"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 » 2017-12-09 05:03pm

Dealing with the frightened Cabeans was working on Lady Dolores' impressive reserve of nerve. She stepped into her sanctuary on the Judgement of Fate to get away from Tothwallad's sniveling worry about the Alliance vessel's power. The room was a set of guest quarters with a spare cot and spartan amenities. These did not concern her and her only addition to the room's effects were a few tools of the trade that included a set of restraints should she have need of an in-depth interrogation.

Dolores sat upon the cot and fumed. The Cabeans didn't deserve their inflated status in NEUROM. At least the Mandragorans were good fighters and the Grunders of the Sternheim were generally competent. Why did the Fates make this vessel the one in position to explore this mysterious new power? It was maddening.

Through the twisted realms of the Fracture, a voice came to her. I require a status update, Dolores.

She swallowed. She recognized the mental voice. Lord Minister Thalum she replied in her mind and being, using the same connection that the high-ranking officer of the Ministry of Fate was using to reach her across the vast expanse of space. He was undoubtedly at his post among the Anethgan Inheritances, overseeing the efforts and loyalty of those genetically-modified creators and builders. Balancing the central members of NEUROM always called for the best the Ministry had to offer, and Dolores knew from personal experience that Lord Minister Thalum - one of five Lord Ministers that oversaw the Ministry of Fate - was one of the most powerful beings in NEUROM.

Which was why she could not delay on responding to his inquiry. Lord Minister, the Judgement of Fate remains undetected. The Alliance vessel remains ignorant of our presence.

Excellent. Admiral Gal-Nazad's advance squadron should be present within thirty
muhurta. The rest of his force will arrive a cycle after that, should the Alliance vessel prove more resilient than proposed. Have you identified the ship?

It is called the
Aurora, Lord Minister.

There was a pause afterward. A very long one. Dolores pondered what it meant. She was certain Thalum was undoubtedly in contact with another. There were whispers that Thalum answered to the All-Father himself, the faceless and ageless being that founded the Ministry millennia ago. The prospect of the All-Father observing this operation brought real, exquisite fear to Dolores.

This vessel is known to us. Show caution and do not reveal yourself. Admiral Gal-Nazad will secure the target and deal with the Alliance ship.

Understood, Lord Minister. The Fates will be with us.

The Fates are always with us, Lady Dolores

And like that, the presence was gone from her mind. Dolores was alone again.

"Lady Dolores." Tothwallad's voice came over the ship intercom. "Please report to the bridge."

"What is it?" she demanded.

"An Alliance vessel is approaching," was the reply. "Your assistance in dealing with it is required."

There was a growing, subtle tension on the Koenig's bridge. "You're still picking up that signature, Ensign?" Apley asked.

U'ruhn nodded. "I am, Commander."

"When will we be in visual range?"

"That I am not certain of. The spatial twisting is distorting light in this area. I cannot be sure when it will allow us a visual."

That didn't sit too well with Apley. "Go to Code Yellow. I want shields up the moment we decloak." He tapped a key on the panel beside the command chair. "Bridge to Carrey. Sir, I think you should get back up here."

"...I think you should get back up here."

Zack heard Apley's remark through the pleasant haze that was dulling his senses and feelings. "Crap," he muttered. He frowned and, through the haze of drink, cursed himself for giving in. He tossed the tumbler, which still had half a drink of tequila in it, into the far wall. The tumbler didn't shatter, the advantage of its materials clear on that point, but it did send the remaining drink spraying into the wall and a bit into the carpet.

"I knew better," he mumbled to himself. "I knew better, Goddammit." Guilty and ashamed, Zack forced himself to stand. He went to his replicator. He needed to use it. He needed to be functional, which meant he needed the Niltox to undo what the tequila's alcohol was doing to his brain. "Computer, six hundred milligrams of Niltox and a cup of cool water, now."


"Override!" he snarled. The computer dutifully replicated the detoxicant and the water for him to wash the pills down with. He grabbed the pills, threw them in his mouth, and took the cup next. With the water it contained he washed the entire thing down in a single gulp.

And then he waited, patiently, for the Niltox to work its way to his head.

On the Judgement of Fate, Lady Dolores was frowning at Tothwallad's description of the situation. "The Alliance vessel's cloaking system makes it impossible for us to detect," he said. "And they will undoubtedly detect our engine signature at this distance. We need your assistance in dealing with them."

She glared to the sensor officer, Lieutenant-Superior Teswall. "Your incompetence will not go unrecorded, Lieutenant."

Teswall nodded numbly. Tothwallad bristled at Dolores for the threat. It was a foolish thought. and the look on her face told him Dolores had sensed it. She said nothing at the moment.

Instead she went to the station of another Lieutenant, Kishtamar. "I will need to concentrate," she said. "And I will be linked to your mind to understand the controls. Sit beside me and remain still."

"Yes, Lady," he said, suitably intimidated.

"Let them see you, Captain," Dolores said. "Let them come close enough so that we might grip them."

Magda and Sherlily arrived together on the bridge to relieve Perez and U'ruhn. Magda looked over the sensor returns. "Good catch, Ensign," she said to U'ruhn. "You're going to earn that sensor specialist mark early at this rate."

The young Miqo'te man's cheeks filled with color. Apley stifled a chuckle at how he did indeed resemble a cat feeling proud about himself. "Thank you, Lieutenant." He moved on to an auxiliary post at the back of the bridge. Perez left the bridge to assume his standby post with the ship's damage control teams.

"Where's the Commander?" Sherlily asked from Tactical. "He should've beaten us here."

Yes, he should have, Apley thought darkly. He was wondering the same. It wasn't like Commander Carrey to ignore an urgent summons. Whatever his informality with his officers and crew, he was always keen to be there for his ship when there was imminent danger.

"Bridge to Carrey," Apley said into the comms. "Sir, we're coming up on an unknown power signature. Please report to the bridge."

Apley's renewed summons to the bridge was heard by Zack after he finished chewing the breath mint that would, he hoped, cover up the alcohol smell. He knew he couldn't afford to wait any longer. Clearly something was urgent. He just had to hope the Niltox finished working before he got to the bridge.

Zack was almost to the door of his quarters when the first headache hit. He cried out in shock at the intensity of the pain. His next step found his feet not quite hitting the floor right. The room seemed to tilt slightly from his perception. Another step and he stumbled for a moment. His hand went up to his head, as if that gesture could relive the pain. But it didn't. It couldn't. "Wha…?" escaped his lips while the room began to spin around him.

Then the floor loomed in his vision, growing larger and larger until everything went black.

With no sign of Zack Carrey yet, Apley remained in command while the Koenig approached the unknown power signature. Magda was busy at her station. "We're starting to get past a fold of some sort," she said. "I'm getting visual data."

"On screen."

The ship that appeared was one of the strangest Apley had ever seen. It was primarily a light beige, with brown and gold highlights and trim. The ship was long and sleek in its appearance with a single-bodied hull that mounted several weapons of medium size and what looked like a launcher.

But the biggest surprise were the six very real, very realistic-looking tentacles that were based from the bow.

"I'm running the ship through recognition charts now," Magda said. "Standby."

"Send warnings to the Aurora," Apley said. "I think we've found a spy."

"I'm trying, but they're jamming all frequencies. I don't think I'm getting through."

Lady Dolores moved her hands over the controls that, through complicated machinery, directed the biological components of the tentacle arms at the command of the ship's officers. She felt out with her essence and power to feel for the unknown ship. After several moments she sensed the other beings from that ship. It was still trying to hide behind its invisibility machine.

But it couldn't hide from her. She felt where it was and operated the controls accordingly.

I have you now…

Without warning one of the tentacles lashed out toward the Koenig. Apley didn't have time to call for evasive maneuvers before the tentacle grabbed at the Koenig. They were at its extreme range, just close enough that the tentacle wrapped around the beam of the ship. Within seconds the cloaking field failed and the vessel rippled into view.

Lights on the bridge flickered. "Code Red!" Apley shouted. "Lieutenant, how did they see us!?"

"I don't know, sir," Magda replied. "Whatever it is, it's draining our shields and systems. We're losing power to several critical systems."

"Break away then!"

Hajar's console let out a low, negative beep. "Helm control isn't responding! Engines are at full power and this thing still has us!"

"Main power is down to sixty-eight percent and falling!" Magda added. "Batteries are also being discharged."

"Lieutenant Sherlily, open fire!"

"Phasers aren't responding. Firing torpedoes!"

Two torpedoes flew from the launchers on the Koenig. The enemy ship with the bizarre tentacles didn't seem to pay attention to them. As it turned out, they didn't need to, as the other ship now showed energy shields resilient enough to take two hits from solar torpedoes.

"No effect!"

"Activate warp drive, let's see how they like that."

Hajar tried. Nothing happened. "I've got no warp power. The drive can't engage!"

"Main power is down to forty percent," Magda added.

"Transmit a mayday to the Aurora, now," Apley insisted.

"I can't get a signal out," said Magda. "Backup fusion reactors are also draining and we've lost the charge in the emergency batteries. At this rate we'll lose life support in less than three minutes!"

Apley tapped the intercom key again. "Bridge to Engineering, you've got maybe two minutes, or we're all dead."
”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 » 2017-12-10 06:41am

In Main Engineering on the Koenig, Lt. Karen Derbely was considering her options. Her systems all confirmed the same thing; the ship's power systems were being steadily drained. Within a few minutes the Koenig would be dead in space, and her crew condemned to the slow death from loss of life support. They had no power to the warp drives, insufficient power to impulsors… "Alright," she said to the assembled engineering officers. "I need suggestions and I need something we can do in the next sixty seconds."

She already knew that term likely eliminated the most realistic of solutions to their problem. Nevertheless she spotted a glint of hope in the Polish woman's gray eyes. "We could overload the reactors," Poniatowski recommended. "That might give us enough power to break away."

"Or blow us up," Engineer Lang pointed out.

"I'd rather be blown up than die slowly, I think," Poniatowski answered.

"I'd rather not die at all," Derbely said. "But it's the best solution. Let's do it!"

Tothwallad was watching the Alliance ship die with quiet satisfaction. Their fate would encourage the outsiders to stay away from Cabea and their NEUROM allies. "Prepare the null mines," he said. "We will disable the vessel once its power reserves are exhausted."

Lady Dolores stood from the seat she had taken from Kishtamar. "I can sense their uncertainty and terror," she said. A soft, quiet smile came to her face. "It is… exquisite. Although I believe they may be planning an escape."

"Let them try. The Aurigan man-of-war never lets go of prey, and neither do we," Tothwallad said.

On the Koenig bridge Apley and the others heard what the plan was. "What if this thing can keep up with the overload?"

"It's got to have a limit somewhere," Derbely said. "And this is our only option, which we're running out of time to implement."

There was a quiet moment where nothing was said. This wasn't supposed to be Apley's decision. It was a call Zack Carrey should be making, and his failure to report to the bridge was so out of the ordinary that Apley didn't know what to think. Now he had to make the call. It seemed the only way out. But that didn't make it as easy as others might think. It was easy to think that another, safer solution might just present itself if one were to wait. It likely wouldn't, of course, but self-deception came easy when risking possible death with a choice.

For Apley this was a new situation. He'd commanded in battle before, but this wasn't the same thing. You were often too busy in battle to think about these things.

It reflected a lot on Apley's thinking process that, despite all of this, he made his decision in the space of two seconds. "Do it," he ordered.

"Beginning overload now."

Silence returned to the bridge. "Reactor output is increasing. Still no change in power readings," Magda said at first. A few seconds later she said, "Our power levels are stabilizing… power levels increasing."

Teswall spoke up the moment her sensors showed what was happening. "The Alliance vessel is increasing its power output."

"So that is their plan?" Tothwallad shook his head. "These fools, they don't even know the right way to escape from an Aurigan man-of-war. If we were the creature we would be gorging ourselves on this."

"I sense some resignation. They may be planning to destroy themselves," Dolores warned.

"They are hoping we disengage the limbs. Lieutenant Noswam, what is the status of our reserve capacitors?"

"Still at twenty percent, sir," Noswam replied after checking her station.

"No danger then," Tothwallad said. "We have them."

"Reactor levels are now approaching the red-line," Magda warned.

"What about our power levels?" Apley asked.

"Recovering, but still insufficient to break free or to engage the warp field," Magda replied.

"I have phaser power and torpedoes again," Sherlily said. "What if we opened fire?"

"Two torpedoes didn't do much to their shields, I doubt we could blast free," Apley said. Almost immediately, he realized the alternative. "Lieutenant, prepare to remote arm all solar torpedoes."


"Please. We've only bought a couple of minutes by doing this…"

"Maybe not even that," Magda warned. "Those reactors are over the redline."

"Engineering here. Whatever you're going to do, Commander Apley, you'd better do it soon," Derbely said. "Reactor 2 is showing signs of instability. If we energize the naqia for too much longer, we're going to lose it."

"Lieutenant Navaez, assume remote transporter control. Transport some our solar torpedoes around the limbs, right at the edge of their protective shields."

Magda looked back at him. "That's cutting it awfully close. That blast is going to hit us without any shields."

"I know. But it's also going to hit those tentacles holding us. Tactical, detonate the torpedoes the moment they materialize. We can't give the limbs time to disable them."

"Aye sir," Sherlily said. "I'm ready for transport."

Apley turned his head to Magda. Magda nodded and turned back. It was dangerous, but it was the best shot they had. "Transporting torpedoes… now."

Bursts of white light appeared around the grappling limbs, twelve in all. The white light of the transporters barely had a moment to dissipate before the torpedoes detonated. The Koenig shook violently. "The armor took it," Magda said. "The arms still have us."


More torpedoes appeared and exploded around the limbs.

Tothwallad watched on his viewer as another series of blasts pummelled the limbs draining the life from the Alliance ship. His vessel shook slightly from the short distance to the blasts. "Our defensive fields are still holding," Noswan said.

"Fire the null mine launcher!" Tothwallad ordered. "Disable them!"

"All three reactors are now showing extreme stress, we have to power down or the naqia is going to destabilize!"

Apley heard that warning and said nothing. Magda was already sending the next wave of torpedoes.

The explosions went off again and this time the limbs from the enemy ship seemed to react. They didn't get broken off as he'd thought would happen. Instead they recoiled, as if alive and struck with a severe blow.

"Impulsors to full!" he was shouting, and Hajar's instincts rendered that unnecessary. The Koenig was already in motion. The ship lurched forward in a violent surge. A second later, a series of projectiles erupted from the attacking ship, barely missing them. It turned to pursue and its weapons opened up.

"Dial down the reactors!" Apley shouted into the comms. "Shields, now! Ensign, take us back to the Aurora, best speed!"

They all affirmed his orders. The Koenig shook from the impact of an energy blast on her rear armor. A moment later the ship's deflectors came back online and a further pair of hits were stopped by shimmers of blue light.

The Koenig's warp drives lit up a moment later. She made the jump to warp speed and raced away from her attacker.

"I'm only able to make Warp 5, sir," Hajar reported.

"No sign of pursuit yet," Magda said. "Although I can't be sure given the Fracture's effects."

"If they use the same drives as the Avalonians and Solarians, they won't be able to intercept us at warp," Apley observed. "We'll worry about pursuit once we're back at the Aurora." Apley tapped the intercom key. "I need a detail to check on the Commander, immediately. He still hasn't made it to the bridge."

"This is Doctor Epstein. I am on my way."

Apley nodded and tapped the key again. "Bridge to Engineering. Derbely, what's our status?"

"I had to disengage Reactor 3. We're running off 1 and 2 right now, and I don't like what I'm seeing in 2. I think we need to return to our dock and do a complete systems check with all reactors powered down."

"We should be to the Aurora in six hours, given our speed."

"I might be able to get us to cruise speed, sir," Derbely answered.

"Good, We need to get back." Apley tapped a key and brought up a holographic representation of the ship they'd just encountered. "Things out here are worse than we thought." Once he closed the intercom call he said, "Lieutenant Navaez, raise the Aurora."

"I'm trying, but we took shock damage to our comm systems," Magda said. "It'll be hours before the repair teams can restore full communications."

Apley nodded at that. Whatever happened first, their return or the comms going back online, he could only hope they weren't too late..

The bridge crew of the Judgement of Fate watched in frustration when the Alliance vessel escaped.

It was with horror that they watched Lady Dolores' reaction.

The Ministry of Fate agent turned with rage to Lieutenant Teswall's station. Teswall wasn't given a chance to protest before the iron vice of Dolores' power gripped her throat. She gagged and choked out a plea that did her no good. Dolores' invisibly grip was such that even the death rattle from Teswall's expired lungs couldn't be heard by the others. "That is the price for incompetence," Dolores announced, a clear warning to the others.

None dared challenge her on that matter. It would have simply resulted in their own immediate executions.

"Our mission is now jeopardized," she continued. "Communications, you will send a signal to the Tatran's Bane."

That brought everyone's attention. The Tatran's Bane was the flagship of Admiral Gal-Nazad. His presence brought home the weight behind their mission.

"Inform Admiral Gal-Nazad that I need him to accelerate his arrival. The Alliance knows we are here now."

"Sending now, Lady," was the response.

"And what would you have us do now?" Tothwallad asked. He tried to avoid staring too openly at Teswall's corpse.

"We will remain at the admiral's call," she replied. "That is all for now."

With the example of Teswall to consider, everyone returned to work.

Cat and Pidge stood near Tom Barnes while he connected another of the lines linking the Aurora to the Green Lion. The assembly piece was fitted right by the entrance to the flight deck. The cables attaching it to the ship ran further away, to one of the elevators to the hangar deck.

"We're getting there," Barnes said. "Then all we have to do is see if this thing works."

Cat noticed worry appear on Pidge's face. "I hope it does. Without me, the others can't form Voltron. They won't be able to defeat Emperor Zarkon and the Galra."

"Sounds like a weirdo Japanese anime if you ask me," Barnes muttered, his hands now inside the assembly system. "Lion ships and alien emperors and crap, if you ask me it all sounds like fraking nonsense…"

Cat sighed. "He gets like this sometimes."

"Keith can get pretty moody sometimes too," Pidge said. "Especially if Lance is picking on him."

"They're two of the other lion ship pilots?"

Pidge nodded.

"So, this is where you are." Angel stepped onto the flight deck from the nearby port entrance, still wearing her uniform. She walked the last ten meters to join them.

"This is my big sister Angel," Cat said to Pidge. "She's the ship's Tactical Officer. It lets her shoot things."

"Oh, uh, hi." Pidge extended a hand. Angel accepted it. "Katie Holt."

"Miss Holt."

"Are you off-duty for the day?" Cat asked.

"Yep." Angel faced Cat again. "Violeta should be getting off her final bridge watch soon. Weren't we going to get dinner?"

"Oh, right," Cat answered. "I'm sorry, I've just been busy down here helping Miss Holt…"

"You know, you can call me 'Katie' if you want," Pidge interjected.

"...helping Katie with the project I recommended to the Captain earlier," Caterina finished, correcting herself. "We should be done soon and I'm pretty sure Julia will want me on the bridge when we try this."

"She probably will."

"There we go," Barnes said. "Hey, Lion girl, can you test these connections? I want to make sure everything's good down here before we activate anything."

"Oh, sure." Pidge started a brisk jog back to her Lion.

Cat almost joined her but stopped at seeing Angel's expression. She looked at her sister and asked, "What's wrong?"

"I'm probably not the best source for advice given my track record," Angel began, "but I think you need to spend more time with your girlfriend, Cat."

"Huh?" Cat blinked. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean is that ever since you got back from traveling with that Doctor guy, you've been wrapping yourself up with science and stuff and not spending time with Violeta. And I think it's going to mess up your relationship."

"What do you mean? I see her every day!"

"And how often is it just seeing her when she's getting on duty? Or at the end of the night?" Angel shook her head. "But that's not enough for a relationship. I can tell you that from experience."

"So, what, you're saying that I'm neglecting Violeta like Rob neglected you?" Cat asked.

"Maybe not that much yet, okay, but you're getting there. I mean, when you had a chance to go on leave with her, where did you go? You took her to a science fair. On Vulcan."

"I was invited to it," Cat remarked defensively. "To give a presentation. And Violeta didn't complain."

"Of course she didn't. She wouldn't because she knows you're sensitive about things and doesn't want to hurt your feelings."

"You don't seem to care as much about my feelings," Cat pointed out.

"I do care about them," Angel retorted. "I also care about you, though, and that means telling you when I think you're making a mistake."

It was not often the two sisters got into an argument, with Cat usually accepting her older sister's points to avoid such. It was to Angel's surprise that an offended look came to Cat's face. "It sounds to me like you're trying to run my life. I don't need you telling me what I should do to spend time with my girlfriend. Yeah, we went to Vulcan instead of Sirius. I was invited to give a presentation to a science conference being attended by some of the Multiverse's most respected scientists. I wasn't going to turn that down, and Violeta understood completely."

"It doesn't mean she liked it. You need to make it up to her."

"You think I don't know that?" Cat demanded. Her voice was loud enough that it could be heard for meters around them, ending the privacy of their conversation. "I do, and I will, when I can. Just like I'll make it up to her for missing our dinner plans tonight. But I'm going to do it my way."

Angel crossed her arms. "Alright. Fine. I was just trying to give you some advice, but if you want to do it this way, it's up to you and Violeta." It was clear Angel had more on her mind than that, but she held back. Getting into an argument with Cat was the last thing she'd had in mind. She was, indeed, surprised by how vehement Cat had gotten over the matter.

"If you two are done fussing…" Barnes looked up from the assembly. "All of our tests are green. We're ready to do this."

"Then I'd better get to the bridge." Caterina looked toward the Green Lion. Pidge was walking back. "I'm heading up to the bridge, want to join me?"

"Normally I'd love to see it, but I should be down here monitoring the Lion while you do your end," Pidge answered.

Cat nodded. "We should be ready soon, you won't have to wait long." She turned and walked away without another word.

Once she was out of earshot Barnes looked to Angel. "Woh," he said. "It looks like Cat's gotten territorial. I never thought I'd see the day she told you off."

"Yeah," Angel sighed. "Tell me about it."

Some light years away, Captain Tothwallad waited patiently for Squadron Captain Unam Tissim to react to his report. The austere figure of the Squadron Captain, resplendent in a golden uniform marked with blue, looked at Tothwallad through artificial eyes. The implants were crafted by the Anethgan and allowed those so implanted to view the world through spectrums other than the normal visual spectra. According to rumor some of these sets even allowed someone to see the twists and folds of Fracture space, or the energies that fueled the Ministry of Fate and its highest agents.

"So the vessel escaped," Tissim said. "And has undoubtedly warned our quarry of our arrival."

"We did all that we could, great Captain," Tothwallad answered. His life could depend upon such answers.

"I know. Blame can be assigned later. For now we must fulfill our orders. The targets must not be allowed to escape."

"Is that wise, Captain?" asked Lady Dolores. "We were under orders not to engage until Admiral Gal-Nazad arrived."

"Indeed. But we are also under orders to ensure the taking of the target. These orders come from the All-Father himself."

"Yes sir," Tothwallad said. His voice was a squeak. The All-Father? But the All-Father is… Nobody knew if the All-Father was even real or a composite of the leadership of the MoF. Tothwallad desperately wished he had never been aboard this ship, whatever he felt before. He did not want to attract the attention of anyone powerful enough to know the All-Father's will, to know the All-Father’s existence. And the fact he had been told that...

Remembering himself, Tothwallad looked to his helmsman. "Take up formation with Captain Tissim's squadron," he barked.

"Yes sir."

The Judgement of Fate moved into formation with the present NEUROM ships. Moments later they were in hyperspace.

Cat stepped out of the lift onto the bridge. Meridina stood from the command chair at her arrival. "Lieutenant," she said simply. "Your preparations are finished?"

"Yeah. We're ready to link into the lion." Cat set at the science station, relieving Lieutenant al-Rashad. She tapped in her passcode to reflect she was now on station. Al-Rashad didn't leave, however, but moved to the rear of the bridge and an auxiliary station. It was clear she had an interest of what was going to happen next.

The helm was still being manned by Violeta. Lieutenant Neyzi was sitting at Ops and Lieutenant Jarke was at Tactical. All were clearly interested in what was about to happen.

The door to the ready office slid open. Julia emerged with Jarod beside her. Jarod assumed Ops from Neyzi while Julia took her chair. "Is everything ready?" she asked.

"They're ready on the flight deck," said Cat. "I'm feeding the necessary information into the systems."

Julia looked forward. "Jarod?"

"I have the telemetry." He worked the Ops console. "I'm bringing the data connection online." Quiet moments passed with no seeming result. "The IU radio system is now tied into the lion ship."

"I'm creatingt the link now," said Pidge, using the same connection.

While they waited to see if this resulted in anything, Julia asked, "Are you confident we can re-open the wormhole safely?"

"The plan is sound," Jarod said, with Cat nodding in agreement. "Although I can't promise that there's absolutely no risk. We're trying something completely new with the technology here."


"Honestly, this entire thing is a bit of a throw in the dark," Cat added. "We don't know for certain how this wormhole took on a sixth dimensional characteristic. But it's our best shot since I don't have any idea what their universe of origin is."

"If this does not work, Ms. Holt could end up stranded," Meridina observed.

"Yeah," Cat agreed, " and from what she's said, that could be a very bad thing for the universe she comes from."

Jarod's board drew his attention. "I'm getting a stable return from the signal. I think we've found them."

Julia nodded. "Whenever you're ready, Commander."

Jarod's hands moved over his control station. The Aurora's systems responded to his commands. Power surged into the ship's jump drive and navigational deflector. A lance of energy came from the dish and intersected space.

A tone sounded on Cat's board. "I'm picking up something."

"What?" asked Julia.

"Give me a moment, I need to… oh. Oh wow. Look at that neutrino surge."


"I...I think the wormhole is reforming."

Julia looked to the front of the bridge. "On screen."

The holo-viewscreen showed the empty space ahead of them and the single beam from the Aurora's deflector array. Gradually the warping of space seemed to relax a little around the beam.

A blue hole suddenly formed in space, looking very much like a portal rather than the swirl of color Cat and the others remembered from the Bajoran Wormhole, among other things. From within the void at the center of the vortex energy swirled and crackled, turning greenish in color.

"The particle emissions are consistent with what we found before," Cat said. "I think something is coming through."

Something emerged from the center of the void. The ship was sizable, if not as large as the Aurora. It had a main body and four smaller pieces attached to the central body by pylons. The primary color of the ship was white with blue highlights.

"That's it," said Pidge excitedly. "The Castle of Lions."

A warning tone sounded on Jarod's board. "We've got feedback coming through the jump drive," he said. "I've got to shut it down."

"Just another moment," Cat urged him.

Jarod nodded and kept working. The vessel ahead cleared the wormhole. A moment later the lance of energy from the Aurora ended. The wormhole opening collapsed abruptly. "The jump drive is offline," Jarod informed them.

"Yeah, I'll say," Barnes grumbled. "You nearly burnt the damn thing out."

Julia heard that but kept her attention on the ship that emerged. "Any life signs or energy signatures?"

"There's definitely an energy signature," Cat noted. "And I'm picking up two life signs. Non-Human."

"They're hailing."

Julia nodded at Jarod. "Put them on."

The holo-viewscreen changed to show a bridge or command center on the other ship. The image focused on a humanoid figure. The being looked female with silver hair pulled into what looked like a bun at the back of her head. Her blue eyes contained a lavender pupil. Curved blue marks were visible on the outer corners of her eyes. Her ears were about Human-size, but pointed. The suit she was wearing reminded Julia of the armor that Katie Holt had been recovered in. It wasn't the same design, but it clearly had aesthetic similarities.

"Hello," the young woman on the viewscreen said. "Pidge? Are you there?"

"I'm here," was the reply. The holo-viewscreen added a secondary image showing Pidge at the controls of her ship "It worked!"

There was visible relief on the alien woman's face. "Have you seen the others? Are they here?"

"I'm not sure. I can't pick them up."

"Neither can we," stated a male voice from the other ship. Someone off-camera was speaking. "I'm not showing any of the other Lions on our systems. But there seems to be something wrong with the scanners."

"It's because of this area of space," Julia said. "It's known as the Fracture, and it's got severe spatial distortions that makes most scanning impossible over long distances." Seeing that she had their attention now, she added, "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Captain Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. You would be Princess Allura?"

"I am." Allura showed a little confusion. "Although I'm surprised to see Humans in a starship of that size. The Paladins have made it clear your world has yet to develop such ships."

"So we've been told. But we're not from your universe. The Alliance has interuniversal jump drive that allows us to explore multiple universes."

"I can verify that," Pidge said. "I've seen some of their database. And the local starcharts. This is an entirely different universe."

"That is… quite bizarre," Allura answered. "But I see no reason to not believe you. And we may need help to find the others."

"And find a way home," Coran added.

"It is possible that they're back in your home universe," Cat said. "Depending on when they got thrown out of the wormhole, if it happened before whatever it was finished shifting your wormhole into something that could penetrate the universal barrier, they wouldn't have ended up here. As for a way home…"

"Lieutenant, you sound like you have an idea," Julia noted.

"Just a few thoughts, but I think I'll need to run simulations first." Cat gave Barnes an apologetic look. "And we might need the jump drive back too."

"So you can burn it out again?" he asked sarcastically.

"Any help you can provide will be appreciated," Allura said. "We need to get back to our home universe. We're the only hope our universe has left against the Galra."

"Miss Holt already told us about them," Julia said. "We're in our own conflict with an evil empire, so we'll be glad to help you get back to fight yours. Are you in need of any repair assistance?"

"We seem to have come through alright. Thank you for the offer and for any assistance you can give in returning us."

"If you want to come over and discuss that with us, we'll be happy to host you," Julia said.

"I will take you up on shortly, Captain. Until then, Pidge, are you returning to the Castle?"

"Well, not right away." Pidge grinned a little sheepishly. "It's going to take time to disconnect the Green Lion from the Aurora."

"Then I'll join you shortly." A moment later the image disappeared.

"Cat, those simulations you want to run?"

At Julia's question, she nodded. "I'll go get started on them right away."

"Go." Julia looked to Barnes next. "I want an ETA on jump drive repairs too."

After Cat stood from the chair al-Rashad resumed her watch at the station. Julia settled back into her chair and glanced toward Meridina. "Well, this isn't our usual survey mission now, is it?"

"It is not," she agreed.

"And are you thinking what I am?"

Meridina gave her a slightly sardonic look, which spoke volumes to her relative lack of patience given what this area of space was doing to her. "Despite this place, I can still sense thought. You are thinking of the resemblance?"

"I suppose it could just be like Humans and Gersallians," Julia noted.

"Possibly," Meridina agreed.

That was all there was to be said on that subject. Julia decided to bring up another. "You're not feeling any better?"

"I am afraid I am not," Meridina confirmed.

"Right." Which meant that every moment they were adding to their time in the Fracture by helping these people would be another moment of misery for Meridina and many others on the crew.

They would just have to make it worthwhile.

Julia was present in the shuttle bay when the shuttle arrived from the Castle of Lions. Katie Holt joined her just as the shuttle landed. She was back in the armor they had recovered her in.

Allura stepped out of the hatch wearing more formal attire than before. Instead of the suit she was in a long, flowing white dress with long sleeves. A tiara encircled her head. "Greetings, Captain," she stated upon approach. "And it's good to see you're well, Pidge. I've been fearing the worst."

"So have I."

"We'll do whatever we can to help you," Julia promised. "If you'll follow me, my officers are gathering in one of our conference rooms to discuss the situation."

They departed the shuttle bay. Julia led them through the bright azure corridors of the Aurora. "An impressive vessel, certainly," Allura said. "And you say you serve an alliance of systems?"

"I do," Julia answered. "The United Alliance of Systems contains a number of systems and planets from numerous universes. We banded together to ensure the fair sharing of advanced technology with each other, including the interuniversal drive, and for mutual-defense. Each member of the Alliance has fair representation to our government and a hand in electing our leaders."

"That sounds quite good," said Allura. "My father would have gladly supported your Alliance. If the day comes that your people enter our home universe, it may provide the example to help defeat the Galra."

"I would hope so." Julia decided not to mention that the Alliance was hardly universally committed to defeating the threat it was facing now, given the peace movement of Senator Pensley. "Unfortunately we have our own war we're fighting."

"I suppose evil can be found anywhere."

"If there's a universe without evil, we haven't found it yet," Julia lamented. She turned to her right and stepped up to a lift door. "Here." It opened at her approach. She stepped in and they followed. Once everyone was inside she said "Bridge" and the lift started to move. It would only take a minute or two for the car to work its way to the bridge. "Our science officer is running simulations now. If anyone can find a way to get you back, I'm sure she can."

"I don't doubt it," said Pidge.

"Again, I thank you for your efforts on our behalf, Captain," said Allura. "Hopefully we can find the others and…"

The lift came to a stop. The door swished open and admitted Ensign Talara. "Oh, Captain," she began. "I was just on my way to my bridge watch. I didn't mean to hold you up."

Julia heard the surprised intake of breath to either side of her. Pidge and Allura were both staring in complete surprise at Talara. "This is Ensign Talara," Julia said to them. "She's one of our bridge officers."

"I… I don't believe it," Allura gasped. "How is this possible? Coran and I are..."

The similarity in their appearances was something Julia had already noticed. Now that they were face-to-face, it was impossible to miss. The two shared a similar skin tone, their ears were the same general shape, and they had color in their pupils as well as the irises. If Julia didn't know better she would have thought Talara was one of Allura's species too.

"She's a Falaen from Universe A7R6, Princess Allura," Julia explained to their guests. "It wouldn't be the first time we've found species with virtually the same appearance. Gersallians and Humans are like that, for instance."

This might have dispelled the surprise from their faces, but now it was Talara's eyes that widened. "Wait," she said. She looked closely at Allura. "Princess Allura?"

That prompted a nod with the reply, "I am, yes. Princess Allura of Altea." There was still lingering hope in her voice.

Now Talara's face paled in shock. The young Falaen woman looked like the entire world suddenly made no sense.

"What is it, Ensign?" Julia asked. Even as she said the words, her mind started to provide its own answers. Realization set in. "Wait. Are you...?"

Talara nodded, although she couldn't quite keep her eyes off of Allura, who in turn looked like she didn't know whether to remain stunned silent or to weep with joy. "Yes, Captain. My people and I are Altean."

The officers of the Aurora assembled with their guests in the conference lounge off of the bridge. In this assemblage of senior officers, plus the higher-ranking junior officers in Lucy and Barnes, Ensign Talara already had reason to be nervous. That she was sitting across from a legendary icon of her people at the middle of the conference table made that worse.

Julia was at the head of the table, as always, with Meridina to one side and Jarod on the other. Scotty, Cat, Barnes, and Lucy were beyond Jarod's seat while Leo, Angel, and Locarno were on Meridina's side. Allura and Pidge sat beyond Locarno and Talara was beside Lucy. The holo-viewscreen on the wall was patched into the command center of the Castle of Lions, where the other Altean survivor, Coran, was watching. He seemed to be particularly set on Talara. "Well, she certainly looks Altean."

Leo tapped his omnitool and brought up a holographic image with the table's holo-projector. It showed two sets of what looked like DNA helixes. Information displayed showed various points of similarity. "The genetic scans agree." He nodded to Talara. "Her genetic structure is a species match to Princess Allura with a slight genetic variance that looks like genetic drift. Ten thousand years worth of further development on a new homeworld certainly accounts for that."

Talara nodded. She already knew they were the same, but now Doctor Gillam had confirmed it for everyone else's benefit.

Allura's eyes never left Talara. "Then… our people aren't all dead," she said softly. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "How many?"

"Legend says that about fifty thousand of our people survived to settle Fala," Talara replied. "Only one out of five who fled."

Allura immediately recognized the name of the new homeworld her people settled. "Fala? You named our new world after my mother?"

Talara nodded quietly. "To honor her. She… didn't survive."

"Mother." Grief now shown on Allura's face. She quietly wiped tears from her cheeks with the fingers of her right hand. "I know Father sent her away before the attack began. But he never told me why." She looked toward the image of Coran.

"All he told me was that he had to buy time, and that above all else Zarkon couldn't be allowed to claim Voltron."

"He must have hoped he could tie up the Galra fleets while the evacuation convoy got away," Pidge said.

"Alright. I'm a bit behind on this," said Angel. "But just what the heck is this 'Voltron' thing?'

Talara spoke first. "In the legends my people passed down, Voltron was a great weapon of Light formed from the bodies of five powerful lions of metal. They were built by Altea's King Alfor to protect the peoples of the known universe." Talara's voice was steady now as she reached into her memories. None of their visitors had yet to contradict her. "In the end, he was betrayed by one of his own allies. Voltron disappeared and an enemy swept over our people."

"The Galra," Allura said in a bitter tone.

Talara nodded. "That is a name Falaen parents use to frighten children."

"The Galra were allies?" Pidge asked Allura.

"When I was just a child, Emperor Zarkon and my father knew each other as friends." Allura scowled. "He tricked my Father and betrayed him to seize control of Voltron. That was when he destroyed Altea."

"So if the evacuation was a success, how did it happen?" Coran asked. "The Galra seem convinced we're the last."

"This is the story passed down to me as a youth," Talara began. "According to the legend of the Great Fall, King Alfor realized our people were doomed if some did not escape. So he and Queen Fala made sure to hold back some of our ships from the last battle with the Galra fleet. While the Galra focused on trying to seize Voltron, the Queen gathered as many survivors of the Galra attack as she could and fled the star system. They escaped just before Zarkon destroyed it."

"Then what happened?" Allura asked, with all of the energy of someone who desperately needed to know.

"The Galra pursued them without pity or mercy. One by one, the evacuation ships were destroyed until only a few remained." Talara's voice made clear her feelings toward this story. There was a sense of horror of how close her ancestors had come to annihilation at the hands of a pitiless foe. It was a contrast in emotions, to some degree, as while Allura shared that horror, she clearly felt more frustration as well. Talara continued, "Soon the fleet was trapped between Galra ships. The Galra opened fire on Queen Fala's lead ship. Their weapons devastated the control bridge. Most of Fala's closest followers died in that attack."

Coran's eyes fell at that. "There were good people with Fala. Some of the best in the royal service."

"And with mother dead or wounded and her station damaged, our ships wouldn't have been able to form a wormhole," Allura said.

"Why not?" asked Barnes. "Didn't you train your people to do that?"

"Only the royal bloodlines of Altea can operate a teludav drive," Coran answered. "It runs off of their energy."

Meridina glanced toward Allura. "Technology powered by swevyra," she said. "Until I saw your lion ships, I never imagined such a thing possible."

"Swevy-what?" asked Pidge.

"It's a Gersallian word that doesn't translate well into English," Lucy answered. "It roughly means 'life force', but with special connotations to it that involve using it to sense the Flow of Life and use life-energy for various things. Like limited sensing of the future so you can win gunfights with swords."

"It sounds like these people had it bad then," said Angel. "I'm guessing they got away?"

Talara nodded. "All seemed lost when a miracle happened."

"They found a wormhole or something?" Cat asked. An excited look came to her. "Or did they get help? Was it a humanoid being in a blue box bigger on the inside?"

The visitors and guests all looked at her with some confusion. "Uh, no," Talara answered.

"A blue box bigger on the inside?" Pidge asked, incredulous. "What are you talking about?"

"I was just wondering if they were saved by the Doctor," Cat said. Seeing the looks of the others, she sheepishly added, "Well, it's the kind of thing he'd do. And he's traveled to other universes before…"

"It wasn't this Doctor you speak of," Talara said. "But someone did come. As the Galra launched their final attack to wipe out the survivors, a great vessel appeared among Queen Fala's ships. The ship's defenses were beyond anything my ancestors knew. It absorbed the attack of the Galra by itself and then utterly annihilated their pursuit ships."

"According to what you have said, this was thousands of years before the Darglan," said Meridina. "Who was their savior?"

"The Doctor said there have been other interuniversal-capable species," Cat pointed out. "It could have been one of them."

"We do not know the species of the being controlling the great ship, just that it used beams of energy so powerful that when they touched the Galra ships they cut through them like they were made of paper. The history reads that Queen Fala was summoned before the leader of the ship after they had annihilated the Galra forces. Her wounds were critical and she was dying. But even though it was likely to kill her, Queen Fala went to meet with our savior where she pleaded for the future of our people."

"Mother…" Allura look pained. She had known her mother was likely dead for some time, but to hear of how she died hurt in its own way.

"Nobody knows what was said between them. Our people feared that they were doomed. But a short time after she went over, the great vessel generated its own portal. And the Queen herself gave the command to depart through it without her."

"Why would she leave them behind?" Cat asked.

"We don't know. Or at least, the stories don't record it. The others didn't wish to abandon her, of course, but she insisted they must survive and keep Altea's memory. The survivors obeyed and flew through the portal. On the other side was an uninhabited star system with a world that fit our species' needs. My ancestors named our new homeworld in honor of our queen." Talara took a drink of water to whet her throat.

"She's truly gone, then," Allura murmured, pain in her voice. "I knew not to hope, but hearing it…"

A brief glimpse of pain appeared on Coran's face. As if it hurt that he wasn't physically present to help Allura through her grief.

"And you still do not know who this being was?" asked Meridina.

"We never saw the ship again," Talara confirmed. "It took us a long time to get back into space as it was. It took many generations for our people to rebuild our civilization to cover Fala, and a number more for us to spread back to the stars. And some of the technologies spoken of in our legends were lost to us. We never learned how to build the wonders like the teludav drive or the Castle of Lions. Returning to the stars required my ancestors to find the secrets of warp travel instead."

"And you stopped being Alteans?"

Talara nodded at Pidge. "By the time we encountered new species, we identified ourselves with our new world. We were Falaens, not Alteans."

"But you remember the other name."

"Yes," Talara said in reply to Julia. "We have not forgotten it. Only some of the specifics of what led us to our new home."

"We knew that the Darglan transplanted species onto new worlds," Julia said. "It's not too much of a surprise that other species with IU drives have done the same."

"This isn't some secret history Falaens don't share, is it?" Locarno asked. "Because this sounds like something that would have become widely known by now."

She shook her head. "We do not hide this story. Nor do we talk about it openly. It is simply part of our heritage. Until those from other worlds take interest in the legend, I'm sure most non-Falaens don't pay particular interest." Talara looked to Julia. "I would like to add that this is why I volunteered for Alliance service ma'am. The Nazi Reich is just as cruel as the Galra were said to be. Your Alliance is the same as the being who once saved us. I, and others like me, believe we should honor our benefactor and the memory of Queen Fala by opposing evil as they did."

"Your people are one of those who didn't withdraw their petition to join the Alliance when the war started," Julia said. "I'd say you're living up to that pretty well."

"Thank you, Captain."

Julia nodded once and moved forward in her chair. "Alright, now that we've settled this point of interest, let's discuss the matter at hand. Specifically, getting your ships back to your home universe."

"Oh… yes." Allura looked up. "That should be our priority, as well as locating the other Lions."

"The scanners aren't showing any of them," Coran confirmed.

"The Fracture may be interfering with your sensors."

"The connection between the Castle and the Lions is more than a matter of electronic signals," said Allura. "Although you may be right. I have never seen a region of space like this one."

"We haven't either," Jarod said. "But we should also consider the possibility that the other ships are still back in your home universe."

"Is there any way to know for certain?" Julia asked him.

Jarod looked to Cat. "If we can get sensor data from when the ships were in the wormhole," she said. "We can compare that data to the specific points where the other lion ships fell out. And then we'll know. Or at least we'll have a good idea."

"Coran, I'd like you to send that recorded data."

"Right away, Princess."

"And if the others are back in our home universe, how do we get back?" asked Pidge. "Can you scan us and figure out how to get there?"

"It really doesn't work that way," Julia said. She looked at the others. "At least I don't think it does. Suggestions?"

"That's going to take more time," Cat admitted. "There are a couple of theories about the effect that we can try. I've got the simulations running down in Science Lab 2. They'll be ready in several more hours."

"In the meanwhile, Princess Allura, we're ready to provide any aid necessary for you and your subordinate," Julia continued. "How are your stores? We can provide food, water, and other supplies."

"Especially the food."

"You have my thanks for your generosity, Captain, but I believe most of our stores are still full."

"And we've got plenty of food to last us," Coran added.

Cat fought the impulse to giggle at the face Pidge made. Whatever progress she'd made into accepting said goo into her palate had been undone by being exposed to the products of Hargert's kitchen.

"Then we'll convene again when Lieutenant Delgado has more data for us. Everyone, you're dismissed."

After the briefing Meridina called out to Ensign Talara. The Falaen (or Altean, one now supposed) walked up to her instead of joining the others in leaving the bridge. "Commander?" she asked.

"This has not been easy for you, has it?" Meridina asked. "I sense you are uneasy."

"Well, some of it is this awful region of space," Talara said. "I think it is getting to me as well." She could see Meridina wasn't going to leave it at that. After a few moments of consideration Talara gave up and continued speaking. "It is all so… maddening, I suppose? My people have spent ten thousand years putting our near-extinction behind us. Princess Allura, King Alfor, Voltron… they are nothing but legends to us. Stories we learn as children."

"Those legends have shaped your culture, have they not?" Meridina pointed out.

"Yes. But… it's just so much, Commander. For me to meet Princess Allura… well, imagine if you were to meet Swenya face-to-face. Or Reshan, or Tanisan."

"I understand what you mean, Ensign," Meridina said. "Legends are often different from the truth. Virtues are exaggerated. Faults are ignored. It is hard to imagine a legend as a living being with hopes and fears of their own."

Talara nodded. "Not that Princess Allura hasn't impressed me. She has. But the stories we tell of her, of her undying devotion to her father's cause… the legends claim she perished fighting at her father's side. If she's alive, then what else is inaccurate?"

"I suspect the legend writers underestimated a parent's willingness to save their child." Meridina examined the young officer carefully. In her new role as First Officer, it was her responsibility to provide advice for all of the officers of the ship. She understood this was what she needed to focus on here; to help Talara through whatever thoughts she had. "It is reasonable for you to concern yourself with the possibility that your people are wrong about their past. I am… familiar with that feeling."

"And what have you done about it?"

"I have not allowed it to distract me," she answered. "You may have an alternative I did not enjoy, however. By speaking to Allura, you may see that regardless of the outcome, your people's memory of her is still accurate."

"Is that appropriate, Commander? I am just a junior officer."

"You are also a member of her species, whom she believed to be lost. You are the living embodiment of the joy and hope that now dwells within Allura. A symbol that her people survived." Meridina smiled gently. "There is nothing inappropriate about you being in her company."

Talara nodded. Meridina, despite her discomfort from the Fracture, felt the young woman's uncertainty and nervousness. It was not out of place. Meridina imagined she would have the same feeling if she were meeting Swenya.

A blue holographic light appeared over the back of Talara's left hand. "Captain Andreys to Ensign Talara. Please report to the Bridge."

"Oh, yes, it is time for my first watch," Talara said. She nodded at Meridina. "Thank you, Commander, for your advice."

"You are welcome." Meridina nodded in reply and watched Talara depart. She drew in a breath, which did nothing to settle her queasy stomach. She departed for her quarters and another attempt to rest.

Talara arrived on the bridge fully prepared to assume her helm station. Seeing Ensign Jimenez at the helm caused her confusion. He was not supposed to come on duty until she finished her first watch. She stepped around the tactical station and approached the command chairs. Julia was seated with Allura to her left in the guest chair. "Captain, you wished to see me?"

"Ensign." Julia nodded at her. "It's going to take a while for Lieutenant Delgado and Commander Jarod to figure out a way to get the Princess and her ships back to their home universe. In the meantime, Princess Allura has kindly invited a team from the Aurora over to examine the technology of the Castle. She's requested your presence and I've agreed to it."

Talara glanced toward Allura. She drew in a nervous breath and nodded. "I understand, Captain. Whom do I report to?"

"I'd like you to spend time with Coran and myself, actually," Allura said. "It is selfish of me, I know, but we have so many questions…"

"It is okay, Highness," Talara responded. "I… I understand, really. I have questions too."

"Well, we have much to share then." Allura stood and looked to Julia. "Captain, I will be returning to my vessel. Your team is welcome to join us whenever they are ready."

"Lieutenant Lucero is assembling her people now," Julia said. "They'll beam over within the hour."

"In the meantime, I will fly my shuttle back. Ensign, if you will please join me?"

Talara nodded. "Yes, of course."

Meridina stepped up at this final exchange. She took her seat and quietly watched Talara and Allura leave the bridge. "They are both uncertain, but hopeful," she said to Julia. "You did a good thing, sending Talara over."

"I figure it will help her as much as it helps Allura and her… assistant, was he?"

"A retainer, certainly." While Meridina spoke, a sudden grimace appeared on her face.

Julia noticed it immediately. "Meridina? What's wrong? Do you need to go to the medbay?"

"No," Meridina replied. "It is… I believe something is about to happen. I can feel a violent intent in the Flow of Life."

"Where? Around us?"

"No. Further away. I cannot say where. The Fracture clouds my connection to the Flow of Life too greatly." She eyed Julia warily. "Captain, when was the last check-in by the Koenig?"

"It should have been an hour ago." Julia frowned. She glanced toward the front of the bridge, where Lieutenant Jakeet was at Ops. "When was the last check-in from the Koenig?"

Jakeet looked at the logs. "Ninety-six minutes ago."

Julia frowned. "What about our active channel to them?"

Jakeet checked it. "It appears to have been lost."

"That is not like Zachary," Meridina noted. "Though he has been so lost as of late, I do not see him failing to maintain communications. Particularly in our current location."

"Agreed." Julia didn't bother keeping her worry off her face. "And we can't go looking for them without leaving the Castle behind."

"If their systems are intact enough, it may be safe."

Julia responded by tapping the intercom key on her chair. "Bridge to Lucero."

"Lucero here."

"The Koenig hasn't checked in on time and we can't raise her. I need to know if Allura's ship can defend itself. Get your team now and get over there."

"I haven't finished…" Lucy audibly stopped herself. "Yes Captain, we're on our way."

"Inform Allura of the change in plans," Julia instructed Jakeet. "Sensors, keep an eye out for the Koenig."

"Yes ma'am."

"And elevate running status to Code Yellow," she added. "Something's wrong, and I don't want it catching us by surprise."
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-12-10 06:41am

When the door to Science Lab 2 opened Caterina looked up from her work station. Pidge walked in wearing her Paladin armor. "Sorry," she said. "But when the lights started flashing yellow I thought it might be an attack warning."

"We're at Code Yellow running status now. That is, it's sort of a standby for combat. The shields are kept up and everyone's supposed to avoid things that would keep them from getting to their combat stations quickly. So no holodeck fun or anything. Although you can sleep or eat and stuff like that."

Pidge stepped up to the console Cat was seated at. She looked about as she did, observing all of the holotanks and holo-displays showing data. Three other officers and scientists were at other locations in the large lab area. "And this is only one of three labs on your ship?"

Cat nodded. "Well, four if you count the testing labs in medbay. And oh, you should let Allura know." Cat reached over and tapped a key, bringing up a secondary holo-screen showing a recording from the Castle. Lion ships of black and red color flew by the screen and hit the tunnel wall in the background, disappearing. Another video showed the same happening to two more of blue and yellow color. "I've gone over your castle's sensor records. The other lions hit the tunnel wall before the particle signature associated with interuniversal transition began to form."

"You mean that they didn't come to this universe or any others? They're back in our home universe?"

"Exactly." Cat grinned. "So we don't have to worry about finding them."

Pidge matched the grin. "Well, that's a relief. Now you can focus on getting us back too."

"That's the tricky part," Cat admitted. She turned back to the screen and began entering information. "I had the sensors taking in every bit of information they could when the Castle opened that wormhole. I'm hoping that there's a signature I can use to find your home universe."

"How does that work?"

"Well, under normal circumstances, we have to scan a resulting jump point. And it has to be kept open long enough to get a good scan in. That doesn't always happen." Cat shook her head. "In your case, the wormhole wasn't open long enough. The data we got was partial."

"Allura said the wormhole had her and Coran stuck in some sort of loop, where they would fall into the end of the wormhole and jump back in time by a few minutes. Coran even got a few years younger in each loop."

"Physical regression from a temporal field?" Cat blinked. "Now that is completely bizarre." Cat sorted through her readings. "A temporal component… And the wormhole was destabilized. You know, jump points have done the same thing."

"What do you mean?" Pidge asked.

"Almost two years ago, there was a case where a shuttle rigged to explode detonated inside of a jump point. As in right at the middle during the moment of transition from one universe to another. Instead of destabilizing and collapsing the point, it turned it into a temporal point with an intense gravitational element. It even sucked in someone and sent them back in time by two hundred years."

"Time travel?" Pidge's expression betrayed her surprise. "What happened to them, then? You found them in the historical records?"

"We did. And we used another effect that Scotty knows about to go back in time and pick them up. It involved warping around a star to cause temporal displacement. The math was crazy-insane and awesome."

"I'll bet." Pidge looked at everything again. A distant look formed on her face, one with evident pain. "Matt and my dad would love this ship. And everything you've got."

Cat looked to her. "Where are they?"

"I don't know," Pidge answered. "The Galra have them."

"I'm sorry," Cat said. "Family's important to me too. I don't know what I'd do if Angel was taken by the bad guys like that."

"I was going to look for them. But the others needed me." Pidge slumped into a seat beside Cat. Her eyes remained lowered. "I know that beating the Galra is more important to a lot of people. But I feel like I'm letting my family down. And now… now I might be stranded in another universe, and I'll never find them."

Cat placed a hand on Pidge's shoulder. "You will," Cat said. "And I'll find a way to get you home, okay? I promise."

Pidge lifted her eyes. Tears were formed in them, tears of grief and frustration. "Thank you," she said. "I'm sure you will."

The extent to which the Fracture interfered with all things electronic was evident in the distortions forming on Julia's screen, interfering with the image of Admiral Maran in his office. His voice was mostly clear when he spoke, at least. "I am astounded by the report you and Doctor Gillam have filed," he said. "I never imagined the Falaens had such a tragic history."

"How much did we know about them? I don't recall anything about their not being native to Fala."

"It's not widely known. It's possible they simply don't talk about it. Given their reputation in A7R6 they may have worried that such an origin would undermine their diplomatic position. Some of the other species would have seen them as invaders." Maran's image flickered. "I'm more disturbed by your inability to reach the Koenig."

"They may have lost communications. We won't know for sure until we look for them. And given the circumstances, I thought it best to focus on protecting the Castle of Lions."

"I agree. If not for the Fracture's notorious instability I would be ordering ships to jump to your position. As it is, I've ordered the Soyuz and the Unatam'se to rendezvous with you. But they're still days away at high warp."

"So we're on our own." Julia nodded. "I expected that."

"Keep me informed. Maran out." The distorted image of Maran disappeared, returning her monitor to a blank black screen.

Julia rubbed at her forehead. They were alone out here, deep in this Godforsaken stretch of space, closer to hostile powers than they were friendly ones. Admiral Maran had simply confirmed how spread out they were. If there was a hostile force on its way, the Aurora would be handling it by itself…

The comm system sounded. "Captain, we have ships on sensors," said Locarno. "They're currently in hyperspace and will arrive in a few minutes."

Julia got to her feet. "Recall the command staff to the bridge," she said. "Go to Code Red."

"We were about to beam Lieutenant Lucero and her team over…"

It took only a moment for Julia to make her decision about that. Lucy alone would make sure that the Castle of Lions couldn't be easily taken by boarding parties. "Send them over before your raise shields. And make sure they and Princess Allura know what's going on. I'm on my way."

A moment later, the alert klaxon sounded to summon the Aurora crew to combat stations.

It didn't take long for everyone to gather on the bridge and assume their stations. "All weapons armed and ready," Angel said. "Torpedoes loading in all launchers."

"All shield generators showing green," Barnes said from the Engineering station. "Armor-Hull self-repair systems online."

"Commander Laurent and his pilots are currently boarding their fighters and are ready to launch," Meridina confirmed. Though it was clear she still felt sick, she was hiding it well. "All sections and departments report combat readiness."

"Good." Julia directed her attention to Jarod. "Open a communication to the Castle."

The holo-viewscreen changed to show the command center of the Altean vessel. Lucy and Talara were visible beside Allura and Coran. "Should the incoming vessels prove hostile, we are prepared to fight," Allura said.

"Their systems are pretty sophisticated," Lucy added. "And they're all operating at optimal condition. The only thing down right now is their wormhole drive."

"Hopefully we won't need it."

A moment later another image appeared on the screen. Pidge was in full armor and helmet in the seat of her lion. "Green is ready."

"I'm picking up subspace rippling, they're about to transition out of hyperspace," Cat said.

The viewscreen shifted to show empty space. A moment later a number of ships appeared, as if zipping in from nowhere. The vessels in question were long and thin craft by proportion, with slanted sections of hull at sections along the main body that may have been intended as protective armoring for important spaces along the hull. Toward the rear of the ship was a tall spire, behind which was a multi-level tower structure with a smaller spire above it. Another long spire emerged from the bottom of the rear hull, tipped with a double-paneled ending that was possible electronics. Two double-barrelled main weapons pointed forward. Eight of these vessels were present and arranged in a double line, one above the other, their main guns all pointing forward.

A ninth vessel of similar size appeared. This one was beige-colored, long and sleek, and had the startling sight of six long, wavering tentacles attached to its bow. They looked completely organic, their tips the shape of arrowheads.

"Lieutenant Delgado, can you identify them?"

"They're not matching anything in the database," Cat answered. "Scanning the odd one out."

"You mean the octopus one?" Angel asked.

"Those tendrils are more like a jellyfish's," Cat said. "The signature is in our database as that of an Aurigan man-of-war, a cosmozoan life form found in the Fracture. The class of ship itself…" After a moment Cat looked over. "It's coming up as a Judgement-class hunter scout of the Republic of Cabea."

Julia frowned at that. "They're a member nation of NEUROM," she said. "So that's who we're dealing with."

"Most concerning," Meridina agreed.

"Incoming hail from the main ship," Jarod said.

"On screen, and patch them to Allura." Julia stood from her chair. The screen shifted to show a severe-looking man in a resplendent golden uniform. His complexion was pale brown, the mark of a long-time space-dweller, with graying hair at his temples. His eyes were artificial green orbs set into his face with blue lights where the pupil and iris would be on an organic eye. "Greetings. I am Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora." Julia kept her voice level and friendly.

"I am Squadron Captain Unam Tissim, commander of the 194th Doctrinal Enforcement Squadron of the Ministry of Fate. Captain Andreys, your ship and name are known to us. I will permit you to withdraw and allow us to take possession of these extrauniversal craft."

Julia furrowed her brow. "Squadron Captain, this isn't NEUROM space. By what grounds do you intend to seize them?"

"It is the will of the Ministry," was the response. "We will not permit any other people to secure the power of these unknown craft."

"Captain Tissim, I am Princess Allura of Altea. I assure you, we mean you no harm, and it is our intent to return to our universe of origin as soon as possible. There is no need for violence."

"If you wish to avoid violence, alien, then surrender your craft immediately. We will allow the Alliance to take you away."

"I'm not giving up my ship. We have need of it in our home universe."

"Then you take responsibility of your own fate, alien."

"Squadron Captain, I will protect Princess Allura and her vessels," Julia warned. "And the Alliance will consider this a hostile action by NEUROM against the Alliance."

"Consider it as you like. We do not fear your Alliance. The Fates are with us. Cross the Fates and face our fury."
”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 » 2017-12-12 05:30pm

Julia had nothing more to say before Squadron Captain Tissim disappeared from the screen.

"They're raising shields," said Caterina. She looked up from her station with a surprised expression. "Captain… their shields, they're Darglan technology."

Julia kept the frown from her face. Now wasn't the time for a reaction like that. "Are they locking weapons?"

"Only on the Castle," said Jarod. "Still no target locks on us."

"They are forcing us to make the choice of engaging them directly, so that they might say we initiated combat with them." Meridina gave Julia a careful look. "Our orders are to avoid conflict."

"And they're also to render aid to other ships, not let them get snatched by the local bullies," Julia added. "Still… Mister Locarno, put us between the NEUROM ships and the Castle of Lions. Jarod, extend our shields around the Castle."

The two men in front of her answered with "Aye ma'am."

"Tactical, do not lock weapons and do not open fire," Julia added. "We'll let them make the first shot."

"Right." Angel kept her disagreement with that decision out of her voice.

Tissim's voice came over the speakers on Tothwallad's bridge. "Go forth, Captain. Snare the Aurora."

"Will you not open fire on them, Squadron Captain?" he asked. "They defy us."

"Yes. But I have my orders: The real objective of this operation is the extrauniversal ship. The Aurora should not be destroyed, but must be crippled to accomplish our objectives. Now snare them, it is the best way to accomplish the task and you have been given an order!"

Tothwallad was not very happy with that order. He knew it was liable to get his ship shot up. The Judgement of Fate wasn't meant to snare such a large ship. But his orders were clear, and his life and position were on the line.

"Take us in, helm," he said.

Julia's attention turned to the small holotank beside Meridina. It displayed a tactical view of the surrounding space. The numbers of nine on two - she wasn't sure whether the lion ship by itself counted as a full-sized starship for the fight - were unfavorable even with the smaller size of the NEUROM ships. That they had Darglan technology in some way made those odds worse. "Even if we win, we probably lose," she murmured.

"Yes," Meridina said. "It appears our foe has their own strategem."

Julia noted the red mark coming toward them. "It looks like they're going to use the Cabean ship by itself. Is this some kind of test, to see if we open fire on it to keep it from the Castle?"

"Or they're going to try and use those man-of-war tendrils on us," Cat said. "They'll try to drain our power."

"Even through shields?"

"They'll just drain those first. Especially since we've extended them."

"Jarod, warn them off."

"No response," he said.

"Right." So that was it. She'd maneuvered Tissim, now he was doing the same. Open fire on the Cabean ship to keep it from sucking their ship dry of energy or hold fire and let them drain away the shields. "Is it a threat to us?"

"A full-sized Aurigan man-of-war can drain a cruiser dry, according to the Avalonians' records," Jarod answered. "This one isn't full-sized, but since it's a ship they might have capacitors hooked up to those things, or other methods of releasing any stored power. So it's a definite maybe."

Which was all Julia needed to hear. Whatever game Tissim was playing with this, he was subjecting the Aurora to a potential threat. Julia felt clear to respond.

"Fire one shot across their bow, Tactical," she said. "If they don't change course within give five seconds of that shot, feel free to let them have it."

"Yes ma'am," Angel said. She tapped several keys on her control. A beam of sapphire light fired from one of the light plasma banks. Angel's shot was precise, coming within a meter of the bow of the Cabean ship.

Tothwallad swallowed at the beam that nearly struck him. A warning shot. The Alliance vessel would fire after all, he knew it.

Just as he knew, with just a look, that Lady Dolores would kill him in his chair if he ordered his ship to break off. "Steady on course," he ordered, trying to keep the fear from his voice.

The next shot didn't miss.

Angel didn't bother firing again with her lighter mount. Given the orientation of the ship, she targeted the port-side heavy plasma emitters on the Cabean ship and fired.

Before the Shadows and Daleks wrecked the Aurora, the weapons in question had been pulse phaser cannon batteries set on turreted mounts. And while those weapons certainly packed a punch, as the Koenig often demonstrated to opponents, the plasma emitters that replaced them were even more powerful. The best that could be fielded thanks to the various Darglan databases that the Alliance had available, almost entirely due to the actions of the Aurora's crew.

Now the fruits of their past labors showed with the sapphire beam that struck the shields of the Cabean ship. Those shields were quite capable for their size and held. But when a second, third, and then fourth beam converged on them the shields melted away. The blue energy from the Aurora's weapons now sliced through the Judgement of Fate. Flame and debris erupted from the damaged sections. The tendrils whipped about wildly and helplessly.

The eight NEUROM ships opened fire barely a second later. Bursts of ruby light erupted from their bows in repeated streams, the turrets tracking and firing again. The Aurora's shields flared blue at the impacts. Fighters flew from hanger decks built into those ships, forty-eight in all. Their brown hulls and curved appearances made them look organic as well.

"Shields down to seventy percent," Jarod said after the first barrage.

"Return our shields to normal status," Julia ordered. "Helm, heading two seven three mark zero one three."

"Shield cohesion back to ninety-two percent."

"Fighters launching now," Meridina confirmed. "The lion ship is launching as well."

From the hanger deck at the top of the Aurora's drive hull, fore of the warp nacelle pylons and below the Koenig's dock at the back fo the primary hull, Mongoose starfighters erupted from their launch tubes. At the rear of the launch deck the Green Lion of Voltron emerged.

The Aurora's maneuver uncovered the Castle of Lions. A visible energy barrier formed around it. The barrier was made up of hexagons of white light. Colored discs moved into position to face the approaching enemy ships.

"What kind of weapons are they firing?" Julia asked Cat.

"It looks like a laser-pumped plasma cannon, very powerful for a ship of that size," Cat replied. She saw something on her screen. "They're firing missiles!"

Trios of missiles fired from each of the ships. "Particle interceptors firing," Angel confirmed.

Pulses of blue light fired from the small interceptor batteries arrayed at points on the Aurora's hull. Some of the missiles struck said bursts and exploded, others managed to survive them or evade long enough to slam into the Aurora's shields. "Shields down to eighty-three percent."

Meridina continued to observe the tactical display. "They are attempting to maneuver past us."

"Tactical, fire at will!"

Angel responded by opening up on every target her weapons could track. At the secondary tactical station Lieutenant Syrandi Luneri, a Dorei woman with a dark purple complexion and hair with teal spotting, was busy operating the targeting for the lighter plasma emplacements, allowing Angel to focus with the main emitters. Beams and bursts of sapphire light struck out at several of their foes.

"We're degrading the shields on several of them," Cat noted. "But I'm not reading any damage from our hits."

"They're armored," Jarod said. "It looks like heavy armor too."

"Focus fire as you need to, Tactical," Julia instructed. The ship shuddered beneath her as she did.

Between the warships the fighters of the Aurora and the NEUROM ships were engaging in their own battle. The Aurora flight wing had numbers, the NEUROM fighters a maneuverability edge, and the result was a pitched battle.

"Bravo and Charlie Squadrons, engage from range," Laurent ordered. "Your priority is keeping them from hitting the ship."

"Roger, Alpha 1," were the replies.

"I've got one on me!" called out one pilot.

Laurent registered the voice. Ensign Keller, Delta Squadron. He twisted his craft and found Keller's Mongoose desperately evading the red bursts of light fired by his pursuer. Laurent lined up his own shot and sent a flurry of phaser fire into the enemy craft. Its shields started to fail. Before his fire could finish his target off the enemy pilot banked away. The maneuverability of the NEUROM fighters was incredible. Laurent tried to follow the turn, but he simply couldn't keep up.

"On your six, Alpha Leader!"

Kerman's warning prompted Laurent to fire his engines and thrusters to full, pulling his Mongoose into a tight maneuver. Red light zipped across the front of his cockpit. An enemy fighter went by a moment later, amber fire pursuing the fighter. Laurent's Kerbal wingman kept on target until he, too, found the NEUROM fighter maneuvering too quickly.

"Bravo, Charlie, keep your range. Fox squadron, move bearing 221 mark 089, gain range and turn. We can't dogfight them like this."

A bright white beam of energy lanced between Laurent's fighter and Kerman's. It struck one of the NEURON fighters and blew it apart in a second. Another weaker beam accomplished the same on a second fighter. Laurent's maneuver allowed him to watch the lion ship fire again. The beams of energy were coming from the tip of its tail and its open mouth.

"I'm going for the ships," Laurent heard the pilot of the lion say over their tactical channel.

I have a fifteen year old pilot in the most powerful light craft we have engaged. The thought didn't inspire confidence in Laurent. But he acknowledged with, "I hear you. We'll continue to engage the fighters."

Once she was past the fighter battle, Pidge flew the Green Lion toward one of the attacking ships. The tail and mouth lasers fired in tandem until the enemy ship's shields were down to nothing. The armoring of the enemy ship was good enough that her hits weren't doing much to the enemy ship. The red bursts of light from its weapons streaked in front of her. One glancing hit brought discomfort and forced her to adjust. She drew the lion "up" to get away from the main turrets tracking her from the dorsal and ventral bow surfaces. But secondary energy weapons spread along the broadside, their bursts of ruby light like darts in space, continued to track and fire on the lion.

Pidge put Green into a corkscrew and made her final approach. She activated Green's jaw blade in the final seconds before she was moving alongside the NEUROM vessel. The armor might have resisted the blade alone, but with Green's speed and the blade's toughness, she successfully cut a line through the port hull of the ship from stern to bow, opening a wound that the other ships could exploit. Pidge pulled away and "aft-downward" to evade the main guns on the NEUROM craft which were fouled by their own sensor masts at that angle.

Lights flashed red to match the color of the hits that impacted her. Another of the ships was coming after her. She turned Green to face it. She didn't need to batter its shields down - the Aurora or Castle had done so already - and she was clear for an attack run with the jaw blade.

But the enemy was ready for the maneuver. As she came in for the run the NEUROM warship maneuvered hard to evade. Her blade barely scraped the armor before running across nothingness. The Green Lion's speed now turned against it. Before Pidge could adjust she was already clear of the enemy ship.

She might have resumed the attack. But a glance toward the other ships changed her mind. Pidge broke away from the two attacking ships and hit her engines to full to link back up with the Castle of Lions.

Six of the enemy vessels - seven counting the damaged Judgement of Fate - were focused on the Aurora and the Castle of Lions. WIth their smaller size and maneuverability they could keep their massive armored glacis plates covering the critical portions of the hull while their main battery turrets remained locked on target, hammering the Aurora and the Castle with almost unerring accuracy.

In the Castle's command center, the Alliance officers under Lucy were doing their part by manning the disc-shaped drones that added to the vessel's firepower. There were few fighters to shoot at due to the Aurora's fighter wing containing them, but the incoming missiles from the NEUROM ships provided them with plenty to do. Lucy moved the crosshairs of her drone over another of the incoming missiles and fired. Bolts of light struck at the missile until it blew apart.

Allura and Coran were busy at the other stations. "The particle barrier is holding," Coran said. "But not for much longer."

"I'm returning fire as best as I can," Allura stated.

She was, too. Lucy found it interesting that the particle barrier itself was both defensive and offensive. The individual hexagons in the field acted as emitters. Bolts of white energy erupted from the hexagons. Some were missing entirely and others were striking the shields and armored hulls of the NEUROM vessels directly. They didn't seem to be doing a lot of damage, however.

A flight of missiles slipped past their defenses - Jumpa, given her condition from the Fracture, was clearly having trouble focusing on the fight - and slammed into the particle barrier. This time the Castle did shake. "The barrier's starting to fail!" Coran warned. "We're taking too much fire!"

"More missiles incoming, Jampa!" Lucy cried out.

"I can't get to them," the Dorei woman insisted. Her voice was strained. Lucy sympathized. It was taking all of her focus to push away the wrongness of the Fracture.

"I've got them!" Talara shouted. Her disc, the blue one, shifted over enough to take out the missiles Jampa's yellow-colored disc wasn't in a position to shoot.

"More incoming!" Allura watched one of the NEUROM ships fire while targeting it.

"I'm out of position!" The cry was from Ensign Laurence Tasker, the fourth of the Aurora officers. His red-colored disc was already shooting up missiles coming in from a different ship.

"Impact in five ticks! Four! Three!"

Coran's countdown ended there as a white energy beam swept over missiles. The Green Lion's shot destroyed them all. Pidge turned and went for the enemy ship. At this range, and with its position and her built-up speed, there was no chance for the NEUROM captain to evade her attack run. Again the Green Lion's jaw blade appeared. Pidge gave a triumphant "Ha!" when she sensed, with the Lion, the blade strike the armor and hull. She left a gash in the enemy ship two hundred meters long.

"There's a weak spot!" Allura cried. "Firing!"

The Castle of Lions' particle barrier generated a full beam this time. The beam played over the NEUROM ship. Its shields were completely gone, leaving nothing to protect its wounded side from the blast. Flame and debris erupted along the path of the white beam until one great explosion blew the NEUROM ship to pieces.

They'd managed their first kill. Now seven NEUROM vessels remained to threaten the two ships.

The Aurora shook again as more of the ruby-colored bolts struck her shields. "Shields down to forty-six percent."

Julia acknowledged their decreasing shield status. The enemy vessels were being careful to avoid getting into the Aurora's bow and aft arcs and the pulse plasma cannon batteries that covered them. Angel's fire was still hitting home a fair amount of time, leaving most of the enemy ships with degraded or weakening shields. But the armor of the NEUROM ships was sufficient to survive the weapons most likely to hit them.

The reason for the maneuvering of the NEUROM vessels was made glaring a moment later. Locarno's own maneuvering caught one of the NEUROM vessels in the Aurora's bow arc. Angel took her chance immediately. The pulse plasma cannons, ten in all, opened up on the broadside of the enemy ship.

Whatever material the NEUROM ships had in the massive glacis plates on their flank, it clearly had their limits, and the main batteries of the Aurora now demonstrated those limits. The barrage blasted glowing chunks of super-heated armor alloy away from the attacking vessel. Bit by bit more of the ship's long form was blasted away until an explosion ripped through the middle of it. A spread of solar torpedoes, glowing blue-white from the effect of their drive fields, struck the wounded ship. That was the final blow needed. The NEUROM ship blew apart.

Still, that was just one more down, and six were left. Again the Aurora rocked from the impact of missile and energy fire. The main guns on the NEUROM ships were clearly a class or two larger than usual for such ships given the damage they were inflicting.

"Can our fighters get in for an attack run?" she asked Meridina.

"The enemy fighters are quite maneuverable and are still a threat," Meridina pointed out. "Commander Laurent is fully engaged with them despite the numerical difference."

Julia could have left it at that. Some captains would have. And she trusted Meridina's judgement and that of Laurent. Nevertheless, the thought in her head on this situation mandated a change in the tactical situation. "Tell Laurent that I want half of his squadrons detached to attack runs on the enemy ships. His people are to break away on my mark."

"Sir?" Meridina looked at her. "The enemy fighters may gain an advantage over ours. Or they may commence attacks against us."

"I know," Julia said. "I'm hoping for the second. Jarod, the others are tied into our tactical channel, right?"

"They are," he confirmed.

Julia tapped the key on her chair to send over said channel. "Miss Holt, I'm detaching squadrons for attack runs on the enemy ships. I'd like you to join them. Open their armor up for our fighters to take advantage."

"I'm on it."

"Princess Allura, I'm having Jarod relay you positional data. On my mark, I'd like you to take up the indicated position relative to the Aurora."

"I hear you, Captain. I am ready."

"On my mark for fighter run…" Julia felt the ship shudder again. They'd taken another direct hit from the main guns of the enemy ships. "...now."

Over thirty of the Alliance fighters broke away from the combat with the NEUROM craft. Pidge joined them for the run. The mouth laser of the Green Lion fired and raked across the unarmored and armored part of the hull on their first target. One of the secondary batteries exploded from the impact. The Green Lion banked to the side to evade fire from the main turret of said ship. Pidge pulled her craft "downward" and then back "up" The sharp maneuver kept her from getting hit until the Green Lion's jawblade was again ripping through armor and hull.

The lead fighters trailing her launched a wave of missiles. The enemy ship maneuvered sharply to evade the attack. This kept some of the missiles from impacting, but only some. Those that struck anyway blew the wound in the ship wide open. Pidge twisted her Lion around with dizzying speed and fired the mouth laser into the gaping wound. More flame and debris exploded from the damaged areas, following the beam of white light issuing from the Green Lion's mouth. The lights on the NEUROM ship began to flicker.

As Julia hoped, the enemy fighters were able to use their superior maneuverability to break off from the Aurora air wing. They targeted the Castle of Lions with a clear attack run. Julia waited for the fighters to get to where she wanted them. When they had arrived at that point she gave the order: "Mister Locarno, Princess Allura, mark."

The two ships obeyed. The Castle turned slightly and maneuvered "upward", but otherwise did nothing to cause the enemy fighters to break off or substantially change their trajectory.

Whether Captain Tissim's people recognized the maneuver in time or not, no such change happened, and Locarno swung the Aurora into place to close the trap. The two ships were now maneuvered to place the approaching enemy fighters, almost twenty in all, between them. The Castle's point defense drones opened up, as did the point defense weapons on the Aurora. The bolts and streaks of blue light created a killing field that even the maneuverable enemy fighters could not get out of in time. Only two of the fighters managed to get away.

The two ships turned and faced one of their attackers next. The lighter NEUROM ship attempted to evade, looking to avoid Aurora's deadly bow weapons. Its maneuver protected it from those weapons, but nothing could save it from another blast that emanated from the Castle's particle barrier. The beam of light speared the ship in the mid-section between the protected armored areas. There was nothing immediately critical in the area taken out, but it did sever the firing controls for the ship's main turret. It continued to track and fire, but there was a clear disconnect between the turret's target choices and the maneuvering of the ship.

Locarno kept the Aurora on the NEUROM ship was best as he could. It managed to get outside of the engagement arc of the main cannons, but Angel was quick to employ everything up to the large capital-scale plasma emitters on the enemy ship. One of the heavy weapons hit its engine assembly as it tried to turn away. An explosion roared out of the engines while consuming the entire engine section of the ship. Another beam from the Castle of Lions sliced off the lower spire of the NEUROM vessel. Solar torpedoes from the Aurora crashed into the main turret and blew it apart.

The crippled vessel, deprived of its main engines and main guns, could only fire spitefully with secondary batteries at the resilient shields of both vessels until the Aurora's main batteries, with a full volley, tore through its glacis armor and gutted the enemy ship.

Squadron Captain Tissim watched another of his ships go down with the look of a man knowing everything he built was about to be taken from him. The Ministry would be swift to punish his failure if he didn't have something, anything, to show for this battle.

"All ships, prepare to breakaway," he said. "And put all available power into your tractor beams."

"What is the target?" the ship operation officer dutifully asked.

"The lion vessel," Tissim replied. "Engage tractor beams when ready. I want every ship taking that vessel into tow."

The Green Lion twisted in space and came up to another of the remaining NEUROM ships. The jawblade gripped in its mouth again cut into the armor of the enemy ships, creating a gap that the approaching Alliance fighters could use to hit the vital internals of the vessel.

Pidge was pulling away from the ship when the tractor beam grabbed her lion. "They're trying to hold me in a tractor beam," she warned the others over the tactical comm line. She shifted the Lion's engines into full power to breakaway. Everything around her shook from the strain.

A second tractor beam suddenly snagged the Lion. And a third. Warning signs on her pop-up readouts warned Pidge that she wasn't going to break away. "I could use some help!"

"The NEUROM vessels are breaking away, Captain," Caterina said. "But they've caught the Green Lion in their tractor beams."

"Pursuit course, Mister Locarno. Tactical, give them everything we've got!"

The Aurora and Castle of Lions pursued the NEUROM ships, weapons blazing. Armor and hull broke and exploded under the hits they were delivering. One NEUROM vessel, already damaged, suddenly fell away from the others. It disengaged its tractor beam and turned toward them. The secondary batteries on the ship opened up on the pursuing Alliance fighters. One blew apart from a direct hit. Another was sent spiraling away from a glancing blow. The rest opened up with weapons and what was often their last torpedo or missile before breaking away. The resulting hits added to the enemy ship's damage. But it refused to break away and its main guns kept firing as it rushed toward the Aurora and Castle.

Meridina's eyes widened. "Captain, I can sense their intent. They are on a ramming course."

"Damn. Evasive maneuvers, now!"

The two pursuing ships broke away from each other as the NEUROM ship came in for its suicide run. It barely missed one of the warp nacelles of the Aurora on its pass. Nor did it come through unscathed. Multiple blue beams and bolts from the Aurora's port side weapons carved into the damaged vessel's port side while its starboard was ripped into by the Castle's weaponry. Gas and debris were still spewing from the new wounds in the ship as the two vessels passed by it. The rear cannons on the Aurora pounded the ship into debris.

But the NEUROM ship had achieved its goal. The shift in trajectory kept the Aurora and Castle from closing the distance quickly with the remaining three ships and their captive prisoner. "I'm picking up an energy surge in the remaining ships," Cat said. "They're about to activate their hyperdrives!"

"Our fighters are attempting to close, but they have expended all of their anti-ship munitions," Meridina added.

"Take them out! Now!"

"Trying!" Angel replied.

But Julia knew it was too late. The added distance they'd allowed to open up to avoid that ramming attack, the maneuvering enemy ships… the chance of stopping them from getting away with Pidge and the Green Lion was lost.

Squadron Captain Tissim felt relief. Bringing the lioncraft back to Admiral Gal-Nazad would justify this disaster of a battle. "Hyperdrives are at ninety-five percent," the helm officer stated. "Preparing for hyperspace transition in ten… nine… eight…"

Space rippled ahead of the NEUROM ships.

The rippling settled into the decloaking form of the Starship Koenig. The attack ship raced in, phasers and torpedoes blazing. As the seconds passed and it drew even closer, the fire of its phaser cannons was joined by the rapid appearance of a blue ribbon from the vessel. The Koenig's tractor beam lashed out, aiming not at the captive Green Lion but at the beams holding the craft prisoner. One beam failed in two seconds. Then the next.

This sudden loss of restraint allowed Pidge to make one final effort with the Green Lion's own drives. She threw them to full power in the final few seconds before the NEUROM ships initiated their hyperspace jumps.

When the Green Lion broke loose, it went spinning past both the NEUROM ships and the Koenig. On the bridge of his flagship Tissim shouted, "Cancel! Cancel the transition!"

But it was too late for that to happen. His ships made its jump to hyperspace without the prisoner they had expected to bring along.

On the Koenig bridge Apley turned to Magda. "Good job, Lieutenant. I didn't even remember that little trick from the fight at 33LA."

Magda shook her head. "Don't mention it. Besides, it was Cat Delgado's idea, I'm just using it." Something drew Magda's attention to her console. "The Aurora is tying us into their tac-comm."

"Put everyone on screen."

The screen shifted to three images, side-by-side, of Julia on the Aurora bridge, another bridge with a pointy-eared alien that reminded Apley of Falaens, and a very young woman in a set of white and green armor, including helmet. "It looks like we got back just in time."

Julia spoke first. "Your timing was impeccable, Commander Apley."

"Yeah, I couldn't have broken away without you taking out those tractor beams," Pidge agreed.

"You have our thanks," said Allura.

Julia furrowed her brow. "Where is Commander Carrey?"

"In the infirmary," Apley answered. "We found him passed out in his quarters after we had our own little run-in with the locals."

"It looks like you did too," Magda added. "I'm picking up that freaky ship with the biological tendrils on sensors. Looks like you put it down."

"You could say that," said Julia. "What's wrong with the Commander?"

"Doctor Epstein ran what tests he can, but wants to confer with Doctor Gillam first."

"Right. And what's your status? We're showing damage."

"Like I said, we ran into that ship with the tendrils. We had to overload our reactors to break free. We're down to just one fully-functional naqia reactor and one partially-functional one. Lieutenant Derbely wants to dock and shut the entire system down."

"Docking is fine. I'll have a medbay team waiting at the dock. As for the other term, tell her to hold off until we can have a command staff meeting. I expect your report shortly, Commander Apley. Aurora out."

The viewscreen changed to show the approaching vessels. Apley drew in a breath before saying, "Ensign, begin docking sequence."

"Yes sir," Hajar replied.

Magda was giving Apley a concerned look. "You didn't mention…"

"I didn't," Apley said. "Not on open comms anyway. I'll… I'll talk to Captain Andreys about it."

"Why not see why he blacked out first?" Sherlily asked. "If you tell her, she'll…"

"I know, April," Apley sighed. "And I don't want to get Commander Carrey in trouble. But…" He shook his head. "As the First Officer I have a duty to the crew too. And that includes being honest about issues that affect our ship. The Commander being… indisposed like that during a field mission in potentially-hostile space? I can't cover it up."

Sherlily pursed her lips. She could see where he was going with that, and she didn't like it.

"You do what you have to do, sir," Hajar remarked. Her voice sounded calm, matter-of-fact, but there was the slightest emotion toward the end. And she certainly kept her focus on her instruments. "Beginning docking sequence."

Nobody said anything more while the Koenig docked.

Julia left Meridina in charge on the bridge and went straight to the Koenig's dock. When she arrived she was met by Doctor Opani. The Dorei physician, with a dark-teal complexion and purple hair arranged into a pony-tail, started to speak only to stop when Doctor Epstein emerged with his nurse, both pushing an anti-grav stretcher. Zack was lying unconscious on it. "We found him a few hours ago," Epstein said. "Scans show low brainwave activity and bruising consistent with a blow to the head from falling. Neural activity is slightly off. He may have taken a medication of some sort."

"Commander Carrey has no long-term medications," Opani said. "Let's get him to the medbay for a full scan."

Julia watched quietly while the two doctors and the nurse left with her friend. She allowed herself a moment to worry about him before returning to business. She turned back to the airlock to see Magda and Apley approach. "I'll read your formal reports later, but I'd like to hear what happened?"

"The NEUROM ship grabbed us with its tentacles. While we were cloaked. We overloaded our reactors and used transported torpedoes to damage the tentacles until they let go enough for us to escape."

"Good thinking." Julia nodded to him. "I'll put you in for a commendation. What's your status?"

"Lieutenant Derbely is still working in Engineering and is against relaunching the ship until the reactors are refueled. Due to the torpedoes we lost communications."

"We'll discuss her desire at the staff meeting later today," Julia said. "In the meantime, get your reports finished and filed, and see to any needs for your crew."

"Yes ma'am." Apley's expression betrayed concern. "Can you keep us informed about Commander Carrey?"

"Of course. You're both dismissed."

The conference room on the Aurora betrayed the tension that attended the Koenig's return. The officers of that ship joined the Aurora officers. On the wall viewscreen the control center of the Castle of Lions was being displayed. Allura and Coran were joined by Lucy and Talara.

Julia set her hands on the table. "So, let's get down to business. NEUROM wants the Green Lion and the Castle of Lions. And we're not going to let them have them, if we can stop it."

Everyone nodded.

"And what is this 'NEUROM'?" asked Allura.

"They're an alliance of states in the Fracture," Julia replied. "They're uniformly xenophobic. Most are dictatorships of one kind or another."

"We're not that close to NEUROM space, though," Locarno said. "What are they doing out here?"

"Perhaps they also detected the arrival of the Green Lion," Meridina proposed. "We know from experience that NEUROM possesses agents with capabilities matching our own. Their swevyra'kse may have sensed the Lion."

"Through the Fracture?" Lucy's tone was skeptical. "We had to get close to feel it."

"They would be used to the Fracture's effects," Meridina pointed out. "Perhaps their training even attunes them to it."

"Why are they willing to die over this though?" Allura asked. "Even the Galra usually aren't that suicidal."

"Tissim said he was with the Ministry of Fate," Julia replied. "They're the central enforcement arm of the entire alliance and highly secretive. We don't even have their ships on record. Including the fact that they possess Darglan technology."

"You mentioned them before," Allura said. "Who are the Darglan?"

Pidge already knew about them through her conversations with Cat, but she let the others explain. "They're a species that existed over three thousand years ago," Julia answered. "They're the source of our interuniversal jump drive technology among other things. They even built the hull and frame of the Aurora."

"NEUROM possessing Darglan technology is a major discovery that the Alliance must be made aware of," Meridina added.

Julia gave a nod of agreement. "I've already dispatched a record of the battle, and that fact, to Admiral Maran. As for the Ministry of Fate, everything I've read on them says they're fanatical when it comes to NEUROM's perceived needs. And if they're the ones out here, that means someone really powerful wants control of your technology."

"The Castle's defenses are ready," Coran said. "If they want another fight, we'll give them one."

"There's no telling how many more ships they're sending." Julia shook her head. "So I'd rather not get into another fight at all. It's better if we send you home." She looked at Caterina. "Lieutenant, any progress?"

"I'm trying a couple of avenues," Cat said. "But I've got more work to do to make sure this will work despite the Fracture's… problems."

"What if we were not in the Fracture?" Laurent asked. "What if we departed this space for our colonial zone?"

"I've still got work to do on restoring the teludav," said Coran. "Until we're finished, the Castle isn't going anywhere."

"So why not tow them?" Locarno asked.

Scotty shook his head. "I dinnae think th' tractor beams can keep up with t' strain. Nae with th' interference from th' Fracture."

"So it's clear running isn't possible. And given what just happened, NEUROM's going to be spoiling for a fight, and I don't think any diplomacy will dissuade them" Julia said. "Commander Apley." She looked his way. "What's the status of the Koenig?"

Apley was not usually in the place of providing these details during joint staff meetings. He rose to the occasion. "We still have armor and structural damage. And we're down to one completely functional reactor and one with some functionality. Lieutenant Derbely wants to do a complete systems check with all reactors powered down to ensure there's no lasting damage from the escape."

"I'd love to give you that, but we may need everything we've got," Julia said. "Mister Scott, do you think your staff can spare some hands to help get the Koenig into shape for combat?"

"Aye, Captain, I can send a crew or two t' help out with th' bairns," was the engineer's reply. "It shudnae take long t' replace any burnt out components or naqia. As long as she's got two reactors, Koenig is good for a fight."

"Then see to it when we're done." Julia looked at Cat next. "I hate to put you on the spot, Lieutenant, but we could use a solution to Princess Allura's problem."

"I know," Cat said. "But the problem is, we still don't know the origin universe's signature to open a point ourselves, assuming we were willing to risk it. Re-opening the wormhole to their universe may just put them back into that time loop. At least if we do it that same way again… maybe if we…" It was clear Cat was deep in thought.

"Maybe what?" Pidge asked.

Cat turned her head toward Pidge. "Well, we tied your lion into the Aurora to connect to the Castle through what was left of the wormhole. If we could find a way to use that same connection to determine the universal coordinate you come from, we could use our jump drive to take you home."

"That means we need their coordinates," Jarod pointed out.

"Right. So we tie whatever system they use to detect the lions into an IU receiver and that could get us the coordinates we need."

"I suppose we could install an IU transceiver into the Castle," Lucy said. "And see if that works."

Julia noticed the others start to look at her. Her expression remained impassive, although behind that appearance her mind was anything but impassive. Lucy's suggestion meant providing restricted technology to Allura. If they ended up not recovering it, and something wrong happened after the transfer… Julia did not like the thought of these Galra getting their hands on any element of interuniversal technology.

But at the same time, she'd made the offer of assistance, and in their current situation, delaying made another fight with NEUROM more likely. And she was certain it would come long before any help would arrive from Admiral Maran.

After weighing these options, Julia breathed out and nodded. "Alright," she said. "We can try that. But we have to recover the transceiver when this is over." She looked to the image from the Castle. "I personally don't have an issue with you having such a thing, Princess, but we have laws and regulations about this technology that I'm sworn to obey."

"I understand, Captain, and I'm grateful to you for any risks you take on our behalf," Allura answered.

"Lieutenant Lucero, we'll send the transceiver over right away. Get it installed immediately."

"Aye sir," Lucy answered.

Julia nodded. "Mister… Coran, is it?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"How long until your wormhole drive could be ready? If we can leave this area of space before trouble shows up, then we don't need to worry about rushing things to get you home. Or the problem of our jump drive not working well with the Fracture's twisted space."

"Well, whatever hit our wormhole really did some damage to the drive controls. Allura and I have to re-synchronize the entire teludav. And I'm worried about the scaultrite lenses…" Seeing Julia's look Coran stopped himself there. "It will probably take a few vagras at least. Maybe a long as a quintant if the drive needs total re-alignment."

"A vagra is about an hour and a quintat about a day," Pidge clarified.

Julia nodded. "See if Lieutenant Lucero and her team can trim that down for us." She turned her head to Scott. "Mister Scott, status on the jump drive?"

"Openin' that wormhole burnt out a number of th' particle feed lines," he answered. "I've got crews workin' on it. But I've had t' reassign th' Dorei officers an' staff t' light work given all th' problems this space causes 'em. It's slowin' down our progress."

"Do what you can. I want options." Julia looked over everyone. "I know it's getting late, but given the situation we need to be ready for action at a moment's notice," she said. "For the time being we're remaining at Code Yellow. I'll have Hargert prepare the coffee."

"Like we don't drink enough of it as it is," Barnes grumbled.

Julia grinned wryly at that. "Just imagine trying to do this job without caffeine, Lieutenant. That's the stuff of nightmares if you ask me." Julia directed her attention to Laurent next. "Commander, I'm sorry for making you the last item on my list. You and your pilots made that victory possible. What is your status?"

"We lost six fighters, two of the crews were lost with their craft," he said. "And twelve more extensively damaged."

"I understand. But I need your pilots out there. Not just for patrol either, but to escort our runabouts while they drop sensor buoys."

"I can consolidate our pilots by deactivating Fox Squadron for the moment. We'll send our two flights per runabout."

"Coordinate with Commander Jarod, he'll be assigning the runabout teams and scheduling their launch. I want them out and planting buoys within three hours." Julia stood at the table. "You're all dismissed. Doctor Epstein, Doctor Gillam, please remain for a moment."

The other officers filed out of the room save the two medical officers. Julia spent the time waiting for those departures agonizing over the questions she felt compelled to ask. But she had to know.

"What happened to Commander Carrey… he's drinking, isn't he?"

Leo and Epstein exchanged uncomfortable looks. "You understand that under medical ethics, we can only tell you so much, Captain."

"I do. I also understand that under the same ethics and regulations, you have to report general conditions that interfere with someone's capability to fulfill their duties."

"True," said Epstein. "I would have to say, Captain, that it is likely alcohol could have played a role."

"Although not the major one," added Leo. "The neurological symptoms don't fit something like an alcohol-fueled blackout striking. We have to finish tests."

"Alright. Do what you need to and keep me informed," Julia said. "You're dismissed."

She watched them go. When she was by herself Julia let some of her defenses down. Seeing Zack like that affected her more deeply. For weeks he was visibly suffering, but he seemed determined to not let anyone help him.

Maybe I should have forced the issue, she thought. Maybe that would have helped him more.

The thought had to be banished for now. Before things hit the fan she needed to get a message to Admiral Maran about their situation.

And then... she needed some damn coffee too.

With al-Rashad on duty, Caterina decided to follow Pidge to the launch deck. They remained quiet until they were in the lift. "Do you think this is going to work?" Pidge asked her.

"It might. I'm not sure. I mean, there are still some aspects of the interuniversal technology we're still trying to grasp. And I'm not sure how this connection between your lion ships and the Castle of Lions works, or if the IU transceiver can interface with it." Caterina shrugged. "All we can do is give it a try."

Pidge nodded in agreement. The lift came to a stop and they stepped out together. "I'm sorry you didn't get to go over to the Castle."

"Yeah. But we don't always get to do the fun things."

"Sometimes I wish someone would remind Lance of that."

The Green Lion was still seated on all fours on the hanger deck. Its head was just low enough that Pidge could climb up into it. Cat stopped at the last step before the mouth. "Well, here we go." She turned to face Pidge. "Just in case we don't get to say anything else before you get back home, it was great to meet you."

Pidge smiled at that, prompting Cat to do the same. "I feel the same way. This ship you've got is amazing. I only wish we could stay in contact."

"For now, we've got a war and stuff to fight. But maybe one day…" Cat nodded. "Maybe we'll come visit."

"I'm looking forward to that." A wistful look came over Pidge's face. "If I can find my dad and my brother… they would love this. The entire idea of multiple universes to explore."

"There's always something new, too. It's like each universe has something unique about it." Cat offered her hand. "I hope I can show you more of it someday."

Pidge took her offered hand. "I'm looking forward to it."

There was no rest for Pidge when she returned to the Castle. She immediately joined Coran and the technical officers from the Aurora on the engineering deck. A gray and blue-surfaced object was in the middle of the floor. Wires were connecting it to the Castle's system. She looked over said wires. "Are you sure about this?" she asked. "That's a lot of capacity."

"IU radios can take a lot of power," Lucy answered. She handed Pidge a cable. "Would you mind running that into your transceiver system?"

"Sure." Pidge took the cable and did so. "How much longer?"

"Another hour at least," said Lucy. "And that's just the basic set-up. We'll have to modify parts of the bridge to account for your new systems."

"I just hope this works," Pidge said. "We need to get home."

"And I'm looking forward to getting the hell out of the Fracture," Lucy said. "This place makes me feel horrible."

"What could have happened to make space-time here so messed up?" Pidge wondered.

"I'm not sure. And I'm not sure I want to know." Lucy shook her head. "All I know is that my connection to the Flow of Life is distorted here. And it makes me feel anxious and sick." She looked back up to Pidge. "If it comes to a fight, you'll be piloting your ship, right?"

Pidge nodded once. "Yes."

"Then maybe you should go rest. There's no telling when trouble is going to show up."

"I'd rather help get things done, if that's alright with you."

Lucy nodded and smiled. "Right. I can appreciate that." She looked away for a moment. "Jampa!" The Dorei woman turned. "You and Miss Holt head to the bridge. Help Talara get started on our work up there."

"Yes Lieutenant," Jampa replied. She joined Pidge in departing the area.

The command bridge of the Castle of Lions was quiet. It was not a pleasant quiet either. It was awkward and uncertain. Nervousness was evident in the air.

Allura kept up the quiet while Talara examined the various consoles. Neither of them seemed ready to speak first. They were waiting for the other one to go first.

When the quiet broke, it was with a gentle squeaking noise. Talara looked down from the console she was examining and noticed the quartet of little creatures that seemed to be vying for her attention. "Well, hello there," she said softly. A little grin formed on her face. "And how are you?" She extended a hand and rubbed the head of the largest of the mice.

Allura walked to her side. "They're quite happy to see you. Surprised, but happy."

"They're your pets?" Talara asked.

"They were in my cryopod when Coran and my father put me in stasis," Allura replied. "Somehow that allows us to understand each other."

"That is quite interesting." Talara put a hand on the console before her. "Your ship is wonderful. It's inspiring to think we used to be capable of building these vessels."

Allura nodded. "I'm just glad that something of our people survives. It's hard to talk about all we lost. I'm…" She drew in a small breath. When she resumed speaking, her voice was firmer. "I apologize, Talara. I'm making you feel unwelcome when I asked your captain to send you in the first place. It was unfair of me to put you in this position."

"Yours is worse," Talara said. "I can't imagine how it hurt to wake up and learn your people were considered extinct."

"It still haunts me, Or it did, at least. Meeting you has taken some of that pain away."

Talara nodded. "It is… strange for me to see you as a living being, Princess Allura. I grew up with tales of the tragedy of our people and the bravery of our last royal family. On Fala we are told you died heroically at King Alfor's side, buying time for Queen Fala to escape with our ancestors."

A pained look crossed Allura's face. "Sometimes I wish I had," she confessed. "It was my father who put me to sleep and placed me into the cryopod. I begged him to let us form Voltron and fight the Galra, but he refused."

"He must have had his reasons."

Allura nodded. "He did. But it still hurt."

Talara lowered her eyes. "I was actually a little angry with you before. Seeing you alive made me wonder what else our legends got wrong about our history. It's unfair, I know…"

"I think I understand." There was another moment of quiet. "What is it like? Your new homeworld?"

Talara looked up again. Her eyes glistened from happy memories. "Beautiful. The cities are jewels of light when you view Fala from orbit." By way of example Talara activated her omnitool and called up an image of Fala. Part of the sunlit surface was visible, showing a healthy, beautiful garden world. The side of the planet where it was night was lit up with strands of bright light connecting points of varying size. A second image showed cityscapes of towering white and blue structures.

Allura's heart ached at the sight. Whatever the Falaens had lost over the millennia, they still had Altean architecture as Allura remembered it. When another change of image showed a beautiful park in the middle of one of the cities, Allura said, "It's all beautiful. My mother would adore your world. And Father would be proud."

"That is what we wanted. It's what we've always wanted. To be worthy of her and of you." Talara turned her omnitool off. "You should come to Fala. My people, our people, would welcome you."

"If circumstances allowed it, I would love to." Allura shook her head. Determination flashed in her eyes. "But I have a duty to our home universe first. The Galra must be stopped."

To that Talara smiled softly. "Spoken like the Allura I grew up reading about." That caused a small blush to form on Allura's face.

The door opened and Pidge entered with Ensign Jampa. She walked up to them. "We're still working on getting their technology fitted to the ship. I need to start modifying the controls."

"Of course." Allura turned her head and faced Talara. "Talara, can you check on Coran for me? He may need help."

"Of course, Princess… Your Highness." Talara nodded her head once in respect and left.

Pidge watched her walk out and glanced back to Allura. "This changes a lot, doesn't it?"

"It does," Allura admitted. A contented smile was on her face. "I have never allowed myself to consider what victory over the Galra will mean for us. With my people gone, what was I to do? But now I know Coran and I aren't the last. For the first time, I have something to look forward to when we stop Zarkon."

"Right." With nothing more to say on the matter, they got to work.

The three surviving ships of Tissim's squadron exited hyperspace at the planned rendezvous. Tissim waited quietly, nervously, for the signal from Admiral Gal-Nazad. Through the viewer he made out the image of the assembled task force from the Ministry of Fate's States Reserve Fleet. A kilometer long dreadnought was at the center of the force, which consisted of another half-dozen assault carriers and twice that number in ships of his own size.

"Hail from the Tatran's Bane," his comm officer stated.

"On viewer."

Admiral Gal-Nazad's face appeared. He was a man of olive complexion, with graying dark hair and a red cybernetic implant where his left eye used to be. His golden uniform bore more markings and commendations than Tissim's. "Squadron Captain, you seem to have run into difficulties. What is your report?"

"The Alliance vessel Aurora protected the extrauniversal visitors, my Admiral. We fought as well as we could, but the power against us was too great. The Fates were not with us."

"I see." Gal-Nazad considered his next response. "Return to Starngard and take repairs. We will convene an inquiry into your actions at a more opportune time."

"Yes sir," answered Tissim. He had just been given a stay of execution, at least. "Will you be pursuing the lion ship?"

"Oh, yes." Gal-Nazad nodded. "In decades of service I have never failed the All-Father. I will not start now." He looked off-screen. "Order the fleet to prepare for hyperspace. All must be ready to sacrifice to bring victory to the Ministry of Fate."

"Aye sir," was the accented reply over the line.

Tissim watched Gal-Nazad's fleet warp away. He smiled. Whatever his fate, that damned alien and those damnable meddlers in the Alliance were about to suffer far, far worse.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-12-17 09:54pm

The door chime for her ready office woke Julia from a light nap. She sat up on the couch rubbed at her head for a moment as if to push the bleariness of sleep out of her mind. When the chime sounded again she called out "Coming!" and stood. A few steps to a plastic coat stand let her retrieve her uniform jacket. She pulled it on over the burgundy red sleeved undershirt she was wearing, tucked it into her belt, and closed it before looking to the door. "Come in."

When the door slid open Apley walked in. The Koenig XO looked as crisply-attired as always, with his sandy blond hair combed into a formal hairstyle. He was from the North American Midwest just as Julia and many of the others were, although he hailed from the Earth of D3R1 as a citizen, and former officer, of the Sol Republic. "Captain," he began, bringing up a digital reader. "My report on the encounter with the NEUROM ship."

Julia accepted it and walked to her desk. "Thank you Commander." When she saw him approach after she sat down in her chair, she looked up at him and added, "Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"

"I wouldn't like to talk about anything, ma'am," he answered. "I'm obligated to."

Julia nodded. She could see where this was going, as much as she wished she didn't. "Right. What is it?"

"It concerns Commander Carrey, ma'am."

"I figured."

"I don't want… I don't feel right about this," he insisted.

"I'm sure of it," Julia said. "Honestly, Apley, I'm grateful that my friend has such loyal officers. Although I'm a little surprised that you've gotten along so well under him. I'm sure you never imagined having a Commanding Officer calling you 'Ap' in duty situations."

Apley chuckled at that. "It was an adjustment, ma'am," he admitted. Apley thought back to that time. At first the assignment caused him to wonder if he was being punished by being assigned to be the XO on the Koenig. Everything Apley had heard about Zack Carrey and Robert Dale and the others caused him to figure the Aurora and the Koenig would be disasters, operationally speaking. "And I wasn't comfortable with it early on. Over time, though, I realized that his informality aside, Commander Carrey was a good commander."

"So what happened?"

"After our run-in with the NEUROM ship, the Commander's failure to report to the bridge led me to send Doctor Epstein and personnel to check his quarters. That's when they found him comatose." Apley shook his head. "I arrived at his quarters as Epstein was taking him to the infirmary. And I observed that the Commander had a bottle of banned material on his desk."

Julia closed her eyes and asked, "Tequila or bourbon?"

"Tequila," Apley said. "You knew?"

"I know what he drank during his bender after the 33LA mission," Julia answered. She was looking at Apley again. "And I've been wondering about him lately. He's been so withdrawn since Clara died."

"Yes." Apley nodded. "I found a tumbler as well, a plastic one. It was on the floor by a wall. I could smell the drink around it. It looks like the Commander threw it."

"Right." Julia tried to hide her own disappointment. She had to do the same with her growing anger. God damn you, Zack, she thought. Damn you for not asking for help. "Have you written a formal report on this?"

"I…" Apley sighed. "I've started one, ma'am. I'll file it after we find out what's wrong with the Commander."

"And I'll have to file one too now that you're reported this to me," Julia pointed out.

"I know." The look on his face betrayed how much he was against his own actions. "I'm sorry, Captain. I don't want Commander Carrey's career to suffer, but I have an obligation…"

"We all do," Julia said, interrupting him. "I don't like it either, but we have duties to uphold. And I think that Commander Carrey will accept it when he's sobered up."

"Maybe. But I'm worried about him, ma'am. I think losing Clara broke him. And if he loses his ship too… I don't know what he'll do."

"Nor do I. But it looks like he's got a problem, and commanding a ship in his mental condition isn't the best way to deal with it. You've done the right thing, Commander Apley, don't doubt that."

"Yes ma'am." He stood. "May I be dismissed?"

"You're dismissed," she agreed. After watching him go, Julia felt a stab of guilt. "It's my fault too," she muttered to herself. If she'd pushed before this, if she'd forced Zack to open up, then maybe she would have nipped this problem in the bud. Before Zack could do damage to himself. The damage that was now unavoidable.

The white and silver interior of the Castle of Lions was impressive in its own ways. Lucy, with Ensign Jampa and Ensign Tasker following, allowed Coran to take the lead in guiding them to the mess hall. "And here we have the kitchen," he announced proudly, referring to a space that, indeed, had some kitchen-like qualities. He walked up to a machine with a extendable nozzle. When activated it placed a gob of green goo into his ready hand. "The finest goo that Altea has ever produced! It can keep you healthy for years!"

"Assuming you didn't go mad from eating it constantly," guffawed Tasker. He was a light-skinned man of moderate built with chestnut color to his hair and growing beard.

"Maybe we should offer a replicator?" Jampa suggested. There was a little more color on her face today. Lucy wondered if she was adjusting to the Fracture. It would certainly make their job easier if she was should another fight happen.

"And what is a 'replicator'?" asked Coran.

"It rearranges matter on the molecular level," Lucy said. "It allows for the quick and easy replication of tools and food."

"Oh. Well, I suppose its useful. But certainly not as healthy or tasty as goo!" Coran held up the nozzle. "Here, try some."

"Oh, I already ate," Lucy lied.

Her stomach growled a second later. It had no motivation to support her lie, after all.

Coran gave her a suspicious look. Finally she sighed and nodded. "Fine, a bit."

With a flourish the Altean provided three plates covered in the goo and what looked like spoons to eat it with. Lucy fought to keep her stomach in check while preparing a bite (not an easy proposition given how the Fracture was affecting her). When the moment came and her tastebuds first experienced the substance, she realized that it wasn't quite as bad as she'd feared.

Not that she wanted to eat nothing but this stuff. Even if Hargert hadn't already spoiled her palate, replicator food was still superior.

"This stuff tastes like piyam," Jampa observed with some disgust.

"Piyam?" Tasker asked.

"It is a tasteless fruit that is used as an additive in some Daxai dishes," Jampa explained. "The Daxai merchants often add it to foods to provide texture. It is often at the cost of taste, if you ask me."

"I was going to say it tasted like plastic," Tasker said. "It's a little better than nutrient paste at least."

Noticing Coran's frown, Lucy prevented any further remarks by asking, "Can we see your central power source when we're done? I need to check a few things while we wait to see if your systems will pick up the other lions with the IU transceiver."

"Certainly." Coran dug his utensil into his own plate of goo. "And after this nourishing meal, we'll all feel ready to tackle a klamüirl."

"I'll take your word for that," was the best Lucy could do by way of reply.

After another journey through the corridors and lifts they entered a chamber. Built into the center of it was one large, blue-white crystal shining with light. "That's your power source?" Jampa asked.

"It's a Balmera Crystal, battleship-class," Coran said.

Lucy approached it. She realized this was what she had been feeling since the ship arrived. She raised a hand and touched the warm, glowing surface of the crystal. "I feel it," she murmured. "I can feel the life energy inside of it. I've never felt so much from a single object before. " She focused on it. Her power touched that of the crystal's.

In one moment, all of the misery of the Fracture seemed to melt away. She felt the Flow of Life in all of its warm glory. The Balmera Crystal resonated with her power. She caught glimpses of a world, of bipedal aliens of gray-green coloring and yellow eyes working under metal soldiers, pain and despair and misery. Death is approaching in all of its cold finality. More images; a Human man with a brown complexion, large and heavy-set, and Coran. A crystal taken, a promise kept. The lions come, the metal soldiers are routed, and a great burst of life comes. Death's certainty recedes; life has prevailed.

Lucy pulled away. Her eyes blinked. "What did you just do, ma'am?" Jampa asked. The Dorei woman rubbed at her forehead. "I… I felt that. Images in my head."

"I didn't feel anything," said Tasker.

"Remarkable," said Coran. "Those are the memories of the Balmera we got the crystal from. Even though we got the crystal before we saved the Balmera from the Galra! How could the crystal know?"

"I think they remain linked through life energy," said Lucy. She stared at the crystal in wonder. "And you use this to power your ships?"

"Yes indeed! The finest engineering Altea has to offer!" Coran's bright and cheery demeanor suddenly faded. "Or 'had', I suppose. From what your young Altean officer said, it sounds like the survivors didn't keep the knowledge needed to build these things."

"They didn't," Lucy confirmed. She sensed the bittersweet joy in Coran. His species was still alive, but they had lost much of the civilization he was from.

"Well, at least they're around," he said. "If things turn out right, maybe we can invite them back home. Once we've dealt with Zarkon at least."

"The Falaens are a bit settled to move en masse, but I don't see why they might not re-settle anything left of Altea," Lucy remarked. "With enough terraforming technology maybe the planet could be restored."

"It's something to look forward to," Coran agreed. "And you certainly look better, Lieutenant."

Lucy nodded. "It won't last. But connecting to your crystal helped me. For the moment my connection to the Flow of Life feels, well, normal I guess. For the first time since we've been in the Fracture." She looked around. "But we should get back to work. There's no telling how long we have before more NEUROM ships show up."

With the ship on Code Yellow running status game night in the holodeck was canceled. Cat therefore had little to do while off-duty. She stopped by the Lookout for a quick meal before returning to her quarters.

She only had time to get her uniform jacket and shirt off before the chime sounded. Still in the uniform skirt and a white sleeveless bottom garment, she was dressed enough to not be worried about who stepped in. Even that small consideration faded with the arrival of Violeta. She stepped in and shed her uniform jacket. "Hey," she said.

"Hey." Cat stood. "So, uh, off-duty?"

"As much as we can be under the alert," Violeta replied. "I guess the Dragon King will have to wait."

"Yeah." Cat sighed. "And there's not much we can get to right now."

"Have you finished your science work?"

"Yeah." Cat nodded. She sat on the couch. "I mean, all the simulations are run and everything looks sound. My job's finished. It's all up to Scotty, Tom, and the engineers now."

Violeta nodded and sat beside Cat. They embraced. Cat rested her head on Violeta's shoulder. "I've been a bad girlfriend, haven't I?" Cat asked.

Violeta responded to that by shaking her head. "It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does," Cat insisted. "You've been wonderful to me and I feel like I've let you down. I dragged you off to Vulcan and now I'm letting my science stuff get in the way of time with you."

Violeta's hand reached up and stroked Cat's hair. After years of keeping it above her neck, now the black locks were down to just above her shoulders. "Cat, you wouldn't be the first person to let other things get in the way of your relationship."

"I know, but I still feel bad." Cat put her arms around Violeta's waist. "I'd like to make it up to you."

Violeta seemed ready to speak for a moment. As if she intended to turn the offer down. But she held back, recognizing that she shouldn't. "We'll talk about it later," she said. "When we're not on alert standby." She kissed Cat on the forehead. "Have I ever told you that you are the most adorable nerd I have ever met?"

"Once or twice," Cat giggled. "So, cuddle time?"

"Cuddle time," Violeta agreed.

Meridina was preparing to get some rest when the call came in over her omnitool. She tapped the glowing blue light over the back of her left hand. "Meridina here."

"Hey," Lucy said.

"Lucy? Is everything well?"

"We're preparing to start the scan through the transceiver," she answered. "But I'm calling about something else."


"The crystal powering this ship. It's… it's amazing, Meridina. I could sense the memories of the being that formed it. It's connected to the Flow of Life even in the Fracture."

Meridina considered that news. "Then it is more fortunate than we are, I believe."

"Maybe. Or maybe we're the problem. Maybe we have to, I don't know, approach this differently? If the Fracture has everything twisted, and our normal connection doesn't work…"

"It is something to consider," Meridina agreed. "I shall meditate on it."

"I would too, but I'm due on the bridge for the transceiver activation. I'll keep in touch. Lucero out."

The communication ended. Meridina removed her uniform jacket and hung it up on a hook near the entrance to her bedroom. It seemed almost a waste, really. The quarters she held as Chief of Security had already been larger than she would ever need, and the First Officer's accommodations were a good twenty percent larger in space.

One benefit was that it gave her plenty of room for a meditation mat at the foot of her bed. After changing out of her uniform clothes Meridina sat on the mat and took up a meditative position. She felt out for the Flow of Life. This time she did not seek the connection as she normally would. She let the flows of energy through the twisted space guide her.

This was not a pleasant experience. There was something terribly wrong about the Fracture. The warped space seemed to brim with fear and terror. Meridina got the sense that its very creation was a terrible one. An act of desperation, with a high cost.

And yet, through the darkness, through the latent fear and anger and pain, there was still the Light of Life. Even the Fracture's creation had not eliminated the Flow of Life. Weakened it, perhaps. Contorted its flow, certainly. But Life persisted. It adapted. It found new channels to flow through. Much the same way she had to.

Meridina felt the Light and reached for it. It was not easy. The latent senses of fear and pain in the Fracture remained around her. It made her cold with dread. The terrible sensation she had suffered since arriving here worsened while she reached. But she persisted through accepting that terrible presence and not giving into it. She didn't have to feel the same if she didn't want to. The Fracture could not actually control her.

Soon the unease and painful anxiety was giving way for the first time since the Aurora entered the Fracture. A familiar warmth thrummed through her. She smiled.

At least, she did until she felt the thrum of danger ripple through her being.

After trying to get another nap and failing, Julia decided to check up on things in the medbay. Leo was off-duty at this point and the doctor on call was Amita Singh, a New Punjabi woman. "Captain," she said upon seeing Julia. "I imagine you wish to see Commander Carrey?"

"Is he awake?" Julia asked.

"No. He awoke briefly but is asleep again. This is a good thing, I must point out. It's a sign that his condition may be improving."

"Right." Julia sighed and nodded. "Can you tell me anything more about his condition?"

"In the bounds of the regulations and medical ethics? He is not fit for duty at this time, and it is the opinion of myself and most of our medical personnel that he is in desperate need of psychiatric counseling," Singh answered succinctly. She gave Julia a determined look. "Pardon me if I am overstepping my bounds, Captain, but I think you and those close to him need to sit down with Commander Carrey and talk."

"He keeps pushing us away," said Julia.

"And that, Captain, is why it is called an 'intervention'." Singh shook her head. "I understand you wish to honor your friend's desires, but the best thing for him is for some harsh truths and intense counseling."

"You're probably right. I…"

A tone came from Julia's omnitool. Blue light appeared on the back of her hand. She tapped it. "Andreys here."

"Captain, I believe we may be attacked soon," Meridina said.

"Really?" Julia didn't hide the bewilderment she felt at the announcement. "This is something you sense or…?"


Julia's first thought was to make sure. Meridina's powers had been off ever since entering the Fracture. She could be wrong now. But she stopped herself. Problems or not, she trusted Meridina's judgement. If Meridina said it, she meant it, and she was certain of herself.

"Alright. Meet me on the bridge." Julia brought her omnitool controls up and tapped a key. "Andreys to bridge. Call all senior officers to their stations, and get ahold of our perimeter craft. Find out their status. I'm on my way."

"Yes Captain," Lieutenant Takawira replied.

Once the channel was cut Julia gave Singh her attention again. "Thank you for your advice, Doctor."

"You are welcome, Captain," was her reply.

Julia stepped onto the bridge in mixed company. Meridina was at the command chair and Jarod at Ops. The helm was taken up by a Gersallian Ensign, Impareg, and Lieutenant Luneri was at Tactical. Caterina was relieving al-Rashad at Science. "Anything?" Julia asked.

"Our perimeter fighters and runabouts report no contacts," Meridina answered, moving from the command chair to her own.

Julia sat in the central chair. On both sides of the bridge the rear lift doors opened. Angel entered from the starboard one while Locarno came from the port. They assumed their postings. "Put me on with the Castle."

After a few moments the image of Princess Allura and Ensign Talara appeared on the holo-viewer. Lucy entered the frame a moment later. "Yes, Captain?" asked Allura.

"We may have company soon," Julia said. "What's your status?"

"The transceiver has been successfully integrated into our systems," Allura replied. "We've begun our scan for the lions now."

"What about your faster-than-light system? Can you use it?"

"I'm afraid that the teludav isn't ready yet. Coran expects to restore it in a few vargas, or hours as you call them."

"We may not have a few hours."

"I see. Well, we are ready to defend ourselves if it comes to that."

"I'll let you…"

Before Julia could finish her sentence, a tone came from Jarod's console. He tapped a key. "Medway to Aurora," a voice stated.

"Go ahead," Jarod said.

"We just detected a number of subspace signatures entering the area. It looks like ships in hyperspace."

"Relay it to us." Julia turned her head to face Cat.

Cat checked the incoming readings. "Oh, that's… that's bad," she said.


"Those signatures." She turned to face Julia. "There must be a dozen ships in that force. Maybe more. And at least one is pretty big."

Julia forced any fear or apprehension from her face. SHe had to set the example. "Alright. Jarod, have all runabouts and fighters return immediately." Julia tapped a button on her chair. "Bridge to Engineering. What's the status on our jump drive?"

"Barnes here. We're still finishing the final repairs. We still need at least an hour."

"I'm not sure we have that long."

"Then find a way to give it to us, because this isn't something you fraking rush," he retorted. "If even one thing is off the entire jump drive will fail to initialize. Hell, we could blow the damn thing out with a failed jump."

"We'll do what we can, but still, I'd like it sooner than an hour. Andreys out." She looked to the others. "Suggestions?"

"Perhaps we could attempt to hide our presence in some way?" Meridina proposed. "We could force the enemy fleet to disperse to discover our location."

Julia turned her attention to Jarod. "Could we tow the Castle at warp? Just for a few minutes?"

Jarod considered that. "A minute or two, maybe. I'm not…"

"I'm picking up a hyperspace transit," Caterina said.

"On screen."

The screen shifted to show vessels flashing into existence ahead. They were fighter-sized and larger and of similar makeup to the NEUROM fighters already fought. The larger ships had visible weapons buried in their prows or attached to the sides or bottoms of their vessels. "They're locking weapons on us," Cat said.

"Code Red! All hands to battlestations! Evasive maneuvers!"

Everyone secured themselves with seat harnesses. Locarno complied with the order for maneuvers. And the Aurora was agile for her size and mass.

But that didn't keep the arriving craft from opening up with a large volley of missiles, or those missiles from proving themselves even more agile. Dozens of them streaked in toward the Aurora and Castle, some of the missiles large enough that they would have passed for fighters in their own right.

As the missiles streaked in the light weapons on the two ships engaged. Bursts of light streaked out to intercept the incoming missiles. Angel opened fire with the larger plasma emitters to hit the larger missiles.

The defensive fire did its work in attriting the incoming enemy strike. But the enemy craft could fire too much too quickly for their defenses to handle. The missiles started impacting on the shields and barriers of both ships. The Aurora rocked at first, growing into a vicious shaking when one of the large missiles impacted on the shields. "Shields down to eighty percent," Jarod warned afterward.

"They're firing again!" Cat shouted.

"I'm trying to engage them with weapons, but they're too far out for accurate shots," Angel added.

"Launch our remaining fighters," Julia ordered. "And combat launch the Koenig."

"Sending the orders now."

"Allura here. I am sending Pidge out to assist."

"Just what we need."

Fighters streamed out of the Aurora's launch tubes yet again. Laurent brought his fighter on an intercept course for the enemy craft harassing the Aurora and hit his engines to full acceleration. "Everyone watch your sixes," he said over the tac-comm channel for the entire fighter group. "We have to counter their maneuverability with teamwork."

The other pilots echoed affirmations. "I'm right behind you," was the extra response his remark got, coming from the Green Lion pilot.

The enemy fighters outnumbered them by about three to one. Ordinarily Laurent would have preferred defensive tactics to deal with that disparity. But that wouldn't work, not against these foes. Not if they were to buy the Aurora time.

Plus, there was the fact of their back-up. That made the three to one odds less intimidating than they would normally be.

The Green Lion's mouth-mounted weapon swept across the enemy's front squadrons. Some of the ships managed to evade, or at least avoid direct hits; those that didn't became short-lived fireballs in the void of space. The Aurora squadrons fired a volley of their anti-fighter missiles a moment later that claimed several of the damaged fighters. Laurent confirmed a kill and twisted his Mongoose fighter "up" and to the right, bringing his main weapons into play against an enemy fighter. It was already maneuvering to avoid Lieutenant Skydancer's missile. Despite its agility it couldn't avoid his fire as well. Bursts of amber light pounded the craft until it blew apart.

A warning tone told Laurent an enemy fighter was on his rear. He stated so over the tac-comm line. Behind him Ensign Sentasa, his Dorei sensor control officer, busied himself with searching for a new target. Laurent focused on evading the incoming fire. Glancing hits drained his fighter's shields to sixty percent.

"I'm making the intercept!" was the enthusiastic announcement of his wingman Lt. Kerman. The Kerbal pilot's Mongoose swung expertly into Laurent's visibility. He engaged the enemy with his phaser cannons. "That's a kill!" the alien voice cheered a moment later.

"Thank you, Alpha 2." Laurent went back to work engaging the enemy fighters.

For Pidge the fight was the definition of a "target rich environment". Well over a hundred enemy fighters were trying to get through to the Castle and Aurora. They were outnumbered.

And this was likely only the beginning of the battle. An enemy fleet was known to be approaching. They had to drive off the enemy fighters now if they wanted to hold out much longer.

The Green Lion shook slightly from a missile from an enemy fighter. Pidge flipped the Lion around and fired a sweeping shot with the mouth laser that clipped his opponent. The offending craft spiraled out of control and shut down a second later. Three more enemy fighters were caught in the sweep. Two simply blew up while the third, taking a partial hit, was left a derelict.

There were yet more fighters behind them though. Pidge triggered the tail laser into rapid fire mode to join another sweep of her mouth laser. Incoming missiles and fire threw her aim off during her evasion. The lion popped up a sensor reading showing multiple opponents trying to box her in. Given how every maneuver led to enemy fire striking her lion, Pidge realized they were succeeding in that.

She was ready to take the lumps to get a good hit on the enemy box. This proved unnecessary when a series of amber energy pulses wiped out four fighters in front of her. She recognized the Koenig moving in, weapons blazing, and with at least a dozen NEUROM fighters tacking them as well. Missiles and energy fire were constantly battering the Koenig's shields. Pidge returned the favor with a sweeping shot from the Green Lion's mouth cannon that blew apart at least half of the pursuers.

The Koenig, meanwhile, fired a spread of torpedoes set for proximity detonation into the unengaged fighters ahead of them. The blue-shite sparks of light looked like energy weapon fire more than projectiles to Pidge. When they exploded with bursts of light and energy, another dozen enemy fighters were outright destroyed and several more damaged.

The enemy were adapting to them. More and more of the NEUROM fighters were concentrating on the Green Lion and the Koenig. Pidge had to keep her lion moving from the volume of fire she was taking. The Koenig's shields repeatedly flashed to life from the missile and energy impacts against it. One of the larger missiles fired from a larger NEUROM craft nearly hit as well, being caught only at the last moment by the Koenig dorsal phaser bank.

Nevertheless Pidge couldn't help but think the Koenig's shields were getting a little duller with every passing moment. Some of the shots seemed to be striking hull even now. A burst from the tail laser destroyed another pair of fighters, and the Koenig's guns claimed more - including one of the larger gunboat-sized fighters - but there were still so many.

"I really hope someone has a plan," Pidge said into the tactical commlink.

The Aurora took another hit from one of the full-sized missiles. "Damage report."

"Shields holding at fifty-four percent," Jarod said. "Minor damage to Decks 10 and 11, Sections A and B."

Julia looked to Meridina and to the tactical map beside her. The number of blinking red icons was still overwhelming. "What is our status?"

"We have lost ten fighters. The Koenig's shields hold for the moment but they have some surface damage." Meridina checked her screen carefully. "There are still over eighty enemy craft left."

"I thought you would say that." Julia weighed her options. "Helm, take us into range."


"Take us into range, now," she insisted. "Have everyone clear out at my mark. Tactical, I want full torpedo spreads readied, fore and aft. And be ready to fire everything, and I do mean everything."

"Yes ma'am," Angel answered. Luneri added an "Aye sir".

Under Locarno's control the Aurora raced ahead with increasing speed. The enemy fighter elements would, under normal circumstances, easily withdraw and keep the range. But they were tightly engaged with the Aurora fighters, the Koenig, and the Green Lion. As a result, while some did seek to gain distance, the others seemed more interested in continuing their fight with those craft.

The Aurora plunged into the thick of the NEUROM fighter units. "Mark!"

At Julia's command their fighters, the Koenig, and the Green Lion all broke away at full burn. The enemy fighters swarmed around them. Some finally sought to re-open the distance. Others started firing directly into the shields or looked to pursue the craft breaking away.

As soon as the tactical map confirmed their own craft were as safe as they could be, Julia shouted "Fire!"

Every torpedo launcher on the Aurora spat out a full spread of solar torpedoes, sending eight astern and sixteen forward. The torpedoes were joined by the fury of every weapon emplacement on the ship, from the point-defense particle interceptors to the large pulse plasma cannons. The latter destroyed fighters with even glancing hits, the former filled the space around the Aurora with blue pulses that damaged, even crippled, the enemy fighters.

The torpedoes did yet more damage. The enemy fighter formations had nowhere safe to go if they hadn't already tried to break away. The torpedoes blew them apart.

"Forty enemy fighters destroyed or heavily damaged," Meridina reported. "It would appear they are breaking away."

Meridina was quickly proven correct. The NEUROM fighters were breaking away from combat. More were lost in this attempt, hit by the Aurora's weapons or those of the fighters. One by one the survivors seemed to surge away. Soon they were alll gone."

"All enemy fighters have hypered out," Cat.

"Secure from battle stations for the moment. Recall all fighters and the Koenig." Julia tapped the intercom key on her chair. "Bridge to Engineering."

This time it was Scotty who answered. "Engineerin' here, Cap'n."

"I need that jump drive, Mister Scott."

"Aye. I sent Tom t' take over repairs. We should have 'em back online in half an hour."

"Thank you," she said. She added I hope we have that long mentally.

The bridge of the Tatrin's Bane remained silent through the report from the head of the strike force. Admiral Gal-Nazad nodded quietly. "You have done as expected," he said in summation before disengaging the call. He looked to his communications officer. "Has the Lord Minister replied yet?"

"He has, Admiral. You are ordered to seize the Alliance vessel as well or to destroy it."

"Ah." Gal-Nazad grinned. "As I expected. Relay those orders to all ships."

"Yes sir."

The last of the perimeter picket runabouts dropped out of warp in the company of two Mongoose fighters. Meridina quickly relayed the landing orders to them before nodding at Julia. "That is the last of them."

"Good. I don't want to leave anyone behind." Julia almost hit the intercom but didn't. Bugging Barnes wouldn't get the drive fixed any faster. "Status on the shields?"

"Back to full strength," Jarod replied. "And we're ready to put all the generators online to maximize shield strength."

"Including the power from my cannons," Angel noted.

"Odds are there will be more targets than we can reasonably shoot." Julia left it at that. All that remained was the waiting, and that was hard enough.

"The Particle Barrier is at full capacity again," Coran informed the assembled.

Allura nodded to him before looking at her station again. "Still nothing from the other lions. Is this even working?"

"The system is fully linked, and I verified the transceiver was functioning myself," Lucy said. "But the Multiverse is theoretically infinite. Although if I may, we can do this sort of scan from any universe. The real question is if the Aurora will get their jump drive back on in time."

"What is the plan if we can't jump out?" Talara asked.

"I can't let the Castle fall into the wrong hands. Whomever these Humans are, they're no better than Zarkon and his Galra." Allura's expression was pained but resolved. "I will trigger the Castle to destroy itself first."

"If you can set the self-destruct we could beam back to the Aurora," Lucy said. "The Lion can fit in the landing deck, so at least we'll get that away by warping out."

"That was my thought, yes," Allura said. "Although I do regret it. Without the Castle the chance of finding all of the Lions is… very small."

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Lucy said. She considered the alternatives that might require. "Right now…"

A pair of tones went off. The first drew their attention to a holographic scanning result. Two more of the Lion ships appeared; a red one that looked similar to the Green Lion and a larger, winged black one. "It worked," Talara said. "Look!"

Lucy activated her omnitool to relay the coordinates the transceiver was showing for the signal. It was only after she hit the confirmation key that COran was calling their attention to the other tone's meaning.

The NEUROM fleet was arriving.

"I just got a signal from Lucero's omnitool," Jarod said. "We've confirmed the universal coordinate."

Julia nodded. She didn't get a chance to reply verbally due to Cat's announcement. "Hyperspace transitions on sensors. A lot of them!"

"On screen."

The screen showed a number of vessels showing up. Julia felt a twist in her gut at the numbers they were facing. There was another dozen of the frigates they had already fought, now joined by at least a half-dozen ships that were twice the length and carrying even more of the same heavy weapons with larger plates of armor. One massive warship, easily the Aurora's length, appeared in the center of the formation.

"Their shields are going up. And they're definitely Darglan-based."

Julia nodded. "Raise shields and divert all available power to keeping them up. Mister Jarod, hail the lead ship."

"They're already hailing us," Jarod said.

"Put them on."

The man that appeared was in another fine golden uniform. He had a similar complexion to Cat and Angel's, with his left eye replaced by a red cybernetic implant. "I am Admiral Gal-Nazad. By order of the Ministry of Fate, in the name of the governments of the NEUROM organization, I demand your immediate surrender."

"No," Julia answered.

"Come now, Captain. We outnumber you heavily. You will not escape us."

"We'll see about that. Although I'm still interested in just what right your people have to attack us."

"You have interfered in an operation sanctioned by the highest authorities of the Ministry. You have slain Ministry personnel. You have cavorted with aliens and powers that are hostile to us. You will make an object lesson to the rest of your peers on the penalty of crossing NEUROM, Captain. I will see to it myself. All ships, commence fire!"

The image disappeared. Blasts of ruby energy started coming their way immediately. Within seconds they were impacting on the Aurora's shields and the Castle's particle barrier. Missiles streaked in with the weapons fire to be met by the interceptor batteries on the Aurora and the efforts of Pidge in the Green Lion to shoot them down. She darted in the space around the two ships, firing her weapons as quickly as she could in the effort to keep the missiles from hitting. Even though, ultimately, they were in such number, and from differing angles, that she could not.

In the jump drive access room on Deck 30 Tom Barnes felt the shudder in the ship and knew they were running out of time. He looked back to the burnt out power line and finished pulling it free. "Replacement!" he barked. A engineering crewman handed him the desired replacement. The power transmission wire in question was one of a dozen that fed energy into the drive. Ten had burnt out from what happened when they reopened the wormhole. A number of other related mechanical burnouts and other problems were why this repair still had to be done. It would be the last, at least.

Assuming he had time to finish it.

With one hand he guided the wire end to the drive-side of the cylinder casing protecting the line. He felt it plug into place with a reassuring snap. His other hand quickly managed the other side. Wordlessly he shut the casing and moved on to the next. "What's the status of that projector!?" he shouted.

An operations officer, Ensign Hondo, answered in accented English. "All tests are green."

"Good." The ship shook again. Barnes opened the casing. The wire inside was even more burnt out. "And the particle channel?"

"Still working on it, sir," answered Lieutenant Marlua, with an accent from one of the Dorei languages.

"Get it done!"

"Shields down to seventy percent," Jarod said on the bridge while everything shook again. "I'm putting everything I can into the shields."

Julia acknowledged him with a nod. The NEUROM ships were forming a sphere formation around them, ensuring all quarters of the two ships were coming under fire.

On the Castle of Lions Coran finished making his own report about the particle barrier. As critical seconds passed by Lucy considered their options. The need for energy wasn't what should hold them back. Not with the Balmera crystal seeming to actually draw power from the Flow of Life. "Is there a way to generate more energy from your crystal?" Lucy asked. "Anything from your experience on drawing more power?"

"The systems can only take so much," Coran said. "If we draw too much power from the Crystal it could shatter."

"But it's connected to the Flow of Life. Your ship uses that energy. In more ways than one." She looked at Allura next. "Your energy is what it uses for opening wormholes, right?"

"It is, yes," Allura said.

"I can sense it myself. It's essentially the same thing to what I have, just used differently." Very differently, Lucy considered. "I'm not sure how your systems can be used to draw on it, but maybe you can boost the particle shields with the same energy you use to open the wormholes."

Coran shook his head. "It's not the same thing. It would be very dangerous for Allura to do it for long."

"But it may buy more time," Allura said. She went to her controls and activated the system. Two columns, each topped with a point for one of her hands, moved into place. She set her hands on the columns and concentrated. White light appeared around her with particles of the same rising up from the floor. Lucy felt the life energies channel into the ship.

Outside the particle barrier on the Castle started to glow with white light. "The barrier's power is increasing to twice the standard intensity," Coran said. "No, wait, four times… the concentration is too much, I'm widening the field before it burns the projectors out!"

"Then do it," Lucy said. "Cover the Aurora, it'll buy time for their shields too." Even as she spoke she looked to Allura with worry. The effort on her face betrayed the incredible effort she was making.

"Shields down to forty percent," Jarod said of the latest barrage. "Stress on all primary generators is approaching critical. We can't keep this up much longer."

"Bridge to Barnes, we need it now!"

"Ten minutes!"

Before Julia could remark about the lack of those ten minutes, the screen showed the pattern of the Castle's particle barrier forming in front of the Aurora. "What's going on?"

"I'm reading a massive power spike in the particle barrier fields on the Castle. It's at roughly ten times the standard field strength. They've enlarged their shields entirely to protect us." Jarod shook his head. "I'm wondering how Lucy pulled that off."

"It's not her," Meridina said. "I can sense the source of the power. Princess Allura is using her own life energy to charge the shields, as her ship usually applies it to charging its wormhole drive." There was visible worry on the Gersallian's face.

"What's wrong?"

"I am fearful for her life, Captain," Meridina admitted. "I do not know how long she can sustain this without draining her body of all energy."

"We'll just have to hope Lucy keeps her from doing that. And that Tom gets the drive fixed in the time this is buying."

On the Tatran's Bane Gal-Nazad watched with interest. This explained the All-Father's interest completely. This power would suit the Ministry well against its enemies, even against other factions in NEUROM. "Maintain barrage," he ordered. "We must take those ships!"

One minute turned into another. The determined look on Allura's face was giving away to one of visible weakness. But the light around her kept its intensity, as did the particle field.

"Allura, you've got to stop!" Coran insisted.

Jampa had her omnitool out. "Her vitals are failing, Lieutenant," she said to Lucy. "Whatever this is, it's killing her."

"I know." Lucy stepped up. She wondered if she could help. If the system would accept her life energy, her connection to the Flow of Life. It couldn't be entirely linked to physiology, could it? "Allura, let me help you. You're killing yourself."

There was no evident reply. But Lucy, here, could sense the desperate need in Allura to succeed at this. Within that feeling she sensed something that was close enough to assent that she acted. Lucy walked around Allura to face her and set her hands beside Alluras'.

The sensation almost knocked the breath from her. Allura was part of a circuit now. She gave it direction, but it was draining her like a battery. This device hadn't been made to be in constant operation. It could, indeed, kill her.

And now Lucy was in the circuit too. She felt the energy within her being drawn by the machine. Dimly, at the fringes of her awareness, she heard Coran remark that the particle barrier was becoming even stronger.

Coran said more, although Lucy wasn't paying attention. "It's too much. I'm going to fire the defenses to give the energy somewhere to go!"

Beams of light lashed out from the particle barrier. The shields of the NEUROM ships held against the individual beams. But as the hits piled up on them, some began to take damage directly to their hulls. Their armor stopped some of the hits. The others sent debris and flame from the long gray vessels.

Talara observed as well. She thought she could feel both of them slowly dying. The machine was never meant to draw from them so intensely. They were buying time… but what would be the cost?

Barnes looked up from the last of the protective casings for the power lines. "All lines restored," he said. "What about that particle channel?"

Marlua looked up from where he was fixing it. The teal-complexioned Dorei man shook his head. "The channel's still faulty. I can't get it to align properly."

"Dammit, let me see that." He stomped up and checked the status screen. "Reset alignment parameters."

"Don't we need to resynchronize first?"

"That's what I'm doing, but a full resynch would take an hour, and we don't have it!"

"Bridge to Jump Drive Control. Status?"

"We're almost there! Two minutes, tops!"

Everyone on the bridge heard Barnes' remark. Meridina shook her head quietly. "Perhaps he is. But it may be too late for Allura… or Lucy…"

"This is Captain Andreys. The jump drive is almost done. Whatever you're doing, you don't have to keep it up for much longer."

The others on the Castle bridge heard Julia's remark. Lucy and Allura did not.

The good news was that the system seemed to be adjusting for Lucy's presence, that included not relying so much on Allura's life energy.

The bad news was that it might still kill them both.

"Their vitals are declining," Jampa said. "Shut it down!"

"I can't, not from my end," Coran insisted. "It has to be them." He stepped toward the platform, wincing at how bright the light was around Lucy and Allura. "Princess! You have to disengage the system! You've bought enough time!"

But neither could react.

It was left to Talara to do so. She came in from the side and reached to place her hands on the columns as well. Coran shouted, "Don't! It won't work for…"

She didn't hear the rest. Her hands touched the columns and immediately she felt it. The machine wanted to draw everything from her. It was out of control. It would kill her, Lucy, and Allura if it wasn't stopped. "We have to stop it!" she shouted.

They didn't hear her. But they felt her presence. Her part in the circuit allowed Lucy to grasp what Talara was thinking, and she in turn made sure Allura felt it with a surge of her will.

The others watched in silent horror as the machine's brightness soon threatened their vision.

Then the light around them died down. The small particles of light ceased to flow. All three tumbled to the floor of the bridge.

Outside the enlarged particle barrier shrunk back to its normal size. The fire of the enemy ships was again striking the Aurora's recovered shields while battering their own.

Coran went for Allura where she fell. Tasker knelt by Lucy. Ensign Jampa scanned them. "They're alive," she said. "Their vitals are stabilizing."

The vessel shook. Coran looked up in time to see another missile crash into the failing particle field. He bottled back over. "This isn't good. We're taking so much fire that the particle barrier is about to collapse!"

Again the Aurora was shaking from multiple hits to their shields. "Shields back down to forty percent," Jarod said. "Thirty-six… thirty-three."

Julia was back on the intercom. "Jump Drive Control, we need the drive now!"

Barnes watched the results. The particle channel wasn't pretty, but it would work for a couple jumps before they had to resynch. He pulled himself away. A sudden rocking of the ship caused him to lose his footing. He fell over. A glance from his place on the floor told him Marlua had fallen as well. The Dorei was lying nearby and not moving. "Marlua! Marlua, get… crap." Barnes struggled to his feet as another jolt caused the ship to rock violently.

"The shields are starting to fail! We're out of time!"

"I hear you dammit!" Barnes shouted in frustration. He barely managed his footing again and got back to the drive. He closed the particle chamber access hatch and secured it. A key press along the side set the drive back on. "You're good! Go for it!"

Jarod didn't wait for Julia to react to Barnes' reply. His hands went to the control. "Activating jump drive now!"

A twinkle of green light formed in the space ahead of them. Within moments it enlarged to a full-size jump point. Jarod could immediately see that it was Wrong. The gravitational profile was completely off. The jump point's vortex crackled with energy in a way it normally did not. The Fracture was actively distorting the point.

"Full speed! Take us in!" Julia shouted.

Locarno triggered the engines. Over on the Castle Coran did the same. The Green Lion took up a position between the two. All three craft accelerated for the point.

Gal-Nazad watched the jump point open. His prey were escaping. "All ships, fire on the vortex! Fire!" he screamed.

At that command the ruby light of their guns adjusted. Their barrage was now focused entirely on the jump point.

Cat was already observing the jump point closely. The distortions in it from the Fracture were fascinating, or rather, would be if they were close to possibly dying right now.

The enemy fire on the point wasn't necessarily going to disrupt it. Some of the shots simply went in and then out the opposite end. It was only after a few seconds that she noticed the disruption effect forming. "The jump point is destabilizing!" she shouted.

It did more than destabilize. Whatever had twisted space in the Fracture so long ago, it turned local space hostile to the very existence of the jump point. The crackling of the energies was building. On the inner core of the point, right before the transition horizon, the vortex looked more like a violent maelstrom than its usual appearance. "It's going!" was all Cat could say, but it was too late for them to have time to stop

Locarno and Jarod noticed the danger too, though. They didn't need her readings to know it was going bad and Locarno was already cutting forward movement. Jarod operated the tractor beams to snag the Lion and Castle before they could go into the collapsing point. When it did collapse, it created an expanding sphere of green energy that enveloped both ships. The Aurora rocked violently from the impact. When it was over Jarod quickly confirmed his fears.


"The shockwave did a number on our shield systems," he said. "They're down."

There was no mistaking the look on Julia's face. They'd done everything they could. And in the end, it wasn't enough. The Fracture itself had defeated their attempt to flee.
”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 » 2017-12-17 09:55pm

Allura and Lucy were regaining consciousness when the ship lurched from the Aurora tractor beam grabbing them. They looked up in time to see the distorting jump point collapse. "No," Lucy breathed.

"It didn't work." Allura's expression betrayed her disappointment. "We didn't get away."

Lucy shook her head.

"Then… we have no choice." Allura struggled to her feet. "Have your ship transport you back. Coran, please go with them."

"My place is with you, Princess," Coran announced. "It was your father's last request."

"And mine is that you survive. You go to our people…" She glanced at Talara. "...and you tell them everything. Help them find the past they lost." Allura stepped back up to the controls. "And I will destroy the ship."

Coran's feelings were bad enough. But Lucy sensed the despair and horror in Talara. There was a look in her eyes, on her face, that spoke of warring impulses. A desire to beg Allura to come with them… but also a recognition that this was something Allura couldn't be talked out of, and a respect for it.

It was a moment later when Lucy felt the sensation that caused her to shout, "Stop! Wait!"

The Aurora was taking a pounding on their armored hull now. "Damage to Decks 4 through 10, all sections, Decks 12 through 28 and 30 through 34, multiple sections…" Jarod operated his controls. "Armor self-repair systems are struggling to keep up."

"Be ready to jump to warp on my command…" Julia felt her gut clench. "Use the transporters. Get everyone off of the Castle and beam over armed solar torpedoes to key sections. We'll scuttle her as make the jump to warp."

At her station Cat could do nothing but observe the readings from the NEUROM ships. Tears were in her eyes. How could they have failed? Why? Was there something she missed? Something that would have helped them get away…?

What had she done wrong?

Despite these feelings, Cat still had her eyes on her station. She watched the reading form on her screens with surprise, certainly bewilderment. The training reminded her to report what she saw. “Captain! I have a subspace distortion forming to starboard!”

"On screen."

The distortion their sensors had detected appeared from nothing, shimmering into view like a ghost gradually going from the immaterial to the material. It was something like a ship decloaking. Or like the videos of Shadow vessels appearing from hyperspace.

The object that appeared was a ship. It was so massive that it might as well be a station save for the sleek lines. The hull was solid black, and Julia shot a look to Cat as it fully materialized.

“Cat, what is that…?”

“It's definitely a ship. A big one. I'm reading dimensions of six-point-four kilometers long by one kilometer on the diameter of the hull.”

The fire from the NEUROM vessels was immediately interrupted by a wall of wavering, translucent yellow hexagonal shield forms. Missiles and plasma fire harmlessly vanished into it. The brief moment of supreme terror that the ship itself belonged to NEUROM vanished with the fire that it harmlessly absorbed. Hanging in space, it ignored the fire of the NEUROM force with all the effortless contempt of a champ prizefighter being gone at by a drunk in a bar.

Cat switched to a composite view based on UV light and the ghostly form resolved into a cigar ship, the hull of constant diameter amidships but tapering on each end. The ends terminated in a blunt taper that was surmounted by a short spike, a hundred meter pyramid. It had cruciform fins, angled back and curved, but terminating in blunt edges, and the fins themselves were a kilometer and a half long in their projection from the hull, with a second, tiny set forward like guide-fins on a rocket, and blisters marring the otherwise perfect cigar form running the length between the two.

Four tiny, miniature cigar hulls a hundred meters in diameter ran half the ship’s length and were offset at forty-five degrees from the fins, about three klicks in length and attached to the main hull by massive armored columns. The pitch-black hull showed blue running lights to port and orange to starboard, but beyond that and a squiggly marking of gold right forward at the bow, it was pitch black, without a single light or visible opening.

“It has the same volume as Starfleet Spacedock,” Locarno muttered.

Jarod nodded. “And it was pulling six thousand Gs when it decelerated into position."

"Cat, get all of this. Now," was all Julia could manage.

"Already doing it… wait. I'm picking up… it's opening a jump point."

Another emerald vortex opened in space ahead of them. Moments later the crew heard a voice.


It took a moment for all but Meridina to realize that it was being transmitted telepathically.

"The jump point is stable," Jarod said. "I'm not sure how it's defeating the interference from the Fracture, but we can go through it."

"It is… off," Meridina said. "Peculiar. But the presence is earnest."

Go now.

Julia considered the option for a brief second before deciding that, trap or not, it was more likely to be better than being killed or captured by NEUROM. "Take us in, Helm," she said.

"Aye ma'am."

The Aurora's engines moved it toward the jump point. The Green Lion joined them.

It was a moment before everyone noticed the Castle was not.

The same voice was heard in the minds of those in the Castle of Lions. Lucy felt something off about the voice. It didn't feel like the normal telepathic contact she'd experienced with Meridina before. "We should probably do what they say," she said aloud. "Coran? Allura?"

Neither were moving. Lucy and Talara both turned to face Allura. Her blue eyes were widened with shock. "It's… it sounds... "

Surprise came to Lucy when she sensed what Allura was meaning. "You think it's…"

"Mother." Allura's hand reached out and activated the ship's communications system. "Mother, is it you? Is it really…"

There was no immediate answer. Lucy noticed that the Aurora was already starting to move to the point. She knew they should go. But if it was truly Allura's mother, then her own experience told her it would be cruel to interrupt.

The voice returned. It was genuine, and there was warmth, but something of it made Lucy feel… off. Allura. I have seen you fighting Zarkon. I am so proud of you.

The tears were flowing freely on Allura's face. Hearing the admission brought utter shock to Talara's face. "You're coming with us? You're coming back to us?" Allura asked, hopeful and ecstatic. "We have new Paladins. We have Voltron again! And our people still live in the other universe! Together we can defeat Zarkon and stop the Galra!"

That is your destiny, Allura. It is not mine. I cannot come with you. Lucy sensed a slight pain in the thought. Resignation.

"What?" The look on Allura's face was pained. "Why not?"

I am not who I once was and I never will be again… You must go now.

For a painful moment, nothing further happened. Allura managed to respond despite the sob that came from her at the realization that she wasn't getting her mother back in her life. "Mother, please, come with us… I've already lost Father…"

Coran, your Queen calls on you for one last service. Take my daughter and go. Fulfill your own destinies.

There was sadness on the older Altean's face. His usual cheerful, peppy nature was entirely missing at the moment. "Yes, Queen Fala," he managed. He promptly turned and fired the sublight engines.

"I don't understand," Allura wept.

My fate has been tied to another. I am bound to that service forever. That is the price I paid to see you again, Allura. And I would pay it all over again for this day. Ahead on the monitor, the jump point was drawing closer. Goodbye, Allura. I love you, and I am so very proud of you.

The jump point drew closer. Allura seemed to slump against the control columns for support. In the final seconds she managed a reply. "I love you too, Mother. Goodbye..."

And then the Castle followed the Aurora and the Green Lion into the jump point. The vessel surged ahead and made the transition between universes. On the other end, the vessels found empty space.

"I'm detecting the Lions on our systems now," Coran said quietly. "We're back in our home universe." When there was no reply he turned back to face her. "Allura?"

Allura was weeping quietly. Coran took a step toward her, but it was Allura that took her into an embrace. Whatever her own stunned feelings at encountering the legend that had saved her ancestors, for the moment Talara was more focused on the other legend now weeping in her arms for the mother she had regained and lost again.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve » 2017-12-19 11:00pm

Ship's Log: 11 March 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. The Aurora has finished repairs necessary to bring us back to an Alliance universe. Given the presence of a hostile alien empire in this universe, now designated G0L9, we have only remained long enough to ensure the Castle of Lions has completed repairs to its wormhole drive. We are due to jump back to Earth L2M1 shortly.

While we wait, other crew matters can now be attended to.

Julia and Meridina were waiting quietly in the conference room. Outside the window the Castle of Lions kept its place adjacent to the Aurora. Julia couldn't help but admire the Altean vessel's form and felt pleased they had saved the vessel.

She turned her head and noted, with a similar pleased feeling, that the color was returning to Meridina's face. She seemed at ease now. "It's good to be out of the Fracture, isn't it?" Julia asked.

Meridina nodded quietly. "I was learning to adjust, but still… yes. It is."

Any further conversation ended when the door swished open and Leo entered with Epstein. Julia motioned for them to take seats. "Did you find out what happened?" she asked. She needn't specify.

Epstein nodded to Leo in deference. Leo sighed and looked to Julia. "Zack's blackout wasn't directly caused by alcohol intake, although there is a relation."

"Oh?" Julia wondered what he meant by that.

"It was a side effect from a drug he was taking," Leo said. "Niltox."

Julia frowned. "Wait, Niltox? Isn't that a de-toxicant?"

"It's the most powerful one that you can replicate," Epstein said. "And the most dangerous."

"Most de-toxicants require you to take them before you imbibe alcohol," Leo explained. "They work by keeping the body from interacting fully with the alcohol. It ends up going through the system unabsorbed until it comes out the only way it can. That's why using them always ends up putting you in a bathroom stall for awhile."

"Yes, I'm familiar with that."

"Niltox is different. Niltox forces the brain and nervous system back to normal. It can make you completely sober in high enough dosages." Leo shook his head. "But like any medication, you can take too much of it and suffer side effects. Going by what I've seen, Zack has been taking it quite often and in unsafe dosage levels. The blackout is, honestly, an early warning sign of neurological damage."

"I see." Julia was openly frowning at the news. "So, basically, Zack's been drinking again, and he's been using this stuff to cover it up?"

"Most likely," Leo said. "The fact that it took this long means he hasn't been drinking heavily, at least…"

"That doesn't make me feel any better about it," Julia remarked. "And I'm not sure what it changes in this situation."

Leo shrugged. "A measure of responsibility, at least. Zack knew better than to go on duty under the influence. The Niltox was a way for him to sober up quickly. He just didn't realize that his body couldn't handle the repeated high dosages. It's probably why he ignored the automated warnings."

"With his emotional state, and the influence of the alcohol, his judgement on that was certainly impaired," Epstein added.

At this point Julia sighed in frustration. "It doesn't alter the fact that Zack knowingly continued to drink even when on deployment on the Koenig. When he's supposed to avoid anything like that. I'm not sure this will save him."

"Nothing will save him unless he wants to be saved," Leo noted. "There's no changing that. He needs counseling, not a court-martial."

"There is a psychiatrist in your staff, correct?" Meridina asked.

"Yes. Doctor Ewing. But I'm not sure he has the experience to handle Zack's case. For that matter, I'm not sure Zack would even open up to him."

"He'll have to," Julia said. "I've tried to be patient with him, but it's clear Zack can't be allowed to make this choice anymore. I'm going to order him to report to Doctor Ewing."

"I'm not sure it will work, but it's certainly got to be tried," Leo agreed. "In the meantime, I'm signing for him to be taken off-duty for the time being. He's not fit, mentally or physically, until he recovers from the Niltox and gets a handle on himself."

"He has awoken?" Meridina asked.

"He's woken up a few times, yes," Leo said. "He's not being very conversational though."

"I shall speak to him," said Meridina. She glanced toward Julia. "It may be best if it were me."

Julia didn't say what she was thinking. She assented with a nod before looking at Leo again. "Before you go, anything more about our casualties?"

"No fatalities. A few injuries. Lieutenant Marlua will require light duty for the next two weeks due to a head injury."

"Right. Well, thank you both for seeing me on this matter. You're all dismissed."

Leo and Epstein stood and nodded to her before departing. Meridina stood as well. She walked several steps toward the door before turning back toward the table. "You have something you wish to ask?"

Julia looked up at her. "I wasn't projecting my thoughts that loudly, was I?"

"No. This was not from my mindwalking."

"Ah." Julia nodded. "Alright. I get the feeling that you know about Zack's… feelings for me."

"I do. And I have known for… some time."

"And you think it'll be easier for him if you're the one who speaks to him about all of this?"

"I do, yes," Meridina said. "And easier for you as well."

Julia immediately considered turning her down. It was on her second thought that she realized this would be for the best. Zack's emotions were in enough turmoil right now without her lecturing him. "Alright," she said. "I'll leave it up to you."

Meridina nodded and continued on her way.

Talara returned to the bridge of the Castle of Lions and found Allura sitting on the floor. "Princess, Coran and Lieutenant Lucero have nearly finished the teludav repair. And we have finished detaching the interuniversal transceiver. We'll be returning to the Aurora shortly." When there was no reply she walked up and sat beside Allura. "I'm sorry. I… can't imagine how it feels."

"She would come back if she could," Allura said. "Whatever keeps her from coming back… it has to be important."

"It probably is," Talara said. "But if it were my mother, I know it would still hurt."

There was silence for several moments. "You saved us," Allura said. "Myself and Lieutenant Lucero. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Highness."

Allura's expression betrayed some confusion. "I'm just not sure how. To do what you did, you had to interface with the system. That's only possible if you have the power of the royal bloodline."

"But it ended when you had no children," Talara pointed out. "So maybe it's something else."

"Or maybe the bloodline continues in your people. Maybe your ancestors were distant relatives of mine?"

"Doctor Gillam might know. I will ask." Talara looked around at the bridge. "I do wish you could come to Fala. My people, our people, have so much to learn about what our people were before the loss of Altea."

"When Zarkon is defeated, I will, if it is possible," Allura promised.

Talara nodded. "When Zarkon is defeated."

The door to the bridge opened. Pidge walked in, out of her armor now and back in her normal clothing. "Are we almost ready to go?"

"The teludav should be operational shortly," Allura said.

"Oh. Well… before we go, I'd like to do something first."

"Oh? What?"

Sometimes Humans still surprised Allura. She never imagined one could make a sound quite like the one that came from the Aurora Science Officer.

Lucy, for her part, had a wry, amused grin at the sight of Caterina squeeing while hurriedly operating her omnitool. She kept moving around to take in the full sight of the Castle bridge. "This technology is amazing," she said. "Some of this stuff is even better than what the Darglan had!"

"You've got some pretty amazing things too," Pidge said.

"I wish I had days to look this ship over!" Cat examined the control columns for Allura's station. "So this draws in the life force power stuff, right? To operate your FTL wormhole drive."

"Well, yes…"

"I can't believe something like this exists…!"

The scene continued until Coran returned to the bridge. "Well, that's all done," he said. "The teludav is fully operational!"

"Good. We can get the others then," Allura said.

"Then it's time for us to go." Lucy stepped up beside Cat. "We're probably overdue ourselves."

A sigh of resignation was Cat's initial response. "Right," she said. She looked to Pidge. "Thank you for letting me come over. This is wonderful."

"I got to see your ship. It was only fair." Pidge smiled back. "Maybe one day your Alliance can come here permanently. I'd love to see more of your Multiverse."

"Well, there's a lot more to it than the Fracture," Cat said.

"Yeah, that's not exactly our best tourist spot," Lucy added.

"And I hope we get to come back too," Caterina continued. "There's so much more about the old Altean technology I want to learn."

"Anyway, we had better go." Lucy gave Cat a meaningful look. "Although first things first…"

Cat caught the look and nodded. Pidge noticed it as well. "What?" she asked.

"Oh, just something we have ready to be beamed over," Cat explained. "Can you take us to your kitchen?"

Their departure left the bridge to the three Alteans. "It was an honor to meet you both," Talara said to Coran and Allura. "I look forward to the day when you visit Fala."

"So do we," Allura assured her. A bemused look came to her face. "And take care of yourself. I know how hard it can be to look around and see all of those hideous ears that Humans have."

Talara giggled at that. "Oh, they are hideous, aren't they? Sometimes I wish I had been assigned to a vessel with a Dorei majority crew. Their ears are too long, but at least they're the right shape."

More laughing came from all three.

"You know, I don't think Coran is going to like this," Pidge said.

"It'll be our little secret," Lucy answered, grinning.

Pidge gave her a look. "You've never met Hunk and Lance. Between those two, there's no way this is staying secret."

Cat giggled. They were standing in a corner of the kitchen where Lucy was presenting to Pidge a portable replicator unit. "Anyway, you'll have to keep the reserve of raw material up. Actually, that green goo stuff will probably work just fine."

"So it'll take the goo and reorganize it on a molecular level into something like real food, right?"

"Pretty much." Cat nodded. "It could be a long time before you're back on Earth, any Earth, so at least this way you get to enjoy Human food."

"Coran will still make that face of his when he finds out," Pidge said. She was still grinning widely. "So I suppose this is it. We need to get going so we can pick up the others."

"And I'm sure Julia's tapping her foot waiting for us to beam back so we can jump out." Cat nodded. "So this is goodbye."

"For now, anyway." Lucy grinned. "I have a feeling we might be back one day."

"A feeling, or one of those vision things your powers can give you?" Cat asked.

"A little of both? I think." Lucy set her hand on Cat's shoulder. "Come on, Cat, time to go home."

"Alright." Cat nodded to her before looking to Pidge. She held her hand out. "It was nice meeting you, Katie."

"It was great to meet you all." Pidge took Cat's hand with her own. "And for future reference, my friends get to call me Pidge."

"And my friends call me Cat."

"Good luck out there, Cat."

"Good luck, Pidge."

As soon as their hands let go, Lucy tapped her omnitool's comm button. "Lucero to Transporter Station 3. Two to beam back."

Cat and Pidge waved goodbye. The transporter pulled Cat away in a burst of light mid-wave

"I really wish we had those," Pidge sighed.

On the Aurora bridge, Julia stood just before the image of Allura, Coran, and Pidge appeared on the holo-viewscreen. "Good luck, Princess, everyone," she said. "Whatever the circumstance of our next meeting, I hope to hear that you've beaten Zarkon."

"Thank you, Captain. We intend to. And we wish you the best in your own conflict with the forces of evil. Farewell."

The call ended. The holo-viewscreen showed the Castle of Lions turn away from them. A large blue portal, or wormhole, formed in front of the Altean ship It entered the portal. Moments later the wormhole closed.

"Now that was one of our stranger encounters," Locarno said. "Not to mention one of the closest."

"Tell me about it," Angel muttered.

"But we still walked away from it," Julia observed. "Not to mention learning even more about the Fracture. Although I've had my share of that place. It's time to go home."

"The jump drive is still fully functional," Jarod said. "Setting coordinates to L2M1."

"Jump us out when you're ready, Commander."

"Aye Captain," Jarod said.

The Starship Aurora made a slight turn in space. Moments later a green vortex formed, leading their way home.

Meridina walked up to the doors to Zack's quarters and knew immediately he was present. And that he was not in a good place mentally. She settled her spirit and prepared herself for any of the reactions his condition might lead him to before she touched the chime control.

After several moments of no response she touched it again. She was on the verge of a third try when the door slid open. She stepped into Zack's quarters and nearly lost her breath to the sense it gave her. Guilt, shame, sorrow, it all permeated the environment.

Zack was sitting on the couch. The undergarment she had been told was known as "boxers" was the only thing he was wearing. Despite his condition mentally his body was still generally in shape. It was, perhaps, not quite as athletic as it had once been, when his lifestyle had been more active, but the curve and lines of muscle still showed on his torso and arms. His hair was not combed at the moment, giving it a wild look. And his eyes…

That was the sign of his condition. They were red, bloodshot, and rimmed with dark coloration from insufficient sleep.

"I'm being relieved, right?" he asked. "You're taking my ship away."

Meridina shook her head. "I do not believe that is the way to describe it."

"But it's what's happening. I'm being relieved of duty because I screwed up." Zack looked toward the table. A bottle of amber-colored fluid was there. "Leo tells me I've been damaging my brain by taking the Niltox."


He nodded. "Fitting. I didn't have the courage to admit to anyone I was falling back into the bottle. The Niltox seemed the best way to hide it."

"Why, Zachary?" Meridina asked. "Why hide it? Your friends are here and would gladly help you in your grief."

"Oh, of course they would." A bitter tone came to his voice. "It's about all I'm good for. Being helped. Being pitied."

"Your sense of shame is misguided, I believe."

Zack looked intently at her. Meridina sensed the turmoil within him. She felt worry at the way his guilt and shame and humiliation were building into a great reservoir of self-hatred. "Because you don't know how it was for me, not really. Growing up, then after school… being pitied by everyone. I was the guy with the drunkard dad. I was the kid who lost his mom to it. The guy who lost his sports career to his Dad's drunken fuckups. Everywhere i went, I'd see the pity in their eyes. That's how people saw me. Pitiable." He shook his head. "And here I am again. 'Oh poor Zack, he lost his girlfriend, he needs me to cheer him up…' All when it's my fault she's dead in the first place."

"Is it?"

"Without me, she'd have stayed home in Kansas. Found a good guy, someone who actually loved her and would be there for her. Someone whom she wouldn't have to go into space for."

Meridina took the seat opposite from Zack. She could smell a faint trace of alcohol in the room. "You speak as if you did not love her," Meridina pointed out. "But I know you did. I felt it within you."

"I didn't love her as much as I should have. As much as she deserved," he countered.

"You mean your affection for Captain Andreys."

"Affection?" He laughed harshly. "I've been in love with Julia since we were in middle school. Elementary school even." He returned his eye to the bottle of alcohol still on his table. "All of that time Clara was giving me her whole-hearted devotion, I was in love with another woman."

"You did not act upon it."

"That doesn't change the fact of it." Zack picked up the bottle. "Maybe I've been lying to myself this whole time, Meridina. About love, about my place in the universe." He looked into the amber fluid, as if he were divining the future in it. His future. A future with no happy ending. "Maybe the best thing I can do is just go away before I hurt someone else I love."

There was a moment of silence in the room. Meridina could think of nothing more to say. It seemed that no matter what, Zack was determined to suffer. There was just too much shame and guilt inside of him to get through to him. The incident on the Koenig and his blackout at such a critical time made that sense even worse.

"The Captain… Julia… will have to report what occurred."


"You seem unnaturally determined to assign all blame to yourself," continued Meridina. "You offer no room for compromise or reason on the matter. I would almost think you want these things to be true. That you would prefer it."

Zack stared at her for a moment. "You know, I… well, you've been around. I've always struggled to find my place out here."

"And yet you have," Meridina said. "You have garnered the respect of numerous officers and commanders for your actions on the Koenig. You have long since proven yourself a capable commander."

"I never tried to be," he answered. "The Koenig… I always loved flying her. Then they made it where the only way I could was if I was the guy captaining the ship. I would've been happier just sitting at the helm…" He shook his head. "And yeah, I know I did good. At least, until I lost control of this." He held up the bottle. "I should've left this stuff here. I thought I could control it. And I ended up putting people I care for in danger by losing it." Zack quietly stood from the couch and walked over to his desk. Meridina watched him look through a small stack of digital readers. He pulled one of them out and approached her with it. "The truth is, Meridina, I'm not worthy of that kind of respect. I mean, look at me. Clara dies and I fall apart. She'd be pissed if she saw me here like this."

"Most likely," Meridina agreed. "But yet, something inside of you broke that day."

Zack shrugged. "Maybe it was the facade that broke. The illusion that I was everything she and the kids and everyone else believed me to be. Maybe I was never the hero they thought I was. I'm just some jerk from Kansas who was pretending to be a space hero so people wouldn't see what I really am."

"And what are you?"

"Nothing." He handed her the pad and turned away. "I'm a nothing." He walked to the door of his bedroom. "And it's about time I stopped pretending I was anything else." Once he reached the threshold of the bedroom he turned back partly. "Please go. That pad has everything you need."

Meridina glanced down at it. A touch of her finger activated the screen and displayed file. "Zachary," she murmured in quiet sadness.

Attention Admiral Maran,

I resign my command of the
ASV Koenig and my officer commission.

Zachary T. Carrey

For Cat and Violeta, it was dinnertime. For Cat herself, it was a chance to make up for the previous few days. All of her projects were on hold and the entire night was completely clear for the two of them, starting with their dinner.

Hargert brought said meal to their table. Sirian-style noodles and sauce for Violeta while Cat was given a dish of specialty enchiladas. "Specially made for you both," he said, "by request."

"Thank you, Hargert," Cat said in reply.

"Ah, but we are not done." He set down glasses. "A fine port as well. It took me some time to find the right wines to fit the palate of your meals."

"Excellent as always," Violeta assured him. They watched Hargert fill their glasses and step away. As each went for their food, Violeta said, "You didn't have to arrange this, Cat."

"I did," she insisted. "You deserve it."

The smile Violeta made at that caused Cat to blush. Making her girlfriend happy felt good. It was a warm, fuzzy feeling that she wanted to experience more of.

"So I heard that the lion pilot was just a fifteen year old girl," Violeta said. "What was she like?"

"Pidge? Oh, she was cool. I mean, she was… well…" Cat shrugged, giggling to herself. "Actually, I think she was a lot like me. I mean, those lion ships pick their pilots or something, and it reacted to me too… so I guess we're a lot alike."

"Somehow I doubt anyone could be as adorably nerdy as you, Cat," Violeta answered, grinning. She pushed her fork into the long strands of pasta and the creamy sauce covering it. Cat used her fork to take off a piece of her meal. "That had to be one of our strangest missions."

"Yeah. And on top of all that, finding out the origins of the Falaens like that? I mean, the Falaens are really awesome people, and then you find out someone once tried to wipe them out… it's horrible."

"Yeah." Violeta took a bite and started chewing. The look on her face told any observer how much she was enjoying Hargert's efforts. "The survey mission is over now, right?"

"Yeah. Admiral Maran wants us back for debriefing. They'll send another ship to complete the areas we didn't get to. Hopefully one without anyone on the crew with mental powers or psionic capability."

"The Dorei on the ship are certainly happier." Violeta took a drink of her wine while Caterina chewed a bite down. "When we're done, did you want to make a go at the Dragon King again?"

"Yeah, definitely," Cat said. "Angel said she'll be there."

"Did you ever talk to someone about joining as a healing class?"

"Sorry." Cat winced and shook her head. "I haven't."

"Oh well. We'll think of something."

Their dinner progressed on for only a couple of minutes before they both heard "Excuse me". They looked up to see Talara. "May I sit? Just briefly, I don't want to interrupt your meal."

Cat nodded to Violeta, giving her the choice. "Sure, I guess," Violeta said. "Shouldn't you be resting for your shift tonight?"

"Actually, Doctor Gillam has me off duty for the next 48 hours," Talara answered. "He wants to make sure I'm fine after using that device on the Castle."

"I heard you saved Allura and Lucy," Cat said. "That was great."

Talara blushed slightly. "Thank you. I don't want to keep you from your meal, I just wanted to ask you something about the game."

"We're planning on trying again tonight," Violeta said. "You're welcome to join us."

"Oh, I will love to. But I wanted to ask you… that Potion of, what was it, Introspection? What does it mean by the term 're-spec'? I'm not sure what that words is in your English language."

"You must be reading online guides written in gamer vernacular," Violeta said. "They're talking about changing your powers. The Potion of Introspection lets you pick a different class of character."

"Oh. Well, that sounds useful."

"Oh? You want to change your class?" asked Cat.

"I had fun as the Dragon, Dragoon, I mean. But when I examined your rules I found a class that I think will work better for me."

"Well, that's what the potion is for. Which class did you want to play?" asked Violeta.

"Well, I was looking through your systems, and I found this one…"

The Falaen, or rather Altean, brought up a stat screen on her omnitool. Talara let them get a good look at it. It depicted a humanoid in shining white armor hefting a sword. A shield was slung over the figure's back.

"That's the Paladin," said Talara. "I would like to choose this instead."

"A frontline fighter," Violeta noted. "Armored melee fighters with Light-based magic powers. It would change your role on the team. Your entire point is to protect the rest of us by drawing enemy attention and defending with your armor and shield. I mean, you can do damage with your sword, but you don't hit as hard as everyone else does."

Cat let out a little laugh. "Don't forget the healing ability. The Paladin has a healing ability, right?"

"A few." Violeta gave Cat an amused look. "Although I didn't think you would be interested enough to know about it."

"Well, I know it doesn't fit me, but I was thinking of who else might want to play and what classes would fit them." Cat was still smiling. "I figured Rob would be a Paladin if I ever got him to play."

"You mean Captain Dale?"

"Yeah. I mean, it sorta fits him…"

"Well, you're right about the healing. And it's the one role we really need in the party for the Dragon King fight." Violeta turned back to Talara. "So that's it? You want to use the potion and become a Paladin?"

"Yes," said Talara, grinning. "I rather like that title, honestly…"


Julia read the digital pad again and let out a sigh. "So that's it," she said.

"It is." Meridina nodded.

"Do you think I could talk him out…"

"I do not believe anyone could change his mind right now, Julia," Meridina said. The informal name use came from their private surroundings in the captain's quarters. Julia was at her desk in said quarters, clad in a cherry red bathrobe from shoulders to midway down her thighs. Meridina's arrival had found her fresh from her morning shower. Meridina herself was in uniform and now seated in a comfortable chair in the living area adjacent to the desk.

"He's throwing away everything he's built over the last two years." Julia tossed the pad onto the desk. "Damn him."

"I am at a loss with him," Meridina admitted. "He is so full of shame and guilt. He is challenging everything he has become since he took command of the Koenig."

"But he'll turn to the damn bottle!"

"That, I believe, is the greatest source of his shame." Meridina shook her head. "He is humiliated by his inability to control his urges. He is comparing himself to his father."

"Yeah. And that would make him feel horrible." Julia rubbed at her eyes. "I don't want him to resign like this, though. Not when he's impaired."

"He is certainly impaired emotionally."

"I'm going to talk to Maran about it. With what happened on New Caprica, Zack is a psychiatric casualty for certain. We just took too damn long to find it out."

"Nevertheless, he will not remain on the ship. And I do not know where he will go."

"I know. And I can't make him stay. I just have to hope he doesn't get into trouble." Julia set her hands back on the desk. "Thank you, Meridina, for handling it. I'm sure Zack's problems don't make him pleasant for you to be around."

"I have experienced far worse in the way of troubled minds," Meridina replied.

"Still, I'm sorry for any discomfort it caused you."

To that Meridina grinned slightly. "Compared to our problems in the Fracture, Julia, Zachary's thoughts and emotions were no difficulty."

"I see." Julia reached for a mug of replicated coffee. "Speaking of the Fracture, I'm sure you're glad to be out."

"I am, although I also find myself… perturbed."


"So much happened, and my swevyra feels a cloud over the events," Meridina said. "The purpose of our attackers, and the source of power that came to our aid. I cannot help but feel that we have come to the attention of very powerful forces."

"Well, yeah." A thought came to Julia. "Do you think that NEUROM might be behind that strange assassin that tried to kill Angel and Jarod?"

"I do not know either way. And our information seems insufficient to make a guess."

"Right." A thought came to Julia. "Do you suppose Admiral Gal-Nazad and Squadron Leader Tissim are in big trouble for our escape?"

"Quite possibly. The Ministry of Fate seems unkind to those who fail its objectives. Although I feel there was something more to what occurred."

"Whatever happened, I'm just satisfied that we got out of there." Julia frowned at her desk. "Those people are nasty. I actually feel a little sorry for Gal-Nazad and Tissim."

"True." Meridina said nothing more. But she couldn't help but wonder at the sensation of dread she felt when she thought of NEUROM, its Ministry of Fate, and what had just occurred. There was more to the situation than felt apparent.

EIther way, she knew Julia was right to feel sorry for the two NEUROM commanders. Her feelings told her that they were unlikely to trouble the Aurora crew again.

In the heart of NEUROM space, deep within the Fracture...

Inside the cavernous hall, everything shone in gold, gold reflecting gold... Massy gold, gold plate, mirrors reflecting gold—there was gold over blue and gold flooring, gold around the windows, gold in the ceiling, triangles forming a set of false-arches and converging on triangular points in the roof, lighting rectangles projecting down, light gentle but white and stripped of natural colouring. It tended to wash out the view from outside, and fade the rest of the colours, the tapestries, the furniture, the elaborate wooden desk with brass fittings, the reclining couches covered in rainbow quilts.
The massive gold-plated doors, covered in tesseract patterns, slid open and two women strode through them. One had white hair in a mess of disorder, hidden under a cloak. Her skin was dark and unnatural, and her eyes red. The other was a tiny mouse of a woman, dark curly hair with dusky skin that had been bleached by countless aeons far from exposure to the rays of a sun. She wore a practical spacer’s suit surmounted by a black cape, and her eyes were concealed with a pair of massive, completely opaque sunglasses.
Sitting on an open-backed couch, a third woman was the only original occupant of the chamber. Her legs folded in lotus, she sat quietly, draped in piles of furs. Her eyes looked away from them, toward the visage outside the windows. There, the brilliance of the sun washed out the view of the immense landscape curving around its glow – the lakes, the rivers, the farms, the cities. The huge mountains that rose until they seemed to touch the sun.
The white-haired woman stepped in front of the figure in repose, her boots smacking on the tile. She made a neat, precise bow which belied her look as so much of a homeless bag lady. Her shorter companion followed suit.
The woman blinked as if she had not noticed them before and looked to them both. “Tisiphone. Megaera.”
“Master, you called us both at once. That is rare, and I am concerned,” the woman called Tisiphone answered levelly. “There was a disturbance in the Force within the Fracture.”
“We both felt it,” Megaera agreed. “You surely know more.”
“You sensed a technology,” replied the Alekto, something like a woman bedeviled with a headache, “which briefly visited us. A threat to the Force, I believe, draining, disrupting.”
“It is not necessarily true, Master,” the elder woman replied, sparing a glare for her younger counterpart for a moment. “The Rakatan used such technology as that which I infer you speak of.”
“It’s not quite the same, though certainly this is your area of expertise, not mine.” A dry smile, laced with bitterness. “That’s not what concerns me, however; that would be the denouement. The Lady of Admirals permitted one of her servants to intervene against us. That is what happened. A War Cruiser effected the escape of the two ships—the one using the Force crystal and the Alliance ship...”
“The Aurora?” Tisiphone jerked, her hand reaching instinctively for her belt.
“The Aurora,” the Alekto agreed. “Sidney’s pet project. You remember the orders that I gave to CORTEX.” It was not a question.
“Yes, they were to absolutely not attack or interfere with the Aurora in any circumstance whatsoever, no matter the price that we paid for it,” Tisiphone agreed.
“He disobeyed, didn’t he?” Megaera asked.
“Yes, my son disobeyed. As he often does!” The Alekto’s calm voice turned into a snarl by the end of the statement. “He gave explicit orders to the States Reserve Fleet which led to them attacking the Aurora and need I spell out to you how utterly deadly that could be to the entire universe should the worst occur? If he is right, reality itself might start to destabilize and our only hope would be to get on our knees and beg to the Useless Fop! ...Or take ourselves through the Darkness to another universe cluster and abandon all we have created here to annihilation.”
The weaker two of the Erinyes exchanged a glance. Anything to do with the titular ‘Lady of Admirals’ always put their mistress into a foul mood, no matter how trivial. They both knew there were real grounds for fear, though, when it came to the Aurora.
“Master, you should assume direct control. It is the only way to prevent these kinds of incidents, and if the Lady of Admirals is willing to risk the truce so blatantly...”
“You are being kind to me. To us. This was our fault. Our side’s violation.” Gloved hands crackled knuckles, the Alekto’s eyes opening to gaze downward. “Direct control. Like you’ve wanted me to for centuries?” The Alekto smirked. “Come now, you can’t hide it from me.”
“Master is the most powerful being in this universe, and I am being modest,” Tisiphone answered, dropping to one knee in a gesture that Megaera did not follow. “You are the ultimate weapon. Forget but assuming direct control of NEUROM; even the Imperator Byzon would bow to you within a year of your fleets going forth.”
“You would create some beasts to conquer the surface of the worlds for me, I imagine? I suppose even the legendary strength of the Bragulans would be little use against a terentatek... No, no wars of intergalactic conquest.”
The elder woman sucked in her breath with a hiss, and shot daggers as Megaera paraded slowly around to massage the Alekto’s shoulders and adjust a multicolored rainbow shawl that was draped over them. “You are an ambitionless cur and disrespectful to the one who trained you,” she shot at Megaera. “Do not tempt our mistress into inaction again!”
“Don’t fight,” the Alekto interjected, a dangerous glint flashing in her eyes. “This is no matter of personal pride. It’s objectively true the All-Father is imperiling something far more important than anything the past games have. He certainly has an ulterior motive. A message must be sent, and a plan drawn up to assume control for the purpose of containment and holding NEUROM together if he does not heed the message.”
The hands on her shoulders stopped, as the woman behind them grew more pale. “...Of course, Alekto. It’s true that we cannot let the All-Father continue to pursue this course. When we were discussing matters with the Tal’kona’sha it was clear that with the end of the Ancients, with the Old One having gone beyond the rim, that we would have little in the way of reliable allies against these kinds of events. If the Lady of Admirals were to decide the truce had been violated… We are still the weaker power.”
Tisiphone smiled. “So you both see. We must act, Master.”
“So we must.” She folded her arms out. “Take the appropriate measures to make it clear to my wayward child that he is not to act against my explicit decrees. If the hand offends, strike it off!”
“The Fates are already attending to other tasks...”
The Alekto nodded quietly and raised a hand. “Very well, go yourself with my leave and deal with all those who disobeyed our instructions. It is time for CORTEX to undergo a cleansing.”
Triumphant, Tisiphone bowed, turned, and departed with her cloak fluttering behind her. As the doors opened, she called out to one of the red-skinned courtiers beyond: “Prepare my ship!”

The arrival of an unmarked craft of unknown type with the energy/mass ratio of a heavy attacker never boded well in the fleets of NEUROM. Less so when the vessel in question had just returned from a failed mission. Much less so when the occupant disappeared from the internal scanners the moment they arrived…

...And then appeared, hooded, cloaked, in rough, black leather garments over a disorderly dark pair of boots, hands likewise encased in black. Her skin seemed almost black, too, gray and blackish and off-coloured like a rubbing of dirty ash with a shock of disorganized white hair. She turned to face Admiral Gal-Nazad, the hood no longer concealing, and her eyes were red.

He dropped to his knees, and slowly, then quickly, the rest of the bridge crew of the Tatrin's Bane followed.

The woman's red eyes gleamed. “My Master does not tolerate disobedience!”

“But, Excellency... This mission originated from the Palace of the All-Father himself.”

“Admiral Gal-Nazad, you are the ranking officer, and the responsibility is your’s! The All-Father had no authority to order this mission and do you understand what that means?”

“Oh, Fates...” His voice hoarse, he closed his eyes and cast them downwards, body stiffening as his mind revolted at what that meant. A memetic imprint from his childhood seared across his features, in absolute terror.

“Cross the Fates and face the Furies, Admiral,” the voice was laced with glee as it invoked the old rhyme.

His face went ash pale, skin gray with fear at the hideous bedtime rhyme that was supposed to scare children, now coming to life before his eyes. She responded by smirking, gloating at him with her half-shadowed face. “The...” He coughed, choked for words, and trailed off with a gurgle in his throat. Only in his thoughts did he complete the sentence.

“That’s enough speculation,” she addressed a thought in his mind. “Admiral, the only thing more intolerable than disobedience to The Alekto is failure. Truly your degradation is complete, but I am not here to turn you over to anyone. We Furies are quite capable of delivering Fate ourselves.”

She paused, and let hope spring in the smallest ember of the man’s soul before she quashed it. “My Master has authorized your death. Personally!” With an unmistakable snap-hiss, a blade of glowing hues of ruby and crimson descended until the tip lightly scorched the deck, bringing the smell of burning grip-sealant and melting durasteel in a hideous whiff that was shortly joined by the smell of a body relaxing in death.

Right next to the severed head which toppled to the deck.

The red glow across the bridge disappeared, and The Tisiphone looked up, her eyes seeming to strip the flesh off the Flag Captain and stare into his soul. “Captain Soru, forward the recording to the All-Father’s Palace.”

“But, but, Excellency, He shall be...”

“If he punishes you for acting as the messenger of one of the Erinyes, the All-Father will not like the consequences, I assure you. You are under my orders and only I and my Master may punish you for them. The Tisiphone has commanded it, now obey!”

“Yes, Your Excellency!”

With a contemptuous sneer, the woman drew her cloak closer and spun about, leaving the bridge with no more than a whisper of rippling wind to mark her passage, just as she had come. She had other business to attend to, just like she had attended to Admiral Gal-Nazad.

Author's Note: These last two scenes were written by Tomyris.
”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 » 2017-12-25 12:25am

As we work on 3-05, here's a small Christmas gift for the readers: my attempt in STO to render the Alliance uniforms, to help you visualize what the brave crew of the Starships Aurora and Koenig look like while they're out saving the Multiverse. `;)

A Captain in the Alliance service, presumably visiting a Defiant-class Starfleet vessel. Pay no attention to the Hierarchy guy and the Kobali in the background...

This is, well, I'm not entirely satisfied with how the face looks, but it is the version of Lucy Lucero I rolled for STO as an Engineering officer. Fortunately for all of the threats facing the 25th Century Federation, STO Lucy doesn't have the Force.`;)

Edit: To elaborate, I used the "Odyssey" uniforms but recolored. Slightly off in the case of the top guy (my main for STO). The Alliance uniforms are mostly like this, but with slightly thicker color along the shoulderline and trim on the cuffs too. Actually, they also look a bit like the Sierra 1 uniforms, if you are familiar with STO. But the rank insignia placement is definitely right with the Odyssey type, including the general shape.
”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 » 2018-01-05 11:54am

By request of one of my co-writers (my co-writers being Tomyris and Voyager), we're doing this a little differently. Today the pre-title teaser goes up and the rest of Act 1 is going to go up later, after everyone's had time to see this bit and built up anticipation for what's coming.:)


The denizens of the space station Babylon-5, a quarter of a million in all, were used to a certain amount of chaos and spectacle in their lives. The station's role in the events of their home universe of E5B1 made that inevitable. Even the removal of the InterStellar Alliance government to Minbar hadn't diminished this, not with the station's continuing role as a diplomatic post. Indeed, the station's population was becoming more fluid than ever with the visitors and residents from the other universes and the unique species to be found there. These days one could find Ferengi retailers and Volus traders haggling in the Zocalo, or Asari maidens and Miqo'te wanderers dancing in the more lowbrow establishments.

Dealing with the potential conflicts of all of these beings, visitors and residents, was part of the job description of Security Chief Zack Allan and his staff. It was often a hectic job, occasionally frustrating, and almost always thankless.

Normally Zack hated being called to Brown Sector, where destitute lurkers struggled to survive among a cutthroat, multi-species criminal underworld. But given the choice between said call or dealing with a feuding Ferengi DaiMon and Brakiri syndicate official, Brown Sector suddenly had a great deal of charm.

Now he and a hand-picked strike team were standing outside of one of the entrances to a seedy dive set up in the heart of Brown Sector. Zack pulled his PPG and waited for the confirmation signal to appear on his newly-issued omnitool. He worried that the mostly-hard-light machine wasn't working when the signal didn't come, and didn't come… and finally it did come. The suspect was sighted. One by one the teams marked that they were in position. The arms dealer wasn't getting away.

"On three," he said into the security channel. "One… two…"

On the count of "three" a hushed "Go!" was the response. In one movement three teams of security personnel rushed into the bar. The denizens, many having reasons to believe they were the target, hit the ground to ensure they weren't shot if a fire fight broke out.

While Zack was certain half of the people here had active warrants, he was only here for one. One of his Narn personnel was securing the target by the time he walked up to the pasty-skinned Human-looking man. "Arthur Gagnor, you're under arrest on charges of arms smuggling, bribery, illegal possession of military-grade ordnance… and skipping out on a docking bill on Kalnit Station." Zack blinked at that one. "The Brakiri must really be mad at you over that last one."

The look on Gagnor's face was one of shock more than fear. He clearly never expected to come to B5 Security's attention. "All of my stuff is legal and above-board," he insisted. "You've got no right to hold me."

"Tell it to the judge," Zack replied. "Get him out of here."

Gagnor's pasty face was pale as he was led away. Given the look of the crowd Zack was quick to join his security people in departing. A riot in Brown Sector would certainly lead to headaches with Captain Lochley.

The thought was fitting when, a moment later, Lochley's image, garbed in the blue uniform of an Earthforce naval officer, appeared on a screen projected from Zack Allan's omnitool. The commander of B5 had a dusky complexion with brown hair pulled into a regulation-fitting pony-tail. "You found our guy?"

"He never saw us coming," Zack answered. "Seemed real surprised."

"Don't they always?"

"I guess so. But it is a bit weird, Captain, if you ask me. Records show the guy's been through B5 half a dozen times in just the last two years. Now the Brakiri and Drazi are suddenly interested in him?"

"He probably crossed the wrong Brakiri syndicate on a business deal," Lochley answered. "The fact that he's a gun runner is reason enough to want him off the station."

"Well, he'll be on his way to the Brakiri Homeworld by tomorrow," Zack said. "Then he won't be our problem anymore."

"Again, good job Chief. Now, I believe you have that other case to get to?"

Zack frowned. All of his hopes that Lochley would let him off when it came to dealing with the DaiMon evaporated. "Yes, Captain, I do," he said in resignation. "Allan out." He turned the channel off. Ignoring the knowing smirks and grins on his security people, he walked on in the hopes of quickly exiting Brown Sector.

Several weeks later...

Shining in the light of an alien sun, the Alliance Starship Aurora maintained a geosynchronous orbit over the planet Cestus 3. A Federation Ambassador-class starship, the Tucker, was to the Aurora's starboard side, while a blockier, single-hulled Gorn warship was to port. One could notice some vague similarities in the layout of the Federation and Alliance ship, principally with the layout of a primary hull and a drive hull with a bow-mounted navigational deflector dish, with the warp nacelles attached by pylons to the sides.

There were clear design differences, however. The smaller Federation ship's primary hull was a saucer attached by a clear neck to the round drive hull. The kilometer-long Aurora's primary hull, while wide proportionately as well, had a long shape to it, closer to an arrowhead than a saucer, and the drive hull started much further up, directly connected to the primary hull with the deflector dish only about twenty-five percent of the way down the ship's length and almost directly below the location of the main bridge at the top of the primary hull. The two hulls shared a wide and long connection area, flowing together without any visible neck. The rear end of the primary hull was marked by a drop in height of over fifty meters. Toward the top of this drop was the main shuttle bay for the ship while, below it, was the armored dock for a supporting attack or scout ship; in this case, the Starship Koenig. Below this dock, at the top of the drive hull, was the recovery deck for the Aurora's starfighter wing laid over the hanger deck and its attached launch tubes for the eighty-eight Mongoose starfighters of the vessel.

The drive hull itself started to extend down to the ship's lowest thirty-third through thirty-fifth decks aft of the deflector dish, providing additional machinery spaces and the decks used by the ship's company of Marines, with the secondary shuttle bay at the rear of Deck 32 towards the stern. Four long, sleek warp nacelles with bright blue ramscoops and drive coil sections were arranged in a flat X shape around the drive hull, just far out enough to give their hydrogen-collecting ramscoops clearance around the hull.

In the Aurora's main conference room Captain Julia Andreys, the vessel's commander, stood with her officers in their dress uniforms. Unlike the standard duty and formal uniforms, the dress uniforms were primarily white with branch color trim - burgundy red in the case of Captain Andreys - and gold-embroidered epaulettes. Rank insignias were still on the collar, and awards and commendations were worn on the left or right breast of the suit. Various such medals were being worn on the officers of the Aurora, both those of Alliance origin or from the systems that made up the Alliance.

They were joined by Starfleet officers wearing their dress uniforms, which were long flowing one-piece jackets of branch color and black over black trousers, and the reptilian Gorn in elaborate leather outfits. The Gorn were a particularly large species of reptilian bipeds, with long tails and sharp claws. There was, even here, a slight tension in the air, if anything from the knowledge that the Gorn could overpower most of the other attendees if they desired.

That they didn't desire such was obvious to the digital document that was now being signed by one of their number. Opposite from that Gorn and two flanking subordinates was an older woman with graying light hair in a blue dress suit. To one side of her was a Tellarite male in a gray and black suit, to the other side was a Human man in a Starfleet dress uniform with the rank of Captain. Once the Gorn and his entourage signed the document, she too signed, as did the Starfleet captain and the Tellarite. Julia picked up the document and, after a ceremonial examination, pressed a key to transmit it formally to their respective governments. "Prince S'skist, Governor Bacco, congratulations," she said. "The border treaty is now complete."

"Thank you, Captain Andreys, for your assistance in these negotiations," Governor Nanietta Bacco answered. "They haven't been easy."

"This is true." The Gorn's voice was a reptilian hiss. Julia didn't let herself respond with an instinctive shudder at it. "I am pleased that our species have chosen to move on from our past. This treaty will maintain peace between the Federation and the Gorn Hegemony for decades to come."

"That is my hope as well…"

With the ceremony over, Julia led the assembled to the Lookout for the post-signing reception. Hargert had gone above and beyond as always, serving food from a variety of cultures including his attempt to satisfy the Gorn palate. As always, it included at least two cakes of decent size.

Angel gave Julia a look as they waited to take their first portions. "I wish they would let us remove these things once the actual ceremonies are over."

"Technically the reception is part of the ceremony," Julia pointed out. "Or the event, anyway. Whatever the treaty, things can happen here that will still affect everything that comes after."

"You're not going to let us duck out early, are you?"

"Not too early."

Once they had food Julia went to find a table. She expected one of the others to come over. She was surprised when it was Governor Bacco herself. As politicians went, Julia found the Governor of Cestus III to be refreshing in her moderately-blunt honesty and unassuming charm. Spending time with her was not going to be the chore that other politicians would make it. "Governor, how may I help you?" Julia asked.

"You've done quite enough already, Captain," Bacco said. "I think the talks would have ended again if you hadn't shown up."

"I don't think I can take credit," Julia insisted. "You and the Prince already had the acceptable terms laid out. I didn't provide anything for the treaty itself."

"No, but you gave us the push to put it all together," insisted Bacco. "Because of that, my constituents can sleep peacefully without worrying about the Gorn. And the Gorn can do likewise."

"That's the benefit of peace," said Julia. "The Multiverse has enough war going on as it is."

"Yes." Bacco nodded. "I hear your war is going well?"

"Except for everyone dead from it, I guess," Julia remarked. "The Nazis are counter-attacking our forces in Argolis right now. The Aurora is one of the few Alliance ships that hasn't been called in over it."

"I don't pay as much attention to the conflict as others," Bacco admitted. "Although I do seem to hear a lot about Nazi counter-attacks."

"They're getting desperate as our forces are approaching Earth," Julia said. "The hope is that the Nazis are running out of crews because of it. If they run out of enough people, maybe it won't matter how many ships their yards can build."

"Hopefully you will put an end to them sooner rather than later," Bacco said. She turned to the Lookout window and the view of Cestus 3. "We're not strangers to violence out here. For a century the Gorn have been disputing this area of space with us. There have been all manner of raids and attacks. Now maybe we can put that behind us."

"That can be the hardest part, can't it?"

"Yes. People are still afraid of the Gorn. This treaty won't stop it." Bacco's expression was thoughtful. "I can only hope that given time, people will stop being afraid."

"It would be nice," Julia said. But she knew from experience that time didn't always heal the emotional wounds of violence. "Sometimes all you can do is hope."

"Will your ship be remaining long enough for shore leaves?" asked Bacco.

"Maybe. I have no orders to leave just yet."

"Then I'd like to invite you down for a Pioneers game."


"The Pike City Pioneers. One of the teams in our planet's baseball league."

At that Julia nodded in understanding. "I didn't know baseball was still played in this universe."

"It is on Cestus 3," Bacco said proudly. "It's our favorite past time."

"I'm sure you'll get a few of our people down there for the game, then," she said. "But I'm not really a baseball person. Basketball is my game. Besides…" Her face fell a little. "The one person I would have considered going to a game with isn't here anymore."


"A friend of mine played baseball back on our world. But he had to leave. He's… going through a bad time in his life." Julia decided she didn't want to say anything more about Zack. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm thankful for your hospitality, Governor, and I didn't mean any offense."

"I understand, Captain," Bacco answered. "It's always hard to see those we care for suffer."

All Julia could do in reply was nod. She simply didn't have the words to do otherwise.

The next morning Julia commenced her usual morning rituals. T'ai chi and mok'bara forms to loosen up for the day and a warm shower to finish waking up and prepare herself. Once she was at her desk in a red terry-cloth bathrobe, a white towel wrapped around her drying blond hair, Julia took the time to check the reports that came in during the "night" while eating a bowl of cornflake and blueberry cereal. The Alliance fleet was still stretched thin from the ongoing engagement in Argolis. A second battle was now being waged at Alpha Cassiopeiae that had already drawn in the last reserve fleet in the Stellar Navy. One of the intel reports alluded to the possibility that the Reich was reacting to the declarations of war by the Aururian Empress and the Democratic Worlds' Assembly from Universe A2M6 by launching an offensive with everything they had available. Other reports chalked it up to rumors of a growing split in the Reich between the military leadership in the OKW and the Nazi Party's SS.

So far the Aurora hadn't been to the front in over half a year. Julia wondered if that would continue or if they would be called to it soon, given this event.

After finishing her cereal it was time to get the day started. She shut down her desk computer station and returned to her bedroom to get the uniform she'd be wearing for the day.

When Julia arrived on the bridge she found the command staff officers at their stations, or preparing to assume them. Nick Locarno was relieving the Falaen (or Altean, now) Ensign Talara from the helm. Jarod was already at Ops. Tom Barnes was fussing with something beside the Engineering station while Caterina Delgado was already busy with her science/sensors station. Her older sister Angela was now at Tactical.

Last but not least, Meridina was in the command chair. The Gersallian woman stood without looking. Her "swevyra" abilities - the "life force" powers she knew how to wield - had undoubtedly told her of Julia's arrival before Julia could announce it. As she approached Julia could make out the one extra accessory to Meridina's appearance that none of the other bridge crew shared; her lightsaber, the circular, flashlight-shaped weapon strapped to her belt on the left side. "Good morning Captain," Meridina said. She spoke English with a lilting accent that was vaguely Irish in tone. "I trust you rested well."

"Of course," Julia answered. She took her seat and Meridina slipped into her chair to Julia's right. "No last minute failure of the new treaty, right?"

"None," Meridina stated. "It would appear that the final settlement these people have sought has finally come about. You should be proud for the part you played."

"I'm not sure I deserve that much credit." Julia settled a little into her chair. "Are we ready for departure?"

"The last liberty parties are due to transport back in an hour," Jarod answered, turning to face her.

"Alright. Until then, we'll maintain standard…"

A tone from Jarod's control board interrupted Julia. Jarod turned his attention back to the board. "I'm getting a distress signal from Alliance bands," he said. "It's coming from the colony on Gamma 12 in Universe E5B1."

"I am aware of this colony," said Meridina. "It is a joint project between Gersal and several of the Human states in the Alliance."

"How many ships can react to them?"

"Not many. From what I can tell, even with our distance and the need to jump, we'll be the first to arrive if we maintain high warp."

"Right. Okay, bring up our liberty parties now. Prepare the ship for emergency jump."

"Transporting now." After several moments Jarod nodded at his station. "Transport confirmed. All personnel are back aboard."

"Take us out."

"Setting jump drive to Eta Serpentis system jump anchor. Engaging…"

The Aurora's jump drive generated a green vortex in the space over Cestus 3. The kilometer-long starship flew into the point. On the other end it was in the middle of open space.

"The spatial aspect was too high," Jarod revealed. "We're ten light years off the anchor."

"I expected that," Julia said. "Helm, maximum warp, engage."

"Aye ma'am."

While Locarno initiated the Aurora's powerful Darglan-built warp drive, Julia thought of the situation. Who in E5B1 would attack an Alliance colony? It wasn't even near what was once Darglan space, so it was unlikely to be the Psi Corps or that IPX group from the Earth Alliance. None of the ISA races would have a motive to. Nor would they want to risk President Sheridan sending the White Star Fleet against them for violating the peace of the E5B1 galaxy. That left only a few options... "Jarod, anything else from Gamma 12?" Julia asked. "Do we have identification on the attackers?"

"I'm getting telemetry from the Gamma 12 sensors now," he said. "Visual data confirmed."

"On screen."

The holo-viewscreen activated to show a shot of Gamma 12's orbital space. Ten vessels hung in orbit. The biggest ship had a flat, wide profile with four large engine ports on the back and as usual with dreadnoughts of E5B1 outmassed the Aurora, being slightly longer than 1.54km. It was flanked by smaller ships that were more rounded, with less sharp edges to their hulls, of primarily yellow coloring with black markings. Wing tips to either side were tipped with a light pinkish emitter, possibly a weapon port, with two open barrels were slung under the bow. The yellow color scheme was met with the black patterns on the other ships as well, although the lead dreadnought's fork-pronged main hull was primarily black, with the secondary hull section above and on the rear half of the ship was an orange-toned color. The large ship had a cluster of three large weapons barrels mounted spinally in the opening at the bow and encased in a round armor shield, splitting the black hull into two partitions with its presence to provide the pronged appearance.

"I don't recognize those vessels from any of the E5B1 recognition charts," Julia said. "Do we have them in the library?"

"I'll check," Jarod said.

Julia turned her head and faced the science station. "Anything interesting in the sensor data, Lieutenant Delgado?"

Cat shook her head. "The sensors on Gamma 12 aren't the most sophisticated. I'm still trying to figure out more about them from these sensor returns."

"ETA, Mister Locarno?"

"Twenty-one minutes at current warp velocity, Captain. I have us at Warp 9.9993."

"That is our fastest speed, yes?" asked Meridina.

"Just about."

"At this rate we'll probably burn out the fraking field generators," muttered Barnes.

"If we have to spend a day replacing burnt out parts, that's better than finding a burnt out colony," Julia said. "Anything else from the colony?"

"I'm afraid not," Jarod said. "It looks like they're being jammed now. I'm attempting…" He stopped speaking. Julia noticed his eyes stare at the result on his screen. "Oh my God," he muttered.

That worried Julia. Jarod rarely said things like that. "Jarod, what is it?"

"The computers just matched the ships at Gamma 12 with E5B1 records," Jarod said. He seemed almost horrified.

"And what are the results?"

Jarod looked up at the ships on the viewer again, as if trying to confirm what he was seeing, before he turned back to face Julia. It was unsettling to see how startled he was.

"The match is at ninety-nine percent probability," Jarod said. "Those are Dilgar ships."
Undiscovered Frontier
"Yesterday's Enemies, Part One"
Authors' Note: This episode, and the setting, incorporates as canon the Legendary Fanfiction by Lightning Count, “The Dilgar War”, with his full blessing and permission: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2594689/1/The-Dilgar-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 » 2018-01-05 11:08pm

There was silence and confusion on the Aurora bridge. "Dilgar?" Meridina frowned. "I am not familiar with this species."

Julia was. "They were supposedly wiped out almost thirty years ago," she said. "They were an aggressive, genocidal species that attacked virtually every race in what is today the InterStellar Alliance. They might have conquered them all if the Earth Alliance hadn't joined the war." Seeing Meridina's curious look and figuring what it meant, she preemptively answered the question that was coming. "Last summer, while the Aurora was in the repair yard, I attended a command seminar at Defense Command where an Earthforce officer who served in the war spoke about Earth's mobilization efforts against the Dilgar, and the scope of the battles with them. The Dilgar and the Liberation Navy fielded thousands of ships at some battles. The war had gone down to the knife due to the sheer bloodyminded behavior of the Dilgar. Some of the things the Dilgar did to the other species…" Julia trailed off.

Meridina nodded quietly. "I sense what you mean. And it does not bode well for the colonists if they are truly Dilgar. What happened to them, then, that we have not been fully briefed about such a vicious species?"

Julia's look was somber. "A few years after they were defeated and forcibly repatriated to their home system, the primary shed its outer layers in some bizarre natural disaster and killed the entire population."

"So they are presumed extinct." A thought occurred to Meridina. "Is there a record of any other species using their ships?"

Jarod provided an answer. "No. In fact, the records suggest every single one of their battlecruisers was accounted for in the war. But we've got two of them over Gamma 12 right now."

"Who else is in range?" asked Julia. "Can another ship make it there before we do?"

Meridina turned to her small station and checked fleet operation logs. "Just the Heerman, Captain. She is at Alpha Sextus."

Commander Imra’s as solid as they come, Julia thought, feeling her skin chill. Although I would prefer more than another attack ship against a force of that size and power. We'll have to make it work… "Tell the Heerman to make best possible speed."

"I am relaying the signal." After a moment Meridina nodded back. "Commander Imra acknowledges. Her message states that she is already underway. Their ETA is now nineteen minutes."

"And ours?"

"Eighteen," said Locarno.

"Good. We'll need every ship we can get. Set running status to Code Yellow." At that command's implementation, yellow lights activated at points on the bridge to indicate the heightened alert level for the ship;. "We’ll go to Red in ten minutes."

Jarod was still looking over the relayed visuals from the Colony. "Lieutenant Delgado, I want you to analyze these images from the colony. They’re only eighty percent matches for Dilgar ships and some are showing energy signatures different from those reported in the files we have."

"On it," Caterina replied.

Julia allowed the others to get to work. At this point, her biggest worry was that they'd arrive far too late and find the colony a twisted wreck. The Dilgar reputation for atrocity and genocidal behavior was the stuff of nightmares. The Nazis and SS couldn't hold a candle to some of the things the Dilgar did to the other species in the League. Savage medical experiments, massacres, torture… if a crime existed against thinking beings, the Dilgar committed it.

Everything said they were dead. How are they still around? thought Julia. How could they hide for all these years? One way or another, she would have to find out.

The Aurora dropped out of warp in the Gamma 12 system primed for battle, with raised shields and armed weapons. The moment the ship decelerated her fighter launch tubes lit up. Mongoose starfighters moved into squadron formations to fulfill mission orders in the prospective battle. From the rear of the primary hull the Koenig emerged and backed its way out off its dock. Once the ship was clear it flew "above" the Aurora, raising shields and arming her own weapons.

On the Aurora bridge everyone was secured into their seats. "Put the Dilgar squadron back onscreen," Julia ordered. She leaned forward, watching the starscape around Gamma Twelve.

"Putting them on," Jarod said.
The image flashed to showing the squadron holding position, much as they had been in the last image received from Gamma 12. Julia glanced to Caterina. "What’s their status?"

"I'm detecting energy signatures broadly consistent with Abbai-standard grav shields at standby on the three largest ships. No weapons charge." She glanced up. "They haven’t even moved toward the colony, Captain. They’re holding high orbit. I can confirm the ship types from the records, too. One Mishakur variant, two Sekhmets, two Tikrits, five Ochlavitas. It looks like they've been modified with warp drives." Cat was checking her readings again. "The seven smaller ships… are showing deflector shields with energy signatures consistent to Klingon D-7 model cruisers. And their warp drives also have intermix ratios comparable to Klingon ships."

"That's a hell of a mishmash of technology." Julia thought of how the Batarians also widely adapted technology from other universes whenever they got their hands on it. Wherever these Dilgar were… That thought prompted Julia to ask, "Can you verify their species from the life sign readings?"

"They're not Human. I'm cross-checking with the library records now…" Cat looked back to her and nodded. "I'm reading all the crews as Dilgar, going by the Earth Alliance records."

Julia’s curiosity at that point became overwhelming. "Hail them," she said.

Jarod nodded. "It looks like they've implemented Multiverse-standard communications. I'm already getting a return signal."

“Dilgar Commander, this is Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. Identify yourselves and your intention.”

The holo-viewscreen removed the image of the Dilgar ships. Replacing it was an image showing the Dilgar bridge. Two unambiguously female humanoids were in the visible image, one sitting down in the command chair and one standing at her side. They possessed a dun-brown fur that looked like brown skin if Julia blinked too hard, classic sharply raked pointed ears and yellow, broadly-set feline eyes. The woman in the command chair had a sort of dirty blonde hair, and was dwarfed by the second, a tall and massively built woman standing to her side in a grey uniform to contrast the dark blue with ornate decorations of the tiny, sitting woman’s. Both had tinges of gray hair, the woman in the command chair more, and they shared a crimson sash across their uniforms which was counter-wrapped about their necks like a scarf as well, despite the different colour of the uniforms.

The woman spoke without preamble, and the translators did not kick in: She spoke fluent English in a neat, clipped accent which Julia started at, for it was almost identical to that of the Aurora's JAG officer Lieutenant Vajpayee, though her voice had an unpleasant rasp, a bit like that of a lifelong smoker. "I am Warmaster Shai’jhur, Head of State of the Honourable Union of Tira and Rohric. I have arrived here with this squadron to ask for your help, intervention, and mediation, in the interests of galactic peace and of the protection of innocent civilian life. On those grounds, I would treat with you and your people, Captain Andreys."

Of all the things she had expected to hear… Julia sank back in her command chair. "Hold position and don’t make any sudden moves with your ships. I will confer with my staff and government and reply shortly."

"Of course, Captain Andreys. Thank you for the courtesy. We will hold position."

At a nod from Julia, Jarod ended the communication. "That wasn't what I expected," he admitted.

"I didn't either."

"Funny how they thought the best way to ask for our help was to show up at one of our colonies with a full squadron of warships," Angel noted dryly.

"Maybe they were afraid of being attacked if they only sent one?" Cat asked.

Julia was already looking to Meridina. "I do not sense immediate danger," said Meridina. "But if you are asking me to read their minds, all I can say is that they were very well-disciplined mentally. I would need to be closer, and more direct, to reach their thoughts."


"The Heerman just signaled," Jarod said. "They've dropped out of warp under cloak and are ready to begin an attack run."

"Have them hold position," Julia said. "And get me Admiral Maran."

"The Dilgar." Admiral Maran seemed to be considering the very sound of their name when he said it. The Gersallian admiral was at his desk in Defense Command. The skyline of Portland was visible behind his head of gray-streaked dark hair. "I have heard only stories about them. Remarks from representatives of the ISA races, usually in reference to atrocities by the Nazi Reich. Apparently even the Nazis can compare favorably to the Dilgar."

"I've heard the same," Julia said. "And suddenly they still exist."

"Warmaster Shai'jhur mentioned two members of a union, likely worlds," Meridina noted. "Tira and Rohric."

Jarod tapped away at his omnitool control. "We've got nothing on Tira. But apparently Rohric was a colony world of the Dilgar before they were forced to return to their homeworld Omelos. It's remained unsettled since the Liberation forces made the Dilgar abandon it."

"It sounds like they missed a few," Locarno remarked.

"What would you like me to do, Admiral?" Julia asked.

"For now, talk to them. Try to find out why they came out of hiding so blatantly. But be careful with making any commitments. As things stand, we can expect the E5B1 species to be watching our interactions with the Dilgar like hawks. And that is if they give us the benefit of the doubt."

"Yes sir. Anything else?"

"The fighting at Argolis and Alpha Cassiopaiea has drawn in all of our available reserves. I may be able to find a ship or two to send your way, but don't expect significant reinforcement. Be careful. Maran out."

Maran's image disappeared from the screen. Julia looked over the others. "Jarod, Meridina. According to fleet logs, what ships can render us assistance in a pinch?"

"Just a few," Jarod answered. "All light vessels."

"Nothing to help us fight a dreadnought, then."

"Well, if they're here to talk, we won't need it," Cat said.

"Given their reputation, I'm not putting a lot of faith in that," Julia admitted. "So it's nice to know our options."

"Even when they all suck," Barnes muttered.

Julia grinned wryly at him. "Especially when they all suck," she corrected. "Go ahead and re-establish communications with the Warmaster."

Jarod did that deed using the conference lounge's controls. A few moments later Shai'jhur's image appeared over the table courtesy of the holo-emitter in the middle. She faced the image directly. "Warmaster, my government has authorized me to speak to you on your request."

"The reputation of the Alliance is deserved, then," the raspy voice answered. "The rumours of our demise may be greatly exaggerated, as you humans would say, but our enemies are working on ‘fixing’ the problem. To put it bluntly, Captain Andreys, my people are going to be slaughtered without your assistance.”

Julia showed no reaction to that announcement. "I'm listening."

"A force of Brakiri and Hyach ships has seized Tira. The Drazi are sending a fleet to exterminate the population. I request the aid of the Alliance in protecting my people."

"There's no record of the Dilgar ever possessing a world called Tira," Julia said.

"Nor would there be. It was a… desperate gamble, founded by Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan’s forlorn hope of sending civilian ships randomly into hyperspace to seek new worlds." Shai'jhur stopped speaking long enough to cough. "Captain, all will be explained. I am not here to deceive. But time is of the essence. Our sources, what little of them have escaped notice by our enemies, have already confirmed the gathering of the Drazi fleet. They are intent on extermination."

"How do you know that?" Angel asked. "What proof do you have? For all we know, they're just out to make sure you're not preparing for another attack. Given the stuff your people did to them, I know I'd be sending the biggest fleet I could find to keep an eye on you."

Julia watched to see what Shai'jhur's reaction to Angel's remarks could be. At first, she was too busy coughing to give a reply. Julia wondered how ill she might be. Or is it an act to play for sympathy?

Once Shai'jhur was able to stop the hacking cough from interrupting, she gave a reply. "I do not deny we have earned distrust, or that your argument is a valid one. But the Drazi are not a kind people either. The Enphili can testify to that fact, for instance."

Julia looked to Jarod. He looked up from his omnitool a few moments later and nodded. "They're a low-tech species along the Drazi frontier," he said. "Before the start of the InterStellar Alliance, the Drazi sponsored raiders that attacked them and other worlds like them to keep them from becoming a potential threat to Drazi expansion. ISA intervention put an end to that."

"They were also complicit in the orbital bombardment of Centauri Prime," Shai'jhur observed with a kind of dry humour infecting her voice. "Against the wishes of President Sheridan and the InterStellar Alliance leadership, naturally. They will not hesitate to attack civilian targets, Captain. Of course I could go on and talk about the virtually enslaved population of Shambah, but really, the point’s been made."

Julia didn't need Jarod to confirm that for her. She remembered the story of Centauri Prime all too well. Because of that violent attack, the Centauri withdrew from the InterStellar Alliance completely and had turned themselves into a hermit kingdom. "As you said, the point is made," Julia conceded. "But if I'm going to confront member races of the InterStellar Alliance like this…"

Before she could finish, a tone filled the room. "Bridge here," said Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi, Jarod's primary backup at Operations. "Captain, the Shenzhou just dropped out of warp. Captain Ming-Chung wishes to speak with you and Warmaster Shai'jhur urgently."

Julia blinked and gave Jarod a look. "What's the Shenzhou doing here? I thought they were on rotation over the Darglan homeworld?"

"That's what they're listed as doing," Jarod said.

Julia knew there was one way to quickly find out what was going on. "Tie them in with our current communication, Lieutenant."

"Aye ma'am."

The holo-screen expanded to show a second image. Captain Li Ming-Chung of the Starship Shenzhou appeared on the screen. She was Julia's age and a veteran of the pre-Alliance days of the Darglan Facility. Her name broke the usual Chinese naming conventions as part of her rebellion from the patriarchal nature of that culture, placing her personal name first like a European name and then the family names of her slain mothers.

To one side was her First Officer. Commander Tuyan Otiros was a blue-skinned, teal-spotted Dorei of the Yenmar Republic. On her left the viewing seat was taken up by a woman of dark brown complexion, a human with a bindi on her forehead that marked her as a practicing Hindu. Her hair was gray with time, her skin healthy and young from being sheltered in starships but her physique frail from accumulated years of zero- and low- gravity.

Captain Andreys,” Captain Ming-Chung greeted her, the urgency tight in her voice. “We tried to arrive before something irrecoverable had happened. The lady to my left is Captain Kaveri Varma, Earthforce Retired. She has important information about the Dilgar situation.

Julia couldn't hide her surprise, nor the sheer bewilderment - and suspicion - of the timing. "Oh? Go ahead, Captain Varma."

Captain Andreys, the attack on the Dilgar world of Tira consisted of twenty Brakiri and twenty Hyach vessels which were sent after a Dilgar supply-purchasing network was unraveled. I don’t understand how or why, but Mister Arthur Gagnor, arrested on Babylon 5 several weeks ago, was actually an agent of the Dilgar government of Tira--who had previously provided assistance to groups working in concert with your Captain Dale and Commander Meridina, I might add."

Julia glanced to Meridina. "I recall the name," she said. "It was through observing him that we located Lyta Alexander."

That matter settled, Julia returned her attention to the screen. This prompted Kaveri to continue. "The Brakiri and Hyach sent high-level communications to the Drazi homeworld and a first wave of more than sixty Sunhawks is enroute and will arrive at Tira in another twelve hours. Captain, there are only twenty million Dilgar on Tira--but that is half the surviving species, and there’s no substantive war industry. There are mercenaries, hired by the Brakiri, who have already rigged flood-gates with explosive charges which could flood the entire capital. Some of the information is from Warmaster Shai’jhur, certainly, but I have independent verification on other parts and it is frankly imperative that we act quickly to avert genocide.

Shai’jhur took a breath and looked up briefly to the massive Dilgar woman at her side, before addressing Julia. “Well, Captain Andreys. You have heard Captain Varma. May we meet? Time is of the essence, but I wish to verify to you and your people … That we are a nation in distress. Despite being a flagship variant the One-who-fights-alone is not well suited for a conference, so I don’t mind presenting myself aboard either of your fine ships.

Julia considered the request quietly. When she spoke, it was with her eyes on Li. "Captain Ming-Chung, have you been able to verify any of Captain Varma's statements? Do you trust her as a source?"

There was a moment of consideration from Li before she nodded. "Captain Varma approached us in a manner that justifies some of her claims, yes. And on our way here we passed close enough to Drazi space to detect definite signs of fleet mobilization. Her story is… credible, at least."

"Alright." Julia looked to Meridina next. Meridina's only reply was a moment of consideration followed by a quiet nod. "Very well. Warmaster, you may come aboard and meet with myself, Captain Ming-Chung, and Captain Varma."

"We are thankful for your consideration, Captain. One-who-fights-alone out."

Captain Ming-Chung and Captain Varma arrived first on the transporter. Julia and Meridina were waiting with Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the ship's Chief of Security. The Australian woman had a complexion close to porcelain. Her black hair was cut short around her head and her eyes, a brilliant green in color, were fixed on the transporter pad. “Permission to come aboard, Captain?” Kaveri was certainly traditional.

Julia nodded. "Welcome aboard, Captain." She stepped forward and offered her hand. Varma accepted the handshake cordially.

"We are receiving a telemetry signal from the Dilgar flagship, Captain," said the technical officer manning the station, a young Human woman of East Asian ancestry. “Four life-forms.”

"Go ahead, bring them aboard."

There was another series of bright bursts of light accompanied by a light buzz. The form of the Dilgar leader appeared on the transporter station with another of her officers at her side. For a brief moment she seemed genuinely disconcerted. The other Dilgar, a female who seemed much younger and had a remarkable shade of long red hair on her head that contrasted with her dun light fur on the rest of her body like a mane, did not. If anything the younger Dilgar seemed more intrigued than put off by the transporter. Behind them stood two more officers, the towering, heavily built female in grey that had been seen in the viewscreen and a young male in blues who stepped forward.

“Here stands a Warmaster!” The junior officer shouted.

"Warmaster Shai'jhur, welcome to the Aurora," Julia said with a formal tone as she recovered her surprise from the shout.

For a long moment, Shai’jhur’s eyes lingered on Kaveri, before they flickered to Julia. “Thank you, Captain. The introduction is--traditional, I confess. My officers are Battle Captain Fei’nur,” she gestured to the massively built woman in green, “Combat Master Tra’dur,” a nod to the redhead, “and Combat Expert Can’ur. Respectively they are my security and reconnaissance chief, my operations officer, and what you humans would call my Flag Lieutenant.”

"My first officer, Commander Meridina, and my chief of security, Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond."

“A pleasure to meet you all,” she said, shaking hands down the line in the human fashion. “Captain Ming-Chung,” she added, and then paused… And gently took Kaveri’s hands in her own. “It’s been a long time, Kaveri.”

“Namaste, Shai’jhur. It has indeed. I hope you have been as well as you could, with all that has happened.”

“It has not been an easy time, Kaveri, but dharma laid our path, and more often than not since those terrible dread days, we have walked in hope.”

“I am gratified to hear it. Would that we had more time, but… matters press upon us urgently.”

All of the Alliance officers were staring at the two by the time the exchange finished, save Meridina, who was not so much staring as quietly observing and sensing the interplay.

Kaveri glanced around, and offered with a wry smile, “I know what you’re probably thinking, and the answer is simple enough. If you’ve ever seen an old, rather intellectual American-Japanese War movie called ‘Hell in the Pacific’, that’s our story--well, except the ending. That was pretty bloody different.”

"I am familiar with the existence of such 'movies'," Meridina said, "although I have only viewed a few at the insistence of Lieutenant Barnes."

"His taste in movies doesn't quite go toward that one," Julia observed. She tried to remember if that was one of the old movies her father loved to watch when she was little, and a dim memory of an American and a Japanese soldier castaway on an island came to her. It certainly made as much sense as an explanation as anything else would. "My senior officers are gathering in Conference Room 1. We'll meet them there."

The Aurora Conference Room was no longer made up for the formal gathering that the Gorn-Federation treaty had called for. A number of tables were set up in a half-circle around a central holotank. The Aurora bridge officers were at one table, the Koenig officers at another. Seats for Captain Ming-Chung and Commander Imra of the Heerman were provided beside Julia. This left a third table for the Dilgar to take up. Everyone noted that Varma stood with Shai’jhur as the Dilgar clustered around the replicator.

Cat took a breath and approached them, offering a small smile. “You can order some snack food by voice command, though I’m not sure we have anything compatible with Dilgar digestive systems.”

“Most Earth proteins are,” Shai’jhur answered.

Her utterly massive grey-uniformed subordinate stared at the hole in the wall suspiciously. “Replicator. Provide meat.” She ordered in English.

The replicator beeped. “Insufficient detail,” answered the feminine computer voice.

Fei’nur looked half-crestfallen as she looked past Cat toward Shai’jhur. “Warmaster, it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Try asking for …” Shai’jhur glanced from Kaveri to Cat, and offered a reassuring little wink to Cat. “...Turkey jerky.”

“Replicator, give me turkey jerky,” Fei’nur asked. Her look grew only more perturbed as it beeped again.

Specify flavor.

This time, Fei’nur had a solution: “Default.” A bag of turkey jerky strips materialised in the air, and with a child’s wide eyes she tore it open and began to eat, her expression growing brighter as she did. “This is utterly incredible. It tastes like meat.”

Cat was trying to hide a grin. The Warmaster grinned back, making her own selection and then going to sit down with the rest of her staff, save Fei’nur who remained standing.

Julia had almost giggled at the strange scene between the Dilgar, Cat and the replicator, but it was clear time was of the essence and after she sat, she turned to Jarod and whispered, "Did you get through to Maran?"

"No," he whispered back. "He's gone. According to Admiral Tsu, the Kentan is off to join the fleet at Argolis."

Julia nodded grimly. The Reich's offensive there must have become especially fierce if Admiral Maran was bringing the Kentan into the battle. "So he didn't leave any instructions?"

"Admiral Tsu relayed a message. He's trusting your judgement."

"Ah. It's good to be trusted," she noted, with some sarcasm. All the pressure was on her yet again.

Aside from Meridina nobody paid much attention to their exchange. The rest of the command crew were obviously curious about what was going on with the Dilgar. Meridina gave Julia an urgent look, one matched by Lucy. Both sensed the quiet impatience in the Dilgar. A fierce worry for the fate of their fellows. Understanding that, Julia nodded to the Dilgar table. "Warmaster, if you would please? Give us the specifics."

“But of course,” the Warmaster replied. “I am sure there is a great deal that it would be nice to cover, but suffice to say, I will cover the historical particulars for now in the interest of brevity. In the closing year of the war I was a Battlemaster and an escort forces commander with a pentacon of destroyers. At Third Balos I organized the rearguard and fought to the bitter end to allow as many of our ships to flee back to Alaca and Omelos as possible. As a result, Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan, who had recovered from a sustained illness, resumed direct control of the remaining war effort, as Warmaster Jha’dur had disappeared. He promoted me to War Captain and put me in charge of a special squadron of captured ships, testbed prototypes, and other vessels of that sort, as well as new construction. The One-who-fights-alone is an example of the later, a Mishakur incorporating the technology of what you call the Sekhmet-class. We were almost out of fuel and the enemy was constantly raiding Omelos at that point, so my force worked up into an effective combat group back at Rohric.”

“I am actually a native Rohrican, not born of Omelos. Before the build-up to the war the world had a population of about two million; we were one of the Forty Families, the original landowners who had homesteaded the planet in the first wave of colonisation. The government sent about another twenty million colonists during the runup to the war, but they were not Rohricans, not culturally. A bit more than a month after Third Balos, the Liberation Navy made its final push on Omelos. I was recalled to support the fleet at Omelos and die in glory. May we be blunt, Captains? It was the Führerbunker at that point! Der Untergang! The Supreme Warmaster promoted me to Warmaster in the recall message, likely enough to drive me to obey the orders--no Warmaster had ever surrendered to the enemy. I disobeyed anyway.”

As Shai’jhur was talking, Cat kept glancing to the replicator. Jarod noticed it, and his eyes followed her’s, widening fractionally as he watched Fei’nur stuff a bag of jerky into a uniform pocket, push the repeat button on the replicator, stuff another bag into another part of her uniform, and keep going, with some kind of single-minded fanaticism about acquiring as much replicator jerky as possible.

Whatever else, though, Shai’jhur appeared serenely oblivious, and carried on with her story. “Well, we are all a very stubborn lot on Rohric, so we moved the orbital infrastructure of our outer colonies--Innata, Wahant and Rohric--into orbit of a distant Brown Dwarf almost a lightyear from the Rohric primary where they could be hid from casual sensor tracks. I held my fleet there. The Rohricans....” Shai’jhur dissolved into a brutal series of coughs that ended with something that looked much like blood hacked onto the scarf around her neck, her entire tiny body shaking from top to bottom.

“The League never landed troops to force your people back to your homeworld?” asked Julia. She felt a little guilty pressing the woman, but as a negotiator she also wanted to know how serious the illness was. Leo was quietly scanning in the background.

“You’ve just seen the reason why.” Kaveri had a sympathetic look on her face as she stepped in to reply. “The Dilgar, you see, had a very poor selection of colonies when they went into the stars. Two marginally habitable worlds they had to wrest from the Drazi in violent border skirmishes and that were constant sources of conflict with the Freehold, one volcanic hell with a corrosive atmosphere too thin to allow life outside of domes, one world that was so inhospitable that they sent prisoners there to farm or die, and… Rohric. Which looks like a somewhat arid but otherwise acceptable enough world. Until you land. Then you find out that the entire planet is infested by a particular strain of spores, produced by a very resistant species of the local flora. They burrow into the skin and the lungs, producing bleeding sores from a virulent allergic reaction in every known species. Who would want to expose their people to such a thing? They bombarded the visible signs of habitation and then departed. I assume the population took shelter from observation in the caves and wadis of the desert, Shai’jhur?”

Shai’jhur had recovered in the meantime. “Exactly, Kaveri. We learned to live underground while the fleet sheltered at low power, orbiting the Brown Dwarf until the League stopped coming around. Then we built a distant station infrastructure there. There were about three million counting the populations from Innata and Wahant, the new settlers we’d managed to keep, and the fleet. To that, well… Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan’s notional plan was to buy time for as many colony ships loaded with sleeper pods as possible to leave Omelos--traveling randomly through hyperspace. They went in two broad directions. I thought the plan was insane and managed to intercept enough of the ships in one direction to save three-quarters of a million.”

“During the brief window between the League withdrawal and the destruction of Omelos, we rescued more from the surface. But the real surprise came later on--Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan’s second thrust had borne fruit after all. Battle Captain Fei’nur was on a reconnaissance mission and discovered another Dilgar organization operating. They called themselves the Ghosts of Omelos and had found a water world roughly beyond Tal’kona’sha space, and settled a million Dilgar, using cloning to recover their numbers. Unfortunately, there was a dispute over political authority which contributed directly to this incident and was only resolved by it. To put it very simply, I had been pursuing democratic reforms and education to create a legitimately Dilgar society broadly compliant with the norms of sapient rights practiced by the Earth Alliance and now ISA. They hadn’t, and they didn’t like that I had. But the occupation made them finally sign the union out of desperation.”

"That sounds like it could be trouble," Jarod said. "If they're unreconstructed elements, I'm sure they'll want to reconsider once they're out of danger."

“They’re not quite that bad. They were all carefully selected to be part of a New Dilgar that were to be a meritocratic society beyond the old honor and old nobility which enabled so much destruction and amorality. They have simply not had opportunities for open dialogue on the past or participatory politics. And, to be frank, I have always been the lawful government of all surviving Dilgar. Warmaster is a military-political title; as the only Warmaster I am the Head of State. Period. And I am committed to sapient rights and democratic reform. Period.”

Julia glanced toward Meridina. Meridina nodded once. "I sense her sincerity." A few seats down Lucy did as well.

"Alright," Julia said. "And you want our help. I suppose the question then is if we can talk the Drazi, Brakiri, and Hyach into a compromise solution."

"Given the history, that's going to be a pretty tall order," Locarno said.

"Still, we can't let them perform genocide," Leo added. "Their own Declaration of Principles makes it clear they're supposed to pursue another way."

The mention of the ISA Declaration of Principles prompted Julia to look to Meridina. "Do you think we could get G'Kar to help? They should respect him."

"I am uncertain as to his whereabouts," Meridina admitted. "But I will attempt to contact him and inform him of the situation."

"Either way, if we're going to stop this, we need to get to Tira," Li observed. "But the Drazi have a several hour head start on us, and it's going to take us nearly eighteen hours to get to Tira at our highest warp speed."

"The Drazi will arrive several hours before then," Varma pointed out. "That's enough time for them to wipe out the entire population."

"Mister Scott, do you think the Aurora could make it to Tira in eleven hours?" Julia asked. "At our highest warp velocity?"

"I wudnae recommend it, Cap'n," the old engineer said, shaking his head. He stood out among the Alliance officers for his choice of engineering uniform, a black engineering vest over a white jacket. The beige trim of operations was visible on the vest, as well as the three gold strips of Commander rank. "Ye'd have t' maintain our highest warp speed for th' entire run. Ye're more likely t' burn out th' drives before we get there."

"What if you warp in hyperspace?" Varma asked. "Isn't that possible?"

"It'd be daft, ma'am," Scotty insisted. "Th' warp field cannae form properly in th' energies o' yer hyperspace layer. Even if we managed it, we'd lose track o' th' beacon network in th' first second."

"He's right about that." Jarod was resting his chin on his hand. "But there's another way to cheat. We use interuniversal jumps."

"You mean we set the anchors to pull us closer to Tira's coordinates with each jump?" Cat asked. "Because it could work."

"But ye cannae jump often enough, Mister Jarod, ye know that," Scotty said. "Two jumps, maybe, but after that ye can burn out th' drive if ye dinnae give it time t' cool down."

"We've done two jumps before," Julia noted.

"Aye. An' it puts strain on th' drive each time. An' ye're lookin' at three jumps, minimum, just t' get us close enough t' warp in."

"If it is at all possible, an entire world rests on the attempt," Varma insisted.

Varma's plea caused Scott and Barnes to look at each other and then Jarod. "We'll need ships or other anchors at the right points," Barnes said. "Otherwise, no anchor, there's no telling how far off the jumps will take us."

"I'll calculate the best possible courses," Jarod said. "And on the bright side, we might pick up a few ships on the way."

"So if we do this, we'll get there in time?" Julia asked.

"Maybe. Maybe not." Jarod shook his head. "I can't tell you for sure that we'll get the spatial aspects we need to make it in time. We could still be two or three hours late."

"It's still our best option," Locarno insisted.

"If we sent a signal ahead, maybe we could warn them to stop?" Cat asked. "Maybe buy us some time?"

“Dilgar and Drazi were in a blood feud long before the Imperium attacked the League, I fear…” Kaveri trailed off for a moment, as her face paled and her voice grew softer; “...but my daughter, Zheng-li, may be in position to buy you a little time. If I may have access to your com array?”

"How?" Julia asked.

“She is the captain of a new Earthforce destroyer on patrol in the coreward League. I sent her a message before I set out for my rendezvous here.”

Bringing Earthforce into the affair made Julia wary. It seemed like a complication that could make the politics of the situation even more explosive. But there was no denying that they needed someone to get there before the Drazi. If they could be made to consider holding their fire for just an extra hour…

"Alright," Julia said. "Mister Jarod, please assist Captain Varma in sending her message, and then report to the bridge. We need to get underway immediately."

“One final thing,” Shai’jhur remarked as she was getting up. “I think for purposes of coordination between our squadron and your own during what will be a very complex set of maneouvres, I should have an officer aboard the Aurora. Combat Master Tra’dur is one of our best astrophysicists, may she remain?”

Without hesitation Julia nodded. "Yes. Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, our science officer, will coordinate with her."

It said a lot about Caterina's development during her time with the Doctor - a year for her, four minutes for everyone else given the Doctor's time traveling ship - that instead of seeming flustered or worried, she nodded and gave a professional reply of "I'll take her to Science Lab 2. We can use the simulation systems there to plot the best course with the possible spatial aspects of our jumps in mind." Caterina stood and moved toward the door. Tra'dur followed.

"If everything is settled, I should return to my ship to prepare for these jumps," Li said.

"We'll keep in touch through a tactical commline," Julia said. "This meeting is dismissed."

“I will be traveling with the Warmaster,” Kaveri said, softly, as she prepared to follow Commander Jarod, “so there will be a second transport to the Magaratha.

“Is that the name of Warmaster Shai’jhur’s ship in Dilgar?” he asked as she walked. Kaveri nodded in the affirmative, but the look on her face told him everything about she was thinking about.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-07 09:27am

The Huáscar had done marvels on her speed run to Tira. Alert status lights indicating she was at enhanced readiness gleamed, modified ZEBRA, bare minutes from being fully buttoned-up for combat. Captain Zhengli Varma stepped out onto the bridge after offering a last set of prayers at the tiny idol rack in her sea cabin. Around her the crew reflected tension and confusion, uncertainty at the course of action their Captain had flung them on with little warning.

She was a slight woman of south China in her blood, and south India in her heritage. Her Line Medal was safely in a chest in her sea cabin, and her command had been a quiet nightmare. Her crew was still riven between pro- and anti-Sheridan factions and she herself was distrusted by both and only held the command through General Lefcourt’s personal confidence. But her command was still one of the newest Warlock-class heavy destroyers in the fleet, larger than many dreadnoughts - even counting those of the Allied Systems fleets - and the fastest ship that had ever served in EarthForce.

Huáscar had more than that, too. She also now had deflector shields fitted with improved power generation systems linked to her reactors, and there was, with all the other Warlocks, the X-RAY Special, the code name for the biomechanical sensor system whose controls, buried deep in the ship, gave her a ranged accuracy to her weapons fire that had stunned Zhengli during trials. Earth couldn’t have asked for a more powerful nor poised warship, but the internal relations of Earthforce remained balanced on the head of a pin.

Below them floated the spectacularly beautiful water-world of Tira. So the Dilgar found life here. Her excitement at that, the peace of her mother’s soul, and frankly the peace of her own, warred with memories. There was her time as the night-shift second in command on Babylon 5, her brief interview with Jha’dur, bemused and baiting a member of the house of Varma of whom she had proved not unacquainted. ‘I shall make sure you and your mother get the serum so that I may hear the Dilgar tongue in my hour of triumph.’ The mad, broken image of the last Dilgar.

Well, not quite the last, thank the merciful Gods. The species had not died, and for the first time Zhengli had gazed on an image of the woman who, in a desperate gesture of hope, had reached out to trust her mother in the middle of a war with no trust possible. And now here she was, with twenty million innocent civilians on the planet below. Forty ships in front of her, more coming, and only her proud destroyer.

Around her were twenty Brakiri ships, eighteen Hyach, and five Hurr. The wreckage of two Hyach ships remained, also, to provide testament to the Dilgar having offered resistance before they retreated. And all of them were tracking the Huáscar with a suspicion in stark contrast to their status as allies.

"The Brakiri have hailed us," WO1 Baeraz reported from comms. "They’re demanding to know the purpose of our presence in a Brakiri system."

Zhengli snorted incredulously. That was impressive even for the Brakiri. "We’re a hundred light years from Brakiri space, and they haven’t filed a formal claim with the ISA territorial board. Tell them that."

"Yes Sir…" A moment. "They want to speak to you directly."

"I’ll handle that." She glanced to the comms section. "Patch me in to the Brakiri."

"Aye-aye, Captain."

“Brakiri Commander, this is Captain Zhengli Varma of the Earth Alliance Ship Huáscar. I would know your intentions.”

Captain Varma, we are conducting security operations on the surface of the planet we have claimed. These security operations are consistent with the ISA charter to maintain galactic peace.” It was telling that the Brakiri commander refused to give his name.

Zhengli decided that if they were going to play games, so would she. “The planet appears to have a pre-existing native intelligence, Brakiri commander. Your claim to this system is not recognized, and your operations have an offensive character to them. Surely you will not mind if an Earthforce ship observes your operations more closely?”

She waited for an uncomfortably long period of time for a response, before turning to her crew; “Take us into high orbit, set Condition Two.”

The first jump took the longest to set up. Using data from Cat and his access to the active fleet positioning logs, Jarod found an Alakin warbird on internal patrol in their native universe, A7R6, that had the right position for the first jump. The four Alliance ships present made their jumps in sequence, each bringing some of the Dilgar ships with them. The Aurora took charge of ensuring Shai'jhur's flagship made the transition.

In Science Lab 2 Cat immediately brought up a holo-starmap to display the last leg of their planned course. "See if there are any ships in the vicinity of Phi Trajanus," she said aloud.

"What about Beta Durani?" Jarod asked.

Cat checked and shook her head. "No, that aspect would bring us too far off our course. Our last jump could carry us into Tal-kona'sha space."

"Good point. I'll let you know the coordinates for our next jump."

Upon Jarod's reply finishing, Cat noticed the young red-haired Dilgar had sat aside a pad on which she had been working calculations by hand and was staring in open admiration at the holo-table displaying the starmap. "You don't have holographics?" she asked.

"Never to this level of sophistication," Tra'dur replied. There was a simple wonder in her voice. "The technology of your ship is incredible, more than you can realize. I have dreamed of working with equipment such as this."

"Well, you can right now," Cat said. She tapped a key to highlight a block of stars around their target. "We need to ensure that our last jump puts us somewhere in there. That means we have to be in one of these systems on our next jump." Another tap of the key brought up another block of slightly larger size.

Tra'dur examined the map. "I would avoid this star." She pointed to a particularly ominous Wolf-Rayet exotic. "The gamma ray pulses it gives off could penetrate shielding inside of one lightyear."

"Hrm…" Cat double-checked the records and nodded. "You're right. Let me mark that off." The boxes shifted slightly. "But now it's carrying us too far in the Y plane. So we need to adjust like so…" The box shrunk yet again. Cat frowned at that. "This is going to be tricky." She keyed the comm line to Jarod again. "Jarod, on our last jump, we'll need to send one ship ahead first to anchor the others. The arrival zone is too small to risk a free jump scattering the group."

"I read you."

Again Cat looked to Tra'dur, and when she did, she couldn’t help but stare at the calculations she’d been writing. Her eyes widened. Tra’dur had been double-checking the computer computations by hand, an act that of all the people Cat knew… Only Cat could do. And despite the situation, the millions of lives riding on this, Tra'dur entranced with the opportunity to be where she was. "You don't have any labs like this back on Rohric, do you?"

"No. It would be an extravagance even if we had access to the full range of your technology." There was a sadness in Tra'dur's voice. "That was my first lesson as a child: Unauthorized emissions were a grave risk. A radio wave from the surface when we were hiding from a passing scout could be the end of our species. I first learned physics and calculus by lantern-light in a classroom built into a cave. The old government led us into this hell and the price was paid by the children too young to be responsible for it."

"Well, maybe not any more?" Cat ventured. She stepped up beside the Dilgar. The species was not as overtly feline as the Caitians or the Rr'timm, but there was still the look of a graceful cat to Tra'dur. One staring longingly at the door of its cage. "Maybe things can be different for you now."

"Perhaps." There was the faintest flicker of hope in Tra'dur's expression. "It would be nice if we could move beyond the blood in our past. Mother… Mother has been doing her best."

“Your Mother?”

“Warmaster Shai’jhur is indeed my mother, and the only parent I’ve ever known. I am the second of six.”

Cat's face became pensive. "I know what that's like. My papa died when I was still very little, so I don't remember him." Something occurred to her a moment later. "So your father is why you're 'Tra'dur' and not 'Tra'jhur'?"

Tra’dur looked up wryly. “Well, that was the clan name of the gene-donor my mother used. A very distant relative of Jha’dur, but I hope you don’t hold that against me. When I was young mother taught me that the principles of universal rights outlawed punishment of relatives for the crimes of another…” She stared at the wall and swallowed. “Doesn’t that rather apply to all of us, right now?”

"Yeah," Cat answered. "It does."

On the Aurora bridge Jarod finished examining the fleet logs. What he found caused him to grin. "Well, that's luck," he said.

"Commander?" Julia looked at him.

"I found the next ship in our chain," he said. "Our next jump is S4W8. There's a refugee convoy moving toward Phosako space under convoy."

"Do the Phosako ships have jump anchors?" Meridina asked.

"No. But the allied ships with them do. The Eagle is with the convoy."

"Arik's son's ship?" Julia nodded. "That'll do just fine. Put him on so he knows we're coming, and why."

"He's answering our hail now."

The image of a bronze-skinned man with a closely-trimmed beard appeared on the holo-viewscreen. His uniform was unique, modeled after the Alliance uniform but with a silver torch as rank insignia on the collar to mark him a Commander in the New Liberty Defense Force. "Captain Andreys. It is a pleasure," Yonatan said in an accent of some refinement. Julia recalled his mother spoke English the same way. "What can I do for you?"

"Help me stop a genocide in progress, Commander Shaham."

Immediately Yonatan's expression darkened. His own people had come perilously close to experiencing such an end, if not for the intervention of the Aurora. "Tell me how."

"We're going to use you as a jump anchor," Julia said. "Once we're done with that, if you can detach yourself from that convoy we'd be glad to have you. If not, you've still contributed."

Yonatan seemed to consider it. "Allow me to communicate with the Phosako squadron commander. I will signal you when we have come to a stop and you can safely jump in."

"Thank you, Commander."

Yonatan disappeared from the screen. After he was gone Julia looked to her left, where Tom Barnes was sitting at the Engineering station against the wall. Cat's science station was astern of him and currently manned by Lieutenant al-Rashad. "Status on the jump drive?"

"It's already showing strain," he answered. "You've got maybe two jumps before we'll need to take the entire system down for a comprehensive repair."

Which would take days, Julia knew from experience. "So we make these next jumps count."

"The Eagle is signalling. They're ready to receive our jump."

"Signal the warning to the others and jump when ready." Julia felt impatience gnaw at her. They were running out of time. The Drazi would be arriving at Tira any time now. And the only thing between them and genocide would be a single ship.

It had only been about thirty minutes after the conversation with the Brakiri commander ended before her sensor tech operating the long range scans jerked up. "We’ve got them, Sir."

Lieutenant Carstairs stepped over, leaning down. "What is it, Johnny."

"Sixty-two repeat six two signatures approaching from the outer system gate. Consistent with the energy emissions of a mixed group of Drazi Sunhawks Mark-One and Mark-Two."

"All right. Captain." He turned to Zhengli’s side. Major Foster the XO was in the secondary CIC since they were already running at Condition Two. "We’ve got the Drazi force coming from the outer system… They have overwhelming strength, how are we going to talk them out of opening fire on the surface?"

Zhengli took a breath. "I’d say the Brakiri mercs being on the surface would do that, but let’s not kid ourselves. Neither the Brakiri or the Drazi care about hirelings. Patch me through again to the Brakiri Commander.”

“Aye-aye, Sir!”

Zhengli watched the broadcast indicator light up blue, taking a breath. “This is Captain Varma. Brakiri Commander, do you accept responsibility for the command of the Drazi forces entering the system?"

"Absolutely not! They are here of their own volition, Captain Varma! But certainly they are concerned about the existence of a Dilgar state and will take measures to remedy that situation."

"If the Brakiri, Hyach and Hurr ships in the system open fire on the surface of the planet, I shall open fire upon you," Zhengli replied bluntly. "The surface of this planet is under the protection of Earthforce. We will not permit genocide, and it would be a manifest violation of our earlier terms for you to join in any kind of Drazi attack on the system, is that understood?"

"These are the Dilgar, Captain Varma! If they had possessed sufficient technology, they would have been worse than the Shadows!"

"You already have troops on the surface, Brakiri commander. I will add that any massacres of civilians by them will meet the same response. I don’t care that they’re Dilgar. They’re sapient beings and they’ve been sitting here doing nothing to you. Any act of genocide will be interrupted by our maximum effort. And in fact, if you withdraw your troops from the surface, I shall also regard that as a preparation for genocide and take appropriate measures."

"You have nothing to be concerned about," the sneering voice came back. "We are merely containing the situation until a final solution can be arranged. You have no right to command me to end an occupation, or to maintain one."

"I might choose different words than those for the meeting with the ISA," Zhengli replied drolly. "President Sheridan probably won’t like hearing about a final solution. Huáscar out." She made a cutting motion across her neck.

"Drazi ships are still on an inbound vector for the planet. They have weapons charged, Sir."

Zhengli nodded. "Get me their commander, Officer Baeraz."

"Aye-aye, Sir… Drazi commander responding to hail."

"Drazi Commander, this is Captain Zhengli Varma of the Earth Alliance Ship Huáscar. The surface of the planet Tira which we are currently orbiting is under the protection of Earthforce. We are currently dealing with a situation in which the Brakiri have already landed mercenaries and you may be assured that I will not permit you to land troops or open fire upon the surface."

"This is Tar’koth of the Drazi Freehold. I do not care about your claim of protection, Captain Varma. There are Dilgar on the surface of that planet, in number, representing a fleet which fled into hyperspace when our old League friends helped us beat them. They are a danger to the entire galaxy unless they are removed," he chuckled, "no, to the entire Multiverse! We have come to remove them."

"I will not permit you to end the lives of twenty million innocents, not in uniforms or under arms, Tar’koth. The Earth Alliance did not permit the League of Non-Aligned Worlds to conduct genocide against the Dilgar during the Dilgar War, and we sure as hell won’t let you do it now against a prostrate colony of twenty million survivors of Omelos."

"Join us as allies, or stand against us, Captain Varma. You have no other choice. The Dilgar were living in Hell, we will send these Dilgar there, and they will be very welcome there where all the rest of the Dilgar are waiting for them. No matter what you say about genocide, you let us finish the Dilgar at the end of the war. Just in a convenient way that made you all feel better."

"Are you saying, Tar’koth, that your government knew about Omelos’ sun?"

The Drazi laughed. "Are you saying that your government didn’t?"

Zhengli’s brown skin had paled as far as it could, and in her officers they all knew that was a sign of rage. "This is your last warning. Break off your approach course and remain in the outer system. The terms have not changed. Tira is under the protection of Earthforce."

"We are your allies!" Tar’koth began to rage, laughing mockingly. "You would not dare!"

Varma made another cutting motion to the neck to order the channel closed. "Lieutenant Carstairs, confirm readiness conditions."

"Captain we are holding Condition Two and the ship is set Modified ZEBRA throughout."

Zhengli stared as the first wave of Sunhawks became to move toward Tira in direct contravention of her ultimatum, feeling her pulse briefly overwhelming her brain, before a strange kind of calm settled down upon her. Twenty million civilians on the surface, that’s what matters. "Shields up. Sound General Quarters."

Lieutenant Carstairs as the Officer of the Watch had the duty of repeating the orders. He tensed, glanced to Zhengli, and then ahead. But his stentorian voice cut the bridge. "Aye Captain! Tactical, activate deflector shields! Bosun!"

"Bosun’s Mate, Aye Sir." He didn’t even hesitate.

"Sound General Quarters!"

"Aye sir!" The Bosun’s mate took his whistle and activated the 1MC. As the ancient, clarion notes cut across the circuit an Earthforce ship was going to stations in earnest for one of the first times with artificial gravity, and the current protocol had reverted to USN wet-navy traditions since the zero-gravity action protocol had become useless. The noise was unmistakable and instantly commanding.

"General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands man your battlestations! The direction of travel is up and forward to starboard, down and aft to port! General Quarters! General Quarters!"

"Shields show nominal at full power, Sir," Lieutenant Syung confirmed.

"Well, we’re going to find out how well they work," Zhengli said quietly, then spoke loudly enough to be heard "Excellent, thanks to our Confederation friends we’re going to give quite a surprise to the Drazi." She spun to her command chair, clapping herself into it and securing the straps. "Target the lead Drazi group!"

"Fire Control, target the lead Drazi squadron!"

"Time plus one minute, Captain! All power systems at combat diversion, reactors have military power available."

"Range to the Drazi squadron?" Zhengli glanced to Lieutenant Syung.

"One hundred five kiloklicks and closing, Sir. Time to firing range is one minute and counting." Syung’s fingers danced over his consoles as he guaranteed the flow of data to central fire control.

Zhengli didn’t want to distract him again. "Lieutenant Carstairs, sing out when we have the range." She activated the channel to the CAG. "Major Larsen, launch the alert squadrons."

"Aye-aye, Captain."

She activated the open channel to the Drazi flagship again. "Drazi commander, this is Captain Varma of the Huáscar. Laugh all you want, but as I said, humanity will not permit even our allies to commit genocide. We will open fire at the time of my choosing and convenience if you do not immediately break off from approach to the planet. This is your final warning: You are instructed and commanded to break off!"

"Eat vacuum, human! The Freehold can afford the reparations for a single human cruiser if it means we have ended the threat of the Dilgar once and for all!"

Zhengli’s face clouded as the comm line clicked off. "If it is to be our fate to be a second Persephone, I can think of few nobler fates." she muttered, half to herself - thinking of the cruiser whose loss, attempting to defend refugee shipping over Tirrith, had irrecoverably started Earth on the path to the Dilgar War.

The Bosun’s mate sounded over the 1MC: "Time plus two minutes."

"We have the range," Carstairs spoke softly.

Zhengli nodded once.

"Material Condition ZEBRA is set throughout the ship. All hands at General Quarters, Sir! Time is two minutes, nine seconds."

The words crossed her lips without another moment of hesitation. "Lieutenant Syung, you are fire free."

The two massive particle beam mounts fixed forward on the Huáscar opened fire in unison, each at a different target. They were identical to the mounts on an Aegis defense platform, and the result was immediate and dramatic. One of the targeted Sunhawks was cut in two, and the second one exploded as the beam coursed through its engineering section. A lead salvo of twelve missiles was already heading toward the Drazi as the phased plasma cannon and railgun turrets which could bear bracketed and hammered a third Sunhawk with terrible fury.

The Drazi had not responded to the attack. Zhengli truly had shocked them, they had honestly led themselves to think that she wouldn’t open fire. And they had been wrong. As the third targeted Sunhawk exploded from massed fire, the missiles began their final approaches, and the brief moment of the Drazi standing passively by as they were cut to pieces was lost.

Curving into evasive patterns and accelerating, the Drazi broke from the planet, and instead, angled to englobe her while minimizing their exposure to the particle cannon. As her fighters moved in to engage their Drazi counterparts (and there the odds were much better, 36 against 60), all of the surviving Drazi ships came in straight for her. Huáscar’s particle cannon caught two more of them as they manoeuvred anyway, and as her shields lit up from stem to stern with the massed fire of more than fifty Drazi warships and held, for a moment, just a moment, Zhengli thought she might get out of this alive.

....If someone came in the next five minutes or so.

The impromptu task force that Julia assembled during their jumps cruised along at warp in formation. The Aurora was in the lead with the Magaratha, as Jarod had re-labeled the tactical for brevity with the Dilgar name. The Shenzhou was in formation with the other Dilgar cruisers. The Koenig and Heerman were now joined by the Eagle, cruising along at warp beside them, while the pentacon of Dilgar lighter ships now numbered with a pair of light Alakin warbirds - painted in gold and browns as by Alakin style - and a cruiser-sized Dorei Unama-class starbird, a ship of bright purple and green and blue. Rounding out the ad hoc group was a Gl'mulli orb ship from the same convoy the Eagle had withdrawn from.

All things said, this ad hoc group was not as potent as a full task force from the Alliance would have been, but depending on the conditions at Tira, Julia hoped it would be enough to get the Drazi to back down.

"We're approaching Tira," Locarno said.

"Anything on sensors?"

Cat was back at her station. "I'm picking up multiple contacts. Profiles match Hyach, Brakiri, Hurr and Drazi ships… and one matching the profile of an Earthforce dreadnought, Warlock-class."

"How many Drazi?" Julia asked.

"Fifty-two… no, make that fifty-one."

This let them know what they could expect when they dropped out of warp twenty seconds later. Julia watched the screen as it resolved on the battle raging before their improvised squadron of Alliance and Dilgar ships. Before them was a Warlock class destroyer, her deflector shields failing as they came in. She now stood, wreathed in the massive ring of hundreds of simultaneous explosions as her interceptor grid worked to keep her covered, as the hammer-blows of heavy hits tore into her armor. Julia watched the ship shudder from stem to stern and knew they were just in time.

"That’s the Huáscar, Zhengli’s ship," Kaveri’s voice came from the Magaratha. "And she doesn’t have long, Captain Andreys."

"Agreed. Jarod, put me on with them. When he nodded Julia spoke up. "This is Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. Drazi commander, cease-firing on the Huáscar immediately and withdraw from planetary orbit, or I will be forced to open fire. You have ten seconds to cease firing."

"You have brought the Dilgar warships to us to be destroyed, Captain Andreys, and for that I will thank you. Break off now, this is our business!" Drazi ships started manoeuvring away from the Huáscar, but not away from the battle and planet. They were vectoring toward Julia’s squadron, and Warmaster Shai’jhur’s pentacons in particular.

It was as simple as that. The Huáscar could be destroyed at any moment, and it was clear the Drazi were coming on for them. There was no time to talk. "Tactical, lock weapons. Commander Meridina, signal the squadron to open fire."

The two responded immediately. Within seconds the forward pulse plasma cannons of the Aurora were thundering their sapphire fury at the nearest, largest Drazi Sunhawk. The Darglan weapons were more than a match for the Drazi ship and blew it apart. Solar torpedoes from the Aurora's bow launchers acquired another Sunhawk, which broke in half from the resulting destruction. More plasma fire from the Aurora, this in the form of beams from the emitter banks, carved flaming gashes and wounds into the Drazi ships. The Shenzhou, not to be outdone, busied itself with scattering a squadron of Sunhawks coming in on an attack run against the Huáscar.

The light starships - and the Mongoose fighters from both Alliance cruisers - dove ahead of the ships to break up Drazi formations. Working together the Koenig and Heerman crippled a Sunhawk. The plasma cannons on the Dorei starbird blazed bolts of brilliant purple energy into one Drazi ship and then another. The Alakin opened up with their weapons in support of the Dorei ship when it came under fire from three Sunhawks. One of those ships took a spread of torpedoes from the Eagle, which moved on to attack a Sunhawk still menacing the failing shields of the Huáscar. When a Sunhawk menaced the Eagle from behind, its engines were blasted into debris by the Gl'mulli orb ship.

The Alliance ships opening fire did not startle the Drazi into inaction, however. With several of them cursing the fickle nature of Humans, they returned fire with full vigor. The lessons learned in engaging the Huáscar were now employed against the Aurora. Concentration of fire was the order. The Drazi pressed the attack with the full might of their numbers. They seemed bound and determined to fulfill the mission of genocide.

The Aurora shuddered from a hit to the shields. "Shields still holding at sixty percent," said Jarod.

"Forty-two enemy contacts still intact. Forty-one now."

"Captain, on your command we are ready to engage," Shai'jhur said.

"Not yet." Julia had a feeling that once the Dilgar opened fire, nothing would stop the shooting until one side or the other was completely annihilated. She checked the tactical map beside Meridina's seat. "Helm, bearing zero two eight mark zero zero three. All ships, follow."

The movement was confirmed and the various ships followed. The Drazi kept their attack up for the entire time, taking further damage and loss and inflicting very little of the latter in the process.

"Shields still holding at fifty-three percent," Jarod said after a wing of Sunhawks broke away from an attack run. Angel carved one of them up with a barrage from the port-side plasma emitters. "The warbird Yreep reports shield failure… they're taking direct hull damage."

"We're on it," Apley said over the tactical commline. The Koenig moved to torpedo the Sunhawks harassing the wounded Alakin ship. At the same time one of the Dilgar Ochlavati positioned itself to shield the Alakins from further damage. Their shields held, barely, against the attack.

The change in position was complete. The Drazi, now reduced to nearly half of their original force, were falling back to regroup. Julia's maneuver put her ships - and the Huáscar - into position to thwart any attempt to bombard the city on Tira. "Attention Drazi ships. I am asking you to cease fire. There's no need for this bloodshed."

"There is every need!" an aggrieved Drazi commander shouted. "The Dilgar must be destroyed before they can regain their strength! And we will not let you or anyone else stand in the way!"

"Is this what you want? If you continue to engage my ships, you could end up provoking a war with the Allied Systems. Do you think the rest of the InterStellar Alliance is going to let you do that?"

"They suffered from the Dilgar too. They will not suffer them to live."

"Then why haven't they joined you in attacking my ships?" Julia asked. "Why aren't they helping you?"

There was no answer to that. Indeed, for a time there was nothing. Not until they could just make out what sounded like a strike of scaled flesh against scaled flesh and a body slumping to the floor.

It was a new Drazi voice that spoke next. "This is Captain Tarinak. We acknowledge your superior tactical position, Captain Andreys, and we will halt our attacks. We request a ceasefire to recover our comrades from their ships."

"We'll be glad to assist in your efforts."

"You will do no such thing," the Drazi growled. "We remember what the Dilgar did to prisoners. We will not leave our comrades to that fate."

"The Alliance doesn't torture people, Tarinak."

"It seems you prefer to let others do the deed for you," was the sneered response. "You should leave. When the rest of our fleet arrives, the Dilgar will die. And so will anyone who stands with them." There was an audible cut to the line signifying the Drazi had cut the channel.

"I can feel the fear and rage from here," Meridina said. "They will not listen to us."

Julia watched the Drazi ships launch recovery shuttles. "Maybe the others will. Mister Jarod, hail the lead Brakiri vessel."

A moment later a Brakiri appeared on the holo-viewscreen. He had a visible cleave to his high forehead, with the bone ridges seeming to support it over his eyes. Dark brown hair swept down around the back of the Brakiri's head. "I am Captain Tabir. We monitored your conversation with the Drazi. I can assure you, Captain, that I have no intention of bombing the planet below."

Julia stopped herself from pointing out he was willing to let the Drazi do the job for him, and so he wasn't getting any credit from her. "I'm glad that the Earthforce captain and I aren't the only ones opposed to genocide."

"Our purpose here is self-defense only. Before the Shadows, the Dilgar were the greatest threat our people ever faced. We had to act once we discovered they still existed."

"I can understand investigating, certainly. Although an armed invasion was maybe a little too much?"

"We had to be sure they had no stockpiles of offensive armaments." Tabir smiled at her. "After all, under the terms of the treaty by which we spared the Dilgar at the end of the war, they were not supposed to leave their homeworld. They are in clear violation of that treaty. Our response was entirely measured and in keeping with the intentions of the InterStellar Alliance. Our occupation is legally justified."

Julia considered her options. Ordering the mercs out was likely to only cause the conflict to re-ignite, assuming the mercs didn't first "accidentally" set off the charges on the barrage gates holding the water back from the city. And while she was certain the Brakiri wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice those mercs if they were pushed into a bombardment, it would certainly be bad for future business with the like and not an option to be taken lightly, so the settlement on Tira was safer if the mercs remained where they were. "As long as your mercenaries are limiting themselves to a search for offensive armaments or mass casualty weapons, I have no objection to letting them finish their work," she said sweetly. "In fact, I'll be happy to help you. My Marines are ready to beam down and join your search."

"Your offer is greatly appreciated, but it would undoubtedly aggravate the locals further. Any sort of incident might result from this. I think it is best if we complete the search on our own."

Translation: send the Marines down and the colony burns.

"Very well," said Julia. "We'll remain in orbit until we hear from Tuzanor or Portland. If you are empowered to begin negotiations for the Brakiri, I'm told the Dilgar leader is ready to seek a permanent peace with the entire InterStellar Alliance."

"I shall consult my government. A chance to end the threat of the Dilgar forever cannot be missed, and the Brakiri Syndicracy will certainly recognize the Allied Systems' role in this awkward situation. Now, Captain, I must contact my superiors on the homeworld. Tabir out."

The moment he disappeared Julia's diplomatic smile vanished. "That sniveling ass," she grumbled. "At least the Drazi are being honest about committing genocide." After giving vent to her feelings on the matter Julia turned to Cat and asked, "What's the status of the Huáscar?"

Cat looked over her screens. "I'm reading multiple points of hull damage and systems failures. Nothing too severe, though. They can probably fix themselves up without any help."

"Regardless, they saved the day here. Mister Jarod, please hail them." Julia stood from her chair. The holo-viewscreen changed to show a woman of mostly East Asian extraction, like Li Ming-Chung, in the blue uniform of Earthforce's fleet branch. She looked to be in her mid-thirties.

“Thank you…” her eyes narrowed on Julia's uniform. She was instinctively looking for Earthforce insignia, Julia guessed, although Captain Varma quickly corrected herself and looked to Julia's collar for the four gold strips of the Captain rank. “Captain. Huáscar thanks you for your help.”

"We're glad to help," Julia answered. "You did the right thing to stand up against genocide. You and your crew deserve to be commended."

“It is always the duty of a Kshatriya to uphold Dharma, Captain. The Dilgar are not deserving of death. They never were.” Zheng-li took a breath, and looked up with fire blazing in her eyes. “The Drazi have admitted their government was aware of the fate of Omelos’ sun. They let twelve billion people die. They knew the Alliance had forbidden that as an end game of the Dilgar War, and they let it happen anyhow. No, we are not going to let then succeed. Not now that the threat is clear.”

There was a sudden commotion behind her outside of the feed. “Sir, why are you bringing FMFs to the bridge, Sir?”

“Stand down, Bosun’s mate, we are upholding the laws of the Earth Alliance against barratry!”

Zhengli’s face lost all expression, and she turned to the side, lunging to rise and raise her PPG. The screen cut out.

The sight drew the attention of the entire bridge. "What just happened?" Julia asked.

"They cut the transmission at the source," he answered.

"Get them back," Julia demanded. "Now."

The Huáscar remained a quiet image on the Aurora bridge's holo-viewscreen, damage still visible on her dark hull, and an unknown struggle occuring aboard her.

"Someone on the vessel mentioned barratry. That is the Human term for seizing or hijacking a military vessel, I believe," Meridina observed.

“It can apply to civilian contexts, too, but in Earth Admiralty Law it specifically means gross misconduct by the Captain and senior officers,” Jarod corrected.

“Gross misconduct… Anything yet, Mister Jarod?"

He shook his head. "Nothing." After another moment passed his station let off a tone. "Wait. We're getting a hail."

"On screen."

A man in an Earthforce uniform with a sandy blonde high and tight haircut and blue eyes appeared. He spoke in an English midlands accent. “This is Major Foster, Acting Commander of the EAS Huáscar. The Captain with whom you were speaking is guilty of barratry and filibustering the territory of the Brakiri Syndicracy and has been removed from command and confined to the brig. You have engaged and attacked the Drazi Freehold’s fleet while they were on a peacekeeping mission, while violating Brakiri territory. You have no right to interfere in the affairs of our galaxy and I expect that you will withdraw and allow ISA member nations to handle this matter amongst themselves. You have forty-eight hours to comply.”

"This isn't recognized Brakiri territory, even in the ISA," Julia retorted. "And you heard the Drazi. This isn't a peacekeeping mission, they're here to commit genocide. How can you side with them?"

“I think it will quickly become apparent that the Dilgar are a serious threat to galactic peace. The Dilgar, of course, committed genocide three times over and attempted it another eight,” Foster replied. “They are the most dangerous species in existence. And the Drazi are our allies. I will, of course, execute directives from Geneva, but I am not going to allow our allies to come under attack, Captain Andreys, unless I receive explicit orders to the contrary according to my lawful chain of command. The Brakiri clearly have not being committing genocide. And I’m sure we’ll find plenty of Dilgar war criminals on the surface to arrest.”

"Your allies won't come under attack if they don't try to commit genocide, Major. And the last time I checked, Earth was a signatory to the InterStellar Alliance Declaration of Principles and the Geneva Accord on the Prevention of Genocide, among other laws that the Brakiri and Drazi are blatantly violating here." Julia fought to keep her voice under control. Incredulity was becoming outrage inside of her. "Whatever the crimes of the last generation of Dilgar, one planet of barely twenty million survivors is hardly a threat to galactic peace! How many Dilgar war criminals can be left after Third Balos and the battle for their home system anyway?"

“The Brakiri are not committing war crimes, Captain Andreys, and they have the surface. And I’m not concerned about the Drazi. They’re our friends and we’ll talk it out with them. Unlike the butcherers you are trying to defend.”

"So you're holding the sins of Jha'dur and her ilk against the entire species?" Julia asked. Her next remark was delivered in a pointed tone. "That's the same logic the Minbari used to justify their war against Earth."

“I suggest you think twice before comparing us to the killers of our entire generation. The fact is that it’s my duty to insure the survival of Earth, Captain. Don’t stand before us.” With a chilled expression on his face, the screen blinked out.

Julia returned to her seat and let out a breath, wondering if the situation could get any worse, and dreading that it most likely would.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-08 06:33pm

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 3 April 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. We remain on station over the planet Tira to protect the colony of Dilgar. By doing so, we court a war between the Alliance and a number of species from Universe E5B1 including, it seems, the Earth Alliance. But if we withdraw, the Drazi and Brakiri will exterminate over twenty million civilians. My choice seems to be war or genocide. One is undesirable, the other unacceptable.

The command staff of the Aurora were in their conference lounge. The monitors showed their counterparts on the Shenzhou, Koenig, and Heerman, while a fourth image showed Shai'jhur and Kaveri over on the Magaratha. Outside the window their ad hoc squadron was visible in orbit over Tira. The Dilgar now numbered thirty-six ships with the arrival of what was left of Tira's defense forces.

"Tactically we have a partial advantage," Jarod said to the assembled. "The Huáscar is still repairing its damage and the remaining ISA fleets mostly have un-upgraded vessels with no deflector shields. We could drive them from the solar system."

"But if we try, that would precipitate full scale war with the InterStellar Alliance," Li noted. "President Sheridan wouldn't be able to resist the demand of the races here."

"The Earth Alliance would fall in just to get a chance to seize the Darglan homeworld," Julia added. "Unfortunately, if we don't do anything, once the Drazi reinforcements arrive and the Huáscar finishes repairing, we'll be the ones at a tactical disadvantage."

"We can't remain at Tira indefinitely," Imra said. "The fleet's still engaged in S4W8."

"I need solutions." Julia's eyes moved slightly to face the monitor with Shai'jhur. "Warmaster, our only option may be for you to formally contact Tuzanor and ask for President Sheridan to intervene personally. He's the one figure that the ISA races respect and fear enough that they'll back down."

I am prepared to do it, I have nothing against Sheridan. But there are some complications, especially in regard to Earthforce but really with the old liberation allies in general. I’d like to discuss them with you, if I could, in person.

"We can have you beamed back aboard whenever you're ready, Warmaster."

I’ll be ready with my staff in ten standard minutes.

Fifteen minutes later Julia brought Shai'jhur into her ready office off of the bridge. She offered a seat at her desk to Shai'jhur. The Dilgar leader coughed for several moments, only stopping after she sat down, supported by Battle Captain Fei’nur. Kaveri Varma sat at her right side. Julia took her seat at her desk. "This is about as private as you get on this ship, Warmaster," Julia said. "What is it you need to discuss?"

“Well, I’ll lay out the situation plainly, Captain Andreys,” Shai’jhur started after a moment. “The issue is that what the Brakiri commander said to you is false. The lawful Dilgar government never agreed to be confined to their homeworld. To paraphrase Louis XIV, I was the lawful Dilgar government and the only regime continuity. Properly I am not the true Head of State under the old laws, but certainly since the death of Supreme Warmaster Jha’dur I have been the Head of Government. And it was with full constitutional continuity that I passed my reforms. And the rightful Head of State was a one hundredth degree collateral relative of the late Emperor, who abdicated her responsibilities to me when I began reforming the government. That ‘treaty’ was signed with the Surgeon General, who had no authority to sign it. Not while both myself and, bluntly, Jha’dur, as Warmasters, remained alive.”

A pause, and she sighed, looking down into the table, before forcing her head up and continuing. In that moment, she looked old. “The Warmaster Council never told the rank and file what was going to happen to Omelos’ sun, you understand? I didn’t know. My original objective with what I called the Rohric Independent Fleet was simple: I was going to wait until the League got tired of occupying Omelos, possibly supporting a resistance campaign on the planet, and then when they were distracted by other events and fully demobilized, I would sweep in and liberate my people. It was a good plan, for the circumstances. Then Omelos’ primary explosively decoupled its outer layers… And twelve billion Dilgar died. But the fact remains, Captain Andreys, that I am legally at war with the former member nations of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds and the Earth Alliance.”

There was no immediate perceptible change to Julia's expression or posture as Shai'jhur explained the situation. It was certainly a legal minefield, of course. She had effectively brought the Allied Systems into the Dilgar War. At the same time, the facts on the ground were still the same. Genocide was wrong and it had to be stopped. And if the races of the ISA signed on for genocide… then the onus of the bloodshed was on them.

"So the obvious necessity of the moment, Warmaster, is to end the war legally. Which I'll admit is easier said than done. And it's going to require President Sheridan's involvement.

“He can negotiate for the ISA in full,” Shai’jhur agreed. “However, I wish to make something else clear, first, which I think will make everything easier.” She glanced to Kaveri, who handed over an embossed folio which was marked with a sharp claw-pattern crest. “I have consulted my government and by universal vote of the elected Statutory Council, I hereby present the Honourable Union of Tira and Rohric’s application for accession as a member state of the United Alliance of Systems.”

Julia accepted the folio and glanced over it. The language was translated into English and very formal. The formality might have made it obtuse if not for the straightforward nature of the text.

It was certainly a bombshell as well. Julia imagined that once announced it would certainly hurt Alliance relations with most of the ISA's races save, maybe, the Minbari. The Alliance's position in E5B1 would become quite precarious. The Earth Alliance's push to undermine the Alliance's claims to former Darglan worlds would get plenty of adherents. And all for the sake of not even fifty million people on two planets.

Of course, when she considered just how willing those factions were to commit genocide…

"I'll transmit this to the appropriate authorities on Portland," she said. "Normally starship captains aren't the usual channel for these things but given the circumstances, the application should still get processed and brought before the Council. Although you have to understand that the Alliance has strict requirements on sapient rights."

Shai’jhur looked serious as she nodded. “You can have your people review a complete packet of our constitutional law, recent press documentation and electoral records. Of course we anticipate having an Alliance working group visit to verify these, but they should provide a straightforward demonstration of our ability to meet, within our own species’ laws, customs and culture, the rights and norms of the Alliance. No different than the Gersallians or the Dorei. I am sure we have some innovations that will mystify you but in the end it will all be perfectly clear that we are fully committed to meeting the principles required for membership. Indeed, as a demonstration of my commitment to full interspecies equality I have already signed documents granting Kaveri Varma citizenship in the Union and the rank of Battlemaster in our Armed Forces.”

"The Cabinet and the Senate will likely determine how the investigation is conducted." Julia considered the folio and what Shai'jhur had just said about Varma. "If I may," she began, "what happened between you and Captain Varma? It's clear that the two of you are a lot closer than anyone else imagines."

Kaveri smiled. “I believe I can start, though there’s a few parts I don’t know that Shai’jhur will have to fill in.”

Lt. Kaveri Varma had been the only one out on the escape pod from the Denali - and now she was diving for cover as her escape pod exploded, and staring in horror at most of her supplies going up in a brilliant fireball as the fuel cells cooked off. Now she had almost nothing, and the Dilgar were here... She plunged into the scrub and waited.

In the distance, there was a booming noise of a shuttle having gone down.... And then nothing came for the rest of the day, except for the wind and the waves, which rose, and fell, with a brief storm tossing across the isle, so far out to sea. The next day, there was nothing except silence, and without the escape pod, no radio nor beacon, either.

The lack of troops made her believe that, perhaps, the Dilgar had perished in the crash, but to be safe, she stayed away from the crash-site, working with the small kit she had in her survival pack. At least she thought the fish were edible, starting to hack together a fishing pole for use as the sun set. On Earth, at least, it was an ideal time, bringing back memories of heading to the beach at dusk when she was a girl in Konkan.

Fishing was patient, quiet work, resumed the next morning, and the weather was dark and grey, but otherwise well as the sun brightened slowly in the horizon with the dawning of the next day. And about thirty minutes on, a voice in halting English cut the darkness.

"Stay where you are!"

Nope! shot through her mind like lightning, as Kaveri dove for cover, scrambling as quick as she could for broken ground.

"....Human, are all humans -- disobedient!? " The voice echoed again, almost trenchant.

As Kaveri searched, she could see the glint of a scope up in the rocks, and a flash of dark blue over the gray. But she would not let herself be drawn into revealing herself, and she stayed silent. A Dilgar who knows English? Intelligence? Divine, but I do not wish to be captured by her! Her survival rifle had gone up with the escape pod, which meant she felt uncomfortably reminded that Dilgar had evolved from a line of carnivores, and this one was armed.

The Dilgar rose, and began to pad down across the rocks, now, keeping the rifle leveled and walking low, in a swift, nimble gait which was sure-footed in the scree of the slope leading down to the beach, a predator's walk from an already small figure.

Darting away, she was trying to break contact, thrashing through the scrub - trying to get far enough away to slow down and start to hide, rather than end up with a bullet in the back.

"Please stop, human! A truce! A truce! You have my word! A truce!"

Pausing, Kaveri halted, looking back, incredulous. "... What?"

"I just wanted to ask you a question, human, but I could hardly expect you to not attempt to kill me if I came unarmed!" She came to a stop as well.

Kaveri did not dignify that with a response, only thinking back to intelligence's reading of the Dilgar, and how they did little but prepare for war and personal combat.

"Human, this is really quite important." She drew herself up -- and the rank tabs showed that she was a Battle Captain. Not exactly a low-ranking Dilgar.

"Human, ...can you fish?"

Kaveri smiled wryly as she finished the story. "So, four and a half months later, Shai’jhur was rescued, and I was left behind. Two weeks after that, I was recovered as part of the general fleet advance. They asked me a lot of uncomfortable questions, but to be honest, I always felt Shai’jhur was the one in far more danger."

Shai’jhur smiled. "Perhaps I was, but I believe I understood Warmaster Jha’dur better than most did."

"...Warmaster?" Julia glanced at her, feeling a bit trenchant at the idea of someone ‘understanding’ Jha’dur.

"You were always at your safest with Jha’dur if you told the truth," Shai’jhur replied, and started her own story.

It was a frail, tiny looking Dilgar female by any measure who entered the antechamber to the Lab where Jha'dur did her reports and computer time. Steady yellow almondine eyes betrayed no fear, however, as she drew herself up and saluted. "Battle Captain Shai'jhur reporting as ordered, Warmaster."

The figure at the desk did not look up for some time, before finishing whatever file she was finishing, and looking up. "Battle Captain. Your preliminary report has come to my attention - you have spent much time with one of the humans, by what you wrote." Cold eyes transfixed her, the commander of First Strike Fleet, the battered force thrown back and shattered by the humans, who still was searching for some way to turn the tide. "You did not return with them."

"I'm a drylander, Warmaster. I didn't know how to fish. So I made a deal with the human, who did," Shai'jhur replied, standing rigidly at attention.

"What was the nature of this arrangement, Battle Captain?" Gaze falling back to her paperwork, the Warmaster was making short notes with a stylus.

"Whichever of us was rescued first wouldn't tell our rescuers about the other to give a fair chance to get clear. Beyond, of course, the truce of cooperation that lasted for the duration of the time on the island."

"Which of you was rescued first?" Looking up, Deathwalker lurked in the eyes before her. "Why did you think of such an arrangement?"

"I was, Warmaster. I thought of it because I considered that a veteran Battle Captain was a sufficiently greater asset to the Dilgar than a green Lieutenant to the humans, and I could learn most of the useful intelligence from her over the time we were together, anyway."

"You have learned useful intelligence?" There was a fractional shifting, and then Jha'dur was leaning closer. "Sit, Battle Captain. What have you learned?"

Shai'jhur moved to sit. "Of course, Warmaster. I can explain in some detail how the war is being presented to the human population, and what their response to the war and the war effort has been, as well as various sociological observations on humans."

"She did not share any military intelligence, but by being friendly she shared those things which would not naturally occur to her to be important."

"The humans are much better acquainted with us than we are with them, Warmaster, I might add."

"You will tell me, Battle Captain. You will tell me everything, and spare nothing. If I am satisfied... you will leave this ship to take up a new command. If I am not..."

Shai'jhur bowed her head and raised her hand. "I'm not sure about the nobility on Omelos, Warmaster, but on Rohric we are taught not to lie." She swallowed. "I'll get started, and spare nothing."

"See that you do not."

“You see, honesty and competency together could forgive a great deal with Warmaster Jha’dur, Captain Andreys. Failure of your own making and incompetency, honestly admitted, were what got you, if you handled the matter with some dignity in your failure, a pistol with a single round and five minutes, and if you tried to lie or make excuses -- your one-way trip to Lab Nine.” Even after thirty-two years, Shai’jhur shuddered a little.

For Julia the most surprising thing wasn't the shudder that involuntarily shook Shai'jhur. That seemed the reasonable thing. It was that, through the story, Shai'jhur spoke about Jha'dur with what sounded like respect, even a little admiration. Julia would expect that from a defiant Dilgar refusing to accept the abuses and evils their war on the other races had caused, but it was quite clear Shai'jhur was not such a person. "It sounds like you still respect her, almost," she said carefully.

“Jha’dur was my commander, and we had clean glories, Captain. We also had occasions when I volunteered myself and my crew for dangerous duty in the rearguard and the pickets to avoid being assigned as a bombardment ship. That’s how I kept my hands clean. I’m sure there were others who did the same… But very few survived, period, after Third Balos. She was also probably the smartest woman of any race in the past ten thousand years. She was damned by our system, Captain Andreys. What was it the human philosopher Hannah Arendt said? The Banality of Evil? Yes, exactly that: She was an orphan, Captain Andreys, and in Dilgar society orphans were cast out to die. Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan helped her - merely by keeping her from being expelled from school as a favor to an old comrade, her father. That was it. And that was considered exceptional, to the point of placing in peril his position as a high-ranking Intelligence officer.”

“She kept her brother and herself alive by slowly pawning off her entire family estate, when she was a girl. And then when she had gotten into the academy, they took her aside and told her that her entire species was going to die in less than fifteen years unless they won the war. The way they indoctrinated children on Omelos in those days… They were raised to see all aliens as animals. She was set up. Is she a war criminal? Yes. Did she deserve to die? Yes. Did she, in the end, make choices which killed innocents? Certainly. But that was the fault of our entire society too, not just Jha’dur. From her point of view, she was just a woman trying to save her people. If we pretend Jha’dur was Deathwalker, was this creature of evil, instead of being a brilliant tactician loved by the lower deck who also happened to kill billions, we’re just escaping our collective responsibility for what happened. Jha’dur was not born fully formed to evil, she was made that way by our entire society.”

"I can see why you've put so much effort into reforming Dilgar society," Julia remarked. "I can't imagine it was easy."

“It wasn’t easy, but I was well-motivated, Captain. I have watched pretty much my entire people die. We take expectant mothers up to the Brown Dwarf Station to try and protect children from the spores, keep the children there until they’re two years old. Can you imagine what it is like as a mother to take your children back to the surface of Rohric after that? Some parents kill themselves and their children to avoid it. Depression, hopelessness, alcoholism are the norm. I promoted Dharma study in an effort to provide people an explanation for why, to give them anything to latch on to other than hopelessness. It…” She squeezed her hands.

“But I owe it to all those we left behind. Don’t we, Fei’nur?”

“Warmaster.” The giant woman took a step forward, her face carefully schooled into a reserved, neutral expression.

“If sins are expatiated in blood, Captain, we have certainly bled. It was… Living through the end times.” Her eyes seemed almost apocalyptic as old memories were coming to the forefront of her mind.

There was a quiet tension in the Lookout. Anyone could look through the transtanium windows and see why, with the sight of the Brakiri and Hyach ships, not to mention the large Huáscar. It was odd that the ship that had made their success so far possible was now known to be an enemy, but the word was already spread through the crew.

Despite the nervous tension Cat was sitting and enjoying a meal with her sister. Violeta was on the bridge and not available for dinner, unfortunately, but at least they would get to see each other when Violeta's bridge watch was over. For now there was Hargert's offered meal, a particularly German offering of sausages (including, yes, sausage stew), rice pudding, and noodles with gravy and a cabbage casserole. "I was hoping it would be Latin night again," Cat admitted to Angel.

"You always want Latin night," Angel pointed out. "Besides, you can always replicate it if you really don't want the German stuff."

"Yeah, but then that would be mean to Hargert," Cat protested. "He works so hard."

Angel nodded once in agreement. "So, how was it with that Dilgar girl?"

"Who? Tra'dur? She's nice. And jealous of our technology. And as smart as me."

"That I would have to see, because nobody is as smart as you."

Cat gave her sister a bemused look. "What about Jarod?"

"Jarod cheats." Angel looked around. "So where is she?"

"Still on the bridge," Cat replied.

"No, not your girlfriend. Your new friend," Angel said. "Aren't you supposed to be working with her?"

"Well, yes, but when I said I was coming here to eat she said she wanted to finish a simulation she was running on the Science Lab 2 computers." Cat smiled and giggled. "It's some astrophysics model she drew up in school or something, but the Dilgar don't have sophisticated enough computers to examine it. We do."

"Ah. Well, I can see why you'd be friendly with her." Angel laughed. "You're both hopeless geeks."

The Dilgar woman entered just then, bag slung over her shoulder. With her striking red head of hair over her dun fur, and that cute tiny button-nose, yellow eyes looked about alertly. Swathed in crimson sash and scarf, her blue uniform with gray tone had gaudy rank tabs and, science officer or not, she had a sword buckled at her side. Stepping up to the counter, she spoke briefly with Haegert and then picked up a tray with a bowl of sausage stew, two sausages by themselves on the side, and a tiny helping of noodles covered in a very large quantity of gravy. The amount of meat was almost comical for the tiny woman as she looked around, and then headed straight for Cat and Angel.

"Oh, hey," Cat said upon Tra'dur reaching the table. "Did you finish your simulation?"

“Yes, I did. It confirms something about hyperspace that one of my relatives hypothesized back in the old Imperium but never followed up on,” she said rather excitedly. “I think it might provide the theoretical link between the hyperspace used here and that used in S0T5.”

"Are you going to write a paper?" Cat asked.

“...I’d like to, yes. It would be a great thing to be doing recognized science again, as a people. We have some very strong biological sciences still as well, and I’ve thought before we might be able to help the League races we hurt in the past, but, of course, they might not like our help.” She was quietly demolishing the massive pile of meat dishes she’d acquired, taking mouthfuls between sentences.

"You should contact the Vulcan Science Academy," Cat said. "The Vulcans only really care about the logic and scientific grounding of papers, and they're becoming the lead science organization for the whole Multiverse."

“I want to go there! I should really like to study at the VSA,” Tra’dur said with an unbridled delight. “Everyone would just be focused on science, you’re right, and I wouldn’t have to be concerned. Though I think Vulcans are vegetarians…”

"They are, but they still have meat programmed into their replicators," Cat said.

"Big on meat, aren't you?" Angel asked.

“We are preferential, but not obligate, carnivores. Also, I hate to claim status as a victim for myself, but we always wanted for food growing up, and the spores stunt our growth. My generation of Dilgar is as short as our iron-age ancestors on Omelos. Battle Captain Fei’nur is an example of a Dilgar who grew up healthy.”

"Maybe our medical technology can help with those spores? Chelate them out of the body or something."

“Oh, they’ll pass if you stay away from Rohric for long enough. That hasn’t exactly been an option for anyone. And mother’s family was poor, but stubborn, so they stayed on Rohric to be free and respected before the war. That would be another advantage of the Vulcan Science Academy… Or staying on a ship like this, exploring. I’ve only been to about twenty systems in my life and about six have been on this trip. I want to see the Multiverse!”

"Well, that sounds familiar." Angel grinned at Cat.

Tra’dur was grinning, now, and reached into her bag, pulling out … A pair of bagpipes. “For hobbies, I confess to having learned this human instrument, I understand it’s very old, as well as a few others. Can I play it here?”

Angel blinked. "Just where did you get a set of bagpipes?"

“Well, to be honest, it was war booty passed down in the family.” She turned the pipes to display a silver regimental plate. The Black Watch. Royal Highland Regiment of Canada.

"So it's a trophy from the war." Angel shook her head. "Be careful showing that thing around Scotty. He takes the bagpipes almost as seriously as he does the engines."

“I honour them by keeping it according to their regulations and playing it as respectfully as they would,” she answered, raising the instrument to her lips. Quite flawlessly, she started to play The Black Bear.

Everyone in the Lookout started looking their way. Some were surprised, others annoyed, a few simply bewildered at the sudden blare of bagpiping. Angel and Caterina shared uncertain looks, each wondering just how this was going to turn out. Especially if…

"Now who's playin' th' Black Bear in th' middle o' dinner?" a voice called out.

Cat and Angel turned and watched Scotty enter the Lookout, still in his engineering vest over a long-sleeved white turtleneck and black trousers. He looked around and quickly followed the eyes of the others in the room to their table. Cat and Angel said nothing while the older man came over. His eyes went to the bagpipes and then to their current owner. There was the slightest hint of… not quite anger, but certainly instinctive disapproval.

“Commander, Sir,” she smoothly finished and rose. “My name is Tra’dur, Combat Master on the Magaratha. I should like to think I do them honour, Sir. They were meant to be played.”

“Oh, lass, you’re right they were. But they’re a’ regiment’s, aye?”

“The Canadian Black Watch”, she answered, reverently holding them as she displayed the name plate. “I made the repairs myself.”

“An’ ye did a good job, lass. They are in tune.” He looked at the plate for an unusually long time, quiet. “There’s about a thousand men between you an' those pipes I’m guessin’.”

“I don’t hold it against them, I hope their families won’t hold it against us.” She looked up, her eyes almost glassy. “They were such incredibly brave men. They held the rear-guard on the retreat at Balos. We had never seen such soldiers before, never would again. Not even our worst dared deny their courage. The story goes that Warmaster Jha’dur was so impressed by them that she ordered the few survivors be left to go free. I play for them as much as for myself.”

“Ah, lass.” His eyes were more grandfatherly. “I willnae say it’s wrong, but they might be upset. ‘Ere, I’ll help ye get a pair fitted for yerself, real ones, nae replicated, an' ye can play those an' make 'em yers."

A nervous, but relieved smile, touched Tra’dur’s lips, and she nodded. “I’d be honoured, Commander…”

“Montgomery Scott, lass.” There was a little twinkle in his eye. “Do these things right, and I think ye'll make a fine piper.”

From the moment that she had started, Shai’jhur seemed gripped in the spell of a terrible memory. She recounted Fei’nur’s arrival, the terrifying realization… The desperate call for help from the surface of the doomed world. Her small lungs heaving, claws skittering on Captain Andreys' desk, each word was uttered with a dull precision. Behind her, Battle Captain Fei’nur shrunk in place like the story was physical pain.

I am the Warmaster at the End of Days. It had been the first thought that had flashed through her mind when she heard ragged Fei’nur’s report when she had finally reached Rohric, after her daring escape from Balos. Her second had been to lay her cards out and beg the humans for help.

But the humans were far away, and the preliminary signs of Omelos destabilizing were already occurring. Her own people had been terrified the Earth Alliance would not help, and Shai’jhur was not sure if they would, or if they would pretend they had tried their best and would be unable to. And in the end, the event simply happened too fast to plan their way to another resolution.

Instead, Shai’jhur had activated her invasion alarm and used the emergency mobilization protocols to fling every single military and civilian ship in the Rohric Independent Fleet for Omelos, arriving as the radio broadcasts, steadily more desperate, began. And it had been Fei’nur, child of the Ogkharin ghetto, Fei’nur, the replacement, who earned her commission by killing a squad of Drazi with an entrenching tool, and who Shai’jhur had trusted to commence the evacuation on the End of Days. The League had obligingly retreated to let the Dilgar die, and into the short gap between the retreat and death, Shai’jhur had quietly slipped.

The radiation was peaking, and Ogkharin was sweeping toward the terminator line. The dawn would be bring lethal radiation for everyone on the surface. "Combat Expert…" Shai’jhur’s voice cut the open line. "You need to finish up the last transport. You have ten minutes until Ogkharin reaches the terminator." She spoke in a strangely detached tone. Around her bridge, listless, hopeless faces and eyes contrasted with those lit with a desperate energy. They had long since muted all the civilian channels: They didn’t need to listen to the death cries of the western hemisphere.

"Understood, Warmaster." The voice that came through was flat, emotionless. There would be time to look at the new scars on her soul later, Fei’nur thought, looking around at the masses of Dilgar around her. Her people, the ones living close enough to the spaceports to reach them when the evacuation orders had come down, not the hand-picked selection of society which had made it aboard the evacuation ships before the Battle of Omelos. Now, the slowly growing light on the horizon portended death for anyone who did not make it aboard these last transports. She bit her cheek hard enough to draw blood as she withdrew a small cylinder from her jumpsuit and pressed the button atop it… setting off the charges that would collapse the passenger gangways to the loading platform, as she turned to those around her; "When the sun rises, anyone not aboard dies! Move, Dilgar, move if you want to live! Push until you can barely breathe!" And some of the weaker will not be able to, but there’s no other choice…

In later years, Fei’nur knew she was the last Dilgar to breathe the choking, polluted air of Omelos. Somehow, in her nightmares, it always tasted sweet.

The next day, Warmaster Shai’jhur came to visit her personally where she lay in her hospital bed, almost overcome with radiation burns. "Combat Expert," she began, hesitantly, and then reached for Fei’nur’s hand in an unprecedented gesture from a Dilgar superior officer. "Thank you for your effort. Both with the people and with the Warmaster’s Council files."

Her eyes were flat, when Fei’nur coughed and shuddered, weakly grasping her Warmaster’s hand back. "Anything… for my Warmaster. I will never forgive that I failed her, that I arrived too late… but I will force myself to live with the shame. She found it within herself to do so, how could I do any less…?"

"I must ask for more," Shai’jhur answered softly. "I am going to take every measure necessary for us to survive. Survive as Dilgar, a proud race, and free. Some of those measures you will not understand. They will bother you. Challenge what we were told. What we believed. You must, with the reckless lack of fear of a woman who has seen what you have seen, challenge them. Remonstrate. Question what I do. I will always listen. And then you must accept when I stay the course, and do it anyway. But I will always listen."

"I am not sure if I am capable of such a thing, Warmaster, but if such is your order, I shall attempt it with my utmost, to death itself. Is this something you find satisfactory?"

"Yes. It is all I would ask." Around them, the incoherent moans of those drugged into bliss as they died, those just too late to save, washed into the dreadful numbness of the day after the apocalypse.

Shai’jhur finished, leaning into Fei’nur, who stood as woodenly as a statue. Kaveri had leaned back in her chair, quietly weeping. “And so we pulled ourselves together. I had six daughters to set an example for the rest. We had a new war on our hands, against drunkenness, drugs and suicide. So, Captain, now you know everything. Including how twelve billion Dilgar died. Perhaps we adults who started the war deserved it, but wither the children?”

"No." Julia shook her head. There were no words she could conceive of to deal with the grief and loss. It was a truly terrible thing to contemplate the death of an entire people, a unique species and culture that might have yet had something to contribute to their galaxy, to the Multiverse. Forever denied the chance at redemption.

Not to mention the children. Beings who, by definition, were innocent of the crimes of their parents. "Children don't deserve to suffer for the crimes of their parents." As she said the words Julia wondered if her own people could have that thrown back into their faces. An interstellar war could be terrible on civilian populations. The protection that starships and space installations enjoyed ensured that civilian targets faced utter annihilation if not defended themselves… and it was those same defenses that were targeted first to enable planetary invasions. How many children in the Reich had died while the Alliance fought their parents?

“And so here we stand.” Shai’jhur sighed, like so much of a deflated balloon. “Captain, I must figure out what is happening on the surface. We are being denied information, and we must know how bad it is. But I don’t want to send my own effort independently.”

"I was already considering sending a team down." Julia shook her head. "If we move too directly, the Brakiri will probably blow the barrage," she said. "We have a runabout specifically designed for stealth insertions. But I have to warn you that even that's not guaranteed."

There was no hesitation on Shai'jhur's part. “Battle Captain Fei’nur can go, to support your personnel in conducting the reconnaissance and avoiding blue-on-blue incidents. The rest should be your’s, Captain.”

"I'll inform Major Anders and Lieutenant Lucero."

“An operations officer? This could involve intense special forces activities, Captain, I wouldn’t necessarily think it wise to have someone slowing down the group.”

Julia nodded and grinned. "Lucy is not your average operations officer. She's been trained in the arts of the Gersallian Order of Swenya, if you've heard of them. She's become experienced enough that they consider her to be an honorary Knight, in fact."

“Only vague rumours,” Shai’jhur answered. “We still have telepaths, though they are no longer restricted to the Mha’dorn. Yes, if that is her ability, I understand perfectly. Fei’nur, you are detached to assist the Alliance forces in conducting a reconnaissance of conditions on Tira.”

“Yes, Warmaster!” she came to attention.

Shai’jhur smiled. “Now, we just need to wait for Sheridan’s reply.”

While I foresaw my career ending in such a fashion, I was expecting it to be at the hand of either Sheridan or Clark’s people, not at the hands of my own crew. The thought floated to the surface of Zheng-li Varma’s mind, as she sat with her legs folded under her in her own ship’s brig. Her eyes slowly opened, as she regarded the reinforced steel door before her, then closed again. I must trust that I have instilled the values of righteousness into my crew, that they will choose to see this as mutiny. We are often tested, but it is so difficult to wait, when one can do nothing. Still, to fail to act to protect the helpless… would be failing in my duty. There was nothing else to be done.

Her reverie was interrupted by a soft knock on the cell door. “Captain?” It was Lieutenant Johnathan Goodman, the Security Officer for the Huáscar, a big, easygoing man from Belize. “We’re arranging to have your regular meals brought down.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. This will all end badly, mark my words. Even Admiral Hamato was not willing to engage in indiscriminate bombardment, nor his subordinates. Earthforce does not want to sully itself in this. We will not come off well.”

“You know Foster’s politics. The entire crew is on pins and needles right now. Nobody wanted to fight our allies, though, but Foster doesn’t care about that. What he cares about is that he thinks you imperiled Earth’s interests for the sake of aliens.”

“I’ve never done that, Lieutenant. This will turn the UAS against us, and make us multiversal pariahs. It’s in Earth’s interests to be part of a wider community, to be what we should be. Sheridan threw me off Babylon 5, I thought that was the usual defence against a charge of race treason?” She was bitter-sounding, as the wounds the Minbari War had left on Earthforce seemed to be ensnaring her again. “The Dilgar did evil things, but at least they had a reason for it. We wanted to see them become part of the galaxy again, like we did for the nations defeated in the Second World War.”

“It isn’t that you’re wrong, Captain, it’s that to a lot of our officers, you went rogue. We had no orders. You just acted.” He hesitated, a chill, cold sweat visible on his face.

“Are you telling me that I do not have a responsibility under the Genocide Convention, Lieutenant? I do not need orders - I would be a criminal if I waited for them and allowed it to happen. I swore an oath, and I am acting within it. You recall the Legal Handbook? ‘A state’s obligation to prevent, and accordingly to act, arise at the instant the State learns of, or normally should have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.’ The Captain’s eyes were cold, hard, and unforgiving. “I will see the Commander spaced if he results in us failing in that sacred charge, Lieutenant. I am ashamed that so much of the crew followed him, and regard it as a personal failing as Captain of the Huáscar.”

Goodman looked uncomfortable. “Captain, when the war ended everyone agreed to put it behind us, but you know, Major Foster is one of Clark’s people…”

“And did I not stand with General Lefcourt at Mars, in accordance with my oaths? Did not Sheridan expel me from Babylon 5? I am a soldier, and I will not abandon my duty. I see Major Foster as having committed mutiny.” The word fell like lead between them. Her uttering it raised the stakes to an entirely new and dangerous level for Huáscar’s crew.

And Goodman knew it, pacing in front of her cell nervously. “Look, Captain, you know the crew is basically split into two camps. Those of us who sided with Sheridan think you did the right thing and those who served Clark regard this as a betrayal of Earth’s interests. They don’t think Geneva applies to aliens and they never have and never will. I…. Sharon Farallon,” the Chief Engineer, “is the one who’s most torqued off about Foster. I’m worried he might order her arrest next. I’ll… I’ll talk to some people, Captain, I’ll keep Foster’s Nightwatch buddies out of here. But you gotta understand that if this goes down, it isn’t going to remain non-violent.”

“This is far more clear-cut than anything Sheridan ever did, Lieutenant. Regardless, be careful. This is a wound that the Minbari inflicted on us, and it has not yet healed. I will not have good people shot down by a mutineer if I can help it.”

“Well, I’ll get people talking,” Goodman answered. “Since I’m Security, nobody is going to question my coming into the brig. I’ll… get people talkin’.” He looked levelly at Zhengli. “I’m with you.”

“You are… a good man, Goodman.” She half-grinned at the pun, managing to find a hint of levity in the situation, as painful as it was. “Huáscar will get through this.”

Goodman laughed at the joke despite of, or perhaps because of, his nervousness. “I’m prayin’, Captain. You’re right about it, though. It’s right and wrong that matters here… And it just ain’t human of us to stand by and watch civilians get shot down from orbit. I’ll talk to you again soon.” He closed the viewing screen and his footfalls drifted away.

Shortly afterwards, one of the guards slid Zhengli’s food into the cell. As she did, the woman whispered softly: “You did right, Captain, but I don’t how we’re going to get past those Nightwatch goons.”

“We’ll find a way. Be careful, feel out some of the others. We need to act before they open fire on those UAS ships. Earth will have a whole lot bigger problems than some alliances with genocidaires being messed up if Foster really does that.”

“Aye Aye, Captain..”

After dinner Caterina headed back to Science Lab 2 to check on a couple of things. One of those was Tra'dur's simulation which explained, or at least further explained, the Dilgar woman accompanying her. "You look really content," Cat observed.

“Commander Scott was very kind. I’ve always loved music so much. I know all of the human spacing songs, and any others I’ve found along the way, but instruments were hard to get…. To many of our own songs from my mother’s era are just terrible, so I prefer the human ones,” she grinned wryly. “And by terrible, well. Actually, I don’t think it’s even appropriate to start singing something that recursively talks about how it was ‘sung again with a lot of blood’.”

Cat made a face. "Yeah, I wouldn't either." She took a seat at one of the computer controls and activated the ongoing simulations. Her own simulation was one of her newest investigations as a result of their trip into the Fracture. Attached to it were notes from Doctor T'Dala and Professor Satek of Vulcan regarding the new parameters for evaluating T'Vral Distortions. She read them again just to do so, and to feel giddy at having two esteemed astrophysicists writing notes to her like she was a fellow colleague, not a student.

Not that she wasn't still a student. She was in many ways, and she didn't even have a doctorate. But it was still a great boost to her confidence.

“So what are you working on, Cat’Delgado?” Tra’dur asked as she settled down, reorienting herself to the system and checking the paper notes that had still been important to the way she worked, after the way she learned.

"It's a simulation on T'Vral Distortions," Cat replied. "They're a result of intense space-time distortion near a star allowing the bleeding of subspace into real-space. They've been theoretical for two hundred years until I found one in the Fracture last month." There was a real enthusiasm in Cat's voice. "It was amazing to see Doctor T'Vral's theory was true. The Vulcan Science Academy is asking me to do a presentation this summer at a symposium they're hosting on the Citadel in Universe M4P2. I've already put in my leave request for it and it's so exciting…"

“The Citadel? I’ve heard that each of its arms is as grand as Babylon 5! I should love to see it. If they’re doing a symposium there… Perhaps there will be peace, and I can actually go to such a thing.”

"It's enormous. It doesn't have the same charm as B5, but there's lots of interesting things, and nearly every sapient species from that version of our galaxy has residences on the station."

“I see--or rather I don’t, but I wish I did.” A smile crossed her face, showing her fangs. “Do you have a mate, Cat’Delgado, or is it just the mathematics for you?”

A deep blush appeared on Cat's face. "Uh… I'm with someone, yeah," she managed.

“Tell me about him?”

Cat swallowed and giggled nervously. "Uh… well… you see… I'm not sure how your species and culture or whatever view this sort of thing, but…" After drawing her silence out Cat sighed and came out with it. "...well, I'm with another girl, not a guy."

After a quiet pause built up some anticipation in Cat, Tra’dur laughed softly. “Cat’Delgado, my mother is hopelessly only attracted to females. But she was a noblewoman in the old Imperium, so she had a mate for a time. But the relationship ended when their son died--that’s a long story. But that’s why she had us with a genetic donor instead of mating again. In the old Imperium it wasn’t forbidden, it was just that you were expected to do your duty to your species and procreate.”

Cat made a face at that. "Eww," was her response.

“Well, we came up with some better technology for that. I’d just been so impressed by everything around me that I’d assumed you had it as well.”

"Well, I think we do," Cat said. "It's just the idea of being forced to be with a guy just to have a kid. It's… yech."

“It is rather disgusting to think about, I admit. Copulation with someone you don’t even wa--” And suddenly, just like that, Tra’dur fell silent, collapsing across her desk.

There was a moment when Caterina was completely uncertain of what had just happened. Training and experience kicked in after that moment. Her hand went straight for her omnitool and triggered the communication system. "Delgado to Medbay, medical emergency in Science Lab 2!"

An anti-grav stretcher bearing the unconscious Tra'dur came right through the sliding doors into the medbay's emergency care ward. A pair of orderlies moved the Dilgar girl to a bed. Leo entered with Doctor Lani Walker, of the Tohono O'odham people of the American Southwest, behind him. "What's wrong?"

It was Cat who called out "She just collapsed!" from the door.

While Walker commenced scans to determine any issue with Tra'dur's blood chemistry and lower organs, Leo went right to the most likely source. He activated the powerful scanners built into the emergency ward bio-bed and used them to scan Tra'dur's brain. As the results showed he narrowed his eyes and operated the scanning controls with his omnitool, refining the results. Once he got to the right magnification he nodded. "I'm picking up some kind of organism in her brain. It looks like… spores, with associated lesions in brain tissue. Still minor."

"It must be the spores from her homeworld," Cat said. "Can't you get them out?"

"We're going to try. In the meantime." He looked to his nurse. "Let's start off cautiously. Five ccs of oxylin, now."

"Yes Doctor."

Leo glanced back to Cat. "This is a serious medical situation, Cat, I'm afraid you need to leave."

"Oh. Okay," she said. "I'll go let Shai'jhur know."

"Sounds good to me. We may need the help with her physiology." Leo immediately returned his attention to his patient. "What do we have in the library files on them anyway?" he asked Walker. "I want to know what I should be avoiding here…"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve » 2018-01-09 07:35pm

A content warning for this one. Something nasty is depicted.

The individual on the monitor was not someone Julia usually dealt with. The tan-skinned man in question was on the large side, dressed for business (at least with the high-collared 27th Century aesthetics of a FedStar Earther), and seated at a desk behind which a window showing the Portland skyline was visible. Small dots that could only be air cars moved in streams around the large buildings. "This is highly irregular, Captain," the man said in a Spanish accent. "Councilman Mutombo usually receives these applications through the Foreign Office or from diplomatic representation in Portland. There is no precedent for a naval captain to submit one."

"This is an irregular situation, Mister Vasquez," Julia answered. "And we're dealing with a possible genocide out here. The Dilgar application for Alliance membership could provide a diplomatic mechanism we can use to prevent it."

"So you have said. I admit I am not sure we should even be involved in this. We're already waging one interstellar war…"

Julia tried to keep the frost out of her voice when she pointed out, "Yes, against enemies who commit genocide. As an Alliance officer I'm bound by regulation, ethics, and basic morality to do whatever I can to prevent genocides. This is one mechanism we can use to do that."

Vasquez looked down at his reader again, as if studying it for an imperfection. Finally he sighed in defeat. "Alright. The Councilman will be returning from the current Council session in an hour or so. I'll bring this to his attention. I can't promise he'll call the Committee right away…"

"Just do what you can, please," Julia pleaded. "It could mean the difference between life and death out here."

"Right." A sympathetic look came to the aide's face before he reached off-screen for the key to terminate the call.

After sighing with relief Julia immediately sent another call to Defense Command. But they couldn't relay her to the Kentan or any other responsible official. An attempt to contact Admiral Maran's flagship directly failed; it was undoubtedly in the middle of a combat operation. And the Presidential Mansion stonewalled her immediately on getting ahold of Morgan, insisting he was in high level meetings and could not be disturbed. She barely got the official in question to promise to relay her message to Morgan. And the Foreign Office insisted Secretary Onaram was off-world in important classified meetings.

Whatever rest she hoped the conclusion of these efforts would bring did not come. Julia barely had time to rub at her forehead before she got the call from the Medbay. "Captain, you should get down here," Leo's voice said. "This is serious."

"On my way," she said.

Getting called to the medbay was rarely good, Julia thought during her trip. It usually meant a complication to their mission or a medical crisis that was going to affect the crew in some way.

Upon arrival in the medbay she was met by Doctor Walker. "Doctor Gillam is still with the patient," she said.

"Who is it?"

"One of the Dilgar aboard. Lieutenant Delgado said her name was Tra'dur?"

"Damn." Julia shook her head. "She's the exchange officer. And the daughter of their leader. What's wrong with her?"

"A number of spores worked their way into her brain. She lost consciousness. The spores are causing lesions to form in her brain tissues."

"Knowing Doctor Gillam, he's doing everything he can."

"He is. But our knowledge of Dilgar physiology is limited. We can't fight this thing effectively unless we know more."

"We'll have to…"

Before Julia could finish that sentence a blue light appeared over the back of Walker's left hand. She pressed the light and opened the communication. "Doctor Walker here."

"I got through to Shai'jhur," Caterina said. "She's having one of her medical personnel connect to us to help."

"I will inform Doctor Gillam," Walker replied. She returned to the emergency care ward with Julia behind her. Julia looked to the occupied biobed, where the young Dilgar officer was still unconscious and being looked over by Leo. "Doctor, we will be getting a contact shortly."

"Good." Leo glanced up briefly. Noticing Julia, he nodded and returned to work. "Captain, thank you for coming. I thought you should see this. It might be relevant to the Dilgar case."

"Oh?" Julia asked. "Doctor Walker said spores got into her brain?"

"Yes. Probably the ones Shai'jhur mentioned." Leo tapped a key and shook his head. "And removing them is almost impossible. They're really small. Our surgical transporters don't have the resolution to get them. Not without taking healthy tissue too."

"I can ask Mister Scott about improving them," Julia said.

"We could use that. Right now I'm trying to get the spores that are in the bloodstream. I'll send samples to Lab 3 for biological analysis."

"I'm sure Doctor Ke'mani'pala will be a great help."

The screen in the medbay flashed with the indication of an incoming connection. Leo answered the incoming call.

A young looking Dilgar female appeared on the screen, a redhead just like Tra’dur. In fact, it looked like there was a distinct family resemblance between the two. This was confirmed a moment later. “This is Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur of the Redoubtable. The Warmaster informed me that Tra’dur was suffering from fungitoxic hydrocephalus, is that correct?

Leo nodded. “I’m Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Aurora and that would be my best guess, yes, Surgeon-Commander… Are you related to the patient?”

Yes, she’s my older sister, but we don’t have regulations about family members treating each other and anyway, it is straightforward. We have all been deviled with these spores since we were very young, the scarves we wear are to hide our bloody spittle from our enemies, but to me, these spores are the enemies I will someday beat. Tell me, what would your normal method be for removing a foreign object from the brain?

Leo glanced to Dr. Walker. The woman grinned. Nah’dur was, to a word, eccentric. “We have transporter based surgery,” he explained the concept, watching the woman take notes on a pad.

When she finished taking notes a moment after he had finished explaining, she looked up with a chipper grin. “Brilliant. This is going to be very easy. The spores may be too small to resolve, but Dilgar antibodies shouldn't be, and the fluid in the lesion will have a high concentration that the surrounding tissue will not. By this point the lesions should be large enough to fit nicely within the resolution limits. I’m sending the calculation for that to you, as well as the chemical trace of the antibodies. Very, very few spores will have gotten to the brain, so if you target each lesion, she should be waking up tomorrow no worse for wear since we’re still at an early enough stage that the displacement isn’t causing a buildup in pressure or cell damage. Of all the people… This happens to about one in a thousand Rohricans in their lifetime and it’s just plain bad luck. I could get you the drugs we normally use to treat it, but there are side effects and about five percent still die and another thirty percent have brain damage. I don’t want my sister’s three hundred kilo brain messed up, and I’m quite confident this will work. Though she’ll owe me some rotgut from the Magaratha’s still.

Leo had confirmed the presence of the offered calculations by this point. "Thank you, Doctor," he said. "Here we go." He loaded the relevant data into the system. Within a few seconds the bio-scanners located the antibodies inside of the lesions. With a couple presses to the control board the surgical transporters started to remove the antibodies and spores within.

The procedure was still delicate. A look from Doctor Walker was all Julia needed to leave the doctors to their work.

Upon receiving the order from Julia to report for the insertion mission, Lucy returned to her quarters to suit up. She removed her uniform and put on the Gersallian-made armor she used for field missions. The armor was purple in color and quite mobile despite its look and size. Lucy finished fitting the final pieces and re-clipped her lightsaber to the belt. She reached into her closet and retrieved a blue combat robe of Gersallian make, which she pulled on. She left the hood down as she always did.

Once she was ready Lucy departed for the other side of the ship. The Gonzalez would be departing from its place in the secondary shuttle bay, at the rear of the ship's lower drive section.

In that bay the squat form of the Gonzalez was waiting. It was the replacement for the Basilone, one of the many small craft lost to the near-disaster that struck the ship toward the end of the prior year. Like the Basilone the Gonzalez was a stealth insertion runabout, equipped with its own cloaking device and a turreted gun that could be used to give fire support to friendly troops trying to board the craft. Lucy approached the main door on the side when she was met by a man in light Marine power armor. His complexion and appearance indicated a man with at least some Native American heritage. The rank insignia on his suit showed he had the rank of Major, or equivalent to a Lieutenant Commander. "Lieutenant," he said. "I'm told you'll be coming with us."

"Major Anders." Lucy nodded once to the commander of the Aurora's Marines. Major Gabriel Anders was the relatively new head of said Marines. Indeed, with a few exceptions all of the Marines on the ship were new given all of those lost fighting the Cybermen and Daleks. His predecessor, Commander Kane, had gotten along well enough with Lucy, but had nearly been killed fighting the Daleks that included having limbs blown off. This would be her first working with Anders. "I'm here for the mission."

"So I see." Anders looked over her with uncertainty. "You're not going in armor?"

"This is my armor."

"Not powered, though." He shook his head. "I'd feel better if you had a proper suit. At least a support tech suit. It'll make insertion easier and I won't have to worry about you taking a hit."

Lucy sighed at that. "Major, I'm trained in the life-force arts of the Gersallians. They consider me an honorary knight. Trust me, you've got nothing to worry about."

"I've heard about all of that," Anders said. "But life force magic or no, you'll be safer in an armor suit."

"But less mobile and able to fight," she countered. "This is how I do things, Major. You're going to have to trust me." Lucy hoped she sounded conciliatory. At the same time she didn't want to waste time going to Julia over this.

Anders sighed. "Your funeral," he murmured.

With that out of the way Lucy followed him aboard the Gonzalez.

The Gonzales' departure from the Aurora was done carefully. The other ships in the friendly squadron were used to mask the opening of the bay door from being seen. The stealth runabout cloaked before emerging from the bay. Under the control of Ensign Getamanan the craft slipped around the friendly vessels in orbit and made their way toward the water world below. Beside Getamanan, Lucy monitored the systems and made sure their approach angle would prevent re-entry heat from exceeding the stealth craft's absorption and cloaking capability. Major Anders and Fei'nur were seated behind them to observe.

The Gersallian's piloting was spot-on throughout the re-entry phase. Once they were fully in atmosphere he altered the attitude of the craft to minimize wind resistance - avoiding creating an aerial wake profile that particularly fine sensors might detect - and brought them in toward the Dilgar colony.

A great reversing lake system, sometimes outflowing into an estuary and sometimes accepting water from the sea, mingled in a beautiful, light blue expansion of tropic, brackish water. Secure on one coast of the lake, situated on the largest piece of contiguous land on the water world (an island-continent around the size of Brazil), a simple set of rammed earth barrages with steel floodgates salvaged from wrecked freighters defended the city from tide and wet season flood.

It was designed for a million people, and the rest of the population had spread beyond it, but it remained the nerve-centre and capital of Tira. Modular buildings built out of shipping containers predominated, some up to ten stories high, and wooden low buildings with thatch roofs the rest, but the streets had been smartly laid out. There were signs of fighting, though, for smoke rose at places, especially in the outlying areas near to the jungle.

Lucy shook her head. "There's a lot of wild fear and anger down there," she said. She checked her sensors. "I am showing multiple groups of Dilgar together at various points in the city, all in internal spaces. Individuals only in the streets with large numbers of non-Dilgar, consistent with an enforced curfew. And there’s concentrated bodies of Dilgar on the outskirts in the jungle verge.”

"Surviving government forces then," Anders said. "We can link up with them if it proves necessary. But orders are to observe, not intervene."

"I know." Lucy tapped another series of keys. "I'm not showing active loss of life going by the bio-scans. They're not trying to kill everyone… wait." A particular reading came up. "Okay, it looks like one set of life signs is decreasing. But they're very faint."

"Can you get us close?" Anders asked. "This sounds like it bears investigating."

"I am doing so now, sir," Getamanan answered.

The Gonzalez changed heading slightly and flew toward one particular structure in the northern section of the city.

“Where are you planning to land to avoid accidental detection on the ground?” Fei’nur asked, looking over the readings but evidencing no distress.

"We'll drop onto the site," Anders said. "With our personal cloaks engaged and with a height of ten meters with stealth landing boosts engaged."

“Shuttle only to orbit, then?” She clarified, nodding to the plan. It was straightforward enough.

"That's the usual plan for these ops," Anders answered.

By this point the Gonzalez was hovering in the air above the structure at the desired height. "We're in position, Major," Getamanan said.

"Alright." He stood up. Lucy and Fei'nur did the same. Technical Officer Wang moved from a backup station at the rear of the cockpit to take Lucy's place. They walked into the back where more of Anders' Marines were waiting, already in their light power armor. "Get ready for a quiet drop, everyone. Activate silent drop protocols."

The various Marines nodded and operated the omnitools that appeared, on command, over their forearms.

Lucy, for her part, merely went over and retrieved the blue Gersallian-style robe from a hook she'd set up for it. She pulled it on over her purple body armor and noticed Fei'nur giving her a curious look. She answered with a little grin before checking that her lightsaber was still fixed to her hip.

One of the Marines hit a key at the back of the runabout. The rear loading hatch opened. Anders nodded to his people and was the first to jump out. He shimmered out of view in the process Not quite halfway to the ground, quiet thrusters fired on the boots and back of the armor. Anders landed softly (or relatively softly anyway) on the roof of the structure.

One by one, the other eleven Marines in the infiltration squad did the same. Fei'nur and Lucy would be the last to go down. Lucy sensed readiness in the Dilgar in the moment before she jumped, shimmering out of view as she did.

Lucy slid the tactical goggles over her eyes before she reached to her belt and triggered her own personal cloak. Once she was cloaked she jumped out. The wind in her face was strong. If not for her goggles her eyes would be closing to protect themselves. This would ordinarily be dangerous if not for her other gifts, which were already guiding her to begin applying counter-force to her landing. Her timing was well enough that she was virtually floating the last hundred centimeters before her feet hit the roof. She looked around and observed the others in formation through her tactical goggles. She glanced toward where Fei'nur was. “Can you adjust the wavelength on your cloak?”

“I apologize, I am still getting used to operating your equipment,” Fei’nur answered innocently, then nodded. A moment later a wavery form showed on the tactical goggles. “I am ready. We will proceed to the anomalous lifesigns.”

"Sanders, Xalin, take point," Anders said. Two Marines, a Human woman and a Dorei male, moved to the obvious entranceway first. Lucy walked up behind them and ran a scan with her omnitool. "Anything, Lieutenant?" Anders asked.

"Nothing," she said. She brought up a hand and waved it side to side. The door opened in sympathy with her motion. "Let's go."

They descended into a stairwell. For several floors they went down surrounded in a darkness that would have obscured them even without their cloaks. Their progress was not slow, but neither was it with urgency. There was clear method in their pace that Fei'nur found it easy to follow. As always, Humans - even Humans from another universe - proved to be quite good at soldiers' work. Lucy Lucero was the visible non-soldier of the group, but there was a self-discipline to her movement that kept her in step with the others.
Once their readings showed they were at the right floor Lucy stepped up to open another door. This required half a minute of careful work to thwart a security sensor on it. Once it was quieted the door slid open and they stepped into the corridors of the facility.

“This facility has been cleared of regular civilian workers,” Fei’nur observed. “The codes have all been set on overrides. And it’s a biomedical facility.” She cut herself off after that. “Not biohazard, though,” she amended after a moment.

"I'm still showing decreasing life signatures on this floor." Lucy shook her head. "And this isn't just some biological waste they're destroying." A sick feeling filled Lucy's gut. She focused and felt it. Life was being ended. "This way," she said urgently, and for the first time she, not the Marines, was at point.

They heard smashing glass and laughter before long. Lucy brought them into a chamber occupied by mercenaries. Most were Brakiri, but there were members of other species too. Humans, Narn, and a couple from the other League races. Lucy recognized a Krogan among their number.

The chamber had originally been laid out with about two thousand humanoid-sized clear tubes with equipment in them. As it stood down, three-quarters of them were smashed, wrecked, deactivated. Laying on the floor in pools of blood in varying degrees of development were Dilgar fetuses. Babies. As they stood there, the Brakiri standing to the side and watching with sneers and smirks, the mercenaries were using fire-axes seized from the facility to smash open more of the cloning tanks, throwing the infants onto the ground and stomping, hacking and bashing them to death. There were already so many dead on the floor of the cloning hall that the entirety of the walkways were slicked with blood and shattered intestines.

A surge of violent emotion threatened to grip Lucy. Her discipline forced it back down. This was destruction, death, just for the sake of the act, and it was horror to see it being carried out.

One of the mercs looked around. The others noticed. Lucy did too and grimaced. They had a telepath with them. "Telepath," she muttered over the secured tactical comm line, in a low enough voice that it didn't leave the stealth field. "We're blown." She looked to Anders, wondering what would happen.

She knew what Carter Kane would've done. He would have likely opened fire. This was a chance to see how Anders, who always seemed more reserved than the Aurora's prior Marine Commander, would react to the matter.

Anders' reaction was a quiet, "Open fire."

Fei’nur lunged to the left in an explosion of movement the moment that Anders’ orders left his lips. She had her rifle up, firing integrally suppressed subsonic smart-rounds which tore into the cluster of the Brakiri away from the tanks. She had done it without saying a word, utterly expressionless until the moment she acted. And then she was, just like that, an explosion of motion and energy and disciplined fires.

The telepath, a Hyach, was already calling out a warning. But it was too late for many of the mercs. Anders' Marines opened fire with deadly precision, gunning down a number of the mercs even before they could reach for their rifles. One of the Marines made sure to shoot the Hyach in mid-warning.

Lucy had a feeling that lightsaber marks would make it completely impossible to deny their presence. She reached out with her life force and ripped the weapons from the mercs that, even now, were still working on killing the infants in the tanks. They looked in confusion at their empty hands in the moment before Lucy started yanking them to the ground, one by one.

One of the Marines' targets was the Krogan. But said merc, with crimson carapace over pale flesh and a suit of blue armor, proved more resilient than the mercs with him. He lifted a massive Krogan shotgun from behind his back and pointed it forward. There was a sudden roar and a blast that hit one of the cloaked Marines. Blood spewed out behind the cloaked figure. The shotgun's mass effect-enhanced rounds had ripped into a weak point in the light power armor. The Krogan roared in rage and fired his shotgun again. The second blast nearly hit Anders. He was already side-stepping to avoid it.

The relaxing of fire allowed the other mercs to begin returning fire from cover. Anders' Marines immediately moved for cover themselves. One dragged their wounded comrade out of the door to get him to safety.

Lucy had no choice. She pulled her lightsaber and activated it. The brilliant blue blade was visible outside of her cloaking field. It moved in a blur to bat away the incoming fire.

And then the Krogan went flying. It was the kind of fight which seemed absurd, since one combatant in it was invisible. His eyes rolled around, searching for the enemy who had knocked him wide, but instead the cloaked figure of Fei’nur struck again, and this time with a point-blank round, shrapnel pounding into the ground, firing until the Krogan knocked her away.

He rose, tracking with his gun through the streaks in the blood on the floor. But Fei’nur was moving lightly already, and this time when her gun spoke, he staggered and fell from a burst of rounds carrying into his armoured head. An invisible dash past fire as they cleaned up what remained of the merc squad, and she was standing over him, and fired twice, thrice, four times. His body heaved and moved no more, a mangled mass of gunfire wounds.

It was then that Fei’nur dropped to her knees in the gore, and very, very gently, with a shaking hand, she touched one of the shattered little bodies. “To Death I dedicate this day, and you, little ones, I beg, Gods of the silent wastes, take these kills as theirs and honour them with all the comrades I have known.” She rose with a face as taut and pinched as death, and did not speak much again in their mission.

Already the comm units of the mercs were ringing with demands for a report. Anders glanced from the dead bodies of the Dilgar infants and fetuses to Lucy, who was trying not to throw up at the sight of the carnage. "There's no way to fool them, is there?"

"I don't know enough about their comm protocols, and even then I can't guarantee I'd get the proper checkphrase."

"Then we're made."

"Yeah." She looked at the intact tubes. "And if we run, they'll just destroy the rest."

"They're just embryos, right?" one of the Marines said. "Our orders don't include standing our ground against an entire city's worth of mercs."

"You're right about that, Marine," Anders said. "But this isn't a matter of choice. This is genocide. They're killing them to kill them." After exchanging nods with Lucy Anders looked to his Lieutenant. "Lieutenant Sanger, I want all access ways watched, now. We're holding here until further orders." While the Marines worked to implement his command, he hit the comm key on his omnitool. "Anders to Aurora. Captain, things down here are FUBAR, and more FUBAR than you could ever believe…"

Seeing the images from Tira hit home to the Aurora officers what this entire conflict was about. Every face around the conference table was turning pale. "That's…that's inexcusable," was all Leo managed.

"Maybe we should just blow the crap out of them now and get it over with," Locarno said, his voice strained with rage. "Who needs allies like these murdering psychopaths?"

Julia had to admit that Locarno's option was tempting, more than it should be. The sheer specieist destructiveness of the act was direct testimony to the genocidal intent on display here. "Transmit that to Defense Command and to Councilman Mutombo's Office with a full content warning. If anything, it will keep the ISA's diplomatic corps from trying to spin this."

"They'll simply claim it's faked," Jarod pointed out. "Even with the authenticator coding in the recording."

"Let them claim whatever they want. The Alliance, our Alliance, needs to know what's happening here." Julia shook her head. "The important thing is what to do with Anders' team."

"The Brakiri do not have energy shield technology yet," Meridina said. "Transporting them out should be quite simple. Although perhaps not the best option for the Dilgar."

"Once Anders and Lucero are gone, they'll just start killing the rest of the Dilgar," Richmond pointed out.

"But they'll be overrun unless we support them," said Locarno.

"And if we do that, the Brakiri probably open fire," Julia finished for all of them. She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her open hand. The options in front of her all had pitfalls, and the unavoidable truth was that the situation was escalating.

A tone filled the room. "Captain." Lieutenant Takawira's voice came from the bridge. "Captain Tabir is signaling."

"Put him in here," Julia said. She drew in a breath and readied herself, casting away the visible fatigue and uncertainty that was evident in the prior moment. She turned her chair to face the wall monitor behind her. Tabir's face appeared on the screen. "Captain Tabir. What can I do for you?" she asked diplomatically.

"Correct a misunderstanding." Tabir was still trying to show the business charm like before, but there was visible strain to it. Meridina was quick to inform the others of the anger she sensed in him through a mental projection. "It seems you ignored my prior request to keep your forces out of the city. Now we have had a misunderstanding and my forces have taken losses. My ground commanders are quite ready to destroy the building they've occupied in retaliation, but I am restraining them for the moment.."

Julia's mind raced as she put together her reply. She struggled to keep her face impassive as she did so, not an easy thing given what she was feeling toward Tabir. "We were conducting a reconnaissance only," she said, "but my commanders on the scene detected a loss of life signs from the building. They investigated and found your forces slaughtering a chamber full of unborn Dilgar."

"Yes, their super-soldier program," Tabir said. "The Dilgar are known to have been experimenting with genetic augmentation during the war. Given the decades since we expected them to have made some progress. Our forces were ordered to destroy them to remove the threat. We have already reported our success to Brakir. Or rather, partial success I should say."

We need to have Lucy and Anders get a genetic sample was Julia's thought, the charge immediately sending her heart hammering. Am I getting played? "I would like to verify that they are from such a program and not a general re-population effort," she said.

"Be my guest. Although your people have an imperfect understanding of Dilgar genetics and physiology, and I must say your most likely source for that data is going to be understandably suspect. I assure you, Captain, I did not approve this solution until my experts were certain of the nature of the embryos in question. Now, I believe we should settle this unfortunate impasse." Tabir grinned widely. "I am quite willing to accept that this was an honest mistake on the part of the Alliance forces. We Brakiri recognize that the Allied Systems have a strong ethical code that requires you to act against genocide, and we appreciate this code. But I can only be so generous. If your forces do not withdraw I will not be able to restrain my ground commanders, and the structure will be destroyed by bombardment. For the safety of your forces you must withdraw them, and this time, keep them out. You have one hour to withdraw your people. Tabir out." The Brakiri commander disappeared from the screen.

For a moment Julia remained silent.

"He believes his charge," Meridina said. "Mostly. Although he does not care if it is true."

"If it's true, we might be getting played for suckers," Angel pointed out. There was deep uncertainty showing in her face. "I mean, could this be a con? Something to turn us against the ISA?"

"There was sincerity in Shai'jhur," Meridina said.

"Yes, but she could be really good at faking it," Angel said. "Your senses aren't completely perfect, are they?"

"You are correct. They are not infallible," Meridina conceded. "But I am not so inexperienced to be fooled easily. I am confident that my reading was accurate."

"Yeah, but confidence is something you're supposed to have to make your powers work," Angel said. "So that's not entirely convincing."

"I don't believe him," Cat announced.

Everyone looked toward her. She was still pale from the recording, but the assertive way she'd spoken was a bit of a surprise.

"I think he's a lying, genocidal bastard," she declared, "and that we should continue to help Shai'jhur."

"Cat." Angel gave her a sympathetic look. "I know you're bonding with Tra'dur, but it's not always that simple."

"It is. I've talked to her. I've listened to her. All she wants to do is write science papers, visit places, and attend the Vulcan Science Academy."

"Maybe that's true for her," Angel said. "But it doesn't mean her mother's not playing us for saps."

"She's not. I'm sure she's not."

"But you can't be sure," Angel insisted. "And are you really believing this? Or is it just because you think the Doctor would believe the Dilgar?"

Angel immediately regretted the accusation given the look of sheer betrayal on her sister's face. She managed to say, "I'm sorry" a moment before Cat stood from the table and walked to the corner. A quiet sniffle came from the corner a moment after she arrived there.

"Trust but verify," Julia said. "Have Lucero and Anders recover genetic samples."

"Tabir is right, though," Richmond said. She looked at Leo for confirmation. "We don't know enough about Dilgar genetic structure to confirm augmentation."

"I've got genetic samples from at least one Dilgar who is clearly unaugmented," Leo answered. "The tissues I scooped out of Tra'dur are in Science Lab 3 so we can examine the Rohrican spore, but we can just as easily examine the genetic structure too."

"That's not going to be enough," Jarod said.

"No. It's a start though. I can send the data on all samples to Doctor Franklin and ask for his help."

"Do you think the Earth Alliance will give us an honest answer?" Meridina asked.

Leo met her eyes. "I don't know if they would. But I trust that Doctor Franklin would."

"Do it," Julia said. "And we're running out of time. I want options."

"Our impasse remains the same." Meridina shook her head. "If we withdraw, they kill the remaining children."

"And if we don't, they kill them anyway, plus our people, when they bomb the building," Jarod added. "And stopping them from that will require us to openly engage the Brakiri."

The next line came from Angel. "Setting off a possible war with the InterStellar Alliance, for people who might be screwing with us."

Julia listened to them and turned the options over in her head again. At the same time, her heart already knew something about this situation.

In the end, that helped determine her decision.

Julia brought her omnitool into view and tapped a key on the blue light construct around her left forearm. "Andreys to Bridge. Get me Captain Tabir."

"Yes Captain."

A few moments later Tabir appeared on the monitor. "Yes, Captain?"

Julia didn't bother with a diplomatic smile this time. "Captain, I'm going to put this bluntly. There is no law in the Multiverse that allows anyone to kill cloned children, even genetically augmented ones. Even the Federation, which bans most forms of genetic alteration, would not commit what your people have done. So I'm not going to standby and let you continue this culling. My people will move in and protect the facilities where the Dilgar children are being grown. Your people will withdraw from them immediately. If you fail to comply, the Aurora and her squadron will open fire. Is that clear?"

For the first time the business-like facade of Tabir failed. He scowled at her. "You sanctimonious fool. Don't you realize the Dilgar are playing you?! That this has probably been their plan all along, to turn us against each other!"

"We're already vetting their claims, and we'll investigate the charge that the children are bred super-soldiers ourselves. And we don't need the Dilgar to do it. But for the time being, stand your mercs down. The killing stops here."

"I need time…"

"It takes one call, Captain, and you can make it over this open channel," Julia countered. "So make it. Now."

Tabir's scowl turned into a hostile snarl. For one moment it looked like he would defy Julia. To test her resolve and see if she was bluffing. But as the snarl faded slightly it was clear that Tabir was reconsidering any such thoughts. There was too much resolve in the face he was glaring at. He finally stabbed his finger at a key nearby. "This is Tabir. Halt all operations against the Dilgar cloning facilities."

"What?!" a disbelieving voice said on the other end.

"Do it now, or you won't get paid!" Tabir growled. "And suspend all plans to attack the Alliance team. Otherwise I'll turn you over to their captain myself. Yatiri out." He released the button he'd been holding and looked back to the screen. "This is pointless on your part anyway. The Earthforce ship is on our side and the Drazi reinforcements will be here soon. Face the facts, Human. There's nothing you can do to stop this, here or at Rohric. The Dilgar should have stayed dead and soon they will be. Tabir out."

The signal cut. Julia let out a breath and turned to the others. "You heard it too?" she asked.

"They know about Shai'jhur's planet," Jarod said.

"Th' timin' sounds fishy if ye ask me," Scotty said. "Decades o' nothin', they learn everythin' now?"

Julia nodded. "And it begs the question of how the Brakiri and Drazi learned about the supply network from Tira in the first place." She shook her head. "I'll put it in the report. We need to get people down there."

"I'll assemble security teams immediately," Richmond said, standing up.

"And send down the other Marines too. I'm going to call up Captain Ming-Chung and the other commanders we have with us to see who they can spare," Julia said. "In the meantime, you're all dismissed."

Everyone stood up and left. Angel glanced toward her sister, but Cat refused to look at her. She remained standing in the corner until everyone was gone, at which point she went out the door.

Along with her thoughts, Julia looked out the transtanium windows of the conference lounge to consider the deceptively peaceful ocean planet below. It seemed that every step they took, every decision, inched them closer to war.

But what else could she do? Even if Shai'jhur was a master actress and was playing her, even if the Dilgar on Tira really were creating a population of super-soldiers… the acts of the ISA races were just wrong. They were out for blood, to kill an entire species, and she couldn't stand by and let that happen.

A saying Julia had learned in school came to her lips. "'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing'," she whispered to herself, as if the words would fortify her in the decisions she'd made. They did, to a degree. But there was no avoiding the fact that her decisions were putting them on a course she didn't want to take.

She just had to hope that, in the end, her decisions would prove the right ones.

Tra’dur had recovered, awake and alert, within a few hours. The abrupt blackout has been related to the allergic response in the brain, and alleviated as quickly as it was relieved. Leo had still insisted on her remaining under careful observation based on Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur’s notes and the lights were kept down to a bare minimum to avoid irritation of a partially inflamed optic nerve. Resting with a bare minimum of stimulation, just an earpiece playing some books on tape Cat had downloaded to the hospital bed for her, she was bundled up and quiet during the ship’s night period.

The door to sickbay hissed open quietly, as a grey-clad figure padded silently over to her bed. “Tra’dur…?” echoed out in the hushed hisses and growls of a Dilgar trying to keep her voice down.

“Fei’nur…?” It was just as hushed as the young woman blinked wide eyes and loosed the earpiece from her ear. “I had heard you had been in action on the surface, but not much more.”

“You don’t want to know more, Fei’nur…” She stepped closer, and glanced about for any observers, before leaning down to enfold the young Dilgar in a firm embrace. “Gods, but you do not wish to know more.”

Tra’dur leaned into the hug and the steady, ready affection of her mother’s oldest retainer. It was hard just to call Fei’nur a subordinate by this point, she was something more, the woman who had always been there since they were young. And Tra’dur knew and felt the warmth in her of family, of the one half of a family she’d never have. For all the Clan of Jhur was a warm and welcoming extension of her mother’s line, it was Fei’nur who stood in for having a house of Dur other than her own sisters. So, for a time, she just snuggled.

The massive woman who’d fought for so hard, so long, to keep her and all her sisters safe silently held her close for several long minutes. “We will need you in the trials to come, rest yourself well, Tra’dur.”

“I know. I won’t even move. I’ve been following the Doctor’s instructions. He went ahead and used my sister’s method to remove the spores from the lesions in the other parts of my body as well, so … Until the next time we’re back on Rohric, I’ll get to be well. Thank you for coming, Fei’nur. It was nice to see a familiar face.”

“Always, Tra’dur. I won’t let the animals get you. Any of you.”

“Fei’nur…” Tra’dur sighed gently. “Well. You should get back to the Magaratha. You need sleep after a mission like that, and I am truly fine here.”

“You had better! We’ll see you back aboard soon enough, I hope. I don’t like trusting you to the ani-humans.”

When the call came, Julia considered that it had been too much to hope that she got even a moderate night's sleep given the events of the day.

This was why she decided to sleep on the couch in her ready office.

She rose from said couch the moment the tone woke her up. In one motion she grabbed her uniform jacket from the nearby hook. She didn't bother to put it on before leaving, so it was loose as she walked out onto the bridge with brisk urgency. She closed the jacket in the moments before she made it to the command chair, where Lieutenant Takawira was standing. "Report."

"Seven ships coming in, Captain," the Zimbabwean officer replied. "They are approaching at Warp 8."

Julia wondered what that meant. Warp drive was still slowly percolating into the E5B1 galaxy. Could this be unexpected reinforcements? But why wouldn't they jump directly to us? "What can you tell us about them?"

Ensign Tagas, the Dorei man at sensors, looked up from his board. "Sensors are giving me data now. It looks like they have deflector shields raised already. I'm showing an intermix ratio close to the others, but not quite. Give me a moment while I check recognition tables." Julia said nothing during that moment. "The intermix ratio is in Federation records. Old Romulan drives, from before they switched to quantum singularity power plants."

"Most likely Dilgar then."

"Yes. I'm getting profiles now, checking against recognition charts…" Tagas looked up. "Sir, these ships… they're from a dead species."

Julia wondered what he meant by that. "As in?"

"According to our recognition charts from the InterStellar Alliance… those are Markab ships, Captain."

"But they're extinct," Julia said. "Someone else must be aboard them." As soon as she said those words, she figured it out.

Tagas confirmed it a moment later.

"Markab ships, Warmaster? Your reinforcements are Markab ships?"

Julia was in her office again, looking at the image of Shai'jhur over on the Magaratha. The Dilgar leader was just finishing a coughing fit.

"Of course they are, Captain Andreys. As we have previously discussed, the Dilgar remain lawfully at war with the races of the League… And the Markab, Mentab, and Earth Alliance.

Julia sucked in her breath. "So, when the Markab…"

"Yes, when the plague exterminated the Markab--Gods, but I wish we’d had the chance to help, we knew so much, we might have undone some damage by then--I had absolutely no choice. I salvaged one hundred and thirty-nine jump-capable warships from Markab space without being detected. In fact, I consider it to have been a very great feat which would keep my people a spacefaring nation for decades longer. To be blunt, Captain, the Markab had no use of them. They’re some of my newest and best heavy cruisers, so of course they were in our refit program."

"You realize how this will look?" Julia asked. "It reinforces the ghoulish view of the Dilgar that the other species have."

Calm Shai’jhur actually let a sharp passion fall into her voice as she answered. "Please, Captain. Give me peace. There were innocent Dilgar who needed to survive, and I did what I must. Perhaps I am a tomb-robber, but I am not a mass murderer and I am not a tyrant. My people are free, and they deserved to live. For the sake of the Gods, every species within a thousand lightyears was salvaging Markab ships. They had a fleet of more than a thousand ships, and countless armed transports as well. The Dilgar are hardly the only ones."

Julia sighed. "Somehow I doubt they will care." She shook her head. "Either way, the Drazi second wave will be more manageable now. Although the matter of the Huáscar being on their side is still going to pose problems."

Is there anything you can do about the Huáscar, Captain Andreys? Captain Varma saved twenty million people from genocide. She deserves to do more than rot in an EA prison for the deed. Kaveri has been… holding up as well as can be expected, that considered, but it is a hardship, and a danger. If Major Foster engages us…

"Unfortunately, Foster's been keeping an anti-beaming shield up, so I can't just transport over boarding parties. We'd have to engage. And there's no telling what he might do if we start a fight. According to his record, Foster fought on Clark's side in the Earth Civil War, and the Nightwatch rated his loyalty as high. He might very well kill Captain Varma rather than let a rescue attempt prevail."

"He will not speak with you?"

"He's refused all attempts at communication since our last," Julia confirmed. "I'd love to get Captain Varma out, trust me, and I'll make sure the Alliance knows what she did. And Sheridan will know too. But I can't safely get her out, and trying will only blow this situation up. For the time being, I'm afraid we have to trust that Foster won't want to outright kill his commander arbitrarily."

Kaveri will keep praying, and so will I. Thank you for making any effort, Captain.” Shai’jhur reached up and rubbed her head. “We should both go back to sleep, I imagine. However, I will give you the warning in advance that I also salvaged a large number of Cascor ships which were marooned in deep space by Warmaster Jha’dur during the war. We mostly use them for spare parts, though, and I did that even before Omelos was lost.”

"Right. Thank you for the head's up." Julia nodded. "I'll keep you informed of any developments from the Alliance, Warmaster. Hopefully we'll hear something back soon."

“There is one thing I can do which might be sincerely constructive. Or, rather, what Kaveri can do. She would like to make an all-frequencies broadcast now that our cover is completely blown, with an appeal containing special information she believes would seriously impact any effort by the Earth Alliance to side with the former League powers politically. I have my fleet at Rohric on full alert, but instead of abandoning hope, I think this is the best aid we can provide to the cause of a pacific settlement.”

"What information?" Julia asked, wondering just what Varma was holding back, and if it might fix this situation.

“As it turns out, Captain, the Varmas aren’t the only people in the Earth Alliance to think that the death of a species is a moral crime…”
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-10 05:46pm

The next morning, Shai’jhur was slumped back in her chair at the desk in her Admiral’s office, idly picking through her breakfast of seedcake wafer piled with cheese, eggs and sausage. It was a guilty pleasure for a Warmaster, and hardly Jha’dur’s stealing the Emperor’s Chef (who ran a restaurant on Far Outer these days for the fleet’s officers, the sole survivor of the Vendetta). She rubbed her eyes and drank tea.

“Warmaster.” For such a large woman, Fei’nur was quiet, as she slipped into her superior’s office. “Are we… forgive me, I will wait until you have finished.”

“No, you’re the one who just came from the front and seeing something horrible. Do you have an appetite? Do you want the rest, in fact?” Shai’jhur glanced up, nursing her mug.

“No time for rest, Warmaster, there never has been, these years. I… there were humans down there, Warmaster. The Supreme Warmaster was right.” She shuddered visibly.

“Mercenaries. Hirelings. Held in contempt by the ideological founders of liberty in human ideology,” she translated a few bars of a song:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“Of course, the Alliance will hold them in contempt and crush them too. I mean, they are in a massive war with other humans as we speak, Fei’nur.” Shai’jhur curled her lips to show her teeth. “You know I have spent decades preparing for this. We are few, they are many, they are the objective. It would have been the Earth Alliance, if the multiverse hadn’t come. We never had an option except to charm the humans, not since Omelos.”

“That … doesn’t … None of that changes… this is why we fought the war, Warmaster… things just like… what happened.” Fei’nur was still repressing a boiling fury and hollow coldness inside her

Shai’jhur quietly finished her food, staring ahead and occasionally taking a drink. Then she looked up again. “We fought the war to survive, Fei’nur. Humans are not animals. We did that to our enemies just like they have done to us. It is tooth and claw… unless someone chooses to be different. That’s the whole point of the dharma that Kaveri taught me, that I taught our people. The explanation for why. These Nazis they fight are proof that the Alliance is sincere, even if the humans in this universe are in the main irredeemable. But both are also proof that humans can be good or ill, just like we can be. Didn’t they fight at your side against the monsters who were killing children, Fei’nur?”

“Not as eagerly as I would have liked. One called them embryos, Warmaster. As if they were not helpless babies, when we are already so few... “ Her hands worked, flexing into fists, as if she wanted to throttle her foes if they would be so kind as to present themselves to her.

“There are human cultures which permit the termination of the unborn, they call it abortion, which they see as permissible, to differentiate it from murder,” Shai’jhur explained. “The one who spoke so… may have struggled to see the difference, to understand that even by that definition, this was still a crime against a people, as a whole. Did he obey his orders, or did the human commander punish him or not?”

“He obeyed orders, they all did. Humans tend to be a disciplined people, their militaries, or so I have seen. Or so I had before Huáscar’s crew mutinied. I have trouble reconciling the image of the stoic humans who crushed us, and… this.”

“Kaveri has been taking it very hard. It’s a sign of the divisions of their civil war. But I… I have faith, I really do, Fei’nur. So we’re going to hold the course. We are going to grow back strong again, in this Alliance--someday there will be billions of Dilgar again, I promise. Can you stay committed to it, because you know it’s the only option as much as I do? Can you be polite to them, and respect their rights, even if you can never stop thinking of them as animals?”

“I know my duties to my Warmaster, I swear it. Our people come above everything. No matter what I must do.”

“Including if what you must do means making friends with some of those Alliancers? The Gersallians, the Dorei, just as much as the humans? Could you call them comrades, could you battle at their side against these Nazis, against another foe?”

“If it is for the survival of our people, Warmaster, I can do anything. I proved that on Balos, didn’t I?” Old pain suffused her voice when she spoke of that tunnel-riddled hell of a planet.

“I’m sorry, Fei’nur,” Shai’jhur looked away and sighed. “I often think of old friends these days. They’re all dead, except you. All we lost? The families, the blood, the clans, the customs and traditions, the music, the food. I understand very well Warmaster Jha’dur’s fear that we would lose ourselves. Become furry humans. But I dance this dance… Trying to make them care about us enough to save our blood and species when we are too weak to save ourselves. And sometimes it does make my stomach churn.”

A shrug, a wry, distant look. “Or maybe it’s just the chains of leadership. I never wanted this. I wanted my ranch to be free of the spores! A place for old comrades to celebrate those incredible victories in the days when we thought we could do it all, when we did more than we even believed we could. You know, just sit back and remember the proud days when we were all what we wanted to be, as officers, as Dilgar. And instead it’s just you and me, side by side, and if the spores were gone, we’d all be dead. So we cough them up and are thankful for it… Gods. Have you gotten tired, Fei’nur? Have I deceived you? Is our time passed..? Have I led us astray?”

“Warmaster, I have been tired for a very long time, and I am not the Supreme Warmaster. I… am not what she was. I don’t think about such things, I’m not a strategist, or a philosopher. We’d all be dead if not for you, and that’s enough for me to be willing to die for you, ma’am.”

“Sometimes I want to sing the old songs and hold my head high again, Fei’nur. I’m hardly immune to the feeling of bitterness. But it’s exactly for the same reason I’m pursuing this course. We’re in it together--I want there to be another generation of kits. And again, and again, unto the end of the universe. And I simply don’t see another way except reform--and Alliance.”

“Not since Third Balos, Warmaster, not since that terrible day… I hate it sometimes, Warmaster but it’s the only way. Was… that all? I need to re-take my station.” Visibly uncomfortable, Fei’nur had enough of politics - and painful old memories - for the day.

“All right.” She glanced at her desk. “We’ve mobilized everything. Everything is in readiness. Now we just have to wait, and try to find a little trust. Take your station, Battle Captain.”

“Thank you, Warmaster. I am, as always, steadfast at your side.”

“I know, Fei’nur, and I would never doubt it. You are the last of your breed, and the best.” Despite her certainty that this was the best course, in that moment Shai’jhur did feel very tired, and very old. All that was bright and good of us is still here. If the humans don’t let us down...

Ordinarily Caterina woke up alone when the time came, given Violeta's duty schedule and her own. This morning proved different when she woke to find Violeta sitting at the small table in her quarters, a prepared breakfast waiting for Cat. It wasn't just any breakfast, but a plate of breakfast taquitos and marshmallow cereal. Cat had no doubt the taquitos were egg and cheese-filled, a favorite breakfast comfort food just as the cereal was. She went to the table still in her "Geek Princess" pajamas. Violeta was wearing a black-and-purple shirt that went down to her hips, the purple lettering on the front declaring "I Beta-Tested Ultimate Fantasy: Worlds of Adventure and all I got was this stupid T-shirt!" Below the shirt her legs were bare, all the way to her feet. She watched quietly while Cat started on her breakfast. It was soon clear that the meal wasn't replicated either, but cooked by Hargert and his staff in the kitchen. "I thought you needed a comfort breakfast," Violeta said. "Given the way you were sobbing when you got back last night."

Cat swallowed a piece of taquito. "I was probably overreacting," she said. "It's just… I can't believe she said that."

"Who and what?"

"Angel. She… she's suspicious of the Dilgar. And because I'm not and I want to help them… she said I was just doing it because I was trying to act like the Doctor and it just… why would she say something like that?"

Violeta shook her head. "I think we're both adjusting to what you've been like since you traveled with the Doctor. You've… well, you've been a little different since you got back."

"I know," Cat said. "But am I really that different?"

Violeta seemed pained for a moment. "Well, I… I don't want you to take this the wrong way, Cat, okay?"

"Mmhmm," Cat answered through a mouthful of food.

"Sometimes… I wonder." Uncertainty showed in Violeta's purple eyes. "I wonder that if the Doctor came back around and offered to take you away again… if you'd say yes. If you'd leave me to go running off with him again."

Cat had to swallow. Once she did a guilty look came to her face, a look that was all the answer Violeta needed. "I… I suppose you're right to wonder," Cat admitted. "The Doctor showed me so many places, so many things I never imagined. I do wish I could see more. But I would also want you to come with me."

"But I can't," Violeta said. "This is my place, Cat."

"I know." There was worry in Cat's tone at that admission. After all, if their desires and obligations could cause them to separate like that, what could it mean for their relationship in the long-term? She'd never thought of Violeta has her soul mate for life, but if that came about Cat was more than willing to spend her life with Violeta. There was enough love there, it seemed.

That was the key word, wasn't it? Seemed.

And yet, despite those doubts, Violeta was still ready to take the extra time to get Cat a nice breakfast from Hargert, even in the morning.

"I don't think I'll be traveling with the Doctor again anyway," Cat said. "Even if we do run into him again."

"But that's because he wouldn't let you, isn't it?" asked Violeta.

Cat sighed and nodded. "Yeah. And I wish I could say I'd say no if he offered. I don't want to hurt your feelings, Vee."

The use of the pet name brought a sad little smile to Violeta's face. "I know you don't. And I know you can't help but be the enthusiastic scientist and explorer that you are, Cat. I don't want to take that away from you. I just… I don't know. I wish I could understand why it feels like something's been off since you got back."

"I'm not sure either."

"Are you going to talk to Angel?" Violeta asked. "Let her know how she hurt your feelings?"

"I think she does know. And I think she's sorry too. I just… I'll talk to her later." Cat reached forward, prompting Violeta to do the same and take her hand. "Thank you for breakfast, Vee. It's wonderful. But I'd better hurry up if I'm going to be there for the staff meeting."

"Of course," Violeta answered. "And I'll see you on the bridge later during the watch change."

Hargert's people provided breakfast pastries and coffee for Julia and her officers. It was clear from the images that his counterpart on the Shenzhou provided the same for Captain Ming-Chung and her officers, with Commander Imra from the Heerman aboard Shenzhou as well. "There's still no telling when the Drazi reinforcements will get here," Jarod said. "I've consulted intelligence sources but that's gotten me nowhere."

"Our intel assets aren't exactly paying attention to the ISA races," Julia said. "Or even the Earth Alliance, and they're the ones who've given us the most reason to be worried."

"I am just as concerned about the Huáscar," Ming-Chung said. "If they were to join the battle, we will be hard-pressed even if the other League races remain uninvolved."

"If it comes to that, we'll try to deal with them. The Magaratha also has a lot of firepower that can help us out."

"Speaking of the Dilgar, why aren't they involved in this meeting?" asked Leo.

"Too many captains to easily discuss matters," Julia said. "I told Shai'jhur I'd share the pertinent information with her afterwards, just as she'll inform me of what her captains have discussed."

"And the fact that she might have hidden genetic augmentation plans from us?"

To Angel's remark Julia shook her head. "That alone? No. I'm not convinced the Brakiri charge is accurate anyway."

"Nor am I," said Li. "These people have allowed their hate to get the better of them."

"Although we must not lose sight of the fact that their hate was earned," Imra added. Julia and the others noted that she was still wearing sunglasses, even in the artificial lighting of the Shenzhou conference lounge. "We cannot simply ignore their worries if we wish to negotiate."

"The problem is they don't want to negotiate on this," Jarod said. "They want to kill off the Dilgar and be done with it."

"Then we must assure them it is safe to leave the Dilgar alone."

"A tall order, since that requires that they accept the right of the Dilgar to exist." Julia replied, a little frustrated that Commander Imra’s facial expression was inscrutable under those sunglasses. But she’d worn them even during the stand-off with the Aururians, and Julia assumed she had some kind of medical exemption to wear them, so she wasn’t going to press the point.

Captain,” Imra replied after a moment, “Perhaps we should focus on the structural mechanism. It would, if anything, be easier to convince people of the Dilgar good intentions if they really become member applicants. They’d be opening their entire territory to monitoring, their government to human rights audits. It’s boring and it’s not a breakthrough, but once we get real power-brokers involved in the talks, it might be enough."

“I think she’s right,” Li added. “Look back home to Earth and our time. The Dayton Accords were a bunch of technical minutiae but at the end of the day the verification and compliance measures worked. Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks lived in peace for longer than two decades in Bosnia the last time I checked. And we’re not asking for Brakiri and Dilgar to be next-door neighbors, either. Actually, it seems the real hard nut to crack would be the Drazi, period. If there’s another Drazi fleet coming in that could be the biggest threat to finding a peace.

"I've already submitted their application to the Council. Right now I'm waiting to hear if Councilman Mutombo submitted it to the Admissions Committee." Julia sipped at coffee for a moment. It helped with how tired she felt. "What about the ground teams? What's their status?"

"We have dispatched units to the locations where the Dilgar cloning tanks were still intact," Meridina replied. "Security teams and Marines from the Shenzhou and our allied ships are working with our people. All the facilities are now employing defensive shields to withstand limited bombardment."

"But they don't have the power sources available to protect against a determined orbital bombardment," Jarod said. "So we'll have to keep providing protection from up here."

"We will, for as long as we can," said Julia.

"I take it that the Dilgar are not joining those teams?" Li asked.

"Warmaster Shai'jhur agreed with me that it might not be advisable to have armed Dilgar on Tira. At least, not more than there are already," Julia noted wryly. "Whatever you want to say about her, she's proved adept at recognizing that we have to take the lead in this situation. Given the stakes for her people, that's got to be tough."

"Perhaps we should prepare a plan to evacuate the Dilgar from Rohric," Commander Otiros suggested. "That may be the best solution to ensure their survival and the easing of the other species' worries."

"While I'm sure the Dilgar there might appreciate no longer dealing with those spores, that would require finding them a suitable garden world," Jarod pointed out. "And it would take us months to evacuate twenty million people. Months that we probably don't have."

"Yes. I sadly suspect the Drazi will not give us the time to evacuate them." Meridina shook her head. "And it was made quite clear that they know about Rohric as well."

"Which is something I find damn suspicious," Julia declared. "The timing of all of this is off to me. This Dilgar ring suddenly gets exposed, and then somehow the Dilgar are completely compromised?"

"Mister Gagnor was quite careful when I encountered him with Robert on Kalnit Station," said Meridina. "It is interesting that he got caught regardless."

"Could Lyta Alexander have been involved in compromising him?" Richmond asked. "She is stated to be quite a powerful telepath."

"I am not certain. Her priorities seem to be her planned war with the Psi Corps, not this affair."

"Either way, I want everyone on their toes. There's something going on here that I don't like. Now, when it comes to our tactical dispositions…"

On the planet below the mercenaries were getting restless. It was known they had lost comrades to the Alliance teams. More than that, their Brakiri employers had backed down to the Alliance commander when pressed, and so the Alliance was getting its own toe-holds on Tira. For the mercenaries of species native to Universe E5B1, that was distressing and infuriating. The Human mercs of E5B1 seemed especially upset, which given the Clarkist viewpoints of many of them was not too surprising.

But there were mercs who were less concerned with it. These were those mercs the Brakiri hired from other universes. There weren't many, since the Brakiri knew that they wouldn't have the same hatred of the Dilgar that native mercs would possess, but given their dislike of Centauri mercs and the numbers they wanted, the Brakiri couldn't be picky. Some of their hires came from the Universe D3R1, from the Arcturan Free States. Attempts at hiring the services of Inner Sphere mercenaries had faltered on logistics issues - too costly for the mercs' supply lines - but more flexible were mercenaries from the M4P2 universe. The Brakiri force thus included squads from all of the major merc outfits of that universe. The technically-adept Salarians and Asari of Eclipse, the vicious Blood Pack and its aggressive Krogan and Vorcha, and the well-organized Human, Turian, and Batarians of the Blue Suns were all represented.

Two of the mercenaries from that galaxy were not among those three outfits, however. They were hired freelancers, here to do a job and get paid. The Brakiri reflected their view of such freelance mercs by assigning them to the edge of the jungle where Dilgar resistance had, until recently, continued. Now there was a deceptive quiet that gave the two beings time to think. Thinking was something both were prone to; it came with their ages, ages long enough that one, were he to have come from this galaxy and not his own, would have been centuries old in Valen's time.

"Still quiet," said Urdnot Wrex. The Krogan Battlemaster was in a set of red combat armor that matched the color of the carapace protecting the top of his head. The armor was not immaculate in appearance, smeared with the mud and dirt of the defensive position - what the Human mercs were calling "foxholes" - that he shared with his comrade. His shotgun was slung on the small of his back while an M-15 Vindicator assault rifle was laying nearby with his other kit. "They're definitely holding back."

"I would be too," said his compatriot, the older of the two. Nakmor Drack had a paler complexion and his carapace's green color matched some of the local flora. His eyes were a dark green in color compared to Wrex's red. His combat armor was a light beige color, with a Claymore shotgun matching Wrex's attached to his back. "They've got reinforcements in orbit. No point in hitting prepared positions when you've got that advantage."

"Right." There was a dissatisfied tone to Wrex's voice.

"What's the matter, whelp? Afraid you're going to lose your edge in this hole, get a little slower than you already are?" There was a teasing tone in Drack's voice. Both were centuries old, but Drack had centuries on Wrex.

"I'm still more spry than a fossil like you, Drack," the younger Krogan retorted playfully. "You still carrying around those guns from the Rebellion?"

"Nah. Sold them off centuries ago." A bemused glint showed in the green eyes of Drack. "So when do you think we're getting relieved?"

"As soon as they realize the Dilgar aren't hitting us anymore," Wrex guessed. "Then that pissant Brakiri will put us wherever he thinks we're most likely to get killed."

"Damn Brakiri," grumbled Drack in agreement. "If the money weren't so good, I'd never give those types a minute of my time."

"The money is real good, yeah." Wrex chuckled. "Which is why they're working so hard to get us killed. Although what I want to know is why you need more money. You should have earned enough in your lifetime to retire from this crap, Drack."

"Look who's talking," Drack retorted. "You may be a whelp compared to me, but you've had centuries to get rich too. Yet here you are."

"I've got my reasons."

"As do I."

"Yeah." A dangerous look came to the red-eyed Krogan. "Maybe it'll make this job easier to stomach."

Drack picked up his main weapon. The M-8 Avenger was a common weapon in their home galaxy, with a full automatic fire mode. He checked the cooling systems on it for an idle second before saying, "Job feels like it's going sour, doesn't it? Worried you'll end up in an Alliance prison?"

"Not that." Wrex shook his head. "You've heard about what they've got the rear squads doing?"

Drack's eyes never left his weapon. "Some things, yeah."

"I don't sign up for crap like that," Wrex said.

"Probably why they don't have us doing it." Drack chuckled darkly. "And maybe that's the real reason the Brakiri are trying to get us killed. But there's no getting out of it now."

"No," Wrex muttered, his tone now as dangerous as his look. "There isn't."

After a night of tense waiting and preparing defenses, Lucy and Anders beamed up to the Aurora after an exchange of personnel. They walked out into the corridor together. "I keep my gear in my quarters," she said. "So I don't need to go to the armory."


There was an uneasy silence. "We did the right thing," Lucy said.

"We violated orders too." Anders sighed and nodded. "But yeah. The right thing." He looked to her. "You're pretty good with that lightsaber. But can that armor deal with a grenade? Or a crew-served weapon? I imagine even you can be caught by surprise."

"Possibly." Lucy grinned slightly. "But not very likely. And the armor is tougher than you imagine. The Gersallians have a long history of needing to protect their knights."

"I noticed you've been tweaking with your suits," Lucy said.

"I'm a combat engineer, Lieutenant. Using standard kit would be a sign of laziness or no damn imagination."

To that, Lucy had to chuckle. At the same time, she knew she was ignoring the unspoken tension. "We probably made the situation worse, yeah. But it really was stopping murder."

Anders nodded quietly. "It was. It's not the first atrocity I've seen. I've been at the front against the Nazis for most of the war, I've seen my share of mass graves and bayoneted babies." A tired, haunted look crossed his face.


"God's got nothing to do with it," Anders said. "It's the other guy helping with that."

"No argument there," Lucy said. "I just hope something good comes out of all this."

"All you can do sometimes. All you can do…"

The second day of the standoff was more tense than the first. Julia could feel it in her crew in a way that didn't require life force powers or telepathy. It wasn't that they mistrusted her choices either, that much was sure by the proud looks she received. The wounded Marine from the strike team was talking in the medbay, as were other Marines rotating back, and everyone knew what was going on down on Tira. Whatever happened, Julia could feel assured that her crew were behind her on this standoff.

At lunch Hargert had the sausage stew out in tubs. Other healthy fare were mixed liberally with popular comfort foods - hand-pressed seemai strips for the Dorei, liyume for the Gersallians, steamed tikchp for the Alakin - in a way certain to boost morale. Julia was finished with her bowl of stew and a roast beef sandwich when Hargert walked up to her. "You're treating us today, Hargert," she said.

"You and the crew deserve it, Captain," he replied. A determined look set into the old German cook's face. "Nie wieder."

Julia understood what he was getting at and nodded. "Yeah." She left the Lookout.

When she emerged from the turbolift onto the bridge, the main staff was on duty entirely. Meridina vacated the command chair for her. "I hope your lunch was enjoyable, Captain," she said.

"Hargert is pulling out all of the stops today." Julia settled into her chair.

"It was nice of you to let us all go first," Locarno said. "Although knowing Hargert, your meal was just as fresh."

"The burden of command," Julia replied with a small smile. "No status changes?"

"None," Meridina confirmed. "The Brakiri are not interfering with our ground teams as of now."

"Although they are moving their mercs to surround the buildings," Cat added.

"I expected that." Julia crossed her arms. "Now we get back to the hard part."

"Waiting until something happens, you mean?" Jarod asked drolly.

"Didn't think it had to be said, Commander," she replied.

Jarod grinned at her and nodded. As he turned his head forward again, a tone sounded from Jarod's board. "I've got a jump point opening."

Julia's posture lost all ease. "On screen."

The holo-viewscreen activated to show a blue jump point opening in nearby space. The vessels that emerged from it initially were blue and gold in coloration. The designs were long and, while not sleek, contained rounded lines that ended in sharper edges at some points. After they emerged from the jump point a much larger ship emerged. It was tall rather than wide or thin, a central body topped by a long fin with two fins of equal size and prominence flowing from beneath the central section. Julia didn't recall the other ships before, but she'd seen this one a number of times.

Cat read out what she was seeing. "Seven Abbai cruisers of the Kishara-class and a single Minbari Sharlin-class, Captain. They appear to be traveling together."

"Hail them."

The holo-viewscreen shifted to show a Minbari-styled chamber. But the figure on the screen wasn't Minbari but Human, a woman who looked to be in her mid to upper thirties with blond hair and blue eyes. Julia recognized her immediately. "Director Holloran," she said.

Tessa Holloran, the Director of Covert Intelligence for the InterStellar Alliance and former "Number One" of the Martian Resistance, nodded. "Captain Andreys. It's been a while. I see you've gotten yourself into trouble out here."

"Some, I suppose," Julia conceded.

"President Sheridan has sent me to mediate this dispute between your Alliance and our own," Holloran continued. "I hear you caused a mutiny on an Earthforce ship too. Ordinarily I might find that amusing, but it's not going to make keeping the peace any easier."

"I suppose not." Julia clasped her hands behind her back. "We're ready to host negotiations."

"And the Minbari would prefer you do it too," said Holloran. "There's bound to be a lot of shouting and this is a Religious Caste-controlled ship, I don't think they'll appreciate it."

"Will the other races agree? Or Major Foster?"

"I imagine a man of Foster's background will take a Human-crewed ship over a Minbari one, regardless of who the Humans are. As for the other races…" Holloran grinned. "Let's just say I've come prepared to win their cooperation. And since we're on a deadline to prevent war from breaking out, I'd like to get started as quickly as possible."

"We're ready when you are, Director."

"I'll give you a final time in one hour. Expect it to be within five." Holloran reached forward and her image disappeared.

Julia let out a breath and cradled her head in her hand. She sent a forlorn glance toward the always-stoic Meridina. "Tell Leo I'm going to need aspirin," she mumbled. "A lot of aspirin."

Meridina replied with a small, understanding smile.

The footsteps in the corridor in front of Zhengli’s cell fell more softly than Goodman’s or her usual guards. There was still a steady military rhythm, but the boots sounded a gentler cadence. Then, they stopped before the door to her cell, and there was a light, muted knock. “Captain?” It was the voice of her ship’s Military Department Telepath, Elia Saumarez.

“Miss Saumarez. Come in, if you’d like?” She gave a smile, and tried to calm her thoughts - agitation and bitterness, she thought, would be like a bitter brew for the woman before her. “My apologies for you being caught up in the middle of this.”

“Thank you, Captain.” She keyed the cell open, and stepped in, after setting a fifteen minute timer, flexing her gloved hands as she looked to where Zhengli sat, in her crisp Psi-corps uniform and with the appearance of a dark, lithe caucasian of Franco-Welsh heritage. “It is an uncomfortable position for a telepath, I will not deny it.”

“Well, I would say being in the Military Department is probably uncomfortable before one adds any… late unpleasantness to the mixture, or so I would think, Miss Saumarez.”

“To an extent. I remember visiting West Point once on an investigative detail. Seeing the buildings on their ramparts at the Hudson, the great dining hall with the mural of War, the playing fields where they raise our Earthforce officers up. Captain, I..” She laughed softly. “I always wanted to be a starship officer.”

“I wish you could have gotten closer to it than this.” Zhengli helplessly shrugged. “But you are talking to the, what was it Captain Ivanova called me… polezniye duraki. Or that is the plural, it has been several years, and I have never been a Russian expert.”

“Hardly appropriate, regardless, Captain. You were utterly decisive in working to defend the Dilgar… Who really do look like they’re staring a genocide down the face. Apparently the League has found out about their other world, too.”

“Well, that was of an old argument about Psi Corps. I…” She let her face fall into her hands. “What can I do for you, Miss Saumarez?” Her voice was tired and muffled as it came through her hands, as the weight of her situation pressed on her.

“Old argument about Psi-corps?” The dusky-skinned woman looked archly at her. “Would you tell me?”

“I presume her dislike for the Corps is… at least a little legendary? We got into a shouting match - off duty, at least, thank the Almighty - when I heard that she threw someone from the Commercial Corps out a window while stationed at Io, and that then-Captain Sheridan had gotten her off of the charges.”

“...Wait,” the woman blinked, sincerely confused. “You got in a fight with Captain Ivanova over telepaths? On our side? I confess, Captain, I had seen as you enlightened, but that’s quite the depth. Thank you.”

“I prefer to think of myself to be more of a student of history. How Earthgov treats you - telepaths… it… frightens me, Miss Saumarez. It frightens me very deeply. I see parallels and unheeded lessons that chill me to the bone.”

“Parallels?” She glanced around and shivered, a little, with Zhengli’s tone. The door beeped with the fifteen minute unlock, but she ignored it and let it unlock, taking no action.

“Earthgov’s marked you with those badges and those gloves, taken all your rights away, separated you from society and treats you more like wiretap devices than people… and when I see that little Psi badge on your coat, a horrified part of me sees a yellow Star of David, and I see the Nuremberg Laws in the Metasensory Regulation Act… and that strikes irons into my soul.”

The telepath’s face melted, gloved right hand balling into a fist she clapped into the wall. “I… I want to thank you for saying that, Captain. It takes great courage to admit that your people are wrong. The Corps, you know, it gives us purpose, without it we might be gone simply because how would we find the will to live without the community it offers? I feel a lot of sympathy for the Dilgar right now, I admit.”

“You know what the old veterans said, when the boneheads were slaughtering us? At least the Dilgar had a good reason. Well, now they are trying to be what we wanted them to be, and I was not going to let them be murdered. Granted, look where that has gotten me...”

“...In the same place as Inmate Number 4859, Captain?” A look of composure had settled back onto her face.

“I would not call myself so worthy, Miss Saumarez. You should be going, lest they arrest you as well.”

“Major Foster wants me to accompany him to the Aurora for the negotiations. Do you have a message for me to pass to the Dilgar? Your mother is, I understand, on their flagship.”

“You shouldn’t put yourself in that much danger, but if you want to re-assure them that I am thus far, held in good conditions, and that this action is not taken with the blessing of Earthgov… that should be enough, I hope.”

“Danger? Danger? What Witold Pilecki did…” She stamped her foot and bit her lip and brown eyes stared sharply at Zhengli. “I’m with you, Captain. I’ll pass any message you want me to and I’ll tell Goodman I’m helping him get you the ship back. You just better have a plan to find me a place to live, because when the Corps finds out they will make an example of me. Ma’am.”

“Well, the UAS might be such a place, Miss Saumarez. I am given to understand the feeling of alien minds can be… difficult, else the Dilgar might see you as a heroine.”

“Well, either way, good enough for me. I wanted to be a starship officer, here’s my chance.” She smiled grimly, looking about as pale as she could. “Morally, if not in point of law. All right. I’ve got to go, Captain.”

“Be careful. I do not want dead heroines. We will get only a single attempt at this.”

“Understood, Captain. One attempt. We’ll make it stick.”

Shai’jhur carefully had the broadcast room put together to look like it was a conference room in a nondescript, drab human building. It was linked into the transmitters of the Magaratha, and from there it would go through the Aurora, and then through the Allied System interuniversal network and rebroadcast throughout E5B1. Pretty much any civilian source with a retransmitter and many military ones for crew off-duty use would pick it up.

There were some touches like a glass of water on the lectern, which was simple and unadorned to avoid creating explicit affiliation identifiers beyond a hastily prepared version of the old UN roundel for human rights which had long been deprecated here, but was useful enough as a symbol.

Shai’jhur walked with Kaveri to the room as the Dilgar comms techs confirmed the linkage, and paused at the entrance. “All right, Kaveri. I thank you for reaching out to do this, more than words can express. The fact that you have chosen of your own volition to share our fate is not something that we will forget.” She glanced around the air, as if the words were meant for more than one, but there was still a confident smile on her lips.

“I accepted that fate a very long time ago, my friend.” Moving to sit, she took an audible deep breath, folding her hands before her, and gave a nod, waiting for the ready light to blink on.

“Sentinents of the galaxy; my name is Kaveri Varma, A Captain of Earthforce, now retired, and I come to you with a plea, and a call for action. Thirty-one years ago, the Dilgar War was brought to an end, when the Liberation Navy destroyed the last forces of the Dilgar Imperium capable of effective resistance. The Earth Alliance restrained our allies, then, and refused to let them give in to their darker natures and destroy the Dilgar as a species. When the sun of Omelos killed all the Dilgar we had herded there, to allow them to reform, away from the temptation of war, some of the victims of the Dilgar cheered. This, I do not hold against them. The old Imperium was a creature of blood and death, and it carved a swathe across the galaxy.” She took a sip of water, before going on.

“Not all the Dilgar died on Omelos. On two worlds, small groups survived, and on their own, they began the process of reform I, and others in the Earth Alliance, dreamed they would. Indeed, they have petitioned for membership in the United Alliance of Systems, knowing this will involve audit and oversight of the truthfulness and depth of their reforms. At this very moment, a force of Hyach, Brakiri, Hurr and Drazi ships hold a blockade over one of these two worlds, restrained only by a rag-tag squadron of ships who stand valiantly against them. In the name of shared sentience, I call upon the races of this galaxy to stand against this crime, against this murder of helpless children. I call upon humanity to do what it did once, and stand against the death of the Dilgar - to honour the ties of shared blood and sacrifice!”

“Yes, shared blood and sacrifice! At our darkest hour! There is a world in human space where tens of thousands of Dilgar live still, rescued by elements of Earthgov who foresaw that the reforms of Omelos might not find fertile ground, of those who wished to live free! When my daughter bid farewell to all she knew, to stand and die on the Line, there were Dilgar who stood with her - the last six pilots of the Imperium, who wished to repay the debt they owed to humanity, to leave our hidden refuge and die along with the blood which had saved them. Five of them perished with our tens of thousands, but today, there is a Dilgar man who breathes and holds a Line Medal, the same of my daughter; who came through that terrible hell and who fought with us in our darkest hour. My daughter’s crew has not only mutinied against their captain, they state any attempt to stop this holocaust will be cause for them to open fire! This is not Earthforce, this is not what humanity should be! In the name of the Almighty, stop, set down your work, look around you! We should be the promise of what humans can be, what this new alliance should be! Do not stand by and let a slaughter ensue! Do not let the helpless burn for old scars, old wounds! Stop the killings, or we shall be what Deathwalker wished us to be, a mirror of what the Imperium was! Do not let Earthgov stand by and disavow what is coming to pass here! Let every good soul cry out and stop this from coming to pass! I have always stood for Dharma, and if my government will not stand, if it will let the colony it saved be an aberration in its’ course, I shall stand, and shed my blood in defence of righteousness and the innocent. Thank you all for listening. Please… do not let this evil deed come to pass, I beg of you all.”

The recording stopped. Shai’jhur quietly walked into the room. She smiled to Kaveri, and stepped around, her feet trodding lightly, before she paused behind the woman. “Thank you. It was a very long time ago that you taught me that there were orders that should not be obeyed, half by your example and half by what came after. And I was slow, and, to some extent shirked the responsibility by hiding from it, volunteering for dangerous duty instead. But, you know, today you have reiterated that. Stood against your own people for the sake of it. It’s that flaming spirit to which I owe so much.”

“To thine own self be true, I believe, is the quote; and you have certainly come around, Shai’jhur.” The aging woman smiled back. “I could come up with a large list, but I rather intend not to leave… if you will have me. You seem as if you could use my help, and there will be nothing left for me after that.”

“I wasn’t joking when I spoke with Julia yesterday. As far as I’m concerned you’re a Citizen of the Union now, Kaveri.”

“Then it seems I am, and here I shall stay, Shai’jhur. Who would have thought, all those years ago…”

“Something of a marvel.” Shai’jhur extended her hand. “Come on. I’ve got to get ready for the conference. And, with any luck, I’ll soon get to meet Zheng-li…”

Kaveri took the hand, and nodded in agreement. “With luck.”

The summit meeting was being held in Conference Room 1. Julia brought a sizable Alliance contingent; Meridina, Jarod, Lucy, Captain Ming-Chung, and Commanders Imra and Shaham. Holloran attended with an Abbai matriarch and a Minbari religious caste member. Shai'jhur brought some of her officers, including Tra'dur and her sister Nah'dur, and Kaveri Varma attended as well. A scowling Major Foster had a black-clad woman with a Psi Corps in on her breast as her only marking. He shot daggers at Kaveri when she sat beside Shai'jhur. The fact his entourage wasn't larger made Julia wonder if he had to leave his other loyalists behind to keep control of the Huáscar. Tabir attended with a few Brakiri and a pale-green scaled Drazi in an ostentatious uniform had been introduced as Captain Tarinak. A pair of Hyach represented that species and its small contribution to the situation.

Each side took a table. The Abbai and Minbari sat with Holloran at the lead table. Julia and her people attended the one to Holloran's right, and to their right the Dilgar sat. Opposite them, to Holloran's left, was the Brakiri and the Drazi tables, with the Hyach sitting on their own. Tellingly, so did Foster, who was still silent. The tension in the room was unmistakable. Kaveri's announcement about the Dilgar colony in the Earth Alliance now placed a clear rift between the Drazi and Brakiri and their erstwhile ally in Major Foster. Julia hoped, perhaps in vain, that his own government's role in saving the Dilgar from extinction might persuade him to at least remain neutral in the coming argument.

"Alright." Holloran looked over everyone. "A week ago we were all friends. Now you want to kill each other. Why?"

"The Dilgar are a threat to our very existence!" Tarinak shouted. "We all remember the crimes they committed against our people! We will not tolerate their continued existence, we cannot. We will not be their victims again!"

The heat of the Drazi outburst was then cooled by Tabir's quiet tone. "I share my Drazi colleague's concern," he cooed. "When we arrived, we found the Dilgar performing a large-scale program of breeding genetically-augmented clones. What else could they be planning but an eventual war against the InterStellar Alliance?" Tabir leveled a look at Julia and her people. "Some people have misinterpreted our deactivation of this dangerous program, unfortunately."

"You were killing children!" Lucy shouted, furious. "You're out to commit genocide!"

"Even your own people hold that the embryos and fetuses that have not fully developed are not considered fully alive," Tabir noted. "You cannot claim we are conducting a campaign of genocide. We have not harmed the civilian population of Tira. Although I will add that the Brakiri Syndicracy is asserting a claim on this system."

"Oh?" That was from Holloran.

"Yes. Our space is not far from here, and we are the first to take possession."

"There are several League species closer than you," Julia pointed out. "The Gaim, the Llort, the Yolu… and the Hyach, Ipsha and Abbai all have outposts closer to this space than the Brakiri. Don't they get a say?"

"We will negotiate with them through the auspices of the Alliance," Tabir answered.

"And you ignore the fact that Tira is already settled."

Tabir smirked at that. "Not legally. Our treaty with the Dilgar specifically forbade them from settling worlds outside of their solar system. The colony on Tira is illegal."

“You have signed no treaty with the Dilgar!” Shai’jhur’s declaration was flat and emphatic, a rising point on the end. “I was lawfully appointed by Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan the day before the Battle of Omelos, as all our records broadly confirm. Not like that would even matter, for the Surgeon General could hardly overrule Supreme Warmaster Jha’dur. Those treaties were signed by an illegal government. The end of the Dilgar War is here. With me.”

Tabir didn't miss a beat. "If that is all true, then the war continues. And we are under no obligation to sign a peace treaty with the successor of butchers."

"And it means that the Allied Systems have joined the war on the Dilgar side," Major Foster said, now suddenly involved in the conversation. "The InterStellar Alliance will have to act against them as well, and their illegal occupation of territory on Earth's frontiers."

"We'll be the judge of that," Holloran said.

"Of course you will." There was a dangerous edge to Foster's voice. "But everyone knows Sheridan is an ally and supporter of all of these aliens. Do you think he'll oppose their wishes?" He glanced toward the Drazi. "I can say, with near-certainty, that Earth will stand with our old allies against the Dilgar and whomever protects them."

"You're assuming a lot of authority for a Major in acting command," Julia noted.

"Little more than you assumed, Captain, when you committed your Alliance to war alongside the Dilgar," Foster retorted.

"Why should we trust you?" Tarinak grumbled. "Your people preserved the Dilgar as well!"

“It is precisely for that reason that I would not care to speculate on the real intentions of the Earth Alliance government,” Shai’jhur said, consciously ignoring Foster and his proclaimed authority. “Of course, if you want to resume hostilities, I recall the human diplomats of the time explicitly warned the League that genocide against the Dilgar was forbidden, immoral, unconscionable to human interests and beliefs. I have spent three decades teaching that to my people. We retreated to our borders, abandoned all systems we conquered. Do any of you want Rohric? Tira is linked naturally to our space and its discovery was pure fortune. It’s also a swamp, ninety-five percent water. We are asking only for what we hold, within the auspices of Allied System membership. Nothing more.”

Tarinak jumped from his chair. "The Drazi Freehold will not stand for the Dilgar to become part of the Allied Systems, we will see your worlds burn first!" That last line was directed to Julia.

"You're being unreasonable," Julia replied. "We…"

"Enough!" All eyes turned toward Holloran after that shout. "Let me remind you all that I'm not a diplomat, and I don't give a damn about putting up with your petty bickering. We're here to stop a war, and if any of you really wanted a war we wouldn't be talking!" After a moment the Mars-born woman took a breath and continued. "We're recessing for an hour. I'm told the ship's lounge is providing refreshments. Help yourselves."

The ship's security staff were in place to keep everyone moving forward to the Lookout. By the time they arrived Hargert was already bringing out the first trays of food on anti-grav serving tables. In his own stab at diplomacy, they were filled with Drazi and Brakiri finger foods.

Some were getting bites to eat. Others were speaking quietly in corners. Julia found herself approaching Holloran. "If you're not a diplomat, why did Sheridan send you?" Julia asked.

"Because he needs Delenn to help him hold the Council in check," Holloran replied. "Otherwise she'd be out here."

"It's that bad?"

"It's going haywire. ISN's been reporting the Dilgar colony non-stop. When they're not talking about that, they're talking about the Dilgar petitioning your Alliance for membership. You're not making a lot of friends on Earth, Captain," Holloran said darkly. Then she smiled a little. "Which means that Mars is falling in love with you, by the way."

Julia gave a short, bemused laugh at that. "I'm glad someone loves me. I'm going to have Senator Pensley demanding my head on a platter. Quite possibly literally."

"Right." Holloran's look turned pensive. "This entire thing is suspicious as hell."

"Which part?"

"All of it. The sudden discovery of the Dilgar network. Gagnor is compromised when he's been operating quietly for years without a single problem. Then suddenly the Brakiri and Drazi know about Rohric, even though Gagnor wouldn't have known." Holloran's voice had an edge to it. "Call me paranoid, but I think we're being played."

"You think someone gave Gagnor up to the Drazi and Brakiri? And then found Rohric on their own?" Julia frowned. "Who?"

"I'd like to know. So would Sheridan and Delenn. There are a number of powers that might want to set our Alliances at odds. Like the Centauri, if they want revenge for the bombing of Centauri Prime. Durla's been amassing a lot of power lately. And there's the Drakh as well."

"I heard about them. The Shadows' old servants?"

"Yes. They still cause trouble at the edges of Alliance territory. They might be pushing their masters' old 'progress through conflict' idea." Holloran shrugged. "Hell, for I know it could even be a faction on Earth who were hoping you'd get dragged in. A lot of the power players on Earth would love to see your people driven from our galaxy, or at least compelled by the InterStellar Alliance to withdraw from Darglan space."

"And that's just the powers in your home universe." Julia shook her head. "It could be someone on our end. A Dominion infiltrator who's evaded detection. Or maybe one of the Gersallian Dissenter factions that went radical." Her mind also went to the report about the Cylons getting their hands on a Nazi shield-disruptor torpedo. Could the Cylons be causing this?

"I'd keep my eyes open, if I were you," Holloran warned.

Julia nodded. "Thanks. We'd better split up, though, or the others will think you're playing favorites."

To that Holloran grinned. "Maybe I am. Martians have our own worries about genocide." At that point she walked away.

Julia considered what Holloran had just told her. Her own suspicions were confirmed. Someone was fueling this situation, and with an agenda she knew nothing about. She had a bad feeling things were going to get even worse.

And then they did.

Suddenly, in a single blur, a green disruptor beam exploded out of nothingness against the wall. People spun out of the way, diving for the floor as a few screamed in shock. The target was Shai’jhur, standing by the bar and trying to engage the Abbai representative, and Julia gaped in horror, for the searing flash suggested a disintegrate setting.

The Warmaster flung her arms up, and the beam caught on the jacket of her uniform, which glowed green as it did. Below the green glow, the blue of the uniform and the medals that she wore vanished in a cloud of neutrinos, but instead of the Dilgar woman following her uniform into oblivion, a black mesh interweave was revealed instead.

Julia recognized it immediately. Anti-disruptor absorption mesh! They must have gotten it from the Ferengi, too.

A moment later, the weapon appeared--flying through the air. There was a cough of pain and a shout from nowhere, and Lucy started, as if only she were following an invisible fight as her lightsaber glowed hot and ready.

Shai’jhur, her fur singed, collapsed to the deck, drawing only ragged breaths. And then from nowhere, a gun fired, but this time Lucy leapt into action, charging the invisible figure. Her sapphire blade intercepted the spark of blue energy and batted it to the ceiling. A second shot met the same fate. Lucy felt a tingle of recognition that she pushed away, not needing to deal with it at this critical moment, while seeking out her invisible opponent through the Flow of Life. With immense focus she reached forward without a sympathetic grasp from one of her occupied hands. Another weapon, a familiar one, flew in the air beside her and hit the ground. "I can see you!" she shouted. "Surrender!"

The invisible foe did not. She sensed her foe shifting, trying to get distance, but she was moving too quickly. She slashed through the air and knew her lightsaber brushed against someone. She sensed instinctive pain at the burning of flesh. It wasn't a critical wound, but it was bad.

Nearby a table was knocked over. There was more than one cloaked attacker here. Indeed, more than one cloaked figure.

It was Meridina who acted next. After a moment's concentration she reached her hands up. An object, a sleek gray device that a number of those present also recognized, came out of the air in front of Lucy.

Lucy found herself facing a black clad foe. Her lightsaber had burned a wound on her opponent's shoulder, charred flesh visible through the gap. She brought her lightsaber to attack again.

Her opponent raised his arms. As he did, silver material suddenly surged from the back of his wrists. The material glistened in the air and a slight metallic sound came as it hardened… and sharpened. The figure now had two long blades of silver material attached to his wrists.

"You," Lucy said. "What are you doing here?"

The brown-haired man smiled in reply. "What do you think?" asked James Hawk, in a rhetorical way. "I'm here to kill bad guys."
To Be Continued...
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

Post by Steve » 2018-01-12 10:34am

This is the first true multi-part episode in two seasons, so I am going to again do what I did with "The Human Condition Part 2" back in Season 1. Namely, for atmosphere and that TV show feel... a "Last time on" bit! Imagine the opening and closing bits being narrated by Majel Barret Roddenberry for that extra nostalgic feel. ;)

Last time on Undiscovered Frontier...
A tone from Jarod's control board interrupted Julia. Jarod turned his attention back to the board. "I'm getting a distress signal from Alliance bands," he said. "It's coming from the colony on Gamma 12 in Universe E5B1."

"I don't recognize those vessels," Julia said.

"Those are Dilgar ships."
The woman spoke. "I am Warmaster Shai’jhur. I have arrived here to ask for your help."


"To put it bluntly, Captain Andreys, my people are going to be slaughtered without your assistance.”

"A force of Brakiri and Hyach ships has seized Tira. The Drazi are sending a fleet to exterminate the population. I request the aid of the Alliance in protecting my people."


Captain Andreys,” Captain Ming-Chung greeted her, the urgency tight in her voice. “The lady to my left is Captain Kaveri Varma, Earthforce Retired."


"If we sent a signal ahead, maybe we could warn them to stop?" Cat asked.

Kaveri answered, “My daughter, Zheng-li, may be in position to buy you a little time. She is the captain of a new Earthforce destroyer on patrol in the coreward League.”
Zhengli Varma replied bluntly, "The surface of this planet is under the protection of Earthforce. We will not permit genocide."


Julia watched the screen as it resolved on the battle raging before their improvised squadron of Alliance and Dilgar ships. Before them was a Warlock class destroyer, her deflector shields failing as they came in. She now stood, wreathed in the massive ring of hundreds of simultaneous explosions as her interceptor grid worked to keep her covered, as the hammer-blows of heavy hits tore into her armor. Julia watched the ship shudder from stem to stern and knew they were just in time.

"That’s the Huáscar, Zhengli’s ship," Kaveri’s voice said.

It was as simple as that. The Huáscar could be destroyed at any moment, and it was clear the Drazi were coming on for them. There was no time to talk. "Tactical, lock weapons. Commander Meridina, signal the squadron to open fire."

Within seconds the forward pulse plasma cannons of the Aurora were thundering their sapphire fury at the nearest, largest Drazi Sunhawk.


"You should leave. When the rest of our fleet arrives, the Dilgar will die. And so will anyone who stands with them." There was an audible cut to the line signifying the Drazi had cut the channel to the Aurora.
A man in an Earthforce uniform with a sandy blonde high and tight haircut and blue eyes appeared. He spoke in an English midlands accent. “This is Major Foster, Acting Commander of the EAS Huáscar. The Captain with whom you were speaking has been removed from command and confined to the brig. You have engaged and attacked the Drazi Freehold’s fleet while violating Brakiri territory. I expect that you will withdraw and allow ISA member nations to handle this matter amongst themselves. You have forty-eight hours to comply.”

"This isn't recognized Brakiri territory,," Julia retorted. "And you heard the Drazi. This isn't a peacekeeping mission, they're here to commit genocide. How can you side with them?"


“Captain?” It was Lieutenant Johnathan Goodman, the Security Officer for the Huáscar, a big, easygoing man from Belize. “We’re arranging to have your regular meals brought down.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. This will all end badly, mark my words. Earthforce does not want to sully itself in this. We will not come off well.”

“You know Foster’s politics. The entire crew is on pins and needles right now.”


One of the guards slid Zhengli’s food into the cell. As she did, the woman whispered softly: “You did right, Captain, but I don’t how we’re going to get past those Nightwatch goons.”

“We’ll find a way."

“Aye Aye, Captain..”
They heard smashing glass and laughter before long. Lucy brought the Marines into a chamber occupied by mercenaries. Most were Brakiri, but there were members of other species too.

The chamber had originally been laid out with about two thousand humanoid-sized clear tubes with equipment in them, each supporting a Dilgar infant being gestated. As it stood down, three-quarters of them were smashed, wrecked, deactivated. As they stood there, the Brakiri standing to the side and watching with sneers and smirks, the mercenaries were using fire-axes seized from the facility to smash open more of the cloning tanks, throwing the infants onto the ground.

Anders' reaction was a quiet, "Open fire."
"I'm not going to standby and let you continue this culling," Julia said to the Brakiri captain. "My people will move in and protect the facilities where the Dilgar children are being grown. Your people will withdraw from them immediately. If you fail to comply, the Aurora and her squadron will open fire. Is that clear?"

For the first time the business-like facade of Tabir failed. He scowled at her. "You sanctimonious fool. Don't you realize the Dilgar are playing you?! That this has probably been their plan all along, to turn us against each other!"
Holloran's look turned pensive. "This entire thing is suspicious as hell."

"Which part?"

"All of it. The sudden discovery of the Dilgar network. Then suddenly the Brakiri and Drazi know about Rohric." Holloran's voice had an edge to it. "Call me paranoid, but I think we're being played."

Suddenly, in a single blur, a green disruptor beam exploded out of nothingness against the wall. People spun out of the way, diving for the floor as a few screamed in shock. The target was Shai’jhur, standing by the bar and trying to engage the Abbai representative, and Julia gaped in horror, for the searing flash suggested a disintegrate setting.

The Warmaster flung her arms up, and the beam caught on the jacket of her uniform, which glowed green as it did. Below the green glow, the blue of the uniform and the medals that she wore vanished in a cloud of neutrinos, but instead of the Dilgar woman following her uniform into oblivion, a black mesh interweave was revealed instead.

Julia recognized it immediately. Anti-disruptor absorption mesh! They must have gotten it from the Ferengi, too.

Shai’jhur, her fur singed, collapsed to the deck, drawing only ragged breaths.
"I can see you!" Lucy shouted. "Surrender!"

Lucy found herself facing a black clad foe. Her lightsaber had burned a wound on her opponent's shoulder, charred flesh visible through the gap. She brought her lightsaber to attack again.

Her opponent raised his arms. As he did, silver material suddenly surged from the back of his wrists. The material glistened in the air and a slight metallic sound came as it hardened… and sharpened. The figure now had two long blades of silver material attached to his wrists.

"You," Lucy said. "What are you doing here?"

The brown-haired man smiled in reply. "What do you think?" asked James Hawk. "I'm here to kill bad guys."

And now, the conclusion...


The sudden attack in the Aurora lounge took everyone off guard. The moment Shai'jhur went down Julia's hand was already going toward her omnitool. It lit up around her left forearm and allowed her to key the intraship communications system. "Andreys to Security, I need a full tactical response and medical team to the Lookout!" She went over to Shai'jhur. Kaveri was kneeling beside her, horror written over the older woman's face. Nah'dur came up and knelt beside her mother. "Let me see!" she hissed.

By this point Lucy was in action. Julia looked up in time to see the dark clad figure she was fighting shimmer into appearance. Even as the metal blades formed from the back of his wrists, Julia recognized his face.

Lucy's voice filled the room. "What are you doing here?"

And James Hawk answered, "What do you think? I'm here to kill bad guys." The interuniversal rogue and vigilante lunged forward, his wrist blades - formed from the Darglan-made nanites that infused and enhanced his body - whistling in the air.

Technical augmentation met metaphysical augmentation, and the latter won. Lucy met Hawk's enhanced speed with her own. The blue of her lightsaber blade came up to parry Hawk's wrist blades. The Darglan nanites didn't fail right away to the lightsaber, but the metal they were forming immediately turned red. Hawk withdraw his arms and moved for another attack.

Meridina struck before he could. In one motion she lashed out with power and sent Hawk flying into the wall. While he tried to stand and recover she focused on him and intoned "SLEEP". The Psi Corps telepath from the Huáscar widened her eyes at sensing the power behind the mental compulsion.

Hawk sneered as he got back to his feet. "Sorry, lady," he said. "That won't work this time."

Meridina blinked. "I see," she said. Telepathically she communicated her findings to the others. His mind has been hardened against compulsions. Someone has trained him how to resist telepathic commands.

Lucy nodded and kept her lightsaber in a defensive position. Meridina stepped up beside her and ignited her lightsaber as well.

The bizarre shadow-puppet fight continued between the two cloaked rivals, Hawk’s comrade and Shai’jhur’s defender. The smoke from the smoke grenades that had been loosed to complicate the picture was beginning to spread extensively through the Lookout, as shadowy forms revealed by the particulate matter whirled the air particles in their wake.

Unable to target each other except by the flash of weapons or the feel of breath or movement, and with the Surgeon-Commander and Kaveri having rapidly dragged Shai’jhur out of the lounge, the assailant was trying to finish off the other cloaked foe. It was a half comedic fight of whirling blades that were invisible, slashes and feints and blood dripping on the carpet from people who could not be seen, and could not see each other.

Hawk noticed Nah'dur and Kaveri pulling Shai'jhur through the starboard door to the Lookout and threw his hand forward. Slivers of nanite material hardened into metal zipped out. Meridina caught them with her life force while Lucy advanced. Hawk got his left hand blade in place just in time to catch her attack. He counter-attacked with his right hand, but Lucy's lightsaber caught it in a fluid movement. Hawk had to withdraw it as it started to glow red. "That's a fun new toy," he said to her.

"You're insane," Lucy shot back. "You really infiltrated the ship and thought you'd get away?"

Hawk smirked confidently. "I got away before, didn't I?" With his speed he kicked at Lucy. She saw it coming and moved just quickly enough to avoid a kick that, given its power, would have easily broken her jaw. She swept her lightsaber at his knee and barely missed.

Hawk's evasion turned into a roll of necessity when Meridina's lightsaber caught him. She moved in on his right while Lucy kept to his left, pinning him up against the Aurora's Memorial Wall. "Why are you attacking us now?" Meridina asked.

"Not you," Hawk said. "Her."

Even with his newfound mental protections, both picked up the image in his head. "You want to kill Warmaster Shai'jhur?" Lucy asked. "Why?"

"Well, for one, the title's kind of a giveaway on what she's about, isn't it?" Hawk's blades came up again. This time he advanced on Meridina, who quietly parried his attacks despite the smoke obscuring them. Lucy went in for a swipe at him this time, but Hawk again rolled away. The smoke was not thick enough to obscure the lightsabers, allowing them to be spotted easily, unlike Hawk's own weapons.

In the meantime, the strange shadow-fight continued. There was a simple reason for it: The first to drop their cloak would be at a massive disadvantage, neither one of the still-cloaked fighters did. Julia couldn’t tell who was winning, or even who was fighting, though she assumed that it must be Fei’nur, the ominous Dilgar commando who had always been at Shai’jhur’s side in the meetings before and clearly had her own cloak.

People were scrambling and fleeing as chairs and tables went flying across the room without apparent cause. As they did, the lounge opened up enough, and heavy gunfire cracked the air, aiming for a twirling figure outlined in the smoke which now wreathed and choked the entirety of the Lounge. As it did, the cloak flickered and vanished, and revealed with a hole in her side dripping blood, but lunging up with wrist blades and a ferocious expression, was Hawk's ally Helen. The large woman was built like an Amazon of legend, tall as well as muscled. She flung herself for cover as the gun spoke again.

Hawk fell back toward her position. It was fairly close to the port side door. Meridina was moving toward the same while Lucy remained to her right. Julia imagined Fei'nur would take their cue and watch Lucy's right, boxing the two in. "Your friend is wounded," Meridina stated. "Surrender and we can provide medical…"

There was a sharp laugh in reply. Even through the smoke, both could already sense the wound healing abnormally fast. The Darglan nanites within Helen were rebuilding the damaged tissues cell by cell and stopping the blood loss. What had been life-threatening a moment ago was quickly only becoming critical.

All three sensed the attack that came next. Meridina and Lucy with their talents, Fei'nur from the sense that one fighter had for another. Hawk and Helen came out of the smoke, blades swinging defiantly. Meridina parried Hawk's strikes. Lucy, sensing the sheer rage building in Helen, let her come forward by giving not quite a meter in space. Not enough to risk Helen getting away.

More than enough to give Fei'nur room to tackle her now-visible foe.

While Helen went flying through the smoke, Lucy brought her lightsaber blade up and readied to fight either foe. She wasn't needed; Meridina was aptly handling Hawk and, despite the healing, Helen was weakened enough from her wound that Fei'nur was now easily overpowering her. A solid blow sent Helen flying into the bar. A sharp snap of bone and a cry made the extent of her injury clear in the second before Helen hit the ground. Only now did Lucy move in. Not with her lightsaber, but with her life force. She summoned the energy within her and directed it at Helen, pinning her to the ground. "She's down!" Lucy directed a glare toward the direction of Fei'nur, invisible to the eye but not to the Flow of Life. "She's down, she's a prisoner," Lucy repeated, sensing the killing intent in the Dilgar woman.

But they attacked the Warmaster…! Still… she… fought with us. The Warmaster would not wish me to be cause of a conflict with these people. Grudgingly, Fei’nur forced herself to relax and re-sheath her knives.

That left Hawk. Meridina waited patiently to see what he would do. His confident look was replaced with an angry snarl. "What are you doing protecting that monster anyway?" he demanded. "I thought you Knights were supposed to protect the innocent."

"To my knowledge and experience, Shai'jhur is not a monster."

"What, because she says so?" He laughed bitterly before lunging at Meridina again. This time his crossed blades met her lightsaber. They pressed against each other. Within two seconds his blades were glowing red. "You're on the wrong side!"

"You ruined an entire world," Meridina reminded him. "Your judgement is suspect."

A moment later the standoff between their weapons ended. Hawk's blades lost. The lightsaber finished melting the nanite-forged material until it fell away. Hawk stepped back, desperately trying to reform his weapons, but Meridina was too quick. Given a moment free from his speedy blade attacks, she concentrated with her power and gripped him, slamming him into the wall by the port door. He struggled in her grip but couldn't move. Meridina was too powerful for him.

The smoke was clearing with the aid of the ventilation systems for the Aurora. Julia looked around at the mess of their reception. Many of the diplomats and delegates had fled. Jarod was kneeling beside Tessa Holloran. The ISA Director of Covert Intelligence was still on the ground. After a tense second of worry Julia could see she was moving, but slowly. Fei'nur and Helen had slammed into her during the fight.

The doors to the Lookout opened and security teams marched in, pulse rifles raised. Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, their Melbourne-native chief, had her own. "Secure the prisoners!" she barked in a fine Australian accent. Four of her people did so. Restraint cuffs were locked around the wrists of Hawk and Helen.

Julia had her own worry. "What happened to Shai'jhur?" she asked.

"Doctor Gillam's teams are already taking her to medbay," Richmond replied. "She's still alive."

A mutter of "Dammit" came from the wall. Security were placing leg-cuffs around Hawk's ankles to fully restrain him. He was snarling in frustration.

If Julia looked in a mirror, she'd realize her expression almost matched his.

Undiscovered Frontier
"Yesterday's Enemies, Part 2"

The Lookout was a mess. Set up for a reception for the diplomatic teams meeting over the fate of the Dilgar of Tira and Rohric, the crew lounge of the Starship Aurora was a mess of toppled anti-grav serving tables and chairs. Most of the attendees were now in the corridors outside being escorted into spare quarters nearby until matters could be dealt with.

Captain Julia Andreys surveyed the damage with her peer, Captain Li Ming-Chung of the Starship Shenzhou. The Chinese woman's dark hair was disheveled from her part in helping deal with the chaos, but she seemed otherwise intact. She certainly acted like it. "That was the renegade from the vessel Avenger?" she asked Julia. "The same people who bombarded the 19th Century Earth of Universe C1P2?"

Julia nodded. "It was. His girlfriend was commanding the Avenger in that fight."

"Then their ship may be nearby." Li frowned. "It will take both of our vessels together to have a chance against it."

"Which means that the Drazi and the Huáscar get to fight the Dilgar without distraction." Julia thought back to their prior battle with Hawk and his people, over Earth of C1P2. "We did beat them before, but it was with superior tactics. And given what we think they're doing to themselves…"

"I recall the report," Li said. "The Darglan brainwave infuser devices. They are overusing them."

"That's what Leo says." Julia sighed. "Damn. And we were wondering just who was stoking things around here. With their access to Darglan technology, I can buy Hawk and his people being the ones to betray Rohric to the Drazi and Brakiri. They may even have helped them find Tira."

"Why? What do they gain?"

"Beating the 'bad guys'," Julia said, sighing. "What else?" Her eyes scanned the room until she found who she was looking for. The Brikari captain Tabir was standing with his fellows in a corner. She approached. "Captain Tabir," she said.

"Captain." He smiled thinly at her. "Quite the rush of excitement. Although I had anticipated far better security by your people than you've now evidenced."

"These rogues have access to the best Darglan technology," Julia answered. "I'll make sure my security people find ways to prevent them from doing this again."

"I see. But I was not simply referring to the shooters. There was also the matter of the other cloaked fighter. The one using a concealment field based off technology native to our universe."

Julia considered pointing out that, by definition, that's what Darglan technology was, but she understood the context. "I see what you mean."

"I hope our future meetings are more secure. Perhaps we should hold them on my vessel? Or on Tira."

"I can assure you that we don't need to worry about this problem now. Measures will be taken now that we know the extent of the threat." Julia smiled thinly. "Speaking of said threat, I am wondering how they came aboard. The Abbai and Minbari allowed themselves to be beamed, but you and the Hyach and the Drazi all insisted on shuttles. Since our sensors show no sign of transporter activity, the infiltrators had to have come by ship."

Tabir's look was smug. "Are you accusing us of being responsible for this attack? During a diplomatic summit sanctioned by President Sheridan? I trust you have proof?"

Julia felt an irrational temptation to say yes, she damn well knew they brought Hawk aboard. Either the Brakiri themselves or the Drazi. With Darglan-tech cloaking for shuttle-sized ships, Hawk and Helen could have easily evaded notice in warping in and boarding the Drazi or Brakiri before the meeting. But that was not how diplomacy was played. What she knew was different from what she could prove, which was very little at the moment. "I was wondering if they may have slipped aboard one of your shuttles before you left," Julia lied. "After all, your internal sensors would do even worse against their Darglan-made personal cloaks than our own do."

"A plausible theory, I suppose. But I can assure you that the Brakiri shuttles were not boarded in this fashion."

"If you say so, I'll trust your judgement, Captain." Another lie, which was sadly a part of diplomacy.

"Do you intend to resume the negotiations?" Tabir asked. "If not, I wish to return to my ship."

As much as Julia wanted to get the diplomatic wheels turning, with Shai'jhur in the medbay and this new complication it simply wasn't possible. "My security people will clear you once statements are completed and arrangements for your return to our shuttle bay can be completed. The talks will be resumed when possible."

"Of course. Until later, Captain." With that same slimy smile that made Julia wish she could punch him, or even worse, have Angel punch him, Tabir walked away.

Julia sought out Commander Richmond. She was busy getting statements from the Abbai. The finned humanoids, both female, were gracious enough, and Julia let them finish their answers before saying, "Commander, if you have a moment?"

Richmond gestured for them to go and turned to face Julia. She was not as tall as Julia. While Julia had a fairly normal tone to her Caucasian complexion, Phryne Richmond's skin was almost porcelain in its coloring. Her green eyes were striking, like emeralds, while Julia's tended toward an aquamarine coloring. A head of dark hair was cut short, almost to a bowl cut. In some ways Commander Richmond looked like she would be at home in a period piece set in the 1920s, although her Alliance Stellar Navy uniform, with the olive brown of security as the trim color at the level of her shoulders and along her cuffs, was nothing like what a flapper would be wearing. Two gold strips and one black strip with a gold border were fixed to her collar, identifying her rank as the four gold strips on Julia's collar identified Julia's. "Yes, Captain?" she asked.

"Find out anything more?"

"We have no indication of how they got aboard, if that's what you're wondering," Richmond said. "My best guess is that they came on with the Drazi or the Brakiri. Internal sensors are all functioning properly and show no sign of a transport."

"But they couldn't see them through their cloaks," Julia noted.

"Unfortunately not. Just as they don't see our people when they're using them. Our friends are using our own technology against us."

"You don't know the half of it," Julia murmured. She remembered the fight with the Avenger, and how Hawk escaped. "You've made sure that their cells are isolated?"

"Of course," Richmond said. "While I wasn't here the last time, Commander Meridina's notes on Hawk's escape were most thorough. The brig was refit to surround each cell with a forcefield cube. Hawk's nanites won't be able to drill through and access systems this time."

"Good. I'd like to be there when you question them. With Commander Meridina."

"Of course. I have just a couple more statements to finish, Captain, then we'll be ready." Richmond's green eyes glistened. "We'll see if a taste of their future will make them cooperative."

Remembering the last time they interrogated Hawk in the brig, Julia sighed. "Don't count on it."

The excitement had been quite a surprise for Yonatan Shaham. He mused that he would never have to worry about such things on the Eagle. Nor did he envy his father for having to handle these sort of things as Captain of the Alliance's Enterprise.

Although even hosting diplomats is preferable to how life was before all of this, he pondered. Twenty months of living as commander of the Eagle and resident of New Liberty Colony didn't compare to the twenty-five years he lived on the vessel Tikvah, one of a dwindling population of surviving Jews trying to stay one step ahead of a triumphant, interstellar Nazi German Reich. Their vessel's name proved to have been fortunate in the end. Though Tikvah herself was gone, crippled and then destroyed by being rammed into the Nazi SS-crewed dreadnought Adolf Eichmann, her population of five thousand - the last Jews native to Universe S4W8 - were still alive and residing on the New Liberty Colony of Universe H1E4. Their largest surviving ship, the Eagle, was herself now part of the New Liberty militia force, dividing time between helping the Alliance's war effort against the Nazi Reich and providing security for the colony's solar system.

This situation… this was something different. And Yoni was excited to be a part of it, even with the boredom of diplomacy. Not just from helping the Aurora's crew - assisting those who saved his people was a choice he would always make - but from the chance to participate in making history for an entire galaxy.

And that didn't count standing against a genocide in process.

From what he could tell, security was in the process of sending everyone off to be returned to their ships. He was therefore surprised at seeing the blue-uniformed Earthforce commander approach. He recognized Major Foster from the earlier talks. Foster was the First Officer of the Earthforce destroyer Huáscar, which he had seized from its Captain after she intervened in the planned Drazi attack to annihilate the Dilgar population on Tira. It perplexed Yoni that Foster was doing such a thing. His commander had thwarted genocide, but he was declaring his intention to side with the Drazi and fire on the Aurora and her ships (including Yoni's own Eagle) if they interfered. He couldn't quite keep the disgust he felt at Foster's choices from showing on his face.

If Foster noticed it, he didn't mention it. The Earthforce officer spoke with an English accent, one from the Midlands of that country. "I recognize you," he said. "ISN did a story about you and your ship. Yonatan Shaham of the Eagle."

Yoni nodded. He remembered having to ferry that blond-haired reporter woman around, at the request (order) of Governor Rankin. It had been irritating with the woman constantly demanding access to his bridge even during combat alerts. "You have the advantage of me, Major," he replied.

"I suppose I do," Foster replied. The innate hostility he'd shown toward Captain Andreys wasn't visible now. "I'm part Jewish on my mother's side, actually."

Yoni blinked at that. He was still getting used to the idea of people who could be part Jewish. The idea of non-Jews being willing to have families with Jews was something he could never have imagined growing up. "I see," Yoni replied after remembering himself.

"What are you doing here, Commander?" asked Foster.

"I beg your pardon?"

"What are you doing here, helping these people protect the Dilgar?" Foster asked, this time with some heat in his voice. "The Dilgar are monsters. They made even the Nazis look humane with the way they treated other species. I don't see how you can defend them, given how close your people came to extermination."

Yoni's eyes focused on Foster. He tried to imagine what this man thought, about his people, about right or wrong. "That is why we must," Yoni said. "Genocide is wrong."

"Not in all cases," Foster said. "Sometimes it can be the only way. Some species are simply too aggressive to be allowed to survive. They're threats to everything we are, everything we hold dear."

Yoni thought back to what he had heard about this universe. "You refer to their war on the rest of this galaxy. Or perhaps another war you remember?"

That caused a glower to form on Foster's face. "You've heard of the Minbari War, then."

"Something, yes. They brought Humanity in this universe to the brink of annihilation before showing mercy."

A scowl formed on Foster's face. "'Mercy'. That's what people say. I think they got tired of having our people fight them to the death. Why annihilate when you can enslave, and do it with subtlety?"

"I do not follow."

"They left Earth prostrate. Reliant upon their aid and good grace. Then they encouraged us to trust them. After all of the good men and women they killed." Foster seemed to catch his excess zeal and restrain himself. "Some of us weren't fooled. We learned the lesson of the war. Humans have to stick together. We can't rely on aliens, even those we thought were our allies. And we have to be ready to do anything to survive."

"Including genocide?" asked Yoni.

"If it's them or us," Foster answered. His face was stony in its resolve. "We can't be squeamish. Not when it comes to the survival of Humanity."

"The Nazi say things like that," Yoni remarked. "That life is only about survival, and survival is for the fittest. But that is not how I wish my life to be led."

At that Foster openly scowled at him. "So you're one of those sentimentalists. I'm surprised. I would think someone with your background would understand what I was saying. Or are you telling me you wouldn't wipe the Nazi Reich out to save your people from the same fate?"

Yonatan didn't answer right away. He couldn't. Growing up, yes, there had been that dark section of his heart. The idea of wiping the Germans from the face of existence so his people could stop running, could stop dying. As he'd grown older and the rest of the fleet had been picked off, one by one, those thoughts had persisted. Even when he learned they were wrong.

Those thoughts made him see Foster in a new light. Foster had felt the same things. The difference between them was that Foster hadn't recognized those dark feelings as wrong. Yoni's dark dreams were Foster's earnest ones; annihilate the enemy before he annihilated you.

"Do you believe the Dilgar are such an enemy?" Yonatan asked. "They deserve to be wiped out?"

"I think they could become one," Foster remarked. "We already have enough threats to the existence of the Human species."

Incredulous at such an argument, Yonatan pointed out the obvious. "The Human species is the most plentiful in the Multiverse."

To that Foster laughed harshly. "And how many of them are already bonded to aliens? The Humans of the Federation are subjects of the alien majority who sacrifice them to alien interests. The Maquis prove that. The Allied Systems? The Gersallians and the Dorei will be running that show, given their widespread use of telepaths without protections for the Human majority. The Inner Sphere are backwards feudalists that the aliens can crush at leisure. Earth in M4P2 is already subject to the rule of the Asari and their puppets." Another laugh was bitter. "And so are we, now. Sheridan's selling us down river for his Minbari wife and alien friends."

The tirade caused Yoni to shake his head. "You've allowed hate to root into your soul, like a poison. You ask me why I protect people who once committed the same crimes as the Nazis? I suggest you look in a mirror, Major, and that you consider yourself. Because whatever the Dilgar did, you are far closer to the Nazis than they are now."

"You don't get to judge me!" Foster barked. "The Minbari slaughtered my parents and my brother! I watched their ships annihilate everything we could muster! We came to the precipice of extermination!"

"Indeed? I have been there with my people as well, Major," Yoni answered quietly. He looked at Foster and felt guilt. He could remember similar feelings of hate against those trying to exterminate his people. Could he have let it turn him into this? A man more than ready to permit genocide? It was with this thought still in his mind and heart that Yoni added, "And yet, we still have our souls."

At that, Yoni did the only thing he could do. He turned and walked away.

Julia and Meridina entered the brig in the company of Commander Richmond. Given what happened the last time, no chances were being taken. Six security personnel were on duty inside the Brig and another six were outside, ready to help the moment anything happened.

The brig was a large chamber with about twenty cells, arranged along each wall save for the wall with the door. Along the walls to the right and left - bow and stern, given the place of the door - six cells were lined up. The port side wall across from the door was where eight more cells existed. A central pit area near the door was for the brig control, where security officers observing the brig could monitor their prisoners and the brig systems.

The cells with Hawk and Helen were on the port wall. One cell separated them from each other. Each had the appearance of only having one forcefield-sealed side - the entranceway - but in truth each cell was contained by a forcefield cube that would be revealed if someone tried to go through the wall. The measure was a complicated technical problem, and one that increased the energy demands of the brig. Hawk himself had proven the necessity of it during their first encounter due to how he escaped from the brig.

Now he was sitting quietly on the bench of his cell. His compatriot Helen was pacing her cell like a great cat, an angry snarl on her face. Her dark combat suit had a massive hole on the right side of the belly that revealed fair skin that was faintly pinkish, all that remained of the wound Fei'nur had caused with her gunshot. Muscle rippled there. Helen looked like she could challenge Angel in terms of building muscle, and she matched Julia in height easily. Her gray, East Asian eyes flashed with anger when she looked toward them.

Despite everything, there was a confident gleam to Hawk's brown eyes when he looked to them. "Ah. The cheerleader. Well, not that anymore, I see. You get to be in charge now." He glanced toward Meridina. "Fun new toys you and the other one have now. Laser swords."

"What are you up to, Hawk?" Julia asked. "Why are you here?"

"Why am I here? We're here to do what we always do," Hawk answered. "Kill bad guys."

"You mean you're after the Dilgar."

"You are aware that they will be exterminated by the Drazi, correct?" asked Meridina.

"Not all," Hawk said. "I told the Drazi to leave some alive. Just where they can't hurt anyone. That species is one I wouldn't trust with any kind of advanced technology." He crossed his arms. "What confuses me is why do-gooders like you people are protecting the scum."

"They asked us to stop the Drazi from committing genocide," Julia said. "We barely got here in time."

"The Dilgar deserve what they get," growled Helen. "After everything they did, they don't deserve to live."

"That is a rather extreme position, and one based on hate and fear," Meridina noted. "Certainly beings like yourselves, who insist that you are thwarting evil beings, should recognize that."

"Helen's always been in favor of permanent solutions," Hawk remarked. "And the fact is the Dilgar are rotten to the core, and always have been. It's hard to stick around with a species that sees everyone else as an animal to be tortured and enslaved at their whim." Hawk kept his eyes locked on Julia. "Even your new buddy the Warmaster is a piece of crap. You didn't think the title was just for show, did you?"

"It's a rank of political and military power for them," Julia pointed out.

"And how do you think she earned it?" Hawk spat. "She earned it fighting in Jha'dur's fleet, that's how. Helping that evil maniac bomb planets and infect entire worlds with plagues."

"Do you have proof she took part?"

"We can show she was in the fleet," Hawk said. "Besides, she's also a rapist piece of crap too."

To that charge Julia furrowed her brow. She glanced to Meridina, who nodded. "He believes the charge."

"What, you didn't know?" Helen cackled. "Boy, that's rich. You naive idiots will believe anyone, won't you?"

"You say she's a rapist. How do you know?"

"It's in the Earthforce records," Hawk said. "We hacked into them while setting up this op. It's how we know Warmaster Shai'jhur deserves a pulse blast to the brain, not a damned medal or whatever it is you want to give her."

"Who did she assault, then?" Meridina asked.

"That Hindu woman sitting with her at the talks," Helen said.

Julia visibly started at that remark. "You mean Captain Varma."

"Kaveri Varma? Yup." Hawk nodded. He nodded to the security desk. "Check our omnitools. I had the records loaded on mine. Earthforce investigated Varma when she was rescued from that island. They found the evidence. Shai'jhur raped her while they were stranded."

Julia exchanged an uneasy look with Meridina. Behind them Richmond activated the systems to scan their omnitools. She swallowed when she saw the results. "Captain," she called out.

Julia turned and approached the security desk. Richmond helpfully displayed the results for her. The Earthforce physicians who examined Varma after her rescue found indications of Dilgar microbes on her body and in her system and other signs of sexual contact. A report from the debriefers came to the conclusion that the Dilgar then-Lieutenant Kaveri Varma had been marooned with had overpowered and assaulted her and essentially used her as a slave for both fishing and personal pleasure. "'Lieutenant Varma has not responded to requests for further detail on the attack'," Julia read. "'We believe this is due to her strict adherence to conservative cultural and religious beliefs. Recommend investigation end at this point for sake of the victim and further close observation at initial future postings for psychiatric reasons.'"

"See?" Hawk said. "Did you think we went to all of this trouble just because the Drazi have a bug up their ass about the Dilgar? Nope. It's that stuff that convinced us. You want to talk about the Dilgar not being evil anymore, but you're setting up a rapist to take over."

"Why would Varma be sitting with her then?' Julia demanded from him.

"Abused people do things like that sometimes. Thirty years of Stockholm Syndrome, maybe? All I know is what was done to her."

"So if it wasn't Shai'jhur begging us to save her people from genocide, you expect me to believe you'd leave this situation alone?" Julia demanded.

"We wouldn't be helping the Drazi fight Rohric, that's for sure," Hawk said. "Tira? They're run by people who think the old Imperium just needed to be more democratic toward other Dilgar. You didn't think they were producing clone babies by the million because they like kids, did you? It's a forced repopulation measure. And they damn well would have tried something eventually." A harsh laugh came from the renegade. "Face the facts, blondie. You're on the wrong side of this thing. And you need to get righteous soon, or our ship's going to blow holes into all of your pretty little ships before we wipe the floor with the Dilgar."

The threat reminded Julia of what they were dealing with, in more ways than one. Hawk and his followers were compromised, she remembered. They were frying their brains with the Darglan brainwave infusers from the Facility they'd taken over. She would have to bring that up.

But for now… she needed to find out the truth of this. It didn't change the facts of genocide, as far as Julia was concerned. But if Shai'jhur was a predator…

She motioned to the door. Richmond and Meridina joined her in the corridor outside. "Do you believe it?" she asked them.

"The records seem convincing," Meridina noted. "But the Earthforce analysts could be wrong."

"I'm not sure we can take that possibility at face value," Richmond said. "We need to investigate further."

"You do that. Meanwhile…" Julia turned to leave. "Meridina and I will confirm what happened."

"How do you intend to?" Richmond asked. "Even if she is cooperative, Captain Varma may mislead you consciously or subconsciously out of shame or loyalty to Shai'jhur. Her testimony by itself will be insufficient given the Earthforce findings."

"There is still a way to confirm the truth from her," Meridina said. The look on her face was uncomfortable. "But it is not an easy choice for us to make. Or, rather, for me to take."

Julia nodded grimly. She knew precisely what Meridina had in mind.

On the bridge of the Aurora Jarod was sitting in the command chair. Lt. Sabiha Neyzi, a young Turkish woman and operation officer, was manning his usual station with professional quiet. From the command chair all he saw of her was her dark hair pulled back into a bun. The helm was manned by Nick Locarno for the moment, although his watch would shortly end and Violeta Arterria would take over.

Jarod glanced over to science, where Lieutenant Amira al-Rashad was observing the sensor systems' data. "Nothing new?"

"No sir," the Arab woman replied. "No new vessels have arrived through the jumpgate or any other method."

"What's the status on the Huáscar?"

"Her repairs are continuing. It looks like their shield systems are fully restored, although there may still be some damage from their fight with the Drazi that aren't showing up on sensors. For that matter, the intact Drazi Sunhawks all seem to have finished repairs. The ones still damaged have pulled back toward the jumpgate."

"Of course they have," Jarod murmured.

"This is quite the situation, isn't it?" Locarno asked. "Especially with that lunatic Hawk and his crew mixed up in this."

"That's the worst news we've had, I think," Jarod said. "I wouldn't be surprised if everyone he's got working with him is frying their brains trying to learn everything from the Darglan technology. There's no telling what the brain damage they're suffering will do to them, psychologically or physiologically."

"Well, it certainly doesn't seem to make them more sociable," Locarno remarked. "I'm more worried about what's going to happen when that ship of theirs shows up. If the Earthforce dreadnought sides with the Drazi too…"

"...then we're in a lot of trouble," Jarod agreed. He hoped it wouldn't come to that.

But, given the way these things usually went… it probably would.
”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 » 2018-01-12 10:34am

Julia didn't want to wait. She knew it could be cruel to Kaveri to bring up the past, and that it might bring back old painful memories, but she had to know what her version of events were. Otherwise… otherwise it meant she really was supporting a monster. A monster trying to keep her people from being genocided, but still…

"It might be best to seek further analysis of the Earthforce records," Meridina suggested as they walked toward the entrance to medbay.

"It would take time to find the officers who debriefed her. If they're still alive." Julia shook her head. "No, this is something we need to deal with now."

"You are worried that you have supported the wrong side?"

"No, genocide's still wrong," Julia said. "But I want to make sure I'm not helping a rapist become the undisputed leader of her species."

Once in the medbay they found Nasri treating one of the servers from the Lookout. "Smoke inhalation," she confirmed. "He will be fine."

"We need to see Kaveri Varma," Julia said. "It's important."

"She is in the critical care ward with Shai'jhur," Nasri replied. "I will go get her."

"Is Doctor Gillam in his office?"

"No. He is with the patient, the radiation dose she received..." Nasri immediately understood. "I will inform him you need to borrow it."

"Thank you."

Julia and Meridina went to Leo's office. It was comfortably furnished. Leo had a copy of his medical doctorate on one wall, along with an image of him as a child with his late parents. Another image on a side desk was of everyone together in the early post-Facility days, celebrating the second anniversary of the New Liberty Colony.

The retired Earthforce captain stepped in, her face pinched and pale. “The doctor said you needed to speak to me urgently Captain, Commander…?” Her eyes glanced between the two of them, and there was a guarded look in her gaze.

Meridina gave Julia a concerned look. She sensed the severe strain on Kaveri's emotions. The subject was bound to make it worse.

"This is a… delicate matter," Julia said. "And I'm sorry if it dredges up painful memories. Would you like to have a seat?"

“That is not exactly the best opening to any conversation… very well, however.” She moved to sit, her eyes narrowing, as if she could somehow sense the direction of this conversation.

Julia swallowed as she struggled, even at the last minute, to choose her words carefully. "During our interrogation of the prisoners, they mentioned that they gained access to the Earthforce records on what happened to you. And they repeated the charge in those records. That you were assaulted by Shai'jhur during your time with her during the war." Julia kept her hands together in front of her, as if ready to take Kaveri's hand in support. "We need to know if this is true. And I'm sorry that we have to ask something so private."

Her face went blank, and her mental walls slammed up reflectively, anti-scanning training taking over. “No.” Her voice was flat and cold. “And your apology is not accepted, Captain.”

Meridina was quick to send her mental impressions to Julia. Including the mental walls. Julia nodded once. "I see," she said. Julia found that she wanted to believe Kaveri's denial, if only because Hawk's charge being true would make this entire situation even worse. But Kaveri's defensive reaction… she didn't know what to think, and it showed. And this situation was certainly too delicate to plunge ahead thoughtlessly. She looked to Meridina for help.

"I will not enter your mind if you do not wish it," Meridina assured her. "Gersal does not have your Psi Corps, but we have our own code of conduct for mindwalkers. Telepaths. I shall provide you the contact information to the Farisa Genut to issue complaints if you feel I have violated your mind."

“Almighty, you think I am afraid of the Corps?" Kaveri seemed incredulous of their words. "I am uneasy, yes, at the thought of being scanned, but I trust the motivations behind their actions more than your people’s, if only because of uncomfortable familiarity with them.” She grit her teeth. “You do not trust my denial, do you? You actually believe Shai’jhur could have done such a thing? Do not you understand the old Dilgar Imperium’s views of such things?” Hurt flashed in her eyes, and a defensive tone had crept into her voice.

The heat of Kaveri's denial was unavoidable. It didn't feel like a defensive protest to protect an abuser. At the same time… Julia shook her head, trying to get a feel for what her own instincts were telling her. "The Earthforce records insist you were raped. The evaluations all list your religious beliefs for why you refuse to talk about it. I don't want Shai'jhur to be guilty, but with the situation like it is, I have to know, Captain Varma. I have to know the truth of what happened to you on that island. Because Hawk? He believes it, which means his followers do, and Foster probably does as well, and the Drazi and Brakiri will damned well believe it. And that means this situation will become a shooting war, and if Hawk's ship shows up - and that is very likely - it's… well, it's a battlecruiser, Captain, a battlecruiser bristling with the most powerful weapons the Darglan ever developed. If it joins with Drazi reinforcements we will lose, and every Dilgar on Tira will die. Possibly followed by the ones on Rohric. I need to be able to show they're wrong, or if not, that Shai'jhur isn't the same as she was thirty years go."

“She is exactly the same as she was thirty years ago! Perhaps older, more worn-down by the weight of the crushing duty that pulverized Jha’dur before her, but her heart is the same! She tries to follow Dharma, as she did before she even knew the word! It…” Her gaze fell, and her tone shifted to grow more quiet. “It… was consensual. That is why there are the laboratory results supporting the charge. I let Intelligence believe it for the sake of my career, and for my little Zhengli’s sake.”

Julia bowed her head in reaction. She felt horrible, like she had just violated Kaveri as well… which was quite accurate in one sense. She felt Meridina's mind gently brush her own. Their contact allowed her to understand that the mental walls kept Meridina from confirming the truth of Kaveri's words. Only a deliberate telepathic scan could confirm the truth. There was a hesitation in Meridina's thoughts on that. She did not want to do this.

“What more do you want, Captain?”

"We need to be able to say you're not lying. That you're not covering for Shai'jhur," Julia said. "We need to know for sure." She didn't need to say how. Kaveri would know the one certain way.

“Very well, Captain.” Her shoulders sagged, and the woman let out a deep sigh. “I have avoided this, avoided any duty that would require this, ever since then…” It took a moment’s effort, and a soft humming sound as she centred herself, and willed her mental blocks away.

It was with great trepidation that Meridina pulled up a chair to sit in front of Kaveri. She closed her eyes and focused upon the woman. Felt her instinctive anger and displeasure at the situation, her continued worry over the ones she loved, for wounded Shai'jhur and imprisoned Zhengli, and most importantly… her determination to protect them.

There was only a moment's instinctive resistance, like skin resisting a needle, before the mind of Kaveri Varma opened to Meridina. Meridina's training, her personal discipline, ignored the memories that drifted past her. She focused on that critical moment in the life of Kaveri Varma. The escape from the dying Denali. The island. "Human… can you fish?" Days and nights spent working together, her and this alien woman who coughed up blood every so often, who's frail form belied a power of will, an understanding of the universe that Kaveri came to realize was the same as her own. From that a bond grew. An impossible one. Love in defiance of a universe torn by war to the knife between their respective species.

Meridina felt the immense closeness Kaveri felt toward Shai'jhur. She had been willing. Shai'jhur had been. They had learned something together, shared something on that island, and they shared it still. Meridina felt an affection that she had never felt before in another being.

With careful deference to the tender memories she had accessed, Meridina pulled her mind out from Kaveri's. To her surprise, tears had formed on her eyes in sympathy for Kaveri's tears. "It was real," Meridina said in a low voice. Not "she's telling the truth". Not "she's not delusional". Those three simple words. "It was real."

Julia nodded. "Thank you."

"I shall provide you contact information for the Farisa Genut on Gersal," Meridina said to Kaveri. "I ask that you inform them if I have caused you any harm or discomfort."

There was a flash of skepticism, that of a woman from the Earth Alliance, who had known all she had, but it faded, and she nodded. “It was… something that apparently had to be done.”

"I'm sorry it came to this," Julia said. "I understand if you can't accept my apology. It's still there."

“Words cannot make up for actions, I fear. Shai’jhur and I have both learned this lesson very well indeed. May I return to her now, Captain?”

Julia nodded quietly. "Yes," she said hoarsely.

She nodded and stood, making a namaste gesture in valediction, before turning silently to return to the Dilgar Warmaster’s side. She paused at the door. “Zhengli remains in danger, Captain. I would again ask if there was anything you can do, or else…I fear for what may come next.”

"I'll do whatever I can. I'm just not sure of what will help her." After watching Kaveri go, clearly distraught at that reply, Julia mumbled, "We just did something horrible."

"Sadly necessary, but yes," Meridina agreed. "I will report this to the Farisa Genut."

"If they find you having acted badly, what will happen?"

"At the most extreme, they would assign a farisa to accompany me and keep my mental gifts suppressed, or require me to take drugs to suppress my mindwalking. The latter would also disrupt my ability to access my swevyra."

"Would they…?"

"The situation provides enough amelioration that I may be simply required to provide compensation to Captain Varma. Perhaps an oath to refrain from all use of mindwalking until the Farisa Genut determines I am not a danger to others." Meridina was still shaken. "Power is linked to responsibility, as you know. The greater the power, the greater the responsibility, lest society be unbalanced. Farisa on Gersal accept the need for the Genut on these grounds, just as those with swevyra accept the need to answer to the Order of Swenya."

"At least they don't force you to walk around wearing black uniforms and gloves," Julia murmured. "Did you see that telepath from the Huáscar?"

"I saw and felt," Meridina confirmed. "I would invite her to come to Gersal if I thought it would not endanger her or our purpose here." Meridina rose from her chair. "We should speak to the others about our interrogation of Hawk and his compatriot. And make preparations."

"For the arrival of the Avenger, yes." Julia sighed. If they were lucky, maybe the fighting on S4W8 had let off enough that Maran could send reinforcements.

The thought made her snort in derision. They were never going to be that lucky...

The Aurora and Koenig command officers met once more in the conference lounge off of the main bridge. Everyone listened to Julia and Meridina relay what happened after the attack.

"So great. The nuts with the Darglan battlecruiser are back," Angel muttered. "This entire situation is beyond screwed up."

"I think it was that way when we caught the mercs slaughtering babies," Lucy remarked darkly. "This is just further evidence of the screwed up-ness of the problem."

"We have to assume the Avenger is going to show up. Suggestions?"

"The last time we fought, we were able to use our speed and tactics to beat them," Jarod said. "But now we can't leave orbital space."

"Can't we?" Locarno clearly had a thought on that point. "If they're gunning for us again, it might actually be best for us to run. Then we draw them away from the other ships."

"That means we leave the Shenzhou and Shai'jhur's ships to fight dozens of Drazi ships and an advanced, deflector shield-protected Earthforce warship," Jarod reminded him. "The Shenzhou's not built to fight the same enemies we are. Shields and technology might let them mow through the Drazi, but the Huáscar may be too much for them. Even if the Magaratha is helping."

"Besides, we might need the Shenzhou's help to fight the Avenger," Julia said. "I'm not sure we can take our last victory for granted against them. They've had over fifteen months to train and learn new tactics. Or download them into their brains, given how much they're using that Darglan infuser technology."

"I'll keep all departments on combat standby," Jarod promised.

"The flight wing is on ready status. All pilots are prepared to launch within five minutes of the order," added Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent. The Aurora's Wing Command Officer, or CAG as some called him, looked to Julia with his light brown eyes. He and his sister were among many they had helped out in the days that they, like Hawk, operated out of a Darglan Facility. The two had been rescued from a beleaguered jail in their native Central African Republic, and both leapt at the chance to leave their divided homeland behind and see their families settle on New Liberty. Given that Patrice was now the commander of eighty-eight starfighters and his sister Madeleine captained the Starship Challenger, another Discovery-class starship like Li Ming-Chung's Shenzhou, their decision had clearly paid off. "I am worried about our new pilots. Virtually all of them are without prior combat experience. I have paired them in wings with combat veterans where possible, but the veterans are not happy with the arrangement either…"

"I understand, Commander," Julia said. "I would have preferred giving the new pilots more time before their first combat op too, but I'm not sure they'll get it."

"If a fight breaks out in orbital space, my Marines on the planet will probably get attacked as well." Major Gabriel Anders was sitting between Lt. Commander Richmond and Lt. Commander Laurent. The Commander of the Aurora's Marine Troops had both Caucasian and Cherokee background to him, with a tint to his otherwise fair complexion and dark hair. "I'd like to give our positions in those warehouses extra supplies while we can."

"I imagine the Brakiri will react badly if we are clearly digging in," Meridina noted. "It may be best to show caution in such reinforcement."

"We wouldn't be down there if the Brakiri weren't having their mercs slaughter the children the Dilgar were growing in their facilities," Julia pointed out. "If they don't like it, Tabir can bring it up with me. You'll get your supplies, Major."

"Thank you, Captain."

"Hopefully the mercenaries will remain quiescent until we resolve the situation," Richmond said.

"I hope so too," Julia murmured. "If there's nothing else, let's get to work."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

Post by Steve » 2018-01-13 09:17am

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 5 April 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The deadlock over Tira continues. And there is a new urgency to this situation now that we know that James Hawk and his renegades are helping the effort against the Dilgar. Hawk and his accomplice remain in the brig under heavy guard, but I fully expect their ship, the Avenger, to show up. If it does, and the Drazi reinforcements come with it… then we may not be able to protect the planet.

The good news is that Warmaster Shai'jhur survived the attack. As a reformer with legitimacy from the prior government, she may be the only hope for the Dilgar to make a final peace with their old enemies, and with the charge against her being wrong, we actually have a shot at making it happen.

The emergency ward in the medbay was quiet save for the silent recognition beeps from the biobed display Leo was examining. The occupant, Shai'jhur, was awake and quiet. Kaveri Varma was holding her hand quietly. Leo could tell that Kaveri was not in the best of moods after she returned from her conversation with Julia two days before. But he was more concerned with treating Shai'jhur than finding out what had happened.

Finally he let out a contented sigh. "It looks like your disruptor absorbing mesh worked like a charm," he said. "The radiation dose will take some time to deal with, but at your age I wouldn’t anticipate untreatable complications within your natural lifespan."

“You mean at sixty-three I can’t have children anyway,” Shai’jhur answered dryly. “Still, it was quite sufficient, you’re right. I’ve six daughters besides,” and two of them were in the room, Tra’dur and Nah’dur. “So it’s hardly a loss. Fei’nur’s quite pleased she procured it and made me wear it. Thank you, Doctor.”

"You're welcome." Leo tapped a final key to confirm his latest update to her medical status. "How are you feeling? This tells me how your body is doing, but it can't tell me for sure if you feel any discomfort."

“I’m ready to assume my duties,” she replied. “If anything the removal of the spores was a welcome side-effect. So, I will make do, as usual.”

"You can resume duties tomorrow," Leo answered. "Today you're remaining for observation."

“Doctor Gillam, I am a Head of State. At any moment, hostilities may commence which will decide the survival of my people. Your advice is well-intentioned, and doubtless best. But the noose is around our necks, and I need to be returning to the Magaratha.

"Which means your people need to make sure you're fully healthy. You might not be in critical condition, but you don't just get up and walk away from a disruptor shot like that in a single day," Leo insisted. "For today, if anything critical happens, you can deal with it from here. Tomorrow, you should be good to go."

Shai’jhur shook her head. “Doctor, I have dealt with worse. Ultimately treating my health tenderly is a luxury I simply do not have.”

Leo thought it over. He looked to Nah'dur after a moment. "Doctor, she's normally your patient I'm guessing. What do you think?"

“...I wish,” Nah’dur answered. “Unfortunately, I only passed my Surgeon-Commander’s boards three months ago. Nineteen years old, the youngest recorded, I might add! At any rate, I do have my mother’s medical files and she is a terrifically resilient woman. Nothing she’s dealt with here is going to be the same as the brutal old discipline of the Imperium’s Navy. Realistically, radiation symptoms have no good cure except anti-nausea drugs and repairs to cellular reproduction mechanisms. The first controls the short term impact, the second the long-term. I agree that she should avoid strenuous activity and I have nothing against Battlemaster Or’kun, but if she encounters anything in the Magaratha which stresses her she is, bluntly, no safer in your medbay.”

The door to the emergency ward slid open. Julia walked in, looking fairly refreshed given the events of the prior day. Her blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail at the back of her head. "Good morning Doctor. Warmaster." She nodded to them.

"Captain." Leo smiled thinly. "We were just debating whether or not the Warmaster could be released from the medbay."

"I'm assuming you'd rather keep her for longer observation?"

"She got shot by a disruptor. So, yes."

Julia nodded in understanding. She smiled thinly at Shai'jhur and those with her. "Leo is being protective of his patients as always. Under normal circumstances I would encourage you to listen to him. But I think we need to get negotiations going again, and soon. There's no telling when Hawk's ship is going to show up."

“Do negotiations even have a point at this juncture? I would prefer to make myself available for discussions with your Ministries. The sooner we are an applicant to Alliance membership the sooner this business can be referred to the offices of the Foreign Ministry and at that point the ISA will have no choice but to negotiate in good faith. Brokered talks will just lead, I fear, to delays as our enemies prepare a powerful attack to finish us once and for all.”

"Your application is still being processed in the Council," Julia said. "And with President Morgan out of communication and Admiral Maran at the front, I haven't been able to get anyone involved yet. I'm going to try again today to reach Secretary Onaram. But until we have confirmation of any kind of response from Portland, attending meetings with Director Holloran is our best bet."

“Of course I will defer to you on the matter. However, the full extent of my remaining warp-drive forces, another seven Markab cruisers, will arrive soon as well, and I must be prepared for hostilities. Our fighters are of Centauri make and will be a cruel surprise for the enemy. Realistically, these Avenger foes of yours will force us to fight: From what I understand, their technology rivals the Tal-kona’sha, so it will be no easy task as well.”

"Their ship is the same model as the Aurora," Julia replied. "But with the best weapons the Darglan adapted before they were forced to withdraw from interuniversal society. In all likelihood, it's going to take the Aurora and the Shenzhou together just to meet them evenly. And that's not counting if Foster brings in the Huáscar."

“We can likely deal with the Huáscar if we must. The Magaratha and the battlecruisers also have anti-beaming shields that we’d not revealed yet. They’ll hold up to a few shots. The power cores and equipment came off of Klingon L-24 ‘Ever Victorious’ battleships. The Magaratha has two such cores.”

"Since we don't know how many Drazi will be here, or if the Brakiri will join the fight, I hope it doesn't come to that."

“Such as it is.” Shai’jhur hesitated for a moment, then looked sharply to Julia. “Captain Andreys, I confess that I am concerned with the content of the conversation you had with Captain Varma.”

Julia sighed. Her expression betrayed her own discomfort with the situation. "Given the allegations, I had to be able to report to my superiors that the Earthforce report was wrong. Otherwise it would have undermined your position with the Alliance. I can't apologize enough for putting Captain Varma through that."

“Miscegenation was bald-faced illegal in the Imperium, Captain,” Shai’jhur replied, her expression hooded. “It was considered, I suppose, a kind of bestiality with more or less explicit treasonous overtones.”

"Earthforce didn't understand that, apparently." Julia thought about that. "You said Jha'dur required honesty. I can't imagine it was easy to deal with things on your end either."

“I didn’t continue that story mostly to keep Kaveri’s privacy… I… It’s ironically true. I told Jha’dur everything.” She took a breath, and with her eyes fixed on the walls, began.

The conversation had already gone on for the better part of the day. Whether or not the food and water had been drugged was impossible to tell (certainly Jha’dur would use something too subtle), and whether or not there were Mha’dorn agents sensing her depended on politics beyond her power or right to understand. Regardless of it, Shai’jhur knew she was reaching a point that would decide her future, but her governing assessment, and lesson from the experience of her peers in First Strike, told her that there was no going back. She was noble born, but Rohric born too. She would pay truth’s wage, and not regret having done it. “So, Warmaster, both Kaveri and myself began to adapt to the notion that we would, respectively, never seen another Human or another Dilgar again. Again, the probable outcome of socializing with her promised to be greater than any other.”

The auburn-haired figure before her leaned back in her chair, a frown visible on her face. “And so…you made the decision that a human would be a good choice for your… companion, from a lack of choice, I presume, for your sake. Do go on.” Her pitiless gaze had transfixed Shai’jhur, placing her on conversational death ground.

“I am a realistic woman, Warmaster. Both Dilgar and humans are species which require groups to maintain their sanity--social species--and the humans are, like us, nonetheless warriors. Yes, it was not a path I would have walked without the prospect of an eternity of isolation, but the prospect existed, so I walked it. She was agreeable, and I was agreeable. Faced with the prospect of loneliness, our conversations covered personal topics… Until such time as they ceased to be only conversations. Though it shames me to confess it, I gave in to impulse and became intimate with Kaveri.”

She could see her Warmaster’s face lose expression, lips curling up a hint in disgust. “I see. What impulse drove you to do such a thing, Battle Captain? You are Dilgar.” There was a pause, discipline seeming to reassert itself over disgust. “This is nonetheless useful information for me. You will explain everything that occurred between you two, in exacting detail. You will spare nothing. Is this understood?”

“Of course, Warmaster,” Shai’jhur replied. “I will spare nothing. In my loneliness, I felt a warrior’s soul in Kaveri. Whatever the nature of her people, the honour of a ‘kshatriya’ had transcended it. I, of course, was the dominant partner, but she was willing from the first…” With calm precision, she continued into the details, even the explicit details, phrased in the biological terms that Jha’dur expected.

When the tale was done, she finished softly. “And, of course,we agreed that, as warriors born and bred, we would face each other without hesitation or pity on the field of battle if our nations required it, no matter the feelings that had passed between us before. So with that, and my wishes for her health as long as she did not face us on the field, I departed for the shuttle, and left her behind, by the terms of the agreement we had struck.” Shai’jhur looked levelly across the table with her hands folded.

The woman known as Deathwalker had listened for hours, taking notes in a neat hand, when she chose to, and gave a solitary nod of her head. “You are perhaps mentally unbalanced, certainly perverted by Dilgar standards, and assuredly wildly socially unpalatable. You are also a quick, independent thinking fleet officer who shows a great deal of promise for the future of the Imperium, Battle Captain. Now, why are you not afraid of the outcome of this debriefing? It is a reasonable fear to have, with my reputation.”

“Warmaster, I have told the truth to you, and you will judge me according to the truth that I told. Whatever that judgement is, I have faith it will be just, and I don’t fear my own just ending, whatever it may be.”

“Very well, Battlemaster.” There was not a flicker of emotion in her Warmaster’s voice as she pronounced her apparent judgement of Shai’jhur. “Report to the shuttle bay. You are to report to the northern polar shipyards. Further orders will follow. Speaking any word of this conversation, or what has caused it, will be cause for severe punishment. And, I will be watching your personal conduct. Your settling down and bearing kits for the future of our species would be a wise decision.” The emphasis she placed on ‘severe’ brought a spine-tingling promise, at whatever Warmaster Jha’dur considered severe.

“I will do my duty,” Shai’jhur answered with stiff formality. “Until Death, Warmaster.” She rose, and saluted.

“Dismissed. We fight to save the Dilgar, Battlemaster. Remember that above all.”

As Shai'jhur left, she swore she could see Jha'dur reach for a magazine out of the corner of her eye, of all things.

Shai’jhur finished and with the help of her daughters, rose from her medbay bed. She still smelled of smokey, singed fur. “So, that’s the tale of the Warmaster and myself. In reviewing the records, I later discovered she had issued a directive that if a human named Lieutenant Kaveri Varma were ever taken prisoner, she was to be immediately summarily executed. That was, I think, by Jha’dur’s standards intended as a kindness both to her and to me.”

"Given her reputation, summary execution does sound kind," Julia noted.

“It is for the best that all of her age and kind are gone, except perhaps her brother. I regret the absence of Warmaster Dar’sen, who even the Drazi admitted fought a clean war, though. Of course, his opponent, wise and honourable in his own right, vanished in his effort to help the humans in the Minbari War, and what his fate is, none can say. If Stro’kath were here, I would think peace to have a chance … But all those old names have fallen down into death, and only those who remember legends remain.”

A tone came from Julia's omnitool, joined by a blue light over the back of her hand. She tapped it. "Andreys here."

"Captain, Director Holloran is hailing. She has the other species ready to start another meeting," Meridina said from the Bridge.

Julia gave Shai'jhur a careful look. "I'll be there shortly to confirm a meeting time. Andreys out." Once the call was over she said, "It won't go anywhere, I'm sure. But until I get anything from Portland, there's no reason not to see where this leads."

“I will negotiate in good faith. But our terms remain simple. We want to join the Alliance. As a sovereign nation we are interested only in securing the peace which would allow us to do so.”

"Fair enough. I'll go talk to Holloran." At that Julia left, more optimistic about the talks than Shai'jhur was, but knowing they had to make the effort regardless.

It was about midday when there was a sharp rapping on the door of Zhengli’s cell. Unlike previous visits there was something imposing in it. “Captain Varma?” Of course: It was Foster.

“I see I am still the Captain, Major Foster.” Zhengli stood, folding her hands behind her back and giving a steady, level look to her cell door. “If you surrender immediately, I will recommend leniency during your court-martial.”

“You have been lawfully relieved of command,” Foster replied, cuttingly. “That was confirmed by Geneva. I am using your rank as a courtesy, not to imply you have any authority over the Huáscar. I have come to deliver you the option, communicated to me by Geneva, that we can transport you to Minister Holloran’s custody, presumably to then be released, in response to the political problems your mother has caused. Needless to say, charges might follow if you ever returned to Earth space.”

“My mother? What are you talking about, Major?” She had a hint of honest confusion in her voice, as she wracked her memories to think of what this could be about. “You expect me to believe that Earthforce Command has endorsed mutiny against a ship’s captain after the civil war? You would have code-locked communications for me as proof, if this were the case. Are you not finding as sympathetic an audience as you wished, Major?” Her eyes flared with anger at her one-time subordinate.

“Your mother made a live broadcast containing classified information from the comms room of a Dilgar warship,” he sneered. “It has caused no small difficulties for the government, so of course my actions have been proved correct, as I knew they always would be.”

“I see the Senate’s dislike of inconvenient facts remains as true as it always has been, Major. Very well, if that is how you wish to phrase the matter. As the Captain of the Huáscar, I demand a formal Court of Inquiry over my relief.”

“You idiot, you are being given a chance to flee to your mother and the Alliance. Don’t you have any kind of sense at all? You’re finished, and if you embarrass the Senate more than your mother already has, you might be more than finished.”

“You do not understand the soul of a Kshatriya at all, do you, Major Foster? I stood on the Line, a year before I should have passed out of West Point, I saw the sky filled with death, saw my vision fade and the chill seep into my bones in the vacuum of our shattered cruiser, and you seek to threaten me? I pity you, I truly do, for you do not understand the virtue of dharmayuddha.” She shook her head, with a soft sigh. “I know my duties, but it seems you have lost your way. I repeat my demand for a Court.”

“And you will doubtless get it, when this situation has been dealt with. Of course, we are likely to be at war with the Alliance soon enough, and who knows what will happen to you after that. These lunatics are willing to turn the entire galaxy against them just for the sake of the Dilgar, and think nothing of it. I imagine,” he smiled thinly, “You’d rather fancy being with them, considering that they like aliens more than their fellow humans. You do have one last chance. If you insist on a Court, you will remain confined and the consequences are not up to me.”

“Then I shall see you in the next cycle, Major. You’ve doomed yourself by your hasty action, or are you saying you consulted with the Joint Chiefs before my relief, and they concurred? I never barred you from using the Gold Channel to consult with any superior. You are facing the airlock under Ten Eighty-Eight. I again urge you to return command of the ship to me, that I may recommend leniency for you and especially those who have followed you in this course of action.”

“No wonder your family has fallen to what it is, Captain. You keep quoting regulations and have no understanding of politics.” He coughed, and folded his hands behind his back. “That will be all. You’ve made your decision.”

“I have no fear of gaining veeraswarga, Major.”

“You’re a religious lunatic, I’m sure that will reflect well.” With that he spun on heel and stalked out, the cell door slamming shut behind him.

We are both convinced of the righteousness of our cause, but only one of us upholds Dharma… With a quiet sigh, Zhengli folded her legs under her once again, and let her eyes flutter closed, resuming her attempt to centre herself. You told the galaxy about New Eden, mother… Earthgov will be furious of that alone. I pity the governor, he’s going to be facing a firestorm of opinion with the next transport.

Shai’jhur had returned, officially without Fei’nur present… As a practical matter, the truth of that would be irrelevant if the peace was held. If there was another attack, then the details of her observance or lack thereof hardly mattered. With a single staff officer at her side, she was once again on the Aurora, once again in the conference room, once again facing a mass of alien representatives who wanted her dead.

"How do you expect us to feel secure when the Dilgar are allowed to bring invisible assassins with them?!" Tarinak was protesting. "The venue of this meeting must be moved, and moved to where all delegates can enjoy security."

"Which rules out virtually every ship in this system," Julia pointed out. "And Tira itself certainly wouldn't work."

"The Brakiri submit that the Orsala be chosen," Tabir said, referring to the Minbari ship. "The Minbari were not involved in the war with the Dilgar, and they should have the technology to keep anyone from using invisibility devices of any sort."

Julia wasn't so sure of that. The Minbari were certainly advanced, one of the more advanced species in the Multiverse, but if the Avenger crew had any more operatives here, or had shared their technology with the Drazi, then she would be betting their safety against the Minbari having the means to defeat Darglan technology. It was a bet she wasn't sure about taking.

A thought came to her. She almost nodded to the Earthforce table but stopped herself. She gave a quick, furtive look to Shai'jhur. Meridina, is Fei'nur here? She thought, hoping that the power behind the thought would keep Foster's telepath from hearing. Did Shai'jhur slip her in again?

Meridina gave her an uncertain look. I feel her in the vicinity. But I am not sure where at the moment. Her mind is very disciplined and mindwalking is not exact with such.

Julia frowned at that. If Meridina had problems, Saumarez would too. Her idea to have Saumarez provide a guarantee wouldn't work.

Holloran looked toward Julia and Shai'jhur. "Do you have any objections? I won't bother the Minbari if both sides won't accept it."

Julia glanced Shai'jhur's way.

“The Minbari attacked the Dilgar Imperium without provocation,” Shai’jhur replied. “I have irrefutable evidence of it salvaged from the wreck of the Vendetta at Third Balos. Nonetheless, in the interest of galactic peace, I will accept a Minbari ship as the grounds of the talks.”

"Then I have none," Julia said.

To that Tabir smirked. "You have become her follower, I see."

Julia gave him an intent, quiet look. "If the leader of the Drazi Freehold was present, Captain, would you presume to make a decision he might not approve?"

"He probably would," Foster muttered from his table.

"Well. I guess I'll call an end to this meeting then," said Holloran. "I'll return to the Orsala and ask the Minbari to arrange a meeting. Until then, there's no point in remaining here. I'm dismissing the meeting."

Duly dismissed, the others stood and made to leave as if they were eager to do so. Holloran let them go and quietly stepped up to Julia. "You know they're just trying to buy time, right?" she asked pointedly. "Once the Drazi reinforcements arrive they won't be up to talking."

"We need time too," Julia said. "As things stand, they see no reason to listen to Shai'jhur's offers because they don't know if I'm going to be ordered out or if the Alliance is going to support Shai'jhur. If I can get an announcement from Portland…"

"I'm told President Morgan is unavailable. Even Ambassador Mayan hasn't been able to reach him. Even your Foreign Secretary is unavailable."

"I know. They're dealing with other matters beyond the purview of a starship captain," Julia answered. "I'm hoping that Admiral Maran will get away from the battlefield long enough to give me some indication of how the Alliance government is dealing with this. But until I hear something from Portland, we're stuck in this situation."

"I hope that they get back to you soon," Holloran said. "Otherwise the shooting is going to begin."

"I hope so too," Julia sighed. She looked over to where Shai'jhur was walking up.

“Miss Holloran,” Shai’jhur looked up. “Technically the InterStellar Alliance can put an end to this matter with the White Star Fleet. What do you desire from our people?”

"Sure, Sheridan could send the White Stars in," Holloran agreed. "But that takes time. Ever since the Centauri left the Alliance we've had to spread them out to protect Alliance space. And I don't have to point out that if he does it wrong, he turns every species that fought your people against him."

"He could send them to keep the peace between your Alliance and ours," Julia pointed out. "That's him doing his job."

"And I'm sure he's got the White Stars moving to do just that, but it's still going to take time." Holloran glanced toward Shai'jhur. "As for what I want? I want people to stop shooting each other so Mars can assert its rights without having Earth play the security card. That means no renewal of the Dilgar War."

“For what it is worth, I feel myself in a very similar position. The Imperium threw the refuse of Omelos at us as forced colonists and told us to deal with it. We Rohricans decided freedom was worth the spores and we liked to keep it that way. I remain convinced that our peace is best achieved in the format of our government joining the Alliance, Miss Holloran. We will be giving up an independent foreign policy which could lead to decisions threatening ISA members, and placing ourselves under the jurisdiction of the Alliance courts, I think you will have far more security that way then you would even if you militarily occupied Tira and Rohric.”

"I agree with you on that for certain," said Holloran, the experienced guerrilla fighter. "Funny. Your people will be better off giving away some of your independence. Mine will be if we get more."

“I would support it, if I could do anything productive,” Shai’jhur grinned. “But I can’t help but feel an endorsement from the Dilgar is presently the opposite of productive, and will be for some time. Thank you, Miss Holloran. We will meet again on the Orsala.

"I'll let you now when we're ready for you. Warmaster, Captain." She left with the Minbari and Abbai aides assigned to her accompanying her.

Julia watched her go. "Fruitless, as expected," she said. "Right now all we can do is buy time, and hope our response gets here first."

Meridina was in meditation when the call came through the IU transceiver. She stood, still in her plain brown meditation robe over a cream-white sleeveless vest and knee-length leggings, and directed her attention to the wall. A holo-screen came to life. The image projected was from Gersal. The distant spires of Jantarihal were visible behind the thin face and quiet demeanor of her old mentor, Mastrash Ledosh. He nodded. "Meridina. I received your message. Is all well?"

"It would be a lie to say so, Mastrash," Meridina admitted. "The species here are willing to commit genocide over their fears and hatred of a past foe."

"I have heard something of it from the Foreign Office."

"If so, why have we not received instructions? Or orders?"

"It is not my place to know," Ledosh pointed out. "From my knowledge, little can be truly decided until the President finishes his work and Secretary Onaram returns to Portland." Ledosh considered her. "Something else troubles you, Meridina. I can see that."

"To verify testimony, I had to mentally scan the mind of a Human woman."

"You have done this often. Why does it trouble you?"

"Because she did not truly want me in her mind. She only agreed out of perceived necessity," Meridina replied. "To confirm for us that she was not a victim of assault by the Dilgar leader."

"I see. Did you direct her to the Genut?"

"I did, yes. I have the feeling she is uncertain about them. She is used to the Psi Corps of this universe's Earth."

"Ah. And they are most unkind beings. Or so the swevyra'se aiding the Byron Free Colony's efforts have informed me." Ledosh placed his hands together at the table. "Although I have the feeling that you are troubled by more than this, Meridina."

There was no hiding things from Ledosh. Meridina sighed and nodded. "The feelings I felt in Kaveri Varma. I have never imagined such feelings. Her bond to Shai'jhur is unbreakable. And feeling it… it has left me… unbalanced? I do not know."

"Love is inherently unbalanced," Ledosh pointed out. "It is about taking another soul, another being, and placing them above others in your feelings and considerations."

"I have read Swenya's writings on the subject," Meridina said. "And I have felt physical affections in others. But this was beyond such a thing. Swenya's writings did nothing to prepare me for that sense."

"And this troubles you?"

"I… I do not know," she admitted. "I recognize that for a swevyra'se, such affections can be dangerous. Their loss can cause resentment that fuels darkness. Even so… there is a spiritual side to these things. WIth the right person."

"There are those who say such, yes. But if I may, Meridina?"

"Yes, Mastrash?"

A small smile came to Ledosh's face. "Your destiny is outside of the Order. The concerns you may have had when you counted yourself as one of our knights are no longer those you must consider. Live your life as you please, Meridina, trusting in your swevyra and your own judgement. You do not need to get my approval to consider these things."

Meridina listened to him speak and could only nod. "I understand, Mastrash. I am sorry for interrupting you in your duties."

"It is no trouble. You have merely pulled me away from an onerous work of translating pieces from a book into modern vernacular."

Meridina blinked at that. "I never imagined you would take such a task on yourself, Mastrash. Surely there are translation experts in the Order who can assist?"

"This is a private project. I would prefer to not bother our experts. Their time is valuable." Ledosh nodded once. "I want you to know that your accomplishments and advancement are being noticed. Your father is quite proud of your promotion, I think, though he does not say so."

Meridina noted the sudden conversation shift. She said nothing about it, however, choosing to let Ledosh have his way. "He once told me I should be commanding the Aurora," Meridina said. "I hope I live up to all of your expectations."

"I imagine you will."

"Before you go, Mastrash, how goes Gina's training? She did quite well on New Caprica. I can't imagine her taking much longer to earn a chance to undergo the trials..."

Science Lab 1 was different from 2. The displays weren't meant for showing data of large physics-related experiments or starmaps. There was no large holotank. Rather the lab was built around workstations tied to the powerful simulation computers of the Lab, which were themselves tied into the Aurora's powerful computer cores.

Cat was sitting at one of the work stations. The image showed a model of the colony on Tira, or rather the barrages that kept the seas from consuming the Dilgar settlement and adjoining jungle. The sensor data was real-time, courtesy of the Aurora's powerful sensor suites and the defensive sensors set up by the Marines on the planet. The videos were showing armed humanoids marching along the access catwalks that lined the barrage gates. The one image zoomed in on an object planted at the center of a closed gate. The gray object was shaped with four arms and a wide circle. A digital display and small access controls showed on it.

Cat turned upon hearing the door open. "Tra'dur? Can I do something for you?"

“You’ve already done a lot for me, Cat. Thanks for calling the medbay when I collapsed. My sister says I’m going to enjoy the next few months as probably the healthiest I’ve ever felt…” She was smiling.

"Oh, thank you." Cat smiled back and nodded. "I'm glad you're going to feel better."

I’m glad to be feeling better, as well… What are you up to, Cat’Delgado?” She asked, in that particular Dilgar way of compounding names, though she got the multiple syllables of the surname right enough.

"Oh. Jarod asked me to look into the situation with the colony's barrage," Cat said. She raised her hand toward the screen. "With the water levels where they are, if the mercs blow the gates the entire colony goes under. We're trying to figure out ways to prevent that."

“Can we detect the chemical traces of the explosions on the mitre gates from orbit, Cat’Delgado?” She asked, taking a console by Cat’s side. It was impressive how quickly she went to familiarize herself and work from an Alliance standard console.

"That's going to take work," Cat said. Her expression turned thoughtful. "I'm not sure. It depends on the construction of the bombs." She looked up. Now excitement showed. "But we don't have to."


"No. We can send the sensors down to our Marines that are protecting those clone tanks," Cat said. An excited look appeared on her face, joined by a grin at having figured it out. "It'll have to be a high resolution materials scanner. Even if it doesn't tell us what the explosives are made of exactly, it might let us rule some materials out."

“Hmm, yes. We can in fact aid this process. I’ll pull the Tiran files on where the intakes to the filtration systems are from the buildings nearest the waterfront. If the Marines can point the sensors at the filters, they should get a much higher concentration density than is floating around the regular air, and that would make the detection much easier.”

"Then all we need to do is figure out if there's a way to counteract the explosives quickly." Cat grinned at her. "So let's get those files and see what we can do."

Twilight was approaching for the Tira colony. With the sun starting to set, Urdnot Wrex finished his daily check of his firearms.

"Another day and we're still here." An amused laugh came from the old Krogan sharing the foxhole with him. "Our paymasters are going to be disappointed."

"They get what they paid for," Wrex answered, smirking. "If they wanted mercs who got killed easily, they shouldn't have hired us."

There was a crackle over the comms that brought their attention. "Urdnot here," Wrex said, anticipating someone calling.

"Standby, Urdnot. Communication from Colonel Greden impending." The voice was clearly not Brakiri. It sounded Salarian, in fact.

"They might be having those Eclipse mercs handling their comms too," Drack pointed out.

"Then I hope they're not surprised when they see the invoice. I remember a pirate warlord in the Terminus Systems who had a heart attack at seeing one of their invoices."

"They probably took him for everything he had."

"I don't know what the Brakiri thought they'd earn on this job, but I'm betting their accountants won't be happy when it's over." Wrex got that dangerous glint in his red eyes again. "This whole situation gives me a sense… like I've seen all of this before."

"Dangerous thoughts again, whelp?"

"I'm a thinker, fossil," Wrex retorted pleasantly. "One of us has to be."

At that, Drack laughed. "And beggars can't be choosers."

"All of this talk about the Dilgar. I've heard those words before."

"We all have, whelp," Drack said darkly. "But let's face it. We've already picked our side here. You sign the contract, you take your chances. If you don't like it, well, I hope you kept enough to meet the severance penalty."

The gentle teasing was the same, but nonetheless Wrex gave Drack a more hostile look this time. Drack spelling the situation out wasn't necessary. At this rate, though, Wrex was mostly hoping that the Brakiri or their allies would say something, do something, that would let them walk away from the contract. He simply did not like what was going on here.

A moment later a Brakiri officer in a fine suit appeared over Wrex's forearm, the incoming call activating automatically on his omnitool. Colonel Greden immediately commenced speaking. "Ah, Mister Urdnot, Mister Nakmor. We thank you for keeping your position so well. We have something a little more befitting your experience, however."

"Oh yeah?"

Wrex's disinterest didn't seem to faze Greden. "The Allied Systems' Marines are posing a direct challenge to our control of this colony. They are preventing us from fulfilling the directive laid out by the Syndicracy on Brakir, the elimination of the Dilgar super-soldier program, through their foolish insistence that it is genocide to destroy the fruits of that program. We want our best in a position to strike their forces should it prove necessary, or to block any effort by the Alliance to seize the barrage gates. We are re-assigning you to a position at Point Tachan. Commander Weyrloc is awaiting your arrival. Proceed there as soon as your relief arrives. Greden out."

Wrex was already frowning. "They want us with those Blood Pack idiots."

Drack chuckled at that. "We're getting assigned to Weyrloc Tral? That's rich. I once fought off his entire platoon on Beyak in the Spinward Traverse."

"I can't imagine he'll be delighted to see us," Wrex noted. He started collecting gear for stowing. "And he can damn well wait, too. I'm not leaving anything of mine to whatever chumps the Brakiri pick to take our place."

Drack humphed. "This is why I keep my gear stowed, whelp. I like to be able to move fast."

Wrex ignored that. Better to let Drack have his occasional remarks than to get angry over them. He liked the old Krogan too much to want to kill him.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-14 10:06am

Julia entered the Lookout the following morning for breakfast. Even without gifts like Meridina's, she knew her crew was feeling tense and worried about how things were going. They were on the verge of a conflict with species that were supposed to be prospective allies.

Hargert was quick to provide a stack of pancakes with blueberries mixed in with eggs and toast. A glass of white milk was provided with it. "A simple breakfast meal, to keep the spirits up," he said to her with a wink before returning to his kitchen.

It was good. Very good, so good that Julia would regret not finishing it.

She'd managed her fifth or sixth bite when her omnitool sounded. She dropped her syrup-coated fork and tapped the blue light over the back of her hand. ""Andreys here."

"Captain, we have received a signal from Portland," Meridina said. "Admiral Maran is waiting to speak to you. He has instructed me to connect to the Magaratha as well."

Julia jumped to her feet. Without a thought, she left her breakfast behind. "Get everyone to the conference lounge, now," she said into the omnitool as she raced to the Lookout's port door.

Hargert watched her go while laying a plate of waffles and eggs for another crewmember at the Lookout bar. He let out a little sigh. "Such is the way it is," he lamented on his way to her abandoned meal.

Scotty was the last of the command crew to show up at the conference lounge, arriving at the six minute mark after being called. Traveling the length and height of the Aurora from Main Engineering took most of that time. He found his usual seat beside Jarod on Julia's right.

The screen split into several images. One had Shai'jhur, Kaveri, Fei'nur, and Nah'dur. Another showed Li and her crew on the Shenzhou, and yet another Commander Imra over on the Heerman. The last was the one Julia had been waiting for. Admiral Maran was at his office. For all his control, there was no betraying the fact he was tired.

"It's good to see you all," he said. His lilt was not quite so pronounced as Meridina's. "I have spent the night reading your reports with Secretary Onaram. It made for interesting reading over the stimulants required to keep us awake. Captain Andreys, Captain Ming-Chung, Commander Imra, Commander Apley… you have all performed admirably in the circumstances. Preventing genocide is one of the core duties of the officers of this Alliance."

Julia nodded and said "Thank you," as did the others.

"Warmaster Shai'jhur." Maran's eyes shifted slightly. He was clearly looking at the monitor showing her, a visual communication being routed through the Aurora's IU transceiver. "I am sorry if we kept you waiting. The Nazi counter-attack at Argolis was serious enough that I had to lead a relief force to keep our positions there intact. Although even if I hadn't been at Argolis, President Morgan and Secretary Onaram have been occupied with sensitive diplomatic matters that left them out of communication. Due to changes to that, they have been able to consult the reports from Tira, including your application sent to Councilman Mutombo."

“I am pleased. With any luck, Admiral Maran,” she answered with a twinkle in her eye, “The Councilman is the sort of man who does not mind reading constitutional law in the information we provided. It is a completely indigenous Dilgar innovation based on our own customs of courts and Councils and I understand it may take effort to review.”

Maran nodded once. "Your application has been submitted to the Admissions Committee of the Alliance Council. This has been announced this morning in a press release by Councilman Mutombo that has already received some diplomatic attention in your home universe. The Earth Alliance and Minbari ambassadors are currently in meetings with Secretary Onaram. The Drazi are already recalling their diplomatic staff in protest. The poor Secretary has had quite the return to the capital, I'm afraid to say. But he and the President have approved what I am about to say." Maran's look was somber. "The United Alliance of Systems disapproves of genocide. Captains, Commander, your orders are to remain at Tira and protect it from any attempts to attack the colony. You are authorized to open fire on any vessel that attempts hostilities against the Dilgar."

Admiral Maran,” Shai’jhur dipped her head. “I will conform my operations to Captain Andreys’ intent, should the situation require it.

"I expected as much. I'm afraid we won't be able to send you any reinforcements for the next few days. The Reich counter-offensive drew in all of our available reserves across the Alliance fleets." Maran's expression was apologetic. "I'm sorry the news isn't better, Captain. You're in a tight situation there. If our attempts to get through to President Luchenko succeeds you may have the Huáscar back on your side…"

When Maran paused for a moment, another voice began to speak. “You do not understand the political situation in Geneva, Admiral. I do not blame you for this, but Major Foster would not be holding so firmly to his actions if he did not have at least some support. She will stonewall you until the situation is resolved, one way or another. The wounds left by the Minbari on Earth’s psyche still bleed.” Kaveri spoke, with a subdued tone, her gaze dull. “They are seeking to pay as small a political price as they can, now. Everything comes to politics in Earthgov, in the end, not principles. Not anymore.

"They have their own reasons for supporting a conflict with us," Li said from the feed coming from the Shenzhou. "We've had several problems with Earthforce or Earth-backed teams trying to slip into Alliance territory to excavate around old Darglan space. Undoubtedly they believe this might give them a chance to drive us out of the area, should a general war erupt."

IPX believes any ruins with strange technology should be immediately dug up. You should have seen how quickly they were robbing the graves of…” She glanced to Shai’jhur and paled a hint. “... Markab.”

"We have considered the possibility," Maran said.

"So we can't expect reinforcements anytime soon?" Julia asked. "From any source?"

"I'm sorry, but no. Not with the state the front is in. I'm sorry. Make do the best you can. You beat the Avenger before, hopefully working together you can do so again." Maran checked something off the screen. "I'm afraid I'm due for strategy meetings. We'll keep doing what we can to help you, I promise you that. Maran out." His image disappeared from its place among the others.

Shai’jhur looked around. A thin smile touched her lips. “Well, four Alliance ships, four of your member nations, and one from your allies. Twenty-four of mine have shields, the twenty-six survivors of Tira do not. Avenger and Huáscar yes or no, we will do fine with what is here, but if the Drazi come as reinforcements, please do remember that while they may treat you leniently, they have already shown us the death-banner, apportioned the blood, and made the ceremonial hail: There is No Quarter from our enemies. They have made mark on us for Death.

Julia wetted her lips and remembered what that bloody term meant to the Texans ‘down south’, visions of the Alamo and Deguello. “Don’t worry, Warmaster. This is the same for all of us."

"And knowing what Hawk's people are capable of, or Foster, it may be the same for us too," Angel added.

"We must stand together, certainly," Li agreed over the link.

"We'll see what diplomacy gets us later today," Julia said. "In the meantime, everyone remain on standby, and keep an eye on the long range sensors just in case the Avenger shows up."

After the meeting, Leo went by the medbay long enough to verify the cases for the day. Doctor Lani Walker, a younger doctor from the Tohono O'odham tribe in Arizona and Sonora, provided the paperwork. She also gave him the results of the scans he'd requested from Doctor Hreept the prior day. Leo looked over the results and frowned. "Just what I thought," he murmured.

"What is it, Doctor?" Walker asked.

"A suspicion that's proved true," he said. He finished signing off on the results and transmitted them to the central systems, but he didn't return the digital reader. "I need to show this to someone. Mind watching things for a little longer?"

A gentle smile on her face was joined by a shake of the head. "Of course not, Doctor."

"Thanks." With the reader in hand, Leo departed the medbay.

His next step was a part of the ship he rarely saw and never enjoyed. Indeed, he seemed to surprise the officers on duty when he entered the brig. They stood and he waved them down. "Don't worry", he said. "I'm not here for you. I need to see them."

His arrival had drawn the attention of Hawk. Helen remained laying on the bed in her cell, apparently asleep. "Well, this is interesting," Hawk said. "I guess that medical scan yesterday found something."

"More like it confirmed something," Leo said.

"Well, I'm a captive audience Doc," Hawk remarked. "Spit it out."

"A few quick questions first," Leo said. He activated the digital reader to take notes while his omnitool recorded the interview. "I need to know if you're experiencing any neurological symptoms."

"What?" Hawk asked, as if the question was surprising.

"Neurological symptoms," Leo repeated. "Headaches, blackouts, seizures."

"My head's fine," he insisted, ignoring the headache in the center of his forehead.

Leo's expression made his skepticism of the answer clear. "Actually…" Leo tapped his omnitool and used it to display two holographic, three dimensional models of brains. One had various basic colors on it. The other was more chaotic and wild in where the colors were present. "This is your brain." Leo indicated the second. "And this is my brain."

"All I see are weird colors."

"What you're seeing is that your brain isn't operating normally," Leo said. "The neurons aren't firing properly. Your neurotransmitter levels are elevated beyond normal for Human beings, and it's causing damage to your brain cells. In short, Mister Hawk, your brain is being overloaded and is burning out." Another tap added a third brain with a similar pattern to Hawk's. "So is your friend's." Leo indicated Helen's cell.

Hawk crossed his arms. "Alright, let's say I believe that's what your light show says," Hawk said. "What's causing it?"

"Given my medical records from our days in a Darglan Facility, I'd say it's your use, and abuse, of the Darglan brainwave infuser technology," said Leo. "You do know you're only supposed to use that thing twice a year, at most?"

"How we do things isn't any of your damn business," Hawk snarled. "Especially since we need those infusions to keep up with you people. You're just trying to get an advantage over us."

"I'm not," Leo said. "I'm trying to keep you from frying your brain until you drive yourself into becoming a psychotic maniac. Or a drooling vegetable."

"This is just out of the kindness of your heart, then?"

"I swore an oath as a physician," Leo said. "It requires me to try and help you."

"Is that why you're helping a piece of crap like Shai'jhur?"

"She's my patient. And she's not guilty of what you think she is."

"Oh, right." Hawk guffawed. "Her dear Human friend vouched for her. You've heard of Stockholm Syndrome, right?"

"Among many things. But that doesn't mean she's lying. In fact, we confirmed she's telling the truth with a telepathic deep scan." Leo set his arm down. The omnitool, and its brain displays, disappeared. "Whatever you want to say about Shai'jhur, even if you think she's not the reformer she claims to be, she's not a rapist. And maybe you need to be more careful about jumping to conclusions."

At that Hawk jumped to his feet. He stormed toward Leo with such speed that Leo was certain that Hawk would plow into the forcefield. Instead the agitated vigilante stopped just shy of it. "Did you see what the Dilgar did to their victims in the war?!" Hawk demanded. "The butchered populations?! The camps?! The experiments?! The Valley of Bones on Balos!? And you're still going to defend them?!"

"The people who committed those crimes are gone," Leo pointed out. "You don't get to punish an entire species for the sins of a few of its members! Or would you have us slaughter every German for the crimes of the Nazis?"

"If you're talking about those jerks from the S4W8 universe, yeah, you probably should!" Hawk countered. "Because they're all part of it! They all benefit!"

"But didn't you tell Captain Andreys you told the Drazi not to kill them all?" Leo asked. "Did you change your mind? Have you decided genocide is the answer after all? Or are you so pissed off that you'll say anything just to continue the argument?"

Hawk snarled in frustration and rage. He clenched his fists. But he said nothing.

Leo considered him quietly. The lights of the brig reflected on the surface of his dark skin. "Maybe it's not even the brain damage," Leo said. "Maybe you've got a personality disorder already. Or maybe you're just pissed off at the world and this is how you deal with it. You treat every problem like a nail that needs a hammer. And with that Darglan ship, you've got a big damn hammer. Either way, in the long run, you're not doing any good. All you're doing is taking out your frustrations on convenient targets."

"You know jack crap about me!" Hawk thundered. "And you know crap about what suffering is out there! You know crap about it all because you're busy flying around in your pretty little ship patching up little boo-boos while the bastards of the Multiverse get to keep hurting people!"

"I know enough," Leo retorted. "You don't think I know what it's like? I've seen the victims too. I've treated them. Have you ever had to tell a concentration camp survivor that her Nazi rapist impregnated her? Or operate on a girl barely in her teens because she'll die without a new heart, but her body is so weak from what the Nazis did to her that the surgery nearly kills her? Or try to get a Goa'uld out of its host's body before it can kill her out of spite? Ever remove the control hardware Batarian slavers implant in their victims to control them? I have. I know there are monsters out there and God save me from ever having them in my medbay because I might just dope them up and let nature take its course!" Leo drew in a breath to reign in his own temper. "So yeah, I know all too well what kind of suffering these people cause. I'm the one who patches up their victims, just as I might have to patch them up too."

"That's the difference between us," Hawk said. "I wouldn't even let them get to you. I'd gut the bastards long before they got to your beds."

"Yeah. Because that's all you care to do. 'Kill bad guys'. And look at where that's gotten you." Leo didn't mean their surroundings, either, and the glint in his eye and the tone in his voice made that clear. "Killing the bad guys feels good, I'm sure. But you'll never kill all of them. And the way things are going, you and your friends are going to burn your brains out trying. Assuming you don't get yourselves killed when the bad guy you're after turns out to be stronger or smarter than you gave them credit for. And if you care about your friend here at all, or any of the others working with you in your Facility or on your ship, you'll do what I suggest. You'll stop using those damn infusers."

A thoughtful look on Hawk's face gave Leo hope that he might have gotten through to him, at least a little. But all too quickly, defiance and anger returned to those features. Hawk returned to the cot in his cell and sat down, glaring at him. Sighing, Leo turned and left.

The bridge of the Aurora was quiet. It tended to be more quiet these days. The others were adjusting to Julia's command style with only occasional grumbling, which she tolerated because, when it came down to it, many were her friends and she wasn't a total disciplinarian (not to mention that certain five letter word Tom Barnes would have used).

The quiet had its advantages. It helped with thinking, certainly. But among the disadvantages was allowing the tension of a crisis to get on nerves. Including Julia's.

Julia glanced toward sensors, where Cat was busy working. She was in her uniform skirt, as usual. "Nothing yet?" Julia asked.

"Still nothing," Cat said.

"Right." Her attention returned to the front of the bridge. Locarno and Jarod were working quietly. Given that everything in space was in constant motion, manning the helm was a full time occupation in order to make sure the ship was not drifting away from a planet or other vessels. In much the same way, Jarod (or one of his subordinates) was needed to keep a constant eye on the ship's systems and to be prepared to deal with anything from cyber-attack to raising the shields at a moment's notice.

At Tactical, Angel was keeping an eye on the Drazi. She would warn if they were assuming a hostile stance.

This ponderings about the roles her friends and subordinates played on the quiet bridge were a nice, temporary distraction from the gravity of their situation. Said distraction went away when a warbling tone came from the operations station. "The Orsala is hailing," Jarod said. "It's Director Holloran."

"Put her on."

The holo-viewscreen activated to display the blond Mars-native woman on the screen. "I wanted you to know that the Minbari are arranging our next meeting for tonight. At about 2000 hours your time."

"That's pretty late," Julia noted.

"Yes, well, they needed time to get security measures in place and to prepare one of their meditation rooms for the meeting." Holloran smiled wryly at that. "I think the Captain is hoping that a peaceful setting will encourage peace in the talks."

"I admit I'm hoping that the announcement from Portland will get the Brakiri to think again about this," Julia said. "They won't be happy, but risking their growing commerce with the rest of the Multiverse should dissuade them."

"Don't be so sure. In fact, right now I'm not sure the announcement has done you any favors," Holloran warned. "According to my last update from Tuzanor, the Allied Systems announcement has the Alliance Council in an uproar. The Drazi are actually calling for Sheridan to deploy the White Star Fleet against your Alliance, and are threatening to withdraw from our Alliance if Sheridan accepts the Dilgar application."

"That's insane," Julia muttered. "They can't really believe that we'd let the Dilgar become anything like their old selves. We'd come down on Shai'jhur or her replacement like a ton of bricks."

"The Drazi have an old grudge with the Dilgar that predated the war. As far as they're concerned, this is an unwelcome complication that undermines their expansion plans," Holloran pointed out. "I'm more worried about Earth. My sources indicate that Earthforce is quietly preparing to mobilize the fleet. And Earth's delegation to Tuzanor has been meeting with the Drazi, Brakiri, and Hyach representatives today."

"They're fueling the fire," Jarod remarked. "They want this to become a shooting war."

"The old Clarkists certainly do. And the rest of the Loyalists probably see it as a means to consolidate control over the colonies that are pressing for more autonomy." An angry look came over her face. Mars would be included in that. "Plus IPX would love a chance to drive you out of old Darglan space. They're itching for a chance to strip the Darglan worlds of anything they can find."

"I'm aware of that," Julia sighed. "Dammit. I was hoping that they'd back down once it was clear my government was backing me."

"Don't give up on peace yet. The Minbari, the Abbai, and the Gaim are all against turning this into a war. Sheridan might be able to use their influence to get the Council to agree to a peace treaty with Shai'jhur built around Allied Systems oversight of Tira and Rohric. But it's going to take time, and if anyone starts shooting here…"

"Yeah. I can figure where that will go." A thought came to Julia. "What about the Narn? They've rebuilt a lot of their fleet, right? If they weigh in on either side, that might make the difference."

"They're rebuilt enough of it that they could sway things if they weigh in. But I wouldn't bank on them. The Kha'Ri have no love for the Dilgar either. And they've worked with the Drazi before." Holloran shook her head. "Honestly, Captain, our best bet is to keep the talks from collapsing. We need to buy time for the diplomats on Tuzanor…"

"Captain, Director… sorry for the interruption." Cat's voice filled the bridge, although her eyes were still on her screens. "But I have a ship on long range sensors."

Julia kept looking forward. Her face seemed more resigned than anything. The other shoe was dropping. "Is it them?"

"The warp signature's a match," Cat said, nodding. "It's the Avenger. They're coming in at about about Warp 9."

"If I remember the warp scales correctly, that's pretty fast," Holloran said.

"Not for us," Julia answered. "The Darglan built warp drives that allow for high cruise speeds. That's actually below our own."

"They are not in a hurry this time," Meridina noted. "Even though they must know that we have their leaders."

"They may know the Drazi are sending another fleet."

Julia nodded in agreement with Holloran. "It wouldn't surprise me. Lieutenant, what's their ETA?"

"Approximately thirty minutes," Cat replied.

"Well, we'll know whether or not we're in a shooting war then. Carry on, everyone." Julia settled into her seat, anticipating the next half an hour to feel like a half a day in comparison.

The call woke Yonatan Shaham from the nap he'd been enjoying in his quarters. He quickly pulled his uniform jacket back on. Thanks to the design of the Eagle, built in Kameli yards over a decade before, the captain's quarters and office were on the same deck as the main bridge. It was only a ten second walk from the door to his office to the control bridge for the light attack ship.

The Eagle had changed much in the ten years since Yoni's father, Arik Shaham, had first escorted his then-teenage son onto the bridge of the Tikvah's most powerful escort ship. Back then the control stations had been mostly physical switches and keys, kept working through sheer determination and constant jury-rigging, with the air always seeming stale due to a fault in the air processors. But two months in the New Liberty-run shipyard at Abdis H1E4 had changed everything. Now the Eagle's crew enjoyed Darglan-tech touchscreen and hardlight controls. The air was just as good as being on a planet. And the old control couches and chairs had been replaced by the same harness-equipped chairs seen on the rest of the Alliance fleet. The same refits had seen the Eagle fitted with new pulse phaser cannons of the same power capacity as those on the Alliance Trigger-class. The torpedo launchers were now compatible with Alliance-standard solar torpedoes. Virtually every system had enjoyed some sort of upgrade, and with replicators equipped the Eagle went from being utterly dependent upon support from other ships to being capable of extended cruises.

The crew even reflected this change. While the majority were still the Jews from Tikvah, roughly one out of four personnel were drawn from the New Liberty population as a whole. Among them was his new First Officer and Ship Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Othello Freeman, a former African-American slave from Alabama on Earth C1P2. The tall man kept his hair combed and his face shaved and looked imposing in the same black uniform with command red shoulders that Yonatan was wearing. The torch insignia on his collar was blue, marking his rank just as Yoni's silver torch marked his. Their uniforms were otherwise nearly the same as those in the Alliance Stellar Navy, although the branch color took up the entirety of the shoulders.

Othello noted his arrival and nodded. "Commander," he said, his voice accented with a drawl common to people of his background. He spoke with a deliberate tone regardless of the drawl, ensuring that the auto-translators had no issues for non-English speakers. "The renegade ship's about t' drop from warp, sir."

"Thank you, Commander Freeman." Yonatan took his chair and checked the harness. Othello returned to Ops, displacing Ensign Yeol Levi to head to another post. At the helm, Ensign Benyamin Amsalem was ready to commence maneuvers. Lieutenant Rebekah Shameel, a Mizrahi Jew who immigrated from the Earth of H1E4, sat at the weapons station.

In keeping with the practice learned over their years on the run from the Reich, Yonatan tapped a key on his chair and opened the dedicated intercom from the bridge to the ship's engineering spaces. "Potential hostile coming in," he said. "Do we have combat power?

The response came from a fellow Tikvahite. Lieutenant Miryam Levitsky, the ship's chief engineer, answered, "Yes, Yoni, we do. You are clear to engage."

"Thank you, Miri," he answered. Removing his finger shut the intercom off.

Moments later the new holo-viewscreen of the Eagle changed to show the arriving ship. Yonatan was struck by the resemblance of this Darglan-built vessel, the Avenger, to the Aurora herself, or his father's ship the ASV Enterprise. But where those ships had long, graceful lines, with their weapons installed in ways that minimized their interference with the ship's profile, the Avenger was anything but graceful. Visible weapon emplacements spotted the ship's dark hull. The lines gave her the look of a predator, sleek and angry, looking for prey to devour.

"Their shields are not up," Rebekah reported. Her olive complexion and dark hair gave her a striking look. Deep brown eyes looked over the tactical display. "Their targeting systems are not locking on."

"So they're not here for combat. Yet."

Othello was frowning at the ship. "So they're the ones…" he muttered.

Yonatan almost asked what he meant, but stopped himself. He recalled the reports now. The Avenger was responsible for the devastation of Othello's Earth. Millions of dead from its attack and the near-collapse of civilization afterward. And now they were here.

"Steady, Othello," he said gently. "Are they hailing?"

"There is an open communication from the vessel now. I am putting them on."

The holo-viewscreen changed to show a number of images. One was of the Aurora bridge, where Captain Andreys was standing and looking at the screen intently. Another showed Director Holloran on the Orsala. The final image was of a severe looking young woman with brown hair to her shoulders and a thin face. She was wearing a gray suit of some sort. "I am Tina Carmine, currently in charge of the Avenger. We're here to support the Drazi Freehold in eliminating the threat of the Dilgar, and ensure the punishment of Dilgar war criminals."

"I'm Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. Avenger, you have no standing here. You don't represent any government or people. And you're all wanted for the bombardment of Earth C1P2 and the mass death inflicted on that world."

Another image joined, that of a scale-faced Drazi. Yoni recognized him as Tarinak. "The Avenger vessel has been authorized by the Drazi Freehold to join our forces in thwarting the revival of the Dilgar. Any attack on them will be taken as an act of war against the Drazi Freehold and we will respond."

Tabir's image appeared as well. "The Brakiri Syndicracy recognizes the Avenger and its crew as legitimate privateers in service to the Drazi Freehold. We too will consider any fire against them as hostile."

There was no image to join the next voice. "Earth concurs with our allies," Major Foster said simply.

Julia nodded. "The Alliance does not recognize the Avenger crew as a legitimate private military force. But in the interests of peace, we accept their claimed status with your forces. We expect the Avenger to conform to the current truce."

"I will remind you, Captain Andreys, that the deadline for your withdrawal is nearly up," Foster said. "I will suspend enforcement in the face of the upcoming meeting on the Orsala, but I fully expect your squadron to begin withdrawing soon."

"Your charity is noted, Major." Julia's tone was professional, but none could fail to hear the ice in it. "We'll keep it in mind when this situation is resolved, and if any findings of genocide and the abetting thereof are given. We'll be on the Orsala when scheduled. Aurora out."

The communication ended only partially. Yonatan quickly noted that Julia remained linked to him. Li appeared on the screen as well, sitting on the bridge of the Shenzhou. "A nice reminder that he could face the gallows for what he's doing here," Li stated to Julia. "Not that I expect us to be able to follow through on that."

"Maybe, maybe not," Julia conceded. "Given the situation, I think it best if you two remain on your ships instead of attending the new meeting."

"I agree," said Yonatan. "These Avenger people are too volatile to take the risk."

"Agreed." Li nodded. "We'll do what we can to protect your ship while you're on the Orsala, Captain."

"Good. I'll relay the same to Commander Imra and the other ships in the force. Aurora out."

The communication ended. The holo-viewscreen shifted to show multiple ships in the orbit of the water world below. "This situation will not end well," Benyamin murmured.

"Perhaps, perhaps not. I have faith that the Lord of Hosts will recognize our cause and aid us," Yonatan said, repeating the sort of exhortation his father used to make. "All we can do is our duty. The Almighty will judge whether we succeed."

Late that evening, there was another tap on the door, much softer than Foster’s announcing his presence. It was Lieutenant James Reichert, a soft-spoken and lithe helm officer whose expression was nonetheless usually one of savage intensity.

“Lieutenant... ?” Zhengli stood to greet her latest ‘guest’, blinking in a hint of confusion. “What is it?”

“Captain, Lieutenant Goodman was going to act. However, everyone has started debating what to do now that the government has essentially confirmed Major Foster’s actions. We’re certain they were illegal, and you acted according to the law, but clearly something’s happening back in Geneva.” He took a breath. “We need to act soon. Major Foster is exceeding his orders even in the Pronouncement he read. Huáscar is supposed to remain neutral and observe developments at Tira. He’s been openly coordinating with the crew of that pirate warship, the Avenger.

“It is politics. The bane of the Earth Alliance since the founding. We are heading down a dark path, Lieutenant. When Sheridan revolted, I held my oaths. In urging you to act, as reluctantly as I do, I believe I do the same. Huáscar should not be a name spoken in the same breath, and with far more venom, than St. Louis. We have to act, and if we cannot go home again… that is a price righteousness demands.”

“...I understand perfectly, Captain. Please understand that Foster is going to alter the guard arrangements, so you’re not going to have any more communication with us, and I need to leave very soon. Some of us have already done things that leave us committed, and I don’t think the rest of us are so craven we’re going to let the others down.”

“I will stand with you all to the end, Lieutenant, wherever we end up. May fortune smile upon us all, for the sake of what we do.”

“Well,” he ran a hand through his dark hair. “I don’t think it’s going to end quietly now, Captain. I don’t think we have that choice.”

“I remember how to use a sidearm, Lieutenant. If order is to be overthrown by craven political calculus… then I cannot stand by and let it happen. It is the soul of Earthforce we are fighting for, and may they some-day remember it. Go, or they will be suspicious once the new rotation checks the logs.”

“I understand, Captain. We’ll obey.” He snapped to attention and saluted. “They won’t dishonour Huáscar, whatever happens, they won’t dishonour Earthforce. We won’t let them. Good luck, Captain.” He spun on heel, and after that, it was silence in the cell block.

Zhengli Varma whispered a soft prayer for their success, and that they might come out the other side alive, her loyalists, as she settled down to wait once more.

Even in the middle of a crisis paperwork still had to be done. Julia was attending to just that in her ready office off the bridge, trying to ignore the menacing Drazi Sunhawk that was visible out of her window. While the ship was not in of itself a threat to her own, the intent of the ship was menace enough. Joined with the aggressive Avenger crew? That was even worse.

She was finishing a requisition report when there was a chime at the door. "Come in," she called out.

Cat entered, wearing her uniform with the skirt instead of pants as she usually did. Behind her was the Dilgar science officer, Tra'dur. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant Delgado, Combat Expert Tra'dur?" Julia asked them.

“Captain, Lieutenant Delgado and myself have developed a plan for disabling the explosives set at the mitre gates on the city's barrage.” She nodded to Caterina. “Cat’Delgado, please, go ahead.”

"We're going to set up sensors as close as we can to the gates," Cat explained. "If we can get the right readings, we'll know what kind of explosives they're using and can find a way to counteract them."

Julia's eyes went from Cat, and her visible enthusiasm, to Tra'dur, who tried to hide the same but couldn't quite manage it. "It's a good idea. I'll have the Marines do the scans right away."

"I'm not sure they have the training for what we're doing," Cat said. "This is delicate equipment. It has to be assembled just right, and the readings carefully analyzed."

To that Julia folded her hands on the desk. "So what you're saying is that you want to beam down."


"You want me to send my science officer into a potential combat zone."

A year ago that might have deterred Cat. Short of a scientific discovery to be had, she was rarely eager for such missions. But now Julia could see no sign of such a sentiment now. Another sign of the change that the Doctor had caused in her. "You don't really need me up here for this situation. Down there I could save Tira."

"True," Julia conceded. "But you're late on your field mission exercise evaluations, and…" Julia shook her head in exasperation. Her voice lost the authority she'd been using before when she added, "This is bad, Cat. Those mercs could kill you."

"The Daleks could have too. And the Nazis."

"Touchè." Julia considered herself and felt a bit of reproach. Was she being reluctant to send qualified personnel because she didn't want to risk her science officer? Or was it because she didn't want to send her friend's little sister into a firing zone? We're all in a firing zone anyway, I suppose. "Alright. I'll have Commander Richmond assign you a security team. And I'm sending Lucy with you to help you with the technical side of things."

Cat smiled and nodded. "I'll be ready."

"You're going in full action uniform with ground operations kit, Lieutenant," Julia ordered. "Anything less is unacceptable, understood?"

"Understood, Captain," Cat replied. "I'll get ready immediately and report to the armory."

"Report to Transporter Station 3 in one hour. We should have a security team for you then. You're both dismissed."

Cat and Tra'dur left the ready office. When they were gone Julia briefly set her face in her hands and sighed into her palms. "Angel will kill me," she muttered.

A question forming in Cat's mind finally came out after they stepped into the turbolift. "Deck 4," she said, before turning to Tra'dur. "The way you pronounce my name. 'Cat'Delgado'. Is that a social convention for Dilgar?"

“Yes, Cat’Delgado, it is. Amongst the Dilgar only close relatives--I mean to the second degree at most--and lovers and mates may call each other by their prenomen.”

"So you might call your mother 'Shai', and your sister 'Nah', but you call Fei'nur by her full name?"

“..Well, as it happens, Fei’nur almost raised us by herself, so sometimes as a girl I’d only use her prenomen. But she’s pretty traditional and I would never do that in public these days. However, you’ve got the right of it: Say Battlemaster Or’kun on the Magaratha I’d always call Or’kun, yes.” She was smiling with a fond memory. “Even though you’re human, I didn’t want to be presumptuous.”

"Oh, it's fine," Cat said. Ahead of them the lift door opened. Cat led her out onto Deck 4. She took the usual right outside of the lift entryway. "I just figured that might be a mouthful. Our family names are a lot longer than yours, I mean. In Human society we usually use the last name for formality. That's why Julia, I mean the Captain, called me 'Lieutenant Delgado' instead of 'Lieutenant Caterina Delgado'."

“Yeah, mother uses the human method in English. I just felt a bit nervous about following her lead so readily. Cat. Perhaps because it’s short, so it sounds like a Dilgar prenomen. I’d… I tried to use it before, and I’d like to fit in more, here, really. I mean everyone’s been so kind to me, especially yourself and Commander Scott.”

"Well, you can call me Cat in private, if you want," said Caterina. "And if he says you can, we all call Commander Scott 'Scotty'. It's an old nickname from his comrades when he was in Starfleet decades ago." They arrived at the door to her quarters. The ship automatically recognized her and let her in. Inside she found Violeta sitting on the couch, in her uniform pants and the burgundy red undershirt of her duty uniform. "Oh, Vee! Getting ready for duty?"

"Yeah." She grinned. "I left my spare uniforms in your closet." Violeta noticed Tra'dur and stood. "Oh, hey. You're the Dilgar officer assigned to the ship, right?"

“Yes, Ensign. I’m Combat Master Tra’dur, a pleasure to be at your service.”

"Ensign Violeta Arterria, navigation officer." Violeta grinned at Cat. "Well, soon to be Lieutenant Arterria."

Cat's eyes widened. A grin crossed her face. "You got the promotion?"

Violeta nodded eagerly. "Commander Locarno gave me the notice this morning. The promotion board approved it. I'll be Lieutenant junior grade on the first of next month."

"That's wonderful!" Cat went up and embraced her girlfriend tightly. She gave her a congratulatory kiss on the lips. "That's so great! You've earned it!"

"Thank you," Violeta said. She glanced back to Tra'dur before meeting Cat's eyes again. "So, what's going on?"

"Oh. Oh, right." Cat chuckled nervously. "Uh, I'm here to get into my action uniform. We're beaming down to install sensors in the Marine posts."

Violeta's expression turned to concern. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Oh, we'll have a bunch of Marines with us, and Lucy, and they're sending a security team with us too. I'm sure we'll be safe. Well, as safe as we can be right now, I guess…"

It was clear Violeta was still worried for Cat's safety, but she didn't say anything. "Okay. Well, be safe… and I'd better finish getting ready, my first watch of the day begins in forty minutes and I've still got to grab a bite to eat."

"Oh." Cat winced. "I'm sorry for keeping you. Have a good watch."

"And you be careful." Violeta went to the chair over which her black uniform jacket - with the red trim the same color as her shirt - was laid. She picked it up and began pulling it on while walking out of the door.

Tra’dur coughed gently. “I didn’t want to interrupt with your mate. Thank you for introducing me. Is she a different breed of human?”

"Hrm? Oh, the purple hair and eyes?" Cat giggled as she walked into her bedroom. Tra'dur remained at the door while she went for her closet and the action uniforms there. "They're cosmetic genetic alterations for coloration. It's pretty common in the Sirian League." She pulled one of the uniforms out. The action uniform was a multi-piece set, made of specialized material and backed by an interior ceramic plating to protect from weapons fire and with prepared pockets and a belt with a pulse pistol holster. Its design would also help in more extreme temperatures and could easily be fitted to an environmental suit. She laid it out on her bed. "I'll be out in a minute, just let me change."

“Oh, of course.” Tra’dur fiddled with her weapons and checked the fit on the slim vest under her uniform jacket, folding her hands as she waited.

When Caterina emerged, she was putting her pulse pistol into the holster on her hip. The uniform nevertheless looked mostly like the one she'd been wearing before save for the pockets on the side and on the pants. The twin gold strips of her rank insignia were even in the same place on her collar. "Alright, I'm ready, let's head to the armory so we can get field gear."

“Lead on, Cat.” The lithe little auburn-haired Dilgar woman in her grandiloquent uniform swung in on the human science officer’s side without a moment’s hesitation. Utterly confident, there was something of a leader in her scientist’s mind, too.

The drive through the Dilgar colony city was quiet for Wrex and Drack. The mercs on the streets had no trouble keeping the frightened Dilgar pacified. Pockets of them could be seen on the street, watching the anti-grav truck carrying the two in silence. At one corner Wrex watched with smoldering silence as a group of mercs were busy curb-stomping a single Dilgar, laughing all the while. The Dilgar was silent: even the meanest civilian Dilgar knew enough to expect no mercy from aliens. His disgust was evident to his older compatriot, who remained quiet regardless.

Soon they were driving past a gray-toned structure. Like many of those present, it was made in part with materials salvaged from Dilgar ships used for the colony mission, the rest being made of basic raw materials like concrete. The tetracolor and torch of the Allied Systems fluttered on the flag that topped the three story structure. Wrex made out power-armored Marines watching one of the entrances with weapons ready. "Looks like they'll be throwing us into a frontal assault," he remarked.

Drack laughed at that. "Knowing Weyrloc Tral, he'll throw bodies at them until he runs out of bodies. Or ammunition blocks, if we're really lucky."

"Nobody is that lucky," Wrex grunted.

Pulling away from the building, the truck came to a stop in front of their destination. The two Krogan jumped down from the anti-grav truck and stomped their way into the positions held by the Blood Pack. On their way they moved through a half dozen red-armored Krogan and twelve Vorcha. The latter had a particularly fearsome appearance for humanoids, with growling voices coming from mouths marked by visibly long, sharp teeth. The Vorcha were the cannon fodder of the Blood Pack, although they were tough for such fodder given that, like the Krogan, Vorcha enjoyed a regenerative physiology that let them heal from even severe injuries.

The building in question had been a residence for a Dilgar family. Now the banner of Clan Weyrloc was hanging from the roof. Given the state of their furnishings, Wrex suspected they wouldn't be back whatever happened.

Inside they found that one of the living areas was now serving as a makeshift command post. A Ferengi-made holographic interface was sitting on a table in the middle. The hologram it was showing, depicting one of the structures occupied by the Alliance forces, wavered. It shut down completely when a fist slammed into the table and smashed it. "Blasted machines," growled an angry Krogan voice. The Krogan in question had dark green coloring on his carapace, his skin a beige tone, and his armor the same blood red as his followers. Red eyes a shade darker than Wrex's shifted and took them in. "So the Brakiri sent me the has-beens," he muttered. "Nakmor Drack. Urdnot Wrex. I'm surprised either of you had the brains or the quad to take work like this."

"Still sore over the last time, Tral?" asked Drack, who grinned in amusement at the memory.

"You did me a favor, Drack," replied the Weyrloc leader. "Those were my weakest recruits."

"Of course they were." Drack let the lie stand. The Weyrloc had pride, not to mention their delusions of being the most powerful Krogan clan.

"So, you two are here, and you're assigned to the main strike team," Tral said. "Word is we'll be going for those Alliance people soon. Our employers want to send a message. No prisoners."

"I heard we were just going to shell the buildings to rubble," Wrex said.

To that Tral laughed. "The Brakiri consider us cheaper than the munitions. So we're going in. And we kill everything we see. Do you think you two fossils can manage that?"

"No surrenders. Kill everything." Drack snorted. "Sounds like a Weyrloc plan to me."

"If you survive, there'll be a bonus, I'm told," Tral continued. He snorted. "Then we can blow the dam gates and get off this rock."

"So it's coming to that, huh?" Wrex asked.

"What, you feel sorry for 'em?" Tral asked. "Way I hear it, the Dilgar pissed off every species around in this universe. Just collect your pay and forget about it. Now get the hell out of here while I get this damned system fixed. The next time I see a Ferengi, I'm ripping off those stupid ears."

The two stepped out of the room. "So they're going to do it," Drack said.


"Anything we can do about it?"

To that Wrex shrugged. "Probably not. Don't mean I have to like it. And the next time a Brakiri offers me a job…"

"...we'll both tell them to piss off," Drack finished for him.

Sharon Farallon, the Huáscar’s Chief Engineer and a short, brown and mousy woman who could nonetheless take down a man three times larger than herself at arm wrestling, had been the most enthusiastic in regaining control of the ship from the XO. She had also been the one made the most uncomfortable by the directives from Geneva which seemed to confirm Foster’s actions. She was sitting across from Lieutenant Goodman, or more properly was braced against the wall, glancing to Reichert occasionally and keeping her eyes away from Officer Saumarez.

“Guys, this is going to be mutiny now if we go ahead with it. Before, yeah, it would have been legal, but they’re addressing Major Foster as the commander.”

Reichert held his hands behind his back like he was at parade rest. “Lieutenant Commander Farallon, I seem to recall they said obedience to unlawful orders is not an excuse when they were hanging those Nazi bastards at Nuremberg. And a couple of other times after that, too.”

Sharon grimaced. “Look, you know that don’t actually give a rat’s ass about that back in Geneva. The Russians have half taken over the Earth Alliance and they only ever apply those rules to the losing side. We’re going to be in more shit than you can realize if we act against Foster. Possibly the Death of Personality if we get people killed…”

“I thought you were on Sheridan’s side, too, Sharon,” Johnathan Goodman spoke in his soft rumble.

She shot him a look. “We all were here, except Officer Saumarez. But the war’s supposed to be over.

“We’ll have a ship, we hardly have to surrender!” Reichert almost shouted. “Look, Foster’s still violating orders. He’s exchanging communication with these pirates who showed up, and the government sure as hell never sanctioned that. At worst we’ll be in the same place he was and he got his actions confirmed by the government.”

“If I go back now, Commander Farallon, I am going to cease to exist,” Elia spoke very softly. “The fact we haven’t acted doesn’t matter.”

“You have a legal obligation to prevent genocide, Sharon,” Lt. Reichert spoke again. “You know that’s exactly what they’re planning. It’s a secret open enough to drive a shuttle through.”

“And we’ll never see our families again..!”

“And the Dilgar won’t have any families because the Drazi killed their babies by bashing them against a wall!”

Sharon swallowed. “They’re also a bunch of aliens.”

“And one of them is sitting on an Earth Alliance planet right now with a Line Medal around his neck, and a memorial in the town square with the other five inset into it. Who the hell else helped us during the Earth-Minbari War, Sharon?”

“The Drazi said they did!” She flushed.

“Stro’kath’s fleet is a ghost, nobody knows what happened to it.”

Lieutenant Goodman squeezed his hands, a cold sweat on his dark face. “Okay, the way I see it is, that’s a higher order, preventing genocide. If Foster disobeys it, we gotta take him down. We don’t have time to ask Geneva, the Dilgar could all be dead by then. But that’s like an order from God,” he continued, lapsing more into his caribbean accent. “Y’gotta follow it, if you care about your soul.”

Sharon sighed and looked at the terrified but resolute Elia across from her. “All right, if we get into..”

Lt. Goodman’s comm trilled. The others went dead silent as he picked it up. “Yes… Yes, Captain, what do you..? Oh, of course, Captain, I understand. Uh, negotiate? Captain? I’m just a Lieutenant, I can… Yes, Sir, I understand. Right away Sir.” He deactivated the comm and stared at the others.

“What the hell was that, Johnathan?” Sharon asked.

“Major Foster wants me to go to the Minbari cruiser to represent Earth in the talks.”

“Goddamnit, that means he’s onto us, it has to,” she snarled.

“Maybe,” Lt. Reichert answered. “But he has to go. And I’ve got a solution for that.”

“Look, we’re not doing anything unless we absolutely have to, do you understand? Lieutenant Reichert, do you understand me!?” Sharon was outright shouting, now, Elia wincing away from her.

“Understood, Sir,” he said, very, very softly.

With the Avenger on the scene, it went against Julia's instincts to beam over to the Orsala for continuing talks that were unlikely to go anywhere. She didn't trust the Avenger crew given what she knew about their condition, or even without that, their sheer aggressiveness. The idea of a shooting war breaking out with her off the ship…

Taking her First Officer with her? That was almost insurmountable a hurdle.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you didn't trust me," Jarod remarked while escorting Julia and Meridina to the Transporter Station.

Julia gave him a guilty look. "It's the principle of the thing," she said. "I shouldn't be away during a crisis."

"The Brakiri and Drazi leaders will be away as well," said Meridina. "And there will be someone from the Avenger present."

"That doesn't make me feel any better," Julia answered. "Especially since we don't know anything about their command structure. This 'Tina Carmine' may not even be Hawk's usual third-in-command. Besides, they don't strike me as the type to care about diplomatic rules. Attacking while we're on the Orsala is something I can see them thinking of as clever."

"A good point, but if they are here as allies of the Drazi, one suspects the Drazi are requiring them to conform to diplomatic niceties. Otherwise they will look bad as well."

"That assumes the Drazi care," Jarod said. "Remember, these are the same people who launched raiding attacks on their weakest neighbors. They were even willing to attack Sheridan's White Stars when the ISA was initially founded." Given they were nearing their destination, Jarod stopped. "Either way, I'll have the crew on standby should anything happen."

"That's all I can ask."

"Good luck." Jarod smiled slightly and nodded before stepping away. They both heard him murmur, "We'll all need it" as he stepped away.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

Post by Steve » 2018-01-14 10:06am

Julia and Meridina met Shai'jhur in Transporter Station 1. She had that same quiet aide with her. Julia wondered where Fei'nur was currently. Shai'jhur had already been shot once and Fei'nur seemed the type to never risk it again.

Julia motioned to the pad and said, "After you, Warmaster."

Shai’jhur stepped onto the pad with a wry look. “I never get more used to this, of course. Carry on, Captain.”

"One moment." Julia turned back to Jarod. "I shouldn't have to say that if it comes down to me or the ship, the ship comes first. But I will anyway because it feels like the right thing to say."

"Somehow I suspect that the Orsala is a lot safer than the Aurora right now anyway," replied Jarod. "But understood."

Satisfied, Julia nodded to him and he left. She and Meridina joined Shai'jhur on the pad. "Transport when ready."

A Dorei woman was at the transporter controls nodded. "I'm receiving the coordinates from the Orsala now. Confirming."

The transporter beam whisked them away from the Aurora to the Minbari ship. They arrived near the launch bay for the ship's shuttles and fliers. A Minbari male in white and light beige robes with a bone crest that Julia associated with the religious caste met them at the entrance. "Greetings, and welcome to the Orsala," he said. "Please follow me."

While walking through the ship Julia and Meridina took in the internal design of Minbari ships. They favored purples and blue lighting and coloring, occasionally green, for their interior halls, which were primarily darker hues around the lights. The diversity in color was greater than the azure corridors of the Aurora.

The Warmaster’s expression was dour in the extreme, as if she would rather be anywhere else in the world. Her yellow eyes flashed from corridor wall to corridor wall.

They arrived in a room with a series of rounded tables closely matching the makeup of how things had been on the Aurora. Tarinak was present, as was Tabir, and Holloran and the lead Abbai delegate, Forna, were near their table. Foster was not present. An Earthforce lieutenant was near that table instead, a big, black-skinned man with an easygoing expression, sitting quietly and, Julia thought, a little uncomfortably.

There was a new position as well, a table with just one figure beside it. He was in a gray jumpsuit of sorts, a thin young man with combed black hair. This was apparently a concession to the formality of the situation, as he looked anything but comfortable in the surroundings, and more to the point, not at all caring about the weight of them. The only thing on his face was obvious, evident boredom, boredom which turned into clear hostility when he looked toward Julia. He snarled in open contempt and crossed his arms. Julia ignored him with just as much contempt. They didn't send the current commander of the Avenger, she noted to herself. A whisper in her mind indicated Meridina had picked up that thought as well. Seeing no point in talking, Julia found her table with Meridina and sat down. Shai'jhur took her seat just as quietly.

As everyone began to filter into their seats, Julia noticed that Foster still hadn't shown up. A vague suspicion formed in her mind. Yoni Shaham had mentioned their discussion, and Foster's remarks about the Minbari, so he might be delaying his arrival to mess with them. But given the situation, Julia didn't like this one bit.

“The Captain of the Huáscar will of course arrive shortly, as well as the ranking officer of the pirate?” Shai’jhur said airily, refusing to sit.

"We're not pirates, you damned butcher," the gray-suited man barked. "You're the damn pirate, and we're going to make you pay!"

The Brakiri shot an angry look toward that table. "I'm afraid that with your capture of their commanders, the Drazi associates are a little uncertain of their command structure," Tabir noted. "They are a very… informal group, you see."

"And yet they fly around with one of the most powerful, advanced battlecruisers in the Multiverse," Julia noted wryly. She glanced toward the man. "Where is Miss Carmine?"

"She couldn't come," he said sullenly. "I'm Andy. Andy Lattrel. I'm going to be dealing with you." His voice made it clear that his idea of "dealing" with them would involve shooting.

The look on the Brakiri was one of open contempt. He does not approve of the Drazi choice of allies, Meridina relayed to Julia telepathically.

The Brakiri are businessmen, that kind of bluntness is too much, I guess.

Shai’jhur would have none of it. “You may think you will be dealing with me, but all you will be doing is conveying a message to your commanders. I have read Verne, I know your literature, and I can name your game, you cur! Don’t think me a naive alien, I know you break the laws of your own race! Your Darglan Nautile flies no flag and conducts a war of revenge under the colour of no law, Sir. Tell your commanders that they are Hostis humani generis and I will put them to death if I catch them! If you want to enforce the law of nations, live by it!”

Before any retort could come from Andy Lattrel, Holloran smacked her hand on her table. "The next person to issue a threat gets my boot up their ass." The look on the Director's face made it clear that, as the Director of Covert Intelligence for the InterStellar Alliance, she was not a diplomat, nor did she believe she had to be.

Shai’jhur ground her teeth. “Very well. Where is the Earth representative, Major Foster?”

“I’m Lieutenant Johnathan Goodman, Earthforce. I was sent by Major Foster to represent our interests. He will not be coming aboard.”

“And I will not negotiate with subordinates,” Shai’jhur answered immediately in a show of anger and contempt. “I have endured enough humiliation, we will not also have a farce of talks without the ranking personnel of each power present.”

"Call up Foster," Holloran said to Goodman. "Tell him to get over here now, or his lack of cooperation will be made clear to both Earthdome and Tuzanor."

Goodman wryly twisted his face into a grimace and reached for his commlink. The conversation was brief. “I’m sorry, Director, but he won’t come.”

A cold feeling went down Julia's spine at hearing that.

As Goodman spoke, Shai’jhur stepped over to Julia and spoke softly. “This is a ruse d’guerre, as you humans would say. Get back to your ship.” Her eyes snapped to Holloran. “Director, call me back when the principals are all actually present, and I will come, even if it is the middle of the night.”

Julia and Meridina exchanged worried looks as they stood up. Meridina's hand quietly reached for her omnitool.

Shai’jhur pulled out her own commlink.

There was a tone from another table. Lattrel was activating a multidevice. "They're leaving!" he shouted. "Go now!"

Two to beam up, immediately!” Shai’jhur shouted in Dilgar. The two Dilgar disappeared into the amber glow and sparkling tones of a Klingon transporter model at least a half-century old, but perfectly serviceable for the circumstances.

"Emergency transport, now!" Meridina shouted.

Holloran watched in stunned silence at their sudden departure. As her head turned to face Lattrel, he too vanished in a flash of light.

"Director." The voice of the Minbari captain came over the air. "The independent cruiser has opened fire. The Drazi are moving to engage."

"Damn," Holloran muttered.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-15 09:56am

The space over Tira lit up with energy weapon fire. Powerful bolts of sapphire energy erupted from the banks of the vessel Avenger and slammed into the unshielded hull of the Aurora.

Julia and Meridina materialized on the bridge and nearly hit the floor from the violent shaking. "Raise shields!" Julia shouted while stumbling to her command chair. She buckled the safety harness immediately. "Damage report!"

"They knew where they were aiming," Jarod answered. "Primary 1 shield generator is completely offline. They severed the power lines. Hull damage in Decks 7 and 8, section B."

"Switching to backups," Tom Barnes said from Engineering.

"Returning fire!" Angel added.

The Aurora's own plasma weapons retorted. The Avenger's shields snapped back into place a moment before they struck. Blue light fizzled around the bolts and beams of the same color. "Their shields are still holding," Angel reported. "The other ships are moving to engage as well. Shenzhou is opening fire."

More fire struck the Aurora's overtaxed shields. "Shields down to eighty percent," Jarod said. "The secondaries are up, but I'm not sure how long they'll last against the Avenger's guns." The ship shuddered once more as he finished speaking. "The Drazi are moving into combat formation."

"I've got activity at the system's jump gate," Lieutenant al-Rashad said from the science station. "It looks like someone's coming through…" She turned briefly. "Drazi, sir."

"How many?"

"Fifty… no, sixty… I have seventy individual signatures now through the gate." Al-Rashad blinked. "And even more now. Not Drazi this time… recognition profiles show them as Cascor vessels. A carrier group."

Julia swallowed. "Damn," she muttered.

But there was no time to dwell on that, not with the Avenger's fire again rocking their shields. "Evasive maneuvers. I want all fighters in vacuum, now. Open tac comm links!"

As she spoke the Drazi came in, weapons firing. The remaining Drazi of the first wave were focusing their firepower on the Aurora as well, although ten broke off to engage the Shenzhou and three more were maneuvering to try and contain the Koenig. Julia watched on the tactical map, hoping that the Brakiri and Hyach would remain out of it while focusing on the immediate problem.

Locarno was pushing the Aurora into the quickest maneuvers the kilometer-long starship could manage. The Darglan drives and systems running her made her agile for her size. But the Avenger enjoyed a similar profile, if not quite as nimble, and Hawk's people had clearly honed their tactical skills since the battle at Earth C1P2. Whomever was at the helm was keeping the Avenger on the Aurora sufficiently to allow its more numerous weapons to batter the Alliance vessel. Ruby energy fire from the Drazi Sunhawks joined them, pounding away at the Aurora's deflectors on the weak side and keeping Jarod from shunting power to face the onslaught of the larger vessel.

"They're throwing everything they have at us," Jarod said. "Shields are down to fifty percent."

"Get the squadron on those Sunhawks!" ordered Julia.

"Transmitting orders now," Meridina confirmed.

“What’s our tactical picture?” Shai’jhur asked as she settled into the bridge, glancing to Kaveri. She had arrived from the transporter room only a minute ago after returning from the Minbari cruiser, and had heard about the Drazi attack as she returned to the bridge on the Magaratha, or rather the attack of the Drazi and the Avenger. “Are the other League races also moving into position? If so we should hit them now.”

“Yes, Warmaster. They are moving into attack formations very similar to that used by the late-war Liberation Navy, aimed at Tira and ourselves. It is beginning.”

“All right, I want the Rohric Group to go in and pin the Brakiri head on. The Cascor ships arriving are trailing the Drazi and aren’t a concern yet, assuming they actually even engage as opposed to just hanging back and defending their carrier. Then the Tira group sweeps around -- see -- rakes the Hurr and Hyach from above and then turns into the rear of the Brakiri. Their ships will be caught between two fires and unable to answer and the Hurr and Hyach can only pursue by opening the planetary surface to us, so they might well not.”

“If they destroy the fleet, the planet is helpless, Warmaster. That lesson they should have well learned from the war. They will pursue. If they destroy the fleet, they are free to act.”

Shai’jhur grimaced. “Then we’ll pass through the Brakiri at point-blank range and detach our fighter groups to attack them as we do. That will allow us to support the Tira Group when the rest of the League squadrons pursue them, and if we carry through a very intense initial attack from catching them between two fires we can leave the fighters to finish the Brakiri.”

“And we can cover them, with their weak interceptors and lack of shields. It has tactical sense to it. Huáscar has not yet launched her own fighters, we may yet have a chance, but I expect… the Avenger will likely seek to repeat the turning point of Third Balos.”

“You’re right, they’ll concentrate on Andreys’ ship, if they remove the Aurora, we can’t stand against them. Well, forward the fleet! The sooner we hit the Brakiri the sooner we’ll have freedom of action.”

“Agreed, Warmaster.” Kaveri gave her a thin flicker of a smile. To fight alongside Shai’jhur after this long is a strange feeling, if not unwelcome.

The two Dilgar forces began to accelerate and split, the unshielded Tira force moving in to attack the Hyach and Hur as they prepped and launched starfighters. The fast Centauri models they had quietly purchased, embezzled from government stocks during the low points of the Republic, outperformed everything there except for the Alliance fighters.

The Rohric force swung into range of the Brakiri, and the Brakiri opened up with their massed energy beams. But with the lead ‘heavy’ Pentacon of Magaratha, two Sekhmets and two Tikrits, the mixture of deflector and grav shields and interceptor grids turned the opening fire. The reply was tremendously accurate even at range, the sensors on the three lead ships were better than those of the Centauri and so were their targeting mechanisms.

Magaratha’s main battery commenced fire, a blinding concentration of three Hyach spinal lasers replacing the infamous double-barreled mass driver of her half-sister Deathwalker. They tracked with their target, tearing through the armour of the lead Avioki as space blazed around them. The two battlecruisers on her flanks met her movements perfectly, engaging two more Brakiri ships with tremendous effect.

The first Brakiri ship collapsed into two pieces, drifting apart in a cloud of debris. “Shift fire!” Kaveri snapped.

Rushing in closer, their next target again was subject to that devastating power, the Brakiri ships indisposed to easily maneouvre while maintaining their own bearing on the enemy. Behind them, as Kaveri expected, the Hurrr and Hyach were breaking formation over the planet after the initial attacks by the Tira group, now maneouvring also into range with the Brakiri. But thrusting up from zero-zero relative the planet, they had a disadvantage, deep in the ‘hole’ of the grav well, and for a few brief minutes, Shai’jhur’s sweeping envelopment came together, Brakiri ships disintegrating under the fire, hacked in two by the beams or spinning slowly off crippled.

“As we pass between them, cut thrust and rotate Y-positive to fire into their starboard flanks. We’ll take their right flank and leave our guns open against the Hyach, they’re the biggest threat. Full thrust until the signal is given! To Death we dedicate this day! Rohricans, choose your routes and cut the Brakiri formation!”

The atmosphere on the bridge of the Huáscar was as tense as hell as they watched the fleets begin to engage. This was one of the largest fleet battles since the Civil War to happen anywhere, hells, larger than most of those. Major Foster was sitting in his command chair, the ship still at Condition Two. He hadn’t yet called stations, but now it was just a matter of time, and going from modified ZEBRA to full ZEBRA would hinder movement through the ship.

Lieutenant Reichert knew that much, and he knew how much of a problem that would be. More to the point, if they were serious about making their stand, they had simply run out of time. He wasn’t going to give Sharon a choice. Choices were for situations where there were multiple equally morally valid solutions. Here, there was just one morally valid solution, and it was going to go down. Even it cost him his life.

“Reading one hundred and ten Drazi ships, Sir,” the long-range sensor operator reported to Major Foster as the attack force swept in. “The Cascor and Brakiri are also moving in. Six Cascor, twenty Brakiri ships. Hyach and Hurr forces are positioning themselves to cover the surface of the planet.”

“Thank you, Jimmy,” Major Foster glanced around the bridge. “It’s clear that our allies are facing direct hostilities from the Dilgar and the Allied Systems. We’re going to act accordingly. Lieutenant Reichert?”

“Sir!” James Reichert stepped forward, his body tensed. He knew what he had to do. He knew the only way that would force them all to act.

“You are the Officer of the Watch. Sound General Quarters.”

“Sound General Quarters Aye Sir,” he answered, and began to turn toward the Bosun’s Mate. But as he turned, he flipped up the cover on the holster of his PPG instead.

Major Foster saw it and lunged to his feet to escape the command chair. As he did, still half-crouched over in front of, it, James finished spinning toward him and drawing his gun. The PPG spat fire, and Foster’s face twisted into a rictus of agony as the rounds blasted at power through his uniform and into his torso.

“All hands! All hands!” At the back of the bridge one of the former Nightwatch men was on the internal comms. “Lieutenant Reichert has just shot the commander! There is an insurrection against lawful order on the ship! Take immediate measures to secure seditionists and traitors! I repeat, our lawful comma-”

His message cut out as Reichert opened fire again, the man toppling away from his station in a burst of fire which left his head burning, blatantly dead, as a few missed pulses set consoles for the intercoms burning.

James looked up, expecting death. But when the Bosun’s Mate’s gun spoke, he was firing on the GROPOS at the back of the bridge. He took the unanticipated survival, at least for a moments longer, for what it was worth, and lunged to the deck. The fight was on.

Down in engineering, the declaration that Major Foster had been shot on the bridge had brought an instant halt to all effort. People stared at each other, and at the intercoms as continued communications suddenly were punctured by the sound of PPGs firing.

Sharon Farallon knew that the situation came down to her. She could either act or not act, and the thoughts of her friends, family, home, all came together. Chilè, beautiful Chiloe island, her parents were still alive…

She heard boots in the corridor outside of main engineering control. They know my politics. They won’t give me a choice. She snapped into action. “All right, break open the arms locker! Move! Move! Secure the blast doors on the double!”

They slammed down just in time as she jogged over, remembering she was the one with the access, entering the combination that opened the site-locker for arms on engineering. Passing them out to her crew, there were shouts beyond the blast doors, but nothing on the ship would get through those, not short of setting off a nuke. And there were plenty of access points through the reactor.

“We’re fighting for the Captain!” She announced as her people began to form in order, unaware of whose side they’d be fighting on. “We’re fighting for the Captain and for Right. We’re all going to stick together no matter who’s side we were on last time, we’re all comrades, we’re all going to do this right. We’re going to get up there and put Captain Varma back in command and we’re going to stop Major Foster’s mutiny cold, we’re going to stop this genocide cold. Are you WITH ME, Huáscarenos!?”

The space around the Aurora was lit up with weapons fire from multiple sources. The great Alliance starship was being hounded on all sides by her counterpart and their Drazi allies. On the Eagle Yonatan Shaham watched this occurring on his tactical map while, on the screen, a Drazi Sunhawk was belching fire and atmosphere from the impacts of the Eagle's pulse phaser cannons. A solar torpedo from the launchers slammed into the red bulb at the rear of the Sunhawk and shattered it. The Drazi ship was out of action. "Direct hit," Rebekah reported from tactical.

The vessel shuddered under them. "Another Drazi ship on our stern, above," Othello said from Ops.

"Evasive maneuvers," Yonatan ordered.

The Eagle pulled into a tight, corkscrewing turn to throw off the Drazi ship. Ruby fire filled the space in front of them; another Drazi was engaging. "Shields holding at eighty-five percent," Othello said.

"They're cutting us off," warned Benyamin. "I'm trying to get us clear, but there are so many…"

There was one less a moment later. One of the Alakin warbirds opened up on a trailing Drazi Sunhawk. The hits damaged the unshielded Drazi ship, forcing the Sunhawk to break off its pursuit of the Eagle. Benyamin used the opening to maneuver the attack ship around one of the attacking Sunhawks, getting them out of the immediate fire zone.

"Good job, Beni," said Yonatan. "Resume attack pattern. We must keep the enemy off of the Aurora!"

The Aurora bridge was shuddering yet again as the fury of the Avenger raked their failing shields. The two ships now "above" and "below" each other, with the weapons on the ventral hull of the Avenger raking across the same arc of the Aurora. Locarno was busy twisting the ship to present their port side while return fire struck back. From "above" and to port, Drazi Sunhawks continued to fire on the Aurora as well, keeping Julia's ship pinned in and unable to shift the shield arcs to deal with the heavy fire of the Avenger.

Nearby the Dorei starbird Keyan was firing. Purple-hued plasma energies also slammed against the Avenger's shields. Drazi Sunhawks peppered the bird-like Dorei ship with energy fire that met her shields in turn. The Alakin warbird Yreep exchanged fire with another Sunhawk; the other warbird, Greepk, was taking fire from two more. The Koenig moved in and blew one apart while being pursued by three. The Gl'mulli orb ship Tu'pam zipped "upward" and poured plasma fire into a group of Sunhawks moving in an attack vector against the Aurora. One burst apart and its compatriots broke away, simply to fly into the guns of the Eagle as they opened up. It lost a wing to the fire of the attack ship.

"The Dilgar are fully engaged with the Brakiri and Hyach," Meridina noted.

"Then I hope they take them out in time." Julia winced as the ship rocked again, throwing her against her harness. "How bad?"

"Shields are dropping below thirty percent," Jarod warned.

"All tertiaries are online now," Barnes added. "We can't reinforce the shields any more."

"If you can get me clear of the Drazi, I can try to direct shields against the Avenger," Jarod said.

"That's what I'm trying," Locarno said. "But there's too many."

Despite their own worsening situation, Julia's thoughts went in another direction. "What about our Marines?" she asked. "What's their situation?"

Meridina was quick to connect to them. A moment later Anders' voice came over the comms. "Anders here."

"What's your status, Major?"

The answer was clear when she heard the burst of pulse fire in the background. "We're holding," was all he said.

Cat looked up from the assembly of the material scanner she and Tra'dur had nearly finished. Below, at the ground level, she could hear the sounds of gunfire. She glanced about on the roof to see the reactions of the others. Lieutenant Pete Lindstrom was already looking her way with a grim expression. "You're hearing it right," he said. "Mass effect firearms and pulse fire. They're attacking us."

"I do not think they would attack us if their fleet was not also attacking," Tra'dur mordantly observed.

"Oh, they have," Lindstrom said. "Already got the confirmation. Hold tight, ladies, and finish your work quickly. Out here we're exposed."

"We're pretty much done," said Cat. She turned to the assembly and activated it. With her omnitool she was able to direct the delicate sensor. The quiet whirring of a motor within sounded. The tip, blinking green, turned until it faced toward the barrage gates in the distance. Cat brought up a screen showing the direct target of the sensor and shifted it toward the intakes on the filtration systems. "Have anything?"

"I am picking up traces," Tra'dur confirmed, looking on a results screen beside the device. "But the sensor must get a stronger signal to accurately resolve it."

"Continuing to shift…"

Their work might have continued in silence if not for the other development. Ensign Reubens called out to Lindstrom, "Sir, from the northeast!"

Lindstrom, not a small man himself, turned in the direction that his broad-shouldered engineering-rate officer called out. He could make out the form of the attack craft as it drew closer. "Take cover!" he shouted to the others. He found a spot behind one of the climate control units for the building and knelt there.

The crimson-tinted craft drew close enough that they could make it out as a Brakiri-built troop craft. A side-mounted particle weapon was its main armament. It's role was to deploy troops from the air, which in this case meant dropping them right on the roof with the security team. Lindstrom and his people opened up with their pulse rifles as the vehicle swooped in. Its hardened armor skin absorbed the shots from their weapons. The powerful pulse cannon of the side mount returned fire, spraying the rooftop with orange bolts that kept everyone in cover. Cat and Tra'dur had to abandon their place by the sensor assembly they'd built to avoid the incoming fire. Cat immediately transferred the sensor output to her omnitool and kept working. "I'm getting data," she said. "There's a chemical trace that doesn't fit our data on the planet or the gates."

"Let me see."

"Whatever you do, stay down!" Lindstrom shouted. He rose just enough to look over the climate unit. The assault craft was stopping just inside the edge of the roof. Armed Brakiri mercenaries started to jump off. Lindstrom raised his rifle and sprayed fire in that direction. He had to stop and go prone when the heavy gun turned his way. More fire from the rest of his team converged on the Brakiri troops. One lucky shot caught a Brakiri in the chest and dropped her. But no one could get anything but snapshots off with the speed in which the side gunner brought his weapon to bear. Thanks to his cover fire the Brakiri soon held a portion of the roof.

"Lindstrom to Anders. We need heavy support on the roof," said Lindstrom.

"We're a little occupied down here, Lieutenant," was the reply. "I can't get anyone up to you yet."

"Get someone soon if you don't want to give the Brakiri control of the roof," Lindstrom replied, frowning. What was going on down there?

The Dilgar of Tira built their cloning centers as semi-public places, where the colonists would come and interact with the personnel responsible for growing the new infants from the provided genetic stock of the colony. The front door led to an open foyer of two storey height where the colonists, pleased or not, would be directed to the doctors and other personnel that would match them to the children that their government mandated them to raise, and to seek medical assistance with the same. Of course, the building followed Dilgar standard public architect styles which made it essentially a heavily reinforced blockhouse within the limits of the materials from which it had been constructed.

Anders, now wearing a standard field power armor suit, was on the second floor of the foyer, watching his Marines pour their fire into the crimson-clad Krogan and Vorcha streaming through the front entrance. These weren't normal foes either; both species were incredibly resilient physiologically, with biological redundancies and healing that approached active regeneration. A number had already made it to the first area of extensive cover, a set of brass models depicting an ideal Dilgar family of two adults and numerous children playing around them.

Anders smiled thinly at that. He'd been hoping attackers would try that. "Everyone ready," he said into his command line. "Standby…"

He waited until the number of enemy troops using the stand and sculpture as cover was plentiful. Any moment they would attempt a charge toward the corridors and entrances that would carry them deep into the structure. It was only as they began to move that Anders spoke again into his comms. "Blow it."

The explosives that his Marines had hidden, at his direction, started to go off. They utterly destroyed the Dilgar sculptures - no loss there, as far as Anders was concerned, ugly things that they were - and the stand that they'd been built upon. In the process they turned the same into shards of metal and debris that further wounded the attacking mercenaries caught in the repeated blasts. By the time the last explosion cleared, they had killed at least a dozen enemy combatants and wounded more.

Furthermore, they had - as planned - removed that big piece of cover. The frontal assault of the mercs would now have to go through the killing zone of his Marines. Anders fully expected them to try, if only to keep him from diverting troops to the other entrances or the roof.

The roof was worrying him. He would have to get troops up there, and soon. But right now, he needed his fire teams here and at the other entrances. Lindstrom and his security team would just have to hold down a bit longer.

Anders took the time to contact the other buildings, starting with Lieutenant Sanger over in the clone warehouse where they'd started this whole thing. While he was physically here, his responsibility included every Alliance shooter in the colony, Marine and security, and he had to make sure they were all holding.

Meanwhile, confirmation came. The mercs were hitting the rear entrance too.

The rear entrance was more of a dock than anything, a place for the Dilgar to deliver heavy equipment to support their repopulation efforts. Now it was being assaulted by the native E5B1 mercs, primarily Human and more Brakiri. They came through the wall by blasting charge and were met by fire from armored Marines.

That alone was bad enough, but at least it was something they were used to.

Lucy Lucero? She was something they weren't used to.

They'd made it just past the bays when Lucy dropped down from the framework above. Her lightsaber flashed to life with a snap-hiss, buzzing loudly in the air as she brought it down on the PPG rifle of a Human merc.. The merc, another woman with the same light brown complexion as Lucy, gave out a cry of surprise at the blade that cleanly removed her hand and half of her arm while slicing her weapon in two. Lucy twirled and nailed her with a kick that sent her flying.

In her blue robes over purple body armor, Lucy was very distinct from the conventional dark color of the Marines supporting her. That brought attention. And weapons fire. Lucy's weapon became a blur, a solid line of blue tracing through the air and reflecting PPG bursts and other fire back into her foes. They fell, wounded and surprised, still firing as trained and only adding to their troubles by doing so. A Brakiri man tried to catch her from behind with a bayonet. She deftly avoided the blade and retaliated with an upward cut that removed his left arm.

With the weight of numbers showing, Lucy gathered her will in. When she let it out, it was in a wave of force emanating in all directions from her. Merc after merc was thrown back, smashing into the walls or the remaining bay doors with a loud clatter and loud groans. Lucy drew in the power and lashed out with it again. Mercs coming up to the bay doors went flying back out of them. Those who didn't were gunned down by the Marines in prepared defensive positions behind her.

Despite their clear advantage here, Lucy didn't feel any triumph. She already sensed the danger. Above her, and elsewhere in the building.

"They're getting inside," she said into the tactical channel, her lightsaber buzzing while intercepting more fire.

"Hold as best as you can. I've got people watching the structural points. We'll hit any team hard if they manage to get there."

"Right." I should be on the roof, protecting Cat, was Lucy's mental response. But she was needed here for the moment. She had to hope that Lindstrom was keeping Cat safe.

The order to attack found Wrex and Drack while they were sitting in the barracks area several buildings down from the cloning facility that was their target. Tral assigned them to a group heading through a side entrance to the structure while the other entrances were hit with full frontal attacks. With a platoon of Krogan and some of the Brakiri and Human mercs as support, they approached the door. Wrex held up a hand and motioned with it. A Human with a speciality omnitool stepped up to the door. "No need for a breaching charge," he said. "I can override."

"Hrm." Wrex didn't like the sound of that, but he did nothing to keep the merc from continuing to work. He wasn't about to let this apparent gift go unquestioned. He'd heard too many good things about the Alliance Marines.

"There, see? Easy-peasy," said the tan-complexioned Human. He hefted a PPG rifle. And went into the door. Others moved to follow. "Stupid Systemers think they're so much smarter than us, I'm going to enjoy shoving my…"

A pulse blast from the far side of the entrance struck the hacker in the head. With his brain flash-fried he died instantly. Wrex called out, "Take cover!" and did the same. He reached for his Claymore shotgun while Drack, moving up to the door, sprayed fire toward the Alliance troops with his M8 Avenger.

Wrex shifted, looking to take a shot toward their assailant, but the angle was no good. He had to wait until he had a better opening to make his move.

Drack took cover beside the interior door as well, barely avoiding the responding pulse fire. He glanced to the mercs remaining outside and frowned. "Get your asses in here," he demanded. "You know the plan. We keep going."

For a moment it wasn't clear if they would respond to Drack's order. Then the Krogan moved, coming through the door while Drack laid covering fire. Wrex helped where he could, getting a shot off that took down one of the Alliance troops firing at them.

"Screw this." Wrex turned away from the door and to the wall. "Stand clear!" As soon as he was sure the others had done so, Wrex focused until dark matter surged around him With the assistance of his biotic power, Wrex rushed forward and slammed into the wall. The material gave way before the power of a Krogan Battlemaster. Wrex stomped into the next room over, a supply room of technical gear, and hit the opposing wall with enough force to go through it as well. He stopped in the middle of a corridor of brown coloring with white floors. "This way," he said to the others.

In orbit over Tira the desperate fight continued. The Aurora twisted and turned, her failing shields enduring the wrath of her counterpart. The Avenger's pulse plasma cannons raked across the Aurora's port side as she maneuvered. From the starboard, several Drazi ships commenced another attack run. Multiple beams of sapphire energy from the Aurora lashed out at them. One faltered, trailing flame and debris from its wounds, leaving the others to pepper the Aurora with ruby light.

On the bridge Julia was watching the tactical display with frustration. The Dilgar were still fully engaged with the Brakiri and the other ISA races in the battle. Rather than go after them, the Drazi were focused on the Aurora. Even with over twenty of their number destroyed or crippled, they kept coming. With their numbers, they were overwhelming the other Alliance ships trying to help.

"Shields are below ten percent, cohesion is failing," Jarod warned. "We're taking significant bleedthrough damage to the hull armor. Major hull breaches have formed on Decks 6, 8, 12, 18, and 25."

"Armor self-repair systems are operating at full capacity," Barnes added.

"You can't get us any more shield power?"

"There's nothing left, dammit," Barnes protested.

"Avenger shields down to thirty percent," Angel said. "Maybe we should take a page from their playbook. Get the other ships to focus entirely on them!"

"Then the Drazi get to pick us off one by one," Julia replied. Looking at the map gave her an idea. "Locarno, full impulse, break away from orbit."

"Aye ma'am."

"The Drazi may turn their attention to the planet," Meridina warned her.

"They want us gone first," Julia said. "But don't worry, I'm not leaving just yet."

The Aurora broke away while red and blue energy played over her azure hull. The Avenger turned to give chase with a number of Drazi ships trailing. As Julia had anticipated (and hoped) the Drazi were more interested in defeating the Aurora than they were in performing their bombardment now.

On the tactical display Julia watched the growing distance with the Avenger. They were still taking fire - the Drazi were numerous enough that they were moving through another section off their force - but were at least taking less of a pounding on most of their arcs. "Get ready to put shields forward," Julia warned. "Mister Locarno, at my mark, a one hundred eighty degree turn, as quickly as you can."

"It won't be on the dime, but I might manage a nickel," Locarno replied confidently.

"Anything less than a penny and I'll have to be disappointed," Julia replied.

"A penny then…"

"Ready… ready…" The ship shuddered again. Their shields were virtually gone. "Mark."

Locarno used every trick in the book. He fired thrusters, he shifted engine priority on the fly. And with his expert hand, the Starship Aurora made a snap turn in space with surprising speed. Suddenly they were facing their attackers head on.

"Full impulse," Julia ordered. "Right at them. All shields forward!"

"Chicken?" Locarno asked, already enacting the order.

"Close," Julia confirmed with a nod. "Break topwise on my order. Tactical, everything you've got, on the Avenger, same mark. Mister Jarod, set the tractor beam to repulsion and hit that Drazi in the middle with it."


At the distance and speed, there were only ten seconds to go. The Avenger's crew apparently saw this as a challenge. Their weapons continued to blaze at the Aurora, battering her forward shields.

At the appointed moment, Julia gave the word. "Mark."

The Aurora's bow weapons and torpedo launchers erupted in fury at the Avenger even as Locarno maneuvered the ship "upward" to avoid a collision. The Avenger's shields held against the barrage with effort.

Then the tractor beam lashed out and struck the Drazi ship. Because of the angles it drove the Drazi "down" into the Avenger. Neither of their foes could react in time to prevent the resulting collision. Due to the energy of the Drazi ship in motion the Avenger's shields failed to hold it back. The Drazi ship went to pieces from the strength of the impact. The same impact ripped a hole in the larger ship's hull. Systems damage knocked out power in the entire area.

Nevertheless the Avenger refused to quit. Wounded and angry, she came about with the remaining Drazi and resumed her attack on the Aurora. "Torpedoes!" Angel cried in warning, noticing the other ship firing a full spread.



Locarno did try. The Aurora maneuvered to evade the incoming weapons fire. Her interceptors fired at the trailing sparks of blue-white light.

But it wasn't enough. The ship shuddered violently, badly enough that Julia felt like her harness might break.

Even before Jarod reported the result, she could already guess it. "We just lost a secondary shield generator and one of the tertiary ones." He looked back at her with a grimace. "Our shields are gone."

In the rear docks of the Dilgar cloning facility, Lucy's lightsaber continued to move in a sapphire blur. Plasma and particle blasts from the mercenaries were tapering off. The mercs were learning that volume of fire was just increasing the amount of fire Lucy deflected back at them. Their tactics now seemed to be firing from cover, as if to wear her down.

More than wear her down. Buy time.

And then Lucy sensed it. She felt the twistiness in space that always came when a biotic field was being generated nearby. It had a feel like nothing a life force wielder ever had. She fell back toward the other Marines. "Anders, they're in the building!"

"Yeah. Turns out they've got a Krogan Battlemaster. He brought a unit in the side door and knocked down a pair of walls to get around Charlie Squad's defensive position." Major Anders' reply was firm and to the point. "They're slacking up here, but not enough that I can detach everyone. And Lindstrom needs help on the roof."

"They're doing the same back here. Just enough to make sure we can't leave." Lucy fell back into cover and dropped to a knee. Her lightsaber disengaged with another snap-hiss of electronic noise. From her position she was able to make eye contact with Sergeant Coleman, the senior Marine at the spot. "Coleman, can you hold?"

"I think so!" he shouted back. He checked the charge clip on his pulse rifle. "We've got a heavy armor team if it gets hairy! You should go help Charlie Team stop that third group!"

Lucy almost agreed. But she took the moment to focus. She let the energy within her guide her thoughts. What was the best way to do this?

Immediately she knew where she needed to be. "I'll get to them when I can, but we've got another problem. Hold here while I handle it!"

Coleman didn't question her, even if he didn't particularly like the feeling that she was overriding his judgement. He'd heard enough to trust Lucy's instincts. "Good luck!" was all he said.

Lucy nodded in reply and fell back from the dock area.

Wrex's group managed to get halfway through the building before the Alliance troops finally caught up with them. A firing team of armored Alliance Marines met them at a waiting area filled with seating for civilians and a desk. A Marine popped up from the latter and fired off a quick shot. Wrex's biotic field took the hit without failing, buying him time to duck back into a corridor. More pulse fire came. "Looks like they've got something here to defend."

"One of the structural points. And the cloning tank rooms," said one of the Human mercs behind them.

"Right." Wrex looked toward Drack. "Cover me."

The older Krogan nodded and hefted his assault rifle into a firing ready position.

Wrex went out first, biotic field raised and shotgun at the ready. The moment the Alliance Marine popped into view his Claymore roared. The most powerful shotgun in the Multiverse proved its worth yet again. Armor yielded to its power and blood shot from the resulting holes. The Marine toppled back behind the desk.

Others rose to open fire on him and were met by a hail of fire from Drack. Drack moved into the room as well, his assault rifle blazing. The suppressive fire sent the Marines down for a few critical seconds, long enough for Wrex to close the distance on the desk. With a loud roar and a burst of both muscle and biotic power, Wrex knocked the desk clean off of its foundation and threw it backward. The soldiers behind the desk were already scrambling backward. "Fall back!" one shouted, guiding the other toward a nearby door. Fire from behind Wrex converged on them. One of the Marines went down to a leg wound. His buddy squeezed a shot off in the direction of the mercs shooting at him. He glanced toward Wrex, who remained with his biotic field up, doing nothing. The Marines got their wounded man out before more fire converged.

"So, we're here," Wrex said. "This is one of the points for the explosives, right?"

"Main support pillar, near the clone tanks," Drack confirmed.

"Then you know what to do," Wrex said, looking toward a Brakiri. "Get the charges set. We hold here."

The dreadful silence of isolation in Zhengli’s cell was abruptly broken by the sound of a PPG rifle cycling outside and shouting, some of it confused and incoherent. There was another period of silence, and then sobbing and a shuffle of a body. Footfalls reached the door, and a moment later the cell opened.

Standing in front of Zhengli was Elia Saumarez, a trace of blood dripping from her nose and a sheet-white expression on her face. She had one PPG rifle in her hands and one slung over her shoulder, and without even speaking she thrust the one in her hands to Zhengli.

“Thank you, Miss Saumarez. Link?” She needed information, trying to retake control of her ship, as she checked the rifle and held it at a low ready, adrenaline surging. “Let us get our destroyer back.”

“Of course, Captain,” she added a commlink a moment later, trembling a bit, but locking and checking her second PPG. On the ground in front of them one of the security personnel was shaking in place like he was having a seizure, crying and staring at the wall. Elia stiffly avoided looking at him.

“Come on.” She tapped the link; “All hands, this is Captain Varma! I am retaking command of this ship! This mutiny must end! Lay down your arms and I shall call for clemency!” She glanced to the telepath. “Let us be going, they may trace that transmission. We need to take the bridge, and quickly.”

“Captain, I’m not sure what’s going on there, but this started,” she stuttered and then spoke clearly, following at her side past the other dead bodies, “when Lieutenant Reichert shot Major Foster on the bridge. I’m not sure anyone is actually in charge there. Afterwards, Commander Farallon had her engineering crew start shooting at some of Foster’s people who came to arrest her, and that’s when she told me I was the only one in place to break you out. Foster sent Lieutenant Goodman to the Minbari cruiser and he’s still trapped over there.”

“Then we need the bridge or the main computer core, Foster should not have been able to lock me out of the systems yet. Most of the crew will be uncertain, and momentum in this sort of morale environment counts for a great deal.” Zhengli had exploded into motion, and showed not a hint of hesitation as she moved forward. Saumarez could feel the swirl of emotion within her, but not a hint showed in her posture.

“Right, Captain! Main computer core is closer. If we’re lucky we’ll….” She brought her gun up. “Someone coming,” she hissed softly.

Zhengli gave a single sharp nod, and slipped into cover. This is reminding me far too much of a Brown Sector sweep. Saumarez, nod if they have hostile intent.

Mercifully, she didn’t nod. A woman rounded the corner--it was the security guard from two days before. Corporal Watters. She jerked up to a halt, four other guards at her back. “Captain, ma’am! We’re for you!”

“To Computer Central then, and quickly! Let us take our ship back, Huáscarenos!”

“Come on, Huáscarenos! We’ll do it together!” It was a stunning sentiment to hear from the lips of a Psi Corps officer, and she jogged out to take the lead, screening the others with all of her senses, as no military telepath was supposed to do. But for all of them, there was no turning back.

“You heard the woman, let’s get moving!” Zhengli accepted it, as her mind calmed and focused. Victory or death, now, and I have to see all of mine through it.

On the roof Cat and Tra'dur were busy examining the sensor's data while Lindstrom and his security team fought the Brakiri mercs. Every few moments the big gun on the troop gunship would rake across the roof, forcing them to duck even further as bits and pieces of metal were shaved away by near hits. "Can't we do something about that?" Cat shouted.

"We don't have the hardware," Lindstrom replied. "We need the Marines up here, and they can't come right now!"

"Then what we are supposed to do?" asked Cat. "They're not stopping."

Lindstrom almost barked that he didn't need to hear that, but he didn't. He spotted one of the Brakiri mercs about to overrun Reubens' position and opened fire on the merc. The Brakiri ducked back into cover. Lindstrom nearly lost his head when the mercs' transport gunship raked its anti-infantry support weapon right over his cover. "Major Anders, we're not going to hold out much longer," he warned.

"You don't have a choice, Lieutenant. I've already got an enemy team inside our defense perimeter and the other sides pressed. I don't have reinforcements for you. If you have to, retreat from the roof."

Lindstrom looked to the roof entrance door. It was in the open, at an angle where the Brakiri ship could easily mow them down. "I don't think that's an option…"

The door flew open. Lindstrom watched Lucy Lucero storm through it, blue robe trailing, her weapon shining in the air. "Get down!" he shouted. "You're…"

It was too late. The dropship gunner was opening fire.

Lucy seemed to see it coming. Her weapon was a blur. The energy fire that could have killed Lindstrom or any of his people was knocked away upon impact with the blue blade. The other Brakiri mercs went for cover as their own ship's weapon fire was now threatening them.

Lucy's hand came up in a motion. There was a distant thump, a cry of surprise, and the fire suddenly stopped. Lindstrom glanced around the corner just long enough to see the gun was unmanned. "We're clear!" he shouted. "Secure the roof!"

The security team left cover only under the protection of each other. The mercs, deprived of their fire support, cut off from their transport a moment later when Lucy rushed into it, could only fire shots where possible at foes who were quickly flanking them. One by one they went down to stun blasts. Lindstrom finished off the last and immediately turned to his charges. "Are you okay?" he asked the geeks.

"We're okay," Caterina confirmed. Tra’dur had simply continued to work with a kind of single-minded sangfroid.

On the gunship, Lucy was standing behind the pilot, lightsaber up. "You're flying for us now, got it?" she asked. "And this way, you may actually avoid charges for abetting a genocide. That sounds good, doesn't it?"

The pilot dared do nothing but nod.

"I thought so." Lucy smiled sweetly at him before glancing back to Lindstrom and the others. "We have a ride, if you have a plan."

Cat and Tra'dur exchanged glances before getting right back to work.

In his post at the front entrance, Anders listened to Sergeant Coleman and sighed. He'd fully intended for Lucero to go after the Krogan Battlemaster and the group that got inside his building. But she was on the roof instead, and he was short of options.

"Perez, Janyam, Patel, you're with me," he said. "We've got to stop that team that got inside."

His choices all looked his way. Like Anders, Sergeant Janyam was in normal Marine infantry armor. The Gersallian man had a tanned complexion with dark eyes and hair. A family emblem of sorts was on the necklace with his physical dogtags. Corporals Perez and Patel, however, were in heavy infantry armor. Taking them from the front was a gamble, but with a Krogan Battlemaster in the building, Anders needed the firepower. There were plenty of reports in the Corps about the Krogan Battlemasters. Biotic powerhouses that were some of the most dangerous individuals of the M4P2 universe.

"We're with you, Major," Sergeant Janyam said.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-15 09:56am

Wrex supervised the charge being set with an increasing feeling that things were going bad. It wasn't just the flow of the fighting. The attacks at the front and rear were completely stopped. The force hitting the roof screamed something about a Human woman with an energy blade and stopped transmitting - presumably the same woman that the rear attack group had claimed was knocking them around earlier. The odds were good that the other guys were on the way.

No. It was something more than that. This job was about to go sour.

Then he heard the shattering of glass.

Wrex scowled. "Mind staying with him?" he asked Drack.

Drack nodded and hefted his rifle. Wrex returned his Vindicator to the mounting port on the back of his armor and stomped toward the sound. It was coming again, and again, followed by wet, meaty thumps.

He turned the corner of the gray halls into a room filled with monitors. Some were now going blank. But Wrex wasn't looking at the monitors.

He was looking at the little bodies now littering the floor. The smashed ruins of a generation being grown in this building. Even now a pair of Brakiri were stomping on the dying little Dilgar. At another tank a Krogan in Blood Pack armor was laughing in the moment before he smashed his armored head into another tank. Fluid drained out through the crack, pulling the little form inside with it. He immediately smashed the infant with his boot.

Something in his expression gained the attention of the Brakiri merc officer who followed his unit in. The dark-eyed Brakiri smiled at him. "Don't mind us," he said. "We're just doing a little follow-up work. The last team to hold the building only got around to removing half of the Dilgar clones. We're taking care of the rest."

"Then what's the point of the bomb?" Wrex asked.

"Oh, the bomb will finish them off." A savage gleam appeared in the Brakiri's eye. "But just in case it doesn't go off, removing a few more Dilgar from existence will make this worth something."

Wrex growled at that. "You're enjoying this," he accused the man.

At that the Brakiri laughed. "Of course I am. The Dilgar are animals. The entire species is a cosmic mistake, a nightmare that we're putting an end to. Did you know they did the same thing to our children. They did worse. Because that's what the Dilgar are. Vicious, bloodthirsty killers, every one of them." Hearing the growl in Wrex's throat, the Brakiri rolled his eyes. "Oh please, don't give me a moral lecture. You knew it was coming to this, mercenary. Did you think that bomb wouldn't blow these tanks apart? You're just as responsible for this as we are. That's what we're paying you for, after all. To help us rid the galaxy of the Dilgar once and for all. Just stick it out like a good mercenary and you'll get your money, then you can go back to that ruin of a planet you Krogan come from and continue to die out."

The words struck home. Wrex had, indeed, been ignoring what this mission meant. He'd done what he always did, focusing on the mission at hand. What the client did with his work was the client's business, so long as he got paid. That's what it took to survive now. Nothing changed that. It was galling to think that, for all of the reservations he'd stated to Drack, he'd still ultimately fallen in line like a good little merc. He'd become just another Krogan mercenary fighting for a chance to fight.

His red eyes wandered over to another shattered tank. A little Dilgar baby, this one fully grown and ready to be decanted, was ripped from the tank by an over-eager merc. For a brief moment, just a brief one, Wrex thought he could hear a cry come from the infant. If there was one, it was drowned out when another merc buried a fireax into the infant's head. A spray of dark blood came out through the thin baby fur.

Wrex closed his eyes to escape the image. But the image didn't go away. Instead his mind betrayed him. It twisted the image lingering there. The slaughter remained the same. The baby let out a cry before the ax came down and silenced the little life forever.

But now the baby wasn't a Dilgar. It was a Krogan infant that the mercs were slaughtering. All around him were the broken, ruined bodies of little Krogan babies, to join a thousand years worth of Krogan infants that the genophage had slaughtered in their mothers' eggs.

That forced Wrex to open his eyes. He looked over the room again.

"Now return to your post, Urdnot," the Brakiri officer demanded. "Leave us to our work, since you clearly have no stomach for it."

For a single, dangerous moment, Wrex simply looked at the Brakiri while thoughts filled his head.

"I gave you an order, Krogan." Now the Brakiri was frowning. And the other mercs were starting to notice. "What are you still doing here? Have you suddenly gone mute?"

The scowl disappeared from Wrex's face. "Ah, what the hell," he muttered, sounding defeated.

The Brakiri smiled.

The smile was still on his face when Wrex pulled his shotgun out from the small of his back. Indeed, it was only beginning to fade from confusion in the moment before Wrex's finger found the trigger.

The Brakiri's head exploded.

For a single stunned moment the other mercs didn't know what to do. Wrex used that moment to bring the Claymore over and fire it at the nearest merc. The torso of the Brakiri merc was nearly blown completely out by the blast. He fired again, killing the merc's buddy as he started to move, before he took cover behind a shattered tank. A moment later particle weapon fire from the various mercs converted on his location.

More than that, a loud roar filled the room. The Blood Pack Krogan didn't know what was going on, but had apparently decided Wrex was his enemy anyway. He charged toward Wrex's cover. Wrex figured what was about to happen. He'd already swapped to his Vindicator rifle and rolled back out of cover. A biotic field absorbed the incoming fire in the critical moment he needed to squeeze the trigger. With a loud series of shots Wrex hit one merc in the head and another in the gut. With only two mercs left in the tank chamber besides the Blood Pack Krogan, the odds had improved. They were still bad, but they'd improved.

Wrex had only one option to avoid incoming fire. He turned to the raging Blood Pack Krogan and charged him. The Krogan met his charge and the two went flying into the wall with enough force to smash an indention into it. Releasing his Vindicator rifle and letting it hit the ground, Wrex grabbed the Krogan and turned him toward his allies. This left him open to a vicious punch from his opponent. It was a good punch, too, but Wrex knew how to take them. He let go of the Krogan and threw his own. But his punch was backed by a burst of biotic power. The Blood Pack Krogan went flying back into another of the shattered tanks. He might not have fallen if not for losing his footing in the blood of the same Dilgar infants he had helped to slaughter. The Blood Pack Krogan did finally fall backward into the clone tank. Without time to pick up his rifle, Wrex brought his shotgun back out and shot the Krogan in the face.

Or rather, tried to. His shot did manage to rip chunks of flesh from the Blood Pack Krogan's head, but it was off given the particle blast that hit his arm and threw his aim. Wrex grunted and pulled back toward the wall, trying to get a measure of cover. It took a lot of effort to force his biotic field back to strength. By the time he finished and got the shotgun up to face the approaching mercs, they were already shooting at him. Orange energy pulses battered his biotic field back down.

The Claymore in his hands roared. The shot blew the guts out of one of the two mercs. Wrex swung the Claymore over slightly to shoot the other one.

But nothing happened.

Steam rose from the Claymore. It was overheated at the moment. It wouldn't fire again until the internal systems marked that it was safe to do so. That was likely seconds away.

More than enough time for the merc's next shot to get through the biotic field, and likely find Wrex's head.

Gunfire rang out. Another shotgun. The merc's arm was nearly stripped to the bone by the blast. His weapon dropped to the ground and he did a moment later.

Wrex looked over to the door. Drack stepped in with his shotgun raised. He swept the room once before lowering the weapon and walking over to Wrex. "Nice job, whelp," he said while Wrex stood up. "I was wondering when you'd make a move."

Wrex barked a laugh at the older Krogan. "So you're okay with this? I just wrecked our contract, and both sides will be after us now."

"Been there. Done that."

"Heh. Yeah." Wrex looked to the door. "We'd better stop the bomb."

"Already did," Drack answered. "The moment I heard the first shot, I put the bomb tech down."


"Probably wishes he was."

Wrex nodded in approval. His eyes went over to the clone tanks. The broken ones, and the intact ones. "This could be us," he said. "Can't you see it? We could use something like this to get around the genophage. And you know the damned Turians and Salarians would try something like this if we did."

"The Salarians would just bomb it from orbit and claim it was a rogue asteroid," Drack said.

"Yeah." Wrex stepped toward the door. "So, let's think…"

A loud roar filled the air. Both turned in time to get bowled over by the Blood Pack Krogan Wrex had shot. Even with half of his face a bloody mess, the Krogan was alive. Alive… and in the grips of a blood rage. Drack brought his shotgun back over and took a shot that blew chunks of flesh from the Krogan's arm. Heedless to the damage, the Krogan punched the old veteran hard enough to stagger him, then used his good arm to pull the shotgun away.

Wrex slammed into the Krogan from behind. The Krogan roared and spun. It wasn't thinking tactically, but its move nevertheless worked to send Wrex on and into another broken clone tank. The Krogan's eyes darted between them, as if deciding on who to kill first.

A massive blue pulse slammed into the chest of the Blood Pack Krogan. Even with his mass, the Krogan went flying and hit the blood-slicked ground. He roared and tried to get up again, but took another shot, and another, until the blue pulses left him a steaming pile of cooked flesh on the floor.

The two Krogan mercs looked toward their rescuer. They both recognized the Alliance Marine armor for what what it was.

Major Anders looked around the room. It wasn't the dead Dilgar children that got his attention - that was a sight he'd already endured - but the dead mercs? That was interesting. "So..." He stepped in further, allowing two Marines in heavy armor to squeeze through the door. They raised their arms to point their weapons at Wrex and Drack.

The two Krogan looked at each other. Both knew that the Alliance troops had them dead to rights.

"So," Anders continued. "Just what the hell happened here?"

In orbit the Drazi Sunhawks continued to go after the Aurora. Its sapphire beams sliced into them. One blew apart. The others peppered the unshielded armor hull of the Aurora with ruby energy, leaving scorch marks and debris.

The Avenger, however, was not joining them. Its weapons fire seemed to slack off here, with only secondary weapons firing in the vicinity of the Aurora's weapons mounts.

Given all the damage, the Aurora crew was working hard to keep their ship in the fight. One such damage control team was scrambling toward a patch of unrepaired damage on Deck 20 when they saw the lights. All four turned and spotted the six dark-clad humanoid figures that appeared from a Darglan transporter effect. The six figures raised pulse rifles. The lead on the team, Petty Officer Samaro Tenga, managed to get to her omnitool. "Boarders!" she shouted into the ship comm system, seconds before a pulse blast struck her in the chest.

The ship shook again below Julia. Not as severely as she imagined would happen, however. The Avenger seemed to be holding back now, using lighter weapons and going after the Aurora's weapons in turn. "We just lost one of the plasma emitters," Angel said.

Beside her Meridina relayed the information. "Boarding party spotted on Deck 20… another on Deck 10…. two more on Deck 20."

"They're after Hawk and his girlfriend," Julia answered. She tapped the comm button on her chair arm. "Bridge to Richmond."

"I already have teams en route, Captain," answered Richmond. "We'll stop them."

"I hope so." Julia returned her attention to the fight. The ship took another hit, this time from the Drazi. They smelled blood, and unlike the Avenger, they were willing to make the kill. "I know shields are out, but do whatever you can to keep the Drazi from hitting us somewhere critical."

"Doing what I can," Jarod answered.

"Same here."

"Still returning fire," noted Angel. "I got a few hits on them with their shields down, and it looks like their shields are already dropping below fifteen percent."

"That's better than zero, though. Do what you can to even the odds."

"Perhaps we should try the same?" Meridina suggested.

"Right." Julia activated the tactical comm. "Attention all ships. We're being boarded. I say again, the Aurora is being boarded. We have lost shields and the Avenger and Drazi have us pinned in. Whatever you can do to help, it'd be appreciated."

“Warmaster!” The Combat Captain at the sensor post turned toward the centre of the bridge, eyes sharp. “The pirate warship has knocked out the Aurora’s shields. We’re detecting multiple beam-in signatures, and they are requesting assistance.”

Shai’jhur looked at the floating wreckage of Brakiri ships to her sides, the smashed Hyach vessel they had out-shot ahead. It was like old times, but what came next wouldn’t be. “We can afford the heavy Pentacon. Form three-dimensional pentacon! Stand by for precision warp.”

Only the Dilgar, so new to the technology, would calmly think of demanding precision tactical use from warp drives they had purchased from Ferengi scrap dealers, that had been built by the Klingons seventy years before.

Kaveri was working at her console, trying to think ahead. Daring, yes, but Avenger will be badly distracted, and… they never used a three-dee pentacon before.

Shai’jhur glanced to her with a wry smile of two long-connected souls that sometimes had a virtually psychic intuition. “It was an old tactical plan of Warmaster Jha’dur’s. We implemented it. Stand by warp drive!”

“Warp drive synchronized throughout the pentacon, Warmaster! Route is clear of enemy shipping!”


The five ships went to warp for just a fraction of a second, lancing across the battlefield and reemerging before the Avenger as she stood off, transferring boarding parties to the Aurora. That meant the pirate’s crew was distracted, and that was just the moment that Shai’jhur could have hoped for.

“All ships, fire forward batteries!” The massed concentration of seven Hyach spinal lasers combined with the standard pulsars and bolters of the five ships as their three-dimensional pentacon covered the Avenger from all directions. Her shields flared briefly, withstanding the enormous power directed against them. But the Hyach spinal lasers on the three core ships cycled quickly, and the Avenger had no such luck with the next salvo. Supported by a flurry of ion bursts, bolters and pulsars from the five Dilgar ships, the Darglan shield bubble, one of the most advanced technology protective systems in the galaxy, failed. The Dilgar fire was unerring, they had the same X-RAY SPECIAL targeting sensors as the Huáscar on the three big ships, and not a single shot missed. Fire was ripping across the regenerative armour of the Avenger now, with the spinal lasers in particular carrying sufficient power to really make themselves felt, gouging deep through plate.

Explosions rippled across the hull as the Avenger, not a regular military ship and with her senior officers captive aboard the Aurora, thrashed like a confused tiger caught in a trap as the flash of vapor indicated Shai’jhur’s ships had vented air to space. Instead of raising shields immediately the crew finished their beam-ins of boarding parties rather than risk the death of their comrades, and in the meantime, Shai’jhur’s pentacon continued to hammer them. Finally they brought their shields up, the hull wreathed with plasma and huge gouges and lines raked across her armour. Coming about to evade the fire, the formation caught her in every direction, and for a moment, drove the merciless battlecruiser back.

It was only a moment, but Shai’jhur took it for all it was worth, and pressed home her attack. She had to keep them off the Aurora long enough for her crew to get a handle on the boarding parties, or else it would be all for naught.

“They will break out of the pentacon fire-cone momentarially, Warmaster. We are about to be very hard pressed indeed.” Kaveri warned, watching the power curves of the enemy ship shift.

“Stand by to reverse formation by pivoting about current heading. We’ll snap around and return them to it at least the first time. Implement the orders, Battlemaster.” Shai’jhur leaned forward into her straps, and for a moment, the ghosts of ten thousand ships surrounded her pentacon. She would not fail them.

“Understood, Warmaster.” The human woman’s voice started to roll out in accented Dilgar, preparing the squadron to execute the elaborate manouvre. “Ready.”

She watched the Avenger snap violently to starboard and accelerate. “Execute!”

Kaveri’s orders snapped out, and the complex three-dimensional formation turned about inside itself, a complex ballet as left became right and thrusters burned, hard, to kill their velocity and get them moving on the opposite vector. This sort of formation could have given the Nova squadrons a difficult time. It seems perfect to focus fire on a foe. Sometimes, she couldn’t help thinking of the past, of what had led them this far - and the mirror of humanity the Dilgar seemed to be, more often than not.

The commanders needed no further information. These were Rohricans, survivors of 30 years of waiting and Shai’jhur’s desperate secret operations. They had initiative that would have gotten them shot in the old Dilgar Navy, and it showed. As the evolution of the formation was completed, they immediately resumed firing upon the Avenger, once again catching her into the kill-box of the three-dimensional pentacon. Shai’jhur leaned forward, chin against her gloved hands, as the maximal concentration of fire from five ships again splashed over the great Darglan battlecruiser. “Kaveri?”

“Warmaster?” Kaveri glanced over to Shai’jhur, incongruous in her uniform to the other Dilgar, but now being respected--proved in battle.

“They wouldn’t be fighting, these others, if the Avenger wasn’t here. Third Balos works in both ways for this battle. Keep us on the Avenger! Just a little bit more time...
”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 » 2018-01-16 09:22am

The Aurora shuddered beneath the impacts of enemy fire. On the bridge of the beleaguered ship, Jarod and Barnes cooperated from their stations to deal with the problems the attack was causing their beleaguered vessel.

"Damage report," Julia asked, desiring the update.

"Shields are still down and we've taken a hit to the port impulsor. From what I can tell, they're targeting our shield generators and engines." Jarod checked another screen.

"Hawk may have downloaded information from our systems during his prior incarceration in the brig," Meridina proposed. "The Avenger's fire is remarkably accurate."

"But no longer against us alone." Julia was observing closely while Shai'jhur's dreadnought and other heavy ships battered away at the Darglan-built battlecruiser. More and more fire from Hawk's ship was going toward them, not the Aurora, while the Dilgar fire was battering the Avenger's armored hull down. The other ship was resilient, but the lack of proper training and experience in the other crew was showing. Their maneuvering reflected what must have been a fear that going too far would leave their boarding parties isolated.

"Anything yet on those boarding parties?" Julia asked.

"Commander Richmond is already deploying security teams toward the brig," Meridina said. "Would you like me to go assist?"

The temptation was there. Meridina's skill set would make her invaluable to repelling the enemy. But she was also the First Officer, and had a critical role to play on the bridge given their combat situation. Ultimately Julia shook her head in the negative. "No. I need you here, Meridina. It won't do any good beating off the boarding parties if we lose the ship."

"Of course," Meridina said. A part of her felt it inappropriate to be here, to be in a chair relaying orders when her skills could be put to more active use. But she was no longer a Knight of Swenya, by her own decision, and by the same she had chosen to be Julia's First Officer. This was a consequence of those choices, and so she pushed those thoughts away.

I must trust Commander Richmond to do what she can, Meridina reminded herself, and she whispered a short wish, or prayer depending on one's point of view, for her former subordinate's success.

The ship's security teams were deploying, and Commander Richmond deployed with them. She was in action uniform and had a pulse rifle in her arms with the rest of Team A, now moving laterally across the ship on Deck 20. "Teams B and C, approach from Section H. D and F are coming from the aft," she said into the security teams' comms.

"Yes sir," was the answer.

The first indication of contact with the boarders was when they stumbled upon the prone figures of a damage control team. One of her people leaned over and scanned them with an omnitool. "They're still alive," the Asian woman said. "They were shot with a stun setting of some sort."

"That's awfully kind of our opponents," noted Richmond drolly. They'd behaved similarly a year before as well. "Mark them for a medical team. We're proceeding."

They continued toward the brig. One azure corridor after another passed by the team.

They nearly stumbled into the first strike team. The black clad humanoid figures came around a corridor just ahead of them. Their technique was sloppy to Richmond's eye; just moving in a mass, but they had at least been monitoring their sensors and knew her people were coming. They opened fire the same moment Richmond's people did.

The teams were nearly matched, seven on six with Richmond being the extra shooter on her side, but the exchange of fire proved even better for her. Blue pulses filled the space between the two teams. The first hits on either side were absorbed by personal forcefields, but only the first. Richmond's target went down. A cry beside her told her she'd lost one of hers.

The difference here was tactics. Richmond's people dropped to a knee, presenting a smaller target and stabilizing their aim. The other side didn't. Her people practiced concentration of fire, the others didn't. In the exchange that followed she lost one more member of her team, but they lost all but two. The last two finally ducked back into the corridor they'd emerged from. Richmond gestured and one of her people pulled a stun grenade. The object was the size of an orange and shaped like a control handle. The throw was practiced and precise. It hit the opposite wall of the corridor entrance and bounced further in. A bright flash of energy temporarily filled the air. Richmond glanced at her sensors and confirmed her targets were down.

She had a choice. Secure the boarders, or head on to the brig. Given the location of her people right now and the boarders, only the latter would let her arrive before they could take the brig. So she made that choice. "Team G, re-deploy to Section G Deck 20, marker is down. Secure prisoners."

"Yes sir," was the response.

She and her team continued on.

On the rooftop of the Dilgar cloning center on Tira, Tra'dur and Cat were finishing their examination of the explosives on the barrage gates. “It’s an Octaazacubane compound meta-stabilized by secondary compounding with a biogel, Cat,” she looked up, triumph flashing on her face before she fell back to a frown.

Caterina nodded at the result. Now that they weren't being shot at, she and Tra'dur were able to focus on the task at hand. "Octaazacubane. Hrm. I suppose we could synthesize a neutralizing compound. But I'm not sure my omnitool can replicate something like that."

"Besides, we'd have to hit every gate," said Lindstrom. Nearby Lucy was still on the Brakiri transport, making sure the pilot obeyed instructions. "If our new friend's correct, we don't have time for that. Any other options?"

"An electrical current would probably do it, if we could introduce one to the bombs."

“Correct, it could be destabilized by electrical current. That would deflag the explosive in a sub-order detonation. If we could control the electrical current supply we could control the detonation order and keep it from being strong enough to damage the gates,” Tra’dur offered, scribbling some set of calculations onto a small notepad and handing it to Cat. “Now, how to introduce a current…”

Caterina looked over the calculations and checked the scan results again. "The gate," she said. "The gates and barrage, I mean. They're made of metal. But the water's brackish. Do the records show if they use a sacrificial anode to protect against corrosion?"

Tra’dur blinked. “Oh right. We have such little water on Rohric…” She had an armoured box of a little computer that could access the Tiran network, and leaned into the cover of the massive concrete of the building, delicately tapping keys across finger-pads and the click of retracted demi-claws. “Yes, the barrage motor-generator rooms also have the galvanic rig in them.”

Cat grinned at that. "Perfect! If we can channel the necessary current into the wiring, we'll disable the bombs!"

“Galvanic lines are ‘dumb’ without a control circuit. We’d need to physically hook a pulse-modulator into the circuit or else hack and reprogram something already in the motor-generator room that’s linked to their power supply.”

"So we need to get over there," Lindstrom remarked.

"Well, we have one of their vehicles," Cat said. "We could fly there. They may not even realize it's us until we're already landing."

“That would still be a hot assault. The control centre is the perfect place to defend the charges from,” Tra’dur said quietly, fingering a bandolier of grenades she had somehow picked up during the day. Unlike Cat, she was perfectly comfortable with weapons.

Lindstrom activated the comm line. "Anders, we think we have a plan to eliminate the threat to the gates. But we'll need enough firepower to take out whoever is watching the place."

"I don't have any Marines to spare," Anders said. "But I might have something for you. I'll send them up."

"I wonder what he means by that?" Cat wondered aloud.

She got her answer a few minutes later when the roof door opened again… and two big, bloodied Krogan in battle armor stomped onto the roof. "Uh… hi," Cat squeaked.

Lucy looked over from where she was monitoring their captive pilot. "So you're the biotic I sensed rampaging around earlier."

One of the two, a red-eyed Krogan, eyed the lightsaber in her hand. "And you're that Human the mercs were screaming about." He chuckled. "Name's Urdnot Wrex."

"Nakmor Drack," said the other Krogan.

"And you were working for the Brakiri," Lucy said.

Lindstrom looked somewhat bewildered at that, but said nothing.

"Key word there. 'Were'. So." Wrex flexed his arms. "Major Anders said something about a hot landing."

"Those are always fun," Drack added

"We're hitting the control center for the barrage," Lindstrom said. "So our science officers can execute a plan to disable the bombs on the gates."

"Ah. Good plan." Wrex cracked his knuckles. "I'm not the best swimmer, so I'm in."

"Prosthetics and water don't mix. So let's get this done," said Drack.

Tra’dur, saying nothing of the abrupt change of heart, shoved her hands into her tactical webbing and glanced quietly from Lindstrom to Cat. Her anxiety over placing trust for the city in the hands of defectors was reflected only in the way her small claws silently flexed. But there was no other way.

On the bridge of the Shenzhou, Li watched the Aurora endure another barrage from the attacking Drazi. "They're not working together very well," she observed.

"Evidently not, Captain," Commander Otiros said from his seat beside her. "The Drazi are going for the kill regardless of their allies' efforts."

"We can't let them." Li frowned at the thought of losing the Aurora. The officers of the other ship had saved her from the hell of prison and given her an opportunity to live the life her dear mothers would have been proud to see her live. She would not let them be lost, not to these genocidal maniacs. "Helm, interpose us between the Drazi and the port side of the Aurora."

At the helm, Lieutenant Tabitha Crosswell responded immediately. "Aye, Captain," she said, her English that of the New Lancaster colonies descended from the northern English counties. "Adjusting position."

"Full power to shields, every itam you can manage."

Otiros' order was echoed by the other Dorei on the bridge, Operations officer Lieutenant Commander Turam Ipigos. The blue-skinned, teal-spotted Dorei woman moved her slender fingers over the controls. "Shields are now at sixty percent."

"I'm locking on the next group, Captain," said Lieutenant Enrique Medrano. The tall Cebuano was quick to anticipate her by adding, "Firing."

Sapphire bolts erupted from the bow pulse plasma cannons of the Shenzhou. They were not as powerful as their counterparts on the Aurora and Avenger, but against the unshielded Drazi they proved nearly as lethal. One Sunhawk spun away, leaking atmosphere and flame. The second hit by Medrano's fire blew apart another. Torpedoes blew the wing off of a third.

The Drazi attack didn't relent. With the Shenzhou in the way, firing her phasers and plasma cannons rapidly to cover the Aurora, the Drazi commanders started to go around her. This proved fruitless as the rest of the ad hoc Alliance squadron met them as well. The Koenig, Eagle, and Heerman cooperated in pursuing the Drazi maneuvering around them. The Dorei and Alakin ships moved up above and behind the Shenzhou to help take fire and block off the Drazi approach vectors. The Tu'pam zipped around between them, pouring plasma fire where she could.

Challenged, the Drazi pressed their attack in greater numbers. Wave after wave of Drazi Sunhawks flew in, their weapons blazing with ruby light that constantly met the shields of the Shenzhou and the other ships. The Alakin warbird Yreep lost shields first. The Drazi fire striking the bare brown and yellow hull of the winged starship left wounds spewing flame and atmospheric gas in the moments before emergency forcefields or bulkheads could contain the hull breaches.

"Shields down to forty percent," Ipigos warned. "We're taking so much fire the shield generators are being overwhelmed. We're already taking bleedthrough damage. Armor self-repair systems fully engaged."

Li nodded and gripped the arms of her chair, as if to provide additional support combined with her harness. Otiros gave her a concerned look. "Captain, we may need to resume maneuvering soon."

"We have to hold position with the Aurora as long as possible," she replied. "Otherwise the Drazi may destroy them." Even as she gave the command, the ship shuddered again, with an entire squadron of Sunhawks unloading their strongest fire into the Shenzhou's shields.

"Shields down to thirty percent."

I will buy you as much time as I can, Julia, Li thought. That is all I can do.

Julia did not miss Li's efforts, and those of the other commanders. "Can we get shields back?"

"Too many generators are offline from battle damage," Barnes answered. "We've got repair crews doing what they can, but it's going to take a while."

The ship shook again. "They just took out a plasma emitter, starboard side," warned Angel.

The Avenger's fire on them was nevertheless light. Most of its fury was being directed at the Dilgar pentacon that had come to the Aurora's assistance. Julia watched the holo-viewscreen as plasma cannon fire from the big Darglan-built ship savaged one of the Tikrit-class ships in the Dilgar formation. "Keep fire up, as best as you can," she told Angel.

"It would help if we could get the bow cannons back on target."

"Sorry, but with the impulsor damage, we can't outmaneuver them," Locarno said.

"Do what you can, Commander," Julia said. She turned her head to Meridina. "Status of the boarding parties?"

"Three parties defeated so far. Commander Richmond will be arriving at the brig just ahead of one of the parties."

"Hopefully she can hold them until the other teams get to her." WIth that, Julia returned her attention to the battle over Tira.

Richmond and her team arrived at the brig. The two guards on duty there already had their weapons out and ready. Behind them, the prisoners were sitting quietly in their cells, observing with obvious interest.

"Defensive positions," ordered Richmond. "And seal the door. They'll be here any minute."

"You should probably let us go," Hawk said. "If my friends have sent who I think they've sent…"

"Your input is noted," Richmond answered. "And ignored."

"Your bruises and broken bones, lady," said Hawk. in the cell beside him, Helen snorted.

Richmond turned her attention to the door. The seal would take time for her opponents to work through, unless they used a blasting charge. Which had a time delay of its own anyway.

But the unexpected happened.

With a loud shriek of protest, the door began to slide open again. As if someone was physically forcing it open. Gloved fingers appeared in the gap that now formed between the door and the side of the doorway. Someone was gripping the door and forcing it open, in defiance of the seal and all of the inherent mechanisms made to prevent someone from doing just that.

An object popped in through the now-open doorway. "Grenade!" Everyone ducked behind the workstation or into the open cells in the second before the blast shook the area. An energy wave dissipated against Richmond's personal shield A stun grenade of some sort, little different than the one she had used earlier, but less potent.

"Fire!" she shouted. Her team, and the on-duty guards, opened up on the doorway. The burst of fire hit a figure who impulsively rushed in. After a personal shield absorbed a couple of shots the attacker went down.

Return fire came around the edges, fierce and heavy. Richmond and her people had to keep to cover themselves, although not so much that they couldn't keep the fire up.

And then another grenade flew in, and another… these went further than the first had. One landed at the opening of a cell that one of her people was taking cover in. There was nothing that officer could do at that point, and the stun grenade knocked him unconscious despite his shield.

The next figure that came in was shot at as well. But unlike the first, this one had a long, massive tower shield formed in front of him, off the same silvery material that Hawk and Helen had used earlier. This one was using the Darglan enhancement nanites to form a protective shield for himself. Richmond thought it clever, at least for a short-term advantage. In the long-term she and her guards could maintain fire and batter through the nanites.

As it turned out, they didn't have the time for that.

Behind their shielded ally, the rest of the enemy team was moving in with weapons out and firing. After an exchange off fire another of Richmond's people went down. She noticed it and frowned. She looked over their opponents and hid a grin. "Cover me," she demanded, and the guards nearest her nodded.

With the cover fire of two of her guards, Richmond emerged from cover and held her rifle steady. She aimed low, almost to the ground, and spotted when she thought she'd find. The shield maker hadn't made his shield quite long enough. It hovered about twenty centimeters above
the ground. That gave her sufficient room to aim as his foot. She pulled the trigger immediately.

The blue pulse hit the shield holder square in the foot. A shriek of pain and surprise came. The shield-holder lost their concentration,or something to that effect, and the shield lost its cohesion and retracted a bit. This opened up a second shot that hit the man in the lower leg, and a third. The shield-holder toppled.

But the others were in now. The enemy took cover in the nearest cells, or on the opposite side of the control station. One actually went up to it and started operating a multidevice. It wasn't hard for Richmond to guess what they were doing. "Take out their hacker!" she ordered, immediately trying to shoot the enemy in question.

Before she could, another of the dark-clad figures shot forward and grabbed her, or rather her weapon. She held on for dear life, intending to wrest control of her rifle back. Richmond was stunned when she instead was lifted into the air with her weapon. Her attacker was strong enough to lift her with one arm. She got a glimpse of his face. An alien of light skin that would be Caucasian on a Human. Thin ridges - bone ridges? - were on the temples above the alien's thin eyebrows. From the angle she thought she saw more ridges on the visible ear, which ended in a point reminiscent of Vulcanoids. He glared at her and moved, pulling her in a motion while he seemed to be trying to yank her rifle away from her.

A moment later she was flying across the room, her grip on the weapon lost. She slammed into one of her guards and they went down. When she looked back up she noticed the alien man picked up and tossing another Aurora security officer. This one went flying back into the forcefield of Helen's cell. Given the force with which the field was hit, it was no surprise he went down unconscious.

She still had a couple guards in the fight, and Richmond herself pulled her sidearm out. They could still win it, she felt, if they could bring the alien down before he tossed them all around.

Then Richmond saw they were out of time.

The hacker succeeded.

The forcefields over Hawk and Helen's cells dropped. The two jumped into action. Nanite material flowed from their wrists and formed blades. Hawk's blade was sharp and strong enough that when the guard he attacked tried to block it with his rifle, the blade cut it in two cleanly. He followed up with a kick that sent the officer to the ground with a broken jaw. Helen didn't give such a chance to her target, striking with enough force in a push that sent her foe flying. She looked to the others. "About time!"

"Get everyone off the ship, now," Hawk ordered. He was speaking into his multidevice. "We…"

Richmond was already firing at that point. One of her shots hit Hawk in the chest, sending him down. The other hit the strong alien and did the same.

Unfortunately, her next shot didn't manage the same on Helen. A howl of rage came from Helen at the impact of the shot on her shoulder, just above the heart. Instead of falling unconscious, she merely snarled and whipped a hand out.

Richmond never saw the blades in mid-air. She felt them first, powerful impacts that tore through material and flesh to embed themselves into her right shoulder and arm. The shock of the impact caused her right hand to fall away from her weapon. One-handed, her aim went off and she only managed a glancing shot on the enraged Helen, who seemed to shake off the impact against her side. Before another shot could be tried, Helen was in close-quarters. Richmond had to pull her hand back to prevent the swipe from severing it at the wrist.

Then the other arm came up. There was nothing the Aurora security chief could do to keep it from plunging into her belly. Pain shot up through her torso at being impaled through the belly and lower spine. Richmond slumped against the wall.

Enraged, Helen stabbed her again. This time the blade went into her chest, cutting through ribs to slice through Richmond's lung. She let out a harsh breath at that. Blood began to fill her lung the moment the blade was pulled away. And there was yet more pain as Helen's other arm came back in and a third stab punctured her other lung. The fourth stab was lower, then higher…

Richmond coughed up blood when she tried to speak, stopping any words from being articulate in the hacking sound. Her green eyes looked up at Helen's face. Pure rage burned in those gray eyes, the one mark of East Asian ancestry on Helen's face, which was twisted into a ferocious, hate-filled snarl. But before the sixth stab could land, the strong alien grabbed her arm. "She's down," he said. "We've got to get back. The ship's taking a hammering."

"Fine." Helen's voice was a growl. She seemed to struggling against her temper. "Is he okay?"

"He'll be fine when we get him back to the ship," was the alien's answer. "We have to go. Now."

Helen looked down at her blood-soaked blades. One shifted shape and became a visible comm device. "Helen to Avenger. Get us out of here."

Richmond watched them disappear in flashes of white light. Darglan transporter signatures. When she tried to breath out, blood bubbled from her mouth.

At that point, she lost consciousness.

The commandeered Brakiri troop transport was approaching the barrage dam. In the rear loading area Lindstrom's security team finished final weapons checks. "What'll we do about him?" Lindstrom asked Lucy, gesturing to the pilot.

"We have an understanding," Lucy said from her place at the back of the piloting compartment. "Once we land he's going to give me his sidearm and leave."

"He's just going to raise his boss and tell them where we are."

"They'll know something's up with this thing anyway," Drack said. "The only thing he'll tell them is what they'll already know."

"What can we expect in terms of defenses?" Lindstrom eyed the approaching structure. They were maybe fifty seconds from a landing point.

"Human and Brakiri mercs," Wrex said. "The guard party for the control room. They won't have the arming codes for the bombs, though. Greden'll have the trigger, and he's probably across town in his HQ." Wrex pulled his shotgun from hits mounting place above his tail. The large weapon automatically extended to firing mode.

"A Claymore." Reubens' awe was evident. "I've always wanted to fire one of those."

"Hey knock yourself out." He offered the weapon. "The interesting part is when the recoil breaks your arm," Wrex added, grinning.

The grin turned into a chuckle at the look that crossed Reubens' face. Wrex withdrew the weapon a moment later.

"Landing now," the pilot reported. His voice made it clear that whatever happened, all he wanted to do was run.

The transport craft hovered to a landing on a cloud of dust and debris. One of Lindstrom's security personnel, Petty Officer Mreep, slid into the control chair for the support gun. The Alakin officer brought the barrel into position to provide fire support.

The moment the craft was landed, the pilot released his harness and jumped out the door to his left. He ran away from his craft and their destination, as expected.

"Let's move, people!" Lindstrom ordered, jumping off with pulse rifle up. The others followed, Wrex and Drack in the lead and Lucy remaining in position to protect Caterina and Tra'dur.

The control center was set into the middle of the barrage dam's structure, attached by a spit of landfill to the rest of the colony. Their landing site was on that spit, roughly thirty meters from the front door.

They made it twenty meters before the first shots rang out.

Ruby bursts erupted from the ground in front of Lindstrom. PPG fire. He reacted the only way he could in his open position; he started to run. The snap-hiss of Lucy's lightsaber sounded to one side. Beside him, Wrex was covered in the dark light of biotically-formed dark matter, a protective field that would take a few shots before it dissipated.

Mreep opened fire a moment later. The pulse cannon now under her control spat pulses of orange light into the control center's outer wall, and the windows being used as firing positions. The suppressive fire had its desired effect. The fire against them slackened.

They got to the door. Lindstrom's plan had been to kick it in, or blow it open. Urdnot Wrex had his own plan. A surge of biotic power struck the door and dented it in. It didn't come off its track entirely, however.

At least, not until Wrex slammed into it.

His shotgun thundered a moment later. There was a scream, calls for backup, and Lindstrom was inside with the Krogan. Fire was collecting on Wrex's biotic field. It wouldn't last more than another second or two. Lindstrom used that second to open up with his own pulse rifle. Blue bolts erupted, WHUM WHUM WHUM, and found a Brakiri merc in body armor. The merc went down regardless. The slacking fire bought time for Wrex to find momentary cover in front of the security desk near the door.

Drack entered next. His assault rifle swept in the opposite direction, toward a metal-backed door. Lucy swept an arm out and it opened, revealing a corridor of offices beyond where more mercs were hiding to evade the pulse cannon of the transport outside. Drack's assault rifle thundered a second before they could react. Two of them went down before the others could get to the protective cover of the offices in the hall.

But the direction that interested them was beyond the security desk. More fire came from that direction. They might have hit Drack from behind if not for Lucy, now working on deflecting fire back toward the shooters. With more of Lindstrom's people coming through the door, and Wrex popping up again to fire another shot from his massive cannon of a shotgun, they soon had enough fire and protection to move forward. "Opam, Bower, on that door, watch our back," Lindstrom ordered.

"Yes sir." The two security officers took up their positions with the desk as cover, freeing Drack to join Wrex again.

Beyond the security desk was another hall. The mercs they'd shot were in the open; the others had scrambled into the secured offices beyond. As they moved through Wrex and Drack cleared the offices like hardened veterans. Lindstrom was awed by the way the two Krogan moved with tactical finesse. Drack would open the door, Wrex would throw in a bolt of biotic force guaranteed to send anyone inside flying, and then either of their shotguns would ring out once or twice. Lindstrom figured it would have taken his full security team twice the time to clear their way down the hall, and that was if they were moving quickly and not concerning themselves with potential casualties.

They reached the control center for the dams to find the mercs had turned it into their hardened defensive point. "Allow me," Lucy said to the two Krogan. With what seemed like suicidal confidence she stepped forward, lightsaber in hand, and went into the kill zone. Any other human being would have died. Even the two Krogan would have faced so much fire they might have gone down. But with the powers at her direction, the speed at which she could move, all of the fire in the world couldn't stop Lucy. Her lightsaber was a sapphire blur in the air, catching seemingly every shot (certainly every one that could have actually hit her). Within a few moments she was at the first of the mercs. A swing of her weapon, a cry, and two dismembered arms and a rifle hit the ground. Without even looking towards them, Lucy sent two flying in a wild, unfocused surge of power.

"Huh." Wrex glanced to Drack. "Impressive."

"Yeah," agreed Drack.

WIth that exchange the two Krogan went in to join her. Behind them, Lindstrom kept Cat and Tra'dur back, allowing the two science officers to watch as the Krogan and Lucy worked together to clear the room. It didn't take long, between the fury of the Krogans' firearms or the speed and raw power at Lucy's disposal.

When the last of them went down Lindstrom tapped his omnitool. "Mreep, Liu, come in."

"What about this transport?"

"Blow it," he ordered.

By this point Cat and Tra'dur were heading to the controls. "This shouldn't take too long," Cat said.

"Whatever happens, we'll hold," answered Lindstrom. "Just make this work."

“I’ve modified this sensor pack to work as the modular, but Cat, I need you to interface with your multitool to figure out the length of the galvanic wires. We have to know the length to calculate the signal pulse modulation." The latter was for the benefit of Lindstrom and the Krogan. "If we get the energization pulse off we could end up destroying the gates ourselves.” Tra’dur knelt down with a bit of trembling freneticism finally showing through.

"I'm already calculating that, getting scan results to make sure," Cat said.

"How much longer?"

"Not long," Cat answered Lindstrom.

They were answered by the explosion outside. Lucy looked to the window looking out over the vehicle lot. The transport they'd used was a burning wreck, as was planned.

The group of Blood Pack mercenaries beyond it? Not as planned.

"Well, you may want to hurry up all the same," she said. "We've got company."

They had locked down the bridge’s access to the ship controls and left the Huáscar floating still in space, and now, they were nearly to the end of their journey. Zhengli Varma could feel the burn in her lungs of a strenuous exertion, of a series of desperate fire-fights that had brought them this far. She flexed her fingers around her PPG and nodded, looking about her little group. “Just one lunge left, and we will have the bridge. Everyone ready? Simmons, Glenkov, you will give us covering fire from that junction, Saumarez, do what you can, you are doing great, but do not kill yourself doing it. Watters, you are with me. We will take the security station and then I shall override the blast doors. Questions?”

“No sir!”

“No, sir!” they echoed.

Elia smiled, tho’ her expression was dreadful, wiped her nose, and reached out. “I’m ready, Captain.”

“Take it easy, Saumarez. I mean to get my crew through this, and that damned well includes you, Ensign.” She cracked a smile. “Battlefield commission. They can court-martial me for violating the MRA later.” She tugged part of her insignia off of a shoulder-strap, and offered it. “All right, thirty second count on my mark.”

The surge of pride as she took the insignia and affixed it was as intense as the one that Zhengli had seen on her comrades, felt herself, as they turned out at West Point to go straight to fighting the Minbari. She took her position with a tight little smile on her face that said all it needed to.

“Mark.” She took a few deep breaths, flexing her hands again, letting the pounding of her heart fade into the background, as she softly counted down. “Now!” The rifle came up, and she was moving to rush the control station, plasma blasts streaking out as she fired from the hip. I joined the Fleet, not the GROPOS!

It was a rapid fusillade of fire from her people, but there were only four defenders at the post, and Elia took them on in warfare both mental and physical while Corporal Watters led point. They were pushing themselves to the limit, but in doing so, they ended it in seconds. The wounded and dead lay around the post, and Zhengli was at the control station. It read an internal override lock, but as Captain she still had the code for that.

“Breaching positions!” She placed her people in what-cover was available, then keyed in the override herself. “Weapons down, now!” She half-screamed, already charging through the door before the crew inside could react. Let it end, please, I do not want to kill any more of my crew!

Inside was a charnel house, at least eight dead. One of the sensor techs, who had been unarmed and kept their heads down during the fighting on the bridge, was bandaging the Bosun’s Mate who had somehow survived. A few others were manning their posts, looking up in varying degrees of shock and relief as Zhengli stormed onto the bridge with her pistol. There was Foster, there were several other officers with Nightwatch backgrounds… Several of his men who had the same background.

Dead in varying degrees of squalor and PPG burns.

And there, toppled over the command chair, with twelve pulses scouring his body but his handsome, almost pretty young face intact, was James Reichert, pale and almost graceful in death, like some 19th century painting of war rather than the real thing.

“... Ah, James…” She stepped forward, and gently lowered him down to the deck herself, closing his eyes and shrugging off her jacket to place it carefully over his face. “Rest well, kshatriya, your duty is done and well.” She murmured it in soft tones to herself, before standing to press the comm controls; “This is Captain Varma, I am in command on the bridge once again. Major Foster and his mutineers here are dead. Those of you who remain, surrender immediately and you will be returned safely to Alliance space upon the end of these hostilities. You have sixty seconds to comply.”

The comm-line from engineering opened. “Captain, this is Commander Farallon. I’ve got engineering down tight and most of the aft spaces as well. What are you going to need from me?”

“Combat power, Commander. The battle is going poorly for our side, and we are going to have to bring Huáscar into the line as soon as we can.”

“Bringing the reactor to combat output now, Captain,” a grim, resigned, and exhausted voice answered. “We’re with you. But God, it’s the Civil War all over again.”

“Worse, Commander. Worse. Stand to your duty, Commander, it is all we can do.” She glanced down at the shrouded figure lying at her feet. “As soon as security reports the ship is secure, we will be clearing for action. Make ready, everyone.”

Elia was standing by the sensor deck, with its techs still alive and now resuming their duties as the Bosun’s Mate was carried away on a stretcher. Corporal Watters took up his position even though she was a Marine.

As she did, Elia turned to Zhengli. “I’m not sure we have the time. That big Dilgar dreadnought is taking a pounding from the pirate battlecruiser. If we hold engineering, the computer core, and the bridge, we can operate the weapons off remote, right? We should call stations now. And it might make the enlisted go to their stations even if they were fighting us, for fear of an alien attack. They don’t need to understand, just obey.”

The Sinic woman bit her lip, staring at the tactical display for a moment, before she gave a single sharp nod. “Corporal Watters! Sound Battle Stations! All hands, this is the Captain! Lay to your battle stations, Huáscarenos, we are going into action, this is not a drill or a trick! Clear for action and all pilots to your fighters!”

Elia took position next to the sensor operators. She didn’t know what to do, but she could sense when the operators felt they’d found something important. That would have to be enough, for the paucity of regular officers. After five painful minutes they finished working to stations, shields up and about half of their fighters successfully launching.

“Helm, new course, zero-six-five mark zero-two-zero relative, all ahead standard. Bring interceptors and shields online. Battery control, give me that enemy battlecruiser, both main beams!”

“...Locking.. Locked on target, Captain!”

Elia’s eyes widened and she snapped to address Zhengli before the sensor operator could open his mouth to report to her. “Their shields are down, Captain, we’ve got a chance to get the drop on them!”

“Everything, missiles, plasma cannons, particle beams, now! Alpha strike them, immediate!” Her orders snapped out to fire control, and she leaned forward in her seat.

“Aye Aye, Captain! Firing!”

As the Avenger came about from recovering her boarding parties from the Aurora, she was abruptly struck by the full power of the Huáscar’s batteries. The two main beams were powerful enough to heel her on her beam-ends, burning massive streaks down the Darglan armour with raw power to make up for their want of finesse, leaving weapons turrets wrecked and smashed, the Avenger’s defenses having been hit so hard by so many weapons that finally major systems were being smashed and destroyed with no protection from shields or armour.

“Burn, you pirates… keep firing, maximum cycle rate! They will recover, but we can do them real hurt until they do!”

As the Huáscar kept firing, the big Dilgar dreadnought, the Magaratha, pulled herself out of a dead spin as one of her starboard engines came back. Thrusting into formation with the two Sekhmets, the three ships all that remained of their pentacon, they swung back toward the Avenger… And opened fire with renewed intensity.

Magaratha, keep to our port! We can cover you with interceptors!” Her voice snapped out in Dilgar, as her eyes watched the display and she smoothly switched back. “Where are my fighters? Fire control, watch those Sunhawks on the starboard! Take them with the flank cannons! Hard to starboard! We have nowhere near won yet.”

“Nineteen fighters forming into coverage against missile fire, we don’t have pilots for the rest yet, Captain!” One of the comms ratings confirmed.

“Engaging as ordered,” weapons repeated back.

Elia looked up from the tactical display. “Sir, the Avenger is bringing her shields back up, but the energy trace already suggest localized failures. They’ve taken serious internal damage.”

“Keep hitting them,” Zhengli said tautly. Ahead of them the Avenger was coming about. They'd pay for it.

With the Huáscar’s precipitous attack on the Avenger, the situation for the heavy pentacon, which had seen one Tikrit destroyed and another disabled by the Avenger’s fire had abruptly changed. The accumulated damage had been so great as to temporarily cripple the Magaratha and destroy one Tikrit with another damaged when, abruptly, the tremendous forward batteries of the Huáscar had gored the Avenger like a lion on its meat.

“Warmaster, Huáscar has joined the fight! She’s hitting the Avenger, hard!” Kaveri Varma’s heart soared - her daughter must have retaken her ship, and brought her into the line without hesitation.

“Warmaster, we’re receiving a request to conform movements with the Huáscar, they need cover from the Drazi attacks on their flank.”

“Do so,” Shai’jhur ordered. She was hiding her own grin. Little Zhengli had been a name known to her for decades. There was something in her triumph which naturally thrilled the soul.

“I knew she could, Kaveri,” Shai’jhur said softly, and in English, to avoid breaking the tempo of the bridge, before switching back to Dilgar. “Now we need to finish this fight. What’s the status of the Drazi squadrons?”

“Pressing hard, Warmaster. We are on the verge of being overwhelmed in all sectors.” She kept her voice level, but the tactical plot had very little good news to offer.

“Detach the Sekhmet section to reinforce the main body. Direct them to conform to Captain Ming-Chung’s movements, she is in the best place to operate with them. I want to hammer the Avenger to pieces but we can’t lose the battle just to see it done.”

“Understood, Warmaster. Our own damage is becoming critical, though the repair parties are working to restore what they can.”

“Here, I have an idea…” Her eyes suddenly gleamed. “Detach them. Summon another ship from another direction to surprise them instead. It will be worth two battlecruisers locked in a turning battle.”

Ahead of them the Avenger, wreathed in the fire of her interceptor grids, was half covered in scars, but still a fighting warship. Shai’jhur intended to shortly remedy that.

Commander Abebech Imra was her own little legend in the Alliance military forces. With a pair of dictator shades, and a resume an arm long claiming she had fought for pretty much every decent regime within a hundred light-years of the Fracture, she had an isolated, rock-solid crispness that belied the Alliance stereotypes of S0T5. A few weeks after the constitution had been signed, she showed up and signed up for the Alliance Navy.

After serving on a succession of large ships, she had been the Operations Officer on the dreadnought MacArthur, shot down deep in the Reich during a major counteroffensive. Two hundred and eight survivors from the isolated squadron had been rounded up by Imra and told to hide. Somehow the SS patrols had failed to find them and their evasion and recovery had saved their lives, considering what the Reich did to alien and non-white POWs. She’d been given the Heerman after that, and in three months already made her mark

Even now in the heat of a battle that they had started while outnumbered almost three-to-one, the Old Woman was as calm and inscrutable as ever underneath her glasses. (She did smile when they called her that, though.) The battle raged all around, and her soft-spoken orders came only when necessary, directives to a well-drilled crew.

Her Helmswoman, Lieutenant Sarah Jenkins, glanced back to see her glancing at the tactical holo, the light from it illuminating the deathly pallor on her black skin, her hands clad in sharp gloves, as ever. There were times when the Old Woman came off as scary as hell, and serving under her was definitely an acquired taste.

“Helm, seventy-five degrees to starboard, nose up twenty-five, full impulse,” she said in precise English with a hint of Ethiopia slipping through, or wherever it was, since Ethiopia hadn’t existed for thousands of years in her home universe.

“Aye, Captain. Coming about..” She obeyed as the Heerman peeled to the Koenig’s port.

Imra’s hand shifted and the tactical holo flashed. “Torpedoes fire on designation,” she ordered as the designated target flashed for weapons. It was a Sunhawk trailing drive gas. The torpedoes lanced out and found the wound that had already been made. They burned bright in the flash of impact, and the ship’s drives went completely dead, crippled and spinning off as a hulk.

“Come about to starboard,” she ordered. “Then form on the Koenig again.”

“Weapons, target the enemy fighters,” she added a moment later, addressing the lithe Turkish man at the weapons station.

“Aye, Captain!” Lt. Abdulmehmet’s answered with alacrity now and a hasty salvo of forward weapons onto the crossing targets smashed four of the large and ill-manoeuvring Drazi fighters.

“Message from the Magaratha, Captain! They are engaging the Avenger in tandem with Huáscar; the enemy's shields are down, they need any help possible.”

“Before she can withdraw… And the Huáscar has switched sides again. How apropos.” It was an unusually extensive statement in combat from Imra. She keyed her tactical link. “Commander Apley, I aim to come about hard to starboard and thread through that central group of Drazi. I’ll be on the Avenger then and she’s uniquely vulnerable to an assault ship from the port quarter. Please cover me.”

“Clear, Commander. Forming to your port to engage the Drazi Centre…”

Sarah though her Commander approved of Apley. The orders rolled out sharp and precise, and they ran the gauntlet at close range, sweeping through unshielded opposition toward the stunningly battered hull of the Avenger.

“Weapons, target the port nacelles and fire.”

With that freedom, Abdulmehmet laid in the coordinates for the upper nacelle and opened fire with their full batteries. Lancing across the field in a strafing run, while the Avenger was engaged with the massive Dilgar warship and the huge Huáscar, a limping Aurora sweeping around to strike them from starboard, they now had the enemy boxed in.

The crew of the Avenger had just begun to charge their warp drives to escape when the concentration hit the nacelle. Piercing the ablated and wrecked self-repairing armour, it dug deep. The result was thoroughly dramatic. The upper left nacelle exploded.

“Cover us behind the dreadnoughts!” Imra snapped.

Sarah drove them on a pinwheel course up and under the Huáscar to evade fire from the veritably crippled Avenger, while behind them, the Aurora again opened fire.

Commander Imra clapped a gloved hand into gloved fist, and other than that, was as calm as ever.

The change in the tide of battle with the Avenger changed the mood on the Aurora bridge. With the Huáscar in the fight and the Heerman's attack run crippling the battlecruiser's warp cability, the Aurora was in position to finish her foe off. "I don't want them escaping," Julia said. "Target the likely location of their jump drive and fire."

"Firing now," Angel said, enthusiasm in her tone.

One by one, the plasma emitters and cannons on the starboard side of the Aurora lit up, scouring the same side on the Avenger. The battlecruiser strove to return fire with her own weapons, and where she hit the Aurora's unshielded hull was being blackened and broken. But with the fire of the Huáscar still on Avenger, and Magaratha supporting, the Avenger was in deep trouble, and her fire was clearly slacking from loss of power.

"Perhaps we should offer them the chance to surrender," Meridina proposed.

"Knowing them, they won't take it," Julia said. "But for form's sake…"

"Putting you on," Jarod said.

"Vessel Avenger, this is Captain Andreys of the Aurora," Julia said. "If you surrender now you won't be harmed. We will take you into Alliance custody." That was important. Julia already knew Shai'jhur wanted to execute Hawk and his allies, and Zhengli might feel the same way. Both saw Hawk and his people as no more than pirates. "You've lost this fight. Dragging it out just results in more of your people dying."

The Aurora shook again. Avenger was still firing. "More hull breaches, Decks 14 through 17 and 19 through 25," Jarod said.

"Armor self-repair is down to 80% effectiveness," Barnes added. "Damage has exceeded capacity."

"I think that was your answer, Captain," Angel noted. "I've got a target lock with torpedoes."

"Fire," Julia ordered.

The Aurora had come around enough to put her bow launchers on the Avenger. Two spreads of eight solar torpedoes fired from the launchers. With her weakened interceptors Avenger had no hope of stopping even a quarter of the torpedoes. The resulting hits blew chunks out of their drive and primary hulls. One torpedo impacted on the upper starboard warp nacelle and blew it apart. Flame and wreckage spewed from the wounds in the other ship, exceeding its armor repair systems' capabilities with the level of damage suffered. It was plainly evident to all that the Avenger was finished.

Even to the crew of the ship, apparently, given it moved to break from Tira. The Huáscar and Shenzhou, the latter damaged as well by her fight with the Drazi, both maneuvered to cut her off. More weapons fire carved into the Avenger.

"I'm picking up a particle charge," Lieutenant al-Rashad said. "They're opening a jump point."

"I'm trying to get their drive, but their drive hull's got internal armor or something," Angel said. "I don't think I can hit them enough."

Nevertheless she tried, as did the other ships. By the time the green vortex formed ahead of the Avenger, she was a burning, flaming wreck of a starship. With what seemed like a last gasp of power, her drives powered up and she flew into the jump point. Torpedoes from the Shenzhou and missiles from Huáscar pursued, hitting both the vortex and the Avenger even as she surged into the maw of the vortex. The point began to destabilize from the impacts. It was beginning to collapse.

Too late, however, to stop the escape of the Avenger.

"Where did they jump to?" Julia asked al-Rashad.

"I'm analyzing the jump point now, I think it was Universe A4P5."

Julia sighed at that. From this point in space, the spatial aspect of their jump would be unlikely to carry them into range of Alliance space in that universe. Even if the Alliance could spare the ship to vector in, they'd probably be gone, back to their Darglan Facility, by the time the ship got there.

"Status on the other ships? Could they jump and pursue?"

"I would not recommend it," Meridina said. "All ships report moderate to heavy damage. Only the Heerman and Greepk have warp capability currently."

"And there are still at least sixty Drazi ships out there, with another forty or so ships from the other League species," Jarod added. "And I'm sure they're pretty mad."

"So no pursuit." Julia muttered "Damn" under her breath. This incident had proven yet again just how dangerous Hawk and his people could be. With any luck they'd be out of action for months fixing their ship. And frying their brains trying to learn more to fix it more quickly, or to refit it… how much more powerful will they be when they show up again?

That consideration was for later. Julia forced herself to set it aside and focus on the present. "What about the Colony?" she asked. "Have they blown the gates yet?"

"No," Jarod said. He blinked. "And they may not get the chance. I'm picking up several of our people at the gate control center for the barrage. Including Lieutenant Delgado and Combat Expert Tra'dur. And it looks like they're being besieged by some of the mercenaries."

Julia noted the worry that now showed on Angel's face. "Have security beam a team down as soon as they can."

"It's going to be a bit," said Barnes. "Our transporters are down from battle damage."

"See if any of the other ships can help," Julia ordered. "We need to make sure that barrage stays intact." Even as she gave that order, she knew that whether or not they could get help down, the survival of Tira was down to Cat and Tra'dur.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-16 10:50pm

Gunfire filled the hall outside of the control room. Lindstrom was too busy patching up the bleeding wound on Bower's lower belly to do anything. The security team members still capable of fighting were still at their defensive positions at the windows, firing to keep the enemy outside suppressed and unable to join those already inside.

Lucy stood near the entrance. "They're readying for another push," she said. "Mostly Krogan."

"Tral ran out of Vorcha," Drack observed. "He may be leading them himself."

"If you mean the guy in charge, I think so." Lucy grimaced. "The thoughts of what he wants to do to you are pretty graphic." Now she winced. "You have four?"

"Yup," Wrex answered, as if he were reading her mind. "Hey, how's that pulse coming?"

"We're almost ready," Cat replied. "There's miles of wiring we have to account for when planning this, and the pulse has to be precise."

"Right. Well, no rush, just a half dozen or so of Tral's best are about to rush this room, you've got all the time you need."

Cat winced and went back to work.

"You don't seem that worried," Lucy observed.

"When you get to our age, kid, this is nothing new," Drack answered. "I've lived through worse."

"It's just part of the business, really," Wrex added, hefting his shotgun. In the distance there was a roar of anger. "And there he is."

"Urdnot!" The deep Krogan voice roared down the hall.

"Don't mind him, the Weyrloc are always like that."

"Always so dramatic," Drack muttered in agreement.

The next shout was a roar, and it came from more than one voice. "Here they come," Drack said, readying his shotgun.

Six Krogan came barrelling down the corridor. Lindstrom opened fire first, spraying them with pulse fire. Their kinetic barriers absorbed his shots. Before his fire could break through the barriers, return fire from two of them forced him back into cover.

When they got close, Wrex and Drack leaned around the entranceway enough to fire their weapons into the Krogan. Wrex's shot was a head-shot, and even a Krogan couldn't survive one at that range from a Claymore. Drack's shotgun blew the leg out from under another of the Krogan.

But the four behind them - five counting Tral, who was now running to join - couldn't be stopped quickly enough. They barrelled into the room. Wrex fired another shot that tore into the guts of one, leaving his Claymore in a state of overheating. Drack has two shots before his shotgun reached the same threshold. One nearly tore the arm off the same Krogan Wrex had just shot. The other was a glancing hit to a second Krogan. Drack fell back and switched to the Phalanx pistol he was carrying. The heavy pistol barked and sent a sliver of metal into the jaw of the Krogan he'd barely hit. Wrex threw a biotic pulse into his opponent, sending the gutshot Krogan into his ally and down.

But in the process, the other two Krogan got into the room. Lindstrom was firing on them, but even his hits couldn't put the Krogan down in time before they got to his position. That left Lucy to intercept one. She sliced the arm off the Krogan and immediately had to duck and roll away to avoid getting shot point-blank by the other Krogan. The now armless Krogan charged at her, roaring in rage and pain. Lucy caught him with her life force power and sent him flying back. He slammed into the far wall and collapsed, allowing Lindstrom to put him down with another burst of pulse fire.

The fifth Krogan, still intact, fired his shotgun. Lindstrom couldn't get back into cover in time. He went down with a number of wounds on his side and arm. The same Krogan turned his gun over to Drack, who was putting a shotgun blast into the head of the gutshot Krogan to put him down. "Look out!" Lindstrom cried, even as he bled over the floor.

Drack didn't look. He dropped and rolled, a maneuver that made every joint, prosthetic or natural, ache. When he finished the roll he hefted his shotgun and fired almost blindly. Instinct and experience proved themselves; his opponent, still tracking with his weapon, took the hit and stumbled backward. His shotgun blast went over Drack's head.

There was a buzz in the air. The Krogan screamed in wordless rage at the loss of his arms, courtesy of Lucy's lightsaber.

The sounds of combat didn't end, however. They turned and found Wrex wrestling with Weyrloc Tral over Tral's shotgun. "I'll serve your quad to my varren!" the Blood Pack leader screamed.

Drack's gun came up. Lucy's lightsaber did too. But Reubens stopped them. "They're getting in!" she shouted from her window. "We can't stop them all."

Drack and Lucy exchanged a tired look. Even now more Krogan from the Blood Pack were coming down the hall. These had rifles, and formed a firing line. Drack pulled his own and Lucy brought her lightsaber into a defensive position. "Lindstrom, we'll hold them. You…" She stopped. She could sense Lindstrom had slipped into unconsciousness from his wounds. "It's you and me big guy."

"You hold 'em, I'll shoot 'em," the old Krogan answered.

"Sounds like a plan." Shots rang out and Lucy's lightsaber became a blur. It took everything she had to move fast enough to deflect the incoming projectiles with her weapon. Drack's weapon thundered behind and beside her. The angle wasn't good for him to hit anything - not around her weapon - but the fire did keep the Krogan from advancing closer.

Behind them, Wrex kept his hands on Tral's shotgun to keep him from using it. He didn't respond to Tral's threats, instead snarling and concentrating on staying alive.

Nearby, Cat looked over the data a final time. She didn't seem to be thinking about the violence all around them. "Okay, we have fifty one point three kilometers of wiring in the system. That means the pulse needs to be a strength of…"

“We can make it work at 56 volts alternating at 20 hertz, driving thirty-amp,” Tra’dur finished, concurring with Cat’s calculations, “And the wire will take that.”

"Right. Setting the system now." Cat went to work on her omnitool.

"Look out!" Tra'dur grabbed Cat and pulled her forward. A moment later Wrex and Tral landed where she'd been sitting, still struggling over Tral's shotgun. The impact knocked Cat fully into Tra'dur and sent both to the floor.

"Cat, finish it! Now!" Lucy shouted.

It was easier said than done, given Cat was now tangled up with Tra'dur in the floor. She got her arm free and ran her fingers over the omnitool. "Fifty-six volts, twenty hertz… setting ready, charge… now."

WIth a final press of her key, Cat sent the pulse into the wiring.

For a tense second she and Tra'dur, still on the floor, waited. Cat listened for any indications of the bombs going off, worried that maybe, in the end, the calculations were off.

But no such explosions came. Instead there was just the rushing sound of flare-off as the chemicals burned instead of exploding.

Tra'dur got free enough to check the barrage status displays. "The gates are intact!" Relief was visible on her face. "It’s finished!"

"We did it!" Cat shouted in agreement. She got back to her feet. "We… look out!"

This time it was Cat who tackled Tra'dur, knocking her out of the way. Wrex slammed into the display screen, snarling, Tral's shotgun no longer in his hands. Tral raised the same toward him. "Was this what it was all for, Urdnot?!" the Blood Pack leader bellowed. "You broke with our employers, you killed my men, for what? For them?!"

"No, you idiot," Wrex growled. "For us. Killing those Dilgar children, it's no different than what the Turians did to us."

To that Tral laughed. "None of that matters. Who cares about what the aliens do to each other. So long as they pay us for it and give us a good fight, it's all the same to me. Alliance, Brakiri, Turian, as long as the credits come in, I don't give a damn."

"I do," Wrex retorted.

Tral snarled and lifted his weapon. But as he did, a gun barked from a third direction, a heavy slugthrower. Again, and again, and again. The Krogan turned… And then as a fourth round drilled home, collapsed.

Tra’dur looked over the smoking barrel of the gun to Wrex. Wrex nodded to her and took in a breath. "Thanks, kid," he said.

“He had earned it,” she answered, her eyes fixed on a blank wall, saying nothing more.

All involved could hear that the sounds of battle had slowed. More pulse fire sounded in the distance, joined by mass effect firearms, but nothing concerning them. "The cavalry's here," Reubens said from her perch. A tired grin crossed her face. "It's Major Anders and some of the Marines."

"About damned time," muttered Lucy. She went over to where Lindstrom was unconscious and bleeding out. "Cat, I need a first aid kit," she said. "You'll have to apply the anti-septic foam. I'll keep him from bleeding out…"

Not to be outdone, the others went to work as well, disarming the unconscious and dead enemies around them and treating the wounded. There would be time to rest later; as things were, the battle was over.

For now, anyway.

Zhengli watched the last of the Drazi force withdraw to positions a few light seconds from the planet with a silent kind of numbness. When it was clear they were far out of range, she heaved a breath and rose. Looking around the carnage of the bridge listlessly, and ignoring the living crew, she moved among the dead instead, the dead from both sides.

Marking their position and status, and grimacing at having to interrupt, Elia drew herself up along the bank of technicians’ panels in CIC. She was the only other officer on the bridge. “Orders for Huáscar, ma’am?”

Zhengli had moved to kneel beside the shrouded forms beside the command chair, and one in particular. She glanced up at Elia’s words as if shaken from a reverie. “Hold station, Ensign. I think the fate of the ship is in the hands of the diplomats, now.”

“Aye Aye, Captain,” she answered, and quietly stepped back to the comms banks to attend to pressing questions--and give Zhengli a moment of relative quiet. She could feel the rawness in the woman who had liberated her, no scan required.

She caught a glint, and leaned forward - taking a hand that was growing cold, and running her thumb over the black onyx stone there. Foster. A graduate of West Point like me, and he took such a different course. She glanced at her own, at the barely visible scar, where a jeweler had changed 2248 into 2247, her passing out having come a year early, to throw the cadets into the war, into the last desperate hope of Line. Foster’s had the date of 2251, and she let out a soft, pained sigh. “That was the difference, wasn’t it? You joined right after the Line, when there was all the pain and blood, when we were all so desperate and so rightly terrified of the stars, when I remembered those heady days before, when it seemed we could do anything… and all those scars still weigh us down.” Her voice was barely audible, as she moved to stand once more, resting a hand on the captain’s chair. “You did good, Huáscar, you did good. May your next captain do right by you."

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 6 April 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. With the retreat of the Avenger and Captain Varma regaining her ship, the fighting has stopped over Tira. The former League ships have withdrawn to just outside of combat range and seem to be waiting for reinforcements. We are much in the same position ourselves, given the state of our ships.

On Tira itself, the mercenary offensives against the cloning facilities have halted. Our control of the colony's barrage dam and elimination of their bombs means we now have the superior position on Tira. The Brakiri leader, Colonel Greden, has agreed to a ceasefire, and we have granted it for the time being.

Now all we can do is watch, wait, and deal with our wounded.

Marines wounded in the fighting below and crew by the fighting in orbit filled the wards of the medbay. Julia made the rounds of the wards with Leo accompanying her, silent. Her crew responded to her presence with nods and greetings. They knew the stakes, and they did not resent the risk she had put them through.

She would never know what the dead thought. They remained silent under their shrouds in the mortuary section of medbay, where Leo only gave her the barest glance.

"Twenty-six Marines dead, between our contingent and the Marines from the Shenzhou," Leo observed. "Another twenty security personnel dead planetside, along with eighteen outright fatalities up here."

"I was worried we'd get more," Julia admitted.

"We almost did," Leo said. "Doctor Walker did an outstanding job patching up the borderline cases."

"I'll enter her for a commendation," Julia said. She frowned. "Commander Richmond?"

Leo led her to the critical care ward. Their security chief was on a biobed being tended by a nurse. She was in a gown and sleeping comfortably. Bandages showed on her visible arms.

"We got the bleeding under control before she was a lost cause," Leo said. His expression was severe. "From what the others said, Commander Richmond shot Hawk, and then his girlfriend went ballistic and started stabbing her in a fury until one of the boarders stopped her."

"She struck me as having a shorter fuse," Julia said. "I'm just glad she didn't kill Commander Richmond."

"You and me both." Leo gestured for her to follow. "Something interesting came up in the security investigation of the brig. Lieutenant Yrapk ordered it sent to me and Lab 3 for analysis."


Leo led her into his office. Once there he went to his desk and tapped controls. On the wall monitor of the office an image popped up, a DNA helix. "What am I looking at?" Julia asked.

"A genetic sample recovered from the fight. Including on Commander Richmond herself, a sweat droplet."

"From one of the boarders?"

"Right." Leo motioned at it. "It's from an alien species we've never encountered before. A very strong species given what the testimony said."

"That means the Avenger has been making friends in universes we haven't been to yet," Julia noted.

"It seems like it, yes," Leo confirmed.

"So there's no telling what resources they might have." Julia sighed and grinned weakly at Leo. "Thank you for sharing this, Doctor… Leo." The correction was said with warmth. "I'm just glad we didn't take more losses."

"As am I, Julia," Leo answered. "As am I."

A tense night passed. Both sides continued to tend to their wounds. Julia awoke the next morning wondering what would happen next. Would the Drazi and Brakiri get even more reinforcements and fight? Or would their diplomats, and Sheridan, prevail in securing peace? It seemed like more than enough blood had been shed already, and all in the name of fear.

As Julia sat at her desk in her quarters, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand, her silver night robe shimmering in the low light, she wondered about it all. Just days ago - although it certainly felt longer - she had seen two sides that had shed each other's blood agree to peace, regardless of the violence in their mutual past. Now it seemed a dream. The races in this universe seemed so frightened and hostile toward the Dilgar that they weren't listening to anything said. Every argument, every point, was distorted beyond recognition.

How did you stop such hate? How could you get through it?

Julia wasn't sure. She just had to hope that cooler heads prevailed.

The bridge of the Aurora was running smoothly as always. Cat was back at her proper station, and everyone else was at theirs. Julia and Meridina were in their chairs. "They still won't talk," Julia noted.

"Indeed not," Meridina agreed. "Director Holloran has been unable to secure agreement to resume discussions."

"I wonder what they're waiting for…"

"Reinforcements, probably," Jarod said.

"Well, we know the Avenger won't be coming back, at least," Locarno pointed out. "Given the damage they took, they're going to spend months in drydock."

"Maybe, maybe not," Jarod said. "We still don't know what kind of technology the Darglan left in their Facility. With their advantages with the nanites and in weapon emplacements fitted on their ship, they might also have better fabrication and industrial work drones than we had. They could get her fixed faster than we imagine."

"I doubt it'll be soon, either way…"

Before the conversation could continue, Cat looked up from her station. "We have jump points opening, a hundred thousand kilometers to port bow."

Julia drew in a breath. "On screen." She found herself hoping it was the White Star fleet.

It wasn't.

Over a dozen jump points opened in all. From each flew fighters and warships. Most of the warships were darkly-colored, with red and black patterns that seemed to emulate war paint. Two large weapon emplacements were set into the bow of the ships, the most prominent weapons on their profiles. Julia recognized them from the profiles of E5B1 ships she'd been studying.

Cat reported on them. "I'm picking up two dozen Narn cruisers. Most are G'Quan-class, two G'Sten-class. Multiple Narn fighters are accompanying each. They're coming out in combat formation."

"Given the Narn and the Drazi worked together against the Centauri a couple years ago, I'm not liking our odds," Jarod said. "Especially since those G'Sten-class ships have full deflector shields and artificial gravity." A moment later he noted something. "The Drazi are hailing them."

"Put them both on."

One screen showed a Narn in uniform seated in a chair, wearing a harness. Another showed Tarinak, who seemed over-eager. "At last, you have come," he said. "Join with us, Narn, and help us wipe the last of the Deathwalker's legacy from the face of the galaxy, along with those who dare to take up arms alongside them!"

Julia couldn't keep her stomach from turning. There were enough Narn ships that, given their lingering damage, the fight was clearly against them. She drew in a breath and couldn't quite let it go while waiting for the Narn response.

"I will relay you to our commander," said the Narn. A moment later the screen shifted to another room on what was presumably one of the G'Sten-class cruisers, as the occupant was clearly enjoying artificial gravity.

Julia let go of the breath she was holding.

"The Narn Regime has come to uphold the InterStellar Alliance Declaration of Principles," declared the author of the same. G'Kar looked every inch the leader on the screen, wearing the same leather garments Julia had seen him in the prior year. "Captain Tarinak, Captain Tabir, I insist you stand down immediately."

The Drazi captain's eyes had widened. He began to splutter. "But… but… how can you side with the Dilgar?! They are a threat and they must be…"

"I am well aware of all that has transpired, Tarinak," G'Kar retorted. "And I know that if anyone has been emulating the deeds of that monster Deathwalker, it has been your people and your single-minded quest for genocide. The Narn Regime will not stand for such conduct, and we will oppose you, here and on the Alliance Council."

At that point another image popped onto the screen. Julia recognized one of the Abbai delegates, in a graceful, flowing blue dress. "This is Ambassador Forna of the Abbai Matriarchy. The Matriarchy joins the Narn Regime in opposing the brutal methods that the Drazi and Brakiri have sought to impose upon the settlers of Tira."

"The Abbai ships are taking up formation with us," Jarod said. "Their defense systems are activating. And the Orsala is also charging weapons and maneuvering into position with us."

Despite the growing odds against him, including a Minbari War Cruiser, the Drazi commander seemed persistent. "But this is our chance!" Tarinak protested, almost wailing in doing so. "We can finish them off for good! If we let the Dilgar live…"

Caterina interrupted Tarinak's protest on the Aurora bridge. “Captain, the Cascor ships are breaking formation. They're withdrawing from the Drazi and Brakiri fleet.”

An open audio transmission flashed through the system. “This is Admiral Timmar of the Cascor Commonwealth. We came here to defend the Alliance against Dilgar aggression, not participate in the genocide of a race. We will stand with G’Kar.”

G’Kar folded his arms and looked at Tabir. "Follow the honorable Cascor to reason, friend. If we let them live, if we join hands with yesterday's enemies, we demonstrate to the galaxy that we have moved beyond the pain and blood of our past," G'Kar finished for him. "We will show everyone that the Alliance looks to the future."

"And if you're wrong?!" This was from Tabir. "If the Dilgar prove to be our foe after all…"

"Then we will face that future together. That is the entire point of the Alliance. We are one. The League failed against the Dilgar because it was not united as one. We will be one. We will have no need to fear them then." G'Kar held his hands together by way of demonstration. He seemed to re-focus slightly. Julia realized he was looking at her. "Captain Andreys. Commander Meridina. It is good to see you again."

"The same to you, G'Kar," Julia answered. For the first time in days she felt relieved. Everything was finally working out.

Now Shai'jhur was showing on the screen too. "Warmaster Shai'jhur. We have much to discuss," G'Kar said.

“Much, G’Kar, much,” Shai’jhur answered softly from the bridge of the Magaratha. “I had held a fear that only the Humans would hear our efforts at peace. But I see it is not so. Let us sit, G’Kar, all at one table. And together, then, we will put an end to the Dilgar War.”

Several days later, several of the ships that had once been in orbit over Tira were now in the orbital spaces over Rohric. G'Kar's ship, the G'Sten, was flanked by the Orsala. The Abbai, Brakiri, and Drazi ships were in a loose formation with the Minbari ship; the Aurora had her own orbit, with the Magaratha having another.

Now two more ships moved into position. A White Star took up a position with the other ships. And the Sirian League carrier Majestic had an orbit of her own.

Given all of the large ships, it was nevertheless little surprise that all of the participants insisted on having their conference on the Aurora. Julia and her officers were yet again in dress whites, but this time the personages were even more plentiful and august than they had been at Cestus 3. Among the tables in Conference Room 1 sat President Sheridan, President Morgan with Admiral Maran, G'Kar, and senior leaders - if not heads of state and government themselves - from the other former League races. Shai'jhur had her own table; Julia sat with President Morgan and Admiral Maran while her officers were among the spectators.

There had been another surprise as well. Another Warlock-class Earth destroyer, the EAS Titans under Captain Susan Ivanova, had arrived at the Rohric Conference. She had completed an upgrade cycle like the Huáscar, and one of her missions was to carry a skeleton crew to reclaim control of the ship from Captain Varma and her renegades who had left so much egg in the face of the Earth Alliance. The second was to deliver a representative of the New Eden Dilgar to the conference.

The years had been far kinder to Ari’shan than they had been to Shai’jhur. The Warmaster was a living wreck scarred by decades on pitiless Rohric, where Ari’shan had become a family man on a lovely, perfect garden world. He was still the shortest and smallest of the sons of Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan, but he had grown into a dignified presence which none could deny.

Shai’jhur was speaking. “Of course, as we now meet, I am already making arrangements to complete the release of seven hundred and four prisoners of war that we presently hold in detention. All were held according to the Geneva Conventions after having been taken as survivors of ships destroyed in operations we conducted after the Fall of Omelos. Unfortunately, no prisoners were within my area of operations upon the Fall of Omelos who predate it; but under my authority the laws and norms of war were observed, and though I understand that there will be protests that some were held in detention for upwards of thirty years, their confinement met all of the standards of international law…”

Julia listened without comment to the ongoing discussion. The end of decades of declared war was not done in an hour's talk. There were legal issues to be handled, such as Shai'jhur's release of prisoners and the status of Tira. The entire peace treaty that had previously been held as in force had to be renegotiated with Shai'jhur and her Union, with every term considered, discussed, bickered over, discussed again, and finalized. It was stultifying work, but it was the basis of diplomacy, the grease that made the wheels of grander moments turn.

The details were still coming together relatively quickly. Shai’jhur asked only for the systems of Omelos, Rohric, Wahant, Innata, and Tira, as well as a region of space with ill-defined jump-routes between them that looped in a semicircle around the antispinward edge of the Tal-kona’sha. Tra’dur had a place, too, showing in a presentation which Cat confirmed as the unbiased observer that the region held at most one garden or water world, so that very little in the way of bountiful space and useful planets were being ceded to the Dilgar by giving them the corridor.

The Cascor had taken the lead in taking responsibility for the actions of the former League powers at Tira, acknowledging the ships Shai’jhur had salvaged from their old fleet as rightful spoils of war. In what had clearly been a bit of horse-trading, the actions of the other old League powers were being ignored in favour of a scheme where only mercenaries who had actively murdered the Dilgar unborn would have charges brought against them, and only of manslaughter, not murder and genocide. This concession had allowed opposition elements in the Syndicracy to take control of the negotiations, and though they were slow, there was clear progress. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be formed instead to evaluate both sides without bringing further charges.

“And I must say, G’Kar, you ought to lead that commission. It seems a perfect role for you,” Shai’jhur said as the conversation turned back to it in relation to claims by the POWs.

G'Kar nodded in reply. "I look forward to the task. Our peoples, all of them, must be given the chance to heal and move forward."

“Then we find ourselves looking at a future,” Shai’jhur answered, “in which the blood has finally ceased to flow…”

As they continued to talk, Joseph Carrouthers from the Alliance Foreign Office Admissions Department stepped up to Julia from the gallery. “If I can have your attention for a moment, Captain?”

Julia turned away from the ongoing discussion and nodded at the man. "Alright," she said.

“We’ve finished the preliminary analysis of the Union’s constitution. The governance structure is a series of five councils of parallel responsibilities, some split into two halves to ape a bicameral legislature, but they’re all small, nine members each. The Warmaster still has a fair number of reserve powers--but in principle the position is elective on a life-term, though standing for it is very difficult. To her credit, Warmaster Shai’jhur has put real effort into securing the independence of the judiciary. There are certainly concerns, but a lot come down to how hard the system is to evaluate because of how radically different from a traditional Earth democracy it is in structure. Based on that, it’s been decided to accept their candidacy. So, as the conference host, you can assure G’Kar that any observation mechanisms based on the Union being a candidate state can be guaranteed. Actual accession may be problematic, since they have such a small population, but that’s a political concern outside the scope of our office. Affiliate status like New Liberty and New Caprica may be an alternative.”

To that Julia nodded. "I'll relay that when appropriate. Thank you, Mister Carrouthers."

Once the layout of G'Kar's Truth and Reconciliation Committee was laid out, one of the Abbai Matriarchs raised the next point. "I would like to hear from the Allied Systems on the status of this Dilgar petition for admission, since it provides such an important foundation for this agreement."

Morgan and Maran both nodded to Julia - the President had certainly been informed beforehand - and she nodded back and leaned forward in her chair. She hadn't spoken much in these talks, even as host, allowing the others to guide the discussion as was warranted. Now some of the most important beings in the E5B1 Universe were giving her their undivided attention. "The Alliance Government has accepted the candidacy of the Union of Tira and Rohric."

"And if their candidacy is rejected by your organization?" That was from a Gaim. "What shall be our recourse then?"

"Well, there are alternatives to outright membership," Julia answered. "Even if their candidacy is ultimately denied, they are eligible for affiliate status with the Alliance, much as the New Liberty Colony and the New Caprica Confederation enjoy already. While this does grant more political independence than normal membership, affiliates are still subject to observation from the Alliance Government to ensure they are in compliance with the Alliance's foreign policies and standing international agreements. So essentially, whether or not they become full members of the Alliance, the Dilgar will be subject to the kind of Alliance oversight this treaty requires."

"Very well," the insectoid alien replied through the electronic voice of its translator. "The Gaim are satisfied by your response."

The other governments all echoed their general agreement.

As Julia was working on reports in the aftermath of the signing ceremony with G’Kar, President Morgan and Warmaster Shai’jhur, the soft trill of the door-buzzer intervened. "Come in," Julia said, looking up. The door slid open and the Warmaster walked in, a quiet expression upon her face. This time, she was alone.

“Captain Andreys. I wanted to take the moment to talk, if I may have some of your time.”

Julia nodded. "Is everything okay?"

“Better than it has ever been before, most likely,” she laughed, and moved to sit. “My latest talks with President Morgan were fortunately not about the peace here, but the war we will shortly be entering.”

"So you're joining the fight against the Reich?" Julia smiled a little. "Given the losses we've endured, you'll be welcome. We can use all of the ships we can get. The way things are going, the Aurora is going to wind up at the front soon."

“Considering that you’re maintaining a permanent neutrality patrol for our space, we had to do something to make up for it. Our starships are hardly like your’s, but forty-five of them will more than compensate for the five ships your government will keep on permanent picket duty. And I also agreed to provide crews and commanders for five war emergency cruisers that will be given to us as lend-lease. And we do have the equipment and ability to mobilize fifteen light divisions for service outside of the Union, so I also committed that to President Morgan.” From such a tiny state in population, it was an incredible effort, and Shai’jhur clearly knew it as she said it.

Julia knew it too. "It's sort of fitting, actually," she said. "I first learned of the existence of your species because people from this universe were comparing your old government to the Nazis. Now you'll be fighting at our side to put an end to the Reich."

“It is a chance for us to regain our honour and dignity. That is very important, for there to be symbols that we are valued and contribute, that who we are is not attrited by the path forward.”

Julia was almost ashamed of the thought in her head. That if any of those Dilgar were harboring doubts of Shai'jhur's reforms, if any of them were inclined to think there was nothing wrong with what their people did, being exposed to the Nazis' atrocities could certainly be persuasion to the contrary. She nodded toward Shai'jhur instead. "I don't think anyone can criticize you on that score if you're helping us put the Nazis down."

“Oh, I’m always ready to be surprised,” she said dryly. “Nonetheless, there are some ways that could help. It’s part of why I came here. I’d like your advice on how it would be possible to get permission for an actual Alliance ship to be commissioned which has a crew that is half Dilgar, and half from the rest of your member nations. I would very much like to have such a symbol of united forces as an inspiration to my people and the Multiverse.”

The thought was an ambitious one, Julia had to admit. "Well, I would bring it up with President Morgan and Admiral Maran, I suppose," she said. "And if you're ever in Portland, it wouldn't hurt to speak to Councilman Zoral from the Defense Committee, or Defense Minister Hawthorne. As much as Hawthorne's not one of my biggest fans, he's also got a lot of pull, and he might help you if he feels there's something to the idea." As the idea circulated in her head Julia nodded. "And I think it's a good idea. And with our shipyards implementing more and more Darglan technology, our biggest problem is finding people to crew ships, not getting new ones built."

“Then I will bring it forward. On the other side of things, I have given Kaveri and Zhengli both commissions as you know, and I intend to put two of the War Emergency Cruisers under their command. Assuming Zhengli recovers well enough for it.”

"I can't imagine what it'd be like to have my crew mutiny on me." Julia shook her head. "Although I guess I'm spoiled by the fact that many of my senior officers are people I grew up with, and with a couple of exceptions I've known them all for years. It's a luxury most captains don't get. I hope she recovers. She'll make a fine addition to the Alliance fleet."

“It’s just been very hard for her. Most of everyone she has known is dead, or thinks her a traitor. But she is not the only one suffering now. There’s the New Eden Dilgar, too.”

"I heard that Earth was expelling them." Julia shook her head. "It seems spiteful. I know that Humans in this universe haven't gotten over the Earth-Minbari War, but the way they go about things seems so counter-productive. I mean, the Minbari are basically gift-wrapping them new technology through the ISA, and some of them still believe this is all some trick to subjugate Humanity. We come along and they hate us too. It makes me wish we showed up a few years earlier in the timeline. Maybe we could have helped put Clark down in a way that didn't let his followers keep their influence…" Julia shook her head. "Although I know that's probably not how it would have gone."

“They’re getting eighteen months, payment at market value, and payment for new homes and relocation. We’re setting aside a more northerly archipelago on Tira for them. I hope their values will help the Tirans; I’ve asked Ari’shan to serve as the planetary governor. It’s still an expulsion, no much how much they’ve tried to sugar-coat it. As for trying to end Clark’s influence…” She shrugged. “Be thankful you are not the only heroes in the whole universe, Captain.”

"I know there are others. I'm reminded every time I get to see Madeleine - Captain Laurent on the Challenger - and Li." Julia's look turned pensive. "When I think about people like Clark and his followers, what they've done, what they might've done… well, I can see why some people think it would be so much easier to just shoot them and be done with it."

Shai'jhur's expression hardened. “Hawk and his people. I read the reports. They’re becoming monsters. Like drug addicts commanding a ship. We Dilgar were lucky, I fear for the next group, tainted by association, who faces their lynch law.”

Julia nodded. "The damn thing is that he, they, are utterly sincere. They think they're out to make the Multiverse a better place. It reminds me of why we can't go around 'killing the bad guys'. It becomes far too easy to start seeing the world in black and white and to think you can be the absolute judge of it. Getting to decide who lives and dies…" Julia shook her head. "...I don't think anyone should have that right. Not by themselves."

“Well. I won’t dwell on it, except to hope I won’t have to face them again. If nothing else, I don’t want any of my people being overzealous. The cloning chambers on Tira left a mark.” She stretched and flashed her claws for a moment, before her expression lightened and she continued. “I’m taking up too much of your time, for which I apologize. However, I did have another matter to ask about before departing, if I may.”

"Go right ahead." Julia grinned. "This is why I keep up with paperwork."

“Well then. I’d like for my daughter Tra’dur to be formally assigned as an exchange officer to the Aurora. She worked well here, got along with your crew, and contributed materially. You have helped us, we should repay the debt. And she’s very eager for the chance.”

Julia considered the idea. The reports from Cat, Lucy, and Lindstrom had all made clear how useful Tra'dur had been in stopping the bombs on the barrage gates, and the Dilgar science officer seemed quite eager. After several seconds she nodded. "I'll recommend it. Admiral Maran can put her into the Transfer Officer Training Program and get her into the next course right away."

“Thank you. I’d make one other offer--for a friendly baseball game between the crew-team on the Magaratha and your own--but Rohric is, alas, not very welcoming to foreigners. Perhaps when we visit you at another port?”

Shai'jhur couldn't have anticipated the wince that briefly formed on Julia's face. Julia noticed the confusion that showed on the Dilgar ruler's expression and fought to turn her expression into a friendlier one. "Sorry," she said. "Yes, that sounds like it'd be fun. There are quite a few baseball fans and players on the crew." But not the one who should be here…

“Well, if the chance comes… With my regards.” She reached down, and fishing it from her pocket, offered Julia a baseball. “It will be interesting. The Centauri only had a copy of the 1903 rules.”

"Oh, it will be," Julia agreed, forcing a smile on her face as she accepted the baseball. It looked off, which was understandable given the Dilgar were a century behind the game Julia learned about growing up. The hard part was the thought of Zack that went through her head while looking it over. "And I'm looking forward to the game." And hoping Zack will be back for it...

The talks had finished. The agreements had been signed. The old League races and the new races of the ISA were departing. Lawfully, formally, and in fact, there was peace. The Dilgar lived. And now, there were just the loose ends of the changes that had been wrought. Like this one.

“Good Morning, Ari’shan,” Shai’jhur offered as the legendary pilot entered. She was seated next to Kaveri with breakfast. “I know you look like you have something very important to ask me, but please, sit, we’ve enough food for you as well.”

He glanced between the two of them before moving to sit. “Shai’jhur. It has been a very long time since we’ve seen each other, even if that was only in passing. Miss Varma. A pleasure to meet you again.” The younger Dilgar inclined his head in respectful greeting. “I accept the hospitality.”

“A long time indeed. Certainly no chance to ever speak privately before. I’m sorry about the affairs with New Eden being what they are, but… My offer to tap you as the Governor of Tira is sincere, and I hope you’re giving it considerable thought.”

“The Earth Alliance has a similar divergence of opinion to… well, no. That’s not true. The civil war proved, as loathe as I am to admit it, that Jha’dur was right. The humans could have been us, with different pressures. Just as we could have been them. I will accept the position, with some reservations and caution. We need to move forward, and you offer our best chance of doing so, with the expulsion of my people from human space.”

“Thank you, Governor.” Shai’jhur grinned and leaned back. “Obviously, all of your reservations have to be within the constitution, but I don’t think that will be an issue. I will be appointing my eldest daughter Tai’jhur as my Seneschal, as I expect to be commanding the expeditionary force against the Nazis…”

“On the note of my sister, Warmaster… I cannot help but notice your daughters, some of them share a very… rare but storied clan name that differs from your own.”

Shai’jhur blinked, looking like a woman for all the world trying to avoid something she should have known was coming. “Well, they are related to the House of Dur. I’d hardly give that name to some of my children in idle…”

Kaveri spoke up, a softly hesitant tone in the way she spoke, “I had wondered the same, I admit. There were only two at the start of the war, and only one at the end…”

Shai’jhur stiffened, silent.

“If they are my sister’s, Warmaster, I do not hold it against them, or you. Jha’dur was… brilliant, a mind of the like not seen in a thousand years… but the burdens she bore… also turned her into what she became. Your daughters seem… very much like what I wish she could have been - what she wanted to be.”

Shai’jhur’s voice cut with unusual vehemence. “I had to find some way to honour her…. Honour our fleet! We fought, and we died by the tens of thousands, and I approved the curricula, I gave the orders -- no praise, no glory, no honour for all of those who perished…” She collapsed, weeping freely. “Damn it all, but all of those ghosts haunt me and I must tell them that they are remembered as a faceless mass led to die by the evil.”

“She was our leader. The Warmaster of First Strike Fleet. You know that, you know that. We all loved her. Every one of us would die for her, and most of us did. Ari’shan, Kaveri… She was our symbol, our commander. I had to honour her and the dead through her, somehow. So, I found my way.” She wiped at her tears and looked up, blinking wide, yellow eyes. “The genetic database of the Warmasters. I had Spectre Fei’nur salvage it. The second genetic donor to all six of my children is Warmaster Jha’dur.”

Ari’shan nodded, slowly. “I understand the bonds of comrades in war, Shai’jhur, and I understand the desire to find something to tell ourselves it was worth it.”

Kaveri looked more pensive for a long moment, before reaching out to embrace the smaller Dilgar and pull her closer. “You have done no evil in this.” A pause. “Do they know? I assume so, by their ages…” Kaveri would ask, pitching her question loud enough for Ari’shan to hear, as the aging pilot leaned back, shaking his head at the thought of what Jha’dur would have thought to have six kits… by Shai’jhur. Gods, but she’d have been furious, I think. I think.

“Yes,” Shai’jhur was answering Kaveri “I taught them honestly. They know she’s their mother, too, and they can make their own decisions about her as long as they understand the policy of the government. For the most part, I think they’re very mature… Though, Ari’shan, you may want to talk to Nah’dur someday. I think she quietly idolizes Jha’dur. She’s my youngest and she’s always been terrifically impertinent…”

“So was Jha’dur, once she had her confidence. I will try and give your youngest a further understanding of Jha’dur, beyond the likely ideal she idolizes.”

“Thank you…” Shai’jhur laughed harshly and bitterly. “Jha’dur commanded me to have children to do my duty by my race. I have done my duty. Her blood will enrich us for a thousand generations, more brilliant than any other Dilgar who has ever lived. The humans would never understand--present company excepted--but I actually think Supreme Warmaster Jha’dur might: I had a moral, ethical duty to keep her blood from perishing from the diversity of our race. And the House of Dur deserved my womb and household to its service, for no others could be trusted with the duty of raising up her line. Gods hold us fast.”

“She was always seeking to make herself difficult to understand, Warmaster. In the later months of the war… that side of her may not have. She certainly always felt the pressure of being one of the only Dur, and when her brother was killed… she changed. Despite everything, I…” Ari’shan trailed off. “She was my sister, and the Vorlons likely killed her. Not even seeing my pilot’s wings could shake her out of her course, when the EIA went to talk with her on Babylon 5, to try and invite her to New Eden. Her shadow will be something we may someday succeed in escaping, but her legacy is another matter.”

“I don’t wish to escape it completely,” Shai’jhur replied bluntly. “Oh, I have made myself more human than I often care to admit, Ari’shan. Let my daughters become more human than sometimes pleases me. I can love a human without being one. Gods, but it seems poor Zheng-li is more interested in our culture than her own at this point, so I understand the feeling of, ah, alienation. But Jha’dur did give one overriding objective in the war, that seemed to still be the reason she refused to come to New Eden, an objective sound enough that I obey it, gods protect the Alliancers from ever finding out. Keep the Dilgar, Dilgar.”

Ari’shan’s face pinched in a bit of upset anger. “I did the best I could to lead my people, Warmaster. The Alliance had requirements, demands, things that had to be done.”

“Oh, in your place I’d have done the same, Gods, don’t get me wrong! You had fifty thousand. Keep our blood alive and trust that the blood is strong! That was it, I understand. But for me, I wanted the political and cultural foundations of participatory governance and of Law to be fundamentally Dilgar, untainted by human example. I don’t know what she’d think, but I think this was the right cut to make.”

“You held to the old oaths, and the laws, as I wished we could have during the war. The Alliance… they never told me details of… anything, really. I had human friends, yes, before most died fighting the Minbari. What they did tell me, however…” He leaned forward, and whispered directly into Shai’jhur’s ear, before sitting back, holding a disquieted expression on his face.

Shai’jhur rocked back in her chair and looked between the two of them. “Gods. May I not live to see the day.”

“I would not hold out hope that fate is yet done with our people, Warmaster, but we are Dilgar, and we will go forward, together, all of us.”

“Excuse me? Battlemaster? Are you quite all right?” The nervously respectful Dilgar trembled, even at using the rank with a human, no matter what uniform she was in. He had come from the tiny glassware shop across the narrow hall on the station, and probably ran it. She had been there for several hours, not moving from the seat in the hallway, staring out at the stars. And she was far from the places that officers and government agents usually congregated.

“No, but I thank you for asking.” Her lips and tongue weren’t quite designed for the hisses and growls of Dilgar, but she replied easily enough, looking up and giving a polite, if strained, smile, keeping her ‘fangs’ behind her lips so as to not give unintentional challenge to a stranger. “Do you make your glass, or resell that others do? Forgive me for asking. Is my sitting here an issue? You may speak freely.” I think that may have been the most words I have strung together in three days.

“We make our own,” he answered proudly, “in the zero-gravity sectors. It is one of the few arts we can afford, and it is lovely. Would you like to come into the shop and see, M’lady? You’ve done nothing wrong, but we worried you were unwell and wished to call someone if you needed it and we might be of service.”

“We?” She forced herself to stand, brushing imaginary lint off her uniform jacket as she did. “Please, show me? It has been a difficult last few weeks, and I will be off to war soon enough, it seems. What is your name? I am Zhengli’Varma.” Somehow, the syllables rolling together felt right in her head.

The man smiled a little nervously. “It is a grand name, certainly, Battlemaster. Clan Varma is already well-respected, considering the stories that have been told around the Warmaster’s work. You were at Tira, then. Please, come as an honoured guest. The we is myself, my mate, my eldest who work this all. We are lucky, to be stationers, and lucky too, to have our own business when so much serves the needs of the state. I shall be pleased to show you our art.”

“I would be pleased to see it. Be at ease, I have come from humble roots, and not forgotten whence I did.”

“I would honour you for what you have done, not who you are, Battlemaster.” He paused at the front of the shop, hesitating for a moment. “In those ages past of my mother and father’s time, that was what we aspired to. To be judged by what we had done, not who we were. Now, the Warmaster teaches us that lesson well. Here, Battlemaster, come and see my wares, and judge us for what we have done, too. I shall be very proud if M’lady approves. If you are to be among us, it makes me happy that you would learn our art and our ways! I never dreamed aliens would do such.”

“An honest craftsman’s work is always worthy of approval. If you have some of our classical work that will survive most of what a spacer may throw at it, I shall be quite keen to acquire at least a small set.”

He paused, and looked at her for a moment at her use of our… And then smiled. “I do have some pieces in the classical tradition of Dilgar art, and a few of the solid glass ones will surely stand a pounding in the quarters of a starship commander…”
Later, looking back on that moment, Zhengli realized it was the first time she had really felt comfortable since she had involuntarily left Babylon-5.

Shai’jhur was sitting at her desk on Far Outer Station, reading through the copious masses of files she had to authorize, most of them relating to the admissions process for the Alliance that she had begun. Sitting there, sometimes drinking tea, she was thoroughly subdued until the moment of a familiar rustling.

Fei’nur at least had the grace to look uncomfortable, as she wavered into view. “Forgive me, Warmaster… but if I may? I don’t think Warmaster Jha’dur spared you solely due to your competence. In her personal effects salvaged from Vendetta, I found… this…”

In her hand was a ragged old magazine, glossy and plastered with gaudy advertisements, one of a multitude that had hawked cheap consumer goods on Omelos, before the war.

Shai’jhur saw that in block letters the advertisements had been overwritten by two words: Practical Cookbook. Quietly, and with a bit of trembling anticipation, she opened the pages. Inside, carefully and neatly cut, were parts of labels, carefully glued to pages. She recognized them immediately, though the words were preserved to remove any doubt.

Jhur Family Canned Meat Products
A Handy Recipe for Family Satisfaction
With meat from wonderful radiation-free Rohric!

“Warmaster, I believe that you were spared because of the memories she had of those cans, of what they had represented to her when she was trying to survive.” Her eyes flickered up to fix on Shai’jhur’s. “What yourself and Battlemaster Varma had done would not likely have otherwise been forgiven.”

“When she… I read the files, you well know. When she was an orphan, and dreadfully poor. Her and her brother must have half-lived off the cans my family’s ranches produced, didn’t they?” She looked at the pages, half trembling and half spellbound.

“She never spoke of such things, Warmaster. You know she was intensely private about her life, but… if you could accept the occasional bit of bloody coughing when the sterilizing didn’t quite work properly, it was the best canned meat you could get, on the kind of money my family had. She was always logical. Avoiding the sorts of contaminants in the other foods at that price point would be worth it.”

Shai’jhur grew very still, and stared down at the faded can labels glued onto the advertisements. They had been neatly, with a child’s hand, organized by type of recipe. They had been carefully pressed. It was a smart girl, taking special care to make a useful thing that would last. Old above her time, wise for her age. Brilliant.

But just a poor orphan girl trying to help her brother.

“Have you ever thought that life is just a collection of great circles, and that Jha’dur and I simply spent decades traveling ours?” Shai’jhur’s voice was cracked and hoarse, but not from the spores. She looked up. “Though she cannot know it, and did not know it when she gave the command, Warmaster Jha’dur saved the Dilgar.”

“I wish to think, Warmaster, that she would be happy for it. She did not want what was thrust upon her, the power, the responsibility. It destroyed her, but in the end… she won. We Dilgar endure, making our own path.”

“In another century there will be billions of Dilgar again. They will have the chance to set their own course, and the Alliance will shelter us until we can stand on our own feet. It will be their decision whence to take the next step in the journey. We will be in our graves… And I think I’m glad for that.”

“I hope the Supreme Warmaster has a chance to see this, and some-day live amongst us again, ma’am. She deserves that much, wherever she is.”

Shai’jhur stared at the wall for a long time. She didn’t answer the last Spectre’s comment. Then she quietly folded the cookbook closed and handed it to Fei’nur. “Give this to Nah’dur when she’s mature enough to understand it. She’ll be the one to appreciate it the most.”

“Yes, Warmaster, I shall. She will be proud of them all, I think.” The tall woman stepped back, and shimmered back out of visibility once more.
”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 » 2018-01-17 09:41am


The Starship Aurora continued a quiet orbit over the dead world, the last testament to the people who had made her and the organization she represented possible. The ship's vigil over the broken world of She'teyal, the homeworld of the extinct Darglan species, was a temporary assignment. The Shenzhou was now leading the Alliance task force monitoring the borders of the Dilgar Union, and her replacement as the ship overseeing the excavations on the Darglan homeworld would not arrive for another day or so.

Julia stood alone in her quarters looking out on the dead world. Her uniform for the next day was already laid out, while her silver nightgown shined slightly in the dimmed lights of her quarters. Sixteen months ago she had stood on the surface of She'teyal in an EVA suit, looking out on the ruins left by the species that changed her life long after they had been exterminated. It was that same mission that prompted their first contact with the races of the E5B1 universe and their first visit to Babylon-5, which in turn had made their participation in the history of the last two weeks possible.

The past few months felt like a whirlwind even by the standards of her life since the discovery of the Darglan Facility beneath the mound on the Dale family's farm. As Captain of the Aurora she had gone from a desperate battle against the Cylons to the stand-off with the Aururians, the Fracture survey mission and the encounter and battle there, and now the fight over the fate of the Dilgar. It seemed like these quiet moments were few and far between given those crises. She wondered if it would get any worse, and figured that it probably would.

At the same time, the accomplishments made it all worthwhile. Thanks to her efforts the Aururian Empire and their rivals, the League of Democratic Worlds, were allies in the war with the Reich. The Cylon threat had been thwarted. Princess Allura and her Castle of Lions - and that green lion ship piloted by Katie "Pidge" Holt - had been protected from being seized by NEUROM's sinister Ministry of Fate, winning the Alliance a potentially powerful ally in the long term, and in the process learning more about the origins of the Falaens of Universe A7R6. And this situation with the Dilgar… because of that, Julia had literally sat at the same table as the President of the Allied Systems while serving as the host of one of the greatest assemblages of leaders the E5B1 universe, maybe even the whole Multiverse, had seen. The likes of President John Sheridan and G'Kar had treated her as a figure of respect. Growing up, she had always anticipated becoming some business owner, or maybe a low level politician, when she dreamed about gaining responsibility and becoming a leader. Thanks to the Darglan, her dreams had become nothing compared to the reality of her accomplishments.

And yet… and yet there was a bittersweet taste to it. A bittersweet taste that became the center of Julia's thoughts when her eyes met the invitation Shai'jhur had offered. The Dilgar leader's interest in Human culture had felt bizarre at times but, in the light of what the Dilgar went through, understandable. That they picked baseball of all sports to emulate…

Julia found that, like before, she couldn't look at anything concerning baseball without thinking of Zack Carrey. He was her friend, and knowing he was out there suffering following the loss on New Caprica…

And then there was Robert Dale. Her oldest, truest friend in the world, the one person who was without a doubt her soulmate. Months in a coma, then waking up to find that the powers he'd barely been capable with were suddenly greater than he ever imagined. Cumulatively he'd been gone for half of a year now, a void that she thought of whenever he wasn't there to share breakfast or dinner, or to discuss their missions, or simply chat about how their lives were going. She found that, regardless of her success, she missed them both.

We're supposed to be doing this together she thought. The three of us, and the others…

Julia finally stepped away from the window and went over to her desk. She sat there for a quiet moment, looking over the Dilgar-made baseball Shai'jhur had gifted her, until she could no longer stop herself. A tap of a key activated the comm systems. The Aurora's interuniversal and subspace transceiver arrays stood ready to transmit whatever she wrote or said.

She smiled warmly. "Hey Zack," she said. "Uh… it's been a while and I just wanted to let you know that we miss you. I hope you're getting a handle on things. I know you've been through a lot, and I'm sorry that I didn't do enough to help you deal with it. Maybe then… maybe you wouldn't have left…"

A hundred light-years and a universe away from the Starship Aurora and the lifeless world of She'teyal was a garden world of Universe S2C3 that, two years before, was dubbed Guanxi. The settlers of the planet were initially Chinese from the planet New Guangdong in Universe L2M1. But as sometimes happened with these worlds the flow of migrants shifted and the primary settlement of Deng Guo City was now heavily populated by Caucasian and South Asian settlers from the D3R1 universe, mostly Colonial Confederation or individuals who decided the Arcturan Freeholds were a bit too "free" for their personal comfort (and safety).

The resulting melange of cultures and languages gave Deng Guo City - "Deegee City" to the local English speakers - some unique aspects, including a growing patois of Malayalam, English, and Chinese. What was certainly not unique was the usual kinds of establishments to cater to the ships coming and going from the Deng Guo City Spaceport. Guanxi was the breadbasket of the Allied System colonies in S2C3, and the spaceport was often full of ships landing to pick up foodstuffs for the mining colonies and settlements in nearby star systems while dropping off everything from raw ore to consumer goods manufactured elsewhere. The trading ships came from the local Human star nations to add their own goods to the local markets and to pick up Alliance-made consumer goods for sale elsewhere. Catering to these spacers and merchants were the usual assortment of bars, drinking holes, and brothels. Sometimes they were even under the same roof.

One such bar was an establishment with the eccentric name of "Pop Tate's Chocolate Shop". It was not quite disreputable but leaning in that direction. Inside a handful of patrons, mostly spacers or people passing through, were seated at tables. A holo-vid viewer displayed a news report about the war in S4W8. An old school jukebox was playing music from the local S2C3 Humanity's listings, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds". Only two men were up at the bar, nursing drinks.

One of them was Zachary Carrey.

He was in civilian wear, a jean jacket with a wool-lined collar over a faded blue shirt with the insignia of his old minor league baseball team on it. Blue jean pants the same color as his jacket were buckled by a black leather belt around his waist. A pair of blue sneakers covered his feet, which were perched up on the stool he was seated upon. A half-finished glass of bourbon was set before him while his eyes were fixed on the digital pad in his hand. Audio continued to play.

"Maybe then… maybe you wouldn't have left…" said the voice of the woman he loved more than anything in the Multiverse, a fact that further fueled the guilt he felt within. "I just wish you would stop hating yourself. You deserve to be happy too. Even if you go through with this resignation, if you leave the Koenig and Aurora behind… please, just find something you love doing, and do it. Don't waste your life away. Clara wouldn't want that. Rob wouldn't. I don't want that. Please. I know that you blame yourself for Clara…"

With a tap of a key on the device, Zack paused the audio message from Julia. A swipe of his finger brought up the image he kept on the display. Clara looked resplendent in her crisp white nurse's uniform. Her dimpled smile was as radiant as a star. Looking into those bright eyes, full of love, was like a stab to Zack's heart; those eyes would never be bright again. He closed his own eyes as tears formed in them and his mind flashed back to the mining facility on New Caprica. To the sight of Clara's body, riddled with bullets fired from a Cylon Centurion.

Although he knew it was futile to try, Zack grabbed the glass of bourbon and downed what he had left, as if it could wash away that painful memory.

"Too bad it doesn't work," a voice grumbled.

Zack set the glass down and turned his head to the left. Two stools down was another bar patron. He was an older man, probably in his forties Zack guessed, or maybe thirties and a very hard life. His black hair was grown out some, not quite to shoulder level, but his beard and mustache weren't. Bits of gray showed in the beard.

"My dad never gave up trying," Zack mumbled. "So it must have done something." He slid the glass forward and, after a moment of inward struggle, produced a plastic bill of currency for the nearby bartender, a grizzled man in his fifties with a dark bronze complexion. A bottle of bourbon whiskey was produced from under the bar and employed to refill his glass. The money disappeared.

"Lovely lady you've got," the other man said. "Sad story there, I'm guessin'." He produced his own currency. More brown fluid was poured into his glass.

"Yeah." Zack looked over his new drinking partner. He was in a white shirt, short-sleeved, with well-developed muscle on his tattooed arms. The shirt hung down over a pair of camo-patterned pants. There was a hardness in the distant look in his brown eyes. Zack spotted an object in the other man's hand, a photo of someone with a Caucasian skin tone. Given the position of the man's thumb he couldn't quite make out the face or other features, but Zack could see red hair that looked like it had been pulled into a ponytail. "I guess I'm not the only sad story." Zack brought the glass to his lips and took a small drink.

"You could say that," the older man said. "Your sad story?"

Zack took another drink and forced it down. The haze of the alcohol was spreading through his head. "She came out here because of me. She died out here trying to help people. And the damned thing is, I didn't deserve her at all. As much as I loved her, I'm in love with someone else."

"Right." The man nodded. He took a drink.

"Your's?" asked Zack.

"Not dead."


Even through the haze growing in his head, Zack could see the haunted look that came to those eyes. "Worse," was all he said.

Zack nodded wordlessly. And he took another drink.

The haze in his head was such that he didn't quite pay attention when the other man got a call. The voice of another man was speaking, a younger man with a crisp, military tone that reminded Zack of Apley. Zack caught a reference to the ship being ready but little else. When the discussion was over the older man quietly stood from his stool. He made sure to collect the photo of the red-headed woman. He left a small pile of bills on the bar. "Here. Another one, on me," he said to Zack.

Zack almost asked his name, but it came out slurred, and it was too late besides. His drinking partner was gone.

The bartender collected the cash and poured Zack another drink. Zack turned the message from Julia back on and listened to her plead with him to not Clara's death destroy him, how everyone cared for him, all of that fun stuff that was both true and yet not what he needed to hear. Zack finally sighed and turned the message off. He fumbled for another bill.

The bartender shook his head. "No more for you," he said, in an accent that was vaguely South Asian Indian. "Time to go."

Zack frowned at that. He scooped the money back up and went to the door.

He never saw the blow coming. Pain shot through the alcoholic haze and he span about, hitting the ground with a surprised cry. Bleary, he looked up in time for a man to grab him by the collar and haul him bodily into a nearby alley. Once there a fist slammed into his chest, right above his stomach and over his diaphragm, knocking the wind out of him. Zack crumbled to the ground. Someone kicked him in the side. He heard voices speaking but they made no sense. He looked up to see three men arrayed around him. He glimpsed something dark in the hands of one, who was shouting something to the others.

Then there was another voice. The men turned. One went for a weapon, but before he could bring the gun up he went flying. Zack nearly fell unconscious at that point and was only vaguely aware that his attackers were being beaten back. By the time his senses had returned - relatively speaking given how much bourbon he'd had - he was alone with just one other figure in the alley. His rescuer was in a jacket… no, not a jacket, a robe, of brown color, with a hood that cast shadows that obscured the face. He could just make out what looked like loose cream-colored pants on the legs of the figure. Something in his head told him he'd seen this kind of clothing before. It wasn't Human-style clothing, but something close…?

His rescuer reached up and lowered his hood. This revealed the face of a bearded man, the beard made of dark hair - darker than Zack's own - and well-trimmed.

But what finally caused Zack's mind to recognize his rescuer was the warmth in his familiar green eyes, the same warmth evident in the man's voice as he reached down to take Zack's hand.

"Hey Zack," said Robert Dale, grinning at his friend as he helped Zack to his feet. "It's been a while."
”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 DaZergRock54444 » 2018-01-17 10:48pm

I have a theory!
An outlaw turned marshal turned rebel.
Fascinating episode besides, nice to see a crazy warrior race get woken up to not being shitheads. Also Wrex being "young, don't quite give a damn" Wrex is nice to see.
Instead of foodservice equipment, let's play with large format projectors.

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