"Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

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"Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-25 03:22pm

The thing about about any fictional setting is the potential for stories aside from those followed in the prime material. Some settings even turn to this as fodder for other media (Star Wars being a big example). Make a multiple crossover, and this potential expands exponentially, to the point that the possibilities can feel limitless.

Such is the truth with the Undiscovered Frontier setting. For those unfamiliar with it, this is my ode to the space opera of my youth, the arc-based story-telling of Babylon-5 and character-driven elements of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, shows that remain my favorite SF shows ever. This Multiverse setting blends original material of myself and others with established fiction, including Star Trek, Mass Effect, Babylon-5, BattleTech, and Stargate, to name but a few. With technology like interuniversal drives, the range of possible stories that blend all of these settings together is truly limitless.

That brings me to the other point. Looking back, especially at Star Trek (and that is definitely a central inspiration to this series so far), usually the Hero Ship is not just the focus, it sometimes feels like the only ship in the fleet that manages to get out of its adventures. How many times did Star Trek plots revolve around other Starfleet ships that are lost to some unknown force, their crews wiped out or nearly so, and Our Heroes answer their distress calls or come upon what's left of them? It happened quite a few times, yeah.

But with this series, I had an idea that I wanted to downplay this. While friendly ships are destroyed in things like massive spacebattles, I wanted to give the feeling that the Aurora crew (and the related Koenig crew, not to mention the crews of the Huáscar and Heerman in the spinoff) were not the only competent, capable people in the fleet. They were the torchbearers of the Alliance, sure, but there were other ships in the fleet with potentially-interesting crews off having their own adventures in the wide Undiscovered Frontier of the Multiverse. That's why I tried to give character to them when we saw them. Madeleine Laurent and the Challenger, Arik Shaham and the Enterprise, Elizabeth King and the Excalibur, Li Ming-Chung and the Shenzhou, Phillip Wallace and the Thunder Child... I named quite a few over the current three seasons. These characters, and others we've seen across the sixty-plus episodes of UF and UF: Origins already posted... They are all the Heroes of Other Stories.

These are those stories.

I'm not saying I'm going to write these often. But when I do, this is where they will be found.
Last edited by Steve on 2018-12-25 03:29pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-25 03:24pm

A Tale of the Undiscovered Frontier
"Shining Like The Sky"
(By: Big Steve and Alyrium)

New Liberty
18 October 2643 Alliance Standard
Two Days After SS Exiles' Attack





The apartment building was a collapsed ruin, scoured down to ground level by a near-miss from a disruptor fired from orbit. The only reason the single weapon impact hadn’t turned all of New Liberty into a semblance of Hiroshima or San Diego was the fact that the Nazis didn’t want to obliterate their own troops with a full power barrage. They were more intent on causing terror than actually destroying the colony; but for all that, no one on the ground floor or above could have possibly survived the thermal flash and shockwave that close. Colin could still feel the traces of their souls, the shattered imprints of minds and whatever it was that passed beyond the portal at the moment of death. They died in a state of incomprehension, their final moments of surprise and confusion etched briefly in the shattered brick and mortar that had been their homes. The basement was another story though.

Colin closed his eyes and stretched out with his mind in an active scan for minds buried in the basement apartments. Someone might have survived. He felt pain, anxiety, hopelessness. There were people trapped down there; if he just focused, he could isolate each mind and separate them from the surrounding mental chatter around him and from each other. He started to localize each one, get a feel for who they were and more importantly where in the wreckage they were trapped. Then, and only then, did he make contact with all of their minds at once. Even the ones who were unconscious would know they were going to be fine.

Just hold on. I’ve found you and we’ll have you out as soon as we can. I’m noting each of your locations down for the excavation teams. One of the minds responded back, no, it was two of them gestalted together. A married couple, they’d taken shelter under the kitchen table when the roof collapsed. He figured they were both around P5.

We can’t sense our son. His name is Tantiral, is he alright? Colin relayed those projected thoughts to every other mind and found him.

Mom! Dad! I’m okay! I’m in the bath! Colin thought that was a smart move on his part. Bathtubs were pretty strong structurally, there was a reason people hid in them during tornadoes.

Thank the Light was the echoed sentiment from the parents, confirming for Colin they were Gersallian.

Just hold tight, and don’t move. I need to go let people know where to dig. He replied back. There were ten others, out of an apartment building that must have housed upwards of sixty. He sketched out their rough locations on a datapad and turned around. Max was busy gestalting with a few other local telepaths, teaching them how to do Search and Rescue scans, while Golmar was soloing the whole endeavor. He could sense the power of the mind behind the governor of the Byron Free Colony. It outstripped his own, but wasn’t as refined. All he had to do was look to see what and who was inside an adjacent building. It felt like ground-penetrating RADAR. Rabbi Liebgott was keeping himself busy too. The old man had incredible energy, and was shuttling emergency relief supplies, mostly blankets and oral rehydration salts for those pulled from wreckage who were on the lower-priority for triage evac.

The wreckage in the streets was cleared enough to allow an aircar to approach. The figure that emerged was a man of brown complexion with Hispanic features. He was wearing a work jumpsuit with his graying dark hair joined by stubble on his chin. He approached Colin and called out, "Doctor Meier?"

Colin gave him a once over before responding. “Yeah? What can I help you with?”

"I am Council Chairman Gabriel Reyes," he replied. Upon hearing it, some of the other workers around them looked up with interest, recognizing the name. Gabriel Reyes was an old name for the Colony, the appointed spokesman for the very first group of refugees aided by Robert Dale and the others when they'd first acquired Darglan technology. He had since served as one of the Facility Council members in the pre-Alliance days before the loss of said Facility to the Daleks led to his joining his family on New Liberty. Had he run for Governor, he would certainly have won, but he openly preferred leading the Colony legislature, and only by request after the failure of efforts to elect another.

Whatever his political standing in New Liberty's government, Gabriel looked little different from the other relief workers. His eyes had bags under them, his expression was worn, and a black armband of mourning was wrapped around his upper left arm. His jumpsuit made clear that like many in the Colony he was pitching in with the labor of the recovery.

"I would like to thank you for your assistance, first of all," he continued, even if such was unnecessary. His gratitude, wearied by mental and physical weariness, was evident to every telepath nearby. "Governor Rankin asked me to see you while I was out here. She would like to see you at your earliest convenience regarding your ride home." His formal speech was not so much stuffiness as it was recognition that his office required a certain formality, even in these situations.

Colin’s feelings on that were mixed. He didn’t want to abandon these people, but at the same time, his own people needed him and he still felt like part of him was simply void.

“A pleasure to meet you Chairman Reyes. And you’re welcome.” he stalled for time as he wrestled with the various competing interests inside his mind. He made a decision fairly quickly though. “We’ll be joining her as soon as we wrap up our current engagement."

"I will inform her. Again, you have my thanks." As he spoke, it was clear that beyond his fatigue and grief was worry. Colin easily realized what it regarded. Julia Andreys, Captain of the Aurora, had been a fellow Council member back in the Facility, and he valued her as a comrade. And she was missing in the aftermath of the attack. "You also have my personal thanks for saving Beth from those monsters. I have already lost too many friends and loved ones."

“It was our pleasure.” And he emphasized that part. Killing Nazis, he thought, would never get old. And Beth was well-worth saving. “Governor Rankin is a good person. Also, and pardon my intrusion but… rest assured the Corps will do what we can to assist in the recovery of Captain Andreys and taking out the Nazi trash. If we find any intelligence, we’ll share it. I only wish we could afford to send ships and troops."

"I am pleased to hear it. If she lives and they have her…" Gabriel brought that thought to an end. He nodded to Colin, grateful for the voiced consideration. "May you have a safe voyage back to your home, Doctor. Adios."

Vaya con dios.” Colin replied. As the Chairman departed to take a survey of recovery efforts, Colin felt a familiar set of eyes on him. It was Max.

<Time to go?> Max asked, and he felt a bit like he might want to stay. Not to leave the Corps or anything, but to help kill the natural enemy of his people. Colin concluded he enjoyed that perhaps a bit too much.

<Yeah. We need to go talk to Beth. And Max?>

<Yes?>

<We have fascists at home we need to kill. You know I can’t spare you…>

<I know Colin I know. But hey, they’re like cockroaches. There will always be more.>



The Government Building still bore the wounds caused by the attack, but those wounds did not take away the structure's ability to serve as center of the Colony government. On their way in Colin, Max, and Isaac passed by workers fixing structural damage, clearing away remaining debris, and the staff going about their business. An escort in the blue uniform of Colony Security, an African man of medium height, led them through to the Governor's office.

The office hadn't escaped the blasts entirely. One wall was still being prepared for reconstruction, and there were gaps where broken furnishings had yet to be replaced. Nevertheless a couch and some comfortable chairs were available for the guests, as was a tray with what looked like lemonade and other drinks in pitchers, and another tray beside it with glasses. A stand nearby had a waiting pitcher of coffee.

Seated at her desk, Beth Rankin looked exhausted. Her business suit of blue and dark green was frumpled and worn. Modern medical technology mostly obscured the fact that just a couple days before, she'd been savagely beaten by the Schutzstaffel invaders. Only some tell-tale swelling on her temple and jaw remained of her injuries.

At least physically.

For the two telepaths, the wounds were still a part of her. The memory of the pain from the blows was still on her thoughts, as was the unreal feeling on being alive. Her attackers had hated her, a lesbian, with personal zeal and she'd seen that hate in their eyes. She'd seen their intention to murder her the moment her being alive was no longer of use. Fassbinder's order for her to be shot still echoed within her. And then there were the people who'd trusted her to lead them, and how many of them were dead...

Regardless of these thoughts, Beth looked up from her digital reader. A small smile formed on her face. "Doctor. Rabbi. Mister Cohen. Good to see you."

“Governor.” Max greeted her. “Your mind feels like you could use a hug. I have one for you if you want it.” Colin for his part would have offered but Max beat him to it. Every telepath alive in 2248 knew what a mock execution felt like. This one wasn’t on a planetary scale, but it was no less real for that. That didn’t even touch the survivors guilt.

"I could use one, yes," she admitted. "A lot of us could." Sensing her mental receptiveness to it, the two provided it via the same medium. Once the moment passed she added, "For myself, and on behalf of my people, thank you for helping us with the search and recovery efforts. Your help has been invaluable. I've called you here because I'm aware that your… internal situation requires you to return home as quickly as possible."

“You’re welcome. Honestly it wasn’t any trouble.” Colin started “We figured we’d be here for a few days, we might as well help.”

“Plus, it is the obligation of any guest to protect and defend their host in the event of attack. This certainly qualifies.” Max added, invoking ancient guest-right traditions. “But yeah, we do need to get home.”

Beth nodded. "Between the attack itself and the damage to the spaceport, civilian liners aren't running right now. So I've pulled a few strings in Portland. The Starship Maimonides will be leaving this evening for your home universe, and they will drop you off at Teyan Station on the way to their next assignment."

Isaac didn’t disguise his joy that a ship had that name. “That sounds perfectly reasonable.” he said, trying to regain a certain professionalism from his nerdy enthusiasm. “From there we should be able to arrange transport back into Earth Alliance space.”

Beth nodded in agreement. "Since transporters are being devoted to the recovery efforts, you'll be going up in one of the Maimonides' cargo shuttles. They'll pick you up at the landing zone in the Lake Park in a couple of hours. I've already informed Colony Security and they'll get you into the landing area." She stood up and extended a hand. "Thank you again for everything, and despite everything, I hope your visit to the Colony has been a fruitful one." Her thoughts turned toward the agreement forged the evening before the attack, and that she'd already begun implementation of their side of that agreement.

“Thank you for that.” Colin replied, and it was for both things. “Plus your hospitality. For the two of us, it isn’t a common thing to be welcomed like we have been here. We won’t forget that.”

Beth nodded and, after the handshakes, leaned down to remove three containers from her desk. She placed them before the three. When opened, each revealed a bronze medallion fringed with silver, on a ribbon in the blue and green colors of the Colony, depicting two hands clasped together under a caduceus insignia overlaying a shield. "For your efforts, the New Liberty Volunteer Aid and Rescue Medal, for providing aid even at personal risk. You've more than earned them."

Colin caught the implication. It wasn’t just for volunteer work, but for those who risked their lives in doing that work, be it colonial defense or medical aid. And they had. Even Isaac risked his life tending to wounded during the Nazi attack. “We are honored deeply Governor. Thank you.”

She returned the nod.




The Lake Park's simplistic name did no justice to the beauty of its lush grass fields and towering trees, some transplanted Earth specimens, others native to the planet. The biosphere was completely compatible with Earth's, allowing for such a mixture. The trees served as pleasant shade for the paved walkways to and around the vast freshwater lake itself, which seemed to shine with crystal blue clarity in defiance of the devastation that had recently been reflected on its surface.

The fields were not so open at the moment. Pallets of emergency supplies abounded, as did the desks for the clerks managing them, the workers going to and fro with anti-grav pallet jacks to move those pallets off of arriving shuttles and the transporter stations spread across the field. One corner of the field, the size of three American football fields, was dotted with shuttles and runabouts of various make.

The telepaths were escorted by a woman in the blue Colonial Security uniform and a matching headscarf. Yasmin al-Tikriti's surface thoughts brimmed with anger and lingering fear. She was from one of the first worlds liberated from the Reich, a desert planet the Reich forcefully transplanted Arabs to as labor for the mines of valuable ores on that world. As soon as she was able, Yasmin emigrated to New Liberty, and now her former oppressors had attacked her new home.

They can conquer your worlds, they can kill you. But they can’t ever conquer you.” Max said to her in Arabic.

The reply was not verbal, but an agreeing nod. She only spoke when a pair of Alliance Stellar Navy security personnel blocked their entry to the shuttles. "Patrolwoman al-Tikriti, Colonial Security, escorting these gentlemen to their shuttle," she said, activating her omnitool. "Clearance and instructions."

The Alakin male who stopped her considered it with his intent, yellow eyes. His feathering was copper-colored, the skin beneath ash gray. His partner was a Dorei male, blue skin, teal spots, purple hair and eyes. He remained quiet as his partner examined the order. "Very well," said the Alakin in a chirping voice. "Second row, third shuttle back."

They were let through. The shuttle they were brought to was one of the larger models, a full-sized cargo shuttle. Twin warp nacelles at the bottom rested on the grass, pressing it down. Inside a man of light olive complexion sat at the controls. He was of a slight build, with dark hair kept long and in a looped ponytail, and facial hair long enough that it too was pulled into a simple tail below his chin. His blue eyes met their's. Immediately Colin and Max knew that their pilot was one of their own: a telepath, probably P6 or P7, wearing the black-and-burgundy red of an Alliance officer assigned to starship control and command, the branch that included shuttle and runabout crews. A single gold strip, slanted, was pinned to his collar, marking him an Ensign.

“Good day Ensign.” Colin said cheerfully. He was in Metapol uniform naturally, but at that point unarmed. He was expecting to have to make assurances he wasn’t going to try and drag the guy back to the Earth Alliance.

"Doctor. I'm Ensign Miltiadas Topakos of the Maimonides," he answered. Ensign Topakos' accent sounded off to their ears. It was almost Greek, but the tones were off, giving the accent a unique cast they'd never heard before. "We're about to lift off, so I've already pulled out your passenger seats." Said seats lined the wall toward the forward end of the cargo hatch. They were clearly meant to fold upward.

They sat down in the seats. It was only polite, but what got to Colin was the lack of apprehension.

His accent doesn’t sound… exactly Greek. It’s close. Max mentally remarked.

I know, it’s weird.

“A pleasure to meet you Ensign Topakos.” Colin said, partly as a segue. “If you don’t mind my asking, where are you from? I’ll admit when I first saw you I thought we’d have to promise not to drag you back to our home universe or something.”

Topakos seemed momentarily confused, until he sensed their surface thoughts and chuckled. "Oh, yes, you are one of the Psi Cops of the E5B1 universe," he said. "I am from Kerkyra of the S0T5 universe. My people are descendants of the psions who fled the purges after the Reignfall, so virtually all people of Kerkyra are psions of some capability."

Colin had no idea what the Reignfall was, but he could pick it up from context. “I take it telepath rule over mundanes went about as well as can be expected?”

"Mundane… oh, mutes. Yes. I think." Topakos shrugged. "Nobody remembers anything about the Reign. The histories are lost. The minds of those who survived were warped by what happened. Everyone says it was psions who caused it, but that's just mute jealousy if you ask me." He continued checking his board.

“...Okay, worse than expected. Still, good cautionary tale; jealousy aside.”

"Sending our final launch request now," said Topakos. "The inertial dampeners are fine, so should be a smooth trip."

The three passengers were ready for the shuttle's soft liftoff. They might be riding in a bullet-train for all they knew, as Topakos' promise of a smooth trip was fulfilled. The blue of the garden planet's atmosphere faded to the black of space. But it was not an empty black. Shattered starships appeared through the cockpit window, a depressing number of them civilian, all victims of the SS exiles' squadron that launched the attack.

One ship that became prominent was of a far different aesthetic than the three were used to. The Excelsior-class Federation starship, the Charleston, looked little different from the dead hulks around it, save a few lights to show she was not entirely dead. The vessel barely survived the fight. Beside it was the kilometer-long four-nacelled form of the Starship Aurora, also marked with some battle damage, but clearly intact. Colin, Max, and Isaac knew the vessel and her crew had been wounded in other ways, however, as her captain was among the missing, either dead or a captive of the attackers.

The connection between her and Robert was still active the last time Colin saw his friend, it was subtle, but their souls were still connected through Roberts sensitivity. He Knew she was still alive and so did Colin. Fassbender’s intentions had been plain as day in his mind. He intended to inflict unspeakable things upon her before he finally let her die, and either draw Robert into a trap or corrupt his soul in the process. Not that the political forces in the Alliance listened to him. He’d warned Robert about it but it was cautionary. Not an attempt to stop him. If Gene or Zara were in similar trouble Colin knew he’d tear the galaxy apart with his bare hands. The thought itself filled him with dread, and Max put a hand on his shoulder.

It’s not going to happen. And if it does, the entire Corps will back you up.

I know. Max can you feel it?
Colin was referring to the dull thrum of a mass death-trace. All the minds, thousands of them, dead in orbit. Vaporized in the prime of their lives or thrown out into the void by explosive decompression.

No. I’m not as sensitive as you are and these are orbital distances… For me right now it’s a strange silence. Just the void. It’s comforting in a way. Colin knew that too well. On Omega VII, after a week of rescuing children from the most vile gut-wrenching slavery imaginable, the silence and perspective of orbit helped him and Gene piece themselves together. It was strange how that worked.

It’s about all I can feel around me right now. There are so many. If it were just Nazis I could be happy about it, but so many brave people sacrificed themselves here. I can’t isolate them. I can’t give the individual consideration they all deserve.

Isaac was looking out the window at the hulked spacecraft from a multitude of nations and bowed his head, praying the El Malei Rachamim in Hebrew. “God, full of mercy, Who dwells in heaven, give rest on the wings of your Divine Presence, amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky, to the souls of the slain on New Liberty and Gersal, who lost their lives or gave them in defense of others in a brutal attack by Nazi assassins and their helpers. Therefore, the Merciful One will protect their souls forever, and give their souls eternal life. The Everlasting is their heritage, and they shall rest peacefully in their resting place, and let us say: Amen.

“Amen.” Both telepaths replied in unison. Colin didn’t speak Hebrew, nor was he religious in a traditional sense, but Max translated for him in his head.

The shuttle flew on, past the Aurora and Charleston, past the Quarian ships still working to recover debris from orbit, and toward another ship. Its azure sheen and general shape gave away that it was an Alliance vessel like the Aurora. Although less than half the Aurora's length, it had the same general shape of the primary and drive hulls having a high area of contact, meaning the vessel had no visible neck like the Charleston and other Federation ships of similar layout. Its deflector dish, set at the front of the drive hull and directly below the centerpoint of the primary hull, was a great gold eye with blue light circling it.

Unlike the Aurora, the ship only had two warp nacelles, mounted on the end of hinged pylons that were currently sloped downward, giving the nacelles the appearance of being like sled rails for the rest of the ship. The biggest structural difference, however, was a triangular pod that was held up on a forward-slanted rollbar built into the back of the primary hull. It had little in the way of visible windows, but there were running lights, and the azure surface was broken up by gray strips and elements. In size it was at least twenty meters wide and fifty meters long.

“Hm.” Colin considered the ship. That pod on the dorsal surface was interesting, he hadn’t seen one like it before. It would be a good place for forward torpedo tubes, but it wasn’t that. “What’s that pod on the dorsal surface?”

"The pod is for some of the ship's advanced sensors," answered Topakos. As he spoke the other telepaths got the feeling of a lingering awkwardness, like an adult might feel if they were suddenly acting like a child. It was only a faint thing, the evidence of a once stronger feeling weakened by time and practice. "It keeps the delicate sensors clear of any interference from the navigational deflector or the warp nacelles while they are facing downward. The pylons can raise the nacelles to where they clear the primary hull instead, that is the optimal warp flight configuration. This configuration is for optimal sensor operation."

I think he’s nerding out a little and trying not to show it… Colin remarked.

He’s not the only one. Max replied, glancing over at Isaac who was outright giddy. Twitching in place. Afterall, it was a science ship named for not just his favorite theologian/philosopher/scientist, but the most important in all of rabbinical Judaism. With Topakos though it felt different; then Colin got it. Miltiades’ entire society was full of telepaths. Why on earth would they speak? It was like a hearing child of deaf parents who learned how to speak in school, they might have some idiosyncrasies no matter what accent was culturally native.

Wait, no. I don’t think that’s it. Colin thought at Max. Then he turned his attention to the Ensign. If you prefer, we can converse mentally. We tend to speak when mundanes/mutes are around unless we want to keep something private. We’ll just keep Isaac in the loop for public conversations.

I have gotten used to speaking verbally with the mutes I serve with
, replied Topakos. But I thank you for the consideration. On Kerkyra only children without manifested psionics speak verbally, so our society sees it as a sign of childhood. It becomes awkward for some of us to do so as adults.

Understood. When we’re by ourselves we tend to switch back and forth fluidly. But give it a few millennia, right?


The response was a glyph of understanding.

The ship grew much larger, large enough that the detail on the hull could be made out. The registry entry ASV-4685 was visible along a stripe of green painted on the azure hull. Gradually the ship moved to the right of the cockpit window and out of sight. The shuttle made a slow, leisurely turn to face the top of the drive hull. There, several decks below the big port for the ship's main impulsor drive, a set of doors were open. Topakos finished getting his final landing clearance and brought the shuttle back to its place in the ship's main shuttle bay.

The shuttle bay was mostly empty at the moment. Only two shuttles and a runabout were present, and all were being loaded by crew. Topakos brought the shuttle into one of the berths and powered it down the moment it landed. With a press of a key the rear hatch opened, showing the berth, and a pair of figures standing and waiting for them. Both were wearing the same uniform type as Topakos, black with burgundy red trim, with three and four slanted strips upon their collars to mark their ranks of Commander and Captain respectively. The Commander was an African man, bald, with curious brown eyes and medium height, while the Captain was a woman of Middle Eastern extraction, a light olive tone to her complexion. Her eyes were a lighter brown, intelligent, perceptive, and not hiding a certain passionate intensity. She was a head shorter than her subordinate, with a solid build, but there was no denying she was the one in command. When she spoke, it was with an Arabic accent. "Doctor Meier, Rabbi Liebgott, Mister Cohen, welcome to the Alliance Starship Maimonides. I am Captain Nasira Fanous, and this is my First Officer, Philippe Duwala."

“A pleasure to meet you both.” Colin replied “And thank you for the ride home.”

Isaac couldn’t help himself. He just couldn’t. “We don’t really have dedicated science ships back home. Might I ask about your mission profile?”

"The Maimonides is a Juvap Ky-class science cruiser," Philippe answered. His accent was distinctively Franco-African, Cameroonian from the area of Douala to be precise. "Our ship is meant for scientific missions. Exploration, surveying, and research, with five science labs aboard dedicated to various fields. We have the most sophisticated sensor package in the fleet, and our science department, both uniformed and civilian, is the same as that on a full-sized star cruiser like the Aurora or the Enterprise."

Colin considered that the Huáscar might be within that listing, but if he knew Zhen’var, she wouldn’t want civilians aboard and they’d all be military. Her general attitude was far more Earth Alliance or Dilgar with respect to how a ship should be run. Isaac nodded along. He didn’t have much context for an Alliance warship, but he knew they had a tendency to have large science divisions because of their multi-role operational priorities.

"Because of our enlarged science department, we have a crew of six hundred and fifty individuals," Nasira added. "Comparable to a Discovery or Nehru-class star cruiser, which are about ten percent larger than this type."

“Hmm. What does the name actually mean?” Isaac asked. “It’s not a language I’m familiar with.”

Nasira nodded. "Juvap Ky was the first Alakin scientist to discover gravity, and as a result she discovered the heliocentric nature of her world's solar system. She also advanced mathematical principles and refined the theological laws of her nation's dominant religion. You may think of her as something of a composite of Copernicus, Newton, and Maimonides, although the comparisons are not complete."

“Definitely an over-achiever that one. If such a concept is even possible. But I think I have a handle on the naming conventions. Good choice.” Isaac nodded. “I’ve always marveled at the ancient polymaths. How did they manage that? Had the Alakin even discovered caffeine or its equivalent yet?”

"Lieutenant Commander Treepk tells me that nakhtep was already known on the continent of Neekan at the time," said Philippe, who smiled at Isaac's query. "So Juvap undoubtedly had the benefit of it."

Behind them more shuttles were coming in for landings. "Commander, would you mind showing our guests to their quarters?" Nasira asked politely. "I will be on the bridge overseeing our departure preparations."

"Of course, Captain." Philippe nodded to her and looked to the others. "This way, please. We have the guest quarters on Deck 5 waiting for you."

“Thank you for your hospitality.” Max replied, as Colin made to follow Philippe. It was still so strange actually being welcome somewhere. Isaac didn’t catch it; he couldn’t, but they both shared a thought.

It can’t be like this everywhere in this Alliance. It just can’t be.




After settling in, Philippe returned with an offer that none of them could refuse.

Minutes after the offer was made, they followed him out of the turbolift onto the bridge of the Maimonides. The bridge was rimmed with displays and controls, the latter using a combination of touchscreens and hard-light displays, with three seats in the center (albeit closer to the stern wall). Nasira was standing beside the central seat and Philippe was already thinking of the one to her right as his. Those same thoughts revealed the one to her left as a seat for guests or senior officers visiting the ship.

Colin went for broke. “With your permission Captain?” he nodded toward the chair. She nodded and he sat down, taking in the room from Isaac and Max’s eyes.

Fanning out forward of these seats were three stations. Directly ahead was the helm, occupied by a tan-complexioned humanoid with burgundy red trim. To the right of the helm was a station with a blue-haired, purple-skinned humanoid with long ears, wearing an Alliance uniform with beige branch trim to mark Operations/Engineering. Colin and Max easily sensed the alien's slight telepathic potential, marking him as a Dorei and thus a touch-empath.

To the left of the helm was an officer with a brown branch trim uniform, marking tactical, a Human of tanned coloration and dark hair. Colin in particular could note the little surge of joy that Philippe got at looking at the man, with the name Rodrigo in the thought. A moment's further consideration made clear the link between them.

Hm. Surprises me that their military regulations allow shipboard romance like that.

Ours do
Max replied matter of factly. Colin wordlessly acknowledged the point. Not everyone on the ship was a mundane, so things like coercion could be checked for if it ever came up.

Aside from these three stations were two more along the port and starboard walls of the bridge. The port station was marked Engineering and showed displays of the ship's systems within a large side-profile of the Maimonides, manned by an Asari of lavender complexion. To starboard was "Primary Science", where a green-and-red-plumaged, blue-complexioned Alakin was seated.

Colin didn’t think it was a very tactically efficient bridge configuration. On Psi Corps ships, the Captain had line of sight on everyone without having to turn their heads so they could easily check the content of consoles and the like through the other person’s senses, even if their rating was only a P5. Then again, without universal telepathy, he supposed that having the various stations arrayed around the commanding officer might be the only way to manage it.

"My bridge command crew," Nasira said, indicating each of the five bridge officers in sequence. "Lieutenant Commander Tanata Oparan, Operations Officer. Lieutenant Commander Treepk Ka, Science Officer. Lieutenant Rodrigo Vega, Tactical Officer. Lieutenant Latamrilam, Navigation, and Lieutenant Tasina T'Seris, Assistant Chief Engineer. I have already informed them of your identities, Doctor."

“A pleasure to meet everyone.” Colin replied cheerfully, burning all the names and faces into his memory. He knew he should say something, given that he was effectively head of state, or one of them because the Psi Corps didn’t operate with a single head of state, but it was still new to him. He thought he had it though. “The kindness your Alliance and now you have shown us is not something we’re entirely used to, and neither me nor the Corps will soon forget it. Thank you.” The more he thought about it, the more he was becoming convinced that given its leadership becoming an ISA member state might be a dead letter, but joining or affiliating with the UAS might be a possibility.

“This ship is amazing too.” Isaac added, picking up on Colin’s diplomatic overture and the thrust of what he was going for. “It and your mission are a credit to it’s namesake.”

"I'm in agreement with you on that, Rabbi Liebgott," Nasira said. She turned her attention to her right. "Commander Oparan, set jump drive to the Eta Serpentis anchor in E5B1 and take us out," Nasira ordered.

"Aye Captain," the Dorei man answered. "Setting for Eta Serpentis E5B1."

"Impulsors set to .15," added Latamrilam from the helm, his accent a thick Gersallian lilt. "Engaging and ready for jump acceleration."

"Jump set to Eta Serpentis, spatial aspect is good." After another few moments Oparan added, "We are clear of orbital space. Activating jump drive."

Ahead of the Maimonides a single point of brilliant green light appeared and, after a moment, expanded into a swirling green vortex in the void. Colin, Max, and Isaac noticed some similarity to the hyperspace jump points they were familiar with, although the pattern of the swirling was distinctive and different. The vortex expanded on the viewscreen steadily and then, as the space around it finally disappeared from view, the ship accelerated into the vortex and the screen rapidly filled until there was nothing but a flickering nothingness. For a brief moment the entire ship was outside of normal space-time, at the transition point between universes.

Then that ended and they were in a solar system with an orange star, with a rocky planet's dark side facing them.

"We've arrived inside the anchor zone," said Latamrilam.

The moment they were inside their home Universe, the soul-void Colin had been feeling for days was replaced by the sensation of a familiar mind re-entering his. Jubilation and relief, both his and Gene’s filled both of their minds and it only took a fraction of a second for Colin to feel Gene’s arms wrap around him and for him to return the embrace, as real to them as if they’d been in the flesh; to kiss his husband across the void of interstellar space. He knew he’d interrupted a strategy meeting about the PCS Fenrir, and that Gene was discussing fleet and ground-troop deployments with Commodore Rhee.

I’ve missed you. Gene told him, not in words, but in raw concept. There was something else there too, fear and dread. The Corps had the news about the attack on New Liberty and Gene had not reacted well. Colin knew Gene had paced almost to the point of wearing down carpeting.

I’ve missed you too Lover. Nazis can’t kill me that easily.

Are Max and Isaac okay?
Gene asked. In response Colin recalled the memories and showed Gene exactly how okay Max was. The explosions began during a meeting with Golmar, while Max was in session at the convention center in the Jewish Quarter. They went to rescue him, assuming the Reich troops would hit it hard as a matter of principle, but Max had it well in hand. They got there to find a pile of swastika clad bodies and watched as Nazis simply died, shot themselves, or turned their heavy weapons on their own troops. All the while Max shouted invective in Yiddish and Hebrew at them, and forced mental images of Hitler committing suicide and the subsequent Nuremberg trials into the minds of the living. Max taxed himself doing it, and was bleeding from his tear ducts by the time Colin and Golmar cut down the remainder, but he was otherwise just fine and Isaac had never once been at risk. He also showed Gene their rescue of Robert and Beth Rankin. Colin felt the pride in Max swell in Gene’s mind. Excellent. Is that Golmar?

Yeah. Reconciled a bit. I suspect our relations with the Byron Free Colony might improve somewhat, especially now that we’ve changed posture toward the Alliance and the colony. How are things on your end?

Well, that damned unofficial pipeline made things pretty bad. It was already being exploited when you left; there are definite leaks to slavers within EarthGov, but we knew that already. Bloodhounds are looking into it and certain people are going to be having accidents, strokes, and sudden changes of heart in the next few weeks. We got notice from the Alliance by way of Beth Rankin though, and we’re making arrangements to set up a presence on Teyan Station and flagging known friendly ships. Between that and Lyta calling off her campaign, it’s giving us a chance to breath and redeploy.
He let Colin look through his eyes at the strategy board and take it in, and Gene was right. The deployments were much more favorable; Transport Division could concentrate it’s forces along known slaver routes instead of having to do terrorist interdiction, and the deployments of Metapol and Security divisions followed suit. I figure we’ve bought ourselves a few months to a year. Gene finished.

That was good, to Colin’s mind. Before he left the talking heads on ISN were already starting to speculate on a ‘resolution to the telepath problem’ which Colin knew wasn’t just pundits spitballing, but was actually the state putting out feelers and prepping the ground. Every month was increased readiness, and Gene p’heard his inner monologue.

Yeah. In other good news, we managed to get our grubby mits on a new ship design. One of the competing designs for the Omega. A few updates to the reactor and drive systems, no rotating section, and we have a pretty capable cruiser with the firepower of an Omega that costs less to build than a Hyperion. Sueng is salivating at the prospect of being able to turn out six of them in the next four months. No one tell her that it looks like something of the old game Homeworld. I think someone might have been indulging a retro-fetish at the engineering firm that designed the thing. Gene furnished a mental image and Colin liked what he saw. It wasn’t quite the flying brick that was a typical Earth Alliance design. It actually had rounded lines and curves, but it was still recognizably human.

Very nice. Is that an improved defense grid tracking system I see in those specs?

And shields, yes. That mundane engineer Indiri found is doing good work. She even knows who she’s working for and why. God what was her name? Freddie?

Yeah that was it!
Colin confirmed. Excellent. Good news. I needed that, thanks.

Any time I have it. Though I suspect you have to go before the crew of the
Maimonides notices you’re staring into space and I have this meeting basically paused. Love you sweetheart. We’ll talk again soon.

Love you too you sexy manbeast. We certainly will.
And Colin had certain ideas about what that would entail. At that point, the two stopped actively communicating but weren’t separate. Both could feel the other’s presence as if they were in a very small room together. Each doing their own thing, but not very far apart.

The whole conversation lasted bare seconds, unnoticed by the crew, who busied themselves with the usual process of gauging their surroundings post-jump. Colin returned his attention to the others in time for the next verbal order to be given. "Set course for Teyan Station, Lieutenant, cruise speed," said Nasira. "Lieutenant T'Seris, set configuration for optimum warp."

"Yes, Captain," the Asari maiden answered, along with Latamrilam's "Yes sir". T'Seris tapped at keys and, though no viewer showed it, the Maimonides's warp nacelle pylons went into motion. The machinery of their joints moved, raising the pylons and their nacelles so that they were now held above the primary hull, although still not quite as high as the sensor pod. "Nacelle configuration set for warp performance, Captain."

"Course laid in," added Latamrilam.

Like all of the old Facility officers influenced by Carlton Farmer, Montgomery Scott, and Nicholas Locarno, Nasira gave the order as it was done in Starfleet. "Engage."

The Maimonides' bank of naqia reactors went to near-full capacity once more, providing the energy now being funneled through specially-constructed conduits to the two warp nacelles. These energies steadily increased until, with a bright flash of light, they formed a warp field around the Maimonides. On the holo-viewer those on the bridge watched as space seemed to warp and distort briefly until it was replaced by visible streaks of light.

"We are now at our cruise speed of Warp factor 7," said Latamrilam, for the benefit of their guests. "ETA to Teyan Station is six days."

Looking to Colin, Nasira said, "Reynar is closer, but it has no jump gate, and given the attacks transport schedules are probably a complete mess. Finding a warp-capable liner isn't guaranteed. Teyan has the new jump gate and regular travel to the Earth Alliance so you should make good time once you're there."

“Excellent. I may have a bit of business there anyway, and can arrange for Psi Corps transport for the final leg.”

It’s already arranged. Gene mentioned as an aside in his mind. <One of the Olympus corvettes is en route and they’ll be sending a shuttle.>

Nasira acknowledged that with a nod. "Since you've been working with the relief efforts, I'm sure you would like some rest. The crew lounge on Deck 8 and the galley are available, and your quarters have replicators if you'd prefer to dine alone. And before you go, Doctor, would you and your friends like to have a tour of the ship tomorrow?"

“Wild horses couldn’t stop me from touring the ship if offered!” Isaac interjected.

“I think that’s a yes Captain.” Colin agreed. “But I wouldn’t mind getting to know the crew a little bit. Isaac, Max; what do you think about the crew lounge?”

“I’m in. Never have been a fan of dining alone.” Max agreed.

“And leave you two without the guidance of your rabbi? Perish the thought.”
”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: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-26 09:24am

On some ships the crew lounge was given a specific name. On the Aurora, it was called the Lookout, while on the Huascar, it was Cafe Varna. On the Maimonides, it was the Culinary Lab.

The reason for the particular name was its main distinction from other such facilities. The proprietor of the lounge was a Gersallian man, Tratan Umai, from the Kuneli ethnic group. His people maintained some distinct cultural practices from the rest of their world, and one was the idea of an eating place where prepared ingredients were left for the diners to assemble at their preference. The result was something akin to a buffet, if a buffet included an entire section devoted to the hot plates and pots for a diner's culinary work to be finalized within, should it require some final cooking. Given the numerous ingredients and prepared items on hand, either normally or by request, it was no surprise that the crew of a science ship might dub their lounge a laboratory.

When Colin, Max, and Isaac entered, they found that the people dining were enjoying a mix of meals. For those whose watches fell in Beta Shift, it was lunch time. Alpha Shift crew were getting dinner, and the early risers of Gamma Shift were getting breakfast. The food was arrayed in pots and trays along the stern wall of the lounge, as well as a separate series of three buffet tables that stood where a bar would have in other designs. Tratan stood at the entrance to the kitchen, nearly ready to end his work day. His complexion was fair, and at his temples his wheat-colored hair, graying at the fringes, was pulled into a series of braids.

Colin was something of a gourmand. He kept his figure only through exercise and sheer disciplined will, he loved trying new types of food from every ethnicity and now every world that had ingredients compatible with human physiology. He looked around the lounge and thought the set up was simply magical, then he went to town assembling what he’d euphemistically refer to as a sample platter, which was a little bit of every single unique thing he could identify the ingredients and preparation for from what he saw and p’saw on people’s places that he could fit on his own.

Isaac looked over at Max. “Is this what happens when Gene isn’t around to help him watch his girlish figure?”

“Nah. He’ll work it off later. He… he likes to understand other cultures, and he believes that one of the best ways to do that short of scanning people is through their food.”

“Uh Huh.” Isaac replied, just a bit skeptical as they both followed behind, discussing in hushed tones which things they could pass off as vaguely kosher. It was a bit like Chinese food that way, the preparation wasn’t done according to Talmudic law but neither of them sweated that part too much ever. So long as they made a good faith effort to avoid the forbidden foods like pork, and what they could reasonably infer would be forbidden if available on Bronze Age Earth, they were fine.

The tables were polished burgundy wood, with cushioned seats of the same material. While several tables were taken up in whole or in part, a number were also free, including a couple toward the transtanium windows. The lounge was built just above the bow of the ship, meaning there was no obstruction of the view of what was outside the Maimonides, in this case the streaks of warped space.

Colin loved the void of space so he picked out three near the windows and sat down. He looked out over the heavily blue-shifted and streaking stars. “I wonder why we never invented this?” he openly mused.

“What do you mean?” Max asked, sitting down.

“I think I get it.” Isaac replied. “This drive, it’s an Alcubierre drive. We could build them, we’d need negative mass energy. Jump drives use negative mass in the form of Quantium 40 to hold the vortex open, so a bit of matter-energy conversion and we could have invented our own warp drives. But whoever-invented-jumpgates got there first and after that it’s inertia. There’s a lot of stuff that’s just random chance and inertia. Take our body plans. Pretty much chance that our basic body form made it through the Cambrian. After that, natural selection isn’t gonna rock the boat.”

“Good point.” Colin nodded. It made sense. Why spend massive resources developing a new drive system when you had a perfectly serviceable one that everyone else used?

Around them the two telepaths could pick up a scattering of surface thoughts. Some were basic ones. Enjoyment of the food or of company, consideration of the work behind or ahead of them for the day, plans for their off-time. Whether or not the people with those thoughts knew telepaths could p'hear them was indeterminable in most cases. In a couple, the thinker in question didn't seem to care.

Then there were those who were completely aware of Colin and Max. A variety of musical rhymes or calculations reflected those who knew, or at least thought they knew, how to shield their thoughts. Others went right on with their thoughts. One mind, Human and feminine, had the thought stream of "He looks cute oh right he can hear that oh my god I'm an idiot!" Another mind saw an older family member in Max's face, a resemblance with bittersweet, happy memories.

<It’s okay. You’re much nicer about that than people in my home universe.> Colin politely told her. <Flattered, but gay and very married.>

The response was a flush of embarrassment more than anything, but no animosity. I'm sorry if I distracted you crossed the mind in question and Colin returned that with a reassuring thought. Then a more direct thought. I'm Security Officer Neolani Kale, by the way. A pleasure to meet you. The mental self-image of a Polynesian woman of solid build, with dark hair and kind brown eyes, came with the greeting.

While it was clear many of the present crew had no issues with them, there were some sentiments that the two telepaths found more familiar. Some of the minds were uneasy, although the owners of those thoughts didn't go beyond the basic unease. Minds struggled with the rhymes and gave up on them, then in discomfort moved away. Other minds flashed recognition and did the same.

And one mind had a familiar sentiment regardless of its alien nature: Get out of my mind, mind-readers. Several tables over, an orange-plumed Alakin with blue coloration glared with irritation at their table before returning to his meal.

The irony was, thinking at them made it more likely they’d pick it up. But neither telepath visibly reacted at all. Not directly. Max did speak however.

“It’s nice to spend time in a society that isn’t afraid of or hate us. I’ve always wondered what that would be like.”

“I know, right?” Colin replied “What’s really funny are that the people who get so worked up about our presence that they direct angry thoughts at us are more likely to get picked up. It’s sad really. If they just relaxed we’d tune them out like we do everything else they’re thinking, but no. They have to scream at us in their heads.”

Not everyone around them heard that, but they could sense understanding in those who did. A few of those not comfortable before had some easing of said discomfort. One openly thought of a tan-skinned Human-looking woman with dark hair, likely a Gersallian given the green robes and beige tunic visible in the memory, seated beside a child. The little girl slowly began to come out of a catatonic state. The memory was accompanied by sincere gratitude toward the woman in it.

Colin acknowledged that thought, and so did Max. No one saw it but they did, with a warm smile only that person could feel rather than see; but it got Colin thinking about why. What was the difference? Maybe the cultural timing of exposure to telepathy? On his Earth, telepathy arose in a mature post-industrial culture and the result was a slowly unfolding catastrophe. The same for Becca’s homeworld. From what he knew about Gersal, it showed up when they were still in caves and he saw the results. The Centauri and Dilgar were the same way, so were the Narn; the Abbai were virtually all at least P1s though they topped out at a lower maximum rating than humans did. Maybe it was just that simple. In a pre-industrial culture a telepath would have a place as a wise-person, shaman, or exorcist. The civilization would mature with telepaths fully integrated; unlike his home where telepathy turned a whole host of cultural expectations and assumptions upside down. The result of that was the horror that Max carried with him.

<You know babe, there’s an irony that isn’t lost on me.> Gene remarked.

<Hm?>

<The rest of the telepaths in our galaxy are all basically beta tests. The genes for telepathy are optimized for humans, so on average and at maximum we’re the strongest; but because the fucking Vorlons perfected the process on everyone else they all got telepathy earlier and they’re less screwed than we are.>

<I suppose it is a species of irony, though the simple fact is the Vorlons didn’t give a shit about what happened to their weapons after the war.>

<Yeah. Though I’ll tell you what, I’d rather die like this,> Gene sent him a mental image of eighteen million people, all wearing the badge and gloves standing up and saying ‘No More’ <than like this> and he completed the mental image with those same eighteen million cowering in terrorized servility. Colin agreed by way of backdrop music of the Psi Corps Internationale, and an affectionate nuzzle of his husband’s shoulder. It started to escalate from there before they were interrupted by Colin’s current physical reality.

“Colin?” Isaac asked. “Earth to Colin?” At that Max chuckled.

“Hm? Sorry. Lost in thought.”

“I bet you were…” the Rabbi teased, and it wasn’t mean teasing.

“Well…” Colin affected shifty eyes. “I didn’t specify they were just my thoughts.”




The department meeting room on Deck 15 was closest to the Security Office of the Maimonides, which was why Lieutenant Wendy Manchester picked it for the department wide-meeting. Her twenty-one subordinates filed in, some coming from meals, others coming off duty.

Wendy Manchester was tall, just over six feet, with long red hair. Her eyes were green and her face marked by freckles. Her uniform was worn with enough care to pass muster, given her position, but she would never win any competitions for having the best-kept appearance by regulations. Like all Alliance uniforms it was primarily black, with the trim color along the shoulder line and her collar - representing the shirt-layer of the uniform beneath the jacket - being colored brown for the Security/Tactical branch. Her collar was marked with one gold and one black strip, the insignia of a junior grade Lieutenant. She was, in fact, the lowest ranked department officer on the Maimonides.

She took the central seat at the main table. Beside her sat the heads of Bravo and Gamma Shifts. Bravo Shift's head, and her second in command in the department, was a Dorei man, Ensign Untarm Tasandi. As a native of the Dorei nation of Hargano, on the Sindai continent, he had a deep purple complexion, with pale teal spots. His dark teal-toned hair was short and braided in a style at his temples, and his eyes could blaze like glittering sapphires when his blood was up.

To her left was the current head of Gamma Shift. With Ensign Preek's transfer to the Aurora while they were at New Liberty, Chief Gunther Bayer became the third-highest ranked member of the Security detachment. The big German man was nearly twenty years her senior, with soft brown eyes and dark brown hair. His collar was clear with his rank insignia on the sleeves of his uniform: three chevrons downward and a capping chevron pointed upward.

"Alright people, we're down two from the transfers, and we've got this training with the crew to see to," Wendy stated to the assembled. "So it's going to be pretty busy. For you guys on Gamma, you'll be answering to the Chief for a while. If you're new to the shift, don't worry about him, he only bites Nazis."

Bayer gave her a bemused look. "It was only the one time," he insisted.

"Yeah, but once was enough. I thought you were trying to eat his face," she responded.

"Had to go for something, and he was in armor. Besides, my arms were broken…"

Chuckles and laughs filled the room. There was a small smile from their laid back commander at that. Whatever else she was, they were pleased they weren't dealing with a martinet or some other discipline freak.

"Also, we've got guests aboard, so stay sharp," Wendy continued.

"This about our stopover at Teyan?" asked one of the others, Treso Kalan. Kalan was a Nakta Dorei, from the Jek Nation, with dark blue skin and light blue eyes contracted with teal spots and hair. His two chevron sleeve insignia marked him a full Petty Officer, although by convention all NCOs assigned to security were referred to as "Security Officers", regardless of rank. By the same token Bayer, and others of Chief rank and above, were "Security Chiefs". "I mean, why bother heading there for just replacements, ta?"

"Ta." Wendy recognized the Nakta word for an expected affirmative. "Yeah, it's about the guests. They're some dudes who helped out on New Liberty during the attack, so we're taking them close to home first. Teyan's the only place for regular routes back to the Earth of this universe."

"These guests are the mind-readers, aren't they?"

The question came from Kretulo Pako. His plume of orange feathering made Wendy think almost of a parrot, even if Alakin beaks were a little too wide to fit the image. His mottled skin, visible above the neck of his uniform, was blue. Like Kalan, he was a full Petty Officer in rank. His dark eyes looked perturbed.

"Yeah, a couple are Psi Corps."

"So our ship is being used as a glorified transport for them?"

"Well, they kinda saved the life of the Governor of New Liberty, Kret," Wendy pointed out. "So yeah, we're giving them a ride home. And I don't want to hear anything about it from you."

"We heard enough when he met Dr. Weyana," sighed Olga Kalikova, a three-chevron Petty Officer 1st Class. The lithe woman spoke English with a thick Russian accent.

Kretulo whistled lowly, a sound equivalent to a frustrated grunt from a Human. "I believe anyone without mind-reading should have healthy caution about them. They have the capability to attack our individuality, and I prefer not to be exposed to the chance. Even if I agree most would not try." Kretulo gave his superior a cautious look. "At the very least we should have some idea on how to handle an unexpected threat from them."

"We've got procedures, Kret, and we follow them. That's all you need to be worried about."

Wendy was answered by a nod. He knew she wasn't going to share his worry, but her response was mollifying and, more importantly, professional.

"Neolani here couldn't keep her eyes off of the Psi Cop," Marwa al-Jabbar teased from her chair. Beside the slim Arab woman from Kuwait, the solid Polynesian - like al-Jabbar, a Junior Petty Officer - blushed. "I think he noticed too."

"Unfortunately, he is taken," Kale sighed, while chuckles and giggling broke out, with a few snorts. "Like all the good ones."

"You're a badass surfer chick, Neo, don't worry about it." Wendy gave a look to Bayer, who was eying her with bemusement. "You're about to tell me I'm Chief of Security, not their life coach, right?"

"You said it, sir," Bayer replied, grinning.

"How did someone like you end up heading a security detachment on an Alliance ship, anyway?" Tasandi asked. "You don't seem the type to seek authority."

"It kinda fell in my lap," she confessed. "I got a battlefield commission to Ensign when the Pathfinder got boarded in the 1st Argolis Campaign. And then they made me a Lieutenant when Bayer and I went into the naval infantry for the big push on Nazi-Earth. We were in the 2nd Company and sent to back up the Dorei. I almost lost a hand in… what was it again?" She looked to Bayer.

"Rehfelde," he replied. "The tank."

"Yeah. That stuff was brutal." For a moment the laid back exterior slackened and terrible memories of the worst of war showed themselves in her green eyes. "So when the war was over and stuff, they decided to keep me at Lieutenant and offer me a bunch of postings. And the science ship thing sounded the most interesting. Getting to see new stuff, I mean."

The rest of the security staff were quiet at that. Some had their own war stories, but none were from the naval infantry volunteers that fought in the final days of the Battle of Germania.

"I had no idea, Lieutenant," Kalikova said with real surprise in her voice. "I wish I had."

"It's no big deal now," Wendy replied. "The big deal is getting this training regimen set up. The Captain wants the crew ready to back us up in case the SS ever hit the ship, so we've got a lot of work to do. For the time being half of each shift will be overseeing training with the others. We've got holodeck time reserved and the armory's ready…"




It was after breakfast the next morning that the three guests were met by Nasira for the tour of the Maimonides. That she was giving them the tour personally spoke to some enthusiasm for the ship she was now in command of.

Colin was reminded somewhat of the HMS Beagle in a way. That particular survey vessel did double duty as a sloop of war and the UAS followed the UFP’s penchant for multi-role capability in a similar way. It couldn’t necessarily stand up to a proper warship, but it likely had other tricks if it wasn’t forced into a straight fight. But that, he realized, was just his own bias. The Earth Alliance didn’t have military science vessels at all. The explorers came close but their mission profile was all about expansion and exploitation.

Isaac was giddy for that same reason. Purpose built government run science ships were a foreign concept to the society in which he lived. There were a few science ships, but they were converted from Asimov-class liners and run by university consortia. Or IPX, but they were scientists only in the same way that televangelists were clergy.

“Captain, I’d like to thank you for giving us the tour personally. I can’t imagine anyone knows the ship better.” Isaac said grinning from ear to ear.

Nasira's grin nearly matched his. "I spent my first week aboard exploring every deck and section," she admitted. "From the nacelle chambers to the sensor pod. I never expected to get a command this early and I had a lot of excitement for the chance. Not every officer in the service would agree, I admit. There are those who find the concept of a cruiser dedicated to the science mission ridiculous." She led them around a corner. "In case you're wondering, the design was laid during the war with the Nazis. Command felt that a fleet of dedicated science cruisers would help with the war by releasing more of the star cruiser fleet for war duty, and they could be staffed by civilians and personnel rotated out of combat commands for time served. Even with the war over, the idea is still a good one. The star cruisers are multi-purpose ships, so freeing more of them for other missions is useful given how much they are needed. I experienced this first hand while I served on the Challenger as her First Officer. The demand for our presence was high, and we were often run as quickly as they dared."

“Hmm. Unfortunately my own government would agree with the detractors… but then, the Earth Alliance has always had short-sighted and small-minded people as leaders. ‘Business’ mindset, if you get what I mean. At best.”

Nasira nodded at that remark. "I had some of my peers, those who don't frown down on me for my background in the Facility anyway, advising me to turn down the command and put in more time in the star cruisers. But Admiral Ikamria was quite persuasive. And I'm confident I'll get my own star cruiser regardless of this posting."

As she spoke the telepaths sensed the determination behind the words. The chain of thought also led to worry: Nasira was thinking of Julia Andreys as well, whom she'd looked up to.

She’s alive Captain. Captain Dale has a connection with her, and I was in Fassbinder’s mind. He has plans. Robert is walking into a trap, but there’s a reason Fassbinder hates him… they’ll get out of it.

Then I will pray that God gives her strength.
"Here we are, gentlemen," she said, changing that subject. "This is the medbay."

The doors she brought them through led to the receiving ward of that facility. It was relatively quiet for the time of day. A pair of male nurses, one East Asian and the other a Dorei of dark blue complexion with purple spotting and hair, were running the triage desk. She waved them off and received nods in reply. "The facilities on the ship are expanded to accommodate an isolab," she explained to the guests. "In keeping with our purpose, this allows our medical staff some independent capability in analyzing unknown pathogens. A civilian specialist in xenovirology oversees the isolab under the Chief Medical Officer's oversight."

“Cool. Similar to the one on Babylon-5, though yours looks… much more advanced technologically. Had we only made contact a few years earlier the Markab would probably still be around.” Colin remarked.

“Shame what happened to them, though to an extent they brought it on themselves.” Isaac added. “They kept that outbreak so secret there were mere days to prevent their extinction.”

Nasira nodded. She'd heard of the fate of the Markab during the Challenger's first mission to E5B1.

Further discussion of that was put off as she led them into the Standard Care ward. There was only one patient present, a crewman who was recovering from a skull fracture during the recovery efforts on New Liberty. A figure in a green robe over a Stellar Navy uniform with blue medical branch trim walked over. She was between Colin and Max in age, although with no gray or white hairs. Her skin had a mocha tone to it, with chestnut-toned hair and bright blue eyes. The telepaths knew right away she was alien - her mind didn't feel quite Human - so it was easy to guess she was Gersallian. At the same time, they could also sense she was a telepath as well. "Everyone, this is Doctor Weyana, Chief Medical Officer of the Maimonides."

Colin instinctively slipped into his telepathic senses, almost like analyzing a gravity well. It wasn’t exact, not without an assessment, but he’d put her somewhere in the middle range as far as rating. “Hello Doctor.” Cousin he added mentally. He knew enough about the genetics of telepathy to know the genes controlling telepathic ability were the same. Somehow. That made her a cousin in a sense, albeit at a somewhat more distant remove than the Dilgar or Centauri telepaths. At that point, he looked at the mind of her patient. No evident brain damage from the fracture, though he was suffering the lingering effects of a concussion.

Yes. Thankfully the fracture was not a serious one, but I do not take chances with such injuries. Weyana nodded respectfully. And I accept the label of 'cousin'. "Doctor, a pleasure," she said aloud, extending her hand from familiarity with Human greeting customs. Her voice had the same lilting tone of the other Gersallians the guests had spoken with, although this accent was less thick, showing a greater capability for pronouncing English clearly. "I hope you are enjoying the tour of our vessel?"

“Immeasurably, thank you.” Colin replied, shaking her offered hand. “Though Isaac here, well… you can feel his mind.”

“I think he might be experiencing an overload right now…” Max joked, and Isaac shot him a look.

Weyana smiled gently, the kind of smile one could find described in solar terms in particularly metaphorical literature. "I sense some of the sentiment is derived from the name of the ship. I am aware of some of Maimonides' accomplishments from my studies of Human cultures. The distinction is deserved."

“I think he would be very pleased to have this ship named for him. He valued knowledge above all things, and viewed knowledge of G_d’s creation to be as close as we could get to knowing Him, though only in negative terms. We might not be able to know what G_d is, but we can know from examining His creation what He isn’t. For example male. That’s just a convenient pronoun, gender is meaningless.”

Weyana nodded in understanding and some agreement. "Knowledge brings with it blessings, and those blessings strengthen the Light."

Well aware that the result of the exchange could be a time-consuming theological debate, Nasira smiled at Weyana and said, "You are better suited to explain the function of the medbay than I, Doctor, if you can spare the time."

"Of course," was her reply. "I will show you the wards now, then there is our laboratory spaces, including our isolab."




The tour of the medbay and isolabs went by well. Dr. Henry Moore, a xenovirologist from Universe C5O2, demonstrated some of the advanced technology they had on hand for analyzing pathogens from newly-discovered planets and biosystems.

Nasira led them down one deck, to Deck 7, and led them along a central corridor from bow to stern, toward the former. They arrived at a door labeled "Science Lab 1 - Physical Sciences" and entered.

On the inside was a variety of workstations and tables, joined with sensor equipment. Three central holotanks allowed for large-scale displaying of simulations or holo-recordings of research findings. Currently one was open showing a valley on a rocky, barren-looking world. Rocks tumbled violently toward the bottom while a host of figures, humanoid and non-humanoid watched.

"The readings are clear," one of the attending, a Human, said. "The velocity is inconsistent with the mass of the objects and the gravity of Yan Teram III-B. There is another influence at work."

Another voice, female, spoke with quiet calm. "Neither do the readings confirm your theory of a localized gravitational increase, Doctor Picknell."

"Everyone," Nasira said aloud. That prompted the others to turn. Commander Ka was among the represented scientists, only one of which was in a Stellar Navy uniform. The others all had various civilian wear on, with the exception of a cyan-colored gum-drop shaped alien form, a Gl'mulli. "These are our guests." She introduced the trio to them.

As the ship's lead Science Officer, Treepk Ka took up introductions of the scientists. "This is Doctor Roy Picknell, the head of Science Lab 1, a geologist with sub specialties in xenogeophysics and meteorology. Doctor T'Rya of Vulcan" - Treepk now indicated the woman who'd been speaking, a Vulcan with tan-toned skin wearing a black robe - "heads Science Lab 2. She is an astrophysicist with doctorates in subspace physics and quantum mechanics. Dr. Tre'tan'pana is head of Science Lab 3, she is a zoologist with xenozoology specialization." The Gl'mulli's vocoder moved across the surface of her gelatinous form to face the three. A pleased trilling sound came from the device. "Lieutenant Kwame Mabogunje oversees Science Lab 4, he holds a doctorate in botany, and his senior assistant Doctor Kenna Lopez has a doctorate in microbiology." The two figures, an African man in the Stellar Navy uniform - with the secondary trim color being dark blue for science - and a bronze-toned woman in a white lab coat over a blue blouse, nodded. "Doctor Charles Talbot holds a degree in computer language science," she now indicated a man of mixed African and European ancestry, also in civilian wear, "and heads Science Lab 5. His senior assistant, Doctor Indira Vajpayee, is a xenoarchaeologist." This brought Treepk to a dark-eyed man who otherwise looked Human, save his eyes were not the right color tone to be Human. Colin and Max both sensed telepathic capability in the man. "And our science advisor from the Federation Science Council, Doctor Andrus Hagan, assigned as part of the scientific exchange and research assistance treaty we have with the United Federation of Planets."

“A pleasure to meet you all.” Colin said aloud, while thinking to Gene Did you catch that?

Of course I did. The test is an obvious one…


Max interjected by way of Colin, catching what Gene was referring to. Do they even have telekinetics? Probably a decent question to ask… Also, what the hell. Andrus Hagan looks really familiar. I suppose there are only so many ways to construct a humanoid face.

What do you mean?
Max asked.

He looks a hell of a lot like Welles. Yes, that one. Gene replied through his husband’s mind. Andrus felt the eyes of not two telepaths on him, but three. Now that they’d been alerted to it, none of them could escape nor would bother to hide the fact that he looked like someone all three of them found loathsome, but they didn’t project that antipathy toward him at all. It was just a curiosity. There was something else that Colin picked up. A wound in his mind that was starting to heal, a tell-tale sign of acute psychological trauma.

Are you okay? He asked. Tightbeam, so even Max wouldn’t know the subject matter.

Andrus's face shifted slightly, showing a small grin. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't, he projected back, with it the data that this was his first field assignment since the incident where his trauma was acquired. He was not forthcoming from that, although Colin did pick up the name Brittain and the context of it being a ship. The phrase "Tyken's Rift" came toward the end of the thought, subconsciously associated with the trauma.

Isaac on the other hand beat Colin to the verbal question with one of his own, about the basics of the experiment itself. “So if I’m hearing you properly, you have motions of objects under gravitation that aren’t acting in accordance with the laws of gravitation, and are postulating some external unknown force might be acting on them?”

Picknell nodded. "Exactly. The velocity of the rockslide is inconsistent with the mass of the rocks and the actual gravity of the moon in question."

"I have conceded as much," noted T'Rya wryly. "But you are postulating a gravitational anomaly that is inconsistent with observed scientific principles."

"And you have a better explanation?" Picknell asked pointedly.

"There is insufficient data to make a…"

“Forgive me.” Colin interjected. “I’m just a psychologist, but do you have telekinetics? Not people who have a connected swevyra but actual telekinetics in your telepath populations? We do, and they can actually see force vectors. If you could find one, you might be able to trace the source and confirm either technological intervention or some naturally occurring but unseen anomaly.”

"A question for Doctor Weyana, certainly, although I have never heard of Gersallian telekinetics beyond the practitioners of Swenya's Order," observed T'Rya.

“Wait, Colin is that why they tend to be crazy?” Isaac asked. He considered that sensory overload and simply not having a brain that was meant to perceive those things might be enough to make one unstable.

“Probably, yeah. Not all of them, Isidora is mostly sane, and then there’s Ashmeeta Vaswani, one of our architects… There’s at least a couple stable telekinetics on the Byron Free Colony. They’d likely help if you asked.”

Picknell smiled at that. "I'll send the request through to their government. It will be nice to finally get a solution that won't involve traveling to the far end of Dorei space."

“Glad to help. I’m sure they will be too. They fled the Earth Alliance so they wouldn’t be used but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to contribute on their own terms…”

“I noticed you have a very heavy emphasis on the biological sciences, I assume you work in tandem with your medbay frequently?” Isaac asked, completely unaware of the telepathic conversations.

"Yes. Dr. Moore's isolab is considered an adjunct of sorts to Lab 4," replied Dr. Mabogunje. His accent was West African. Nigerian, a couple of the visitors considered. "They specialize in pathogens, of course, and analyzing health risks to the crew or future colonists, while our lab's function is analysis of the biology itself."

“I figured,” the Rabbi nodded “but between the microbio, botany, and xenozoology, I can’t imagine you don’t have opportunities to discover things like new medications, even if you end up synthesizing them in replicators later. You have the potential here for a full discovery to clinical trial pipeline. Or is it more efficient, given your technology, to simply design medicinal interventions from scratch?” Rapid dissemination too, he considered. Probably at such a fast pace that there was no way their medical doctors could ever dream of being current, or fully integrating those advancements on any kind of scale.

"We can, if necessary, design treatments for pathogens," Dr. Lopez replied. "It's necessary should the crew become exposed to a virus or bacteria from an alien world. We only have so much capability for production, though. Short of such an emergency that we have to do the work ourselves, we usually forward findings on to the Alliance, and in turn the Stellar Navy relays those findings on to research teams to finalize everything for production."

“Ah. I suppose that follows. You have the capacity for emergencies, but it’s not necessarily an efficient use of your resources.”

"Exactly."

Treepk spoke up next, resuming her explanation. "Every Science Lab has its own particular range of fields. This Lab is Physical Sciences. Lab 2 is Astronomy and Cosmology. Lab 3 is Macrobiology, specifically fauna, and Lab 4 is Botany and Microbiology. Lab 5 is for analysis of artifacts, including any recovered pieces of advanced technology, and computer sciences."

“Interesting combination, that last.” Max remarked.

"Potential artifacts include pieces of computer technology," stated Doctor Vajpayee. Her accent was a rich Anglo-Indian. "So placing computer science with artifact discovery made the most sense when the layouts were considered."

"We are quite lonely in Lab 3," trilled Tre'tan'pana through her vocoder. "Technically speaking, botany is a macrobiological science as well. But plants do not typically require Level 3 forcefields if they are hostile."

"Unless they are Yoland's Man-Traps from Gamma Reticuli 4," joked Mabogunje.

"Indeed so!" agreed the Gl'mulli. By this point Colin couldn't help but notice the slight electromagnetic field shift whenever Tre'tan'pana spoke.

“Plus there are all the toxins.” Isaac replied “Oh sure the plants might not try to eat you, but the pollen can be deadly, and especially unpredictable with dextro amino acids…”

"Exactly. My Gl'mulli colleague just feels lonely sometimes," Lopez said in a teasing tone.

"I shall remember that the next time you come to ask my aid with one of your projects," retorted the gelatinous alien. The vocoder's electronic tone denied the voice the kind of nuance that one could use to show sarcasm or humor, but it was clear she was being teasing as well.

Colin tried to assess the electromagnetic fields to see what it was they did. A form of communication maybe?

It is, Andrus Hagan informed him mentally. Gl'mulli communicate with each other through electromagnetic fields. It is also how they see the world around them. They use the vocoders to translate their communication into spoken words, and vice versa. It also helps them to "see" life forms that their electromagnetic sensing has difficulty with.

Aaah
Colin replied I wonder if I could learn the language...

Uh oh. You’ve brought out his not-so-inner language nerd.
Max teased.

"We'll be waiting for you at each of our labs," stated Talbot. "For when the tour brings you our way." With that he and Dr. Vajpayee departed.

"While they go, allow me to show you around," said Picknell.




After time spent in Science Lab 1 (during which Nasira thought she would have to pry Picknell off of their guests with a crowbar) and a visit to the ship's gymnasium and a holodeck, Nasira led the three men into the drive hull section of the ship. The doors were further apart here and usually referred to machinery shops, storage spaces, or machinery access.

A lift ride down to Deck 15 and a minute of walking led to Main Engineering. Officers and crew here often had belts or vests for tools, all wearing black uniforms with beige branch trim. Main Engineering itself was two decks high and centered around a table with hard-light and touchscreen controls beside a large holo-viewer displaying a master system control display of the Maimonides. Along the walls were the boxy shapes of the ship's naqia reactors. Two of those reactors were tall enough to be on both decks. Two more sizable ones were on the lower deck about ten meters closer to the bow. Thick trunks of cabling ran through both while monitoring displays were watched over by engineering personnel.

Colin wondered about the use of naqia rather than Matter/Antimatter annihilation reactors he knew were common on Federation ships. Safety maybe? Given the amount of power these ships drew for everything from interuniversal drives to their weapons arrays and shields, it almost seemed to him that naqia wouldn’t be up to the task. But then, they did have multiple reactors. He decided to ask.

“Forgive me what might be a silly question, my civilization is still using stellarators; but given the power requirements of your ships, wouldn’t it be more efficient to use Antimatter?”

"I will allow my Chief Engineer to answer that," Nasira said, knowing he'd heard them.

At the central table, a Dorei man looked up. His skin was dark teal, with the spots along his hairline bright blue. His hair was a rich purple, his eyes a lighter shade of the same color.

"This is Lieutenant Tagiya sal Iktas," Nasira said by way of introduction.

To Colin and Max, Tagiya had the same low level sensitivity they'd felt in every other Dorei. And though his mind was alien, they felt the shadows of trauma on it.

After Nasira introduced them Tagiya nodded and spoke in an accent that sounded like a blend of Polynesian and Spanish accents. "To answer your question, Doctor, a single matter/anti-matter reactor is more efficient, but naqia is far safer as a reactor material, and naqia reactors are easier to maintain."

“Ah, I thought it might be something like that. Our intelligence indicates that UFP Galaxy-class starships have a tendency toward warp core destabilization, and when that happens…” He glyphed a mental image of a flash of light.

Tagiya grinned ruefully. "Yes. Starfleet has a legacy of over-engineering their ships on occasion. The Galaxy is a very sophisticated ship, and quite capable, but I would honestly find overseeing one's engineering department to be far too stressful. I'm sure Starfleet's engineers will sleep easier if their superiors finish a transition to naqia power.”

“I imagine overseeing their engineering department must be something like supervising an old soviet fission reactor, yes."

"Not all of their ships are so badly off. I'm told the Excelsior-class ships run like a dream, which is why the Federation has used them for so long." Tagiya gestured to his display. "As for this ship, we have two capital-scale naqia reactors and two regular scale ones, as well as three small-scale reactors to supplement the two fusion reactors we use for standard power. Emergency power is provided by ten backup batteries. Due to our reactor systems being newer we have a higher efficiency rating than the existing star cruisers, so in raw power capacity, the Maimonides is not far behind them at all. The power is useful given the array of sensors we carry that are not seen on normal star cruisers."

“So,” Max said “when someone in told you that you have guns armor and speed and you can only pick two; you decided to cheat. You threw enough energy at the problem that the conventions of naval engineering begged for death?”

"I suppose that if the designers had given us superior armament, that would be true," Tagiya answered.

"Among other things, the Maimonides and her sisters are compliant to the Alliance-Goa'uld treaty, allowing us to operate in the R4A1 universe," Nasira added. "Our ship isn't equipped with Darglan plasma weaponry, just phasers."

“Ah. Still the principle applies. Even you’re self-defense weapons are going to be formidable, relative to other ships of your role and tonnage. From what I’ve heard of the Goa’uld, I have to ask: why are they permitted to continue to exist? I’m not talking about genociding them directly of course, but they’re obligate parasites. Vector denial.”

"They also have more dreadnought-scale starships than most of the Multiverse put together with advanced technology equal, even superior, to the Darglan," Nasira said. "And a galaxy-scale faster-than-light hyperdrive we haven't matched yet. We don't have the power necessary to defeat them if they were provoked. Any conflict would probably result in our expulsion from that universe and the conquest and subjugation of R4A1 Earth and its six billion inhabitants, as a best case scenario." She needn't mention the worst-case scenario: the Goa'uld recovering the IU drive, just as the Nazis had done.

Colin nodded “Our intelligence on that universe is a bit lacking, given our lack of IU drives we’re reliant on second hand sources. We were under the impression that the Goa’uld were in decline and embroiled in factionalism between various System Lords but that could be old or a false impression.”

Considering the intelligence she'd been cleared to see on them, Nasira picked her answer carefully. "While they are in decline compared to the height our intelligence indicates they once held, they still have enough power to be such a threat, and nothing would end their factionalism like a common foe that threatens their superiority."

“So you maintain the status quo, which forces them to spread resources fighting each other and thus contains them. Do understand the things they do might be more… well taking someone over like that might be more existentially horrible for us than it is even to their current supply of victims. Though we might be able to fight back more effectively, none of us have ever tried.”

Isaac wasn’t able to follow the conversation, being a well-educated but still civilian rabbi. “What are Goa’uld?” he asked, trying to relieve that confusion.

Max handled that question “Quasi-immortal sapient brain parasites with a God-Complex. They use sapient beings as hosts and control them like meat puppets. They masquerade as deities using mostly-stolen technology to over-awe and enslave primitive peoples to act as a supply of soldiers and hosts.”

Nasira nodded. "And they destroy any civilization that becomes too advanced. The only reason the current treaty holds is because another species grants them concessions to leave us alone." Colin could hear the gentle song in her mind, a Coptic hymn sung in Arabic. She did not distrust them, but she couldn't risk letting sensitive intelligence leak into her surface thoughts.

Tagiya didn't need telepathy to see that Nasira wanted the conversation to change. "Well, if you would like, I will show you more of Engineering."

Isaac was left aghast at the very concept of the Goa’uld, especially when Colin glyphed him an image of the pyramid ships; but he set it aside and nodded “Please. I feel like I’ve been transported to a world of magic, but then there is that line from Arthur C. Clarke. What else does the engineering department handle?”

"We are primarily responsible for the ship's motive and power systems," Tagiya stated. "The reactors, the warp drive, the interuniversal jump drive, the navigational deflector… and other such systems linked to our mobility and power generation. If needed, we assist Ship Operations with other systems, everything from the sensors to the holodecks to the stoves used for the crew lounge. The line between our departments can occasionally blur, as ship repair is one of our secondary responsibilities. Flexibility is desired in an emergency situation. Now, these are our normal-scale naqia reactors…"

“Hmm.” Isaac considered the reactor. “Standardized designs and sizes for different outputs, I take it?” He was thinking of old fission reactors on Earth, where each one was a custom job. He was happy to see that lesson had been learned.

"Yes. They are meant to be brought up to full power as our ship's power needs demand…"




The tour continued on through the Science Labs. Dr. T'Rya's demonstration of Science Lab 2's capabilities amounted to a small lecture on the nature of astronomical sciences and the requirements for them, with a brief elaboration on the nature of subspace. In Science Lab 3 Tre'tan'pana delighted in discussing the native dextro-amino acid life forms of Isaac's current homeworld, stating a wish to compare their biochemistry to samples she had from Palaven, the Turian Homeworld. Mabogunje and Lopez provided samples for the three to examine through the delicate instruments of Lab 4, and in Lab 5 Dr. Talbot shared with them restored video clips from one of the Darglan databases recovered from a site in Darglan space. Dr. Vajpayee's main attraction, besides a certain look at Colin, was an artifact from Universe F8Y3 belonging to a species believed to be called the Vaht.

From there the tour continued toward the bow, showing off main deflector control and, further down, the ventral hull's Manual Astrogation station, with its transtanium flooring that made one feel as if they were standing over empty space. Nasira demonstrated the station's reversed gravity field, causing all four to flip around so they were standing on the "roof" of the station, before they departed. "There is also one attached to the main bridge," she informed them. "There are several such stations should the ship's sensors be completely disabled, allowing for manual astrogation in an emergency."

The tour ended at the bow of the ship and the Culinary Lab. By this point the party had been touring much of the day, and all were ready for a meal. Nasira joined them, assembling a platter that required no extra cooking time, preferring the immediate gratification of basic prepared items over something more elaborate and inventive.

“Captain, that was both informative and immensely enjoyable. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to show us your ship.” Colin thanked her, doing something similar with the food, in this case going for gyros. Max was eating some sort of Dorei-Indian Food fusion, and Isaac was sampling anything even vaguely kosheresque.

"You are welcome," she said. "I enjoyed showing her to you." She turned her attention to the pita in her hand and took a bite out. When she was done swallowing, she added, "And since we are still five days out from Teyan, I thought you would enjoy the chance to do something to pass the time." She looked to Isaac with slight amusement. "I was quite certain Rabbi Liebgott was already eager for just such a tour."

“Oh yesh,” he confirmed over a mouthful of something that smelled like pork, but wasn’t. Nasira thought it looked like Dorei kunam, which came from a buffalo-like creature from the Sindai continent.

Tell her I said thanks too.

“My husband Gene appreciated the tour as well.” Colin said “He didn’t catch all of it because he’s busy picking up the slack for my absence, but he’s been eavesdropping from time to time. He particularly appreciated the correction regarding the Goa’uld, and we’ll be changing our posture toward dealing with that universe appropriately.” The parasites might not have IU drives, but people who transited between universes did and if they’re strong there’s always a chance of infiltration.

"He is welcome as well." Nasira considered what it must be like, being constantly connected to your spouse's mind. To truly share souls. "I am very proud of my ship and crew," she added. "We finished a difficult mission to the Fracture in S0T5 just to find out about the attacks." Nasira's eyes betrayed her emotions even to Isaac. New Liberty was her home. Her family lived there, and many in her community after they left Egypt to get away from the militants who might target her and the others for getting away from their would-be converters and husbands. Her Uncle Ilyas was one of those known to have died, and her cousin Samih was among the missing, presumed dead.

Both telepaths caught that. In their home universe, the one good thing that could be said for the Earth Alliance was that violent religious conflict like that was over and done. Isaac reached across the table and offered her his hand if she wanted it, while the telepaths pretended like they didn’t know everything already.

Nasira accepted the hand in the spirit offered. "There are those who have had worse lives," she said, self-conscious about her thoughts. "I saw them during the war, after we liberated their worlds."

“People might have it worse, but everyone’s life is its own little universe, you don’t need to measure your own pain relative to others.” Isaac reminded her. “And saving that many… it’s a lot of universes saved.”

"It is," she agreed. "So, Rabbi, would I be right that my ship matches your expectations?"

He considered for a moment; he hadn’t really considered what his expectations were “I think so. If anything it exceeds them. I didn’t actually have a good context for what a science ship would look like.”

Nasira laughed lightly at that. "I felt much the same way. I began my career, as you might call it, as a bridge officer on the multi-mission Darglan scout ships the Facility used. And I use the term 'bridge officer' loosely. And in Alliance service I was in command training before I became First Officer of the Challenger, a Discovery-class star cruiser with another multi-mission profile. Commanding a ship dedicated to scientific missions is something new to me. I've been speaking with Dr. Hagan to learn more about how the Federation Starfleet's science ships operate, just to have a baseline."

Isaac chuckled “Even in our home universe, the Federation has something of a reputation. Technical competence combined with… ambition.”

“We’ve had some indirect dealings with them,” Colin clarified. “Mostly through the Ferengi.”

Nasira groaned. "Them. It is hard to believe such a culture can exist."

Colin laughed. “Oh, it’s maddening to us too. Indiri told us about the Rules of Acquisition; it’s amazing that they ever became spacefaring. However, they are excellent sources of intelligence and technology. They’re like the Narn, they’ll sell to anyone who can afford their prices and they’ll include technical specifications for a surcharge."

"Of that I am aware. Unfortunately, they do not care whom they sell anything to."

In response to that, Max simply shrugged. “One interstellar power’s headache is someone else’s reason for hope.”

“Even if there’s no hope of actually winning, it’s often all someone can do to stand up and say enough is enough. To tell the oppressor and the world that you are human beings. The Warsaw Ghetto taught us that…” Isaac added. He didn’t know the specifics, very few mundanes in their home universe did, but he knew there was a war coming. He knew what the badges recapitulated. In that moment he looked at the pins on Max and Colin’s chest, and they felt him cringe internally; not at them, but for them.

"My concern is not when they sell to those who need hope, but to those who are in the business of crushing that hope," Nasira elaborated. She was openly thinking about the Batarian Hegemony of M4P2. "Although that may vary by individual. Some of them must have something of a conscience."

“Quark kinda does.” Colin confirmed, catching that thought and nodding. Much of their personal arms and armor had come from that universe, it was of superb quality though they lagged behind in spaceborn weapons and defensive technology. Of course, then there was the Element Zero, which Sigma was experimenting with in vitro. “The bartender on Deep Space Nine was our contact with his weapons-dealer cousin. Surprisingly, he does screen the people he sends to that moon; though given what Indiri told us, his brother Rom might be more responsible for that than he is.”

Someone needs to give that one copies of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. He has potential. Max remarked privately, and both Colin and Gene chuckled.

Unaware of the telepathic conversation, Nasira focused on finishing the last bite of her food. A check of her omnitool confirmed the time. "I'm afraid I must be going now," she said. "I have a bridge watch to get to and the day's paperwork."

“Understood Captain, responsibilities of command and all that. I have… a great deal to catch up on as well.” Colin nodded.

“And once again, thank you for the tour, it’s been illuminating.” Isaac agreed.

Nasira gave him a friendly nod before heading off.
”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: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-27 10:37am

Two days later, Max, Colin, plus Gene’s mental presence were having breakfast while watching an ISN feed with a bowl of popcorn shared between them. Cynthia Torqueman was anchoring a broadcast on the Nazi attacks, her suit was immaculate and her blonde hair cut just below her ears.

The simultaneous attacks on New Liberty and Gersal by the Waffen-SS and allied forces underscores the fundamental weakness of the United Alliance of Systems.” The anchor said, before turning to a talking-head sitting across the table. “We’re joined by Dr. Edward Cumberland from the Earth Force Naval Staff College to discuss the reasons for this weakness and what it will mean for the Earth Alliance and our allies in the Interstellar Alliance going forward.” she took a pregnant pause “Dr. Cumberland?”

I think the lesson we need to take from this is that busybodies get the boot. The ISA is an economic and mutual defense alliance. It doesn’t stick its nose in where it’s not wanted. The United Alliance of Systems on the other hand does, with great enthusiasm. They have an interventionist foreign policy that spreads their military too thin to defend their own border from one of the very people’s they intervened against. It sticks its nose in anyway and they’ve just reaped what they’ve sown.

Max laughed instead of breaking out into rage, but the anchor, to her credit, looked properly aghast.

Doctor, these are Nazis, responsible for an entire galaxy of atrocity, surely if anyone needs to be stopped it’s them.

Oh I’m not disputing that!” he back-pedalled. “And if it were just the Reich, it wouldn’t be a problem. The United Alliance of Systems sticks its nose in everywhere. For even more comprehensive definitions of the term than we could imagine a few years ago, including in the Earth Alliance. It’s a symptom of a larger problem. They’re stretched thin on an operational tempo they can’t sustain, and as a result the last Holocaust survivors from the Nazi home universe were almost killed.

Speaking of that, there are reports coming off New Liberty that there were members of the Psi Corps present?

Yes, and we’re not exactly sure why. There are a few theories floating around but as usual the Psi Corps isn’t commenting. I don’t want to speculate, and EarthGov approved the trip, but theories among certain civilian commentators range from them clandestinely attending the summit being held there to a covert operation to mentally control the attendees and implant sleeper agents,” the professor replied. “I’m just a civilian, I don’t have the clearance for the real reason.

“Ah, well, as it happens we have someone on the line who was there and who might be able to shed some light on the situation on the ground there. Joining us by hyperlight comms is Rabbi Isaac Liebgott from the Omega VII colony. He’s currently being brought back on the appropriately named science vessel Maimonides.” She tapped a button on her desk and brought up the rabbi’s bearded face. “Thank you for joining us Rabbi Liebgott.”

“It’s a pleasure. Though I wish I had more prep time, I only got your request this morning.”

Shit. This is either going to go really well or be a complete and total clusterfuck. Gene thought at Colin, who relayed it to Max. Max in turn frowned.

He means well, but he’s over his head. Max replied, and set the popcorn down.

“Sorry about that.” and it was very evident that Cynthia was lying. “So what can you tell us about what happened? You’re currently traveling with two members of the Psi Corps…”

“Ah yes. Well I was attending a separate summit on interuniversal Judaism. You can imagine the different cultural histories can lead to some interesting divergences in Jewish thought. I was worried about my privacy so I put in a request for the Psi Corps to assign me a psionic bodyguard, which they did. However, given the issues they’ve been having with telepaths going rogue, they also assigned a Psi Cop to make sure Mr. Cohen didn’t defect and protect him from attack by rogue telepaths from the Free Colony.”

Both telepaths facepalmed, and Colin felt Gene hit his head into his desk.

Owe! I felt that.

Sorry it’s just… ugh. They’re gonna use that to play up the fact that we can’t deal with the rogue problem, and we can’t go on the record to correct it either. Great.
Gene grumbled.

“So what happened during the attack?” Cynthia pressed.

“Mr. Cohen, Dr. Meier, and Governor Golmar Kuhn of the Byron Free Colony saved all our lives, that’s what happened. They killed the Nazis attacking New Liberty’s Jewish Quarter and then went on to aid others including saving the planetary governor. Then they assisted in search and rescue efforts.”

Cynthia got a predatory gleam in her eye that from his facial expression, Isaac caught sight of and realized his mistake. “Wait, so you’re saying that members of the Psi Corps were meeting with the governor of the Byron Free Colony?

“Nothing like that.” Isaac replied, and he wasn’t even lying, he didn’t know that Colin had been meeting with the man. “Mr. Cohen was with me at the Judaism summit, Dr. Meier was nearby on overwatch. Mr. Kuhn was at the primary UAS summit and when the Nazis attacked he wasn’t about to let the Nazis butcher a bunch of Jews. They set their differences aside to combat a mutual enemy, that’s it.”

Cynthia seemed momentarily mollified by that, but her scheming face was plain for Colin to see. It was going to be spun. She just didn’t have what she needed to do it just then. “And you say they killed the Nazis? Were they armed?

“Well, no they weren’t; but they’re all trained combat-telepaths, they have to be for their jobs…” Isaac replied a bit nervously he knew where that was going and didn’t like it. She didn’t even need to spin that, all she had to do was let him say it to remind her viewers that telepaths could kill with their minds and thus water seeds of fear.

Rabbi, I have to ask as a follow up, what is your relationship with the Psi Corps? Your congregation on Omega VII had a reputation for being friendly with them before they withdrew from the planet. Is what you’re saying to us today colored in any way by your evident friendship with telepaths?

At that, Isaac’s eyes went hard and his spine straightened. The correct and simple answer under the circumstances was no. Colin knew it. Max knew it. Even Isaac knew it, but they also knew that Isaac couldn’t leave it at that. “They’re good people, Mrs. Torqueman. I’m a Jew. A Rabbi. I know what the badge we force them to wear is. I know what the Crawford-Tokash Act is. It’s Nuremberg all over again, and I will not sit here and let you use me to promulgate a blood libel against my friends and fan the flames of fear like you’re trying to do right now. This interview is over.” With that, he cut the connection and Cynthia looked directly into her main camera.

Well, that’s as good a time as any to cut to a message from our sponsors. This is Cynthia Torqueman and we’ve been discussing the attacks on New Liberty and Gersal. See you again in a few minutes.




Those same words played over the holo-monitor in Nasira's office while she and Philippe went over weekly status reports with the ship's top NCO, Master Chief Xuan Guo-Ling, a woman of sturdy build with dark brown hair and gray eyes. The reports were by department and Chief Xuan provided the lower decks' view of things. That she was more than twice the age of either of her superiors was not lost on any present.

The status reports were forgotten for the moment. The broadcast from ISN had been of interest if only because Commander Oparan had been behind the hyperlight comm link that made Isaac's role possible. Seeing the whole thing played out led to nothing but frowns. "It reminds me of the worst of state television and Western news," Nasira murmured after shutting the feed down.

"I have seen worse news sources in the Alliance," Chief Xuan remarked, her English accented slightly and in the fashion of a resident of New Kowloon. "Although they usually don't get preferential broadcast time on interstellar communications networks."

"That professor was offensive to any decent sense of right and wrong," Philippe added.

"He reminds me of a Tetzelian," Nasira noted. "They've made similar statements. Senator Pensley is known for them."

"Pensley is a naive fool," Philippe growled. "That man was trying to use the deaths of millions to score a political point."

"To craft a narrative," said Xuan. "I have seen it before. The people in charge want their citizens to think a certain way about us. If we are moralistic busybodies sticking our noses in, our protests against mistreatment of minorities can be dismissed more easily."

Nasira turned her attention back to the status report before her. "The cross-training with security, that started?"

"As soon as we left New Liberty, ma'am," Xuan said. "I've got every hand working with Lieutenant Manchester's teams during off-watch times, including off-shift hours. Everyone's getting two training periods a week, at least."

"Any complaints from the crew?" Philippe asked.

"None." Xuan's expression was severe. "Everyone saw the footage from Gersal and New Liberty, and many took part in the S&R and cleanup efforts in the Colony. The personnel know what is at stake, and why this training is necessary. If the worst comes, the crew of the Maimonides will be ready to fight."

Nasira nodded. A thought crossed her mind. "Chief, Commander, I want all officers to be assigned no less than two training periods a week during off-shift times. I don't want the enlisted personnel being the only ones cross-training to deal with boarding and anti-boarding missions. That goes for all of us. I'll take a Gamma Shift slot myself."

Xuan nodded. "The crewers will appreciate that, Captain. But you shouldn't overdo it. Take a Bravo Shift training slot, the crew will be fine with that. They know you've got their back and you need to be in top shape for other duties."

Nasira gave Chief Xuan a nod of acceptance. Conscious again of their age difference and the relevant experience gap, she said, "A good point, Chief. Your suggestion is accepted."

"I'll make the arrangements," said Philippe.

"Then we should move on to the issue of the department assignments," Xuan said. "These are the adjustments I made to accommodate the crew we transferred to the Aurora before we left…"




“God damn it.” Colin muttered to himself. “That could have been worse, I guess.” He was angry. He didn’t blame Isaac; Isaac was trying to do the right thing and defend them but ISN was the sort of environment where breathing could be spin-doctored. It took being in the room with one of their ‘journalists’ and actively using telepathy to even have a hope of dodging it.

“Oh it certainly could have been worse. They could have pegged to the fact that this is a military ship.” Max replied. “I think the concept of a military science ship is just foreign to them, but if they knew they’d call it a spy ship.”

Colin felt Gene’s horror before his husband said anything.

What is it? He asked.

The Fenrir just picked up a distress call from the PCV Zhang Qian. PCVs were civilian vessels, PCSs were military. Colin recognized the name as a civilian trade ship. The Civilians ships were hidden on paper but not physically, they had Earth Alliance issued transponders and rode the beacons like everyone else, which mean they could be hit in normal space while going from gate to gate. They’re carrying a trade delegation into Federation space by way of Teyan Station. The attacking ship matches the one that hit us at Tau Atrea.

What!? How? They wouldn’t know the ship had telepaths unless...
then he got it, and Gene confirmed it for him.

We have a leak, or someone susceptible to bribes figured it out. Either way, the usual tricks aren’t working. The Security contingent is reporting mind-voids in ship control positions. Best guess is that the flight crew are all Cybertroopers or similarly modified. And that meant only one thing. Aristos. They’ve boarded. Shit they’re subduing the crew.

Dead?

No. Fuck they’re using sleepers!
That clinched it in Colin’s mind, and Gene’s. The Eubians had help from within EarthGov. He didn’t need to say it, Gene was already typing out an order for the Bloodhounds to scrutinize the entire supply chain, but that didn’t solve the immediate problem which was that the delegation of four high-level members of Commercial Division as well as their support staff and the ship’s crew were in the hands of Eubian slavers. Astrid Bergsen and Indiri Singh among them.

After a few minutes of horrified silence Gene piped back up again. They’ve taken the ship and gone to hyperspace. Astrid managed to pull their planned course from one of the officer’s minds and send it before they got her. They’re headed your way, think you can intercept? We can’t get into whatever version of hyperspace they’re using.

I’ll talk to the Captain.
Colin replied and stood up. Looks like I’ll need to get into my luggage after all.




Nasira was working on the finalizing the reports Xuan and Philippe left her with when she was informed by Philippe of Colin's arrival on the bridge. Under regulations he was only supposed to come under her invitation, given his guest status, and he knew that. For him to ignore it… Nasira let out a silent prayer to all of the saints listening that this wasn't going to be as bad as she feared. "He can enter," she said over the intercom.

The door slid open moments later. Colin entered in full dress uniform, sans the rapier and sidearm but complete with aiguillettes.

“I apologize for the impertinence of my arrival on the bridge Captain, but a matter has come to my attention and I must, in my official capacity not as a Psi Cop within Metapol but as a Coordinator of the Psi Corps, formally ask for your assistance. One of our ships has been taken by Eubian slavers and their projected course puts them in the flight path of this ship. None of our ships has any hope of making an intercept.”

Nasira was standing by the time he was formally asking for assistance. By the time "slaver" came out of his mouth, her full attention was on him. Only when he was finished did she nod and say, "Of course", not bothering to hide the fury boiling within her, nor the memories. She'd seen slavery before, in the Facility days, on rescue teams dispatched to every corner of her Earth of origin, or the Earth of C1P2. As far as she was concerned, it was an infernally-designed blight on all beings. "This way."

Colin caught those memories, and while under normal circumstances he would offer words of empathy given his own experience, all he did was telepathically project emphatic agreement. The Aristos of the Eubian Concord were the worst he had ever seen, and it was the consensus of the entire Psi Corps that they be destroyed. Root and branch. He followed.

When Nasira exited her ready office, she kept her strides firm and constant. Not looking like she was rushing, not desperate, but urgent. "Commander, we have a situation," she said to Philippe. He wordlessly nodded and changed to his proper chair while she sat in her command chair and Colin, invited by a gesture, sat to her left. She turned to him. "Do you have course data? The kind of drive they were using?"

“I do. Universe S0T5 hyperdrive, and the course information...” He projected exact course information into Latamrilam’s mind.

The Gersallian Astrogator quickly entered the information into the computer and started calculating the course. Meanwhile Nasira asked aloud, "Computer, display information on main holo-viewer, all data on Eubians."

The holo-viewer displayed the information in text large enough to read. It was a basic profile of a polity called the Eubian Concord, ruled by an Emperor named Jaibriol III. An image showed a man in his late twenties, skin white as marble, dark hair, and carnelian red eyes not normal to most branches of Humanity, dressed in black finery above the shoulders. The universe was designated as A5R0. Complete trade sanctions, no trade from the Alliance allowed for the Concord's use of slavery.

It was the scope of that slavery that stunned her. The demographic data displayed put the population count at trillions of slaves, and an infinitesimally small number of non-slaves, not even ten thousand. How would that even work?

But that was it. Most of the remaining information was locked under a high level classification, one above her rating as a science cruiser captain. Whatever Defense Command was learning about them, she didn't need to know, apparently.

But she knew enough. They were slavers. And whatever they were, they had Colin wound up so tight he was almost a completely different person. And she thought she could see the faint glint of deep, despairing worry in his eyes.

He also didn’t give a damn about the classification levels, and he’d been inside one of their minds. “It works because their slaves have a hierarchy and get used to police those lower on the totem pole. Telepath slaves are both the lowest ranking and the most highly prized. They’re used for Transcendence. Tortured to provide intense gratification to their masters. The effect for them is like a mixture between drug induced euphoria and a prolonged orgasm. Just being around them is painful for us and they have mental defenses to boot. I’d have a hard time killing one that way, if I could do it at all.”

"In other words, if we fail to find that ship…" Philippe began, but stopped himself from continuing the distracted thought. "If they're using S0T5 hyperdrive, they're not going to show up on most subspace-based sensors, or even tachyon. But our best sensors should be able to detect their approximate location."

"The problem is that we don't know where they're going, or if they have friends waiting for them," Rodrigo said from Tactical. "And we can't intercept a ship in hyperspace. Even ships in hyperspace can't do it, not that band."

"As you can imagine, we’ve been trying to figure out a way to pull them out of hyperspace, but the Aristo whose mind we tore to pieces didn’t know how the drives work…”

"They probably bought the technology from the Solarians or Cevaucians," said Oparan.

Nasira noticed an intent look on Philippe's face. "Commander?"

"Forming an idea in my head," he said. He looked to Treepk. "Commander Treepk, do we have them on sensors?"

"No," was the reply. "I'm not detecting anything in that band. We're probably not in range yet."

"Astrogation, I want to see their course and ours."

Latamrilam obeyed. The data from Colin showed the origin point as far off, not quite at the edge of Earth space. "They probably used their band of hyperspace to slip through Earth's perimeter sensors," Philippe said. "Then laid in wait for an ambush. Probably cloaked, or using a major planetary body to mask themselves until their victim was in range."

Nasira nodded, but her attention was on the course data. At the moment they were two hours off the projected flight path of the ship, but many light years away. Far enough that it would take them over a day at warp to arrive at the origin point. "Helm, alter our course. Follow that track."

"Toward Earth Alliance space?" asked Latamrilam. "But we don't have clearance…"

"We'll stop before we're at the border, if we go that far. But I doubt it." Nasira turned her attention to Treepk and Philippe. "What is this idea, Commander?"

"S0T5 hyperdrives are sensitive to bodies of significant gravity in real space," Philippe said. "Stars, black holes. And since they can't change course once in hyperspace, any obstruction forces them to leave hyperspace to make a course correction."

"Ah, yes," chirped Treepk. Her beak opened slightly before closing, as she was in thought. "That is how we can do it."

"Because even the slightest course miscalculation can lead to a ship plowing into a star, ships with that form of hyperdrive have emergency shutdown systems," Philippe said, grinning. "Just in case they detect a mass shadow in their path. The ship will override all piloting control and forcefully drop from hyperspace. It can take time for a ship to then correct and make a hyperspace jump, time in which we can intercept."

"You're talking about making a mass shadow," Tasina said from her engineering station. "But how to make one that big?"

"That, I will need assistance with," Philippe said. He looked to Nasira. "Captain, with your permission, I would like to go to Science Lab 2 with Commander Ka, Lieutenant T'Seris, and Lieutenant Iktas. We'll need to discuss this with Doctor T'Rya and her staff."

Nasira didn't hesitate. "You're relieved, Commander. Keep me updated." She tapped the intercom key on her chair. "Bridge to Security. Lieutenant Manchester?"

"Captain?" The woman's voice was one that Colin thought close to Gene's, indicating the speaker was from the Pacific Northwest, or at least a space colony populated by people from that region.

"I want all of your teams ready for a boarding action. It will be a rescue mission."

"Roger that. I'll get my people ready," was the reply.

“I’ll be joining them. They’ll be facing Coserian Cybertroopers; with line of sight I can blow out their implants.” Colin informed her tightly. “I will of course follow tactical commands.” he added to the end.

"Thank you. We don't have Marines, and only a small security contingent," Nasira said. "We'll probably be assigning some of the standard crew to support the boarding parties."

“What I wouldn’t give for a platoon of my marines right now…” Colin verbally wished.

Nasira grinned at that. "You read my mind, Coordinator Meier. Although you forgot the star cruiser."

“Only one? Captain, let me tell you, if we ever find ourselves in a position to wage it against the Eubian Concord, the Multiverse will learn a whole new meaning of the word Jihad.”

She gave him a sardonic look. "You're aware my ancestors didn't have the best experience with those, correct?"

“I am aware. That’s why it’s a new meaning, not the old one. Besides, there isn’t really another word that fits.”

Nasira smiled thinly at that and said nothing else. Nearby an Ensign in the science department took over the science/sensor post from Treepk, who joined Philippe and Tasina in departing the bridge.

Colin was in distant conversation with his husband. I’m with you Colin. I don’t think we can chain together a gestalt at this range though, so it’ll just be us.

Thanks babe. We’ve got this. I hope. I wish I’d brought the EMP grenades but memory was limited.

True… on the other hand, you won’t be going into a boarding action in your dress blacks. I’ll take that over grenades.

Point.





Word spread quickly through the ship on the reason for their diversion. While the Maimonides only went to standby alert, not even Code Yellow alert, a raw tension built in the crew at the prospect of upcoming combat. It was, in a way, welcome, given what was seen at New Liberty.

Hours passed, during which every department prepared for what may come. Security triple-checked the ship's armory and made sure everyone had the necessary tools for a boarding action. Lieutenant Manchester was preparing her people for the unexpected mission to come. In Engineering the personnel prepared for imminent combat by checking all of the ship's reactors and the drives, while damage control teams inspected the forcefield and emergency bulkhead systems to deal with any hull breaches.

And all the while, caffeine of various kinds poured into Science Lab 2, where Philippe and the ship's top science and engineering minds debated if they could even pull this off.

Nasira finished updating Admiral Ikamria over IU comms and watched as the teal-skinned, blue-spotted Dorei woman disappeared from her monitor. She had Ikamria's blessings, but little else. The fleet was tied down on other missions and defense of key worlds following the attacks. For the moment, there would be no ships jumping in to aid the Maimonides if they successfully managed the intercept.

She was already considering what she would ask Rodrigo about their tactical options when she received a call from the bridge. Commander Oparan's voice was terse. "Captain, we have a hyperspace signature on long range sensors. Course and speed are a match for our target."

Nasira nodded despite being alone. "Match their course and keep us ahead of them. We need to buy the others time to figure out how we're going to make this work."

"Yes Captain."

With that done, Nasira had nothing left to do but the most responsible thing. She pulled off her uniform jacket, set it on the hanger on the wall, and laid on the couch in her ready office to catch some sleep.




At that same time, the ship's main conference room was the domain of the security staff. At twenty-two officers and crew, the staff was smaller than standard for a ship of this size, but with the emphasis on the science mission and the fleet's desire to reserve trained security personnel for ships more likely to need them, that was no surprise.

For the first time Colin and Max met Wendy. To Colin she seemed like a piece of whipcord, thin but not weak. She quickly invited him to join her and her second. Tasandi, like all Dorei, had a slight psionic aura to him, but only slight; his species were only touch-empaths unless they had metaphysical gifts.

Colin looked at them, and realized that when dealing with cybertroopers, there were exactly two ways to make it go smooth. Psi Corps marines, or someone with a lightsaber. They were nasty customers and in tight confines, none of these people could afford to let them get within melee range the way he or Robert could.

“Alright, gentlebeings.” Colin started his own briefing, having fought cybertroopers before. “We’re going to be looking at a mix of normal human crew and Coserian Cybertroopers. Leave the humans to me. I can take them out before any of them ever fire a shot. What I need you to do is focus overwhelming firepower on any Cybertrooper you see. This is not a time for taking prisoners or using a stun setting. They’re heavily armored and don’t feel pain. You need to kill them as quickly as possible, so bring extra power packs or whatever you use for energy weapons and set them to as near maximum power as possible. Better yet use armor piercing slug thrower rounds. Personal shields can take their energy weapons, but you do not want to let them close into melee range with you. Ever.” He glyphed everyone in the room a mental image of the grisly results.

"It matches what I have seen of them in our records," said Tasandi. "We have the replicator patterns for Systems Alliance-made Crusader shotguns, we'll be issuing them as backup weapons to every member of the team. In the confined space the cybertroopers will be less able to dodge fire, so they will likely charge us. Be ready."

“I can slow them down, even kill them with my mind, but it takes some effort and concentration. Once I’ve dealt with the normies, I’ll spare as much attention to keeping them off you as I can.” By which he meant engaging them in close quarters battle with Gene’s help. “Please try not to shoot me. Ultimately, our objective is to locate and rescue the crew and passengers of a Psi Corps ship, the PCV Zhang Qian. A total of least thirty telepaths are on board, some of them are combat trained and once freed can easily assist in their own extraction. The rest have varying degrees of self-defense training. We’ll need to administer the counter-agent for sleepers. I can program it into the ship’s replicators…”

“There’s no need,” Wendy interjected. “Every replicator in the Alliance has the formula.”

Colin gave her a look that turned into a bemused smirk. “Ah. So that did get leaked. Good.”

A Human male, tan-skinned, raised a hand. "What will our boarding method be? Are we beaming in or going by shuttle?"

"Beaming is the most likely," Wendy answered. "There's no guarantee we can safely launch by shuttle. But be on standby for either choice." She checked the time. "Go grab some rack time while you can, everyone. You're all dismissed."




The severity of the situation was clear by the choice of stimulant drink now abounding in Science Lab 2, with most of the attending holding steaming mugs of raktajino. The Klingon answer to coffee was bitter beyond reckoning, a key component to how it kept the imbiber awake.

One of the lab's main holotank displays now showed the profile of real space from the perspective of a ship in hyperspace, particularly how astronomical mass objects were seen. T'Rya was responsible for the display, with the input of one of her subordinates, Dr. Yatasenran, a Gersallian man of dark brown complexion and close-cut brown hair. Yatasenran held a doctorate in subspace physics, much like T'Rya, but his field of study was in methods of superluminal propulsion, and he had the most knowledge on the hyperspace in question of anyone present.

Treepk whistled lowly, a particular tone to it from the sound going through her dark orange-hued beak. "Simulating such a thing with just our ship will be a challenge."

"Challenge?" Tagiya snorted. "I'm not sure where to even begin. Generating that kind of gravity field would require literally astronomical amounts of energy or mass. Or both."

"Indeed," T'Rya agreed. "It is a most difficult conundrum. In other circumstances I would dismiss the idea of trying such a thing. But the stakes you have communicated require the greatest measure." She analyzed the data quietly. "A subspace field could disrupt hyperspace locally, forcing the vessel to shift back to normal space."

"Hyperspace bands like this are more resilient to subspace field shifting than you might expect," said Yatasenran. "I'm not sure this vessel has the power needed to generate a sufficient field, nor can we be sure it would work."

"Trial and error is a part of any scientific endeavor. Circumstances aside, this is precisely what we are engaged in."

Philippe shook his head. "You're both right. Trial and error is part of this, but we don't have the time to try everything. We may only get one shot at this."

"Could we trick their guidance systems?" Tasina proposed. "Make them think they're on the wrong course?"

"No. Not without someone already on board."

"A biotic field," the Asari said. "We use one to increase the mass of… no, we don't have nearly eezo on hand to do that."

Treepk gave a thoughtful look to T'Rya. "What if we were to only fool their sensors?"

T'Rya gave the Alakin science officer a curious expression. "In what way are you meaning?"

"We create a subspace signature that their scanners will mistake as a mass shadow," Treepk suggested.

Philippe nodded in understanding. "Right. A strong enough subspace field would cause an effect in hyperspace. If the field includes gravitons, it might just fool their safety systems into thinking it's a mass shadow."

"Creating that kind of field will still require a lot of power." Tagiya started tapping at a secondary console, causing mathematical formulae to run. "And the only mechanism we have that could accomplish it is our warp drive. We could end up overloading the nacelles."

"It would take time to restore warp, then," Tasina said. "But if we have teams ready with replacement parts for the projectors…"

"An hour, two, maybe three if many systems go down," Tagiya said. "Doctors?"

Yatasenran considered the idea intently. T'Rya nodded. "The theory is sound, and you clearly have an idea on how to accomplish the effect," the Vulcan woman remarked calmly. "I cannot guarantee your ship can generate the necessary field, or that their systems will register the result as a mass shadow."

"It would certainly show up on sensors in that band of hyperspace, I can promise you that," Yatasenran added. "The graviton element should give it the characteristics of a mass shadow. But I can't promise anything either."

"The timing will have to be exact," T'Rya said. "Generating it too early will give the opposing crew time to override the safety protocol, should they realize what you are up to."

"And generating too late won't trigger anything at all," Treepk agreed.

"We can't keep the drive hot forever," said Tagiya. I'd say you'll have about five seconds before we have to emit the field or blow out the entire warp system, which will take quite a bit longer to fix."

"But this is our only option, so we must try," said Philippe.

"We could simply follow and wait to see where they come out of hyperspace," Yatasenran suggested. "I mean, they might have a rendezvous point they're scheduled to meet, maybe if they're first…"

Before the suggestion could be completed, a tone came from the ship's intercom. "Bridge to Science Lab 2," said an accented voice, Commander Oparan's to be precise. "What do you have for us?"

"We may have something," Philippe said. "But we won't know until we try it."

"I'll tell Captain Fanous. Be ready to enact it, we're going to be cutting it close."

"Oh?" Philippe shared uncertain looks with the others. "What are you saying?"

"We've picked up another signature on long range sensors. Another ship in hyperspace moving to meet our target. And it's a big one. Possibly a full-sized star cruiser. If we don't intercept within two hours, we're going to be facing two enemy ships, not one."

"Then it appears there is only one logical course," said T'Rya. "We must attempt the graviton field."

"Agreed," said Philippe. He looked to the engineers. "Make the preparations. I will speak with Captain Fanous."




Nasira made the decision without a moment's hesitation, and the order was promptly given. Across the ship the engineers sprung into action. The parts were secured from storage to rapidly restore warp function. Security was assembled at the transporter stations for a rapid beaming deployment, while every shuttle and the two runabouts were manned as a backup for deployment or extraction.

At the ten minute mark, Nasira gave the next order. Klaxons sounded across the ship, sending the crew to battle stations, and the civilian staff to their protected sections for the duration of the emergency.

Now the final countdown was coming. On the Bridge and in Main Engineering, the engineering and science teams had the clocks synchronized and set. The marks at which power would be pushed to full, at which the ship's tractor beam systems would be activated, and at which the field itself would be activated. The timing was to the second, less than that. It would have to be.

In her command chair, harness now criss-crossing her chest to hold her safely in place, Nasira prayed to every saint she could think of to intercede for them and for their cause.

"Time to target is one minute," Philippe said from his seat beside her. "All systems are ready."

"Swenya's Light, I hope this works," Latamrilam said from the helm.




In Transporter Station 1, Wendy gave Colin a knowing look. She knew he could sense the pre-battle tension inside of her. The instinctive fear, the uncertainty over the outcome, the certainty that she was likely to see some of her people killed even if she lived through it, and the determination to get the job done regardless. Just like on Germania.

Colin was nervous too. She might see some of the people killed, but when it happened he’d feel it. He’d feel their enemies die too. It was something he’d gotten used to over the years. The mind-screams, the open-shut sensation of someone’s mind departing the mortal coil; but he never liked it. He also knew how to anchor a formation of men and women who were as sensitive to that as he was. So he returned that look with a nod visible through the Systems Alliance issue heavy armor he wore - in black and copper of course- and projected the same sense of calming reassurance he did with his own troops. He still wasn’t entirely used to the idea of actually having troops.

Two more teams stood off the pad, ready to jump up and be transported over. Among them were four non-security personnel pressed into the boarding teams, representing the best of those still cross-training. And they all felt it. And all appreciated it.

They weren't the only ones facing these thoughts, of course. From every transporter on the ship, forty people would be going over in total, to ensure they got to their target, and more coming if absolutely necessary.

And every one of them felt fear. And every one of them knew the stakes, and was ready to face that fear, and their mortality, to save the captives from the horrifying fate awaiting them in Eubian space. For many of them, this was what they'd signed up for, and for the others, it was part of the job, and they held pride in doing that job, whatever ship they were on.




On the bridge monitor, the icon representing their target blinked closer to the location of the Maimonides… as did the other icon, the ship coming out to meet their target. Was it a rendezvous already arranged? Or had the slavers detected the Maimonides and sent reinforcements just in case they managed an intercept?

These thoughts filled Nasira in the final moments before everything kicked into gear. Then her attention was solely on the mission.

"Engineering reports full power to warp systems, standing by for field generation," Tasina said from her station.

"Graviton relay completed, channeling gravitons into the field emitters in the nacelles," added Oparan.

"Phasers are on standby, capacitors charged," Rodrigo said from tactical. "Torpedo launchers loaded." He alone turned back to look at Nasira. "I've got my firing plan ready."

Nasira knew what he meant, and nodded. "As soon as we drag them out of hyperspace, let them have it."

The time those remarks took brought them to the final five seconds. Treepk was the one to maintain the countdown to field generation, and she did so with a quiet calm.

One moment the Maimonides was sitting quiet in space, her nacelles still in optimum warp field configuration. The next moment the nacelles surged with light, as if the ship were going back to warp. But it didn't move. The field simply held for a second or two, at which time it promptly collapsed.

For a brief moment Nasira feared it'd been all for nothing, that all they'd accomplished was knocking out their own warp systems.

Then there was a flash of light on the holo-viewer, and a ship seemed to appear from nowhere in a blink-and-you'll-miss it blur that ended with it stopped before them.

No, not one ship. Two, with a smaller, long vessel caught in a claw suspended from the belly of the larger.

"Firing!" Rodrigo cried out, his fingers already hitting the firing keys for both of his weapon systems.

For the first time the Starship Maimonides fired her weapons in anger, and not in the manner expected, for she was not defending herself from aggression, but defending others. Amber light cut into the other ship like a series of scalpels, slicing through partially-armored hull to disable power conduits and other systems within. The biggest beam cut cleanly through one of the big visible cannon turrets built into the "chin" of the opposing ship.

At the same moment the phasers began slicing into their foe, the Maimonides' forward torpedo launcher fired a full spread. Six blue-white sparks of light, representing the drive fields propelling the naqia-enhanced warheads of the torpedoes, raced through the thousands of kilometers of space between the two ships. They struck home on the belly of the ship. Two were "misses", in that they hit well forward of what Rodrigo was aiming at. Another was a complete miss, flying off into space beyond.

Three hit home, slamming into the claw, and utterly devastating it.

The blasts bathed the captive Zhan Qian in energy. There was no atmosphere to generate a blast wave, but the particle waves sent off by the warheads nevertheless transferred raw force to the Psi Corps transport, pushing it away from its captor and the mangled claw that once held it prisoner.

Nasira was so focused on the fire, and its effects, that she didn't immediately acknowledge Oparan when he called out, "Beaming now!" The ship's four transporter stations went into action, each sending a team of six people to the Zhang Qian. The moment those people finished beaming, the next group came up and did the same.

The third team was beaming over when the element of surprise began to fade. Whoever was manning the tactical or gunnery station on the slaver cruiser reacted. A deflector shield went up around the ship, stopping Rodrigo's strikes from continuing to cut the ship up. Said deflectors were not wide enough to block the Zhang Qian, so the team made it over, but they were quickly followed up with a burst of plasma fire at the relatively-stationary Maimonides.

Rodrigo was raising shields, but the first plasma pulse got through first, crashing into the Maimonides' bow at Deck 3. The ship's hull was not equipped with self-repair systems, nor with the higher quality armoring that a full star cruiser would enjoy, and it could not stop the blast from blowing open a hole in the hull. The entire ship shuddered at its wound and the strain of the other shots against the Maimonides' deflectors. On the bridge Oparan gave the report on the damage. "Hull breach on Deck 3, Section A. Shields down to eighty percent."

"Evasive maneuvers, Plan Echo!" Nasira ordered, and Latamrilam sent the Maimonides into a high-powered turn and maneuver away from the slaver ship with as great an acceleration as the ship's impulsors could manage.

"Maintaining firing pattern," Rodrigo said, his phasers now producing nothing but the flaring of ruby energy from the other ship.

"Captain, that ship's shielding… it's not Coserian or Cevaucian as expected," Treepk said. "The energy pattern is consistent with Reich shield technology."

"File that for transmission to Portland, and keep an eye on that incoming ship!" Nasira cried out. Good luck, Wendy, Dr. Meier, she thought. It's up to you now, and to the grace of God.
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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-28 11:46am

The teams arrived on the Zhang Qian without incident. Immediately their systems confirmed an agent was in the atmosphere, and their helmet HUDs identified it as sleepers. "They're circulating it into the atmosphere of the ship," noted Tasandi.

Colin felt Gene’s mind in his own, and anyone who looked into his eyes would note that the irises were gone, his pupils dilated to saucers as he reached out to feel for other sapient minds. He had a carnifex pistol in his left hand, a rapier sheathed in energy from his omnitool in his right. For all the technology this whole thing is very Royal Navy circa 1815, he remarked to Gene.

What I wouldn’t give to see you in a bicorne and epaulettes

Their conversation was interrupted by Wendy. "Coordinator, will the counter-agent work with the sleepers in the atmosphere? Or do we need to get your people a clean air supply?"

“The counter-agent is a cocktail. It does a few things, but a main component is a set of enzymes that break down Sleepers. The reaction is catalytic. It’ll keep working for a while.” He was on his own canned air supply, thank heavens. The metabolites were not easy on the kidneys, but that was a fixable problem. It would likely hurt to pee. “Might need to increase the dose though, given saturation.”

Gene, when we finish up here, we need to hunt down whoever figured out how to aerosolize sleepers and kill them.

Yeah. And not the easy way either. I’m thinking we attach a suicide note and defenestrate them from an upper floor of the Burj Khalifa.


"Do we have a fix on where they're keeping everyone?" Tasandi asked.

One of the security personnel was already consulting an omnitool. But it was Colin who answered first.

“Yeah. They basically locked everyone in the cargo hold. This ship does double duty as a passenger liner and light freighter. They took the cabins for their prize crew.” Colin replied, sensing a concentration of dull and listless but terrified minds from the lower deck. “This way.” He lead them forward toward the main passage to the lower decks.

"Alright people, just as we trained," Wendy called out, lifting her pulse rifle into ready position. Tasandi did the same; both had Crusader shotguns affixed to a shoulder. Tasandi also had a curved blade with a pointed tip, a turakan, on his hip, a blade from his home nation he was trained in and considered his second back-up for CQB. She led the lead team with Colin while Tasandi oversaw the rearguard.

The team moved through the ship with a flow. The lead team led the way, covering other directions as they went, and another team would take up a defensive position there while the others moved on. The rearguard team would then cover them in moving on. This allowed the team to move swiftly through the ship's corridors and through the downward passage to the lower decks.

Their arrival to the lower decks was where contact was first made. Coserian cybertroopers, covered in combat suits and electronics that obscured their ash-gray, scaled forms, blue and yellow eyes staring dully ahead, and Humans in breathing helmets opened fire at the doorway just as one of Wendy's people, Security Officer Danton, stepped up to sweep. A couple of shots struck his forcefield as he fell back. "Multiple hostiles," he reported. "Human and Coserian."

Colin and Gene worked together to overcome the lack of vision on their enemies, reaching out with their collective consciousness to attack the minds of the human crew. It was an old and familiar attack probe for Colin, one he could almost perform in his sleep. Into the preoptic hypothalamus to force them to sleep, then into the DRG of the medulla where he shut down the neurons responsible for signalling inhalation. Five of them hit the deck and started to asphyxiate while dreaming peacefully.

The non-telepaths from the Maimonides might have had a moment of terror at the realization he could do that, but Colin's attack was quickly ignored in favor of the far greater threat of the Coserians. Their tactical sensors quickly informed them that the Coserians were charging, looking to get into melee range and carve up their non-augmented foes. "Fire!" Wendy called out, and her pulse rifle barked white-blue sparks along with the others just as the first Coserian got to the door. It had no room to maneuver, but its protective field did absorb the first shots, giving it a moment to target Danton. Its targeting program identified him as the preferred target as the one with the weakest shield, and thus the one who would go down the quickest. Thick bolts of blue light slammed into Danton's faltering shield while he fired back.

With the entire vanguard team's guns on one target, the cybertrooper's shields degraded quickly, its own shots wide as Colin's mind grabbed at what it could, redirecting nerve impulses sent to the arms to throw the trooper's aim off. The pulse rifle fire began to blast the creature apart.

But even as it went down, another was coming through, and this one wasn't interested in shooting anything. WIth inhuman speed it vaulted its faltering ally and went for Danton. He cried out in surprise and tried to fall back to the wall, but he simply wasn't fast enough. A memory metal blade formed on the creature's left wrist and shot forward. There was a momentary sound from his combat armor as it tried, and failed, to resist the stab, at which point the blade cut through into his throat. His jugular and carotid were severed instantly and he fell back to the ground.

"Shotguns!" Wendy called out, but Colin beat her and the others to it with his weapon. Its’ shields were attuned to energy weapons so he slipped behind it and leveled his carnifex at the back if its head. The hypervelocity round penetrated its armor and fragmented inside it’s skull, blowing out a spray of blood and electronic components back out the entrance wound. There was no mindscream from it, only the open-shut sensation of what was left of its original soul leaving its body. From Danton though, there was both. Colin p’heard a high-pitched shriek in his mind as Danton’s mind grasped at the last vestiges of existence, and then the door opened and he was pulled kicking and screaming into the Beyond.

Everyone was ready for a third cybertrooper, but none came. Wendy personally went to the door, shotgun raised and ready, and found only Human bodies laid out. For the first time she did feel a little creeped out, as she saw all but a couple had small smiles on their dead faces, as if they'd died happy. "Damn," she said aloud, but nothing more. She felt responsible for Danton. She should have immediately ordered a switch to shotguns. "Forget the rifles," she said over the tac-comm. "These things' shields are attuned for directed energy. We're going on shotguns only until they're all dead."

"Roger," Tasandi said from further back, and up. Bayer and the other team leaders affirmed the order as well.

The limits of telepathy were so nebulous and conceptual, Colin mused; like he did whenever he was struck by his ability to transcend what he was always taught. Right then he could feel the general location of other minds, but couldn't resolve them enough to simply kill every human slaver on the ship. Yet he'd been able to attack without line of sight before at longer ranges. Maybe the materials mattered? Maybe it was because mundanes minds weren't as obvious? He wasn't sure. He didn't feel any guilt for killing them like that; he was going to kill them anyway and compared to how he could have, how he wanted to, he'd been outright merciful. He just thought it interesting that he couldn't extend his reach farther than the next corridor.

"Where to?" Wendy asked Colin.

“Left hand hallway, that’ll take us to the hold.”

"Right. Everyone, keep moving!" The lead team continued their way down, their compatriots coming up to find the results of the battle, including their deceased comrade.




Emerald bolts filled the space near the Zhang Qian as the vessel's former captor directed its frustrated fury on the Starship Maimonides. The Alliance science vessel was, like any ship with Darglan-tech impulsor drives, nimble for its size, allowing it to evade much of the incoming fire. On the ship's bridge the crew kept to their individual duties in the situation. "Shields are at sixty-three percent," Oparan said.

Nasira acknowledged with a nod. Buying time for the boarding team was one part of their job. Staying alive to extract everyone was the other part. "Evasive Plan Foxtrot, engage… now!"

At that command Latamrilam sent the Maimonides into a sharp "downward" turn, then just as quickly zigged in the other direction to throw off enemy targeting. As he brought the ship to the end of the maneuver, it also put them into a facing position for the slaver ship's exposed bow section.

"Firing!" Rodrigo reported.

While the ship's phasers had been steadily plinking away at the slaver ship's shields, now every available phaser bank and array lit up with amber energy. The shields of the ship flickered ruby red in resistance, a resistance that was clearly failing.

Then the torpedoes fired. They arrived as the phaser barrage brought the weakened bow section's shields to the brink of collapse, and finished the job. The first torpedo did that, and the three following torpedoes smashed into the weakened armor hull of the ship. Explosions flowered over the resulting breaches in the hull, forming plumes of gas and debris claimed by the vacuum of space. Rodrigo poured more phaser fire into those wounds, exacerbating them.

"The enemy vessel's power systems are failing," Treepk stated. "They just lost a shield generator… Captain, the incoming hyperspace signature has accelerated."

That was definitely not what Nasira wanted to hear. "How soon, then?"

"Half an hour, at most."

"Then we will do what we can to finish this foe off before they arrive," she replied, "and trust our boarding teams to accomplish their mission."




The lead team was nearing the hold and Wendy was becoming deeply suspicious. At this point the lack of contact meant one thing to her: the slaver crew was getting sneaky. They were going to throw a heavy attack at some point, and the mission and their lives depended on the attack not being a surprise. Colin was acting like an AWACS, but he couldn’t easily sense Cybertroopers, they didn’t have much in the way of conscious thought that got projected across space, and on a ship, there was too much interference from all the other electronics to pick up the cybernetics. Instead, he focused on finding the clear minds of people not affected by sleepers.

The ship's mixed layout - passengers and cargo transport - resulted in access to the hold leading through the galley area. The moment Wendy saw it, she didn't like it. Multiple access points meant multiple approaches for an ambush. She checked her omnitool's sensors, but they were giving no returns. Given the earlier battle, their foes were wearing sensor dampening suits of some sort.

“Yeah, they are.” Colin replied to the thought. “They’re using all the other approaches as kill-zones, this is the only viable path, and the fastest. They’re counting on us thinking that the direct path is a trap. I don’t think they’ve pegged to the fact that they have a gestalted pair of P12s on the ship...”

"Then we use that," Wendy suggested. "Pick the direction they're going to hit the hardest, and I'll give you some people to hit back with. You'll be catching them by surprise instead."

“That works for me.” Colin grinned and winked “Their regular troops won’t even know what hit them.”

With Tasandi's team watching where they came from, Wendy picked two to go with Colin, giving him over a dozen shotguns to deal with any cybertroopers. He led them to the accessway leading to the central passageway of the ship. Another team, under Bayer, would be watching the other side. Wendy led the last team forward with her toward the direction they needed to go.

The enemy trap swung into action as expected. From all sides mixed units of Human crew and cybertroopers moved in on the galley… and ran into a barrage of Crusader shotguns and a couple of pulse rifles blazing away.

As expected, the attack was heaviest on Colin's front. There human crew set up a base of fire down the central corridor, there was no cover on either side, no doors. That space was taken up lower-deck cabin space and the central hallway leading to the hold was the back wall of those spaces. They poured pulse gun fire down the space as soon as anything moved.

Okay, this is going to be fun. When we advance out, the cybertroopers will charge us. Colin informed the men and women under his command through a direct telepathic connection. He wasn’t bothering to speak because the enemy might overhear. Just think at me. He told them as a follow up, and glyphed them all the layout he was seeing through one of the slaver infantryman’s eyes. A dozen of them had a few heavy crates and other objects up as a makeshift breastwork, with lanes so that the Cybertroopers could come in from the sides and charge down the hall as soon as the firefight was joined.

How do you want to approach? Crewman Danforth asked. He was young, he reminded Colin of half the marines in the Corps except for the complete and utter lack of telepathic ability. Similar controlled aggression and internal locus of control. Colin relayed the question to the others. That started a back and forth conversation about how to deal with that fire-base while also dealing with the cybertroopers, happening at the speed of thought as Colin acted as a communications buoy. They caught on fast.

Well for starters, he cut in I reprogram their IFF recognition systems.

“What?” One of them, a non-telepathic Gersalian with lighter skin tones asked. In answer, Colin, with Gene’s help, seized control of their panic response and directed it toward their own Cybertroopers. He couldn’t precisely direct that many to fire on their own side. It wasn’t because he wasn’t strong enough; he was, particularly with his husband’s assistance. It was just too much information for his brain to process. What he could do was set the conditions to let their brains do the work. Fight or Flight switched to Fight and directed as he willed, not them. All he had to do was maintain control. His pupils dilated to saucers again even as one eye looked through a fiber-optic periscope he produced from his belt to look around the corner. They didn’t even know he was there yet.

Stellar Navy security personnel heard terrified screams and the sounds of gunfire as Eubian troopers turned toward their own hired cyborgs in terror, convinced they were under attack, and opened fire with everything they had. The moment they did so, the Cybertroopers recategorized them as threats; when Colin pulled back from their minds the Eubians really were under attack and fighting for their lives. They lost, badly. He felt each of their minds cry out in desperation and go into the hereafter, counting off each one in rapid succession until all were accounted for.

Now we deal with the Cybertroopers. I need fragmentation grenades tossed down the hall.

There weren’t many to go around, the Stellar Navy seemed to prefer plasma grenades, but there were a few. Pins were pulled and the palm-sized orbs were thrown around the corner just as the Cybertroopers were massing for a counter-attack, evidently concluding that sudden shift in their allies behavior was caused by enemy action. Three grenades hit close enough to do significant damage blowing an arm off one, and a leg off another. The rest suffered various non-crippling injuries that would slow them down, which was what Colin was going for.

Now we go in Colin said, and stepped around the corner while glyphing everyone the plan he had in mind. Cybertroopers surged forward, or limped in some cases, and were met by a barrage of shotgun fire, keeping them funneled into an arc immediately in front of Colin, reducing the effect of their numbers. Any who tried to flank him found their bodies riddled with shotgun slugs, allowing him to go at them more or less one or two at a time with rapier and carnifex. His own kinetic barrier could deal with both plasma fire and kinetic impacts, giving him an advantage in melee and ranged combat. It could still be overwhelmed, but that was what armor and good swordsmanship were for.

Colin parried with the blade in his right hand, and attacked with the carnifex in his left. Even so, he was forced steadily back; his kinetic barrier was being strained by plasma pulses from the rear cyborgs. He couldn’t risk taking powerful hits from flung limbs and vibroblades on it, so he used footwork and a reach advantage to prevent it. Even funneled as they were, he was having difficulty doing enough damage to put the frontmost one down quickly. So instead, he focused on hold them off, and harnessing his and Gene’s combined will. Their shared soul reached out and induced an electrical current that coursed through the delicate circuits that actually controlled most of its body. Transistors used to dealing milliamps suddenly had actual amps coursing through them and their logic gates burned out. It was more or less random, he couldn’t focus on electronic circuits like he could a biological system, but it was still crippling. Its right arm went dead, hanging limp at its side because the control board that relayed signals to that arm from what passed for a brain was fried. That gave Colin the opening he needed to get inside its reach and run it through the left eye-socket with his rapier, destroying what was left of the brain and critically damaging the cybernetic implants that ultimately controlled it.

While he was doing that, concentrated shotgun fire took out three more, leaving a total of three remaining. Attacks on his own barrier slackened as the remaining cybertroopers down-graded him as a priority target and retasked their pulse rifles to attack the Stellar Navy security personnel behind him, a decision Colin hadn’t anticipated and that proved lethal for Crewman Danforth. A fusillade of plasma overwhelmed his shield and tore through his body, sending him broken to the deck. Colin ignored the resulting mind-scream and open-shut sensation and attacked one of the remaining cybertroopers from the flank. The corridor was narrow, but not so narrow that he couldn’t get to the side. That left all three open to continuous Crusader rounds that tore through their highly resilient but still vulnerable bodies. At this point he was a distraction, and forced his target to engage him rather than focus fire on one of his allies. A second one also went blind, its ocular implants blown out and destroyed by another induced electrical current through its delicate circuitry.

Colin parried a thrust from a vibroblade by way of the simple expedient of severing the connective tissue and cabling in the cyborgs wrist, and stuck his carnifex under its chin, pulling the trigger and destroying its brain. The blind one and its companion were finished off by gun fire a moment later.




The attackers to the stern of the ship - the direction of the hold, which was a narrow corridor leading to a spare storage area - soon realized the extent of the resistance from the Maimonides security people, and fell back for the crates they were using as cover. They sent their cybertroopers in. One of Wendy's people, Kalikova, tossed a frag grenade into their path. The spray of projectiles tore apart the cyborg drone's leg, laming it, and two shotgun blasts put it down for the moment. The trooper that survived the blast went on just to take a series of shotgun hits from Wendy and her team. In the confined space, it didn't have the room to evade them, and the equipped shields were optimized for directed energy weapons, not solid slug rounds. The mass effect-utilizing shotguns blew through flesh, metal, and electronics. The cybertrooper finally went down two and a half meters ahead of them and went still, too damaged to continue functioning.

Wendy heard a growled command from ahead, and was surprised to see that the enemy was reacting with a charge. The Humans who moved ahead moved with the speed of the suicidally desperate, firing wildly as they did, as if their only hope was taking her people out. "Hejami, Ramirez, Salks, rifles!" With that order three of her people switched back to pulse rifles, and the three rifles filled the corridor with blue-white light. One by one the frantic attackers went down, their return fire never managing to finish penetrating any of her team's shields.

Which, as it turned out, was what the enemy figured would happen. Behind those Humans, three cybertroopers advanced, one of them larger and faster than the others. Ramirez tossed a grenade the moment they appeared in the corridor, but this time the grenade went off before it was close enough to blast through their shields, causing no damage. He and the other two with rifles immediately swapped back to shotguns while the others opened fire with them. The first of the cybertroopers took multiple hits before starting to go down. Wendy pulled one of her own grenades and threw it in. It struck the field protecting the failing lead cybertrooper and went off, blasting the creature to pieces and degrading the shields of the one behind it.

But the range was growing closer, and Wendy remembered what the last ones did to poor Danton. "Fall back!" she ordered, "maintain firing!" The group obeyed, withdrawing in order from the stern hatchway for the galley. A couple found the nearby tables for cover and used them to continue shooting while the others fanned out and backwards, opening up their field of fire.

The second of the cybertroopers came through the door, an inhuman glow in its yellow eyes. Its weapon came up and fired, clipping Salks in her hip as she got to cover. There was a cry before the young woman dropped to her knees, briefly struck by the pain of the shot.

That was it for the second foe, however. A shotgun slug blew its weapon in two, and another smashed its leg. Two more thundering shots blew flesh and electronics from its torso before a final shot pulped its head.

Then the big one came through. There was a malevolent glint to its one intact yellow eye, the other covered by an optical implant, and Wendy realized this one was a full officer model and swallowed. The officer cybertroopers were more independent, had less control programming, and even better implants than the conscripted, mindless drones of the lesser type. These were the ones the Coserians purpose-built to fight the metaphysically-powered Orders of the Dorei and the Gersallian Order of Swenya.

Shotgun fire met more resistance here; this one's shields were more attuned to resisting kinetic fire as well. And when it moved it struck with a speed a cheetah would envy. It's arm whipped up and fired a bolt that crashed into Ramirez's shoulder, sending him down. It fired again and shot Kalikova through the helmet, killing her instantly, all while moving to reduce the hits it took from the incoming fire. Unlike the cybertroopers from the first engagement, who narrowly targeted Danton, this one ignored the wounded Salks and Ramirez while loping over a fallen table. A memory metal blade shot from its wrist and went right though the helmet and forehead of Junior Petty Officer Jataritaya, killing her instantly. It whipped around and shot Crewman Hejami, the bolt blasting through his shield almost like it wasn't there.

Just like trying to fight a damn Panzergrenadier… Memories from Germania came up, and with them the terrors of prior battles.

A desperate plan formed in Wendy's mind. She stood and charged, her shotgun blazing once more. The creature saw her coming and quickly identified her as the unit commander, a priority target. It raised its gun to shoot her, but Wendy was too close and ducked just in time to avoid the shot. Undaunted by that failure, and contemptuous of the shotgun slugs slamming into its powerful protective field, the officer-cybertrooper lunged forward itself, its memory metal blade glinting in the light of the galley.

At the last moment Wendy stepped a little to the right, which is why the blade didn't slide through her heart but her shoulder, which screamed in pain that was only obscured when the cybertrooper, by momentum, slammed her into the galley wall with enough force to whip her head back. Only the helmet saved her from a fatal head injury, and stars still exploded in her vision. It took every iota of willpower she had to bring her right arm up… and with it, her shotgun. Her finger tensed on the trigger by reflex more than intent.

And at this close range, with its shields degraded by the fire it was taking from the others, the cybertrooper was helpless against the result. The slug from the Crusader broke through its shields and smashed into the cyborg's jaw, shattering it completely, continuing on up through its head into the brain. Metal, flesh, brain matter and wiring, all of it failed to resist the slug before it came out the upper rear corner of the Coserian's skull. The cybertrooper fell, lifeless, and she went down too, the blade still stuck through her shoulder.

Despite his own injury, Ramirez rushed to her side. "Medic!" he called out. "Medic, now! The Lieutenant needs a medic!"

Max stepped up with Corpsman Habib and Corpswoman Officer Kurokawa and closed his eyes. Just relax and let the medics work. They’ll have morphine or whatever painkillers you use on board shortly, but for now they need you lucid. Just remember, you’re not fine. You are hurt. With that, the pain experienced by the wounded - all of them - ceased. He’d shut off the pain centers in their brain entirely.

“I can’t keep this up for long...” he croaked through the strain of it.

"We will be done as quickly as possible," Kurokawa assured him, her accent distinctly, but not thickly, Japanese. She went to work on Wendy while Habib treated Henjami first due to his chest wound. To take the strain off Max Kurokawa gave Wendy a dose of painkiller, then went to work on the blade still in her shoulder. She carefully pulled away the blade before slapping medigel patches over both wounds, allowing Sirta Foundation's tailored biogenic compound to do its work in restoring function, numbing pain, and stopping infection.

Habib did much the same with Hejami's wound, but it was clear the wound was still serious, and whatever else, Hejami was out for the duration of the mission. Once Habib had him stabilized, he moved on to Salks.

Wendy focused her eyes on Kurokawa while she patched up Ramirez's shoulder. "How is it?"

"You have a concussion, mild," Kurokawa replied. "You are not incapable, but I would recommend assigning overall tactical command to another for the time being."

Wendy had time to nod in acknowledgement before Colin returned with his teams. She noted ruefully that Crewman Danforth was being carried, and that he was not moving.

“We sprung the trap, only the one casualty… Danforth was a good person, I’m sorry we lost him.” Colin said in response to that rueful thought as he switched out the powercell for his kinetic barrier.

"Kalikova and Jataritaya are gone too," she answered, and it was impossible for Colin to not notice her own injuries. "Hejami is…"

"Stable, but badly hurt," Kurokawa said to her. There was compassion in the Japanese woman's blue eyes, but steel as well. She was not going to sugar coat anything but be completely honest, for the good of those under her care.

The math was clear. They hadn't yet arrived at their destination, and already the boarding force had been decimated, with four dead and one wounded and out of action.

"We have movement in the rear," Tasandi said.

"They're going to try and pin us down," Wendy said. She felt light-headed from the effect of the painkillers, the only thing sparing her a splitting headache given Max Cohen's exhaustion. "Coordinator Meier, I'm leaving the tactical command to you."

Colin nodded. He could sense the concussion, even if he couldn’t see it given the uneven dilation of her pupils. “Understood. I’ll take good care of them. We’ll want to set up a defensive position for a rear-guard action I think."

She nodded and started picking herself up from the floor, her shotgun in her hand again. "Tasandi's team will see to that. I'll keep a team to watch your flanks and the wounded. You get the point team and a backup team." With the losses, five teams were now effectively four, with some reserve, including the walking wounded.

“Sounds good to me Lieutenant. Hopefully we won’t need to call up the Triarii… We found a good way of dealing with the Cybertroopers so as we go forward we should have fewer casualties.” Everyone who wasn’t on his original team got a glyph of that funneling tactic. “Do you carry EMP grenades?”

"Usually not. Our intel said the cybertroopers are hardened against EMP, so our loadouts focused on frag and plasma."

“It won’t knock them out, but it will damage them. Still, frag grenades work. I haven’t tried the plasma.”

"They don't work as well, unless they go off right on top of them." Wendy looked past him to Bayer. "Yo, did you bring any EM grenades?"

The German man nodded and held his hand up, all fingers and thumb outward. "Five," he said.

"Always trust Bayer to ignore the intel, just in case," Wendy said, smiling thinly. Her head spun a little, and despite the situation her mind leaked thoughts of their past actions together. She knew how he thought. "Bayer, your team is backing up Coordinator Meier here and the point team. Take care of him."

"Ja, Lieutenant."

“Max, you stay with the rear-guard. I don’t think they’re bringing cybertroopers up the rear, but you know what to do with mundanes. I would also suggest leaving the EMP grenades with the rear-guard, just in case I’m wrong. I’ve got my own.” Colin tapped his skull.

Bayer immediately pulled off five canister-shaped objects from his armor's bandoleer. They were accepted by a member of Tasandi's team, recognized by Colin as Security Officer Kale, the woman he'd p'heard admiring him their first day on the ship. Afterward he hefted his weapons and approached Colin.

Danke Chef Bayer.” Colin said in his own mother tongue.

Bitte,” the German non-com replied with a nod.




In Main Engineering on the Maimonides, Tagiya was monitoring the repair work more than anything. The field trick, while successful in stopping the slaver cruiser, had also proven successful in blowing out the field generators in the warp nacelles. Replacing those was normally a job for a day, at least half a day, and his team were trying t accomplish it in far less time.

Granted, normal replacement jobs were timed assuming one was in dock, had only assigned a single team to it, and generally had the day in which to accomplish the work. It was surprising what you could do when you doubled the manpower and told them to do whatever was needed to get the system going again.

"Status on the warp drive, Lieutenant?" asked Nasira from the bridge.

"We're still half an hour, at least, before we can manage any warp travel," he answered, judging the data he was getting from the repair teams. "Burnt out connections in the port nacelle are slowing progress."

The ship shuddered under his feet. They'd taken a direct hit. Tagiya glanced toward the Master Systems Display to check the shield strength and see it was down to fifty percent.

"Keep at it. I'd like to withdraw as soon as the boarding teams get back."

"As would I, Captain, as would I."




On the bridge Nasira finished her conversation with Tagiya and turned her attention to Oparan. "Have the jump drive on standby, in case it's our only option."

"Already done," the Dorei man replied, "but I'll remind you that jumping under fire is not advisable. If they hit the jump point enough to destabilize it…"

"I'm well aware of the risks, Commander," Nasira said. "It's still the option of last resort."

"Acknowledged."

On the tactical display between her and Philippe, Nasira observed the maneuvering of the enemy cruiser. It was trying to keep its wrecked bow away from the Maimonides and its phasers, presenting the stronger arcs instead. Latamrilam was just as determined to put the Maimonides in position for Rodrigo to give them a full spread.

Given the two ships were about matched in maneuverability, arranging such a shot wouldn't be easy. But if their respective positions and orientations were just right...

"Asteroids," said Philippe.

She gave the Cameroonian man beside her a sideways glance. "Asteroids?"

"One of our sensor capabilities is structural analysis of asteroids and similar bodies," he said. "A combination of returns on mass and matter composition sensors and computer programs analyzing the results to determine the structural makeup of the asteroid."

"And you think we can apply it to the ship?" Nasira asked.

"I do. Treepk?"

"The relevant sensors are in a fixed location on the pod," replied the Alakin woman. "With our maneuvering needs, it will take some time to complete such an analysis."

"Tell me where the sensors are pointing and I'll do what I can," Latamrilam said.

Treepk did so, and Nasira said nothing, letting her subordinates follow through on Philippe's idea.




The point teams moved on under Colin's direction, now a mere twenty meters from the hold. This time there were side-passages and it made Colin nervous. He didn’t perceive anything though. Nothing at all, there weren’t any minds and it made no sense. If he were defending this ship he would have withdrawn troops to just inside the hold and hidden people along the sides, drawing hostiles into an partial envelopment. He held up his hand.

Chef, Ich denke das ist eine Falle.”

Genau.” Then Chief Bayer switched to English. “I’d envelope, we have to assume they want to as well. Give ground, draw us in, then hit us with cybertroopers on the sides; naturlich, we have to move forward…”

“We’ll have to refuse the flank.” Colin replied, and started working on how. He’d need to draw out the flankers and hit them. “Take your team toward the hold, I’ll keep mine here and hit them from behind when they engage.”

Bayer nodded in agreement and motioned to his people to continue on. Behind them Colin and the remaining team took their positions.

The next hatch opened without difficulty. It was the hatch after that which drew immediate fire, from a squad of Human fighters behind crates at the access hatch for the hold itself. Bayer and his team took momentary cover before four of them began to pour rifle fire at their foes, causing their fire to slacken and allowing Bayer and Junior Petty Officer Duchamp to move onward. The Franco-African man beside Bayer took a couple of hits to his field and fired on the run, forcing the shooter to duck below her crate. Bayer caught one trying to squeeze off a shot and put a pulse shot through his head.

As soon as Bayer and Duchamp were out of the way, two more of their comrades came on, while they crouched down and kept firing, relying on their shields to absorb any shots their opponents made. One managed a shot that depleted Bayer's shield slightly, but did no more. For his part, Bayer considered a frag grenade and opted for a plasma one instead, just in case the hull around the hold was too weak to stop the shrapnel. He tossed it and watched it sail over the crates nearest him. There was a cry of fright and then a loud blast as raw plasma erupted from the device, coating the two shooters. Screams of pain came next.

And then Bayer could hear the footfalls; the enemy was coming in to hit him in the rear. His thoughts rang out in German, inquiring as to if Colin and the others were ready, while Duchamp and Security Officer Kalan moved ahead to deal with the last shooter. That foe didn't make them wait. With defeat obvious, he tried to rise and shoot anyway, just to be gunned down by the two. His team began to fall back behind the crates to take the same defensive position their enemies had enjoyed, but they wouldn't have time to if Colin and his team didn't surprise their ambushers as planned.

Ja, wir sind bereit! Colin and his team were in position. There wasn’t any cover for them to use, but as a group of five cybertroopers and eight humans came out from the side passages and turned to engage Bayer’s forces, the humans abruptly stopped, frozen in place. Colin realized one had a plasma grenade so he forced the man to pull the pin. He felt all of their panicked and helpless mental screams as they realized what their comrade was doing; p’heard the other man’s desperate denial, and pulled out of their minds before it went off. The resulting explosion of ionized nitrogen annihilated the regular troops but didn’t damage the cybertroopers, who turned to face the new and unanticipated threat.

Bayer's team took advantage by tossing in a pair of frag grenades. Due to the distance between the enemy troopers the grenades did not completely damage any, but one of the cybertroopers took enough fragmentation shrapnel that its leg stopped working completely, leaving it open for Colin's people to shoot down; which they did with an opportunistic ferocity befitting a pack of wolves. The other cybertroopers seemed uncertain for a moment. They tried to evade shots as best they could while their target assessment programming worked to decide the best route.

Had there been any officers among them, the officer cybertrooper would have decided, and the others responded. But the officer was dead, back in the galley, and the end result was divided effort. Three cybertroopers went for Colin's group, one for Bayer's. It forced its way through the hatch, cold yellow eyes gleaming as its rifle spat plasma at Bayer and his people. The crates absorbed the shots, but their instinctive taking of cover allowed the cybertrooper to close the distance. It focused on Kretulo and Crewwoman Sanchez, who started emptying their shotguns into the creature even as its memory metal wrist blade stabbed forward.

Before the blade could puncture Kretulo's helmet and skull, Bayer's shotgun roared, and the mass effect-accelerated slug smashed into the cybertrooper's projector for the memory metal. The blade was blown away by the impact, as was half of the limb. More of the shotguns roared, repeated thundercracks splitting the air, and slug after slug blew the cybertrooper apart.

"Duchamp, al-Jabbar, watch the door. Everyone else, with me," Bayer ordered. Leaving Duchamp and the Kuwaiti Security Officer to keep the way open, Bayer went to the hold door and hit the panel to open it. When it didn't respond immediately he pulled the emergency release.

"Allow me." Kalan's omnitool went active. The Dorei man's teal eyes focused on the blue hardlight interface. "They've disabled the emergency release because it can be used on both sides. The normal opening protocol is locked down, but I think I can… here."

The hold door suddenly slid open. Bayer lowered his weapon and entered, leading the other three into the hold. Upon seeing the figures sitting or laying listlessly in the room, clad in various jackets and suits but all having gloves and the brass Psi pin on their chests, he felt a little sick. The slavers hadn't left them anything to sleep on, nothing but a bucket in the middle of the room. As if they were nothing but animals to be transported to market.

Dulled eyes turned toward him, full of despair and fear and trembling hope, and in a few, something more like shock. "I am Chief Gunther Bayer of the Alliance Starship Maimonides," he announced, trying to be reassuring. "We're here to help you." He motioned to his people with one hand while pulling out his own injector from his belt. "Start giving them the counter-sleepers," he ordered.

"Yes, Chief" and "Aye, Chief" were the replies, three in all. And together they spread out and approached the captives to provide the injections to end their suffering.

Astrid was out of it when the Alliancers came, she recognized the uniforms under their armor as being Stellar Navy but the significance of it was lost on her brain. She couldn’t make the connection between the insignia and imminent rescue, or the hope it brought. She just sat there listlessly quietly dreading what her new life would be, what the Eubians would do, but even that didn’t really register. It would have required cognition that the sleepers robbed from her.

Her reaction was particularly bad; another of the telepaths, Indiri Singh, was capable of higher thought, but simply wanted to end it. She could think well enough through her sensory fog to know exactly what her future was and could motivate herself well enough that if there was a gun in the room she would have shot herself in the head. When she saw the Stellar Navy uniforms her eyes brightened. She was expecting Psi Corps marines, but anyone who wasn’t aligned with the Eubian Concord was a welcome sight.

"What are you?" one of the telepaths, a Southeast Asian man, slurred, looking up at Kretulo.

There was a brief little chirping sound from Kretulo's beak before he replied, "A friend, mind-reader," the orange-plumed Alakin responded, some of that plumage visible at the edges of his helmet faceplate. A taloned hand pressed the injector against the mind-reader's flesh and shot the agent within into his circulatory system.

Beside him, Kalan did the same to one of the more cognizant telepaths, the Indian woman. He glanced toward Kretulo, but said nothing, knowing his comrade's disdain for psionics.

Kretulo noted the look. "I don't like them in my mind," the Alakin said, his voice a low whistle. "That doesn't mean I want… this."

Indiri stood up. “It’s not that we’re in your mind, most of the time,” she politely corrected him. “It’s that your thoughts leak. Like your inner monologue is a second voice we hear with different ears. But thanks! I was trying to find new and better ways to off myself… first Tau Atrea and now this. It’s been a month....”

Sanchez faced a young woman in a daze, her chestnut hair in a disheveled state. Her green eyes stared blankly forward and she wasn't moving. Sanchez injected the woman with the counter-sleeper, and took a moment watching her come to before moving on.

For Machteld Albrecht, it was like waking up from sleep paralysis. The sleepers were every bit as horrible as anyone in the Corps had ever told her. She trembled at the thought of what would happen if the Psi Corps lost, and resolved that if that happened the first thing she would do was eat a PPG. Although even that was superior to the fate of being an Eubian provider, and she wondered exactly how she’d go about ending it if that particular fate managed to still happen.

Three other minds flooded into her own filling her with warmth and love, hers rushed to meet them and they all hugged without touching, joining minds again felt like slipping on an old glove and as natural as breathing..

I thought we were done… Sam’s identity breathed a sigh of relief. Never thought I’d be so happy to see a bunch of mundanes.

It’s not just mundanes
, came Fatima’s mental voice. They were gestalted together and extremely sensitive, they all looked for it out in the space between minds and saw a familiar mental signature. Two of them, joined like theirs were.

Albert chimed in at that point. Twice those two have saved us from slavery. No idea how we’re ever going to pay them back for this. What the hell are the odds? Seriously?

I think Gersalian philosophers might have a thing or two to say on the subject, but that might just be arrogance on my part.
From Sam.

I’ll just chalk it up to the will of Allah, honestly. Fatima was actually religious, and despite sharing a mind with the other three she hadn’t managed to convert any of them. Not that she ever tried.

Bayer was the one to kneel down and apply a shot of the counter-sleeper to Astrid. He watched her eyes seem to gain some focus while he put another dose into the injector, one of the many capsules that every member of the boarding team was carrying.

Sensation flooded back into Astrid’s mind as the counter-agent bound to the competitive inhibitors that were in turn bound to most of the receptors of her neurons. Color, texture, sound, minds, it was almost overwhelming and reminded her of the mind-burst she took when she was thirteen and her abilities manifested; or perhaps like walking out into the daylight after being trapped in a cave for a week.

“Thank you.” she said, pulling herself off the floor and then cocking her head. “There’s a powerful telepath with you? Who is it?”

Bayer was already injecting the telepath beside her. "Coordinator Meier," he replied, using the title he'd heard Wendy use before.

“God damn, that man gets around.” Astrid grinned, there was a familiarity in her voice. She obviously knew him well. “I’m combat trained, what can I do to help? I presume we’re going to have to fight our way off this heap.”

"Right now, help us get your people back on their feet," Bayer replied. "My people outside have injectors as well."

“Right.” Astrid and Indiri went and got injectors from Duchamp and al-Jabbar, then got to work getting everyone else dosed. She reached out with her mind, trying to feel for Colin, and Gene apparently, he was there to.

I don’t know how you got aboard an Alliance ship or how you intercepted-

A little busy!
Gene’s mind replied, cutting her off, and she got the distinct impression that both of them were fighting for Colin’s life, what with the perception of gunfire and frenzied hand to hand combat that came over the telepathic connection.




Colin stood in front of his men. The reality was he was the only one who stood a chance in close quarters and he knew it. The cybertroopers recognized the greek letter Psi on his armor and prioritized him as a target, attempting to close the distance and engage him from three sides. He backpedaled to buy time, letting his men shoot past him and trusting to his kinetic barrier to absorb any accidental impacts. Kinetic barriers didn’t degrade the same way shields did, they were up until catastrophically overwhelmed by a single overpowering force or many small hits in quick succession so the odd impact didn’t hurt.

Colin lashed out with his mind, he couldn’t target specific components so it was a general attack, inducing the effect of an electromagnetic pulse and letting it find weak points in their electronic hardening. He found such a weakness in the lead cybertrooper; in the circuit that relayed motor control functions to the legs. With a popping sound and the smell of ozone, its legs collapsed out from under it and it went sprawling to the deck.

Then they were on him, and it was all he could do to stay alive. Memory metal blades whipped out at him with an energy driven by cybernetically enhanced limbs and body weight. He couldn’t parry force for force, he had to rely on deflection and footwork, which in desperate combat against two was exhausting. One powerful blow shattered his kinetic barrier, another glanced off his armor. What shots he could get in with the carnifex didn’t do much damage because he didn’t have time to aim properly. Instead, he tried to maneuver them into a good position to be pumped full of hypervelocity slugs. Colin sidestepped, working his way around so that the cybertroopers were between him and his own men.

Janparam, Lyakas, Budai, and Singh opened up with their shotguns, shotgun rounds accelerated not by magnetism but gravity and mass lightening tore through their bodies and sent hydrostatic shock through flesh and electronics alike, shredding them in short order.

Colin’s shoulders slumped in exhaustion and he walked over to the last one, still trying to crawl toward them on its arms on non-functioning legs. The rapier, reinforced by hard-light projections from his omnitool went into its skull. At last, it was still.

Sorry about that Astrid. Had a dance with some old friends. Gene said to Astrid once it was safe to devote some attention. Could you let Chief Bayer know that we should be safe to evacuate?

Sure!
Astrid replied I can’t wait to get the hell off this ship. Also, I don’t know if you know this, but The Hive was commanding the ship. They’re fine.

Jesus fucking christ I am going to demote the person who didn’t give me that information!
Gene was angry, those four weren’t like his kids necessarily, but he definitely thought of them like they were nieces and nephews.

Sweetheart, I think they didn’t for exactly that reason. They’d no longer have a Coordinator, but an uncle who was out of his mind. Let’s just get everyone out. Colin said, himself horrified that they’d been through that, but less prone to rage than Gene was.

The rest of the team with Colin assumed protective positions. They didn't have to wait long for the first telepaths to arrive, coming in a steady stream from the hold. Bayer's team took up the rear of the group, weapons in standby positions should an attack come.

The group faced no opposition on their way back to the galley. The rest of the boarding team was present, the wounded patched up as well as they could be. "Did you get them all?" Wendy asked Colin.

"Every one of them. Evidently no one told Gene that the command crew of the ship are some young officers we’re close with.” Understatement, thy name is Colin, Gene added as an aside and Colin affectionately swatted at him. “So it’s doubly good to know that they’re okay."

"Cool. Now we can get off this ship." She brought her omnitool up and keyed the comm line to the Maimonides. "Manchester to Maimonides, we've freed the prisoners. Rescue mission is a success. We're ready for beam out."

"We hear you, Lieutenant. We're still under fire at the moment. Standby…"




Whatever the difficulties of the situation, hearing that the captives were freed and no longer suffering under the sleepers was a boost to the morale of the bridge staff. With it came the terrible burden that everything now relied on them. They had to be the ones to extract the boarding teams and the telepaths from the Zhang Qian.

This meant they had to lower shields. Which they could not do with the slaver cruiser still shooting at them. The Maimonides, as a science cruiser, was not built with the kind of self-repairing armor that would allow for the shields to be down.

"Have you completed the structural scan yet?" Nasira asked Treepk.

"It is ninety percent complete," she replied. "I am relaying what we have now to Commander Oparan."

Even as Treepk finished speaking, the ship shuddered again. "Shields are down to thirty-nine percent," Oparan said before checking the scan results so far. "Captain, I think we may have an opening. The scans indicate that the sublight drive housing of the enemy cruiser was completely rebuilt to accommodate their current drives. But they had to extensively alter the ship in the process, and its structural stability is poor around its engine ports. If we can hit them there…"

"It would disable their sublight drives," Nasira finished for Oparan. "Relay the data to tactical."

"Relaying."

"Receiving. If I can get a good series of shots to achieve localized shield disruption… Helm, I need the torpedo launchers brought within this cone of the enemy ship."

"Understood. Undertaking maneuvers."

Still taking fire from the frustrated enemy vessel, the Maimonides turned and spun through space, evading that fire as best as it could, and putting them in position to achieve the shot Rodrigo needed. The enemy ship continued to focus on protecting their savaged bow, oblivious to the new intent of the Maimonides crew.

Rodrigo muttered under his breath, waiting for his optimum firing position and cycling power into the phasers to give the best shots he could manage. He ignored the ship shaking again, and the confirmation that shields were down to thirty-three percent, focused on ensuring the angle was just right… "Firing!"

The Maimonides fired with its two primary hull arrays and the two light phaser banks pointing toward the bow. The shot drained their capacitors completely, but with Rodrigo's aim putting those shots on the position he needed them to be, it was not a concern.

At the same time the phasers fired, so did the forward torpedoes. Six torpedoes raced through space, tracking onto the single point fed into their targeting computers. They slammed into the flickering ruby shields of the Eubian-crewed ship like a series of hammers. Strained and degraded, the shields could not hold back all of the torpedoes, and two crashed into the engine housing.

Said engine died immediately. Moments later explosions flowered along the rear of the slaver cruiser's hull. It's other engines started going out, one by one, as did other systems. The cannons of the ship made one last series of shots, trying to hit the Maimonides again, before falling silent.

"That was… more than I expected," Philippe admitted.

"When we wrecked their engine, we caused some kind of cascade failure," Oparan said. "I'm bringing the shields down."

"Don't!" shrieked Treepk.

Nasira was ready to ask why when the display answered her, by way of displaying the newly-arrived slaver cruiser. This one was even larger than the other. Multiple plasma cannon emplacements, Coserian design, studded the surface. "Evasive Plan Delta, now!" While Latamrilam enacted that maneuver, she keyed the comms and said, "Standby on beamout. We've got company."
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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-29 10:01am

The assembled rescuers and rescuees heard that. There was no hiding the disappointment and worry it brought. Their fates were in the hands of the Maimonides crew.

“Alright, we need to fall back to the cargo bay, we definitely haven’t killed the entire prize crew yet. I can still feel them and they’re gearing up for a fight.” Colin told the men and women who were under his command. “Police the weapons, we can use them to arm everyone else.” Just in case. He didn’t know if there were more cybertroopers so the ability to fill an area with plasma could be useful.

The weapon of the officer cybertrooper who went down in the galley was the first assigned. The point team, under Bayer, quietly moved weapons that were intact and undamaged away from the fallen beings who'd carried them, allowing the telepaths behind them to pick the weapons up. Priority went to those with firearms training such as the security detachment and ship’s crew. The first to get weapons were the four Psi Corps midshipmen.

Albert couldn’t have been more than nineteen, and was only just starting to fill out. His brown eyes looked like they’d seen far too much and yet he didn’t seem haunted or disturbed by it. The other one was Fatima, of middle eastern extraction, she worse a black hijab with copper and silver patterns swirling patterns that matched her naval uniform. Sam was a young black male and when he did speak his accent was clearly American but couldn’t be localized beyond that. The last, and clearly the one in command was Machteld.

“Thank you,” she said slowly and carefully to Crewman Singh as he handed her a pulse rifle “for coming to get us.” Her pronunciation had only a slightest hint of a German accent, but it was almost as if she had difficulty recalling words and so spoke slowly to give herself time. He heard a voice in his head when he wondered about it, it seemed like it might belong to Sam, but there was an undercurrent of two other voices inside it.

She had a temporal lobe seizure last year. She understands English just fine, but her secondary Brocca’s area got damaged. She’s relearning English vocabulary.

“Oh.” Crewman Singh replied to the explanation before he turned back to Machteld. “You’re welcome.” She nodded in return and checked over the pulse rifle like someone who was very familiar with weapons in general, just not that one. The rest of the telepaths were doing the same.

“Some first command this is.” Machteld remarked a bit ruefully. “We don’t have a naval college, so we’ve been learning ship operations on the job.” She explained, then she paused trying to think of a term. “A milk-run to Federation space and we almost get made slaves again…”

“But now we’re immune to sleepers for a while.” Albert reminded her “And we’re going to make the bastards pay.”

“The Minbari have a term…” Fatima chimed in. “It translates to The Application of Terror. Wherein someone whose power has been taken from them teaches the wrongdoer the depth of their mistake and regains their own power. It’s been incorporated into our operational doctrine.”

Crewman Singh was left in an uncomfortable silence at the vehemence of that statement and the implications of it. He’d seen what Colin could do, how much control a combat telepath could exert over someone when they had a mind to do it. He didn’t want to think about what these four might do to someone for the crime of trying to enslave them again and his mind turned away from the thought.

The attack was coming. All of the telepaths could feel it. The growing sense of desperation and fear. The prize crew were moving into position, their minds full of fatalist despair. There were a few voids among them, indicating the presence of cybertroopers, but not many.

Colin held up his hand from the front of the column, and everyone stopped. “They’ve cut us off. We’re about to be hit. Take up a defensive position and leave the humans to the Corps, focus all heavy weapons on cybertroopers. We’ll back you up in gestalt once the humans are dealt with.” That also meant interrogation. These people were slaves. Why fight so desperately if they’d failed? Why not just surrender and be taken prisoner? Were the cybertroopers acting like Soviet commissars? Did they have families at risk? What was it?

Remember that. He reminded the young Psi Corps officers. They’re likely being coerced. Kill them because you have to. We reserve the Mora’dum for the Aristos and willing collaborators.

"Take up positions," Bayer called out, as did Tasandi, still watching the rear with his team. With her head throbbing Wendy did what she could, standing with a team that would watch the port flank. Those telepaths who were armed put their bodies between angles of attack and those who weren’t armed. There were a few low-rating aides and clerks who didn’t have the ability to reach out and harm other minds, they all crouched low in out of the way positions. It wasn’t the humans they were concerned with. When it came to a fight in close quarters with this many telepaths with mundanes there was no contest at all. It was the cybertroopers. The whole point was for non-combatants to minimize their own threat profile so they didn’t get specifically targeted.

It was pretty clear to the Alliance security personnel that the Corps drilled for this. For their part, the Maimonides teams called on their own training in protecting non-combatants and defending a moving group. Approach lines were covered with fire teams of rifles and shotguns, moving on as the entire group did.

When the attack did come, they were ready for it. Pairs of humans clad in light battle armor, twenty in total, popped out from behind doorways leading to the passenger cabins along the sides of the corridor. They didn’t have line of sight before the engagement started so it took them a second to get sights on targets and start squeezing off rounds.

Machteld was a P11, and even though the other three weren’t as powerful, they were still in a constant gestalt. The minds of the Eubian slave troopers who made up the prize crew wouldn’t actually attend to any of their targets. They saw everything just fine. If they were trying to avoid running into the telepaths and Alliancers in a hallway they’d do it without realizing it, but their minds just skittered off everyone like lidenfrost. There was a collective exclamation of confusion as they shook their heads trying and failing to clear the log-jam in their heads. They knew something had to be wrong, they knew they were under attack, there just wasn’t anything they could do about it. A few of them managed to fire off shots but they went wild and didn’t hit anything but the walls and floor.

Each of the commercial telepaths including Indiri picked a target and scanned them. Ironically, the weaker telepaths couldn’t use the precision attacks that other telepaths could, the best they could do was a general attack on the mind; which they did. Six collapsed into tonic-clonic seizures as the telepaths rummaged through their memories for useful intelligence. Where they’d gotten the aerosolized sleepers, how they targeted ships for interdiction.

The stronger telepaths including Max and Astrid swept their gaze across those who were left, thirteen in all. They were given relatively gentle treatment, put to sleep in every sense of the term. They collapsed to the floor and were still, sleeping but not breathing, their minds allowed to slip into the void while unconscious.

Colin, for his part, picked out the one that all the others had looked to when they first lost track of their targets. Their leader. He slipped into Yeter Karga’s mind and created a simulacra of a grassy field completely disconnected from her actual surroundings.

“Hello. I’d say this isn’t personal, but you’re trying to make my people into providers so it kinda is. I can call off the dogs, keep your compatriots alive and take them prisoner, you don’t have to fight a battle you can’t win.”

Colin could catch the bewildering thoughts through the woman. She looked down on him by long experience in her society as a psion, a mere provider, and now she also feared him, for being able to do this to her, to pull her from reality. "You are psions. It… it is your place… just as serving is my place," she stammered. Confusion at why he was even offering to spare her filled her mind, and with it, the sure knowledge that capture was not to be accepted. "If you are as compassionate as you claim, you will submit, or you will kill us."

“According to whom?”
Gene’s mind said in the fabricated reality, his mental voice booming from somewhere else. “The hedonistic monsters you serve? They’re not Gods, they’re just men with no conscience who get their rocks off torturing people. Our place,” and he meant both of them “is exactly what we decide it is. Surrender is perfectly legitimate, you’ll be well-treated.”

"They are our masters, and the masters of our families,"
Yeter said, trembling. "And our masters have ordered us to bring them new providers and not be taken. If we are…" She couldn't speak it. It was too horrible. But she'd seen it, and through her mind Colin and Gene saw it. The executions. The tortures. The lucky had their minds completely reprogrammed for loyalty, or were turned into Razers - cyborg soldiers. And she could imagine the result if she were taken. The fate of her spouse. Her children. Her siblings. All would suffer from the wrath of her master for failing so utterly.

“And we won’t consign our people to their ministrations. Killing you won’t stop that. It’s going to happen anyway. The only thing it will stop is your awareness of it. But you can help us strike back. In this universe, telepaths - psions as you know us - have our own society, and we will not permit your masters to continue to exist. You can help us put an end to that suffering and your life can have meaning. The suffering of your family can have meaning.”

Yeter laughed. "You sound like Skolians. But their night has come. It will come to all who oppose the Emperor, and the mighty fleets that await his command. Don't delude yourself into believing you can defeat the Concord. Nothing can." Every word was spoken with utter conviction. Yeter believed nothing could stop the Aristos. She'd seen what happened to those who thought otherwise. "Kill me, psion, or submit. I will not disappoint my master by being your captive."

“We have multiple universes of people who won’t permit your masters to exist. They can be defeated Yeter. However, if you insist on dying… I’ll still get everything I would from your cooperation. I’d rather not take it from you, but I will.” He could also force her to cooperate and surrender, but he hated completely suborning who someone was.

He sensed her choice without her having to verbalize it. Nothing he could say would change her mind. So he took all the information from her mind. It wasn’t kind, there was no way a deep scan could be except that he made sure she wasn’t conscious for it. When it was done and he’d torn as much as he could about the Eubian Concord and its plans for the Skolian Empire from her mind, he induced a coma and caused her heart to gradually slow and eventually stop, euthanizing her.

Colin finished his work just in time to hear Untarm Tasandi's report. "Cybertroopers to the rear, they're coming from the galley!"

"How many?" asked Wendy.

"At least six! Energy signatures for more!"

"That many?" Despite her headache Wendy was already considering what that meant. "Maybe that's all of them."

“Maybe… Tasandi, can you do a fighting retreat? Slow them down while you withdraw toward us?” Colin asked “We’ll come from behind and support you.” He couldn’t interdict that many. The corridors would restrict return fire and he couldn’t fight six at once to interdict them.

"The Gods as my witness, we'll hold, get your people to the cargo hold!" was the response.




Plasma bolts filled the space in the path of the Maimonides, which executed another turn as tightly as the science ship's impulsors could manage. Some of the bolts missed, some still struck, and the ship's shields flared blue at the impacts. Phaser fire from the port-facing phaser banks and array retaliated, meeting the ruby light of their foe's protective field.

"Shields down to twenty percent," warned Oparan. "Damage to multiple decks from bleedthrough damage."

"We've lost one of the phaser cores," added Rodrigo. "Effectiveness of our fire is down. We can't achieve shield penetration."

Nasira's mind was racing. The boarding teams were coming under attack and needed to be evaced. But she couldn't do that until they were free of enemy fire. Even if the enemy eventually battered down their shields, the Maimonides would take crippling damage from any fire they took. She noted the drifting, lifeless cruiser they'd already disabled. It would provide cover, but the other ship was too nimble, it could too easily maneuver around it. "Suggestions?"

"Devote all power to the engines and hope for the best?" Philippe made the proposal, but he clearly didn't believe much in it. For obvious reasons. The enemy fire was simply too accurate, and the Maimonides was no attack ship, capable of weaving around said fire.

"It would be nice if we could blind them," Tasina said. "Maybe if we targeted their sensors?"

"Standard fire through their shields will take too long," replied Rodrigo. "Otherwise it is a good idea…"

"There is more than one way to pluck the kreek," said Treepk. She made a little chirping noise off bemusement. "Captain, a subnucleonic beam might scramble their targeting sensors."

The term struck a chord with Nasira. She could remember something about such beams. They interfered with a ship's systems broadly. While they wouldn't completely jam some sensors, they would cause everything electronic to go haywire. It might give them enough time… "Do what you must to make it happen," she ordered Treepk.

"Aye sir. Reconfiguring systems. This will take a little time."

The ship shook again. Latamrilam couldn't evade every shot. "Shields now at sixteen percent," noted Oparan.

"Divert power to the shields," Nasira ordered.

"Doing so," Tasina answered.

Merciful Christ, please let this work…




Machteld was having trouble speaking quickly enough so Fatima took over “It’s our duty to protect the rest. We can’t just retreat. Colin, we can help you, you know we can.” His first name was used with an easy familiarity, and the you was plural. Colin felt Gene’s apprehension. He didn’t want to put them in harm’s way, but he also knew it was the best chance at success.

I don’t like this, but the decision is theirs and yours.

I don’t like it either but… six cybertroopers minimum? Without help it’s gonna be bad down there.


“Are you sure?” He asked. Relative to everyone else, they were near the back of the formation.

“Of course we are. We’re responsible for every soul aboard our ship.” At that, Colin nodded and removed an injector from his belt pouch and slotted it into his omnitool. He called up its holographic display and tapped in a command; the integrated injector pierced the skin of his wrist into a blood vessel and he felt the pressure of the counter-agent being forced into the vein. It took a moment for the blood to get to his heart, then his lungs, back to the heart, and then up through the aorta to the carotid arteries and then to his brain; inoculating him against the effects of the drugs saturating the atmosphere. Then he reached his hands up and pressed the button to terminate the magnetic seal of his helmet, twisting it slightly to pop the air seal. With a hiss of escaping atmospheric pressure he took the helmet off exposing the back of his neck.

“Set up a defense in depth, array yourselves along this corridor, down its length." While Machteld took her left glove off, he glyphed the Alliance personnel what he had in mind. A staggered formation with overlapping fields of fire down the hall. If the cybertroopers made it past Tasandi, they would have to come up this passage and everyone could hit them, but they wouldn’t be able to disrupt the entire formation in melee combat, and would be forced to engage one at a time. More than that, the Alliancers could retreat in leap-frog under cover fire the whole way down. Given the space they had to work with, it was a superior defensive deployment to a firing line.

Chief Bayer snapped to obey, directing his troops with hand gestures to where each one should position themselves.

“Everyone else get to the cargo bay.” Colin turned to the small Psi Corps security detachment. “You’re the last line of defense, if they get past us…” They all knew what that meant. Dulce et decorum est pro fratribus mori. The head of their security detachment, a chinese male P8 named Huang nodded and put words to it. The only words that mattered. It wasn’t despairing, or bleak. Just a matter of fact.

“The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father, sir.” then he directed the four under his command to start shepherding everyone to the rear and thus to the bay. Colin and the other telepaths went with them a little way, but stopped at the rear of the Alliancer’s formation.

Seid ihr alle bereit?” He asked Machteld, but the pronoun was plural. She nodded.

Ja. Wir sind immer bereit.” Machteld put her hand on the back of Colin’s neck and joined her perpetual gestalt consciousness with his.




The six cybertroopers rushed forward into a hail of slugs from Tasandi's team. The lead one froze up even before the first slug struck - and broke through - its energy-attuned deflector field, locked into place by the telepaths behind them. Colin and Gene directed the communal entity, the strange and invigorating combination of being individual and yet a collective mind, and with their experience from Tau Atrea immediately located the critical implants to short out.

Even as the first one succumbed, those behind it registered the telepaths as the greater threat. This calculation was an understandable one, but it was also a mistake, as the Crusader shotguns in the hands of Tasandi's team roared repeatedly. The second cybertrooper in the line crumbled, its limbs blown to pieces. It drew yet closer, dragging itself across the floor. The final shot came from Security Officer Kale, who put a slug through the creature's damaged skull to finish it off before it got too close. She immediately held the gun up, giving it a vital moment to cool, while two more of the team continued opening up on the third now that it was held in place by the gestalt.

It was at this point that everything went wrong.

The second cybertrooper exploded.

The bomb within it wrecked the corridor and, in the process, generated the blast wave that knocked Tasandi and his team back by a meter. Weapons fire came on, thick and vicious, as two more cybertroopers joined their remaining four companions in charging forward. The speed they had was inhuman. The gestalt grabbed the lead one, then tried to take a second, but in the seconds they had left they couldn't do anything close to grabbing them all. They had to fall back.

Tasandi's team tried, but they were in no position to fight back as the cybertroopers were on them. Kale died first, a blade going through the back of her neck as she struggled to her feet. The telepaths heard her confused, terrified scream as she was pulled to the Beyond by the force of death itself. Tasandi saw the blade coming for him and tried to turn away, but wasn't fast enough to keep it from plunging through his lung to pin him on the floor. Blue blood billowed from his mouth, bubbling away, while his opponent seemed satisfied that he was no longer a threat and removed the blade. He heard the cry of another of his people, Crewman Okonkwo, as a blade pierced the man's heart.

Within seconds, Tasandi's team were down, undone by the unexpected immolation of their cyborg foes.

The teams behind them opened up as the telepaths cleared their line of fire. "Fall back!" Wendy called out to Colin, to everyone. "Don't let them get close!"

Given the speed of the enemy, that was easier said than done.

The next reached a position held by Kretulo and Duchamp before going down. They rushed backwards, firing on the next as fast as their shotguns dared, but that didn't save them from being hit by the blastwave as another fallen cybertrooper exploded.

The explosions, the screams, everything made Wendy's injured head hurt. It was like each thought had to go through mud. It was Bayer who got on the tac comm to the Maimonides. "This is Chief Bayer, we need immediate beamout! I repeat, immediate beamout requested!"

"We're working on it, Chief," replied Philippe.

"Work faster!" Wendy shouted into the line.




Wendy's demand came as another plasma bolt struck the Maimonides. Its faltering shields failed to hold the blast back, allowing the energies of the shot to strike the azure hull. The impact blackened and warped the material, breaking some of it and creating a breach in the hull.

"Hull breach, Deck 8, Section G," Oparan said. "Forcefields are in place, but I'm not sure how much longer the system will hold.

"Are you ready with that beam yet?" Philippe asked Treepk.

"Modifications are nearly complete," replied Treepk. "If we hit their sensor assembly, it should disrupt their sensor returns for half a minute, perhaps ten seconds more."

"That's going to be a small window to beam everyone back," noted Philippe.

"We'll make do," Oparan promised. "I have teams on the runabouts and shuttles just in case." After another impact he confirmed, "Shields are now at thirteen percent effectiveness, even with the system at full capacity. Cohesion loss will start after the next couple of impacts."

Latamrilam was already motivated to do his utmost to keep the ship moving, and seemed to redouble his efforts in maneuvering the Maimonides around incoming fire. He took irregular courses and changed the ship's relative attitude swiftly, endeavoring to throw off the enemy's tactical officer and, for the most part, succeeding. Only glancing blows were hitting on the shields of the Maimonides.

From the science station Treepk have out a triumphant cry, a keening noise through her beak. "Modifications complete. I need the helm to bring the sensor pod's forward emitter to bear on the enemy ship. And the range must be no more than fifty kilometers."

That was fairly close, as starship combats went. "Take us in, Mister Latamrilam," Nasira ordered immediately.

The ship shook again as it came about under the Gersallian's control. "Shields at ten percent," warned Oparan.

"Divert all shields to the bow!" Nasira ordered as an answer. It was a risk, but it would likely buy them the extra hit or two they needed.

The Maimonides was on a direct course for the slaver ship, her phasers blazing away as she approached. Rodrigo fired the torpedo launcher as well with a full spread. Although the torpedoes did degrade the enemy shields quite effectively, they did not drop, and the weakened phaser fire was ineffectual. The return fire was as heavy as the enemy could manage and Latamrilam was straining everything to keep the Maimonides moving on course while evading the incoming fire, using every thruster for his maneuvers.

"One thousand kilometers. Nine hundred. Eight… six… four hundred." Oparan counted down the distance while Treepk prepared to activate the beam.

A plasma shot slammed into the bow, a direct hit. The shields flickered and faded. "Forward shields down to ten percent. Two hundred kilometers, one hundred…"

Oparan reported fifty, purely for the others. Treepk noted the distance on her own and triggered the beam. "Activating subnucleonic beam."

The beam that shot out from the sensor pod was faint, barely visible, and tinged with purple light. It struck the visible sensor gear toward the bow of the cruiser. immediately Latamrilam pulled the Maimonides to starboard and twisted the ship, easily avoiding a possible collision. Treepk reported, "The beam went through the shields. The active sensor tracks I'm getting from them are all over the place. Their firing accuracy must be down to less than five percent."

Nevertheless the ship shook. "Glancing hit, damage to Deck 18, Section I," Oparan said. "Shields are already lowered, commencing transport."

"Helm, put that crippled cruiser between us and our friends. Maintain evasive pattern. Ops…"

"Retrieving the captives now!"




The chattering and booming of gunfire continued from down the hall. Huang and his four other Security division telepaths had formed a firing line at the door, stacking as many crates and other objects in the door into an improvised breastwork. Max, Astrid, and Indiri joined them on the line while the commercial telepaths behind them tried to stay out of any arcs of fire. They could hear the sounds of gunfire getting closer, but it was well-ordered withdrawal; not a pel-mel rout.

Then the explosions and screaming started. The gunfire slackened and while Huang couldn't hear the mind-screams he could hear the frantic footfalls and cries to fall back. Another explosion, more screams as men and women died. Several Alliance soldiers came down the hallway at a dead Sprint and stopped, they turned and opened fire to provide cover for those coming behind them. Two more ran past and took up a position behind the two others.

“Watch your fire, don't risk shooting the mundanes.” Huang cautioned. He couldn't see through the smoke, none of them could risk firing. The whole corridor reeked of ozone and metal, with the distinct smell of burning mammal flesh and death. Huang forced himself not to care, even as it stung his eyes. Another explosion, more screams. Another two came out of the smoke under the cover fire of the first four, the first set withdrew and threw themselves into a firing position behind the barricade.

The last of the mundanes were Chief Bayer carrying Lieutenant Manchester’s unconscious but still-living form in a fireman’s carry. He had a nasty wound across his chest but he didn’t let that stop him.

The Midshipmen were next, retreating rapidly on the back foot and under cover fire, providing it as they went firing into the smoke somehow. He could feel Coordinator Meier by that point. He was still alive, but obscured by the acrid cloud and as near as he could figure from the their obvious gestalt consciousness was that they were looking through Colin’s eyes to provide close support, but he couldn’t tell what Colin was doing. That’s when he saw it. Whoever it was driving Colin’s body, it wasn’t Colin anymore. He was never that graceful. Whoever that was moved like water, fending off four cybertroopers at once, taking advantage of the fact that they weren’t perfectly coordinated to engage in a fighting retreat. He had an omniblade extended from his left hand like a main gauche; sidestepping and deflecting the memory metal blades of the cybertroopers, never meeting force with force. Whatever it was, whoever that was, Colin’s body couldn’t keep it up. He was flagging, starting to slow down. The shield impacts from what he simply wasn’t fast enough to parry became more and more frequent. The midshipmen provided what support they could, the mundanes were throwing themselves behind the barricades and turning to open fire as well, but none of them could risk sending a high velocity round down range now that Colin-and-not-Colin was engaged in such desperate close quarters fighting. He could have taken killshots, taken advantage of openings; but he didn’t.

He can’t kill them, they’ll self-destruct. He’s just buying time. Machteld’s voice came in his mind. Gene was always a better fencer than Colin was…

What? But Gene is on the Fenrir, how?

They’re like us.
Machteld replied. Before you ask, it does extend this far.

Just then, Huang, Indiri, Sam, and four of the commercial telepaths disappeared in a flash of white light and a sharp buzzing sound, as did several others in the hold.

Danke Gott, Machteld thought. Sie müssen nur noch ein paar Sekunden kaufen.




The pain filling Untarm Tasandi's chest wasn't just from the wound the memory metal blade of the cybertrooper left in his torso. He coughed and felt the blood bubble up his throat in a fountain of blue fluid.

I am dying, he thought, while nearby more cries came from the others. The cybertroopers' self-destruct meant that the entire defense line was compromised. His comrades were dying, as were the people they'd come to save.

"Jel," he rasped weakly. "Jel." No. No!

Later some of the telepaths would remember feeling the desperate, dying mind, alien and yet so familiar. They did not understand the words, but they understood the meaning behind them.

Laga, Holiest of Holies, Divine Mother of All, I beg you, help me! The Shadow and the Void are before me! Help me please!

Tasandi's wounded body protested when he turned. His arms threatened to fail as he lifted himself to his knees. His legs didn't want to work. But he could not let his dying body hold him down. His comrades needed him. Even now he could hear the buzz of the transporters. His comrades and the former captives only needed seconds to escape this place.

Let me do this, Divine Mother. Let me strike against the Shadow and the Void! Blue blood surged through his throat and out his mouth in a violent cough while his hand ran over the grenades on his belt, one by one, before pulling his turakan. With all that remained of his will, Tasandi charged ahead, wobbling but not falling.

The cybertroopers were too busy with Colin to see him coming. His shaking hand nearly missed, but nevertheless the blade found the neck of one of the troopers. The curved blade was sharp enough to cut through flesh and even some of the electronics, but Tasandi lacked the strength to make the blow a decapitation. Indeed, he made no effect on the spine at all, and the cybertrooper remained intact. The blow did draw its attention and a pause, as its target assessment protocols reviewed the damage while deciding whether Tasandi or Colin was the greater threat.

Tasandi laughed at it in the moment his strength gave out. He lurched into it, holding onto the trooper in his final seconds, never actually hitting the ground.

Gene knew what Tasandi was about to do, and threw Colin’s body backward, twisting in mid-air he hit the deck in a roll and then crouched, minimizing the area of his husband’s body that would be exposed.

And then every remaining grenade on Tasandi’s belt went off.

Both Tasandi and the cybertrooper he was holding were annihilated; its self-destruct charge didn’t explode, but was destroyed. The other three took such damage that they sympathetically detonated, the shockwaves and shrapnel slammed into Colin’s kinetic barrier and it collapsed, finally transferring momentum to his body and sending him flying tail over teakettle to slam bodily into the barricades. Stars exploded in his and Gene’s eyes and the last thing they both perceived before light bathed their vision and their connection cut out was Tasandi’s soul passing beyond the portal with a joyous song in his heart.




On the viewscreen the crippled slaver cruiser continued a slow and lazy drift. Nearby the abandoned Zhang Qian was doing the same. "We're recovered everyone," Oparan said.

"Raise shields. Status of the enemy cruiser?" Nasira asked.

"The beam's effect is fading. Their systems are recalibrating. Targeting sensors are already locking on."

"Then get us out of here," said Nasira. "Initiate jump drive. Find us an anchor to get us within range of Teyan Station on our next jump."

"I'm doing so now," Oparan said. "Setting jump anchor for Teana in Falaen space. Initiating."

After several seconds, Nasira noted that no vortex was forming. "Commander?"

"It appears the last strike to the hull damaged the projectors for the jump drive. I cannot initiate jump."

It's always something. Nasira was quick to turn her attention to Tasira. "We need warp power back, now."

"The final generator repair is still finishing," answered the Asari. "Estimate two minutes to warp power."

Nasira responded by smacking her intercom key. "Iktas, we don't have two minutes."

"And we don't have a temporal device to slow down time to do it in less."

Treepk cut in. "The enemy cruiser is moving to intercept. They will have a shot on us in five seconds."

The report ended Nasira's retort to Tagiya before she could say it. "Stay on the crippled cruiser, as closely as you can!"

"Aye sir," said Latamrilam.

The Maimonides kept close to her initial opponent, using her hulk to mask herself from the foe stalking her. Plasma bolts streamed ahead of and behind them, in some cases barely missing. The ship had the advantage of the interior lines, allowing the Maimonides to better dodge the incoming fire.

"This won't last," said Philippe. "We need to pull away and give time for Tagiya to finish."

"We wouldn't last long enough to get them with another beam." Nasira considered tactical for a moment before saying, "I want options."

"They're adjusting their course. It looks like they're turning into their circle… wait, they're firing…" Treepk looked over her readings again. "They're firing on their own ship!"

"Pull away!" Nasira ordered. "Now!"

The reasoning for her order proved obvious a moment later, as flames started shooting from the hulked ship, and with them, emerald plasma bolts.

"They're shooting through their own people!" Philippe's horror was obvious.

"Engineering, we need warp now."




In Main Engineering Tagiya looked over the displays and sighed. The warp generator repair on the port nacelle was taking longer than he'd hoped. The complications there were the more agravating. For one, the interdiction field ruptured one of the coolant lines in three places, requiring over two minutes of manpower-time to fix and adding to the repair time. And they had to replace another connector due to a burn-out in the component. Throw in a blown plasma valve...

"Goddess, what a mess," he muttered. He believed the Captain that they didn't have the time to finish that repair. They needed the warp drive back now. "Main Engineering to Nacelle 2 Chamber. Chief Laurens, we need warp power immediately."

The Human woman on the other end answered promptly. "We're doing final checks now. One minute to completion."

"We may not have a minute."

"Understood. Doing what we can, sir."

In truth Tagiya wasn't sure there was anything they could do to hasten their progress. They were already doing this the fast, dirty way, such that the ship's warp systems would only be capable of Warp 6 at best. Cutting further corners meant vital systems went unchecked. If even the slightest flaw was not detected and they tried to generate a warp field, the entire system would fully blow out, and they would be stranded.

Granted, if it took too long, or the enemy managed a lucky hit, they would be stranded anyway.




Nasira watched with horrified fascination as the cruiser that captured the Zhang Qian was battered to bits by their own comrades, just because they were in the way. Finally the shooting finished, only because the other ship moved free enough to open fire on the Maimonides.

Latamrilam resumed his evasive maneuvers. The Maimonides twisted and "lifted" its bow, relative to the attacking ship, and he put the ship into a high power roll to throw off targeting. At tactical Rodrigo resumed firing the phasers, although not at the enemy cruiser. As plasma bolts shot for the Maimonides, his phaser beams intercepted the most threatening, breaking the bolts up. Nasira noted his initiative with approval.

Latamrilam, meanwhile, put on his own initiative, using maneuvers to evade fire while not allowing the enemy ship to bring them into a side arc, thus presenting more of the slaver ship's cannon emplacements. He put them on the horns of a dilemma: pursue and keep only their bow weapons on the Maimonides, or turn to present more weapons and see the Maimonides expand the distance between the two.

This did limit his maneuvers somewhat, of course, and the enemy gunnery officer was soon taking that into account, firing into their possible flight paths to contain their maneuvers. Rodrigo's efforts to use the aft-facing phasers to deflect the incoming shots was adjusted to as well, as the gunner started putting quantity of fire over quality. Multiple lower power shots meant more of them posted some threat to a ship with failing shields.

A plasma bolt crashed into the rear of the primary hull, just above the top of the drive and between the warp nacelles. It barely missed one of the impulsors and blew out a small area of Deck 12. "Rear shields down," Oparan said as the ship's shaking ceased. "Primary shield generators are overloaded."

"Secondaries are already on, but strained. Tertiary generator damaged," added Tasina.

By the time she spoke another bolt struck them, this one at the very stern of the ship.

"Hull breach, Deck 17, Section Q," Oparan reported. "Forcefields holding, but we have casualties."

Nasira swallowed and nodded. She checked the time.




The last hit was one all of Main Engineering felt. "Section Q hit," one of the engineer's mates reported. "Repair teams on the way."

Tagiya looked at the hit area and frowned. There was already a team in that area, trying to restore shield power. Now their omnitools were no longer transmitting. There was some hope, of course, but…

They are not the first comrades I have lost. Nor will they be the last. Goddess above, Light in the Void, why does your cause require so much from the best?

Whatever ruminations Tagiya had on the costs of fighting evil left his mind at the next shudder and the result on the screens. "Damage to main impulsor drive primary deuterium conduit!" he called out. "Get a team on that immediately!" A sublight escape isn't likely anyway. We need warp back online. He hailed the nacelle team again. "Chief Laurens, I need that nacelle!"

"Standby!"

"Goddess take your ears, Laurens…!"




"We're losing acceleration," Latamrilam informed the others. "The main impulsor engine is losing power."

"The main deuterium fuel line is out," Tasina confirmed. "The backup lines are engaged, but the engine's down to three quarter power. Secondary impulsors are at maximum."

"Going by their performance, we no longer have the sublight power to keep distance," Oparan added. "The enemy cruiser is catching up."

Nasira keyed Engineering again. "Bring that nacelle on now, Iktas! We have to get away!"

"Final system check is clearing, any moment, Captain!"

"We're out of moments! Bring the nacelle on anyway!"

"If there's a flaw the entire system will blow!"

The ship rocked again. "I just lost one of our rear phasers," Rodrigo reported. "More of their fire is going to get through…!" There was another shudder.

"Damage to Decks 12 and 20," Oparan said dutifully. "Multiple hull breaches. Sections D through F are on emergency batteries from damage to primary power conduit."

"For Christ's sake, Iktas!"




Tagiya was ready to give the order anyway when the display changed. The port nacelle lit up with green. With elation in his heart Tagiya shouted, "Warp power restored, thank Goddess!"




The moment Tagiya's words were heard, Nasira screamed, "Now!"

She didn't need to specify a course or speed, or anything else. Latamrilam immediately keyed the warp drive onto a course he'd already set up.

At his key presses power rushed into the warp field generators in the nacelles. They came to life and, with a brilliant flash, the ship escaped from its foe.

There were cheers on the bridge. Nasira led them, decorum be damned. Theotokos, thank you, thank you, thank you… went through her mind and soul.

It was left to Treepk, ever the professional, to note, "We still have them on long-range sensors."

"Are they pursuing?" asked Nasira.

"It does not appear so. They could not interfere with us at warp anyway," Treepk noted. "And in hyperspace we would not be as easily located. While detection of warp-traveling ships is possible from that band of hyperspace, it requires a fairly sophisticated kind of sensor that are export-protected by all producers of the design."

"I remember that from our briefing on the Fracture expedition," Nasira said, sheepish that she hadn't thought of that. "Helm, put us back on course for Teyan Station, best speed."

"Engineering is indicating Warp 6 only, sir. And I have us back on course already," he answered.

"Well done. I'm putting in a commendation for you."

"It is unnecessary, but appreciated," replied the young Gersallian. "Our ETA is three days, five hours, forty-two minutes."

"All things considered, losing a day and a half isn't a big deal, compared to the alternatives," Tasina remarked. "That was… quite thrilling, too! I never expected such a thing to happen when I was assigned to your ship, Captain."

"I admit I was not expecting something like this either," Nasira remarked. She drew in a breath and let the tension flow from her… at which point it came back, as a terrible consideration finally came to her. She looked to Philippe. "Given the damages, do we have a casualty report?"

"Crews are still examining some of the subsections exposed to hull breaches, Captain," he answered, his voice somber. "As of now, we've registered eight confirmed fatalities from the crew. Likely more. And confirmed three dozen injured. Security is also reporting significant casualties for their boarding force, but Lieutenant Manchester has yet to provide final numbers."

"God rest their brave souls," Nasira sighed. "And may He forgive me for not doing more for them."

"I think the Supreme's forgiveness is not necessary, Sir," Oparan remarked. "You have done all that you could, given the situation, and in a cause both of our religions would hail."

"Perhaps. But I shall have to explain this to the families nevertheless," Nasira replied, at which time she released the harness to her command chair. "Reduce running status to Code Yellow, keep an eye on long range sensors just in case they have warp-capable ships to pursue us with." She tapped the intercom. "Lieutenant Iktas, my thanks to you and the Engineering crew for saving our ship. But I would like the option to jump universes if we are pursued at warp, given our condition. Please focus all available efforts on restoring jump drive function."

"Understood, Captain. I apologize for the close call. My engineering teams and I will drill to improve our times on such critical repairs."

"And I will try to improve as a captain. I should not have snapped at you. Bridge out."

Philippe eyed Nasira as she sat back in her chair for a moment. The adrenaline rush was fading, and with it he felt the same weariness he was certain she had. The tension was broken, all that was left was the hard, monotonous work of writing action reports, justifying decisions to superiors, and most importantly, seeing to the injured and the slain. "Why don't you get some rest, Captain?" he proposed. "We will rotate Gamma Shift up to assume the watch."

"They may relieve us in two hours," she answered. "When we are more certain of no pursuit. And Commander, you have the bridge." She stood up. "I am going to check on our guests and their condition."

Philippe nodded and left his chair, assuming the command chair while Nasira, tired as she was, walked stiffly to the lift. "Deck 8," she said, and the lift promptly closed and descended into the heart of her wounded, yet triumphant, ship.




Medbay proved to be busy. While not quite at capacity, treating the wounded took up many of the available beds. Two nurses were making the rounds, checking up on their cases. Nasira saw no sight of Doctor Weyana or any of her subordinate surgeons. She finally intercepted one of the nurses, a Caucasian Human. "Is the doctor…?"

"She and her colleagues are all busy in the ORs, Captain. We have several cases in need of surgery," the woman answered.

"I'd like to see Lieutenant Manchester. Or Coordinator Meier."

The nurse showed them to one corner of the ward. The ship's security chief was unconscious, fresh bandages covering one arm and her neck. A few beds over was where Colin ended up, with a number of his fellow telepaths ringing his bed. Nasira approached quietly, trying and not quite succeeding in keeping her thoughts restrained. The scene of the medbay, the extent of the wounded, it was all a lot to see. To know that her decisions led to this, that people she was responsible for were hurt, were dead. It was for a righteous cause, that she had no doubt of, but the burden weighed on her regardless.

Colin looked up at her and spoke. He kept it barely above a whisper, breathing hurt through several broken ribs, but he figured Nasira needed to hear it. “You should be proud of them Captain. What happened in there, the only people responsible for it are the Aristos. Your orders were the only ones a moral being could give, and your crew rose to the challenge presented with courage and dignity.”

She nodded in acknowledgement. "I am proud of what they have done. I only wish I were wise enough that I might have seen a way to save more of them." She looked around at the wounded. "How are your people?"

“Reasonably well, all things considered. The counter-agent for sleepers tends to put a strain on the kidneys so they’re on supportive fluids. Psychologically, time will tell. These four.” He gestured with his eyes toward the four young telepaths in the black and silver uniforms of Transport divisions fleet, asleep in their chairs. “They’ll be alright. They got to kill the slavers this time. Sad as it is, it isn’t their first trip on that train.”

"I see." She looked over the four and was astounded to see they were so young. None seemed to be twenty. "I'm going to arrange quartering for your people. We have some extra space for housing emergency evacuees."

“Thank you, once again. Chances are, they’ll want to sleep communally in some way, keeps the nightmares at bay. Should save some space. And yeah, they’re young. Gene and I pulled them out of hell, they joined the fleet after that. We use the old Royal Navy system because we don’t exactly have a naval academy. Machteld’s first middie command went… poorly, though no fault of her own.”

Nasira gave the young German girl a knowing look. "I know what it's like to be pulled out of a hell, and I made the same decision," she said warmly. "As for first commands… there have been worse, as hard as that might be to believe." Nasira couldn't keep the thought out of her head, of the disastrous result of Caterina Delgado's first mission in command of one of the Facility's ships, and the Dalek invasion of the Facility that resulted in the Facility's destruction. Colin winced.

“Yeah, that’s pretty bad. And those are some vicious fucking trash cans.”

"Robert and the others told me about them. They are nightmares," Nasira said. "Last year they nearly destroyed the Aurora and an entire Earth."

Colin went perfectly still for a second. “Note to self: don’t go anywhere near the pissed off dumpsters.”

Nasira cracked a small grin before saying, "I need to see to the others, and you should rest, Coordinator. I will have operations officers come by later to confirm the arrangements for your people."

“I probably should, yeah. My first concussion and all that…” At that point, he shut his eyes and within a moment was asleep.

Moving around the beds, Nasira found Chief Bayer bandaged up and half-asleep. His brown eyes met hers. "Sir," he said.

"Chief Bayer." Nasira's chest felt hollow as she dreaded the answer to the question in her mind. "If you feel up to it…"

"With the Lieutenant out, I'm the senior for security, sir, and I'm up to it," he assured her. "I must report ten fatalities to the boarding team, seven of them among the security contingent. Including Ensign Untarm Tasandi, whom I and many others witnessed commit an act of extraordinary heroism while he was dying. After taking what I am certain was a fatal wound, he got back to his feat and attacked the enemy cyborgs from behind. After this he detonated all of his remaining grenades, disabling them all and giving the rest of us time to be beamed out. At the minimum, he saved Coordinator Meier's life." The older German man issued the report as if sharing the weather, calmly and without emotion, but Nasira was certain he was still feeling his own injuries. He forced himself to share the entire thing despite his own exhaustion.

"I will note his actions in my report," Nasira promised. "I am unfamiliar with his people, so I do not know if an Order of Valor will soften the loss to his family." After Bayer nodded in acknowledgement, she said, "Get some rest, Chief. Your duty is done."

She departed the medbay at that point. She felt proud of her people, but the losses… they were painful.

Once she was back in her ready office Nasira began writing her report. She covered everything she knew and took full responsibility for the damage and casualties. By the time she was done, there was no defying the fatigue she felt. She shed her uniform jacket and went to her couch to get some rest. Within ten seconds of her head touching the pillow, she was sound asleep.
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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2018-12-30 06:36am

Ship's Log: ASV Maimonides; 22 October 2643. Captain Nasira Fanous reporting. We are still en route to Teyan Station, with no further hostile contacts. Repair work is still underway and we will need a day in dock to restore the warp drive completely.

I must also report our final casualty count: thirty dead, forty-eight wounded. A tenth of my crew suffered the loss of life or an injury. They bear this well, and the living and the slain performed beyond the scope of duty. And I would do the same thing over again if I had to. Our cause was just.

But I still feel the loss. And I am responsible for it. I feel as if a weight is upon my chest, such that my heart might stop.

Madeleine warned me once that command was a burden that could crush. Only some of us have the ability to hold up that burden. I must be one of them. The slain deserve the effort.





The wardroom on Deck 3 smelled of pastries and coffee. It was the "morning" shift by Maimonides' time. Nasira and Philippe were in conference with their command staff. Master Chief Xuan spoke clearly. "The bulkhead systems worked as expected, as did the emergency forcefields. The damage control protocols we've trained in worked as intended."

"The problem is that deuterium fuel line to the main impulsor," said Tagiya. "On another ship, even accounting for hull armoring, that hit shouldn't have knocked the line out."

"What caused the problem?" asked Philippe.

"It was cut," he said. "The way the fuel line was laid out between hull spaces allowed for warped material from the plasma strike to cut through."

"Command will want suggestions on fixing that," said Nasira. "The entire point of our defenses is to let us outrun opponents."

"'It will require the entire line be replanned. And preferably covered with a new protective sheath," Tagiya said. "Days of yard time in of itself, easy. I can get the repair done in hours, at least."

"Oh?" That was from Latamrilam. "Why the difference?"

"Running an intact line is easy. Cutting through deckspace to fit an expanded sheath, and modifying the line collars on the impulsor reactor? That's what takes the extra time," Tagiya explained.

"I suspect our superiors' response to the flaw may end up being 'don't get into firefights'," Oparan said, after which he nibbled on a seemai strip.

"The phaser core is my problem," Rodrigo added. "On another ship, it would have been fine. It was far more fragile than the ones we had on the Challenger."

"We run into the same problem there," said Tasina. "This ship wasn't built for combat. It was designed and planned with spare funds from the war effort, so you can't be surprised some unexpected flaws popped up. They happen in any design."

"That makes identifying them all the more important," remarked Tagiya. "This was the first time a ship of this design faced a combat situation. These are issues that need correcting to improve the survivability of the ship."

"Agreed." Nasira directed her attention to Weyana. The Gersallian doctor was more fatigued than any of them. "Doctor, how has medbay fared?"

"We did as expected," she said. "I can report no problems with the equipment. I would like to have more nurses added to our staff, however. Running all ORs left only two nurses in the wards."

"That will go in the file to Personnel." Nasira turned to Security's attending member, Chief Bayer. "Chief, what about you?"

"Security on this ship was light for a reason," he stated. "We were not expected to carry off major boarding operations such as that. Only enough to protect planet-going expeditions."

"And your recommendations?"

"We should be given a platoon of Marines, including a heavy armor squad," he said succinctly. "And if they will not do that, we should be issued heavy armor for Security department use, and our numbers raised to at least thirty-six."

"I'll bring that up with Personnel and Naval Security in our report," she promised. "Are there any other items?"

"The sensors worked better than expected," Treepk remarked. "I have nothing further to add."

When nobody else spoke up, Nasira sighed quietly and said, "Then that leaves our last item. When and how should we hold the funeral service?"

"I would imagine it would be obvious," said Rodrigo. "At Teyan, when we arrive."

"Maybe, maybe not." Philippe shook his head. "Our guests may wish to attend. But they may not want to disembark at Teyan Station, so we would have to make arrangements for their departure before or after we're at the station.."

"I still have to speak with Dr. Meier about arrangements regarding them," said Nasira. "I will get an answer from him and make a decision." Nasira gave the room a glance before standing to her feet. "That concludes the hotwash. You are all dismissed.".




Once everyone recovered, Colin’s guest quarters were more than a little bit cramped. Himself, Max, Albert, Sam, Machteld, Fatima, Astrid, Huang, and Indiri were sitting on every available square centimeter of space.

“So, welcome to the debrief.” Colin said. “This is not an exercise in finger-pointing, we don’t do that here. Rather it’s for constructive criticism. What did we learn, what went wrong, and how do we fix it in the future. That includes things the Psi Corps as a whole can do better, and I mean that up to and including changes in policy and operational doctrine."

“Where do we even start with that?” Sam asked. “I mean, those whole thing was a cock-up, start to finish.”

“We should start with route security.” Huang suggested. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for any of our ships to use the beacon network. We’re vulnerable in normal space, we shouldn’t be transiting it at all. The only problem is, we don’t have enough Navigators for every small transport ship.”

“And we won’t be able to hide the fact that we’re sending extrauniversal envoys anymore.” Astrid interjected. “A light freighter leaves port and never hits a gate beacon until the destination? Someone’s going to figure it out. Someone already has, is my guess. That ship was waiting for us. Someone in EarthGov figured it out and tipped them off.”

“I agree with both of you. We’re going to need to figure out a solution there. I’ll talk to the Coordinators for Transport Division and figure something out. Discovery might just be a risk we have to take, because the way we’re doing things now is unacceptable. I can confirm that someone in the government figured it out and passed the information on. I know who they are, they’ll be dead within the week.”

Max nodded, but wanted to make sure of something. “Making an example of them?”

“It’s tempting, but I think after looking through medical records we’ll find something plausible. Stroke, aneurysm, suicide. The usual.”

“Okay, good.” Max replied.

“Es gibt noch eine andere Möglichkeit…” The other three of her compatriots nodded, as did Astrid who had an approving look in her eye.

“I know, we could turn them into an asset and render them non-technically dead. We could do that.” Colin never liked it, but that didn’t mean personality reconstruction didn’t have its place. It was an evil thing, but it wasn’t the most evil thing, and the person would be dead. By the time they were done the soul would have passed beyond the portal and a new one would stand in its place. The intermediate step of a major readjustment wasn’t something he would permit.

Albert changed the subject from there, sensing Colin’s discomfort. “There is something else. I’m not sure we should be using unarmed transports for midshipmen commands. I know the naval tradition is to give midshipmen command of small vessels like a captured brig or trade vessel to give them practice, but in this environment it’s putting us and our ships at risk. It’s nothing against Machteld,” he said it verbally as well as thought it sincerely when she slumped a little bit. “She did the only thing she could have done when interdicted by pirates. Run like hell and call for help. The defensive deployment for anti-boarding was perfect, they just opened combat with cybertroopers armed with dart guns.”

“Yeah, I think we should discontinue that practice too. Probably start using corvettes for it so at least they're armed. We can’t use the Olympus models because those scream Earth, but we can probably use the Markab destroyers for it.” The most useful thing Sheridan had ever done for the Psi Corps was destroying the Markab jump gate. Markab ships proliferated in the galaxy as their territory was looted, and with the destruction of their jump gate, the Corps got to play grand theft warship and orbital infrastructure without anyone observing them. Most of their fleet had been built in retooled Markab shipyards. A random Markab destroyer would be perfectly deniable.

“We need to speed up the deployment of vac-sealed combat armor to Security Division. I know the Marines have priority, but if we’re going to keep using civilian ships in any capacity, we need to upgrade our equipment.” Everyone else in the room nodded.

“Those are expensive imports.” Indiri responded. She’d negotiated that trade deal, in addition to the one with the Ferengi that brought a lot of Federation technology into the Corps. “We’re going to need to violate intellectual property rights and start building our own. Kassa Fabrication can sue us later.”

“Speaking as the person who’s going to end up defending against that lawsuit one day… ugh.” Max replied, but he didn’t disagree. “Intellectual Property rights can get fucked. This is war.”

“Can anyone think of anything else?” Colin asked. There no one could, they’d run out of major ideas. There were little things, but those could be discussed in private. “Okay. We’re adjourned. Anyone want some coffee? Maybe tea?”

They had time to answer the request before a chime filled the room, the particular electronic tone of the chime attached to the door.

“Open.” Colin told the computer, which chimed an affirmative. “Hello?”

The door slid open with a gentle "swish" and Nasira walked in, wearing a fresh uniform and looking refreshed compared to what she'd been like in medbay the prior day. The others did notice she felt a bit of a crick in her back due to spending her off-watch hours, abbreviated as they were, sleeping on the couch in her ready office. "Everyone, it's good to see you," she said, before focusing on Colin. "Doctor Meier, how are your people doing?"

“Some will need therapy, the sleepers are fairly traumatic to be on, but it wasn’t for long so the prognosis is good. Your doctors are very skilled at their craft, so the physical injuries - my own included - are on the mend.” He paused. A status report wasn’t going to cut it, and it wasn’t what she needed either. She and her entire crew had been willing to die for his people. That was practically unheard of and he couldn’t just let it sit. “Captain, I really can’t thank you enough. Every telepath on that ship… well let’s just say that being rescued by non-telepaths is something of a role-reversal. We’re not used to it, and we won’t forget it.” Nasira felt their collective gratitude wash over her like sunlight on a warm day.

It was a particular feeling to have, and Nasira was grateful in turn to feel it. For a moment she forgot the stresses of the past day, the terror of the close fight, and her lingering sadness and guilt over her fallen crew. It reminded her that her choices had been right, and the outcome of those choices worth the costs incurred. "On behalf of my crew, I accept your thanks," she said to them, warmly. "For the duration of your stay, we'll do everything in our power to help you recover from what you've endured. It is about that duration that I'd like to speak with you, Doctor."

“Funeral services?” He asked, catching her intent. “I don’t think anyone would decline attending; it’s no small thing to be willing to die for another, someone who isn’t your own no less. That deserves recognition.”

"Your presence will be welcome," she assured them all. "But there's also the matter of how you will be moving on. Teyan Station is an open port. While the Alliance authorities there will not have anything to say about your disembarkation, EarthGov probably has its own sources on the station. If we dock and thirty-two telepaths of Psi Corps disembark, I'm not sure it can go unnoticed. Even if you slip out in non-Corps clothing, any facial recognition scans will still identify you. I want to see what your intentions are before I schedule the service." Her mind made clear her thoughts; if they were to arrange a rendezvous with another ship, the service would be held before arrival at Teyan.

Colin briefly toyed with the idea of just showing up. Broadcasting to the Earth Alliance that the Allied Systems had rescued their own not-citizens from bondage while they sat back and actively helped the Eubian Concord do the abductions. Kicking off the war right then, effectively. But after a moment, he decided against it. “We can make arrangements for a Mothership to take everyone but myself, Max, and Isaac off. The Earth Alliance knows you’re bringing us back by way of that station. We should probably stick to that plan.”

"Then we'll arrange the service to come in the system where we make the rendezvous. If you coordinate with Latamrilam, we'll find a system sufficient for the purpose."

“That’ll work.” Colin replied, and chuffed. “Do you have any idea how tempting it is to just show up on Minbar with a declaration of independence right now? ‘Mr. President, it is for these crimes that we are declaring independence from the Earth Alliance. In my back pocket is a declaration of war, in my front is our accession into the InterStellar Alliance. Will it be peace, or war?’”

Do not do that! Came the collective shout in his mind.

"Given everything that's happened? I don't blame you for wanting to," Nasira replied honestly, smiling at the thought.

“I could do it you know. I have the documents drafted.”

"And yet, I think you will wait until you are ready, or your hand is forced," Nasira remarked. "You don't seem quite so reckless, Doctor. Not as much as a twenty-four year old starship captain that threw her under-armed science ship into a battle with armed slaver transports." She spoke the last line with a hint of self-deprecation, although it was not meant to be any sort of verbal self-flagellation.

“Hey, for a reckless young woman in a science ship, you did really well. You punched well-above your tonnage. Twice.”

"We tripped and sucker-punched them the first time, then broke their knee-caps," she remarked. "The second one we had to blind before we could beam you back. It was not a proper 'punch-up' fight."

“That’s fair, but it still worked.” He shrugged “It’s something to take pride in. No one looking at that from the outside would have thought you had a prayer after the second cruiser jumped in."

Nasira laughed. "Oh, I had many prayers. I believe every saint in the Church heard from me yesterday, Theotokos included."

Colin laughed right back, the warm kind of laughter. "Well, they answered! Seriously though, you did the Allied Systems proud.”

Machteld decided she needed to say something, it was slow and deliberate, like it was any time she spoke in English. “The strength of any ship isn’t strictly in its technical specifications,” she paused, searching for the word “specifications, or systems, but its commander and crew. For us, that is true in several different ways, and to have any hope of victory we have to lever that as much as we can. You have a damn fine crew. Lots of leverage.”

"They are finer than I could have asked for," Nasira answered. "I look forward to the day when you're out here with your own, Miss Albrecht. Maybe, when you've won your independence, your new Telepath State will want to build its own science ships to explore the Multiverse."

“No question about that.” she replied with a smile. “It’s too big and beautiful a multiverse to not want to poke around it with a sensor array and too many people with more curiosity than caution.”

Science ships are on the future docket, right? She asked Colin.

Of course they are. That the Earth Alliance doesn’t have them is a symptom of its internal rot.

"I have to see to other matters now, but I am reliably informed that Mister Umai has ordered his kitchen staff to prepare extra food in the Lab of the 'comfort' variety. Feel free to head by if you're looking for something other than replicator fare. And if you wish to try out one of the holodecks, well, I never use my allotment, so there should be an hour or so available in the next day or so, at least." Nasira gave them a final nod, keeping the smile on her face. "I'll be sure you know when the service is scheduled. Have a pleasant day." With that said, she departed the room.

Astrid raised an eyebrow after Nasira left the room and turned to the others. “They fixed the holodecks so they don’t become self-aware and try to kill everyone right?” No answer. “Right!?”




The rendezvous was one day out from Teyan, in an unoccupied star system in open space labeled 29KB on the Alliance charts. The star was an M2-classification red dwarf with nothing but lifeless barren rocks in the system, and not many at that.

The two days spent getting to 29KB saw the wounded of the Maimonides heal further. Their guests, now thirty-three in all, would have no complaints about their interactions with said crew. They were treated as guests just as Colin, Max, and Isaac enjoyed, with each day seeing tour parties from those curious about the Maimonides. Astrid did end up spending some time on the holodeck, strangely enough in an over-the-top spy thriller. Machteld and company took separate but also simultaneous tours of ship systems including engineering for Sam, a stop on the bridge for Machteld, the shuttle bays and deflector control for Fatima, and Albert took the science and medical sections. Huang hung out with the ship’s security contingent and they compared notes.

Their final day on the Maimonides would be the somber one. While volunteer crew manned vital stations, and others watched via omnitool or holo-viewer from the mess halls or their quarters, the funeral services began in the largest space the ship had available, the Culinary Lab. The tables, chairs, and food bars were gone, leaving the entire space open for those gathered to lead the ceremonies. Those in direct attendance were in full dress uniform. The Alliance dress uniforms were predominately white, with golden epaulettes affixed to shoulder boards of the same color, and the branch color in trim at the base of the shoulders much as on the normal black uniform. Commendations such as medals were worn on the right breast of the jacket, rank insignia was on the collar as with the standard uniform.

At the front of the lounge, at the windows, Nasira and the command crew were gathered. Nearby was Chief Yaume, a blue-skinned Dorei with teal spots, who carried the hita, the five-tubed flute-like instrument common to many Dorei nations. Beside him Ensign Claude Montefort had a replicated bugle. There would be no live bagpipes, as there were no skilled bagpipers on the Maimonides. Toward the stern wall of the establishment, many of the crew were gathered, waiting for the ceremony to begin.

In addition to them were every single telepath on the ship, thirty two in all. Colin was in his full dress uniform of course. A black turtleneck stretched up from outside a fully closed double-breasted coat with silver buttons and copper trim. His badge was pinned to his left breast and commendations including the New Liberty Volunteer Aid and Rescue Medal pinned to his right, simple aiguillettes of interwoven copper, silver, and pitch black thread were draped over his right shoulder; his rapier was on his belt as well. Machteld, Sam, Albert, and Fatima were in the uniforms of Transport division, which were similar but lacked an evident closure, just a diagonal trim line in silver. None of them were at proper command rank yet and so didn’t carry a ceremonial sidearm. Huang and his contingent didn’t either, but that was because Security division was nominally civilian and under the auspices of Administration. Their dress uniform consisted of all-black police jackets with a similar trim arrangement. The rest were in formal mufti, none of it in colors other than black, silver, and copper.

As Captain, it fell to Nasira to begin the ceremony, and she did so with a lump in her threat and another holding her heart nearly still. "We are here to honor the passing of thirty of our shipmates," she said to the assembled. "Our comrades, who died for one of the highest ideals our Alliance stands for: the salvation of the innocent from the horrors of slavery. Thanks to their sacrifice, thirty of those innocents were pulled from the jaws of a living death." Nasira swallowed and called upon her memory to remember the list of the fallen. "Let us remember them now."

She named them. Untarm Tasandi. Olga Kalikova. Neolani Kale. Chidike Okonkwo. Michael Danforth. Albert Danton. Jataritaya. The fears she had that she'd forget a name proved unfounded as every one of them came loud and clear. From her place nearby, Master Chief Xuan nodded with quiet approval.

As Nasira spoke, Chief Yaume began playing a memorial hymn of the Astrai with his hita while Philippe quietly keyed the speakers to play "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.

At the final name Nasira stopped and nodded to her left, after which she took a step to the right. The music quieted. Her action gave room for Isaac to approach. His beard was perfectly trim for a military funeral, and he wore his full ceremonial regalia. A white kippah capped his skull and he wore a full tallit draped over his shoulders, with tzitzit dangling from his waist. He spoke the prayer from memory.

“God, full of mercy, Who dwells in Heaven, give rest on the wings of your Divine Presence, amongst the holy, pure and glorious who shine like the sky, to the souls of crew of the ASV Maimonides, who lost their lives in battle against the slavers of the Eubian Concord. Therefore, the Merciful One will protect their souls forever, and give their souls eternal life. The Everlasting is their heritage, and they shall rest peacefully in their resting place, and let us say: Amen.”

The assembled echoed Isaac's "Amen". Afterward Nasira tapped a key on her omnitool, sending the order to the bridge. The torpedo launcher began its quiet work releasing the caskets one by one. They formed a solid line that, moments later, became visible through the transtanium windows. All of those present turned to the windows and stood at strict attention. Many were shedding tears for their lost comrades and friends. At Nasira's motion Ensign Montfort began to play "Taps" with the bugle.

Some of the caskets outside were empty, from those who were vaporized, and from a couple of the remains being returned home as the families requested. But it still felt important for there to be thirty caskets.

It took a couple of minutes for the last casket to become little more than a distant speck against the light of 29KB's star. Once it was no longer visible Nasira spoke up once last time. "And we came from starstuff, one and all. And to starstuff we return, to one day become life anew." The words were from a Darglan funeral oration, discovered when the Aurora briefly hosted a dying Darglan in Universe N2C5, and since had gained some popularity in the Alliance fleet.

After she gave the final line, Nasira nodded to Master Chief Xuan. "Burial company dismissed!" the older woman called out in her accented English.




An hour after the ceremony Nasira, Philippe, Weyana, and Wendy were in the shuttle bay. Shuttles marked with Psi Corps insignia were lined up and waiting for the thirty telepaths being carried over. Colin and the others were present to see them off. A small honor guard of Psi Corps marines in their shiniest of combat armor were standing in formation near the center shuttle. Colin raised an eyebrow. The door to that shuttle opened and revealed a pair of telepaths, one was a Caucasian man in late middle age wearing the formal uniform of Military division, one of his natural arms was missing and replaced with a fully functional but still obviously mechanical prosthetic. He had the look of a man who used to be very strong, and still was, but age had put some padding on. The other was a slight woman of East Asian ancestry with black hair going to gray; she was in formal civilian dress, all black with every inch of skin below her neck covered, like all Psi Corps telepaths.

“Jonas, Pensri, I wasn’t expecting you.” Pensri gave him the sort of look that was reserved for teachers letting a favored student know he was being dumb.

“Well, we can’t exactly let this go unremarked.” She said, waving her hand at the thirty telepaths who’s stopped embarking and were then standing at attention in perfectly straight lines, six to a shuttle. Three Coordinators was kind of a big deal and they all sensed something was about to happen.

The assembled Maimonides officers could tell something was up. "Sir, ma'am, welcome to the Maimonides," Nasira said to them as greeting.

“We are honored to meet you Captain Fanous. I am Coordinator Jonas Fowler of Military division, this is Coordinator Pensri Anusorn from Education. There are twenty six of us, three for each division. Your Alliance has already met several others… if you would step forward we would like to recognize your ship and crew for the bravery and tenacity you showed in the recent action.” Nasira did so, and the others came up beside her. Colin stepped up beside his two counterparts and Pensri spoke again, holding out an ornate box that was passed from inside the shuttle.

“We’d originally conceived this as an individual citation, we never thought we’d have to come up with a unit citation before now. In the history of our people, at no time have those not our own risked so much for us on such a scale.” Pensri said. “On behalf of the Psi Corps we present to you and your crew the Order of Vacit, for extraordinary sacrifice to provide aid and comfort to telepaths.” She opened the box, in it was a plaque to be hung on the bridge. It was cast in bronze with silver lettering. The name of the citation at the top, in the center were the words ASV Maimonides, and below that were the names of everyone who gave their lives in both the boarding action and space combat. There was also one copy of the actual medallion; suitable to be worn in Earth Alliance space because it didn’t have their seal. Instead, it had another symbol; an upside down Omega with an Iota crossed through it to resemble a symbol for Odin’s lost eye. This was inscribed on a starburst set within a circle. There was also a data crystal that contained the replicator pattern so each and every member of the crew could have one.

She presented that forward, while the marines snapped a salute with their right index and middle fingers pressed to their temples.

Nasira took the box and bowed her head respectfully. "Thank you, Coordinator. On behalf of my crew, I accept this honor, and I am proud to have aided your people."

“You are most welcome Captain. And thank you for bringing our brothers and sisters back to us.” Pensri replied.

“That, and your crew figured out how to interdict Eubian ships. We’ll be able to figure out how to replicate it. You’ve saved a lot more just those on the Zhang Qian.” Jonas added with a grin.

Nasira nodded to Philippe, who tapped at his omnitool. The micro-fabricators within created a basic data diskette. "The field we used is here," he said, extending the disk. As it was accepted, he continued, "Unless they find a way to override the safety hardware, this method should work every time, so long as the field's got enough power, and your timing is just right."

“It’s a start. One of our ships, the PCS Muninn, managed to capture the other cruiser, so we’ve got one of their hyperdrives. If nothing else, we’ll be able to pursue them once we reverse engineer it.”

That’s Bester’s ship isn’t it? Pensri asked.

Yes. It is! There are some people who are really regretting their life-choices right now. Jonas replied, with an enthusiasm that underscored to Colin why they still kept Bester around. Sometimes, you needed someone like Alfred Bester, even if you were never really happy to see him and if you worried he’d put a knife in your back if he thought it would serve his goals.

"That is good news," Philippe said, heedless of the rest of their conversation. "It's possible they didn't have a chance to warn their bosses about how the interdiction worked."

“Hopefully not. But even if they did, that just means an arms race, and we can deal with that far better than a straight-up technological supremacy. Our engineers are very clever.” That remark was from Colin.

"I would hope so," said Nasira.

"Hey, so…" Quiet this far, the recovered security chief of the ship gave the collected telepaths a meaningful look. "You guys take care of yourselves out there, okay?"

They didn’t reply verbally, they didn’t need to, they could reply in unison with a collective concept that meant You too, Lieutenant Manchester, with variations on the phrasing.

She flashed them a friendly grin. There was some pain in it, and the bit of red in her eyes from the service for her slain comrades was plain to see.

"God go with you," Nasira said as a final word.

“And also with you.” Jonas replied, himself a lifelong if lukewarm Catholic. “Anytime you need help Captain and we have assets in reach, the Psi Corps will answer.” The lack of IU drive limited their reach, but they’d use what they had. With that, Jonas and Pensri withdrew and the marines snapped another salute before following them into the shuttle.

I swear I’m never going to get used to having an honor guard of marines… Pensri’s mental voice came floating up to the other telepaths. The marines silently snickered.

Hey, we’re heads of state now. It’s expected. Jonas replied.

The rest of the telepaths sent their goodbyes across the thoughts and minds of the friends they’d made, as well as their heartfelt thanks. Then they filed into their own shuttles in good order.

Isaac was waiting with Max and had a confused look on his face. Even without telepathy, Colin could tell he was wondering what exactly he just saw; trying to reconcile what he thought was going on and what Colin’s position was with what he saw. He knew the Corps was looking for help against the Earth Alliance, that was why he’d agreed to help them on New Liberty; but he thought those efforts would be diplomatic, back-channel politics, or maybe on the outside to win liberation while still remaining part of the Earth Alliance. What Isaac saw just looked a hell of a lot like dignitaries of a sovereign state issuing a military commendation to the soldiers of an allied power.

Colin thought that over for a second. What Isaac thought he knew was enough to hang them all anyway. There was no way around showing him what he saw either. If a group of people want to be treated like a sovereign power the best way to convince others to do that was to act like one. Otherwise they think they’re dealing with a bunch of ragtag revolutionaries who don’t have a post-revolution plan. Colin thought privately. Or mostly-privately.

Might as well tell him Colin. Otherwise the risk of him slipping something without knowing he’s doing so is greater than the risk of him knowingly spilling the beans. Gene said.

“That’s what it is, Rabbi. That’s exactly what you just saw.” Colin explained, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Isaac’s jaw dropped.

“I… thought you were just…I don’t know what I thought, exactly.”

“What did you expect Isaac? Did you honestly think we could ever just integrate into the Earth Alliance as citizens? Maybe after a short fight that might include some allies from other universes, and that they’d just welcome us all in with open arms and then never try anything after that? When has that ever worked?” Max was right there and he asked the very much rhetorical question.

Isaac thought about it, really thought about it. He knew his own people’s history and it was like that to an extent. Various kingdoms would let the Jews in, and sooner or later, sometimes centuries later, someone would get the bright idea to run a pogrom or lock them in ghettos. It might be suppressed by the state, but anti-semitism never went away. Germany had been the best place in the world to be a Jew, until it was the very worst. “It hasn’t.”

“Right. We have to be sovereign. With our own laws, a military of our own, and more importantly a foreign policy and allies of our own, independent of EarthGov. It’s the only way to secure a future in the long term. We’ve been building a real military since the Minbari War and formed our own government at the end of last year.” Max followed up, his voice was gentle. He knew that the Earth Alliance for all its faults was Isaac’s home, and that some part of Isaac had hoped that it could be home for his telepath friends. “The only reason we haven’t all just left is that half our children are born to mundanes. We can’t abandon them…”

“I… I think I understand, yeah.” He really did. He was already willing to accept a violent revolution, a ghetto uprising in effect. Forming telepath-Israel wasn’t much of a stretch after that. Of course, there was still the strangeness of finding out your friend was a secret president or five star general or somesuch. “So, what does that make you Colin? Because what you were doing up there… that’s the sort of thing generals and presidents do.”

“There are, in theory, twenty-seven coordinators. Three for each of the nine major divisions of the Corps. There’s a seat open in Transport right now, we all know who we want to fill it but she’s not available…” The reasons for that made Colin sad, but she had a good reason to be gone and probably would be until it was safe for her to return to Earth space. “We’re basically an executive cabinet… and I’m chairman of that cabinet.”

“So you’re president? How the hell did that happen? Don’t get me wrong, congrats and everything but officially as Psi Cops go you’re kind of a step above a nobody.” Colin chuckled warmly at that, it was true. He wasn’t anything very special except for one incident during the Battle of the Line, and even that was just a particularly effective act of teenage defiance.

“Not exactly. It’s more of a primus inter pares sort of thing than actually being a president or something. I know it’s hair splitting but it’s an important hair to split. As for me, well, that requires some historical context, want to hear it?” Colin knew he was going to have to assign a covert bodyguard detail. Isaac couldn’t know about it either. He’d act differently and that could tip the EAIB agents who would inevitably surveil him off.

“...Sure.” he was curious, if nothing else.

“Okay.” He turned to go and Isaac stepped in beside him. “So our second director was Kevin Vacit.”

“Oh I remember that, he replaced Crawford, right? After he died in that car-bombing?”

“Yeah.” Max confirmed for him, stepping in just behind them. “Crawford was a piece of work. His mansion inside TeepTown was an antebellum revival plantation house and he treated us like favored house-slaves. He even called adult telepaths ‘boy’.”

“G-d above… really?”

“Oh yeah. And you’d think that his long-term aid wouldn’t be much better, but he was. He gave us the space to create our own culture and freedom to select our own leaders.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense? Why would the agent of the Earth Alliance government do that?” Isaac asked.

“We’ve been trying to figure that out for the entirety of living memory.” Colin said, and nodded to Max. “And I use that term loosely. Most likely, he was secretly one of us somehow, but we’re not sure. The important thing though is that he basically guaranteed the formation of a deep state that operated against his successor.”

“Okay, that part makes sense I guess, so what, when it came time to finally build the revolutionary government they picked you out of a hat?” Isaac asked.

“Bit more than that, but kinda. The deep state knew that the sorts of people who run a deep state apparatus aren’t the kind of people you want leading a proper revolution or building a peace afterward. So they found the sorts of people you do want.” Colin said that last bit with no small amount of self-consciousness. “Apparently I’m one of those. Lord knows how that happened.”

“So you’re not elected then?” Isaac said, giving him just a little bit of side-eye. Colin rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous gesture.

“Well we can’t exactly run elections right now, obviously. But constitutionally yes, we will be. Part of the criteria for selection is that we don’t actually want power, and no one who gets elected runs, they’re drafted by Initiative. We’ll turn it over to elections because none of us actually want this much authority.” Which was why Bester would never hold office. Isaac nodded, and believed him.

“So what happens after? The revolution I mean.”

“That's going to depend on a few factors, but if we win we'll insist on de-Clarkification. After that, it depends on external factors. There's no way we'll avoid needing a mutual defense pact with our population. Needless to say, you don't tell a soul. Not even your wife.”

“Obviously! That would be bad. Besides I'm already implicated in sedition. No getting around that. I'd disappear into a hole.”

Colin brushed against his mind. Isaac was being truthful.

By the time the explanation was done they were standing in front of Isaac's quarters.

“Looks like this is my stop.” Isaac said.

“Yeah. Have a good one Rabbi. Just so you know, I'm happy to be able to call you a friend.”

“You too Colin, or should I say Coordinator.” Isaac waggled his eyebrows.

“Oh God no! Just Colin to you.”. Isaac laughed and opened the door, disappearing into the cabin.

You going to talk to Bester? Max asked, referring to the captured Eubian ship. They were using Nazi technology and they both know what that meant. They might have information.

Oh yeah. We’ll see if he does what I tell him.




The next day the Maimonides came out of warp near Teyan Station. It was a structure of green and blues, Dorei in origin, a torus shape with a cylinder in the middle connected to the torus by four thick connectors, square-shaped. The outer edge of the torus was taken up by docks, many of them occupied. A number of vessels from E5B1 were around, as were those from other universes. Nearby a hyperspace jump gate activated, allowing a Brakiri transport to emerge from the resulting blue vortex.

One of the sections of dock were under Stellar Navy lease. The only vessel docked there was an Alakin warbird. Maimonides eased into the next dock over. Umbilical arms extended from the frame and sought out the attachments to the ship's power and life support systems. The self-adjusting ports irised open until they fit their relevant ports. A third arm swung into place and extended, attaching to the starboard airlock, three decks above the Maimonides' deflector dish.

On the bridge Oparan looked up from the operations console. "All umbilicals are green. The airlock is secure."

"All engines are now shut down," Latamrilam added.

From the Engineering station, Tasina said, "Power systems disengaged and on standby, we are now operating on Teyan Station's power."

In the central seat Nasira nodded. She had a contented smile on her face. "Excellent work everyone. Commander, I leave the shore leave scheduling in your hands. Make sure everyone knows how to respond to queries about what happened."

"Word has already passed down through the department heads. We had a run-in with pirates, the ship took damage." Philippe repeated the cover story, which was not so much a falsehood as it was a an omission of details. "The crew knows to say nothing else."

"Good."

Rodrigo turned in his chair to face them. "You look happy today, Captain," he said. "Happier than I expected."

"We returned to dock safely and Admiral Ikamria informs me that Command gave its approval for our action. That alone is reason to be happy." She stood from the chair. "But I received some very welcome news this morning in the fleet update, and by private message. I'll tell you on the way to the airlock."




There was a small crowd at the starboard airlock when their three guests arrived for their departure from the Maimonides. The command crew were all present, as were Doctor T'Rya and many of the lab chiefs. Chief Bayer stood beside Wendy.

“Come to see us off, I see?” Isaac asked, the two telepaths were locked in some wordless conversation he didn’t want to interrupt.

You know, the secret is getting harder and harder to keep, both practically and emotionally. Max cautioned Colin.

I know. Given the leaks, at this point I’m pretty sure EarthGov knows, unofficially. We’re covered by a fucking fig-leaf. No matter what, we can’t keep up like this for much longer. Months. A year at the most.

Weyana could tell the two were in conversation, although she did not pry. Wendy was the one to answer. "Well, yeah. We went through a lot of trouble to get you guys here, I mean. And you've been cool to us."

"Your prayer yesterday was a kind one," Tagiya said. "I wanted a chance to tell you that. Our comrades rest easier in the care of the Supreme Being." It was fairly clear he spoke of more than the dead of the Maimonides, but also of comrades he lost in the war.

“I’m not sure if 'thank you' or 'you’re welcome' is more appropriate, so I’ll go with both.” Isaac smiled kindly. “War is a nasty thing, but not the nastiest of things. Anything I can do to help righteous souls rest in peace and tranquility is worth doing.”

“And pirate attacks are just as unpleasant. I’m glad you were all there, the ship took a beating and so did her crew, but you did yourselves proud and I’m honored to have been through it with you.” Colin added.

"And we're grateful that we were in place to help your people," said Philippe. His right hand and Rodrigo's left were clasped together. "That is what many of us joined the Alliance to do."

"Well, I joined to see the Multiverse," Tasina said. The Asari maiden grinned. "But this is good too."

“I’ve noticed that particular proclivity in the Allied Systems.” Colin noted. “Given its founding that doesn’t surprise me. In this universe the Minbari have it named. They call it the third principle of sentient life, and every individual has it to one extent or another. The capacity for self-sacrifice for a cause, a friend, a total stranger. It isn’t common that I find a group of people so consistent in their understanding of it. It’s good to see.”

“He spent way too much time hanging around on Minbari ships with their religious caste. It might have rubbed off on him. It’s amazing to me he’s still an agnostic.” Max chided Colin good-naturedly.

There were chuckles at that, and many grins, and a certain quiet enjoyment from T'Rya. "I have had the satisfaction of working with the Minbari religious caste myself," she stated. "Their desire for truth is most commendable."

“It is,” Max said. “Then they invite you over for dinner…”

"Yes. Those are quite long. But every culture should be permitted some allowance for eccentricity," the Vulcan replied. "We have our own after all."

“I think ritual combat during pon farr is a bit beyond eccentric.” Max winked. Unlike Colin, he wasn’t a head of state, he could gently rib them. “On the other hand, you can transfer souls around so who am I to judge?”

"The transfer of katra is not done lightly, nor often," said T'Rya. "And I am in agreement with you on the matter of pon farr. It is a biological imperative, nothing more. Too much ceremony is wasted on it."

"Before you go, I thought you might like to hear some good news," said Nasira. "I received a message from Captain Dale, to all of the Facility hands still in the fleet. The Aurora found Captain Andreys, and she's been rescued. The Alliance fleet seized the base the SS exiles held her in and destroyed over two dozen SS warships in a fight."

Colin looked like a weight lifted off his shoulders as he breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank the Universe. I think if she’d been dead, it would have broken Captain Dale.”

“Plus, dead Nazis. All the actual people win out on that one.” Max grinned.

“We shouldn’t dehumanize our enemies Max.” That was from Isaac.

“Rabbi, they’re fascists. The natural enemies of my leftist people, and worse, they’re Nazis. It’s like… a cultural imperative that I hate them. Don’t oppress me!” There was no venom in that last part.

"It is understandable that you feel this way, Mister Cohen," Weyana said gently. "But the true triumph is not destroying the forces of darkness, but pulling them from that darkness."

“Okay, I’ll grant you that. Better to convert the Nazi, but it’s not like we’re playing an RTS game where we can send our priests in to convert the enemy while they’re raiding our base, you know?”

Latamrilam and Weyana exchanged glances. "What is an 'RTS' game?" Latamrilam asked Weyana, who had more experience with Humans.

“Real-time strategy game. You gather resources, build buildings, construct military units, and then go conquer your enemies, often another sapient player.”

“He likes retro games like I enjoy Japanese cartoons and retro sci-fi. Don’t get him started.” Colin warned them. Whether they’d heed that warning was another matter.

"We all have our ways," Nasira remarked, grinning. "And we have our orders too. Including changed orders. Instead of proceeding to the edge of Dilgar space to explore, we're being ordered to head to the universe of the captured SS base. It's new to our list and the Maimonides will be the first Alliance vessel to explore it. I'm told the local Human civilization possesses unique metaphysical gifts."

“That sounds perfectly within your wheelhouse. What kind of gifts are we talking about? Speaking to the dead? Outright sorcery?” Colin asked.

"They use martial arts to manipulate classical elements, apparently," Nasira answered. "Their ships aided the Aurora against the SS. As you might imagine, the SS were not good neighbors to these people."

“The SS aren’t good neighbors to anyone and...wow. Alright. That’s certainly different. So like, t'ai chi to manipulate water or something?” He didn’t know why he came up with that but it fit in his head.

"Something like that." Nasira stepped forward and offered her hand. "Doctor, my best wishes for you and your people."

“You too Captain.” Colin shook her hand gladly, politely matching firmness. “I hope our next meeting is under less troublesome circumstances, and if you ever find yourself back in this universe, let me know. There’s a city-within-a-city in Geneva that would love to host shore leave.”

One by one the attending gave handshakes to those departing. Wendy smiled playfully before hugging Max like he was a favorite uncle, grateful for his help in dealing with her injuries. T'Rya gave a basic, perfunctory handshake, which gave the telepaths the opportunity to sense something more of the disciplined mind and the emotions that broiled beneath that discipline. Tagiya and Oparan likewise gave handshakes that, with skin contact, gave a deeper understanding of their emotional states. Their departure was punctuated by T'Rya raising her hand in the traditional farewell and welcome gesture of her people, an open palm with two fingers stretched to each side. "Live long and prosper."

"God go with you," Nasira added.




The two days the Maimonides spent on Teyan Station was not wasted. The ship's personnel were brought back up to strength with the arrival of replacements arranged by Admiral Ikamria. Tagiya oversaw the proper repair of the port nacelle to bring the ship's warp drive back to full capability while EVA teams repaired the damage to the hull. Shore leaves led to the story spreading on the station, the story of a fire-fight with pirates, suspected slavers at that, that the plucky science ship escaped from through ingenuity and grit. The full story, for now, would go untold.

It was approaching Bravo Shift's watch when departure time arrived. The command crew were in their places on the bridge. Weyana, Tagiya, and Wendy were present as well, just out of a meeting they and Nasira had over IU comm with Admiral Ikamria on their recommendations given the lessons of the fight.

Weyana took the seat to Nasira's left and the other two found spots to stand on the bridge. Nasira leaned forward in her chair. "What's our status?"

"Engineering reports reactors are online, we have main power," said Tasina.

"All stores are back to full, Captain," Oparan said. "Airlocks cleared."

"All personnel are on board." Philippe's report came last. "All departments report ready for departure."

"Good. Because we're due to visit a new universe to the Alliance. And it's about time we got to some proper exploring." Nasira nodded. "Release the airlock and umbilicals."

"Yes Captain." At a few keystrokes Oparan accomplished both.

"Helm, take us out, thrusters and then one half impulsor power."

"Yes Captain."

Under Latamrilam's control the Maimonides slipped free of her berth. Under thrusters she moved away from the station, coasting by a Hurr transport and then a Salarian cargo vessel on her way out. Her path took her near the approach vector for the system's hyperspace jump gate. She came up to an Earth Alliance-based starliner on its way to the gate, giving everyone on its observation deck a view of the science ship as the Maimonides passed by.

"We are outside of the jump exclusion zone, Captain," said Oparan.

"Set jump drive for Universe N1C4 and anchor us to the Zulfiqar."

"Yes Captain. Drive is set, spatial aspect is good."

Nasira nodded. "Jump."

From a single bright dot of emerald energy, a vortex of the same color expanded. The Maimonides came to the edge of the vortex and accelerated, heading off to another universe waiting to be explored.
”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: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2020-04-17 06:04pm

A Tale of the Undiscovered Frontier
"Wings of Liberty"

(by Big Steve and Alyrium)


The desert spread out in the dream. Stark. Unforgiving. Only the hardy natives of the planet - if they were natives - survived here, traveling from oasis to oasis as the seasons demanded.

The dreamer watched the desert's harshness recede ever so slightly. A band of blue cut through the terrain, forming river banks with soil suitable for growing food and sustaining life. The plains were marked with the farms, supported by the channels and canals drawn from the river. The villages and towns dotted these lands, the signs of settlements dating back three thousand years.

The names came easily to the dreamer. The Jeziri Plains. The Samir River. The Yildiz. Toutaine.

The dream narrowed down upon the town of al-Lahir, one of many that bordered the Samir. The great town square, festooned with ribbons of green and blue and red, the colors of the spring festivals when the locals began planting. The market baskets full of the fish drawn from the river, dates and sprigs and oranges and other treats grown from the riverbank orchards.

A raised platform held the attention of the robed and turbaned folk attending. On it, a young man and a young woman, their dark bronze skin glinting in the light, danced in flowing garbs of white and green. They were husband and wife, humble farmers, but more than that, they were blade-dancers. Sleek, curved blades, one held in each hand, swished through the air, as if the two were having a duel, but a duel with no bloodshed in mind, indeed, no blood being visible at all. Each moved in rhythm with the other, as if their minds were one. The dreamer watched the crowd cheer their skill.

The dance stopped. They stepped aside, and in their place came a child, a girl of six summers clad in the same wear, two small curved knives in hand. The child danced a simpler routine. She didn't have the experience of her parents, but she showed promise, and smiled at her parent's pleasure in her respect for their craft. The crowd rewarded her nascent skill with supportive applause.

The dreamer watched the child dance, and as she danced, the summers passed. She grew into herself, becoming a fine young woman, a flower of the Jeziri like her mother, her skill with the dancing blades increasing with each new summer added to her life. The blades grew longer, going from knives to daggers. Adulthood beckoned, and with it came the swords her parents danced with, one from each, symbols of their love.

"All passengers, docking with Teyan Station is now complete. Prepare to disembark."

The words, spoken in a plain English, jolted the dreamer from the dream. She opened her eyes and glanced about. To either side of her the seats of the liner were emptying. With the repeat of the announcement understanding shined through the fog of sleep still settled on her senses. She stood, collected her bags from overhead, and joined the departure line.

In the line she sensed the quiet impatience of the passengers. Many had business to attend to, or were meant to embark on other vessels to reach an ultimate destination. They all wished to be done with the process of boarding the station. She sympathized, as she had her own pressing business to see to.

The line moved forward, bit by bit, and soon she came face to face with the station security officer. The woman was a Dorei, of the N2S7 universe, one of the founding species and peoples of the United Alliance of Systems. Her skin was a light blue, the color of a garden world's sky, with purple spots running in a pattern down both sides of her face. Dark teal hair was pulled back into a pony-tail. Her uniform was emerald green with purple trim. "Welcome to Teyan Station, miss," she said in a melodic accent, accepting the holographic display passport. "Nisa Tari?"

"Yes," the dreamer answered.

"You're from S0T5? Solaris? Not every day we get a Solarian."

"I have dwelled there for several years, but it is not my homeworld," she corrected. As she spoke she noted the curiosity in the Dorei woman's mind. Her garb was not regular for many Humans present, it was true. She wore a long-sleeved blouse of dark blue color with a barnous of emerald green clasped at her neck. A green headscarf also covered the top of her head, holding her dark hair down. Sensing the thought forming in the alien's mind, she said, "I am a Yildiz of Toutaine. This is how my people dress."

The Dorei woman nodded. "I understand." She tapped something on her controls. "Your scan is clear. Again, welcome to Teyan Station, your checked baggage is being cleared just ahead."

"Thank you. May the All-Highest be with you."

"May the Deity be with you as well," the woman answered, understanding Nisa's context. She gestured Nisa through the checkpoint and into the arrival terminal.

The other passengers from the liner were still dispersing. A few were heading laterally toward other terminals, others were walking towards the core of the station. After collecting the checked baggage she'd been required to stow away on the liner, Nisa followed them and entered one of the four "spokes" that linked the torus to the cylindrical core of the station.

This section of the station wasn't just a pathway, it was a market, a three level high assortment of shops, eateries, and other establishments catering to the station's visitors and residents. Nisa milled through the collection of beings, marveling at the assortment of species from across the Multiverse. She considered how blessed she was to be seeing such sights while her mind buzzed with all of the surface thoughts of those around her.

The sights and thoughts and smells of the bustling market made her think of home, with a tinge of melancholy. There were times she missed al-Lahir deeply.

"Hey!"

The call was repeated before she realized the caller was speaking to her. He was Human, a tan-skinned man in a dark blue jacket and pale gray shirt with matching cargo trousers. His dark brown eyes settled on her face, a final confirmation she was the target of his irritation. As he took the final steps toward her she felt his psionic gift, just as he had to be feeling hers.

She didn't have a chance to speak or even project a query into his mind. "I thought I made it clear when we made port," he said. "Everyone's gotta go to the pitch session. It's part of the deal, and they've been holding it up."

"'Pitch session'? 'Deal'?"

He rolled his eyes. "You speak English, and I was projecting it to everyone anyway, so don't play dumb. Whatever you think of the Corps, they're letting us go peacefully as long as we sit and let them make their pitch. I'm sure you don't care about it, and you don't have to. Let them have their word and walk out, that's all you have to do. You don't even have to stay for the Q&A."

His irritation was palpable, and not entirely limited to Nisa. It only fed her own bewilderment. "The Corps? You mean the Psi Corps?"

Now he got sarcastic. "Yes, what other 'Corps' is there to talk about. Of course I mean the Psi Corps, and…" He stopped. Nisa felt him at the periphery of her mind, picking up her thoughts and loose memories she wasn't bothering to shield. "...and I'm making an ass out of myself, aren't I?" He sighed. "You aren't from around here, and you didn't come in on the Hycantha."

"No, I was on the Starlark," Nisa replied, feeling the growing embarrassment of the man. "I am Nisa Tari of Toutaine."

"Oscar Mendoza. I'm a conductor on the Underground Railroad." He smiled with bemusement. "Well, not so underground these days. We're more of an open secret now. And I'm sorry, I'm still getting used to the idea of Human telepaths who aren't from my universe."

Nisa nodded. "I understand. It has taken me time to adjust to the existence of the Multiverse as well."

"Everyone takes some time," Oscar remarked. "Anyway, I'm sorry to bother you. I thought you were a straggler, we get them sometimes. They don't want to give the Corps the time of day. Can't blame 'em, but a deal's a deal, and the Corps is being remarkably good sports about it."

"What are you speaking of? What is this deal?"

Instead of answering verbally, Oscar communicated by telepathic glyph. The raw information was easily digested by Nisa's mind, informing her of what he meant. The Corps allowed "blips", as they were called, to emigrate to the rest of the Multiverse, even if it was a violation of Earth law and against the Corps' creed of telepath unity and family. In exchange, the runaways agreed to give the Corps one last chance to convince them to join and come back. Why would they do so?

Because EarthGov made a secret deal with the Allied Systems, turning their main trade route from Earth through Teyan into a no-inspection zone for runaways
, Oscar replied with a passive thought. EarthGov doesn't allow any inspections of ships heading here anymore, at least not for us, and on paper that means the Corps can't either. But there are other parties out there that would take advantage. This deal limits their ability to do that.

You are uncomfortable about this?


Oscar nodded. His expression became pensive. When he replied, he spoke aloud. "Don't know if I trust the Corps over time. Maybe right now, they don't have a choice. But when they get the opening they need, well, now they know our ships. They have to for this arrangement to work."

Nisa sensed the suspicion in his thoughts and being. Given her own purpose for being here, she needed to know more. "And you believe they would come after you?"

"If they don't see it as threatening telepaths? Sure. They think we should all be wearing the brass pin and the gloves." Oscar scowled. "They treat people like me as if we're misbehaving children because we dare to say 'no' to them. Like our independence ends where Psi Corps and its needs begin." As they walked along he checked his omnitool. "Now I have to go listen to them make their pitch again."

"Again?"

"One of my duties as the Railroad's conductor here on Teyan. I observe to make sure the local Psi Corps Education telepath is behaving. An outside telepath, usually a Gersallian or Betazoid, sits with us to be a neutral observer."

"I understand." Given her purpose, and her curiosity at the state of Human psions in this universe, Nisa was quick to follow up by asking, "May I attend?"

She felt Oscar's confusion, but it faded as he sensed her reasoning. "I'm sure there'll be no objections. Not sure why you're interested in the Corps, though. You S0T5ers don't have to put up with them."

"We do not," Nisa agreed. Old memories surfaced in her thoughts, unpleasant ones. "But we have our own problems."

"Not surprised." Oscar shook his head. "Telepathy freaks out normals. They can't help it. It's scary stuff, the idea of people going through your head, messing with your memories and your thoughts, or programming you with mental blocks and commands. We have to face it too, so we get it from both ends."

"I am familiar with such difficulties," Nisa said, following Oscar toward the far end of the market.

He nodded and turned back. His eyes moved toward her waist and the silver objects hanging from her hips, each having a slight curve toward one end below a visible grip. She felt his surprise. "Wait, those…"

She felt the complete sentence in his mind. Those are lightsabers! She nodded. "I was told your universe was unfamiliar with these weapons. They even let me carry them on the Starlark."

"We don't have anything like them, but we've seen them," he answered. "You're not Order of Swenya, are you?"

"I am not, but I am familiar with them," she answered. "A swevyra'se of the Order visited the Enclave on Solaris and conversed with many of us on the teachings and Code of Swenya. I greatly enjoyed his visit, and as I am familiar with wielding blades, he was kind enough to show me how to construct these weapons."

"Good to hear." Oscar smiled. "Not sure how the Corps will take it. They don't always get along with the Order. But I'm not here to make their lives comfortable." He checked his omnitool. "We'd better keep going, the presentation's going to start soon."

Nisa nodded and followed him toward the core of Teyan Station.



[CENTER]*****[/CENTER]





The station's core included both habitation sections and social areas. A gymnasium, a library sector, even schools. The station rented out meeting rooms and the like for similar purposes, everything from social gatherings to religious meetings to clubs.

Oscar led Nisa to one such room. The digital display beside the door read "Telepath Education: The Myths vs. The Facts", with an insignia for something called the Jenny Winters Foundation attached. Oscar snorted openly and Nisa felt his skepticism before he forced it away. He touched the key and opened the door.

Inside were about seventy people in various kinds of garb. They were of various creeds and nations, although Nisa was still unfamiliar with many of those from the Earths of various universes. Their attention was diverted around the room with hushed conversations and the slight hum on her senses of passive psionic links between some of them. She quietly took a rear seat and set down her traveling bags while Oscar went toward the front of the room. He took a seat across from a figure that looked Human, at least until Nisa noticed his eyes were too dark-colored to match baseline Human. He wore what looked like a turquoise top with dark brown hair pulled back into a pony-tail.

Between them, beside a holographic projector, was a person; person was the only word that applied because their gender was not determined readily by outward appearance. They had shoulder length brown hair and green eyes that were both kind and had the kind of depth to them that came when someone had seen far too much. They smiled readily enough when everyone sat down and it was perfectly genuine, introducing themselves in a Slavic accent that belied the name.

“Hello everyone, glad you could make it. I’m Julian van der Berg, a telepath with the Jenny Winters Foundation” and they glyphed ‘For legal reasons’ as something of a wry joke. “We have a lot to get through and we’ll split things into two sections. The first is the unfortunate death by holopoint that you’re all familiar with. I’ve tried to make it at least interesting. The second is optional and more of a question and answer session. Feel free to avail yourselves of the coffee, tea, and scones.”

Nisa, from her place at the rear of the room, noted the mixed responses of those present. Many did accept the offered refreshments, although some only rose to do so when Oscar and the alien man across from him joined in. She sensed Oscar's mental sigh at the need for the gesture.

More than that, she sensed the slight tension between Oscar and Julian. There was a familiarity between them that eased it, but did not eliminate it. The alien man, meanwhile, seemed to exude patience toward the matter, with perhaps a little exasperation.

“I’m sure you’ve all noticed Jaman Yunan.” Julian gestured toward the Betazoid. “He’s here to make sure I don’t do anything fishy. I have no intention of doing that, but in the interests of full disclosure I’m a P8 and capable of it. You all have different degrees of contact with the Psi Corps, and what’s unique here is that for the first time, I’ll be free to give you our real perspective. For instance…” Julian switched from their introductory slide to one that had nothing but the words ‘The Earth Alliance and It’s Laws Really Suck’. “Inside Earth Alliance space, I am not permitted to say things like that. I am not permitted to openly criticize the Crawford-Tokash Act, or call sleepers the abomination that they are, I’d have to stick to the boiler-plate talking points that the Ministry of Information pre-approves. But we’re here now and it’s possible to have that sort of discussion.’

Given her own knowledge of the state of things in E5B1 was still thin on various details, Nisa found the presentation educational, and more to the point, important. The reason she'd come to this universe would involve the Corps directly, after all, and she needed to understand what they said about themselves and what their beliefs were.

All the same, it was clear there were many who weren't so interested in listening to Julian as she was. The telepaths nearest to Nisa openly ignored everything, and at times she sensed the skepticism and disbelief of others in the crowd.

Nevertheless she found the presentation illuminating. The Corps' reputation in S0T5 was not entirely positive in Solarian space, although it tended to vary across the breadth of the known galaxy. Seeing that the reputation was colored by the kind of laws they were publicly forced to support and never question was useful to her. Julian was honest in how they presented the questionable actions of the Corps, accepting the justice behind some of the reputation, but explaining why such things happened and why they were committed to reform to eliminate these things. Reform necessary to save all telepaths, Corps and non-Corps, from continued abuses.

The plight of telepaths reminded her of what psions endured in many places in her own home universe as well, particularly in the terrible conditions of the Fracture.

While facts and figures did come up - the extent of the pogroms in the prior century, the ongoing limitation of telepath population from non-telepath parents having abortions instead of bearing children with the marker genes, the hate crime statistics and the rates of acquittals - Julian was clearly understanding of the need to present something more than dry statistics. Their argument was restrained passion, as they were clearly eager to persuade, but she didn't sense the kind of preachiness that could come from such passions. Given Oscar's earlier remarks about the Corps treating dissenters like "misguided children", it was clear Julian took such views to heart and was trying to avoid them.

While Nisa didn't interact with them directly, not mentally, through her other gifts she sensed there was an inner sadness to them. Sadness, and some irritation, with the knowledge that their words were falling on deaf ears in a number of cases. They hid it well, at least, and Nisa felt the spark of hope that they were getting through to those who would listen to their words, who were willing to hear the message whatever their prior beliefs.

She also noted Oscar's feelings. While his mind was also shielded, if alert to psionic activity from the others, the feelings within his being were a combination of grudging admiration for Julian's determination and skill and frustration at sitting through this all over again. Whatever Julian said, he distrusted the Corps' intentions in the long term. There was an old wound there, one she couldn't see the extent of, but which clearly left Oscar unwilling to trust.

Yunan's thoughts were open in a way Nisa was surprised by. She sensed that it was a cultural thing. His people, amongst other telepaths, considered it natural to share their feelings and thoughts to any who wanted to sense them. It was a sort of natural honesty. There was distaste at being reminded of how the Human telepaths of this universe were treated, and, Nisa thought, a little uncertainty at where things were going for the Corps.

“So, I suppose that wraps up the presentation itself and I’d like to open myself up to questions. Mr. Yunan, I’ll drop my defenses so you can do truth detection, as per usual.”

The Betazoid man nodded. <So you have>.

Even as he projected that answer, Nisa watched as twenty-one of the attendees stood up. Many left with the air of people who'd just put an unwelcome chore behind them. A couple were not quite so unkind, but were clearly unpersuaded and not caring to inquire further. The entire group shuffled out of the room without a further remark.

For a brief moment, a frustrated little sigh came from Julian's lips, and their face betrayed pain. With their blocks down Nisa could feel the thoughts in their minds, a combination of frustration at what they felt to be sheer pig-headedness by some of the "blips", and more cutting, a sense of failure at having failed to get through it.

The first question came mere seconds after the door closed. The man spoke with an accent that Nisa sensed Julian considered "Anglo-Caribbean". "So, you're going to challenge EarthGov on this stuff? You're going to end the sleepers?"

“Yes, though please don’t blab that to EarthGov… granted I’m committing sedition just for being here.”

Another voice spoke up, this one a woman with an accent Nisa thought was near-Solarian. "What about after? If you win, I mean? What if some telepaths don't want to be in the Corps?"

“Then we’ll be a nation state with regularized emigration and immigration policies. You could for instance renounce citizenship if you wanted, or hold dual citizenship within the Systems Alliance or something depending on their laws. No more coercion.”

Nisa felt the surprise of those attending. For some it became skepticism. It was something too good to be true.

<They are truthful>, Yunan projected to the group.

It did little to shift the skeptics. One mind openly projected <That just means he thinks they'll do it, not that they will.> Julian gave that one a side-eye for intentionally misgendering them.

Other questions came, related to what the Corps was going to do, and Julian's answers were consistent on the matter.

“If it makes you feel better, you could consider it pragmatism. Our population isn’t exactly huge, which means we need external support, and that means sapient rights like freedom to emigrate. Even if we were not committed to that ideologically. Which we are.”

Nisa felt an intense emotion surge within the crowd. One man stood up and pointed an accusing finger at Julian. "You think you can just say something like that, play the 'honesty' game, and we'll just forget what the Corps has done! You think I'll forget what those damn camps did to my folks?! Well, you've got another thing coming, Corps man! You've got another damn thing coming! I saw those camps, I saw them in my parents' memories as they cried at night, they're seared into my mind! The Corps was a part of it, and they don't get to play victim now!" With that said the man stormed from the room, pain and rage oozing from his being such that Nisa whispered a prayer that the All-Highest ease his soul.

It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. It wouldn’t be the last. And what everyone in the room could feel from Julian was that they honestly understood it. “The Corps is victim and perpetrator both, without the freedom to say no. We don’t want to be either, and are prepared to force the issue. You can believe me or not, that’s your call.”

The outburst, and Julian's reasoned response, left the remaining attendees quiet. For a moment it seemed no more questions would come, but a woman off to the side spoke up with another accent similar to Julian's. "The Corps has said many terrible things about the Free Colony. EarthGov makes it do so, you say, so what does the Corps really believe about the Colony? If you win, will you still be against it, or will you look to make normal relations with it?"

Nisa sensed the mental sigh from Oscar. He'd heard this question and the answer before, and now he'd be treated to it again.

“The Corps still considers those on the Free Colony to be our family, if estranged for understandable reasons. I have it on good authority from the powers that be that our stance would be to establish normal relations, even close ties if possible. Though that might, as you can imagine, take some time.” Julian paused “And do keep in mind, I just committed several crimes that would get me executed, so don’t go talking about that where EarthGov can hear you.”

There were nods in reply. Nisa waited patiently to see if there would be further questions, but none seemed to be coming.

“If there’s nothing else, I’ll end it there and let you get to your interim quarters and outbound connections if that’s what you want. But if you want to stay, if you want to help us end the oppression of eighteen million of your fellow telepaths and have a hand in shaping what is to come, we’d be overjoyed to have you. Come talk to me, and we’ll get that set up.” Julian braced for disappointment, behind their newly reconstructed blocks.

In the seconds after Julian finished speaking, there was a quiet uncertainty in the air. Nisa sensed their anticipation at whether or not they'd convinced many, if any, of those present to sign up.

Someone in attendance stood. Others joined them, and soon a number more. They went for the door, minds made up, although not all were as hostile to Julian as they had been at the start. When the door slid to a close for the final time, twenty-four people were still in their chairs, not counting Nisa herself. Exactly half of those left after the prior departures.

Julian beamed at them. “Welcome to the Revolution. Come on up, I’ll get you the codes you’ll need, and our military Transport schedules.”

Those remaining lined up. A few had some jitters, but not enough to dissuade. Nisa felt their unified conviction that they could do something about the situation back home.

At his table, Oscar glanced toward Nisa. <Better than their average>, he p'cast at her. <Although I've seen them get over half of the crowd before.>

<You do not resent that these people are making this choice? Even though your people flew them out here to get away from the Corps?> Nisa cast back.

<No. This is about choice, it's always been about choice. I think they'll get disappointed, personally, but at least I gave them a choice.> Oscar's satisfaction was clear on that. <And maybe I'm a pessimist and the Corps' revolution really will be a good thing in the end. If so, good for them. EarthGov really does need a swift kick in the pants, and if this all ends with an Allied Systems armada pulling a Sheridan and blasting its way to Earth to support a Corps uprising, I'll be watching on IUNS with a tub of popcorn.>

Nisa wondered if that would come about. Her own reason for coming here to see the Corps had a connection to the Alliance, so she knew there was some cooperation there. But would it come to that?

As she considered these things, Julian handled the line of volunteers. When the last volunteer was settled, she stood and approached. "Hello," she said, using a convention that she'd observed as common across Solaris and elsewhere. "I am Nisa Tari."

“Julian van den Berg. A pleasure, though… “ Julian glanced down at the lightsabers dangling from her belt. “Your weapons mean it’s unlikely you’re here to join up. What can I do for you?” <Never thought I’d go from social worker to military recruiter, but here I am!>

"You are familiar with lightsabers?" she asked.

“They’re known to our leadership. They’ve had some dealings with members of the Order of Swenya, and my brief was very thorough.” <And I know what to do when the red ones show up.>

Nisa blinked at the reference. It was Julian's surface thoughts that told her what he meant. "Corrupted ones," she said. "I see what you mean, yes." She took the nearby seat. "As for your question, I am here to see about passage to one of your colonies. The Tau Atrea colony."

A flash of understanding illuminated Julian’s surface thoughts. “Excellent! I got a message that someone of your...combination of talents might come by seeking passage, though I am curious as to why, if you don’t mind my asking?”

"It is quite alright," Nisa said. "I've come to offer my services in training a child of your Corps, Husn Mira, with her talents in the Divine Gift."

“I think I can infer what that means, and if so it’s rather important she be trained properly. We have a transport ship leaving in two days carrying people back into our space. Tau Atrea is one of its stops.”

Nisa nodded. "I will wait for it, then."

“Come with me, I’ll make sure you have a place to stay.” Julian motioned for Nisa to follow them. “We have guest quarters in our little enclave.”

"I thank you," Nisa said, taking the time to collect her bags before following them.


*****

The Corps' enclave on the station amounted to a section of one of the habitat decks, rented out to the Jenny Winters Foundation on paper. This gave the enclave several suites more than their contingent required and access to a multi-purpose room they used for communal meals and enclave meetings.

Julian left Nisa in one of the quarters, a cozy studio apartment a little larger than the room Nisa occupied while staying at the Enclave on Solaris. It was furnished to general Dorei tastes, with colors of earthy browns and yellows on the furniture and walls. A wall replicator unit was on one end while the other had a holovid projector. The bed was cream white, its shape rounded with a pile of orange pillows. Off to one corner beside the bed was the sliding door to a bathroom with a water shower.

There was little point in unpacking her things since she would be gone within a few days. Nisa removed only the clothes she would be wearing until departure, setting them up in the empty closet. While made on Solaris, they were made to her specifications, proper Yildiz clothing with colored headscarves, blouses, vests, and pants. She looked at her two jilbabs and decided to keep them stowed.

Her next pack was the one she was most concerned with. She set the case, a manufactured plastic shell case, down on a table and opened it. Inside, nestled in Solarian synthsilk, were her twin shamsir: her dancing swords. Made of el-Yasuj steel, they were prize works from her homeworld made by an expert blacksmith. The curved blades had the head of a falcon on their pommels.

Memories, both good and bad, filled her at their sight. She reached into the case and pulled the swords out. They were each about a meter in length, not counting their hilts, although their reach was reduced by the curve toward the ends. She brought her arms up and felt her muscle memory move her into the first form of one of her favorite dances, the Dust Devil. She started to twirl around her room, slicing the blades through the air as if in the center of a whirlwind, her feet and body shifting as if to meet the moves of an invisible partner.

She started shifting into another beginning pose when the chime at the door went off. She stopped and straightened, turning toward the door. "Yes?"

The door opened and Julian stood just at the threshold. “We’re having dinner shortly if you’d like to join us. We have replicators in the rooms, sure, but tend to take meals communally.”

It took Nisa only a moment to nod. "I will be honored. There may be some of your foods I must reject, should they be haram and not kosyer. I hope you understand?"

“Of course.” Julian replied “We would never dream of taking offense, we have enough religions represented among our number that you shouldn’d lack for options.” Julian wouldn’t presume what her requirements were, but they openly suspected, given the words used, that they would be similar to those of Muslims and Jews, and they always accommodated both.

"I shall get ready then." Nisa smiled and nodded. She didn't move to put her swords away yet, however, as it would be rude to turn her back on a guest at her door.

“I’ll get out of your hair so you can stow those, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything…”

She shook her head. "I was merely practicing my dancing forms. I had to forgo practice on the trip here. The liners would not let me carry the swords in my compartment."

“I see.” Julian nodded. “Well, we don’t disarm telepaths here so feel free when you get the chance. Though… dancing?” Julian was officially intrigued.

"My people value sword-dancing as a form of art," Nisa explained. "My parents performed as sword-dancers when the seasons allowed and taught me the styles." She couldn't keep her sadness from leaking past her passive blocks. "I can't see them anymore, but by maintaining the art, I remain linked to them."

Julian gaver her an empathetic look. They too could never see their parents again, though Julian suspected the reasons were very different and their outlook on it was likewise very different. “I can certainly understand that, and with a motivation to practice like that… it must be stunning to see. I’ll let you get back to it, we should be ready for dinner in about thirty minutes.”

"I will be ready," she answered, and with that response, Julian departed.


*****

The multi-purpose room was large enough to seat several dozen people, reminding Nisa very much of the hall at the temple in al-Lahir. Throughout her life she'd attended many feasts and dinners there, wedding dinners and holy feast days and funerals.

Here, though, the sun of Toutaine was not present, nor the cooled air of the wind coming off the Samir River. The atmosphere was more of the same breathing gases pumped throughout the station. The foods laid out on the table were not the dishes she remembered growing up, although a few had some similarities to them. The balance of various food groups was precise, that was clear.

When she arrived it was just a minute or two before the meal was to begin. Some of the assembled were seated, others were standing. Julian was with a woman with black hair with a few wisps of gray, olive skin, and kind eyes that Nisa could tell concealed an inner ferocity; and two others clad in a similar suit. Nisa approached them and, as they visually noticed her, glyphed an introductory greeting with her name, her hometown of al-Lahir, and that she was a Yildiz of Toutaine. The older woman obviously in the lead of the suit-wearers glyphed back that she was Erika Flores from the Corps’ legal division, and that her associates were Jamal and Jiaying Chen. They also wore matching wedding bands, and he’d evidently taken her last name.

"May the All-Highest bless your union," Nisa said to the Chens aloud. "I am aware of Julian's purpose here, but why are…" She struggled for the word she meant to use, one she'd only been exposed to briefly on Solaris and elsewhere. "...lawyers, yes? Why are lawyers here?"

“Thank you!” Jiaying replied, clearly their marriage was not strictly arranged because Jamal leaned over and wrapped his arm around her waist. “Sometimes someone leaves Earth Alliance space with children. Sometimes they're children with a parent still in the Corps, sometimes someone else’s kids. We’re here to litigate custody disputes.”

Nisa sensed their unease with the issue and resentment of those they considered kidnappers. "I see. Truly a difficult issue, and I understand why your presence is necessary."

“It really is…” Erika interjected, and glyphed a mental image of her beating her head into her desk.

Nisa stifled a giggle at the comical image.

At that point attention was brought to the tables by an older gentleman of South-Asian extraction, and everyone took the nearest seat. Nisa's seat placed her between Julian and Jiaying, with Jamal beside his wife. The rest of the round table included Erika and two others. The first was a stocky man with strawberry blonde hair and a red-tinted but closed cropped beard who looked like he’d seen his share of fights, the other somehow managed to look like a bird of prey despite not actually resembling them physically. In fact, he was otherwise nondescript except for the tanned skin. Both of them introduced themselves with little name tags gyphed over their heads. Alastair Wallace from security division, and Markus Roaratonga, which for some reason seemed to Nisa like it was at least partially a nom de guerre. He did specify he was in Metapol though.

Plates were provided and passed around so everyone could get a little of what they wanted. With barriers mostly down Nisa picked up the names of various foods. Most were permissible to her religiously and she took her share of them all, favoring somewhat those that looked or smelled like they came from home.

The benefit of all attendees being telepaths was that no one needed to speak to impart information. The man who called them to the tables glyphed a general message to those present to give or recite whatever blessings they chose. Nisa lowered her voice and recited the dinner prayer in her native language. "All-Highest God, I honor You and the bounty You have provided for my body's nourishment, as Your teachings nourish my soul. May Your blessings flow as the river to those that worked the fields and nurtured the animals of this bounty. A-men."

Erika for her part crossed herself and thanked God for the food, she was Catholic but somewhat lax about it. The one who called dinner to order, whose name was Saqib, bowed his head and muttered his own prayer in Arabic. “Bismillahi wa 'ala baraka-tillah”. The rest were polite, but otherwise silent.

The time passed. For the first few minutes conversation ceased as everyone enjoyed their food and drink. Nisa spent the time quietly pondering the prayer of Saqib, which sounded very much like he was trying to speak Toutaini words in some way, although she couldn't be sure. A couple even sounded like he was saying a name of God. She knew a little of the Multiverse, enough to know that the languages of old still existed elsewhere, in universes where Mankind's homeworld was not lost and forgotten. This may explain why they have so many dishes that are kosyer, she pondered.

When conversation started up again, it was telepathic - allowing for all to continue eating - and it was Saqib who initiated it. <So, Erika, how was your day? I caught that mental image earlier, is it going that well?> There was mirth there, but also tension. He was worried about it but trying to project calm.

Erika groaned audibly, which said everything. <It’s a mess. A horrible thrice-cursed mess. The father is in Transport division and his now-ex-wife left the Corps with their three kids out from under him during deployment. So it’s basically the perfect case to test whether or not the Alliance respects our culture and child-raising practices or considers them prima facia inferior. Which is going to determine a lot moving forward, as you might imagine.> Nisa got the impression that Erika meant that with a certainty that implied she’d be the one doing the determining. Saqib and everyone else at the table winced. Marcus for his part was trying to conceal being simply incensed and failing.

<Hate the Corps or no… Christ doing that during a deployment is shitty. ‘I know you’re off fighting to end our oppression but fuck you and everything you stand for. I’ve taken the kids.’>

<Yeah well, there’s nothing for it…> Julian replied. <Some people are just that damned selfish. It’s not like we can legally or politically extract the kids…as much as I might want to.>

While chewing softly Nisa's curiosity led to her sensing more of the case. She didn't understand everything, but she did pick up the fact that the mother in the case was herself ordered to a year-long job as a Commercial telepath, one that was going to place her hours of spaceflight away from her children, and that this played a significant role in her actions.

Given her thoughts were unshielded, the others at the table soon turned eyes on her, recognizing that Nisa picked up those facts without them being mentioned in the conversation. <I did not mean to pry>, she p'cast. <My Gift, my connection to the All-Highest, grants me such insights.>

<It’s alright> Erika replied. <I am aware of those abilities, and it isn’t as if it’s that private, if it was we wouldn’t be discussing it. Plus you’re not wrong. It is still selfish though, we rotate those positions so people don’t get stuck in them forever, and she lost the lottery. Everyone here has some kind of family they don’t get to see while they’re here. Hell, Julian simply cannot go home. She’d be able to do it monthly.>

<I understand, and thank you for understanding>, Nisa answered. <If I may ask, if both parents are gone, who cares for the children? Grandparents? The brothers and sisters of their parents?>

<In a sense.> Julian said. <We do the lion’s share of raising children communally. Kind of like a boarding school but with more a family approach. Biological parents are involved and important when they can be but that’s not always possible and children need stability as much as they need love.>

<My people raise orphans much the same way.> Nisa recalled the orphanage of al-Lahir, where she'd spend some of her youth helping the caretakers and teachers tend to their charges in accordance to her peoples' teachings of providing service to the most vulnerable. <Family members help tend for children, but it is the responsibility of the whole community to see to their care and education.>

<Exactly. In a way, Earth Alliance law makes us all legal orphans, if not orphans in fact. We’ve adapted our culture accordingly.> Saqib nodded sagely.

<Even if some of us want to take the mundanes to task for it in a big way…> From Markus.

<Hey now!> Alastair interjected, even his thoughts had an Irish accent. <None o’ that. It’ll be all we can do to keep them from killin’ us all. Don’t aim the sights too wide.>

Nisa considered what that meant. They're preparing for a revolution, she'd been told, remembering her communication with Lucilla Lucero. So they're very careful. She p'cast, openly, <You are worried the Alliance will rule against you based on how you raise children, then?>

<It’s always a concern, especially when things get political. There are two types of Gersallians I've met. The first group act like we'd all be better off if we acted like Gersallians, although most don't actually say so. The other group recognizes other cultures and ways of thinking exist and try to reconcile everything that way. I'm just lucky Drentiya is one of the second group. But it’s a difficult decision legally, and even the best people have biases…> Erika was thinking about Solomon, and how she’d split the proverbial baby.

<What would Suleiman have to do with splitting babies?> Nisa's brow furrowed. <Why would any wise king want to do that to an infant?>

<We have a story of him being asked to arbitrate between two women who both claimed to be a child’s mother. He offered to split the baby as a means of determining who the real mother was.> Saqib explained. <It is common to three major religions on our Earth.>

<I see.> Nisa nodded in understanding. <We have stories of Suleiman as well, a great king of Paradise blessed by God with wisdom.> She glanced to Erika. <This Gersallian woman, I sense you think well of her, but fear she may be swayed against you this time?>

<Yes to both questions. When the law isn’t clear, when the situation is messy, people tend to revert to the patterns of thought that are comfortable and easy. The default of having children raised by their mother is a powerful one. It wouldn’t be that big a deal if it didn’t set legal precedent. But you know, if you don’t mind my asking, your religion shares some similarities with many of ours, clearly. Mind explaining the basic premise?>

Nisa nodded. <Of course.> She settled her mind. <My people are the Yildiz, one of many to populate the planet Toutaine. We came to our world over three thousand years ago after the Fall, what others of my universe call the Reignfall. The people of Toutaine share a religious belief in All-Highest God, although our ways are different from those of the Amir and the other tribes of Toutaine.>

Sensing their attention, and the most obvious question, Nisa started with the basic fact. <The Yildiz worship God, the All-Highest, the Creator of Three Names.>

<Three names?>

<God has many names. He is the Creator, the Just, the Merciful. Highest of all are the Three Names of God: Allah, representing the Power of God; Yahwey, the Laws of God; and Isya, the Love of God.> Nisa recited each to its full meaning as if it were a religious requirement, which they could all sense was true.

Julian piped up with an audible “Aha!” before switching to telepathy. <Many of our own religious divisions are along those same lines. Differing emphasis and theological arrangements around each one.> Academic understanding, but Saqib and Erika gave them a look. Julian wasn’t wrong, but was an atheist. <Of course, our universe’s religions are still grappling with the concept of the multiverse. Jews are fine with it, they just shrug and figure God put Jews everywhere. Evangelical Protestants, well it might as well be medieval Catholic discussions of mythical dog-men.>

<I have not been home since before the Multiverse opened, but Rabyi Muammar will likely have an explanation, if he knows.> Nisa shook her head. <It is possible he does not. Toutaine does not have much contact with the wider galaxy, and much of that contact is…> She stopped the p'cast, but with her mind relatively open the others could easily get the images she had. Of the men, women, and children of families who displeased the Amir, or who crossed their lords, being chained and carted onto spaceships.

The collective and uniform response to that was that there was potentially - if the people there wanted it - somewhere else that was due for a coup. But they didn’t actually voice that it was just coursing through their minds with variations on detail. They were, afterall, actively involved in one active revolution. It was their way. Saqib though thought to ask the one question that could clear up the question that Julian had intrinsically asked.

<The Amir protects my people from others who disapprove of our beliefs. But I learned of the cruelty of his ways when I left Toutaine, and it was because of him that I fled.>

<I see…> It didn’t take a genius to figure out that there would be demands placed on telepaths or anyone really with an absolute ruler like that, and compromises would need to be made to secure survival in the face of religious persecution. Saqib wasn’t going to press on the matter. <On… a slightly happier topic, if you’ll indulge my curiosity, what of the origin of the population? Most of our legends about that, > Because even the most devout accepted evolution by natural selection <have Earth as the origin of human life. Hence the theological issues.>

For a moment Nisa considered her answer. Since leaving Toutaine she'd learned much of the galaxy and its history. She knew that her world was settled toward the end of the Reignfall, as it was called, most likely by people fleeing that event. Aside from some Solarians who talked about Humans coming from a planet called Earth, most people didn't recall the world of Humanity's birth, at least not until the Multiverse opened and dozens of Earths became known.

But she could tell the context was not just historical truth, but religious. They wanted to know about what her people believed as their origins.

<Long ago, there was the Fall,> she began, chewing on what tasted like a piece of mutton as she did. <Before the Fall, there was Paradise, God's gift to Mankind. Under the great kings, Mankind prospered in the limitless bounty the All-Highest granted them.>

<But Shaitan, Father of Lies and Lord of Death, despised Mankind for having God's love. Shaitan sent minions to destroy Paradise, creatures of madness and rage that could take the shape of Man and hide among us, even become us. To aid His creations, God breathed power into some to resist. For many, he gave sight of mind, the ability to see into other minds and to know the truth. They could see the minions of Shaitan for what they were, and drive them out. Others were Touched with divine power, the Divine Gift, to aid those with sight of mind. A few truly blessed even hold both in their souls, such as myself.>

<For many centuries, these gifts kept the dark ones at bay. But Shaitan is cunning and cruel. He turned some of those with the gifts against justice and mercy, until all of Paradise was corrupted by their tyranny.>

<God's wrath was great. Mankind was no longer worthy of the Paradise He granted us. So He took it away, along with those who remained true, and cast out the wicked and corrupt into the Abyss with Shaitan. For those who were left, those who were not true but not corrupted, He took the memories of Paradise until we prove worthy, and sent us into the galaxy to new worlds that would purify us of Shaitan's touch.>

<Toutaine was the lot of my ancestors. The deserts are harsh, but waters flow and make life possible. We can grow food and prosper, so long as we only consume that which is kosyer and deny ourselves that which is haram, that is, touched by Shaitan. It is where our souls are tried and made worthy, until the day we are worthy of Paradise.>

<Well it seems to me as if that settles the question from a religious perspective then. If everyone is from elsewhere, the exact origin point becomes irrelevant. Of course there are people in different universes. Nothing says there can’t be.> Julian actually really liked that.

<I consider it a miracle to see so many forms of life>, Nisa replied. <As for Earth, I know that many believe it was the Paradise my people believe we were thrown from. That may indeed be true. But whether or not it is, it doesn't change what I believe, or what my people believe.> She concentrated for a moment on a dish before her, a blend of tomato sauce and what she knew to be called pasta with a layer of white cheese on it.

<So, how did it come to you to train young Ms. Mira?> A question from Erika.

<I was approached at the Enclave by a respected member there, Kasszas S'srishin, who told me of a need to train a child in the Divine Gift, and that he sensed I was the most capable among those at the Enclave. He put me in touch with Lucilla Lucero from the Alliance.> The name won some recognition from the people present. Nisa glyphed what she knew of Lucero, particularly that she was the creator, or re-inventor at least, of the lightsabers being spread across the metaphysical practitioners of the Multiverse. <It was she who told me more about this girl of your Corps, Husn Mira, and her concerns about her training. After speaking with her about Husn, and Husn's beliefs, I agreed to come and see if she was willing to be trained by me.>

<Ah. That makes sense. I took the liberty of looking her up - we keep records of all our members - she’s young, but a devout muslim.>

<I have heard she was devoted.> Nisa nodded. <I may be better able to relate to her than other teachers would.>

<I suspect that Kasszas S’srishin thought similarly…> Erika scrunched up her face, there were things she was concealing but it was as if gears were turning in her head, she was being careful how she put something. <We’re institutionally secular, there are issues involved with her abilities that we’re not equipped for and, well… Gersallian philosophy probably isn’t a good fit either.>

<I certainly don’t envy her.> Jamal added. <Being first. Imagine being in the first generation of telepaths to manifest. Having to figure out everything on their own. At least Husn isn’t having to dodge death squads…> The way he trailed off, there was a ‘yet’ in there that remained unspoken.

<There are dangers to those with the Gift. It can be used for ill as well as for good, exposing the soul to the influence of the Abyss and Shaitan.> Nisa had a few memories of facing such corrupted, and the common denominator in her experience was having no guidance in their use of the gift, or even worse, being led astray by others. <Once a soul is corrupted by Shaitan, it is rare to successfully cleanse one.> She didn't hide her hope that she could convince Husn to accept at least some training.

<I can’t speak to that directly other than the fact that her teachers say good things. When it comes to training children, there are a few types. She seems to be in the subset who thinks that it’s only smart to pay attention to those who’ve been in a similar position before. I might worry if we tried to cludge together a training regimen.> Julian shrugged, unworried.

<Whatever her choice, I look forward to meeting her.>


*****

Across the station, nobody noticed the uniformed man entering the docking area's ventilation access carrying a box. If someone had, they wouldn't have minded, as the Human was clad in a station personnel uniform, and had a station ID, and both were perfectly legitimate. They were issued to someone who didn't exist, but they were legitimate.

The man in question was good at this sort of thing. He mostly worked in enabling heists and other such infiltration-related crimes, but money was money, and his current employers were paying him well for a relatively minor job.

That job consisted of two things: accessing the ventilation center for the station's docking torus and planting a box there. They provided the fake ID and uniform, even, indicating they either had connections to the station's operating staff, or some of the best hackers he'd ever heard of.

The first part of his job was complete. For the second, he opened up the access port for the central shaft and inserted the box inside. He promptly closed it. With this work done, he left the room. At a leisurely pace he returned to his rented quarters in the core to change, left behind the uniform and ID, and took passage on an Allied Systems-chartered liner heading for the M4P2 universe. His part in the job was done.

As such, he wasn't there to watch the box shift in shape until it was more of a cylinder, giving it the right shape to navigate Teyan Station's life support systems. To avoid security sensors, it generated a low anti-grav field, just powerful enough to keep it half a centimeter from the surface of the ducts.

It started to move quietly, to a destination that even its program did not yet know.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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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: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2020-04-18 02:04pm

The dream returned. Nisa was home, in the nineteenth summer of her life. Her skill as a blade-dancer matched her parents. Many honored personages sought to win her hand for their family's son, and her own parents were proposing arrangements.

Aside from teaching her in their skills, her parents showed her a greater scope of her divine gift. "We are all touched by the All-Highest", her father explained. "We are called to serve All-Highest God in all ways, as thanks for this gift." The training let her sense her parents as she never had before, enabling all three to dance with such skill that even outside the Yildiz their talents were known and sought.

Nisa wanted the dream to stay here. To remind her of the happy times.

The moment she saw the plaza, she knew it would not be so.

It was a market plaza in the town of Gharab, only a dozen or so kilometers north of the Amir's personal capital at el-Yasuj. At the request of local elders the Tari family was participating in a local festival, displaying their talents for all to see. The crowd oohed and aahed at every movement of their blades, gasping with each cut that seemed sure to cut skin, yet did not.

It should have been one of their best performances. It was one of their best… until it wasn't.

The blade in Nisa's right hand was moving toward her father when the voices shouted in her head. It caught her completely by surprise, as if the crowd was roaring on the inside of her skull. Her blade went off center. Her father cried out as it sliced cleanly through his shoulder, nearly into his throat. Had he not moved at the last moment, she would have slit his throat open.

Not that she knew it at the time. The shouting in her head overwhelmed her. She collapsed, the blades falling from her hands, her throat hoarse from her agonized shriek. She put her hands to her ears, trying to block all of the shouting out, but it got even louder. Louder and louder until it all went quiet and dark.

Nisa woke up with a headache. She rose from her bed, her dark hair in a disheveled mess as it cascaded down to her shoulders, her quivering hand reaching for her forehead. It was just a dream, she reminded herself. A dream only, it's done and past.

But the pain was still there. The pain of the day her mind's psionic potential came alive… and when she was doomed to exile from her family and home.


*****


There was another day to go before the Corps' transport would depart for Tau Atrea. Nisa chose to use the day to explore Teyan Station more thoroughly. After morning breakfast and prayers she departed her quarters for the station's commercial market. Her funds were limited so she didn't intend to purchase anything.

But the point wasn't shopping, it was the sight of the market itself. She walked along the shops and took in the variety of life. While the thoughts of the beings around her pressed upon the walls she raised around her mind, she delighted in the warmth of life here. It resonated with her soul to see so many creations of God living and working together. The species present easily reached into the dozens. She saw Pakled traders, Asari wanderers, and Brakiri merchants pass her by. Along one shop a family of six-limbed furred Gy'torans chittered away in conversation with a feline Rr'timm. A pair of Miqo'te women manned a stall selling Ys'tallan silk from their homeworld, one of them in vibrant conversation with a Human customer.

At one eatery a group of Salarians and Llort were engaged in a vibrant conversation while a Vulcan man and Minbari woman, of the Religious caste, more quietly conversed over their beverages.

Nearby was a data brokerage showing economic information from across the Multiverse. The blue-skinned, purple-dotted Dorei man operating it was in the midst of a heated discussion with a pair of Ferengi. A nearby terminal showed market information of great interest to a suited Volus and a Turian woman.

So many species. So many cultures. Nisa couldn't keep the smile off her face. God has blessed me in my exile with such sights.

<It is something.>

She recognized the mental voice of Oscar Mendoza. He walked past her and stopped briefly. She could sense his contentment with his breakfast, but it was slight compared to the emotions roiling in his mind and being. He had the air of a man about to endure conflict, and quite possibly, start it. <We are blessed with such sights>, Nisa cast back. <But I sense your discomfort. What is wrong?>

<One of our ships, the Eiberhorn, is overdue and not answering hails.> She felt the uncertainty and a tinge of horror in the worst case scenario. Strangely, it didn't involve the deaths of those involved.

<Could it have been attacked by bandits?>

<In hyperspace? No. There's only one group that I can see disappearing a ship in hyperspace…>

The distrust she'd sensed yesterday blazed with that thought, and she knew now whom he suspected. <You think the Corps is behind it?>

"I aim to find out," he said aloud, after which he continued walking toward the station core.

Sensing imminent conflict in the future, and wishing to keep it from escalating, Nisa followed.


*****


Alastair was busy pouring over a map of the jumpgates in the security office with his back to the door when Oscar Mendoza got there, he noticed the ball of fear, suspicion, and rage just in time to whip around and narrowly block a haymaker with his elbow, wrap his arm around Oscar’s, then drop his hips and turn slamming the man into a wall. The two others in the room leapt into action but Alastair waved them off. <Don’t. He’s just scared and not thinkin’ straight..>

“I see ya just found out about the Eiberhorn. Are ye bloody well done and ready ta talk like a fookin’ adult, or do ya wanta go a few more rounds?”

"They were taking hyperspace all the way!" Oscar shouted, his voice carrying through the door as Nisa entered behind him. "They couldn't have been intercepted, not by anyone but you!" The waves of his panic washed over Nisa, both of her extra senses picking up on it. She knew, there, that he had friends on the Eiberhorn. "We gave you the routes, the IDs! You're the only ones who could've taken them!"

<Oscar, rage will not help you>, she urged him.

“Oh yes, of course we’ve engaged in such a transparent deception! Risked our diplomatic ties and truce with Lyta f’r fookin’ what? Mustache twirling evil purposes?”

"Maybe there was someone aboard you didn't want to get here, I don't know!" Oscar couldn't escape the pin, but despite being up against the wall he continued to shout, if just to give relief to his panic. "We trusted you! Now one of our ships is missing!"

A figure stepped up beside Nisa that she only knew was approaching due to her connection to the Divine Gift. Markus was completely silent in both his stride and in his mind. But then he spoke up.

“This is a port of call Mr. Mendoza. We can only do so much to secure information here. Or we might have traitors in our own midst who need to be buried behind a chemical shed. Or, let’s be blunt, Lyta doesn’t have good operational control of her people. Terrorists are like that. No discipline.”

There was a certain hint in Markus' voice, and a sense in his being, that prompted Nisa to cast an uncertain look his way. Is he trying to provoke Oscar?

The insight came to her, and she didn't stop herself from asking, "Why do you think he has information to leak from his mind? You're trying to provoke him into such thoughts."

Oscar, for his part, started laughing. "Oh, but that's how they think, Miss Tari. Especially that one. It shows you how little they think of us." Alistair wasn't releasing him from the wall just yet, so he couldn't turn entirely to face her. "He thinks this is a set up, that we're trying to make it look like the Corps violated the agreement with Governor Rankin and the Railroad. As if we'd sacrifice innocent people to do it!"

At that, Markus glyphed a date. April 12th, 2263, along with a set of numbers, in the thousands. And another date, just a few months before, with a number over twenty thousand. “Of course, no one who has ever left the Psi Corps would ever risk or suicide bomb innocents… it is completely unreasonable of me to suspect that.”

That drew a snarl. "That wasn't the Railroad, damn you! All we want to do is get out and have a choice in our lives! If it weren't for the Allied Systems, you'd still be putting the jackboot to our throats!"

“If it weren’t for the Psi Corps upholding Crawford-Tokash and the Charter until the day we violently stop, the mundanes would have exterminated our ancestors before we had the resources and organization to fight back. But it’s all about you isn’t it? You’d rather run away and preserve your precious moral purity than show solidarity with your fellow telepaths; rather risk the future of our children than safeguard it.” He waved a gloved hand dismissively. “Think for a moment Mr. Mendoza, if I am concerned about the possibility of your people orchestrating a set up, what can you conclude about Psi Corps involvement? Hmm?”

"That you're not in the loop," Oscar shot back. To which Markus just laughed. A deep belly-laugh. The laugh of a man who’d just heard something so ignorant at such a perfect time that it was deeply amusing. That was on the surface. What Nisa got was a bit deeper than that though. She got the feeling that he was concealing the source of his confidence that the Psi Corps wasn’t involved.

“That’s one hell of a closed-loop!” He managed to say,after regaining himself. “Look, we were tracking the Eiberhorn until the moment it disappeared from our Navigator’s p’hearing in the void between Signet and Deneb. We’re taking this seriously enough - because we don’t know what happened - that I will personally be taking the Psyche back into our space, which will pass through the same hyperspace route.”

Nisa sensed only skepticism from Oscar on that matter. The distrust he felt to the Corps was fanned by the apparent loss of the Eiberhorn. "He is sincere," she said softly, cutting short any riposte. "And he truly does not know the fate of your ship. I believe it makes him, all of them, as upset as it has you, Oscar."

She sensed the hostility in Oscar draining slightly as she spoke. "You're heading with them, aren't you?" he asked quietly. Alistair released him, sensing his physical aggression was no longer present. He turned to face Nisa directly. "You're traveling on the Psyche?"

"I am," she said. "I'm coming to meet with someone in one of their colonies."

He nodded numbly. WIth his rage spent, the frustration was giving way to panic. The entire Railroad was at risk and he felt helpless for the fates of those innocent people on the Eiberhorn. With his emotions still at a pitch state those feelings leaked through his blocks, allowing every telepath in the room to feel them, to know how raw they were. Even Markus' expression turned sympathetic, although Nisa felt a bit of resentment in his being at the Eiberhorn crew.

With some embarrassment Oscar went to the door. "I'm going to let Governor Kuhln and Governor Rankin know we've confirmed the loss," he said. "And that you're going to investigate it. We might see if some of our own ships can do the same. Maybe an Alliance vessel with telepaths on the crew can go in and join the search."

“By all means. The larger the number of ships, the greater the chance we find something.” Markus replied.

Oscar nodded and walked out of the room.

Once he'd been gone for about ten seconds, Nisa noted the tension wasn't draining from the room. It took on a different tone, one laced with its own worry and uncertainty over the Eiberhorn and the Psyche, and the parties that could be behind it.

Still, it was Oscar she was most worried for. She nodded to them before leaving the office.


*****


Nisa's worry over Oscar led her along. She could sense him even now, a panic and frustration giving in to despair. It formed a terrible, saddening beacon that stood out among the other beings on Teyan, bidding her to follow.

She found him at a drinking establishment, imbibing a clear liquid from a glass. She gently probed at his mind, to let him know she was present. The reply was silence, mental and verbal. The only thing she felt through his blocks was the sensation of alcohol, "tequila", burning its way down his throat.

She took the seat beside him. The bartender approached and she waived him off. "Gonna pay for anything?" the man growled.

"My friend's drink," she answered, pulling the credit chit she had from the pocket of her inner garment.

The bartender accepted it. "Solarian money? Well, it'll spend like anything else." After running the charge he walked away.

"You don't have to pay for me," Oscar mumbled.

"I chose to." Nisa set her hands on the bar. "The panic I feel within you is painful. I hope my condolences for the deaths of your friends…"

"Dead? Ha!" Oscar's laugh bitter. "God, I hope they're dead, compared to the alternative."

"Alternative?"

The answer was mental, leaking through the walls of his mind. Nisa felt a familiar revulsion at the concept, one that had many terms, but which was generally known by one word: slavery.

"There's a slave trade for telepaths," Oscar explained. "Been around since teeps started showing up. There's a story that the only thing the Underground of old ever cooperated with the Corps over was breaking up slave rings. But things are so much worse now." Oscar took another drink. <The way it used to be, most telepaths were enslaved by corporations looking to get an edge on the competition. Had some more disgusting stuff, of course, it's always that way with traffickers, but that was, well… it's worse now.>

<Worse?>

His drink over, Oscar spoke aloud. "The market's expanding. Telepaths fetch even higher prices now, all because of those… those pendejos in the Eubian Concord." His thoughts added even more adjectives, all of them more terrible curses.

"Eubians." Nisa thought she'd heard the term before, but she was unfamiliar with it. "The Multiverse has so many peoples. Are they Human or another species?"

"Genetically altered Human, apparently, from the A5R0 universe." She sensed Oscar's mind pulling up information from a briefing. "A5R0's a weird one. Thousands of years ago, an unknown alien race relocated Humans to another planet before dying out. Those Humans eventually formed an empire, spread out into space, and then lost the empire when they couldn't keep the alien tech working. Thousands of years later they regained enough technology to become fully interstellar again. Now they've got two empires. The Skolians and the Eubians."

"Now, the Eubians are top dogs, and that's bad. Even the Allied Systems are still trying to learn more about them, so I can't tell you everything, but apparently a kind of 'anti-psion' was developed from genetic alteration. They're the Aristos, and because of those alterations, every single one of the red-eyed bastards is a physiologically-hardwired sadist, with most being megalomaniacs. In the Concord, their word is law, and everyone else is a slave of some sort. Telepaths are the lowest slaves, providers, and they keep us around to torture us for pleasure."

"Servants of Shaitan," Nisa murmured, shuddering at the thought. "Surely they will be fought."

"Don't know. The Allied Systems are keeping a cool distance over the slavery thing, but the local Earth still has trouble accepting the existence of telepathy, and the Aristos are really good at propaganda. They disavow anyone caught in the trade and accuse their accusers of falling for Skolian propaganda."

"I have heard of an increase in trafficking in telepaths back in my home universe." Old memories of Toutaine, the bitter ones, came back to her. "But there have always been issues with such things. Perhaps they are more related than anyone expects. Do you think, then, that they are behind the Eiberhorn's disappearance?"

Oscar took another drink. <I hope not>, he p'cast, his thoughts blurry from the alcohol. <God I hope not.> After he swallowed and grimaced for a moment he continued speaking out loud. "I don't know. The thing is, hyperspace is a tricky place to intercept. Both our people and the Corps would get the distress call, through telepathy if anything, and a battle in hyperspace is asking for trouble. The Aristos don't have the means to do a clean hyperspace intercept. But the Corps does."

"Because hyperspace as used here strengthens our gifts."

"Yes. The Corps could've mentally overwhelmed the crew and taken the ship."

"There was no deception in their office," Nisa assured him. "I felt nothing but uncertainty and frustration. Fear and worry as well."

"That just means they weren't told," Oscar pointed out. "They like to play up being the big happy family of eighteen million telepaths, but they've lied to their own before. Plenty of times."

That lingering distrust came to the forefront of his mind again. "You resent them a lot."

"I try not to. Most of them, Miss Tari, most of them are just trying to live. It's not easy to do that in a place where being a telepath makes you a tool and a demon." Oscar shook his head. "I hear people from your universe, they've forgotten Earth. Have you ever heard of Honduras?"

"I'm afraid I have not."

"It's where I'm from. La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coast." She received mental images from him of a town on a coastline, adjacent to a river flowing into the sea. "My mother, Luz, was a late manifest. My father Raoul is a mundane. I was the second of their children. When I was still little, my mother had a mindburst, and was soon identified as a P6. Fairly powerful, something like the sixtieth percentile of the entire telepath population." Oscar sipped at the drink again. "She got the usual choice. The camp, the sleepers, or the Corps. She chose the sleepers at first, because she had us little ones to raise."

Nisa thought back to Julian's presentation on what the drugs were. "It was terrible to make her take that choice."

"It was, but she wanted to be with her children, and the Corps wouldn't guarantee she could stay in La Ceiba." Oscar pushed the empty glass away. "My father was the one who begged her to join, in the end. He saw that she was dying a little more each week, and he wanted her to live to see us become adults."

"So she did?"

He nodded. "Eventually, when I was seven. The Corps assigned her to Tegucigalpa at first, the capital of Honduras, and she commuted as necessary so she could be with us. We had to move homes in La Ceiba, but Corps funding meant we had a nicer house, at least. So for the first couple of years, everything was fine." A bitter sentiment rose from within him. "But eventually they re-assigned her to one of the colonies, and to Mars, and space stations… all she could do was send us some of her stipend so we could keep the house, and only with Corps approval. We only got to see her… sometimes twice a year, sometimes more."

Nisa sensed the old pain that Oscar knew as a child, of not having his mother around. Wondering where she was all the time. "You missed her terribly."

"Yeah."

"I sense she is dead. What happened?"

"After the Minbari War, she was tired of being away from home. She tried to make arrangements for us to join her, but the Corps refused. Something else happened, I'm not sure, then we received messages from her that she was done with the Corps. She was going to come home and go back on the sleepers. That it was better than being kept from us."

Nisa felt chilled by the decision forced on Luz Mendoza. "Surely the Corps could have afforded to relocate you. You were her family too. You and your sister were possible telepaths."

"But we weren't actual manifests at the time, and that meant we weren't part of the family." Oscar scoffed. "Anyway, the Corps refused to let her leave. She appealed in their administration, and they said no. My father appealed to EarthGov, but nobody in ISN or anywhere else gives a damn about Central America. He got a member of the National Congress to join the protest, but she dropped it suddenly and warned him to do the same."

"But he persisted?"

"We took it to the Earth Alliance Supreme Court. They started putting the case off, never deciding either way."

"It was about '52 at that point. I was twenty-one, working with my father. Antoina devoted herself to the Church and joined a convent as a novitiate, so it was just us." At his silent gesture more liquor was poured. "One day after work, we got home and found her waiting. She wasn't wearing gloves or the brass pin, and we knew immediately she'd gone blip." He took another drink. "She knew they were coming. She didn't care. She shared her memories with us. Every broken promise for more time with our family. Every lecture about how her new family needed her where she was. The attempts to talk her into divorcing my father so she could marry a telepath who matched her genetically. She was fed up with them. And there was no hope…"

At this point he turned his attention back to the liquor, the memories becoming too painful to speak on. Nisa sensed the rest of the story through his thoughts. They planned to flee, to head to the outer colonies, but the Bloodhounds came, as did a Psi Cop. His mother gave herself up to keep them from being arrested, and Oscar never saw her again.

The rest was a blur. Moving to a sleepy village where his father's cousin, a widow, ran her late husband's store and needed help. His mindburst coming late in the evening with few people around, allowing him to acclimate without giving himself away. Exploring the contact his mother made to head out to the colonies, and ultimately, to join the Railroad section of the Underground.

<Your mother is dead?>

He nodded. <I got confirmation a few years ago. They said she died in a camp in Malaysia some time in '59 or '60. She kept refusing to rejoin the Corps, no matter how bad it got. I always wanted to pull a rescue mission, but never got the chance. It's so hard to get at the camps, our only successful mission in the past quarter century was with the help of Lyta's new allies, those people with that Darglan battlecruiser.>

Nisa nodded. His pain over his mother reminded her of how long it'd been since she'd last seen her parents. Are they even still alive? Did the Amir punish them? Her few sources insisted it hadn't happened, but she couldn't be sure. <Your father lives though?>

The reply was a brief glyph of frustration. Oscar was trying, and failing, to get his father to join him on Teyan Station. But the grieving widower refused to go. He couldn't give up his home, the last thing he had from his late wife. <My sister's still in the Church. As far as I know, she's never manifested. But we can't communicate easily, for obvious reasons.>

Nisa nodded. <Her safety.>

Oscar nodded. <The Corps broke my family up. Oh, they insist it was only the law they're forced to follow, but nothing made them relocate my mother across the Earth Alliance for a decade. Nothing made them refuse to let her go back on the sleepers, and they could've easily arranged something to let us join her. They even promised they would, but they always found ways not to.> She saw the snarl form on his face. <Sometimes I want to punch that smug jackass Roaratanga just for the way he looks at me. And to hear him talk… he hates us for not remaining in the Corps. He considers it a duty of every telepath to stay in the Corps, give it everything we are, and breed like we're livestock.>

Nisa recalled the previous night, and what she'd sensed of Markus' sentiments whenever the issue of emigrating telepaths came up. His bitter anger at the very thought of it, and the resentment that came up when the Eiberhorn was mentioned.

<Julian's good people, Flores and the Chens, sure. But the Corps also has more than a few Roaratangas, and I'm not even counting the likes of Alfred Bester yet.> A glyph, blurred by some inebriation, came of an old Psi Cop, soulless, an utterly brutal being who hunted without remorse and treated everything as a tool. <So yeah, I don't trust them a lot, and I'm still wondering if we're going to find out they're behind the Eiberhorn. For your own good, I think you should reconsider.>

<I recognize your sincerity, but I have a purpose I wish to fulfill.> Nisa slid off the bar stool. <May the Merciful All-Highest grant you peace, and protect your mother's soul until you are reunited in Paradise.>

He glyphed thanks to her before turning his attention to the last of his drink.


****

Nisa took a small private dinner during her second evening on Teyan Station. The day's events and the word about the Eiberhorn left her appetite wanting. Her own query into the Aristos nearly eliminated it, with the one line reply from Lucy Lucero being merely "They're the WORST".

Once she satisfied the needs of her body for sustenance, Nisa took to her bed. Instead of laying down she sat upright, settling her hands on her knees while keeping her feet clear so they wouldn't go to sleep on her. Once she was comfortably situated Nisa began her daily prayers. Oh All-Highest God, Creator, Lord of Paradise, Allah, Yahwey, Isya

After the Prayer of Faith she went into the specific prayers. Lord of Mercy, may your wings of love give comfort to the soul of Luz Mendoza. May Divine Peace ease the pain of her son Oscar. And may your protection go to the souls on the Eiberhorn, wherever they may be.

Uncertainty crept into her soul, a shadow that laid itself on her and her sense of the future. It worried her, indeed, it was frightening given how nebulous it was. She couldn't get a firm sense of what was causing it or where it came from.

I will not fear the future. I am a Yildiz, a daughter of the Jeziri Plains, and I have faith in the All-Highest.

It was with that thought in mind that she went to sleep.

*****


“Are ya daft, Markus!?” Alastair wasn’t shouting precisely, just that loud exasperation that could often be found in a bar in Belfast. “If it’s York and ya get captured, the Monitors or Thirteen’ll scan ya until ye break then they’ll reprogram and send ye back as a spy. If it’s those fookin’ monsters with the red eyes they’ll just put ya on th’ rack and twist their nipples in glee. Kinda hard ta tell what’s worse innit?”

“I have to, Alastair. It’s the only way I had to demonstrate to that cowardly lickspittle that we weren’t involved. It’s not like we could tell him who’s on this station.”

“I wouldn’t characterize him as co-” Markus cut him off.

“He tried to sucker punch you in the back of the head because he was mad and knew he couldn’t take you in a fair fight. You should always sucker-punch your enemies, but a careful read of Sun Tzu isn’t why he did it. And it goes deeper than that. I have more respect for the god-damned terrorists. At least they stand up and fight for what they believe in, instead of cowering meekly under Kuhn’s Psi-Rating and Union guns.”

“Gee Markus, tell me how ye really feel… He has a perfectly good reason ta be bitter, ye know.”

Markus positively growled in frustration. “Of course he does, we all do. But ultimately he still thinks like a god-damned mundane. He’s able to release himself from the shackles they put on his mind, but he’s just unwilling. I don’t think he’d be willing to do that if we told him what they did to his mother.” Markus sighed. “So I’ll go. Because I’m a P10 and willing to put myself at risk to help secure that ship, and because if I don’t and he caterwauls enough, it could endanger our position and postpone the day we build the damned guillotines.”

“Markus… I don’t think we’re gonna go Robespierre on th’ mundanes. No one in the Central Committee wants tha’…”

“Even Meier has a list of people who must not be permitted to survive. It is extensive. It’s just a lot shorter than Bester’s list and includes nominal trials.”

“That’s a fair point.”

*****

The drone came through the life support umbilical from Teyan Station's main system to the Psyche. Its malleable memory-metal body let it shift shape once again, allowing it to slip through the vents and into the transport's own life support system, currently inactive as it was restocked with the station's own supply of atmosphere. It moved beside the vent and latched on to the interior surface.

And there, it did what it was so carefully programmed to do.

Wait.
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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2020-04-19 04:37pm

Act 3

The dreams came again. The desert, the Samir River, Toutaine. Home, and the terrible aftermath of Gharab.

Sadiq Tari survived the slashing wound his overwhelmed daughter delivered that day. As for Nisa, her trial was only beginning.

Waking was agony for her, with every moment filled with the babble of minds around her.

The babble was drowned out by a firm voice, such that Nisa thought it was God Himself. <Raise walls, child! Raise them! Conceive of your mind as an abode with thick, firm walls!>

Images, concepts, entered her mind, and with dawning understanding Nisa raised those walls. The babble died out, leaving her in the company of her parents, a physician, and a man in flowing dark robes with graying hair.

Such was her first meeting with Abdul-Rahim al-Yasuj. He was quick and blunt in affirming the truth, that she was a psion as he was, and he would help her. At the invitation of her parents he followed them home to al-Lahir, where he took up residence and gave her daily training in the walls and the Amir's laws on their people.

For a time things seemed normal, but soon she sensed the unease in her parents. Unease becoming grief, all while Abdul-Rahim kept a part of his mind closed to her, specific thoughts that her other gift told her were about her. The marriage proposals ceased abruptly as well.

She truly knew something was wrong when Sadiq recovered well enough to resume training. Their cohesion was entirely shot, and their dancing steps worse than Nisa had ever seen. The latent connection between them from their divine gift was clouded by a distance her parents were imposing on her.

After a week, it became enough, and she demanded answers. They refused at first, bidding her to focus on her training with Abdul-Rahim, but the sense she was getting from him was more foreboding until she declared she didn't want to be around him anymore and refused more sessions.

The truth finally came one night after Abdul-Rahim left. The Taris admitted the truth. Her mind was one of the more powerful ones on Toutaine, and given her combination of the divine gifts, she'd come to the attention of the Amir. Abdul-Rahim was already making the arrangements for her transfer to el-Yasuj, and the Amir's harem.

In the dream she remembered the sheer bewilderment it brought her. The harem was for the Amir and his male relatives to ease their cares with the pleasures of women, hand-picked from the other communities. But it was against the teachings of the Yildiz, and the Amir's forefathers promised before God to spare their daughters the fate. How could the Amir of today violate the oath of his ancestors?

"It is your gifts," Kimiya answered. "Having sons and grandsons from your blood and womb could restore the dormant psionic power of the royal bloodline."

The horror of it all came quickly. All of Nisa's dreams of following her parents, of being a proud bladedancer, were to be dashed. She would be little more than a brood mare, bearing children for the Amir's family in the off chance it would restore their psionic power.

"I won't!" she insisted. "I don't want to!"

Even as her defiance came from her lips, though, she sensed the horrible truth from her parents. Defiance would be met with harsh punishment. The Amir would take it out on them, and al-Lahir. Their whole community, indeed, all the Yildiz of Jeziri may suffer.

And so the dream led to that, the screams and shouts of her people as al-Lahir burned by the torches of the Amir's army, all for her defiance…

She awoke with a start at that. For a brief moment she convinced herself it was what actually happened before her surroundings reinforced her sense of reality. It didn't happen. Al-Lahir still stands… All-Highest, I hope so…

After rolling on her bed she realized she had a digital reader in the crook of her arm. Memory came back as she checked the contents, a public article about the Aristos in A5R0. The writer hailed from the Alliance and remarked upon affirmations by the Skolian delegation to the Alliance on the nature of the Eubians' leadership, that they enslaved telepaths to torture for pleasure. The Eubians proclaimed it propaganda and accused the Skolians of poisoning the Multiverse against them to promote Skolian "imperial ambitions".

The entire condition brought nausea to Nisa. Her home universe was no stranger to horrors, given the Bragulans, the Karlacks, the Aurigans and NEUROM, or the cruel warlords and science-magi of Cevaucia with all of the ways they manipulated biology and technology into horrific forms.

This is why we were driven from Paradise. This corruption that Shaitan has fastened to all of us, we cannot go back until it is purged.

She brooded upon those feelings for a time before a check of the wall-mounted clock reminded her of the local station time. She needed to see to her morning meal and make ready for her trip. The Psyche would be leaving by the afternoon.


****

Nisa was nearly to the terminals when Oscar met her. He looked somewhat better compared to the prior day. From his thoughts she gleaned why: a Gersallian destroyer with a telepathic search party trained for E5B1 hyperspace would be jumping in to help search for the Eiberhorn. <They can't leave hyperspace on their own, unfortunately, but they can pinpoint anything they find for others.>

<That is good.> Nisa kept walking, with Oscar following, carrying her bags by the shoulder straps with one bag on her back. <You're still uncertain.>

<It could still be the Corps. Director York if nothing else. You need to be careful. Even outside of York and his loyalists, there are people in the Corps who would not be above telepathic compulsion to force you to join.>

Behind the walls of her mind, she thought You judge them so harshly, though you have reason. Even with those reasons, her own feelings told her the Corps wasn't the source of the dark uncertainty she felt.

<I will be careful, and trust in the All-Highest>, she answered, hoping the p'cast reply would ease his worries. <Thank you for your kindness, Oscar Mendoza. You do important work, giving choice to those denied it.>

<It's what my mother, God rest her soul, would have wanted.> He stopped. Ahead a couple of figures that included Alistair Wallace were watching a set of gates at the terminal. <It's better if I don't go beyond. Whatever you're looking for, I hope you find it.>

<Thank you.> With that sentiment she continued on, joining a mixed group of adults and children waiting to board. Some of the latter were excited to be "going home" while she felt anxiety and uncertainty in a few of the adults. They were Julian's recruits, wrestling with last minute doubts before taking their final incontrovertible step.

Perhaps it was those fears that brought up the pang of uncertainty that filled her. A dark shadow lay over the future. I will not fear, I will trust in the All-Highest.

She repeated that thought while boarding.


*****

Traveling through this universe's band of hyperspace was a new experience for Nisa. Here she felt like every mind aboard the Psyche could connect to her own with ease. Even in sleep that connection was there, letting her sense the dreams of others such that she had no dreams of her own. She only caught glimpses of those dreams, and didn't have any firm memories of what they were, only the recollection of the other, mostly younger minds brushing against hers in the throes of sleep.

But yet, she felt something more, at the fringe, that same dark uncertainty, a foreboding sense that something was wrong. An unseen hand was at play.

After breakfast and some meditation to dwell on that sense, Nisa took to the common room of the Psyche. Holovids displayed childrens' programming for some of the passengers, watched by parents and guardians, while others used computer terminals or digital readers.

Such a reader was in NIsa's hand. A text from the Gersallian Lankam, nearly 2,900 years old, yet still insightful as to the beliefs that guided those people. Their view of what Nisa felt was a divine gift had certain sentiments she found appealing, even if they failed to recognize God's hand in their powers.

A curious presence brushed against the edge of her mind. She looked up at the face of a girl who shared her coloration, no older than ten, maybe younger. The girl's telepathic gift was active, as were those of the two children with her. Younger siblings or playmates, Nisa guessed. "Yes? Do you need something, little ones?" she asked.

“Why are you naked?” The girl asked, the other kids hung back, wanting the answer but not being brazen enough to just approach an adult with that question. None of them wore gloves. “We need our hands uncovered so we can explore, but you’re a grown up. Why aren’t you wearing yours?” There was a hint of the accusatory, but there was an allowance for a legitimate reason, not that the little girl knew what that might be.

The question took Nisa by some surprise. "Naked?" She looked down at her hand before understanding dawned. "As in, I do not wear gloves?" She asked the question with an eye toward some of the adults in the room. The warden looking over the children looked away quickly, but Nisa sensed the social discomfort within her, as if Nisa were truly standing before them utterly nude. "I suppose it is because we do not wear gloves all the time, where I come from. If we have need to protect our hands, we wear them, but we do not otherwise."

That little girl, and the other even-littler ones looked at her like she’d grown a second head. “All the grown-ups in the Psi Corps wear gloves to…” she couldn’t wrap her head around what delineate meant so she tried another word “set apart public and private, self and not-self. They’re only supposed to take them off around people they really care about. So, if you don’t know that, it must mean you aren’t in the Corps, which means you’re not from the Earth Alliance. Wait, are you one of those alien telepaths? You don’t have a shaved head so you can’t be a Centauri!”

"Oh, I am Human, child," Nisa said. "From a world called Toutaine, I am from the S0T5 universe, as the Alliance calls it."

“Oh! Hm. Does that still count as alien?” She turned around “Mom! If she’s a human from another universe does that still make her an alien!?” The other kids were of mixed opinion. Some nodding, a couple others shook their heads.

An adult, apparently the child’s mother, strode up next to her. “No Halime, I think that just makes her a Human from another universe.” She too was wearing a headscarf, just like Nisa. Nisa considered what she knew of the religions of this universe and others; there were many who followed a faith similar to the majority of worshippers on Toutaine, though not that of the Yildiz. “Şadiye Teke, this is my daughter Halime. I’m sorry if she’s bothering you, she’s always been a bit… impertinent.” Still, she couldn’t keep her eyes off those naked hands.

That attention wasn't lost on Nisa. She searched her memories and realized what she'd overlooked, that Julian and all the others had likewise worn gloves, even at their communal meal. That they didn't bring it up… ah, they are used to seeing telepaths without gloves. Nisa quietly folded her arms, obscuring her hands under her elbows. "Impertinent, but at least curiously so," Nisa remarked. "God favors those who seek to learn." With her insight she turned her attention back to little Halime. "My people have some different customs from yours, Halime. I suppose I might have had the same reaction to seeing an adult going about with an uncovered head, when I was your age."

“Mom wears the Hijab, I probably will too when I become an adult, but that’s optional in Islam, now. I guess it’s not where you come from?”

"Among the Yildiz, all believers cover their heads," Nisa answered. "It is a show of humility to demonstrate our conviction to the All-Highest to earn Paradise."

“Oh, okay. That makes sense. I guess. For us, the Hijab is about maintaining modesty - whatever that means - and demonstrating our submission to Allah, but the gloves are… well actually kind of the same, Allah just isn’t involved. For the grown ups it’s like walking around without pants.”

"So it would seem. I did not know this." It would seem I must find a pair of gloves, then.

<I have a spare set, and we look like we’re the same size.> Şadiye replied to that thought.

<I thank you, it would not be appropriate for a guest to offend their hosts so crudely.>

Şadiye returned to where she’d been sitting earlier and got into her bag, fishing out a pair of black gloves. They were nice soft lambskin leather, but lacked the haptic interface and other features that compensated for the disability they imposed. They were spares, just in case. She returned and handed them over. Her expression might as well have been a praise unto God as Nisa put them on.

<Thank you. None of us would have said anything but...well, you understand.>

<I do.> She flexed her hands. They were comfortable, and reminded her of the gloves she wore while helping her mother tend to their garden back home. Given her dream there was a sting in the memory, but she didn't dwell on it given the burning curiosity she sensed from Halime. "Did you have anything else to ask, Halime?"

“We mostly do arranged marriage unless someone gets lucky. How do you do marriage, do you do marriage or something else?”

Oh All-Highest, how you do test me. Nisa lowered her eyes for a moment, brushing past those old, dream-kindled memories. "We do have marriage," she said. "And they can be arranged, yes. The groom and bride are always consulted, so that the union's bond is more sure to hold."

“Oh! That’s pretty similar to us then, but the mundanes make us do it that way. E… something genics. I can’t think of the word right now. They want strong telepaths so they make us submit to genetic testing to get married. Is someone making you do that, or do you do it on your own?”

"Nothing like that, little one, not usually anyway." Nisa didn't keep the bitterness from her tone. "It can sometimes be done, by the Amir and the shaykhs of Toutaine. We Yildiz do not have a shaykh, at least."

“Oh you have Nobles.” She made a fake vomiting sound. “Daddy says that’s why people built the guillotines.” That was a word she knew, and she even glyphed a mental image of a big blade sliding down a long parallel track.

Nisa didn't dwell on the murderous device. "Most marriages, when arranged, are to ensure the family has the means to thrive, because of the trades of the bride and groom or the lands they may own. My parents were apprentice blade-dancers of considerable skill, so their marriage was arranged by their parents and teachers. The All-Highest blessed their union with me, and with how their skills made them renowned performers."

“That doesn’t sound so bad. Mom and Daddy get along pretty well. They had me, and my older brother but he went crazy during the war and went rogue after…”

“Sweety, too much information….” in a chiding tone.

“Sorry mom.” Sweetly. “Mom just told me telepathically that it’s time to leave you alone. It was nice meeting you!”

"And you, Halime." Nisa glyphed a farewell sentiment to the child as she and her playmates departed.

****

The bridge of a Cyclops-class ELINT Cruiser, colloquially known as a Mothership, was old-school by most standards. Unlike most other ships in the Psi Corps fleet, there was no way to integrate artificial gravity into the command section, which wasn’t in the rotating passenger section. The artificial gravity system would actually interfere with the rotational gravity and there would be an unpleasant washing machine effect that wouldn’t do good things for the passengers. It wasn’t just linear, it was cramped, linear, and everyone was strapped into acceleration couches.

Captain Anamarija Dragić was a diminutive woman, with brown hair and hazel eyes. At a rating of P5 her psionic abilities were also completely unremarkable, but she made up for that with an iron will, which by itself seemed to tower over her bridge crew. ELINT cruisers had multiple Navigators, one for each of the telescopic masts that jutted out from the ship’s forward quarter.

<Surrounding hyperspace is completely vanilla, Captain. There’s nothing for lightyears in all directions.> The lead Navigator, Commander Yuki Suzuki informed her.

“Copy Navigator. Anything on conventional scans?”

“Nyet. All is clear. I’ve run computer diagnostic tool, just in case. Logs are clean, all systems operating in normal parameters.” Lieutenant Leonti Yakovlev, the EWO, replied. “Honestly, how do you just disappear? No distress call, nothing?”

“My guess is an infiltrator. Director’s agent, slip aboard posing as a blip on the run, blitz-attack the engineering crew and pull the ship out of hyperspace before anyone can even process what’s happening. It’s how I’d do it.” Sergeant Maura Valdez replied. She was an imposing hispanic woman wearing hard-shelled armor.

“Sure, but why? Someone else on board carrying secrets they couldn’t afford to get out? Just trying to destabilize our diplomacy?” The tactical officer, Anush Nazarian offered as possible answers to her own question.

“Two birds, one stone?” Captain Dragić shrugged. “Ultimately comrades, the speculation does us no good. We’ll find out with more information. Sergeant, if you could go confer with our illustrious guest from Metapol? Familiarize him on our anti-boarding tactics and all that?”

“Of course Ma’am. I’ll make sure he’s up to speed.” With that, Sergeant Valdez exited, hauling herself out of her acceleration couch. The ship was accelerating but the inertial dampening systems kept the subjective gravity experienced well below one gravity, and she floated without pushing herself backward toward the door, grabbed onto the bulkhead and got herself through.

*****


The time to wait was over.

The lone probe in the ventilation system started moving. Or rather, parts of it did. Bit by bit the memory metal body broke itself off, forming over half a dozen portions beyond its main body. These pieces, each containing a vial of concentrated chemical, made for different sections in the highly-segmented ventilation systems on the ship to maximize the spread of their concoction.

When they were in position, the main body got to work. It extended a wire from its remaining mass. This wire expanded until it became a small transceiver. The operating intelligence of the probe reached out for the ship's communications systems, and beyond, into its main computer controls.

The Psyche had precautions against such cyber attacks. But those precautions were geared toward specific threats, specific kinds of possible intelligences, and the guiding intelligence of the probe was something outside of their understanding. Raw processing power evaded traps laid for organic beings and their slower brains. Sophisticated thinking algorithms defeated those mechanisms to stop computer intelligences. The defenses fell in their turn in the space of microseconds. Control of several ships systems fell into the operating intelligence's metaphorical hands,

It used the ship's own security against it. A lockdown procedure commenced, meant to protect against invaders taking control of the command bridge. On the bridge, the door slammed shut behind them.

“What the hell? Lockdown just activated remotely!” The Bosun declared, a look of near-panic across his face. There was only one thing that could mean.

“Main computer compromised, attempting to purge system!” Lt. Yakovlev announced, his fingers already dancing over the keyboard, but then he paused. “I’ve been kicked. Cannot re-authenticate.”

“Yakovlev, hard-shut-down, disconnect the network” The captain ordered. As a safeguard against exactly this kind of compromise, the primary systems could all be controlled locally from their own machines.”Bosun, get on the 1MC and give the order to do a local reboot, restore from safety backups.”

The Bosun flipped a toggle switch and spoke into the microphone. That’s what it was, a simple microphone and speaker system. “General Quarters, General Quarters, we have been subjected to cybernetic attack, all sections restore local control from safety backups under protocol Skynet Matrix.”

Then the engine systems came to life. With scant warning the Psyche's hyperspace engine initiated. Energy surged through projectors forged of certain exotic materials, to tear open the veil separating hyperspace and real space, and shove Quantium-40 through the breach to keep the wormhole stable. The Psyche entered the resulting vortex even as her command crew was reacting to the lockdown.

While the ship jumped from hyperspace, the probe and its subdivided pieces opened their interior cavities up. From within came a steady stream of concentrated chemicals, an aerosolized compound that the ship's life support system started distributing with the rest of the vital atmospheric gases. Their placing ensured the substance entered the vessel's engineering and computer spaces as well as common areas and quarters, but not the command deck which due to the lockdown was operating on canned air.

The solution seeped into the common room as a faint greenish hue from the vents. In her seat Nisa lowered her digital reader, her metaphysical senses keenly alerting her to a growing danger, or maybe it was a terrified call to General Quarters and the alarm klaxon that did that. She noticed the air from the vents having color, but had no idea what it meant.

At least, not until one of the watchers for the children sat up. Her eyes widened in shock and panic, a familiar horror returning to the poor woman. Nisa felt a single room reverberate from her mind before it went suspiciously silent.

<SLEEPERS!>

The children were starting to cry already, as some among their young minds already recognized the feeling that their warden projected until her mind stopped p'casting. <Sleepers!> echoed those voices, over and over, their terror feeding into one another even as their minds ceased to broadcast their thoughts.

Slowly, quietly, the greenish gas filled the common room.

*****

The bridge didn’t have a problem with Sleepers, because their compartment was on a completely separate and self-contained air system during lockdowns. So instead of panic, it was a quiet professional rage, affronted that someone had done this to their ship.

“What systems do we still have?” The captain asked to the combined team of the Bosun and EWO.

“Communication and sensors are on separate system so we can get hypercom and subspace distress calls out.”

“Do it, and how long until primary systems are back up?” She asked “Helm, can you get us the hell out of here?”

“Jump drive takes half an hour to reboot and recharge, we can try the warp drive but it’s a Federation warp core.” The look on Lt Olayinka’s face told the story of what would happen. The prospect terrified him.

“And we can’t reboot the system that contains the antimatter or we go up like a gamma-ray burst Understood, Helm.”

“Distress call out on loop, Captain. As for primary systems, restoring from backups is in progress, but it requires a drive reformat or we risk hostile code sticking around.”

Another voice came over the 1MC, Sergeant Valdez. “Sleepers, coming in through the vents. Crew has taken countermeasures but how the hell? The computer systems I get but the life support systems aren’t compromised.”

A lightbulb flashed over Lt Yakovlev’s head “It is probe. They got something onto the ship while we were docked. Tapped the network, released payload into vents. That’s why we’re unaffected on bridge.”

“Got it. Prepare for boarders, find probe.”

Boroda Marksa!” Yakovlev exclaimed angrily in Russian “Signal is jammed. Vessel dropped from Warp, cruiser-weight Solarian configuration. We’re being tractored! They’re matching rotation and extending docking tube. Bosun, alert section L-26!”

The Bosun toggled the 1MC again. “Section L-26, boarding tube in your section.”

The Psyche was massive, and it’s internal space was equally massive, but they didn’t have to worry, necessarily, about securing the entire ship. Just the outer hull, which meant that the telepaths from the Marines and Security Division tasked with providing that security only had to worry about the surface area - at least initially - rather than the whole volume. The ship was divided into sections, from fore at A down to aft at Zed, and split into blocks of ten degrees of circumference for a total of thirty six.

A squad of ten Security Division troopers were in that section, backed up by a Marine fire-team of four. One of them, Warrant Officer Reino Lehtinen stared down the barrel of his PPG carbine at a particular section of floor some twenty meters away from which a blinding-white fountain of energy and molten metal was erupting. The visor of his helmet was down and the light-filters were keeping his retinas from cooking but it was an agonizing wait.

“Wait for it… wait…” The Marines were standing by with fully automatic slug-throwers and grenades. Even as they waited, Reino could feel the others converging to create defense in depth around the breach. Even if none of them made it, they could and would keep this contained. ‘This isn’t some benighted civilian freighter, this is a military vessel, let’s see how much they like Marines and naval infantry.’ Reino thought to himself. The blinding light ceased, and the sheet of metal cut from the pressure hull was shoved inward in several pieces by robotic arms attached to the inside of the docking tube.

The marines threw plasma grenades into the shaft. They exploded in brilliant blue flashes, and Reino knew from the open-shut sensation that at least some people had died. But soon heads started popping up from the opening. All hell broke loose.

The first wave of attackers powered through their fire on pure durability and redundancy. When they were in a position to open fire, it was with stun weapons and sedative darts. The marines were armored against that, but Security Division wasn’t as heavily equipped. Their soft-armor was no match for either, and they fell unconscious when hit. They took some of the cybertroopers with them, but it wasn’t enough.

<Fall back by twos. We’ll cover you!> One of the marines mentally shouted, chucking a grenade. It exploded, destroying or damaging some of the cybertroopers, and providing a window. Lehtinen was in the first pair, and fell back to their second position under covering fire from the marines and others. This proceeded, opening the range and keeping the boarders from being able to catch them in melee… most of the time. The last groups didn’t have the benefit of as much close-support and some of them didn’t make it.

The defenders were pushed back section by section, room by room, while the boarders embarked on their terrible task. Wherever a sleeper-addled telepath was found, they were quickly placed into restraints and carried off, bound for the boarding tube and the pens awaiting them on the boarders' ship.

Some victims were insensate from the sleepers. Others were less fortunate. They could feel terror over the approaching cyborgs, aliens and humans, the panic as they were overcome and restrained. Their cries and screams filled the gas-filled halls, especially those of the children being hauled off with or without their parents.

The Psyche bridge crew watched it all, helpless to save them, to do anything but try to regain control of their ship and save whomever they could.

The wave of boarders made it to the common room. No time was wasted in going for the slumped or fallen forms of telepaths. A couple raised weapons to stun the pair of adults with enough senses to stand despite the concentrated sleepers in the air.

SNAP-HISS.

The sound echoed through the air. From the haze of gas two brilliant blades of emerald light surged into being.

Nisa emerged from the terrible haze and bolted forward. Her lightsabers buzzed in the air, reflecting away stun shots until she was upon her first foe. The Razer moved quickly, but he was not a high-end model, and she was far faster than baseline human. The lightsabers cleaved through the Razer, leaving twitching cybernetics and a dormant body in her wake.

Threat assessment protocols quickly won her the attention of the others. But they were too close, and she was too fast. For those cognizant enough to watch, Nisa turned into a dynamo, a whirling form wreathed in emerald light from the speed of her weapons, her long black hair flowing wildly now that it was freed from the headscarf that covered her mouth and nose instead. They could only watch, fascinated, while she took apart their would-be captors.

The last of them fell when two more Razers arrived at the door. These were larger, with more cybernetics, and each raised an arm. The nozzles at the end of each arm lit up with flame.

Yet the vicious tongues of blue flame never touched her. Nisa held her arms up and crossed her weapons. Raw, invisible force met the flames, holding them well away from her and those under her protection. She threw her right arm forward, opening her hand in the same motion. One of her weapons turned into a circle of strong green light as it flew, cutting through her foes on its way back to her outstretched hand.

She felt the hope around her and easily fought off the urge to breathe deeply. Only with great concentration could she maintain the force holding the tainted air from her nostrils. Without a word she advanced into the hall outside the common room. Some doors were shut. Behind them she sensed living people, frightened when any sense remained to them, others too insensate to think. The open doors had nothing.

Another Razer and a squad of cybertroopers came to face her. They raised new weapons. She sensed some danger, but was still a little surprised when their fire revealed not flame or energy or even ballistics, but solid bolts that expanded into nets crackling with light.

She brought her lightsabers up and started cutting through them as they came, but it was too much. Three nets fell apart before a fourth one got her from the side, enveloping her and knocking her to the floor. Her muscles tensed into solidity by the time she was down, refusing any order to move.

Two of the cybertroopers swapped to conventional weapons upon approaching. She couldn't hear their electronic communication, but she sensed their intent. She was too dangerous. She was to die.

Weapons fire took her would-be killers before their conventional weapons could come to bear. The automatic weapons of her rescuers quickly claimed the Razer and a third cybertrooper before the last evaded successfully, pulling back into cover and swapping weapons. It exchanged fire with her rescuers until more showed up. Its tactical systems prompted its retreat against the increased odds.

Nisa felt her muscles relax. The charge in the net dissipated. With care she raised one of her weapons and cut free.

A breather mask was immediately presented to her, a black face mask framed around a clear eyepiece and a red module for an air supply. She returned her weapons to the loops on her waist and pulled her scarf back over the top of her head before attaching the breather. A much-needed deep breath revitalized her.

<The sleepers didn't affect you?> Valdez asked. <We have the counter-agent.>

<I kept myself from breathing any in.> Nisa drew her weapons again. <I've never seen these cybernetic creatures before.>

<Coserian cybertroopers. Their government rents them out to anyone willing to pay, but there's only one group we know of that hires them. We're dealing with Eubians.>

The p'cast of Markus' answer was laced with a fury that Nisa felt to be almost spiritual. They were fighting not just for their people, but against a threat that struck at the core of everything they believed in.

It was a sentiment she agreed with, openly so. She re-ignited her other weapon. <We must press on!>

They concurred.


****


The Bosun, Chief Zuk, was staring at the damage control board. It went dark. No input defaulted them to black, and it was the local computer systems that reported those statuses. He simply wouldn’t know what the status of those systems were without direct reports from the crew in those sections over the 1MC. All except the reactor system, the main reactor was never networked for obvious reasons. The first report came in. “Captain, main engineering has regained control. Passing the baton to helm control.”

The Helmswoman was a delicate Vietnamese woman with a masters degree in physics named Kim Nguyen. She was under her console waiting on the word from Engineering. When she got it, she simply yanked the power cable, disconnected the network cables, and flipped a switch that would use a small battery charge to completely randomize every bit of data in the solid-state memory. When that was done and after reconnecting the power cable, she hauled herself back up into her chair and flipped the power switch. Yakovlev floated a fresh-install crystal over to her, she snatched it out of the air and placed it into the boot-socket.

A little icon popped up on her screen that said in a few languages “Is this a new install or repairing an old install?” She entered a new install. The screen transitioned into the Psi Corps logo for a moment and then walked her through a few options. She clicked through them on her track-pad and it asked her to authenticate her installation. She entered in her use-name and password, then a roiling sea of kaleidoscopic colors flashed on the screen. The challenge-response system. If she hadn’t been implanted with the responses to that specific color challenge, the drive would reformat. She had, and keyed in the appropriate response.

“Welcome to Helm Control.” The computer said in plain text. “If you have data to transfer to this device, please insert data crystal into secondary port. If not, press Continue.” She did have all her hyperspace maps and maneuvering macros backed up, and she inserted that crystal. “Processing… Processing… Processing. You now have helm control. Have a pleasant day.”

“Forward batteries have regained control. Helm has regained control. Deflector control has regained control.” The Bosun kept reporting, each system. For every section of the ship.

*****

The raid on the Psyche was out of steam, and the boarding parties were now falling back to secure their last groups of captives. Nisa went out ahead of the others, though never too far, defending them from the weapons and darts with her blades and raw force. In turn their heavy fire kept the cybertroopers and their Razer commanders from effectively swapping to the net launchers. Some still employed flame, but it proved to be only a delaying tactic against Nisa's power.

Markus and the others had the memories from Tau Atrea of other metaphysicals engaged in lightsaber combat, provided by those who witnessed the fighting or the rescue from the Aristo cruiser. But Nisa's form and movements were incomparable to those prior examples. She seemed to be dancing more than anything, twirling and spiraling around with her blades in constant motion, a graceful gyre cutting through the enemy with deadly emerald light.

The final group of prisoners were being pressed into the tube when Nisa arrived with the converging security forces of the Psyche. She sensed a familiar presence. To her horror, Halime and a number of children were toward the rear of the line, being dragged into the tube by a cable connecting them to the others.

The cybertroopers and their Razer commanders moved to block her and the rescue parties off, as if their existence mattered less than just a few more captives. And they might yet succeed in that grotesque sacrifice.

Nisa rushed forward, deflecting the incoming fire and ignoring the glancing hits that she didn't have the time to deal with. She gathered her will and power until she reached the line. With one sweep of her blades, she generated a powerful arc of invisible force that threw the cyborgs back, opening the way to the line of captives. Without hesitation she tossed her lightsabers, trusting in her control and the aid of her allies.

“Check your fire Marines, we’ve got civvies behind!” Valdez commanded, and they all switched to single fire. They were marines, they could hit a target with iron sights at 500 meters, precisely-aimed shots at twenty was relatively easy. The more powerful ones also started assaulting the cybertroopers with their minds, they weren’t as good at it as a pair of gestalted Psi Cops, but working together they could slow the enemy down and make shooting them easier, make their fire less accurate.

The two blades scythed through the air, cutting through two cybertroopers flanking the line where it was entering the boarding tube. They curved inward, guided by her will to meet and sever the cable in different points to free the captives from one another. The blades each cut once, cut twice, and then a third time before she returned them to her hands.

She did this just in time. A large Razer charged at her, carrying what looked to be a blade. Just before it could bring the blade down on her head, her lightsabers returned to her hands. She crossed her blades to catch the Razer's. "These are now Lord Yaran's property," the cyborg said in a dull tone, his English heavily accented. "You will desist."

"No soul is another soul's property," she hissed in reply. "All souls are God's." With a heave of force she pushed the Razer back, freeing her from the stand off. She pivoted on her left foot, executing a slashing cut with both weapons that left two glowing gashes on the Razer before he crumbled.

Nisa stood over her foe before her attention was brought by a cry. "Mom!"

Ahead of her, a teary-eyed, pale Halime looked at the transport tube.

Nisa felt the danger. She reached forward and pulled with her will, dragging an adult and unconscious child from the tube ending just before it could slam shut and crush them.

"Mom!" Halime wailed.

The tube started retracting. For a moment the vacuum of the void gripped the atmosphere around them, pulling them with it towards the breach in the deck. This stopped as light flickered into being over the circle cut into the ship's surface. The Psyche's refitted systems projected an emergency forcefield to seal the breach.

"No! Mom!" Halime screamed. She turned her head to Nisa and the others. "My Mom's still over there!"

There was no hesitation. No consideration. Only an instinctive reaction from Nisa.

She ran to the breach and jumped.

*****

On the bridge, an alarm blared with two sharp barking sounds. “Enemy vessel locking weapons.” Yakovlev informed the rest of the bridge.

“Can we raise shields?” Captain Dragic asked Lt. Commander Nazarian who just got shields back up and running.

“Yes captain raising them now, but they won’t hold under close-range bombardment, we’re too close for interceptors. We have weapons back, but they’re so close we can’t hit them, rotating section gets in the way.”

“Damn it. Sound brace-warning.”

The bosun flipped a switch and a trilling alarm blared throughout the ship, warning crew that the ship was almost certainly about to take damage and they should be prepared for impulse shock and decompression.

“Captain, detecting radiation spike, ship coming out of Subspace.” Yakovlev informed her as calmly as he could. It wasn’t one of theirs.

A single vessel shot into view, wreathed in radiation from subspace as it did. It was larger than either the Psyche or its attacker. The vessel's layout produced a silhouette that the Psyche's systems momentarily confused for a Klingon ship, but the head was too wide and the rear engine-bearing body lacked the downward-facing nacelles of a Klingon cruiser. The vessel's coloring was primarily gray, and a big blue-white weapons port was set into the head module of the ship, dead-center while turrets were visible at various points on the hull.

Before they could identify the ship, it hailed them directly. <Put them on> ordered Dragic.

A male voice came over the speaker. "Psyche, this is Captain Horner of the Hyperion. Just hold tight, help's on the way."
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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2020-04-20 06:13pm

The Aristo ship and the retracting boarding tube loomed ahead of Nisa. Her will remained focused on the ship, but inwardly she chided herself. You have doomed yourself. You have thrown your life away thoughtlessly.

It wasn't that she couldn't breathe for the moment, because she could with the breather mask. Rather, it was the thought that came to her only once she was in the void, willing herself toward the tube retracting into the attacking ship. A ship that was most certainly going to engage its drives to retreat, and would do so far more quickly than she could ever push herself to catch up.

It is the duty of the faithful to treat their lives as the precious gifts of God. The stern voice came to her mind from memory. If it is to be given away, it must be done so with care and for a greater reason. Do not throw it away recklessly.

Her father's voice brought her back to her final days in al-Lahir. A contingent of the Amir's household guards were coming to take her away to the soft prison of the palace harem.

She was already a prisoner by then, a prisoner of fear and duty. She could not run, because nobody would hide her and risk the Amir's wrath. All the Yildiz might suffer the loss of his protection if they defied him for her sake. Those outside the Jeziri Plains would turn her over for reward, and the Desert Peoples would kill her as they did all interlopers. Her only hope of escape was death… and that was the purpose of Sadiq's words, as he knew she was considering that end, as sinful as it was.

And yet… those words only made her think all the harder on death at her own hands. What kind of productive life could she lead for God if she were trapped in the harem of the Amirs for the rest of her life? A lone Yildiz among those who didn't believe in God's many names, who would treat her as a heretic and infidel for her faith?

Her parents knew her thoughts. They felt her contemplations. The bonds she shared with them were too strong for it to be otherwise. She sensed their own determination to save her, whatever it might cost them.

And she knew that was the reason for the extraordinary visitor who arrived at the farmhouse that bright day. Not just any visitor, but one from another star, one of another race, guided to Jeziri by his own spiritual beliefs in Creation. She remembered seeing the reptilian being with wonder and disbelief. An alien, yet she sensed his being just as she sensed any other's, and she could tell from the blank look in his quiet eyes that those eyes did not see.

"I do not need these diseased orbs to see," the being said, his voice - was it a he? - a slight hiss. There was a certain electronic tone to his voice, indications of a translator device being used. "Creation provides us our own sight, Sister."

"Sister?" She was stunned by the familiarity of the word. Had his translator not worked properly?

"All who sense Creation are brother and sister of the soul," the alien said. "Ours is a link that transcends species, gender, faith. We are blessed and burdened by it." He bowed politely. "I am Kasszas S'srishin, Sister, and I have heard of your plight. It is clear to me that Creation has guided me here to save your life. Will you let me?"

That day, she'd ultimately answered yes. And now, here she was, spiraling through the void far from any star…

I'm sorry, my friend… she thought. I have thrown it away after all.

She sensed a presence behind her. Minds touched hers. <Keep going!> Markus p'cast urgently. He was behind her, as were Valdez and a few others, using zero-G maneuvering thrusters on their power armor to gain velocity.

<The ship will leave us behind!> The thought came from her mind a moment before she noticed the ribbons of blue light appear. Two in total, forming on hardware affixed to the Psyche, latched onto the invaders' ship.

<The tractors won't hold for long!>

She did, a warm smile forming. I judged too quickly, Lord of Justice. Forgive me my lack of faith.

With a burst of will Nisa increased her velocity. With her head start included she reached the tube first. She ignited her lightsabers and drove them into the door. Her will countered the reaction of her impacting the door, keeping her from bouncing away and back into the void. She re-directed that kinetic force, using it to spin in place. The metal door burned bright orange where her lightsabers carved through it. She willed the cut door to pop open and it did. Atmospheric gas briefly surged from the opening while she scrambled into it. An airlock closed on the far side, cutting off the flow of air pushing her back against the opened door.

By the time she was cutting into the next door Markus was in the tube with the others. <The tractor beam is failing, we need to get in now.>

We will, she thought quietly. She finished cutting through the airlock door and opened it. <Quickly!>

Her greatest concern was more decompression, but the enemy rendered that moot. There was no atmosphere on the other end, nor gravity.

There were cybertroopers.

She got her weapons into place just in time to stop the first shots, cleaving the stun nets in two. She kicked off the door and flew forward, using her will to control her flight through the ship's weightless interior while her sabers flashed through the air to catch more fire. Behind her the Corps Marines that followed her opened up with their weapons.

As she closed the distance, a prayer formed in her mind. Guide us, Lord of Mercy, so that the innocents here might be saved.



*****

“Keep it steady Nazarian…” Captain Dragic was speaking more for her own peace of mind than to actually give a command. Nazarian was acutely aware that if she lost her grip on that cruiser and allowed it to even jolt, the boarding teams would be turned into long-pig patte. Of course that also meant they couldn’t fight back, and the enemy ship was inside their shields. So when the inevitable came, Captain Dragic wasn’t at all surprised.

The Aristo's ship's weapons opened up with blazing emerald light. The cannons would have made short work of the Psyche in her original construction, only the Corps' armoring of the ship saved her from a quick end. Regardless the plasma battered away at the armor, shearing some off and vaporizing other sections. From a half dozen wounds the ship's atmosphere vented.

Another volley would have undoubtedly disabled the Psyche's straining tractors, but it never came. A squadron of twelve tactical fighters screamed in from the direction of the Hyperion. Their forward-swept wings dropped torpedoes that struck first, blowing apart the larger weapon emplacements, and further cannon fire from the twin guns mounted to each lower side of the cockpit went to work disabling more of the raider's weapons. The second volley did its work regardless, inflicting damage on Psyche's engineering section, but the Aristo ship had other priorities. She was now the underdog, and the Hyperion's fighters were only the start of her woes.

Gaining the range, the Hyperion's weapon turrets lit up. Ruby energy crossed the space between the battlecruiser and the Aristo vessel, battering away at her engine spaces.

“Captain, enemy vessel spinning up FTL drive.” If Yakovlev could have reached into the void of space and hated that entire ship’s crew to death, he would have.

They needn't have worried. Seconds before the ship could jump out into hyperspace, the large cannon on the Hyperion's bow fired. A great bolt of cerulean fury smashed into the rear of the Aristo ship, shattering her deflectors utterly on their way to wrecking the sublight engines of the vessel.

A moment of stunned silence occurred on the command deck. “Thanks Hyperion. When this is over, drinks are on us. Be advised, we have counter-boarding teams on that ship mounting an insane rescue operation.” Captain Dragic said when she finally dragged herself to her senses.

Horner's voice came back over the line. "We hear you, Psyche. We're sending our own teams in. Stand by."

The Hyperion pulled up beside her crippled foe. From the ship's port side a tube of metal shot out and slammed into the hull of the raider.

“Well… that’s one way to board a hostile ship…” Nesarian muttered. “Just… right in there, like some kind of ovipositor…” The Captain just gave her a look that could melt Europa.

“Something makes me think they’re not gonna be pupating inside, Nesarian.”

“No, but eating the enemy from the inside? Definitely.”


****

The rescue team moved with surprising speed through the zero-G section: Markus' squad had mag-boots for traction, Nisa her abilities to orient and move herself at will. Only the basic cybertrooper model sought to oppose them through the deep dark of the section, through which the only illumination was often the twirling lightsabers in Nisa's hand.

They arrived at a thick bulkhead door leading further into the interior. <They're definitely past here> Markus p'cast. When Nisa's mind made her intentions clear, he quickly added <No, don't cut through. We don't want to push them into depressurizing the rest of the ship.>

With a mind-cast command, one of the marines, Dasgupta, moved forward and got to work with an omnitool. It took a moment as he cursed at the door in some dialect of of Hindi, but he got it open.

Nisa was ready for the decompression. It took much of her will to project force ahead of her, trying to create a solid wall of her own willpower, drawn from her Divine Gift, to keep the air in. There were bursts and spurts of air here and there where the wall faltered, but it held.

That she survived through this was solely from Markus and the others. The moment the door opened they chucked grenades through the opening crack of the door. This thinned, but did not eliminate, the cybertroopers on the other end. The resulting firefight was fierce, but with time short the Corps Marines pushed through enough that Nisa could follow, keeping her will focused on the wall of force over the door.

While the others kept shooting, Dasgupta triggered the doors again. The bulkhead closed right behind Nisa, regaining its atmospheric seal.

While the effort took a lot of her energy, Nisa pushed away her growing fatigue and launched herself forward just as a reinforcing squad of cybertroopers arrived. Her weapons rejoined the battle just in time to keep them from overwhelming Markus' squad. She loosed the lightsaber in her right hand again, sending it spinning through the corridor junction to slice apart enemies while her left hand weapon deflected their fire with inhuman accuracy.

<Things are too easy> Markus p'cast. <They didn't take that many casualties boarding the Psyche.>

<I sense some danger ahead.> Nisa felt the other presences as well. Minds, souls, full of terror and despair. <The people they took are near.>

<Then let's keep moving!>

Nisa's senses led through the halls of the ship. They made short work of a couple of cybertroopers that tried to bar their way at one set of the doors, which quickly yielded to Nisa's weapons. They plunged into a darkened room full of panicking, despairing minds.

The lights flashed on, nearly blinding Nisa with their intensity for a moment. She raised an arm to ward the light slightly.

The chamber was at least three decks high. On all sides were alcoves… no, cells, cells with solid forcefields covering them and little room permitted for anything but standing or slumping in place. Some of the cells were empty.

Only some.

The others had people in them. Most were or at least looked Human, but there were aliens as well.

"I can feel them," Valdez whispered aloud. "They're all telepaths. So many…"

Everyone's attention was coming on the center of the chamber. There were at least a dozen cybertroopers and a Human cyborg, a Razer, standing in a protective line with deflector shield projectors around them. Behind them was a man with alabaster skin and red eyes, dressed in what looked like regal finery of white and blue.

Nisa felt pain in her mind, a pressure that emanated from the red-eyed man. She sensed the others felt the same, and the sheer, raw spiritual hate that it engendered told her what she was facing: an Aristo.

A pleased smile showed on the man's face, as if the slight pain was giving him a moment's pleasure… which, Nisa soon realized, it was. "I am Lord Yaran," he said in a pronounced accent. "And I admit, the sheer gall of you psions never ceases to amaze me. You may well be worse than Skolians. But your fight is over. Surrender now or I execute those I took from your ship.

Beside him, one of his Razers held a weapon up toward the side of the room. Nisa felt more than saw his targets: the telepaths taken from the Psyche. Men, women, and children, all helpless.

Including Şadiye.


*****

“Chief, still waiting on that damage report…” Dragic was not happy that her damage control teams hadn’t gotten back to their CO yet.

“I know, I know. But it’s a bit chaotic down there, between the cybertroopers and decompression. The reports are coming in now. We have hull breaches in J-24, P-23, C-28, explosive decompression and damage from impulse shock radiates outward. We’ll have to send out EVA teams to inspect the damage to the armor in areas that didn’t breach. However, all systems are operational and ready for action.”

Then a chiming sound hit hit Yakovlev’s console. “Captain, incoming ship. Not ours, profile suggests battlecruiser.”

A crash of radiation rippled through nearby space. In the heart of it, a large warship dropped its warp field. It was colored a deep, dark gunmetal gray, a long, slanted hull shape with two warp nacelles along the lower hull. The ramscoops at the front were a bright blue while the nacelle field generators were a long line of blood red. Several missile and turreted emplacements covered the ship's hull, as did three great cannon mounts on the bow. Only two insignia showed on the hull; twin lightning bolts of white color, and the more infamous insignia: a red square under a white disc, and in the heart of the disc, the notorious Hakenkreuz of the Nazi German Reich.

Jebat moi lisiy cherep, Lutzow-class battlecruiser!” The Russian was not happy about this development at all.

The newcomers lived up to their reputation. No offer of surrender was given, no sign of potential mercy. The main bow cannons fired on the Hyperion, spearing the Terran battlecruiser's deflectors with three thick disruptor beams of vicious emerald. Her other weapons fired as well, strafing the Psyche and Hyperion both with further disruptor bolts, while missiles erupted from her launchers to streak in on the Hyperion. The Hyperion's point-defenses returned fire, as did her main turrets, while the Psyche was left to deal with the barrage from the SS Exile ship's lighter batteries. The Hyperion's tactical fighters flew in on strafing runs, requiring them to power their way through the vessel's anti-fighter batteries. Bolts of emerald light hit most, and three blew apart from direct hits.

The Psyche shuddered under the impact, but it was different. Momentum transfer rather than a sonic boom propagating through the ship’s structural members.

“Shields holding, interceptors aren’t efficient against their beams. Switching to take out missiles.” Nesarian informed the captain, she didn’t need direct micromanagement to do her job. “Returning fire.” She didn’t have direct control over each of her ship’s weapons, but the local gunners did. They swivelled their guns around on the targeting solution she’d plotted, made small adjustments for the exact position of their respective guns, and opened fire. Most of her guns were dual-purpose plasma pulse cannons. The lighter batteries fired bolts of superheated Krypton plasma with the cyclic rate of a machine gun, while the few heavy batteries she possessed were more stately, and were firing several metric tonnes of compressed and superheated Helium per shot. Not enough against a battlecruiser’s shields, even if she was putting megatons of TNT into her every second. Not given the time they had before their own shields were ripped apart.

“Helm, sound acceleration. Go to full military thrust and bring our particle beams to bear on those fucking Nazis.” She’d always wanted to say that. Lt Olayinka did exactly as he was told. An alarm sounded throughout the ship, and everyone got into acceleration couches that were built into the walls like murphy beds. Even with inertial dampening in the rotating section, they’d still experience enough G forces to send them tumbling if they didn’t secure themselves. The Psyche accelerated, trying to draw fire away from the immobile Hyperion, then swung around on her own axis will still translating sideways, and raked a pair of brilliant red-orange Helium-based particle beams along the battlecruiser’s shields.

“The shields flickered a bit…” Nesarian noted ruefully. Her ship was technically a cruiser. But as an ELINT cruiser, it wasn’t designed for direct heavy combat. Against a battlecruiser she might as well have been using an angry flashlight. Oh sure, she could devastate an unshielded city, and if the shields were down on that thing she could do damage… but older-model Earth Force particle beams were not designed with shielded battlecruisers in mind.

“Incoming hyperspace vortex.” Yakovlev informed the bridge. “Friendly… It’s the Jörmundandr!” The sickly-yellow hole in space time disgorged a vessel just shy of a kilometer in length, but bristling with weapons. The Hyperion-class heavy cruiser’s medium plasma pulse cannons and interceptor arrays dotting her massive almost submarine-like spaceframe, while her prow sported a pair of massive spinal-mounted twin heavy plasma cannons and two turreted heavy particle beams on the port and starboard aspects.

There were no transmissions initially, she simply oriented toward the battlecruiser and opened fire with everything she had. Particle beams and plasma lanced through the vacuum of space, while a pair of torpedoes went loose from their forward tubes, and immediately split into two-dozen independent-tracking sub-munitions, each one a multi-megaton Teller-Ulam configuration fission-fusion anti-ship missile.

Ruby light met this onslaught, the battlecruiser's deflectors absorbing the cruiser's fury with some, if not total, ease. Heavy disruptor emplacements shifted, the Lutzow-class ship's tactical officer deciding Jörmundandr was enough of a danger to warrant some attention even as his ship's main weapons continued to batter at the battlecruiser Hyperion.

The Jörmundandr weathered the onslaught as their shields flashed into corporeality to block the hits, re-radiating the energy back out into the void. Interceptors did have a setting for beams and they used it, de-collimating the disruptors slightly and spreading the impact over a larger area of the shield. It was better for enhancing armor, but it did mean they had less shield bleed-through. Still, it taxed a power system that hadn’t been designed to handle shields fiercely.

Outnumbered three to one, the SS Exile ship continued to direct most of its fury on its most dangerous opponent, taking advantage of Hyperion's boarding mission to repeatedly strike at her heavy deflectors. Only the Terran ship's immense power reserves, and the ingenuity of her engineering team, allowed her to endure these attacks. Psyche and Jörmundandr were not ignored, the lighter batteries on the SS ship occasionally sending fire Psyche's way while her other weapons continued to engage Jörmundandr. Missiles with anti-matter warheads hunted the Psi Corps cruiser relentlessly, their impulse rockets giving them the acceleration to push the ship's interceptor grid to its very limit.

Captain Dragic got on the comms. “Psyche Actual to Jörmundandr.

“Jörmundandr Actual. A pleasure to see you Dragic, though I’d prefer under better circumstances.” The heavy cruiser’s commanding officer was a very large Samoan woman who almost looked like she was standing at her duty station, but really it was because she was two meters tall and of a large frame. Not fat, oh no. She was just big.

“The same, Semu. We’ve counter-boarded that raider, the Hyperion will be extracting our people and theirs. We have to keep them alive.”

Understood. We’re launching fighters. I don’t think we can beat it, but we can and must delay it.” She didn’t specify why.

Six modified Badger-Class starfuries emerged from the cruiser’s small hangar bay. The rear gunner’s position had been removed, replaced with an additional powerplant and a shield generator. They dove in, adding their firepower - and anti-ship missiles - to the Hyperion’s assault craft.

The SS ship refused to be distracted. Their spinal mount super-disruptors again hammered Hyperion's shields, while the ship kept itself out of the bow arc of Hyperion's own bow-mounted cannon. So long as Hyperion had to remain fixed to the raider, the enemy ship had the advantage. Everything would depend on when she could free herself from her duties to the boarding teams.



*****


The pens on the raider ship remained utterly silent in the face of the standoff. Markus stepped up beside Nisa, his battle rifle still up and pointed squarely in the Aristo's direction. Around him another squad of cybertroopers arrived.

"Surrender, psions, or those you've come to save will die," Lord Yaran demanded.

"Bull," Markus retorted. "You're bluffing. You consider us merchandise, you won't kill us."

"Good businessmen know when to cut their losses, psion," Yaran replied. "Your kind don't seem to grasp the same principles, given this foolhardy invasion of my ship."

Nisa felt a deeper emotion stirring in Yaran, a bitter hatred towards them that he was barely holding in check. "I feel your hatred. It is why you would kill so many of those you wish to sell."

Yaran's red eyes shot daggers at her. "Your existence is a mockery of your only proper purpose, providing the transcendence that glorifies us. If I hate you, it is the hatred of disgust that so many of you dare to live another existence. Indeed, this Multiverse is imbalanced by the number of psions that infest it. Your numbers must be reduced to a more manageable level. So I would rather kill nine out of ten of you here than bring half of you back as providers."

Nisa felt a collective vote take place behind her, a question and a number of affirmatives. "We're not surrendering. Better to die on our feet than live as slaves!" It was one of the Marines in the back who actually spoke, LCpl Dasgupta.

Nisa kept her lightsabers level and focused her power. If she could but impact that Razer in the opening strike, perhaps it would spare innocent lives.

Yaran's right hand went to a gauntlet wrapped around his left wrist and forearm. His fingers tapped a couple of keys before holding one down.

Raw pain battered at Nisa's mental walls, nearly breaking through from the sheer volume of it. In over half of the occupied alcoves, the prisoners within keeled over. Their screams echoed through the chamber. Through her very soul she felt the agony filling the very skin of the victims.

The marines recoiled. They kept their combat posture through sheer force of will but they shook and gritted their teeth, stifling screams and unable to focus on actually killing their enemies.

In direct contrast to their reaction was that of Yaran's. His earlier, angry glare disappeared, replaced by a lazy smile, and his eyelids fluttered. Nisa felt the euphoria seizing him, an even greater distraction to him than she felt at the pain coming from those alcoves.

"Take them," Yaran moaned. "Take-"

A rumble filled the deck, hinting at a nearby blast of some sort.

<NOW!>

The prisoners from the Psyche lashed out as one mind, one purpose, striking the mind of the Razer holding a weapon on them. As it was there was little there they could work with, but the gestalt recognized (indeed, anticipated) that the motor control centers were vulnerable. Under their control the Razer turned and shot his counterpart from behind.

The cybertroopers registered the attack and turned toward the now-hostile Razer. Yaran managed a half-choked shriek of "Shoot the psions!", but it was too late to keep the cybertroopers from mowing the Razer down. "No you damned alien machines, kill the psions!"

Nisa launched herself at the enemy cyborgs while the Corps marines latched onto the euphoria and used it to dull their own pain like it was morphine, then opened fire. The cybertroopers' threat assessment protocols registered them as greater tactical threats than the telepaths still chained behind them. They returned their attention forward.

Nisa got into their formation first, using her will to knock away some of their protective deflector generators that were in her way. For the prisoners in that place she turned into a cyclone of emerald light, every moment full of the poise and grace befitting a dancer, every strike of her weapons cleaving through the enemy.

"Kill them!" Yaran shrieked, while his hand desperately scrambled for his gauntlet. The euphoria of transcendence, once a blessing, was now a terrible hindrance. "More troops! I want more troops!" He started stumbling away.

The gestalt turned on him. It was excruciating to the group to openly touch his mind, as if they were dipping their minds in lava. They persisted against the pain, which only distracted him more, providing them the opening to overwhelm his mental defenses.

In the chaos of the unfolding battle Nisa nearly failed to notice the opening door on the opposite end of the chamber, realizing it only once the enemy was coming through. More cybertroopers came through, attended by a Razer, and she steeled herself to deal with these reinforcements.

It was then she noticed that they were turned away from her, toward the door, as they opened fire.

Whatever they were firing at didn't seem to go down. An object flew through the door and landed in their midst, a cylinder of some sort. It exploded with fury, creating a cloud of shrapnel that grievously wounded the Razer and destroyed two of the cybertroopers.

The slackening of fire allowed their foes to force the door. Like the Corps Marines these were clad in human-shaped power-armor, but it was bulkier than the Corps models, with golden faceplates forbidding any view of their faces. Their raised weapons filled the room with the thunder of ballistic weaponry, weaponry that tore cybertroopers apart when they managed hits.

After two of these blue-armored soldiers came a third. The armor was the same, but the color was black, and a white insignia of some sort was set on the bulbous right shoulder plate. The gold faceplate was likewise marked with the likeness of a human skull's face. The figure moved out ahead, weapon raised, and a drawled voice rang out with the electronic tinge of a loudspeaker. "Check your targets, boys, we've got friendlies."

The Marines were still keyed up and there was almost a friendly-fire incident when they turned to face the new power-armor-clad mundanes, but between Markus and Valdez they managed to keep fire-discipline long enough to process what was going on.

"They are allies!" Nisa reassured them, sensing the intent of the newcomers even if she was not witnessing them firing on the cybertroopers. Their armor absorbed the plasma weapons of said troopers, at least for a hit or two. One of the blue armored figures went down with multiple plasma shots to the torso. The man in black armor avenged his fallen comrade by gunning down his adversary.

Through it all, the pain of those in the pens continued. Nisa glyphed her intentions toward Markus and his people while slicing through one of the last cybertroopers. While they finished the others off, she rushed to Lord Yaran. His carnelian eyes were glazed over in ecstasy through which mortal dread was fighting to get through. She leaned down and reached for the control. When it didn't respond to her touch she frowned. "Turn it off!"

"No," he rasped. "The transcendence… I have never felt it such. So much… oh so much…"

Nisa gathered her will and projected it at the man. "You will turn it off!"

With his will disrupted by the euphoria sweeping his brain, it failed before her own. His right hand jerked slightly while reaching for his left forearm, but his fingers still found the controls.

The pain ceased. Only the shadow of it remained on those tortured minds. Their bodies gasped for air, but it was their minds that were the most afflicted.

Frustration turned to hate on Yaran's face. "Filthy psion bitch," he rasped. She sensed the rage in his mind. How dare you defy me! How dare you oppose an Aristo of Eube! Aloud he shrieked, "Final stand protocol!"

His death came a moment later. Two shots, from opposite sides of the room, found him. One pulped his head, the other ripped through his chest. Yaran slumped to the floor while the Door claimed him. To the Abyss with you, spawn of Shaitan, Nisa thought.

The executioners walked toward her. Vicious satisfaction showed on Markus' face. Behind him the other Corps Marines were tending to one of their own, fallen in the fight, while Dasgupta worked on freeing the captives.

The black-armored figure lowered his weapon on approach. Within a few paces the gold faceplate lifted in a hiss of air. This revealed the worn face of the occupant, a man of swarthy, Caucasian complexion with dark hair and goatee fringed with gray. His light brown eyes were already marked with crows' feet, reflecting the weight on his soul.

Sensing Markus' uncertainty, Nisa spoke first. "I am Nisa Tari, a Yildiz of Toutaine. This is Markus Roaratanga of the Psi Corps."

"So I reckoned." The man's accent reminded Nisa of a drawl sometimes heard from certain sectors of Solaris. "I'm Jim Raynor, of Raynor's Raiders." He cast his eyes on the pens, some already starting to open. A hard look came to them. "We'll get you folks to safety on my ship. I've got boarding teams holding the way open."

“I’m not one to look gift heavy infantry in the mouth.” Markus replied, nodding.

"I wonder what he meant by 'final stand protocol'?" Nisa asked aloud.

"The cybertroopers will self-destruct themselves upon vital damage," Valdez replied. "Like they did on the Zhang Qian."

"I'll warn my teams to keep them well away," Raynor said. "Thanks for that." A light came up inside his helmet, reflecting off the right cheek. "What is it, Matt?"

"You'd better hurry up in there, sir," Horner answered. "We're taking a pounding out here. Swann's doing all he can with this tech, but we're going to lose shields if we can't start maneuvering soon."

"You hold tight, we're almost done." Raynorr lifted his head. "Alright, boys, double time it! Get these people out of here and back to the Hyperion!"


****

Another blast from the SS battlecruiser struck the Hyperion directly. Her deflectors flickered weakly, though they held, while on the command bridge the display of the ship showed the deflector icon turning orange. Matt Horner stood at the central table, using its holographic display systems to project a view of the fight. The enemy battlecruiser was maneuvering only as needed to keep themselves out of his bow arc. Beams and missiles met the attacks of the PCS Jörmundandr, whittling away that vessel's deflectors as well while her own attacks, pressed as they were, failed to distract the enemy cruiser.

"Hey, is our fearless leader done on that tub yet?!" asked Rory Swann. The rough-voiced engineer of the Hyperion appeared briefly on a side display, courtesy of his own engineering suit. The metal clamp he had for a hand was holding wiring together, showing he was in the middle of a repair. "These Ferengi deflectors aren't bad, but they're not going to hold much longer."

"Jim's getting the prisoners out now, we just need the deflectors up a little longer. See what you can do."

"Don't I always?" Swann scoffed. His image disappeared.

Horner turned his attention back to the holo-display. The tactical situation was negative, but perhaps there was a way to buy time. We might shear off the tube if we try anything with the main engines… unless… He looked up. "Helm, fire the ventral maneuvering rockets. Get us and the raider we're tied to into a spin."

"Yes sir."

Let's see if this works…


*****

“Captain, the Hyperion is firing thrusters. Looks like they’re trying to use that raider’s hull as a pavice, but they don’t have a fulcrum.” Yakovlev informed her. An idea was forming in his head, which he projected over to the Helm and Tactical officers.

“I like where your head’s at. Proceed.” Dragic replied with a little grin. The two other officers nodded and got to work. The Psyche wasn’t very well-armed, but she was a big girl, which meant she could throw that weight around. She went through a parabolic arc and reached out with her tractor beams, grabbing hold of the raider the Hyperion was attached to, and provided the necessary thrust, flipping both ships around like turning a pancake, and putting the raider in the SS Battlecruiser’s line of fire.

The SS Exile ship responded by maneuvering. For its size it was agile… but only for its size, and with the Psyche covered by the Jörmundandr, they couldn't stop the maneuver from taking place.

Precious time was bought. The only question was if it was enough.

****

In the pen chamber Nisa watched with Markus' team as their wounded comrade was carried away on an anti-grav stretcher. A man and a woman clad in white body armor provided ongoing medical support to the wounded Marine, just as they did for Raynor's wounded man. "Time to get out of here," he said.

"We'll take up the rear," Markus insisted. "Just get our people off."

"I'll be right beside you."

There was no time to answer Raynor's pledge. From the far door, the very same one Nisa and the Corps team came through from the start, cybertroopers began filtering in. The cyborg aliens were aggressive beyond reason, charging ahead while firing.

Nisa already had her weapons up. Her blades danced in the air to deflect the oncoming fire, much of which was focused on her. "Go!" she cried.

"Steady fire, boys, don't let 'em get close!" Raynor lifted his rifle, as did his remaining men and Markus' team. The thunder of Raynor's battle rifle was particularly loud in the space, such that Nisa's ears rang painfully from the experience. She pushed away that pain and focused on defending them from the hostile plasma fire.

At first fallen enemies remained where they went down. Nisa felt the danger when the foe nearest her went down by itself. She projected her will into force just in time. The creature immolated itself, creating a ferocious blast wave that she struggled to hold back. The strain brought her to a knee.

<We need to go!> Markus gunned down a cybertrooper trying to aim at her while she recovered.

Nisa nodded. <We do. A moment.> She closed her eyes and focused. All-Highest, give me the strength to protect. She reached into the power she felt around her, that wellspring of life through which she felt the presence of God. She took more of it than she'd ever tried before. In one great heave of will, she projected that power forward. A wave of invisible force toppled every cybertrooper still active. It hit with such power that two outright exploded in mid-air, their self-destruct protocols triggered by crippling damage.

Their destruction created a chain reaction as the resulting damage triggered the self-destructs on more of the cybertroopers. Their immolation in turn damaged more, until the entire far side of the chamber was a ruined mess.

Nisa struggled to her feet. She felt more tired than she'd ever felt in her life. Her very being was utterly spent.

<You can do this.> The cast wasn't just from Markus but all of the others, acting as one. A flood of warm feelings rippled through her mind, gratitude and camaraderie and familial pride. The weariness subsided slightly. <We wouldn't have gotten this far without you.>

"Nice work," Raynor commented. "Now let's get going."

"Let us go, yes," Nisa agreed. She followed him from the room, weapons readied, while every passing moment her strength returned to her.

She needed it. The thunder of the Raiders' rifles filled the corridors beyond. They came up to an interlinking corridor where members of the crew, all cyborgs, were fighting alongside the cybertroopers. The latter pushed aggressively, looking to close and detonate themselves. Nisa stopped one from getting within blast range with a push of her will, after which she threw her left hand's lightsaber forward. Her will guided it to cleave through the cybertrooper and come back. She got it to her hand just as the cybertrooper blew up.

"Move on, boys, we'll cover you!" Raynor called out.

"Yes sir! Move move move!" Another voice, with a similar drawl, cried out the order, and the blue-armored soldiers retreated.

This became the pattern. Section by section, the incursion of Raynor's Raiders onto the ship fell back to their boarding point under the fire of what seemed to be the entire crew. Nisa felt no other intelligences with them: Lord Yaran was the only one of his kind aboard, and his servitors were determined to avenge his death with their own loss if necessary.

They fought back with plasma guns, pistols, and flamethrowers, and Nisa kept herself at the rear. Instinctive insight guided her blades to deflect the worst fire, which did not save her from the occasional stinging glancing shot or errand flame from an enemy that drew too close. Ultimately such foes were dispatched by Markus or Raynor, who remained at her side throughout the fight to ensure she could pull back with them. Their fire made sure the cybertroopers couldn't get close enough to harm her with their self-detonations.

Nisa felt the boarding tube's presence before she saw it. The jubilation of the freed prisoners and their protectors made it impossible to miss. She kept backing up while the fire behind her was more and more concentrated. Finally her feet stepped back and up onto a plate of light gray, distinctly different from the deckplate of the Aristo ship.

The cybertroopers ahead exploited the reduced fire. They charged en masse, as if to force their way onto Raynor's ship.

Before they could, the tube snapped shut. She felt the plate shift under her feet as it retracted back into the Hyperion. "We made it," she murmured.

"We're close, but not out of the woods yet." Raynor triggered his suit's communication system. "Matt, what's the situation?"

"Not good, sir, you got out just in the nick of time..."

The entire ship shuddered beneath their feet, knocking several people over.

"I'll call you when we're clear. Horner out."

"Do you need to get to your bridge, Raynor?" Markus asked.

"Drivin' the ship isn't my specialty, Commander," Raynor answered. "That's where Matt comes in. Let's see to our people and trust him to finish this."


****

Three emerald beams of deadly disruptor energy lashed across the Hyperion's side as she maneuvered away from the Aristo ship. Two of them struck home, degrading the shields to the point of collapse. The enemy battlecruiser maneuvered to keep her bow on Hyperion and maintain her deadly bombardment.

On the Hyperion bridge Horner kept his feet solid at his command table. The holographic display showed the locations of each ship in the fray. The Psyche was throwing everything she could into maneuver given her depleted shields while the Jörmundandr came about to present regenerated shields toward the SS Exile battlecruiser.

"Hey, we need to get this tub movin'!" Swann's voice protested over the ship's comms. "These deflectors are goin' out, there's nothin' more I can do to keep them up!"

"I hear you, Swann, we're maneuvering now. Helm, change orientation twenty-five degrees port. All guns on that SS ship now."

"Aye sir!"

The Hyperion turned toward her tormentor, freed from other duties and now ready to fight in earnest. Steady streams of crimson bolts from her turrets peppered the ruby light surrounding the SS ship. The enemy vessel was maneuvering with them, trying to line up their bow and the spinal disruptors mounted there on the Hyperion.

Which was the same thing Horner wanted.

The two ships' bows soon faced one another. The disruptors on the SS ship fired. Their beams sliced into the head and sides of the Hyperion, blowing down her weakened shields and drilling holes into her hull.

"Yamato cannon charged!" called out the gunnery officer, Semmes.

"Sustained fire, now!"

At Horner's command the bow cannon on the Hyperion lit up and let off a powerful burst of sapphire energy. It struck the bow shields of the SS ship dead-on, causing them to crackle and waver. The full firepower of the Raiders' flagship came to bear on the weakening shields.

While this alone might not have been enough, they had immediate aid. The Jörmundandr maneuvered into place and let fly with a spread of missiles joined by pulse cannon fire and particle beams. Their weapons hit home as well, straining the enemy shields to the breaking point.

The Hyperion's bow cannon tipped them over. The next burst of energy broke through the flickering ruby light and crashed into the spinal weapon mounts on the Lutzow-class ship. The direct hit not only wrecked the weapons, it prompted a deadly backlash of energy from the charged capacitors, which vented the SS ship's fury back on itself. The swastika insignia on the bow was blown away by an internal explosion, as was much of that section of the ship.

"Captain Horner, gravitational distortion! Looks like a local hyperspace jump point is forming!"

Horner sighed in mingled hope and worry. "Let's hope it's the cavalry."

The jump point opened, and emerging from the vortex was a multi-kilometer behemoth of a ship that looked like a long angular love-child between a lozenge and a brick, that bristled with weapons. A voice came over the comms that had everyone on the Psyche cheering.

This is Sandoval Bey actual to all friendly ships: hold on to your hats.”

The two titanic pods on her sides were apparently missile racks, and those ripple-fired. Heavy plasma pulse cannons and railguns in turrets dotting her hull also opened up in a time-on-target barrage against the Battlecruiser’s shields with enough firepower to turn Libya into a mirror. The interaction with those shields was impossible to see because it momentarily blinded sensors to say nothing of the eye. However, as those weapons cycled, the SS Battlecruiser still existed; but they were not the only weapons the Sandoval Bey possessed. A pair of spinal mounted blue-white energy weapons emerging from her armored prow let loose. The shields still existed for a fraction of a second before they completely collapsed, and the SS battlecruiser was laid bare and naked before them, to be speared through and through. Things that should not be fusion fuel became fusion fuel in those few picoseconds, and it was impossible to tell whether the resulting breakup and series of explosions was due to the weapon’s energy propagating through the structure, or due to the results of a few shakes of Teller’s alarm clock.

Horner watched the enemy ship break up and breathed a sigh of relief. "Stand down from general quarters. Looks like we're in the clear, everyone. Good job."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Re: "Tales from the Undiscovered Frontier" - (Multicrossover Space Opera Setting)

Post by Steve » 2020-04-21 09:20am

At Raynor's invitation, Markus joined him on the Hyperion bridge. Various stations were assembled around a holo-table while a viewing port showed the swirling red and black of empty hyperspace. Over the holotable a flat image showed Commodore Rhee, Captain Dravic, and Captain Semu. Raynor approached Horner. "What's our status, Matt?"

Horner spoke up without consulting a list. "Our warp jump system's still offline. Swann figures we'll need some yard time to finish patching it up. We took casualties on several decks and lost half of the fighters to that exile battlecruiser." Horner presented the report with professional exactness, but the weight of loss was there.

"We can provide a yard space for your ship, Commander Raynor," Rhee said.

"If you folks have the space in whatever yards you've got, we'd be happy to accept."

"What were you doing in this area of space anyway?" Markus asked. "It's not along any of the major trading routes in realspace or hyperspace."

"Truth is, we were looking for a way to contact you." Raynor allowed himself a little half-smile. "A… mutual acquaintance of ours in the Alliance gave me the notion you might be interested in something we're setting up. Told me to get ahold of Dr. Colin Meier or Mister Gene Hendricks, if I could, and state my case. He knows 'em personally."

“Well…” Commodore Rhee replied a bit pensively. “There shouldn’t be any impediments to that in principle. But they are also ridiculously busy. On the other hand they are not the only people in our little shadow government. We’ll make it work.”


*****

The Raiders' medical staff tended to Nisa's injuries and wounds. At her request for something to drink she was sent to the ship's cantina. It was a grungy looking place, with a bar beside the entrance wall and a large collection of viewscreens above the central table. To her surprise a machine she recognized from Solaris, called a "juke box", flashed its many colors in tune with a guitar and a male singer calling out "Sweet Home Alabama". In another far corner a game machine of some kind depicted ships in space. A holographic woman in skimpy, revealing clothing danced suggestively over a projector on the upper floor. Several chairs were taken up by crew members.

"Hey miss." The man behind the bar motioned to her. "What'll you have?"

She picked out a food that seemed properly kosyer from a list of his available servings. As for the drink, she made her requirements clear with a firm "Something without alcohol". Soon she had a sandwich of sliced turkey and a glass of fruit juice of some sort, which she took to the central table.

She had time to finish the sandwich before she was approached. Commander Raynor was out of his battle armor, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt under a gray vest and dark leggings. His arms had tough, corded muscle, fit for a man used to fighting and activity. He placed a bottle of brown fluid and an empty glass on the table and took the other seat. "So, Miss Tari. Good to see you on your feet."

"Thank you, Commander." She took another drink while he poured his own. The smell confirmed her suspicion that it was alcohol. "Thank you for aiding us."

"You're welcome. Thanks for helping us get out of there. I'd have lost more of my people fighting off those exploding cyborgs." Raynor took a small drink. "You try Cooper's mai tai yet? Best in the sector back home."

"No. I… my faith forbids alcohol, Commander."

That elicited a chuckle from the man. "Well, that faith asks an awful lot of you then."

"It is a corruptor and a crutch according to our tradition and writings," she continued. "To be worthy of Paradise requires us to be clear-headed and in control of ourselves."

"Does it then?" He sipped at his own again. "I won't deny that people can make a lot of bad choices when they're drunk. I just prefer having the choice."

"We have the choice as well, we choose to follow the path to Paradise."

"So a man who drinks can't go?"

"I…" Nisa stopped for a moment and thought about the question. Her mind stirred to the teachings and sermons of Rabyi Muammar over all those years. "We are imperfect beings, Commander Raynor. God understands that. A man who drinks alcohol, but yet lives a worthy life in all other things, can still find Paradise."

"Ah, well, that's good to hear. And you can call me Jim, if you like."

"Then you may call me Nisa."

"Well, Nisa, I've been meaning to ask." He set the glass down. "The way Commander Roaratanga and his people tell it, you jumped right after that boarding tube without a second's thought. What made you do that?"

"I…" Nisa considered her thoughts at the time, that instinct to go and save Sadiye. "I trusted in the All-Highest. I left my fate in God's hands and strove to save those people. Compassion is another of the ways to regain Paradise."

"That's all there was to it?"

"Yes and no." She shook her head. "There is a child on the Psyche. Her mother was among those taken. I heard her cries for her mother and I knew I had to try. I didn't want her to lose her mother." A familiar ache came to her soul. "I know what it is like."

Pain showed on Raynor's face. He took another drink, as if the whiskey could wash it away. "Yeah, I know that feeling." His voice ached with loss in every word. "Never easy to say goodbye."

"It is not. I can only pray they are still safe."

"Ah. Sounds like a story there."

"There is one." She considered the dreams she'd experienced these past few days. "The ending wasn't as terrible as it might have been, though…"

*****

The caravan set out on horseback from al-Lahir in the early morning hours, so early that the sun had yet to rise. Nisa rode toward the rear, although not in the rear itself, atop a young filly brought with her escorts. Most of those around her were armed, carrying both blades, spears, and a few with the strange "energy guns" of offworlders.

Riding beside her, on an old mare, was a woman named Amira. She was the woman in charge of the Amir's harem, the widow of his late uncle. Her hair, what wisps of it showed under her headscarf, was a light gray, and her face was strongly wrinkled. She spoke with a hard voice. "You should be happy, girl. Your parents will be given the Amir's protection, and he will grant them a brideprice worthy of you. As for you, all of your life will now be free of worry and labor. In the harem you will have all your needs and wants attended to. You will never be hungry."

"My soul will starve," Nisa answered quietly. She was wearing a colorful costume underneath her traveling clothes, for her formal presentation to the Amir.

The woman scowled. "You won't be the first difficult girl we've had to deal with. Your ingratitude won't get you far, Yildiz."

Nisa met her eyes with defiance. A presence drifted across her mind, drawing her attention to the lieutenant of the Amir's guards escorting them. The man's name was Farouk. She knew this from the concept he flashed into her mind. Aloud he said more. "There are other psions in the Amir's service, girl, and they will know if you abuse your mind's strength against the Amir or any other. If you want what's best for your heretic sect, you'll honor your obligations to the Amir and bear him and his family many strong sons. He deserves nothing less for continuing to protect the Yildiz from the faithful."

That drew a scowl to her face. "How can I trust his word when he is already betraying it?" she asked. "His family promised us they would never take a daughter of the Yildiz for his pleasure!"

"And your people promised to serve the Amir's house faithfully, and keep it strong. Your blood will serve to-"

A growing roar distracted the entire group. Overhead a flying craft approached, a blue and red vessel shaped like a bird with its wings curved backward in flight. It flew from behind them at such a low level that the engines' high-pitched roar drowned out all other sounds. The filly under Nisa reared in fear, as did many of the other mounts. Amira's old mare pitched enough that it threw the old woman off. Several other soldiers fell as well, hitting the ground. Dust clouds billowed from the ship's anti-gravity systems bringing it to a hovering stop in front of them.

Nisa seized her chance. She channeled her metaphysical strength, prayed for God's aid, and willed a wave of energy into being. It struck Farouk and his horse hard enough to send the rider flying through the air. She jumped down from the panicked filly and directed her eyes towards the two soldiers in the rear. They were reaching for swords, but they never got them. Nisa went into their minds and triggered their sleep response, as Abdul Rahim taught her to do for self-defense. They fell over from their horses.

The rest of the caravan was still adjusting to the ship's arrival. Nisa used the opportunity to repeat her telepathic command as quickly as she could.

A shrill cry of "Treachery!" came to the air. "Stop her!" Amira shrieked.

The soldiers were turning toward her, but that meant they turned away from the ship. Just below the "neck" of the bird a door opened and a ramp extended. Kasszas stepped out with his walking stick in hand. He reached out with his free hand. Solid force knocked over the remaining soldiers. "Creation's path is laid before you, Nisa Tari."

"So it is." She walked to him. "You have everything?"

"Yes. I found the packs you left for me. They are stowed away."

"Good." She glanced back toward the various soldiers. Those not put to sleep were starting to stir, including Farouk. His mind was already casting out, trying to reach for her defense. "Let's go."

Kasszas led her into the ship. She joined him in the small cockpit area. She held her hands away from everything for fear of touching the wrong thing, noting the quickness with which the Zigonian's talons tapped the colored lights. A slight rumble filled the deckplate below her feet. The ground disappeared from sight.

She watched the ship turn toward the stars. In the distance the sun was just starting to creep over the horizon. They were heading for the upper atmosphere when she realized she would never again see that sun. Al-Lahir, the family homestead, all of the Jeziri Plains… all was lost to her.

But with this bitter realization came the affirmation of the important truth. She'd lost her home… but she still had her freedom. She'd lost her sun, but in its place, she gained the stars.

*****

The fruit drink proved to re-wet Nisa's throat after she finished telling all to Raynor. He considered his own drink while nodding. "Heck of a tale there. You made the right choice, though."

"It was the most important choice of my life. And other lives, now." The insight came to her. "If I had not been here, I worry about what might have happened to the others."

"You certainly made a difference. A lot of good people would be dead now. And that red-eyed son of a bitch might still be breathing."

"I have repaid what Kasszas did for me, then," she said. "My faith is rewarded."

"That it was," Raynor agreed. "Y'know, I've been on my share of fringe worlds, where folks rarely see any kind of ship. I figure that must've been one hell of a sight to you back then, seeing that space vessel coming for you personally."

"Yes." Nisa's mind returned to the sight of Kasszas' ship. "It was like God Himself was coming to my aid with those wings, to bring liberty to my life before I could be imprisoned."

"Nice allusion there. I think I like it." Raynor partially refilled his glass. "You familiar with a toast?"

"I believe I have seen it on Solarian holovids. You raise your glass and touch it to another's?"

"Sometimes, or you just raise a glass." Raynor did just that. "Anyway, a toast. To the Wings of Liberty, wherever you find them."

Nisa rose her own glass, with enough remaining for one last drink. "Yes," she agreed. "To the Wings of Liberty."

Their glasses clinked at contact.



*****

After a couple days of travel through hyperspace the small flotilla arrived at the Markab yards quietly taken over by the Corps after being hauled through hyperspace to an entirely different place. Like all orbital shipyards, they were sprawling affairs, but rather than spindly minimalist constructs, they were constructed by the Markab and they had a flair for the bulbous.

The Hyperion, as promised, found a large enough dock waiting for her. The moment her engines died down the repair yard machinery went into action, their operators working closely with Swann's crews to get their ship back in operation.

While Swann and Horner saw to the ship's needs, Raynor waited patiently at the airlock for the arrival of one of the Coordinators, the officials who oversaw the "deep state" liberation movement within the Corps. He had expectations that it was one of those he was advised to contact, but any would do given the situation.

The airlock chimed and cycled, and three figures were waiting inside. Commodore Rhee, and two men. One was relatively young, couldn’t be out of his thirties, black hair, shy of two meters tall and built like he killed people for a living. The other one was a bit shorter, older and probably in his sixties at least. He looked like he used to kill people for a living but age had gotten to him. Age and a robotic left arm.

"Welcome aboard, Coordinator," Raynor greeted. He maintained an official tone, the kind he'd used in meetings with the likes of Umojan politicians and officialdom, but the drawl remained. "Glad to have you here."

"Glad to be here as well Commander Raynor. You’ve already met Commodore Rhee, the man on my left is Jonas Fowler. We are now quorate." There was warmth and a bit of mirth in Colin's voice. His accent was unique, one of many unfamiliar to Humanity from the Koprulu worlds. "On behalf of my brothers and sisters, thank you. If you hadn't shown up when you did, the people on the Psyche would be dead or worse."

"Was happy to be of help. I've heard of these Aristo types, evil sons of bitches, every one of them." Raynor gestured toward the ship interior. "I've got something to show you, it's why I came out to find you people."

Raynor's mind was trained enough that he didn't let his thoughts leak out, nothing that could tell Colin what was coming without a scan. "Let me see."

With Raynor in the lead, the group walked through the utilitarian corridors of the battlecruiser. The ship was built like an Earthforce ship… mostly. They passed one open area that was exquisitely furnished, with ornate wolf's head markings or sculptures on the lining and plush red carpeting. "You don't strike me as the type to furnish ships like that," Colin said once they were past.

"Not mine. That's Mengsk's doing," he answered. "The Hyperion used to be his flagship, before I took her from him after Tarsonis."

Raynor's mental shields cracked slightly. Memories seeped through, painful memories, and Colin couldn't help but see them. The ruined cities, their slaughtered residents, chitinous creatures of fang and claw in numbers overwhelming…

...and a woman in a white tactical suit, red-haired with light green eyes, holding a line against them. Her call for pickup, with no reply, until the Zerg — that was the name of those terrible aliens — overwhelmed her. A brief flash of memory showed her hair turned chitinous, her eyes glowing with unfathomable psi power, and bony wings protruding from a body of scale and chiton…

"I will rule this sector or see it burnt to ashes around me!" declared a voice with its own drawl, not unlike the accent of the long-departed, utterly unlamented Lee Crawford. Even without asking, Colin knew it was the voice of Arcturus Mengsk.

Raynor's discipline recovered enough to push the memories away. He noted the loss of color on Colin's face. "Sorry about that. A part of me never left Tarsonis, I reckon."

“It’s alright, Commander, no need to apologize. Traumatic events like that leave marks, I’d be concerned if part of you hadn’t been left behind there.”

The remark won a nod of acknowledgement. They continued on their way through the Hyperion. They went through another section before Raynor turned to his left. "Here we are." Raynor led them through a sliding double door. They emerged to the upper catwalk of one of the Hyperion's interior cargo bays. Crates and stacks of dry goods supplies were scattered everywhere, as one would expect.

Among those supplies were over thirty people, over half children and teenagers, wearing jumpsuits or worn clothes. They had sleeping bags and hammocks slung up between crates and an electric cooking stove.

Colin felt them immediately. The children and teens were telepaths, every one of them, as were five of the thirteen adults. He turned his head toward Raynor.

"Most of 'em come from the fringe worlds of the Dominion," Raynor explained. "I got to them before the Ghost Program could. The rest are from Kel-Morian worlds. The Combine's not much better than the Dominion, or the Confederacy before them. They use 'em to spy on the labor, break up strikes and the like, or to take advantage in trade negotiations." Sensing Colin's interest, he continued. "Used to be the fringe worlds were the best hope, but Mengsk's been expanding the wranglers and making it harder to hide 'em. As for where else they can go, the Umojans are alright, but they'd risk war with Mengsk if they sheltered people. The Kel-Morians would go after them too. So I've been putting together something, our 'Jayhawker' friend called it an 'Underground Railroad', to get people out of Koprulu and into the Multiverse. That way Mengsk can't do anything about it. I just need places for these folks to go."

Colin nodded, the other two looked at him and also nodded. "Motion carried. You've found one. We’ll take any telepath, human or no, who flees oppression."

"Glad to hear it. Folks should be free, and Mengsk'll never stand for it."

"We have our own freedom to see to, but when that's done, and if you're still fighting Mengsk… we'll be glad to help."

Fowler spoke up in a gravelly British accent. “Combine too if you go after them, not only because they oppress telepaths, but also their workers.”

"If we ever take Mengsk down, I'll look to them next. Swann and his people deserve justice for Meinhoff."

"Looking forward to it." Colin replied with an almost predatory grin. Like he would take particular relish in making such people regret their life choices.

Raynor extended his hand, and in turn, the three telepaths shook it with their gloved hands.


****

With both ships now docked to the yards, the passengers stolen from the Psyche were on their way back to the ship. Nisa joined them, refreshed by the decent meals and rest she'd enjoyed aboard Hyperion. The ship's facilities meant her clothes were clean as well, and the auto-tailors aboard even mended her headscarf.

All of this was possible through the patience and kindness of the Hyperion crew. Most were rough people, but the kind of roughness that came from a hard life, with gentle souls shining beneath the exterior. They were, whatever their flaws, worthy beings, fighting against a tyrant as cruel as the Amir, and far more murderous.

A couple of the Corps personnel from the yard turned their journey into an impromptu field trip for the rescued children, answering questions (if not always giving full answers) as they came from the eager ones.

On their way to the Psyche, the three Coordinators almost passed them by, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, while out-pacing the field trip. But Colin stopped.

“Nisa Tari?” he asked. When she instinctively paused, he waved the other two off, he’d meet them at the airlock; and then he approached.

Nisa stopped and looked toward Colin. She nodded her covered head once. "I am, yes," she answered. "Is all well?"

“More than well. I would like to thank you personally, in point of fact. The after-action report was… interesting reading. You basically took a Leap of Faith to rescue our kin, and I don’t see that very often. Thank you. Pretty sure you’ll be a fine teacher for Husn, if you had any anxiety on that score.”

"I hope to be," she answered. Taking in his appearance, and his words, she sensed the truth. "You are Doctor Meier? I was told I might see you, but I did not expect to while on my way to Tau Atrea."

He chuckled a bit. “Yes. A pleasure to meet you in person, though I wish the circumstances were better. But we needed a quorum for something, and my husband Gene is off doing Redacted Things…”

"I understand. I was told that certain things about your people were secrets that had to be kept. I will do so to the best of my ability." Nisa's lips curled into a gentle smile. "I can only thank the All-Highest for giving me the chance to be of such aid to your people. I never imagined you faced such a terrible foe. My universe has its own horrors, but nothing quite like those red-eyed servants of the Abyss."

Colin valiantly suppressed laughter, given the Shadows. “There are a great many such beings in the Multiverse, unfortunately. But you’re right, a few months ago I didn’t imagine I’d be dealing with them either. Just trying to liberate my people by toppling a fascist government. Now I have to send a transport ship to Tau Atrea with a dreadnought for escort, just in case vaguely psychic imperial monarchist space-sadists try to ambush it.”

"We are due to depart soon, I hear?"

“Yeah, we just got the notification that our techs found the source of the computer compromise, so you should be ready to go in a few hours.”

"I look forward to seeing Tau Atrea." She walked alongside Colin back toward the group and the approaching airlock to the refurbished cruiser.

By the time they arrived the airlock terminal was the scene of a reunion. Children and adults came from the docked ship to meet family members seized in the attack. Nisa's mind and soul felt the joy keenly, the warmth and sheer happiness washing over her until tears formed in her eyes.

<This makes everything worth it.> Colin remarked to her privately. He was taking that joy in, storing it away for when he needed a good memory later.

A small figure sprang from the airlock. Halime rushed forward into Şadiye's waiting arms. Tears flowed freely from her eyes and she clung to her mother, as if she would never ever let go again. The two embraced tightly for a few moments before their eyes gradually turned toward Nisa. Glyphs of joy and deep, soul-felt thanks touched her mind. The tears flowing from her eyes increased.

He is right, she thought. This does make it all worth it. Thank you, All-Highest, for the chance to experience it.


*****

Fifteen minutes later, aboard the Psyche, the Coordinators were meeting with her command crew.

“Alright, what did those red-eyed bastards do to <my> our ship?” Commodore Rhee asked, just after everyone made introduction.

“This.” Lieutenant Leonti Yakovlev pulled a transparent box out from under the conference table, showing a memory metal blob that writhed inside the containment field. “As far as I can tell, fully functioning Artificial General Intelligence, with more advanced computer penetration toolkit than human-form Cylons.”

“The only thing that saved us at all was quick thinking, compartmentalization, and outside assistance.” Captain Dragic elaborated. “We’ve inferred that a similar or identical method was used on the Eiberhorn, which as a civilian ship didn’t have our safeguards. They didn’t even get out a distress call.”

“Okay, but how the hell did they get it on the ship?” From Colin, who suspected the answer was station-side, but wanted to hear it.

“Station-side penetration.” Markus replied. “Mr. Wallace prevailed upon station security to let him and his people comb through the camera feeds. Alliance security has holes you can drive a truck through, and there was one person who showed up in the vicinity of those holes repeatedly. I suspect the same thing can be said of the Eiberhorn when it last docked. It last took on passengers at Babylon-5. That station might as well be Cold War era Berlin for how many spies and operatives there are. Chief Allen is very diligent and tries to secure the place...”

“But it’s Babylon-5. It was never actually finished and physical security might as well not exist, I know. You can travel the length of the station between the hulls.” Colin agreed. “Okay, send that thing back to Sigma, we need to learn as much about it and its ilk as possible. Once Gene gets back… we need to actually do something about the Aristos. And by ‘do something’ I mean wipe them out.”

“Colin…” Rhee interjected “I don’t think we can. Our fleet has grown considerably, but not that big. They’re a galactic power, and technologically superior.”

“I don’t mean invade their space and then put them through the blender of industrial scale Genocide, Sueng. There aren’t that many Aristos, we can do something more targeted, like Phage Therapy. Purge the infection, and maybe the whole of Eubian society can heal. We can’t have them jumping in a fleet to help EarthGov when the revolution comes, and then take payment in the form of our population. Every last member of the Aristo class is guilty of torture, rape, murder, enslavement. On an industrial scale they commit crimes against humanity. Every last one deserves death and I mean to give it to them.”

“Oh, don’t mistake me Colin, in principle I agree, I just don’t see how we can do it. And you know me, it isn’t a failure of ambition…” At that, there was a laugh around the table. Certainly not a failure of ambition.

“Point of information: We have an alliance with the Dilgar. Their ability to integrate medicine and biotechnology has no rival, as far as I can tell.” Fowler left unspoken was that the Dur clan still existed.

“Put out feelers?” Colin asked him.

“Of course.” Fowler replied, nodding.

“Um…” Captain Dragic was a bit taken aback by that conversation. “Should we have been here for that?”

“What does the term ‘need to know’ tell you?” Rhee asked her.

“That I have need to know because whatever you end up doing, my ship is being drafted for it?” She ventured a bit tentatively.

“Precisely!” The Commodore grinned when Dragic grimaced. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to enlist you for heavy combat, but I suspect we’ll need troop transports.”

Colin glanced over at Markus, who was quietly stewing. He could feel the irritation coming off the man in waves. Frustrated at something, but he kept the details locked away. “Okay, I think we’re adjourned unless anyone has other business?” No one said anything. “Alright, then we are actually adjourned. Markus, can you stay for a minute before you take the tram to the Jörmundgandr?”

“Sure.” Markus replied, gruffly but a bit mortified that he was about to get dressed down for something by the equivalent of Rosa Luxemburg. Everyone filed out, leaving the two men staring at each other across the conference table.

“What’s bothering you Markus? Don’t worry, I’m not going to denounce you in Pravda or send you to a gulag.” Colin joked disarmingly.

“Why are you sending them back, Colin? And don’t give me that bullshit about how people deserve to be free that you use to curry favor with the god damned mundane liberals.” Markus was obviously referring to those from the Eiberhorn who still refused to join the Corps. Colin sighed.

“Because it is at least partially true.” He felt the angry retort coming, and held up his hand in a placating gesture. “But not entirely. Look, I’ve never been comfortable with coercion anyway. But there are practical reasons too. Before multi-universal contact, we could have won this on our own. Now we can’t. We need help. Or at least, we need to deny EarthGov external assistance.”

“And you trust the Allied Systems to provide that?” Markus asked incredulously. “They’re mundanes Colin, Liberal mundanes at that. Do I need to give you of all people a history lesson? You’ll give concessions and they’ll want more and more, and we’ll find ourselves being imperialized like Vietnam did. We should just be drafting the blips into the fleet and have done. Hell you’ve done that before.”

“To avoid sending them to camps, absolutely!” Was Colin’s retort “But Markus, the blips who are so far gone that even after we rescue them from being torture-raped to death they still won’t join us? They’re a lumpenproletariat security risk and you know it. So if I can have them outside the tent unable to even piss in, I’ll do it. And if it secures us help in dealing with the fascist regime that holds our chains, yeah, I’ll do it.”

Markus’ reply wasn’t in words, it was a feeling. The feeling that his siblings were betraying and abandoning their own family to suffer whatever fate had in store for them.

“I know. It sucks. But Markus, if your family has hit hard times, and the always-in-trouble teenager wants to run away and join the circus or whatever instead of getting a job to help pay rent, do you let him go, or keep him chained in the basement?”

“I…” Markus paused. “I see your point.” It was one less mouth to feed, and he wouldn’t do anyone else any good locked in the basement.

“Exactly. And I’m certainly not blind to the risk in trusting the Allied Systems. We are talking about people who have both replicators, and private companies, afterall. But there are people in it worthy of trust, and they’re the best shot we have. So we either take the chance, or we might as well commit ritual suicide right now becuase it will be less painful than what EarthGov does to us. Would you like to borrow my tantō?”

Markus managed a dark chuckle at that one. “No…”


Epilogue


Oscar was not waiting patiently at the opening. With a couple of his associates, and Jaman, he paced about at the terminal that the Corps shuttle was debarking at. A short, respectable distance away, Erika, Julian, and Alistair waited as well.

When the terminal door opened Oscar was relieved to see the figure at the head of it. Luisa Calderon was a fairly tall woman, not very pretty, but solidly built and with a mole on her cheek. He gently touched her mind with his own and felt relief containing a host of worse emotions. <You're all safe>, he p'cast.

<Most. Nhung, Tomoe, Gita, and Rodislav are dead.> Her answer had all the grief he'd expect. <Some of the others decided to stay with the Corps after what happened.>

<Oh?>

She glyphed him the fate of the Eiberhorn. He swallowed at the horror of it all: the mundane passengers and crews intentionally killed after the ship was raided, since they "weren't worth" the trouble. The processing onto the EIberhorn. The Aristo lord covering some of them, including Luisa, with those pain-giver nanobots, and the torture sessions that he indulged in before their rescue.

Even before he finished processing the glyph Oscar embraced Luisa, who sobbed quietly in his arms. They let go just before Markus stepped through the airlock door.

“Mr. Mendoza.” his voice wasn’t cold exactly, rather strictly professional. Which was warmer than it was from him usually. He was also carrying a data crystal. “This crystal contains everything we were able to glean about the loss of the Eiberhorn, and the near-loss of the Psyche. They’re infiltrating agents who slip technologically advanced drones into the umbilical connections between ships and the docking bays, that compromise ship systems. You’ll want to tighten up security at dock. Also, consider how they target ships. This installation is fixed and a known target. Yours are not. You have a leak. If you need assistance plugging it with extreme prejudice, I have instructions to offer assistance. But don’t ever accuse us of this shit again.”

Oscar accepted the crystal quietly. "We'll find the leak and plug it. And we'll deal with that security hole." He put the crystal away. "I'm sorry for the accusation. I let old wounds cloud my judgement." He had to concentrate to push away thoughts of his mother. "Miss Tari was right about how much I resent the past. I can't promise I'll let it all go, but I'll avoid making that kind of charge again. Speaking of Miss Tari, is she okay?"

“She is…” Markus needed to think of the proper term “Magnificent. She’s fine, and I never want to piss her off.” Markus sighed. “Look, I had a very intense conversation with someone smarter and wiser than me. We don’t have to be friends, Mr. Mendoza, we’re too different for that. But we don’t have to be enemies, and we share a few of those.”

Oscar didn't hide his relief at learning Nisa was okay before replying to Markus. "You're right about the enemies. These Aristos have to be stopped, and if the Corps ever gets a shot at them, we'll help however we can." Neither man was fooled: the assistance offered wouldn't be significant. But as with several other things, it was the thought that counted.

“We’ll keep the Free Colony apprised.” The second half of the message, he relayed telepathically <And not just them. There are others. I don’t fully trust the Allied Systems, I make no secret of that. But there are other threats. Be careful out there.> It came off like a big brother warning about a shortcut through a bad part of town.

In other situations Oscar might've defended the Allied Systems, whatever he sometimes felt about them — and he was well aware of the anti-telepath sentiment in some quarters of their leadership — but given the situation, he let the warning stand. He wasn't sure what Markus was talking about, since he didn't project the sheer hate the Corps reserved for the Aristos. After a few seconds of consideration he p'cast a reply of <We'll keep our eyes out.>

<Good.>

Oscar nodded a final time in his direction before turning to the people brought back from the Eiberhorn. <Okay everyone>, he p'cast openly. <Let's get you to quarters. We'll have a ship taking you out of E5B1 soon. Follow me.> He gave a final, appreciating glance toward Markus before leading them away.


*****


The shuttle from the Psyche made a gentle landing on the tarmac. The hatch slid open. From within the passengers stepped out. Nisa stood among them, getting her first personal sight of Tau Atrea. Her personal bags were at hand, the benefit of traveling light.

It was certainly a frontier colony, a growing one. A large factory of some sort was in the near distance, just inside of the wall. Even beyond the settlement's wall structures were visible, many only partially completed, while inside the wall were many more buildings. Some looked like small prefab structures, others larger and more permanent housing.

Nearby a second shuttle disembarked its passengers as well. Most were children from the Psyche. Awaiting them were a contingent of children of the colony, the eldest being a girl of about eleven or twelve, with an adult standing with them smiling. The two groups came together into a series of hugs and a steady exchange of telepathic greetings and childish glyphs of excitement and glee. Those who were taken during the attack were quickly identified and treated to an outpouring of warm sympathy from the children of Tau Atrea.

The older girl's eyes traveled over to Nisa, as if sensing her watching. Only as they made eye contact did Nisa feel a slender mental thread. She turned and looked up to see a black bird of some kind perched on a nearby landing beacon, staring at her intently. She turned back to the girl in time to see her nudge the adult among the children. The woman exchanged words with the caretaker coming from the Psyche, one of those Nisa saved in the common room, before guiding another, younger girl out of the crowd. The older girl with the dark hair joined them.

It wasn't hard for Nisa to recognize the younger child: her proposed student, Husn Mira.

<Would you like to say hello first, or should I make introductions?> The older girl asked Husn, completely in the clear.

<You can go ahead. I don’t want to… take your duty from you.> Husn replied with a silly facial expression. The older girl stuck her tongue out but it wasn’t in the mean way.

Nisa approached them with relaxed steps. She nodded politely to the adult and the two children. "I am Nisa Tari from Toutaine." Her tone remained gentle and reserved, that of a guest addressing her hosts.

“ I’ve been briefed. I’m Zara Tam” <Meier-Hendriks> she appended telepathically to the end. “I suppose you could call me the Unofficial Children’s Commissar.” That last part was… mostly kidding. But Zara was only looking up at Nisa because she was short, not like a normal child typically addresses an adult “And this is your prospective pupil, Husn Mira.”

“Hello!” The younger girl waved cheerfully, but didn’t disguise the fact that she was both a bit apprehensive, and hopeful. She didn’t know what to expect, and was using this exchange to get a handle on what kind of person Nisa was.

"Hello." Nisa smiled at them all.

That was when the adult noticed what was going on, and hustled over. She was in early middle age, addressed Zara with an easy familiarity. “For God’s sake, Zara. She just got here, there will be plenty of time to interrogate her personality. After she’s had a chance to rest. The journey has been much longer than anticipated.” She gave Nisa an apologetic look when Zara deferred to her with a ‘by all means’ gesture. “Sorry about that. Zara sometimes goes a bit overboard.”

"I sense it is a natural enthusiasm, and she means well." Nisa lowered her bags to the ground. "It is a pleasure to meet you all. I am thankful the All-Highest brought us together, whatever comes." Her eyes briefly focused on Husn, although without any particular intensity. "You are their teacher, I sense?"

“I was. Now that our population is bigger it would be more accurate to say I’m their live-in assistant principal. I’m Elizabeth Saunders.”

"God be with you, Elizabeth Saunders." Nisa searched her memory for that title before nodding. "I am unfamiliar with that title. I take it to mean you no longer teach, but organize the teachers?"

“Not exactly the same thing… There is some of that, but I’m specifically responsible for overseeing the psychological well-being of my charges in collaboration with their teachers.”

"You see to the health of their minds. I understand." Nisa nodded. "I am aware of 'psychology' from Solaris. Psion psychologists do well there. I recall once seeing a broadcast of one popular to the Solarian residents as entertainment on the vids, although I found the value of his work questionable as therapy."

“Ah, yes. There are similar mundanes on Earth… but they have conflicts of interest and compromise patient care.” Elizabeth replied. And Zara interjected with something of her own.

“She means that capitalism corrupts them, of course. Their interest becomes making money rather than helping people.”

The look that Elizabeth gave Zara told Nisa everything she needed to know, above her own senses. She let the moment pass and returned her attention to Husn. She connected her mind to the child, glyphing her purpose. How Kasszas approached her, brought her into contact with Lucilla Lucero and Robert Dale, and their proposal she come to offer Husn training.

<They’re good people.> Husn replied and then elaborated.<It might be a good idea to talk privately. This is… new, and a big responsibility.>

<It is.>

The contact between their minds expanded. It wasn't merely a telepathic connection any longer, but something deeper, mind and soul meeting together in a sympathetic harmony. Nisa felt Husn's spiritual devotion, her certainty in the existence of God much like Nisa's own, and a determination to use her gifts with all the care and devotion due to a divine blessing. She approved of it warmly. At the same time, she felt that same warmth reflected back.

Husn sensed the core of her own being, and many of the experiences that contributed to it, and knew that Nisa was capable of understanding what existence and responsibility meant for her. As the seconds passed she felt the growing conviction within her, the belief that no less than God had sent this woman to teach her to use this gift, ensuring she would be there to aid the Psyche crew as well (and indeed, in keeping with the ways God often acted).

“I think… I think Allah sent you to be my teacher.”

Nisa nodded. "Among other things. The All-Highest guides us all. I have faith we will fulfill His intentions." The thought came to her. Was everything so far, not just her voyage here, but everything before that… wasn't it all the guiding hand of the Creator of the Three Names, bringing her to this place to fulfill this child's destiny? Either way, I will do what I must to honor Husn, and guide her. "I am told a teacher is taught by students as much as the student is taught by the teacher. I have no doubt we will teach each other many things, Husn."

“I think so too.” Husn nodded.

“Are all of you this sage-like? Does that come with the membership card or something?” Zara asked perfectly genuinely. “Anyway, we’ve set up a meditation space in part of the library, and we should probably show you around so you don’t get lost.”

"I would like to see the rest of your settlement here. It's larger than I thought it would be," Nisa said. As to the question of a membership card, she glyphed to Zara the meditation rooms and other facilities in the Enclave on Solaris, including some of the very un-sagelike arguments that could break out among the metaphysically-gifted.

“That’ll do it…” Zara replied. “Might like our library.”

“One of the first things we built after the attack, actually.” Elizabeth noted. “But the shelter is in the center and we should probably start there.”

Nisa picked her bags up once more and followed Elizabeth and the children toward the heart of the settlement. Passing by the new arrivals, her senses easily picked up their determination, their relief, and most importantly, their hope. It gave her a warm feeling, and with it, hopes of her own. Hopes for the future for herself and her parents, the parents she'd not seen in years.

Sadiq and Kimiya Tari were a universe away now, but more than anyone else, they'd shaped her. Trained her in her divine gift, just as she was to train Husn, and showed her how life should be lived. They would be proud of her.

No. They were. She could feel that now, as if that gap were suddenly nothing. A resonance in her being, her very soul, brought to her the certainty of their feelings. The melancholy of her being beyond their reach now, an old pain balmed by time, struck her first, and she responded with her own melancholy at the things she wouldn't get to show her parents. All of the wonders out here in this undiscovered frontier…

That brought happiness, and it was not just her own. You are free, our little dancer. Free to grow. God be praised. The words weren't her own either, and she knew that she felt her parents at that moment. Even as it faded, she knew it was them.

Whatever else comes, I have faith I will meet it. My freedom came with a purpose, and I will fulfill it, All-Highest. Nisa smiled. I will make the most of the life your wings of liberty gave to me.

And so the dreamer gave one look toward the stars she'd won before continuing on, ready for whatever else came in her journey.
”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.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

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