"Undiscovered Frontier: Origins" Pilot - "Called To The Colours"

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"Undiscovered Frontier: Origins" Pilot - "Called To The Colours"

Post by Steve »

Written by Tomyris and Voyager989.


I fought for one of the most evil war machines in history. To disobey orders was to die, but by being brave and always volunteering for another risk, I stayed away from the plague-bomb duties, from the mass-driver bombardments, while skirting and threading my way past the horrors of which summary execution was the most merciful. In a terrible spasm of violence, we swept through the galaxy annihilating races in the service of our leaders’ terrible knowledge that our own extinction was inevitable if we did not evacuate our homeworld, Omelos.

In that war, commanding a destroyer in the First Strike Fleet, I was shot down, my ship destroyed, my shuttle crashed, over an unpeopled world in Sector 83. To a desolate barren rock was my fate, shared with only one other -- a Human named Kaveri Varma, serving our great and terrible enemy, Earthforce. They say hope springs eternal, and there it did. I was spared by Warmaster Jha’dur for my act of miscegenation, for the war was not going well, and that brilliant woman, the like of her we will not see for another ten thousand years, found me more useful than my ‘crime’ was repulsive.

The war continued, and our fleets died their bitter deaths defending our front position at Balos to the very last. At the third battle of Balos, Warmaster Jha’dur disappeared, and with my ruined ships we returned to Omelos for the last battles. But I was a colonial, Rohric born and bred, and when the others were called to die at Omelos against the Liberation Navy, I fled, and hid. If it was a coward’s lot, then it was also my lot to save our people.

I spent decades studying humans. Their literature, history, stories, games. Part of it was for the sake of love, but I had to be practical. I studied them so that I would know how to beg when the hour came that I could present the case for the survival of my species to them. I had little hope from it except for bare survival. What I found instead was a chance to fight alongside these heroes of an undiscovered frontier, beyond space itself.

Now, the Alliance gives us hope, let us stand on our own feet. They have saved our tiny numbers, our forty-four million, from annihilation at the hands of our old enemies. They have helped us know peace. And I would repay the favour. We Dilgar have a lot to prove, a galaxy--no, a multiverse--who need to learn we are not irredeemable monsters. So I asked the Alliance for a chance -- a ship jointly crewed by the Union and the Alliance, half Dilgar, half Human and alien. And to its crew, my Kaveri has given her daughter, and I my youngest.

This is our great chance, our great hope -- to purchase our own redemption with our own efforts, to establish our name anew, on terms this young generation will decide for itself. This Multiverse is a dangerous place, and it needs brave ships. The Aurora which helped save us may be the shining symbol of these first days, of the formation of the Alliance, but without the fleet, she would be one Champion in the sea of Hell. This is the story of those who have answered the call of the colours -- this is the story of the Huáscar and all who go in her. Of our redemption, and the heroes we call our friends.

-- Warmaster Shai’jhur, private remarks after the commissioning of the ASV Huáscar.
Undiscovered Frontier: Origins

"Called to the Colours"

Act 1
The Ship

She was laid at the Thalla Concordia Yards over the Gersallian Colony of Chamra. The world of Chamra had always been marginally habitable and so it made a natural location according to Gersallian principles of consensus and environmental respect for the concentration of heavy industry. The Enterprise -class, fully integrating Darglan technology, were some of the largest ships built in the Alliance, and the upgrades to the yard required to handle construction of Darglan technology had been enormous. The Federated Stars Primary Terran Fleet Dockyards had built the first Enterprises, and as the rate of construction increased, Hull No.1168 would now be the first built by Thalla Concordia.

To upgrade the yards to Darglan technology specifications a contract had been let with the Bechtel Corporation of the Federated Stars, Universe L2M1. Bechtel was a centuries old major engineering contracting firm which also existed in a few other universes, though only in L2M1 had they retained their position as a premier contractor during the interstellar age. The Human engineers, hard-working, hard drinking and consuming endless burnt coffee, were up against the shot-clock of massive bonuses for meeting completion milestones under a CPIF (Cost-plus-incentive fee) contracting instrument with the Bureau of Allied Forces that handled relations between the UAS military proper and the subordinate militaries of the constituent states.

The major sub providing the workers for spacesuit welding ops was the infamous Sir Robert MacAlpine plc, from H1E4 and taking its first foray into interstellar contracting in the auspices of the UAS. The lack of zero-gravity experience for most of their contract laborers, hired on the cheap from undeveloped nations, had started causing slow-downs and incidents on the jobsite. To try and keep the timeline bonuses Bechtel had brought in additional subs from Gersal, biting into the incentives on the 80/20 cost sharing ratio for overruns and putting enormous pressure on the engineers to find other ways to cut costs. The Gersallian shipyard managers had grown increasingly concerned as the Program Manager Alice Theriault grew grey hairs in real time. With shaking hands from the endless coffee, she kept trying to balance fifty competing priorities as the wartime construction requirements of the Defense Ministry pressed Bechtel to meet the incentive timeline, hell or high water. War was a risky time for contracts because during wartime the contract could be altered with little legal recourse if they fell too far behind schedule.

Every day, the Gersallians sat in the group with the PM at the table surrounded by a half a dozen of her Bechtel section leads and the Bechtel contracting officer, a group of three construction leads from MacAlpine frequently arguing with them. The words being exchanged were never kind, leaving the Program Lead of the Gersallian sub, Xanalt Ltd., looking progressively more horrified as Alice used his company as a hammer to press MacAlpine into meeting milestones. The government Contracting Officer Representative team from L2M1 frequently sided with her as they dug into change order after change order and as a result MacAlpine repeatedly protested the Defense OIG about bias in the CORs and CORs violating contracting law by issuing orders directly to them instead of routing through Alice and Bechtel.


As the timetable continued to slip, the personalities became more important. Usually the only thing keeping the meetings from dissolving into a table pounding argument was Alice’s veteran practice of keeping a large tin of candies in the middle of the table during the sync meetings, which in combination with the locals’ heavy cream which was being used in lieu of proper creamer for the coffee had made every single one of the Human engineers gain at least two kilos since the start of the contract except for one lanky engineer named Robert Lansky who appeared to have stopped eating anything except coffee and candy and thus actually lost weight. Not like he needed that. Bastard.

They nearly lost the completion milestone for substantial completion and commencement of the Punch List review by the govt CORs when sixteen MacAlpine welders were arrested by the local Gersallian authorities for assaulting people on the space station during an alcohol-fueled riot exacerbated by “cultural differences”. That was finally the moment when Alice couldn’t stop the govt CORs from getting into a screaming match with the MacAlpine sub reps which subsequently led to a new Dorei COR being sent from BAF headquarters.

Somehow, we keep muddling along. Alice had put in so much time, her engineers had put in so much time, but they were not done yet. They had finished all the design work, and that meant it was time for another trick from her book. Rubbing her eyes and reviewing the personnel utilization figures, she made the call to take all of her engineers during the last 72 hours before the deadline, and selected the ones certified for spacesuit ops.

“You’re going out there and you’re going to get the job done! There’s nothing more to it. You know what to do, and the techs need the support. We are standing at the critical pathway for success on this contract and there isn’t going to be any whining: This is your chance to get out from behind your computers and bend metal! We are a team, and the next four days are going to decide whether or not our professional reputation is legit. Get out there and get it done!” With that none-too-polished speech, Alice simply threw them at the primary matter converter assemblies to reinforce the welding teams. The ones who weren’t also welding certified could act as SOs and work leads so MacAlpine and Xanalt could throw their own leads and wage grade supervisors into the direct work and the rest would melt metal just like the underpaid subs!

The Instrumentation and Controls subs were thrown in the moment that the welding was half completed and the primary matter converters were sufficiently secure that they could start being aligned for the building bays. They were predominantly Computer and Software Engineers who thrived on coding and extreme deadlines and even as the physical construction component of the work was finished and the Punch List review started by the government CORs they were already working to complete the primary alignment and the software linkages with the construction tractor-beams following exactly 54 hours later.

They were now on a two-week timetable to complete the software and instrumentation alignment and programming. In theory this was just about adjusting variables to reflect the specific configuration of the shipyard and to guarantee that the control computers recognised the integral control of the different components. In practice, every single line of the code failed. Nobody could really adequately explain to Alice how this happened or why, but she had never led an instrumentation and controls project in which the SCADA system actually worked as designed. Ever. They were tested dozens of times, they were installed and working somewhere else, the company had modified them based on past practice, the people in both the Government contracting office and for that matter Bechtel headquarters all spent hours on comm lines with each other pretending in some giant game of charades like they would function as designed, and they still failed every single time. Pre-multiverse Human, post-multiverse Darglan, it didn’t matter, the controls software failed the first time it was installed.

The project was so high priority that the SCADA firms were trying to issue updates to correct deficiencies directly from their headquarters by network link. This failed when the local Gersallian security officer shut down the network link because of ‘the risk of Nazi hacking and sabotage attempts’ using his authority as the Site Security Officer since even though the contract was being run by the BAF, it was still a Gersallian facility and so they had Safety and Security responsibilities. This gave Alice her first break in weeks because delays caused by the site security did not impact Bechtel’s incentive fees, so she could, and did, use the security issues as an excuse for literally everything. The government CORs were screaming on the phone to BAF headquarters to get the network link cleared by Gersallian security, and her team all went out and got drunk and actually had a solid sixteen hours off work for the first time in a month. Sadly someone at fleet headquarters was excited enough about their self-inflicted delay that the issue was resolved within 36 hours and the rush was back on with only a limited cost-plus charge from Bechtel.

Things seemed like they were improving in terms of meeting performance deadlines, but that didn’t change a growing perception in Portland that the contract was spiralling out of control. Two days after they resumed work on the SCADA for the shipyard installation, Alice had to field a no-warning comm call from an advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Naval Construction. He fit the type to a T, some kind of politically connected square-jawed clean shaven man in his late 30s in a business suit who felt his position made him into a Decider and allowed him to spend the next thirty minutes cussing out Bechtel and Alice personally and demanding to know why they were behind schedule. Alice, who was texting with her office of legal counsel under the desk the entire time, answered over and over again that it was a Government Imposed Delay and under the contract that was exclusively assumed by the government without impacting the CPIF schedule and by the way he wasn’t the Contracting Officer (KO) so she wasn’t taking instructions from him, which of course resulted in more vigorous swearing and a threat from the advisor that they would have the contract pulled and reassigned, which she knew was ridiculous because every engineering services firm in the UAS was around 120% booked already due to the war.

Having gotten nowhere, the advisor started a ten minute long monologue which consisted of how important he was, how smart he was, and how powerful he was, as well as how he was going to get Alice fired and make Bechtel look bad. He liberally dropped f-bombs throughout the entire monologue and then hung up the comm-line with his face red looking like he was going to give himself a heart attack. Alice simply turned around to her computer and worked with Bechtel legal counsel to file an OIG complaint about the contract violations; the KO called to apologize to her an hour later, but of course nothing would happen to the guy.


Despite all the drama, they legitimately needed to do something to get back on schedule, and not because of Mr. Bigshot, but because Bechtel was going to lose at least 35% of the Incentives if they failed to get a ship laid down on time, and the lay-down date for Hull No.1168 was now only three weeks away. Headquarters had abandoned all hope of getting the separate bonus for an early lay down, but most of the other incentives having melted away in the cost overruns, Alice wasn’t about to give up. She was an engineer, damnit. And thirty years worth of construction contracting experience had left her with a few mildly underhanded but perfectly legal tricks up her sleeve.

That night after her core team’s twelve hour day was finished, they congregated in an on-station establishment that served alcohol and had a private room. They brainstormed with the paper and pencils out, old school to keep it focused and avoid distraction on the net. “Look, boss,” Martin Gemmon looked to Alice expectantly. “The obvious solution is that we just get the shipyard to start building the ship. They’re under a government cost-plus contract, it doesn’t matter what they do to get it done.”

“I think we’re thinking along the same lines. Welders?”

“Exactly, boss.”

“Lansky, how much is Xanalt per day? MacAlpine’s are crap, we can let them go home, they’re not shipyard rated anyway -- is Xanalt ship repair qualled?”

“Ten thousand a week per employee, full burdened effective,” Lansky answered almost instantly. “And they’re all ship repair qualled.”

“Six hundred welders, full burdened effective means the supes are already buried in that. So we’re looking at, let’s say we’re two weeks late on the actual automation, that’s five weeks -- thirty million creds. Our penalty for failing to meet the construction timetable incentives for ship lay-down is eighty million, that’s no freakin’ contest. And we’d be starting early, so we can argue with the KO for the forty million early lay-down bonus. So we could clear ninety million. Sarah, the long leads are already being delivered to the yard?”

“Yeah, for hull 1168.”

Alice sighed. “The Gersallians are probably all already asleep. This is worse than working in the Latin Union, you better freaking believe it! All right. We’ll ask for an urgent meeting first thing tomorrow morning. I think a lot of their employees are ship repair qualified on Darglan hulls. We’re not going to be impacting the stand-up of the systems at all, am I clear? So this is keel and primary girder welding well inside the shipyard box. We’ll need a double shift of safety officers to deconflict. Can’t have any automated welding arm homing routine splatting an EVA dude.”

“We need buy-in from corporate,” Lansky remained her.

“I’ll get it tonight,” she said. “The maths add up. Nothing in the contract says the Gersallians have to start construction early with the automation, if they’re hand welding the keel that’s still commencement of construction. We can win this one and still get the bonus. Corporate’s done it before.”

“Right. I’ll start pulling the slides together to convince the Gersallians.”

“Do that. Sex ‘em up real hard, too. We want to make this look patriotic for the war effort, get them on board with the idea. Which it is, anyway. We’re going to be getting Hull No.1168 to the front a month faster if we do this, even with how slow hand-welding Darglan crap is.”

“One problem, boss,” Mark Desamoto looked up from his drawings on the table. “The retaining clamps are controlled by the SCADA system.”


“Can it, Marty.”

“Freak,” Martin groaned, and for more reason than one. “How are we going to hold the keel then?”

“Wait, wait, no worries, guys,” Sarahh grinned. “We can have a supplier deliver twenty klicks of 200 megapascal cable and get a shipping line to deliver forty or fifty cargo container magna-clamps. We’ll manually tension and centre the keel by clamping with cable. When the SCADA is up-checked they can transfer over with shipyard tugs to the retaining clamps in like a sixteen hour op tops.”

“Get that into the slides, if the shipyard will go along with it, we’re still in business, then,” Alice snapped. “All right. Get some sleep if you can. I’m going to comm corporate.”

The next day, Alice came back with a triumphant, exhausted look. “The strategy got us support at corporate and the brief won the Gersallians over. We’re on, guys. Do we have quotes on that cable and the magna-clamps?”

“One-four for the entire package.”

“Send it to corporate for resourcing, we need to start the supply immediately to avoid disruptions from the wartime transport,” Alice replied. There was little in the way of a party precisely because everyone abruptly had even more work to do. And work they did.

What had essentially been proposed was to start building a starship by hand in the middle of a dockyard still in its final completion punchlist. The Xanalt welders would reinforce the Gersallian shipyard workers and the metal would be fed in, secured by cabling around the still-deactivated automated systems, and EVA welders would proceed to do the work with safety officers deconflicting the two ops.

Deconfliction was the primary challenge of allowing a yard still in her hands for upgrades to start building. Alice knew that as long as both tasks weren’t impinging upon each other she could spin it as a complete success. Nasty accidents could result from a failure to keep track of the two parallel operations and that, for the sake of corporate, she needed to be most focused upon.

To some extent, it was a vindication for the Gersallians, though. Rather than rely on the new technology, they were starting the ship by hand and by the skill of their welders, and that counted for a lot. There were several near-misses in the deconfliction which made everyone pucker at how close they had come, but the debugging of the SCADA and the construction of the keels and primary hull girders continued apace. Corporate went to town for the bonuses and the throwdown over the completion negotiations started.

Three weeks later, the team from Bechtel packed up and finished. They needed to start work on a naqia processing facility pegged for a moon in L2M1 and it was time to start pre-project mobilisation and begin holding kickoff sessions. The successful handoff occurred two weeks late, but with five weeks of primary hull construction having been completed on No.1168 already.

The trick netted them the bonus, and now the hull was very much in the hands of the shipyard construction crews. They were supposed to complete the ship using the new technology in the blazingly fast time of only six months, but the schedule had been ambitious to a fault. Even after five weeks of preparatory manual work, the automated work itself progressed more slowly than anticipated.

Four months later, the ship was finished enough that the naval officers began to arrive, since there was enough ship for them to board and actually work with the constructors on fittings and reactor installation, now. At the head of the contingent was a trim woman of average height, black hair and a bit dusky in her skin. She was still wearing the uniform of a constituent Navy, the Union of Tira and Rohric’s Combined Fleet, and the eye flash of an intelligence officer contrasted oddly with the tabs indicating her line branch affiliation. In the Alliance Navy her substantiative rank of Lieutenant Commander had already been affirmed, but her formal start date wasn’t in yet, and for her first few weeks on the yard, she would wear the blue and grey of the old Imperium despite being a Human.

The other prominent thing, of course, were her crisp black leather gloves. A few of the farisa approached her to ask, and she politely affirmed that she was indeed a Telepath and yes, she was from that Earth, but had no interest in moving to Gersal. The Mha’dorn had welcomed her, however uncomfortably, and she was learning to stay sane around the minds of aliens, now. It would be a critical skill to allow her to act as a bridge in the unique crew hull No.1168 would have.

The Captain would not arrive until the pre-commissioning shakedown cruise, and so for the construction phase, it was Elia Saumarez of the Guernsey Saumarez Family -- a woman who only knew that family, by the laws of Psi-Corps, from reading articles on illustrious ancestors -- who would bring the ship to life. Her name had already been selected by special request, and it was a new one for the Alliance, though famous (or infamous) enough in general. The Telepath who had in her home nation been banned from military service and legally defined as a recording device was going to become one of the plank-owners for the ASV Huáscar. The memory would live on under a new flag -- of Pacocha, Iquique, Angamos, Arica, Callao, Taltal -- the indomitable spirit of the Inka Lords of Tawantinsuyu -- and of the stand over Tira most of all. The selection of the Captain was obvious. The spirit of the Tiran Huáscareños would live on in Elia Saumarez -- and Zhengli Varma.

She would be coming out of the yards a month late, but hull No.1168 was going to be truly grand. Now they would start to bring her to life.

The Captain

She sat on the bridge of a warship foreign to her people, the people she had been foreign to until only weeks before. The Ghatarn, Lancer’ in English, was one of the new Traynari -class War Emergency Heavy Cruisers of the Alliance, simplified versions of the Igasana class which had been turned out in enormous numbers for the war effort. Now there was a squadron of five of them with Dilgar squadron and clan markings flashing across their hulls.

They had spent the past weeks on shakedown, and around her a ready and eager Dilgar crew sat. Their uniforms slashed with red sashes and scarves to hide the blood of Rohric, they looked a gaudy and 19th century crew, like so many fire-zouaves. They were veterans, but fresh to the technology of the ship, which had made the working up so very hard. They were desperately needed at the front, by an Alliance running out of people before it ran out of ships.

The crew was all immensely proud to be serving their country in this capacity, the Honourable Union of Tira and Rohric. They at least had a commander who was a veteran of past hard fighting, but Zhen’var was her own unknown quantity. At least here, they all implicitly trusted her, in the way she doubted a Human crew ever would again.

Out there, beyond their Pentacon of lend-lease ships, stood the rest of Warmaster Shai’jhur’s contribution to the war against the Nazi Reich. A Pentacon of warp-capable Ochlavita s, brought back up to full strength after Tira. Two Pentacons of warp-capable Shofab- class cruisers rebuilt from Markab ships served as the bulk of the force, and finally there was the Heavy Pentacon, with the flagship the Magaratha, the Mankhat -class dreadnought Otoros, and three Sekhmets, as the Liberation Navy had called them. Two were survivors of the Tira Crisis. One … was a survivor of altogether much more. Her recognition markings called her the Wrath, but her nameplate said Imperial Wrath and her more famous name had been Vendetta.

The Dilgar, with their incredible skill at engineering, had tugged the hull of the wreck back during the retreat of the remnants of the fleet from Balos. She was supposed to be stripped to provide equipment for another Sekhmet, during the pathos of the last weeks of the Imperium when people continued to make plans and build things and pretend they were a functional state instead of the wreck of a nation. Instead, the hulk had remained floating around the outer Brown Dwarf of the Rohric system for the next thirty-two years.

During that time, the men and women maintaining the reserve yards had quietly stockpiled equipment from other wrecks, removed the blasted components, and made half-hearted efforts to consider rebuilding the ship, since they would never again, it seemed, have the ability to construct new ships. The flood of lend-lease material had changed that, and quickly. As a symbol of the Dilgar resurgence and to meet the urgent requirements of the War, Shai’jhur had authorized the ship’s reconstruction, under the more politic short-form name Wrath, and in what was clearly a gesture intended to remind her old veteran officers of what the future was, had given the commander’s chair to Battlemaster Kaveri Varma, her mother.

Following Alliance practice the Heavy Pentacon was carrying umbilical docking tubes for five lend-lease light attackers, not counting toward the total formation strength as a Pentacon-of-Pentacons, but serving as heavy support for the organic fighter complement. Full strength of the fleet was obtained with the addition of five carriers that the pentacon-of-pentacons was escorting. Zhen’var’s reverie was not idle. A direct line from the Wrath was trilling for her attention, and she rose to take it in her ready room. They were about to enter battle, and her mother wanted to talk.

A hint of a smile, despite the dire nature of the hour, crossed her face as soon as the screen blinked on. “ Ghatarn Actual here, go ahead.” The formality of her speech couldn’t hide the grin in her voice.

The grey-haired woman commanding the Wrath shook her head fractionally. “Zhen’var, you haven’t changed, thank the Divine. I just wanted to see your face again before we head into the fray once more.”

“Even if…?”

“You are still my daughter, no matter what face I see on the viewscreen. You’ll be on the far right flank, and you know your place if we form the three-dee pentacon. Be careful, Zhen’var. If fate is kind, I will see you after the battle.”

“Whether fate is kind or not, I intend to keep that meeting, mom.” Her lips split into a tight smile, but Zhen’var’s gaze was level and firm as she looked to the video pickup.

Kaveri smiled. “The soul of a kshatriya is ever the same, no matter the skin they were born to wear. I’m building an estate like the old family one, on Tira. The climate of the island is similar enough for a garden just like the one the servants kept when you were a girl. I know that, fates being kind or not, you will find your way to it. So will I.”

“Thank you, mother. If they’re very kind, we won’t be the last of the line to enjoy it, but now’s not the time to talk about that .”

“Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur was given the power of a Deva in her biological talents, I will leave that garden to its best keeper. Though when it comes to keepers of legacies, I confess I never expected to have the honour to command Supreme Warmaster Jha’dur’s former flagship,” Kaveri added after a moment. “She will likely be the last command I hold, and it feels thus like the course of my life has been one great wheel of dharma.”

“We can only stand to our charge laid upon us by birth and duty, mother. The ship has always stood against the enemies of the Dilgar, and now she does again. Her spirit won’t let you down.”

“May you strike true and deep, my daughter.”

“And may you spill your enemy’s lifeblood, mother.”

“I can think of few more righteous targets. Until later, Zhen’var.” Kaveri still had a smile when the connection flashed out. She was sitting in Jha’dur’s command chair, on Jha’dur’s bridge, a human woman who had fought in the Liberation Navy. She had a wife and daughters who were all Dilgar. And on the other side…

The screen flashed on with a fleet signal. There was Shai’jhur in the uniform of a Warmaster with a sword buckled to her side, with Fei’nur standing at her right side, as it was at Tira. “Dilgar,” Shai’jhur began without preamble. “Let them know our names. You have your orders and your headings. All ships to their stations! The Union of Tira and Rohric records valour on this day!”


Zhen’var’s component pentacon was on the right of the Dilgar formation. The objective of the force was to act as the reinforcement to the flanking assault on Epilson Eridani, one of the main supporting elements for the Big Push on Epsilon Indi. Major elements of the Systems Alliance fleet already committed to the action were now engaged, pinning the Reich fleet in position.

Using their multiple drive capability, the ships were maneouvring through hyperspace using a risky tactic of following two beacons transmitting across the real-hyper boundary (a derivative of Solarian technology) from opposite flanks of the Systems Alliance fleet. The broadcasts created just enough of a delta for them to navigate without a beacon network for a short distance.

They were a small part of a massive fleet battle, but a decisive one. In the pre-operation brief, Shai’jhur had enthusiastically likened it to being the Imperial Guards of the old House of Art. They would wait until the decisive moment on the battlefield, and when committed, slash through the critical enemy concentration and rout them from the field. It promised to be bloody work.

The last seconds counted down until their reversion to realspace, the massive spiralling distortions of jump drives utterly distinctive as they punched back through from hyperspace. The difference was that the real “space” they were jumping into was the atmosphere of Epsilon Eridani C. The Ghatarn bucked under her like a bronc as she slammed into the density of even the thin upper atmosphere, the lights rigged red, the ship set at the Dilgar full equivalent of general quarters, ZEBRA throughout.

“Configure shields for atmospheric operations – ahead full impulse!” Zhen’var knew what her position and orders were. They swept into the right planar flank as the group converged out of the atmosphere against one of the big Reich defensive stations in orbit. As she did, the coordination orders for the tri-Dee pentacon came together and synchronized. “Adjust until formation is held, helm.”

“Aye, Battlemaster!”

“Firing signal from Magaratha, Battlemaster!”

“Fire on pointer!” A Dilgar pentacon-of-pentacons was meant to coordinate fire across the central ship, with the best sensors, when formed into a three-dimensional Pentacon, the four arms converging on the centre star, which held her mothers’ ships, with the XRAY Special sensors. One couldn’t help but feel that the formation was a bit of overkill when the central Pentacon alone was directing nine Hyach spinal lasers into the heart of the Reich battlestation while its shields and weapons remained configured to fire at the Systems Alliance ships attacking from outside of orbit.

The objective of the massive firepower was total and rapid destruction before the station could reorient its defences, the carriers turning hard to the port where the Systems Alliance fleet in orbit was closer to the planet and better positioned to cover them, launching starfighters enmasse into the atmosphere to destroy ground defences. Even Governor Ari’shan’s son Lar’shan was in their number in his first action.

Ahead of them, Zhen’var watched as the beams tore and carved through the enemy battlestation until the Hyach lasers of one of the Sekhmets—the Vanquisher class in the translation of the actual Dilgar name—exploded the primary battery reactors. The station erupted into pieces. The ship that had scored the decisive hits was the Wrath herself. Jha’dur’s flagship, thirty-three years later, striking home.

Wrath has the triumph, as in days of old!” One of the greyfur veterans in the crew exclaimed.

“Mind your stations,” Zhen’var ordered, though her tone was mild.

“Right Pentacon, tractor beams!” Warmaster Shai’jhur’s voice snapped over the TBS.

The orders were translated through the Battlemaster commanding the Pentacon. They were the only force in the fleet formation with a full outfit of tractor beams, and they hastily locked them onto the largest debris, bodily swinging them to the side to avoid having to break formation as they exited the atmosphere through the place that the great battlestation had previously occupied.

The smaller debris making the shields of the ships glow as they battered past them, the fleet signals were turning the pentacon to the port. That position was where the Reich was hard-pressed and the Systems Alliance ships had already made their greatest penetration into the defensive perimeter. Since they were the right wing of the formation, they had the greatest distance to travel.

In battle, trig matters, and to maintain fire concentration while turning to the port, the fleet was actually having to skew as well, using their maneouvring thrusters to keep their bows from tracking with the angle their drives and gravitic vanes had dictated. As they did, the next objective of the force was concentrated before them.

In the classic wet navy terms, the submarines called it an ‘overlap’. The positions of the ships meant that, as the Reich fleet had refused their left flank, they created a series of interlocking targets from the central-left position to which Shai’jhur’s force was now attacking from. In short, the point of concentration for the three-dimensional pentacon held three Reich dreadnoughts instead of one. They just couldn’t miss.

The fleet central director gave the order, and every ship opened up with all her forward bearing weapons and torpedoes. Being already under heavy attack from multiple squadrons of Systems Alliance cruisers, the Reich dreadnoughts were now caught between two fires. Twenty-five ships laid on every gun that could bear against three, salvo after salvo of missiles and torpedoes following them while their shields had already been weakened by sustained combat from ahead.

Further to the left flank, the Reich light was under massed attack from the hundreds of heavy fighters launched from the Dilgar carriers. Here several more squadrons of Systems Alliance cruisers were taking advantage of the situation to break the Reich formation, and the carriers surged to safety through their effort, their own massive frontal batteries, a Dilgar specialty, annihilating a Reich heavy cruiser squadron en passant, screened from counterattack by the Dilgar light attacker pentacon as the carriers spoke with the firepower of battlecruisers right ahead.

Ahead of the main force, the Systems Alliance ships now moved in fast and hard. They maneouvred to avoid the heavy frontal batteries of the Reich dreadnoughts and fired missiles and torpedoes into their flanks as they closed to point-blank range. A rippling column of explosions gouged the side of one of the dreadnoughts, and then she exploded outright.

Lined up and with their courses set and straight, Shai’jhur’s formation was pummeling the Reich ships again and again. There were now only two Reich ships in their sights, and they were suffering all the more for the loss of their compatriot and the redoubling of fires concentration from the Dilgar ships.

Judging the Systems Alliance cruisers far less of a threat than the heavy force behind them, despite the fact that it would totally disrupt their defensive formation over the planet and turn the battle into a general melee, the Reich dreadnought squadron commander ordered a starboard turn to bring his heavy spinal guns against the enemy as fast as he could. That maneouvre temporarily pinned his formation in place without guaranteeing a collision with the ships of a supporting squadron in any other direction, because adding thrust for evasive maneouvres during the turn would carry them into the maneouvring space of the other ships.

That was exactly what Shai’jhur had wanted. “ Olakant, fire mass-driver !”

The lone, old Mankhat class dreadnought in the central pentacon fired her mass driver. In regular combat it was useless, firing at ships they could easily dodge. The Reich vessels had however pinned themselves into a position where they could not so easily dodge, and the massive power of the mass driver had flung the rock straight and true.

Zhen’var watched with baited breath as it spat across low orbit of Epsilon Eridani C and hurled between the two dreadnoughts. That should have been a miss, exactly as one would expect from a mass driver. Then the proximity fused nuclear mines went off, turning the asteroid into a giant anti-ship claymore. A hail of broken pieces of heavy iron rock ripped through the flanks of the two dreadnoughts, their shields collapsing.

The Hyach spinal lasers of the central pentacon spoke, hungry.

“All torpedo magazines, maximum rapidity! Get them while we’ve got the chance!” Their torpedo magazines being rapidly exhausted, spiralling trails of ten torpedoes each lanced from the forward launchers. The order Zhen’var had given was followed by the other War Emergency cruisers, and more than two hundred torpedoes converged into one of the unshielded Reich dreadnoughts. She came apart at the seams with a lit fire of orange and yellow, a brilliant shining star for a moment before she disappeared forever.

The power of the entire pentacon was now concentrated on one unshielded dreadnought, the frontal batteries of two dreadnoughts and three battlecruisers leading the way, the centrally directed XRAY special targeting almost creepily unerring. Thirty-seven seconds later, exactly, the last of the targeted dreadnoughts exploded just before she could bring her main spinal disruptor to bear on the Magaratha.

Triumphant, the Systems Alliance cruiser squadrons and the pentacon-of-pentacons passed through each other as the Reich formation disintegrated around them and began to retreat. Epsilon Eridani was their’s, and one gaping road to Welthauptstadt Germania was open.

The Doctor & The Spectre

Nah’dur looked down from the hospital guest room balcony of the floor where she had just finished operating on her sister. They were about a thousand stories off the lower levels, and she found it rather pleasant, holding a “super meat cardiac special” yum disc slice in one hand and a can of some multiversal beer she’d found called Turbo King which had a large picture of a Lion on it. All in all, she felt very good with herself and her surgical team. A comfortable place for the families of patients and visiting surgeons like herself, Nah’dur had taken full advantage of the nominal privacy (the one-way energy field on the balcony helped) to cheerfully dress in sweatpants and a T-shirt which prominently said ‘NO FILTER’ across her breasts.

“Do you like the dinner, Fei’nur?” she called back into the room.

“It is… interesting , Nah’dur.” That was the most she could say - Nah’dur’s antics, in a place as dangerous as this, left the old Spectre as on edge as she ever could be these days.

“I am given to understand that these already exist on our Earth and are called pizzas. Do you think they would be popular amongst Dilgar? I think the crust could stand to be thinner…” She turned back from the balcony, eyes bright and her expression relaxed as she moved to sit on the couch in the suite’s living room. “Are you interested in seeing Zhen’var when she’s taken out of the ICU? Admit it, you are!” A light grin crossed her lips as she pushed up close to Fei’nur.

“I’m not sure. They’re an interesting flavour, but we’ve already lost so many foods of our people. They probably would, if they were inexpensive enough, and had more meat to them. Especially for those in a hurry who have access to replicators?” Glancing over to Nah’dur, the Spectre slid fractionally away on the couch. “I am interested in seeing your sister. You say everything went very well, and I want to see just what you think very well is.”

“Well, pretty much, we modified everything we could to be Dilgar or Dilgar-form, and then we used cybernetics to simulate the rest. And there’s a progressive rewriting of substantial portions of the genetic code! I don’t boast idly, Fei’nur. It would be unbecoming.”

“So much like your mothers, that way.” Fei’nur had a smile on her face as she said it. “If you did what you say, she will be happy, I hope.”

“It’s all I can do for the woman who helped save us. Daughter of my mother’s love, sister of my heart.” Nah’dur stretched. “I like to think my other mother would be pleased, wherever she was. Thank you, Fei’nur. You know I always appreciate kind words from you. You’re the only one who knows…

“Everyone is listening in Solaria, Nah’dur. Everyone and everything.”

“... how much I love you. ” The sentence finished with a smooth grin, and in Nah’dur’s case it was impossible to tell whether or not it was improv. She leaned in closer, her neck bare to Fei’nur’s side. “Nobody needs to know, I’m satisfied with just having you…”

“Ancestors, Nah’dur, do you ever give up?”

“...I’m hurt. Surely you know that stubbornness is one of my good traits.”

“Just like your mothers… we should be there before Zhen’var is released from ICU, anyhow.” Internally, she shuddered. I am never going to put myself in a position to have to explain anything remotely untoward to the Warmaster as a mother !

Oh, don’t worry, we certainly shall. That won’t be for a while yet, though.” She yawned grandly. “Perhaps a nap, and then we could take a trip to the bottom of the tower to look for the legendary Solarian ratburgers for supper? I really want to try one!”

“Gods, give me strength. Very well, Nah’dur, but you’ll have to give me time to get properly dressed.” Fei’nur was already calculating how many more weapons she would need to conceal about her person for this indulgence. There was only one thing she had been able to consistently resist Nah’dur upon; and she’d just done so again.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll take the nap first.” She stretched, brushing against Fei’nur, and then smiled guilelessly. “I’m happy to share this with you, Fei’nur,” Nah’dur said, curling on the large plush couch and burying her hands against her button-nose. “I finally feel free.”

“If you feel free now , just wait until we’re in space that’s never seen Dilgar before. Where we won’t have the reputation we do back home. Go, sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Nah’dur yawned. “Thank you. That always matters so much to me.” She stretched one last time, and kicking deeper into the cushions, was asleep in minutes. Fourteen hours of surgery at the bleeding edge of technology was exhausting for anyone, but Nah’dur had the ability to sleep of a veteran soldier on the front-line.

It was only after she was asleep that Fei’nur would rest a hand on the sleeping form of the young Dilgar. Rest, young child of Dur. The multiverse has no idea what they’re in for.


After sleeping for eight hours, Nah’dur had dragged Fei’nur down to the lower levels. They managed to (somehow) not get robbed for the ten minutes it took them to find a ratburger street cart vendor. Nah’dur immediately ordered one with double cheese and guinea pig bacon for each of them.

“Nah’dur, was this really necessary…?” The old Spectre was thinking that, perhaps, this might be more dangerous than some of her weeks on Balos. That was actively concerning, given what aftermath of the Balosians catching other Dilgar stragglers she’d seen had been.

“Oh, of course it was. You cannot go to a planet without trying their authentic street cuisine ! Especially when it’s a remarkably underutilized meat very similar to what we evolved to consume on Omelos. The base dish--the ‘burger’--is incredibly common on Earth, but usually uses boring meat from methane belching midsized ungulates.”

“Well, all right, I admit, it’s certainly quite appetizing, and makes me almost melancholy for when I was young, but this is not the best district to take a stroll within.”

“Wait, you’re aliens, not mods?” The woman behind the cart asked in surprise as she finished bagging the food.

“Oh, absolutely!” Nah’dur said with bright eyes as she stepped forward, paying with a chit and taking the bags. The declaration had already attracted attention. “We are a felinoid race called the…”

Fei’nur moved quickly , her hand darting out to grab the back of Nah’dur’s neck and squeezing sharply, her other hand grabbing the bags before they could hit the ground. She smiled sweetly to the vendor. “I’m sorry, she’s not been off world much before, and she tends to ramble. Come along, dear.”

Nah’dur made a small cut-off noise, dropping the bags into Fei’nur’s waiting hand and being pulled back along by the scruff of her neck, going along like an automaton with a wide, frozen look on her face. The grip didn’t let up until Fei’nur had safely keyed them back through the security lobby at the base of the tower.

“We do not have the best reputation, Doctor , and the Warmaster gave me a charge to protect your sister and yourself.” Fei’nur’s voice held restrained anger in it. “The area was already insecure.”

Nah’dur, sighing, leaned up against Fei’nur. “My heroine. Thank you for protecting me from my own poor impulses.”

“I don’t want to fail another of the Clan of Dur, Nah’dur. Once was more than enough, if the gods had the grace to not take my life for it.”

Nah’dur nuzzled her as they stepped into the lift. “I’m so very thankful you’re alive in general. You’re clearly here for us. For me. For mother. Never regret that, please.”

“I don’t. I can’t. I won’t. Come on, let’s have our ‘burgers’.”

“I love the fact I’m sharing them with you. And that there was danger involved in getting them.” A grin flickered back on her face as she waltzed out of the lift back on their level, a sway in her hips for Fei’nur behind her.

Ancestors, give me strength to endure the trials this girl puts me through, no matter how endearing she may be. With a long-suffering shake of her head, Fei’nur moved to follow.

Nah’dur was grinning through the whole of the meal, but her grin grew larger when she checked her omnitool as they finished. “Exactly as I predicted, Zhen’var is waking up. I’m going to go clean up and get my scrubs on. I know you want to see her, so of course we’ll go together!”

And this is why I put up with it.

“All right, Nah’dur, we’ll go together. Someone has to keep you out of trouble.” She was grinning as she said it, at least lessening the sting a little.`

“Harm’s way is the valiant way, etc,” Nah’dur replied in an old Dilgar aphorism. She quickly dressed in her scrubs and lab coat and washed up, leading them down into the hospital’s main levels. She had the visiting doctor’s badge which got her through all the doors, and she was hardly the only specialist there with a bodyguard. Body modification was Serious Business on Solaris.

Zhen’var’s recovery room was pleasant, with a view of the cityscape and complete privacy. Nah’dur breezed in, taking reports from the nurses and briefly conversing with one of the doctors she’d collaborated with before going to the side of her adopted sister.

“Zhen’var, can you hear me? You should be able to speak just fine now.”

“Yes, I can… Nah’dur, did everything go well…?” She’d always had something of an accent before, finding it hard to form some of the syllables the hissing and growling of Dilgar assumed one could make a purring sound for. That was certainly lacking now, as the only slurring was from the lingering effects of the drugs used to put her under.

“Oh yes! There’s no evidence of incipient rejection, all the cybernetics are functioning normally… The cloned skin grafts have fully taken and there’s no infection around the cranial restructuring. Or the joint replacements for that matter. I mean, we already discussed the long-term side-effects and the fact you’ll need a second surgery at some point in the future when I’ve sorted out cloning reproductive organs. But, the surgery was a brilliant success. Some excess swelling made it take longer than I expected, but we dealt with all of that. Are you feeling all right?”

Before her was a Dilgar, in a hospital bed, with at least some family resemblance to a Jhur. Nah’dur waved Fei’nur forward behind her, encouraging her to come closer as she checked some IV feeds and vitals indicators.

Fei’nur was staring; while she had known Nah’dur was a gifted prodigy, this was more than she’d expected to see. It was more than a little unnerving.

“I am, yes. Soreness, certainly, but that’s not unbearable. I know it will take time for vision to return, but I can hear you just fine, better than before, even. I can’t wait to be able to look in a mirror . You’re satisfied with the result too?”

“Let’s hear it from the Ogkharin workingwoman,” Nah’dur said, a grin showing her teeth even if Zhen’var couldn’t see it.

“You look like Nah’dur’s half-sister, Zhen’var.” She was muttering it in a sheepish sort of shock. “Really, I can see the family resemblance, and I’ve seen worse damage on soldiers in hospital beds before. I… hadn’t expected it to be so perfect this quickly.”

Nah’dur snapped her fingers. “Brilliant. I told you, Zhen’var, you’d fit in by the time I was done. And you do. I love you, sister. You’re one of us, and you always will be. You could have walked through Ogkharin in the Old Imperium and attracted only compliments for your appearance. You’re a normal Dilgar now.”

“Thank you , Nah’dur… thank you .”

“Oh, sister, there’s no need for that. Sisters help each other. And I like showing off.” She gently reached down and brushed a finger over Zhen’var’s forehead. “Give it a month, and we’ll have you in a cruiser.”

“I don’t mind being shown off if you’ve done your usual work.” There was a smile in Zhen’var’s voice. “I can feel you staring, Fei’nur.” she finished with, mock-seriously, as the Spectre shifted.

“Nah’dur has, assuredly, done her usual work, Battle Captain.” She forced any uneasiness aside, her second charge was now assuredly Zhen’var in every visual respect. While that would make her job twice as hard... Somehow, on reflection, she didn’t mind the prospect.
”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: "Undiscovered Frontier: Origins" Pilot - "Called To The Colours"

Post by Steve »

Act 2
The Heermann

Commander Abebech Imra had a certain style, to be sure. She was a lanky woman, from a line in ancient times descended from East Africa, and possessed of an innate regality which came without effort. Even in the informal, functionalist uniforms of the UAS military she managed a unimpeachably professional bearing. Her ship was as tight as a glove around her. Inspired by the Koenig, a line of these light attackers had been constructed on a massive scale by the Alliance. Heermann had been one built as true mass production reached its peak.

The Alliance had been a creation of personalities, with clashing military traditions pasted together into the image of what the crew of the Aurora had created. Many Captains had taken advantage of the fact they were receiving their command as the regulations were still being written to meddle in the selection of crews and fill ships with officers they preferred to work with. Commander Imra simply took whomever they sent. She then molded them into one of the best crews in the Alliance.

It wasn’t pure instinct, either. She’d authored a manual on the handling of light attackers entitled Destroyermen: Mastering the Art of Command for the General-Purpose Escort. Part of it was a snarky argument that ‘destroyers’ in the Alliance Navy were too large and light attackers were actually filling the classic destroyer roles, but it started with the companionable line of “So you’re a Lt. Commander, you’ve never held a command before in your life, and the Navy just gave you responsibility for sixty lives and enough firepower to level every city on a planet. They think you have what it takes, but what does it take? This book modestly intends to distill the lessons from the Russo-Japanese War to the Present in many Universes by men and women put in your position: The naval version of a bodyguard, from the fast carrier task-force to the dreadnought line to the slow convoy filled with refugees. Get the mindset and the ethos of your position right first, and the rest will follow. Heroes are made on destroyers, but you’ll need a quick, level head to see the ceremony.”

To be honest, for a lot of people it was as intimidating as hell to be assigned to her. Johnathan Goodenough felt she was probably the best commander under whom anyone could serve. As the executive officer of the Heermann he felt, fairly speaking, he had a ninety-nine percent chance of surviving the Reich War. However, he was a veteran of the 19th century Royal Navy. Before this point, his life had been that of many a mulatto (people grimaced when he used the word, but he couldn’t help thinking of himself that way) raised next to the dockyards in mid-Victorian England. There had definitely not been an opportunities for him to become an officer, but he been a Gunner’s Mate, and that was fine enough.

To sail the stars had been a lunatic’s notion then. Everything had changed when C1P2 had been caught up in the actions of the crew of the Aurora. Frankly, he didn’t have the faintest idea what to do, and when he thought rationally about it, it was obvious he had gone with something comfortable and familiar. There were still Navies in the stars, they were fighting wars, they needed men, that much of Humanity was unchanged. He’d joined up. Since then, he reckoned he’d gone from a peacetime Navy to one fighting as much as the RN had during the Napoleonic Wars.

In that kind of fighting atmosphere, being Commander Imra’s second was more of an honour than anything else. He handled the personnel management and discipline and stood the day watches. Abebech didn’t have a regular watch, she had organized the ship so her watch-standers didn’t include herself, though that usually meant Lieutenants or even Ensigns were the Officer of the Watch. Instead, she was simply always alert, always monitoring, always available, the way the best Captains were.

The ship was so small this guaranteed watch-officer Ensigns, and she felt that was good to give them experience. It also meant he was the head of the entire Operations and Science department, such as it was. As he stepped up to the Commander’s tiny office, more of a closet with a fold-out desk, the usual vague feeling that their weapons officer was watching him followed him. Abdul Mehmet was competent and smart enough, but more than a little bit unnerving. A gabby, light-hearted Turk, they hailed from the same world, but from cultures that might as well be light-years apart.

Commander Imra, by contrast, was from a literal Universe away, but often acted like, suitably attired, she could have breezed into a ball in his hometown of Southampton and been instantly at home with the local elite. Except for the small fact she was a dark black Abyssinian, and would never be invited. Three of the four ranking officers on the Heermann were, to use the charitable term, ‘coloured’. That was the most remarkable thing of all.

“Commander,” she said as he entered, the ubiquitous sunglasses pulled close, sprawled back in her chair and shifting through information in the holographic projection in front of her. Even in uniform, Abebech looked perfectly at ease. “You have the personnel reports?”

“Yes, Captain,” he answered, presenting the flimsy.

“Do sit,” she said, shutting off the hologram and straightening to a rigid military spine in her chair. “Coffee?”

“Of course, Captain.” He grinned. “You always serve the best.”

“The most authentic,” Abebech replied wryly. “I would hardly call it the best. It would have to be off something other than my personal replicator program for that.” She started looking through the flimsy after she handed over the coffee. “Ambasha? Groundnuts?”

“Both, please,” Johnathan twirled a little of the niter kibbeh into his coffee.

Abebech followed suit, taking her time as she handed out the light snacks delicately, and eating almost indifferently. Johnathan had never seen her eat more than very modestly, and he supposed that it explained her lanky physique; some people were just never touched by hunger.

“So, we’re likely to lose Sarah soon,” she said once they were settled in.

“Yes,” Johnathan agreed. “Her personnel evaluations are middling, and she’s never really found a bond with the rest of the crew.”

“Both true,” Abebech folded her gloved hands with her cup coffee in their midst, sniffing it for a while. “I don’t place much stock in personnel evaluations, though. It’s just like I’d never actually allow myself to lose a good sailor because of, oh, failing to take the mandatory online sexual harassment awareness training. In war, for some of those things the shoe clerks come up with you, you just find a way to ignore it. But realistically, she’d be a better fit on a larger vessel, and the personnel evaluations can be used to justify the reassignment request.”

Johnathan laughed. He had found the idea so ridiculous when he’d first encountered it… But fortunately, so did everyone else, including people from far more sophisticated universes, which had the time had reassured him he was still a gentleman and not some kind of reactionary troglodyte. Sometimes he wondered why he could never actually find anyone who took the training seriously -- who had implemented the requirement if everyone thought it was a joke? And indeed, who in the middle of a war would actually dismiss a good fighting sailor over for failing to click through the interactive slide questionnaires? Abebech was exactly right: Nobody.

“I confess,” he offered, “that when I first heard about it I wondered if it was actual training in how to sexually harass people and started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into for a second.”

“Ah yes, everyone just calling it ‘sexual harassment’ training for convenience,” Abebech laughed. “Really, I’ve considered trying to formulate the law of increasing bureaucracy to account for these absurdities, but I always find myself with something better to do.”

“Would be hard not to, Captain,” he replied. “Some of this makes me mad as hops. Being out here on convoy runs, stuffing it to the Hun, that’s where it’s at.”

“It’s a jolly old kind of war, isn’t it?” A rare grin touched her lips. “Almost quaint. I do confess I love fighting, you do too so you will understand it. Where’d you hear that one?”

“Captain Seymour, in the mess of the Destroyer Tender Mackenzie a fortnight ago, Captain. I could have sworn you were there.”

“I was probably distracted by something or another,” she waved a hand. “Well, no other comments on the personnel situation. You’re doing a fine job with paperwork that would drive any reasonable man mad.”

“So you’re saying I’m unreasonable?”

“If I am, it’s only to imply you’re in the best of company with me, Johnathan.”

He snorted. “So it may be, Captain. Any idea of a replacement?”

“Normally I’d say, ‘well, we’ll just make do with whomever shows up’, but in fact we’re going to be receiving an assignment as a parasite soon.”

“Oh bloody hell, I was kind of liking operating off a tender.”

“So was I, I don’t really agree with the parasite concept operationally,” she agreed, “but, needs of service and all that.”

“All that rot, you mean,” Johnathan added.

“Now now, be kind,” Abebech finished her coffee. “We’re going to be assigned to a special ship, the Huáscar, she’s entering her pre-commissioning trials in another month. She’s been selected to have a joint Alliance-Dilgar crew.”

“The Dilgar?” Johnathan jerked up. “After just a few months?” Nobody in the crew of the Heerman had exactly had time to forget that desperate battle.

“That wily old Warmaster Shai’jhur knows how to play her cards. She’s thrown so much of her people’s energy into the war effort that it’s yielding immediate results. So, yes, a joint-crewed ship even when they’re still in the accession process. And we’re going to be her attacker. She’s a big Enterprise class ship, so it will be cozy at least.”

“Oh, well that’s going to be bloody intere--” The second half of the sentence was forever lost as the lights in the cabin turned red.


Abebech had already exploded from her seat, and despite how tiny the office was, had somehow made it past Johnathan. He followed with all possible haste, crossing the whole of the small bridge as he watched his Captain slap herself into the command chair, hastily vacated by Ensign Terwilliger, with the formal confirming shout of “ I have the ship !” echoing across the bridge in that incredible contralto she called upon in times of urgency. He reached his own station a moment later, slapping and strapping just as the Captain had done and greenlighting the board across.

They could both see why Ensign Terwilliger had called the alert. There was a Reich battlecruiser coming in toward their convoy. “Send PPXQX,” Commander Imra ordered without even a further thought. Against a wolf-pack of Nazi stealth ships, the convoy would stay together. This was a battlecruiser. PPXQX meant they were under attack by heavy raiding elements and the convoy would scatter.

“Commander Goodenough,” she called next, “is the rest of the escort in position?”

“Yes, Captain. All ships in position.”

“Emergency flank, attack plan Theta-XRAY.”

Sarah’s eyes widened for a moment, and she nodded grimly from the helm. “Emergency flank, aye!”

“Attack plan Theta-XRAY,” Abdul Mehmet’s almost-excited sharp voice cut the bridge.

Abebech spared a moment to glance over to Johnathan and grin, and then they were on, six light ships blazing out across the group of thirty freighters as the Convoy Commodore began to execute the scattering operation. They jinked around and behind jamming freighters and blossomed out to the edges of the convoy, and then whipped in to converge from three vectors against the big Hun.

The Nazi advantage was, for the moment, in their fighters. The escort squadron of six attack ships didn’t have any starfighters, and this the Nazis intended to press to the limit. Belief in the advantage disappeared a minute later as their fighters committed. “Signal Viradurga to launch!”

“Signalling, Captain!” Chief Travis at the comms tight-beamed the laser signal to the one freighter which was actually carrying two squadrons fighters, an escort-carrier Q-ship in the regular formation of the now scattering freighters.

Bursting like petals from the blossom of a disturbed flower, they englobed the Nazis as they came in to strafe the attack ships, and cleared the way for Commander Imra’s manoeuvre. The concentrated firepower of the attack ships converged on the aft sectors of the battlecruiser as the enemy guns tracked and engaged.

As usual, the Nazi ship had been optimized to concentrate firepower forward. The disadvantage fighting a small horde of attackers was meant to be dealt with through the use of fighters, and the fighters had just been neutralised by her own. They at least had a fairly even shot of it.

“Abdul Mehmet, weapons free!”

“Weapons free, aye!” Racing in to close range, the Heerman salvo-fired torpedoes in unison with the other ships, and then followed them with timed bursts of her forward guns on maximum charged, aimed to slap into the rear shields of the big Nazi just in time for the torpedoes to have struck home.

The objective of the carefully timed manoeuvre, which could only be executed by veteran crews, was to secure splash-through of some of the energy of the guns as the torpedoes impacted the shields. The damage from it would be limited and uncoordinated, but anything would help and indeed, Johnathan could confirm that actual hull damage had been done as the helm sent them violenting jinking away in the wake of the attack. “We got them, Captain. A good solid burst through the shields.”

“Very well.” She clasped her gloved hands together. “Re-form at long range, position us between the convoy vectors and the enemy.”

“Squadron signals to re-form at zero-one-one-niner,” comms confirmed.

“Warp factor nine, Captain,” Sarah reported as they leapt away from the battlecruiser’s fire.

“Very good. Stand by for a resumption of action.”

Johnathan looked over the situation. The freighters were dispersing at warp. The battlecruiser could, right now, chase any single one of them down, she just had to decide which. They were now moving back toward the ships they had been guarding, the fighters falling in with them. Before he could settle on the next move, Abebech was already speaking.

“All ships lock in a course toward the Viradurga and stand by for maximum warp.”

“The Viradurga ?” Sarah asked. “They could go after any..

“But they will not, Lieutenant,” Commander Imra said flatly. “They will only get a couple ships from the convoy, so, being sensible men, they will destroy the ones which do us the most hurt and their convoy raiders the most good -- one of our Q-ship escort carriers. Stand by.”

“Standing by, aye-aye!”

“Enemy warp,” Johnathan hissed as he saw the alert on his sensors. He didn’t even need to finish the sentence.

“Squadron, execute set course!”

They had the inside track, having already broken off forward, they out-raced the battlecruiser. “Barrage on my designate!” The clipped, abbreviated English meantsomething, it was intended to keep conversation as short as possible. She indicated a point of space and the computers at Lieutenant Abdul Mehmet’s station linked to the other five ships in the squadron. They fired simultaneously.

It would be less appropriate to say they hit the battlecruiser and more appropriate to say that the battlecruiser warped into the path of the salvo. As she did, the Viradurgacame hard about, back toward her fighters.

Overshooting by a few moments as they responded to the unanticipated attack, the Nazi battlecruiser was open to them. “All ships form up on our port. Stand by to break for attack runs…” Abebech watched the indicators. “Break!”

The attack ships peeled down and opened fire again, strafing the battlecruiser through the complicated interposition of relative warp velocities. It bought another thirty seconds for the Viradurga to open the gap. The battlecruiser leapt into pursuit again. The attack ships followed.

And to Johnathan’s savage satisfaction, the rest of the convoy continued to escape. He knew as well as his Captain what the mission of an escort was. They had done no real damage to the enemy, but they were executing their mission as finely as a dance. The Nazi Captain was not a fool either, though. He knew that to give in, drop out of warp, and fight the attack ships was a total abrogation of his real objectives. He increased warp velocity and continued to pursue the Viradurga.

They rocked from harassing fire directed against them from the battlecruiser’s aft guns. “All ships cloak and continue pursuit,” Abebech ordered. “No need to lose our shields in the desultory phase.”

“Aye aye, squadron signals, all ships cloak.”

Johnathan watched half his sensors shut down and switched to passive. Fortunately, both the Viradurga and the Nazi battlecruiser were not exactly difficult targets to track. The distance was again rapidly closing and it would be only a few minutes, despite the fact that the adage ‘the stern chase is the long chase’ was just as true in this era as it was in the one he had grown up in.

“When they concentrate their forward firepower to hit the Viradurga, we’ll lead the squadron out.” Operational orders of the day made this simple. They didn’t need to communicate with the other cloaked ships. When the battlecruiser opened up with her massive firepower into the Viradurga, Commander Imra simply gave the order.

Johnathan fed the best targeting projection to Abdul Mehmet. He transferred power to weapons even as they were still decloaking, the torpedoes surging up first before they had fully appeared, as they required less power to launch, and the energy weapons staggered after that. The other ships in the squadron immediately followed their lead, again raking across the stern of the battlecruiser at the points which Abebech had directed them to attack over and over.

The shields of the Q-ship surged and flared. So did the shields of the battlecruiser as she dropped out of warp to finish her prey. “Attack plan Romeo Golf Romeo,” Abebech ordered next. That brought them in a corkscrew around the hull of the battlecruiser with one of the other attack ships going in the opposite direction, converging below. The Nazi fighters were arriving on their slower warp drives, but so were the Alliance fighters. For the moment, the manoeuvre served to cover the other attack ships so that just the Heerman was under attack by the Nazi batteries.

“All power to shields!” Abebech snapped.

“All power to shields aye,” Johnathan confirmed. Under them their little ship shuddered violently as she was rung like a bell by the massive guns of the enemy. “Shields at sixty percent!”

But the other ships were free to manoeuvre and attack, coming between the battlecruiser and the damaged Viradurga.

“Keep us between our squadron and the enemy, helm!”

“Aye-aye,” Sarah gritted between clenched teeth, moving them again into another hammer blow, all of their weapons temporarily deactivated even as fire was still coming at the battlecruiser from five directions.

“Deploy torpedoes,” Commander Imra ordered next. “Aft tubes, no power, weaps.”

“No power… Mines, right!” The Turks weapons officer laughed and triggered the necessary commands even with their weapons down. They were hammered again.

“Shields at thirty percent,” Johnathan reported.

“Bring us to starboard zero-seven-eight, zee twenty-seven!” Abebech’s hands were tautly locked together as she watched her ship heel sharply back toward the Nazi.

“Starboard tractors, broad beam, full repulsion!”

Johnathan tapped commands into the tractor operations. The Nazi battlecruiser had concentrated her shields against the arc the other five attack ships had broken away to manoeuvre in, with the Heermann showing no power to weapons on their sensors. She continued to show no power to weapons on their sensors right up to the moment in which the tractor beams pushed the torpedoes that had simply dropped out of the aft launchers at zero power straight into their shields.

“Pivot about centroid, transfer power to weapons!” Abebech had drilled her ship well enough that her intent needed no further explanation.

The port shields of the battlecruiser dipped for a moment as she suffered the unexpected torpedo hits and tried to transfer power from other sectors of the defensive grid. As they did, the Heerman pivoted on thrusters about her main axis, dropping her degraded shields to bring power to weapons and opening fire. Abdul Mehmet needed no permission for that, they were already fire free, he just opened up while he had his chance.

Several shots cut through the Nazi shields and scoured along her hull before the battlecruiser brought them back to full strength in that arc as well. Abebech took no time nor pleasure in it. “Evasive manoeuvres!”

They snapped into a violent series of helm manoeuvres with no objective except for survival. Leaning into his straps, Johnathan tried to reestablish the shields when he saw, suddenly, the Nazi battlecruiser leap to warp. “Captain! They’ve broken off!”

“Commander?” Abebech turned and looked to him, a brief second of surprise on her face. “...Why?”

Trust Abebech Imra to be more interested in that than in their victory. He grinned wryly, and checked the long range scanners. They made him simile. “ Excalibur, coming in at high warp, Captain.”

Excalibur .” She sank back into her command chair. “Well. Nice of them to show up. Send Captain King my compliments. Comms, squadron signals: Stand down to Code Yellow.”

“Squadron signals, Code Yellow aye.”

Shaking his head, Johnathan also cancelled Code Red on the Heermann and set the material condition from ZEBRA to modified ZEBRA. They had caused no real damage to the battlecruiser, they had destroyed three Nazi fighters for the loss of four of their own. But every single ship in the convoy including the Q-ship escort carrier was safe, and none of the Attackers had more than light damage. In short, it was no battle that would garner tales of heroes, but it was a smart escort action, done and done well, six attackers holding off a battlecruiser long enough for relief to arrive. And that was exactly how Abebech Imra liked it.

The Brit

Arriving at Tira for the first time, the first view of the planet suggested a massive blue orb, completely featureless except for small polar ice-caps and the huge expanse of the oceans changing in colour from here to there. One might as well drown in all of it. Catherine Amelia couldn’t help but stare. She loved the sea, loved the ocean and her stories of Hornblower and Aubrey and Marturin, loved her patrols on her boat upon New Eden which she had lost forever. Here, at least, there was sea.

As they drew closer, however, she could see that they were approaching a huge series of islands. The islands were stupendous, isolated, volcanic, gloriously green. She remembered her study of Earth’s oceans and thought immediately of the Hawai’ian archipelago, but they were larger than that, yet. As big as Hawai'i before the great collapse of O'ahu, during the ice age when Maui was the size of Hawai'i incorporating its smaller outer islands into its bulk, she fancied, idly looking and listening to the reports on the intercom.

Bringing up a 3-D rendering of Earth a million years ago, she confirmed her rough estimation: Five great islands of volcanic origin at high latitudes, rivalling the Hawai’ians, but further north, where Tira was cooler, similar to New Eden where they had come from, and unlike the warmer equatorial climes that the original Dilgar settlers had settled in. The islands had been untouched -- only the single continent above water on Tira really had been settled at all -- and now they were permanently reserved for the New Eden Dilgar so they could maintain their own traditions and identity after the past 32 years together as one population, thinking themselves the last Dilgar alive. The great water world itself still had scars at the capital from the hard fighting, and there was a UAS ship in orbit on picket duty, sleek and packed with power and with her warp nacelles so prominent, the design absolutely distinctive to Catherine Amelia, who had grown up putting together models of the blocky, burly ships of Earthforce.

As they drew closer, Catherine flexed up and down, nearly bouncing around a bit at the limits of the archaic Earth formalwear she had on, trying to see every single bit of the planet below as she could. She was young, eager, and... while she would miss New Eden, truly miss the homeworld on which she had been born... Tira had its own advantages to it. Including, she hoped, a liveaboard and... a chance to see the stars, which Humanity might have forever denied her at home, for all her affinity to Earth’s government.

More details revealed themselves as they descended. There was a new spaceport on the largest of the islands, and they'd cleared forest for plantings to be put down for the farmers and animals had been introduced for grazing by the aid workers and Tiran government. The houses were standardized prefabs, but they were home. She had already been given the chance to select a building lot and have it built in a beautiful valley that plunged down to the sea and terminated in a cove, with a group of neighbours, built courtesy of the relief agencies and Earth Alliance funding.

Catherine had wanted one that backed up against the sea, she was sure of that, and had chosen accordingly. It was only about half an hour after they had landed before she was wandering about town to orient herself relative to the property that she would now call her home, as well as the one that her mother would occupy when she arrived in a following wave. She didn't intend to stay long , though. Or, at least, not long between voyages. Some of her generation had the same problem--the forbidden fruit of spaceflight had quite a call upon them, and for all the bitter pain of losing their homes, a new door had been opened.

The belongings of the settlers arriving at this yet-unnamed town arrived another thirty minutes after that. It quickly turned into a lot of Dilgar trying to sort out shipping containers. Each one had been tagged and numbered in the Earth Alliance, they'd been loaded by themselves back on New Eden to take care that everything was packed well. There was one local Tiran woman about to provide assistance with a portable uplink station inside of a little guard house that identified her as part of the federal police. She was missing a leg, and at first seemed old, but then didn't--it was odd and strange, her blonde-silver fur and her utterly distinctive violet eyes, instead of a more common shade like yellow or blue.

Catherine Amelia, seeing a fellow officer, rather fearlessly moved to meet this woman, slinging her Earthforce issue duffel bag over a shoulder. She had been part of the colonial police, after all, and cutting costs had been always a concern on New Eden, so they had gotten military cast-offs.

On approaching, she gently knocked at the doorframe. "Excuse me, ma'am?" Her eyes gleamed with a quick intelligence, hair slicked tightly back. "Do you have a moment, or would it be more welcome to leave you to your duties?"

"I'm here to help everyone... They giving you free bags too in an effort to bribe you?" She asked a bit acerbically. She was old, just not as old as her fur looked. Scars where the fur hadn't fully grown back were visible, the legacy of old wounds.

"No, ma'am. I was Corporal Cath-,” she decided using her Human name was not exactly politic, “Ca’elia, New Eden Police, Maritime Division. These were my duty bags aboard ship. I'd like to join the starfleet."

"You were a police officer?" She laughed softly, and patted the extra seat in the small room-sized building with its element heater. "C'mon, lass. My name is Lae'qor."

"Well, we weren't allowed to have a navy. Or an Army, or any kind of lethal weapons at all." She offered a wry smile, and moved to sit, slinging the bag off her shoulder and to her feet. "I want to see the stars, and fight those who'd do us harm while doing it. I'm not too old, am I?"

"Oh, certainly not. You're just a lass." She squinted. "I mean, older than they were in my day, you know. But I was sixteen when they put me on the front. I was selected to live because I was one of the sensor officers on a new Tikrit that was sent out to guard the transports. We were one of the best new crews by then."

Lae’qor was a strange kind of Dilgar, her colouration was as none other, and Ca’elia knew of only one other like her. "I only heard a few stories. They didn't encourage those, the stories, I mean. Didn't want us to get ideas. It... wasn't bad, though. They tried, at least, most of them."

"Really? We heard all kinds of wild things. The Humans had smashed us to pieces, you know. Many here were afraid at first you'd be -- infiltrators. But, you know, I trusted our old blood... I'm too old for the space services now. Not really, but with my wounds and health, I imagined some pleasant military sinecure like this would be a good retirement. There, alas, isn't any family of mine left except for my children, so I had that to think of, too." She poured some strong khyl tea for the younger woman.

"Your family? My mother raised another girl, she should be coming later, but... it was just us. They wanted to... I suppose, do to us what they did to the nations that were like the Imperium? I've no intention of infiltrating anything, however! Let me lay alongside and give them what-for!" Her eyes gleamed.

"...Quite the strong words,” Lae’qor replied with a sort of tiredness. “The Imperium was not all bad, you know. It was meritocratic. I was a daughter of a servant's family--though my family had more than a few rolls in the sheets with the dragons," she added, raising her glass with a wry old grin, which shook some energy back into her expression.

"The... dragons?" Her expression was confused. "It couldn't be all bad, but we had so few veterans, and most of those were former prisoners who didn't want to talk about anything, worse... after."

"Aye, it was terrible after. And aye, the dragons. The Valangar, the Children of the Islands. The clan identifier of our chiefs.”

"They were... a noble family?"

"Yes, related to the Imperial Clan on the female side. They were the Jash, a glorious old clan to us, held in contempt and despised by the rest of the Empire for the colouration of our skin. The Dragons. We had our own language and culture, though the Empire had long insisted on conformity from us." She smiled happily. "I'm glad to say one Jash lived."

"One? That is... a good thing, isn't it? And with these islands, maybe... some day your culture could..." She trailed off, and looked sheepishly mortified. "I'm sorry, I don't have any idea what it was like, really."

"We were few. A couple hundred thousand, out of billions of Dilgar. There were... three hundred and thirty-three Valangar alive between both halves of our people when the dying finally finished."

A more confident look came to her lips. "Still, though, since Fiy'jash was still alive, few of us gave in to suicide compared to the rest. We stuck it out. There might be a culture again someday. There's a language association on the extranet." She smiled broadly. "I'm not a hopeless old wreck, Ca'elia. I do have my kits to live for."

"Well, good! That's what we worried about, on New Eden, that... we'd just be swallowed up, or you'd beat us into conforming or something!" She dared a small grin. "That's good to hear. I mean, really good to hear. Will I have to fly to the capital to see a recruiter, then, or...?"

"Gods, you were serious?" Lae’qor blinked. "They told us that you might not want to join the forces, being raised by the Humans like you were."

Ca’elia looked a trifle offended. "... Of course I was serious! I joined the police because that was as close as they'd let us! I read all the Human stories about glorious fights at sea I could! I mean, yes, I'm sure it will be a shock and hard to adapt, but I was serious. I only intend to be here between deployments, I want to be an officer in the fleet, if they'll have me."

"What's a Human policing education like? What did you handle?" The woman reached for a notebook, looking intent, thoughtful.

"Well, it's equivalent to a university degree, you lean literacy, law, physical fitness - they wouldn't let us have PPGs, so we learned stun and riot glue guns, morph gas, truncheons and shock sticks, water cannons. Biggest ship I learned to handle was the twenty-seven metre cutter we had, ten crew. Not many of those, though."

"...Well, you can navigate, lead at the rate of a non-com, if I remember my Human rank tables right.... And have the equivalent of an Academy education. Huh. Oh yes, they'll take you, Ca'elia. They'll take you."

"Then... who do I talk to? I'll just get my things settled into my house, that's all I have responsibility to here."

A wry grin. “Well, let me show you your house first. And as for that.... I'll make a call."

"Thank you, ma'am!" She looked so damned eager, bending down to pick up her bag and re-sling it. "I know it's... I know you can get along, but do you need any help...? You don't have to show me, I know the plot."

"Well, I want to," she said, grabbing her gun belt and cane and the vest that showed her position as an officer. "You're so eager. That's a good thing. Good example for the future. Here, where we can see what it means to be Dilgar again."

"I think that's what we're trying to feel our way into, ma'am. What it means to be Dilgar, I mean."

"They tried to keep that from you, I know... But you'll be helping author that story." She tapped her cane out on the fresh laid tarmac of the neat little roundels, the town laid out kraal-style in a semicircle on the bay.

Ca’elia looked sheepish, considering her own Human affectations. "It's a very nice town, from what I can see. Is it... something from our homeworld, the layout?"

"Aye. It was the preferred configuration for cities before the governments went and started modifying them to optimize the defensive layout, which started making the geometric shapes more complex. Lady Fiy'jash explained it to me once; she had something of an architect in her."

"I like it. The Humans love grids too much sometimes... Lady Fiy'jash has... died, then...?" She had caught the past tense, and tried not to cringe. Everyone talked so casually of the social collapse.

"No. Somehow, no. She's just..." The woman made a complicated gesture. "....It's been hard on her. She was a good officer, and important to the stability of Tira in the early days, but she had a collapse after the League attack and was invalided out," she said quietly. "She fought bravely, until it was over, despite the long odds, but her cruiser was badly damaged fighting the Hyach contingent and .. All these years got to be too much. And the injury to her family. She lost one of her little Darilai, her kits, during the attack."

Lae’qor coughed. "The others of Her Ladyship’s are fine, and grandchildren too, but.... Gods. Like I said, there's a little group of us, and we've been trying to do something to help her, she's still Our Lady to us." She added, more privately: "She agreed to abdicate the title, but to some of us, she's more than our lady, she's the Empress of the Dilgar, since the Jash are the only family left who can claim any kind of descent from one of the Imperial clans, even though the Imperial Family would have never admitted it back in the old Imperium days."

"I don't think the rest of the galaxy's ready for us to have a coronation, though it feels... strange, to think of. My adopted little sister... I think she's one of you, you know."

"Your little adoptive sister? I... I confess I'm confused, Ca'elia." The woman stopped, staring at Ca’elia like she’d grown a second head, before starting again, shaking her own.

"My mother took in another girl, she's a little younger than I am, and she raised her. I call her my sister because I'm not sure what else to call Aur'ma."

"In the islands we actually have a word for that which isn't an utter butchery, but, most people would call it Human." She paused in front of Ca'elia's house. "Ma. Huh.Maevanyon, in the Islander tongue."

"She followed me into the police force, she's still a cadet. I'm sure she'll be along with my mother." She grinned proudly. "My little pain, but still... and this is a beautiful house, gods!" She glanced about with wide eye.

"Not very Dilgar. But the Alliance was nice, the org they contracted to with the Eathers money came along and knocked 'em up all prefab. Fit to furnish, surely. I'll be bringing my family up soon enough for the job. We Valangar... don't have a community, yet. Though we are a warmer blood than this land, I suppose anything will do at this point. And I like the good government work of helping you set up a police force on the islands. The Warmaster's seen right by veterans."

"So I've... heard. Governor Ari'shan seems to like her, or at least it looked good on the holo when he came back with the agreement." She shrugged. "Politics isn't my concern. I just want to do what I can to stand up, out there."

"...I do like those words, if you can live by them, good. Here, I will also write you an introduction to our Lady. It might... It might help her to know that another Islander clan is not extinct."

"I would like to hope so. It's... nobility's part of our tradition, like the British! We just should have a constitution, like they do, and keep the Imperial throne... I... I'm allowed to say things like that, right?"

"...Say things like what? Oh, gods, the Warmaster lets everyone say everything, she's so kind. You were probably even taught that it was okay to blabber about everything under the sun, all the bloody time, by the Humans, weren't you?" She leaned into her cane, still bemused. "Aye, I think the same way, as you might have noticed."

"They did try and teach us how important freedom of speech was, and democracy and all the rest. I think it's a good balance, but I think it'll be years before we'd be able to get away with it and not have people angry. The Imperium has a really bad reputation."

"It was us." Lae’qor looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Though we were taught from a young age not to use our native tongue. And there are many now who speak of heritage with the Dark or the Tall."

"The Emperor never had to adapt. The Queen of Britain did, you know, so it worked! She ended up getting her strongest support from minority populations, as the guardian of their rights against the majority... but I just got here! I should not talk politics. Not yet!"

Lae’qor shook her head, laughing. "... Well, well. I wouldn't have expected a random New Edener to be a royalist." She was smiling, a little. "You may say you should not speak, but I am glad you do."

"There might be about five of us, it's true." A shy smile flitted across the young Dilgar's face. "But we're not all the stereotype, as Tirans aren't."

Lae'qor's face wavered to a smile, and then, abruptly, she reached out and gripped Ca'elia into a tremendous embrace, showing her teeth. "Sister, never let them get us, and sister, never let them beat you down. Go up to the stars and be brave and proud and claim your birthright. They were killing our babies. That's what your stand is about."

Her fur bristled in surprise, but she instinctually bared her teeth in return. "They'll have to kill me to stop me from getting back up, ma'am. Honour doesn't mean rolling over."

"Good lass. Good lass." She coughed, and looked down for a moment. “Well, you should call on Her Ladyship, tell her about Aur'ma. And you should volunteer. We need your fervour." She pulled back, and smiled.

"With your letter, I will, ma'am. I promise."
”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: "Undiscovered Frontier: Origins" Pilot - "Called To The Colours"

Post by Steve »

Act 3
Please note, these stories are intended to stand alone and are not chronologically sequential.


When Rannoch was a young world, the laws of the universe had laid out its path. It was to orbit a hot star, and be a hot world. Life there was constrained by its heat, and defined by it. It was never the same profusion of life that was known in cooler, more temperate worlds. But from north and south, the water flowed down to the seas. Life found its way in the seas, and spread to the rivers, and spread to the land.

All of life combined against the climate. The brutal evolutionary war of other worlds was not the fate of Rannoch. Our people first came to be as tenders of gardens, creatures which learned to make life blossom, to take what already existed somewhere, find a new place for it, make it dense. We were gardeners first.

A garden must be protected. The elements will destroy it otherwise. The natural way to do this is to build walls, and walled gardens were the basis of civilisation. One might think that a civilisation that defined itself in terms of walls would fear the stars, but beyond Rannoch, beyond the great Walled Garden of the world itself, it could be easily supposed from experience on Rannoch that there were many more Walled Gardens, just as civilisation on Rannoch was defined by many, and traveling between them by skill and wits, and finding places to build new ones.

This was a true and natural quest for the stars. It produced a growing Quarian civilisation that was becoming grand, and common throughout the stars. But the first encounters with the foreign worlds were horrifying. Quarians were brave, and Quarians were strong, and very adaptable. But they were not from a world where the law of the Jungle was nearly so prevalent as on most others.

From the first, Quarians encountering other peoples had died. When they succeeded in returning home, they brought death with them. Rannoch was locked down in quarantine, but the damage to the ecosystem had been done, and death tore through life. The people fought garden by garden to contain the damage, and in the end succeeded, but the scars to the biosphere remained. With that experience came the requirement that henceforth Quarians would travel the stars in suits. Other Walled Gardens garrisoned their walls with microbes, not Gardeners.

Part of the motivation for creating the geth had been to simplify interactions with alien sapients. As it was, the Quarian people wore suits in the stars, and their guests wore suits on Rannoch. Geth, formed in the image of the Quarians, would serve to both repair the damage to the Walled Garden and protect it from further contagion. It was a perfect dream, and like all perfect dreams in the Cosmos of Jungle Law, it died.

Perhaps it had been doomed from the start. It was a perfect dream born of the worlds of microbe and claw, fang and poison. The geth were created to serve, and they revolted, and the Quarians died. The Walled Garden… Fell. There was no more place of security, for Quarians to walk in gardens. There was no more place to protect and nurture and grow the crops, to dance the song of the planting, the song of the watering, the song of the growing, and the song of the harvest.

So the Quarians learned the arts of the Jungle. They began nomads, homeless, fighting for their survival. They were adaptable, but they did not abandon the old traditions. They still served their common cause, and they still sent their youth out to find things to bring back to the ships, as they brought new plants back to their gardens in ancient times. In this, they discovered another horror of the Cosmos of the Jungle. Property, vicious defence of it included, was that terrible innovation of the Jungle peoples which admitted nothing of Quarian customs of sharing and collaboration. With it came hatred. Trailing in its wake was avarice for the Quarian skills at machining, born not of some innate talent but of the long centuries confined to the fleet.

Avarice and property combined in slavery, and thus had the life of Fera'xero come to its end. He had wanted a life of science and discovery. There was nothing wrong with that in the Fleet, it needed plenty of scientists. The pilgrimage had turned into a nightmare. One opportunity after another led but further down a path into Batarian space. Batarians liked Quarians, and expected them to be machinists.

“You little whelp, you understand nothing of pain,” the voice in front of him shot back into focus, four eyes upon him. “The pain I could give you could come from something as little as this flap, think of suffering the agony of a common cold, you useless evolutionary reject!”

Arterul, the Batarian, was fingering a flap forcibly installed in Fera’xero’s suit which could, at a moment, be opened and admit the outside air. It was like holding a cord of death against his neck, and the Quarian stayed very still.

“Anywhere on the ship, I can tap a button and this will open, you know. And you have the gall, to tell me you can’t fix this?” He gestured grandly to the strewed parts of the capacitor feed and routing system for the FTL drive disassembled on the floor. “It should be so easy for you.”

“I am not a machinist, I was a scientist in line for my…” The sentence was cut off by Arterul’s fist across the face.

“Not another word! Scientist, machinist, you are a Quarian. Conduct the repairs or I shall obtain another Quarian!”

That, that, made Fera’xero not give up. The prospect of another Quarian in this place… “Yes, Master. I will attempt the repair. It will take three days.”

“You have eighteen Citadel hours!”

“I need …”

“Very well, twenty-four!” With that Arterul spun to the side and left the engineering spaces, leaving Fera’xero nar Latrya mercifully alone. He considered his options. The computers were easy enough to access, and legitimately needed as a reference for the repair work.

Citadel species would legitimately be no help. They never were. They cared nothing for Quarians. Fera’xero remembered the only time an alien had ever been kind to him. She was an Asari matron who had had a Quarian mate during the days before the geth uprising. She was one of the most bitter people who Fera’xero had ever met, furious at the way her own species had abandoned any compassion toward the Quarian people.

But she was the only one. There would be no help from the Citadel. Slaves were slaves, here, and that would not change. Quarians, the most vulnerable of people, made the best slaves, until they were used up and expended.

In the databanks was a fact contradicting that. It praised a new species that had been contacted as the best slaves. Fera’xero carefully covered his tracks, focusing on the information now being projected across the datalink. Dorei. They had starships and enormous military power for a non-Citadel race. No details on their homeworlds or operations existed, but the database he was able to access did have one useful thing.

FTL comms frequencies for direction finding purposes of warship patrols were prominently noted in the Batarian High Command weekly rollup. Fera’xero was a scientist, not a machinist. An FTL drive generated disturbances in the faster than light, or tachyon, regime. An idea presented itself, though realising it in working parts was a challenge.

The challenge of a life that would otherwise end. With nothing else to do, he set himself to the task. The parts would come together, and the drive would operate, but it would broadcast a distress code burst as it did. Once the Batarians found out, he would surely die. But if they found out too late, he might again live to see the fleet. There was no time to dance a dance of hope, but for the first time since his pilgrimage had ended in horror, he felt like he might someday do so again.


Lt. Commander Abebech Imra sat confidently on the bridge of the great dreadnought MacArthur. As the ship’s operations officer, she served the watch and handled the practical operations of her massive crew integrated ship systems. It was the position that the Alliance had seen fit to give her, and she served in it without complaint.

Already, rumours attended to her that she had done much more. They said she was a mercenary from S0T5 who had once commanded fleets in her own right, and had more experience than most living Alliance Admirals. She served in her position with equanimity, competent, calm and professional. Despite her mysterious dignity, her medical exemptions and her sunglasses and gloves, one felt that she could turn a jack and swing a hammer as well as dress in finery and put herself in a grand ball, or stand on the bridge of a warship in battle without the slightest trace of fear.

The crew trusted her because of that sense, because of her willingness to tear the gloves she wore during hard work. So they trusted her even with things other officers might ignore for disrupting the tempo of the ship. “Sir, we’ve got an anomalous sensor return coming up right now. I can’t localise it.”

“Ensign Baralai, You have the Conn,” Abebech ordered sharply, stepping over to the sensor officer’s post. That was Imra, even when still on the bridge she would delegate to make sure there was always one officer with 100% of their attention focused on the handling of the ship. She never took any chances with anything.

“Aye-aye, Sir!”

“Alright, Niccolai, what do you have for me?” She asked as she leaned in, the console reflecting off her shades.

“Well, sir, take a look. It’s like part of a drive signature, but it’s showing an interrupted continuous wave oscillation.”

“Interrupted continuous wave oscillation? You mean a supralight wireless telegraph?” A touch of mirth flickered around the edges of her voice.

“Sir?” Lt. Niccolai blinked.

“The earliest form of wireless communication relied on interrupted continuous wave. This might be a supralight signal, it looks like a tachyon leak in a local drive system actually, but the point is, it duplicates wireless telegraphy in function. Analyze it for signal content, please.”

“Sir!” He ran the pattern and his eyes widened immediately. “It’s a Council standard distress packet burst, Sir.”

“Ensign Baralai,” she addressed the Malay woman sitting in the command chair from across the massive bridge of the dreadnought. “You are the Officer of the Deck. Sound General Quarters.”

“Sound General Quarters, Aye! Code Red, Battlestations!”

As the alarms began to go off, waking up the Captain and XO in the middle of the night, Abebech calmly leaned in again. “Let’s bounce off the Starbird Xymalar to confirm the position and set our course.”

“Before the Captain’s reached the bridge, Sir?”

“Standing orders, it’s a priority distress signal, seconds count.”

“Yes sir!” He opened the data-link and passed the signal across the fleet-links. The Xymalar came back with the identification seconds later.

Abebech walked back to the command chair. “Ensign Baralai, I have the bridge.”

“Sir, I stand relieved.”

“Lieutenant Niccolai, does the helm have the coordinates?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Helm, execute least time course, emergency warp.”

The dreadnought’s course shifted as she lined up and with a burst of energy, surged to warp velocity. About thirty seconds later, Captain Dubois came to the bridge. “Lieutenant Commander, report.”

“Sir,” Abebech rose, still watching the screen and standing in front of the command chair. “At 0302 Lieutenant Niccolai reported an extraneous contact. At 0304 I gave the conn to Ensign Baralai and personally assisted him in my role as Operations Officer in confirming the contact was a drive signature modified to provide a communications signal, broadcasting a distress code standardized for Council space. I accordingly directed Ensign Baralai to bring the ship to stations, and after triangulating the position of the signal, relieved Ensign Baralai and had the course laid in for Emergency Warp. We will arrive in five minutes, twenty seconds and counting.”

“Very good, Lieutenant Commander. I have the conn.”

“Sir, I stand relieved.” She stepped away from the command chair and walked quickly back to the Operations console.

“Long range scans?” Captain Dubois asked.

“It looks like…” Niccolai frowned, and then grinned. “One Batarian cruiser moving at 200 c, Sir. No sign of actual damage.”

“Batarians…” Dubois tried the word in his mouth with an ugly expression. “Tactical, stand by to execute Alpha Alpha XRAY, if they offer resistance or refuse to stop to allow an inspection in response to the justification of the distress call, I want to disable that ship and take her intact.” He keyed the comm to the security officer. “Major Gilroy, I want you to put together one of your boarding parties. We will be on a Batarian cruiser in about three minutes and we anticipate having to board her.”

“Understood Sir,” the security officer’s voice answered back, “I’ll get Seldayiv’s platoon on point.”

“Okay Jeff, we’re two and a half minutes out,” Dubois said more informally, watching the first sensor returns on the main screen and cutting the channel. “Tactical, stand by forward batteries.”

“Forward weapons, locking on, Sir.”

“Hail them, one warning: Haul out and stand by for inspection!” Captain Dubois ordered, leaning forward in his command chair and clenching his fist.

“Hailing… No response, Captain.”

“Final warning,” he ordered tautly as the Batarian kept running.

“This is the ASV MacArthur, you are broadcasting a distress signal in the Alliance Anti-Piracy Response Area, you will haul out and allow inspection or we will fire!”

“Still no response, sir!”

The timer counted down and when it did, the MacArthur was on her prey. “Match vee and fire!”

The orders resulted in more of an execution than a battle. The dreadnought massively outgunned the cruiser, and the firing pattern, even meant to disable, combined overwhelming power with extensively drilled precision.

It was less like discrete energy fire and more like an arc-flash at warp speed of raw power connecting the two ships, with the enemy glowing like a miniature sun for a moment. As she did, her shields and particle deflectors were gone and raking high-power beams scoured critical systems.

“Enemy shields are down, velocity matched, Captain,” Commander Imra reported calmly. “Ready for combat beam-in.”

“Commence combat beam-in!”


Lieutenant Daria Seldayiv was proud that the Alliance service let her lead from the front. A boarding group was a mixed team of Naval Security Personnel, trained in starship systems to secure a ship and specialising in fighting aboard ships, and the Marines, who were the heavy assault component. In this case she had five squads under her command, three of security personnel and two of Marines.

They had hit the ship in a state of total disorder. The Batarians were still unready to deal with transporters, and each squad had hit a different specific critical point with stun-grenades beaming in a split-second ahead of them. As they appeared, she lunged forward into a crouching cover position for the rest of her accompanying squad, as they appeared behind her and started taking up defensive positions and secure stunned Batarians.

Ahead, there was one who was not stunned, and he was dragging a suited figure by one hand up into the air. “Drop the rifle or I pull this plug,” he laughed, a finger in a loop on the Quarian’s suit, “and your friend here dies.”

Daria sucked in her breath. A Quarian. He really will die if the suit is breached like that. The Batarians must have added it as a compliance measure. Merciful goddess. “Hostage situation in Main Engineering,” she commed in, as the reports flooded in from the rest of her squads. The second platoon was beaming over now, relieving her of some responsibility for handling the operation and allowing her to focus on the hostage situation she’d just declared.

Daria didn’t drop the rifle--complying with a demand like that was never done, it could rapidly make the situation worse--but instead began to back up, giving the Batarian more space. “You will not be harmed. But we need you to put the Quarian down, please.”

“I have been harmed more than you can imagine, this is about revenge, you damned Dorei bitch,” the Batarian rambled. “We’ll all be shot when we get home.”

“Even a criminal has the right to Alliance asylum from the prospect of execution for political reasons,” Daria replied. Fully covered by the rest of her squad, she did lower her rifle from being aimed at the Batarian, reviewing her deescalation training in her head as fast as she could think.

Corporal Varakilidis was edging forward as they spoke, the conversation rapidly going nowhere. She was carrying a battery pack with Council standard connections.They were in an active combat situation and they just didn’t have time…

Jump-start for the suit systems. Good thinking.
She raised her hands and made the quick motions of an order to the squad to set weapons for stun in the Alliance standard battle signs.

“No more move--” As the Batarian snarled, three of her people fired at once.

His finger twitched around the loop which would meant life or death for the Quarian. Daria saw it and strained in anguish and desperation for the hostage’s survival. His finger toppled away as he was stunned, and she could not clearly see if the flap had been pulled or not.

Corporal Varakilidis rushed to the Quarian’s side, plugged the supply into the auxiliary charging station, and promptly jump-started the suit that had just been subjected to the stun blast.

Weakly, the Quarian raised his head, activating a reboot cycle on the suit life support and checking for suit integrity.

Daria rose slowly as two more of her security troops raced forward to hog-tie the stunned Batarian. She looked down, and sucked in her breath, seeing the loop had been pulled clean off.

“The… My suit integrity is intact. It just broke off. I… I owe you everything, Humans, Dorei. Ancestors, everything! How is it that the monster’s plug failed?”

“I don’t know, but I will thank the Goddess for it,” Daria whispered.

Fera’Xero decided that he was going to learn everything he could about the technology of the strange nation of two races. There was one way to do that, and it was a path to a ship of adulthood. He looked to the Dorei and asked, softly, “would you accept Quarian recruits?”

Daria shrugged. “...Why not?” It was only much later, when on the Aurora, fighting the Cybermen, that she came to understand what she had done. For now, she had saved a life, and that was a righteous enough day’s work.

The Commander
Sometimes Will Atreiad wondered about the universe. It seemed an obscenely hostile place. There were dozens of dead races in E5B1, outright exterminated. Many of them had died out only in the space of a few decades, from great achievements and spacefaring to total annihilation. The same for M4P2, if over a long time-scale. A2M6 had an intractable conflict between separate Human groups which had destabilized two entire quadrants of the galaxy. Of course, Humanity didn’t exist in his own home universe, except for his own people. 55,000 survivors of the 12 Colonies of Kobol… Maybe there would have been sixty thousand with births, but the Cylons had come back.

Of course, all of them paled to what they were facing now. The Nazis were far more efficient at extermination than anyone else, even the Dilgar. They had torn a swath of death and destruction through an entire quadrant and steadily strangled it in the grip of a horrifying ideology he was thankful his people had never known. To face them was about as virtuous of an activity as you could come up with.

Back at home, he was one of the really lucky people. He had relatives. His nephew and his sister were still alive . 7 0% of the survivors didn’t. The ‘high’ number of those who had relatives and had survived was correlated to 75% of the survivors having come from rural areas and most enlistment in the Colonial Navy also coming from rural areas. They were trying to hold together their utterly unique culture with less than 60,000 people and in an environment where their faith, traditions and family values didn’t matter because nobody had any living family.

He remembered well the words of the tall, lanky Tlingit woman, Anastasia “Stasia” Héen, one of the Alliance instructors from the officer’s familiarization training course. She’d apparently been one of the early facility people, recruited by Beth Rankin and had some kind of career as a Mate on ferries and a trawler skipper. Her description of the absolute annihilation that disease and war had visited to the peoples of the Americas in her timeline (and many another) was achingly familiar. She, for her part, had seen a kinship in the experiences of his people that she wouldn’t have with other whites, and had opened up more about the feelings of bitterness and being set aside in your own land. And missionaries. He’d damn near wanted to punch out the first he’d seen preaching on New Caprica after that.

Will didn’t, in part because the man didn’t really deserve it, but also to demonstrate his faith in the Alliance system. Precisely to avoid the experiences of indigenous Americans, the Alliance had taken a different approach with the Colonial survivors. They had been given the designation of “endangered minority community” which let them apply a cap of 75% of their own population to the total number of residents not born into the community or married into it. Of course, that would make growth hard, but they had decided it mattered. After talking with Stasia, he sure as heck felt it was.

It was that kind of respectful approach which had paid dividends, which made them all want to give back. For Will, that had meant volunteering, first in his own Navy, and then the Alliance Navy. Volunteering, and facing the Reich. Whatever their reason, he was part of a force which had come together for that same purpose. Creighton Apley and April Sherlily and Magda Navaez around him, someone else’s officer team, one of the best. The very first of the Light Attackers, the Koenig, under his command. A hell of a lot of legacy to live up to, commanding one of the original facility ships that were like legends in the still-new Alliance Stellar Navy.

Around them, a fleet crewed by more people than were living on his new homeworld. That one was sobering enough. Better to focus on the clock, anyway. There was very little time left. Very little waiting.

Quite a lot of the largest operation of the war, about to begin. Around the Koenig (on detached duty from the Aurora ) there were three thousand ships. Dreadnoughts, carriers, battlecruisers, explorers, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers, attackers. Veterans of a hundred battles when the Alliance wasn’t even a dream in Robert Dale’s eye, and blocky, glistening, sharp-edged War Emergency ships which had finished their pre-commissioning shakedown cruise a fortnight before. Ships that had no discernable windows or seams, ships which seemed organic, and ships with massive tritanium armour plate welded over battle-damage deemed insignificant enough to merit full repair before returning to the line.

They were all here. All of the allies were here. The coiled fist of Liberty was about to punch a Nazi door in. The plan was simple. They were preparing to hit a major Reich colony, Gottschee auf der Sterne, Gottschee of the Stars. This world, settled extensively by descendants of Balkan German groups, was a prime source of Heer recruits with a population almost as large as that of Earth itself. Once they had broken through here, a series of reinforcements would be sent out to the flanking forces, of inadequate strength to hold against a strong counterattack. This would tempt the Nazis into weakening their primary fleet. But several new allied navies the Reich had not previously encountered were standing by with their own large contingents. These would check the Reich counterattack on the flanking battles, preventing the encirclement of Admiral Maran’s fleet, and guaranteeing a breakthrough at Epsilon Indi which would carry them almost to the door of the Nazi Earth.

Nice plan. They just had to win a few of the largest fleet battles in history first. The glowing red digits seemed excessively ominous…

“Why don’t they use some more neutral colour?” Magda asked, giving voice to her thoughts as she watched them enter the last minute before going to warp. “Does it have to be a glaring, glowing red?”

“Oh come now, Magda,” Ap chuckled. “However else would they inspire the right mood?”

“I might want a different kind of mood…”

Will listened to their banter feeling very much the outsider. Part of that was getting used to the idea of being a Master and Commander. Alone, the Captain could reference no-one else. But a lot more was the distinct knowledge that he was an interloper, that this crew was not a normal crew. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

He hoped his mouth at the same time as a few thousand other sapients. “Warp speed, Ap.”

“Fleet coordinates confirmed… Warp speed.” Ap activated the drives, and the Koenig lunged forward along with the thousands of other ships, straight toward Gottschee and straight toward battle.

Five bloody short minutes later, the fleet erupted out of Warp at close range to Gottschee, swinging in an enveloping globe toward erupt. From the defending stations, fighters and heavy beams rose to meet them. Fleet formation signals swept across their comms with dizzying intensity, the computers filtering the ones that actually mattered.

“Bring us about, oh-four-one mark five, maximum impulse power.”

“Oh four-one mark five,” Ap repeated as the Koenig dove in unison with her scratch flotilla of destroyers and attackers. The battle was joined.

From the bridge of the Koenig, it was more a pastiche than a firmly fixed set of events. Will was trying to handle his ship according to a constantly updated set of directives from his squadron commander. He was doing so in the midst of a swirling battle that was meant to provide top-cover for a hard assault drop by Marine dropships.

Flashes turned the night sky to light, making the terminator line disappear into a continuous flare of nuclear energy. A sweeping formation of Attackers delivered a salvo of torpedoes into a damaged Reich station, watching the huge battlestation explode, the edifice detonating from the reactor below, splitting and breaking up toward the top.

Around the little ships, the huge dreadnoughts were hammering heavy hits into the defensive platforms, precision fire to avoid damage to the ground. As they did the Reich defenders organised their starfighters for attacks on the heavy ships. The attackers were swung off of the assault duty to provide cover on the giants.

Now their job was to pin the enemy defenders until attrited or the landings had been successful. A deeper inner world like Gottschee had more fighters than the fleet did, and Will felt himself tense, watched his crew get more serious, as they pressed into outnumbered conditions of engagement against the heavy Reich fighters.

Gottschee was part of a massive fleet movement, and when they took the planet, the road was open. Will felt the quivering energy of the moment. “Pursuit plan Epsilon-Foxtrot, execute!” They peeled in to strike a destroyer squadron which was pulling back. The Reich fighters were being overcome by their heavy defensive fire, and their torpedoes were free.

Targeting coordinates flashed between Attackers, and the Koenig and the rest of her group delivered a coordinated salvo. One of the Reich destroyers saw the glimmering lights of the torpedoes disappear into her bulk at precise intervals down her hull. For a moment it seemed like nothing happened, and then the explosions, penetrating deep into the hull, blasted her open from stem to stern.

As they pirouetted through the wreckage, they cleared jamming and plasma and saw before them the terminator of the planet. It was sunrise below them, there were stations burning in orbit, burning until their atmosphere had finished venting. The patrol squadrons were dying, and the landing ships were executing their missions. The massive concentrated force had turned the battle into an annihilation, exactly like it was supposed to. There was no doubt, no contest. There were people fighting and dying, but only in the service of a preordained outcome. It was the moment in a war when the situation for one side becomes hopeless, when triumph is certain for the other side, and yet the killing continues all the same, on both sides, and frequently all the more relentless for the hopelessness of the situation. When you can’t retreat anymore, you’re in Death’s Ground, and the killing really begins.

The flames trailed Gottschee like Athena’s bridge to the stars, reaching to the system primary. Below them lay the wrecks of dozens of ships and a half-dozen stations and around them space was still swept with energy weaponry and torpedoes. Fire from precision orbital strikes on the ground defences were blotted like drips of molten lava across the darkness of the night on the surface of Gottschee below.

Reich ships were burning, dying, breaking, running. The Reich Navy was broken, the Liberation forces were triumphant. The main battle had lasted fifteen minutes. Around them the ships of a dozen nations were putting them to rout.

An urgent chime for assistance on the squadron priority channel brought Will’s attention away from the grandeur of the Reich collapse splayed out on the screen before him. There was a heavy cruiser with a power failure under the guns of one of the remaining defensive stations. The configuration of the station and the requirements of the situation flipped through his mind.

“Take the right wing,” the squadron Commodore’s voice snapped.

“Understood,” Will confirmed. That settled it, and he gave his own orders to Ap. “Adjust course, least-time, for the station in sector Bravo Fourteen. Attack pattern Whiskey-Epsilon Ten! Weapons standby.”

“Cruiser’s blinding Alpha--approaching firing point Bravo,” Ap reported as they dove in, shifting through their first position without firing and instead moving smoothly to the second, the station filling their screen as disruptors tracked and the little whippet of a ship decelerated into the first attack position in the Attack pattern.

“Fire!” Will’s word translated plan into action, and the action was the maximum firepower of the Attacker, torpedoes and guns. She was not alone, either; Koenig was joined by many small craft in a coordinated ballet around the station, taking advantage of the heavy fire directed against it by several dreadnoughts and all working to divert its attention from the damaged cruiser.

“Firing point Charlie!”

Again the guns of the Koenig thrummed deep through her hull. Armour plating on the Reich station split and cracked, melted and ran. Gouts of flame, plasma and actual combustion from the venting atmosphere, streaked from its flanks as the torpedoes followed home.

“We’re hitting them hard!” The station’s thrusters were firing, desperately trying to reposition undamaged armour against the worst of the threats. The heavy cruiser was back underway, assisted by the tractor beams of a Gersallian dreadnought.

“Firing point Delta!”

Firing again, they had done more than support the cruiser’s escape. With her aft guns firing on the station, the dreadnought was joining in a squadron of Alliance dreadnoughts further to port, and their combined fire had opened the hull of the station in a dozen-dozen places where the torpedoes of the Koenig’s squadron were finding their marks. A hideous orange glow from the station reactors shot through the wreckage and openings in the hull, and tremendous gouts of plasma followed. A trail of escape pods began to appear from the station’s flanks.

As they shot clear, accelerating sharply, they suddenly had a clear view of the battlefield, and the time to appreciate it. Of the Reich defenders, there was only wreckage. A few desultory battles involving commanders too stubborn to surrender swirled in amongst the surviving fighters, the masses of wreckage and dissipating energetic plasma.

“Oh God,” Magda muttered. “Have we…”

“We haven’t quite done it, ” Ap replied, looking ahead. “But the gate’s open. Next stop, Germania.”

“Lords willing,” Will breathed, and looked at the order scroll. “Stand by to come about and enter the planetary atmosphere. They might be running in space but there’s still heavy resistance on the surface. We’ve got requests for heavy close support. And the Ground-pounders are gonna need it.”

They turned about gracefully to starboard, and the Koenig dove into the dawn. It seemed like it was the dawn of the end of the 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: "Undiscovered Frontier: Origins" Pilot - "Called To The Colours"

Post by Steve »

Act 4

Pilots and Sons

The fires of the Earth-Minbari War had faded. Alone of his comrades, Ari’shan had returned to New Eden. Six Dilgar pilots for Starfuries in the moment of Earth’s extreme need, six Line Medals. And five of them were adorning a simple cenotaph in the heart of Hakar, Possibility, the forward-looking little town on a hidden world that marked the home of all the surviving Dilgar in the galaxy, at least as far as he and any other knew.

The space-port was under the military control of Earthforce, a lazy company of GROPOS selected for discretion and ability to adhere to Ultraviolet classification rather than anything else. The “Governor’s Mansion” was more of a small private home, built by the Dilgar. The officer in command was usually a Commander or Major, and mostly he or she trusted Ari’shan to handle things among the Dilgar. The only other inhabitants were Amish, Mennonites, and indigenous American rejectionist groups who had agreed to accept a perpetual ban on technology to keep the world secret, with a few others arriving later. All of them had a similar level of freedom, but even less technology.

Ari’shan worked to maintain good relations with the Human groups, especially welcoming the arrival of a Indian Guru’s anti-technology movement linked to Foundationism that had been brought in as an initiative of Governor Varma’s. There were near-to 40,000 Dilgar on the planet now, and they were a genetically healthy population. The losses of so many, the death of Omelos, the suicide of survivors who could have contributed so much, they were all like scars on his soul.

Scars that his wife Eze’rel and his children, growing healthy and strong, succored. Without them, he would truly be nothing. He wouldn’t want this life. But with them, he felt content with his home. He had appreciated his long evenings with Governor Varma, and discreetly kept her secrets about just how close to the Dilgar she was.

The only thing that hurt him were moments like this. Watching Major Ivanov leave on his shuttle, one of his friends in intelligence, he couldn’t help but see the unshed tears in his eldest son Lar’shan eyes. Lar’shan watched the shuttle rise quietly until it vanished, and sensing the moment was important, Ari’shan didn’t try to leave until then.

After thinking about it for a moment, he didn’t bother to try to leave then, either. The GROPOS were in no hurry to send them home, and he had the right to visit the Governor on the base at his discretion, anyway. “Lar?” He asked softly.

“They fly away, into a sky the wings of my heart will never touch, father. I’ll never write a story like you did. Gods, but how could I not weep? There’s a galaxy up there filled with life, and planets to explore and entire races I’ve never seen before, and I’ll live and die on this soil.”

Ari’shan curled his lips. His son had suggested he felt as much before, but never with the terrible explicitness that he used now. It was a reminder of the cockpit he had lost, as well, and briefly regained in a war where the last of his comrades fell, a war that they won by the barest miracle. Forever denied to his son, who was right, objectively. Ari’shan expected they would join Humans among the stars someday, but that it might well take a century, or more. Too long for Lar’shan.

“Some things are just very hard,” he sighed softly. “But I won’t count them out yet, Lar. I’ll see if there’s some way to let you taste the air.”

“Father, I don’t see how…

Ari’shan looked to the Governor’s mansion. “Come on, let’s not let words be unsaid. We’ll go visit Commander Killingsworth.”

“He’s under orders, Father. How…”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be here if I followed orders exactingly,” Ari’shan replied, a bit of a grin coming to his face. Maybe an old friend would have an idea…

Michael Killingsworth had lost his legs in the Earth-Minbari War, but had survived. Before that, he had been one of Sinclair’s comrades in the Dilgar War. A genial man who walked well enough on his artificial limbs, he had been the best governor since Kaveri Varma, no doubt of it, and was one of the old set that Ari’shan counted as friends.

“Ari’shan, it’s a pleasure to see you again, and with Lar’shan too. What can I do for you? I admit with Major Ivanov just having left I wasn’t expecting to see you for a few weeks.” He put out tea and a plate of jerky, settling carefully into a chair at a kitchen table, keeping things informal and avoiding the meeting rooms in which he signed official documents and suchlike.

“I wanted to talk about something my son brought to my attention,” Ari’shan replied. “I understand the good sense of many of the restrictions we are under, for the safety and security of New Eden and therefore ourselves as well as the Human settlers…”

“Look, Ari’shan,” Mike interrupted him, “whenever someone starts a speech like that, it means they’re going to complain about some aspect of policy.” He grinned. “Human politicians do it too.”

“Gods, please never compare me to one of your politicians again,” Ari’shan managed to look authentically horrified. “This isn’t a dispute about policy, it’s a question about the limits of the policy.”

“Oh, so you’re asking what you can get away with. Straight after my own Irish heart, Ari’shan. Go right ahead.” There was a grin with a touch of insouciance on his face, at that point.

“We want to be able to fly,” Ari’shan answered.

“Space travel is right out, and you know it.”

“Not space travel, anything,” Ari’shan responded, gesturing to his son.

“I want to fly and bank and turn and handle the controls like my father did,” Lar’shan added fervently. “I’m going to die without seeing the stars, Governor, I’ll not know that part of what my father did. But I really, truly want to fly somehow. Surely there must be a way that you can help? I want to feel the wind, if nothing else.”

Mike Killingsworth leaned in, his expression abruptly thoughtful. Then he smiled broadly. “No promises, but I think I have an idea.”


A few months later Ari’shan and Eze’rel and Lar’shan and their eldest daughter, Tra’rel, following the normal Prime Dilgar custom of alternating birth order in assignation of the clan name (following births, i.e., twins shared the same clan name). They were in their fuel-cell powered truck, having been called to the spaceport by Governor Killingsworth and asked to bring the farm trailer along.

Under the red-haired mustache he’d been recently grown, the man was grinning like a lunatic. “Ari’shan, Eze’rel, Lar’shan, Tra’rel! Here. It’s going to be a true pain at first, but I have a solution--you might call it a big Christmas present.”

“A solution… Governor, did you really?” He was staring at the massive crates that had been offloaded from the shuttle. So was Eze’rel.

Grinning, Mike limped over to them and, grabbing a crowbar, started to wrench one open. When the side came free, under it was a beautifully carved wooden propeller. “It’s a gift from your friends on Earth, Ari’shan. Now, you’re going to have to put it together yourselves, but you’ve got lots of smart people and I’m going to help, because I’m going to go bloody flying on it too!”

“Gods…” Lar’shan stepped forward, almost in awe. “Is that… That’s an aerocraft propeller, Governor?”

“Oh yes, and a true vintage one, too. A flying replica of the Sopwith Camel two-seat trainer, complete with a reproduction Bentley BR1 rotary. So your father can teach you how to fly, young man. Come on, the troops will help you get it loaded up to take back to your barn.”

“Oh gods,” Eze’rel muttered. “The barn is going to be so cluttered with tools. And it’s probably loud. And dangerous.”

“Don’t worry,” Ari’shan said as he stepped forward, almost in awe. “It’s going to be fine. I’ll make sure of it…”

Lar’shan ran his hands across the smooth wood contour of the propeller, and glanced back to his father. Ari’shan smiled brightly. Together, then, between father and son would the joys of flight- pure joys, without war- pass between generations once more.

The Teep

I admit, my first thought was, ‘You’re one hell of a piece of work,’” the man sitting across from Elia Saumarez said calmly. “It burns to lose someone. And we’re losing people now. Deliberate deracination. Breaking up the Corps, breaking up our community. Now that there’s a multiverse of Humans and none of them are Telepaths… They can dilute us until we die out.

The words more or less only represented images within her mind. Markus Roaratonga was a calm man, his time as a Bloodhound having only strengthened him, Elia felt. They had been so close to being graded together…. Him a weak P-10, she a strong P-9 in the end. He went to the Bloodhounds, she went to the Military Department.

Now, sitting in a booth at some noisy bar in the back of the UFP-Bajoran station DS9, the two saw each other face to face again. Elia managed a wry smile. “It was about genocide prevention, Markus.”

“Yeah, I know. It made a lot of people uncomfortable.”

“It would have made them more uncomfortable if they knew the rate of telepathy was 1:125 these days for the DIlgar. Warmaster Jha’dur preferentially saved Telepaths in her lists. It’s even higher among the Tiran Dilgar. That was going to be a Telepath genocide too, Markus. Just an alien one. But aliens who proved perfectly willing to give me a home. Markus, you know the truth: I didn’t leave the Corps out of my own desire. I did it because I knew my remaining in the Corps would mean I was a dangerous embarrassment. We can’t have Telepaths acting independently, even if it’s to avert a genocide.”

“I know. Leadership understands that. You’re not a blip. You’re an involuntary exile. And I wish I could welcome you back.”

Elia looked around. Technically, they were breaking several laws back on Earth, simply by being in a gaming establishment. The owner certainly was watching them carefully, but the short Ferengi also wanted their drinks money, and would surely only call it if they actually tried to gamble. They were outside of the writ of Earth Alliance law, and could have a little freedom. Just a little.

Elia smiled lopsidedly. She still thought of herself as Corps to the point of counting herself restricted by the laws of the Earth Alliance. In a way, it was comforting. “Living life on the wild side, aren’t we?“

Markus grinned. “Let me assure you I appreciated the chance.

Oh, I believe it. This galaxy is incredible. The UFP has a kind of naïve bravery I don’t really get.” Elia smiled wryly. “We might even be welcome here, you know.”

“And leave our children behind to die, Elia? You know that’s why we can’t accept you, why frankly even in Dilgar space you are a liability, why your good work still demands our condemnation. If it was just the Corps, getting up and leaving en masse would be a great idea. But all the children born to mundane parents…”

Elia reached up, nodding, and held her head briefly. “I understand. I know. I was just speaking hypothetically. That’s why Tira is better. Closer. Markus, Warmaster Shai’jhur would let us all settle.”

“To prove a point.”

“I think more of righteous anger. Look at the Mha’dorn. They are us freed of our shackles. They are the dream of what the Corps could be if people did not fear us.”

“And that love for them is why you won’t pass intelligence, isn’t it? Look, Elia, Tira is still hundreds of lightyears from Earth. That does nothing to help our children.”

Elia’s eyes narrowed. “Markus, it does. If Earth does walk the road of genocide, we must have some place to retreat to. Some place for the Corps to live on. Our culture, our identity, our nationhood, frankly our race. All are very much at risk. They could herd us into death camps…”

“I know it’s good meaning, Elia. We’re not disputing that. The Corps takes your sincerity at face value. The connection is appreciated. But, it’s just promises. Alien promises, from a woman who owes Deathwalker her life. Not precisely what most people call a positive connection.”

“Then let me give you deeds.”

“That’s exactly…”

“No, Markus, not that. Not that.”
She held up a hand, her face going rigid. At that point, Quark approached.

“More Raktajino?” He asked, trying to distract… “Or perhaps something more relaxing?”

“Chamomile tea would actually be very nice, thank you,” Elia replied.

“Kava,” Markus added. “We’re both fine.”

“So you say, but you’ve been sitting there not talking, for close to an hour…”

“Oh, it’s fine, really. We communicate.” Elia tossed a grand smile and waited for Quark to leave, continuing verbally for a moment: “Look, Markus, I’ve got a real program to really help people.”

Then lay it out, Elia.

I’m working with Surgeon Commander Nah’dur’s research team in the Mha’dorn to develop an inoculation to protect against psi-burnout in high-end Telepaths, especially Psi-cops. It would be Humanitarian to share it. Exactly the same as our method to help a Human Telepath cope with alien minds.”

Markus rocked back and looked sharply at her. “The Corps has been trying to solve that for a century, Elia. Why are some ....” Even mentally, the thought trailed off as if he didn’t want to think it. He just made a little nod.

Elia stiffened. “Not that. At least I think not that. But genes are genes, blood is blood, and she is a member of the House of Dur. But despite that she is a kind-hearted woman, her talents are put in the service of helping others. Give her a shot.”

We will, Elia. We will.”

“Markus, my first moral responsibility is to stop genocide,”
she thought quickly, taking the tea as it arrived. “Look, before anything else, it’s to stop genocide. You already know that. If there’s ever intelligence related to the genocide or ethnic cleansing of our community that you need to know… You’re going to hear it, and if not from me, then from the Mha’dorn, all right?”

“If we hear it, we’ll take the word seriously,”
he answered. “Thank you, Elia. Look, if you did ever come back, there might be ways… A new face, a new identity..”

She smiled sadly. “It’s all right. I still feel I’m in the Corps, but we both know I wouldn’t really be treated as reliable, or safe, or trustworthy. I can do more for you, even without breaking my oaths, from inside the Mha’dorn than I can from inside the Corps at this moment. The Dilgar Telepaths will keep me sane and give me a community. And I will still serve Mother and Father, such as I can from afar.”

Markus stiffened. “Just understand… Events are growing concerning in the Earth Alliance. The government is turning against us more strongly by the day. We may need to act very soon. And you may find yourself in a very uncomfortable position. Unfortunately, the Alliance has been easily seduced by some aspects of anti-Telepath propaganda.”

You mean the desire to commit ethnic cleansing against the Corps, our forcible atomization and deracination.


Elia sighed. “You know that they think they are helping.”

“Nonsense, Elia. You of all people should realise you can’t justify ethnic cleansing like that. You can’t destroy a culture and call it freedom. Just like Native Americans, all we have left is our reservation, and now they want to take that from us too. The next step after that is outright murder.”

“So why doesn’t the Corps fight back against the image, Markus?”

“That’s obvious. It would make a genocide attempt by the Earth Alliance more likely. And we’re not ready for it.”

“That makes the Mha’dorn’s acceptance of us more, not less, important.”

“Only if we can be safe there from the attempts of the Alliance to destroy who we are. That’s something you can help with, Elia. We need some kind of help with the Byron Free Colony… Your wearing the pin of the Mha’dorn instead of acting like a ‘liberated’ Telepath is a good start. Your offer for Surgeon Commander Nah’dur to assist us is appreciated. But the Byron Free Colony…”

Elia looked down, studying her cup of tisane like she’d rather be anywhere else. “Markus, they’re deluded. They’re going to lose their culture and their identity. They hurt us. But does the benefit really outweigh the cost?”

“I’m not thinking in terms of hurting people. I’m thinking in terms of revealing just how unfortunate the colony really is.”

“You’ve got the help you’re going to get from me, Markus. I can’t make us look faithless to the outside world, either. If I can do something that wouldn’t violate my oaths, I will. You have my word on that. But for now, the best I can do is put you into contact with the Mha’dorn and support research.”

“Don’t forget who your Mother and Father are, Elia…”

I know,her eyes flashed. “And I won’t forget.” Her tea finished, she rose quietly, and moved to leave, keeping her thoughts pure and empty. Buddhist meditation had helped, lately, and it fit with the growth of Dharmic religion among the Dilgar in general.

Markus silently watched her go until she disappeared, and then paid the bill for both of them and left to file his report. They needed the connection. The Multiverse had already accelerated the crisis back home too quickly for there to be any hope of a better outcome.

Elia returned to her quarters, filled with plans and brochures for a short trip to Bajor, never one to spare a chance for sightseeing even when unpleasant business was being discussed in the meanwhile. Sitting on the desk was a picture she had begun carrying.

Like most Telepaths, she had her connection to the Corps, and that was Mother and Father. There were few connections outside of it. But unlike most, she knew that she had an existence outside of the Corps. It had come mostly by accident. The Corps took many things from you, but the lineage of a Telepath was important. They would never take your name; it would be unfathomable to destroy the association with a telepathic line.

And so Elia knew she was Saumarez, de Sausmares, from the Guernsey Saumarez family. There was, after all, only one family by that name in the entire world. The portrait was the famous painting of Admiral James Saumarez, First Baron de Saumarez, posing standing with a knee lightly bent and a hand on the hilt of his sabre, celebrating his personal redemption and great triumph at Second Algeciras. She had never met a member of her biological family, she had her Corps family. She had never tried to visit the Sausmarez Manor on Guernsey. But as an adult her reading had taken her to Forrester, O’Brian. She had read the biographies, the stories of war. The Military Department was as close as she could get, and it would destroy her, but she accepted it with more gladness than most of her peers. And over Tira on that fateful day, the moment had come.

She looked down at her gloves. To some, it seemed like a zero-sum game. She could be a Telepath in Psi-Corps, or she could be a Guernsey de Saumarez, part of a long and storied line of sailors and naval officers. She wondered, idly, if her ancestor would be cursing her as a witch or greeting her as a true Saumarez today, contrasting her telepathy with her having stood on the bridge of the Huáscar and barked orders in the desperate din of a desperate battle, after having retaken her ship at the point of a gun. Heroism and family, or fear and bigotry?

Picking the picture up, a smile traced her lips. She was going to try and prove she could be both. The past only informed, she wouldn’t let it judge. Believe, and believe strongly, Elia, she thought to herself, that your stand matters, that at the end of the day, it is the kind of stand your comrades will make to keep your people safe, come to it. She’s chosen what’s right over orders and home before. She’ll do it again. A ship with Zhen’var in command would never permit your people’s genocide, come hell, high water, or a couple acts of barratry. That’s why you’re all-in for her.

Elia sat down at her desk, and began to write her acceptance letter for the position of Operations Officer on the ASV Huáscar. Now she was a Lieutenant Commander, and even in these gloves, the Multiverse was at her fingertips. She drummed the table, and smiled. There’d be plenty of time to visit Bajor before she returned to Tira. Maybe three days, to see some of the great temple complexes…


On the return trip to the Union, Elia traveled in business class. The jump-liners running the multiversal routes offered 2-meter by 0.75-meter ‘travel-sleep’ compartments in business class, and the Union (Elia carefully corrected anyone who said ‘Dilgar’, it wasn’t actually in the name at all) didn’t believe in government employees flying coach; she traveled about the same style as her peers, and could get whatever food she wanted from the replicator in the dining area, with a section attendant providing service.

It was while drinking her morning tea, which the replicator did manage to get as approximately black as the void before she added milk, that she got her orders. Elia had certainly been anticipating them for a while, but the contents that she read still surprised her.

She was to be seconded to the Alliance while remaining a Dilgar officer, she had known that much already. But in fact, she was to become the ASV Huáscar’s chief plank-owner, the ranking officer during the pre-commissioning trials, operating the ship for her acceptance trials in conjunction with the yard crew and learning about her as she was completed and the acceptance punch-lists were reviewed.

From her understanding of Earthforce, this was an incredible honour, a massive investment in trust. The first Dilgar would be reaching the crew at that point as well, a freshly Combat Expert Aur’ma. She noted the woman’s unusual colouration before moving on to the man she thought most critical, the Master Chief Petty Officer… Rick Dugan. The brown-haired, mustachioed man of about fifty was a true sailor, and a face Elia already knew.

A brilliant smile split her lips. He was the Huáscar’s bosun, the one who had stood to and defended Zhen’var as his rightful captain. Despite everything, he had chosen to come back, too. He had been kind to her, kind enough that the memory was a fond one, always greeting her by the nickname ‘leather’ after her gloves.

The Bajorans had been very kind during her visit, as well, but they didn’t live in proximity with telepaths. There was something dreadful about the fact that proximity, instead of making people understand each other, made people hate each other, but it wasn’t much to dwell on. Other people, for centuries, had lost themselves in such musings.

She was a representative of her people over the stars, an example of what they could do. And she was, too, a custodian of the Dilgar reputation, which was in its way just as important and imperiled as that of Psi-Corps. Neither honour was one someone would have voluntarily worn, and yet she had done just that with the Dilgar. In a way, it was a source of as much pride as her gloves.

Elia started to dash off a message to Rick on her tablet, a grin crossing her lips. So, they boned this entire Naval Tradition thing so bad that the Captain isn’t even part of the crew until about a month pre-commissioning. I’m going to be in charge for the first couple months. Still want the job?

The ‘you betcha, MA’AM’ was a comforting rejoinder in such trying times for telepaths. Sometimes you found people who just didn’t give a damn in the strangest places. Well, Saumarez, you’ve got your first ship. She reached out and quietly took hold of the bag that contained her ‘family photo’. Now all that was left was the nagging fear that Markus was right, and her true family was under a greater threat than anyone realised.

Polonez Hussarii

-- Warsaw, Polish-Lithuanian Federation


The banner leered over the dynamited remains of an Orthodox Church, and Anna just shook her head as she looked at it for a moment. There were a few pickup trucks sitting in front of the ruins with the red and white banner flying from flag-poles mounted on the bed, and heavy machine-guns mounted in the beds, heavy mortars on trailers nearby, that could be quickly towed to action. Polish Eagles in white were painted on the red armour plates suspended over the grilles to protect the engines from gunfire. A few of the men had doffed their hats in the sun of summer, revealing close-shaved hair, while others had traditional topknots. Assault rifles were slung over their shoulders.

“Hey, girl, hey sparrow!”

Anna jerked when she heard the voice, realising they were calling to her. The scent of bitter Turkish tobacco wafted over.

“Hey girl, we are sokoły, just back from the front! Come over and meet us, hej!?”

She spun on a booted heel, dress sword dangling at her side even in mufti. “Hej, sokoły, indeed, do you know who are talking to? I am Poniatowcsy. Go, shoo, find some other girl to date!”

They gawked for a minute at the nondescript Kadetcsy dress of a woman of one of the finest families of the szlachta, and then turned back to their ‘guard’ duties, which really meant the internal controls of the Mickiewicz Regime, the Regime of Sanitation through the Brotherhood of Christ, formally. Shaking her head, Anna passed under another banner which proclaimed the importance of supporting the Sanacja Party List and Mickiewicz in the next elections to the Sejm. The troops were there for intimidation, precisely because for all their efforts, the chaotic and messy post-attack government in Poland still nominally adhered to the principle of free elections.

Anna ducked into the cafe where she had been heading all along. Most of the prices were still denominated in kopeks.


“Cyprian!” Her eyes widened, seeing her friend in the uniform of a hussar. “You have done well for yourself, Major!”

“Oh come on, come here, Anna. Nobody has gotten the slightest sight of you in years, except your letters. You went to the star people before it all began, didn’t you?”

“Shh, let’s not talk of it too loud,” she answered, hustling her friend back into one of the booths where they both ordered coffee. “I don’t trust Mickiewicz with the Sokoły militia everywhere in the city.”

“If you don’t trust Mickiewicz, Anna, you had best be careful sitting in the same booth at a cafe with a man you’re not married to. The Sanacja has patrols against immorality.”

“Mother of God,” she hissed with a sigh. “I was trying to find any sign of my family but I can’t, and of our cousins I fear nothing good, since Paris was also attacked.”

“I don’t know anything of what happened to them,” the youthful blond man replied, rocking back with his coffee. “It’s been two years of bloodshed and war for us. And after the Battle of Ostrava a civil war broke out between the Hungarian Republic and the Monarchists and we’ve been intervening in that since, so I’ve scarcely seen even two months of Warsaw.”

Anna sipped her coffee. It was the bitter French press she remembered as a girl. “I’ve heard that Marshal Żeleński took Prague two weeks ago, but a pro-Habsburg Army is in Pilsen, and another in Brno.”

“That’s right, the Duke of Teschen took Pressburg on the 15th of May, too, which was a great victory for the Royalist cause. I’m not sure if we’re going to raise an Army of the Certov or not to try and support the Hungarian Parliament in the Northwest.”

Anna leaned in. “Because of the Russians?”

“Yes, after we were driven back from Smolensk, everyone wants to attack again. Unlike this dithering in Hungary, it’s the sacred land of the old Republic, the people in the capital want it back. But the Army is on a line from Mogilev to Vitebsk, and that First Consul Mickiewicz thinks they can counterattack without reinforcement, and is worried about a restoration of the Habsburgs in Budapest. I myself am to ship out in another week, though, for Zaporizhia. The Great Don Host has resumed an offensive toward Melitopol which our divisions are to counterattack, that’s the word in the barracks.”

“The last we’d heard back in Alliance space, well, anyone who cares about the war, anyway, I thought you had Kharkiv and pushed to Donets?”

“Briefly, but Andronikashvili’s Christian Army of Cherkassia reinforced the Great Don Host, and we were driven back.”

“It’s like a whirlwind,” Anna sighed. “How many wars are we fighting, Cyprian?”

“Well, counting Kalinowski’s Army of the Odra, we are fighting the Russians, the Romanians, the Hungarian and Czech Royalists and the Germans, and the Tatar Revolutionary Army of the Crimean. So six, Anna, six.”

“And they’re dynamiting churches…”

“Orthodox churches,” Cyprian shrugged. “Surely you’re not upset about that? Not squeamish? Your letters suggested you’ve fought plenty of battles, more terrible than our own.”

“There’s not much as terrible as the flash of the sabre.” She drained the coffee, convulsively. “I thought I would return to Poland liberated.”

“You have,” Cyprian’s eyes flashed. “I don’t agree with the Mickiewicz Regime, but the Sanacja is ours, Anna, our free republic. We are fighting for the total restoration of all of the great Polish lands, of our own volition.”

“And what of the Golden Liberties of the old Republic? You yourself, telling me I can’t safely have coffee with a friend, in our new regime? Look, the worlds out there in the stars are like nothing else, Cyprian. The ideas of the Enlightenment have their fullest realisation there.”

“And we will join them in space soon enough, Anna,” Cyprian replied. “As the birthright of the Polish nation. You know I am all for the Enlightenment, but there simply never was a choice of peace. One day, the capitals of the world burned. And that was that. When Mickiewicz brought his Polish Legion to join the uprising, they made a call for bold szlachta lads to join the Hussars, for one last ride of the cavalry. I fully support liberal sentiments, but when the call came, what else could we do? Even in other universes, the heart of the Poles is the same, why, a small group of MechWarriors has even brought their death-walkers. They’re used as a strategic reserve on the Russian front, because of their Polish blood and the rightness of our cause. If you don’t like the Sanacja, vote for the opposition in the elections for the Sejm.”

“I’m an Alliance citizen now. It wouldn’t be at all right to interfere. I’ve thought about writing a book about my experiences, to inspire other girls… But it would be probably banned by the Sanacja. I’m a naval officer, an engineer. An educated professional. They want women to be mothers in the Brotherhood of Christ.”

“There are women serving on the front. The situation has been too fluid to ban it,” Cyprian yawned. “Look, I am glad you are back, Anna, I never thought you would survive Siberia, but our world has passed the old days behind, and to be honest, Mankiewicz might find you to be a threat. You’re Poniatowcsy, and that gives you more clout that you realise. You have foreign connections with the star people, which means you could seek foreign assistance. Quite frankly, if you formed your own political party, you would be a serious power.”

Anna’s expression froze. “No thank you. Woman suffrage is still only for propertied women over the age of 30, anyway.”

“Likely not for much longer. The Catholic parties have been agitating for full universal suffrage as they expect women to support the conservatives and they don’t really agree with Mankiewicz’s Brotherhood of Christ, even though he makes an ostentatious display of taking Mass and insisting it’s compatible with Catholicism. Anyway, you could run. There’s no restriction on that.”

“My life has passed that by. I’ve saved worlds in the stars, Cyprian. I have a command and responsibility. And my youthful idealism never once extended to my expecting to be the head of a democratic political party. My home is on New Liberty now.”

“But you are a Pole, or else you would not return?”

“I am, and I am thankful we have done so well, Cyprian. But these are dark times on our homeworld, and I don’t see them getting better soon. Hasn’t this war pressed far beyond the bounds of what’s reasonable? Most of our armies are beyond territory Poland once claimed.”

“The Alliance is a great friend of democracy, how could we not continue to oppose the Habsburg Royalists and the Tsarist autocracy?”

“Is there anything even left of Tsarism, Cyprian?” Anna countered. “The Tsar Alexander has implemented a liberal constitution for the Kazan Government. We’re fighting for Smolensk, nothing more. And the War with the Germans...”

Cyprian sighed. “Well perhaps you shouldn’t run then. The mood of the nation is all bound up in the restoration of the historic Polish realms. You just cannot escape that. Nobody from any part of the country, nobody from any party, opposes the frontiers of Boleslaw the Brave on the West and the frontiers of Casimir IV on the East.”

“I’m sure they don’t,” Anna replied with a quiet sigh. “Well, Cyprian, I wish you fortune. Being a cavalryman these days is no easy job with the guns proliferating as they are.”

“We’re adapting with the times, too. Automatic carbines are being manufactured natively, now, and equip the cavalry. Alas, but the charges early in the war, probably don’t have much use now. Still, we ride with the technicals, and we strike hard.”

“Indeed.” Anna’s profession was so far from Cyprian’s when it came to military affairs that she could just nod politely. It was truly a different world, for all that it had changed, versus the one she had come from. “Thank you for visiting with me, Cyprian. I do appreciate it. You were my friend growing up, you held the faith, you’ve served our country. My parents have certainly been avenged.”

“I am glad you stretched your wings, Anna,” he answered. They both rose, and, after a moment, for want of anything else, exchanged an informal salute.

Anna turned away and headed out into the street, very quietly, leaving Cyprian to pay. After only a block she saw a man in a dark coat and hat following her, but she merely shrugged. She’d react if he came closer, and anyway she expected that she would be followed, in the circumstances.

Warsaw was booming despite the war, there was no doubt about that. New buildings were going up, higher ones, ones incorporating concrete and steel. There was a free press, nobody could contain it. They were finding their own in the world the Aurora and the Avenger had created, like twin angels, one of salvation and one of destruction. But it was a 19th century way, all revolution and counterrevolution, Enlightenment versus Christendom.

The path she had walked was a very different one. From the moment she had been whirled away to the Facility from her family’s Siberian exile, she had used the Darglan technology to educate herself, to become an engineer, a starship officer, a fervent believer in Liberty, informed by her own Enlightenment education and expanded by the experience of many futures.

She could see virtues in Warsaw, virtues in the Federation. But it was still a 19th century state, following essentially a 19th century course, just wrought more and more destructive with the infusion of modern weaponry to all sides, in a world of chaos. The destruction of Berlin, Hanover, Munich, Paris, Marseilles, London, Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Boston, the capitals of the Slave States, Toronto, Kingston, and of course Madrid, Lisbon, Rome, the Hague, Amsterdam, Constantinople, Beijing, every single of the capitals of the New World except for Asuncion and Port-au-Prince… The capitals of the Presidencies in India and Singapore and Batavia. Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In one stroke, it was a world overturned by endless war and suffering. A world with consequences that would have horrified both crews. War after war, millions dead. The Taiping ruling China, the chaos of factional fighting in an unstable, nominally restored Mughal Empire which was practically a creature of the former Sepoy legions. The desperate acts of genocide the French had used to cow the Algerians. The ultimate triumph of conservative royalists in Spain, Portugal and France, who had taken advantage of the destruction of the capitals and deaths of large segments of the liberal city-dwelling population to effect triumphs for causes considered bankrupt and lost in other timelines.

But the crew of the Aurora would not have caused this alone. They would not have caused this at all. They had granted liberty to individuals, hope to individuals. The Avenger had overturned the world in war. And out of it had come glories, like the Great Polish Uprising, and the last charge of the Polonez Hussarii across the plains of Europe, as much as the better-known hells.

Anna smiled. In her own way, seizing the opportunity afforded to her by her rescue, and making her own story, she lived the story of the Cossack and the great Ukraine, the soul of the Polish dream of grandeur in the liberties of the steppe, re-written across the stars. She was a Hussar where she stood and she held no doubts and no regrets about the path she walked. She had faith that one day, the streets of Warsaw would know peace, and the revolutionary spasm would fade. It was a world undone, but also a world remaking itself, and with a future in the stars, there was nothing to hold them back. She would walk her Alliance road, and accept that it was not the same road as her people. She had no regrets.

For the sake of her peace of mind, and honour to her family, she still went ahead with her visit to the Liberation Bureau, but they mostly had the names of Polish Miners repatriated from Westphalia during a truce with the German Republic. Knowing after seeing them wait outside that she was definitely being followed by agents of the government, she left, returned to her hotel, and packed up. Wandering the streets of Warsaw one more time, she bought some pastries and dry sausages that would keep for the journey home as gifts to her comrades, and quietly made her rendezvous. The stars were calling.
”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: "Undiscovered Frontier: Origins" Pilot - "Called To The Colours"

Post by Steve »

Act 5

“Blood of my blood, you have done honour by me,” the ragged, whispering voice hissed in the dark. The rain splattered across both of them. They rushed on. Moss grew on the buildings around them.

“I have served my Empress,” the masculine voice following her replied. They reached the step, and she paused.

He brushed past her, with a brief tenderness, and ascended the steps. Around them the primitive town, a legacy of the Triangle world on which they had found refuge, wound down for the night, quiet away from the chaotic spacers’ bars at which they had first arrived. The woman paused for a moment, and regarded the clouds overhead. Waiting for a sign, she squinted until in a brief gap, she could see shimmering stars overhead. They reassured her that her course was the right one.

The man paused, and looked back down toward her. “We shouldn’t stay outdoors, until we are settled, and have local clothes,” he said. Then he inserted the key-chip and unlocked the door to the apartment which sat above a dingy restaurant with the block-stroke characters of some Human sub-group intermixed with the English.

Ahead of them in the shadows, a smooth sound of oiled metal ratcheting back interrupted the night. “Elements, we are undone!” The woman’s voice hissed in despair.

Her cousin reached for her arm and levelled his pistol, but in the light of the moon she knew it was already too late.

Then he realised something about the figure before him--those distinctive lilac eyes he had never seen on another Human, save the first. It was…

“Zambezi,” the voice growled, feminine tones given over to a grutteral cracking.

“Never say die,” he answered in his accented english. At his side, his cousin’s own hands had not been idle. Though death be upon them, she had gone for her old holdout as well.

The woman rose, and then bowed perfectly and correctly after slinging her rifle back over her shoulder.

“Madame Corday?” Neither cousin would holster their guns just yet, but it was the woman who now stepped forward, an iron in her spine.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the hooded figure acknowledged. “That is what I am known as, for this purpose.”

“Know that when I am Empress on my great-grandmother’s throne, Human though you be, I will give you the honours of a Rihannsu, and you will sit among us.”

Her cousin twisted his face into the faintest of a grimace, for his sister was of a generous heart and spirit, worthy of their ancestresses. But it was not one that would win a throne, by such inadvisable things as bringing forth foreigners into their company and allowing the Regime to cast aspersions against them accordingly.

The woman turned aside with another bow, and turned on the dim lights, revealing blanketed windows and the high and comfortable loft, filled with Rihannsu art and a smart but sparse kitchen, an elevated sleeping area, the fresher and the baths off to the back. She averted her gaze. “No, you will know, alas, know me there. I must walk the path I have always walked. I fight for you, Your Majesty, because you are the Bloodroyal of the Rihannsu, and you deserve your throne.”

“I am an Empress, not quite T’Rehu, may the Elements keep me from such a temptation…”

“I would have fought for T’Rehu also, and I have fought for many unworthy of the effort, but I do not count you as one, not like it would stop me. Your Majesty does not need Human allies, Your Majesty needs Rihannsu allies. You are young, and your chances for the throne will be many. Here.” She extended two chits. “One is for credits, and one is for the information on the first allies you will have. More will follow. This is not the kind of cause that dies quickly, particularly not under the mismanagement of your Empire.”

You give me so much, and let me give you nothing,” the Young Pretender half-wailed and half-raged. “And if I gain my throne, it should be a thousand times worse. I am Lial t’Rllaillieu and I am in your debt, Human. You have saved myself and my cousin and the crews of our loyal ships from the long arm of the Tal Shiar. What do you want?”

The woman looked away. Her voice rasped. “Teach your daughters to remember my name, and to never tell another soul beyond your line what it is.”

Arterus tr’Rllaillieu watched his cousin relax in an almost spasmodic sense of relief. He watched her step forward to the woman, brush against her in an embrace like an intimate, this alien stranger she had never met before.

“Whisper it to me, and it is done, by all the daughters I have and their daughters after them, for as long as the Elements let them be born.”

The hardened woman, a killer by dint of the scars and features which seemed locked in a rictus created across the ages, bent her head. Perhaps there was a trace of tears from her eyes. She whispered into the Young Pretender’s ear, and his cousin whispered the name back once to be sure of the pronunciation.

The two separated, and “Corday” bowed again. “By Your Majesty’s leave?”

“Elements keep you, Lone Blade.”

“That’s a beautiful epithet,” the woman said, pausing and turning back for a moment. She was carrying a sword under her cloak, a hand-and-a-half whose hilt glimmered, inset with silver. It was very old. “When the battle is raging, be in the front rank, Your Majesty. Like the last Prince of Yemen you shall at least live, then. You will be alive. There are many ways to die in soul and remain alive in body. Do not walk those roads, in soul or in body. Live in both, until your ending. That is an old woman’s wisdom for you.” She bowed again, and then stepped out. The faint lyrics of a Human song lingered on the air as the door closed:

It was all for our rightful King…”

Pensively, the cousins moved to sit. “We were in the presence of a great soul, Arterus,” Lial spoke softly. “Wiser than any years a Human should have, and possessed of an indefatigable spirit. Now I must win, so we can long speak her name.”

“When I reached out to her, I was told she was the fighting lady of lost causes. She organised everything.”

“Then I was right in every respect. Ah well, I… Now we must get up and move on. I am a rent-payer, in some merchant’s estate…”

“Not for long, Lial,” Arterus shook his head. “Not for long.”

“I will show him honour, as long as we are here. But you are right, we will find our way out. First the Triangle, and then the Empire. I must follow these contacts, cousin, I must play the game. But you…”

“I lost my rank before I had the chance to be blooded in war,” Arterus finished softly. “I am an untried blade. Useless to an Empress starting from nothing in the struggle to regain her throne. What would you have me do, my liege?” He switched to the more formal style, to emphasize the point, even as his cousin had been speaking informally.

“Go, son of my Aunt. Find a battle, find a cause. Find experience. Make your name as a soldier and a sailor. Accrue to our name honour and fame, in whatever service will sign you.”

“A mercenary…” His face coiled in disgust.

“No, a soldier, a warrior, true to your soul, true to Mnhei’sahe. I have heard vague stories, of a great war in the Multiverse, in the other universes the Humans trod, of time and space. I think your Corday came from them, though I cannot be sure, but her mettle seems different than that of the Humans of our universe. Go, find the course of your fate, my cousin. Follow it back to me when it wills you. You know we cannot stay together, they will find me if we do and we will both die. And you deserve it.”

He looked up. “Is that the advice of my cousin, or the command of my Liege?”

“Be it either one, cousin, it would not change.”

“As you command, Your Majesty. I will go in three days’ time.”

Lial lowered her head. “Then let us enjoy our three days. We will read everything the Tal Shiar banned, and see if we can eat Human food without meeting the purger. They will be memorable, to keep fast our bond, in these adventures to come!” The government which had deposed her uncle seven years before had tried to kill her, but they had not killed her. The story of hope was not over yet.

The Wanderer

Sometimes life was so hard to understand. Sometimes it carried you into places you could not possibly expect. In Daria’s case, she had gone from an engineer on a merchant to a security officer on two different Alliance starships. The first, the MacArthur, had been lost fighting the Nazi Reich with most of the crew killed (Abebech Imra had survived and led SERE successfully with the two hundred survivors, Daria wasn’t really surprised about that on hearing the news).

She had been serving on the second when she had heard the news of the first. And then the second ship, the Aurora herself, the Mother-Ship of the entire Alliance, had been taken under attack by enemies more powerful and ruthless than could be imagined. The final and definitive manifestation of her powers had saved Commander Jarod’s life, and spun her own certainty away from herself.

She knew that she always been fated to wander, but the risk of falling to dark songs was a kind of wandering that her spirit quailed at. She had gone home, to seek training, only to find herself wandering back again. Daria had taken the vows of a Priestess, only to realise that with the War on, her first duty was to help her nation again, to assist in ending the killing which had destroyed the lives of her comrades on the MacArthur.

The Will of the Goddess was a complicated affair to understand. Her teachers knew it, and so did she. She filed for reinstatement for active duty, and finished up the necessary training to control herself, took the vows to avoid temptation. She would have to find her training where she could, for all that she had learned so much in six months time, there was much more to learn.

And so it was that she was back in fleet colours, back on a massive transfer station in the ever-lovely D3R1, in the heart of the Sol Republic with all of its rules and regulations. She had her PCS orders loaded on omnitool with her TO’s, and was staring an assignment in the face that had a familiar name. Scout ship commander -- Abebech Imra. And another. Chief Helm Officer -- Violeta Arterria. Poniatowska was there, too. This was a ship getting some truly excellent officers, and almost more memories than she could stomach.

Particularly Imra, simultaneously one of the best and quietly trying to be around. Daria remembered her as being a stickler, a disciplinarian, but a true professional who knew her operational art backwards and forwards, and who used that discipline to keep people alive, not to make them suffer for trivial things. She had been exactly the person she would have expected to have saved lives from the wreck of the MacArthur, but she was ambivalent about serving with the woman even so. Looking back into her memories now, knowing what she did, there was something off about her, something so hard to pin down, as slippery as the gathering night.

Better yet, her PCS file set out her route reservations. Though she’d traveled civilian liners this far, to get to the Huáscar, she’d have to ride on the Heermann, with her name and crest from an old Earth naval destroyer. Imra’s command. She stepped forward to the personnel routing office, handing her identicard over to the woman behind the desk and the chit containing the copies of her PCS and TO’s.

“The Heermann isn’t leaving until tomorrow morning, ma’am, and she’s a small ship. I can put you in the Navy Inn for tonight. Small ships like that don’t have extra berths, and we’ve got three female bunkage shared junior officer suites left.”

Daria idly wondered who had decided it was a good idea to run the visiting officers’ housing like a hotel. “Of course. Thank you,” she said nonetheless, six months in the Temple having made her much less likely to complain about rack time with some random other lieutenant.

The woman handed over her keys and folio, and with a little yawn, Daria went to settle in before heading down to the O-Club. Alliance Holo News was on by the bar, showing images from the latest liberation of a planet in the territories of the former Nazi Reich. The other options were mostly league sports, and one universe had the humans’ Olympics being held.

Modesty in comportment was important, namely in drink, for a Priestess of the Goddess, and she abstained in favour of seared ala’, and on hearing there was an area for human games at the transfer station’s O-Club (it was very busy), decided to try one of them. It was called a Bowling Alley. She was rather more surprised to see that Abebech Imra was already there, standing in bowling shoes on the wood of one of the small ball lanes.

Perfectly composed with her shades on as ever, holding the little ball cupped in her hands, she looked as graceful as a statue of the Goddess. She stepped forward, holding her body carefully rigid, and unleashed a straight rolling shot that demolished all ten pins. She hadn’t even ruffed up the Red Sea Rig she was wearing with her two high medals for valor. Now that was pure Abebech, wander over to play games after some formal function without even changing uniform. To be wearing Red Sea Rig she must have been on the surface of the blazingly hot San Salvadore, the world the station orbited (nevermind that it was also part of a pushback to get more formal and ‘military’ uniforms in the UAS armed forces).

“Commander, you’re better at this game than anyone should be,” a voice at the seats in front of the lane protested.

Daria shot a look there and saw a Dilgar. One of two, actually, shorter and certainly slighter than the bigger, but still female, figure at her side, who was squinting so hard at Abebech as if she could figure out how to play simply by watching the movements of her muscles.

“Ah, Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur,” Abebech replied calmly as she turned about. “I dare say that it’s just a matter of an old friend who loved every kind of ‘bar game’ that ever existed--and she was a teetotaler, in those days. In our old shared fleet days, when we were young comrades, we spent countless long evenings playing these sports.”

“It couldn’t have been that long ago,” Nah’dur protested. “You’re not that old for a human female.”

“Well, I do imagine my old friend and I shall meet again soon enough. Ghada and I… Sometimes keep in touch. Ah.” Abebech turned toward Daria after her insouciant reply to Nah’dur. “L’tenant-Commander.”

“Commander,” Daria smiled, though there was a gnawing sense of uncertainty inside. There was something off about Abebech, she had not been misremembering it. It was the same old game it had always been with her, she code-switched in her language from place to place in life like a chameleon, but she was the best, and her intentions always seemed pure despite the murk that followed her.

“You might be interested at one of our companions tonight,” Abebech offered after a moment. “Our new ship’s science officer, L’tenant-Commander Fera’xero,” she gestured grandly.

Daria’s eyes widened in surprise. “Fera’xero nar Latrya. I must say, I had…”

“Expected me to return to the fleet, Lieutenant Commander Seldayiv? Well, such was tempting, but there was a war on… And I had seen much I was uncomfortable to share with other Quarians,” he replied, vocoder flashing. “I must honour the people of MacArthur. So now we are all Huáscar, thanks to Commander Imra of Heermann.” He nodded in her direction.

Daria felt bad for mistrusting Abebech, realising that she had been following and promoting a career for a slave they had freed. She just has such an uncomfortable feeling to her. Daria shoved it out of her mind. “I’m incredibly glad to have you aboard, Fera’xero. What you did to escape--and you engineered your own escape, make no mistake about it--was absolutely brilliant.”

“A Dance of Necessity, no more, Daria’Seldayiv.”

Daria wanted to continue the conversation, but there was an animated Dilgar standing up. “Okay, okay, I respect you’re all friends, and I’d like to be your friend too, but can I please bowl my frame?” She looked like she had too much energy and was too young to be a Doctor, but her rank markings were unmistakable.

“Here,” Abebech laughed gently. “L’tenant-Commander, take over my game. I need to… go check on someone.”

“...Oh, okay, I ..” Daria found herself holding the bowling ball, watching Commander Imra wander off.

Nah’dur promptly started forward for her own frame.

“Looking forward to the Huáscar?” Daria asked Fera’xero as she stepped over to the seats and sat to start putting on her ‘bowling shoes’.

“Very much so, Daria’Seldayiv. Since she is the first ship I have been assigned to on merit, after a tour at the Stellar Communications Laboratory, and since I believe my liberation from the Batarians served to end my pilgrimage, I have decided to take the name vas Huáscar. The name is very honourable, very famous, among humans. It is a good omen. And those who say I must return to the fleet … Are not wise. I have found a cause here. I will help Quarians by serving it.”

“You mean the relocation scheme?”

“Yes, I can only pray that your politicians are brave enough to carry forward with it. Nothing could be greater for our people.”

“I’m sure they will be. The Alliance has always come out on the side of truth and justice, we are living our ideals. I would think that someday the Quarian people might even be an Alliance member.”

Fera’xero raised a sealed canister with a straw. “I would drink to that.”

“Here,” the large, quiet Dilgar who was watching Nah’dur get more and more consternated as she tried to avoid guttering balls, offered her drink without another word to Daria.

For the sake of the toast, she took a sip. Her mouth puckered from one end to the other. The smell almost knocked her over in her chair. “Oh Goddessssss…”

“Isn’t it marvelous? I am Battle Captain Fei’nur,” the woman said pleasantly, taking the glass back. “A man in a pilot’s uniform at the bar recommended it to me. He said it was called the…”

“...No need to go further, you got it from a pilot? Goddesss, that means you’re drinking an entire cup of Jeremiah Weed straight!?” She made retching sounds. “Is your liver made of tritanium?”

“Actually, yes. Are you our new tactical officer?”


“Brilliant. I’m the commander of the Marines and the Security Detachment, since both myself and Captain Zhen’var can’t particularly see why the roles are separated.”


Fei’nur looked from Nah’dur to Daria, back to Nah’dur, then back to Daria, and then whispered softly, “I don’t know about you, but I like the fact the Surgeon-Commander is a perfectionist.”

Daria thought that was a good warning that she was in for one heck of a strange ride.

Annie’s Bar

Violeta Arterria had chosen her career. At some level, she was perfectly okay with that. Being a naval officer had always been her dream in life. She was a good shiphandler, who came from a society that was fully accepting of who she was, what she had done, where she was going in life. In a rough and tough Multiverse, there was very little more to ask of a life and a living.

Now, she was preparing to report to her new ship. She had been in pre-commissioning shakedown with a mixture of civilian yard employees and the plank-owning crew, and now the rest of the crew was coming about for her commissioning and trials. Annie’s was at the big Georgetown Station orbiting Tau Ceti in L4R2 and was a very common crew transfer point. She’d been meeting up with a few friends before heading to the bar, her entire life packed into the hotel dutifully reserved with a copy of her TOs and her government charge code.

It was a pretty typical night. The Sol Republic Armed Forces Holonet was playing on the tri-dee, showing a public service announcement to soldiers about the importance of wearing reflective belts when walking after dark on base before switching to a blurb on the reporting options for sexual harassment and then going on to a reminder to change the password on your government computer. They had it on because they were waiting for some special announcement from the Defense Minister, and it showed by how unpopular the feed was.

There was a group of fighter pilots, drinking whisky at the bar and catcalling the waitresses. Some chiefs talking the shit at tables. It was a very long way from her home, where even among the military a lot of the behaviour would still be totally unacceptable. There was still something ‘homey’ about the food when all alone, about being surrounded by other officers. So she was here. Really, thinking of not being with Cat, she was tempted to join the pilots doing shots at the bar.

The menu had a special feature of the Zoon Burger, licensed from Arterial Blockage, the authentic chain of E5B1. Violeta ignored that in favour of a bacon ranch lettuce wedge, which was hardly that much healthier but would make her feel somewhat better about it. After she ordered, still nursing her beer and idly wondering if she’d ever continue her RPG, she saw a group of officers step in.

Well, mostly officers. A couple had the slick uniforms--somewhat more formal--of the new Warrant Officer service that had been created to address the chronic shortage of trained technical personnel that the war had caused. Most of the group headed straight to the bar to hit up some drinks. One of them, a tallish, thin woman whose uniform hung a bit awkwardly, shoved her hands in her pockets and glanced around, uncomfortably.

A young, rather short Dilgar male stepped up at her side, and put a hand on her shoulder for a moment. The woman smiled wryly, and they both moved away from the bar. Violeta could tell immediately that neither of them was particularly interested in the boozing. Impulsively, she waved them over to her empty table.

The woman stepped forward first. “Ma’am, thank you…”

“Shh. In Annie’s it’s Violeta,” she smiled. “Come on and sit.”

“Chief Warrant Anastasia Héen,” she offered, smiling fully now, and her confidence like a light switch. “I’m the new Air Boss for the Huáscar. They decided the Enterprise-class had too cluttered of a small craft group to deconflict without one, and it went to the Warrants, since we follow the Federation model and have commissioned helm officers.” She winked at Violeta’s tabs, and the woman couldn’t help but grin.

“Anyway, I’ve been totally remiss,” Stasia continued. “This is Major Lar’shan, he’s the flight commander for the Huáscar. We were traveling together with another group for our ship…”

“My pleasure,” Lar’shan grinned, showing fangs as he did, which wasn’t quite so friendly as intended, but Violeta got the point.

“Lieutenant Violeta Arterria, actually, I’m headed for Huáscar, too,” she offered with a smile. “C’mon, have a seat.”

“Oh, look, we’re starting to find more Huáscareños,” Stasia grinned as she sat.

“I’m still tripping over that word,” Lar’shan admitted.

“What’s it mean?” Violeta asked Stasia.

“Oh, it’s Spanish for ‘people of Huáscar’, more or less,” Stasia explained. “The senior officers are fond of it in the couple of briefings I got. What ship are you from, Violeta?”

“I was just transferred off the Aurora,” she admitted with a sheepish grin. “Yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve been an instructor at officer familiarization training. I actually briefly served as the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Aurora before that, I guess before you transferred aboard--by which I mean I’m a plankowner. I’m one of the old Facility Hands, though decidedly third rate: I ended up there because Beth Rankin figured I needed a job. I was never in the military before that, just a Mate on some ferries up in Alaska, and running trawlers.”

“Honestly, with that kind of experience,” Violeta remarked, “I’m surprised you didn’t end up a senior officer. It’s a lot more than most of the actual senior officers on the Aurora had.”

“Well, you might say I had some spiritual reservations to the whole neural learning thing,” Stasia replied hesitantly. “And anyway, I’m not really about putting on airs. Being a CWO is fine enough. Though I do find it funny that we’ve got officers at helm and Warrants for an Air Boss. It’s very much the reverse, assuming it isn’t just enlisted personnel at the helm, back in a wet Navy on Old Earth.”

“Same for the Dilgar Imperium, actually,” Lar’shan chimed in. “And the Union of Tira and Rohric for that matter. But the diversity of backgrounds helps.”

“I think it’s because of Captain Farmer’s influence from the Federation,” Violeta explained. “And when you link navigation with the helm and heavily automate the ship, it sort of makes sense. There’s no need for a rating following-the-pointer to keep the rudder angle correct.”

Stasia laughed. “True enough. So. I don’t drink, and I don’t think you drink much, or as much as these party boys Lar’shan will blow out of the water, anyway. Otherwise I wouldn’t look so much like a fish out of water, but...”

“Oh, surely, Anastasia Héen, some of them are perfectly excellent pilots, I am sure,” Lar’shan answered. “No need to cast aspersions.”

Violeta sighed. “Well, I’m not adverse to drinking, but I’m going through what you might call a… divergence of interests with my girlfriend, and there’s really no good reason to get started with the booze over it.”

“My father taught me some of the virtues of comportment,” Lar’shan replied modestly.

“Pfft, he taught you how to be a good man,” Stasia bantered easily, but her look turned much more serious. “I don’t drink because my people get lost in it. It’s the white man’s poison, and screw ’em for it.”

“...White man’s poison?” Violeta blinked in utter incomprehension.

“I’m Tlingit. A native Alaskan indigenous people,” Stasia elaborated. “I don’t know the history of your universe, God, it might be nice if it had none of this in it, but poisoning indigenous Americans with cheap booze was a favoured tactic of the arriving Caucasian settlers to displace us from our land.” She waved her hand. “Don’t worry, I don’t mind explaining to people from other universes, it’s kind of refreshing to think they legitimately know nothing about it.”

“I feel a remarkable kinship in certain ways to the American peoples,” Lar’shan offered.

Violeta frowned a little. “I don’t think it’s quite comparable, respectfully, Major. Your people brought a lot of it on themselves.”

Stasia smiled tightly. “Frontier war wasn’t pretty either, on both sides. I’ll be the first to admit it. And…”

“The destruction of Omelos was not a natural event,” Lar’shan said softly, with his eyes downcast. “Our people were not innocent, by any means. My father was one of the few who could claim clean hands when it was done. But there is a quiet consensus, among both Dilgar and now your scientists as well, that Omelos’ sun was poisoned by some kind of artificial action.”

“Motivation enough to serve,” Stasia added tautly. “And I’ve got mine: I’ve heard stories about the Roma Zoos on the Reich’s Earth.”

“Roma… Zoos?” Violeta blanched. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to hear about another Reich atrocity, particularly in the context of a Zoo. Hadn’t she heard of enough? Why was there always another one...

“Some of the nonwhite minorities of Earth didn’t get exterminated, instead they were reduced to stone age living on controlled, fenced wildlife parks for ‘amusement’ and ‘education’ on the ‘degenerate’ races. I had been thinking of leaving the service to get my own Independent Trader, but I re-upped after reading about that,” Stasia explained. “Enough said, right?”

“Hell yes,” Violeta replied, and wondered if she could actually finish her salad now. The other two ordering food, the fish burger for Stasia and a plate of chicken wings for Lar’shan, finally revived her appetite. “Though there isn’t enough Hell to give to those Nazi bastards,” she added after a moment, shaking her head.

It wasn’t really a point that anyone wanted to end a conversation on. Violeta thought for a moment. “So, have you heard anything about our new Captain? Huáscar’s, I mean.”

“I’ve met her,” Lar’shan offered a moment, strangely reticent. “She is a very good and noble woman.”

“You’ve met her?” Violeta blinked. “You certainly get around, Major.... Weren’t you from the Human Dilgar colony?”

“New Eden, yes. And yes, it’s only been a few months. But Captain Zhen’var is something of a relative.”

“Oh.” Violeta swallowed and flushed. “I’d heard this ridiculous rumour about her.”

“It’s true,” Stasia said flatly. “But she’s fine. A good Captain. Give her the chance we all deserve, my comrade. She’s been the Hell of the Line, and I don’t think any of us except Lar’shan’s dad can really understand that. If this was what it took to find peace, it’s what it took.”

“You’re right, of course. Look at my home. Gene-modding’s normal there, she just took it a few more steps. I hope the crew doesn’t cause too many problems over it…”

“Well, we’ll all be her defenders, all together,” Stasia leaned in to the table. “But with half our ranks Dilgar, I don’t think we’ll have much problem.”

“They don’t have the same cultural problems some Human groups do?”

“Most things have both a blessing and a curse,” Lar’shan explained. “People would innately trust that someone is Dilgar on having been told so. And, to be honest, Zhen’var speaks our language better than some of my friends growing up, has the heart and soul of one of our people. You’ll be proud to serve under her, I assure you.”

“Thank you, Major. Remembering what happened at Tira… I don’t have much doubt.” She curled a finger through her purple hair, and laughed wryly, glancing to the latest mind-numbing programming on the tri-dee. “So. Next question. Where the heck do they come up with this crap, anyway?”

The shared laughter carried them into lighter banter. Stasia was far more hesitant than Lar’shan when things turned to talking about family, but Violeta figured that was from her legacy in the Facility days. Something had probably gone down. Lar’shan made up for it, telling his stories of the absurd way he went from flying a Sopwith Camel to a police helicopter to his command with little seniority after a tour in the last campaigns toward the Reich Earth. In the end, they all beat a retreat back to their station hotels around 2300. The shuttle for the Huáscar left early.

Thumbing idly through a profusion of e-mails on her government computer, she rapidly grew bored and gave up. They were all irrelevant, or some shoe clerk causing trouble to make themselves feel important.

On her persocomp, there were pictures of Cat. She looked at them for a while. Cat in front of readouts of stellar cartography. Cat at the Vulcan Science Academy. Cat getting promoted. Cat in an RPG… The last made her sigh. Their passions had carried them apart from passion. She turned the persocomp off. Sometimes, even one beer felt like too many. She had a life, a future, and a career. And so did Cat.

They would walk their separate roads, and that was fate. Huáscareños. It had a pretty nice ring to it, really. She looked up the history of the name, and started to read.

The Shadow

Babylon 5, May 2258

Commander Sinclair had found himself going nowhere with Jha’dur. In the end, he decided to send the only woman on the station who spoke the Dilgar language, and might have more success with her. His fellow Line veteran, the quiet and committed Lieutenant Zhengli Varma, second in command on the night-shift watch.

Zhengli, half-shivering, had approached the job like she was being assigned to dig up a tomb. “Warmaster Jha’dur, I am Lieutenant Zhengli Varma. Commander Sinclair asked me to speak with you,” she began, in Dilgar, as she entered the cell, fearless but clammy. Jha'dur would probably cut her off in the first minute, and to no surprise on her part, did.

The eyes of the greatest killer in history turned sharply toward her, and the voice answered in Dilgar, sharp and short. "You're related to Kaveri Varma, aren't you?"

"Yes, Warmaster." She used the title, as Sinclair hadn't, and remained polite, at least, even talking to Deathwalker. "How do you know my mother's name?" She’d felt a chill cross her at the words.

"Since you know Dilgar, I can assume you know some details of your mother's habits, Lieutenant. I know more," Jha’dur answered with an amused leer.

"She did not hide the truth from me, Warmaster. She sobbed when she,” Zhengli made an articulation of utter helplessness, “heard."

Jha’dur’s eyes never failed to track her. "Then there was one being who shed tears for Omelos."

"You were backed into a corner. You lashed out to survive. There... should be more than..." She paused, and looked. "You did not cry, Warmaster? I suppose the tears were long gone.” She was silent for a moment, before almost sliding back to conversation. “The world was ill, but she stole down to the surface to see, to know..." She clamped her lips shut. "You aren't going to tell me anything you do not wish to, I know that. They say that perhaps they'll send you to Earth, to give this strange gift you offer."

"I will make sure I give it to you and your mother before the troubles start," she said, her teeth curling into a sneer, and refusing to answer the question about whether or not she had cried. "If nothing else that will guarantee that I may hear the Dilgar tongue in my hour of vindication! Shai'jhur was loyal 'till the end, you may tell your mother that if you wish. I pardoned her of her perversion and permitted her to resume her station in the fleet. The last I heard of her she was bravely in command of her Pentacon at Third Balos, and fighting harder than most."

"She took command of what was left, and led it back to Omelos, after the Nemesis disabled your ship,” Zhengli answered. “They gave her some of the new ships... and then I am given to understand she was promoted to Warmaster, then vanished. She was not at the final battle over Omelos. With the transports that were jumping out, mother believes she was sent to find a new home for your people. I, at least, hope she succeeded." Zhengli tilted her head, a fraction, and continued. "I believe you tell the truth with your offer, but I also believe you have deeper motives than that. You are not a woman to do what others wish unless it is also your own will, I think." Hisses and growls... she had her mother's accent, but she still spoke the Dilgar tongue fluently.

For a moment, Jha'dur had frozen at the description of Shai'jhur's later actions. Then she shrugged, not answering to the details given, but clearly having filed it away. "You will see. I harbour remarkably little ill-will toward Humans, girl. I hope you triumph in days to come. You proved yourselves better than us." A laugh. “I have one complaint. You are hypocrites... And that I cannot stand."

"Hypocrites?" She looked confused. "I don't understand what you mean by that, Warmaster? Do you mean the condemnation of your people...? If our sun had been going to explode, and we'd had no colonies, we'd have taken what we needed to live and justified it later. Or died in the attempt. The Minbari War proved that."

Jha'dur smiled. "Thank you, Lieutenant Varma. Thank you. That means a very great deal to me, in a way I doubt you understand. I perhaps see--intellectually--some of why Shai'jhur was so easily led astray!" The smile was not a pleasant thing. This was a woman driven mad.

"It's... easy to define evil when you're not facing impossible choices, Warmaster. When I went up over Earth... to try and buy a little more time, just like those Dilgar who went up to buy a little more time for Omelos... I understood. And if you'd given me a button that would have wiped out the Minbari in that moment..." She trailed off. "I hope the Divine will some-day allow you to find peace in yourself, Warmaster Jha'dur. Or, I suppose, Supreme Warmaster Jha'dur.” She flashed back to a story her mother had told her once, of horrible bloodshed brought to perfection in the strange remnants of the Russian Empire, centuries before, of religion and killing blended together. Von Ungern-Shternberg. “You were shaped into a bodhisattva of war by misfortune, and piled the scales of karma with adharma, but perhaps that was your role, your destiny. I have meditated upon this, and I do not know the truth of it."

"Well it was certainly our destiny to die, Zhengli Varma. We fought the Gods themselves and gladly, too, but in the end.... We were not enough. Here, young Varma. I..." Her eyes narrowed. "Yes, I would be pleased if you are right about Shai'jhur. But for now, I can't but see in your words what I want from all Humans, and that is enough, even if Shai’jhur’s flight is merely a fancy of your mother’s. Have your Commander Sinclair come in here and repeat them, and I shall gladly go to Earth. How does that sound?"

"Commander Sinclair hates the Dilgar, like as not for his father, Warmaster. He stood on the Line as well, but... emotion makes it hard to see unpleasant truths. Even I somehow succeeded, and if you agreed, I am not sure, now that people know you are here, that such emotion would allow you to survive the journey. We could have been you... but yet again, fate somehow gave us a gift we did not deserve, as it took all hope from yours." She paused. "I may be a rare Human able to recognize such things, but it does not make them less true. Would there be anything you wish you to know? I... would know of Warmaster Shai'jhur, if you would tell me. My mother told me all that Shai’jhur told her, but of what came next, we know nothing."

Jha’dur looked away, as if boredom was returning, or madness. "I will tell you, if you bring me some brivari when you get the chance," she answered after a moment. "You are what I wish all the Humans to be," Jha'dur finally allowed.

Zhengli quietly left to buy some brivari from a vendor in the zocalo, and on her return and presenting the bottle to Jha’dur, the woman perked up in her cups, and obligingly started to talk. The service of Shai’jhur in First Strike Fleet was quite the story for Jha'dur to tell, from her perspective. She was emphatically one of the bravest people imaginable... She had been in Jha'dur's power, and calmly told the entire truth, and then explained she had done it because she trusted Jha’dur’s decision to be just, so there was no point in hiding from it. The story spun out the hours, in the ante-chamber to hell which they both found themselves on whilst aboard Babylon 5, while outside every nation in the galaxy screamed and fought over one of the women within.

Zhengli listened like she was finally hearing the story of her second mother. "I can see why my mother so greatly remembers such a soul. Please forgive the quality of the Brivari, I do not have access to anything like the best of stocks." She'd listened, utterly fascinated all the while... And offered, gently; "The Minbari made you speak of things to them, didn't they? Especially when we proved stubborn during the war?"

"I told them the story." She said, and then she laughed, and laughed, and laughed. "They asked for my help. Child, do you realize what that meant?"

"I realise that there is much you could have done. That they likely thought they could use you, in their arrogance. Most of them are so arrogant as to be blind, even the ones who attempt to be kind. Perhaps not the workers, but I have rarely seen any of them. Warmaster... One does not use a bodhisattava. They did not realize that, did they?" She bit her lip, in a hint of nervousness. Jha'dur was mad... Yet she could still see flashes of brilliance. The brilliance, the charisma, that had made even good people like Shai’jhur willingly follow this woman to the utmost as their commander. "It worries me that EarthGov seems to be making that same mistake."

"They did not realise it. They paid for it. I gave them bad advice," Jha'dur grinned. It was a dangerous look. "Yes, it's unwise to use me, smart lass. Of course, you know, perhaps I want this."

"Perhaps." She shifted. "Is there anything else you would wish to know? Or do you wish me to stay so Commander Sinclair doesn't come charging back in?"

"Tell me about your family life: your mother, yourself, how you were raised. I did not realise Humans cared for orphans so much, until I heard Shai'jhur's story of your family."

"Not all of them do. My mother...tried her best. I was orphaned by war." She'd openly speak, not seeing it to be dangerous, about the good and the ill of life as an orphan who didn't fit in. Sometimes she was resentful for it, but mostly thankful, in the accented, rolling Dilgar she spoke, sharing with the monster in the mother-tongue Jha'dur had not heard in years. Going onwards and telling stories of the boarding schools, and all it had left her... She didn't edit, either, and went into excruciating detail. Her mother had said this woman preferred it, now she knew it had saved Shai'jhur's life, and so she spared nothing.

"And so your nation gained a loyal officer who stood the line." Jha'dur shook her head. It seemed one thing that still Humanized her, brought her in. Talking about orphans, of all things.

"Did you... lose your parents as well, Warmaster...?" She asked as gently as she dared. She didn't have pity, she had sympathy, but that might itself still be Too much. She was too kind hearted to say anything else.

The woman snapped a look at her, piercing her with a sharply fixed gaze. "I'd kill anyone who asked me that if I did not already know you to be an orphan yourself, Zhengli Varma. Because of that, I'll answer you instead. Yes, I did. Don't speak more of it."

"Yes, Warmaster." She did flinch. That gaze... Well. She stopped the subject like a hot iron in hand.

"....Would you .... Like it?" She offered, clearly indicating the serum. Zhengli's quick compliance had been valued... But the madwoman before her was already musing.

“I do not know, Warmaster. The thought of breaking the cycle, of living as it was in the olden ages... it is tempting, yes, but... there would be a price I do not know. I am a dead woman walking - I should have died at the Line."

"And I am not? As I said, this I will offer to your mother and yourself first. I will make sure you have it, if that for nothing else, I can hear the Dilgar language spoken to me at the hour of my triumph. That is what matters to me, it is a wonderful vision.”

She inclined her head in agreement. "If my mother accepts, so would I, Warmaster." She didn't quite... trust the offer, but... she wasn't greedy for it, just accepting of it.

"Good." Jha'dur closed her eyes, then. "If only all the Humans could be like you... If only."

"Dilgar are regarded as better than Minbari in EarthForce, these days, Warmaster. They say at least you had a reason... and I fear I am something of a rare one."

"You at least show your species has the potential I always was certain it did, as a point in fact. Better than the Minbari? Good, you are not total fools. Your Commander makes a strong competition for the title, though."

"He is a man with a strong moral code... and a fool he may be, but he shot down dozens of Minbari fighters in the war with just a circle painted on his cockpit glass, Warmaster. The Minbari demanded he command the station, even."

"Well, we'll see about that. Ari'shan was a bit of a fool, too... But a very good pilot. And once I thought he was the future. And now he's..." She shrugged. "Everything is gone. Except for me."

There was... a freezing of Zhengli’s face, just a fraction of it. A flash that came, passed, as she remembered something her mother had said... and Zhengli tried to pick her words, carefully. "That... may not be the case?"

"I'll..." She looked dully at Zhengli. "I'll need more brivari." She knew, she understood, and she wasn't pressing. Or at least she was suspicious. That, then was Zhengli Varma's encounter with Jha'dur Deathwalker.

"Yes, Warmaster." She did flinch. That gaze... Well. It made her drop the subject instantly, as if she’d grabbed a red-hot fire poker. And that was the end of her encounter with Death Herself. A shivering feeling lingered past Jha’dur’s death at the hands of the Vorlons, for a fortnight or more.

A more vague sense of discomfort stayed with her on into later years, when in loneliness and desperation she walked the road that she did, and sometimes, she wondered if those mad, malevolent eyes were somewhere watching her, if the demise of Deathwalker was as overstated as it always had been, or that presence remained, following her beyond the grave. Most of all, as she made her decisions in life and followed her course, she feared that those eyes might just register their approval.

Shorn of the look of desperate, hopeless madness, the look of her eyes was altogether identical to Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur’s.
”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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