voice seemed to echo in Leo's mind, as if the words were vibrating inside his brain.

It helped Leo recognize them. He looked beyond Rose to the newly-arrived man.

Lawton, the camp security chief, looked no different at first glance. But there was a difference in his posture and the way he carried himself. He was plainly not the same man Leo met when he arrived, with a stern, commanding look in his eyes that seemed to transfix Rose and keep her in place.

"You have been annoyances," he said, glaring toward Leo and then the viewer. When his eyes narrowed on Leo again, Leo felt his diaphragm seize up. It was like his body's respiratory system was locked up, the autonomic nerves no longer allowed to transmit the orders that led to his breathing. Instinctive panic came to his face as he tried to force a breath to no avail.

"Alien, you will begin an immediate computer system purge on your entire ship," Lawton demanded. "Or you will watch Doctor Gillam die quite slowly."

In another part of the camp, hundreds of meters away, everything around her unfolded as a chaotic mess, but in Kusko Al’s mind there was a certain sublime clarity. In front of her, traitor militia, telepaths all. Behind her, Alliance troops and loyalist militia did battle with the UE security forces. Between superior weapons and personal shields, Alliance troops were not in much danger from the United Earth soldiers, but they’d be cut down by organized telepaths very quickly, but she couldn’t deal with all of them alone. Camp militia were leaderless and disorganized, still reeling from the shock of surprise contact.

Kusko knew exactly what she had to do. She reached out with her mind and absolute authority. Kusko Al, Psi Corps, I am assuming command in the absence of Mr. Lawton. She then glyphed a mental image that highlighted each telepath in formation as alternately green or red. You are now designated. Greens, begin suppressive operations against UE forces. Reds, force-protection operations for alliance security. I’ve got offensive operations against traitor forces. She didn’t want to order them to kill their own comrades, afterall. That could get messy and lead to defections.

The militia complied, half of them split from the line under cover to move closer to Richmond and her troops and started jamming out attack probes. The other half, now having concrete direction, began assaulting United Earth troops. Some simply went down screaming, others shot their own men or pulled their own grenade pins. It created confusion in addition to casualties, and muted the effect of their raw numbers.

Then she tapped a button on her omnitool, extending an orange hued straight blade from it’s holographic emitter on her left hand. Blade in one hand, PPG in the other, she went to work. She bolted straight in, rolling under a fusillade of pulse gun fire and moving with inhuman grace to side-step another that normal human reactions could never have allowed her to dodge, but she saw the probability cones of incoming fire collapse into unity before the triggers were actually pulled. She wasn’t inside the OODA loops of her enemies, she was inside their causal chain.

Kusko dove head-first over a crumbling brick facade and drove her omniblade into one man’s chest. Blood fountained from his mouth as his mind screamed in agony and terror. Her PPG was already pointed at another woman who was coming around the corner and fired before she was even visible. She didn’t even look, the woman’s soul was pulled into the Door before her mind was even aware it was dead. An attempt was made to batter down her mental defenses, but it skittered over them like a handgun attempting to penetrate the armor of a tank. She traced it back to its source. Inspiration flashed across her mind.

‘I’ll need that one later.’ Instead of killing him, she shattered his own blocks like so much glass and dropped him into a coma.

It felt like an eternity, but in reality it had been about twenty seconds since she’d first gotten moving. It was going to be a long few minutes.

Robert and Gina stood on the transporter pad in the Jayhawk cargo area while Marine teams under one of Anders' subordinates remained ready to join them. With his omnitool Robert was tied into the Jayhawk's sensors and the indicators showing the locations of the rampaging security troops in the building. They were nearly halfway up the building now. The defenders were fighting valiantly, but they lacked the numbers to hold every staircase and hallway. While they had President Lawrence safely under control, Premier Gorchkov was already a captive of Marias' troops, and they had nobody who could effectively stop the squads heading for the conference room.

If we don't stop this soon, Captain Varma and Secretary Crawford and the others will be hostages.

"Prepare to go on my mark," he said. I hope they ask for help soon, or I'm about to step on a diplomatic landmine.

Compared to before there was silence in the conference room, save for the quiet conversation Gupta was having with Lawrence over their internal comm system. When Gupta lowered her phone it was with resignation. "The President will not authorize a request for help unless the remaining Executive Council are in unanimous agreement."

"I call yea!" Fluck declared. "Marias will either corrupt the Union into something that deserves to collapse, or he'll destroy it with another war! If we just sit down with the Reformists, we can make a deal that everyone can live with. They'll accept a greater central focus if we guarantee civil rights."

"And how will the rest of the world feel if we concede like that?" Kanegawa demanded. "How will they take it if we repeal the Telepath Registration and Regulation Act as the Reformists demand? So many of these people fought for the unified Earth, if we undermine it to appease the Reformists they'll side with Marias!"

"You overestimate that sentiment," Gupta insisted.

"I've spoken to my officers, I've spoken to their soldiers, they fought and died for the idea of the United Earth, and we have to honor that!"

Fluck let out an angry "Pah!" "You're just afraid of losing power," he accused. "If we step down from emergency control, the Defense Ministry will lose prerogatives."

"I'm afraid we'll turn the army over to Marias! I'm afraid the Reformists' loyalty to our ideals is weak and insincere, and they'll use any concessions to break the Union into irrelevance. We'll be no better than the old UN from before the Third World War!"

"Minister, you may be surprised by their sentiments and how much you would agree with them," Kaveri remarked. "They fought at your side against the Dissolutionists for a reason. You speak of the sacrifices of your soldiers, but remember they sacrificed too." When Kanegawa didn't respond right away she continued. "You have a chance here, sir. A chance few ever have: to decide the history of a world. The choice you make here, today, will shape the world you wake up in tomorrow. Do you really want that world to be shaped by your fear?"

Kanegawa's face made it clear he was quite fearful. Fearful of Marias' troops, fearful of his military commanders feeling betrayed, fearful of the world descending back into war. He swallowed. Slowly the look on his face became one of resignation, but not a fearful resignation. "You are correct, Captain," he said. "I'm afraid. I… I lost my children in the war. My hometown. The Union is what I have left, and I fear for it. But fear is what led to the war, and it will bring another one." He let out a breath and brought up his phone. He tapped a single key. "General Roberts, this is Minister Kanegawa. Minister Marias is attempting to seize control of the Union government. I'm ordering you to dispatch your troops into the capital immediately, and warn all of your commands globally to suppress the Security Directorate."

There was a tense moment as they waited to see if Kanegawa's senior officers would obey his commands. Kaveri felt a little surge of relief when Kanegawa nodded. "That's right, General, the Security Minister's gone too far. We'll do what we can to stop his forces here, but get those troops into position. Thank you." He hung up. "Marias will have me shot now," he said to the assembled. "Most likely all of us."

As if to punctuate that remark, they could hear not-too-distant gunfire. Kaveri glanced at her omnitool and confirmed that at least a dozen armed figures were on the floor and closing in on their location. "Not if you ask for our help," she said. "Let us stop them for you."

Kanegawa pursed his lips. Gupta said, "I'm in favor," as did the other ministers in the room. "Minister, we all die otherwise," she asserted.

"This could be used against us." After saying those words, he let out a small sigh. "But we'll be alive. Madame President, I concur with my colleagues. We will need the Allied Systems' help."

Lawrence's voice came over the speaker on Gupta's phone. "Very well. Since the loyal elements of the Executive Council are in concurrence, Deputy Secretary Crawford, I formally request your forces aid the legitimate government against this coup attempt."

"Gladly, Madame President, we'll get right on it." Crawford nodded to Kaveri.

"Varma to Dale," she said into her omnitool. "Captain, aid is formally requested. We need it immediately." She said that even as the sound of footfalls outside grew louder. Marias' troops were seconds away from arriving.

Twin flashes of light formed in the room, in apparent defiance of the anti-beaming shield, and coalesced into the forms of Robert and Gina. The collected ministers were bewildered to see just two rescuers and both wearing robes over their armor. The sight further bewildered them when they saw neither had firearms. The room was filled with the twin snap-hiss of lightsabers igniting.

The door flew open. Security troops appeared in the doorway, rifles raised. "Surrender or—"

Robert's empty left hand came up. The ministers watched in amazement as the half-dozen soldiers in the doorway went flying as if struck by an explosion. He and Gina rushed forward, their weapons buzzing in the air, and soon emerald and sapphire flashes outside of the room were joined by surprised shouts and the occasional scream of surprise and pain. From her seat, Kaveri could see that they were fighting non-lethally, intentionally avoiding fatal blows while disarming their adversaries (in some cases, literally).

After ten seconds the two figures re-entered the room. Robert's green lightsaber extinguished and he nodded respectfully to the assembled. "I'm Captain Robert Dale," he introduced himself to the Executive Council members. "A Paladin of the Alliance. This is a member of my operations team, Gina Inviere." He gestured to Gina. "We've got Marines beaming in to clear the coup forces. If you want to tie us into your command and control, we'll adhere to it."

That was for Crawford's sake and for Kanegawa, who immediately took Robert up on the offer.

The vise-like grip on Leo's diaphragm refused to relent. Try as he might he couldn't breathe, and his body began reacting as he expected. His vision started to go out as he looked at the horrified face of Rose, her gun still pointed toward him.

Then, for a moment, relief. He sucked in a greedy breath and exhaled. The moment his exhalation finished the vise returned. He couldn't breathe again.

Lawton was glaring at the viewer. "I can sense your deceit, alien. You're backing up your research while making a show of destroying it. You will purge all of your ship's computer systems now or he will die."

"Once your hostage is dead, you have no more power," Ke'mani'pala replied. "You cannot kill him."

"No? Even as I speak my followers are seizing the others from your ship that are in our camp. I'll bring them in here and make you watch as I kill them, one by one."

There was a malevolence in the man's tone that was chilling. Leo noticed the torn expression on Rose's face. His mouth moved as he tried to speak, even with no air coming from his lungs. You don't have to do this.

Rose seemed to know what he tried to say. She swallowed and the gun in her hands quivered with greater violence.

The vise disappeared briefly. Leo brought in a breath, and spoke as he exhaled. "This is wrong," he managed to say before his breathing was cut off.

Tears flowed down her cheeks. Leo could see the tension as his vision went back to the brink of cutting out. Whatever her feelings, Rose wasn't a killer, not deep down. It was one thing to be complicit in a plague that might kill people you don't see, but holding a gun on someone, helping to strangle the life out of them… that was entirely different. It would be even if they'd never talked, hadn't worked together, gotten to know one another.

Rose's hands shook as the gun turned away from him. It focused on Lawton. "No," she said. "You… you can't do this, you can't kill someone like this!"

He never lashed out. In the span of a moment Rose's hands opened wide and she dropped the weapon. A choked breath came from her throat before she dropped to her knees.

"Your anger made you useful, mute," said Lawton. "But now, your use is at an end." He looked at Rose with murderous intent as she fell over, trying desperately to breathe. "Watch carefully, alien. This is the fate your shipmates will suffer if you don't cooperate."

Suddenly, Lawton's eyes widened in surprise. The vise on Leo's chest let go. He could breath again and he sucked in air with wild-abandon. He didn’t notice the two other figures in the door until one of them spoke.

“Run.” Thomas croaked through clenched teeth. “We can’t hold him off for long.” What Leo couldn’t see was the withering series of weaponized medical probes they’d surprised Lawton with, attacks that slid off even his casual-defenses like water off a swan’s back. He’d been concealing his power from them, just as he’d been concealing his intent.

He struck back, aiming to incapacitate, and it took the combined strength of their gestalted mind — which would have been a match for a Psi Cop — to hold him back. That same attack was paired with a message.

Join me, my brethren. I am Hab-Kuzad of the Ministry of Fate, and I come to you as a fellow telepath! Your people are just as oppressed by the mutes. The Ministry is ready to save you and bring you into the fold.

And they believed him. He honestly did think he was helping; that the only way for telepaths to be safe was to rule over mundanes in perpetuity and by whatever means necessary.

But that didn’t change the fact that he wanted to murder a world.

Fuck That! We’re not helping you murder billions, they replied in unison, and to emphasize their refusal, attempted to provoke a catastrophic seizure.

This time his defenses caught the attack, breaking it with little apparent effort. He might have flung it back toward them, but he held that back, instead pressing forth his will and the thought within. Mutes outnumber us by a billion fold, he reminded them. They will not be missed.

His mental voice echoed through the connection with the force of a piston. Inevitability filled every thought, every word in the sentiment of ultimate triumph Hab-Kuzad projected into them. It is the destiny of the Esper to rule over the mute. For this they try to destroy us, but we have beaten them every time. We will always beat them. We were meant to be Kings!

The words came as hammer blows on their defenses, laced with the learned superiority he felt toward non-telepaths, and his conviction that they too would join him once they understood the world as he saw it. It was an inevitability as true as the solar winds, as mathematics, as gravity. The telepath will rule, the mute will obey or be crushed. The telepath serves as the agent of Fate itself and acts in that fashion in all things.

But to the Spencers, it was fascism. Telepathic space fascism; like Bester turned up to a fever pitch and bolstered by past glories. The certainty itself was an attack, that feeling of inevitability intended to erode their resistance. However, it had the opposite effect. Fascism and its antecedents were the driving force of their own oppression, and they were not about to trade one oppressor for another; or to accept their lot in life as a servant so long as they had a slave beneath them. And render life into a mere caricature of itself? We think not. We will fight our oppressors and win, but we will not become you.

Hab-Kuzad sensed their sentiments as his attacks battered away at them. It confounded him. Every telepath loyally following him in the camp had bowed to these inevitabilities. These two resisted. Why? How? He redoubled his attack, this time throwing in recrimination, as if they were children to be lectured to and scolded for defiance. You defy Fate! You defy your own legacy! And for what? I offer you a future of glory and purpose! You have nothing that can compare!

Your glory, your purpose. Not Ours.
Dozens of memories of mutual support and community coursed through their minds, but there was that one. Millions of telepaths staring down planetary destruction and rising up with one telepathic voice, even then in hope and determination for a better future. If not for them, then for survivors who’d made it off-world or were still in the colonies. The song of their own people rose in a great mental chorus across the entirely of the earth.

‘We are strong in each other, we're sister and brother, And we will all come together in a better place, a better place than this. Our love will guide you, Our love will hold you. And our love will show us the way.’

When they allowed that memory to fade, they continued. We have no desire to inflict upon others what has been inflicted upon us. That is the spite of a child, and it only ends in tears. Just the opposite, in time, we’ll eliminate all oppression by leading the mundanes toward a better future for everyone.

The certainty in the Spencers met the inevitability in Hab-Kuzad's beliefs and produced a straining equilibrium. His raw power and conviction were yet insufficient to break down their assured knowledge of the love and common purpose in their community, purpose without strict control as Hab-Kuzad envisioned. But his power was still great and their efforts, great as they were, could not break through to stop the onslaught.

I will not be beaten by this misguided foolishness, he insisted through the link. The Ministry will have this world! You two cannot stop it!

Which was when his mind was assailed in the telepathic equivalent of a sucker-punch. Hab-Kuzad’s defenses held, but it was difficult and he reeled from the shock of it.

Good thing there’s more than these two! Kusko’s mental voice boomed through his conscious thoughts. It was almost as big a shock to the Spencer twins who didn’t exactly disguise it.

What can I say? I prefer utopian dreamers to dystopic ones was her only response. Then, she took off a glove and touched the back of Thomas’ neck, joining their gestalt and making for a much more even fight.

To the Spencers' certainty in their sense of family came Kusko's experience. In Hab-Kuzad's system she saw the control and bloodiness of the Zabis intensified to a degree she never imagined. He would enslave her and other Newtypes with chains greater than any Zabi ever conceived.

That is what is required of us! he raged, with Kusko's defiance bolstering that of the Spencers. The Fates have decreed that role! To defy the Fates is to deny reality! His fury at that defiance briefly bolstered his attack. Wave after wave of hectoring washed over the three, scolding them for defying the way of the world, for denying the glory of their purpose as ordained by the All-Father.

The very idea was preposterous. History and reality don’t work that way, it does not use men. It is the actions of men pursuing their own ends. You have been lied to, used, just as the mundanes use us now. It was countered with weaponized dialectical materialism.

You know nothing!

Both sides of the fight were reeling. Given time the Spencers and Kusko might wear him down, but there were good odds one or more would stroke out first.

That was when Leo returned with Rose, and this time, they weren't alone.

The council of five that governed the camp joined them, Hab-Kuzad's words echoing in their minds along with the defiance of his opponents. Nysha held her hands out. Walter and Irma took those hands, and their hands in turn were taken by their other peers. Five minds became one, albeit clumsily, and as one they struck at Hab-Kuzad's mind.

Theirs was not the same certainty that the Spencers had, nor the same exact experiences as Kusko's. But they had something of both. The experiences they and their people in the camp had with the forms of oppression their world still labored with armored them from Hab-Kuzad's conviction of inevitability, as they recognized it for what it was. From the five joined minds came something like pity, as Hab-Kuzad could not conceive of anything but oppression.

While his defenses held against the Spencers and Kusko, he turned his eyes towards the five. You would fight for the banals? The people who experimented upon your families? Who turn your children into weapons? His attack was a clever one, as it played upon the resentments they felt. The anger at the injustices they'd endured. This world should be yours. Help me destroy the mutes and those that would stand for them!

The appeal resonated. They struggled against it. Why should they fight to protect people who oppressed them? Why not let them all die and inherit this world?

Nysha's eyes moved away from Hab-Kuzad's, trying to escape the pressure of his powerful, trained mind. She found herself looking at Leo.

He and Rose weren't moving. Didn't dare interfere, for fear of harming the entire group in some way. But seeing him and the worry on his face, even as the blood trickled from her nostrils, reminded Nysha of something he'd said. Something that resonated within her.

Because we're better than that.

She'd thought those words were silly. Those of a man who lived in the luxury of his spaceship and never faced cruel reality. But then she'd seen him live up to the compassion in those words. The hours he spent saving people without thought or hope of reward. The world might be cruel, but Leo and his people showed they didn't have to wallow in it. They could be better.

Walter added to the thought. His memory of history came to the gestalt's aid, recalled the words of a man that swayed his heart and, through him, their collective conscience. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The words resonated through the gestalt as they considered the source and Walter's unwavering faith that Dr. King's words applied to telepath and non-telepath as much as it did to those of black and white skin.

These 'banals' came to help us, the gestalt challenged Hab-Kuzad. They fought for us. They healed us. And they asked us for nothing. They only want us to be free!

Freedom was a word Hab-Kuzad could not parse mentally. In his world of control it was virtually meaningless. A word with nothing behind it. Freedom is a fiction! his mind raged instinctively at the idea.

But for both gestalts, it was more. It was choice. It was life. It was the future they sought and they thought was worth dying for.

Against the intensity of an idea he could not truly fathom, Hab-Kuzad's power failed. His defenses crumbled against their defiance of his convictions and the raw power behind them.

For all of his training, eight minds with the right beliefs, the right convictions, was simply too much to stop.

As the realization of defeat came, a subconscious impulse triggered in his mind, a programmed reaction to this outcome. The Spencers tried to stop it but to no avail, and all they could do was break the connection and urge Nysha's gestalt to do the same.

They did at the last possible moment as the implant hidden in Hab-Kuzad's brain activated. A powerful agent flooded through his head, dissolving brain cells and tissue. He screamed and collapsed. All eight telepaths felt the cold sensation of the Door opening and drawing him in, slamming shut a moment later.

Leo rushed up to the fallen man, his omnitool set for medical scanning. He swallowed at the results. "Looks like a suicide charge of some kind, an organic acidic agent's already liquifying his brain." Leo remembered the mission to Solaris, where a NEUROM operative had reportedly triggered a similar device when facing capture.

“Yeah.“ Dr. Spencer replied. “It was… automatic, pre-conditioned in his mind, he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to.” Her voice was strange, mostly because she had a handkerchief to stop the nose bleed. The other reason telepaths never wore white.

Leo stood back up and faced the viewer. "Doctor, we have backups I hope?"

"Of course, Doctor. Commander Jarod is restoring everything now. We'll be back to work shortly."

"Good to hear." With his concerns there re-assured, he turned to Abigail and Thomas. "Thanks for the rescue."

“Our pleasure. Though thank Kusko, she warned us and got us moving.” Thomas replied. “Speaking of which, Rose, there’s someone here you should see.”

Rose looked at them with some confusion. Confusion that swiftly gave way to shock and hope as she thought about what they were saying.

Leo looked from her to them. And then he thought of the telepath girl kept by the cell and his eyes widened.

It was at the behest of the Earth Union's General Roberts that Robert and Gina fought their way into the Security Ministry building, advancing ahead of Earth army soldiers while the Aurora Marines guarded alternative exits.

Their opponents were of little concern, given the locals' training to fight telepathic foes didn't amount to much against their training and abilities. They took careful, conscientious care to not kill anyone they fought.

And yet, they could feel death when they approached Marias' office. It was a fortified door, so Gina and Robert cut through the hinges with their lightsabers before knocking it down. Inside were two dead bodies, Ministers Winthrope and Tangri, and a very alive Marias bringing his pistol up toward his forehead. They felt his intention to pull the trigger.

Robert's hand motioned toward the wall. Invisible force ripped the gun from Marias' hand. He stared at his open hand for a moment before scowling at them. "I won't be used against my homeworld," he swore. "I'll make you kill me!"

"Your people will judge you for your crimes, Minister," Robert said, glancing down at the bodies. "Enough blood's been shed."

Marias snarled in anger at that. "You think you can conquer us with kindness, divide us with your lies about rights. But my people will see you for what you are. They'll fight."

"Your people are tired of fighting," Gina pointed out. "They want peace."

Marias slumped into his chair, a defeated man, and did nothing but glower as Earth troops came in and took custody of him. Robert and Gina looked around the room and judged what was in sight, including reports. "Odd," Gina said, looking over a stack of orders and papers.

"Hrm?" Robert looked away from a photo of Marias with a young woman in a set of digital camo BDUs. "What?"

"He's been planning this for a while," Gina said. "The dates here…" She checked with the displays on his office. "If he'd waited another two days, he would have had three times the forces he used. And he would have had a unit in place to seize General Roberts and the rest of the military command."

Robert's brow furrowed. His eyes moved over a small shrine: a folded Earth Union flag and a medal in a case with a photo of the same young woman in full uniform. His daughter, Robert thought, given the facial resemblance. She died in the war. After that distracting thought he returned to Gina's findings. "He might have won," he said aloud. "Or would have had a better chance of winning, at least."

"So why did he act today instead?"

Given what was happening in Atlanta, Robert had an idea about that. "We'll let the local authorities figure that out," he said. "For now, let's get back to the Berlaymont. I want to get an update from Atlanta."

The fighting was well over and the rogue security forces turned over to their comrades. Richmond was looking for Leo when she saw him, trailing the Spencers and Kusko. Rose was with him, trembling as she walked. "Doctor, are you alright?"

"I am."

"Have you found Lawton? His people seem confused about his role in this."

"He's in the lab, dead. And he was a NEUROM agent."

Richmond got the feeling he had something else on his mind. She ended up following as they approached the Brahmaputra.

Thomas, with something of a dramatic flourish and overdone pressing of keys, opened up the runabout’s door. He led them into the living area where a young woman was asleep on the cot.

It took Leo a second look to recognize his captor of the other night. She'd been cleaned up, although her blonde hair was still a mess. He heard a sharp gasp from Rose. Her knees hit the floor as she dropped down onto them.

“She was taken to Andersonville and her memories got scrambled.” Thomas explained. “I’ve spent the last day reconstructing those memories. There are still some fuzzy patches and missing association paths, but I can go ahead and wake her up.”

He did so, reaching into Lily’s mind and bringing her conscious mind out of the void-state he had it in. She emerged from that state remembering the conversation she was having with Kusko, but also having all of her original memories. She looked around, and saw her sister.

The teenager looked blankly at the scrubs-clad woman at first. The memories in her head recognized the face, broadly, but emotionally she was stuck. Now that it was conscious her mind was trying to find the emotions in those old memories.

Leo watched the tears flowing down Rose's face. She looked frozen, as if she feared this was a trick or a dream. She sniffled and managed the word "Lily".

A little gasp came from the throat of the teenage girl. Her mind gently probed at Rose's.

Rose nodded. When her mouth opened again, it was to begin singing. "I come home in the morning light/My mother says, 'When you gonna live your life right?'..."

Lily breathed in at that. There were tears in her eyes now. Her voice shook even as she started singing too. "Oh mother dear we're not the fortunate ones/And girls, they wanna have fun."

Rose let out a sob before picking it up again, even as Lily joined with the same words. "Oh girls just want to have fun. Oh girls, they just wanna have fun!"

There were no more words. There didn't need to be. The sisters sang on in their minds while Lily dropped into Rose's waiting arms. Sobbing became laughter and became sobbing again as they held each other close, two loving sisters reunited when neither ever expected it again.

Leo couldn't keep the tears from his own eyes. As it turned out, the telepaths were even more susceptible to the joy washing over them.

He glanced Richmond's way. Her expression was controlled but her green eyes made it clear she wasn't unmoved.

A single, gratifying thought came to him. It looks like Rose got her sister back after all.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »

Ship's Log: 18 December 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. The last holdouts of Security Minister Marias' [/I]coup forces have surrendered to the Earth Union government. It would seem many of the offices and branches of Marias' agency remained on the fence until the government survived the initial attack, allowing for a quick resolution to the crisis. None of the aid workers scattered across the world were harmed.

The Reformist governments have pledged continued membership in the Union in the aftermath of the failed
coup. Their leadership is in negotiations for a variety of reforms that will put the Union on a path away from authoritarianism.

As for the plague, the efforts of the fleet's medical section have seen a vaccine successfully developed. It is being provided now to communities around the Southeast of North America and other possible infection sites. Dr. Diptheek believes a counter-virus should be available shortly that will reverse the condition in those already infected.

Our efforts to learn more about the NEUROM operations have not gone as smoothly.

The young man's face was twisted into a snarl. Meridina and Doctor Tusana were seated in front of him with Commander RIchmond. The Spencers and Kusko were to their right and Walter Smith and Irma Michaels to their left. Kaveri and Robert were behind them with Kaveri's adjutant Bet'tir at her side as always.

"Hab-Kuzad is dead, and your camp's leaders rejected him," said Tusana, her Gersallian lilt speaking lightly and carefully. "There is nothing gained by obstinance."

"Just tell them what they want to know, Mister Tanner," Walter insisted. "We could get you amnesty when we show the Unies you were programmed."

"Amnesty?" Tanner spat at him. "That is what I think of your amnesty, traitor. We may have been stopped now, but espers will rule this world," the man insisted. "When the Ministry of Fate governs and NEUROM rules, traitors like you will suffer the wrath of the Fates. The mutes will be put in their proper place. And my brethren and I will have places of honor in the All-Father's order."

"The Alliance won't permit NEUROM to take this planet like that," Robert said. "We've stopped your plague and we'll help them find other agents. There's no reason to keep fighting for them."

"Stay to your own place, Forceful!" Tanner shook his head. "The only way for espers to survive is to rule mutes completely. We were meant to be Kings. That's what Fate's decreed. Our victory is inevitable."

"Why are you talking like this?" asked Irma. "Calling people 'mutes' and talking about Fate like it's God or something? And what's this about espers?"

"It's how people from S0T5 refer to telepaths," Robert explained. "They call them espers, and a word for non-telepaths is 'mute'." He stepped forward and reached through the Flow of Life for Tanner. Tanner let out a hiss and struck at his mind, but he used his powers to stop the attack. "His very nature's been twisted. Some kind of mental programming? It reminds me a little of what I sensed in Saren, but it's not nearly the same thing as Reaper indoctrination." He remembered that innate twisting he'd felt in Saren and those Salarians on Virmire. It wasn't what he felt here, but there was something fundamental about Tanner's mind that was out of place. Something in his presence in the Flow of Life was innately shifted.

Tanner's reaction was to attack again. This time the other telepaths stepped in. Meridina and Tusana blocked the attack and the Spencers slipped through his defenses with attack probes. Abigail rendered him unconscious while Thomas started sifting through his memories. Walter and Tusana joined him.

"There is something peculiar in his thoughts," said Tusana.

"I sensed this in Hab-Kuzad's mind." Walter shook his head. "It isn’t gibberish but I don’t know what it is.."

Thomas spoke. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Bet'tir? Anything?” He asked the Dilgar. There’s an order to it but I can’t figure out what it is. Maybe the Mha’dorn has seen something we haven’t.

The Dilgar also took a look. Peering through Tanner’s mind and rifling through the memories to find a baseline, something that would be easy to interpret, the first real concrete memory Tanner had was the easiest one, blowing out the candles on his third birthday. But it was off somehow, even for a human mind it was just ever so slightly out of sync. She looked at other psychologically foundational memories and they were anomalous too. Then she got it.

“It’s like a mathematical transformation. All the information is there but it’s been shifted around and mapped differently. All roads lead to NEUROM. It’s so pervasive you can’t disentangle them all without a complete mind-wipe or figuring out exactly what was done. Something like it was tried during The War as part of Len’char’s counter-intelligence efforts…” Both Thomas and Abigail knew what that meant. Spectacular levels of evil and incompetence.

“So, Bet'tir, what you’re saying is, we’re going to need a protracted research effort to figure out how to deprogram these people.”

“Yes, that is an accurate summation.” Bet'tir answered. “There is a good chance that the necessary work will not pass a Psi Corps Institutional Review Board.”

Robert shook his head in disgust, but even that paled to the sheer uncomprehending horror that Meridina and Tusana shared. This went far beyond even the worst their people imagined as an abuse of telepathy. This was the warping of a mind, a living being, into another shape.

“And fixing it to restore the willing-victims… will likely require us to do the same, only in reverse. In the mean-time, their plans are not as concealed as all that. Memory vaults, but not encrypted inside other memories.” Thomas wasn’t happy about that first part, but it was a job for Sigma and the Mha’dorn. Maybe the Gersallians if they could stomach it. “We can crack them, give us a minute.”

A vaulted memory was simply a memory that had its patterns of association cut, so one couldn’t reach it from other thoughts. Encrypting memories hid them inside the structure of other memories. An alert telepath could detect a vault with a naive deep scan, not so with encryption. Once detected, a vault was easy to crack open, and it took Thomas all of a minute sort through the contents.

“Hm. Not as blood-thirsty as we initially thought. They were planning on forcing a new civil war, and making the Reformist states dependent on them to fight off their enemies and the plague. Nominally independent when the dust settles, but completely dominated by NEUROM indoctrinated telepaths.”

"They must have anticipated our eventual arrival," Meridina said. "But we arrived earlier than they planned."

"Thanks to Becca bat Gurion," Robert mused aloud. "Undone by another telepath."

“We’re going to have to pass this up the chain.” Kusko said. “I can’t imagine they aren’t pulling strings in the Earth Alliance. If they aren’t now, they soon will be.”

"I'll add this to my next report to our government as well." Robert fought down the anger he felt at this. If it's not the Aristos getting off on torturing people, it's NEUROM brainwashing them. He noticed the intent look of Meridina, who didn't need to say or project anything to show her worry at the anger he was feeling. He tried to reassure her by relaxing the look on his face and focusing himself on the Flow of Life around them. The last thing I need is to end up like Hawk.

“The nice thing about just being a telepath is that we can just be pissed without the universe being disappointed in us and turning us into monsters.” Dr. Spencer smirked. “But don’t worry too much about us. Forewarned is forearmed!” There was a propaganda poster about that somewhere. “If you manage to capture more agents, we’ll take them.” IRB or no, the deprogramming work was absolutely necessary. “Speaking of which, Rose and Lily. We’re prepared to offer them asylum.”

Robert nodded. "Leo offered them the same thing on my behalf."

Tusana smiled softly at Thomas. "You did good work in restoring her memories as you have. I have built upon it by helping her rebuild some of the missing association paths. For her emotional well-being the memories of her imprisonment are currently vaulted until she is ready to open them."

“Thank you. For all of it really. There are certain drugs that can be used to help process those memories without being triggered by them. So she’ll have excellent post-acute care.” He was referring of course to MDMA.

"We have similar drugs, although our preference is for farisa therapists to aid the victim in processing the memories with emotional support."

"They would both face serious charges from Earth authorities," Kaveri said, bringing them back to the subject. "The local government may have fought off an authoritarian coup, but I would fear for the elder Williams' life if she ends up in their custody."

“Treason for Rose, Terrorism for Lily, yes.” Kusko had checked the relevant laws.

"That's why Leo had Richmond keep them on the Brahmaputra when it came back," Robert said. "The Williams are aboard now, he's got them in spare medical assistance quarters on Deck 12."

With Captain Varma there, Kusko was reminded of something. “Before I forget, Captain Varma, when I got my marching orders I was instructed to give you this should I see you.”

“Oh?” Kaveri looked at her somewhat intrigued. Kusko reached into one of the pockets inside her uniform coat and pulled out a small box and an envelope sealed in wax.

“Fowler regrets not being able to make the wedding.” She handed them over. Kaveri pulled out a small blade to open the envelope and read the contents. Both a congratulatory card in bright flashy colors and a letter written in a script so precise that it might as well have been printed by a machine. Then she opened the box with a soft smile and closed it up again.

“Oh gods, that old warhorse is far too kind. Thank you Ms Al, if you could convey to him my thanks and sincere affection?” Which was definitely there, purposefully allowed to leak through the Captain’s habitual internal mantra.

“Of course Captain.”

It was still the late afternoon when the party from the Aurora arrived at the telepath camp. Robert and Gina were personally escorting Deputy Secretary Crawford and members of his staff. They materialized in the camp commons.

Leo was there, waiting for Nysha and her fellow councillors. The Spencers were beside them.

Before he could begin introductions, Crawford stepped forward with a big grin on his face. His hand came up. "Nice to meet you folks," he said in his most charming drawl. "I'm Deputy Secretary Travis Crawford, Alliance Foreign Office, and I've been dyin' to see how you folks have been getting along."

His mind wasn't singing anything, or showing any signs of anything but just outwardly presenting a gregarious form of charm. Nysha grinned at the sincerity she felt and accepted the hand. "Chairwoman Nysha Williams, sir. Welcome to the Atlanta Telepath Settlement."

Crawford took in the place and nodded. "Still gettin' things back to normal around here, I can see. I hope our people can help you out with that, get you some homes set up real soon."

"That would be good, Mister Secretary. Living in tents gets old after a while."

"Oh, I reckon it does!" He gestured to his sides. "Captain Dale and his nice young lady Miss Inviere saved our hides in Brussels, and he wanted to meet you folks too."

Robert introduced himself formally and did so with Gina. As he spoke, he briefly looked toward the Spencers with some concern at what he was sensing from them.

Through that entire exchange, both the Spencer twins looked ever so slightly stricken and pale. In their minds it was like they were seeing a ghost. But not just any ghost, some sort of Hitlerian poltergeist. They cleared it quickly as soon as attention was turned on them and logic reasserted itself.

Crawford offered his hand, the same warm smile on his face. "Well now, the folks from the Jenny Winters Foundation, right? I hear you were a big help with this terrible plague situation, and that nasty fellow tryin' to stop us from curin' it."

“Um. Yes. ” Abigail accepted his hand in her own gloved one. “And it was a pleasure to do that, fascism has no place in all of existence. I’m… I’m sorry Mr. Secretary I don’t generally find myself at a loss for words.”

“She really doesn’t.” Kusko was giving her the strangest of looks.

“But, and I know this might seem crazy… You’re not a Mississippi Crawford, are you? Related to one Lee Crawford?”

Crawford furrowed his brow for a moment. "Well, I sure am. I'm from Texas myself, out near Tyler, but Lee Crawford of Mississippi was my great-grandpappy. He was one of the first warp-flight astronauts, took the Trailblazer out to Tau Ceti in his day. I'm guessin' he existed in your history too?"

“He wrote the Crawford-Tokash Act. And… the resemblance is uncanny.” She shook her head, put somewhat at ease. “I’ll admit when you walked in the experience was more than a bit surreal.”

"Well now, didn't intend to give you folks a start." Crawford's smile faded into a somber look, and Robert felt some unease in him. "The Crawford-Tokash Act. I read up on that. Terrible law. Written by an unkind man. I guess I now know why great-grandma took my grandpappy and his sisters and hightailed it home to Texas."

“Not your fault, there’s no need to apologize for it's just, well, I guess no matter how many universes there are, the world is still small.” Thomas interjected.

"It sure can be," Crawford said. "Well, we've got the folks in Brussels reconsiderin' their laws about telepaths, maybe we'll get EarthDome to do the same one day. The way I see it, you folks should be as free as any one else on God's green earth, mind-readin' or not."

They both grinned. “Yeah, maybe one day.” Abigail said, but her voice said ‘soon’ in a completely deniable way “Not that I’m able to comment on Earth Alliance policy, of course.”

Given the Secretary's time was as valuable as her own, Nysha spoke up. "Is there anything you'd like to see first, Mister Secretary?"

"I hear you've still got folk recoverin' from that attack," he said. "If they're willin', I'd like to shake their hands and wish them well."

After Leo nodded in approval on the idea, and the fact there were people able to receive visitors, Nysha said, "This way then, Mister Secretary."

As they walked on, Robert took the time to shake the Spencers' hands as well. Thanks for helping my friend, he thought, the image in his head clearly on Leo. And give my regards to Dr. Meier and his husband Mister Hendricks. I can't always keep in touch.

The entire central committee will be getting a briefing and we’ll make sure to include that. Thomas replied.

Robert walked on, picking up his pace to catch up with the group. As he moved along, he could hear Thomas humming a familiar tune. I guess they have the Twilight Zone too, he thought to himself.

Abigail p'cast a reply. Oh yes! But not enough to prepare us for that. I’m going to put in a note to revise the curriculum.

His reply was a low chuckle.
”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 »

My thanks to Voyager989 for vetting Kaveri's dialogue, of course. While this was originally made as a Leo episode, the set-up let me make it a great payoff for Kaveri being Captain at this point (3-22 will have a similar moment).
”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 the evening hour in Atlanta when Crawford's visit ended. After he and his staff returned to the Aurora Robert arranged a return transport for himself, Gina, Leo, Richmond, and the Spencers with Kusko.

They were met in the transporter room by Dr. Tusana and the Williams sisters. Rose's red hair was again pulled into a pony-tail. Lily's hair, while still short, was combed and brushed into something other than the mess it'd been before. They were still arm in arm and looked like it would take a tank to separate them. Her grungy clothes had been replaced by a cleaner and brighter ensemble of a yellow skirt and sundress.

"We've talked with Dr. Tusana, and we've decided to take up your offer of a place at Tau Atrea," Rose said to the group, particularly to the Spencers. "It sounds like a good place to start over."

“The Corps in general is. Though you might be in for a bit of a culture shock. I hope you like Soviet realist art…” Kusko replied.

"It has to be better than the stuff the New Confederacy plastered everywhere," she replied. "And the Unies' stuff is terrible."

Robert chuckled. "It reminds me of old motivational posters in my school days. Not nearly as motivating or inspiring as intended. Although I admit I felt the same about what I saw on Tau Atrea. I've never been one for that kind of art."

“Hey now! You be nice! That’s decades of capitalist propaganda talking.” Abigail protested with good humor. “In all honestly though, it’s a rough and tumble frontier colony, but growing. Think American West with clean water, sanitation, and any bandits who do show up won’t live long enough to regret their life choices.”

"It's not rubble, at least, and our parents won't be showing up." Rose ran a hand through Lily's hair, tousling it much to her sister's enjoyment.

“I basically went straight into the military, I’m just waiting on my home ship to be commissioned.” Kusko said “But there’s a lot for civilians to do, and the Corps will make sure you have something that suits both your skills and what it is you want to do. So you won’t be bored either.”

"I really like being a nurse," Rose confirmed. She turned her head to Leo and bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Doctor, for everything."

"And I'm sorry for trying to kidnap you," Lily added.

Leo's response was a friendly grin. "No harm was done in the end," he said. "And it brought you two back together, so I figure everything worked out."

"You're one of the good ones," Rose said. "I think that's really why Hab-Kuzad wanted you gone. You were making people in the camp willing to think well of outsiders again. He wanted to turn everyone against ban… against non-telepaths."

Leo nodded. "That's how people like that work. They use fear and hate to control the rest of us. It's why it's so important that we don't act on our fears, even if it means we might get hurt."

“Basically a telepathic space-Nazi… which isn’t something I ever thought I’d see. Don’t beat yourself up too much Rose. Most of us would love to have a sister who’s willing to do what you did for our sake… just not, you know, going that far.” Thomas added “As to nursing, we’ve got you covered there. We’ll get you up to speed. Any thoughts of your own Lily?”

"A lot of thoughts. It's good to have my own brain back," she said. "Although I feel really bad for Regina, whoever she was. I'm… I'm not sure she was one of the survivors." Lily brushed away a tear and, at Rose's concerned look, hugged her tightly. "It's okay. I know that I'm lucky in a lot of ways, and I want to live up to that. Maybe I can help people like Mister Sinclair or Dr. Tusana helped me, or protect them like Kusko or Commander Richmond."

RIchmond inclined her head. Her expression was pleasant and she spoke quietly. "You'll find your own way, I'm sure."

“There’s no need to decide right now. We have a thorough curriculum that should give you a taste of everything you can do, and from there decisions can be made. I hope you liked school as a kid… both of you, because there’s gonna be a lot of that.” Abigail grinned. There would be a lot of those motivational posters.

"Sir." The Dorei transporter chief, a purple-skinned woman with blue spots and light teal hair and eyes, looked up from her console. "The Father Xabier just signaled. They're preparing for their return jump to E5B1 and are awaiting the passengers' transport."

"Looks like it's time to go." Rose and Lily started with Leo, giving him a hug and moving on to the others. Gina accepted hers with slight bemusement but a legitimate warmth.

Kusko wasn’t so much of a hugger but accepted their hugs anyway. Don’t go into engineering on the ship. Chaos reigns there. She glyphed them warning imagery of a ramshackle engineering section kept together with strong vocabulary and quick thinking.

The other two were far more enthusiastic about hugs.

Where did the ship gets it name? Did Father Xabier have something to do with Jenny Winters? Lily actively thought.

Abigail answered that one. He was a Basque Catholic priest who sheltered telepaths from pogroms, both when we were first discovered and then fifty years later when we made contact with the Centauri. Jenny Winters is… a long story. Short version; a young telepath who was enslaved, rescued and indoctrinated by a terrorist cult, before she was finally liberated from them. Later, she went into our Education division and made a name for herself talking people off the Sleepers, drugs people can take to suppress their telepathic talents.

With Lily's curiosity sated, the sisters stepped up on the transporter pad. With a final wave they disappeared in twin bursts of light, their departure marked by a short electronic buzzing sound.

"We'd better get back down to the camp," Leo said. "Things are looking better, but there's still a lot of work to do."

"Right." Robert noted his omnitool light up. He read the message and took in a breath. "And I've got something to see to." He gave a significant look to Gina, who recognized what he meant immediately. When she checked her own omnitool, she found the same message.

Finished decoding new section. Need to see everyone ASAP. - Lucy

It was late in the Aurora's formal day, with Beta Shift on the duty watches, when the group assembled in Science Lab 1 at Lucy's summons. Robert and Gina arrived just after Jarod, and Talara came a moment later. Meridina appeared with Kaveri and Bet'tir coming last. They approached the central holo-table of the lab while Jarod confirmed the final lines of Lucy's decoding work.

"It's a… poem?" Gina asked, surprised.

"It looks that way."

The words hung in holographic light in front of them.

In Doom, In Ruin, In Broken Despair;
Queen of the Fortresses! Flower of the Rim!
To go to Reshan's Temple, first to leave
Time, space, and fair stars.
By the Wings of Infinity
Travel to madness, travel to wastes
Travel to the End of Sanity
Travel to the Limits of Pain
To reach Reshan's Temple
First Afam'oso must be gained
Where Hope Met Darkness
The Path must Begin

Robert felt the surprise in Meridina and Gina. He glanced toward them, as did Bet'tir, Lucy, and Talara. "What is it?"

"Afam'oso." Gina swallowed. "I read about it when studying the Order's history. It's a legend from Swenya's day."

"It's a great battle Swenya is said to have fought," Meridina said. "It was said she led a great army to victory against overwhelming odds. The legend speaks of her arrival at the battle as being 'living hope'." Meridina drew in a breath. "It's always been a mystery. There is no place on Gersal or its earliest colonies by that name. Some believed it to be part of the great war she fought in, but it was never associated with that war in the surviving accounts."

"The other theory was that it was a lost localization, or from one of the languages that died out after Kohbal's uprising," Gina said.

"It's not Gersallian," said Jarod, looking at the book itself. "It's Portuguese."

All eyes turned toward him.

"A Famoso. It means 'The Famous'," he continued. "It was a nickname of the Portuguese fortress at Malacca during the height of the spice trade."

"What does a sixteenth or seventeenth century Portuguese fort have to do with any of this?" Lucy asked.

"Probably nothing," he admitted. "But it might have been the inspiration for the name of another fortress or structure that was named in the original's honor."

Robert finished tapping away at his omnitool and projected the results as a secondary screen on the holo-table. It was an article of the Encyclopedia Solaria from S0T5. "It's a legend there too," he said.

Kaveri read the text. "The Earthreign, again," she murmured.

"Looks like it," Robert agreed, not enthused at all with the connection. "It looks like it's some legendary fortress that was said to have survived the Reignfall. But nobody knows where to find it in the Fracture."

"So the poem refers to some legendary lost space fortress that a lot of people have apparently died trying to find." Lucy let out a frustrated "ugh". "Why can't it be a simple starmap? They might as well want us to find Atlantis." She tapped at the controls to the computer. "Maybe I can set up a search wide enough to find out something more?"

"That might not be necessary." Jarod pointed at the poem. "Consider that line, before the bits about traveling."

"'On the Wings of Infinity'," Bet'tir read. "I fail to see the significance, Commander?"

Robert breathed out in frustration and lowered his head.

His action was noted, but for the others' benefit Jarod brought up another image, showing a stylized winged Moebius strip.

"Winged infinity," Kaveri remarked.

"Exactly." Jarod nodded. "But better known as the logo of Pan-Empyrean Holdings, a major megacorp on Solaris. The megacorp."

"Sidney Hank," Robert sighed.

"You still owe him a favor for the information that led to us rescuing Julia, don't you?" Lucy asked him.

"I do," he replied. He lamented the fact, but not the reason for it. "Let's hope he doesn't want another one." Robert used his omnitool to activate a connection to the IU communications network. "I'll see if he'll answer a message about this."

"What does a Solarian business tycoon have to do with all of this?" Kaveri asked.

"Honestly, there's more to Hank than just that," Jarod noted while Robert worked. "He's a peculiar individual. Some of the evidence we've seen indicates he's existed in some form for at least two thousand years. Nobody knows if it's true, or how it could be true. The best theory is that he uses mind-state computer backups and clone bodies, but it shouldn't be possible to retain that much memory in a Human being's brain."

"Well, that's unexpected," Robert murmured. Before any of them could ask he projected the incoming call onto the holotable.

The visage of Sidney Hank appeared, wearing a fine business suit and seated in a high office chair emblazoned with the winged Moebius. He took a small sip of what looked like his favored brandy. "I've been waiting for this call," he said. "You finished decoding the book up to the poem?"

A number of the others blinked in surprise, but Robert simply nodded. "I'm not surprised you know," he said. "But yeah."

"I always thought the poem was a little self-indulgent," Hank remarked, as if confiding a secret. "But the old man had his quirks. Anyway, now you need the directions to A Famoso. It won't be easy. It's at a meta-stable point in the Fracture. Think of it as an oasis of space-time stability. You won't enjoy the experience getting there."

"Oh, I was already sure of that. But Ledosh was ready to die to get us the book," Robert replied. "So we'll go anyway."

"Good for you, Captain, that's the spirit." Hank grinned. His eyes never moved, nor did his hands, but Robert noted data coming in on an encrypted subchannel. "These are the necessary coordinates to find the fortress. Be there within forty-eight hours. Hank out."

After his image disappeared Robert relayed the coordinates to the system. "Looks like it's outside of NEUROM or Aurigan space," he said. "We should be safe taking the Jayhawk, but we'll have to leave now to get there within the time limit."

"Then you had better depart immediately," Kaveri said. "I imagine that given the message left in the book, you will be bringing Commander Meridina and Commander Jarod?"

"I think it's wise to," he replied. "Will you be okay with that?"

Kaveri nodded. "Commander Locarno has command experience, and Lieutenant Tra'dur has filled in the role before. We will be fine. Better, perhaps, than you, given what I have learned of the Fracture's effects upon telepaths and metaphysically-gifted people."

"Oh, this part is going to suck, no doubt about that." Lucy stood alongside Jarod.

"I will have a jump to S0T5 prepared for you," she said. "The spatial aspect of an attempted jump to Kerkyra should get you within the range you need, if we are fortunate."

"Thanks." Robert nodded to her. He followed it up with a nod to the others. "It's about time we received answers."

They agreed, and as one they left the lab.

In his private office on the Villa Straylight, Sidney Hank stared into space for a few moments. A small sigh of resignation came next, after which he stood. "Dionysus."


"Alert Black that I need Green's services. Blue's as well, if he can find her. And have Ms. Montague report to him as well. And for the hard part, activate the hyperwave transceiver." As he spoke Hank approached the control to his secret room. It opened. He stepped in and let his eyes wander to the images on the wall. Remembering the good times, and the desperate, that the images represented, he went to the box in the middle of the room. He considered the vast amount of time he'd waited for this moment and all it portended before he picked it up.

When he emerged back into his office, the blue outline of a figure in repose appeared. The Alekto looked relaxed and confident, which was not uncommon for her, but which Hank’s own brutal experience told him was highly deceptive. Hank ignored the part of his mind that recognized he should be intimidated as hell by her power, even with the logic routines from Dionysus bolstering that sense.

She surveyed him, curious and expectant. He held up the box. "It's time," he said. "Dale and his people are on the way to A Famoso."

"Very well." The look on her face was not quite contentment, nor satisfaction. Just a faint bit of eagerness, he thought. "We'll meet you there, and I'll decide once and for all whether these children are the ones we've waited so long for."

“Why do you think you’re the one who gets to make that decision?”

The Alekto laughed. “Well, the Doctor isn’t going to be there, is he?” She paused, and then looked at him with an expression that conveyed earnest seriousness, an almost impossibly rare emotion in the mercurial and dangerous creature he now faced. “Hank, we have to get this right. Trust me for what I’m good at.”

The dawn sky over New Liberty was chasing away the vestiges of night over Julia's head while she led Miko through another set of forms. She found special enjoyment in going through them herself given her stress over Dr. Schneider and her concerns about the psychiatrist's motives.

When the final form finished, Julia was pleased to note how well Miko went through the entire set. As much as Miko preferred more direct exertion of energy, Julia thought she was clearly coming to grips with the principles of t'ai chi. "Miko, maybe it's time to try something new," she said, putting confidence in her voice to encourage her student.

"A new form, Sifu?" Miko asked politely.

"Yes and no. Come here."

Julia led Miko to the lake shore while admiring the shimmering dawn light on its crystal blue surface. Once they were up to the shore she moved into a stance and made a push-pull motion with her arms. Miko stated doing the same. "I want you to concentrate on that," she said, stopping for the moment. "Keep that motion up."

"This is a Waterbending push-pull teaching form," Miko said. "I… it's never worked for me." Her eyes focused on the water, as if she could command it to obey with the intensity of her stare alone.

"Don't focus on the water," Julia said. "Focus on your form. Feel the fluid motion in your body as you follow the form. Think of what it means to be fluid, to be water. Imagine your energy ready to shift itself in any given direction and follow the flow of the environment around it."

Miko did as instructed. She continued the movements and was clearly frustrated at the lack of results, but she didn't give up. Julia watched her breathing relax. Her movement became more fluid, not relaxed but not rigid. Her arms were a continuous flow, forward and backward, push and pull.

The surface of the water rippled.

Julia heard it instead of seeing it. She turned her head and looked down. Miko's eyes journeyed in the same direction. They widened as the surface of the lake rippled in time with her arms, moving back and forth as if a wave generator was working on its surface.

She did it, Julia thought, and a broad smile crossed her face. After weeks of worry that she would ultimately hold Miko back, trying to teach her a skill she could never actually perform herself, she finally had proof she was doing right by her new friend and student. She's doing it! She's moving the water!

The water movement stopped because Miko stopped. She lifted her arms in triumph and shrieked joyfully into the air. "I'm Waterbending! I'm actually Waterbending!" She turned and threw her arms around Julia in a tight hug.


The cry pierced the air and drew their attention, confused as it was. Julia recognized Liara as she ran up the lake path toward them, a mass effect pistol in one hand while the other waved frantically. "Run now!" she shouted. "They're tracking you, they're after you!"

Julia still wasn't sure what Liara meant. But given the year she'd had, and what the others had gone through over it, she wasn't about to stand around. She grabbed Miko by the hand and raced in the same general direction as Liara. Behind them, Julia heard gunfire, and the sound of projectiles striking the ground behind them. Once she knew Miko was following she brought her left forearm up. "Omnitool, emergency call to Colony Security, now."

The omnitool's screen came up with an error. There was no signal. She was being jammed.

Something must be jamming the planetary comms, she thought, as that was the only thing that made sense. We have to get back to the Colony.

They met up with Liara as they approached the clearing before the park exit. There were no trees here for at least forty meters in any direction and the concrete path was laid out.

At the exit the trees came back together, creating a wall of said trees for the exterior view of the parik. From those trees came two figures. One was, like Liara, an Asari, of a purple complexion, and the other was a red-colored Salarian. Both were in white and yellow uniforms with a big black circle insignia. They both raised firearms where they stood.

Julia stopped, trying to keep them from opening fire while she considered new options.

Their situation only got worse, however, as their pursuers came up behind them. They were another pair of Salarians carrying assault rifles with the same armor.

"Eclipse mercenaries," Liara said, sounding as if she would hiss the words.

There was no reply from them while more movement came from the trees. Julia looked in horror at one of the figures. He was one of the young Cameroonian musicians who played in the square. But now he looked pale and gaunt. His eyes were covered by a set of sunglasses, and his face was vacant of emotion.

The figure beside him had the same pale skin and sunglasses, although the skin tone was much lighter. She smiled viciously. "The Dawn-Bearer, as expected."

Her voice rasped and crackled. It reminded Julia of the 'Pretender' she'd fought on Noveria, who'd nearly killed her, Angel, and Richmond with inhuman strength. “Nyuru, I give you the Dawn-Bearer.” She pitched her voice to the mercenaries. “Kill the others, Contain Captain Andreys!” The woman idly produced a pistol as a personal shield glimmered around her. “We have five minutes to kill them before there’s a response.”

The musician began to advance toward Julia with a snarl.
”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 mercenaries converged on Miko. They took no chances and opened fire at once, mass effect rifles chattering and micro-rockets salvoing from under-barrel launchers. They were attacking Miko like she was a tank, not a random girl practicing in the park. She had a split second to respond, trembling as she spun away and called into herself a wall of fire that detonated the rockets in mid-air.

With the mercs concentrating on Miko, Liara was left alone. She called forth a biotic attack to pin the mysterious woman in the darkness of the trees with a singularity. Her target moved faster than seemed possible, and easily evaded it. Even as she did, pulse fire came from the woman’s new position, unerringly accurate. Liara knew how dangerous the game she had been playing was… So the lightweight body armour plate she had been wearing on her torso kept her from being killed instantly as the pulse fire tore into it and flung her off her feet and backwards.

With a smirk, the woman drew a second gun, letting the first fall to a lanyard. She looked sharply for Miko as the woman used her Firebending to drive the Mercs back into cover. They were all the finest veterans, highly equipped, and two of them were biotics who were pushing Miko to the limit. She already had a wound from a gunshot on her arm and it was slowing her bending down.

Julia couldn’t do much about anything, because the musician with his blank eyes was moving as fast as the others before him. He had lunged in a blur of motion and flung her backwards across the stone, slamming down into the rocks of the walkway around the lake, and then was on top of her a moment later. All of her skill had just served to keep her from slamming her head into the rocks as she fell and skidded to a stop under the enormous blow. Ugh, I think that was another rib, she thought as the pain flared.

Then she had other problems. The man was over her, pinning her down with a knife in one hand and … Fangs descending from his teeth. Even after all this, Julia felt a moment of incomprehending shock and terror. Vampires. Pretenders are Vampires.

But the dead man hesitated. And in a moment’s hope, Julia knew why. The simple silver band necklace of her mother’s had been a nice choice for a morning exercising out in the park. Now it symbolically stood between her and death.

As Miko battled the mercenaries, the Pretender woman who had driven Liara out of the fray waited for her chance with the second gun, stepping from the shadows into the dim pre-dawn light and levelling it. In a glimmer of light, Liara, struggling to her feet, saw what the gun was, and gasped in horror.

It was a Romulan disruptor pistol. And Liara had no doubt at all that the calm and cool woman had it set to disintegrate.

Aiming at Miko’s back as the woman finally engulfed one of the mercenaries in flames, there was a smirk on that pale face with plump red lips and sunglasses on before dawn. She pulled the trigger like a practiced killer and the green beam lanced out.

Miko spun around just in time to be caught full-on the chest by the beam. Liara felt a scream die in her lips as she charged her biotics for the attack. Too Late, Goddess!

But Miko’s eyes were glowing white, and the beam slammed into a whirling wind and rings of fire around her instead of striking her body, being absorbed and refracted by the immense power surging from within Miko. Her attacker’s face twisted into a grimace. “Raava.” She held down the trigger, and the sheer energies of the horrifying disintegrating weapon pitted themselves against the Avatar State as the Pretender drained the charge trying to burn through.

And then Miko felt it, through the Avatar State. She was the Avatar, she was complete… And through the defences she had raised, she was being attacked again anyway. A mind pressed into her own, dark and corrupted. It commanded her to stillness, it tried to pull a distinction between her and the Avatar, to bleed pure fear into her. You don’t know bending, you can’t hold this, you are imperfect, behind in your training…

The thoughts crept like corrosion into Miko’s mind.

Julia’s necklace had lasted long enough for the attacker to claw and battery at her neck with gloved hands until awkwardly ripping it off. She fought back with a pocket knife, lunging up to just break the blade off in his chest to no effect. For all that, this was an unskilled creature, acting almost like an animal, incomprehending in how he handled his hands and body. But Hungry.

And then his head exploded from his body in a whirling motion of a stark silver blade which glinted in the rising light. It rolled across the stone as the headless body toppled back down onto Julia, and she struggled to kick it up, looking up.

A short figure in a barnous stood there with a scarf wrapped over where her eyes should be and long curly black hair descending on her back. She held a silver blade dripping with dark red dead blood and flecked with bits of flesh and bone.

“Rebecca,” she called out, sharply. “I’m going to give you the rest you deserved all those years ago!”

The Pretender woman deactivated the disruptor and whipped around, leaving Miko in the Avatar State to regain her strength and turn on the mercs around her. She reached out and flipped up an object which extended into a memory-metal sword, and began to retreat. “Come at me, bitch,” she responded with a growl.

The woman in the barnous, no eyes required, ran straight for her. The two swords clashed sharply in the rising sun, and clashed again. Each time that the Pretender struck with her blade, she found it met with silver that bent, chipped, and yielded, but revealed a steel core beneath that held. The little blindfolded woman always knew where her opponent was in time to match the blade against blade.

Freed from the telepathic attack, Miko turned her power on the Eclipse mercenaries. With the Avatar State all of the elements, even those she hadn't trained fully with, were at her command. With a swing of her leg she carved grass and earth from beneath them, throwing them off their feet. The Asari grimaced and kept her footing with a backward jump. She threw a biotic bolt at Miko that was leapt over effortlessly, the air beneath Miko propelling her into the air. Once airborne she twisted and drew the same air with her, projecting it forward in a tightly-packed funnel cloud that slammed into the Asari with all the strength of a miniature tornado. The woman went flying back down the path. A rapid series of hand gestures summoned stone from beneath the lush grass, stone that wrapped around the Asari's limbs and waist to pin her in place.

The Salarians recovered. The red-skinned Salarian gave the order to fire only to be taken from the side by a biotic bolt that sent him spinning skyward. Still in the fight, Liara focused her biotic gifts into an even larger bolt, one that burst into a singularity once it was over the remaining Salarians. The pull of the generated dark matter drew them into the air.

Miko raised her hands, summoning twin funnels of tightly-packed air, with stone and fire mixed within. With a single downward gesture she struck the Salarians with these weapons. Liara's singularity burst at the same time, as she willed the energies to expand outward in a brief explosion of dark matter. The twin strike put both down for the count, leaving them wounded and unconscious.

As Miko swung to assist the mysterious woman, she saw the blades skitter together and the Pretender lean down with her strength into Ms. Blindfold. For a moment it seemed like she would drive the shorter woman into the ground. Then Blindfold released her blade with one hand and let herself be driven to the side, but the bottom dropped out from the Pretender she was fighting; the woman toppled forward as her weight shifted.

With the heavy leather gloves she wore, Ms. Blindfold grabbed the blade of her own weapon and bunted it back up into the torso of her opponent, sliding her hand down to the crossguard. She pulled hard and flicked the blade back across the woman’s chest. A horrible screaming erupted across the park as the wound seemed to hiss, and the blindfolded woman rose, twisting the blade in deeper and deeper.

“It was done fairly,” she said, ‘looking’ down as the figure below her toppled into the paving stones, and twitched, and finally did not move any longer as the silvered blade was thrust up into the neck from below. “No Powers, no lightsabre. No eyes,” she smirked and then shook her head slowly, and drawing the blade back from the corpse, dropped to her knees--and tenderly kissed the forehead of the rotted, emaciated corpse which was all that was left on the ground. “Rest easy. I have freed your body.”

As Julia rose, she realised the universal translator on her omnitool was translating the woman’s words for her, and through the pain, she haltingly checked the original language.

Old New Franconian. The language unique to S0T5, the legendary tongue of the Earthreign.

The sun rose over the park, and the woman rose to face it. Julia realised who they were dealing with now. She’d seen the images. The resemblance left her no doubt. “Yellow,” Julia said.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain Andreys, but we need to go now. They will not stop, and the rest of the Dawn-Bearers need you. My ship is waiting.”

"Those things… I remember the one on Noveria, but are they actually—"

"Yes and no,” Yellow answered, preempting her. “They’re creatures of sapient nightmare. They are formed by feeding on fear. But once they do… They become as real as matters for your comprehension, anyway. You will learn more, but we must go."

"Not without them," Julia insisted, noting the injuries on her comrades. Now that the danger was past Miko was back to normal, her amber-toned eyes showing instead of the solid white of before. She was looking to the gunshot wound on her arm with a grimace, as if just remembering she was hit. Liara looked just as worse for wear.

Instead of the opposition she'd anticipated, Yellow simply nodded. Before Julia could say anything else, the all-too-familiar sensation of a Darglan transporter whisked them away from the battle site.

Alone in the fractally-twisted spaces of the Fracture of Universe S0T5, in spaces that once hailed the Terran Reich, the legendary Earthreign, as their ruler, the Alliance vessel Jayhawk continued its solitary flight at her top speed of Warp 6.

Inside the cockpit the ship's official master, Captain Robert Dale, Paladin of the Alliance, felt like he wanted to vomit. The same could be said for the two present members of his operations team, as Gina Inviere and Lieutenant Talara shared his metaphysical gifts and thus the sensitivity to the wrongness that existed within the Fracture.

The only person in the cockpit who wasn't pale and nauseated was Lieutenant Commander Jarod, Operations Officer from the Aurora, who was the natural choice for pilot for the moment given his relative insensitivity to the wrongness of the Fracture. "We'll be there soon," he said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I'm going to vomit," Robert answered weakly. He glanced to the systems screen he was technically manning. The warp drives on the Jayhawk were running at their maximum potential, something they weren't meant to do indefinitely. They were starting to push the ship like it'd never been pushed before. He tapped a button on the console. "Engineering. Lucy, looks like the drive's getting a little hot."

"It's the field intensity, I'm trying to compensate but it's not easy." Her voice betrayed she was suffering just as they were. "Why did this damn place have to be in the Fracture? I feel like I'm going to hurl all over the engines."

"If we're right, this was a battle from the height of a war with the Darkness," Robert said. "A war that probably caused the Fracture in the first place. We can't be surprised this place exists inside of it."

"There's still a lot we have to learn about that old war," Jarod said. "The information we have on it is sketchy. We haven't found any Darglan accounts in either of the S4W8 databases, or any databases recovered from Darglan space."

"Maybe the Darglan didn't want to remember the war, as a people," Talara suggested. "It marked the end of their interuniversal civilization."

As she spoke, Robert saw some color return to her bronze-toned face. Her eyes, with their mostly-Human appearance save the lavender dot in the center of her irises, seemed to focus more.

He felt it too. The sense of wrongness was fading.

"I'm picking up a large mass ahead," Jarod said. "Bringing us out of warp in one minute."

As those final seconds passed by, Meridina arrived from the quarters she was sharing with Lucy, looking better than she had before going to rest. Lucy arrived after her just in time for Jarod to bring the ship out of warp.

"Well, that's certainly impressive," Robert remarked.

Through the cockpit's front windows was the sight that fascinated them all. Ahead of their ship was a massive sphere of metal, broken and battered with multiple openings in the shell. Surrounding the sphere was a great cloud of debris, hugging it like an aura, with pieces small enough to fit in a fist and large enough to rival even the Aurora in size. The sphere itself was ninety kilometers in diameter, completely stupendous in size, second only to the colossal Dyson Sphere found in S5T3.

As they approached the larger pieces of debris became recognizable. "Vengeur-class," Jarod noted. "There must have been dozens of them at least. And a whole bunch of other ships we don't recognize."

Lucy set a station for sensor readings. "Jarod, look at this elemental comparison. Is that what I think it is?"

Jarod glanced quickly at the results from one of the scanners. "Its Darglan," he said. More results showed. "And that might actually be a piece of bio-armored hull. The composition suggests Vorlon bio-armor."

"The Vorlons were here?" Robert stared ahead as the debris loomed larger.

"Looks like it. Another of the samples is coming up as a ninety-five percent match to Apexai-made alloys. And there's even more here the sensors don't recognize."

As he spoke the others were already feeling something different. "They were desperate," Gina said softly. "I can feel it here."

Talara nodded. "I'm feeling terror. They knew they would probably die, and they were terrified of what they were fighting."

"But they were still holding." Lucy's expression was grim. "Desperate, terrified, and utterly defiant."

Robert swallowed. "I recognize this feeling," he said, concentrating on an old wrongness surrounding the area. "I've felt this before. On Gamma Piratus."

"I can feel the deaths." Even without the nausea of the Fracture present, Meridina's face was pale. Besides feeling what the others sensed, her telepathic talents felt the mass death-traces of people who'd died in the hulks they were now flying around. Many had been telepaths and left stronger traces. Proud, terrified, desperate, defiant, it all mixed together.

The debris field thickened as they closed on the sphere, forcing greater maneuvering from Jarod. He flew them between the shattered pieces of one of the Vengeur-class dreadnoughts. As they emerged out the other end they were presented with another piece of debris, this in the shape of a tall, red-and-white vertical hammerhead bow with a blown weapon turret on the side. Jarod had to bank the Jayhawk to starboard, hard, to evade it, then come back to his original heading to avoid the burnt silver of a catamaran-shaped hulk.

Around them, they could feel a further unease, it felt like something was lurking in the background around them, a fundamental tension. Nobody could place it, but it left them all on edge.

"We're almost there," Lucy noted, even as a familiar-looking hulk loomed ahead. Everyone felt a little ache in their hearts at the broken ruin of a Darglan Emergency Cruiser, a sister to their own Aurora.

Beyond the feelings of the others, Robert felt like he could see what happened back then. In a corner of his being he imagined the great dark forms, ships that seemed to be made of living shadow, and the vicious onslaught of these vessels as they seemed to eliminate deflectors and crumple armor to dust, destroying and slaughtering the defenders of the sphere by the dozen. He wondered if it was his imagination, or in moments, if it might be a real memory.

The sphere itself loomed ahead of them. Jarod guided them toward its broken exterior while Lucy returned her attention to the sensors. "Most of the station is in vacuum," she said. "I can't tell if it's from battle damage or if someone deliberately decompressed the interior. But I'm picking up a sign of a remnant atmosphere toward the central core. Looks like it's still sealed against vacuum."

"Any sign of a place to land?" Robert asked.

"Nothing. I'm not sure of any way to directly access the intact portion save for beaming in."

A tone filled the cockpit. Gina checked her station. "We're getting a signal from inside the station. It's a message, naming all of us except Talara. 'Welcome to A Famoso. We will meet you in the Garden."

"Nice to get an invitation, like that's not ominous as hell," Jarod remarked. "So we all go?"

"We'll go." Robert stood and nodded once to Talara. "Talara, beam us over and keep watch. Let us know if you pick anything up."

"Yes sir," she answered dutifully.

The Jayhawk's transport capacity meant that the sensitives beamed over first. They took a moment to sense for immediate danger while Lucy verified the atmosphere with her omnitool scanners. "It's fully breathable," she said, removing her breathing mask and returning it to the folds of her robe. The others did the same. Lucy and Gina had the blue robes Gersallians used for field Knights of Swenya while Meridina donned a brown field robe like Robert's own. The ladies had purple armor while Robert's was an azure blue shade.

Another burst of light formed. Jarod appeared, wearing a field action uniform with a pulse pistol in his hip holster. "Well, I can see why it's called a garden," he mused.

The structure they were within teemed with plant life and flowing water, vast enough that the water currents included an active waterfall. "Reminds me of what Scotty said about the Genesis Project cave," Robert said, taking in the sight.

They walked on, following a stone-laid path toward a central piazza in the lush space. The scents were fully natural, wafting down from flower-bearing trees. It was hard to imagine they were in the middle of an ancient space station, not on a planet somewhere. The vast open space stretched on for kilometres all around them.

The piazza itself had four approaches, each a stone-hewn path. There were old benches and chairs present, as well as rose bushes. In the piazza center the floor was carved marble, forming an eagle insignia. Robert recognized it from the briefing materials from the Huascar's discovery in the Cyrannus Cluster: it was the symbol of the Terran Reign, with its Old New Franconian declaration of Mes Werke, damiu que mon Leutle ne soit esklaven sind. "My work, all so that my people shall never again be slaves".

As they approached, he felt something familiar. A trace left long ago, the metaphysical equivalent of a remnant sunbeam from a once-risen sun. I remember this, he thought. I felt it… where? After a moment's consideration he remembered. Umintamil. It was in Umintamil. His eyes widened as he considered what that meant. The old Gersallian monastery where he spent six weeks trying to get stronger control over his expanded powers was known as once being a favored spot for Swenya, in her late years, to meditate and reflect on her life, and mourn those who had passed. If he felt the same remnant light here was he did there…

...then Swenya herself had been to this place, long ago.

But more than that, it was clear that something significant happened in this place. An act that he felt was, in some way, literally awesome, such that it left a mark for sensitives like him to sense.

Meridina looked around at the piazza, her face full of wonder. "I can feel it. She was here." Her voice was barely a breath. "Swenya was here."

"I feel it too," Lucy said. "Something happened here. It's left a… mark of some kind."

Jarod was still scanning quietly. "It's not something that shows up on sensors. Anything else you can—"

The four felt the danger all at once, the dark and malevolent shadow of a threat. A shadow they remembered. Their lightsabers hissed to life in unison.

Then the power came, pure and strong, nearly knocking them off their feet when the wave hit. In the middle of the plaza a single dark form slammed into the ground. They knew who the figure would be even without looking toward her, seeing the ashen gray complexion and the eyes as red as burning coals.

"Tisiphone," Robert hissed.

The Fury of NEUROM sneered at his reaction. "I won't be holding back this time, worms!"

The attack came fast, and it came like a sudden storm. Red lightsaber blades flashed to life, one in each hand, and in the blink of an eye she was in their midst. Her speed was astonishing and her ferocity enough to startle them all. Her lightsabers slashed independent of the raw force that knocked them backward and interrupted their attacks on her.

Jarod watched, nearly struck dumb with awe. He was used to his friends and comrades going through foes with ease, but here they were, with a four to one advantage, and their foe was outfighting them all at once. One by one her strikes burnt armor and robe, even skin. Bursts of sheer will threw them to the ground the moment their guard was down.

As the others were forced away, Gina thought she had an opening and rushed in. The Tisiphone whirled, forcing the blue blade away from her back and bringing her foot up. She kicked Gina in the mouth with enough force to smash bone and break teeth, causing her to spin and hit the ground, blood spurting from her lips. Tisiphone loomed over her as if to strike Gina down before she could recover.

Desperate to help, Jarod went for his pulse pistol and fired. Even with her back turned one of the Tisiphone's blades flashed backward, catching the blast and batting it off into the bushes. She turned on him and snarled. "Ignorant child, you dare to call yourself a 'Pretender'? You would be killed for that on many worlds." She charged at him.

Meridina got back to her feet and lashed out with her mind, relying on her telepathic power to attack their foe. What she encountered was utter, vicious darkness, a deep well of anger and hatred and desire for power that defied reason. Just touching it was agony and she had to break off the attack probe, at which point Tisiphone tossed her back to the ground.

Robert, back on his knees, summoned his strength and sent a wall of force at the Fury. She sensed it coming and met force with force, throwing it back at him and sending him flying into the bushes of the piazza.

This left nobody to stand between the Tisiphone and Jarod, and she went in for the kill. Jarod scrambled backward, firing as he did, just for each bolt to be deflected by the Tisiphone's crimson lightsabers. Instinctive fear filled him at the sight of his charging foe, telling him there was nothing he could do to stop her from slicing him into pieces.

A moment before her lightsabers could come down on him, Lucy appeared between them. Her blue lightsaber met the Tisiphone's weapons and stopped them. Her expression was locked into grim determination to counter the proud sneer that curled the Tisiphone's black lips.

Jarod scrambled away, giving Lucy the ground she needed as the full fury of the Tisiphone came down on her, a living crimson whirlwind battering at Lucy's blue blade. Her foe was the quickest she'd ever fought, with a vicious darkness unlike any she'd encountered before. She felt fear at the power of this adversary and, with effort, pushed it away, relying on her instincts empowered by the Flow of Life. They guided her arms and her blade, moving them inhumanly fast to block the flurry of strikes that came next. The Tisiphone seemed determined to kill her, and she would not let that happen.

After several moments of their duel the Tisiphone's sneer turned into a grin. "Now that’s more worthy," she purred. "If only we'd fought on Deep Space Nine, I might have gotten greater satisfaction in my victory."

Lucy didn't react to the taunt. She couldn't let herself react to anything, not to her fear, not to her worry over her comrades, or her anger at this foe for hurting them. She ignored all emotions and centered herself on her connection to the Flow of Life. She let it guide her as the attack resumed, even more ferocious than before. It took everything she had to deflect the storm of blows the Tisiphone rained upon her. Her lightsaber movements had to be quick and had to be exact to resist.

It was almost more than she could manage. Lucy felt pressed to the limits of her speed, her endurance, and her focus, but she found the strength to keep her poise. She turned and backed away, surrendering ground without letting herself be pinned into place. She felt each blow coming before it could land and blocked it as necessary, allowing only glancing blows that singed and stung but did not inflict wounds.

Her fighting only seemed to make the Tisiphone more determined to strike her down. The Tisiphone whirled about Lucy, testing her defense again and again. "I can sense you faltering, girl," she hissed. "You are not my equal."

"I won't let you harm my friends." The remark was made without rancor or even passion. It was a matter of fact statement, a declaration of intent.

Robert and Meridina were recovering again. They tried to go in and help Lucy. The Tisiphone dodged a wave of force from Robert and used one of her blades to stop Meridina's attack. She whirled away from Lucy for a moment and threw Meridina into Robert with a precise wall of force. She turned back as Lucy came for her, weapon raised, and their blades again locked.

The Tisiphone growled and unleashed her will against Lucy to knock her back. She succeeded only partially, as Lucy quickly recovered. Again they rushed to meet each other.

There was a blur of motion. Another figure appeared between them. Twin ruby blades came from the bone-crafted weapon in her hands, a lightsaber that somehow packed two blades into the same space as one, that intercepted the weapons of both. A masked face with a turban to cover the head looked toward Tisiphone and then Lucy. "This battle is over," the figure declared with an electronically distorted voice.

Undiscovered Frontier
"The Closed Circle"

“Stand down, Tisiphone,” the voice instructed next, and the mask turned levelly to face Lucy. “Stand down, Lucilla,” it added, in scratchy, metallic overtones.

Lucy refused, though she fell back from the strange figure, back toward her friends who held their blades at the ready. Conversely, the Tisiphone retreated as ordered, stepping back and deactivating her lightsabres to stand with a bemused smirk curled on her lips as she flipped her hood back up and gazed at them, looking confident and unconcerned.

Lucy slowly fell in with the others. They could all feel it, except for Jarod: The second being had no presence in the Flow of Life, no connection to it like their own. Not light, not dark. None.

“If you were wise, you would obey,” Tisiphone spoke again, “for you face more power than you can possibly imagine: the ultimate weapon.”

“That’s enough,” the figure rejoindered, shooting a sharp, masked glance back to the Tisiphone.

Though he couldn’t sense the masked figure, Robert could sense that there was enormous power in the being, that Tisiphone was being perfectly honest. He lowered his weapon and extinguished the blade.

“Who are you?” he challenged. “Why did you let Tisiphone attack us?”

“Attack? If this was an attack, you’d be dead,” Tisiphone laughed, only for the figure to whip up a gloved hand, raised in a stop gesture at the palm. Once again the Tisiphone went silent, and the masked figure refused to answer.

“Since she isn’t feeling very talkative right now, I thought I’d mention that I always call her ‘Neanderthal’,” a voice rang out as a small party moved out from some trees and down the path toward the others.

Robert shot a look at the familiar sound. It was Sidney Hank, approaching from the opposite direction, wearing a business suit as if he were on his way to a board meeting. At his side, carrying a case, was the mysterious agent Mr. Black that Meridina recognized from Noveria. Another woman, vaguely white-Hispanic and with a mask with a visible HUD lowered over her upper face, stood at his opposite side, fingering a lightsabre. And Scirocco Montague, the immensely powerful telepath in Sidney's employ who'd once single-handedly killed an Aristo, hung behind her, staring almost entranced at the cowled and masked figure that Sidney had just called the Neanderthal.

Lucy swore she heard a soft snarl from under the mask.

“Impertinent as ever, Sidney,” they most definitely heard.

Hank stopped walking. The others halted with him. “Take the mask off. I know exactly what you look like already and I can show all the others if I feel like it.”

The left hand of the figure reached over and pulled the right glove from her hand, revealing delicately white-alabaster skin that was flawlessly perfect, with pale nails. Then, ever so methodically, and almost reverently, she unclasped the mask from the turban, and slowly peeled it to the side and down.

It revealed a woman, better described as handsome than beautiful, but still aethereally perfect. Her brow was heavy and sharp, but her eyes vivid and green, her hair red, chin prominent. Pulling the turban off with the mask, her red hair cascaded down her back. “You will call me Alekto,” she instructed simply, as she dropped mask and turban to the ground beside her. “And Sidney, you will perhaps reflect on the fact that when the Circle is closed, I may be far less tolerant of your impertinence.”

"I suspect we'll both be reconsidering our relationship once the Circle is closed," he replied, not bothering to react directly to the offered threat. "Although let's be honest, we'll still have a common interest." He didn't bother elaborating on it.

Sensing Lucy's own impatience and feeling some of his own, Robert imposed a diplomatic tone to his voice. "Well, now that we're all here, we have questions. About this Circle that keeps getting mentioned, what it has to do with the Brotherhood of Kohbal, and the location of Reshan's Temple." He looked from Sidney to the Alekto and back. "And that's not mentioning the ancient war that was fought here, a war that's still shaping the Multiverse today."

"The Multiverse has long been shaped by the Darkness," the Alekto said. "Countless civilizations have fallen at their hands. Whole universes purged of light and life. That is all you need to know at this time."

"The Circle's the urgent matter," Sidney said in agreement. "Everything depends on keeping it intact."

"And the Circle is?" Lucy asked. "Some kind of object in Reshan's Temple?"

"The Circle is not an object, girl, it is a metaphorical construct." The Alekto gave her an annoyed look. "One that I was not pleased to learn."

"There'll be a day when you learn what the Circle is, but right now, even learning about it would put it at risk," Sidney remarked. "What you need to know now is that Reshan's Temple is necessary to keeping it intact. There is something kept there, something you need to gain access to."

"Holy crap."

The words drew everyone's attention to Jarod. He was staring at the Alekto intently. He swallowed. "That word. 'Alekto'." His eyes faced Robert and then Meridina. "It's Ancient Greek. It's the name of one of the Furies."

"As is Tisiphone," Robert remembered.

"Yes, but the name itself has a meaning," Jarod continued. "Translated from Ancient Greek, it means unending, or endless."

The Alekto shot a sharp look at Jarod, but rather than speak, just smirked.

The word struck a chord in the others, save Gina. "As in 'the Endless'?" Meridina asked him.

Jarod nodded, his mind making it clear that was exactly what he was thinking.

She turned her head to face the Alekto, who met her eyes. Interest and pride shined in them. Meridina searched her own memories and felt where the familiarity she was feeling came from. "You," she said. "You were at the judgement of the Darglan millennia ago." As she spoke those words the memory of the ancient recording came back easily.

"I was," she said. "I always felt their punishment was lax, given the devastation their irresponsibility wrought. You think of the Darglan as innocent explorers; to everyone who actually had to deal with them, they were gullible idiots who got trillions of people killed. But that is irrelevant to the matter at hand." Those green eyes focused intently on Meridina, to the exclusion of the others. "Sidney believes you are the best candidates to complete the Circle, but you are woefully lacking in skill. I require a test if I am to be convinced you are capable of meeting the challenges involved."

"Oh, another test, I love those," Lucy groused sarcastically. "Are you going to have your pet swevyra'kse try to dice us into pieces again?"

Tisiphone's eyes blazed with readiness, but the Alekto shook her head. "Nothing so difficult, child. You will actually have a hope of completing this one.” Her expression turned sharp, and she stared directly at Merdinia. “I want to see if you are sapient, or an animal. Come here.”

She reached down into the folds of her robe and produced a rectangular box, one side of which seemed a black well of emptiness.

“The rules are simple, Meridinia,” The Alekto said with a coldly unflinching face. “Put your hand inside the box. No matter what happens, don’t take it out. If you do, you will die.”

Meridina's eyes focused on the box. Robert stepped up beside her, frowning. "You're not killing her, not over something like this," he insisted. "That's not necessary."

“The Box only allows you to kill yourself. I must know,” The Alekto shot a look at Sidney as if to preemptively quell him.

"She doesn't mean me immediate harm," Meridina said softly. "None that I can sense." She stepped forward. "And our lives are already at risk. If this will lead us to the secrets Mastrash Ledosh died to protect, I will do it."

The box was held up to her. Meridina's senses felt nothing particular about. Her life was not threatened by the box itself. But she did feel unsettled by it. The others were too, severely, and the tension in the piazza was increasing steadily.

With her eyes on the Alekto, Meridina put her right hand into the box.

Her hand caught fire.

At least, that's how it felt. The pain shot through her hand as if she'd dipped it in flaming acid. Her face twisted into a wince and she nearly cried out from the intensity of it.

There was something else to it, something more intense. She knew, she absolutely knew, that her hand was being melted, being destroyed. It was burning in chemical agony, flesh was melting away to reveal muscle and tendon and below it bone. It was being utterly obliterated. Every biophysical instinct in her entire body screamed for her to take it out instantly, to quench the pain.

This is a test. She focused on the light of Swenya that she had felt around her. She felt that light, gently encapsulating her, her existence, her feelings, her determination to do Good and Right by the Code. If the price of this was that The Alekto would take her hand, she was prepared to give it.

The Alekto watched rigidly, betraying no emotion. Her eyes did not flicker, even as Sidney watched her sharply.

Sharply from across the gap between the two groups, the woman named Green and Tisiphone exchanged a glance, the glance leaving little doubt at Green’s disgust, or the fact that the two of them knew each other from the past.

Meridina felt her heartbeat and her breathing slow as the unimaginable agony continued, and yet she didn’t have the slightest ability to faint even if she wanted to. The impulsive temptation to remove her hand… Slowly began to fade. Her calmness at the Flow of Life settled her. Her hand was gone, and it was gone to a purpose she would understand. Swenya was here, with her, the Light of Life was here, with her.

“Alekto,” Green said quietly, “she has passed.”

The Alekto started, and nodded. “You are right.”

Tisiphone’s lips curled into a sneering frown. Her Master ignored her.

The Alekto pulled the box away. From the agony evident on Meridina’s face, from what the others could feel of her, Robert and Lucy and Gina had been blanching in horror. But suddenly, as the The Box was pulled back, Meridina’s hand was revealed--perfectly intact, without a blemish on it. Meridina herself, so convincing was the device, stared at it in shock.

“She might just be the one,” the Alekto said, shaking her head and looking bemused. “She might just be the one. And you all might really be the Dawn Bearers.”

“Was that necessary?” Lucy asked at the savage deception and torture, unable to restrain heat in her voice.

“Oh, yes it was, more than you can possibly understand,” the Alekto answered. “We cannot afford mistakes about this, the risk is completely incalculable.”

A tone from Robert's omnitool ended the conversation. He tapped at the blue light that formed over the back of his left hand. "Dale here."

Talara's voice came through the other end. "Sir, another ship just came through the debris field. Sensors show it's a match for the vessel that the woman Yellow used to flee the Citadel."

The Alekto's expression betrayed pleasure. "She's on time."

Moments passed and four columns of light flashed into existence in the piazza. A sharp buzz filled the air and when it ended, four more people were with them. Robert was stunned to see Julia arriving with Yellow, Miko and Dr. T'Soni beside them. He stopped himself from giving her a hug given the uncertain circumstances.

"It went well, I see." The Alekto observed with a matter-of-fact tone and slight shrug.

"Yes, Master," Yellow answered. She turned her head toward Robert and Lucy, allowing them to see her face and the cloth headwrap covering her eyes. "The Pretenders made an effort at Captain Andreys, as you foresaw. They were planning on converting her into a host."

"Well done, Megaera. The enemy is thwarted, and it seems we have our Dawn-Bearers." The Alekto reached into the folds of her robe. When her hand came back out, it was gripping a familiar lightsaber.

"Swenya's Blade," Meridina gasped. "You've had it."

"So that's why you were at Gersal for the attack," Lucy said, glaring at Tisiphone. "You came to steal it!"

"My Master required control of the weapon to ensure the Circle was not jeopardized," Tisiphone responded, smirking. "Besides, had I not been there, you would have died. Your compassion, Lucilla Lucero, is your greatest weakness."

Sidney rolled his eyes. "Alekto, can you reign in your pet assassin again? Her barbs get old.”

“Tisiphone, be polite to company, please. The Circle is not yet closed.”

A glare flashed from the woman.

Megaera, for her part, was looking gently to Sidney’s companions, as if she were communicating despite the lack of sight.

“Black, Green, please mind your duties,” Sidney instructed, though it was gentle.

“I don’t get to socialise much,” Megaera noted, bitterly.

“I didn’t choose your boss,” the head of Pan-Empyrean answered. His fingers snapped and Black lifted the case he was carrying. He pulled it open. Inside, nestled in velvet and protective foam, was another lightsaber, this one crafted of dark-surfaced material. "I'm sure Kohbal's people are going to know the time's coming, and you've got to beat them there," he said, taking the weapon from its place. "You'll need this."

Robert approached and accepted it into his hand. He held it to the side and with his thumb felt out the switch. With a sharp snap-hiss the weapon's blade flashed to light, a brilliant purple in color.

Another snap-hiss came to the air. Lucy was testing Swenya's Blade, which blazed with sapphire brilliance.

"Whose weapon was this?" Robert asked.

"It's known as the Closed Circle," Sidney remarked. "I believe the Gersallians would call this Reshankesh."

Robert extinguished the blade and stared at it. "Reshan's Blade?"

"The old man was quite the duelist, among other things. Even Swenya usually lost their practice duels." Sidney grinned as if he'd been there for them. "Well, at first. Anyway, I've been waiting three thousand years to get that thing out of my vaults. You'll be needing it when you get to Reshan's Temple."

"Why?" Gina asked.

"The blades are the keys to the Temple's inner chamber," Sidney replied. "Without them you can't get in and you can't get what you need. And anyone trying to force their way in without them would be in for a nasty surprise."

"You have the book," said the Alekto, a hint of impatience now in her voice. "And you know how to read it. Don’t think you can just ask us where to go and it’s not another test, either. Reshan would not confide the coordinates with either of us."

"He didn't trust you?" Lucy asked.

"He didn't want to give either of us any temptations," Sidney said. "And he needed someone to keep his weapon safe through the millennia."

"Enough time has been wasted. You still have work to do." The Alekto turned her head toward Yellow a.k.a. Megaera. "You will accompany them, Megaera. See to it that the Circle is kept intact."

Megaera bowed her head. "Yes, Master, of course."

The uncertainty Robert felt from the others was evident. An objection formed and died as he felt the certainty within him that they would need a powerful ally for this fight. "The Brotherhood of Kohbal is dangerous enough that your help will be welcomed," he said. He kept his eyes on Yellow and the Alekto and didn't return the others' bewildered looks.

He could understand why: he felt the darkness that seemed integral to Yellow as a being as easily as they did. Trust wouldn't be easy. But his instincts were certain she'd be necessary.

"Then we are finished here," the Alekto said, and the dismissive tone of her voice was impossible to ignore.

Robert keyed his omnitool. "Talara, we'll be beaming up nine people this time. Tagging them now." He tapped at the omnitool to designate Julia, Miko, Liara, and Yellow.

"Transporting now."

The others beamed out first, leaving Robert for last. The moment the second group was away and Robert was alone, Sidney flashed him a grin. "I see Captain Andreys is hale and hearty," he said, smiling. "I'm glad to see that favor worked out for you in the end."

Robert didn't get a chance to answer before he was whisked away by the Jayhawk transporter.

Once the others were gone, Sidney nodded once toward the Alekto. "Nice to see you again in the flesh, after all of this time. We'll see if we end up making a habit of this."

“If you want, Sidney,” the Alekto answered with a shrug. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Sidney chuckled and waved a tipped salute. At the signal, the masked woman — the one known as Green — tapped at an omnitool interface. A transporter pulled the quartet away, leaving the Alekto and Tisiphone alone in the heart of A Famoso's garden.

The Alekto leveled a look at her subordinate. "I can sense your interest in the Lucero woman. Surely she was not that skilled a duelist to try your talents?"

"I would have beaten her before long," Tisiphone insisted. Her tone turned wistful. "But it has been so very long since I fought an opponent of such mettle. It was a pleasure I didn't expect to have again so soon."

"You mean that she fights like a Jedi." The Alekto's expression turned thoughtful. "Although she has an impertinence, a passion, that is entirely her own. And yet, it feels familiar."

The tone in her voice prompted a certain look from Tisiphone. "Master, you don't think she's…?"

"Time will tell, my Fury," the Alekto answered. "Go and retrieve Yellow's vessel. I wish to return to Xanadu. Preparations must be made."

The Jayhawk flew back out through the debris field, this time under Lucy's control.

In the back of the ship Robert and Julia exchanged a hug. Liara, Miko, and Megaera watched the unexpected reunion quietly while Robert himself noted the tension in Julia's being. He could tell she'd been in a fight, a bad one.

Considering the exchange back in the Garden, Robert pulled away from the hug and turned to Megaera. "Thank you," he said, and he put sincerity into it. "For saving Julia and the others."

"You are welcome.”

"We'll probably be rendezvousing with our main ship shortly…" Robert trailed off and looked to her. “Megaera or Yellow?” he asked, trying to be polite.

“Megaera. Yellow is an old code name,” she laughed.

"I wish I could've been there for you all," he added. "Whatever these Pretender things are…"

"Yellow, Megaera, she said they were living sapient nightmares," Julia said. "I'm still wrapping my head around it. It had fangs, Rob. And it was a Human being just a day or two before. A member of one of the street bands."

"When one of their number kills someone, they turn their victim into a vessel for another of their kind," Megaera said. "That was the fate they had in mind for you."

Robert clenched a fist as he pushed away the thought of losing Julia to something like that. She swallowed and nodded. "Thank you again for stopping them."

"Do you want to rest?" he asked. "I mean, going through that…"

"What I want is to make sure Schneider doesn't torpedo my chance to get my ship back," Julia replied hotly. "I get the feeling she'll use any excuse to deny me, and an 'abrupt disappearance' could work for that."

"If she's that biased against you, Maran will make use of it," Robert assured her. "Besides, from what you've said, you were attacked by more than just vampires or whatever they are. There were Eclipse mercs there. Colony Security will find them, word can get out that you were attacked."

"Who were those aliens anyway?" Miko asked. "The ones with the black circle on their armor? I recognized one was an Asari like Liara."

"The others were Salarians," Liara answered. "A squad of mercenaries from the Eclipse organization. They were hired by the Shadow Broker to kill Captain Andreys."

Robert frowned at that. "A reprisal over us saving Shepard's body?"

He could feel Liara's discomfort and grief as she nodded. "Yes. Feron established a data brokerage on Ilium and we got word of the contract, so I came to New Liberty to see about stopping them. The Broker provided clean IDs for your attackers to enter Alliance space. But I had no idea they were for creatures like that 'Pretender'. I figured whoever was coming was working for the Broker."

Megaera outright giggled. "He may have believed them so, or thought of them as clients, but the Shadow Broker has no idea of what he was dealing with. They had an agenda far beyond killing you."

"Why would they want to make me, what was it you said, a host?" Julia shuddered again at the thought.

"To use your body against your friends. To inflict the maximum grief on them. And ultimately, to keep you from completing the Circle."

"And they'd want that because?"

"Because, Captain Dale, if the Circle is broken, the Darkness will win, and that is precisely what the Pretenders want to see happen."


Before she could give him an answer, the ship intercom chimed. Jarod's voice came over the speakers. "The Aurora just jumped in. Captain Varma is ready to hear what you've learned."

"Then bring us in for a landing, and warn her we might want to meet in Conference Room 1. We've got extra guests along."

The senior officers of the Aurora and Koenig quietly listened as the events at A Famoso and New Liberty were shared with them. Most of them kept glancing toward Megaera, seated at the table with Robert's operations team.

Cat let out one of her customary "squees". "There's actually an intact garden inside A Famoso?! Did you get scans of it? What kind of species did they have growing in the garden? How is the atmosphere and the water flow maintained?!"

Before Robert or the others could reply, Megaera spoke up with a stern voice. "Do not, under any circumstances, try to board the station. There are dangers there you are not prepared to face."

"Well, at least we'll have scans?"

"No, we don't." Lucy looked up from her omnitool and glared at Megaera. "You deleted them. How did you delete our scans of the station?"

A sly grin crossed her face. "I have my ways. We are quite familiar with Darglan technology, after all."

"So you have recovered the Swenyakesh and acquired the weapon of Swenya's mentor Reshan." Kaveri spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "And they will allow you into the Temple's inner chamber."

"That's what they both said," Robert answered. "They didn't know where to find it, though, and they said nothing about what the book's gibberish would mean."

"Then finding the Temple comes next." Kaveri put her hands together on the table. "Your Paladin authority permitted me an opening to depart T7C8, but I expect to receive orders from Command to either return or head to another mission. If you are to go to this Temple, we will need a destination soon."

"That's why I'm about to head back to Science Lab 1, with Meridina, Jarod, Cat, and my team, to figure this code out," Robert said. "I have a feeling we're running short on time to get this done."

"We will linger here for the moment," Kaveri said, "while you work."

"You are sufficient distance from the station to be safe from any troubles," Megaera said. "But I must repeat myself. Do not approach, do not send probes, do nothing to disturb A Famoso. The consequences would be dire."

Kaveri leveled a curious look at the woman with the head-wrap covering her eyes. "I will take that warning under advisement."

"To remove any risk, perhaps we should jump for Gersallian space?" Meridina advised. "While we have no records of its location, Reshan most likely built his temple in our home universe."

Kaveri nodded her approval. "A sound suggestion. Commander Locarno, have us jumped to N2S7 immediately, the nearest jump anchor please. Everyone else, you are dismissed."
”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 group assembled in Science Lab 1. Cat and Jarod manned the controls for the holo-table. Seated around them were Robert, Julia, Lucy, Meridina, Gina, Miko, and Liara. Megaera took up a chair as well, looking more like she was observing than intending to participate.

The Life of Reshan was laid on the table with Gartanam's guide to the old High Gersallian of that time. The holographic display above it was loaded with all of the material decrypted from the book, including Ledosh's efforts and their own.

Robert noted Miko was absorbed with reading the material. "Wait. The writer knew your names. The book is three thousand years old and the writer knew your names."

"It is possible that Reshan's connection to the Flow of Life permitted him to see much of our timeframe," Meridina said. "He was known for having a truly expansive swevyra."

Liara kept reading. After skipping over the gibberish elements she read the translated poem. "So this is what led you to that station. Why did he express it in a poem?"

"Reshan had a sense of humor, if a wry and sarcastic one," Megaera remarked.

Robert shot her a questioning glance. He was getting the impression that their traveling companion had seen Reshan in the flesh.

"So what did we learn at A Famoso that can tell us where to find Reshan's Temple?" Lucy shook her head. "Nothing in Tisiphone's attack or the Alekto's little hand-torturing box is related to it."

"I still think this segment is a code itself." Robert indicated the block of nonsensical text. "We just need the cipher key to decode it."

"Could it be an anagram of some kind?" Julia asked.

Jarod shook his head. "I've already run every possible permutation, there's no way to arrange the letters to form a coherent sentence in any way relevant."

"So we're looking for a substitution cipher."

"I have an idea," Liara said. "In my galaxy, many Prothean researchers like myself have to deal with relic hunters or Hanar extremists attempting to take over our work sites and exploit new finds. For centuries many have turned to codes to relay information about new dig sites or findings. One popular method involves substituting numbers for letters. Maybe the letters here are meant to stand for numbers too?"

"That's a good idea." Jarod started tapping at the controls in front of him. "I'm going to run a simple substitution, each letter becoming its number in the alphabetical order."

On the holoscreen the Gersallian lettering transformed into numbers.

"Wait." Cat took over. A certain gleeful anticipation shined in her hazel eyes as she stared at numbers, even as her fingers operated her console and arranged them into three lines. An excited shriek of triumph came next. "Yes! I knew it!" She stood from her chair and went to the door. "Come on!"

"Where are you going?" Miko asked.

"Main Astrography," Lucy answered for her, standing up as well. Julia and Gina were already doing the same while Jarod put away the books. "Because those numbers are interstellar coordinates."

The Aurora's lift system brought everyone to Deck 12, into the forward sections of the ship. Much of the deck was set aside for the medbay and related spaces, plus some of the crew quartering, making Astrography the only major ship function on the deck not involving the ship's medical services.

Cat was the first to arrive, taking over the central console and loading the coordinates provided into the system. By the time everyone was in the room she'd already put the coordinates on the main holo-display, a great holographic projection of the Milky Way. "Aw," she sighed, seeing a blinking red indicator well off into the empty void of intergalactic space.

"Of course it can't be that easy." Julia walked up beside her and set a reassuring hand on Cat's shoulder. "It was a good idea though."

"Could the numbers mean something else?" asked Miko.

"Maybe, but coordinates would make the most sense." Robert focused his attention on the map, testing his connection to the Flow of Life to see if he could get any insight there.

"Maybe it's not a simple substitution," Lucy offered. "Maybe there's a cipher to it, and the numbers should be ordered differently?"

"'By my name the way to the truth will open.'" Gina's spoken words brought her everyone's attention, although Megaera's seemed more bemusement than interest. "That came before the encoded segment. Reshan's name could be the cipher."

"That makes sense," said Jarod. He brought up his omnitool and displayed the encoded segmente again. His fingers moved over the holographic hard-light keys that formed over his forearm. "I'm going to re-run the substitution with the first letter of Reshan's name as the number 'one'." After several seconds Jarod finished projecting a new set of coordinates onto the map.

The icon changed. Now it was inside the galaxy, but in a section of open space.

"Maybe the temple's a space station or something?" Cat proposed.

"Even if it is, that location was beyond our ships' range in that time," said Meridina.

"The Temple will be on a garden planet," Megaera added. "That much I'm positive of."

"So we're still missing something," Robert said.

"Maybe, but I think I know what it is." Jarod grinned. "We're using Gersal as the basis for these coordinates, since that's how the Gersallian system works. That's our problem."

"So we should track it from, what, Earth?"

"Not Earth. Think about that poem on A Famoso. It stated the station was necessary to find the Temple. We went there for the Alekto's little test, but I don't think that's what the book message meant."

"Oh, duh!" Cat ran her fingers over the controls. "He wanted us to use A Famoso as the base position for the coordinates!"

Cat swiftly shifted the display again by resetting the base coordinate. This time the icon moved into the midst of a star cluster near the border of Gersallian and Dorei space. The system zoomed in until fifteen stars were laid out in a rough line. She brought up the records for the nearby stars. "The Domaram cluster," she said. "Known in S5T3 as the Divoran cluster and in E5B1 as the Serpentis Cluster."

"Serpentis. Part of that cluster was in Darglan home space," Julia noted.

"Yeah. There are a few habitable planets in the Cluster. In N2S7 the Gersallians settled one of them, named Domaram as well. And the library computers have two garden worlds marked off for the presence of sapient native life."

"Well, it's a place to start," Lucy noted. "Maybe it won't take long?"

"You're still looking at some pretty intensive surveys to figure it out," said Jarod.

"There has to be another way to make sure," Liara insisted.

At that Robert laughed. "Reshan's being clever," he said. When everyone gave their attention to him for that remark, he grinned. "Space is always moving, right?" When the others nodded he continued, "Well, that means that coordinates will change over time. Reshan said his name was the key, but what if it's not just as the cipher? What if you used the cipher to render his whole name as a number, and it's a year or a date?"

"It would change the starting position," Jarod said. He grinned. "Clever."

Everyone watched intently as he turned the name into a number. Cat took the number and set the galaxy map to that date.

The indicator shifted slightly… and stopped over a single G-class yellow-orange star.

"Domaram H," she said. "Or Lambda Serpentis, if you want."

"One of our colonized systems in E5B1 and other universes," Julia said. "There's a Darglan ruin in the E5B1 universe version."

"Yeah. But here, the system has a native species," Cat said. She brought up the system's information profile. "They're in a pre-industrial state of society and technology with some signs of being on the cusp of an Industrial Revolution." An image showed a series of humanoids, a species that had long ears like the Dorei but angled outward instead of backward on the head. The skin tones and hair colors ranged from Human-like ones to bluish or gray.

"If Reshan didn't want any Gersallians to disturb the temple for all these years, putting it on a planet with a less-advanced species seems a safe bet," Jarod said. "He might have anticipated they would leave a species like that alone."

"Yeah." Robert looked to the others. "Anyone feel otherwise?"

There was no disagreement.

"Alright." He keyed his omnitool. "Dale to Varma."

"Varma here," said Kaveri.

"We have coordinates, Captain, can you get us underway? Jarod's relaying them now."

"I will see to it right now," she replied.

With a destination determined, Kaveri emerged onto the bridge. Locarno stood from the command chair and returned to the helm once she resumed her watch on the bridge. "Commander, set course for Domaram H. There is an inhabitable planet in the system."

Locarno entered the system name into his astrogation systems. "The Gersallians have the system on the protected list, the planet's got an indigenious sapient species."

"Acknowledged. Set the course anyway, Commander. This is what we and our enemies have been searching for."

"Yes ma'am," he said. "Setting course now, engaging at Warp 9.2."

Kaveri sat quietly, her mind intent on the arguments she would present to their superiors when the call inevitably came.

After seeing to guest quarters for everyone, Robert returned to his quarters with Julia. Once they were in private he took a seat beside her on his couch, resting a hand on her shoulder. She shivered, and not at his touch. "It really was a living nightmare, Rob," she said. He sensed her try to push away the fear that still lingered, just for it to come back. "I mean, Noveria, now this. And the one that attacked Jarod and Angel. Are these things going to keep coming after us?"

"It sounds like it. We'll just have to be careful."

"Careful?" Her voice took an edge on. "These things are beyond careful. The one on Noveria almost got us, and this one… I mean, every time we face them, we lose. Somebody else has to come along and save us from them! What happens when that doesn't happen?"

"I wonder if that's why Megaera's been ordered to stay with us," he said aloud. "To make sure of it."

"She can't be everywhere at once." Julia smacked her hand on her knee. "And on top of all of that, Schneider's been pushing me about doing anything but going back to starship command."

"It sounds like she has an agenda. I wouldn't put it past Davies to manipulate the system to get one of his people in place to stop you from coming back." Robert tapped away at his omnitool. "I sent Chief Almerda a message asking about things. He hasn't given me a full report or anything, but he mentioned they picked up those Eclipse mercs. He was happy to hear you're fine."

"What about that poor man's body?"

"They'll be examined. One set of remains was so badly decomposed they can't do anything about it. The one who attacked you was named Pascal Mbanga, one of the Makossa musicians. He emigrated after the Alliance was founded. The family reported him missing yesterday morning."

"They must have spent the day making him… whatever he was turned into."

"Yeah. I warned Almerda to be careful with the remains. His people are already trying to figure out what happened. I'll probably have to come up with something."

"Yeah. The last thing I need is to have to tell people I got attacked by a vampire, then I'll look really crazy."

Robert leaned in and embraced her. He could sense all of the emotions she was struggling with, her terror and frustration and fear for her future, and used his gift to project into her his confidence that it would all work out.

She returned the embrace. "I've missed this," she said. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," he said.

"You've still been shaving, I see."

"For when you got back. I didn't want you to think I was going to become a hermit again."

She giggled at that, and he laughed as well.

Liara's guest quarters were not the same as she'd had in her prior time aboard the Aurora, but they were just as comfortable as the other set. Compared to the Normandy and other military vessels she'd seen, the Aurora was more like a passenger liner, and better than most ships she'd ever traveled on in her life.

After synching her omnitool to the room Liara decided to visit the ship's lounge. After all of the stress and surprises of the day she could use a good meal, and the Lookout lounge always provided that, even if it wasn't Asari.

In this case she picked Dorei food, enjoying the texture and crispness of sesham vegetables and a strip of baked kunar. At her request, a glass of Serrice ice brandy was provided by Hargert, who welcomed her back personally before going off to see to other meals.

She started at seeing the mysterious Megaera with the wrap of cloth hiding her eyes in the corner, having created a bubble of space around her by her mere presence. But Hagaert braved the standoffishness to take her order, and she was now eating some special concoction or another. That humanized her a bit, and Liara wasn’t bothered by her presence.

Liara was partway through the meal when Cat arrived. The ship's science officer was still in a state of excitement over the day's findings. "That was clever," she said to Liara. "The idea of the code being numbers changed to letters."

"A number of my colleagues recommended it," Liara answered. "After regaling me with horror stories of looted dig sites, or worse, Hanar beating us to them."

"They worship the Protheans," Cat recalled. "So yeah, I guess they don't like you digging stuff up."

"Some don't mind, but there are groups who do."

The tone in Liara's voice betrayed the true state of her feelings. "So, how have you been doing? Since we left you on the Citadel, I mean?"

A sardonic smile crossed her face. "Oh, I've been busy. At first it was giving testimony about my mother's holdings and involvement with Saren, reminding me how her name has been utterly ruined. Then I provoked the most powerful data broker in my home galaxy so that he wants to kill me."

Cat winced. "I'm sorry it's all been so bad for you. You deserve better. Have you thought about joining up as a civilian specialist? I know you were on New Liberty to help Julia, and I really want to thank you for that. But now that you're here…"

"I have applied, actually," Liara said. "But I haven't heard back yet. I was warned the applicant list was quite long."

"It is." Cat grinned. "But I can help you there. As a chief science officer in the fleet, I can fast track the application. I can even request your assignment to the Aurora, if you'd like."

"You can?" Liara's smile became a warm one. "Really?"

"Really!" Cat giggled. "It helps that I've gotten some recognition in a few fields, it makes the Stellar Navy Science Division look good."

"If you'll have me, I'd love to be on your ship," Liara said. "I understand your missions won't always involve my speciality, but your computers and systems would let me continue my research into the Protheans." Left unsaid was that the research would also be into finding out more about the Reapers. "And I would love to get to see more of the other universes."

"I'll look right into it," Cat promised, more than happy to get Liara onto the crew.

After finishing her conversation with Robert, Julia knew where she had to go next.

She found Kaveri in her ready office, drinking chai and reading from a digital pad. "Captain Varma," she said respectfully.

"Captain Andreys." Kaveri looked up from her device. "It is good to see you are doing so well."

"Thank you. For that, and for how you've handled my crew." At Kaveri's inviting gesture Julia took a seat. "I'll always worry about them, of course, but they are in good hands with you."

"I admit they are not the kind of crew I would have ever expected to command, and to command so well." Kaveri smiled and it was clearly one of bemusement, in part. "It has been a learning experience."

"A good one, I hope."

"It has not been bad. And it has been useful." Kaveri sipped at her chai. "Would you like something?"

"No thank you," came the reply. Julia considered the sight before her. Kaveri looked something like an old grandmother, quietly cherishing the simple pleasure of a favored drink. "I won't keep you long. I just wanted to give you my thanks, and I hope that if everything turns out, you'll be going home to Shai'jhur soon."

"I am looking forward to that, more than I can say." Kaveri turned openly thoughtful. "For thirty years I mourned her, not certain if she found a way to survive or not. Had the necessities of the war with the Reich not intervened, I might have remained in retirement and stayed at her side happily, but she needed the experienced captains in her fleet."

The mention of Kaveri's relationship with Shai'jur, the last Warmaster of the Dilgar and the leader of the Union of Tira and Rohric, prompted Julia to remember one of her less-proud moments of the past year. "I would like to apologize again for when I insisted that Meridina scan you," she said. "I felt like it was something I had to do given the crisis at Tira, but I was wrong to ask that of you. I'm sorry."

“It is good that you hold the regret, and offer the apology freely, Captain. May the memory serve you well as a teaching moment in the future.”

A tone filled the room. Kaveri checked her monitor. "It is a hail from Command in Portland. It would appear that we are about to get new orders."

"Then I'd better go," Julia said. "Good luck."

Kaveri accepted the wishes with a single nod. Once Julia was gone she accepted the call, already forming her coming arguments with Maran.

But it wasn't Maran who appeared on her screen.

Admiral William Davies appeared instead.

Kaveri kept the same respectful expression on her face she'd intended for Maran. Even before her transfer to the Aurora she'd heard of the animosity between Davies and the Aurora crew. She could understand some of it, given what she knew of Davies' history as a tried military commander, but she did wonder about the full scope of it. Her own presence as the Aurora's captain was undoubtedly due to Maran's concerns about Davies pushing a permanent replacement for Captain Andreys.

"Captain Varma. I assume you've completed whatever operation Captain Dale brought you into?"

"We have retrieved his vessel, yes," Kaveri answered.

"Good. Because we need the Aurora elsewhere. Admiral Maran is already with his flagship responding to a Cylon fleet concentration near Doreia."

"The enemy again penetrated our frontier sensor outposts?" she asked.

"We suspect they had SS Exile assistance with that, but all possibilities will be explored. Anyway, we want the Aurora warping toward the fleet right away." As he spoke the coordinates of the fleet concentration were relayed to Kaveri's screen and the Aurora astrogation computers.

Kaveri did the mental calculation based on the distance. "If there is a battle, I doubt we will arrive in time, even if we go at maximum warp."

"Agreed, but you would be there in time to deal with stragglers or to help rally a counter-attack if the first fleet is defeated."

Kaveri considered what the others said in the briefing and the reports she read. "Admiral, we have reason to believe the Cylons may be pursuing a target other than Doreia."

Davies let out an exasperated sigh. "Captain, I'm aware of this theory that the Cylons are tied to some ancient Gersallian mystic group, but we have no firm intelligence from sources without recognizable bias." Kaveri could read between the lines there, Davies didn't trust the Order of Swenya or anyone linked to them, so he didn't accept their eyewitness accounts of the Cylon attack. "I hope you can see that Captain Dale and those officers closest to them have an agenda on these matters that doesn't conform to military reality or Alliance interests. This entire thing is a waste of time."

Kaveri considered her reply very carefully. Whatever her own beliefs or understanding of Gersallian metaphysics, she was in agreement that there was something to the Temple of Reshan and the contents of the book. But if she just outright stated it that way, Davies would likely dismiss her and insist on the order.

"Admiral, there is another element to this situation we must consider."


"Whatever we feel about Gersallian beliefs, there is no denying that the Cylons clearly have an interest in the matter. Consider their attack on Gersal. They deliberately targeted sites associated with Swenya in the opening strike, except they spared the Great Temple of her organization until after they made an attempt to raid it. They went after relics and the contents of the Order library and only employed atomic weapons on the site after their raid concluded."

Davies nodded. "That, I concede, is true. The relevance?"

"Consider this fleet operation. Their arrival point may be in the vicinity of Doreia, but it also isn't far from the Dorei-Gersallian border zone, including the star cluster that Captain Dale suspects is the site of a temple built for the Gersallian figure Reshan. A temple which was lost to the Gersallian records after the Kohbal uprising, an uprising that clearly has connections to the founding history of the Colonies of Kobol and the Cylons, and may have some significance to them as well."

"You believe they may have found something in the Order library that gives this temple's location?"

"That, or whatever their connection to the Gersallians in the past, it includes fragmentary knowledge that provides a possible location."

Davies settled back into his chair. The expression on his face continued to ooze skepticism, but there was calculation in his eyes. "You make a good argument, but tell me this. What are you getting at, Captain? What are you wanting to do about this?"

"Allow me to support Captain Dale in seeing this through," Kaveri said. "If there is something of value there, it could prove vital to Alliance security. The Aurora could serve as an anchor to bring in responding ships should the Cylon fleet arrive, or otherwise aid him against detached Cylon squadrons."

There was obvious conflict on Davies' face. He does not wish to approve of this, Kaveri thought. Seeing the sentiment on his face she couldn't help but come to a conclusion about him. He can't hide his distrust and resentment of Dale and the others. Something about them angers him. I can see why Maran was so intent on forestalling him in replacing Captain Andreys.

She waited patiently for the reply. When it came it was preceded by a nod of Davies' head. "Your argument makes sense, Captain. Very well, For the time being, you're cleared to continue on course to wherever you're going."

"Domaram H," Kaveri informed him.

"I hope this pans out, Captain. Keep Command informed. Davies out."

It would seem I have fully cast my lot in this matter Kaveri thought. Whatever their flaws from a military mindset, these people formed the Alliance, the entire Multiverse, as we know it. Why does his resentment of them run so deeply?

After seeing to her duties for the day Meridina set off to see to another matter that her heart and mind could not put off any longer. A quick inquiry with the ship's computer pointed the way to Holodeck Chamber 2. When she arrived at the location she noted it was active. With a tap of a key Meridina verified the holodeck doors were not sealed. Out of politeness' sake she tapped the intercom key. "May I enter? I wish to speak with you."

“Yes, you may,” the voice distantly answered.

"Thank you." Meridina tapped the door key and let the double doors enter, admitting her to the holographic chamber.

Inside was the bustle of an intense scene in a market-place. There were tourists walking about--humans, predominantly--and there were grand columnaded buildings with iron balconies fronting a park with statues, while toward what seemed a river there were cannon on a monument, and on the opposite side of the square from it, there was a grand human Cathedral, flanked by two buildings of a very old style. Meridina found herself standing toward the river, where looking to the right, she could see a long and low market-place with vendors selling wares and shops stretching on with a mixture of carriages and cars around it. Megaera was sitting at a table in an open-air cafe under the roof of the end of the market place. Most of the people were speaking English, but the uniformed waiter took the order in French flawlessly before she turned.

“Do you want any? Coffee and beignets, the only things on the menu, or else water, but it’s all vegetarian,” she observed, her blindness not hurting her ability to detect people at all.

"A coffee would be useful. I have spent much of the day dealing with the backlog of my duties," Meridina replied while approaching. She glanced about the square. "Aside from the Alliance capital of Portland, I have not visited many Human cities."

Deux café,” Megaera amended to the waiter, and reached to stretch out a chair to Meridina. “A very dear friend of mine loved this place above all other places, so I recreated it, since it was in your data-banks. It was called the Place de Armas in the common tongue of the Earthreign, and this café was simply Café du Monde, the Café of the World. It apparently exists under that name in many universes, which surprised me,” she confessed, and her lips turned to a smile. “Welcome to Nouvelle-Orléans.”

Meridina took the offered seat. "Nouvelle-Orléans." As she considered the pronunciation she recalled where she'd heard a similar name. "Would that be related to the Human city of New Orleans? I recall Captain Sisko on DS9 mentioning he came from that city, and that his father owns a bistro there."

“It is the same city, but in the history of the Earthreign, it was dominated by French speakers by the end of the 21st century, my friend explained to me once. Well, as part of explaining some other things,” Megaera allowed.

Meridina nodded in understanding. "You miss your friend, I sense." It was one of the few things she did sense from the woman, whose mind was closed to her, and even through her swevyra all she could sense was the innate darkness that made Megaera something of a mystery. Such darkness was usually accompanied by violent, uncontrollable behavior, but Megaera was nothing like that. She was controlled in a way that Meridina thought she recognized, even though she could not recall it at the moment.

“I miss a lot of things,” Megaera answered, accepting the two cups of milky coffee cut with chicory and the bag of beignets from the waiter. “Likely, you can’t even imagine how many things I miss.”

For a moment Meridina felt that melancholy through Megaera's mental walls, a deep one that made her blink. She feels like she is old beyond reckoning.

The feeling also struck something in Meridina. Her own loss, and the things she missed, came to her. "I am familiar with loss, although mine was recent."

“I have not lost everything, but only almost everything,” Megaera allowed, taking a drink of her still quite hot coffee, her head bowed toward the cup. “Gersal is a lovely world. I am sorry for the bloodshed upon her.”

The memories of that horrible day came back for an instant. Meridina nodded and fought back the tears that formed in her eyes, pushing the memories back as well. She distracted herself with the drink. It was hot on her tongue, but not painfully so. "We lost much. The Cylons, the Brotherhood, they went out of their way to try and destroy the memory of Swenya on our world." Meridina took in a breath while glancing about at the fascimile of the square around them. "I was stunned to feel her presence at A Famoso. I knew she fought in the ancient Darkness War, but to follow her actual footsteps, to sense the imprint of her Light at that garden, it made me wish my people could experience it."

“Her light may have imprinted the garden, but what was wrought at A Famoso was a terrible day in a terrible War, Meridina.”

Between the way the words were spoken and the sense her talents picked up from Megaera, Meridina wondered if Megaera herself had been there in some way. "You sound as if you fought in it yourself."

“I did,” Megaera answered.

Meridina couldn't keep her surprise off her face. She felt no deception in the statement, but if true… "That would make you older than the oldest Asari Matriarch."

“The Alekto uses me when I’m needed,” Megaera shrugged. That was also true, but it also sounded like something of an obfuscation.

Is she kept in some kind of stasis when she's not needed? It was a possibility, but Meridina sensed she would not get any further with this line of discussion. "I have never felt a being like the Alekto before. It was like she had no swevyra, no connection to the Flow of Life to speak of. Not even the unfelt connection all beings possess. If I had not seen her moving and speaking as she did, or sensed the power, I would have assumed she was a machine intelligence."

Megaera smirked. “The Alekto is not a machine. She is beyond life. It is very difficult the first time you encounter her, certainly, but that is the truth.”

Beyond life? The concept was alien. "And the Box device she used. It made me feel as if my hand were being melted off my body. Even my swevyra insisted it was happening, but it was all an illusion. I have never seen technology that can fool my senses like that."

“It is technology grounded in the fundamental truths of reality,” Megaera replied unflappably. “That is the currency The Alekto deals in: A truth so great we cannot fully fathom it.”

Again she sensed Megaera's complete sincerity in the remark. But it didn't quite make sense.

She almost asked for more information about the Alekto. She will not share much more with me, though. She will keep her master's secrets.

"On the Citadel, you spoke High Gersallian to Robert and Lucy," she said. "And you say you witnessed the ancient war with the Darkness. Did you… did you know the Grand Foundress?"

“I did,” Megaera shook her head. “They called her that within her own lifetime and she justly detested it.” She took one of the sugar-coated beignets and started to eat it idly.

"So I have been told before." Meridina took another drink of the coffee. Questions rose in her mind, too many to ask. By the time she swallowed it she settled on one. "What was she like?" At seeing Megaera's interest in the question, Meridina explained, "Kohbal destroyed as much of her memory as he could, though he failed to make us forget her. There's so much of her life we don't know of. Her upbringing, her parents. Why Reshan chose her."

“She was brave and didn’t seem capable of appreciating fear,” Megaera answered. “Her confidence electrified those around her, though she could be iconoclastic and rigid. To her there was very much One Truth, One Right. But she was capable of pity and compassion for darkness, her rigidness never deviated into cruelty. I liked fighting at her side. She infuriated the Alekto, though, My Mistress sees the Cosmos in functional terms and is equally convinced of her own right. They quarrelled about the Ends justifying the Means or not.” Megaera shrugged. “In the end, she convinced even the Alekto to let her try to win by her doctrine of Right, and she succeeded in stopping the Darkness… For that time. A final victory eluded her as it long has my Mistress, however. Truth be told, I doubt it’s possible.” She looked up with her concealed eyes, with no way to know what was really there. “Swenya and the Sword counterattacked back into Darkness-place, but they barely escaped with their lives, and only when the Alekto came to aid their retreat. It is a fool’s hope, that entire realm is oblivion given form, I do not think it can ever be defeated, just stopped, like the legend of the Wall of Gog and Magog.”

Megaera's description met rapt attention. Her description of Swenya was an honest one, one that the Order would never use, but it did nothing to tarnish Meridina's view of her homeworld's greatest heroine. If anything it bolstered it, to know that Swenya risked herself so openly trying to strike the Darkness down in whatever their home space was, and could face down even a being like the Alekto. She does not seem the type to accept dissent against her views. That Swenya persuaded even her…

"Thank you," she said. "I can feel the honesty in your words, you indicate flaws we have forgotten, but that she tempered her own flaws with her compassion. It is what I would hope for." There was a slight relief in her voice as well. Given all she'd learned of the Order hiding things, such as the last line of the Prophecy of the Dawn, it was reassuring to know Swenya herself was as she was imagined to be.

“As I said, I was pleased to fight at her side,” Megaera shrugged. “There are many dead who I remember, and she shines bright among them.”

Meridina nodded. She considered Megaera quietly for several moments, drinking her coffee as she did. That she was immersed in darkness was evident. That she did not let it drive her was equally so. "I have had my own experience with darkness," she admitted. "I remember striking down Dralan Olati on Jarod's home Earth and feeling joy at the kill, only to become disgusted with myself."

“I suppose you think you are a better person than I for that,” Megaera answered dismissively, head bowed, seeming to be staring down hard into the bottom of her cup with concealed, sightless eyes. Who knew what the contemplative gesture meant.

"No, I…" Meridina shook her head. "Perhaps I feel something like that. I have been trained to see darkness as a terrible thing. But I…" She wrestled within for the words she wanted. Her own emotions conflicted. She indeed felt an instinctive disapproval of darkness, and embracing it. All of the teachings of her life told her such darkness reduced the Flow of Life. That it was something to be stopped.

But those teachings came from Swenya. The same Swenya who clearly meant something to this woman immersed in darkness, who recalled her with such warm sentiment.

"I do not know your story. Why you came to hold such darkness within you," she admitted. "But if you were truly given over to it, as I understand darkness anyway, we could not have this conversation. You would not have let Robert and Lucy go at the Citadel without an attempt to strike them down."

Megaera sniffed. “Principled self-interest. That’s all. No, you don’t understand my story, or where I came from, or what I have done. But pray you never have to face the Darkness. If you do, you might have to be Swenya to avoid being touched by it.”

For all those words, Meridina wondered if that was all there was to Megaera's sentiment. That her actions were only principled self-interest, and not a sign of something else. She chose not to speak on that, as it seemed unlikely to go anywhere. "I hope with all my heart and swevyra the Darkness does not come back," she said, even as she dwelled on the final, suppressed line of the Prophecy of the Dawn. Swenya herself foretold their return, after all. "But if that dreadful day comes, I will do what I must to stop them and protect those I hold dear. If it requires me to live up to Swenya's example, I will do so, whatever the cost."

As she spoke those words she glanced at the hand she'd placed in the Alekto's terrible box. The limb she'd been ready to sacrifice, if it came down to it.

A tone sounded in the holodeck, accompanied by a blue light over Meridina's left hand. She tapped it. "Meridina here."

Kaveri's voice came over the line. "Commander, I would like to speak with you. We are en route to Domaram, and there are personnel matters to consider."

"I understand, Captain. I am on my way." Meridina took a final small drink of the offered coffee before standing. "Thank you for your time, Megaera, and for your words. I will cherish your recollections of Swenya, and hope that I may live up to her standard in our relations." She bowed her head respectfully. Megaera returned the gesture before focusing on her remnant meal and drink.

After the door slid close behind Meridina, Megaera raised her head, and very softly, hard to hear over the ‘crowd’, began to sing:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
The last whose realm was fair and free
Between the mountains and the sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen.
The countless stars of heaven's field
Were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
And where he dwelleth none can say.
For into darkness fell his star;
In Mordor, where the shadows are.”
”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 »

Two days of high warp travel brought the Aurora into the Domaram Cluster. With their launch point coming up, Robert assembled his landing team in the Jayhawk. It would be the largest such team he'd assembled since the assault on the old Ancient city-ship in N1C4.

Lucy, her student Talara, and Gina would be going, as the members of his personal ops team. Meridina, Yellow, Julia, Miko, and Liara were all coming along as well, with Jarod to pilot the Jayhawk and back them up if necessary.

Everyone was suiting up. Those with metaphysical sensitivity, save Megaera, donned their Order of Swenya-style armor and robes. Julia, Miko, and Liara fit themselves into the dark-colored protective field ops suits made for Paladins and their teams. It was made of the same materials as Stellar Navy field action uniforms, but with further integrated capabilities and thicker armor material.

Megaera simply had arrived for the meeting in a black jumpsuit with boots and a burnous tossed over it, carrying a long black pelican case. She seemed unconcerned about other preparations, though she was armed with lightsabre, sword and pistol.

Robert could feel the sensation in Julia as she looked over her suit. She would rather be in her own field uniform. But she was still officially on medical leave and it would violate a host of regulations to be on official duty in any capacity, even with him. It could cost her command of the Aurora. So it couldn't be risked.

"So, just where do you think the Temple is?" Talara asked Meridina. "Would your people have built it somewhere significant?"

"I cannot be sure my people built this place," Meridina answered. "This world was not even known to us at the time. Reshan may have had another species aid him in constructing it."

"We'll find out more as we approach." Lucy gestured to the cockpit. "Jarod will be monitoring sensors."

"Given there's a native species on the planet, Reshan probably had the Temple placed somewhere remote," Liara said. "He wouldn't want the local species causing any problems. It would be somewhere with limited habitability and access to water."

"That assumes the Temple doesn't have some kind of camouflage. Holographic generators, or it might be underground." A bemused grin crossed Lucy's face. "That would fit the adventure holovid feel pretty well, wouldn't it? Have it in the heart of some cave network or mountain."

Robert chuckled at Lucy's remark. He wasn't the only one, and he turned to note the small grin forming on Megaera's face. I wonder if she knows, that might be why she finds it so funny?

"I don't know," Megaera said, turning her head to face him even with the wrap around her eyes. She laughed. "Reshan wouldn't trust me with the location either."

"Because you served the Alekto?" asked Lucy.

"Among other reasons," she replied cryptically.

"Varma to Dale." Kaveri's voice sounded through the hold, courtesy of the Jayhawk's internal speakers. "We are approaching the planned launch point. Our ETA is thirty minutes."

Robert drew in a breath. Maybe now we'll learn more about the ancient Darkness war. Maybe even how to keep them from ever coming back. "Thank you, Captain," he replied. "We're on schedule to launch as planned."

“Then it’s best for us to discuss my gifts now,” Megaera said abruptly, and flipped open the case. “I had these replicated last night, they’ll never be as good as the real thing… So just replace them often.” The case was filled with small firearms and daggers with a particular silver sheen, as well as silvered gorgets with clasps.

Julia glanced at Megaera's sword and thought of her mother's old necklace, currently under her operations suit. "It's for any Pretenders we run into," she realized aloud.

Lucy raised the question many of them were thinking. "Why does silver hurt them? Is it just because that's what people believe about actual vampires?"

“Yes. They are, as I said, your fears transformed into reality,” Megaera said, “with the virtue being they have weaknesses from those same fears.”

"Weird." Lucy's lip curled into a bemused smile as she glanced toward Robert. He was, for diplomatic reasons if anything, taking up the silvered weapons and slipping them into his robe compartments. "Maybe we should replicate some garlic while we're at it."

“There are other kinds of Pretenders, but they all share the vulnerability to silver, it must be as old as time among our beliefs,” she shrugged. “Garlic, no.”

"Probably for the best, that stuff smells." She accepted the offered weapons as well. "Lucy Lucero, Vampire Hunter."

Robert and Julia shared a chuckle.

In the heart of the Aurora's drive hull, on Deck 26, Main Engineering was the hub of activity as always. The ship's engineering and operations personnel came in and out of the section, taking assignments and reporting on successes, while the engineers on duty maintained an eye on the ship's powerful naqia reactors. Currently they were powering the Aurora's ongoing warp flight.

This was the domain of Montgomery Scott, the Starfleet legend brought into the next century by the miracle of technology and a moment's desperation. He stood watch over his "wee bairns" from the central table and the adjacent Master Systems Control Display. Nearby Tom Barnes, acting as his Assistant Chief Engineer, was dispatching a team to the lower port nacelle to see to the plasma feed lines and the generators there.

When he was done he turned to Scotty. "If we get in a fight, everything's ready," he assured his mentor.

"Aye Tom, ye sent them out smartly. Donapuram's perfect for th' job. Best marks I've seen yet from th' new engineers."

"Thanks." Tom leaned onto the table. On a ship as large and complex as the Aurora things broke down every day. That so many of the systems showed green anyway spoke of all their efforts, with the ship's operations section, to keep it in top shape. "Hargert's planning a Christmas dinner."

"Aye? Good of th' man. He always makes th' best."

"It'll be our first Christmas out of the repair yards in three years," Tom said. "I hope."

"Aye. Had a rough endin' tae th' last couple o' years, an' this one isnae over yet."

"It's all so nuts," he said. "I mean, we're off in some star cluster hunting down an ancient temple of some kind, and all because an ancient code in a book knew our buddies' names." He shook his head. "It's like a crazy time travel adventure movie or something."

At that Scotty chuckled. "Lad, it's certainly a unique situation, but I've been in crazier. Space travel's like that, Tom."

"I always figured it'd be more staring out at void trying not to go nuts from boredom." Tom's eyes swept the chambers. "Even with the crazy stuff, this is so much better. So much cooler." His eyes settled on his right arm. While it looked flesh and blood, he could feel the slight difference from his original arm. The flesh was a synthetic surfacing and beneath was all alloyed metal. "Even if it's been tough at times." He shook his head. "And did you hear about that thing that attacked Julia? A fracking vampire, Scotty. Something like that's out there!"

"Seen somethin' like that. Captain Kirk dealt with a thing that sucked th' salt right out of a man's body." Scott grinned. "An' there was that planet with th' witch an' wizard, with their castle."

"Well, like you said, you've seen crazier." Tom noted something on the table go yellow. "Huh. Secondary Shield Generator 4's sending a failure signal. Looks like a problem with the field generator. I'm going to send Chief Baker's team to check it out."

"Good choice."

The two men got back to work.

On the bridge of the Aurora the best available officers took their places. Tra'dur was at Ops, Ensign Rawlins at the helm, and the Delgado sisters at their stations of Science and Tactical. Ensign Mallory, an Avalonian man, was at Engineering.

Locarno took up the seat beside Kaveri, serving as First Officer given the need for Meridina and Jarod to be with the Jayhawk.

Rawlins looked up from her console. "Captain, we're now at the launch point you requested."

"Thank you, Ensign." Kaveri turned her head slightly to Tra'dur. "Begin the launch sequence."

"Signaling the Jayhawk now."

Kaveri sat back and watched patiently while Locarno took over. "Ensign Rawlins, maintain course and speed," he said to Rawlins. "Ensign Mallory, keep an eye on the warp field harmonics." Two "Aye Commander"s came in reply.

In the secondary shuttle bay the Jayhawk's engines flared to life. Tra'dur watched her own instruments as Lucy gently brought the Jayhawk out of the shuttle bay, cloaking her as she did. The timing of her next maneuver was critical. With Tra'dur's telemetry to guide her Lucy readied the Jayhawk's warp engines to activate and generate their own warp field just as they approached the edge of the Aurora's, guaranteeing the two fields wouldn't interfere with each other. It also had to be done before the Jayhawk fully left the Aurora's field, or she would be forcibly decelerated at a velocity beyond her designed speeds.

The maneuver was tricky and quite dangerous, and the officers in the cockpit watched her carefully. Tra'dur informed her of the distances and times as the seconds ticked down. Just as they reached the edge of the field Lucy brought the Jayhawk's warp drive up. The split second the two fields overlapped wasn't enough to harm either ship, then their respective headings brought them apart. The launch was a success.

"Well done, ma'am," Tra'dur offered, impressed by the display of skill.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," replied Lucy.

Kaveri noted the success with quiet pleasure. While she hoped there would be no contact with the Cylons and the mission would be accomplished peaceably, she suspected they would be in a fight soon enough. "Commander Delgado, any sign of enemy contacts on sensors?"

"None yet, Captain," Cat answered. "The Cylon fleet is still in the reported position, so they haven't moved this way yet. Just in case I've got sensors on full power to see if we pick up any jump traces."

"Excellent. Keep me informed. Commander, you have the bridge." Kaveri rose from her chair and headed for her office. If a fight was coming, she wanted to be fully rested when she faced it.

The Jayhawk entered the Domaram H system and made for the third planet. Robert joined Lucy and Jarod in the cockpit, with Liara also watching from a seat brought up beside Jarod. At his chosen station Jarod watched the sensor sweeps of the planet show their results on a holo-screen. "Life signs are approaching five hundred million," he said. "Fits the Gersallian records from their last survey. The atmosphere shows no sign of industrial-level burning of coal or wood, so they're still at a pre-industrial level of manufacture." He furrowed his brow. "The population distribution is interesting. It looks regionally focused."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Robert.

"As in the majority of the population is on one continent, and the distribution of the rest looks like colonies sustained by sailing trade."

"Like if we were seeing an Earth in the 17th or 18th Centuries where Europe was the only heavily-populated continent," Lucy suggested.

"Exactly. This isn't consistent with a species that evolved on this planet. We may have another case of a species transplanted by the Darglan." Jarod's tone of voice made it clear he was interested in the possibility. "Or someone else, like the S5T3 Preservers."

"Any sign of the temple?" Lucy asked.

"Nothing that stands out yet. I'll begin another scan."

"Wait." Robert studied the scan's map of the world and drew in a breath. For a moment his eyes closed. Lucy felt his energies focus. He opened them again.

Now Lucy felt it as well. A pull in the energies of the planet. She sensed the other sensitives aboard reach for it as she and Robert did.

His hand went up to the planet and settled on a small mountain range along a river valley, located on the planet's primary continent. Life sign readings showed one end of the valley was inhabited, likely a town that made use of the river. The nearby mountains had some forest life showing as well.

Nothing on sensors yet explained what he was feeling. A look passed between him and Lucy. "It's there," he said. "Reshan's Temple is there."

"If you say so." Jarod tapped at the controls while Lucy adjusted their course.

Noting the location, Liara stood from her seat. "I'll see to climbing gear," she said. "We may need it."

"Right." Robert kept his eyes on the sensor returns while Liara left the cockpit. "Jarod, anything more from the scans?"

"Looks like an arboreal mountain range, think of the Appalachians or the Cascades. Plant and animal life, and I wouldn't be surprised if the local species engage in hunting and forestry work. We'll have to be careful about picking our landing point. I'm also picking up something on our energy scanners. Or, more to the point, nothing."

"And that's important?"

"We should be getting signs of thermal energy, at least, from animal heat or the plants holding solar energy. But there's nothing. Just a big empty space." He highlighted the zone in question. It covered a pair of mountains and a part of a third.

Lucy relayed the scan results to the helm. "It might be some kind of dampening field. We'll want to land outside of it. I'll bring us in."

"Is it technological?"

"Most likely, but it could be from a combination of ores in the area. The right mix of naqia, element zero, jevonite, ripleyite or cameronite, it would create a natural blind spot in the sensors." Jarod shook his head. "We'd have to survey the area to know for sure."

"Maybe we'll get to that later," Robert remarked idly before going silent. He watched the planet grow larger through the cockpit window. It was a lovely garden world and the snow-capped peaks that soon became the center of the view reminded him of images of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Soon he could make out the river cutting through them. Just as Lucy leveled them out he made out the rough collection of stone structures showing the town of local residents. Trees clung tightly to the mountains ahead.

Lucy stopped them just shy of the dampening field. She brought the Jayhawk down into a mountain clearing. It was a tight fit that she just managed to slip the ship into. "Here we are," she said. "Let's go find the hidden temple, Indiana Dale."

Robert sighed and rolled his eyes. Her response was the expected tongue sticking out of her lips.

A few hours later the group was ascending the mountainside. The locals' handiwork was visible in the path cut up the incline. To their right, the majestic vista of the mountain pierced the sky with a snow-capped tip, the sides covered in green almost to the top. To their left the valley was open below, the river that created it still flowing its way back the way they came. Ahead of them a group of small rodent-sized creatures rushed across the path.

Alien animals aside, Robert felt a particular nostalgia. It brought back to mind summer vacations to New England, and the trips Grandpa Rob - his namesake grandfather - and his uncles on his mother's side took the family on. The hikes up the White Mountains and other locales, in a land so unlike his prairie homeland in Kansas.

He noted Talara stopping. Her eyes stared ahead toward the mountain and a slight frown creased her face. Seeing him looking toward her and the attention of Lucy, she spoke. "There is something melancholy about this place."

"Melancholy?" asked Julia

"That is the best way to put it. Hope and despair. Joy and anguish. It's all mixed together."

"I sense it as well," Megaera said. "But we can consider it later. You must learn to deal more productively with your sensitivities, child. We can ill afford you being distracted by every lingering trace of emotion."

"I… yes, you are right," Talara conceded, forestalling any protest from Lucy or the others. "My apologies."

They moved on for a short time before Miko spoke up. "Why did Reshan pick an alien world for his tomb? Why didn't he build this place on his homeworld?"

"Well, he knew our names," Lucy said. "He may have foreseen the Cylon attack on Gersal, or maybe just Kohbal's uprising. His temple would've been a target—"

"Quiet," Meridina urged. She stopped and the others did. One by one the sensitives felt the approach of other beings. They went into the tree line to their right and hid behind the trees and brush.

A minute passed before two humanoid figures came from further up the mountain. A male and female together, wearing leather jerkins and trousers with fur lining. Each had the carcass of a deer-like quadruped slung on a shoulder and the familiar shape of a bow on the other. While their skin tones were light in the Human and Gersallian way, the length and sharpened tips of their ears were visible differences. They talked in a language none recognized as they came past.

There was a rustling of leaves. Eyes turned to see where Miko's leg brushed up against a low branch on a bush.

Both stopped and, in unison, brought their bows up, dropping their kills as they did. Arrows with sharpened steel tips came up and scanned across their eyelines. They scanned toward the river first before swinging the arrows toward the group.

With the dampening field making cloaks unusable, there was no hiding from the two hunters if they moved forward. Their eyes focused toward Miko's position. Robert mentally reached out for the others to prepare.

Meridina acted first. Her mind gently reached into theirs and into the visual cortex in their brains. She projected the rodents they'd seen before, having them rush out from where Miko was hiding and head for the other side of the path.

The two hunters — a husband and wife, Meridina now recognized — laughed in amusement. They shared comments while re-shouldering their bows and reclaiming their kills. Without further disturbance they headed onward down the mountain path.

Megaera nodded to her. "Cleverly done."

"I am uncomfortable with such direct mental manipulation," she admitted. "But this was the path of least harm."

"Indeed. And we should keep going."

At Megaera's suggestion they continued. Julia hung back with Miko, who blushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Don't worry about it," Julia said. "I almost did the same thing, honestly."

"I'm still getting used to the idea of mind-readers. And she can make them see things too?" At Julia's nod Miko shuddered. "It's good that they're such nice people. That kind of power is scary."

"This, from the host of Raava?" asked Megaera. She looked back, as if her eyes were not covered in her headwrap, and she sounded almost incredulous. "At your full power you could bring this mountain down on top of the town below. You can flood a continent and burn down entire cities. That is quite 'scary' too, many would say."

"It is," Miko conceded, not finding any argument to use against Megaera's comments. "But you can make me see things that aren't there."

"Yes, and it’s a remarkably more merciful way to deal with a threat, isn't it? A velvet glove for the Cold Iron of rulership.”

Meridina felt that it sounded very much like the attitude of a telepath who had lived in the Earthreign.

"Commander Guan thought the same way two hundred years ago, and even Kuvira turned against him for it," Miko observed.

Before the conversation could continue the Force-sensitives, almost in one unit, looked skyward. Julia and the others did too.

Flashes of light filled the sky, and one by one a half dozen Cylon heavy raiders appeared above their heads.
”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 Domaran Cluster remained the focal point of Cat's scans while the Aurora continued its holding pattern near Domaran H. The stars here behaved much the same as they did in other universes. This included the disruptive influence of Domaran D, this universe's version off E5B1's Delta Serpentis.

Even with her scans for personal, scientific reasons, Cat was focused on the bandwidths for subspace that responded to Cylon jump drives. They had to know the moment hostile ships arrived, for the good of the team on the planet.

Such signatures appeared without warning. "Captain, we have ships jumping into Domaran H." Cat's fingers ran over her controls, pinpointing the readings. "Looks like they've jumped into the atmosphere and orbit."

"Thank you, Commander Delgado. Lieutenant Tra'dur, notify Defense Command."

"Ensign Rawlins, take us in," Locarno added.

The two officers responded with "Aye"s and enacted their orders. The Aurora changed her heading and her warp drives thrummed to full, bringing her ever closer to the fray.

They were out of time.

Lucy and Megaera wound up in front during the charge up the path. It flattened ahead, winding through a forested plateau upon the mountains.

Overheard two raiders were heading toward the mountain. One clearly peeled off toward them, the other for the mountain itself. "How do they see us through the dampening field?" Liara asked.

"Because they can sense us," Robert said. "And we can sense them." As he spoke those words he frowned. The raiders all had gifted Cylons aboard, beacons of hate and darkness cooling the Flow of Life with their very presence.

"Do they have some means to counter the dampening field?" Julia asked. Her eyes were on the raider moving to a point further up. "Because they're going straight into it."

The answer was provided when the second raider's engines went out in a blink. Without its engines to keep it aloft the craft lacked any kind of aerodynamic shape to level its unpowered descent. It dropped swiftly and broke apart against the mountainside.

The same happened to the raider coming overhead. With its engines dead it began a fatal descent. But as it passed over head the raider's rear door opened and a number of figures jumped out. They landed around the group, softening their landings with their powers. Many were identifiable Cylon models, but some were wearing different garb and carried themselves differently, their armor and robes marked with the segmented hexagon of the Brotherhood of Kohbal.

With a chorus of electronic snaps and lingering hisses, a multitude of red energy blades snapped into existence. One of the Cylons, a "Leoben" model, raised a hand, his eyes yellow from the corruption within him. "The secrets of Reshan shall finally be ours! The Circle will be broken!"

Megaera's lightsaber flashed to life along with Lucy's, and everyone else with the weapons did the same in the following two moments. They were ready when the enemy charged for them.

Another raider banked toward the mountain, heading for the fight below, ready to be sacrificed to get more Cylons and Brotherhood into the fight.

It didn't get the chance.

Repeated pulses of sapphire energy slammed into the raider, bashing down its deflector shields and blasting the ship to pieces. The other raiders that jumped in turned to engage the Jayhawk, newly de-cloaked, as it banked to avoid the dampening field and find a new target.

In the cockpit Jarod's hands flew from control to control. The weapon systems were set to automated engagement, leaving him to focus on piloting the special operations vessel.

A glance at the sensors told him another raider was breaking for the mountain. Two of the remaining ones were behind it to provide protection. Their angles would mean exposing him to fire or forcing him to go through the dampening field.

At least, they would under normal circumstances.

Jarod twisted the Jayhawk into a maneuver to gain altitude, drawing with him other heavy raiders trying to engage. The engines on the craft gave him the maneuverability to avoid their fire as the ship headed past the clouds, the pursuing craft following doggedly. He judged the angles carefully and precisely.

He spun the ship around and drove it toward the ground. On the way back down the pulse turrets targeted and managed several hits on one of the pursuing raiders, blowing out its engines and leaving it to a more fatal descent.

The seconds were key. If he pulled up too quickly, he'd be in the sights of a heavy raider's weapons. Too late, he'd likely plow the ship into the ground. His mind raced, calculating all of the variables with the aid of his immense intelligence. He felt the sweat on his brow and his hands as the ground loomed through the cockpit.

The tactical systems acquired a lock and fired the main cannons and the turreted guns, all aimed toward the Raider heading for the mountains. The full fury of the Jayhawk ripped into the vessel. Its deflectors were quickly overwhelmed and the ship was torn apart.

Jarod carefully waited before twisting from his downward course, pulling the Jayhawk back to a level course on an angle carrying her away from the heavy raiders that were escorting his target in. He sighed in relief.

The warning light barely gave him time to react. He banked the ship hard. A pulse of disruptor energy zipped through the space the Jayhawk was just occupying. He checked sensors and noted that two Cylon Basestars were now hovering overhead in orbit. More raiders, both normal ones and heavy raiders, were appearing as blips on the sensor returns.

Another shot came he had to evade, and another. Jarod found himself pulling the Jayhawk away from the mountains just to keep the ship intact. The Cylon orbital fire wouldn't let him through. I hope the Aurora's almost here, he thought. At this rate I'll have to cloak and slip away.

He was quite happy to see the new contact on his sensors when it appeared.

The Cylon ships in orbit numbered two, but above them were four more, and all six were fully upgraded models with the best Multiversal technology that the Cylons could acquire. Together they were more than a match for an Alliance star cruiser, even one with its own fighters and attack ship in support.

There was barely a minute left before they were due to engage. Kaveri considered the tactical plot carefully and weighed her engagement options.

Locarno spoke up. "I'd say we could make hit and run attacks, but they might just decide to level the entire site."

"Agreed. We must present a significant danger to keep their attention." Seconds passed. Kaveri made up her mind. "Helm, tactical, Attack Plan Whiskey Sierra."

She was answered with a pair of "Aye"s. The other officers on the bridge focused on their instruments.

The Cylon ships saw the Aurora coming. Their weapon systems targeted toward her, ready for her to drop from warp and present a target.

That was their mistake.

The Aurora zipped past them in less than a blink of an eye, her warp drives never disengaging as she went by. Her weapon systems lashed out, sending torpedo barrages into half of the Cylon force. The deflectors on all three ships held, but required effort to do so.

Return fire was offered, but it was wasted. The Aurora was already turning in the outer system, still under warp power.

The Koenig zipped in from high warp. She stopped only long enough to thoroughly strafe the nearest Basestar with pulse phaser cannon fire before jumping back to warp and cloaking.

A moment later the Aurora came by once more. Their target was the ship the Koenig strafed. Again the shields of the ship held as plasma beams lashed out at it, but they were too weak to withstand the torpedoes. Half of the spread hit home, blasting off two of the arms and hulling part of the ship's central core.

As the Aurora pulled away again, Kaveri watched the Cylon response on the tactical holotank. The ships in orbit pulled away, gathering together in a tighter formation. "It looks like we got them out of orbit," Locarno said. He glanced toward Kaveri. "What next?"

“Now, we keep their attention. This is what I have in mind…”

The mountain path echoed with the buzz of lightsabers slicing through the air, each strike parried by another until inevitably a blow landed.

The Cylons and Brotherhood had numbers and the easy power of darkness at their side, but against those numbers they contested with the skill of the fighters. Robert swung his blade defensively with one hand while using the other as a focus, pulling rocks and fallen tree limbs from his surroundings to slam into his opponents. When one came to his weak side his hand came up and force struck out. His attacker, a Cylon D'anna model, tried to absorb the strike with her own energy, but the sheer power Robert put into it overwhelmed her and sent her flying off the path and into a tree.

Gina's opponents were both the same model as her. But the similarity ended there: they had more passion than skill. Their hate for her, a "traitor", empowered them, but Gina's training with Mastrash Ledosh was its own empowerment. Her lightsaber was in constant motion from an offensive form that kept them from concentrating in the attack.

Meridina's foes, both Gersallians, were pressing her to push her away from the group, using vigorous strikes to try and corrall her. She stood her ground with quiet resolution, meeting those attacks rapidly and relying on her own skill with the blade to re-direct and stymie their efforts.

Lucy made sure of it, staying near Meridina and ready to aid her if she were to be driven from the others. She deftly handled her opponents, Gersallians as well, keeping her lightsaber moving in short, swift arcs to repel or re-direct their blows. Occasionally the weapon would bite back at them, burning robes and armor, even flesh at a couple points. Pain and rage gave short boosts to her enemies at the cost of the debilitation the pain provoked.

Talara was having the roughest time. She had some natural skill with her weapon, but while her lavender blade met the crimson of her enemies with success, their darkness was painful to her. She could feel, keenly, their cold rage and hate, and it put her off-balance.

One of the lightsabers descended on her head, a fatal blow, but it didn't land. A powerful gust of wind threw the attacker off-balance, buying Talara time to avoid the strike. Miko brought her other fist up and projected a tongue of flame that licked at the Brotherhood member. The hissing Gersallian woman brought her arms up and projected force that acted as a deflector field, causing the flames to miss.

Miko wasn't acting alone, however, as a bolt of dark matter flew past her and over her foe before exploding into a singularity. The Gersallian shrieked in surprise as she was pulled off her feet and into the twirling mass, its very nature ripping at her body. Liara let out a cry of effort in generating a second bolt, even larger, that struck the singularity. The resulting blast of dark matter energy threw the Gersallian over the ledge.

Talara concentrated on her remaining foe. Remembering Yellow's critical words she forced the feelings away and concentrated on her enemy. She let her connection to the Flow of Life guide her arms and her blade met every blow aimed at her. Her opponent's frustration reached new heights at being denied over and over. Ignore the feelings, ignore the darkness. Focus on the present. On yourself. She waited for her opening until, in frustration, the Cylon man opened himself up on the side. Her blade struck home with a fatal blow. She let out a harsh breath at feeling the life drain from the body. As dark as the Cylon had been, he was still a living being, and she'd ended his life.

With her enemies defeated Talara turned to help the others, but there was little need. Miko and Liara were already aiding Meridina in finishing off her foes. Lucy struck down her last opponent with a slice across the neck, her expression neutral and her spirit quiet. A moment's consideration told her that Gina was the model still standing, given the lack of darkness in her being.

Robert had two foes left. He got a solid blow on one, a slice across an arm that removed it and the lightsaber in the lost hand. The other Cylon was so focused on him that he didn't see Julia coming in until it was too late. She smashed the butt of her pulse pistol on the Cylon's head, knocking him down, and used a follow up kick to his belly and punch across the face to render him unconscious. When Robert leveled a bemused glance at her, she huffed, "What? The dampening field makes my pistol useless. And I saw what happened when Angel tried to fist-fight Goras."

He chuckled in reply. "Let's help Megaera…" he began, letting his words trail off as he turned toward the last member of the group.

One who needed no help.

Four dark-robed bodies were already strewn around the path and surrounding trees. Three fighters, a Cylon "Simon" model and two Gersallians, were still standing, and through their rage he and all the other could sense their fear as they fought desperately against the unstoppable force that was Megaera.

Every move of her lightsaber was deliberate. Every move of her enemies was not just seen, but foreseen, despite the covering of her eyes. The pale but dusky woman was a force of nature, much like her fellow Fury Tisiphone. A certain bemused satisfaction filled her as her blade hit home. Megaera seemed to find a lot of death and destruction funny, as she thrust the tip of the lightsabre up through the ribcage of her opponent and removed it; the cauterized wound had destroyed the heart, and the Simon model Cylon was dead before hitting the ground.

Worse, she had methodically integrated her telepathic abilities with her lightsabre fighting. She took over the minds of her attackers and froze them in place for killing blows or directed them back on themselves, forcing them to use every bit of their force talent to defend their minds. When they did that, she took advantage of the distraction as they fought, and with subtle slips and thrusts of the blade, killed them as they attacked her. Moving only very slightly, she killed on the defensive, and turned her telepathic powers on anyone who tried to flee from fighting her. They would die facing her or running from her, but death was assured.

“Mmmn. Is that all you have for me?” She shook her head, and then counter-thrust her blade into the arms of one of the Gersallians as they tried to strike her from behind. Her sidestep to clear the thrust of the other attacker was preternaturally fast, and then she froze him in place with her telepathy finally overwhelming his defences, and spun to face him.

As she did, she whipped one of her pistols out with her left hand, and pointed roughly behind her, toggled the trigger. A violet beam swept out of the emitter and tracked across the battlefield, neatly sectioning the Gersallian, already badly, wounded in two. Megaera now advanced on her final opponent and with a single stroke of her lightsabre split her torso from hips to neck, releasing the telepathic control a moment before: Unlike many other telepaths, she seemed inured to the Door.

There was no further time to enjoy their victory. With the exception of Liara and Julia, all sensed the enemies further down the path, racing toward them. "We'd better get going," Robert said. "This way!" He moved ahead of them, Megaera and Lucy behind him.

Lucy, grinning with amusement, whistled a familiar adventure theme tune as they went along.

Missiles rippled from the Cylon ships, filling the space that the Aurora was heading into on another strafing run. Ensign Rawlins twisted the ship to evade and nearly succeeded at the effort. Only one missile made impact.

More missiles fired, but they were too late. The Aurora zipped past at warp, strafing away at the weakest of the Basestars. Multiple flames appeared from the wounds carved into the ship through its dying deflectors.

The Aurora broke away to line up for another run, leaving the ship for the Koenig to finish off. The ship rippled into view just inside the field of missiles and fired away at the Basestar. On the bridge Zack watched with quiet satisfaction as the Koenig's weapons fire blew massive chunks of material out of the wounded ship's guts.

"Firing torpedoes." At tactical Sherlily triggered the launchers. White-blue sparks of light, the drive fields for the torpedoes, erupted from the bow launchers. They struck the core of the faltering Basestar. "Direct hit." Even as she provided that report the Koenig's tactical officer poured more phaser fire into the wounded core, aided by Hajar's piloting at the helm to keep the cannon emitters on target.

By the time the Koenig was flying past its target, the core was collapsing. The Basestar collapsed into two pieces, utterly crippled.

"Target is down. I'm not seeing any power from the broken pieces," Magda said from Ops.

Zack nodded. A small, grim smile of satisfaction formed on his face. For all the harm they'd caused, the deaths and the grief that included his own, it was truly gratifying to strike back at them.

The ship shuddered from a pair of near-missile impacts, but Hajar prevented any significant hit that might harm the Koenig. The ship slipped free and executed a warp jump before cloaking, then came around to repeat the maneuver while the Aurora was already moving in on another strafing run.

The mountain still loomed over the group's head when they found the path reach its abrupt end. Ahead was only a ledge and a long drop toward a mountain stream nearly a kilometer below. They glanced around. "Why would the path end here?" Robert asked aloud. "What sense does that make?"

"Maybe there used to be a bridge?" suggested Liara.

"Well, it's long gone now," Lucy said, almost growling. She could feel the darkness looming behind them. More enemies were coming. Powerful ones. The sheer concentration of dark power chilled the Flow of Life with its very presence.

But there was something else. She could feel an energy here, a presence, quiet but strong. The others could to, and like her they were looking around, trying to find what they were missing.

A line of Brotherhood members, these mostly consisting of Cylons, became visible around the corner of the path. They ignited their lightsabers at the sight of the group.

"Liara, Miko, we need time," Robert called out.

"Right!" Liara took a step toward the Cylons and concentrated. Purple, dark blue energy coalesced around her as she tapped fully into her biotic gifts. A solid field of dark matter formed in the air ahead of her, creating a barrier across the path.

The enemy was not dissuaded. Several channeled their own talents, battering at the field with sheer force, while others went at it with their crimson lightsabers. One tried to grip Liara's throat and was stopped by Robert, who applied himself to protecting her.

"I'll help!" With that announcement Miko moved into a form and started generating gusts of air that she sent down the mountain path. The Brotherhoods' robes fluttered and they fought to keep their feet on the ground as Miko's summoned gusts increased in vigor.

This bought time, but Talara pointed out the obvious. "They have us trapped, we'll have to go through them to go back down!"

"The answer is around us," said Megaera. "It is your place to find it."

The others concentrated on the power they felt, the quiet presence and what it could mean. Where was it? What weren't they seeing?

Julia watched all of this with quiet, seething frustration. She had no powers. She had a gun that she could only use as a club and the silver weapons Megaera provided, weapons she suspected would only be useful if there were more of those Pretenders. She had nothing to offer but her wits.

She pivoted on her foot, turning her head from side to side to take in their surroundings. What were they missing? The path ended. Even the bridge idea didn't sound right, as across from them wasn't another ledge, just a solid mountain side. Maybe we're supposed to go down? Maybe it's in the stream? I can hear the stream from here.

Her brow furrowed. Her face twisted from confusion. Wait, how can I hear it? She looked over the edge at the stream below. It was running, true, but it didn't look like it was a swift current. It certainly wasn't strong enough to be heard this high up.

Liara groaned. Despite Miko's efforts to blow them down the path some of the Cylons were holding their ground, their weapons slashing against the biotic field. They wouldn't take long to break through.

Julia followed the sound of the water. It brought her to the group's right, and the mountain face there. It was a solid wall of rock. Nothing special about it stood out.

At least, not at first. Julia let her eyes rest on the wall. She unfocused them, as if trying to see a 3D painting. Instead of looking for something, she looked for nothing.

That was when she noticed the markings.

They were old. Very old. They were so worn and faded they were barely existent anymore. She followed the flowing shapes, an alternating series of differing ones. One set looked like an alphabet of some kind, with something like the number "7" at the start. She didn't recognize the characters.

But she did recognize the others.

Gersallian calligraphy… and Darglan lettering.

"It's here," she breathed to the others. Roaring flame sounded from nearby: Miko was forming roaring fires now, trying to set the Cylons alight. But their powers protected them, creating raw force to repel the flames.

Everyone else looked toward her as Julia stepped up to where the lettering was. As she drew closer, the sound of water grew in volume ever so slightly. Gentle air brushed against her face. Compared to some of the winds off the mountain it was barely a zephyr, but her attention was drawn to the fact it was coming from the rock wall before her.

Gingerly Julia pressed her hand against the rock. She expected cold stone, but instead… nothing. Her hand went straight through the wall like it wasn't there.

"It's an illusion," she gasped. "A hologram."

"Despite the dampening field?" Lucy stepped up beside her. She put a hand through the wall as well before grinning at Julia. "Well, so much for the Flow of Life connection stuff. The normie finds the secret."

Julia returned the grin. But it didn't stick. "How do we get through without them seeing?" She turned her eyes to Meridina. "Meridina, can you trick them? Telepathically, like you did those natives?"

Meridina nodded. "I can." She turned toward the attacking group. Her mind reached outwards, buoyed by her will, and tested the defenses of each. They had powerful mental shields to protect their minds from attack.

Liara dropped to a knee. "Any… time…?"

Meridina took in a breath and concentrated. A direct mental attack, no… but the enemy was more concerned with her seizing them physically. Their visual cortices were less protected. It took much of her telepathic strength, even augmented as it was by the Flow of Life, to bypass those protections, but she did. She slipped into their minds and took over their visual centers. She showed them their group, one by one, going down the side of the mountain. Break off your attack, Miko, she urged the young Avatar

Miko did so. Moments later the Brotherhood broke off their attack on Liara, rushing toward the side of the mountain instead. They started going over the side themselves, jumping down to cut off the enemies they perceived as rappelling down the side.

The group gathered around Julia. Robert clapped a hand to her shoulder. "Great job." He did the same with Liara, who looked ready to collapse. "Both of you."

"Thank you," Liara replied. "I just need a moment." She reached for one of the energy drinks in her provisions.

Julia smiled at him. "Let's see what's in here."

Together the group stepped through the wall, Julia in the lead this time. A stone-laid path, unlit, beckoned, while distant light provided the promise of something other than darkness. They traveled ahead, following the path until it became upward stairs. The air grew cooler and the sound of water louder. A sense of wonder and uncertainty filled them. They were going deep into the mountain, to the heart of the dampening field. What would they find within?

The top of the stairs came, with light glinting from beyond. They crested the stairs and emerged into a courtyard. Mountain water ran down falls from either side, creating the rushing water that guided them here.

Between the falls was a large stone structure. It had a certain stark appearance, built into the side of the mountain. A couple of the columns were carved in the form of alien beings, cone-headed with eyes to either side of the head. Their smiling mouths depicted sharp teeth.

"This isn't Gersallian," Gina said. "But something about those aliens looks familiar."

"I think I've seen them too, from Darglan records," Robert noted. "But I don't remember anything more."

They walked toward the structure. Two great doors were in the center of the building. No sign of a control panel or handles was visible. "Someone forgot a door handle," Miko mused.

"These doors were meant to be opened with the Force," Megaera said.

"The what?" asked Talara.

Megaera showed a half-smile toward the Falaen woman. "The Flow of Life," she corrected. "Swev'a, or swevyra as Swenya insisted on calling it."

They approached the doors. Robert, Lucy, and Meridina stood together and acted in concert. They felt for the doors and willed them to open. The grinding of stone filled the grotto courtyard as the doors slowly swung open.

They stopped when they sensed the growing presence behind them. The doors stopped moving, leaving them only partly open.

Everyone turned to see the assemblage of dark-robed figures approach. Robert and the others frowned at the visage of Goras in their number. His hair had grown back and, like the others with him, he had the bandanna with the segmented hexagon of the Brotherhood. Beside him, his former apprentice Intalarai grinned wickedly, malice in her unnatural yellow eyes. Around them were a mixed group of Gersallians and Cylons.

Or so it seemed. The darkness in the group pulsed strangely. Among the hooded figures were some sets of pale hands, unnaturally pale. One stepped up with Goras and Intalarai, a satisfied look on his face. Under the hood, his face rested in shadow, and only the faint trace of inhuman eyes were visible.

The others felt the tension from Megaera and her strict attention to this foe.

"At last, Reshan's secrets will be ours," Intalarai said. "And we will end Swenya's treachery once and for all!"
”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 air in the courtyard of the alien structure was electric with tension. At the slightest move a battle would commence.

Meridina's voice broke the silence. "How could you say such a thing about Swenya? She gave our people a new path. She knew kindness."

"She laid an alien way upon our people," Intalarai spat. "She suppressed our paths to greatness! A hundred ways of attaining power, shattered and ruined by her!"

"She united our people, she brought them balance! She ended the suffering we brought to ourselves through the meaningless conflicts and struggles that divided us!"

"Struggle breeds power, particularly for those with swev'a." Intalarai sneered. "You are blinded by her dogmas, the dogmas of an outsider."

"Don't bother with them, Meridina," Megaera snapped. "They are blinded by their own arrogance. Nothing but children resentful of the traditions handed to them, beholden to a maddened fool who never understood or cared to understand."

"Kohbal saw the truth!" Intalarai retorted. "Who are you to speak of him so!"

Megaera's lips curled into a bemused sneer. "Someone who knows the truth, and furthermore knew that Kohbal could not handle it. Kohbal was a pathetic wretch, and followers like you are blind pawns. I know who the real puppet-master here is." She glanced to the shrouded figure. “Why didn’t he tell you about me, I wonder?”

Rage laced Intalarai's voice. "You know nothing, outsider! We will break your precious Circle, and Gersal will be restored!"

"If you break the Circle, Gersal will no longer be," Megaera retorted. "No matter what the Pretenders have told you otherwise."

Intalarai roared, "Take them!" and their enemies advanced, lightsabers igniting to life. Goras immediately lunged for Meridina, murderous hate in his eyes, just for Megaera's lightsaber come up and nearly slice into him. He deflected the blow and snarled at the interloper. The pale, hooded figure went for Meridina as well, just to be blocked by Robert.

Around them, a general battle broke out.

The Aurora blazed through the Cylon formation again, slipping through a hail of missile fire as she did. The missiles were being fired with greater accuracy, more than expected, and this time three made impact. "Shields are now at forty-five percent effectiveness," Tra'dur said while Angel busied herself with landing further hits on another of the remaining Basestars.

"Given their improving fire, they clearly have their own metaphysical talents aiding them." Kaveri's attention went to her stepdaughter. "Lieutenant, have we heard anything from Command?"

"No, Captain, nothing yet."

As the ship continued pulling away, Angel glanced upward from her station. "Captain, I think I have a way to deal with their missile fire, I'll need cooperation from Ops and Sensors."

"You will have it, Lieutenant," Kaveri said.

Angel shared her idea with them while Rawlins brought the Aurora around for another pass. The Cylon ships fired missiles into their path once more.

As the Aurora closed in, many of her lighter batteries opened up. Brief pulses of sapphire energy blossomed from all quarters of the ship. A number of the incoming missiles struck these pulses and were blown apart. This time, no missiles intercepted them, and yet again the torpedoes fired, striking another Basestar in passing.

Kaveri beamed with satisfaction. "Excellent thinking, Lieutenant."

"Thank you, Captain," Angel responded.

"Are the enemy ships attempting any other maneuvers?"

"They're changing direction now." Cat examined the sensor readings. "It looks like they're heading back into orbit."

"Probably to limit our attack vectors," Locarno said. He eyed the markers on the tactical display for where their fighter squadrons were waiting for orders. "Maybe it's time to launch Laurent's squadrons for a multi-vector attack?"

"Five Basestars still in operation would mean our fighters would be heavily outnumbered. I want to preserve them until their entry can be more decisive."

Their conversation ceased as another strafing run progressed. Angel's tactic provided another halo of protection against the metaphysically-targeted missiles, keeping them from suffering further shield loss. The torpedoes she fired this time broke through the shields of one of the Basestars and heavily-damaged its core section, leaving it vulnerable for the Koenig's attack run.

The attack ship dropped from warp, fired a barrage of phaser cannon fire and torpedoes, and pulled away to warp out again before enemy fire could become too deadly. The effect was to gut annother of the Basestars, leaving four.

"They're entering orbit now," Cat said. Her brow furrowed as she examined the electronic returns she was getting. "Their targeting sensors have gone active."

"Who are they targeting?" Kaveri asked. "The Jayhawk?"

"I can't tell yet, I'm reading active sensor emissions."

"Message coming in from Jayhawk, Captain," Tra'dur said. "It's Commander Jarod."

"Aurora, we've got a problem," Jarod said. "They're targeting the planet."

"They are going to bomb our people?"

"No ma'am. From what my sensors are showing, they're locking weapons on the planet's population centers." Quiet horror was audible in his voice. "They're going to wipe out the native civilization."

Goras, Intalarai, and the ancient Pretender all lunged straight for Meridina, joined by two of their peers. Megaera, Robert, and Lucy went to her aid while Gina and Talara prepared to defend Julia, Miko, and Liara. A second passed and the harsh buzzing of lightsabers colliding filled the courtyard grotto of the mountain temple.

Meridina received the attacks of two of the Brotherhood, a D'anna model and a Leoben. In front of her Lucy's lightsaber sliced through the air to intercept the furious blows of Intalarai, marking the third time the two found themselves in combat with each other. Through her vicious anger Lucy felt Intalarai's purpose, Meridina's death. She wouldn't allow that to happen and held her ground all the more strongly, her lightsaber a solid blur of blue as it met every blow.

Miko and Liara weren't holding back either. Biotic bolt, flame, and gusts slammed into the Brotherhood and Pretenders trying to overwhelm Talara and Gina. Even with this intervention, the two were still facing two opponents each.

The fight, for Talara, was the most difficult yet. She felt the utter darkness of her foes keenly. Their hatred and anger at being defied were no less weapons than the crimson blades that slammed against the lavender weapon she was swinging. She summoned up every ounce of herself to counter those dark feelings, aided by the emotions from the others. Miko's fiery defiance, Lucy's fearlessness, Julia's resolve, all of her allies provided something for her to focus on and counter the darkness that threatened to claw away at her being.

All save one.

Megaera and Robert were at the center of the courtyard, and their foes were the greatest. Megaera's lightsaber shined with a crimson brighter than Goras' weapon. She met his attacks with a savage sneer that stoked his fury. "I sense the darkness within you. The power." His yellow eyes glistened. "Why do you stand with Swenya's slaves?"

“Every victory against the Pretenders I count as revenge for my people, that is the sum of who I am,” Megaera answered, and met Goras blow for blow as the Gersallian felt a growing intensity of fear and uncertainty grip him as Megaera turned her power against him. For a moment his breath even stopped, and he struggled back on the defensive trying to cover himself, finding himself badly outmatched by the short, blind woman.

Nearby Robert's green blade intercepted the weapon of the ancient Pretender. He sensed the next blows coming even as he sensed a void in the Flow of Life around the being. Nothing but hatred came from the being. His speed was inhuman as he lashed at Robert repeatedly with his weapon. "Forceful." The being's voice was a deep crackling rasp, befitting a monster more than a man. "I have dealt with your kind for countless years. You are no worry to me." His blade went into motion again, but his leg moved in as well as hooked under Robert's. The force of the blow brought Robert's feet out from under him, toppling him over.

A killing blow came next, but Robert's power surged to meet it, not only stopping the blow but throwing the creature back into a column. It held itself up after impact while he scrambled back to his feet. Within the shadows of the hood a vicious sneer crossed his face.

You'll lose control. You'll hurt your friends. You'll hurt Julia. The fear struck at the core of him, full of doubt and despair. It's more power than you can handle.

You're not me
, he thought back, regaining physical control in time to catch another strike by the ancient being. Get out of my head. He focused his will around his mind, forcing the doubting voice out.

The contact was enough to tell him that they didn't have time to indulge a long fight. More of the Brotherhood was coming, with these dark allies to aid them. Even if they beat these foes back they would get overwhelmed in time. They had to unlock the Temple, find what was within.

Julia, we'll cover you. Get in and open the place up.

Robert's thoughts came to Julia while she waited for an open shot. Her pulse pistol was still useless, but the silver-firing gun provided by Megaera wasn't affected by the dampening field around them. Her trigger finger remained still because she didn't want to hit an ally.

Gina must have sensed her attention. The rogue Cylon pivoted and twisted, deflecting a strike at her as she did, and opening up a shot for Julia. Julia's finger stroked the trigger. The thundercrack split through the air, echoing in the courtyard grotto. The silver bullet planted itself in the back of the robed figure with a spurt of blood. The Cylon went down with a cry.

Meridina's mind touched hers. Julia, we'll hold them for now. Open the Temple.

But there's too many
, she protested. You need all the help you can get.

And there'll be more
. Robert's voice was different. He wasn't in her mind like Meridina's, but something deeper. We can hold them. It's up to you.

It was the right call. She could feel his certainty that it was, and it filled her as well. She returned the gun to her suit and went to the big double door. The brief effort to open it left it opened only by a crack. She grabbed at it and pulled at the door, but the weight was too much.

Two more hands appeared beside hers. Miko pulled with her. The door slid a little. "I wish I'd taken up Komin on those early Earthbending lessons," she groaned.

"Let me try," said Liara. She gathered her will and generated dark matter around the door's edge. Julia and Miko pulled as hard as they dared.

The door protested with the shriek of stone against stone, but gradually it opened enough for them to slip in.

The inside of the structure was less a temple and more like the approach to a vault. Only the decorative use of the temple's access to the mountain's water streams broke up the endless stone walls and vaulting ceiling. The columns were more of the cone-headed aliens.

Across the chamber was a set of double doors set into the wall. The ruins of some sort of computer station or interface remained beside the doors, and the door was framed by two columns.

Two columns with an open circular port set into each.

Julia took in a breath and reached into the upper layer of her tactical suit. She pulled out both of the lightsabers received on A Famoso.

Julia, they're through!

She felt Robert's mental warning just in time. She turned and caught a glimpse of the first robed, shadowy form through the door. It rushed at her with inhuman speed, going for her throat.

There was no time to evade. The creature slammed into her with such force that it knocked the air from her lungs and the weapons from her hands. He carried her to the ground and snapped at her neck. She fought off the panic and put her left forearm up just before the teeth could move in. They dug into the material of the suit and the wrist guards underneath.

Megaera's silver-sheened gifts drew a roar of pain from the creature. Its mouth smoked and smoldered as if ablaze.

That gave Julia the moment she needed. Her hand came up with one of Megaera's silver daggers shining in it. The blade pierced the flesh of the creature's throat. It let out a gargling screech as its form seemed to burn away at the touch of the metal.

When she forced the creature's decaying form off, Julia found the inner chamber a battle site. Miko was fending off one foe with gusts of air and blasts of fire, Liara had the other one held back by a biotic field.

Her eyes scanned the floor and found the ancient lightsabers she'd dropped. She got back up to retrieve them.

There was a blur and another robed figure was already there, scooping up the dark shape of Reshan's Blade. Julia barely got to Swenya's in time. She laid eyes on her foe, a Cylon of Sharon Agathon's model, who smirked at her before raising an open hand. A powerful force clamped down on Julia's throat, as if a great hand was squeezing her airpipe closed. She choked and instinctively reached for her neck to free herself.

But she couldn't.

A grim silence dominated the Aurora bridge. It only ended when Caterina spoke up. "The Cylon ships have a stable orbit, and their electronic emissions are picking up. I think they're about to fire."

"Our enemies know us very well," Kaveri noted grimly. "Helm, bring us in. I want the shields to full."

Angel nodded. "Yes ma'am. And I'm setting tactical systems to target their missiles."

The Aurora warped in a moment before the first Cylon ship fired. A wave of missiles descended on Domaram H and the cities that dotted the planet's surface. The Aurora's weapons fired rapidly, striking and destroying these missiles.

The enemy was quick to seize advantage of the moment. The full fury of the four Basestars vented on the Aurora, with emerald disruptor beams joining missiles and railgun armament. The bridge shuddered repeatedly. "Shields are back down to fifty percent," Tra'dur reported.

"A couple of the ships are still targeting the planet," Cat added.

Locarno noticed a series of new contacts on the tactical display. "Enemy is launching fighters."

"Call in our own, Commander, and Koenig. Tactical, fire all available weapons on the Basestars, but our priority remains protecting the planet."

She was answered with a pair of affirmatives.

Jarod sat silently in the cloaked Jayhawk, hovering at the edge of the atmosphere just outside of the combat area. He watched the Aurora firing on both the Cylons and their deadly missiles with trepidation: given their further refitting with Reich technology and the forced diversion of the Aurora's firepower, the Cylon ships were more than a match for the Aurora by herself.

The small ship's sensors were quick to identify the Koenig as she came soaring back into the fight, phasers blazing. Torpedoes erupted from her launchers and slammed into the shields of one of the Basestars. Her dorsal phaser array fired rapidly, spearing the cloud of Cylon raiders that assembled to harass her.

The Aurora's Mongoose fighters arrived next. They focused a torpedo run on the two Basestars furthest from the Aurora. Point defense fire met them, as did the raiders pouring from the Cylon ships' hangars. The Cylons threw themselves against the fighters' barrage, sacrificing themselves to save their motherships from being overwhelmed by the incoming strike. The raiders of the other ships gathered, firing pulse disruptors instead of the ballistic weapons they'd once used in attacks on the Aurora's fighters.

Laurent's fighters are drawing their raiders up. That development opened possibilities, and Jarod quickly identified the best of them.

At his control the Jayhawk's engines went to full thrust. He maneuvered the ship into position and disengaged the cloaking device. At a key tap the weapons systems auto-targeted the Cylon missiles raining toward the planet. The plasma cannons and pulse gun turrets fired away at the nearest missiles, blowing them apart with direct impacts. He quickly calculated a new approach vector to after another batch.

One finger moved over and triggered the tight-beam tactical channel to the Aurora. "I've got the missiles. You can focus on the Cylons!"

The entry of the Jayhawk to the battle, and Jarod's attacks on the missiles, was just what the ship needed. Kaveri was quick to recognize the opportunity and take it. "Helm, adjust course, bring us into the Cylon formation. Tactical, all weapons on the enemy!"

The Aurora turned away from the planet and toward the four Basestars. Their weapons continued to blaze away, striking at the Aurora's flickering blue energy shields, and under Angel's guidance the Aurora returned fire with everything she had. Her bow cannons blazed away, their sapphire bolts slamming repeatedly into a Basestar's deflectors until they collapsed, then tearing the lower half of the ship apart along the core section to send the arms spiraling away from the ruined ship. A spread of torpedoes from the bow launchers blew two legs off of the remaining upper half, virtually crippling the ship.

The second vessel fared little better as repeated sapphire beams sliced into its shields. It likewise took a spread of solar torpedoes, the blue-white sparks striking the shields and then blowing off an arm of the upper half of the ship.

The Aurora pulled clear of its adversaries and turned to face the two most-intact of the Cylon vessels. Their weapons fire continued to play over the shields, sending shudders through the Aurora with the worst hits. "Shields are down to twenty percent," Tra'dur warned. "Cohesion in the bow shields is failing."

"Rerouting shield power to the bow," Ensign Mallory reported from Engineering. "Commander Scott is diverting emergency power reserves to the shield generators."

"Keep us on target." Kaveri spoke as she noted the activities of the other ships. The Jayhawk was rapidly maneuvering, engaging every missile the Cylons sent toward the planet. Some of the Cylon raiders were heading toward the vessel. "Detach squadrons to aiding the Jayhawk."

"Sending the order now," Locarno answered, while the ship plunged back into the fight.

In the courtyard, Meridina's two opponents kept up their attacks. Their blades struck at her repeatedly, forcing her to remain on the defensive. Even if one showed an opening for her to strike in, her other foe's attack would force her to ignore it in favor of protecting herself.

What was more important was their strategy. She sensed their intent to separate her from the others, and she worked to thwart it. She refused to be driven away, staying as close to Lucy as she could to hold their side of the courtyard. Fighting beside her student gave her a sense of confidence. They'd fought so many battles before this one, faced such threats, that victory was still possible in her eyes.

But victory would not come automatically. She had to work for it. That meant turning the odds, if she could.

She let her swevyra, her bond to the Flow of Life, guide her physically, while her mind fought in other ways. Her mind probed that of her foe's and found basic defenses, but no telepathic power to back them up.

For the first time she gave ground. That bought her the moment she needed to push through her foe's defenses and enter his mind. SLEEP. The command went straight to his brain and took effect. He dropped to the ground with a thud.

Her other foe came in to attack and Meridina met the blow. She parried repeatedly before counter-attacking, a slash that cut across her foe's shoulder and left visible wound. She sensed the rage behind the coming attack and was ready for her lightsaber to absorb the purple-hued lightning that erupted from her enemy's hands.

A warning feeling filled her. Meridina maneuvered just in the nick of time, as her unconscious foe was back up and fighting. She evaded the angry swipe and parried a second. How did he awaken so quickly? she wondered.

She received her answer a moment later, as the dark mind swept over the room.

The ancient Pretender's mental abilities were significant, and the full fury of them came down on Robert's mind with such force that all of the others felt some of it.

You can't control your powers. You can't stop us. You can't protect the people you care about. The litany progressed, step by step, with imagery of his friends and allies dead. Transformed, made into hosts.

It took all of his will to force it away in time to parry the Pretender's next strike. He projected force to knock the creature away, enough that it did slide backward by about a meter, but the pale thing never lost its footing. Its crimson lightsaber slashed through the air again to be met by Robert's emerald-colored blade. The weapons' buzzing gave way to crackles as they met again and again.

The weight on his mind increased through the exchange. Now it brought to him memories of just a couple months before. Toutaine Station, the Aristo Lord Haron. The desperation and anger that he'd felt lashing out at the sadistic monster. He remembered the cold power he'd channeled through his rage, the invigoration.

The Aristos, the SS Exiles, the Dominion, NEUROM… all of them, in their own way, brought pain and suffering to billions, trillions, of beings, and that struck at the core of him. The Pretender pressed that point home in his mind. You fight alongside an agent of NEUROM now. The same people who stood ready to poison an entire world! Who threatened those close to you! The Pretender cackled. You've felt a taste of this power before. Stop fearing it. Embrace it. Use it to crush those who offend you. Crush them all!

This is a trick
he reminded himself. He's trying to distract you. It took a lot of effort to push the thoughts away, and he was barely fast enough to stop the incoming blows. He sensed the truth from his foe: he was being toyed with. The Pretender saw this as amusing.

Then the greater distraction came. From within the Temple he felt Julia's panic and fear. He felt the vise on her throat. I have to help her!

Through that instinctive thought, the Pretender struck again. His thoughts slithered through and filled Robert's mind, a darkness that overwhelmed everything. He stopped in place, quivering in his struggle to move. "Fool." The pale man smirked with amusement. "Your kind are so easy to—"

Another mind, nearly as dark, poured into his thoughts. It had direction, purpose, and in its hate for their enemies he felt a familiarity. This is not a battle for you, not yet, Megaera's mental voice echoed through his being. You are not ready.

Just as her mind intervened, so did her body. Her lightsaber interceded before the Pretender could strike at Robert.

More are coming. Get to your friend if you can, and hold the door as you must.

He almost protested, but stopped himself. The memory of that cold power rushing into his mind and holding him in place made it clear this was a threat he might not be ready for. He pulled back, letting Megaera face the Pretender directly. Its weapon struck at her and she caught and deflected it.

Goras seized his chance. WIth her blade out of the way, he went at her, looking to slice her in two if he could. With savage glee his swung his lightsaber blade…


…and it was blocked, as a second bright red blade shot from the other end of Megaera's hilt to intercept it. Her will formed a wave of kinetic power that drove both of her foes back, giving her room to shift her stance. A satisfied, smug grin crossed her face at Goras' surprise.

The grin was challenge enough. They attacked. Megaera met them blow for blow with the double-bladed lightsabre, equal to the one they had seen for the first time at A Famoso in the hands of The Alekto, which even Tisiphone did not possess. Settled into her feet, she looked comfortable and composed. “I am the Guard in the Mouth of Hell! The Apocalypse must always face me before it comes!” The tremendous fury which erupted from the bitter wounds of her soul was channeled with rigid control into a dark economy of lightsabre ballet and telepathic attacks which handily drove both of her opponents back on the defensive.

Robert stared for a moment. Blind, Megaera was driving back the two most powerful opponents he had faced except for her own Mistress, Tisiphone. He steadied himself, tore his eyes away, and fell back from that fight, leaving Megaera to her foes, and headed for Julia. As he neared the door he sensed the threat and turned, catching two foes with a wave of power. They hit the floor and rolled before coming to their feet, a pair of Cylons. He returned to a defensive stance and placed his back to the temple entrance. He suppressed the shivers he felt from the remnant traces of the Pretender's power and focused on his immediate task, meeting their attack as it came.

Julia's eyes panned desperately around the room, but she saw no aid coming. Liara was defending herself from a lightsaber-wielding Gersallian. The whipping winds and flames in the other corner told of Miko's efforts to fight her foe. Help was not coming.

With her vision starting to black out, Julia fought back her instinct and let go of her constricted throat. Her hand went to her belt and retrieved the old-model pistol Megaera replicated for her. She brought her hand up and fired it.

Her opponent saw the shot coming and raised a hand as if to stop it. It was to the surprise of both that the bullet crashed through the palm of the hand before entering the shoulder. Sudden pain diverted the Cylon's attention, freeing Julia to suck in a greedy breath and regain her balance. She lunged forward to retrieve Reshan's Blade.

The Sharon model reacted too quickly. Sensing Julia's intention she raised her hand and directed a wave of solid force that threw Julia backward. She crashed into one of the columns with bone-jarring power. With blood pouring from both hand and shoulder the Cylon hissed in rage and pulled out her lightsaber to strike Julia down.

From across the room came the cry, "Julia!" A large ball of fire struck the Cylon in the back, setting her robes alight. The Cylon swiftly shed them, revealing the dark-colored tunic she wore below.

Julia tackled the Cylon as she finished pulling the robe free, knocking the lightsaber from the Cylon's hand with the impact. The two went crashing to the hard stone floor.

Miko spun away from her foe again, feeling the sting of the Gersallian's lightsaber grazing her back and leaving a burn behind. She gave a hissed cry of pain while regaining her footing. At the movement of her left arm a gust of powerful air moved forward, but her foe caught it with his own talents and kept his feet.

He sees every attack I make before I make it, he's fast, and he's not afraid of getting burned, she thought, dodging another attack. I need another way of attacking him!

There was a way, in fact, but she wasn't sure it'd work.

Be fluid, she thought. Let energy flow through me. Go around resistance. Flow. The movements and thoughts of all her training with Julia came to her. This is what it's for!

She brought her arms up and whipped them forward.

The water from the decorative fountain and pool rushed forward. The Gersallian had no chance to dodge. He was thrown to the floor.

Jubilation at Waterbending in a fight was quickly countered by remembering that it wasn't over yet. Her opponent was getting back up. But he was stunned enough that she had an opening, and she took it.

Flame and air answered the movements of her arms and legs, her very will, as she threw everything she had at the man. Invisible force stopped the initial attacks. But he was at his limit, and Miko had yet to find hers. A ball of flame coated his arm and caused him to drop his weapon. As he recoiled from this strike and more, she formed a gust of air that threw him into the roof. He flopped to the ground and didn't move.

Triumphant, Miko turned to the others. She drew her arms together and the water came at her call again. This time she drained both of the chamber's pools in summoning pistons of water. Her targets were taken by surprise, throwing Liara's into the far wall and Julia's into a column.

Her allies recovered quickly. Liara dropped her field and struck her opponent with a stasis field followed up by a burst of dark matter that knocked him into the wall again. Julia scooped up her firearm and fired into the Cylon, a series of thundercracks that filled the air. With blood seeping from her wounded torso, the Sharon model's golden eyes rolled up into her head. She fell in place.

Given the sounds of fighting outside, Julia knew their time was running out. She pulled Reshan's blade from the dead Cylon's belt and picked up Swenya's from the floor. She went to the columns by the inner door and the open aperture in the left column. She pushed Swenya's weapon in, projection side first, and did the same with Reshan's on the other end.

Light poured from around the hilts, then from the columns themselves. Miko and Liara joined her in time for the doors to slide open.

They all gasped in surprise.

A few of the Brotherhood were fallen to the ground of the courtyard, but even more were coming up the steps from the mountainside. Everyone had two foes to face already, with Lucy struggling to hold Intalarai and a Cylon back from Meridina. Meridina's foes had her pinned against the side of the courtyard, unable to break through her defense but keeping her from moving. If Intalarai or another joined in, she would be overwhelmed.

Robert wanted to aid them, but couldn't. He had his own foes, a Cylon Leoben and one of their clones of Lucy, to contend with. Megaera was likewise hotly engaged against the ancient Pretender and Goras.

Every fiber of Lucy's being strained against her foes. Intalarai was a match for her; having a second foe meant she had to give ground, and they were pressing her up toward Meridina. She knew the intention well; Intalarai would go for the kill.

She wouldn't let that happen.

So she stopped. With her feet planted Lucy met their attacks, swinging and twirling and twisting as she had to, their lightsabers in such constant motion her vision was full of blue and red light. She sensed their attacks as they came and let her arms go to meet them.

But the attackers were coming fast. Too fast. She would have to move, soon, or they would strike her down.

To make matters worse, another group of six robed figures appeared at the top of the steps at the courtyard entrance. They ignited lightsabers.

"Here!" Intalarai cried. "Over here! Kill them all!"

They went to rush forward… and stopped.

At that moment, they all felt it. A power filled the temple, no longer dormant, no longer sleeping. Awakened and full of purpose. The sense of it was enough to draw the attention of everyone, bringing the fight to a temporary suspension.

The doors to the temple, up to this point cracked open, exploded outward.

The figure that stepped out was humanoid, clad in a Gersallian robe of dark gray matched with black armor. The greater light within the temple gave the figure a bright silhouette. Under the shadows of a hood nothing was visible of the newcomer's face.

All eyes went to the objects in the man's hands, the blades of Swenya and Reshan, as they came alive, blades of brilliant sapphire and amethyst color igniting into being.

With the blades of Swenya and Reshan in hand, the hooded man rushed forward. The Cylons dueling Robert were his first targets. They stood their ground, weapons raised and ready.

Their foe swiftly proved their superior. His blades met theirs only twice before each plunged into the Cylons' bodies. They cried as they fell.

The six Brotherhood figures newly arrived rushed up to face the new foe, all while the others could only watch in surprise.

Half of them never got into range. One was struck by raw force, two thrown into one another.

The three on one that resulted didn't last long. The man moved with uncanny speed. Deflection, deflection, parry, thrust, and down went an enemy, over and over until all were slain.

"No!" Goras screamed. "No!"

The man turned toward him. "You're not welcome here," his voice boomed through the courtyard. "Get out."

Megaera ruthlessly took advantage of Goras’ distraction, bringing her lightsabre up in a stroke that brought a cry of pain to him as his off-hand hung limply by charred flesh and bone.

"No!" Intalarai raised her lightsaber. "The Circle will be broken! Gersal will be ours!" She charged, her lightsaber glowing hot in her raised hands.

The man's movements betrayed contempt more than concern. He caught her wild, enraged blows on his weapons once, twice… and then the purple of Reshan's Blade plunged into her heart. Her gold, darkness-tainted eyes widened in despair and disbelief as she fell, her life draining from her.

With rage and pain in his voice, Goras called out, "Flee! We will find another way!" He backed away and fled, leaving the ancient Pretender to face Megaera.

Some of his compatriots did the same. Others, their blood up, angry at being denied, attacked anyway. The battle resumed, but with the momentum on their side, Robert and his team quickly gained an upper hand.

In the middle of the courtyard the ancient Pretender stood his ground. Megaera kept hers as well, shielding the newcomer from attack while he dispatched another Brotherhood member. “It’s been a while. She didn’t send you, she isn’t that foolish. But you…” Megaera faced her opponent, deactivating one of her blades.

“You will never win. In a million years you and your mistress will still be fighting us and with each battle you will get weaker and we will grow stronger,” the Pretender answered. He turned his mental powers against Megaera.

Megaera did not reply, but instead met the telepathic assault with a gentle turning, and for the first time, attacked; she turned into a blur of motion as the Pretender likewise blurred. But instead of two people emerging from the moment of combat, there was one person and the sectioned body of the other, the Pretender split from the top of the head down to the hips in a rough diagonal line.

“In a million years,” Megaera repeated with soft melancholy in her voice, looking down at the body that collapsed into decayed strips of bone and mummified flesh. Then she deactivated her lightsabre and turned slowly to face the man who had aided them, putting down the last of his would-be killers. “We kept the faith, M’Lord,” she said, and bowed her head politely.

Once all their opponents were down Robert turned toward the temple. Not to take in the man who appeared from within, but to reassure himself of what he already felt to be true: Julia was alright. He saw her standing with Miko and Liara, the former beaming with pride, and sighed in relief.

Meridina was still regaining her breath, but she approached the hooded figure with trepidation and curiosity. "Who are you?" she asked gently, speaking softly in High Gersallian. "I am Meridina of the Lumentala, formerly a Knight of Swenya."

"I know." The man turned the blades off and set them on his belt. He turned toward her and the others gathering behind her. His hands, freed of their weapons, came up to lower his hood. With it no longer casting his head in shadow, they could see his neck-length hair of snow and ash-color and his weathered face, bordered by a deep scar. A pair of brown-colored eyes took them in one by one.

The surprise wasn't in his reply, but how it was delivered. Not in Gersallian, but in English.

"Well, it's about time you showed up," he said, a slight grin coming to his old face. "I've only been waiting about three thousand years."

Lucy's eyes widened. "You… you can't be… you're…?"

"I think the name you're looking for is 'Reshan'," the old man said, the grin growing. He cast his eyes around the courtyard. "So, who's going to help me clean up this mess?"

The Aurora twisted as it slipped between two of the remaining Basestars, weapons still blazing away. Around it point-defense fire tore apart several attacking Cylon raiders while the Koenig burned in on another attack run. Its weapons pummeled down the weak shields of the Basestar and exposed it to torpedo fire. The torpedoes blasted chunks out of the upper arms, severing one completely.

"Shields are below ten percent, cohesion is failing."

Ensign Mallory was quick to follow up on Tra'dur's report. "Armor auto-repair systems operating at full capacity."

"Status on the missile bombardment?" Kaveri asked.

"They're still firing, but the Jayhawk's taking them out before they can get into the atmosphere." Cat saw something on her screens. "I'm picking up energy spikes from the planet. It looks like their heavy raiders are jumping out."

"I wonder if that's a good sign or a bad one," Locarno said.

"We are about to find out I imagine," Kaveri replied.

A few more shots were fired and the Aurora's weapons severed another arm from one of the Basestars. As they moved past Cat spoke up again. "Power spikes in the Cylon ships. They're jumping out!"

One by one, the hostile red lights on the tactical display winked out.

Kaveri did not let any relief show. This did not mean victory, after all. "Status of the ship?"

"Damage to Decks 16 through 19 and 24 through 30, superficial," Tra'dur answered. "Shields are already regenerating to normal strength." A light appeared on her console. "We're detecting a hail from the planet's surface."

"Put them on."

Robert's voice crackled over the line. "Dale to Aurora. Mission accomplished. We'll be coming back up as soon as it's clear, and we'll have a passenger with us."

Kaveri betrayed no curiosity about what he meant. "Standby for transport then. I will inform Command of our success."
”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 »

Dormaram H continued to spin through the transtanium windows of the Aurora conference lounge. Inside the command officers of the Aurora and Koenig, with Robert's team, were either seated or standing. Megaera remained in a corner, openly keeping herself from joining the meeting.

It fell to Kaveri to relay the contents of a communique from Command. "The Cylon fleet jumped away before Admiral Maran could engage them. They appear to be withdrawing toward the frontier. The fleet is following to ensure, but it is clear their incursion is over."

"It's like we thought," Jarod said. "They were there to cover this operation."

"Were they tracking us then?" asked Angel. "I mean, they showed up pretty quickly."

"Possibly, either through sensors or metaphysical means." Lucy shook her head. "Although I almost get the feeling they knew where Reshan was."

That brought a point from Tom. "If they did, why didn't they just go after the Temple before now? Why wait?"

Robert noted a bemused expression on Megaera. Before he could ask what she was thinking, Cat spoke up with her voice almost squeaking with enthusiasm. "So how did Reshan survive? What's down there? I mean, three thousand years. How could he live that long?"

"He's not been very forthcoming," Robert said wryly. That got a chuckle from Megaera, but Robert ignored that in favor of looking to Leo. "Anything from your medical scans?"

"He wasn't my most cooperative patient, but he did let me get some medical data. From all I've seen, he's a perfectly healthy elderly male Human. In the upper percentile of health, actually. No sign of any disorders or conditions related to age, great physical condition, honestly the only sign anything's ever been wrong with him is the scar tissue from old wounds."

"You mean like his face."

"Exactly." Leo shrugged. "I offered cosmetic procedures but he turned them down."

"Where is our guest now?" Kaveri asked.

"In assigned quarters on Deck 6, near mine," Robert replied. "He said he wanted to read up on the Multiverse before we talked. I could tell he wasn't interested in attending a meeting with us, or any other debriefing."

"I have reported his presence to Command. I expect further questions to come. In the meantime, we are due to remain on station until relieved by a Gersallian fleet squadron," Kaveri said. "The Interdependency government is going to re-evaluate Domaram H's status for the time being."

"There's still a species down there that doesn't meet contact requirements," said Julia.

"True. A duck-blind of some sort may be employed to watch over the Temple and avoid native issues. Either way, until we receive clearance to depart, we will finish repairs and maintain vigil. You are all dismissed. But I would like to speak to Captain Andreys."

A number of sympathetic looks went toward Julia as the group dispersed from their places. Robert and Lucy went over to join Megaera in going down the far lift, returning them to the lower decks, while the others headed toward the bridge.

From her seat along the side, Julia waited quietly for Kaveri to explain.

"From what has been said, you may have been the difference between victory and defeat in this matter," Kaveri said softly, sounding more like an approving grandmother than anything else.

"Maybe. We all worked together," Julia answered.

"I thought you should know that Command relayed a communication from New Liberty. A Doctor Schneider wishes to speak to you."

Julia pursed her lips and nodded. "I was due for a session a couple days ago. To judge if I was ready to return to duty."

"You have extenuating circumstances."

"That won't be enough if she's working for Davies," Julia answered. "He wants me off the ship. He wants us all off the ship. And he knows removing me will begin that process. He can maneuver one of his people to be in command and drive the others off."

Kaveri nodded stiffly. "I can tell he has a very negative view on you and your crew. I can understand having concerns about your military bearing and the discipline of your ship, but your actions and accomplishments should speak for themselves."

"It has to do with Meridina, with the metaphysical stuff. He doesn't trust the Gersallians, or Robert and Lucy for that matter." She shook her head. "He doesn't trust telepaths either."

"I am familiar with the kind. They value their mental independence, and their trust in their own thinking." Kaveri straightened in the chair. "Either way, I wish you the best with Doctor Schneider. Have faith that your deeds will speak for themselves."

"Thank you, Captain." Julia returned her grin. "Either way, hopefully you'll be enjoying New Year's with your wife."

Kaveri looked wry, as if she were not sure to count on anything at this point. "Hopefully."

After the talk Julia returned to her guest quarters. There was no point in delaying the matter. It was time to see how things would go with Schneider.

She put on her uniform and replicated a cup of tea to soothe her nerves, reminding herself she still needed to see about getting a replicator pattern for the tea that Fire Lord Daizon's people served. Once she felt ready, she went to the desk and activated the ship's comm systems.

After a couple minutes of the call routing through the Alliance's interuniversal comm network, the image of Dr. Gertrude Schneider appeared on the screen. The silver-haired woman smiled politely at her. The window behind her showed a starlit night sky. "Captain, it's good to hear from you. I was worried when I heard about the attack."

"Thank you, Doctor," Julia answered politely. "I'm sorry I couldn't get ahold of you before now. I've been indisposed on another matter."

"So I've heard. Related to the attack?"

"Somewhat, yes. I'm afraid that's all I can say."

"Of course." Schneider settled her hands on her desk. "You seem to have gone through this experience quite well."

"I've been in danger before," Julia answered. "It's part of the life."

"So it is."

"I don't know when I'll be back to New Liberty, maybe in a few days." Julia settled herself to try and keep her heart from beating too hard. "Unless you've made a decision?"

"Ah. To this point then." Schneider nodded. "I won't keep you in suspense any longer, Captain. I have made my determination as to your suitability."

"And?" Julia struggled to keep any impatience from her voice. "What was your finding?"

"That you are cleared to return to your command, of course."

The relief she felt couldn't be hidden. Hearing those words, it felt like the world had finally righted itself under her feet. "Thank you," she said, grinning widely as she spoke.

"I am owed no thanks." A somber tone filled the older woman's voice. "To be truthful, I haven't been my best with you, Captain."


"You were right before. My interviews with you, I wasn't conducting them as I normally would. I wasn't given the chance to pursue a proper therapeutic interaction with you."

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Are you saying something was interfering?"

"I am not saying anything of the sort. Only what I must." Schneider shook her head. "What matters for you is that my determination is made. It's time you got back to your ship, Captain. The official word should come in soon. Goodbye."

Julia wanted to ask her more, but she knew it wouldn't matter. Schneider wouldn't continue the conversation, possibly couldn't without risking further problems. "Goodbye, Doctor," she said.

Her first impulse with the call over was to celebrate. Who to celebrate with was another matter. Most of her friends were busy with their duties after the battle, even Robert. Repairs, reports, it all occupied their time, and it wouldn't be right to delay that work.

There was, at least, one other person who would be available.

That was what led her, about ten minutes later, onto one of the holodecks. The inside was a simple park landscape program with a stream and a lake surrounded by trees and grass. Miko, wearing a red and gold set of training clothes, stood at the side of the stream practicing her forms. The water moved in line with her arms, mostly, although it didn't quite go as far as her movements. "You're improving," Julia said.

Miko stopped and turned. She grinned and nodded. "I am, Sifu Julia. Thanks to you."

"No need for the titles right now," Julia said. "I'm not here to be your trainer. I just got some good news and I wanted someone to celebrate it with."

Miko's eyes widened, more out of happiness than surprise. "They reinstated you?"

She nodded once. "She cleared me to go back to duty. I should get the orders soon."

"That's wonderful news! I'm so happy for you!" Miko came up and embraced her in congratulations.

"How are you doing? That was a tough fight," Julia remarked. "You helped turn it our way."

"It's what I was meant to do," Miko said. "I'm just glad I helped that much."

"How's the Waterbending coming? Are the forms working?"

"Better now. I've still got some training work to do. I'm still feeling my way through this." Miko's grin turned a little pensive. "I guess it came just in time, if you're going to be back on duty."

"Yeah. But if you want, I can see about keeping you aboard for a little while. We can continue working on your style when I'm not on watch."

"I'd like that."

Julia nodded. A serious expression crossed her face. "It could be dangerous. I've got no idea what missions they might call us on, and any day we could end up at war with the Dominion."

"If that happens, it happens, but you've done more for me learning Waterbending than anyone else," Miko insisted. "You've helped me grasp what this art is. I think I can learn a lot more from you."

"Well, we'll see where this goes." Julia gestured to the door. "But right now, I'd like to head to the Lookout and celebrate the news. Interested?"

The smile on Miko's face was her answer.

By the next morning the news was already cross the ship. Captain Andreys was cleared for duty and would likely resume command after Christmas. Everything was returning to normal for them.

Cat received other news, and that was why she went to Deck 6 at the earliest opportunity. She found Liara in her guest quarters using the library computer to examine images of a set of ruins.

Liara turned from the screen. "Any news on an excavation to that temple?"

"Yeah, but not good news." Cat shook her head. "The Gersallian government's refusing to allow an excavation. They're worried that it won't be possible to hide it from the planet's natives."

"They have a point. We ran into a couple of local hunters during our climb up the mountain."

"Yeah, but with that Reshan guy awake, we could just turn off the dampening field and beam right in. They wouldn't even see us." Cat flopped into the nearby chair. "And that's something else. I mean, this guy is supposed to be from three thousand years ago. Think of all the knowledge he has on this universe from that era. And I know he's not an artifact or anything, but I'm not even being allowed to ask him for an interview yet."

"Maybe that'll change." Liara smiled at her. "You didn't come here just to complain about this to me, did you?"

"Huh? Oh, oh! No, not at all." Cat giggled and shook her head. "No, I've actually got really good news." She pulled a digital tablet out of her uniform jacket. "Here!"

Liara took it. Her smile grew as she read the words. "I've been approved to serve as a civilian scientist?"

"Yes! And we've got an open spot on the Aurora for a xenoarchaeologist!" Cat clapped her hands. "Are you interested?"

"Of course," Liara insisted.

"I'll file the paperwork then, and we'll have to introduce you to the other civilian staff." Cat's grin was infectious as she stood. "Welcome aboard, Doctor T'Soni!"

After Cat left, Liara turned back to the displays before her. This was what she'd wanted, and now that she had it, she considered all the things she needed to do. She'd have to inform Feron, obviously. Arrange for her things to be delivered or put in storage.

It was all worth it as a chance to put the events of the last several months behind her and start over fresh.

And maybe find a way to soothe my conscience , she thought to herself. I should have told them about Shepard. About what I've done. What's being done. They deserve to know.

But she couldn't tell. That was made clear to her. All she could do was remain silent, and wait to see if it was all for nothing.

Across Deck 6, another meeting was taking place, as Reshan sat back on the couch in his assigned guest quarters. "You're still uncertain about this, aren't you?" he asked his visitor.

Megaera's head shifted, as if she was looking him eye to eye.

"I know what's under that head wrap," Reshan remarked. "What's the point in wearing it with me?"

"Habit," she replied. "It's our way, you know that, and I am using it instead of sunglasses to protect White’s identity, she’s helping them for whatever reason right now."

"Right. You don't want anyone to see what's under there. And I suppose I can’t complain if you’re still friends with White." He sipped at some water.

She reached off and took the wrap off, wincing at even the dim light of the room. “Does it make me more honest that you can see my eyes? I sort of like the challenge of fighting blind.”

He honored her gesture and didn’t flinch at the hideous red pits that were strangely far worse than Tisiphone’s glowing red eyes. Tisiphone’s looked evil; Megaera’s looked like they would drive you insane if you looked at them too long. “I didn’t mind. The Miralukan look suited you.”

“Thank you.” She promptly started to wrap them back up. “I prefer it to contacts.” He could easily tell, though, that she was still upset.

"So what's bothering you? It's all going according to plan, isn't it? Is your mistress still that skeptical?"

"You know how she feels about these matters," said Megaera.

"Our old Time Lord friend made clear to her how it'd work." Reshan smirked. "Does she still call him 'the useless fop'?"

"He is. And the Doctor has his own problems in his own cosmos to worry about. He's not always reliable in that way."

"True. But he's going to be there when it counts. And it doesn't change what I said. This is working out."

Megaera shook her head. "They're not ready, M'lord. They don't have the skill. The power. They don't even understand the threat."

"We can fix that." Reshan set his glass on the table and fixed a stare at her. "The important thing is your mistress' intention. I'm no fool, she has her own agenda in all things."

"Her agenda, as you call it, remains unchanged on one key point; fighting the Darkness in all of its forms, and if possible, ending the threat. Whatever she thinks of the Circle, she will see it through to the end."

"And afterward?"

Megaera shrugged. "Who can say?"

"What of your… 'teacher'?" He almost snarled the word. "What does that creature want?"

"What any Sith wants, M'lord. Power."

"And you?"

The answer came swiftly. "Revenge. Three thousand years, a million, it doesn’t matter. I want to visit on the Darkness what they visited on us. Aeons may pass, and if they remain, my will to live will endure, all for to see the end of them.”

"Not the most laudable of goals. But I'm familiar with it, and I can work with that."

"There is still the matter of the so-called Dawn-Bearers. They’re still a disaster. Swenya was head and shoulders above them."

"Maybe they're not ready yet. But they will be." He leaned forward. "I'll see to that, personally."

Megaera bowed her head. “Use me as a foil then, M’lord. You have the rare chance to train them against a Dark Jedi who will not take advantage of it to kill them or taint them. We fought together in the worst war that has ever been, you know my measure, I will not do anything to jeopardize the Circle or my vengeance.”

That brought a moment of silence from the old man. "I think I may just take you up on that." He grinned slightly. "And if I have their measure correctly, they may just provide you the vengeance you seek."

Ship's Log: 25 December 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Kaveri Varma recording. It is with pleasure that I record our arrival at Tira this morning at 0448 New Liberty time. This is to be my last official status log as Captain of the Aurora. It has been an interesting tour and will serve well as an end to my official career. I look forward to turning command over to Captain Andreys tomorrow and beginning my retirement.

In the meantime, the
Aurora crew is commencing Christmas celebrations, and later in the day we will be transporting down for a special occasion concerning an invitation my wife gave them after the Tira Crisis.

Christmas festivities aboard ship were joined by an unseasonal event: a baseball game.

Aboard the ship, in the Lookout and elsewhere, those remaining on the ship had access to holovid transmissions of the game, while down on Tira the command crews of the Aurora and Koenig were assembled at a stadium with a baseball diamond set up on the field. Local Dilgar residents, primarily Eden and Rohrican settlers to the northern islands, made up the majority of the crowd, but an entire section was given over to the Aurora officers and crew who came to attend.

The Aurora and Koenig crews formed one of the teams playing on the diamond, the crew of the Dilgar flagship Magaratha the other team. The uniforms were made to conform to the 1903 edition rules of the game, with some reasonable adaptations, and the equipment was likewise fit to that ruleset. The Dilgar wore pinstripe suits in gray colors while the Aurora and Koenig crews employed blue uniforms with a stylized dawn set against the shape of the Koenig on the left breast.

The Dilgar were up to bat. Zack was pitching for the Alliance team. His tactical officer April Sherlily was at shortstop, and Tom was at the plate as catcher. Angel was at first base, Locarno in the right outfield, and the other positions were taken up by various officers and crew selected by Meridina and Zack. Others were in the bullpen as reserve players.

In the seating behind home plate, Shai'jhur and Kaveri were reunited, seated side by side. Julia and Robert were beside them with Lucy, Talara, Jarod, Tra'dur, and Leo among them. On the other side sat Governor Ari'shan and some of his family. Bet'tir was seated behind the First Couple of the Union with Shai'jhur's own Mha'dorn bodyguard, and her second youngest daughter, Sai’jhur, who was studying at the war college. Nearby a mobile replicator unit stood ready to provide them with any food they desired while additional choice was provided by the concession workers plying snacks (mostly meat foods) all along the stands.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning. The Dilgar had a slight lead, four runs to three, and two outs, with a runner on second. The batter coming up was one of the better Dilgar batters, being responsible for two of the scored runs so far. "It would seem your Commander Carrey is having difficulty with Kan'jar," Shai'jhur noted teasingly.

"Give him time," Julia answered, grinning. "Zack's still getting warmed up."

Everyone went silent as Zack threw a pitch. It went slightly off-center, on the border of the strike zone, but Kan'jar swung anyway and missed. The Dilgar umpire called it a strike as Tom caught the pitch and threw it back.

Receiving the ball again, Zack started idly tossing the ball into the air with his right arm, as if priming himself for the next pitch.

“Shouldn’t the pitching be faster?” Pei’shan asked with a pout. “They’re really drawing this out.”

"That's not the way of the game," Robert said softly. "This is a more leisurely game. You take your time."

"No, I'm with her." Lucy chuckled. "This game takes too long."

Robert shot a sardonic glance her way, which she answered with her tongue stuck out.

"Was that a strike?" Talara asked. "How? I thought it had to be hittable, it didn't look hittable."

"He still swung for it," Julia answered. "Even if it should've been a ball, it's a strike if you go for it."

Zack spun up to throw his next pitch. Just as he did, the Dilgar on second base took off. The pitch sailed through the air and went low in the center. Kan'jar swung again and missed.

The moment Tom had the ball he threw it to third base, where a Human man, one of the petty officers, was waiting. He caught it and brought it low to tag the Dilgar runner just as the runner's foot touched the base. The third base umpire swept his arms to gesture the runner as safe.

"Your team's very aggressive," Leo said to Shai'jhur.

"I should hope so!" she answered enthusiastically. "Now let us see if Kan'jar can bring another run in."

Zack twirled the ball in his hand for a moment and looked up at Tira's bright blue sky. Whether it was in prayer or another gesture, none could see. Once his eyes came back down he tugged at the visor of his cap and nodded.

The next pitch flew.

Everything happened in an instant. The runner at third exploded for home. The ball sailed toward home plate, a low fastball. The burly Dilgar swung—


—and the ball skittered into the ground as Zack rushed forward from the mount. He caught the ball with his left hand mitt, transferred it to his right hand in less than a second, and threw it forward. Tom caught it and thrust his mitt toward the ground, tagging the Dilgar runner in the leg just as his foot extended for home.

For a second the entire stadium waited for the ruling.

The Dilgar umpire drew back a closed fist and growled "Out!"

The crowd exploded. Disappointment from some, but from many, appreciation.

"And on into the fifth inning," Jarod said, grinning.

“And see, our umpires are being very fair!” Sai’jhur exclaimed. “Nah’dur would want them to help us win.”

Shai’jhur groaned softly. “Don’t tease your sister in front of others, Sai.”

"I'm just glad to see Zack play again." Robert had a wistful expression. He thought of the dream world he'd been in over the previous Christmas, a dreamworld where his friend had reached the majors as he'd dreamed. "It was his thing."

Shai’jhur returned to smiling, and put an arm around her wife. “I am glad we all have a little bit of peace today, Captain.”

With the game and the post-game Christmas meal over, Robert joined Julia in her temporary guest quarters. "So, going to enjoy your last night of freedom?" he asked.

She grinned at him. "Well, I do have a pile of reports to go over to get back on track. I figured I'd get to that."

"Back to being Miss Responsibility, then." He grinned at her.

"And you're still looking like you should be," she teased, tapping at his hairless chin. "Things really are back to normal, I guess. Given how crazy this year's been, it's about time."

"I know it feels like the year's gone on forever." Robert followed her to the couch and sat beside her. "But at least it's ending the right way. We're here, together. All of us."

"And we're not rebuilding the ship in drydock again," Julia laughed.

He chuckled in agreement. "Yeah. And I'm not comatose and dreaming of another world this time."

"Yeah." Julia let out a small sigh. "I wish I could say next year will go smoother. But it's not going to, is it?"

"Are you asking my opinion, or for me to tell the future?"

"Either would work."

"Fair enough." Robert shook his head. "Seeing Reshan, meeting him… it puts things in perspective, I guess. This whole Multiverse thing, it's gotten more complicated than it's ever been." He laughed at himself. "Which is saying something since it's always been complicated."

"We just never let ourselves see it. We were too busy trying to be heroes."

"Some would say we still are." Robert clapped her on the shoulder. "You're certainly one."

"Ha! Coming from the White Knight himself!" She giggled at him. "That's a high compliment."

"It's meant to be one," he assured her. Despite the humor a somber feeling came over him. "Whatever this Circle is, we haven't finished with it yet, and the Cylons and Brotherhood still want to break it. We're going to have more fighting on our hands. A lot more, I think."

"Yeah." She nodded. "But we'll be ready when it comes. Just like with any challenge."

"We'll face it together," he agreed whole-heartedly.
”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 Lookout was packed and the tables moved out of the way to allow for the ceremony taking place. A host of attendees went quiet when Meridina called out, "Attention to orders."

Clad in Stellar Navy dress whites, Julia and Kaveri looked toward one another. Kaveri brought up a digital reader. "To Captain Kaveri Varma, Commanding Officer Starship Aurora, 26 December 2643 Alliance Standard Time," she began, reading from the display. "You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of your vessel to Captain Julia Andreys as of this date. Signed, Admiral Tashan Tiyari, Alliance Stellar Navy Personnel Command." Kaveri lowered the reader and faced Julia. "Computer, this is Captain Kaveri Varma. Transfer all command functions to Captain Julia Andreys, authorization Bravo-Delta-Zulu-Six."

"Code recognized. ASV Aurora is now under the command of Captain Julia Andreys."

Julia extended her hand to Kaveri. "Captain Varma, I relieve you, ma'am. Enjoy your retirement."

"I stand relieved. Thank you, Captain Andreys. I wish you and your crew the best." She glanced their way as they applauded at the conclusion of the ceremony. "They are not the conventional crew I am used to, but they are a good one, and I am proud to have been their Captain."

"I'm thankful they had you during my absence, Captain."

Julia could say no more for the moment as the others were coming up to shake hands. Cat, as expected, went for the hug with Julia while her sister shook Kaveri's hand. "I admit I didn't know how it'd go with you, Captain," Angel said. "But I'm glad to have had you."

"And to think I just got finished with the protocols for the new ship running status system," Jarod said, taking her hand next.

Overhearing that while shaking Mister Scott's hand, Julia said, "Well, I won't let it go to waste, Jarod. Splitting crew operating status from ship readiness will help with flexibility and long alerts."

"Aye. It'll let th' crew have down time without compromisin' ship safety," Scotty agreed while moving on to Kaveri. She accepted his hand. "Captain, thank ye for th' honor of servin' with ye."

"The honor was mine, Mister Scott. Your reputation preceded you greatly."

When it was Cat's turn to give Kaveri a goodbye, she started with an audible, "I hope you enjoy your retirement, Captain" before lowering her voice and pulling a little closer. "Thank you for listening to me. It helped."

Kaveri nodded once in understanding. "It will remain between us, Commander Delgado. I would give you some advice, however."


"Among family, a shared burden is easy to carry. This is your family, and they are strong enough to handle it."

Cat swallowed and nodded. "I… I see. I'll think about it."

"That is all I ask."

The ship stayed at Tira through the week, finishing remaining repairs at the new fleet station in orbit and seeing parties visit the planet below. Zack and the joint team followed up on their game with the Magaratha crew by holding a couple of extra exhibition matches with other local teams.

Now the time had come to depart, as the new year was coming in. The command crews of both ships gathered on the bridge with Robert and his team in attendance. Everyone was in their place, with Julia back in the command seat and wearing the uniform as if nothing had happened.

This was untrue, of course. Much had happened. They'd faced another challenge and overcome it; more to the point, they knew even more would be coming their way.

Ruminating on that, Julia spoke up. "You know, this new year is the best year we've had since '41. We're not in dry dock. Nobody's in a coma. We're all here, together."

"You might want to be careful about that, Julia," Zack remarked. "We've still got a few hours to go. You're asking for a space wedgie to swallow us and deposit us in some alternate dimension we have to fight our way out of."

That brought chuckles to the assembled. Julia joined them, grinning. "And I'd feel sorry for whatever brought is into that wedgie," she said, with applause as an answer to join the laughs. She straightened her head to look to the bow of the ship, where the holo-viewer showed the oceanic world of Tira spinning on below them. "Mister Locarno, we're due for a week's patrol tour of the Union. Set a course to our first patrol point and take us out."

"Aye ma'am," Locarno answered. "Breaking orbit now, getting departure vector from planetary traffic control."

The Starship Aurora gently pulled away from the planet she'd once fought so hard to save. She cleared the orbital space and warped away in a burst of light.

After everyone split up, Robert and Julia headed to her office with Megaera beside them. Once they were securely inside Robert turned to her. "I've been meaning to ask about your intentions," he said. "With Reshan released from stasis, is your job here over?"

"No," she answered matter-of-factly. Even with the headwrap covering her eyes, Robert felt like she was staring intently at him. "Until the Circle is completed, I will remain. My Mistress' orders are clear."

Robert nodded once and restrained himself from sighing. He could sense Julia was not pleased to hear it. But he also knew, even without sensing her intent, that she would dog their steps if asked to leave the Aurora. Her ship would always be right behind them, and that might cause all manner of trouble. "Well, I can keep you on my team officially and get you quarters. But we're going to have to be careful about this." Even as he spoke he felt Julia's open annoyance. "After the Citadel you became known to a lot of intelligence services."

"The Circle is my only concern, Captain, not whatever petty politicking your Alliance engages in. You can trust in my discretion." A sly grin formed on her face. "It's not like we don't have this technology ourselves, after all."

"Right." Julia sighed. "I'll make your quarter assignment permanent for the time being, then. But you're not to enter engineering or any other restricted space on the ship without a command level officer present. I'm afraid I have to insist."

"I understand perfectly well, Captain. I will not provide you or your security detachments any embarrassment." The grin didn't disappear from her face. "Is that all, or must I sign a secrecy oath as well?"

"That's not necessary," Julia said. "Welcome to the Aurora, Megaera."

After nodding in acknowledgement, she left.

Julia's eyes immediately went to Robert. "This isn't going to go over well, Rob. You have to know that."

"She helped us, Julia. I can vouch for her to Maran, and he'll back the play."

"NEUROM's a long-term threat to the Alliance. Whatever this Circle thing is, once it's handled, she's probably going to be our enemy again."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, I think we'll need her."

"You're probably right." Julia's eyes lowered. "But I just know she's going to be trouble at some point."

Robert's plans to turn in right after the stroke of midnight ended when his omnitool went off. A message appeared on the screen.

We must speak - Reshan

Given the reclusiveness the man had shown since coming aboard, Robert felt it was high time they talked. He had a lot of questions that needed answers. He ventured out into the Deck 6 corridors and made his way aft toward Reshan's assigned quarters.

On the way he was met by Lucy and Gina. Meridina joined them at a corridor junction with a turbolift door. Talara rushed up as they got to Reshan's door. With all of them together Robert tapped the chime. "We're here."

The door slid open. They entered the quarters and found Reshan waiting for them, clad in his gray robe over a Gersallian tunic and pants of light color. "So, what's this about?" Robert asked.

"And you do know it's the end of the day for us, right? It's almost the middle of the night," added Lucy.

"I'm aware. But now that I've learned what I need to about the Multiverse, it's time we spoke about what's coming."

"I assume you mean the Circle?" Meridina asked. "And our purpose regarding it?"

"Yes. Waking me from stasis fulfills part of the Circle, but only part of it. The Circle hasn't been closed yet, and the Brotherhood and the Pretenders will stop at nothing to break it."

"So what is this 'Circle'?" Lucy demanded. "The lady with the hand-torturing box and Mr. Enigma Hank wouldn't say word one about it, not a damn thing."

By the time she was finished with that sentence, Reshan was chortling. "Very descriptive ways to speak of the Endless and Sidney Hank, I grant you," Reshan remarked. "Very fitting too. She loves that box test far too much."

Lucy folded her arms. "I get the feeling you're not going to tell us anything about it either."

"I think I like you," he said. "But we can banter later. I can't tell you what it is, Lucilla. If any of you learn what the Circle actually is, what it entails, the knowledge itself will break the Circle." His bemused expression faded away, replaced by a dour frown. "And the Darkness will overrun the Multiverse."

Each of them could feel the sincerity in that statement, as much as they disliked it. And each sensed the others' own understanding. "Okay, so you can't tell us about it," Robert said. "We'll accept that for the time being. If you're not going to tell us what it is, why did you want to see us?"

Reshan didn't immediately answer. He seemed to consider the quarters for a moment. ""I have studied your accomplishments since you found that Darglan Facility," he began. "They are significant, and it bodes well for the Multiverse that such people as you began this new era. But there is much to be done. The integrity of everything you know and hold dear is at stake and you must be ready for the challenges that lie ahead of you."

"We've faced a lot of challenges so far," Lucy pointed out.

"None like this, Lucilla, not a one like this," he answered. "Had Megaera not been at the temple, that Pretender would've killed every single one of you. You have little idea of what it takes to face those creatures, or to beat them. Not yet, anyway." He nodded to them. "As of now, you are my students, and I will train you to use your potential to the fullest. I'll make you ready for what's to come."

"So you're going to school us all? Just like that, huh?" Lucy snapped her fingers. "I love how you assume we'll agree."

A smirk formed on the old man's face. "And I love how you're pretending you're not going to sign right up. You know something of the stakes, all of you, and it's up to me to make you ready for them. Oh, you're in on this, you wouldn't be on this ship if you were the type to back out now."

They glanced at each other. "Crap," Lucy sighed. "More standing on our heads time."

"Oh, what a sweet summer child," Reshan chuckled. "You really think it'll be that easy?" He glanced to Meridina next. "Go ahead and speak up for everyone, Meridina. I can sense you've got a question. And yes, I know you're the second-in-command of the ship, we'll train around that."

"I expected as much," she replied. Meridina kept her voice level, as if she still wasn't trying to adjust to the idea that Swenya's storied mentor was this acerbic, snarky old man. "I don't have a question so much as… a concern." She leveled her eyes toward his. "Much of what we've learned, the Order Council kept secret. Some secrets were so great I doubt even they knew the truth. Your book makes clear the conventional histories are inaccurate, even outright wrong. Even Swenya's teachings… she was trained by you, but while she stood for Light, I can sense the Dark in you as well. What are you, truly? What is the truth of Reshan?"

His expression turned thoughtful. Robert felt melancholy surge through the old man. "I understand your concerns, Meridina of the Lumantala," Reshan said softly. "To protect the Circle, fictions had to be told. Choices taken. The truth had to be protected lest it ruin everything. It is not what I would have preferred, but it was made clear that it was the only safe way to make the Circle work."

"But if you're worried about Swenya, about who she really was, don't be," he insisted. "I've read what your people know of her. Whatever minor facts or details are missing, the essence is there, the truth. Swenya is precisely what your histories say she was." The melancholy seeped into his voice and a certain sadness crept into his eyes. "She was my greatest student, the best of all the students or followers I ever had. How I miss her." He sighed. "She forged her own path toward the light, but without becoming arrogant and disdainful of those who walked in darkness, a common error for many who take that path." He showed no signs of sensing Meridina's discomfort, given she was thinking of her conversation with Megaera. "Whatever she felt about that power, she recognized it did not lead to irredeemable evil. I like to think she learned that from me. And as for myself..."

As the others waited for him to continue, a wry chuckle came from his throat. "Oh, I could write volumes about the turns of my life, Meridina. My true biography would be far larger and stranger than that book I left for you, and all of those pleasant lies in it. The truth is, Reshan isn't my name. It's just another of the many names I've taken over my life. It's the one with the best history, at least."

"If Reshan is not your name, then what is?" Talara asked.

He grinned. "That depends on who you ask." His smile quietly gave way to a thoughtful, almost mournful expression. "Given the circumstances, though, I'll share the name that shaped me. Made me who I am, and the name on all of the many histories undoubtedly written about me in my home universe." His eyes swept over their faces, keeping their attention. "I am Revan, formerly a Master of the Jedi Order and once a Dark Lord of the Sith."

Talara spoke up. "Jedi? Sith? What do you mean?"

"I'll explain, in due time," he answered. "For now, know that in my life I have walked the paths of light and darkness, and starting tomorrow, I'll teach you everything I've learned."

Robert met his intense eyes. "Even darkness?"

"Especially darkness," Revan answered, his voice now almost youthful from the iron tone of the words. "You'll need to know the power of darkness in order to fight it, if we're to bring everything full circle."
”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 Adventures of the ASV Aurora
and her crew
will continue in...

"Undiscovered Frontier"

Season 4

The hour of destiny approaches

The Flow of Life - the Force - filled Robert's senses where he sat in meditation. He drew on it carefully, pulling back when he felt his control slipping.

"I feel your fear." Revan's words pierced Robert's focus. "Your uncertainty lingers."

"This power is dangerous," he replied. "I've nearly hurt people with it before."

"And you'll hurt more if you don't master it," the old man countered.


The training blades created a blur in Lucy's vision. She moved her own rapidly to intercept Revan's blows. Beside her Robert and Talara were both trying, and failing, to meet the attacks of Megaera. A glance told her Gina was still recovering.

The same glance resulted in a powerful blow on her arm. She hissed in pain. "You let yourself get distracted," Revan scolded her. "And now I've sliced your arm off."

She was frustrated enough to retort, "Well, excuse me for being human and checking on my partner!"

"Your enemies aren't human," Revan countered. "And they'll do worse." Without a moment's pause he went on the attack again.


The Aurora plunged through the system, the fire from the Cylon ships a wreath of energy around the ship's deflectors. "Shields still holding," Jarod said.

Julia's order was urgent. "We're almost there, keep on course!"


The attackers formed a solid line of black robes between Meridina and her father, but through them she felt her father's surprise as the ground gave away beneath him. "Father!" She reached for him.

But it was too late. He fell through, and her foes were too many for her to catch him.


"If the Circle breaks, we are all lost," Meridina insisted over the whine of her lightsaber pressed against her opponent's. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because it has to be!" the Cylon Gina-model screamed.

New dangers have arisen...

To Leo the creature was more living tank than insect. Four massive pincer arms, each with the size to rip armored vehicles to shreds. The size of the creature rivaled F1S1's BattleMechs.

"We've got nothing that can fight that thing!" one of the colonists screamed. "We've got to run!"

From the fleeing crowd, Lucy emerged. Her lightsaber flashed to life. Without another word, she broke out into a run, rushing toward the alien monster.


"We're approaching the outer system now," Jarod noted aloud for everyone's benefit. "Preparing to transmit open first contact… wait."

"What is it, Commander?" Julia asked.

"We're picking up a warning signal from a point in the system," he answered. "It's from the habitat on Eros. They're suffering a major radiation leak."

"Sounds like our first contact just became a rescue mission," Angel remarked.

New allies step forward…

"What's going on? Where am I?" asked the blond woman, still adjusting to the unfamiliar figures standing around her in this strange, living structure.

Robert spoke softly to reassure her. "It's okay, Ms. Winters. You're among friends."

"And family," added Colin. "Welcome back, Talia."


The silver starship on the screen was replaced by the image of a starship bridge. Julia spoke with the care due a first contact. "This is Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora."

"Captain Andreys." The speaker was one of the two people at the center of the screen, a Human-looking male with light skin and dark hair. "I'm Captain Ed Mercer of the USS Orville. And I have to say you were the last thing I was expecting to meet out here…"

As the Multiverse descends into conflict…

"Signal from the Defiant, Jem'Hadar and Cardassian warships are on an attack vector." Magda glanced toward Zack. "Orders?"

"Code Red, all hands to battle stations," Zack said firmly. "Whatever happens, they're not going through."


Robert brought his lightsaber up to intercept the incoming shots, giving him the moment he needed to send his opponents flying. "It doesn't have to happen like this," he said. "We're supposed to be allies, Kirrahe!"

He sensed the regret in the Salarian officer's voice. "The situation is not desired. But we have our orders. We will hold the line."


The quiet conversation in the Hilton Head reception room gave way to panicked surprise. Julia moved through the various Inner Sphere nobles and ComStar officials to get to the window and see what was happening. Her eyes widened at the sight. "Are those…"

"Yes, Captain, they are." Focht stepped up beside her with his jaw set firmly. His one remaining eye locked onto the incoming shapes with intense focus. "We have confirmation. Those are Word of Blake DropShips."

"It's a full-scale invasion," she gasped.


The entire Lookout watched Senator Pensley speak in increasing rancor on the holo-screen. "Conflict after conflict, battle after battle, when will this end?" he demanded. "This Alliance has not kept its promises to my people. It has failed the cause of peace in the Multiverse!"

"I really do not like that man," Locarno admitted to the others.

"There is no point in saving this rotten structure. We can only save ourselves. The people of the Tetzelian Republic will not shed our blood for the wars the Alliance leadership is dragging us into. We hereby announce our intention to withdraw from the Alliance!"

The words brought silence to the Lookout.

...the key to their fate will be found…

"It has all come down to this." Revan's intent expression swept across the room, taking in everyone. Beside him Megaera remained silent. "It is time to complete the Circle."


The others could hear the excitement in Cat's voice as the recovered data flowed over the screen. "New universal coordinates," she said in surprise.

…in a galaxy far, far away...

At Robert's gesture the others lowered their weapons and extinguished their blades. The figures opposite them did likewise. "I'm Robert Dale," he said. "Paladin of the Alliance." He offered his hand to the lead figure.

The older woman accepted it. "I am Satele Shan," she said. "Grand Master of the Jedi Order."

The dark-robed figures ignited their lightsabers, all a familiar crimson color.

"Well, I guess we know what these guys are about, don't we?" Lucy sighed to the others, raising her own weapon in readiness.


The massive warships loomed ominously on the holo-viewer. "Sith warships coming in, weapons are active!" Angel called out. "They're locking on!"

"Fire at will!" Julia answered. "We've got to buy the others time!"


Robert charged across the temple courtyard. His weapon moved into place just in time to prevent the fatal blow from being struck on the prone Jedi. "This fight's over," he insisted. "You've already lost."

The rage-filled eyes of yellow color bored into his soul. "Impudent outsider," said Darth Malgus, his voice distorted by the mask over his mouth and nose. "Those who stand with the Jedi will share their fate!"

Undiscovered Frontier
Season 4
"Full Circle"
Coming Fall 2020

And coming soon…

The Multiverse is at the brink of war.

As conflict becomes inevitable

A disgraced captain is sent on a mission to secure the means to survive.

But the question remains...

What will survival cost?

Big Steve Presents….

Undiscovered Frontier:
The Price

Written by:

Conceived by:

Coming 2020
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Eternal_Freedom »

Ok, I'm finally caught up on this after managing to stop reading for about eighteen months and...damn, you're good.
Baltar: "I don't want to miss a moment of the last Battlestar's destruction!"
Centurion: "Sir, I really think you should look at the other Battlestar."
Baltar: "What are you babbling about other...it's impossible!"
Centurion: "No. It is a Battlestar."

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