[nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

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[nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


The light of an orange star played over the Starship Aurora as the kilometer long starship moved away from the transport vessel that had been alongside it. On the starship's bridge, the vessel's commander was looking at the face of a freighter captain on the screen. "We were happy to help," Captain Robert Dale remarked. "Safe voyage, and make sure to signal the moment you even think you see more of those Breen privateers."

The screen shifted. To Robert's side, Commander Julia Andreys crossed her arms and grinned. "At this rate, there won't be any pirates left in this entire sector block."

"It helps get the Alliance established in this area of space," Robert pointed out. "Mister Locarno, is our course ready?"

Nick Locarno nodded at the helm. "Course set for our next patrol point. Warp power at your command."

Before he could give the order, Robert was interrupted by the figure beside Locarno. Commander Jarod looked up from the Ops station. "We have a signal coming in on the IU bands. It's Admiral Maran."

"I'll take it in the watch office." Robert stood from the command chair, Julia standing right beside him. "You've got the bridge, Julie."

"Yes sir." There was a slight smirk on her face, indicating her amusement with using the formal address.

Robert smirked back and headed to his watch office. It was furnished with pictures and mementoes from his past life. A large picture of the Dale family was at one wall, with commendations and awards he and his sister had won during his childhood. For all the pain it had caused him to lose them, he kept such as a link to the life he'd had before he made that fateful discovery on his family property just a few years ago in what was, now, a different lifetime. Robert self-consciously checked his duty uniform collar in the reflection of his monitor screen before accepting the incoming call. The bearded, grizzled face of the old Gersallian fleet commander appeared. "Captain Dale. I've been hearing good things out of New Horizon. You've even got the Cardassians thanking us for what you've done to secure the region."

Robert let out a small chuckle. "Yeah. They weren't too happy about that refugee ship though."

"The President has fielded that issue. This Maquis situation is a load of political dynamite, but you were right to protect the refugees. But that's not why I called." Maran shifted in his seat and put his hands in front of him. "We have a new mission for the Aurora and Koenig, Captain...."

On the bridge Julia was settled into the command chair, looking out over the bridge of the advanced starship and letting herself briefly think of everything that had passed in their lives in the previous three years. The deaths of Robert's family, finding the ancient alien Facility built by the alien Darglan, building the New Liberty Colony and linking interstellar societies together into what was now the Allied Systems...

There was the bad, though, and the bad that dwarfed everything else had been the loss of the Facility to an unexpected threat, the Daleks. They'd barely gotten away and had lost friends, even if they'd succeeded in destroying the Daleks and preventing them from getting the Darglan technology.

She looked over the bridge crew for the moment. It was the time in the day when they were altogether, before shift changes and other duties brought in less familiar faces. Aside from Locarno at the helm and Jarod, the savant "Pretender" from Universe A4P5, the rest of the bridge crew was made up of Thomas Barnes, another lifelong friend and engineer, and the Delgado sisters; the older and aggressive Angela at Tactical and the younger, geekier Caterina at Sensors. Friends new and old were to be found in other spots on the ship, people Julia had known for years or those she'd met in the work they'd started in the Facility.

Her musings were interrupted when Robert stepped out of the watch office. He showed no clear feeling one way or another, though he moved with a clear purpose. Julia wordlessly stood from the command chair to shift to her own again. "New orders?", Julia asked.

"Yes." Robert got into his seat. "Nick, change of plans. We're not making the rendezvous with the Cunningham and the Traysala after all."

"Ready to plot a new course for you, sir." Locarno, as always, seemed the most at ease with the bridge environment. "Destination?"

"Bajor system," Robert answered. "We're heading to Deep Space Nine."

[center]Undiscovered Frontier

"On The Firing Line"

The command crew of the Aurora was in the Bridge Conference Room off the main Bridge. The last to arrive was Scotty, having come up from Main Engineering, with Leo beating him by forty seconds from the Medbay. They found seats near the head of the table, with Robert flanked by Julia and their friend Zachary Carrey, commander of the Koenig. "I know how quickly rumor can get around on a ship, especially with our crew." Robert smiled thinly. "So I'm sure you're all aware of our change in orders."

"Deep Space Nine," Zack remarked. "I've always wanted to visit."

Caterina was almost bursting with enthusiasm. "The Multiverse's only known stable wormhole is there! I've been dying to get a look at it!"

"You'll get your chance, but I'm afraid this isn't just a port call." Robert tapped a key. "I'm sure everyone will recall Admiral Maran's brief about the Federation's disasterous first contact with the Dominion of the Gamma Quadrant."

"You mean when they blew a Galaxy-class cruiser to bits with just three attack ships." Angel crossed her arms. "Their weapons go through shields like they're not there."

"Yes. Starfleet has sent Commander Sisko into the Gamma Quadrant to try and make contact with them and see if we have any way of maintaining peace. But they're worried about counter-attacks through the wormhole, and so are the Bajorans."

"So that's where we come in." Julia put her hands together on the table. "The Aurora will be on hand to back up DS9."

"Exactly." Robert looked to Jarod, Scotty, and Barnes. "We've been given data on the Jem'Hadar ships the Odyssey and DS9's runabouts fought. Do you think you could go over them and find a counter to their shield-piercing guns?"

"Aye, sir," Scotty answered for the three.

"I'll help!," Caterina offered.

"You'll be busy, Cat," Robert said. "I want you directing all of our Darglan scanners at the wormhole. We need to learn all we can and see if our systems can glean more information."

Caterina nodded, smiling widely. She would have already been running such scans.

Unfortunately, Robert had to take the smile off her face. "I'll need options, Cat. We may need to close the wormhole."

As he feared, the smile disappeared and was replaced by a disappointed look. Her sister Angel was more understanding. "What will we be doing to make sure the Dominion isn't coming through?"

"I have orders on that too." Robert looked to Zack. "Zack, you're heading through."

"Wait... me?" Zack blinked. "You're getting to stay on DS9 and are leaving me with playing watchdog?"

"You wanted command of the Koenig, Zack, and that's what she's for," Robert pointed out. "We'll be sending a runabout through the wormhole every few hours to get your updates. If you need help, call. If they're too much, get your ass back through. And if you see an invasion fleet...."

"....come back through so you don't have to strand me on the other side of the galaxy," Zack grumbled.

Robert nodded and drew in a breath. The idea of leaving his friend stranded on the other side of the galaxy was not something he enjoyed contemplating. "We're due to arrive on DS9 in five hours. Let's get to it."

A couple of hours later Robert was mulling over paperwork in his watch office when the door chime went off. He mumbled, "Enter", and looked back to the digital paperwork. Julia stepped in and stood in front of the desk. "Do you remember what it was like when we didn't spend three hours a day, minimum, stuck in paperwork?"

"Mmhmm." Julia smirked. This was not a new rant.

"I remember when Beth introduced requisition orders back in the... old days." "The old days" being, of course, the first year working out of the Facility, and only a couple of years in the past. "I told her no way."

"And then she said she wouldn't turn over material from the stores until you did." Julia smiled widely. "She was just getting you ready for the real world there, you know."

"Yeah. I was hoping to find an excuse to bring her aboard." Robert sighed. "But she's settled onto New Liberty. I couldn't yank her away from that."

"We're not all cut out for adventuring through the stars." Julia's eyes fell a little. "Could we do it, Robby? Could we close the wormhole and leave Zack and Magda and the others trapped on the other side?"

Robert felt his throat go dry. "I... I don't know if I could," he admitted. "It's one thing if I'm the one being abandoned. To do it to one of you..."

"I know." She drew in a breath. "Well..." Seeking to change the subject, she switched tracks again. "Speaking of paperwork, our weekly systems review, and our readiness evaluation and...."

She couldn't help but giggle at the dark look she got from Robert as he accepted the data drive she was handing him.

Zack had his immediate effects slung over his shoulder for transfer back to the Koenig and was walking toward the airlock when he was intercepted by Barnes. "Sure you don't want company?", Barnes asked him. "I mean, between Jarod and Scotty this Dominion stuff can get handled...."

"I'll be fine, Tom," Zack remarked, smirking. "The Koenig crew has been coming together nicely. We'll handle whatever comes." He turned and saw the look on Barnes' face. "Tom?"

"Yeah, I know." The lanky engineer sighed and gave a shrug. "It's just..." He walked up, looking upset. "Don't you miss just... hanging out?"

Zack let out a laugh. "Yeah, yeah I do. I just think it's funny to hear that coming from you. I think Cat was the only one who outdid you in enthusiasm."

"Well, yeah, this stuff is exciting, but...." Barnes let it trail off. "Sometimes I just want to hang out again. Just the seven of us. Or just you and me, playing shooters and trash-talking."

"Yeah," Zack sighed wistfully, looking down at the deck as he thought of all the fun old times. He brought his head back up and gave Barnes a friendly pat to the shoulder. "Tell you what, I get back from this? We reserve one of the holodecks and hang out. Just like old times."

"Have a sim in mind?"

"Of course not," Zack laughed. "When have we ever had something like a plan for hangouts?"

"Only if Julie got involved," Barnes remembered.

"So, yeah, just get the reservation set up? We'll set something up when we get there." Zack nodded to him and checked the time. "I'd better get going. Look forward to seeing what we can come up with when I get back."

The space around Deep Space Nine was empty when the Aurora dropped out of warp. The ship pulled up toward the station and took a station-keeping spot well within support and transporter range. From the bridge Robert was quiet, allowing Julia to give the orders on establishing their position. He only reacted when the hail came in, standing as the screen shifted to show a balding human man in a Starfleet uniform, the second variant he'd seen with branch color on the shoulders instead of the main body. "This is Lieutenant Commander Michael Eddington, Starfleet Security and acting commander."

"Captain Robert Dale, Alliance Starship Aurora," Robert answered. "We're here to help secure the wormhole while Commander Sisko's mission is proceeding."

"Good to have you, Deep Space Nine is weakly armed." Eddington looked off screen for a moment. "I hope you understand if I'd prefer discussing our arrangements in person, and not over an open channel."

He nodded. "I'll beam over with a few of my officers shortly. Aurora out." When the holo-screen shifted to a view of the station, he looked over to Julia. "So, do you want to discuss who goes over or...?"

"Oh, no," she said, smirking. "I'm more than happy to stay and command the ship while you deal with the fun stuff."

"By 'fun' you, of course, mean 'boring'," Robert lamented. "Alright... I'm going to bring Meridina with me. Did we assign Lucy to anything...?"

"Nope. She's been busy doing the drudgery while you've got Jarod going over the Federation logs on the Dominion. I'm sure she'll be happy if you find her something else to do."

"Having an operations and tech officer along can't hurt, I imagine that with their jury-rigged Cardassian and Starfleet blend we might have some problems lining up the systems." Robert reached over and pressed the comm unit on his wrist. "Commander Meridina, Lieutenant Lucero, report to Transporter 3."

"Don't have too much fun," Julia teased.

Zack was never one for protocol, and instead of using the formal small wardroom on the Koenig's top deck he simply assembled his officers on the bridge. Magda was the one he had known the longest; one of their first rescues from a raid on a FARC facility back in the good old days of the Facility, she'd been serving in various capacities on the group's ships until settling onto the Koenig following the loss of the Facility. Here she had the Operations Officer and Second Officer job.

Instead, for a First Officer, Zack had been given Lieutenant Creighton Apley, a Midwesterner like him but from the Sol System Republic in D3R1. He was Zack's opposite in many ways; professional, reserved, and almost stiff in his bearing, though with the occasional signs of warmth. He had a finely-combed head of sandy blond hair and brown eyes and a build that was sleek and athletic-looking.

Standing beside the two was Lieutenant Karen Derbely of D3R1's Free Colonies. The fact she wasn't scowling at Apley was a testament to the time they'd already spent on the ship. In fact, Zack thought she was a little bit more like Apley than he was; her light brown hair was kept in a bun at the back of her head and her demeanor usually reserved and quiet. The irritation in her blue eyes betrayed some impatience though; she wanted to get back to Engineering.

On a ship as lightly crewed as Koenig you typically only had about eight officers on the crew, maybe ten at most, and he usually rotated junior officers from the Aurora (or rather Magda and Jarod swapped them out as they saw fit). Of the others, he was only really familiar with Michael Ghali, the young Egyptian Copt from Zack's homeworld who was his ship's sole physician, and junior Lieutenant April Sherlily, Tactical Officer. Both were the shortest people at hand, while Ghali was also fairly thin while April was.... okay, Zack had to admit the honey-haired woman filled out her uniform rather well and that combined with Magda and Derbely he certainly had his share of distracting subordinates. He felt thankful for Apley and Ghali since otherwise he knew he'd be dealing with constant needling from Julia and Angel.

"You've all had time to see the orders," Zack said, trying to keep his mind on business. "Any questions?"

"We're the tripwire," Apley remarked. "And the scout."

"Yeah. Runabouts will be coming and going every few hours to get status updates. I want an emergency solution, though. Derbely, think we can get one of our long-range drones rigged with warp and navigation to get back through without us?"

"I'll look into it," Derbely promised.

"Good. As for everyone else... make sure the crew knows that this mission has no set ending. We could be out there a day, a week, or a month. I know the ship's facilities suck and there's not much to do in off hours, but hopefully we won't be out here for too long. Let's keep our heads together."

He was answered by nods. The officers dispersed to their stations. Apley was at the helm and Magda at Operations preparing for launch while they waited the few minutes for Derbely to get back to engineering and confirm the reactors were coming online. "Launch Control confirms we're ready."

"Detach all umbilicals. Seal the airlock." Zack waited patiently for them to do so.

"Yes sir." Magda quickly implemented the orders. "Launch bay door opening."

Toward the rear of the Aurora's "primary" hull, where the ship thinned in height and the beam tapered inward to the "drive" hull, the main launch bay door slid open effortlessly. The docking struts retracted and with ease the Koenig lifted up and back from the bay. Zack allowed himself a smile as his ship slipped free to fly on its own power once more. "Mister Apley... take us into the wormhole."

"Aye sir." Apley nodded.

The impulsor drives on Koenig came to life. The ship flew away from the Aurora and Deep Space Nine with increasing speed. Ahead of them was open space, nothing there.... and then the wormhole opened like a flower blossoming. The swirling blues and the inner gold had a natural look to them that the basic color of an interuniversal jump point typically lacked, and Zack enjoyed every moment of it. The gold mouth of the wormhole grew larger until it was replaced by swirling blues and golds on the inside. Nothing was said for the duration of the voyage, but when they emerged Apley was quick to report. "I've got our patrol pattern programmed already," he stated.

"Magda, cloak the ship. Apley, you can bring the warp drive online when ready."

Moments later, the Koenig shimmered out of sight as it leapt to warp.

Ops on DS9 was laid out in a way that slightly reminded Robert of the main Control Room back in the Facility, complete with the center table for the commander's "station", although smaller overall and with a transporter, turbolift, and commander's office attached. He was standing across from Eddington at that table, Lucy and Meridina flanking him. Eddington had just finished explaining the current condition of DS9's defenses, or rather lack of them. "What do you think, Lieutenant?" Robert made sure to avoid the familiarity he might use with his old friends in more private conditions on the Aurora.

"There's only so much we can do with the old Cardassian technology," Lucy answered. "And it looks like the current engineer has done a lot of work already with Starfleet technology, so if we do start working on it I'm afraid we'll just mess things up."

"The help I really need is in filling in for the command staff," Eddington explained. "Commander Sisko took everyone. And I just got here, I don't know half of what's going on with this station."

"I see." Robert looked between the two. "Lieutenant Commander Meridina, do you think you could help with station security?"

Meridina nodded respectfully. "I will do as needed to maintain peace and order here."

"Lieutenant?" Robert turned to face Lucy.

She nodded. "Sure, I can try to keep things running for Commander Eddington."

"If you can stand a watch here in Ops it'll give me a shift off," Eddington remarked, looking fairly tired. "Although as head of Starfleet Security I'm afraid I have to limit access to certain Starfleet materials. It shouldn't interfere with the operation of the station but if you find any blocks I'll be quick to deal with the issue."

"I completely understand."

"If that's all, then, I'd better get back to the Aurora," Robert said. "We're trying to determine if there's a way to deal with the Dominion shield-piercing technology."

"I'll send Chief O'Brien and Lieutenant Dax's notes on to your crew if it'll help," Eddington offered.

"That would be appreciated, Commander."

On the Aurora Science Lab 2 was the lab set aside for investigating matters of technology, energy, and power generation, and it was here that the brightest minds on the ship had met to go over the data on the Dominion weapons. Coffee was being provided in liberal quantities from the nearest replicators while, around a central holodisplay, Barnes and Scotty were examining footage of the Dominon energy beams striking the USS Odyssey. "It's nae goin' ta be easy," Scotty mumbled. "Wid ye look at the emissions? They cut through the shields like they weren't even there. Ah've never seen a phased energy signature like that before."

"I've seen that in the Darglan files before."

"Aye. Polarons, Mister Barnes. Polarons. Nobody has used them like this before. This is very advanced engineering..."

"The problem is going to be setting shields to stop them without sacrificing protection against more conventional weapons," Jarod mused from his seat, checking data readings more directly. "The range any countermeasure is going to have to cover will be enormous."

"That's why..."

They were interrupted by the soft "whish" of the main door opening. Julia strode into the room, looking over them in one sweep of her head. "Okay everyone, I know you love to get your brains together to deal with a challenge, but it's approaching 2200 hours. It's time you called it an evening and came back to this tomorrow with fresh minds."

"Yes mom," Barnes muttered sarcastically.

"Someone has to keep you guys from going crazy from sleep deprivation," she pointed out sarcastically. "You can give me a report on what you've found so far in the morning."

The sound of the alert klaxon jolted Zack out of sleep. He slid out of the hard cot in his quarters and reached for his uniform jacket, wondering just what might be happening. Upon arriving at the bridge he found Apley on watch; his XO moved straight to the helm as he took his seat. "What do we have?"

"Jem'Hadar attack ships entered range and have begun active scans with anti-proton beams," Apley reported. Behind them Magda and Sherlily arrived, relieving the junior personnel who were watching their stations.

"Anti-proton beams...?" Zack looked at Magda. "They won't penetrate our cloak, will they? I distinctly remember Cat talking about how anti-anything does bad stuff to normal matter."

"I don't know, it might," Magda conceded.

"On the other hand, there are other ways to detect the general presence of cloaked ships," Apley pointed out. "They might be looking to confirm we're here."

"You have a suggstion, Creighton?"

As always, Apley showed no response to Zack ignoring protocol and using first names. "We come to a stop and cut power. That would eliminate any telltale traces that might seep through our cloak."

"And leave us stationary and defenseless if the Jem'Hadar see us anyway," Sherlily pointed out.

Zack nodded, knowing both had good points. This was one of those hard decisions his new job put him in, the kind of decisions he preferred Robert and Julia making. All he wanted to do was fly the Koenig....

"What kind of systems are near here?", he finally asked.

"We've got a couple. If you're thinking of hiding I'm not sure it'll... wait." Magda looked back. "I've identified a system, 191 Lambda Seronis on the Federation charts, with a gas giant and asteroid field that give us some hiding spots. If the cloak is letting anything out, we have options for masking it."

"Good. Get us there, top speed."

Koenig was still invisible to sensors and the naked eye when she came out of warp close to the brown-red hued gas giant of 191 Lambda Seronis. Apley piloted the ship toward one of the poles and brought them to a stop. The indicators on Magda's station showed the Koenig's systems powering down to reduce their energy signature should it be leeching through the cloak somehow.

Moments later three Jem'Hadar vessels came out of warp, assuming a close search pattern. Zack breathed quietly as the indicators showed them getting closer, anti-proton beams lancing out again to try and probe the location of his ship. "If it looks like they spot us, make for the asteroids," he murmured to Apley.

"You don't think we can take them in a fight, sir?", Sherlily asked.

"Until the Brain Trust back on the Aurora can figure out the shield thing, I'm not going to risk it," Zack replied. "Just be ready to pull the trigger if we need it..."

The Jem'Hadar ships drew closer and closer. The holoscreen shifted to show them looming in on the Koenig. Red beams were quietly pulsing from the ships' emitters, the viewer translating the sensor input for the anti-proton beams for their benefit. Zack felt his heart pick up and tried to will it to quiet. The Darglan cloak was great stuff, it'd work...

Suddenly the red beams stopped. The Jem'Hadar ships twisted in space and went to warp, breaths of relief coming from Zack and his bridge crew as their forms elongated. Zack noticed his reflection in the surface of his control panel and the black bags forming on his eyes. So much for sleep with this adrenaline rush... "Magda, keep an eye out for more. Apley, put us back on our patrol route."

He was answered by a pair of "Aye, sir"s.

Robert woke up to the sound of his personal comm unit going off. He reached over from his bed and hit the reply button. "Dale here," he said softly, rubbing at his eyes.

One of the Gamma Shift officers, Lieutenant Daynara, spoke over the line. "A ship just came through the wormhole and docked with the station, Captain."

He sat up and rubbed at his forehead. "Make?"

"Karemma. They say they've brought someone who went on Sisko's mission into the Gamma Quadrant back. Commander Eddington has already been alerted and has asked you to join him."

"I'll be right there."

They chose to have the meeting in the security office. Meridina was seated in Constable Odo's usual seat, Commander Eddington and Robert flanking her. The figure in question gave a toothy smile at them and looked like he was used to the seat he was in.

"I hope you understand that I have to check up on my business, can we make this quick?", Quark asked.

"We need to know how Commander Sisko's mission is going," Eddington said. "And why you're back so soon."

"Our negotiations with the Karemma were a success," Quark answered. "They provided Commander Sisko with information on how to make contact with the Founders. As for my return... I've got a business to run and I didn't feel like charging into hostile space with Odo as my roommate."

"How was Sisko going to make contact with the Dominion's Founders?", Robert asked.

"The Karemma only have one contact with the Dominion, a subspace relay in the Callinon system." Quark shrugged and let out an awkward-sounding cackle. "That's all I can say, really. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make sure my idiot brother didn't ruin my business."

Quark got up and almost reached the door when Meridina raised her head. "I should point out, sir, that you will need to pay a customs due on the cargo you brought over from the Karemma vessel. The Bajoran tariff laws are quite clear."

Robert noticed the bemused look on Eddington and the sudden irritation coming from Quark. "I remembered, I just wanted to settle back in first," Quark assured them.

"Of course," Meridina remarked, a thin and friendly smile on her face. "I simply thought it best to remind you should it slip your mind."

"Thank you very much," Quark said, a fake smile on his face and the insincerity oozing. He went straight for the door.

"Well, we're no better off than we were before," Eddington sighed. "We still have no idea of how the Commander's mission is going."

"For the time being we'll just have to stay alert." Robert folded his arms. "I'll get back to the Aurora and make sure our next probe relays the new information to the Koenig. Zack may be able to investigate this Callinon system if it's not too far from the wormhole."

"I'd feel better if I knew we had a way to close it," Eddington remarked. "Just in case."

"I've got people looking into it," Robert assured him.

Caterina was using her bridge watch well; while she kept an eye on sensors most of her attention was on using the Aurora's varied sensor systems to scan the Bajoran Wormhole. The Darglan systems on the Aurora had already given her insights into the wormhole's stability and function, but trying to get rid of it...

"I don't want to blow it up," Cat complained to herself.

"Blow what up?"

She looked behind her to see Locarno standing behind her. With Robert speaking with Admiral Maran and Julia riding herd on the other brainy types, Locarno was taking the morning bridge watch instead of manning the helm as usual. He didn't look the most comfortable with the work, something she supposed came from his past with Starfleet. "The wormhole," Cat replied. "Look at it! Look at the neutrino plumes and subspace waves and.... it's beautiful."

"And it's a bridge that could let a nasty race of soldiers invade the Alpha Quadrant," Locarno reminded her.

"Can't we... I dunno... mine it or something then?"

"Only if you know for sure how many ships are coming through."

"So maybe a force-shield ins.... no, well, maybe.... gotta talk to Tom about that."

Locarno let out a forlorn sigh. "Lieutenant, sometimes it's best to just focus on what you've been ordered to do."

"But what if I don't like what I've been ordered to do?"

"Then you do it anyway, or you realize you've got the wrong job and you resign."

All Cat could do in reply was sigh.

Whoever ran DS9's systems was a saint.

That, at least, was Lucy's view after she jolted her hand back, the shock still crackling through it. The habitat ring conduit still blinked in a way that showed it was defying her attempts to repair it. These Cardassians are lousy designers, was the next thought in her head, followed with admiration that someone had managed to mix the better Federation technology in and make the entire blasted mess work.

With her fingers still numb, Lucy reached over for her comm. "Lucero to Ops," she said, and at least the comm systems had successfully picked up her comm and the others from the Aurora crew helping out. "This conduit is completely out, everything I've tried has failed."

"That area is uninhabited, so don't worry too much about it," one of the station's engineers answered. She didn't know the Bajoran man's name yet. "A little odd that it went down like that though..."

"The Cardassians can't build for crap," Lucy muttered. "I'll head on to the crossover, one of my people is having trouble with the turbolift maintenance there."

"I read you."

Lucy rubbed her hand a little and slammed the conduit shut. After she did so she gave a quick glance around her. Something felt.... off. "Is somebody there?", she asked aloud. She heard no reply, but there was a... sense in her head, as if she might be in danger. Damned Cardassian station and its poor lighting.... Figuring the dark corridors were just making her jittery, Lucy pressed on in the other direction.

Admittedly, she did so with a bit of a spring in her step, as her hindbrain continued to scream at her to get away.

"....so we had another attempted break-in on the station's material stores." One of the Bajoran deputies was reading from a PADD while Meridina and her assistant chief of security listened quietly. Like Meridina, Lieutenant Parga Draynal was from N2S7; a male Dorei of teal complexion and purple spotting from the temperate rainforests of Jamara on Doreia, he was the professional service officer in contrast to Meridina being a swevyra'rase of Gersal. Meridina had as much a rapport with him as she could manage given his mental reserve, and she knew he was not keen at all on their commanding officers. He merely needs time to see their potential. Though Meridina was aware of other... considerations that she and her other superiors had toward the command crew of the Aurora. Would he understand the significance of their coming? Would he be able to believe in the Coming Dawn?

"Black market?", Parga asked the Bajoran.

"I doubt it, sir," the deputy answered. "I think we might have people looking to stockpile materials in case of a Dominion attack."

"They act out of fear," Meridina murmured. She could feel that emotion permeate the entire station with her senses, both her mental abilities and the life force powers she had use of. "We need to be as reassuring as possible, but to be safe, we shall double the guard. Lieutenant, see who we can get from our staff on the Aurora."

"Immediately sir."

Meridina watched both of them leave the security office and began to ponder.... just where was this feeling of portent coming from? Was it forboding or was it the universe trying to tell her something through her connection to it? Regardless, she would have to be on guard.

Ship's Log: 14 January 2641; ASV Koenig. Commander Zachary Carrey recording. The Koenig is currently half a parsec from the Callinon System, where we've found fresh Jem'Hadar warp trails but nothing else, so I've ordered the ship back to our patrol route.

We're on our third day in the Gamma Quadrant and so far there has been no activity in the vicinity of the wormhole. The Jem'Hadar patrols that were in the area seem to have fallen back for the moment. I'd like to think this was a good sign and we won't be dodging patrols and wondering if their anti-proton scans can find us, but instead.... this doesn't seem right. Something is going on with the Dominion, and I'm not going to rest easy until we either hear from Commander Sisko's mission or I'm back on the right side of the wormhole.

The Koenig was essentially a set of powerful phaser cannons strapped to a set of engines; while it meant she could punch above her weight against "normal" starships, it also meant there was very little for the crew of the ship in terms of creature comforts. No holodecks, no arboretums, no libraries, there was only one's personal computer hookup in whatever bunk area they were assigned and the crew mess area. Carlton Farmer had made it clear that the ship was never meant to stay out for too long on its own but would need to remain based elsewhere.

With nothing else to do, the crew generally chatted in the mess, and Zack was not one to play the distant commander. He ate with them and shared jokes and commentary, as was occurring now. With Derbely on the other side of the table and a couple of FedStar crew further down, Zack was enjoying what passed for food from the ship's no-frills replicators and talking about some of the early space combats they'd seen in the Koenig.

"How long do you think we'll be out here?", one of the crewmen asked.

"That's up to Admiral Maran," Zack mused. "I hope it's not much longer, but until we know more about what happened to Sisko..."

"And if he got these buggers to be peaceful or not," the other crewman asked, with a clear Australian accent. Or Australian-like anyway.

"Yeah." Zack took a bite from a chicken sandwhich. "I know it sucks. When we get back I'm going to gripe at Captain Dale and Commander Andreys to let you guys have the run of a few holodecks for a few days, if we don't stay at DS9 for shore leave. But just hang in there."

"We are, sir. Don't worry," the Aussie-accented one answered.

The crewmen finished their meal and left, leaving Zack with Derbely. "So, just between you and me," she murmured, "what do you think is going to happen?"

"Can't tell you anything more than I told them," Zack remarked. "Yeah, I'm not BSing anyone on this ship. Not the way I want to do things."

"Sometimes it can be better for morale if you hold back things, sir," Derbely pointed out. "Don't make things seem too bad, I mean."

"If I have to play macho and make people think things are in control when they're not.... I'll deal with it when it comes. But we're all in this together." Zack took another bite. "So you and Apley.... I can remember ferrying Ambassadors Morrison and Sriroj back before the Alliance talks. It always seemed that you Colonials and the Sol Republic people can't be in the same room without fussing."

Derbely smirked at that. "We believe in freedom ahead of everything. Sol types think that only political freedom matters and that the government should play nursemaid to people. And they're more than willing to insist we do the same and talk about how our lower classes need to be 'liberated' when we snub them."

"And they say you Colonials are a bunch of anarchists in thrall to cutthroat robber barons who leave the working class to starve while exploiting them ruthlessly." Zack smirked. "My Dad usually sounds like your side, but Mom always thought things like food stamps and social services were good for people."

Derbely smirked. "Between you and me, sir? I'd agree with your Mom. Just because I'm from the Free Colonies doesn't mean I think everything in our worlds is grand and the Sols are entirely wrong."

"Huh. And I guess that's why you and Ap...."

There was a tone from his comm. Zack reached his right hand over to press the comm where it was attached to his left wrist's comp device. "Carrey here."

"Commander, we're picking up a distress signal. Sir.... it's... it's from the U.S.S. Defiant."

Zack's expression darkened. "Sisko's ship." He stood up, ignoring his unfinished sandwhich and chips. "I'm on my way to the bridge now. Triangulate it as best as you can and have a course ready."

"Yes sir."

"I'm on my way to Engineering," Derbely pronounced, not waiting for any specific orders to do so. Zack nodded at her and led her to the door. He made his way to the turbolift and called out, "Deck 1". Seconds later the lift opened and admitted him to the small corridor that held the door to his ready room and to the bridge beyond. When he stepped out onto the bridge Apley left the command chair and took the helm. "Course laid in."

"Punch it." Zack settled into his command chair and watched the viewscreen shift to show the elongated streaks of light that signified warp flight. "Time?"

"Three hours, sir."

"And when does the Rhine come through for our next check-in?"

"Two hours, thirty minutes," Magda reported from Ops.

"We'll alert them as soon as they show up."

A display of the Aurora and the machinery of her deflector shield systems was prominent in Science Lab 2. The generators went from green to yellow to red under a simulated timer, leading to an exasperated growl from Barnes. "Ah tried tellin' ye," Scotty sighed. "The power output ye're tryin' tae push through the generators is too much. They cannae take the strain."

"I'm waiting to hear better solutions." Barnes tapped his screen and reset the sim. "Because right now this is our only idea that works. Even if we only have to run it a little while..."

"Ye're goin' tae burn out the generators, puttin' strain on 'em an' the emitters like that!"

Jarod let out a groan from where he was seated. The two engineers turned. "Any luck, Mister Jarod?", Scotty asked.

"None," he grumbled. "The sims show my shield modulation won't hold. The Dominion beam weapons will still go through."

"Dammit," Barnes mumbled. He altered a few settings and ran another sim. Again the generators turned yellow and then red... but somewhat slower. "See that, Scotty? I trimmed the power flow a little. The shields still have coherence up until the generators go out."

"Ye're still nae goin' tae get more than half an hour, at most," Scotty pointed out. "To make this work for longer we wud have tae build an entire new set o' generators."

"Half of an hour with shields that work is better than unlimited time with shields that don't do crap," Barnes pointed out.

"He's got a point," Jarod remarked from his seat.

Scotty drew in a sigh. "Aye, he does. Go ahead an' implement it, Tom. But make sure the Captain understands the risks."

"I will, don't worry. I don't look forward to having to rebuild the generators either, if it comes to that."

All it had taken was one lecherous look from the Ferengi bartender for Lucy to decide to dine with the Starfleeters in the Replimat instead. She replicated an enchilada with salsa con queso. chicken, rice, and beans and found a seat. Sadly the taste was atrocious compared to what her mother used to cook, but it was the best to be had right now.

At first she was dining alone, but soon enough Meridina was sitting opposite from her, a plate of some kind of Gersallian salad before her. "That's right, you don't eat meat, do you?", Lucy asked.

"The members of my Order stick to plant-based foods, yes," Meridina remarked. "But I will not take offense to your meal containing meat. It is a personal choice."

Lucy nodded in understanding. "So how are you faring with trying to keep security on this craptastic station?"

Meridina showed only the faintest of smiles at Lucy's choice of words, having gotten used to such in her months on the Aurora. "It has been something of a challenge. I think the Bajorans especially show some resentment and would prefer their security people being in charge, but they acknowledge that my place is only temporary, until Constable Odo is back on duty."

"All I know is that I'm going to buy a drink for Chief O'Brien. The man is a genius to get this place running as well as it is," Lucy muttered. She still felt an involuntary shiver from that conduit in the habitat ring. Looking back she felt like she had narrowly avoided being killed.

Meridina gave her a concenred look. "I sense you've been in fear lately. What's wrong?"

"Oh, just this gloomy Cardassian station and its dark hallways. I was trying to fix some conduit in an uninhabited area of the habitat ring and it got to me." Lucy felt another shiver from thinking of this place. "I felt like every fiber of my soul was demanding I get out of that area pronto."

Meridina did not react immediately, but she clearly took some interest in this. "Perhaps I should patrol this section then."

"It's really not necessary, Meridina, it's just that this place feels gloomy and oppressive and it gave me the jitters."

"Indeed." Meridina couldn't argue with that. When checking the cells she'd felt enormously troubled. Her swevyra had led her to feel the terror of the various prisoners who had been held there before, in the Cardassians' time controlling the station and Bajor itself. But while she had a strong swevyra, she knew from personal experience that all other life forms had some. For Lucy to feel this way with her own swevyra being so undeveloped.... yes, something seemed rather wrong. She'd have to take it up with Eddington.

"Anyway, that's just the tip of the iceberg," Lucy continued. "This station is a testament to the Cardassians' cheapness and it's a damned wonder the place has stayed intact."

"Never underestimate the capabilities of others in sustaining these places when it has become their home. The power of life permits such to happen very easily." Meridina finished a bite of her food. "I would be interested in checking out this area of the habitat ring if you would..."

Meridina's comm beeped, prompting her to reach over and press it. "Commander Meridina speaking," she said quietly.

It was Eddington on the other end. "Commander, I'd like to see you in Ops soon, I have to finalize a report to Starfleet Command and I'd like your input on the security situation."

"understood. I will be in ops shortly."

Lucy waited for the channel to end before speaking up. "That guy is a bit of an ass, isn't he?"

"Commander Eddington is fairly self-absorbed, yes. But that is his way. I do sometimes feel like he is being deceptive towards us."

"Well, yeah, he's got to keep us from taking all of those juicy Starfleet secrets."

"It's more than that," Meridina insisted. "I should be going. I will meet with you later, Lucilla. Good luck with your work."

"The same to you, Meridina," Lucy replied. She watched Meridina leave and returned to her meal.

A table over from Lucy and Meridina, Ensign Kyle Liton from Aurora's security teams overheard their exchange. A spooky area of the station? He'd seen enough like that already, but maybe it'd look good if he took some initiative and checked the area up? Just in case? Commander Meridina and Lieutenant Draynal might put a good mark on his record for that. "Excuse me," he called out to Lucy. "Lieutenant? I overheard you talking about something wrong in the habitat ring...."

The crew on duty on the Aurora bridge was a mix and match of the main command staff and their backups. Cat, Angel, and Locarno were in their usual places but with Jarod and Barnes off working with Scotty on the shielding issue, their replacements were at their stations instead; Lieutenant (j.g.) Shen Xiao-Li at Engineering and Lieutenant Rapa Jupap, a bronze-feathered Alakin, at Operations. Robert was looking over a report from Meridina on DS9 while Julia devoted her attention to the goings-on of the bridge.

On the viewscreen the Rhine blossomed open again. "We have a signal from Lieutenant Lawson," Rapa chirped. "The Koenig picked up a distress signal from the Defiant and is moving to investigate."

That got everyone's full attention. Robert ordered, "Put me on" and, when that was confirmed, he spoke to Jack Lawson directly. "Jack, take the Rhine back through and let me know the moment we get any update from the Koenig."

"We're going back through."

Julia beat Robert to the next order. "Get a crew for the Susquehanna. We'll leave the Rhine on the other end so Zack can keep constant contact with someone."

"Good thinking." Robert nodded. "And get Lieutenant Commander Laurent to check up on his pilots. If we end up going in, we're going to need the fighter support."

"Already done."

"Coming up on the origin of the Defiant signal, Zack."

"Keep an eye out for anything, Magda." Zack watched the ship drop from warp on the screen. Apley's piloting was exact, bringing them right up to....

Nothing. The screen didn't show a ship at all, just a buoy of some sort. "Does it match Federation markings?"

"Yes. But there's something off," Magda said. "I don't think we should...."

There wa sa burst of ruby energy from the tip of the buoy. The resulting eruption of light became a sphere that blazed across the void. Apley tried to fire the warp systems but they were too late; the field struck the Koenig. It didn't rock hard, but Magda was quick to report on what had happened. "That was some of energy burst, our cloaking field is down!"

"Bridge!" Derbely's voice was taut with restrained worry. "Whatever that was, it's knocked the warp drive offline! I'm trying to get it it going again, but it's going to take me at least ten minutes!"

Zack swallowed. "We're visible?" And crippled.

"Very...." Magda saw lights appear on her board. "And we've got Jem'Hadar ships on sensors. Reading three of them."

"Have they seen us?"

"I'm not.... okay, yes. Jem'Hadar ships are on attack vector!"

Zack barely shifted in his command chair, biting slightly into his lip. They couldn't run and they couldn't hide, so that left....yeah. Watching on the screen as the Jem'Hadar ships bore down on the Koenig, Zack felt a rush of excitement at the impending combat. "Time to show them what she's got! Target the lead vessel and fire!" Zack gripped his chair arms tightly. "Apley, Attack Plan Bravo, now!"

Under Apley's piloting the Koenig began a three-dimensional zig-zag approach of the oncoming Jem'Hadar, including a couple of twists to avoid their fire as the first beams of purplish-white energy erupted from the prows of the bug-like Jem'Hadar ships. The first shots missed, as did April Sherlily's, but the second.... Zack tried not to grin as a full barrage from the Koenig's forward weapons battered the shields on the enemy ship until they collapsed, upon which the followup blasts blasted huge chunks out of the ship until it exploded in a fireball.

The other two ships retorted immediately, and this time Apley couildn't keep them from hitting. The ship rocked violently under them. "Armor is holding, but we took concussion damage to sections of Deck 2," Magda reported.

"Yeah, shield-percing," Zack mumbled. That put them at a distinct advantage, even if he'd gotten in the first hit through being aggressive. "Evasive maneuvers, Apley. Try to give April good shots without opening us up for them."

"Will try to, sir," Apley replied.

The Koenig twisted and turned and shifted around under Apley's control, maneuvers that kept another direct hit from landing on them but allowed several glancing strikes that further degraded their armor. Aplehy couldn't give April a good shot at either of the remaining Jem'Hadar since that would open them up to be hit by the other. This fight isn't in our favor, not when we're literally wasting energy with our shields.... Suddenly Zack had to smile. He smacked the button to open a comm line to Engineeirng. "Derbely! Change of plans!"


"Divert all power from the shields into the engines and weapons and the SIF and IDF, leave only enough to block beaming. I need every volt you can give me!"

Derbely was quiet for a moment, even as Zack realized he'd probably got the unit wrong. Data-infusion or not, he couldn't remember everything. "Diverting every joule, sir," she finally answered.

The Koenig's maneuvering became tighter and her acceleration picked up. "Apley, make it look like we're breaking away to try to run! Full impulse! And get ready for a whiparound!"

"Yes sir... wait, a what?"

"A whip.... Attack Plan Whiskey, Apley, Attack Plan Whiskey!"

Apley nodded in understanding. "I've got you now, sir."

Under Apley's precise control the Koenig broke off from the fight. The Jem'Hadar put their engines to full in trying to keep up with the overpowered engines on the Koenig. "Showing stress in the impulsors, Commander, we can't keep this up...." Derbely's voice was tight with warning.

"Be ready to divert power to the phasers at my mark, Derbely. April, you'll know when to shoot...."

The Jem'Hadar in pursuit were firing into their aft, scoring armor from the ship where Apley couldn't make them miss entirely. "Steady... steady..." Zack felt sweat on his forehead as he looked at the display and the distances. "....now!"

With extra power in the ship's structural support field and inertial dampeners, the Koenig twisted in space harder than even Zack had ever pushed it before. Power flowed into the phasers as Apley lined up the shot for April. She hit her trigger.

Bursts of intense phaser fire erupted from the Koenig's forward emitters. With the extra power the cannons' capacitors recharged more quickly than usual, allowing April to bring the rate of fire up without reducing power in each burst. The Jem'Hadar didn't react in time, plowing their ships straight into the intense barrage. The ship in the lead was torn apart under the barrage and the vessel behind it had its shield stripped away. Another shot erupted from its bow, slicing into Koenig's armor, but April had already triggered the torpedo launchers. The twin torpedoes, looking like sparks of blue-white light, hit the unshielded Jem'Hadar ship straight on. The naqia warheads detonated and the Jem'Hadar ship was blasted apart.

"Any more ships on scope?", Zack asked Magda.

She checked the screens. "None right now."

He let out a breath and hit his intercom button. "Derbely? How long before we get warp and cloak?"

"Depends on what you want first. It could take me hours to get everything back up."

Zack nodded. "Go for the cloak then. We need to hide."


"Magda, get me the Rhine."

Magda nodded and operated her panel. Zack felt his heart sink when he heard the familiar longer chime that said a command wasn't going through. "I can't raise anyone on subspace. There's some kind of large scale jamming effect in the area."

"Dammit." Zack ran his hand through his hair. "Can you boost the power?"

"i've got it as high as I can go already. We can't get through."

I knew they were up to something. Now I have to figure out what this trap was set for.... "Keep an eye out for more attackers then, and let me know the instant we can get a message through." Zack pressed the intercom key for the entire ship. "This is Commander Carrey. We're remaining at combat alert for the time being. I need all trained personnel assisting Chief Derbely in getting our cloak and warp drives back up. We need to hustle everyone." Having said that, he stood up.


"You have the bridge Apley, but you'll probably need to stay at helm."

Apley nodded. "But where are you...?"

"Tom used to drag me into Engineering on the Kelley to make me help him. I'm not an engineer, but I at least know some of the tools and what bolts to put in. I'm going to lend a hand to the repair teams." Zack flashed him a knowing grin. "I did say all trained personnel, after all." With that said he left the bridge.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Robert forced himself to take a breath as Lieutenant Pagagd made his report. "So there's been no contact since Koenig arrived at the distress signal source?"

The Alakin lieutenant flying the Susquehanna moved his head in a fashion similar to the headshake. "Nothing. We can't tell if the signal was terminated at the source or if there is some form of interference."

"Not from a runabout." Robert looked to Julia, who could see what he was thinking. "The Aurora might be able to find out."

"Are you sure about going through?", Julia asked. "Our orders..."

"If Zack stumbled into something, we need to know. He might have been spotted by an invasion fleet, for all we know."


"Signal DS9, tell Eddington we're going through to investigate what's going on, and get our people beamed back over ASAP," Robert ordered Jupap at Ops. "Julia?"

"I'm getting Jarod and Tom back on the bridge," she confirmed.

"Good. We'll need all hands on deck for this one."

Zack leaned over the accessway where one of his engineers, a Dorei man, was working to restore warp power. "Sure you don't need that hyperspanner?"

"Yes sir."

"I'm here to help, Ensign."

"I know sir."

Zack sighed and stood up fully. He looked over and saw Derbely was looking at him intently. Not just intently, but with irritation. He walked up to her. "Chief! Anything you can use me for? I want to help."

"Oh, I've got just the job for you. Over here, sir." Derbely led him to a corner of engineering by the port accessway, and as Zack followed her he realized they were quite far from the rest of the crew. "Commander... honestly, I appreciate the thought, but with all due respect.... go back to the bridge and do your job."

The heat in her voice made Zack wince a little. "Derbely?"

"All you're doing is making my people nervous," she continued. "You might see yourself as just another crew member and want to be all nice and friendly with them, and that's your perogative in the mess or in the ship's halls, but in this situation? Stop trying to be their buddy helping them out! You are their commander. They don't want you hovering over their shoulder, looking like you don't trust us to get the ship repaired. They want you on the bridge, in control of the situation, and out of their hair."

Zack opened his mouth, a protest about to come out. But he stopped at the last moment. "I.... I didn't realize...."

"Of course you didn't. You're not an academy trained officer, you didn't learn this stuff. You made your way as... what, a freedom fighter?"

"Something like that."

"It's different in a service," Derbely continued. "You're here because you've got potential, or at least that's what the higher ups believe. Hell, I do too. But you've got to learn your place here. You're not just another guy on the crew who can do whatever is needed whenever, you're the CO, the commander of this ship. So go command, Zachary, and leave Engineering in my hands. I'd at least like to think I'm damn good at this."

At that Zack had to chuckle lowly and nod. "Yeah, you are. Thanks for the pep talk. I'll head back up."

She watched him disappear around the corner and let out a sigh of relief. Returning to Engineering, she let out a loud, "Alright, everyone, let's get to it. The Commander needs that warp drive up and now! Payao, Dawson, Hackett, I want you on that starboard coupling, Mayai and Whitcomb...."

The wormhole blossomed open and admitted the Aurora to the Gamma Quadrant. On the bridge Robert listened as Julia gave orders to the Rhine and Susquehanna to maintain their current missions and keep Eddington informed of what was going on. "What do you have on long range sensors, Cat?", Julia asked.

Caterina looked over her displays. "Looking... wow. Major distortions in subspace, it looks like a jamming field. This is... I mean, they must have dedicated reactors and emitters hooked up on half the star systems in this sector to power this kind of field..."

"Then we have to find the Koenig and see what they've found." Robert looked over at Julia. "Agreed?"

"I'd prefer not sending the ship deep into Dominion territory without backup."

"I know, Julie. But we're already on the firing line out here, and we need to find out what's going on. Locarno?"

"I have a course laid in for Koenig's last known position," Locarno said. "At maximum warp it's still about five hours out."

"Engage when ready, Mister Locarno." Robert tried to hide his nervousness. This was not in the letter of their orders, but he had nothing else with which to investigate. "All hands, Code Red." As alert klaxons went off around the ship, sending the vessel's nineteen hundred crew to battle stations.

"Engaging warp drives... now."

The Aurora warped away, bound straight for Dominion territory.

"We have warp power," Derbely announced triumphantly over the intercom, reducing the tension on the bridge of the Koenig.

"Good job, Chief. Bridge out." Zack looked to Apley. "Mister Apley... what do you make of this?"


"We get pulled into a trap. But the trap's barely sprung. Three attack ships?"

"I'll remind you, sir, that three such ships blew the hell out of a Galaxy-class starship just a few months ago," Magda reminded him.

"Yeah, but... shouldn't they have gone for a bit more? To make sure they could destroy or board us?" Zack shook his head. "No, something doesn't feel...." His eyes widened. "They needed us for another trap. We're the bait. Apley, get me a course...."

"Sir!" Magda looked intently at her scanner displays. "We have a ship approaching at warp."


"No, warp signature is definitely not Dominion."

Zack nodded. "On screen." When the screen shifted to show the approaching ship, he had to smile. "About damn time."

On the bridge of the Aurora everyone was working quietly while Jarod continued to actively scan and call out to the Koenig. "The jamming is still pervasive across the sector. They must have facilities at half of the sector's star systems to power this field."

"Any sign of the Koenig?"

"Nothing.... wait... I'm getting a warp signature." Jarod checked it. "It matches Koenig."

"Send to the helm, take us there."

"Why isn't Zack cloaked?", Julia asked, a concerned look on her face.

"Maybe he got in a fight and it was damaged?", Cat proposed.

"Either way, we can't take chances. Be ready for anything." Robert looked over to Barnes. "Tom, did anything get decided on the shields?"

"Scotty and I think we have a way to deal with the polaron beams so we can keep them from going through the shields," Barnes answered. "But there's no way to tell for sure, and the power we're going to have to draw will burn out the shield generators in less than half an hour."

"Then let's hope it doesn't come to that." Robert settled his hands on the arms of the chair and tried to keep his heart steady. "Bring us out of warp when we come up on the signature."

The Aurora slowed from warp travel on the outskirts of a star system with at least one Jupiter-sized gas giant and another over half again as large. "I'm not able to get an exact fix on the Koenig," Jarod informed them. "Cat?"

"That star puts out a lot of background radiation," Caterina said. "It's making it hard for me to get scans of the area."

Julia looked to Robert. "Trap."

"Trap," he agreed. "Angel, the moment we see...."

"I've got warp signatures!", Cat shrieked. "There's got to be at least half a dozen...."

The ship suddenly rocked violently. The Jem'Hadar warships loomed on the holo-viewscreen, coming out of a warp jump with weapons blazing. Spears of purplish-white light struck at the engine nacelles of the Aurora, going right through their normal shielding like it wasn't there. The armoring on the exposed nacelles absorbed some of the blow, but an indicator on Barnes' screen went red. "Upper port nacelle just took a direct hit to the plasma chamber, we're leaking plas...."

A Jem'Hadar ship suddenly exploded, blown away by the bow-mounted pulse plasma cannons under Angel's aim. The turreted pulse phasers and the phaser strips lashed out at the ship's attackers, draining and battering shields at all successful hits. But nevertheless the ship rocked violently once more as a Jem'Hadar beam struck the stream of plasma coming from the damaged nacelle. The excited plasma transferred the weapon's energy straight into the nacelle, where an internal explosion went off and knocked it out completely. "Warp drive is offline!", Locarno shouted.

"Tom! The shields, now! Locarno, evasive pattern!"

"Here goes nothing," Barnes mumbled. "Shifting the shields now."

The rocking of the ship subsided and the shields began to take on a purplish hue, making them visible.

"It's working, but the shield generators are showing strain," Barnes warned. "I'm not sure how much longer we can keep this up."

"It'd better be for a while," Caterina warned. "There are more Jem'Hadar ships coming in from the inner system. I'm picking up about fourteen all around."

Robert thought his heart was going to fall out of his feet. "Fourteen?"

"A couple are hanging back with the cruisers, and it's thirteen now... okay, twelve."

Angel flashed a merciless grin, having just put a solar torpedo into one of the Jem'Hadar attack ships weakened by the ship's weapons.

"Let's use the time of immunity we have. Locarno, switch to attack maneuvers, give Angel all of the shots you can." Robert hit the intercom. "Scotty, we need warp, now."

"Ah'm doin' what Ah can, sir. The warp systems have tae be re-aligned tae work with the damaged nacelle."

"Give me a time estimate, Mister Scott!"

"At least half an hour."

"The shield generators don't have that long!", Barnes protested.


"Ah'll dae what Ah can, Captain, but Ah cannae break the laws of physics!"

"This ship routinely breaks the laws of physics," Robert guffawed.

"Ye cannae expect me tae break them all easily, now can ye? Give me as much time as ye can, Ah'll get warp power back!"

"Laurent wants to know when he's getting clearance to launch," Julia said.

Robert bit into his lip. "The fighters' shields will be just a useless, and we will need to run in a hurry anyway. I'll only release the fighters as a last resort."

The Aurora moved quickly for a ship of its size. The smaller Jem'Hadar ships, the same type of attack vessels that had destroyed the U.S.S Odyssey, tried to stay to the sides and away from the deadly bow and aft cannons that had already destroyed one of their number in a single barrage. But even on the sides they had to contend with the pulse phasers and phaser strips, and said weapons were taking their toll.

But there was a larger vessel present, a wide gray shape with its purple-hued nacelles held away and down from the ship. It remained away from the Aurora, and more importantly, its shields were suspiciously down.

Scotty was giving orders when he heard an unfamiliar sound, at least somewhat unfamiliar... even if he quickly realized what was going on. "Computer, seal off Main Engineering Control!", he shouted, forcefields popping into place to lock him and about ten other engineers in place.

The other engineers heard the command and went for cover, which saved most of their lives.

The Jem'Hadar were about the ugliest aliens Scotty had ever seen. Their scaly, horned visages were stolid and terrifying as they finished materializing and began to shoot at the engineers. One fired right at him and Scotty almost flinched even as the bolt, one that would have blasted him in the neck otherwise, dissipated against the forcefield. The Jem'Hadar who shot at him snarled and motioned to the others to secure Engineering. "Bridge, we have boarders!", Scotty shouted into the intercom.

"We know!" was the reply he got from Barnes.

The Jem'Hadar had beamed straight onto the bridge with only a second's warning from Jarod.

A second was all Angel had needed. After confirming automatic fire control she pulled her Darglan-made energy pistol from the holster on her right hip and brought it up toward the nearest column of white light. As soon as the Jem'Hadar materialized she fired, sending a blue pulse into his torso that brought him down. She fired again at the next target and got him too, but the third got out of the way just in time.

Julia sprang to her feet. At the range her pulse pistol was more liability than asset; instead it was her foot doing the damage, a snap kick to one Jem'Hadar's throat that, despite its own fleshy armor, did enough damage to stun the alien. Julia followed that up with a punch to its cheek that sent pain down her arm as well, but which allowed her to get the leverage to grip the Jem'Hadar's firearm and force it toward his fellows. A shot went off and killed one Jem'Hadar aiming for Locarno while the following shots went wide.

Not to be outdone, Robert leapt from his chair and tackled the nearest one as soon as he materialized. His punch had the misfortune of striking the horns on the edge of his foe's cheek ridge, tearing flesh from his knuckles and drawing blood. His second punch streaked crimson fluid over the Jem'Hadar's cheek, whipping it to the side. Weapons fire went off overhead, but he was entirely focused on this Jem'Hadar as its gloved hands gripped his throat. His chest heaved, demanding air, and he threw another punch. When this didn't work, Robert reached desperately for his holster. He felt his vision begin to black out and felt like his windpipe was going to be permanently crushed regardless.

He brought his pistol up to the chin of the Jem'Hadar and pulled the trigger, sending an energy pulse into his skull and killing the alien instantly. The Jem'Hadar's hands went slack and allowed him to pull free. He sucked in air greedily and rolled over.

Angel put another pulse into a Jem'Hadar trying to shoot Julia and turned to see one bringing a blade up at her sister. "Cat!" Before she could shoot, Cat twisted in her chair and grabbed the Jem'Hadar's arm before the polearm could be brought down on her. She wasn't nearly strong enough to hold him, but it did let her bring up her other hand and shoot her own sidearm point-blank into his throat. The Jem'Hadar toppled over onto Cat's panel and then to the floor.

Before Angel could shout a congratulations, a bolt of energy crashed into Cat's shoulder and sent her flying.

Jarod's shouted warning had come a moment too late. Despite some desperate struggles in his time he had never really been a fighter, and it showed as the Jem'Hadar almost shrugged him off before shooting at Caterina; only Jarod's arm pulling on the Jem'Hadar kept the blast from hitting her square in the torso. "Cat!", he screamed, and with renewed desperation he drove his fist into the Jem'Hadar's neck as hard as he could. The alien grabbed him by the chest and threw him away, but was then struck in the side by one of his fellows.

Julia had thrown the Jem'Hadar away to get him off Locarno. She went to go for her gun when she heard Robert cry "Behind you!" and moved... which prevented her from getting impaled by a polearm weapon. It still ripped across her side, tearing fabric and flesh and drawing blood, and she cried out as she stumbled against the conn. She turned and grabbed the polearm below the blade, preventing the Jem'Hadar from driving it into her skull. The alien was strong, too strong, and her arm muscles protested as the blade drew closer.

At about that moment, a shriek of rage filled the bridge. Angel came out from behind tactical with an expression twisted by fury. Her pistol went off, striking the Jem'Hadar trying to kill Julia, and then it claimed the Jem'Hadar that had shot Cat and attacked Jarod. The second to last Jem'Hadar went down to a shot from Barnes, who finally looked up from his station.

The last turned from the slain body of one of the bridge backup officers and leveled his gun at Angel. A bolt of energy went past her and struck the Jem'Hadar in the forehead, killing him instantly.

Having taken the shot, Robert pulled himself back up, having finally regained his breath. "Tom, what happened?", he barked hoarsely.

"That's the damned problem with modifying the Goddamned shields to block specific crap, sometimes it doesn't Goddamn cover the other bands very well," he replied angrily. "They were able to beam through the modified shields."

"Can we block it?" Robert looked around. Angel and Jarod were tending to Caterina and Julia, despite her own bleeding wound, was checking the other officer and verifying he was dead. Damn. I didn't even know that guy's name, Robert thought at seeing the still body on the floor by Secondary Tactical.

"I'm trying to put up a Goddamned magnetic field with the tertiary generators, hopefully the bastard will work or we'll be up to our necks in those Goddamned hornheads!"

"Status on the rest of the ship? How many boarding teams?"

Julia fell back into her seat. Blood was soaking her trousers now and she looked like she was going a little white, but for the moment she seemed determined to ignore the wound. "They sent boarding parties across the ship. Commander Kane's Marine teams and Meridina's security detachments have swept them from the primary hull areas, but there's still a bunch around Engineering."

Dread seeped into Robert; holding the bridge might be for nothing if Scotty had been overrun. He hit the intercom button. "Engineering. Mister Scott, are you there?! Scotty?!"

"Aye, Ah've got the defense fields up, but these bastards aren't givin' up. We need help down here."

"I'm sending in security. In the meantime do what you can."

The turbolift opened. Leo ran out, his nurse Nasri and three others with him. "Give me room," he barked at Angel, who was cradling her wounded sister.

"Angel, Leo will help her, get back to Tactical," Julia ordered.

Angel did so. And the volume of fire increased as she vented her rage through the firing rate of the ship's weapons.

The Jem'Hadar were busy with a device attached to one of the control stations outside the sealed off area Scotty's defenses had created. They're tryin' tae get intae the interuniversal drive schematics and systems!, he realized, seeing how their hacking device was operating. He relayed the information through the ship's systems to Jarod, knowing the savant Pretender was better at dealing with computer threats than he was. Instead he was throwing his efforts into setting up internal systems to jam any data links the Jem'Hadar had outside the ship, preventing them from transferring any stolen data. He glanced at the shield readings; the generators were starting to become overstrained repelling not just the full force of the Jem'Hadar ships' attacks but maintaining the particle flow that kept the shields from being pierced by the polaron beams. And once that field was gone... all the jamming in the world wouldn't keep the Jem'Hadar from simply beaming back to their ship with the data.

The Jem'Hadar seemed to be consolidating themselves in Engineering, as more were showing up in the area on the internal scanners. Scotty watched groups blip out here and there as life signs depicting the security teams and Marines moved in. But he wasn't sure they'd get here quickly enough.

And then one signal went straight down one of the main access corridors toward the Engineering section. In seconds four Jem'Hadar blips winked out. And it kept coming. Who in blazes?

When the life sign arrived, Scotty looked up and recognized the ship's security chief, Commander Meridina. She was wearing light body armor of some sort, hued dark purple, with a blue robe over it, and her rank insignia affixed to the armor's neck area. There was no firearm in either hand, simply a... sword?

Her hand reached out and two Jem'Hadar went flying like they'd been slammed by an aircar. Scotty watched in amazement as she brought her hand up again and, with a hint of effort in her lovely features, sent another pair flying. The other Jem'Hadar all turned toward her and fired, but she had already moved away from her prior position with a speed that looked almost superhuman. Her blade sang in the air and met the shots from their rifles, causing them to ricochet away. One even slammed into another Jem'Hadar, killing him instantly.

With a jump off one of the framing walls for a naqia reactor space, Meridina was suddenly in melee range of most of the remaining Jem'Hadar. As she hit the ground the Jem'Hadar nearest her flew backward, struck by more invisible force, and as for the others... her blade was lethally precise as it sliced through armor and flesh. No movement was wasted, slashes into enemies seeming to pre-empt the attacks of others so she could deflect their shots away and protect herself. When two got out of her sword's range Meridina brought her hand up and sent them flying into the bulkheads.

It seemed like only ten seconds had passed, and every Jem'Hadar in Main Engineering was dead. Meridina looked to him and nodded. "Commander Scott, you are unhurt?"

For a moment he couldn't find his voice. For all he'd seen in his years on the Enterprise, the Multiverse still seemed to find ways to surprise him. "Aye, lass," he finally managed. "Ye've got tae remove their computer device, they're goin' for the IU drive!"

She said nothing and looked to the device they'd fixed to the computer. Meridina brought her hand up and concentrated; the device was torn away from where it had been fixed and flew toward her, allowing her to slice it in half with her blade. This done, Meridina actually fell to a knee and closed her eyes for a moment. "Are ye okay?", Scotty asked.

"I am.... fine. I am merely fatigued from using so much of my life force so quickly," she replied.

He nodded.... and then the ship shook violently under them. He looked over in time to see that one of the shield generators had failed.

The Dominion fire was breaching the shields again.

The Aurora was surrounded, a great beast beset on all sides by lesser creatures trying to pull it down. But she was not going quietly. Under Angel's aim the ship's plentiful arrays and pulse cannons were punishing the Jem'Hadar attack vessels swarming them. Despite her great size she turned with surprising speed, bringing her forward battery to bear on one Jem'Hadar vessel finishing an attack run. The Jem'Hadar pilot tried to get out of the firing arc but was a second too slow; thick bursts of sapphire energy erupted from the bow emitters on the Aurora and blanketed the Jem'Hadar ship, turning it into a white fireball in a second.

"We just lost Primary Generator 2," Barnes informed everyone on the bridge. "Secondary generators are taking extra strain. If we don't swap back to normal configuration soon we're going to lose them all."

"And if we do that.... our shields might as well not be up," Julia retorted weakly.

Robert looked over at her with concern, seeing she was getting paler. Blood still seeped from her wound despite all attempts to staunch it. "You should get to the medbay," he whispered to her.

"After we know the ship is fine," Julia hissed in response.

The ship rocked again. "Those big ships are hanging off," Angel growled. "And their shields are still down."

"They'll go up the moment we move toward them." Robert put his hands together. "Locarno! Full ahead on the main contacts, I don't care if you have to run the small guys over!"

"Aye sir!"

The Aurora made another turn, her aft plasma cannons firing and blasting another Jem'Hadar attack ship to pieces through its weakened shields. Torpedoes erupted from the aft launcher and caught another Jem'Hadar ship moving to chase while those on the sides, seeking to get in the ship's way and corral them, were given full salvoes from the bow launchers as well as the pulse cannon turrets and phaser strips. One ship, struck several times from the latter, nevertheless got in front of them and looked like it would force them to plow through the ship. Angel was quick on the trigger, blasting the Jem'Hadar ship to nothingness with the pulse plasma cannons.

The cannons rested only a moment before they blazed to lifeagain, their sapphire fury slamming into the freshly-raised shields of one of the Jem'Hadar cruisers. The two ships began to maneuver while the attack ships continued to pour fire into Aurora, having it returned by the amidships' weapon emplacements. One Jem'Hadar ship burst into flames as its shields failed.

The big ships engaged fully now, their beam weapons slamming into Aurora's modified bow shields. The ship shook violently under the barrage. "Primary Generator 6 is out!", Barnes shouted. "The strain on the secondaries is burning them out, swapping to tertiary!"

"Aren't we using the tertiaries for..."

"I'm keeping a couple active for the magnetic field, but that just makes the rest worse."


"I'm trying to kill them as fast as I can!"

Robert looked back to the holoscreen and saw another barrage from the forward cannons continue to strip the shielding from one of the cruisers. A spread of solar torpedoes began impacting on the same shields, but the last met nothing before it slammed into the bow of the Jem'Hadar ship. The explosion blasted out entire sections of the enemy's ship along the bow, but it didn't kill it. As fire from the other bow-facing weapon emplacements converged on the cruiser, some lashing out instead at the second cruiser, both fired torpedoes of their own. White drive fields covered the projectiles as they moved across the distance, being met halfway by the point-defense particle interceptors. Bursts of blue energy hit the torpedoes and detonated some.

But only some.

The Aurora shuddered once more, the violence of the rocking growing until the unmanned ship status console on the bridge rear even went off with a shower of sparks from feedback in the system. Red indicators appeared on Barnes' display. "Primary 3 is out! Rob, the strain on the secondaries is too much! I need to trigger the shields back to normal or we're losing the entire system!"

And then they can beam in at will. Robert switched the intercom over to Engineering. "Scotty! We need warp power now!"

"Ah need more time, Captain!"

"We're out of time, Scotty!"

"Then make more, sir!"

Robert cursed under his breath as the ship rocked hard. There was real panic in Barnes' voice when he spoke again. "Rob! It's got to be now! I've done all I can, the shielding system is on the verge of overload!"

"Do it," he murmured. "Locarno, evasive maneuvers!"

"I'll do what I can."

Given the ship's size and despite its agility, Robert wasn't sure it'd be enough. The rocking underneath him got worse and Jarod was quick to confirm that the Dominion weapons were ignoring their normal shield setting. "We're taking damage on multiple decks in the forward hull.. Starboard scoring..."

"They're going to start focusing on our nacelles again," Angel pointed out.

"And then we'll be crippled. Angel, do what you..."

"I'm trying dammit." There was clear frustration on her face; for all her shots were effective, it was clear that they might not be enough. This was punctuated when beams from the cruisers sliced into their forward hull. As the ship continued to shift beneath them, Angel bellowed, "I've lost Turret D in the fore section!"

Scotty, any time....

"New contacts!", Jarod suddenly shouted.

Robert felt his gut twist with dread, anticipating the Dominion was bringing in fresh reinforcements to put them down for good.

But then the cruiser in front of them exploded.

Pulse phaser fire converged on the aft of the Dominion cruiser, and with its shields focused on the bow to deal with the Aurora's punishing weaponry there was little to stop the bursts of amber energy from blasting into hull. Blue and blue-white energy fields heralded the firing of torpedoes that slammed into these wounds. The Dominion warship disappeared in a burst of white energy from its aft.

On the bridge of the Koenig, Zack Carrey let out a war whoop into the open comms. "We got 'em!" He grinned and looked to one partition on his viewscreen.

Commander Benjamin Sisko had his own thin smile from the bridge on the U.S.S. Defiant. "I'll go right, you go left."

"You heard the man, Apley," Zack said, the grin not disappearing from his face.

The Koenig and the Defiant split away from the scattering debris of the dead cruiser and went after the attack ships harrying the Aurora on each side. Amber energy punished the Jem'Hadar from all sides and solar and quantum torpedoes were fatal once their shields were compromised. The attack ships began to pull away, regrouping and dealing with the new threats that had appeared.

This left the surviving cruiser to face the full fury of the Aurora. Its beams scored more hits on the Aurora's armored hull, sending gouts of flame and debris erupting in two points where it penetrated the armor and breached the hull. The Aurora retorted with a fresh barrage of thick sapphire bursts from its six forward pulse cannons. The shields on the Jem'Hadar cruiser were already slightly weakened from the ongoing battle; facing this firepower for the first time they began to flicker. Phaser beams and pulses played over them from the Aurora's plethora of bow-facing armament. On the bridge Angel allowed herself a feral smile as she fired both bow launchers with full torpedo spreads. The pulse plasma cannons thundered again, weakening the cruiser's shields further, and the torpedoes slammed into those shields until they finally buckled. The Aurora's weapons began to draw blood as well, creating its own plumes of fire along the dark gray hull of the Jem'Hadar ship. The capital phaser arrays were retargeted under Angel's control; the Aurora quickly returned the favor from the beginning of the battle by slicing into the Jem'Hadar cruiser's warp nacelle. After several shots it exploded violently.

The Jem'Hadar attack ships were faring no better. The Jem'Hadar could not get away, and attempts to counterattack led to exposing themselves to the attack of the second ship. One attack ship twisted away from Koenig and moved right into the Defiant's moving firing arc. The Defiant's phasers blew off the ship's starboard nacelle, allowing Koenig to finish it off with a barrage into the crippled vessel's main body.

"Looks like the Aurora crippled that surviving cruiser," Magda reported. "We've only got two contacts left..." Another burst of phaser fire flashed on the screen. "Make that one. It looks like they're breaking away and back toward the Aurora. Wait... I'm reading a surge in the warp drive!"

"They're going to warp-ram the Aurora," Zack realized. He re-opened the comm line to Defiant. "Are you..."

"We're on it," Sisko assured him. On the screen, the Defiant pulled up on the Jem'Hadar ship's rear and let loose with its full weapon complement. The Jem'Hadar ship's shields failed under the onslaught and a torpedo took out its port nacelle. As it shifted to starboard, flame and plasma flowing from its trunucated pylon, Apley lined up the Koenig on the crippled ship. April Sherlily was quick to the trigger; phaser fire converged with that of the Defiant and the Jem'Hadar ship exploded.

"Put me on with the Aurora," Zack ordered Magda. When he saw Robert appear on his screen beisde Sisko, he asked, "Are you alright?"

"We could be better, but it's a good thing you showed up when you did." Robert seemed to shift his view. "Commander Sisko?"

"Captain Dale."

"I'm guessing that the Dominion didn't say anything about making peace?"

"They made it fairly clear they're not interested in anything but taking over the Alpha Quadrant," Sisko confirmed.

"They've made it pretty damn clear to me. We're moments away from warp power. We're going to be limited to... warp factor 8, according to my engineer, on account of our damaged nacelle. Can the Defiant match it?"

"We'll be right beside you."

"Good. Zack, Commander, thanks for the rescue. Aurora out."

Both disappeared from the screen. Apley brought the Koenig up to the [i}Aurora[/i]'s port, Sisko's ship on the starboard. "Keep an eye out just in case they want round two," Zack said, his grin finally straightening as the exhuberance of the moment faded. "Stand the crew down to Code Yellow."

"Aye sir," Apley answered.

"Status of that cruiser?", Robert asked.

Jarod checked his displays. "Their shields are collapsed, weapons are offline. They're trying to accelerate toward us but their impulse engines aren't working at full capacity, they can't overtake us at impulse."

"Hopefully..." Robert let the remark trail off. His hand went to the overused Engineering intercom button. "Zack and Commander Sisko got you that time, Scotty."

"Ah owe the lad some Scotch," was the reply. "Warp power is coming back online... now."

An indicator on Locarno's board lit up. "Setting course for the wormhole, warp 8."

"Take us home, Nick."

"Taking us home, sir."

Robert allowed himself a breath of relief as the familiar thrum of the warp drives engaging filled the bridge. The streak distortions of warp speed appeared on the screen. "Keep up sensor sweeps for more Dominion ships, just in case they're going to come for us again. And get a message to the Rhine as quickly as possible to alert DS9 that the Defiant is with us."

"Doing so now," Jarod answered.

Content that everything was handled, Robert said, "And now for...." and looked over toward Julia. He stopped midsentence when he looked at her.

Julia's eyes were barely open and she was slumped to the right in the chair. Blood was dripping onto the bridge carpet around the arm of her chair; the entire side of the chair and her uniform were soaked with the blood flowing from her wound. Panic swelled inside him and he slammed the intercom again, this time to Transporter Control. "This is Captain Dale, beam Commander Andreys to the medbay now! Emergency intra-ship beam!"

The edge of the Dominion frontier and the relatively open space around the wormhole came up before things had settled enough that Jarod could take the bridge and allow Robert to get to the medbay. Signs of combat appeared along some areas, with walls scorched by energy blasts and some dried blood on the insulation carpet floors, as Robert made his way to the main medbay on Deck 12, just behind the center of the primary hull. The medical staff was still checking on injured crew and he made certain to stay out of their way.

And then there were the beds with the sheets covering their occupants, a grim reminder that he'd lost people. He knew some had joined his mission after being rescued from plantations or labor camps or ghettos, the others had signed up for service in the new Alliance, inspired by the birth of the Multiversal Age that he had played such a crucial role in. They had put their faith in him and he had failed them.

Despite this, those who were awake saluted or nodded or otherwise showed.... support? Understanding? He wanted to apologize but bit it back. It'd sound hollow.

As the doubts of whether he'd made the right decision circulated in his head, Robert made eye contact with Leo. He was finishing up an examination of Caterina, with Angel sitting beside her and holding her hand. Her shoulder looked fine now, though the light bronze skin was now showing through a hole in her uniform. Both sisters looked up at him and nodded. It was a reminder of what else he might have lost.

"She's over here," Leo told him. He led Robert to the bed that Julia was laying on. She was awake, surprisingly, and the wound was closed up. Her features had regained some color. "We're safe?"

"At Warp 8 we're still about eighty minutes out from the wormhole," Robert told her. "But we don't have any Dominion forces on sensors. The Susquehanna already went through and informed DS9 and Admiral Maran of what happened and that we are on our way back."

"Good." Julia reached out and took his hand. "Stop feeling guilty."


"I can see it in your eyes. You're blaming yourself." She shook her head. "You can't help blaming yourself each time something like this happens."

"It was my call, Julie, and look at how many people it hurt."

"It's part of the job," she reminded him. "It's what we do out here. You should be getting used to it by now."

"I don't know if I ever will," he admitted.

"You look like hell."

"Says the woman who nearly bled to death on the bridge from pure stubborness," Robert retorted.

Julia smiled weakly. "Yeah." She took in a breath. Her green eyes twinkled with mischief. "By the way, sir, as your First Officer I feel compelled to remind you that you have departmental after-action reports to review and sign and your own report and log to write."

That prompted a sigh, even if Robert smiled in the process. "Between the risk of getting blown up and seeing my crew die and all the paperwork, tell me why I do this job again?"

"Because..." Her smile grew a little. "It's our home now. And you like exploring the Multiverse."

"Not as much as Caterina," he joked, but he couldn't defy what she said. "Get better, Julie. I'll need someone to keep me from skimping on the paperwork."

"You better believe it," she promised.

Ship's Log: 15 January 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. The Aurora and our accompanying vessels have returned to Deep Space Nine without further attacks by the Dominion. Repairs to the ship are proceeding smoothly and we expect to have everything in working order over the next couple of days. Lieutenant Caterina Delgado has already been cleared to return to light duty and I expect Commander Andreys will be ready to resume her post shortly.

We weren't all that lucky. The
Aurora crew took ninety-four casualties in the battle, with thirty-eight fatalities. Every Jem'Hadar who boarded was killed in the fighting. Their remains are currently in quarantine and await a final decision by Alliance Command for their disposition.

Despite the losses, I have to admire how the crews of the
Aurora and Koenig have come through this incident. This was our first major combat as a crew and we survived it. The Dominion won't forget this black eye very soon.

Robert had gone over everything in his report. His decision to go into the Gamma Quadrant to investigate, his decision to not launch fighters in the attack, his tactical decisions. On his viewscreen Admiral Maran had listened quietly as he took full responsiblity for the losses. The wolf-haired Gersallian admiral waited for him to finish before asking, "And what would you do differently now?"

Robert paused. "Well, sir.... I would have been more circumspect with the approach to the fake power signature. If I had come out of warp outside the system and run a full scan, we might have caught the trap before the Jem'Hadar could warp-jump us."

"A more cautious approach, though given the nature of the trap I think the Dominion would have found a counter." Maran drew in a sigh. "Robert..." His switch to Dale's first name indicated he was switching to the mentor role, not the superior officer. "I've gone over your report and Commander Andreys' and Commander Carrey's. You made good decisions. Everything you did had a clear justification under rules of engagement and the orders I sent. You didn't do anything wrong and you need to stop feeling guilty over it. People died, yes. It's never easy to deal with. I've commanded for decades now and I've never found it easy to deal with. Frankly I wouldn't trust a commander who did find it easy, because that's a sign that life is becoming cheap to them. But when you're out there, on the firing line, it's going to happen no matter how good your performance is."

Robert listened to him speak and nodded when he was done. "I understand, sir."

"Good. You're doing fine, Captain, and I want you to keep on that track. As for your orders...." Maran put his hands together. "We don't know what the Dominion's going to do yet. We do have other missions for you, in S5T3 and elsewhere, but for now you're going to stay on station at Deep Space Nine. I'll alert you when things change."

"Understood Admiral."

"Good. Maran out."

The launch deck of the Aurora was filled with the crewmembers from the Aurora, Koenig, Defiant, and Deep Space Nine. Over forty capsules were laid out, the tricolor with torch flag of the United Alliance of Systems laid out over thirty-eight of them and the blue flag with the starfield and crossed olive branches of the United Federation of Planets on the remaining capsules. Master Chief Layarn Maylo, a grizzled old Lushan Dorei veteran of the Dorei Federation's space forces, called the assembled to attention after a nod from Julia.

In front of the capsules was the raised platform that Robert was standing on. His command crew and the officers of the Koenig flanked him to one side. On the other side, Commander Sisko and his senior staff stood in dress uniform, with the Romulan Subcommander who had joined the Defiant's mission in attendance as a matter of protocol. He stepped up and allowed the comm system to channel his voice. "I'm afraid I'm not the best orator. All I can say is... we're here today to mourn our lost friends. They died fighting in a battle that they didn't want, in a conflict they never started, but for a cause they believed in. They hailed from the Allied Systems and the Federation of Planets and they came out here to serve those organizations, to serve Starfleet and the Stellar Navy, because they believed in what these flags stood for. Each one of them was unique. Each had dreams and desires and beliefs that were their own. Each contributed to the diversity that makes the Alliance and the Federation so rich and cibrant. We are diminished by their loss."

He swallowed. "I wish I could say we wouldn't have to do this again. It's easy to forget when you look out at the wonders of space that it's dangerous out here. When we step into space, we're taking the risk that we won't be coming back. It's a price we all have to pay. We owe it to ourselves to be honest about that because..." Robert drew in a breath, remembering older pain in his heart, memories that he cherished and the gulf still in his heart from his lost family. "...because otherwise we're only going to know regret." For a moment he remained silent but, figuring he had nothing else to say, he turned to Sisko. "Commander."

The Federation commander nodded. He cut an impressive figure; a cleanshaven face and thin hair. When he spoke, it was with a strong baritone. "I would like to thank Captain Dale and his crew for proposing this joint service and providing the space for it," he began. "I know many of you have lost friends and comrades that you cherished. I can tell you from hard experience that it never gets easier." The weight of his words made it clear that he was speaking from experience.

Robert listened quietly as Sisko finished his statement, remarking on the need to move on and remarking on what this could mean for the future and the relationship between the Alliance and the Federation. It was rather good, and Robert considered it fairly better than his own.

After Sisko was done, the capsules were taken to EM catapults set up at the rear of the launch deck and the landing bay door. It opened while an honor guard of Commander Kane's Marines provided a gun salute with twenty firearms (accomodation of similar practices by other cultures within the Alliance had led to a compromise number from the tradition of 21 guns that Robert knew). the wail of bagpipes from a Scots crewwoman in the science department gave the familiar tunes of Amazing Grace while a blue-complexioned Dorei interspersed with one of the Dorei remembrance hymns when the Dorei slain were brought up. Chief Maylo read the names of the slain Alliance and Starfleet personnel as the capsules were launched, one by one, into the void. When he got to "Paul Shetty" Robert drew in a breath; he'd found out that the young Ensign was the one fatality in the boarding of the bridge. The one he couldn't name. Now I'll remember that name forever.

When it was all done and over, the crews dispersed. The crew lounge was opened to the visiting DS9 crew and a couple of holodecks were going to be utilized for other gatherings. Robert found Sisko watching quietly as the landing bay door was closed. "I wish we could have met under happier circumstances," he said.

"As do I." Sisko turned and faced him directly; their eyes met easily given the similar heights. "Thank you again for offering to host this ceremony. It will help forge a bond between Starfleet and your Stellar Navy."

"I agree."

Sisko nodded. "You know, I couldn't help but notice some... familiar aspects to the Koenig."

Robert tried not to smile. The Koenig's nacelles might be swept forward a bit and her deflector nose shorter, but she had a clear link to the Defiant. "Carlton thickened her out a bit compared to the scouts we were using," he remarked.

"I considered Captain Farmer a friend," Sisko said.

"As did I. He was a good man."

"Yes. He would be proud of what you've done with his life's work."

The two commanders began to walk off of the launch deck toward one of the turbolifts. "I wish he could have been here," Robert sighed. "I'm tired of losing people I care about."

"It never gets easy," Sisko agreed. "Captain, I hear you're to remain around Deep Space Nine for the time being."

"Yes." Sensing just the slightest bit of an edge to Sisko's voice, not a harsh one but there, Robert quickly added, "If you're worried about me trying to pull rank if things happen, I wasn't given orders justifying it and, honestly, I'm more interested in your advice in any crisis, not issuing you any commands. Even if my rank is higher, Commander Sisko... you've got me beat on seniority by a hundred miles."

"That's good to hear. I'm looking forward to working with you as long as you're here." The two men stepped into a turbolift. "By the way, given what I've heard of your origins..."


"I was wondering..." Sisko looked at him and smiled. "What do you think about baseball?"

So much for the holodeck, Zack thought to himself with a wry grin, even as he heard Caterina squeal, "Dabo!" at the top of her lungs and in perfect rhyme with the well-endowed Bajoran brunette minding the wheel. Around them members of the Aurora, Koenig, and Deep Space Nine crews were milling and celebrating, synthehol and real booze flowing from the Ferengi bartender. Zack looked up from his glass of Saurian brandy and allowed himself a good, long look at the raven-haired Lieutenant Dax as she chatted with Jarod.

"This isn't exactly a private holodeck party, buddy," Barnes mumbled from the stool beside Zack.

"Tell me about it." Zack looked over to where Apley, Derbely, and Sherlily were at a table getting served. "Maybe tomorrow?"

"Are you kidding? Scotty's having me do a partial rebuild on our primary shield generators given all the strain my brilliant plan put them under." Barnes shook his head. "Maybe next time."

"You know...." A new voice entered the conversation. They looked up and saw Quark looking at them. "I give discount rates to serving Starfleet personnel to use my holosuites, if you have a program you want to run I'm more than willing to extend the same rates to you."

Zack looked back to Barnes. "Well, Tom, what do you think?"

"Sure. I can check and see if our programs are compatible."

Before Quark could say it, Zack held out his credit chit. "Go ahead and reserve it. If our programs don't work..."

"Oh, I'm sure they will, and if they don't I have a large library of many...."

"Quark!" Eyes turned to face two new figures, recognized as Chief O'Brien and Doctor Bashir. "How many holosuites are open?," O'Brien asked.

"One," Quark answered. "Which I'm afraid these gentlemen have reserved." He looked to Zack and Barnes.

Bashir looked crestfallen. "I've been looking forward to running this Battle of Britain holoprogram..."

Barnes' face lit up. "Wait, did you say 'Battle of Britain'?"

"Well, yes."

"And you've got a hologame of it? Nice! I grew up playing 'Finest Hour' on my family's PC, but that doesn't hold a candle to what a good holodeck can do." Barnes looked down at Zack. "Hey, Zack, I know you take to piloting spaceships more, but wouldn't this be cooler? Flying around old World War 2 prop fighters and shooting Nazis, it can't get better than that!"

"It's their holoprogram though," Zack pointed out.

Bashir and O'Brien looked at each other. "I don't know, Julian. What do you think about bringing a couple of Eagle Squadron lads along with us?"

"The more the merrier," Bashir answered. "We'll need all the help we can if we're going to keep Jerry out of England's skies."

"I guess we have our program picked then," Zack said, standing up. He and Barnes let the two DS9 officers take the lead toward the top floor and the holosuites there. For a moment, going up the stairs, Zack looked out over Quark's and smiled. It would be great if we stayed here a while, he thought to himself.

"C'mon, the Jerries are waiting!", he heard Barnes call out, prompting him to continue walking.

Meridina was sitting across from Odo in the security office. Lieutenant Draynal and Ensign Liton were standing by the door, both security chiefs looking at them while one of Odo's subordinates stood beside him. "There was nothing in the area," Draynal reported before looking at Liton. "Except Ensign Liton, who was supposed to be off-duty."

"Sorry, Commander," Liton apologized. "But I overheard you and Lieutenant Lucero and thought I might give the area a quick check."

"You know it's a violation of protocol to go on an investigation alone without authorization," Meridina pointed out.

"Well, we're on a space station ma'am, what's the worse that can happen?", Liton asked.

"On this station?" Odo made a "harumph" sound. "Anything." He looked over the PADD. "I'm not sure why you were in that section, all of our security scanners are clear."

"Lieutenant Lucero expressed concerns about the area, I thought it warranted a look," Meridina answered. "I did not mean to infringe, Constable."

Odo nodded. "I have no objections, Commander. Was anything found?"

"Nothing," the Bajoran deputy, a Bajoran named Pakos, said.

"Yes," Draynal agreed. "Your man Pakos joined me on the examination. The only thing we found was Ensign Liton."

"I was just doing some scans, but I didn't find anything too strange. Minor organic residues that could be years old."

"Then it was nothing," Odo said. "I'll keep your reports on file regardless. Commander, I would like to arrange a direct link to your office on the Aurora."

"I will arrange one." Meridina stood. "I wish you well, Constable Odo. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Constable."

Odo's reply was in a pleasant tone. "The same to you, Commander."

Meridina filed out with her security people. "Lieutenant, beam back to the ship with Ensign Liton," Meridina said. "I'll be with you shortly."

They walked off. As they did so, Meridina felt a sudden sense of intense dread. She looked around, wondering where that sense had come from. Something is wrong, she thought to herself. Something is dreadfully wrong.


Julia was standing on the second level of Quark's, a little buzzed from the springwine provided by Quark. Her side still felt a little itchy from the dermal regeneration treatments but Leo's healing had done its job. She looked over the rail and saw Caterina squeal "Dabo!" again, gathering her winnings as Quark glowered from the bar. Angel was sitting at a nearby table with Leo, both laughing and cheering Cat.

Moving her eyes along to take in the scene, Julia looked out on the Promenade and saw Robert standing alone at the rail overlooking the first level, his eyes fixed on the window. The Aurora was sitting there while, behind it, the wormhole plumed open to let a runabout through as part of their watch.

She walked up beside him. "Beautiful sight, isn't it?"

"Yeah," he said.

Juliea leaned her head against his shoulder. "Feeling better?"

"I am. The service was a great idea. I gave full credit to you when Sisko asked."

She smiled thinly. "That was honest of you." They remained silent, observing their ship through the window quietly. "Maybe this will be a sign of things to come."

"What do you mean by that?", Robert asked.

"Look at us." Julia motioned. "We're here. On a space station, watching a tunnel to the other side of the galaxy. We took on an old and powerful alien empire and gave them a bloody nose. Our crew is in there mixing it up with DS9's crew."

"Yeah. Speaking of that, I may need you to take tomorrow's second shift."


"Sisko wants to see a baseball game. I'm going to invite him to the Aurora so we can run a holo-viewing of one of the baseball games in D3R1."

"Oh, clever." Julia smirked. "Well, Robby, I suppose that since I was on my ass for a couple of days I can give you a night off."

"Thank you," he answered, chuckling afterward. Looking into her green eyes, seeing her lips formed in a smirk that was becoming a grin, Robert tried not to sigh. His ribs suddenly ached, but the memory that made them do so was a good one. He could remember the Kansas dirt, the collapsing mound... and Julia's lips pressed to his. She's my friend. She's the most important person in the cosmos to me, was his thought, even if they hadn't done anything afterward... would not do anything, honestly. The relationship he had with Julia was so much more than anything that could be romantic; it was born of a lifetime of shared triumphs and shared grief.

"Come on," Julia suddenly said, grabbing his arm. "Tomorrow we go back to work, but we still have the night to celebrate."


"This." She waved her hand around the Promenade. "This entire new life."

Robert nodded. "Well, since you put it that way..."

He let her lead him back into Quark's.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


Warped space zoomed by the Starship Enterprise as it raced through interstellar space at high speed. On the bridge of the Federation vessel, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his command crew were in their places on the new main bridge that Starfleet had installed on the ship, with darker lighting and consoles along the sides. "Status, Mister Data?"

At Ops, Data was prompt in replying. "The Summer Lily is still five minutes from open space."

"They are still transmitting a distress signal," Worf added from Tactical. "I am detecting several Cardassian attack craft pursuing the vessel."

Riker leaned forward in his chair. "Will they overtake the Lily before it gets out of the DMZ?"

"Yes," Data answered.

Picard drew in a sigh. "Which means we can't do anything about it."

"We are receiving a message from the Cardassian ships," Worf pronounced. "They say that they are pursuing Maquis and request that the Enterprise not intervene."

"I suppose it is possible," Riker murmured. "But a lot of innocent colonists have been trying to get out of the DMZ."

"And the Cardassians will not be very discerning. But our standing orders are clear." Picard sighed. "If we intervene it would violate the treaty with Cardassia."

"Perhaps we could convince the Cardassians to allow us to inspect the ship and its occupants?", Troi asked.

"I think we both know the response we will get." Picard frowned and stood, straightening his uniform as he usually did. "Commander Data, open a channel to the Cardassians, I will try...."

He was interrupted by Data. "Captain, new contact, bearing 349 mark 103. They are on an intercept course toward the Lily and will intercept in forty seconds."

Picard tried not to wince. "Alliance space," he murmured.

"What are they doing here?", Riker asked rhetorically.

"Mister Data, can you get an identification on the new vessel?"

Data looked over his display. "It is not close enough to put onscreen." A 2D plot map showing a slice of space containing all of the relevant vessels appeared. Picard's jaw clenched as the indicator coming from Alliance territory crossed over into the DMZ. "The warp signature and size of the vessel indicates it is a Dorei Starbird, Layama-class."

"One of their cruiser-type ships," Riker recalled in a murmur.

"Hail them, Mister Data."

Data tapped several keys on his panel. "No response, Captain."

"The Dorei vessel has taken up position beside the Lily." Worf touched a couple more keys. "They have extended shields."

Picard watched as the indicators for the Cardassian attack craft drew nearer. They came out of warp in proximity to the other ships. "The Cardassians are hailing the Dorei vessel." Data allowed more information to come in. "The Dorei have replied."

"Can you put them on speaker?"

A moment later a voice came over their speakers. "...of the Cardassian forces. We demand that you withdraw your protection from the Maquis terrorists immediately."

A somber male voice answered. "I know your kind and your brutality, Cardassian. I will not give these innocent souls over for your torturers."

"You are in violation of the De-Militarized Zone and protecting an enemy of Cardassia, we demand..."

"Demand all you like, butchers. I swear to the Supreme Being that the only thing I shall give you is the output of the Mayala's plasma cannons."

"Put me on an open channel," Picard insisted. When Data confirmed he was on, he stood and spoke. "This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation...."

"Sir, they have opened fire", Worf reported.

On the screen icons showed torpedo and weapons fire between the ships. One by one the Cardassian attack craft began to wink out, although a number of torpedoes came down on the icon of the Dorei ship. "I am detecting damage to the Mayala," Data said. "It looks like a photon torpedo penetrated their shields."

"And the Cardassians?", Riker asked. As he asked another of their craft icons winked out.

"Three vessels destroyed or crippled, three still intact.... I am detecting a warp core explosion from one. Their drives are coming online..." On the screen the two remaining Cardassian icons suddenly disappeared. "They have gone to warp."

"Is the Mayala pursuing?", Picard asked.

"Negative. They are coming about on a course back to Alliance territory. The Summer Lily is following."

"Put me back on, Data." He took in a breath. "This is Captain Picard of the Enterprise to Dorei vessel. You have violated the De-Militarized Zone. We insist..."

The screen shifted to show the Dorei ship's bridge. It was primarily blue, with purples and teals and some greens mixed in. The Dorei in the middle of the screen was of slender build. His uniform was predominately blue with purple trim and green symbols on the arms and chest; his skin was a vibrant, though not deep, purple, with blue spotting along his forehead that made Picard think of a Trill. Dark teal hair was cut long and in a ponytail arrangement at the back. Purple eyes looked back at them with distaste. "I am Captain Jagal Potana of the Dorei Star Forces. I do not answer to moral cowards, Picard."

"You violated sovereign space and opened fire on Cardassian starships, Captain Potana. Are you trying to start a war between your Alliance and Cardassia?"

"I acted to protect innocent beings from savagery, there is no higher cause in the eyes of the Supreme Deity. If the Cardassians wish to make war with us, then we shall make war and smash them with the aid of Providence. I will say no more to cowards. Mayala out." The signal terminated.

"Shall we intercept?", Riker asked.

Picard shook his head. "The last thing this situation needs is more shooting. Mister Data, get me Starfleet Command."

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Matter of Principles"

Personal Log, 7 February 2641; Commander Julia Andreys, First Officer of ASV Aurora. The Aurora remains on station at Deep Space Nine for the moment. We haven't heard anything from the Dominion since our battle with them last month and everything around the station has been peaceful. The crew has enjoyed the downtime, taking shore leaves on DS9 and mingling with the station's crew. I'm left wondering how long we have until we're called away.

Julia grunted with effort, absorbing several punches and kicks from Angel Delgado, her friend and the ship's tactical officer, with her aching forearms. The two young women circled each other, wearing sports bras and shorts matching their service colors - red for Julia, olive brown for Angela - with gloves and guards on their hands, forearms, shins, and faces; plastic guards for their teeth rounded out the accoutrements. Crew from Aurora were gathered and watching them spar as they had sparred for years and in what was now a previous life.

Angel, as always, was on the offensive, and Julia weathered the storm patiently, dodging or blocking punches and kicks until she saw an opening. Her gloved fist was a blur when one opening was finally made by an attempted right hook by Angel. The punch landed squarely in her belly with enough force to make Angel double, opening her up to a left hook that stunned her and allowed Julia to land a swift roundhouse that sent her to the ground. Before Angel could recover Julia knelt over her and pinned her shoulders to the mat with her knees, straddling her in the process. Had they been fighting seriously Angel's face would have been vulnerable to repeated punches; instead Julia slid off after a couple of seconds and removed her mouthguard. "So much for two out of three." She smiled wickedly. "Three out of five?"

"Oh, I wish," Angel grumbled. "Losing like this... damn, I need to pay more attention to my training." She accepted Julia's offered hand. "For someone who almost bled out on the bridge a few weeks ago, you're back in top form."

"The miracles of modern medicine." Julia smiled and put an arm around Angel's shoulders. "So, making any friends? It seems everyone's been making friends over on DS9."

"Nobody really my type," Angel answered.

"Really? I figured you'd get along with Major Kira at least. You both love hitting things." Julia shook her head. "You know, Valentine's Day is in a week. Everyone's going to be looking for dates."

"I'm not interested in that right now," Angel said. Left unsaid was that the one person she was most interested in was the same one she knew she'd never have a stable relationship with; their captain and mutual friend Robert Dale. "What about you?'

"Well... if we're still here, I might have something."

"Oh?" Angel smiled. "Let's see.... Sisko's probably a bit too old for you and has a kid, O'Brien is married, Odo is a changeling.... Oh... let me guess, it was the accent."

Julia blinked. "Accent?"

"The doctor over there," Angel continued. "The one with that sexy English accent. He's charmed you into a date hasn't he?"

A slight blush came to Julia's cheeks. "Well... I'm not sure 'charmed'...."

"Oh, so more than that." Angel's smile became mischievous. "So, is it just a checkup? Or maybe a full exam?" She let out a giggle at Julia's playful glare.

"I can take you back to the ring and kick your ass again if you want," Julia threatened mockingly.

"As flustered as you are? I'd have you on the mat, girl," Angel retorted.

"Oh yeah, why don't we go and find...."

There was a loud chirp over the gym's intercom speakers. "Bridge to Commander Andreys," they heard Lieutenant Nick Locarno say. "We've received a top priority message from Command. It's marked for you and Captain Dale only."

"Oh, that sounds good." Angel shook her head. "You owe Admiral Maran for saving you from a pummeling, Julie. Catch you later." She walked off toward the showers.

Julia drew in a breath to sigh, using the moment to stick her tongue out at Angel. She pulled off her right forearm guard and revealed her multi-device below. She pressed the comm button to respond to the Bridge's open channel. "Alright, Nick, relay it to my quarters. I'll take a look before I get into the shower."

Photons and environmental systems mimicked the bright sun of Sol on a cloudless day. The artificial sunlight brought warmth to the open field of grass and a dirt diamond; a baseball field. Standing on the mound, old memories of sports glory flashed through Zachary Carrey's mind before he wound his arm up and gave a pitch.

The ball went a little high and then down. A bat swung out for it... and was half a second too late. "Dammit!" Despite the curse, Ben Sisko's face curled into a smile. "I've created a monster, haven't I?", his baritone voice called out.

"Got me back into shape," Zack answered, twisting his arm. "But you might want to blame the catcher."

Behind Sisko, his son Jake stood and adjusted his catcher's chest piece. "Sorry, Dad."

"You know your old man's batting too well," Sisko scolded mockingly, but the smile never vanished from his face.

"Now for the next batter." Zack smiled and looked off to the side. His baseball uniform had a styilized version of the Aurora on it, much as Sisko's and Jake's had DS9. "C'mon Rob, it's your turn at bat."

Robert Dale grimaced and stepped up, wearing the same uniform as Zack. He held his bat up. "This wasn't really my sport as much as your's."

"Yes, Mister Wideout, you prefer to catch pigskins."

"Pigskin?", Jake asked.

"American rules football," Robert answered. "I played a couple of years in high school as a wide receiver. Not the best, honestly..."

"I told you you should've been an outfielder."

"Getting to play in the minors went to your head," Robert retorted.

Zack smirked. "Alright, Rob, get ready for your strikeout."

Chuckling lowly, Robert stood in his batter's box and swung his bat around. The first pitch was a curveball that barely moved through the box, but yet it did, so his failure to swing for it was a strike. After getting the ball back from Jake Zack switched to a low pitch that Robert almost clipped. Sisko let out a chuckle from where he was standing. "C'mon, we've got to get a hit on him sometime today!"

"I didn't see you do so well," Robert retorted. He brought the bat up to try again, with all the resignation of a condemned prisoner.

Reprieve came when Deep Space Nine's comm system echoed in the holosuite. "Ops to Commander Sisko," they heard Major Kira say.

"What is it, Major?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Commander, but Starfleet Command has a prority message coming in for you."

Sisko frowned. "I'll be right...."

Robert's wrist device chimed. He took his left hand off the bat and pressed the comm reception button. "Dale here."

Julia's voice came through the other end. "Rob, I've got a message from Admiral Maran you need to see. We're standing by to beam you back immediately."

"This is a set-up, isn't it?", Zack grumbled from the pitcher's mound. "You're both getting out of it." The look on his face showed he was just grumbling; if anything the timing was suspicious and worrying.

"Give me a moment." Robert looked to Sisko. "I don't like this timing."

"Neither do I." Sisko looked to Jake. "Come on, Jake, you've got to back to our quarters."

"Lock on to my signal and Zack's," Robert said into the comm. "Beam us over when ready."

Sisko gave the order to end the program, replacing the beautiful baseball field with the interior of a holosuite. A moment later Robert and Zack were pulled away by the Aurora's transporter.

The command crews of the Aurora and Koenig were gathered in the Aurora's main conference room on Deck 2 when Maran's signal came in. "I wish I had time for pleasantries," Maran began. "But we have no time. In just a few days, the Allied Systems may be at war with the Cardassian Union."

An oppressive silence filled the room. "Admiral, what happened?", Robert asked, breaking that silence before it became too heavy. "Why would the Cardassians be targeting us?"

"Two days ago, we lost contact with one of the starbirds the Dorei sent to Horizon, the Mayala under Captain Jagal Potana. The Mayala was assigned to take up part of your old patrol route, the one facing the DMZ. We dispatched ships to investigate." Maran leaned forward. "Yesterday morning, the Federation's Enterprise found her. Mayala entered the De-Militarized Zone and protected a refugee ship from Cardassian attack craft pursuing her."

"Given our own run-in a couple of months ago, I'm not confident that the Cardassians really know who is and isn't a Maquis," Robert muttered. "Still... what was Potana thinking?"

"I think I remember Potana, he was one of the Dorei dignitaries who visited the Facility," Julia said. "He was a.... Lurala Dorei?"

"Correct. The Lurala are descendants of Sindai who converted to the Astra monotheist religion and were expelled from the Sindai kingdoms of old for it. Going by records, Captain Potana is a known devotee of their majority religion. His parents were clergy. So was his wife."

Jarod asked the obvious question. "Was?"

"They were at the Faiths' Summit on Talana five standard years ago when it was bombed by unknown parties. He was the only member of his family to survive." Maran frowned. "All he has left is his faith, and he's been a vocal advocate of more aggressive policies toward regimes and societies like the Cardassians since."

"And he has nothing to lose," Robert murmured. "Do we have any further indications of what happened? Was there any communication?"

"There was. Starfleet Command provided the Enterprise's logs and Captain Picard's report. I'm making that available to you now." Maran tapped a button on his desk. "Captain, I shouldn't have to tell you how crucial this situation is. We cannot afford a war with Cardassia, we're not ready for any kind of interstellar war on our own. The President has decided to send you to be our man in the hunt for the Mayala. You've already been given the rendezvous point; get there as quickly as you can. Captain Picard will be waiting for you and will take you to the meeting with the Cardassian ship. Do whatever you have to if it keeps the peace."

"Whatever I have to?", Robert asked. "Even..."

"Short of giving our IU drive technology to Cardassia, you are authorized to do anything. That includes destroying the Mayala. I'd prefer otherwise.... but more will die if Captain Potana isn't stopped."

"Goin' after one of our own ships," Scotty mumbled from his seat by Jarod.

"I sympathize, Mister Scott. I'm hoping that Potana will stand down if you confront him, but I've seen men like that before. If he's turning this into some crusade... I'm afraid that may not be an option. Maran out."

As soon as Maran disappeared, Robert stood. "I don't like it," he said aloud. "But he's right; we can't afford a war. Mister Locarno, set a course for the rendezvous with the Enterprise, maximum speed."

"Yes sir." Locarno went for the door.

"Everyone else, you're dismissed."

At the high warp speeds the advanced warp systems and naqia reactors of the Aurora were capable of, they had only hours to the rendezvous, and Robert spent them catching up on the day's paperwork and going over Potana's file, as well as that of his crew. As he looked quietly at the image of the purple-skinned, blue-spotted Dorei man, he heard his door chime go off. "Come on in," he called out.

Julia entered. "We're less than an hour from the rendezvous. Cat already has the Enterprise on long range sensors."

"Yeah." Robert put a hand in his hair. "I'm beginning to see why Maran sent us to deal with this."

"There's plenty of reasons," Julia remarked. "You know Captain Picard. This is the most advanced ship in the fleet. And you're not going to let the Cardassians walk all over you." She drew in a breath. "And you've got something in common with Potana."

"I almost ended up like him," Robert remarked quietly. "I might have if..."

"If you didn't have us," Julia finished for him.

"Yeah." Robert stood up and looked out the window at the streaks of warp space. "Maybe he just got tired of watching horrible things happen and decided to do something about it, the consequences be damned."

"And if he thinks God's on his side... That's never a good combination."

"No." He turned to face her. "I'll be out on the bridge when we make rendezvous." He watched her nod and leave. His eyes glanced back to the monitor displaying Potana's face and file. He reached over and began to access the files on the rest of the Mayala's crew.

The Aurora dropped out of warp and approached the U.S.S. Enterprise on sublight drives. The Galaxy-class starship basked in the light of a nearby blue star as Aurora came up beside. After several minutes passed, the energy signature of a transporter beam linked the two ships.

Picard and most of his senior staff were waiting for Robert, Julia, Jarod, and Meridina when they got to the bridge and the main conference room beyond. "Captain Dale," Picard said, nodding his head.

"Captain Picard."

"I was hoping we would meet again under more auspicious circumstances," Picard sighed. "We're scheduled to rendezvous with the Cardassian warship Vetar once we enter the DMZ. Gul Evek will be participating in our hunt for the Mayala."

Robert nodded and led the others to their seats. The two crews were arranged to face each other across the table, Picard vacating his usual place at the head of the table for the middle seat across from Robert. "We've gone over the records on Captain Potana and his crew." Robert produced a tablet device much like a Federation PADD. Picard accepted it. "I'm hoping that if we can make contact I can talk Commander Eymal or another of the officers to remove Potana."

"I hope the solution can be so simple, but the Cardassians are unlikely to allow a simple surrender back to your custody. If you have any override codes to help force the Mayala to shut down..."

"You're referring to something like Starfleet prefix codes?", Jarod asked.


"The Dorei don't have such mechanisms in their ships," Robert answered. "They don't want their fleet compromised if there is a security leak."

Data responded first. "Interesting, I would have thought that the remaining national divisions among the Dorei would have their central government concerned with crews subverting their ships to a national purpose."

"That's why they generally make sure the senior commanders are from different nations," Meridina answered. "The issue is that while the crew is nationally diverse, the command leadership is not religiously so. The Dorei Star Forces do not consider religion in their assignments and have no issue with assigning co-religionists together."

"And Captain Potana is a... Supreme Deity believer, yes?" Picard looked to Meridina. "I have read some of the material on the Dorei people, although I admit my knowledge is limited."

"Captain Potana is a Lurala. They are a Sindai people forced to flee to the island chains between Sinda and Astrana nearly two thousand years ago when they embraced the monotheism of the Astra against the polytheist faiths of their rulers," Meridina explained. "The Lurala are among the most devout of Supreme Deity worshippers amongst the Dorei nations."

"Our own history has similar examples of such peoples." Picard looked over the information again. He showed no visible reaction as he got to the rest of the data, on the slaughter of Potana's family. "Combine his intense religious faith with having lost everything in his life... it is no wonder he might embark on such a course. It will be our duty to prevent his tragedy from creating others." Picard handed the data tablet back. "I sympathize with the predicament you find yourselves in. It's not easy when you're sent to take in one of your own."

"You've gone through this?", Julia asked.

"Yes. Captain Maxwell and the Phoenix, several years ago." Picard smiled humorlessly. "He also lashed out against the Cardassians. This entire situation reminds me of a Voltaire quote..."

"God is a comedian with an audience afraid to laugh," Jarod mused.

Picard nodded at Jarod. "Yes, Mister Jarod."

Robert gave a nod of agreement. "Whether the Almighty is trying to amuse us or not, we can't let the situation linger like this, not with the Cardassians ready for a war over it."

"Agreed. I'll have our destination transmitted immediately." Picard stood. "You're all dismissed."

Robert nodded to the others. Both crews stood together and began to file out. Robert looked to Picard and remained standing by the table for the moment, leaving the two men alone. It had been almost two years since they had been alone in it, and the memory of that day remained fresh. Robert took a moment to compare Picard's uniform, still the same as that day two years ago, to the changes in his own appearance. He had been in a jacket, polo shirt, and jeans on that day; now he was in a uniform modeled in part after Starfleet's. He was self-conscious that things were different for him. Last time we talked, I was just some young stateless punk who decided to take the advice he was giving and throw it back in his face. Now look at me.... hell, thanks to Carlton Farmer our uniforms aren't very different either. The same red for command, four gold rank insignia....

As if sensing his thoughts, Picard remarked, "A lot has changed since the last time we spoke alone in this room."

"Yeah." Carlton died, we lost the Facility to the Daleks, and I've gone from an idealist running around trying to be a hero to a starship captain. "You did tell me I'd be a Captain some day."

"Yes." Picard's smile wasn't humorless anymore. "You've changed over these past two years, and it's been for the better."

"Yeah. I doubt Captain Potana would agree."

"It occurs to me that you and he have something in common."

"Not entirely." Robert shook his head. "I was better off. I had friends who kept me sane."

"It can be hard to lose everyone you love like that."

"And you, Capta..."

"Please." Picard brought his hand up. "In private, it can be Jean-Luc."

"Jean-Luc?" Robert allowed a small grin to form. "Alright. And I can be Robert."

Picard let out a wry chuckle. "Yes. It is a rather amusing coincidence, given how our acquaintance began with an argument. Robert...." The pronunciation was clearly French. "...is my brother's name."

"Really?" Robert had to chuckle himself. "Here I was about to ask about your family."

"My brother Robert and his wife still run the family vineyard back on Earth." Picard looked back out to the window, as if he could see through the stars back to France itself. "Much to his displeasure, his son Rene seems to be taking after me."

"Oh? I suppose in a couple of decades I'll be meeting Captain Rene Picard then."

Picard's smile grew. "That would be something, wouldn't it?"

Robert nodded. "I should introduce you to my cousin Beth sometime. She's the city manager for the New Liberty Colony."

"Ah, New Liberty. I've heard it has quite the melange of cultures living together peacefully, I would very much like to visit there one day. But, I think, we have spent enough time discussing family given the mission we have to follow. Gul Evek will not be very pleasant if we're behind schedule."

"I've never met the man, so I'll take your word for it," Robert answered. "Call me if you need anything... Jean-Luc."

"The same to you, Robert."

The senior staff of the Aurora were all at their stations, with Zack sitting to Robert's left on the bridge, when the Aurora and Enterprise came up on the Vetar's arrival point. "I've got the Vetar on long range sensors, but they're out of position," Caterina said, turning away from her sensor sweeps of the nearby systems to satisfy her own curiosity to focus on the situation. "And they're not alone."

Robert let out a sigh. "Who's with them? More Cardassians?" Could this be a trap?

"No. The warp signatures are Federation, or at least similar." There was a light on her screen. "I'm picking up weapons fire!"

"The Maquis," Julia murmured. "Code Red. Sound battlestations." The condition lights on the bridge went red and deep alarm trills went off.

"Not that it'll be necessary...", Zack murmured quietly.

"Put them on the viewer when you're able to, Jarod."

Soon enough the Cardassian ship was dominating their holoviewer. Robert had seen them before and always felt a little revulsion and dislike for the design, looking like some sinister manta ray hanging in space with a forked tail at the end. Yellow phaser beams lashed out from the Vetar's bow emplacement and wing tip arrays, striking small fighter vessels that were swarming it. "Jarod, their status?"

"The Vetar's shields are holding at eighty percent. I'm picking up debris from two of those Federation light craft. The other ships aren't going to last much longer..... they just lost another one. The Enterprise is sending out a general hail, asking the vessels to surrender."

As they approached they saw the surviving two ships try to get away. A photon torpedo from the Vetar destroyed one. Phaser beams played over the last one until one of its warp engines burst with energy. It spun around and went dead in space.

"Any survivors, Jarod?"

"Picking up two life signs. Going by the signatures I'd say it's a Vulcan and a Trill."

Even knowing it was foolish to think of it, Robert couldn't help but follow up with a question. "Are we in range to beam them out?"

"Not yet," Jarod answered.

Julia drew in a breath. "I can't imagine it'd help our case with the Cardassians very well if we took their prisoners."

"Yeah," Robert answered, looking at her intently. They both knew that she was right... and they both knew what it meant for those two pour souls.

Robert said nothing, waiting for the distance to be finished. When they came out of warp there was a tone from Jarod's console. "The Cardassians are hailing."

"Put them and Picard on the viewer."

The holo-viewer shifted to show Picard side-by-side with a Cardassian, a middle-aged looking man with a jutting chin and jaw. "Gul Evek, we monitored the battle on our way in. Do you need any assistance?"

"None is required. The Maquis convoy moving through the area did not expect our arrival. Or..." Evek was clearly looking at Robert. "....perhaps the Alliance's agents set them up to mollify Cardassia and make us think there is no collusion."

"There is none," Robert answered, bristling. "That I can assure you of. Though, Gul, if I may ask.... just how do you know it was a Maquis convoy and not vessels armed for self-defense?"

"Either they were Maquis or they were armed Federation ships in the DMZ, in violation of the treaty we have with the Federation." Evek's smile was thin. "I elect to be generous toward Starfleet given its clear attempts to thwart their renegades, even if they have proven their incompetence in these kinds of things."

Picard showed no indication of response to the insult. "I am ready to receive you aboard the Enterprise, Gul."

"And here I was hoping that Captain Dale and his staff would welcome my hospitality on the Vetar. But very well. I shall beam over in one of your hours."

"Why wait so long, Gul?", Julia asked.

Evek smirked. "You seem to let your crew talk over you, Captain. Such sloppy habits."

"I trust my crew's judgements," Robert replied evenly.

"So you do. I require the hour to ensure the proper disposition of my new prisoners. Any intelligence they might provide on Maquis operations is going to be time-sensitive. I need to ensure their interrogation proceeds immediately. Evek out." The Cardassian disappeared from the screen, leaving Picard and Robert looking at each other over their respective monitors.

"Charming fellow," Locarno muttered.

"More like vicious bastard," Angel countered, snarling.

"It is best if we do not speak before we see Evek, Captain Dale," Picard remarked. "The Cardassians can be fairly paranoid about these things. I will see you when you beam over. Picard out."

The holoviewer shifted to show the Vetar and the Enterprise moving up in front of the Aurora. Robert stood. "I should go get our materials for the briefing together. Julie, you've got the bridge."

"Yes sir."

"Please send Meridina to see me, I need to speak with her on something." Robert smiled thinly. "And then come in yourself. I want to have a gameplan ready for whatever we decide with Evek and Picard."

It was about twenty minutes later when Robert looked up from the reports he was compiling to provide to Evek and ordered the door to open. Meridina entered. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes." Robert put his hands together. "I need to ask you about Potana and some things I've found in his file."

"Ah." Meridina nodded. "You refer to his swevyra."

"I guess that is what it is, isn't it?"

"Yes. The Dorei tend to call it the Gift, or something similar, and see it in the framework of their belief in divinity."

"So you've said before." Robert smiled slightly. "My first meeting with you and Admiral Maran is pretty well engraved in my mind."

"Good." Meridina nodded. "Captain Potana received no training in it. He chose to follow his military career instead, initially as a chaplain and then as a command track officer. As a result it is very undeveloped and I do not see him being able to make use of it. Although I would not recommend falsehood in speaking with him, even an undeveloped swevyra can provide some sense."

"I intend to be completely honest with the man," Robert answered.

"Very well. If I may make a request, Captain?"

"I don't think I've heard you make one before." Robert put his hands together. "Go ahead."

"I... would rather not be with you when you see Evek," Meridina said succinctly.

Robert looked at her for a moment, trying to think of a response. "I was hoping you could be there to sense if he was practicing any kind of deceptions."

"He is not," Meridina answered. "I already feel certain of that. But.... I can also feel something else." She seemed to look past him. "Vulcans are farisa too, Robert. They require touch for direct mind linking but even from a distance I can feel her. And the Trill... his swevyra is strong. I can sense him. I...."

There were tears in her eyes. Robert swallowed. He'd never seen that either.

"I feel their terror. I feel their pain," Meridina whimpered. "They are innocent souls. They suffer. As a swev... as a 'Knight' of my people I am supposed to protect such beings. But our orders forbid it. I... I am not sure I can face Evek knowing what he is doing, Robert."

"You were undercover when we met, Meridina. Are you telling me you never had to see the criminals and pirates do bad things to people?"

"I was fortunate, their evils were committed on one another." Meridina swallowed. "It would be easier if I did not..."

"Meridina, questions will be asked if I am not with my security chief. I have to bring you," Robert pointed out.

"Every moment I see him and his kind I will think of that suffering."

"I'm not asking you to ignore it. I'm asking you to hold true despite it." Robert stood and walked around his desk. "If it will make it easier... let me take some of it off of you. Maybe if we..."

"You do not know what you are asking."

"I'm used to pain."

"Not like this." Meridina did nothing as Robert took her hands into his own. The touch was supportive and it made her feel... comforted? She could look into his face, his emerald eyes, and see the benevolence there, of a pained man who would take more to relieve it from a friend. "I will let you see." She brought a hand up and put it to his face. She focused herself on his eyes, and on the vibrant life beneath. The warmth of his life force, as she felt and saw it, helped her concentrate as she opened the mind link.

The cry of terror and agony Robert let out echoed through the ready room. In that moment he could feel them... He knew their names were T'Nya and Karizan. He felt terror and he felt agony unrelenting. His nerves caught fire and pain consumed every fiber of him, pain and despair and terror and....

Evek's face. Other faces. Cold. Calculating. One face, another male, leering at him. The face asked things. Questions asked and answered and yet the pain didn't end and kept going it kept going it hurts it hurts just stop please stop please make it stop I'll do anything just make it stop....

For a moment things seemed to go black. When Robert's senses returned he was slumped against the chair facing his desk, his lungs heaving desperately for air. He looked up to see Meridina using the same chair to support herself in standing. She looked down at him with surprise. "That.... I did not think it would be so strong," she huffed. "I am sorry, Robert. I am so sorry."

"Don't be," Robert muttered hoarsely.

At that moment his door slid open, courtesy of a security override. Julia and Zack ran in, their pulse pistols raised, and Angel was behind them with a security team carrying pulse rifles. "Rob... Sir!" Julia caught herself. "Are you alright?! What happened?!"

Robert stood to his full height and sucked in another breath. "It's okay. Meridina was..." He thought of how to say it. "She can feel the two Maquis with her abilities. She... can feel the Cardassians torturing them. And I asked her to let me feel."

"Robert is more receptive to these things than I expected," Meridina said. "The bond was so powerful that... I believe our life forces together strengthened the bond."

"Everything's okay now," Robert said, trying to reassure them. "You're dismissed, gentlemen." With a nod from Meridina as well, the security team left; the others stayed however.

"Are you sure?", Julia asked evenly. "Given what you've just gone through.. are you sure you want to face Evek?"

"Evek? I'll tell you what I want to do there." Robert's eyes blazed with righteous anger. "I want to order Angel to lock on his shield generators and blast them away. I want to beam his prisoners off. Then I want to have Angel put a few solar torpedoes into his warp core."

"Gladly," Angel grumbled.

"And then," Robert continued, "I want to link up with the Mayala and escort her back home so that she can join the fleet when it comes in and we can sweep the Cardassians from the DMZ. And then I want to blaze a path through Cardassian space, opening every labor camp and every torture center we find on the way to Cardassia Prime, where we'll burn the Central Command to the ground. I want to see the brutality of the Cardassian government punished in such a way that none will forget it." He stopped talking and took in a breath. "Of course, what I'm actually going to do is beam over to the Enterprise and make nice to a man who's torturing two people to death right as we speak, then I'm going to hunt the Mayala down so I can stop Captain Potana from doing about the same thing I want to do so we don't have a war that will kill millions and might sink the Allied Systems when the ink is still drying on the New Liberty Constitution." He smiled sardonically. "Because we don't always get what we want."

"Ah." Julia nodded. She looked back to the others. "Okay, I guess he's fine."

"Don't go just yet," Robert said. "We've got less than half an hour left before I have to go to Evek and Picard and lay out a plan. I want to discuss that plan with you. And bring Jarod in here, we'll need him too."

And so they did.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Robert was bringiing his whole command staff with him this time, leaving a slightly bemused Creighton Apley in command of the entire Aurora as the ranking command track officer and a grumbling Lucy Lucero as his second in command and ops officer. The Enterprise command crew was waiting; Evek had brought some of his own staff, but only a few officers.

Including the torturer Robert and Meridina had "seen" in the mind link.

Evek introduced him as Dal Malcet. Robert had trouble hiding an overt reaction, but managed to restrain it. "Let us dispense with the pleasantries of diplomacy," Evek said. "You've come to help us destroy a vessel you say is rogue, Captain Dale. You'll understand if we demand proof of this Captain Potana's status as a renegade."

"We transmitted his personnel file over, as well as a full record of communications," Robert pointed out.

"That's all well and good, but communication records could be forged." Evek leaned against the table. "You could have secret communications with him."

"Gul Evek, what would you consider a suitable demonstration that Potana is a rogue?", Picard asked.

"Override codes to remotely shut down the Mayala," Evek answered. "And a full schematic of the ship to help my tactical staff determine weak points for engaging them. Medical records would also be helpful to verify your claim of unbalanced mental state in the Captain and his crew."

"It's not a medical case of insanity," Leo Gillam protested, glaring at Evek. "Besides, I'm not authorizing releasing confidential medical records to satisfy your paranoia."

"Leo!", Julia hissed. Leo ignored her, but he did note the looks from Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher; both seemed more supportive than irritated at his declaration.

Evek frowned. "I'm afraid I'll have to report any failure to cooperate to Central Command. I'll let them draw their own conclusions. Just as they already have."

"And what do you mean by that, Gul Evek?", Picard asked.

Malcet smirked at Picard and answered for his commander. "Come now, Captain. The Starship Aurora is already known in the DMZ for aiding and abetting the escape of Maquis fugitives from Cardassian pursuit vessels. And it's well known that Captain Dale and his crew were once stateless renegades who violated the internal affairs of countless peoples, why, it's a wonder we're not out here to hunt them down. One would almost say the Allied Systems was founded to justify their behavior. Why, even on their way here they have been actively scanning the DMZ without cause."

"I... I was just studying things," Caterina protested from the seat she had between Jarod and Angel.

"Cardassia is not hiding the astrographical data on this region," Malcet pointed out. "You seriously expect us to believe it is some innocent act of curiosity when it could just as easily be attempts to find targets for your so-called renegade captain."

"That's not remotely true and you know it," Julia protested.

"Captain Dale, you seem to let your First Officer do all the talking. Are we that intimidating that you feel the need to hide behind your woman?", Malcet heckled.

"Oh, not at all," Robert replied calmly. "Compared to the things I've stared down, Dal, I'm afraid you're not that scary. Please don't take offense. As for Julia being 'my woman', I freely admit she's a fair bit brighter than I am." Robert's face split into a grin. "And way more intimidating than you could ever be." Before Malcet could counter he looked to Evek and said, "I'm going to cooperate with you, Gul."

"Robert," Leo mumbled angrily.

Ignoring Leo, Robert continued. "All pertinent information on the Mayala will be transmitted. Her warp signature, her capabilities profile... everything. She has no cloaking device so she won't be able to hide. The Dorei don't have remote shutdown codes for their starbirds, but she does have a unique ID signal that cannot be replaced without ripping out the entire computer system. We'll provide that code for you so you can detect any transmissions she sends or see through any false flag hails she makes." Robert put his hands together. "But more importantly... we will help you catch her. And for that we already have a plan. Mister Jarod?"

"Sir." Jarod stood up and went to the display monitor on the conference room hall. With a couple of button presses he accessed a starmap showing the region of the DMZ facing Alliance territory and the Badlands. "To hide their warp signature effectively against the kind of long range scans the Federation and Alliance can make, the Mayala will have to be hiding in the Badlands. We can't hide any of our ships, but we can hide the Koenig."

"So I'll go out, cloak, and be ready to pounce on the Mayala when she shows," Zack said.

Evek spoke up, saying, "Your vessel is reportedly similar to that ship at Terok Nor that Starfleet assigned. Rather small, but powerful for its size. Could you last against a ship of the Mayala's size?"

"I'm not sure," Zack conceded. "But I'm sure I can stalemate Potana long enough for another ship to get there."

"Still, Captain Potana has to know you have this ship. He will expect an ambush."

"Yes, Gul," Jarod agreed. "But that's why we'll give him good reason to believe the Koenig is somewhere else. We're going to modify our runabouts to emit a warp signature matching the Koenig's and use them to lay a fake warp trail into a position near the Badlands. It will look like the Koenig is setting up a patrol point."

"And when we do launch the Koenig," Scotty said, joining in, "she'll be maskin' her warp signature through her cloak."

"And where will the ship be going?", Evek asked.

"A patrol pattern where the Badlands is closest to Alliance territory," Robert answered. "All we have to do is wait, then, until a suitable target draws him out."

"Something he can't resist," Julia added. She looked past Robert to Evek. "Which you can arrange."

Evek glanced at Malcet. "A weapons convoy, perhaps?"

"No, I think there's a better choice," Troi said, entering the conversation. "I've read the information on this man. He's not inspired by the same things a Maquis would be, Gul Evek. He sees himself as a religious crusader, a man of faith protecting innocent people. And you can't assume he won't behave with great cleverness either."

Malcet frowned while Evek seemed thoughtful. "More 'refugees'?", Evek suggested.

"Yes. Or prisoners," Picard answered. "Something that he would never be able to ignore."

"I see." Evek smirked. "I suppose I have prisoners to use as bait. I certainly have two at the moment."

Robert could actually feel a surge of anger in Meridina, something he attributed to their earlier linking. Troi definitely did, giving a concerned look in Meridina's direction. But the anger plateaued.

"We could simply use false life form readings to trick the Mayala into thinking there are prisoners," Malcet pointed out.

"Then you risk Potana seeing through it," Julia countered. "And if he's made connections to the Maquis, they may even be giving him information. If the Cardassians aren't publicly pulling prisoners out of prisons for transport people will know it's an empty bait trap."

"This wouldn't happen to be some brilliant scheme to free more poor, helpless colonists from we nasty Cardassians, would it?", Evek asked pointedly.

Robert's expression remained neutral. "It's not. I'm not here to get involved in this mess you and the Federation have in the DMZ. I'm here to stop a war. The prisoners aren't my concern."

"Good." Evek put his hands together. "Because I think the only way I will get Central Command and the Ministry of Justice to agree to this is if I'm moving my Maquis prisoners to Cardassia for final trial and execution. I'm sure the Ministry of Justice will appreciate a chance to condemn a dock full of terrorists."

Every part of Robert's heart wanted him to reach out and strangle Evek, but he bit down the impulse. "Stakes like that make it only more likely Potana will act."

"And it means that if something... untoward happens, nothing will be said when my men shoot them all into space," Evek agreed.

The Aurora crew was bristling. Robert could feel it. But again their discipline held. He's testing us, prodding us. The bastard.

"Well, it seems you have a surprisingly competent plan, Captain Dale." Evek stood. "Hopefully it will work. I am not eager to see this conflict spread. Captain Picard, thank you again for your hospitality." Evek stood and motioned to Malcet and the others to follow.

When they were all gone, the two command crews clearly relaxed. "What an ass," Julia muttered.

"He is a frustrated man," Picard said. "He lost two sons in the border wars and agreed to allow our colonists to remain on Cardassian-held worlds to prevent further bloodshed. Unfortunately, his good intentions were not shared by Cardassian colonists."

"They started attacking your colonists, your colonists fought back, and things got to this point," Robert murmured. "Well, right now I feel like I need a shower, and I frankly just want to get this damn business done and over with."

"The sooner we are out of the DMZ, the better," Picard agreed.

After a little more collaboration the Aurora command crew and their Enterprise counterparts dispersed. Most were heading back to the ship while Jarod and Caterina were following Data to set up a probe pattern to help catch the Mayala when she emerged. Meridina waited for everyone to leave and turned to face the last of the Enterprise crew who had, it turned out, waited and for much of the same reason. "You contain your emotions very well," Troi said to her. "Maybe too well."

"I will meditate later and allow my feelings to be processed," Meridina promised. "I understand your concern, Counselor Troi. You are worried about the state of my mind."

"I felt something a bit earlier. Maybe half an hour before you came aboard." Troi put a hand up to her head. "I saw glimpses of Cardassians... and pain, so much pain, and terror...."

Meridina went silent. It took effort to just force a breath through. "You... felt that?"

"Yes, very clearly."

"Then I owe you an apology, Counselor." Meridina took in another breath. She felt that too? Robert's link to me strengthened the feelings that much? It occurred to her that the Dorei on board would have had to feel something as well. She'd have to ask Draynal later...

WIth an empath standing near her Meridina forced thoughts on the implications deeper into her mind. Explaining things would be... complicated. "I have what your people call telepathy. It can, sometimes, be very powerful. And I picked up the two prisoners of the Cardassians being... interrogated."

Troi remained silent. "I'm familiar with those feelings. Captain Picard was once held by them."

"I see. He does not show it. He is a very remarkable man, with a vibrant swevyra... life force, since I know your translators cannot understand the word." Meridina went toward the door and turned back briefly. "I will be fine, Counselor, but I must return to my duties."

"I understand. Please, if you need anything...."

"I shall call." Meridina gave her a smile. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Counselor Troi."

"What does that mean?", Troi asked. "The Universal Translator couldn't decipher it."

"It is a... meaningful phrase for my people, but if I had to translate... I was stating that I hoped that your life force remained connected to all things."

"That is a very lovely way of saying goodbye," Troi noted with a smile. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."

"Thank you, Counselor. May your ship and your friends remain safe."

The plan commenced on schedule. The three vessels split up to cover patrol points. As they did so, any observer from a distance would detect a fourth warp signature briefly forming before going quiet, the indication of a cloaked vessel... or in this case, a quartet of runabouts that briefly generated a common field to masquerade as a signature. Behind those small vessels a warp trail was left, faint enough to be from a cloaked vessel and only discoverable if someone was looking for them.

A few hours later, the Aurora dropped from warp outside a system inhabited by Cardassian colonists. The system defenses briefly went on alert before the codes provided by Gul Evek calmed the twitchy defense forces. As this went on, Koenig slid quietly from the Aurora and wavered out of sight to begin her own patrol.

Hours passed, and then nearly a day. The runabouts took up position in an uninhabited star system close enough to the Badlands that the orange plasma storms were visible to the naked eye. They maintained a close formation, using their systems to give off tell-tale signs of a cloaked vessel moving in an area.

A sleek vessel came out of warp not far from them. Its warp drives were on the ends of swept-forward wings, its prow shaped in a sharp beak that gave it a distinct avian appearance. The light of the star played over a hull with blue and purple coloring; the vessel quickly bore down on the runabouts with raised shields. As it approached a signal went out from the vessel to the runabouts. One of them gave a reply.

And moments later on the Mayala bridge, Captain Potana was looking with interest at his viewscreen. "What is it you want? I know why you came out here."

"I want to talk," Robert Dale answered.

"I know you came to hunt me down," Potana said softly. "The Alliance government fears war."

"Yes. I've been sent to talk you out of this before the Cardassians declare war against us."

"You waste your time. I will not desist. I cannot. And the Alliance will be victorious in a war, I have no doubt."

"All I ask is that you take me and my officers aboard," Robert answered.

Potana raised his eyebrows. "You would come here? You would be in my mercy, and the mercy of the Cardassians if they took my vessel?"

"To prevent a war? Yes."

The Dorei stared at the screen for a moment. He seemed to be trying to think, or sense, something. "Very well," he agreed. "We are ready to beam you over."

Robert was not alone when he materialized on the Mayala. Angel and Lucy stood to either side of him, looking apprehensive and concerned; Angel already had a hand hoving near the pulse pistol she had in her right hip holster.

This did not go unnoticed by Potana. "Be at ease, Angela Delgado. I mean you no harm." He motioned to a couple of security personnel to keep their own plasma rifles down. The Dorei captain stepped up as Robert stepped down from the transporter pad. "I will have you brought to my conference chamber. I have had a meal prepared that is palatable to the Human biology."

"Thank you for your consideration, Captain Potana."

"Additionally, I have had your runabouts taken by tractor and pulled into my hanger," he continued, a glint in his purple eyes while his smile took on an edge.

Robert made no clear indication of anger or irritation. "I anticipated that. In fact, I counted on it. I hope they didn't cause you too much damage?"

"Scorched hull plating." Potana's smile lost its edge. "Clever. If the Cardassians detected this exchange it will look like I seized your vessels by force."

"I don't think they'll quite buy it just from that. They're too paranoid. But at least it can't be used as apparent confirmation that we're in cahoots."

Potana tilted his head and narrowed an eye. "'Cahoots'?"

Robert smirked and laughed at himself. "I watched too many old shows and movies with my Grandpa as a kid, Captain Potana. Now if you will please lead the way, time is of the essence."

Julia heard the ready room door chime go off and looked up. "Come on in." She said nothing as Meridina stepped in with Caterina beside her. Cat reached forward and gave Julia a data tablet. "Our last scans?"

"I think I may have found the Mayala near the Badlands," Cat said.

Julia looked at the marking closely. "So he went to investigate our runabouts. Any signals from the Rio Grande?"

"Nothing in the last hour," Meridina answered. She had been watching tactical in Angel's absence. "It is likely that Captain Potana investigated their energy signature."

"I'd like something a little more definite," Julia murmured. "We don't need Evek getting suspicious over diverting our course. Give it another two hours. I can justify shifting patrol then."

"I'll get back on my scans," Cat said, turning away.


She stopped and turned back. "Yes?"

"Be circumspect with those scans," Julia ordered. "I know you find everything in space terribly interesting, but you really caused problems for us with the Cardassians."

Caterina frowned and nodded. The upset look on her cute face looked like it should never belong on it and made Julia feel guilty over even bringing it up, regardless of how necessary. That's the problem with scolding Cat. Nobody but Angel can do it without feeling like we're kicking a cute puppy.

After she was gone, Julia looked back to Meridina. "I know you're upset you weren't along," Julia said softly. "But if our Security Chief went missing it would have looked suspicious."

"Any moreso than the sudden absence of the ship's captain?"

Julia grinned. "Thankfully Rob had the foresight to make himself look utterly helpless without me," she remarked with a hint of humor. "Evek and Malcet will be half-expecting me to make all reports anyway."

"Hopefully they won't have cause to ask for him directly. But what of Picard?"

"He's trying to keep his distance anyway," Julia pointed out. "So the Cardies don't feel cornered. Which fits right in with our plan, thank God." After some quiet passed, Julia leaned back in her chair. "That mindlink thing isn't going to hurt Robert any more is it? It looked pretty intense..."

"He should be fine," Meridina said. "I am.. astounded at how strongly he empowered the link.

"Well, he's got a lot of empathy and can be pretty stubborn." Julia's look went from humor to sadness. "And he's lost so much that I don't think he can help but reach out."

"It was.. more than that." Meridina shifted. She had thoughts, suspicions - actually more than suspicions at this point - but could not give them voice here. "But I think he will be fine."

"Good. Because if this plan is going to work, we need Rob focused." Julia lifted another tablet. "You should get back to the bridge, Meridina. You're dismissed."

"Yes, Commander." Meridina turned and left immediately.

Julia watched her go out of the corner of her eye. She knew Meridina was a good person, very brave and noble and forthright.... but she couldn't help but think something was off. She felt like she was being deceived by the Gersallian woman; deceived intentionally.

But over what?

Angel paced nervously around Potana's conference room, glancing at the door and sometimes reaching for her holster. Lucy busied herself examining the control station and its Dorei language controls. "Can you read Dorei?", Robert asked her, sitting calmly and reading a tablet.

"A little Lushan, yeah. And some Astran. Their controls are actually made to change languages to fit whoever is using them." Lucy sighed. "Unfortunately the receiver was made to accept psionic input for that."

Angel growled. "He's jerking us along. It's been hours."

"It's been one hour," Robert corrected her. "That's why I brought a book."

That didn't seem to make Angel feel any better. She turned and went to speak when the door opened and Potana stepped in, two of his security guards flanking him. They had the same purple skin tone and blue spotting he did, although one had a lighter blue and the other a darker. "You'll understand why I have guards," Potana remarked. "I want to say I have nothing but the utmost respect for what you have done in the Multiverse. You fulfilled the purpose the Supreme had in mind when he led you to that Darglan facility. I would hope it made you understand why I act the way I do."

"I understand all too well, Captain Potana."

"Please, it is Jagal between us." Potana took a seat opposite of Robert. His seat, given the kidney shape of the conference table and how it allowed the Captain to turn his head to face his crew without giving someone else a seat "higher" on the table. His uniform had a bright and vibrant look to it with its blue and purple color contrasting to the black and red on Robert's. Robert considered that to Potana his uniform was the more exotic, with its midnight black and red command color trim on the rank insignia and shoulders. "Undoubtedly that is part of the reason Maran sent you to stop me."

"Likely," Robert agreed. "And you may call me Robert then."

"Tell me, Robert, would you have stopped if someone ordered you to stop helping the downtrodden and abused?"

Robert shook his head. "No, I probably would not have. I didn't, actually."

"Of course. So why should I?" Potana met his eyes directly. "Why should I ignore the cries of the tortured and oppressed, Captain Dale? Why should I ignore the precepts of my faith, that the Supreme Deity calls all to lessen the pain of existence and to stand against those who do harm?"

Robert drew in a sigh. "Honestly, Jagal, if I had my way the Aurora would have blown the Vetar to atoms when we met them" he said. "But my actions never threatened the outbreak of interstellar war, Jagal."

"The Alliance fears Cardassia. This is because the Human President has no faith in the Supreme."

Robert put his hands together. "So, you think we should throw caution to the win and dare the Cardassians to attack us? Even when some of our worlds, our systems, are still being brought up to the levels of the others, when our fleet is still being built?"

"The Supreme will not abandon those who do the right thing," Potana said, with all the conviction of the true believer behind his voice. "I know he will not."

Robert remained quiet for a moment. "How much do you know of Human religions, Jagal?"

Potana was in thought for a moment. "I learned some of them in my visit to New Liberty. I know you people refer to your faiths in the Supreme as 'Abrahamic' religions. Your Jeois, your Eeslams...."

"Jews, Muslims, and Christians," Robert corrected softly. "Although I think there may be other faiths that would count, but I'm not a theologian."

"You forgot Zoroastarians," Lucy said from where she was tapping at the display console.

"I don't think they're around anymore?", Robert answered. "Anyway..." He turned to face Jagal again. "I grew up in a Christian family. I had Bible school."

"You are the ones who believed the Supreme had a child?", Jagal asked.

"In a way," he answered. "Actually, your argument reminds me of one of my favorite Bible stories. Jesus goes into the desert to pray, fasting for forty days. He ends up meeting the Devil."

"One of the Fallen Creations of your faith," Jagal clarified.

"That would fit. Anyway, Satan gives him temptations, trying to turn him. He refuses them. For the second one, he challenges Jesus to test God's devotion to him by throwing himself off a high place, forcing God to either let him die or somehow catch him." Robert put his hands together. "Jesus' reply was 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord'."

"Of course," Potana agreed. "I suppose you believe I am... tempting the Supreme?"

"I believe you are trying to force the issue. It's never wise to do that."

"And how do you know," Potana murmured, "that I am not simply fulfilling the Supreme's will?"

"I don't," Robert conceded. "But isn't it the height of arrogance to presume you know the Almighty's will?"

"Of course it would be. Except the Supreme's will is known in the writings. I am upholding his strictures of charity and protection." Potana smiled softly. "Besides, I believe you may have missed a point in your story of the Second Temptation."


"Yes. There is a difference between daring the Supreme to spare you simply to prove something, and trusting the Supreme to be providential when you are upholding the Supreme's commands. Had the Fallen been threatening innocents and telling Jesus that the only way to save them was to cast himself from the high place, would that not change the situation? Would that not justify trusting the Supreme to act?"

Robert remained quiet for a moment. His mind was working through the situation even as his Granddad's voice rose up from memory. "Bob my boy, you do not talk religion with the devoted. They will always twist your brain into a knot. Your granddaddy learned that the hard way back on the Rhine." "That brings us back to square one, I suppose. You believe that if you cause the Cardassians to declare war on the Alliance, the Supreme Being will come to our aid."

"I do not believe it, Robert." Potana shook his head wistfully. "I knowit." A slim smile crossed his face. "Just as I know about the trap you have laid with Gul Evek."

Angel and Lucy looked at each other. Robert calmly put his hands on the table. "What do you mean?"

"Gul Evek will be moving prisoners, Maquis and suspected ones, to be executed on Cardassia," Potana continued. "He is dangling those innocents before me to draw me out so I might be ambushed."

Robert had his own thin smile. "Another way of looking at it, Jagal, is that I persuaded him to expose those innocent people so they can be rescued by you as a means to win your trust."

At that, Potana laughed and stood. "Agreed. I have enjoyed this talk. But I must go now to look to my duties. We should be intercepting the Cardassian prisoner transport momentarily. Would you like to observe from the bridge?"

"If you'll have me," Robert said.

"Very well. I must insist that Angel Delgado and Lucilla Lucero remain, however." Potana's smile took on another sharp edge. "I would not want you to get any... temptations."

"Of course not," Robert replied calmly. He nodded to his friends and followed Potana out.

Several moments passed. A tone came from Lucy's console and she looked to Angel and nodded. "Good, we're in."

The Mayala bridge was like any other Dorei bridge Robert had seen. Instead of the Captain being in the center and everything else being around him, the command post was in the rear of the bridge with the helm right in front; to the sides were other stations with everyone facing the Captain and helm. If you're not flying the ship you have to turn to see things on the screen. But really, nobody needs to anyway. Robert took up a backup seat beside Potana's. The predominately blue facing was a contrast to the colors on the Aurora, fitting preferred coloration by Dorei.

"Where is Commander Eymal?", Robert asked Potana. He'd seen facial profiles of the command crew, but he only saw the security chief, tactical officer, and pilot here amongst them.

"The Commander expressed reservations about embarking on this duty," Potana explained. "I would not force others to risk themselves, so I permitted Eymal and those members of the crew who did not feel as I did to vacate the ship."

In other words, you got rid of the anyone who might stop you internally. Robert immediately regretted the thought, fearing he might have sensed it, but Potana showed no sign of it.

"They are on a number of shuttles moving toward Alliance space at Warp 2," Potana continued. "I felt compelled to disable their interstellar communications arrays, so until they arrive in an inhabited system they will not be able to call anyone."

"And if they have a problem and need assistance?"

"They knew the risks of space when they joined the Star Forces," Potana answered, but for the briefest moment there was a flicker of sadness.

You feel guilty for betraying your crew. Again Robert said nothing.

"Captain," the sensor officer said; Dale noted she was blue-skinned and purple spotted, but he couldn't recognize her nationality right away. "I'm detecting a Cardassian vessel on sensors."


"A combat transport. Recognition charts identify as Rasilak-class Cardassian vessel. Her power signature indicates that the vessel is a demilitarized model."

"Undoubtedly a military transport configured to operate legally in the DMZ," Robert muttered.

"And just as likely mounting weapons that cannot be seen," Potana remarked. "The Cardassians are wicked and deceitful in their dealings with others. Helm, plot intercept course. As we approach, activate our communication systems."

"Yes Captain."

Potana turned to face Dale. "I expect you told them about our hardcoded ID?"

"Of course," Robert said.

The Mayala's warp engines propelled the vessel past Warp 9, and then past Warp 9.5. "The Cardassian vessel is changing course. They are sending out a distress call. Call is being jammed." The operations officer ticked down the distance.

"Weapons, target their warp systems, bring them to a stop."

At warp flight weapon fire could be dodgy, but it was something that everyone trained for. A warp-capable torpedo erupted from the Mayala's prow launcher and briefly accelerated past Warp 9.6. Potana said nothing as the Cardassian ship was jolted from warp. His helmsman was right on target, bringing the Mayala out of warp just outside firing range.

The range was quickly gained. Sapphire bolts of plasma cannon fire lashed out and slammed repeatedly into the Cardassian ship's shields. They flickered and looked like they were about to wink out while yellow energy played almost harmlessly over the Mayala's purple-hued shields. "The Cardassian vessel's shields are down." Another blast sliced into the vessel. "We have damaged their shield generator. Warp drive offline. They are defenseless."

"Any sign of their prisoners?"

"Picking up many non-Cardassian lifesigns in the hold. Shall I beam?"

Robert watched intently, but something felt...off. Evek said he would have his men start killing the prisoners if it looked like they might be rescued. And where are the escorts? This is too easy.

Potana put his fingers on his lips, looking intently at the screen. "Lock onto a lifesign..." He sat up. "And beam it into space in front of us."

There was silence in the bridge. Robert looked at him aghast for a moment. That's inhumane, that's...

...that's a smart way to find out if it's a trick..

"Have Physician Dala on standby if necessary," Potana ordered a second officer. There was a nod and affirmation. Whatever they may otherwise feel, it was clear this crew trusted Potana immensely.

The viewer showed an object materialize in space in white light. Robert looked intently, but he was certain it wasn't a human figure....

And then it exploded. Ferociously. The vessel rattled slightly. "Those... those are anti-matter explosives, Captain," the sensor officer reported.

"With fake lifesigns?", Potana asked.

"I'm re-checking the scan." The sensor officer looked over it again. She swore under her breath. "Captain... I am sorry. The life signs are fake. I... I was not looking closely enough."

"That's okay, Lieutenant." Potana put his hands together in his lap. "Cardassian trickery at its finest." He glanced at Robert, who simply shook his head. Potana accepted the wordless denial of knowing about the trap being changed. "Target the Cardassian ship and destroy it."

"Why not leave it crippled?", Robert asked. "That would send a stronger message."

"The only message I wish to send," Potana said in a low tone, "is that of Divine Justice and its cleansing light."

More blue bolts erupted from Malaya's bow cannons. They were targeted to the hold full of anti-matter explosives. The resulting explosion was so bright everyone closed their eyes as the display systems shifted to reduce light input. WHen the blast was gone, only small traces of heavy minerals remained.

Potana looked back to Robert. "I hope you enjoyed this display, Captain. Now, I shall have you and your officers escorted to quarters. Commander Eymal's stateroom should have sufficient room and facilities. I shall see you for morning meal, Captain. Perhaps we shall discuss the nature of the Supreme further. I would very much like to convince you to join me."

Julia grumbled as her quarters filled with the beeping of the ship intercom. She grabbed her multi-device and pressed the comm receive button. "What?"

"Commander, Gul Evek is on subspace demanding to talk to Captain Dale."

"Put him down here in ten seconds." Julia slid out of bed, blinked sleep out of her eyes, and slipped on her blue silk nightrobe to go over her black nightgown. She stepped up to the main monitor on her wall and tapped a button to receive the signal there. Evek's face appeared and the Cardassian appeared fairly displeased. "I wished to speak to Captain Dale," Evek grumbled.

"He's asleep. With sedatives. Doctor's orders," Julia replied hoarsely. "He's too much of a workaholic in a crisis. What can I do for you?"

Evek's eyes narrowed. "Just what kind of game is this?"

"The kind of game where I hang up on the jackass who calls in the middle of the night."

"We sent out a ship to trap the Mayala. The trap failed. From what we recovered the Mayala knew it was a trap. And I'm wondering how," Evek said, accusation dripping from his voice.

"Was this the prisoner ship?", Julia asked.

"No. I was ordered to fake them. The vessel had false life-sign readings rigged to anti-matter explosives set to go off after being reconstituted by a transporter."

"Ah. In other words..." Julia frowned and crossed her arms. "...it was a trap you set up and didn't tell us about. So if you're wondering how he saw through it, you have better places to look."

Evek frowned. "Point taken. Now, where is Dale?"

"Sleeping. I'll let him know you want to talk in the morning, Gul." Julia stepped closer to the screen. "In the meantime, I suggest you stick to the plan instead of doing something blatantly obvious and blaming us because Captain Potana isn't an idiot. Andreys out." She smacked the button and cut the channel. Afterward she tapped her comm. "Schedule a command staff meeting for the morning."

"Yes Commander."

This done, Julia pulled the nightrobe off and slid back into her comfortable bed. As sleep slowly returned, she felt worried. I can't stall Evek forever. He's going to find out soon enough, and if Rob's plan hasn't worked...

Robert sat up in one of the cots that had been brought in to the XO quarters, given it had only one bed. After a game of rock-paper-scissors and a following game involving Angel's fist hovering under noses in defense of victory, Angel had won the right to the bed and left Lucy and Robert to the cots. He looked down at his multi-device and activated it.

On the popup holo-screen was a human man, slightly tanned in complexion, with a tattoo on the left side of his face. "...moving after all. I'm guessing they've realized they can't trick you. Has the backup system I sent you worked to replace your hardcoded IFF?"

"Yes, my engineers installed it flawlessly. Thank you for this information, Chakotay."

"You owe me no thanks, Jagal. The Mayala's raids have lifted morale in every cell. If you can stay active for a while longer I believe I can rally a fleet to hit Evek's HQ directly. A victory like that and we might just convince the Cardassians to cut their losses and re-negotiate."

"As always, the Supreme will provide to those who do good. I will divert course immediately to intercept any prison vessels."

"And I'll have shelter ready for them. I'll transmit the coordinates when I receive your next signal. Chakotay out."

Robert hit a button and turned it off. He saw Lucy stirring, only half asleep. "Scrambler is up, they can't hear us," Robert murmured. "How did your work go?"

"The worms are ready," Lucy answered.

"Thankfully Evek stopped playing around and enacted the plan. Better get some sleep, tomorrow we'll be busy."

The following morning Robert was alone again with Potana, eating what looked like purple mashed potatoes - or squashed fruit really- and white egg yolk. "You really don't care if you cause a war?", he asked.

"I have my faith," Potana insisted. "Are we going to commence this circular conversation again today, Captain?"

"I came out here because I believed you were a reasonable man that I could talk into standing down."

"And if you can't?"

"Call me arrogant... but I believed it wouldn't come to that." Robert let himself enjoy a bite before continuing. "Your crew trusts you. They've followed you all this way, are you really going to let them lose everything for this crusade?"

"All mortal rewards are fleeting, the divine blessings we will enjoy when we are with the Supreme are sufficient compensation." Potana put his hands together, ignoring his food. "If you are planning sabotage, I would not recommend it. Even if you stop me... now that you're aboard I doubt the Cardassians will be understanding of your plotting. It will merely confirm their paranoia."

"Agreed. Why do you think I want to sabotage your ship?"

"Your operations and tactical officers made several unauthorized entries into our computer systems." Potana smiled.

"They've never been aboard a Layama before, Lucy enjoys looking at Dorei tech and, well, Angel loves starship weapons." Robert smirked. "Not as much as she loves her personal weapons, that is, her fists."

"Ah." Potana gave him a look. "So you two are..."

"Not anymore."

"Ah. A shame. The Supreme calls on all of us to bond and bring new life into existence." Potana took and finished a quick bite of his food. "Tell me, Robert, how we could be so opposed to each other here when we are so similar? We have lost our families. All we have left is the cause of righteousness. Why are you trying to stop me?"


Before Robert could continue, Potana's multidevice chimed. He pressed it and said, "Report", in Lushani.

"Captain, we have detected a vessel on course to Cardassia. Neterok-class."

"That would be our prey. Set course at maximum warp." Potana put his utensil down. "Would you like to observe from the bridge again, Robert?"

"I'd love to, Jagal."

Julia had settled into her bridge watch for the morning when something drew Jarod's attention on his ops board. "The active signal from the Cardassian cruiser Larket just went out."

"The Mayala." Julia sat up straight. "Locarno, set course and engage, maximum warp."


"All hands go to Code Red."

The Cardassian vessel looming on the screen was even uglier than any Robert had yet seen, lacking even the winged appearance of the Vetar. "We have lifesigns from non-Cardassian races aboard," the woman at sensors confirmed.

"You know this is a trap," Robert pointed out.

"And if I do nothing, you and I both know those people will be dead shortly. Innocent lives snuffed out by the evil of the Cardassian state." Potana nodded to his tactical officer. "Fire when ready."

The Mayala fired a warp-field torpedo. It found the warp drive of the Cardassian ship and forced it out of warp. The Mayala's pilot guided the ship to a precision stop just inside maximum weapons range. Cannon and torpedo fire were quick to strike first, but this Cardassian vessel was better armed and protected. When it returned fire, the Mayala shuddered under the impact. "Deflectors at eighty-two percent."

"Attack Maneuver Lata."

The Mayala began a zig-zag approach, maneuvering to get into the weakened shield arcs of the Cardassian vessel. It maneuvered as well, but the Dorei cruiser was more nimble. More sapphire bolts battered its shields until the last of a volley blasted through hull, sending flame and white trails of atmosphere from the wounded ship. "Begin beaming the prisoners over," Potana said.

"Doing so now." Even as the operations officer followed the order, the tactical officer maintained the attack. The Cardassian cruiser began to fall apart under bombardment from Mayala's plasma cannons.

"Sir!" The sensor officer looked up. "I have multiple warp signatures on approach!"

"Their make?"

"At least two Cardassian Galor-class vessels coming from their border. Another vessel of similar make is coming from a point within the DMZ. I also have the Aurora and the Federation vessel Enterprise on long-range subspace sensors."

"The trap is sprung." Potana turned back to Robert and frowned. "Where is Koenig?"

"I'm not sure," Robert answered. "I told Zack Carrey to be creative in his patrol route."

Potana narrowed his eyes. "In other words, he is in position to intercept us for our dash to return to the Badlands. Undoubtedly to hold us for the others to catch up." He smirked slightly. "Perhaps I shall play a different tack then. Comms, please open a channel to the Aurora. Standard encryption, full video."

Robert inched away slightly, just to have one of Potana's guards block his path. What is... oh no.

"Channel opened."

"To Aurora. Captain Dale would like to thank you, your timing is impeccable. Our operation is nearly complete and we shall need assistance in smashing these Cardassian vessels. We await your arrival."

Robert stared at him. "What are you doing?"

"You have set a nice trap, Captain." Potana nodded. "Now I have sprung mine."

The unencrypted communication played over the speakers again even as the image of the Dorei ship's bridge, with a grim Captain Dale in the background beside Potana, remained on the bridge viewscreen. Evek saw the smirk on Malcet's face and wanted to wipe it off. "It appears the Obsidian Order's paranoia isn't so bad after all, is it Gul?", Malcet pointed out.

Evek smoldered. He knew Picard would never get involved in this deception, but he'd also suspected Dale and his crew were pulling something. Not this, though. I believed he was sincere. "Send to our ships. I want every available vessel en route. Our mission is to take or destroy the Aurora as well as the Mayala."

"Preferably take," Malcet murmured. "I believe we can glean much intelligence from the vessel... and its command crew."

Evek said nothing more, knowing he was about to bring Cardassia another war.

Julia slumped in her seat. Those encryptions... the Cardassians had to have broken them by now. "Status on the Cardassians?"

"No change as of yet. Captain Picard is hailing and wants to know what is going on. Wait, I have Gul Evek on subspace. Open channel."

The holo-viewer shifted to show Evek's face. "Alliance vessel Aurora, I have clear evidence that you have willfully assisted an enemy of Cardassia. You will lower shields now and prepare to be boarded. If you resist, you will be fired upon, and the Cardassian Union will consider it an act of war. You have one minute to comply."

Meridina's jaw clenched. "Orders, Commander?"

Julia stared at the screen for a moment. "I'm not turning this ship over to the Cardassians," Julia said. "I'm not letting them take us. Don't fire first. Jarod, put me on." When he did so, she spoke. "This is Commander Julia Andreys of the Aurora. You are being tricked. Captain Dale went to the Mayala to try and negotiate Captain Potana's surrender and Potana is using this against us. I won't participate in any attack on a Cardassian vessel, but if we are fired on I'm going to defend this ship." She took in a breath. "Time to intercept?"

"Two minutes."

On the bridge of the Enterprise, Picard frowned at the viewscreen. "Counselor?" He turned to Troi.

"I'm not close enough, Captain," she replied. "But I sensed no deception from them before. On the other hand, simply because he is religiously inspired does not mean Captain Potana will not use trickery and deception."

"Unfortunately, I don't think Evek's in the mood to listen to your argument," Riker pointed out.

"Standby to provide assistance to survivors," Picard ordered. "This is still not our fight."

Robert watched the icons on the screen grow closer. They had overheard the exchange of hails between Aurora and Vetar. "What are you doing?"

"The war to destroy Cardassia will come now," Potana remarked. "Commander Andreys will not abandon your crew to Cardassian torturers, so she'll fight. If she escapes, which I hope, then the Cardassians were the paranoid lunatics who bought my clear deception. Some will argue it was only an excuse to start a war they wanted. And the Alliance will be galvanized to fight. And if she doesn't... she and your crew will be mourned. And Commander Carrey, who is undoubtedly on his way as well, will slip out of the DMZ under cloak to report the same. The deaths of you and your friends to Cardassian paranoia and treachery will be a rallying cry." Potana drew in a breath. "Either way, Cardassia will be punished."

Robert remained quiet for several moments. "That's the difference between us, isn't it, Jagal? Despite everything."

"What is it you mean?"

"I did what I did to save the innocent." Robert glared at him. "But you care more about punishing the guilty."

"Divine Justice is my goal," Potana said. "That is the punishment of the wicked."

"At the expense of the innocent? At the expense of our crews? Of all the innocent lives that a war will cost? You seem to put so much stock in rescuing the prisoners, but it's not about them. They're just another way to injure Cardassia. You don't care if they live or die."

"They are matryrs to righteousness," Potana insisted. But Robert thought he saw a glimmer of what he hoped was doubt.

So he pushed.

"Are they? Or will they be the victims of your arrogance, of your callous disregard for their well-being. Of your sinful pride." Robert pointed a finger at him. "You swore an oath to the Supreme to protect the Dorei of all nations. You swore an oath, Jagal. And now you are breaking it by dragging your people into a war they do not want!"

"I am upholding the will of the Supreme!", Potana thundered. "What, is this it?! Is this your last measure to sway me from my cause? To make me break faith?! I swore on their graves, Robert, on their graves, that I would devote my life to Divine Justice! I will not be swayed by anyone!"

"Then you leave me no choice," Robert said, his heart heavy. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Potana shook his head. "For those worms your officers slipped into my computers? My engineers found and eliminated them already. You have nothing over me, Robert, no way to stop me."

Robert drew in a sigh, and for a moment he looked utterly defeated.

As he did so, he pressed the transmit key on his multidevice.

On the bridge of the Vetar, the Operations Officer there looked up. "Gul, I am detecting a low power transmission from the Mayala, text only. It is from Captain Dale."

Malcet smirked. "A deception of some kind." He looked over to the tactical officer. "How soon until we can fire on the Aurora?"

Evek did not react as his officer gave a reply. He reached onto his control and brought up the message despite his own cynical view of its likely content. Curiosity, if anything, compelled him to see what was sent.

Evek, will explain everything later. Signal contains override code to Mayala. Transmit to take remote control. CptDale

Evek let out a grunt of surprise. "Hrm... I suppose it won't hurt.... Glinn Jorcet, transmit the code from that message back into the Mayala. Take every precaution."

"Doing so sir..." Glinn Jorcet stared at her screen. "I have full systems control."

"Shut down their warp systems, shields, and weapons," Evek ordered.

"Captain! Our shields are going offline!"

Potana turned away from where he was looking at the dejected Robert. "What?"

"Shields offline... I am losing weapons. Warp drive control is going offline too!"

"Dorei ships aren't designed to be shut down remotely," Robert remarked. "That's by design, but it doesn't mean it can't be done."

"Impossible," Potana rasped. "Our network security..."

"...is very good," Robert said. "It took Commander Jarod two hours to figure out how to bypass it. He'll be sharing his notes with the Star Forces, of course, so the exploits he found can't be used again. Thankfully it didn't take as long to program the rest and compress it to fit into my multidevice in a false data log."

"This is Gul Evek of the Cardassian Defense Forces, commanding from the Vetar," a voice said suddenly over the speakers. "If you surrender your vessel immediately, I will see to it that only Captain Potana and his senior officers are held to be tried on Cardassia. I will return the rest of the crew to the Alliance for judgement. You have until I drop out of warp to respond or I will destroy the Mayala and seize any survivors."

The crew on the bridge all looked scared. Robert could see them look to Potana, their eyes full of despair and pleading. "Enemy vessel will be in range in five minutes," the woman at sensors said. "Captain...."

"My children, Captain." The Tactical Officer looked up. Robert had not paid much attention to the teal-skinned, blue-spotted man yet. "My Bondmate. I...."

"You knew you might not return to them," Potana snapped. "You knew this when you came aboard this vessel."

"Yes, but..."

"Captain... please... oh Goddess...." This was from the woman at the engineering station. The lighter blue of her complexion was one Robert knew to associate with the Lushan, and she had a vibrant look with her purple spotting and eyes with dark purple hair. But her eyes were now tightly closed with tears of dread and terror coming from them. "I... I'm scared.... please don't let them take me," she cried.

Potana looked from the engineer to his sensor officer, clearly terrified to immobility, and the tactical officer worrying for his family. Robert was surprised none had yet turned on him, had pointed a finger at him for making their ship helpless. But it was clear their focus was on their commander, their leader, the man who they trusted to complete the missions assigned them and then bring them home safely. It was a bond of trust Robert had learned all too well, and it was clear to see Potana had stopped caring for it when he decided to embark upon his crusade.

The icon for the Cardassians drew ever nearer. I'm almost out of time. Here goes nothing.

"I know you'll see yourself as a matryr either way," Robert said softly. "But what about them? What about your crew? Unless you help, they will either die here and now or they'll wind up in the tender mercies of a Cardassian torturer. Which I'm more familiar with than I want to be." He looked around at them. "This is the end of your crusade, Jagal. Even if war breaks out... it won't be a proud war to avenge Cardassian evil. It'll be a stupid, pointless, bloody conflict that someone from our side is seen to have started."

"I... I must see Divine Justice done. For my family."

"Yes," Robert agreed. "And you can do that by accepting your responsibility for what happened. I have a way for us to get your crew free and clear. The people you rescued too. But we have to do it now. And you're going to have to go to the Cardassians anyway."

Potana stumbled back to his chair. "What would you have me do?"

Twenty seconds before the Vetar came out of warp, the Mayala's bridge exploded.

A few seconds before that, there was transporter activity.

And before anyone else could react, the rest of the ship suffered a series of internal explosions as well, leaving the vessel a gutted ruin. The only life signs were coming from the vessel's hanger bay and the runabouts there.

Gul Evek sat quietly as he watched Robert appear on his viewscreen, sitting in the cockpit of a runabout. "Captain, you owe me an explanation."

"A very good one," Malcet growled. "Or I will consider this nothing but Alliance trickery."

"I apologize for not filling you in, Gul, but I didn't think you'd trust me very much anyway. I went aboard to try to talk him into giving up or, failing that, to deliver an override code into his systems. The same code I sent to you."

"And now the Mayala is destroyed," Malcet said, sneering. "There is no way to prove Potana was a rogue. Why are we to believe this was anything but a trick?"

"Because I didn't get out alone." Robert nodded offscreen. Angel moved into their vision, her arm being used to hold a handcuffed Captain Potana. "As agreed, I will turn him over to your custody."

Malcet frowned deeply, but Evek actually smiled thinly. "I am impressed, Captain. However, it is best if we do these things properly. I'll be beaming over to the Enterprise in thirty minutes to take custody of him there."

"I'll be waiting. Dale out."
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

When Robert stepped into Transporter Room 3 on the Enterprise with Angel, Worf, and a cuffed Potana between them, he found Picard and Troi waiting for him. Not just them, but Meridina as well. She nodded at Robert. Picard had something of a scowl on his face, though. "What you did," he began, his voice tight with disapproval, "was reckless. The slightest miscalculation and you would have doomed your ship and your crew, and you would have started the war you were sent to stop."

"It was a calculated risk, Captain," Robert answered. "We had to stop Mayala sooner rather than later, and I knew Potana would be hard to catch."

Picard drew in a sigh. "You should have told me, Robert," he said lowly. "I could have helped."

"No, you couldn't have. You would have been obligated to tell Evek. And if you didn't and something went wrong, you would have been complicit." Robert extended a hand. "I'm sorry for not telling you, Jean-Luc. I had to play this close to my vest."

"We've become quite the accomplished poker players ourselves," Picard murmured. "If our schedule allows Commander Riker may need to deal you in."

"So he can clean my clock? No thanks."

"Vetar is signaling, Evek is ready," the transporter chief, a male Andorian, said.

"Energize," Picard ordered.

Evek appeared with Malcet to one side and tow guards behind him. One was carrying a pair of restraints. They surveyed the assembled and looked over to where Potana was held. "Well well, Captain Potana." Evek smirked at him. "You have been an irritant."

Potana scowled. He looked over to Malcet, who leered at him. "My torturer, I assume?"

"Torture is such an ugly word," Malcet cooed with a malicious tone. "Interrogation will do."

"I see. This is my fate, then."

Robert felt the hairs on his neck stand up. Concern flashed across the faces of Troi and Meridina, and the latter began to move.

Potana was faster.

His hand did not move from where it was, it only opened. But the phaser pistol on Malcet's hip suddenly flew free from its holster and into Poltana's waiting hands. He pulled the trigger.

Malcet barely had time to cry out before the beam struck him. He disappeared in a haze of yellow.

Potana was twisting, turning to target Evek, but there was the sharp sound of metal and Meridina's lakesh was suddenly in the way. The beam from the pistol struck the lakesh and was reflected back, striking Potana in the chest over his heart. The lost energy from the deflection kept it from vaporizing him, but nevertheless he fell over into Worf's grasp. The transporter chief called for a medical team. Robert, Picard, and Evek dashed over to face him. Potana eyed all three. "I go to see my family," he rasped. "I go to a better place."

And then his eyes closed for the last time.

Robert yawned. He tried to stop it, especially as it was in front of Evek and Picard, but it came in defiance of his desire. The last few days had been stressful and he missed the comfort of his own bed.

His explanation was carefully concocted. He had grabbed Potana and beamed to his runabout as Potana set off his suicide charges. All of his people had been ready with their runabout shields raised, allowing them to ride out the internal explosions that gutted the Mayala. "You are, of course, free to analyze the ship's remains yourself," Robert said to Evek.

"Of course. I'm sure our investigation will confirm the scuttling charges were of such power that all traces of organic matter were atomized beyond our ability to detect," Evek said. There was something of a smile on his face. "My report will be sure to mention the risk you put yourself in, Captain. I believe it will be key to making the Central Command accept the events that have happened."

"I would hope so, Gul. I went through a lot of trouble to get this outcome."

"Yes." Evek glanced at Picard and back to Robert. "Hypothetically, Captain, if you pulled some kind of trick, some piece of technical wizardry worthy of Starfleet, and the crew of the Mayala and the prisoners I let out as bait happen to be safe on your ship..." Evek put his hands together. "I would suggest, Captain, that you be... discreet in how you handle them."

"Speaking entirely hypothetically... if I had done something, Gul Evek, I wouldn't jeopardize the peace by trying to flaunt it."

"Of course not." Evek smiled thinly. "Just so we understand each other." He stood from his chair. "Now, I have a report to file with Central Command. I will, of course, state that you and your crew went out of your way to prove the Alliance's innocence, and that you risked your life to subdue an enemy of Cardassia." Evek turned to Picard and nodded, saying "Captain" respectfully, and then stood to leave. As he got to the door he stopped and turned. "For what it's worth, I lament the loss of Captain Potana. It's never easy for a man to lose his family."

"No, it isn't," replied Robert in a low voice.

"His commitment was quite impressive. Replace his religious devotion with one to his State..." Evek shrugged. "....and I believe he would have made an excellent Cardassian." Having said that, Evek stepped out.

There was silence in the room. "So what really happened?", Picard asked in a low voice.

Robert looked to him and smiled weakly. "it's probably best if I tell you the same thing."

"Indeed?" Picard sighed. "Well, I must be satisfied with the result. A war in the DMZ would have risked restarting our own conflict with Cardassia. And with the Dominion a threat..."

"Yeah." Robert let out another yawn. "Well, we're done here. There's not enough left of the Mayala to make me want to reclaim her. It might compromise some Dorei shipbuilding techniques, but no more than the schematics we handed over. I think it's time we got out of here."

"Agreed. The Enterprise will escort you back to Bajoran space. I think Commander La Forge would prefer to keep our speed below Warp 8, however."

"Now where is the fun in that?", Robert chuckled. "I'll have Locarno go easy on you this time. Warp 6 is your cruise speed, right?"


"Warp 6 it is, then."

"Of course, this means we won't be on the edge of Bajoran territory until Saturday." Picard had a thoughtful smile. "I don't suppose your officers would be interested in a friendly game at Commander Riker's Friday night poker table?"

"Again with the poker." Robert drew in a sigh. "I've gotten my clock cleaned out enough... but I guess we can spread the pain."


"Jean-Luc..." Robert smirked. "You've never played poker against Jarod before."

While his bed continued to call to him, Robert had one piece of business lett when he got back to the Aurora. After checking in and making sure nobody would miss him until the following morning's bridge watch he made his way to Deck 12. The triage area of the medbay was virtually unoccupied, just one of the enlisted crew getting a checkup from Leo's head nurse. The nurse nodded at him and indicated the bedding areas further in and past the next set of doors.

Inside Robert found... significantly more figures. Dorei crew were sitting on beds or on the floor or simply milling around, conversing. He nodded to the woman who had been Potana's sensor officer and moved on to where Leo was tending to one of his patients. "How are they, Leo?"

"As well as could be expected."

Leo's patient turned to face Robert. Her ridged eyebrow rose a little. "You are the commander of this vessel."

Robert nodded.

"I am T'Nya." The Vulcan had a look in her eyes that implied the emotionless demeanor she had was more fiction than truth. "I... wish to thank you for rescuing us."

"No thanks are necessary." Robert looked around and saw a diversity of species, various Federation races and a few Bajorans, who were being cared for by Leo's staff and some of the Dorei staff from Mayala. "Leo, were there any problems...?"

"No sign of significant cellular degeneration," Leo remarked. "Not that I ever want to be stored in a transporter buffer like a damned file."

"Hopefully it'll never come up." Robert pressed the comm button on his multidevice. "Dale to Scott. Remind me that I owe you a bottle of Scotch, Scotty."

"Aye sir, but ye might be wantin' tae give one tae Jarod and Tom as well. Ah cudnae of made it work on th' runabouts without them."

"I'll keep that in mind. By the way, Captain Picard has invited us to the Enterprise poker night."

"Ah'm sure Mister Jarod will make them regret it, sir. Wudnae want tae miss it."

T'Nya looked at Robert with curious eyes. "There is something familiar about you."

Robert looked at her carefully. "Oh? I don't think we've met."

"No. But I believe..." T'Nya grimaced and favored her arm, causing Leo to give Robert a look that said "leave my patient alone". "I am very tired. My memories are clearly compromised."

"Get some rest." Robert looked over at Leo. "Give me any updates if something happens. My bed's calling and I think it's time I answered."

"You damned well better," Leo muttered after Robert stepped out. "Workaholic."

Ship's Log: 13 February 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We've made it out of the DMZ safely and the crisis has passed. We've learned that another ship has already rescued the other half of the Mayala's crew from the sabotaged warp shuttles that Captain Potana sent them out in.

As for our own guests, we will be rendezvousing with the
Kwajalein after the Enterprise leaves us to transfer them over for return to Alliance territory. I personally hope they will find new lives in the Alliance, but I would not be surprised if many of them eventually end up working with the Maquis again.

The table was silent with tension. Eyes remained fixed on the two figures staring at each other across the round table, each having the largest pile of chips remaining. A hand pushed chips in, a pile that had grown until everyone else had folded. "Raise," Riker said, a thoughtful look on his face as he held his cards close.

Moments passed. And then an equal number of chips went in. And then a few handfuls more. "I'll match that," Jarod answered, glancing at his cards. "And raise."

There were intakes of breath. Riker's eyes narrowed. He looked down to his reduced pile of chips. If he folded, his remaining chips would be so reduced that a single hand could wipe him out if the betting went high enough. He put the rest of his chips in. "All in."

Jarod nodded and checked his cards again. He matched Riker's final bet. He had a vastly dwindled pile as well. "Call." He put his cards on the table. Two queens and two deuces were prominent.

Riker stared at Jarod's hand for a moment. He exhaled harshly and set his own hand down. A pair of aces.

Jarod's mouth curled into a smile as he hauled in his winnings. Riker put his face in the palm of his right hand and leaned back in his chair.

"And now you know why we don't do poker nights," Angel mumbled from her seat. Her own pile of chips was dangerously low, just as the piles belonging to Barnes and Meridina had disappeared entirely.

"What can I say? I played professionally once," Jarod said. He put a chip in. Everyone else put one from their own dwindling piles in.

As they did so, Data looked over to Jarod from under his dealer's visor. "I have noticed, Mister Jarod, that you have an astounding diversity of professional talents."

"You could say that it was my trade. I'm a very fast learner."

"He learned warp mechanics in twenty seconds," Barnes mumbled.

"So did we," Caterina pointed out.

"And he didn't have a super-advanced data-infusing machine that could download data right into his brain," Barnes clarified.

"I guess that explains how you learned to operate starships so quickly," Doctor Crusher said. "Although I would be worried about letting something do that to my brain."

"Thankfully they had me around to keep them from frying their brains," Leo noted wryly. He pushed an extra chip in. "Raise, by the way."

Angel moaned and folded. She took her handful of remaining chips and handed them to her sister. "I'm done. Anyone want a drink?"

"Beer," Barnes mumbled.

"Root beer," Zack added.

"Prune juice, extra large", "Scotch, neat", and "Saurian brandy" were the following answers. Angel grumbled something about not being a waitress and walked off.

Robert met Leo's raise, as did Picard a moment later. "Let's see if any of us can whittle down Jarod's pile," Robert said with false hope in his voice.

No one did.

Robert was the last one to the transporter room. The others had beamed back to the Aurora by the time he arrived with Picard behind him. "It's a shame Starfleet's diverting you back toward the Romulan Neutral Zone," Robert said. "If we had the day tomorrow I would have enjoyed showing you the Aurora."

"Captain Farmer's reputation speaks for itself in that regard." Picard extended a hand. "Maybe next time."

"Yes." Robert took it. "It was good working with you. I suppose it's a surprise we managed to get through it without an argument."

"I should call Robert and see if my luck in that holds with family," Picard said wryly. They shook hands and Robert turned and stepped onto the pad. "I hope you take care with your passengers. They may have left the family, but we're waiting for them to come back."

Robert said nothing, but he did wink. "Family is important. Good luck, Captain. Hopefully we'll meet again in better circumstances."

"Bon voyage, Captain." Picard nodded to the transporter chief. "Energize."

They crossed into Bajoran territory over the course of the night. The following morning everyone assembled on the bridge for the first watch. "We're an hour out from Bajor," Locarno said. "Still cruising along at Warp 6. We could..."

"No point," Robert said from the command chair. "Unless Julie is in a hurry to get to her date with Doctor Bashir."

She stared daggers at him first, and then at the chuckling Angel. "He's interesting," she said defensively.

"And handsome," Angel added. "And he has the accent, it just makes you want to swoon and melt in his manly arms."

"I'd say you should try to enjoy the examination," Barnes added, "but I figure he's got one in mind you'll enjoy anyway."

"Just try not to scream too much," Angel cackled. "Some guys don't like screamers."

"You are all horrible," Julia said, her cheeks burning with a deep blush.

"After having to run interference to cover my crazy scheme, I think Julie's entitled to a little fun," Robert said.

"Thank you, Rob."

"For her sake, I hope Doctor Bashir's not 'a little fun'..."

"Angel. You and me, tomorrow morning, in the ring," Julia hissed.

"If you're in any shape for it," Angel teased.

At that point, Julia simply gave up.

Meridina's security office was the most spartan department office on the ship in the eyes of its crew. She sat at her desk, looking up at Lieutenant Draynal. "The transfer went smoothly?"

"Yes, very much so," Draynal answered. He extended his tablet for her to say. "I also have the rotations for the next few days finished. I have heard we will not be staying at Deep Space Nine for long."

"Yes, other arrangements were made during our mission, we are simply returning to wait for them to be completed," Meridina noted. She looked over the tablet. "I see you have relieved Liton of his recent duties?"

"Yes, I believe he had suffered enough. I'm re-assigning him to the team maintaining the controls on the computer core. He has marks for computer security that recommended him."

"Very well. I would hate to punish him for his initiative, merely to remind him to not be so careless as he was." Meridina did not speak of how she felt, that something was wrong, a feeling she'd had since learning of the fruitless examination of a section of Deep Space Nine that had set Lucy Lucero on edge. "Draynal, tell me... the other day, just before we met the Cardassian vessel... did you happen to sense anything?"

"Hrm?" Draynal looked at her quizzically.

"I had a very powerful psionic experience," Meridina explained. "I was wondering..."

"...if I felt it? I can't say that I did," Draynal confessed. "Is that all?"

"Yes, that is all." As she watched him go, Meridina felt a prickle in her head. How did he not feel it? I did not know he was that unreceptive.

She was already keeping an eye on Liton. It seemed she may have to do the same to Draynal.

Meridina had been careful with her arrangements when they got back to Deep Space Nine. Knowing Constable Odo's predilection for monitoring devices in his incessant quest to deal with the station's criminal element and security problems, Meridina had swept the room repeatedly. She sat in it, quietly, meditating as she did.

When the door slid open she opened her eyes and gave a slight smile. "You are as timely as ever, my friend."

"Swevyra'se Meridina," the hooded figure said, the voice clearly male.

"Swevyra'se Lakan," she answered.

The hood came down and a dark-haired, brown-eyed male looked back at her. "You are not wearing your new uniform?", he inquired.

"I am not here as a Lieutenant Commander of the Stellar Navy," Meridina pointed out. "I am here as a Swevyra'se. The distinction is important."

"Agreed. Is he...?"

A figure stepped out of the bedroom of the suite. He was clad in what passed for civilian clothes for Humans in S5T3. "You're our recruit, I take it?"

"I am. My name is Lakan Draswenya. You are...?"

The figure extended a hand. "Chakotay."

"Then I am here to serve," Lakan said. "I shall strive to protect your people in accordance with the code of Swenya and Reshan."

"Thank you for volunteering. It's not an easy life." Chakotay faced Meridina. "And thank you for setting up this lifeline for us. I know the Alliance government is officially refusing to support us."

"The Alliance government does not speak for us in this matter," Meridina answered. "I... felt what some of your people suffered with the Cardassians, Chakotay. The Code of Swenya requires we aid you against such darkness."

"The assistance is greatly appreciated. Getting our families to safety will help keep morale up in the cells."

"If I may..." Lakan tilted his head slightly in a gesture of puzzlement. "This station is run by Starfleet. How could you risk coming here if you are wanted by them?"

"Let's just say that I have my ways," Chakotay answered. "We should get going, Mister Lakan. We have a small window to meet with the Val Jean."

"Of course." Lakan nodded to Chakotay and turned to Meridina. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Lakan." Meridina said nothing as he walked over to Chakotay, who was busy operating a device. After several moments he hit a key and both disappeared in red light.


Meridina was sitting alone in her office when Lucy entered. She looked up and gave her usual small smile. "Lucy. You are well?"

"Yes. I figured we could have lunch?" Lucy revealed the bags she was holding. "I got one of those Bajoran hasperats from the Replimat."

"And beamed back with it? You shouldn't have." Meridina accepted one of the bags. She had taken a liking to Bajoran cuisine in the prior month. "You are very thoughtful, Lucy."

"I try." Lucy took a seat on the other side of the desk. From the seat she could see the video Meridina was watching. The architecture was Gersallian and the people milling about were races from N2S7. "What is this?"

"Security footage from the Faith Summit five years ago," Meridina answered. "I.... seeing Captain Potana, it reminded me of this horrible tragedy. We have never solved it."

"You mean you didn't catch the bombers?"

"We never even found out who did it. Evidence indicated Sindai religious extremists, but investigations by my order and others showed that the evidence was faked. An attempt to turn the wrath of our known galaxy against the polytheists of Doreia." Meridina sighed. "This is... was... one of the bomb planting sites. I have seen this video over and over and I cannot see anything suspicious."

"Don't beat yourself up over it, Meridina. I'm sure your people did your...."

When Lucy's voice trailed off, Meridina looked to her with curiosity. "Lucy?"

"I know that face," Lucy murmured. She tapped the screen. "Zoom in. I know I've seen..."

Meridina did so, zooming in on a woman with dark hair. Since she looked Human she was clearly Gersallian, or so Meridina thought. "Lucy, where would you have seen her?"

"The pirate station. The place you and Robert rescued me from, remember?"

"When we first encountered one another? The Djamar Trading Post." Meridina looked from the picture back to Lucy's stunned expression. "Who was she?"

"She and this black guy, they were trying to buy me from that pirate who abducted me," Lucy answered. "They were the ones who took my blood."

Meridina stared at her. "You're sure? You're absolutely sure?"

"Yes! I'll damn well remember that face, I'll never forget it!"

"I.... see." Meridina began tapping something on her keyboard controls. "I will write a report to Mastrash Ledosh with what you've said. This... this could be profound, Lucy. The tragedy of the Faiths' Summit has haunted us with how it remains unsolved."

"I'm just glad you two rescued me, they had something in mind and I'm sure I wouldn't have liked it." Lucy shivered, remembering how helpless she'd been.

"It was nothing," Meridina murmured. She was too busy thinking. There is something to this, I can feel it. "We should enjoy our meal while it is fresh."

Robert and Sisko walked out of Sisko's office and onto Ops. Dax and Kira were at their usual stations for the moment while Chief O'Brien was hunched over at a console, fixing a shorted ODN line. "So you're leaving?", Sisko asked.

"Day after tomorrow," Robert answered. "A squadron of Dorei Starbirds and Sol Republic cruisers will be in the area if you need help. They'll be in constant contact."

"That's good to know. Starfleet has been shifting ships toward Bajoran space. Just... not too many." They stopped by the Ops command table. "Any idea on where you're headed?"

"D3R1," Robert answered. "The Colonials and Sols are having another argument over Epsilon Indi and Admiral Maran thinks I can make them behave. I'm guessing I'll end up asking Angel to punch them."

"But not yourself?"

"Are you kidding? I'm the Captain, I can't deck people." Robert laughed. "Besides, Angel would never forgive me for making her miss out on the chance to punch someone"

Sisko chuckled. "I understand the sentiment. D3R1, you say... you don't think you could...."

"...I might be able to make a few calls and see about that autographed baseball," Robert answered. "And I'll give you the receiver codes for the major leagues there. I don't know what Quark will charge you for using his holosuites like this, though."

"Not much, if he's smart," Sisko responded. "So, I think that tomorrow we should resume where we left off. Commander Carrey can't pitch no-hitters every day."

"Well, it can't be more futile than trying to play poker with Jarod," Robert sighed, after which he laughed.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: 6 March 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. The Aurora has departed from the Yaga System of Universe S4W8 following a successful first contact mission with a newly-discovered alien race, the Phosako. We are en route to the vicinity of the Krellan Nebula to support a scientific survey mission of the surrounding systems. This is much to the pleasure of the ship's Science Officer, who regards it as an appropriate birthday gift from Command.

The Aurora's "Lookout" crew lounge, set into the ship's bow with transparent aluminium windows looking out into space, was filled with applause as a smiling Caterina Delgado blew with all her might and extinguished the "2" and "1" shaped candles that were side by side in the middle of the cake. The birthday girl was wearing a sleeveless pink and purple trimmed shirt with "BIRTHDAY GIRL!" written on the front, with a pink skirt that matched the shirt. After the candles were out everyone began to hand her gifts. The first, from Zack, was a bright purple shirt with red lettering saying, "MAKE WAY FOR SCIENCE!" and the image of a figure rushing with a bubbling beaker in their hands.

Further away, the festivities were being witnessed by two of the crew members who were not quite part of the circle. Montgomery Scott took a drink from a shotglass of Aldebaran whiskey and offered the bottle to his companion. Jarod shook his head and hefted a box. "I'm back on duty as soon as the party's over," he reminded Scotty.

"Aye. I was just hoping tae share a quick drink with ye." Scotty smiled as a happy squee came from Caterina upon reception of another gift, a cartoonish looking character figurine, this courtesy of Julia. She put her arms around the taller blonde woman's neck in a hug of gratitude. "So, what have ye picked for th' birthday lass?"

Jarod grinned. "A database comparing astrography in the most studied universes so far." He looked over at Scotty. "And you?"

"It took some doin', but I managed tae find th' complete log that Mister Spock wrote durin' our first five year mission on th' Enterprise."

"Good choice," Jarod agreed. "So going to join me in giving the gifts out now or...?"

"I think I'll let th' lass and her friends finish first." Scotty continued to watch as Barnes gave a gift, although he couldn't see what it was. "I suppose my gift is a wee bit selfish. I keep thinkin' of when I was young and my time on th' Enterprise. And I know I'll nae be havin' somethin' like that again."

"They do their best to make everyone else feel a part of the family." Jarod considered his own unfinished coffee. "But even Lucy is a little distant compared to the seven of them together. They're a group in of themselves."

"Aye. But that's nae a problem. It's always hard, tryin' tae fit in with a group like that, when they've been close for so long. But they're tryin' their best tae be open with the rest of us." Scotty took another drink. "It was different for ye, wasn't it?"

"Yeah." Jarod took a swig of coffee. "Sometimes I forget how long it's been since I was on my own."


"And..." Jarod smiled slightly and looked at the Scotsman. "I don't think I ever want to go back to that. I'm not giving up on finding out more about my family, but there's nothing on Earth for me compared to this."

A figure stepped up to him. He was as old as Scotty, if not older, with wrinkled light skin and a balding head of silver hair. A wide smile was already on his face. "Mister Jarod, Mister Scott," he said in a thick German accent. "Anything else?"

"Nae a thing more for me, Mister Hargert," Scotty replied. "I've had my fill."

"More coffee would be fine." Jarod lifted the cup up to the lounge host so he could fill it from the pot he was carrying. "I've always wondered, why did you ask to become a lounge attendant on this ship? It's dangerous work."

"Yes. But I enjoy giving aid and comfort to the young, so what is danger against fulfilling the calling of one's heart?," Hargert answered. "And you are all so very young." He turned his head to Scotty. "Even you, Mister Scott, in your own way. Did you like that Scotch I had delivered?"

"Aye, it hit th' spot. Ye know yer drinks, Mister Hargert."

"That is good to hear. I do my best to make sure..."

The ship's PA system came alive, with Meridina's voice on the other end. "Bridge to Captain Dale. We are receiving a distress signal from the colony on Grodni III."

Robert stood up from his seat at the table and slapped the multidevice on his wrist. "Set course and engage at maximum warp. Put the ship on Code Yellow."

"That's our cue," Jarod said, standing to his feet.

Running lights in the corridors and throughout the lounge shifted to yellow, warning the crew that the ship was on standby alert for combat and to be ready to assume battle stations. There was a sad look on Caterina's face as she was forced to set aside the half-eaten slice of her birthday cake and join the others in rushing out. Hargert watched the lounge empty and sighed. "Such horrible timing," he murmured before working to put the cake up and gather Caterina's presents.

Undiscovered Frontier
"Unlikely Outcomes"

The Aurora came out of warp near Grodni III. The ship moved toward the planet quickly, taking up a parabolic course to begin a high orbit.

"I've never seen a warp trail like this before," Jarod noted. "Whoever is responsible for the attack is long gone, though."

"Bring up the colony."

Several moments later a battered man, of middle age with graying dark hair, appeared on the screen. "This is Administrator Haldwell of the Grodni III colony. They hit our sensor dish in the first strike... I can't make out who you are."

"This is Captain Robert Dale, Starship Aurora," Robert replied. "We picked up your distress call and got here as quickly as we could. What is your status?"

"At least a hundred dead, a few thousand injured. They didn't have transporters, but they had heavy weapons and they bombed the colony so badly...."

"We'll dispatch medical teams immediately." Robert didn't need to glance to see Julia was already getting word to Leo to send in medics. "I can use all of the data on this attack you can provide."

"I'll have reports put together and transmitted immediately."

Several hours later the command crew of the Aurora was assembled in their conference room with the understandable exception of Leo. The image of a winged space vessel with green weapons fire erupting from a bow mount appeared on the screen. "It looks like the pirate force was a carrier vessel and two ships of this size, capable of entering atmospheres," Jarod explained. "The attack only lasted for five minutes from the first shot to their warp egress from the system."

"What did they take?", Julia asked.

"A bit of everything." Jarod looked at a list. "Water condensers, solar panels, raw replicator stock, electronic equipment from the trashed sensor dish, just about anything you can think of."

"They weren't after anything in particular," Meridina noted. "This was a raid for raw materials. Undoubtedly for their base and space vessels."

"The carrier, did it launch any fighters?"

"Yes. We didn't get any shots of them, unfortunately, only a few camera captures that were too blurry to be of use."

"Then we cannot determine their performance profile?" The question came from Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent, a Central African from New Liberty Colony who acted as the ship's CAG. "I have no information to give my pilots?"

"I'm afraid not," Jarod confirmed.

"Do you think we could track them?", Robert asked. "If we can hunt them down..."

"The warp trail is too faint, I'm guessing they use a buffer system to encourage it to degrade and prevent tracking." Jarod reached down and hit a button. "But we may have something. Cat?"

Caterina stood. She blushed and nervously pressed her hands against the sides of her black uniform skirt - a skirt that ended just above the knees - before she walked up to Jarod and pressed a button. A sensor reading of pulsing yellows and whites and oranges showed up. "The warp signature that Grodni III's sensors picked up when the ships warped in was unlike anything we've seen. The warp field has a slight instability to it."

"Drive problems?", Barnes asked, leaning forward to see the image.

"No, the pattern is too regular. It's... it's more like a pulse than an instability, some kind of intermittent fluctuation in the energy source maintaining the ship's warp field. It's not enough to cause the field to collapse."

"What the hell could cause that, a fault in the plasma conduits? Maybe the anti-matter feed?"

"Well, I'll be...."

Everyone looked to Scotty, who was looking with some amazement at the display. "Lad, ye haven't seen such a thing before because naebody could be daft enough tae build one," Scotty explained. "It's a bloody anti-matter pulse drive."

The stares from the more technically astute in the room were profound. "But... I mean, I thought that in those kinds of reactors the stream had to be continuous?", Caterina said, confused. "How can something like that work?"

"Dependin' on who built her, decently or not well at all," Scotty answered. "Th' pulse drive hasn't been tried in centuries. It was an auld an' failed engine type, th' Klingons experimented with 'em back in th' early 23rd Century... my universe, that is."

"What's the significance?", Robert asked. "I mean, is it too brute force or overly sophisticated or what?"

"Oh, it's both, sir. Havin' a pulse drive lets ye trim down on th' coolant systems since ye're lettin' your warp core have a wee bit of downtime." Scotty hovered a finger over the sensor reading. "That's where th' fluctuations come from. And ye've probably noticed it leaves a unique signature in subspace from th' warp field's intensity risin' and fallin', even on th' level of milliseconds."

Julia nodded in understanding. "So it lets a ship skimp on coolant system mass. They can put a bigger engine in."

"Aye. But she's got her own problems. The pulse does make it a wee bit easier tae deal with containment loss in th' reaction chamber, but ye've got tae maintain th' pulse rate just right or ye either overheat yer warp core or ye lose your warp field. Yer engineers have tae be nearly perfect, or ye need tae use precision computer automation of th' anti-matter induction system, and that's takin' a lot of risk. I cannae imagine why anyone would want tae build a design like that. It's tae bloody complex in all th' wrong places. Th' Klingons found that out th' hard way."

"Maybe it's their way of saying they're such good engineers that they can make it work well," Zack noted.

"Do you think you can find this signature on long range sensors, Cat?", Julia asked.

"Well, now that I know what I'm looking for.... yeah."

"Good. Because we're going to hunt them down," Robert declared.

"As much as we want to deal with the pirates, we can't leave Grodni III unprotected," Meridina pointed out.

"Thankfully Admiral Lithgon has already responded, the Neptune and the Ostfriesland are en route and expected to be here in a day," Robert informed them. "In the meantime, we can keep Koenig in orbit to watch things while we begin the search."

"Just give the word, Rob," Zack said happily.

"It's given. Let's not give the pirates any more time to find more targets. We find them, we hit them where it hurts, we come home." Robert stood. "Let's get this done."

The Koenig slid out of her berth on the Aurora's back. The vessel shimmered out of view as she moved into orbit, her cloaking device engaged. A trio of Hudson-class attack runabouts followed Koenig out and took up defensive positions around the planet.

On the bridge of the Aurora, there was the slightest hint of a tremor as the ship's massive warp drive activated and sent the Aurora racing on near maximum speed.

At the sensor station, Caterina was busy examining the warp trail while looking for the telltalse signs of an anti-matter pulse drive in operation in the distance. She stayed fixated, enjoying as always the gentle shifting of subspace as displayed on her monitor. She tapped a direct comm line button on her console. "Science to Engineering."

"Aye, lass?"

"The port subspace sensor is off a bit. Can you..."

"I'm sendin' a team now."

"Thanks. And... thanks for the gift, Scotty," Caterina added, smiling. "I'm going to spend hours every day going over Spock's logs."

"Ye're welcome, lass."

With her security teams and the Marines ready, Meridina was back in her office. Commander Kane, the head of the ship's Marina contingent, sat quietly, his dirty blond hair cut to fuzz on his head. "So we board and you guard?"

"Yes." Meridina looked over her monitor, verifying security reports from across the ship. "I'll send Lieutenant Draynal as necessary to...."

When she was silent for several moments, Kane asked, "Commander?"

"I apologize. There is a slight security issue that I must address." She reached for the ship intercom. "Ensign Liton, I require an update. There is an unauthorized access attempt on the aft primary core database."

After several moments she got a reply. "Sir? I'm not showing anything on my board."

"How curious, for I am. I want all access points double-checked immediately. And I will be implementing a code change."

"Of course sir. I... I'm sorry if something slipped by, but I'm looking at the board..."

"Do not concern yourself, Ensign, simply get it done." Meridina drew in a breath.

"Problems, ma'am?", Kane asked.

"A matter that can be dealt with," Meridina assured him, even if she was feeling a sudden sense of unease. "I believe we still have the exercise scheduling for next week to sort out. It is best not to procrastinate."

Robert shifted uncomfortably in his chair, drawing the notice of Julia. "I hate waiting," he murmured to her. "We may need to allow the shift change if we don't find anything soon."

"Yeah." Julia looked over and tapped a couple of keys on her display. "We'll have to make it up to Cat, you know."

"Yeah. She deserves an uninterrupted birthday party." Robert grinned slightly. "Especially if she finds those pirates."

"I'm trying," Caterina protested. "This warp trail is just so faint, it's hard to find it."

"You can do it," Angel encouraged. "Then I can shoot at them."

"Yeah, as always."

"I just hope we don't find them during Gamma shift," Julia muttered. "I could use a good...."

"I've got something!", Cat called out. She sat up straight. "I have a subspace signature on long range sensors."

"Is it what we're looking for?"

"I'm not sure. It doesn't match precisely." Caterina keyed her intercom. "Scotty, can you look at this? I'm relaying it to your systems display."

Several seconds passed. "She's got more power than our pirates."

"But it is an anti-matter pulse drive," Barnes concurred from his Engineering Status station.

"I'm picking up sensor emissions from the other signature, I think they're scanning us."

"Maintain Code Yellow. Nick, plot in an intercept course."

"Course plotted."

"I guess they're neighbors," Julia muttered. "Any matches on that drive signature?"

"I doubt it," Caterina said. "But we can see...."

Jarod looked up from Ops. "I have a match on the drive signature from the Phosako recognition charts we were given. They call them... well, something negative, that I can say for sure."

"Let me know when we're in visual range."

"At current warp velocity we're still.... okay, they're on an intercept course now," Jarod reported. "I'm picking up an increase in their energy signature, I think they're raising shields and arming weapons."

"Code Red," Robert ordered. Alert klaxons sounded for several seconds. "Time to intercept?"

"They're still five minutes from weapons range," Jarod reported. "But I'll have a visual for you... now."

"Put it on."

The gunmetal gray ship that appeared seemed to have a similar two-hull layout to the Aurora and other starship designs from some universes. But it had no curves to it, simply harsh angles, with a red-lit deflector dish cut into the lower hull where it seemed to slant upward into the primary hull. "Slant" was the right word; instead of a clear neck like on some Federation designs or the beam distinction that set the Aurora's primary hull apart from its secondary hull, the two hulls seemed to be connected by a slightly sloped neck that formed a slant shape between the bow and aft. Only very subtle curves were cut from the harsh angles at the bow of the ship, giving it the look of a smoothed box. Weapon emplacements were prominent on several parts of the hull, as was what looked to be a missile cell in addition to a torpedo launcher. Parallel to the lower hull past the bottom of the slant shape were the warp nacelles, lifted enough to have clearance over the lower hull. The Bussard ramscoops were a bright blue with the warp field generators pulsing faintly in vibrant red.

"Rob...." Julia sounded like she lost her voice. "On the bow, do you see that insignia...?"

His eyes tracked toward the bow and to the emblem painted on the dorsal edge of the bow hull. Robert blinked, a mixture of surprise and dread in his gut as he recognized the insignia emblazoned on the warship's hull. "Is that actually a...?!"

"Hail coming in," Jarod said, interrupting the question. "Putting them on speaker."

"This is the cruiser Reich's Glory! You have violated the territory of the Third Reich! In the name of the Fuehrer I order you to withdraw!"

"You've got to be Goddamned kidding me," Barnes muttered.

"Jarod, send a priority subspace message to Admiral Lithgon on the Liberty," Robert said, his voice full of tension. "Show him this image. And inform him that I am about to make contact."

Jarod nodded stiffly. "Message away."

"I'll lock weapons on their engines," Angel said, her voice harsh. "We'll blow those bastards...."

"Belay that," Robert said. "Mister Jarod, put me on."

"You're actually going to talk to them?", Angel said, incredulous.

"We know they're not the pirates. We're not out here to fight them." Robert waited for Jarod to nod and stood. He put hishands at the small of his back, helping him to avoid the temptation to shift his posture. "Reich cruiser, this is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. We have been in pursuit of a pirate vessel that attacked one of our colonies. No infringement of your territory was intended. If you would be so kind as to inform us of where your territory terminates..."

After a moment the screen shifted. The man who appeared was gaunt and thinly built, with piercing brown eyes to go with dark brown hair. His gray uniform... well, with some exceptions it looked like it had come out of a World War II movie or documentary. "I am Kapitan-des-Raumes Joachim Lamper of the cruiser Reich's Glory. I accept your explanation and a detailed map will be provided to you on the Reich's holdings in this cluster." The figure drew in a breath. "I did not expect to find the Remnants fielding such an.. impressive starship."

"I can safely say we are not these Remnants you speak of, Captain," Robert replied. "If I might ask... your engine systems are similar to a pirate vessel that struck at our colony. You wouldn't happen to be aware of such in this region?"

Lamper scowled visibly. "There are pirates in the nebula that have been an annoyance to the Reich in the past months, they took one of our ships through trickery." Lamper stood silent for a moment. "It would seem we have a common foe, Captain. Might I have the pleasure of further knowledge of your people? We may find cooperation to be our best way of dealing with these... schwein."

"You're rather quick to suggest cooperation, Captain Lamper. From what I know of your Reich, I can't imagine it's common for you."

"Indeed not. But I know when I am possibly outmatched, Captain Dale. And I am not fool enough to turn down aid in ending a pirate that has annoyed Reich transport in this sector. I believe your violation of Reich space can be easily overlooked in the name of cooperation."

"I see." Robert looked around and noticed the displeased and generally uneasy looks on everyone's faces. "We'll begin warping back to beyond your frontier. I'll let you know within the standard hour of my decision on your proposal. Dale out."

The Nazi captain nodded and disappeared from the screen, replaced by his nasty looking vessel.

"You've got to be kidding me, Rob," Barnes grumbled. "You're not going to actually...?!"

"My granddad would probably rise from the grave and jump universes to whup my ass if he could," Robert answered. "But right now... I'm thinking it might be the smartest choice."

"Are you crazy, Robert?!", Angel shouted. "They're flipping Nazis for Christ's sake!"

"I know, dammit." Robert stood. "I'm going to go consult Lithgon. In the meantime, pull us back toward whatever frontier Captain Lamper has marked."

"It looks like their claim stops halfway across the Krellan Nebula," Locarno remarked. "I'll put us half a light year on the other side and bring us to a stop."

"Good. Now, if you excuse me... I'm going to be the bearer of bad news."

With fifteen minutes left until they were to hail the Reich's Glory with an answer, Robert had the command staff assembled in the conference room again with Lithgon and Zack on two different screens. "I'll relay your report to Command immediately." Lithgon had an accent that seemed almost English but not quite. He was cleanshaven and possessed a strong jaw, with blue eyes and graying dark hair. "For the time being, our primary concern is this pirate force. If they're using the nebula to maintain a base, going in and finding them will be critical to securing our colonies in S4W8."

"We're investigating ways to map the nebula and see if we can determine their likely location, but the nebula is one of the largest we've got on record," Robert noted. "Captain Lamper's people have had more time to survey this one."

"Yes." Lithgon frowned. "Hard to imagine... everyone I've talked to who has studied the Second World War remarked on the sheer impossibility of Nazi Germany prevailing over the enemies it made."

"I suppose it could be a 'neo-Nazi' empire," Caterina remarked.

"No, you heard Lamper's challenge. He referred to them as the Third Reich, not any higher number," Julia reminded her.

Jarod looked at the screen. "Actually, Admiral, it is more accurate to say that their victory was extremely unlikely."

"And yet they're here."

"Well... if you say they had a million to one odds of winning, that means there are 999,999 universes where they lost... and precisely one where they won. It's like if you flipped a coin several hundred times and each time it landed on heads. Extremely unlikely to the point of practical impossibility... but not mathematically impossible."

"An interesting analogy, Mister Jarod. I would have compared it to someone repeatedly rolling snake eyes." Lithgon drew in a breath and looked to Robert. "Do you trust them?"

"Not at all. But I do trust that they're not going to turn on us when there's still so much they don't know about us," Robert pointed out. "I think Lamper's offer of cooperation against the pirates is genuine."

"Then you may act on that thought. I'm going to begin lobbying Command to give me a fleet, in the meantime. Lithgon out."

"As soon as Neptune arrives I can rendezvous with you at the nebula," Zack said.

"No." Robert shook his head. "I have a different idea."

Lamper remained still on the screen as Robert informed him of his decision. "I am pleased to see you are a reasonable man, Captain. Clearly you are not as rabid as a Remnant. Do your people happen to possess matter transmission technology?"

"Yes, we do." Robert had already considered with Lithgon what to not bring up and what was safe to mention; transporter technology was not on the restricted list.

"Good. My officers and I await your signal to transport over." Lamper nodded and disappeared from the screen.

"Guess who's coming to dinner?"

All eyes turned to where Leo was seated back at one of the computer terminals. He looked at them and smirked. "I'm black. I'm allowed."

Robert didn't react to that. He stood up and self-consciously straightened his uniform jacket. "I'm going to meet our guests face-to-face with Meridina. We'll see the rest of you in the conference room."

A Dorei crewman, teal skinned with blue spots and short blue hair, was manning Transporter Station 1 when Robert got to it with Meridina at his side. He nodded and the Dorei immediately went to work, signaling readiness to receive a transporter signal.

Moments later four columns of white light coalesced on the transporter pad. When they finished, Robert took a moment to look them over. He recognized Lamper of course, and two younger men were in the same gray uniforms as he was, one a brown-haired gentleman and the other blond. And the fourth...

He was also blond, with cold blue eyes, the spitting image of a Nazi of the movies and art Robert had taken in as a child... which fit uncomfortably well with his black uniform. The lapel bore two lightning bolt insignia twisted in just a way to resemble "S"s and his belt had a skull with crossbones.

Of course. They have SS. Robert took a breath and forced down the roiling sensation of wrongness in his gut. He stepped forward and extended a hand. He was thankful that he could recall his grandmother's German lessons enough to say, "Captain Lamper, welcome to the Aurora", in that language.

Lamper considered his extended hand for a moment. A small smile crossed his face and he extended his own gloved hand to take Robert's for a handshake. "Captain Dale, you speak German?"

"My grandmother taught me as a child," Robert confirmed for them. He believed it better not to mention that she had been a "war bride", meeting his grandfather when Grandpa Allen had been on occupation duty in post-war Germany in the 1940s. "I wanted to be a good host."

Lamper nodded amiably. "You speak your grandmother's tongue very well, Captain. Do remember me to her."

Robert was not about to show the feelings he had over his grandmother's death so many years ago. "I'm afraid I cannot. She passed when I was still a youth."

"Ah." Lamper nodded slowly. "Then my condolences, Captain." He looked to his men. "Allow me to introduce some of my senior officers. Korvettenkapitän Hans Buhle, one of my shift commanders, and my Tactical Officer Kapitänleutnant Peter Weigle." The SS man gave a pointed look to Lamper, irritation oozing from his expression. Lamper barely seemed to acknowledge it. "And the head of my cruiser's SS detachment, Sturmbannführer Erik Fassbinder."

"Gentlemen," Robert said with amiability... very forced amiability, but still that. "My security chief, Lieutenant Commander Meridina."

Meridina nodded stiffly. She was the one member of the command staff who would have no preconceptions about their guests and showed no irritation at their presence.

"You allow women to serve?", Fassbinder remarked with incredulity.

"The Allied Systems do not discriminate when it comes to those who wish to serve the Alliance," Robert noted.

"And aliens too," Fassbinder said, as if ignoring him, and focusing his intention on the Dorei crewman at the transporter. "Did your people conquer his homeword?"


"Hrm. A pity, I might have had more respect if your Alliance put the untermensch in their place. It is no wonder that a few drops of Aryan blood qualified you to command this ship, then."

Robert leveled a glare at the SS man. "We should get going," he said, ignoring the impulse to say what was on his mind. "My command staff is waiting."

They arrived in due time at the conferece room, many of the senior staff present with Locarno manning the bridge. The four Reich officers looked over the command crew studiously. Kaleun Weigle's eyes were the first to move toward Julia, causing him to show a soft smile. Fassbinder made a "harumph" sound as Robert introduced her as his First Officer. "A fine Aryan specimen should be at home breeding for the Race," he scolded.

"I would not mind such duty," Weigle murmured.

"I'm not a brood mare," Julia said icily, her green eyes full of anger.

The four officers stared at her incredulously. "You also speak German?", Lamper asked.

"No," Robert replied. "We have auto-translators. They can understand you."

Another small grin crossed Lamper's face and he looked at Robert with an amused expression. "Interesting."

"We can give you external translation systems to fit on your ears for this conversation," Robert continued.

"I am actually fairly fluent in English myself, Captain," Lamper said in that language. "It is a trading language in the Reich's British and American subordinated provinces."

"I see." Robert looked at him calmly, ignoring the very real revulsion he felt at the implications of what Lamper said. "And your officers?"

"We speak passable English," Buhle confirmed. "Except for...."

"I have no need to speak non-Aryan tongues," Fassbinder insisted. "So I shall take one of your systems."

Robert handed him an earpiece from a receptacle on the wall and went to his chair. "You may take seats."

Fassbinder frowned as he saw his seat would him put him across from Angel, with Cat and Leo at her sides. As he sat, he muttered, "It is a shame that so much of your crew is untermenschen, Captain. It will make this mission all the more difficult..."

"Captain Lamper, if the Sturmbannführer insults my staff and crew one more time, I'm going to instruct Lieutenant Delgado to drag him back to the transporters to be returned to your ship. By any means she deems necessary."

The grin on Angel's face was almost sadistic as she directed it at Fassbinder.

"You are a representative of the Fuehrer, Fassbinder, act like it," Lamper growled.

The SS man frowned at Lemper before looking past him to Robert. "Captain Dale, your point is made. I would hate for there to be any trouble between your Alliance and the Reich." He put his gloved hands together on the table. "If I may ask, Captain, when do you intend to share the origins of your Alliance? The Remnants are too scattered and weak to have built such a vessel."

"We are not of your Remnants," Robert answered, though he wasn't about to say just who....

"Of course you are not." Fassbinder smirked. "You are, after all, from another universe or timeline, yes?"

Robert's mouth hung open, his next word freezing in his throat. The crew all focused on Fassbinder.... as did his compatriots. "I beg your pardon?", Robert finally managed to say.

"Oh, Captain, please, let us be honest," Fassbinder continued. "The Gestapo and the SS have an amiable working relationship, and we had already determined your origins from our... careful probing of your new colonies. Your people are from another universe, or multiple such universes, and use some form of wormhole-based drive system to travel between them, yes?"

For the briefest moment Robert thought of denying it... but he didn't think the deception would work and it would only undermine the situation further. Additionally, from the look on Lamper's face, Robert suspected the last thing he wanted was to give the two men a common ground of facing his own deception. "Yes. The Allied Systems have interuniversal drive."

Fassbinder smiled evilly. Or so Robert saw the smile; it was certainly a smug, self-satisfied smile from a man who considered himself the pinnacle of humanity.

Lamper did not look nearly as satisfied. He looked intently at Fassbinder. "My reports from the Abwehr make no mention of this. How long has the SS been hiding such critical information from the OKW?!"

"The information was deemed too important to be disseminated until necessary, Captain," Fassbinder explained calmly. "The Fuehrer ordered the highest secrecy. Only the SS officers of the Krellan Nebula Division were informed of their existence."

Lamper and the others were clearly displeased, but Lamper was quick to bite down his irritation. "I apologize for the diversion, Captain. I believe we had practical issues to discuss?"

"Yes. You've been in contact with the nebula longer, you know it better," Robert explained. "If we had your data and combine it with our determination of the pirates' courses, we could find whatever base or facility they're using."

"A reasonable plan," Lamper agreed. "The data will be provided. We should discuss our vessels' rough capabilities as well, to make the coming battle more manageable."

Robert nodded. "Agreed."

The resulting discussion was not as productive as it could have been; Robert was not about to divulge everything about the Aurora's defensive capabilities, and neither Lamper nor Fassbinder were quick to do the same for their ship, confirming only that it was considered the equivalent of a heavy cruiser - or rather a heavier light cruiser - and that its class name was Sedan-class. Progress was made solely in examinations of the nebula itself, with data from the Reich's Glory being transmitted to Caterina (with extensive computer protection protocols having already been enabled) for analysis.

The conference room table's holo-projector now showed a layout of the nebula, with the Aurora's long range scans supplementing the astrographical data provided. The nebula pulsed red and blue over everyone's faces. Caterina pressed the controls to direct markers and to show what she could reconstruct of the raiders' course on their end. Lamper was quick to authorize similar records from his own side. The lines did not converge exactly, but they did indicate a specific area.

"Section D-10-C of the Krellan Nebula is..is a rough convergent point for all known raider activity," Caterina pointed out, her tripping on her words prompted by her shyness and reluctance to be the center of attention. "The nebula's gases distort the drive, uh, drive tails and give us a zone of error, but given the central location this would be a good place to hide."

"Ye cannae warp that deep intae a nebula either, there's nae tellin' what ye could run into."

"I concur," Kaleun Weigle said to Lamper. "I would place a base there myself if we were seeking to use the nebula. It gives the defender time to detect incoming vessels."

"And all of the gases and radiation mean no cloaks," Barnes added.

Julia shook her head. "So we search that cube of area? It could take days."

"Weeks for us." This was from Buhle.

"Well, unless we fine-tune sensors," Caterina pointed out. "I've had a few ideas on that..."

Lamper shook his head. "The Reich has attempted such before, it was not successful. The nebula is too dense, it interferes with everything, even subspace."

"Only the lower bands of subspace, though," Cat replied to him. "If we focus our scanning on higher bands, we might find active warp cores or other signs of activity. And we can use probes to widen the search areas."

"And you believe you can succeed where fine Aryan minds have failed, Lieutenant?", Fassbinder asked with a smirk.

Caterina was not hostile in reply so much as having her usual shyness aggravated by her discomfort with Fassbinder and the others. "Well... uh... yes, yes I can. Our sensor systems are very, uh, sophisticated, and... and finetuning our sensors for the Badlands back in S5T3 showed me a few more tricks."

"S5T3 being....?"

"Another universe, Captain Lamper," Caterina said. "We use an, uh, an algorithim system to denote uni...universes for our drives."

"Ah." Lamper nodded to her. "I see you have put a lot of thought into this, Lieutenant. Very commendable work." He ignored the annoyed look from Fassbinder. "My officers will be instructed to accept your protocols and direction on our scans."

Fassbinder visibly scowled at that while Cat cracked a thin smile before returning to her seat.

"That leaves dealing with the pirates."

"Yes, but for the time being we should get started on the search." Robert looked to Lamper. "It will take us several hours to get to the target area, Captain. I think we should get a good night's sleep and meet again tomorrow."

"Agreed, Captain."

Years of service made it impossible for Scotty to sleep past 0600, and as a result he was in Engineering at 0620 sharp to get a report from the Gamma Shift engineers. Sensor modifications had been finished, warp field harmonics streamlined, and the ship's armor-repair systems quadruple-checked.

From there it was on to breakfast in the crew lounge (Scotty not particularly caring for the nickname of "Lookout"). Hargert was quick to attend to him while preparing for Gamma Shift's post-watch dinner meal. After a proper breakfast was laid out it was time to enjoy it while reading the morning reports on his data tablet. Occasionally Scotty peaked out to see the gasses of the Krellan Nebula swirling and shifting through the window, blue highlights to a red sky creating a vista that reminded him too much of Mutara Nebula.

"Good morning, Scotty." Jarod slipped into the chair beside him, his breakfast of eggs and replicated sausage links with a bowl of wheat cereal and blueberries in milk on his tray. He set down a cup of coffee and picked up his own tablet. "I see Lieutenant Nesay got those sensor modifications done."

"Aye." Scotty put the tablet down and took a drink of coffee. "So, when dae we play hosts tae those... gentlemen again?"

Jarod sighed. "Staff meeting is set for eleven hundred. Julia... Commander Andreys has already put in the order for a lunch meal to be delivered to the conference room."

"Captain Lamper seemed like a decent sort, but that man Fassbinder..." Scotty shook his head. "Cannae trust 'em."

"You'll get no argument from me." Jarod took a bite and looked out at the nebula. "Do you ever think of retiring?"

"Aye," Scotty answered. "When my bones creak an' I'm slow risin' from bed. It's nae easy bein' an old man tryin' tae run with ye young people."

Jarod chuckled at that. "But then you decide against it."

"Of course." Scotty allowed himself a small smile. "Especially for a chance like this. I'll always miss th' Enterprise, but th' Aurora... the lass is a work of art. Retirement can wait. Besides, someone has tae teach these lads and lasses what it means tae run a starship."

"I don't know where we'd be without you, Scotty." Jarod's answer came with a wide smile and a nod. "Experience wins in the end, after all."

"Nae all th' time, Mister Jarod," Scotty answered. But he was smiling. "But often enough."

Julia signed in on the bridge and sighed as she settled into her chair beside Robert. "Sleep well?"

"No. Dreamed of that time my grandfather took a belt to my rear for putting silly putty in the family combine," Robert said.

Julia smirked. "Oooh, I remember that. You couldn't sit for a week. And I hit you too, because it was my can of silly putty you ruined."

Robert blanched from memory.

"I've got something on short range sensors," Jarod stated, drawing everyone's attention.

"Go to Code Yellow," Julia ordered. "Standby for battle stations."

"Fat lot of good that's gonna do when we can't raise shields," Barnes muttered.

"Any luck on that, Tom?", Robert asked.

"Nope. The nebula's too dense."

"On screen, Jarod."

Julia's request was met immediately. The holoviewer shifted to show a single-hulled warp vessel. Its running lights were flickering and the ship was adrift. "Do we have any life signs?"

"Some indications that could be, but the nebula is making scans impossible."

"We'll need someone to fly up to the ship and check. Or try to beam over."

Barnes shook his head. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, with how thick the gasses are going the transporter beam's going to be seriously distorted. We could try a drone or something, but that's it. And we'll have to get within five kilometers for the transporter to work."

"Take us to the very extension of transporter range. Signal Lamper..."

"The Glory is already moving into position," Jarod confirmed.

The two ships drew within the aforementioned range. "Preparing transport of drone. Transporting." Jarod waited for the report from the transporter operators to come back. "We're getting a live feed. Putting it on..."

The screen showed a dark bridge chamber with the light of the probe moving over panels. "Wait." Caterina tapped something on her board. "I'm picking up a buildup in that ship's warp core! It's going into overload!"

"A trap," Julia hissed. "Get us to safety!"

Jarod tapped an intercom key on his board. "Scotty, what if we reversed the graviton generators on the tractor emitters?"

"What would ye... ohhhh. Good idea, Mister Jarod! Turn the tractor intae a repulsor!"

"The ship reactor is building up, we've only got seconds!", Caterina shouted.

"Jarod, now!"

Jarod's finger stabbed on the control. A beam of blue energy lashed out from the tractor emitter placed on the bottom of the primary hull toward the bow. When it struck the other ship it began pushing it away, every moment adding to the speed of the other vessel. And then....

The holoviewer went white as a bright light erupted from the vessel. It auto-dimmed before it became painfully blinding, but nobody was watching at that point as the ship rocked violently under them. As the rocking stopped Robert settled back into his chair, his chest aching a bit from being forced against his harness. "Damage report."

"Surface damage to all decks in the direction of the blast. Having the gas that didn't combust forced against us caused some stress in the integrity support fields." Jarod looked over his reports from the ship's departments and systems. "Auto-repair systems are not engaged, the damage is minimal." His comm light went green. "Captain Lamper on audio."

"Go ahead."

"Aurora, do you receive?"

"We hear you, Captain."

"Ah, good. We took minor hull damage from the blast. It would have been worse if you had not pushed the ship away. My engineering officers are most impressed with your use of tractor systems."

"They can give their thanks to Commander Scott and Commander Jarod," Robert replied. "This was clearly a trap and I'm betting the pirates will know someone triggered it."

"Even with Lieutenant Delgado's protocols we read no ships in our vicinity."

Robert looked over at Cat, who shook her head. "Neither do we. They probably had an active beacon on the ship, or something nearby keeping an eye on it."

"We read no communication."

"We didn't either," Cat said. "And even if it was a low-powered transmission to avoid detection, nebula interference would mean they couldn't read it either."

"Suggestions?", Julia asked.

Jarod answered first. "Give us time to examine readings, we can present them at the staff meeting."

"Agreed. I will beam over with some of my staff in thirty minutes."

"We'll be waiting for you," Robert promised.

The officers who came over were the same from last time but with one unexpected addition, a short and thin dark-haired brown-eyed Leutnant named Kurt Rabe who seemed as nervous as Caterina as they took seats. "Our scans confirmed that there was a high-powered receiver on the ship," Jarod stated, bringing up a holo-representation of the destroyed trap vessel. As its destruction was "replayed", a spike of energy was seen in the vessel. "That's why we didn't pick up a signal. It was set to send an immediate burst transmission only microseconds before the containment field in the warp core failed."

"'Warp Core', Commander?", Buhle asked quizzically.

"A term for matter/anti-matter reactor very common in the Federation," Jarod clarified. "You can blame Mister Scott."

"I would be most interested to learn of what other societies you have in this multiverse," Rabe said. He shrunk back in his seat when he saw Fassbinder glare at him.

"A matter for another time, Leutnant," Lamper remarked sternly, though he clearly had a different concern from the SS man. "Our sensors detected no such signal."

"Most of our's didn't either. Even with the power available, to carry the signal through the nebula required it to be sent through high subspace bands. It's actually an added benefit for them because most sensors wouldn't pick it up. We didn't realize we saw it until Lieutenant Delgado and I checked our readings again and found the burst." Jarod put his hands behind his back and looked down at the smiling Cat, who was beaming from the compliment and from the fact that he had agreed to give the brief. "Of course, this is an advantage for us now."

"You can detect the direction of the transmission?"

"Yes," Jarod answered. "We know where it was sent. And they won't know that we survived the blast intact."

"You don't think they could transmit our distance?", Julia asked. "If they did then they'd have to know we weren't caught in the blast."

"The energy required to punch a signal through the nebula at that band of subspace is so much that all they would be able to feasibly power is a simple message, a few characters of text," Jarod explained. "Anything more and the transmission might fade before it reaches their receiver."

"So we either find a chain of relays or we find their base," Robert said. "but either way, we now know where to search. Of course, I have another question for us to consider." He put his hands together. "What if they vector ships to intercept us?"

"If they do that, we will take damage before we can assault their base," Lamper remarked. "Either they will be powerful enough to present a threat or they will warn we are coming. It is best if we take an indirect route."

Caterina blinked. "Well, W..Why wouldn't they do that too?"

"Easier to follow whatever relay system they have set up...."

The far door to the ship's turbolift system opened, interrupting Julia. Two figures dressed in the lounge servers' suits came out with a push tray full of dishes, with Hargert following with his own smaller cart. The older man looked dour in his plain gray suit and did not have the customary smile the Aurora crew knew him for. He was silent as they put the carts into position and began putting dishes on the table. They were a variety of warm foods, casseroles and stews with a variety of sausages on some plates. "I asked Herr Hargert to provide a proper lunch," Robert said. "A gesture of hospitality and some familiar foods for your benefit. And, selfishly, because I still miss my grandmother's cooking."

As plates were given out and foods shown, the five visitors couldn't help but notice the scowl fixed on Hargert's face. The Aurora crew noticed it too. "Are you alright?", Leo asked. "Is something wrong?"

Hargert gave him a thin smile. "You could say that, Doktor," he remarked in his own accent.

"If I may..." Weigle looked up from the sausages he was retrieving from the plate. "There was a family of Hargerts beside my parents' home, in Köln. Would you happen to be..."

"No," Hargert said curtly.

"Hargert...." Julia looked at him with concern.

"I will be fine, Fraulein, as soon as I depart this room," Hargert assured her.

Most of the visiting Reich officers were more perplexed than anything, but there was clear irritation on Fassbinder's face. "You hate us," he grumbled.

All eyes turned toward Hargert, who said nothing as he sat a container of rice pudding on the table.

"Look at me!", Fassbinder demanded.

Hargert continued to ignore him, going for another dish.

With his face turning red, Fassbinder stood from his chair and moved around Lamper to confront Hargert. "Sturmbannführer!", Lamper called out.

"Look at me, old man!"

Hargert continued to ignore him, but Fassbinder pushed the cart hard enough that it struck the wall toward the head of the table, causing the remaining dishes to softly clatter. He stood between Hargert and kept getting in his way. Lamper shouted, "Sturmbannführer, cease this at once!"

"I can see the disgust burning in your eyes," Fassbinder growled. "Why?! I am Schutzstaffel!"

"I know," Hargert rasped.

"Then you know what I represent!" As Hargert repeated the prior answer, Fassbinder cut him off. "I am sworn to uphold the virtues and integrity of the German People! All Germans, even you, I serve you!"

"No you don't," Hargert responded with a rage in his voice the Aurora crew had never heard. "You represent nothing but a perversion of the German nation, a disgrace! You and your filth are the shame we can never wash away. Your crimes, your death camps, your slaughter.... you think we would side with you? Nie weider!" Hargert looked past Fassbinder, who had only turned more purple, and asked Robert, "Captain, I would like to leave. Olujwe and Hasters can finish providing the lunch."

"Sure, Hargert," Robert said in a low tone. "Go ahead."

"Thank you, Captain." Hargert glared at the enraged Fassbinder and walked to the turbolift.

Fassbinder followed Hargert to the turbolift. "You vile old traitor! You lost the war, didn't you?! You proved yourself unworthy of the First Fuehrer and now you blame him for your failure! You didn't fight hard enough! You didn't sacrifice enough! You gave up on your Fatherland and you let the lesser races and the mongrel nations they ruled castrate you and pollute your blood! We will not be treated like this, old gelding! We will not be insulted by you!"

Hargert did nothing but sneer as the turbolift closed on him.

"Sturmbannführer, sit down!" Lamper rose from his chair. "You are disgracing yourself."

For a moment Fassbinder stared at the turbolift door. When he turned around the purple had begun to fade from his face and his expression had become controlled, or frankly wooden. "Jawohl, Kapitan," he responded briskly, returning in measured steps to his chair and sitting in it. He did not touch the food.

"My apologies for the Sturmbannführer's conduct, Captain," Lamper said.

"I accept his apology, yes," Robert answered.

Everyone was quiet as they began the lunch.

When the lunch was over and the following meeting concluded, Caterina headed for the door leading to the bridge when she was intercepted by one of the Reich officers. She looked at him with trepidation, unsettled and her customary shyness growing in potency due to how much she really didn't want to be near him. "You're... Rabe, right?"

"Lieutenant Rabe, yes," the young sensorman replied. "I wanted you to know, Lieutenant, that I found your protocols for deeper subspace scanning to be brilliant. I've never seen such a thing done before. I am honored to have worked with you."

"Well, uh..." Caterina swallowed. A small smile forced itself onto her face. "Okay. Okay, thank you. Thank you for that." She held out a hand. Rabe eyed it for a moment and took it, giving her a simple handshake.

Both became aware of a looming presence and turned to see Fassbinder glaring at them. Rabe pulled his hand back quickly and gulped. He marched past the SS man briskly and joined Weigle and Buhle as they headed to the turbolift. Fassbinder watched him go and looked back to Caterina, who eyed him warily. The scowl on his face was still there, but it turned into a smirk as he turned away.

On the other side of the conference room, Lamper looked quietly out at the nebula. "Your grandmother... she felt the same way about the Reich, yes?", he asked Robert.

"She did." Robert nodded. "But she liked to talk about people who weren't involved in the activities of the regime. She talked about Oskar Schindler and John Rabe and other Germans who opposed Hitler or protected innocent people."

"Just as we would villify them." Lamper drew in a breath. "I do not know what life is like for the Germans of other worlds. To think that they would hate me for what I do.... I am not Fassbinder, I cannot simply dismiss them as failures and traitors. And I do not think I would have the heart to draw my sword on countrymen, even those of another cosmos."

"Hopefully it won't come to that." Even as the words left his mouth Robert found them completely naive.

The look on the older captain's face made it clear he understood the sincerity of the words and just how wrong they'd turn out to be. "You are kind, Captain." Lamper reached over to the table and put his officer cap back on. "I will be returning to my vessel. We'll follow the recommended course and see how far we must go before we find the pirate schwein."

"We'll call if we see anything."

"Yes." He nodded respectfully and joined his officers in departing.

There was quiet in the kitchen that served the Lookout. That quiet ended when there was the clatter of a dropped spoon. Hargert muttered in irritation and reached down to pick it up. As he looked up, he saw Julia standing in the entry way. "Ah, Commander," he said. "How may I help you?"

"I'm sorry." Julia walked up and reached down beside him to retreive the spoon. "We didn't think of how you'd react."

"It is not your fault," Hargert said to her, reaching a hand up to pat her on the shoulder. "I did not realize how I would react either. I thought... they are ancient history to me. Their crimes were so long ago..." Hargert looked distantly, past Julia. "But then I realized they are still there."

"They're not your crimes," Julia pointed out.

"True. But, to be German... it means we must confront what we, as a nation, have done. It's just.... we say never again, we say it.... but will it be true? Can we go mad like that again?"

For a moment Julia was silent. She reached over and took the old German man's hand and stood with him. "You won't. Not with the rest of us around. Not with people like you to keep things like that from happening."

Hargert accepted her assurance with a smile. "I believe you are right. Seeing them, it just gives me dark thoughts. Now, before you go, we should discuss something of great importance."

Julia blinked "And that would be?"

Hargert grinned and explained it, making Julia smile and laugh.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

The clock in Robert's quarters displayed 2200 ship time when he got out of his shower and made his way to his bed. He allowed a yawn and took a quick look at reports before sliding into bed. He stared at his ceiling for about a minute before turning on his side and closing his eyes.

He fell asleep soon enough.

There was nothing at first, just the bliss of quiet sleep. But soon he felt himself... he knew it was a dream, but it didn't feel like one. He caught flashes of images. He could see ships moving around the blackness of space, on fire, with the Aurora rampaging amongst them.... he didn't recognize the shapes.

More shapes. Evil-looking ones, like spiders, crossed his vision, striking at his ship. He saw the Aurora impaled by purple light repeatedly until....

A large number of warships bearing the Nazi swastika moved in his vision, green light erupting from their hulls as they fired... and he could see Fassbinder, an evil smirk on his face and an inhuman glow to his eyes as he looked down at a terrified teenage girl in a red and gold-trimmed vest and skirt.... and then they were gone.

And then there was a gray silhouette, the sound of metal clanking, a high-pitched whir as the figure fell and a tall man in a jacket and suit smiling at him and.... it faded. It was Lamper now. But there was something wrong, he was....


"What's going on?!", Robert called out. "What is..."

Suddenly he was on his knees, trying to suck in breath. His right arm felt like it was on fire and he smelled fire and smoke and dust. He looked up and stared as a single red light tracked toward him. An unearthly sound boomed from the darkness, like a trumpet being blown through a synthesizer. To his side was a figure in the darkness, just a silhouette, save for red hair bright like flame and intense green eyes. A large object - a rifle? - was in the figure's arms. An unfamiliar voice, rough and distorted through his dream, called out, "We're almost there!" and turned toward the red light.

And then the red light became a beam. He could hear screams and feel scorching heat as it came up on him....

....and his quarters appeared around him as Robert's eyes opened. He sat up, ramrod straight, on his bed, breathing like he'd been running for two miles. Oh God, that was.... As dreams went it had been short but intense, so intense, leaving his heart racing. He glanced over to see what time it was. The clock was showing 0420. With just an hour or so before he was to get up anyway, Robert groaned and got out of bed.

On the other side of the deck, Meridina rose from her bed, her eyes intent on nothing. She'd felt something.

"I was right," she murmured to herself. "Swenya's Light, I was right."

The command staff was in their places on the bridge to begin the morning watch. "Another day in this nebula," Robert sighed, sitting in his chair. "And with a Nazi ship beside us."

"Not what I expected in life," Locarno remarked.

"Tell me about it. Jarod, Cat, any sign of....?"

"Nothing," was Caterina's response.

"And what about..." He let the question trail off when Jarod nodded. "Okay. How far have we gone?"

"We're deep enough, they've got to be somewhere around here," Julia said.

There was a tone from Caterina's board. "I've got something on scanners. A subspace signature..." She turned to look at Robert. "It matches the attacker at Grodni."

"And they're alone?"

"Yes.... wait, no." Caterina shook her head. "I've got a few other subspace signatures."

"Get me Lamper." Robert waited while the holoviewer shifted to show Lamper on his bridge, Fassbinder standing beside him. "Captain, we've got signatures on sensors."

"We have found one as well. It is clear we have found our target." Lamper frowned. "They will undoubtedly discover our presence soon. We should consider our attack."

"I have Marines ready to land on their base to take prisoners and determine more about their targets and whatever support they've gotten."

"A waste of effort,," Fassbinder said dismissively. "We simply need to destroy their base."

"No. I wish to find out more about these pirates myself." Lamper turned his head slightly. "Sturmbannführer, prepare your men."

Fassbinder frowned and nodded. "Yes, Captain."

"We'll beam if we can, but we're going to be using an internal magnetic field to interfere with any enemy attempts to transport aboard. Let us know if you get any boarders. We'll do the same."

"Agreed. I am sending my ship to battle stations now, Captain. We will be right beside you."

Robert nodded as the communication cut. He looked to Julia, who nodded."Code Red!", she called out. "All hands to battle stations!"

Wailing alert sounds briefly echoed in the command bridge of the Reich's Glory. Lamper secured himself into his chair and brought up his personal tactical display. "Time to target?"

"Ten minutes from firing range, Captain," Weigle responded from the tactical station to Lamper's right. "All disruptors armed and ready. Torpedo launchers online and torpedoes loading."

Fassbinder was still on the bridge for the moment. He was not in a seat, but he was securing his life support jacket. "Captain, may I remind you of the prospect we are presented with?"

"I am well aware of your desires, Sturmbannführer. But I will not jeopardize this operation by attempting to take or destroy the Aurora."

"Then let us hope Captain Dale has similar sentiments, Captain. If you strike first we have some hope of victory; if he strikes first, we will die."

"Then we do not give him a reason to suspect duplicity on our part, Fassbinder," Lamper pointed out. "Go and get your men prepared. I will hear no more of this."

"I will be sure to include your decision in my report," Fassbinder said, his voice containing the whiff of a threat in it.

Lamper returned the look. "Do as you must, Sturmbannführer. Now, we have duties to attend to. See that they are done, or I will be mentioning your inability to complete them in my report."

The pirate vessels saw them coming in and moved into a combat formation. Robert brought up his tactical monitor. "Do we have identification on these ships?", he asked Lamper over the comm line.

"The carrier vessel is the Albert Stammel, a Dusselmann-class tender vessel with modifications, that would be the vessel they took from us. The two vessels beside it are old Berlin-class cruiser vessels, they pose little threat. Or rather would not if we had shields."

"Important factoid there," Angel muttered.

"I would suggest we focus on the cruisers and adjoining vessels first. Reducing enemy firepower is the most important objective."

"Agreed. Moving into engagement range now." Robert watched the distance close to firing range, noticing the enemy converted tender was launching its fighters.

"All fighters are launched," Julia confirmed from her station. "They're taking up defensive formations to screen us."

"Good. At will, Angel, with target priority to combat ships."

"I hear you on that. I'm locking weapons.... locked. Firing!"

The Aurora's forward weapons blazed to life. Large pulses of blue energy lashed out across the nebula and slammed into one of the enemy cruisers. Without shields the enemy hull had to take the force entirely, losing large sections of its bow in the process. Twin lances of green energy retaliated and sliced along Aurora's bow, one beam glancing on the hull enough to scorch and the other digging into the armor that protected the ship.

Torpedoes were already in flight, both ways, as the Aurora's phaser strips lashed out. Amber energy stabbed the cruisers to the right and to the left while the central ship maneuvered hard, trying to avoid the solar torpedoes flying toward it. All but one missed, the successful strike slamming into the blue ramscoop of a warp nacelle and blasting the nacelle to pieces.

Fighters from both sides were racing forward, meeting halfway across the distance. Beams and pulses criss-crossed the area as the Aurora's fighter wing engaged, and the resulting combat was fast and brutal; any hit likely to cripple or destroy a fighter without shields for protection.

Both cruisers were firing on Aurora; their smaller compatriots gunned for the Reich's Glory. The Reich cruiser fired first, solid beams of disruptor cannon fire slashing out through the nebula's red and blue color to strike the smaller ships assaulting it. But when the bow weapons fired again, it was at one of the cruisers; pulsing red torpedoes and green beams lashed into the ship as it endured another barrage from the Aurora's main guns. Further torpedoes from both ships blasted the pirate vessel to pieces.

Torpedoes from the other cruiser and two of the smaller ships converged on the Aurora. Its interceptor mounts lashed out to stop the incoming fire, blowing up torpedoes before they could make it into range. Two got through anyway, blasting chunks of hull and armor off.

The blasts sent a tremor through the ship that pulled Robert against his safety harness. "Damage?"

"Hull breach in Decks 4 and 5, Section 11. Forcefields in place, armor repair systems engaged."

"I'm going for that cruiser, but it looks like the smaller ships have us as their primary target," Angel reported.

"Engaging evasive maneuvers," Locarno added. Under his control the Aurora twisted and turned, avoiding some of the incoming fire.... but not all, given her size, and the ship continued to shift under their seats. "They're not making it easy."

One of the vessels exploded, its reactor core speared from a disruptor shot by the Reich's Glory. Robert paid more attention to Angel's efforts to blast the cruiser to bits. "And where's that carrier?"

"The tender vessel is falling back." Jarod shook his head. "I think they're heading to the base."

"They might be planning to run," Robert mused.

"We are pursuing the enemy tender vessel," Lamper said over their two-way tactical link.

"We'll keep their attention," Robert answered. On his screen one of the light ships erupted in flame as it took several phaser hits. But there were more out there, and they were quick enough to outmaneuver the kilometer-long Aurora...

The ship shook hard again and more hull damage appeared on the monitors. "Jarod?!"

"We just took a disruptor to the upper port nacelle, but it held."

"We've got one on our tail," Angel shouted. "And the pilot is slippery, I can't get a solid lock!" The ship shuddered again, harder this time.

Lamper felt his ship shudder as a disruptor struck its bare hull. "Report!"

"Hull damage to forward decks. We have lost a forward starboard disruptor," Buhle reported. "The tender vessel's rigged weapons are more powerful than they look."

"Focus disruptors on them, Buhle."

"Yes sir. Firing."

The Reich's Glory's heavy disruptors on the bow fired. Thick beams of emerald energy slashed across the tender ship, taking out an impulse engine and sending a cloud of debris and atmosphere flying from a hull breach. "We have disruptions in their internal magnetic field, Captain," Rabe said.

"Then we can engage transporters." Lamper pressed a key on his chair. "Sturmbannführer Fassbinder, we are sending your men to Stammel. I want it recovered."

"Immediately, Captain. Sieg Hiel!"

"Sieg Hiel," Lamper answered. As he waited for the transport operation to finish and for Weigle to finish disarming the Stammel, he checked his tactical plot. The enemy was focusing on the Aurora entirely, more intimidated of the large vessel than of his own Sedan-class cruiser. One of the several remaining enemy light ships exploded from multiple hits by the Aurora's amidships emplacements, but it was being hounded on all sides. "Do we have range to engage the enemy ships attacking our ally?", he asked Weigle.

"No, Captain, I am afraid the nebula's interference prevents a sufficient lock, if I fire I may strike the Aurora," he answered.

And that I simply cannot risk. You are on your own, Captain Dale.

"There went the primary port impulsor," Jarod warned.

"Lamper's out of position to help and our fighters are busy, I think it's time we played our ace," Julia said, looking to Robert. When he nodded, she looked to Jarod. "Lock onto the Koenig's IU drive."

"Doing so now." After three seconds and another rumble through the ship, Jarod's console beeped. "We've got someone locking onto our IU drive."

"Here goes nothing," Locarno muttered as the ship rattled again.

The pirates had some fairly good pilots in their numbers, and one in particular was allowing his ship to batter the Aurora's dorsal hull and engine drives to give his compatriots a chance to board a crippled vessel.

The Aurora turned in space and the attack vessel matched it. After it did so, a point of green light appeared behind it, expanding until it formed a portal in space. The Koenig emerged from the jump point. The point had not a moment to start closing before Koenig's main battery came to life. Amber energy slammed into the aft of the pesky attack ship, blasting its drive assembly to bits. It barely survived those shots, leaving it helpless as one of the phaser banks on the Aurora's dorsal hull lashed out and sliced into the vessel's engineering space, causing it to explode in a white fireball.

"I could make saving your butts a habit," Zack crowed over the comm line. "Apley, next target, Attack Plan Charlie!"

Lieutenant Apley's hands moved deftly over the flight controls for the Koenig. "Moving us into position."

The arrival of the Koenig sent the pirates scrambling. They'd never seen such a thing happen before, and all of the sudden they had an extra warship prowling the battlefield, going after their smallest ships and clearing them from the Aurora.

Lamper watched the arrival of the small vessel and, most importantly, the wormhole that had been opened for it to arrive. "Lieutenant, could that be...?"

"I registered a major neutrino surge, sir, but the nebula's interference kept me from getting an accurate scan," Rabe answered. "All I can say is that it was a wormhole of some sort."

"Their IU drive," Lamper murmured. "Make sure you compile all of our data on it, Lieutenant. I must report it to the OKW as soon as possible."


Lamper watched the newcomer engaging and had to admit the vessel was formidable. It reminded him of a Doenitz-class strike vessel, the successor to the legendary Unterseeboot ships that had starved the English in the Great Wars. It certainly had the shark-like quality he expected of such vessels. "These Alliance people are very formidable," Lamper said softly, mostly talking to himself. "The Reich must know more about their capabilities."

Another blow made the Aurora shake. "Hull breaches on Decks 10, 12, 15, 20, and 28 through 32, mid-hull sections," Jarod reported.

"We're giving the armor repair systems a Goddamned insane stress test," Barnes muttered from the Engineering station. "Effectiveness is actually dropping below 80%, there's so much hull to patch up!"

"Tom, when this is over, find out a way for us to raise shields in a nebula," Julia ordered.

"Will do."

Robert was more focused on the remaining cruiser. "The Koenig is taking care of their lighter ships, time to focus on that cruiser."

"As soon as Nick brings us back around, I'm going to tear it apart."

"Getting you that shot, Lieutenant," Locarno promised.

The Aurora came about. As she did so, phaser fire from her strips and pulse cannon emplacements hammered at the enemy cruiser, blasting through several decks. The enemy ship's torpedoes blew out another section of the primary hull and damaged more armor with a disruptor blast. A second green bolt sliced across one of the phaser banks and silenced it.

But the gesture was defiant more than it was effective. Locarno finished the turn and Angel locked on with the forward cannons. The battering impacts of the blue cannon pulses quickly overwhelmed the older ship's hull and began tearing into its internals, with phaser beams and cannon fire expanding the damage zone. The spread of solar torpedoes Angel put into the remaining cruiser as an afterthought finished off what was left.

"The pirate vessels are breaking away from the fight," Jarod said.

Robert keyed the tactical comms to bring Koenig into his link with Lamper. Mindful that they weren't on two-way, he reverted to formal address. "Commander Carrey, can you finish off the stragglers?"

"Consider them finished," Zack answered.

"We'll detail fighters to assist." Robert looked at Julia and the tactical display. "How are they?"

"We've lost seven so far with a dozen badly damaged," Julia answered. "The enemy fighters are almost eliminated."

"Have a squadron break off and support Koenig. Locarno, bring us in to that base." Robert keyed the tac comm again. "Captain Lamper, I'm going to commence transporting Marines to the enemy base."

"Very well. I have already sent my vessel's SS detachment to board the tender and secure it. My officers suspect the vessel's crew is being held aboard the base."

"Commander Kane and his Marines will recover them, Captain." Robert left the channel open and asked, "Mister Barnes, time to transporter range?"

"Thirty seconds and I can start to get locks."

"Good. Make sure..."

"The base's core!" Caterina's voice went up a pitch from excitement. "Captain, the core is destabilizing! It's going critical!"


"I'm trying! I'm locking onto whatever signals I can...."

On the screen, the pirate base - which looked like cobbled together modules forming a pair of cylinders linked by modular chains - had an explosion ripple out from the middle linking chain. Another explosion erupted from the right cylinder, and then the left, and the chain of explosions soon engulfed the entire base. When they receded almost nothing was left.

Robert looked over to Barnes. "Tom?", he asked, forgetting himself for the moment.

Barnes looked up from his screen with a somber expression. He shook his head. "I couldn't get a lock through the nebula's interference, we weren't close enough."

"Damn." Robert's heart fell into his stomach. "Captain Lamper, I'm sorry..."

"I understand. You tried, Captain.." There was a pause. "We are showing no more hostile contacts."

Robert looked to Jarod, who chook his head. "Nor are we. Do you need help taking the Stammel?"

"No. Sturmbannführer Fassbinder is reporting that resistance has ceased. We have control."

"That's good to hear. We're launching craft to see if we can find any survivors just in case and to recover our ejected pilots. We can have a final meeting in three hours to discuss our findings."

"Agreed. Lamper out."

Robert closed the tactical comm line. "Send a tight-beam to Zack, tell him not to dock just yet."

"You think Lamper will attack us?", Julia asked.

"No, but better safe than sorry. Having Koenig present and visible keeps things honest and removes temptation."

"For them, anyway," Locarno pointed out. "If we wanted to do something...."

Robert shook his head. "No."

"Do you really buy that the pirates just so happen to blow up their base but not their ship?", Angel asked, an edge to her voice. "For all we know they weren't pirates at all, just Nazis pretending to be to attack us."

"She has a point," Barnes remarked.

Julia shook her head. "Honestly, given our shape I wouldn't want to start a fight even if we would win."

"Besides, I'm betting Lamper called home like we did. If we come out and he didn't..." Robert shook his head. "I'm not taking that risk. Lamper has done nothing to make us suspect him. Keep an eye on things, but we're not starting a fight."

"Yes sir." Angel sounded far more disappointed than she should have been.

Ship's Log: 8 March 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. The crew continues to make repairs to the Aurora following the battle. I am sorry to report that we lost five pilots and ten crew in total from the fight. I'm not sure how many Lamper lost, but I'm already certain we won't be holding a joint service this time.

Captain Lamper and select members of his command staff have beamed back over for a final meeting to speak of the battle's results. Angel's point that this could have been a scheme, that the pirates were Nazis too, is one I can't get out of my head, but everything I see tells me Lamper is sincere. I can't let suspicion color this meeting. As much as we hate them, we cannot afford conflict with the Reich right now.

The two groups of officers were quick to finish the meeting. Robert felt at unease the entire time and realized it was because everyone was uneasy. Undoubtedly the Koenig's presence made Lamper's people scared he might attack them; on his side, Angel's argument of this being one big scheme that Robert and the crew had fell for had found fertile ground.

"From our review of Stammel's computers the pirates have no other ships out at the moment," Buhle informed the assembled. "Even if there was a vessel or two, without their base they are vulnerable. They will be forced to cease their activity or flee the area."

"So that's it?", Angel asked, an edge to her voice. "The threat's over? Everything is hunky dory?"

"'Hunky dory'?", Weigle asked in confusion.

"Untermensch babble," Fassbinder muttered.

By this point nobody was looking toward him for it, save Robert. In his case, he couldn't get his dream out of his head. Something about Fassbinder was really starting to set him on edge. "It would appear so," he forced himself to say, breaking the silence. He stood up. "I thank you gentlemen for your time." He ignored the dirty look Angel shot toward him. "Our mission was a success. It's probably best if we get out of the nebula and re-establish contact with our superiors to reassure them of what's happened."

"It has been an honor working with you, Captain Dale." Lamper had a thin smile on his face. "Your crew is imaginative and brave. Your Alliance is fortunate to have such defenders." He rose to his feet, as did the others. "Good fortune to you, Captain."

"And to you, Captain." Robert rose with them. "Our cooperation can provide the basis, I hope, for a policy of peace between our governments."

Lamper's smile never wavered. "A noble sentiment, Captain. God grant us that it comes true."

Robert matched his smile. Everyone stood and filed out.

Rabe stood back for a moment, letting Fassbinder move on to the turbolift, and approached Caterina. "Lieutenant Delgado." He extended a hand. "It has been a pleasure to work with you, Lieutenant. Please, stay safe. A mind as brilliant as your's enriches us all."

Caterina was lost for words, but she did take his hand. "Uh... th... thank you, Lieutenant Rabe. It's be... been a pleasure." Caterina kept her eyes focused on Rabe's soft brown eyes and not the regalia of his uniform, with the eagle and swastika on one breast or the swastika armband. I'm shaking hands with a Nazi!, was her thought, even if she found Rabe to be very nice.

"Safe travels, Lieutenant." Rabe gave her a smile and continued.

Lamper remained in the turbolift with Robert as the others filed out, waiting for the doors to close and give them privacy. "You have something to say, Captain?," Robert asked.

"You are very kind to speak such lies," Lamper began. "It eased the fears of our crews. But I think you know the truth as much as I do."

"I believe so," Robert agreed, his heart feeling heavy as he did so.

"You know in your heart the fate that is in store for us."

"I do." Robert's words were hoarse, as was the breath. "I dread it though."

"Yes." Lamper's eyes were full of sorrow, bright only with unshed tears for the suffering that was to come. "As an officer of the Reich and a man of Aryan blood, I am supposed to look forward to battle with an enemy. And that is all your Alliance and the Reich can be, Captain Dale. There is no hope of peaceful co-existence. We are your nightmare and you are our's."

"I know."

"Then you know that the next time you and I meet, it will be as enemies on the field of battle. I will not shirk from my duty to the Reich, but..... I will take no pleasure in that day."

For a moment Robert said nothing. Even here his stomach spun in disgust at the swastika insignia on Lamper's uniform and armband, yet more proof of how true Lamper was. "I can't take pleasure in war. It's not in my nature," he said. "But whatever I feel about the nation and movement you represent, Captain Lamper..." Robert pulled in a breath. "I see you as a good man. You didn't get to pick the universe you were born in. All I can say is that I am sorry."

Lamper acknowledged him with a nod, but he said nothing else. Nothing needed to be said. He nodded in a silent salute, put his cover back on his head, and went to join his officers to depart for their ship.

When Robert returned to the bridge everyone was at stations. "Scotty says we have another five hours before he gets the impulsors back up to full," Barnes said. "Until then we're going to be limited to point seven five impulse."

"Set a course back to Alliance space, Mister Locarno, best speed," Robert said, getting into his command chair. "Jarod... keep an eye on them. Let me know if I'm wrong about Lamper."

"Yes sir."

Robert settled back into his chair and looked over at Julia, who was examining a damage report summary. "Did you ever expect something like this when we came out here, Julie?"

She looked at him and shook her head. "Not at all. It's weird and scary at the same time. Nazis, for Christ's sake. And we had them here, on our ship."

"Yeah." Robert drew in a breath. "Hard to hate them as much when you meet a few people and they seem like good ones, though. That's what's so insidious about those kinds of movements."

"You won't find disagreement here." Julia handed him the tablet. "Final damage report, it's for you to sign off on."

"Oh, paperwork." He smirked as he took the tablet. "So there is worse than Space Nazis. Give me Fassbinder over this any day," he joked.

Julia smiled and chook her head. "No whining on bridge watch, sir. It looks bad to the crew."

"Yes, mother."

Lamper had just returned to his ship to find an unexpected sight. Fassbinder was with another man, one showing a battle injury, and in an SS uniform with the rank insignia of a Hauptsturmführer. Said man saluted stiffly; like Fassbinder he was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and looked very fit. All SS do. Genetic engineering to maintain racial purity, because the Master Race's natural superiority isn't as superior as they like to think, Lamper thought defiantly. Such thoughts would cost him his career if they got out, of course, but years of service in the Raumskriegsmarine had bred some skepticism into him about the Party and their SS guardians.

More importantly, though, was the fact that the man was still in restraints. Or rather was in them until Fassbinder removed them. "What's going on, Fassbinder?", Lamper asked.

"Captain, this is Hauptsturmführer Ludwig Vogts. He is the commander of the Stammel."

Lamper remained silent. And he put everything together in his mind. "This was all an SS trick."

"The Fuehrer wished to have a reason to rally ships to this area," Fassbinder said. "To prepare for our campaign against the blue beasts and other species that pollute our frontiers. Hauptsturmführer Vogts provided that reason. When we discovered the existence of the Alliance his role was... expanded." A grin crossed the SS man's face. "Please put this in your report. The SS has decided it is time the OKW learned of our operations here, in preparation for the coming war."

"How many of our people did you kill for this?", Lamper asked quietly.

"They are all martyrs of the Reich, Captain," Fassbinder said coldly. "Do not be overly concerned. Our lives are all forfeit to the will of the Fuehrer."

"Heaven hope their deaths are not in vain."

Fassbinder ignored him. "You still have a chance, Captain, to fulfill my request. The Stammel is mostly intact, and our damage is not as severe as the Aurora's. Their backs are turned. A single volley to their drives and they would never escape us."

"The other vessel could, however," Lamper reminded him.

"You think those sentimental weaklings would leave their friends to death or capture?", Fassbinder asked, contempt dripping in his voice.

"No, Sturmbannführer, I believe that Captain Dale would order Commander Carrey to get out of the nebula to warn the Alliance of our treachery," Lamper retorted. "That is presuming they cannot activate their IU drives in this nebula. And we have already seen them do so."

"One way," Fassbinder retorted. "And in the end, what does it matter if the other vessel escapes. You know war is coming between the Reich and the Alliance, Captain. Why wait?"

"Because you are asking me to risk my crews' lives on a foolish gamble fueled by your ambition and not the needs of the Reich and the Fuehrer. Because the Reich needs time to prepare for an interstellar war against a power like the Alliance."

"You do not have faith in the power of the Aryan Race to prevail, Captain?"

"No, I simply understand the threat we face. The Reich must prepare to defend itself, Fassbinder. It needs time." Lamper shook his head. "I am not firing. My crew will not fire. We are returning to Reich space, and that is all."

"Your caution is unworthy of your rank," Fassbinder hissed. But he said nothing more as Lamper left.

Vogts looked to him. "Why are you so obsessed with attacking this 'Aurora', Sturmbannführer?"

"I have... a feeling, Vogts." Fassbinder smiled. "Since I saw that ship I knew that my time had come. Somehow, someway, the Aurora is the key to my future. And I mean to have it."

The Aurora and Koenig continued on their course out of the nebula in silence. Aboard Aurora the battle damage was being steadily repaired while preparations were made for honoring the fallen.

Fresh from their bridge watch together, Angel led Caterina through the ship's forward corridors. "You really don't have to do this, Angel," Cat insisted. "We can have dinner in my quarters."

"Stop fussing, little sister," Angel said in her "I am reproaching you" tone of voice. "You didn't get to finish your party. The least I can do for you is give you a birthday dinner."

"Fine," Cat sighed.

"Admit it." Angel smiled. "You just want to go back to reading those logs Scotty got for you."

Cat blushed. "There's so many of them! The Enterprise was, like, it was this magnet for phenomena!"

"It'll be there tomorrow." Angel's smile turned mischievous. "Or is this about that Nazi who was buttering you up?"

Caterina looked both embarrassed and mortified. "He was just being nice..." A confused look crossed her face. "A Nazi was being nice. I thought Nazis were supposed to be mean? I mean, we're not German-style Aryans, right? Our family is from Mexico, we can't be Aryans. Why would he be nice to me?"

"I had the feeling he wasn't a model Nazi. He probably is as much a geek as you are, Cat." Angel stopped as they got to the port entrance to the Lookout lounge. "After you birthday girl."

Cat walked by her. Her third step activated the sliding door's proximity sensor, and two steps later....


The shout echoed down through the corridor. Angel entered behind her awestruck sister to see who had made it. Virtually everyone had; the main command staff of both ships, Commander Kane, and some of the other ranking science officers were present, as were the few civilian scientists assigned as advisors to the ship. Hargert and Julia stood together by the table, the elderly German host putting a final touch to his painstaking recreation of the birthday cake while Julia lit the "2" and the "1" candles. "Caterina, my dear girl," Hargert said with a wide smile. "Happy Birthday!"

"But... but..."

Scotty shook his head. "Now lass, we cudnae let those pirates ruin yer birthday party, cud we?"

"Yeah!" Barnes raised a glass. "Three more cheers for the birthday girl!"

Caterina blushed deeply as she got the cheers.


They were finally out of the nebula, and Scotty was preparing to go to bed for the day. Repair reports moved over his tablet as he read them and confirmed them, ensuring Lieutenant Nesay would know what was expected of Gamma Shift. He was interrupted by the chime at his door. When he stepped up to it and prompted it to open Jarod was standing there, a bottle in his hand. "Ah, Mister Jarod?"

"I figured it was time for us to share that drink," Jarod answered. "Hargert let me into his drink cabinet, I found what I think is some very good Scotch."

Scotty moved and allowed the younger man into his quarters. He retrieved two glasses from the replicator and set them on his table. Jarod began pouring the contents of the bottle into them. "So, hell of a thing, huh? Nazis, I mean."

"Aye.... wish I could say it's new for me."

Jarod looked at him with surprise. "You've met Nazis before?"

"Well... nae like these scunners," Scotty admitted. "It's one of th' missions we went on back on th' Enterprise." Scotty took up his glass and drank from it. A pleasant look came to his face. "Oh! This is great stuff, I'll have tae speak tae Mister Hargert about where he got it from."

"I tried. He called it a secret." Jarod smirked and took a drink himself. "Oh.... I think I see the appeal now."

"Ye havenae lived, Mister Jarod, until ye've enjoyed a fine Scotch," Scotty insisted.

Jarod poured more and they each took smaller drinks this time, letting them savor the contents of their glasses more. "So...."


Jarod smiled. "Meeting Nazis on the Enterprise."

"Oh! Yes. See, there was this daft historian by th' name of John Gill who was sent tae th' planet Ekos as a cultural observer..."

"I am certain, Mastrash."

Ledosh's image remained still on Meridina's screen. "You felt him have a vision?"

"A dream state vision, yes. His life force was clearly tapping the talent. I know this." Meridina's voice was almost urgent. "And before, he caused a mental bond I had created to strengthen...."

"Yes, I saw your report on that." Ledosh remained quiet for a moment. "What request do you wish to make of me?"

"I wish to approach him about it. He knows about swevyra. He will be receptive."

"Request denied."


"Meridina, please." Ledosh sighed. "Karesl has been making maneuvers amongst the Council. He is crafting an isolationist movement. We cannot give him and those who doubt the Prophecy of the Dawn any more chances to sway the others. Otherwise.... you would likely be recalled and disgraced, and our involvement with the Alliance would decline heavily. And with these 'Nazis' existing, the Alliance needs us now more than ever. For now, you must allow things to develop on their own. Let him come to realize what he has. Only then can you approach Robert Dale and offer to train him. Only then. Do you understand?"

Meridina sighed in disappointment. "Yes, Mastrash. I understand. And the same with...?"

"Yes. The same with her."

"I will do as you instruct then, Mastrash."

"Thank you. It is for the best. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Mastrash Ledosh."

Robert let out a yawn and put his uniform jacket up, standing alone in the red command branch undershirt that was part of the standard uniform design. He walked toward his bed for a moment and stopped as he went to sit down. There was a chirp over the intercom, causing him to reach to where he'd put his multidevice on the nightstand. "Dale here."

"We have a subspace signal for you from Admiral Lithgon."

"Put him through." Robert stood, keeping his spine as straight as he could as Lithgon appeared on his wall-mounted screen. "Admiral."

"Captain. I've read your report. Good work in subduing that pirate band." Lithgon's expression belied something more on his mind, however. "I'm cancelling your survey operation. You will report to the Capital Fleet Base for repair, under Admiral Maran's orders."

"Very well, sir." Robert swallowed. "What about the Reich? Has anything else developed?"

"Nothing. We've sent subspace signals offering to establish diplomatic relations, but they're being quiet about it. Too quiet. Thankfully, I'm getting the Fourth Fleet by the end of the month, we should be able to hold the line with their help."

"We'll need more than one fleet," Robert mused.

"I agree. But for now that's what we have to settle on. Besides, the Liberty is the biggest dreadnought-class starship in the Alliance, with a good fleet around her we'll give the Nazis pause." Lithgon cracked a confident smile. "Good luck, Captain Dale. I hope to see you back sometime, so long as you're not here to fight a war."

"God help us prevent that from happening," Robert said. "Take care, Admiral. Dale out." He reached to his multidevice and ended the call. The torch insignia of the Allied Systems appeared briefly before the screen went blank. Robert finished removing his uniform. He laid on his back, hands on his belly, and stared at the ceiling as he waited for sleep to claim him.

He almost didn't want to go to sleep. His dreams had been getting vivid these past couple of days, especially that night when they were still in the nebula. Figures and ships he didn't recognize, and people he did recognize but in ways that left him full of dread.

"God, please? One night without bad dreams like that? Can't I just dream about my family again? Or Angel? Anything but those dreams again....." Robert felt sleep tug at his eyelids until they were fully closed. He rolled under his sheets and felt the softness of his bed under his ribs as his head settled into the pillow.

It was about that time that sleep claimed him. The dreams came afterward.

They were dreams of fire and death.

And deep in his heart, Robert knew they were dreams of the war that was to come.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


The Starship Aurora moved along at warp in Zack's eyes. His focus was on her landing deck looming ahead. He kept his hands steady on the controls of this craft, moving the Mongoose strike fighter ever closer. In the seat behind him Patrice Laurent, the Aurora's wing commander, was observing. "Your approach is good," he said.

"Yeah." Zack ignored the beads of sweat on his forehead as he held his position relative to the Aurora. His fighter's warp field began to merge with the Aurora's, making the fighter shudder. With one hand he carefully adjusted his craft's field to give way to the Aurora's, allowing him to shut down his warp engines as he came in for final approach. Running lights on the hull plates in front of the landing deck guided him to the third port landing path. He pulled the nose of the Mongoose up slightly as it made the final hundred meter approach. A shudder filled the craft as the rear landing gear made contact. Moments later the entire craft stopped, pushing Zack violently against his seat harness and nearly knocking the breath out of him. He sucked in air and smiled, looking at the green light that appeared above him. "Haha!", he shouted.

"Congratulations, Zachary," Laurent said. "You passed the warp landing test successfully."

The Mongoose was pulled by weak tractor beams into its assigned bay. Other fighters of the same type were visible; dart-like hulls with engines on the sides of the rear that formed the base of wings that doubled as atmospheric flight aids and hardpoints for missile or torpedo weapons. It was, Zack admitted, a very damned cool design, and while the Koenig was his baby he really enjoyed the feeling of a fighter now that he'd experienced it.

The cockpit was released, allowing the two men out. Most of those around were in the biege of ship operations, meaning they were flight deck operations, but one figure with red trim on her uniform stood out. Zack smiled widely and fought that tremor of longing he felt when he looked into Julia's glistening green eyes and her happy smile. "So, that's it, isn't it?"

"Very good, Zack. Keep it up and we might have to move you off the Koenig." Julia's smile grew as she hugged him. "You've earned your wings, Zack."

"That he has." Laurent put a hand on Zack's shoulder. "I'll finish the paperwork right now. Personnel will have to approve it, but that should only take a day."

"Assuming Robert remembers to sign the paperwork," Zack joked.

"Oh, that's where I come in," Julia laughed. "Come on. I'll go get you a drink at the Lookout. A celebration."

"Oh, it's not that big a deal. Finishing my flight qualifications was just something to do while Karen and Tom continue that rebuild of the Koenig's warp systems."

"Well, we're on another exploration mission, best time to get it out of the way."

"And not when were were in spacedock after the fight at Krellan Nebula?", Zack asked pointedly.

"Maybe if we'd known, but it looks like Robert's not the only one slow with paperwork." Julia wagged a finger at him. "If you'd been faster to sign off on the inspection results, the need for the rebuild would have been found out sooner."

"I hate paperwork," Zack grumbled.

"Don't we all," Laurent laughed. "Come on, Commander. I'll file the results from the Lookout. I have a brandy you must try..."

Robert eyed Julia's empty seat again and drew in a sigh. Not being allowed to let their watches completely overlap was a pain, even if a necessity for crew readiness, and he missed having her present as someone to, frankly, talk to. "Time to Abdis, Nick?"

NIck Locarno checked the helm. "We're just a few minutes out, sir. A couple minutes closer from the last time you asked."

"Oh, yes."

"Shouldn't you be doing paperwork, Captain?", Jarod asked, using the rank with a slight smile.

"Not you too," Robert groaned. "And I'll have you know I finished all of the daily reports an hour ago. It's been quiet."

"We can't always run into Space Nazis," Angel said from Tactical.

"Don't remind me," Robert groaned. He'd been dreaming some very horrible things the past month, imagining planets on fire and the screams of the dying...

"Exchange any letters with that sensor officer from Lamper's crew, sis?" Angel looked over at sensors, where her sister Caterina was looking over readings.

"That stopped being funny a week ago, Angel," Cat mumbled. She remained fixated on her scans.

"Something interesting, Cat?"

"Yeah. I've got some kind of subspace disturbance on the higher bands. Really high. 'We can't reach that far' high. But I can't localize its exact location and the general direction, well... it is heading for us roughly in the sense that an avalanche runs over a rock, but it could be heading for the Galactic Core for all I know."

"Hrm." Robert put a hand to his chin. "Keep an eye on it. Jarod, I don't want to drive the crew nuts with a full alert, but I'd like to change running status to Code Blue for the time being. Until the distortion passes, at least."

"Code Blue it is." Jarod tapped a couple of buttons at one end of his panel. The code level lights on the sides of the bridge went from green to blue. The ship computers automatically announced the new alert level, effectively warning the crew that something might happen in the coming hours and to be mindful of their activities.

"We're coming up on Abdis, sir." Locarno's hand went to the controls. "Bringing us out of warp."

On the screen the desert world Abdis appeared. It existed in multiple universes, being fairly close to Earth in each, and all versions had proven rich in naqia. This was their first survey of this particular universe, however. "Entering orbit of Abdis, sir."

"Start your scans, Cat. Assuming anything is going to be different about R4A1's Abdis that the others don't have."

"Scanning now," Caterina said. Heads turned because she said it very... quietly, compared to the usual attitude of exhuberance.

"Who are you and what did you do with my crazy little sister?", Angel teased. "Seriously, no squeals of happiness at scanning a planet?"

"I've, uh, scanned this planet before. A bunch of times," Caterina pointed out. "It's always the same. So I'm not seeing anything new, just what I've seen.... before...."


"Okay, I'm excited again!", Cat squealed. "I'm picking something new up! Something not on other Abdises... Abdisi? Abd... whatever, it's new!"

Robert took interest in that. "What is it?"

"Life forms! Human life forms!" Caterina squeed as only she could. "There are people down there! And I'm not reading any signs of major technology either!"

"That... that makes no sense," Angel said.

"Especially since Earth in this universe is supposed to be 1990s," Jarod added.

"It looks like there's a bunch of settlements around some of the big naqia deposits. And I've got something pretty big on the surface nearby."

"Put it on screen," Robert asked.

The holoviewer came on. The orbital picture showed a structure nestled in the sand dunes. A basic, familiar structure.

"Is that an Egyptian-style pyramid?", Jarod asked.

"Yes," Robert said, staring in wonder at it.

Undiscovered Frontier
"Do No Harm"

Ship's Log: 28 March 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are maintaining an orbit of Abdis R4A1 as we investigate the peculiarity of this universe's copy of this naqia-rich desert world. I'm sending down away teams to investigate directly while we stay in orbit and investigate.

I'm also keeping an eye on that subspace distortion wave Caterina has picked up. Something about it unsettles me.

Zack checked the holster on his hip and felt the re-assuring indication of a pulse pistol. His action uniform looked just like a normal duty uniform for the Stellar Navy, but the material was backed by ceramics for additional defense and was made to distribute energy impacts from weapons fire. His belt contained not only his pulse pistol but the personal forcefield system that was his main defense from being shot at. He stepped into the transporter room asking, "So, I was never down to Abdis before. Anything I should know?"

"Yeah." Julia was following him, in a similar field uniform that was just as flattering to her as the usual ones. "It's a desert. It sucks."

"Any reason you're going?", Zack asked. "I've got nothing better to do, that's my excuse."

"I told Rob I wanted this one," Julia answered. "He got to infiltrate the Mayala. I get to walk around a desert." Julia folded her arms. "Still, it lets me do some field work. I miss it, a bit."

"You mean you miss going around punching and kicking jerks while we rescued people?", Zack asked.

She smirked. "Yeah."

The door opened again. Meridina entered with Leo behind her. Leo was in a field uniform with extra packs, medical equipment one could guess, with the trim being the blue of medical instead of their red. Meridina was in a blue robe with dark purple body armor showing underneath. The two gold and one silver stripe rank insignia from her uniform were fixed to her neck. Both carried pulse pistols, although Meridina had her lakesh hilt fixed to her belt as well. "I figured Cat would be going down to see the pyramid," Zack asked.

"She wanted to," Julia answered. "But Robert wants her keeping an eye on the orbital scans and that subspace signature she says is coming through here."

"Poor Cat." Zack looked at Leo. "So, buddy, a good old fashioned landing party! Been a while hasn't it?"

Leo let out a harsh laugh. "That was your thing, remember? I was always stuck back in the Facility to fix everyone up when they came back. Besides, you once got your jaw broken, why are you so happy about this?"

"Change of pace, Leo, change of pace." Zack clapped him on the shoulder. "Personal cloaks ready?"

"Ready." Julia looked to the young Alakin at the transporter. "Beam us down to the settlement."

"I am ready, Commander," the avian humanoid chirped.

"Well, away we go," Zack said cheerfully, stepping up to the transporter.

Caterina watched the reading on her subspace scanners and saw that it was certainly on course for going through them. She focused on it, racking her brain at where she'd seen such a subspace signature before.

"Landing team is away," Jarod said.

"Assuming a polar orbit," Locarno added.

"Cat, anything more on that subspace wave?", Robert asked.

"I know I've seen this before," she insisted. "But I can't remember." She looked back to the swirling waves of blue and gold on her monitor.

Julia was reminded of some of the villages and settlements she had seen during their "rescue work" days, and the people of this version of Abdis having bronze complexions that made them look Semitic only added to those memories. The natives' clothes were homespun fibers and didn't look comfortable at all and they were clearly a pre-industrial society. She actually wondered how they found sustenance on a world like Abdis.

"I've got something weird on life scanners," Zack muttered, keeping his tone low enough so that the sound of his voice didn't leave his cloaking field but instead went through the multidevice to the earpieces in the others. His multi-device was active and he had his arm up to show her the readings. "It's claiming two of the life signatures are only near human. One more than the other."

"Leo?" Julia turned to him. "What are you getting?"

"The same." He examined the readings. "Everything looks right but there's something off about the bioelectrics. It's outside human norms."

"Yes," Meridina whispered. "That way." She indicated a section of the village.

They slipped through the town, Meridina following and concentrating, using her swevyra to flatten the foot prints that appeared under them. Zack was at the lead, following his multi-device's scans. They approached an area with what looked to be a cookpot along with a wooden table. A light-skinned man was entering one of the tent structures, stepping away from another man who was considerably darker skinned, closer to Leo than the other village-dwellers. One who's dress made him look completely out of place.

"That's an Army BDU," Julia murmured, surprised. "And what's the symbol on that patch?"

"Pyramid with a circle above it?" Zack shrugged. "Don't know. Let's just slip past him." Zack stepped forward.

Meridina shook her head. "Commander Carrey, you should not...."

Zack was already approaching the tent, going behind the uniformed man. As the word "not" left Meridina's lips, the man twisted in place and lashed out with his arm. It swept across Zack's shoulders with enough force to knock him down, a cry of surprise breaking through his cloak. Heads turned and the villagers looked on in surprise as the man knelt down beside Zack's fallen form. A device that looked like a bizarre gun, the top of it raising up, pressed against him. "Show yourself!", the man shouted firmly.

Zack fumbled for his cloaking device and pressed it, shimmering into view beneath his attacker. As he did so Julia brought her pulse pistol out, turned off her cloak, and pressed it to the back of the man's bald head. "Let him go!", she demanded.

Meridina and Leo deactivated their cloaks as well. A sharp sound filled the air as Meridina retrieved her lakesh and extended the blade fully.

Commotion was overcoming the village now. The tent flap opened and the light-skinned man came out. He looked at the other man, his eyes going from there to Julia and Zack and then to Meridina and Leo. "Who are you?", he asked.

In English.

"You speak English?", Leo asked, confused.

"I could ask the same of you," the light-skinned man said. Behind him, in the now opened tent, one could make out a figure who looked to be local hovering in the shadow, clearly curious. "Please stop pointing a gun at my friend."

"He pointed his at my friend first," Julia retorted. "Together?"

The other man said nothing, but he made a very slight movement, pulling his strange weapon away from Zack. Julia pulled her pulse pistol away in the same manner; their hesitant moves picked up in speed as both clearly recognized reciprocation.

"Thanks," Zack huffed, sitting up in the sand. He looked up to the light-skinned man. "So, you're not from around here, are you?"

"I know you're not," the other man replied. "I'm having a really bad day, so I hope you'll understand if I'm not very pleasant when I say this... but who in the hell are you?"

Julia looked back to Meridina and nodded. Meridina retracted her lakesh blade and Julia holstered her pistol. "I'm Commander Julia Andreys, First Officer of the Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems," Julia answered. "This is our ship security chief, Lieutenant Commander Meridina, and chief medical officer Doctor Leo Gillam."

"Commander Zack Carrey, Starship Koenig," Zack added. When the big man who'd knocked him down offered his hand tentatively, Zack took it and let his former attacker help him get to his feet. He looked into the face of the man who'd somehow known he was there and after taking in his dark eyes.... he noticed that this guy had some kind of raised tattoo on his head, showing a double-headed snake.

The other two men looked at each other with some surprise. The light-skinned man nodded. "Alright then. I wasn't expecting something like this, but I've had stranger things happen." He extended his hand to Julia. "I'm Doctor Daniel Jackson. My friend here is Teal'c. We're from Stargate Command."

The landing party stood to one side in the tent, Daniel and Teal'c to the other, while Daniel's wife Sha're was seated and being attended to by her father, introduced to them as the village headman Kasuf.

"So these things, these Goa'ud..."

"Goa'uld," Meridina corrected softly.

Julia gave her a look of annoyance. "...these things take over human bodies? And rule a galaxy-spanning empire?" She drew in a breath. "Dammit, that's going to complicate things."

"You say you come from other universes, yet you have not heard of the Goa'uld in those other places?", Teal'c asked.

"Not at all," she said. "I mean, this isn't unique. There are hundreds, hundreds, of alien races in just one quarter of the galaxy of S5T3 that don't exist in the others. Dozens in the other universes. We have a few in the Alliance, in fact. Alakins, Dorei, Gersallians..."

"Although we are often confused for Humans," Meridina mused.

"Well, the resemblence is pretty strong ." Daniel turned to Sha're and extended his hand. She accepted it. "General Hammond would be very interested to speak to you, I'm sure. Teal'c can take you to the Stargate. But I'm staying here."

"The one in you is dormant," Meridina noted. "I sense its slumber. Why?"

"It is protecting the baby," Sha're answered. She settled a hand on her belly. "If the demon wakes up the baby could be lost."

"But the moment you give birth, that thing takes over again?", Leo asked. He was the only one seated and looked to be very deep in thought.

"Yes." Sha're's lip trembled and she looked at Daniel with eyes brimming with sadness.

"And nothing can be done?" Meridina sensed Sha're's feelings of despair. She looked to Daniel and Teal'c. "You cannot remove the beast?"

"We tried once, on a friend," Daniel answered. "It shed most of its body and hid itself deep enough in the brain that we didn't detect it until it was too late."

"The Goa'uld that took Kawalsky was young," Teal'c added. "Amaunet is not."

"So you're saying there's nothing that can be done." Zack looked at Sha're with sympathy. "She's...."

"You don't have to say it," Daniel snapped.

Leo stood. "No, he doesn't, because that damn thing is coming out."

"Leo?" Julia could hear an edge in his voice. It reminded her of his moods when they were back in the Facility and returned with shiploads of abused people he had to put back together.

"I can get it out," Leo insisted. "I'll need the St. Johns."

"What is this... St. Johns?", Teal'c asked.

"It's one of our runabout spacecraft," Julia replied. "It's outfitted with a medical support module. Leo, shouldn't you take her up to the Aurora?"

"I will if we can, but I'm not having her beam up in her condition." Leo looked to Sha're. "Let me help you, Sha're. I'll get the demon out of you. You can have your life back."

"Don't give her false hope." Daniel's tone was harsh. "Don't you dare."

"It's not false." Leo's eyes met Daniel's. "I can save her, Doctor Jackson. Please... let me."

For a moment the mutual gaze was held. Daniel looked back to Sha're and then Leo again. "Do you promise you can save her?"

Leo didn't flinch. "Yes."

"Then it is decided." Kasuf stood and looked to Sha're. "Go with them, daughter."

"It has to be Sha're's choice," Daniel insisted. He sat down next to Sha're again. "It's your choice."

"What if the demon kills me?", Sha're asked softly. "It can."

"Leo will stop it." Julia stepped up beside Leo and got onto a knee, putting her face at the same level of Sha're. Julia sucked in a breath and fixed her emerald eyes on Sha're's face. "I know you're scared. I can't imagine everything you've been through, I don't want to imagine it." She stayed silent for a moment. The implications of what had been done to this poor woman, having her body literally stolen from her, forced to become another man's wife and to bear his child.... that was a horror she'd never even considered. "It's your decision. I just want you to know... Leo would never let you down. He will do everything to save you, he will move heaven and earth to keep that promise."

Sha're looked at Julia intently. There was silence in the tent as she did so. Her head turned and she faced Daniel. She put her hand to his cheek. "If it will let me be with Daniel again...." Sha're smiled and let out a sob. "Yes. Yes, I choose to ask." She looked at Leo. "Will you help me?"

Leo's face was unmoving, his visage showing nothing but his compassion for Sha're... his determination that she would be freed. "Yes," he answered.

The bridge of the Aurora was quiet as Julia finished recounting everything. Her face hovered on the holoviewer, already looking tanned from Abdis' - or Abydos' - scorching sun. "And Leo's sure he can do this?"

"He is," Julia answered.

"Can I talk to him?"

"He's busy at the moment testing something with Teal'c. Something about a sedative."

"Okay." Robert nodded. "I'll send Commander Kane down with Leo's team on the St. Johns. If the parasite in her head is that important, they might be coming at any time, I want you to have the backup. Have Leo call Nasri for what he needs."

"We'll be expecting them." Julia looked up briefly before looking back. "Teal'c is going to take the rest of us to the pyramid. They say that's where the Stargate is."


Caterina looked up. "That sounds so familiar..."

"No," Robert said, looking back and pre-empting the request he knew was coming. "I need you on that subspace disturbance, Cat."

Caterina pouted, but when Robert didn't relent she let out a little disappointed sigh and returned to looking at her station. At tactical Angel smirked.

"Doctor Jackson says it's some kind of wormhole generator. This galaxy has a whole network of them, and the Earth here started exploring it about a year ago."

Robert drew in a breath. "Go ahead and talk to Stargate Command, Julie. But I'll have to get ahold of Admiral Maran so he can get directions from the President on what to do. Please be careful about what promises you make until I hear back from them."

"Oh, I'm always careful." Julia smiled thinly at the screen. "Andreys out." She disappeared.

"Well, this is certainly becoming the most interesting cake run survey ever," Angel chuckled.

"Just what I need," Robert moaned. "Another headache." He reached down and hit his intercom. "Commander Kane, this is Captain Dale. Grab your field gear and get to Shuttle Bay 2. I'm sending you down."

"Yes sir!" was the answer over the speaker.

"You need a pilot," Locarno said. "I can go."

"I'd rather have you here, Nick, if it's all the same," Robert said. "Just in case that subspace distortion turns out to be something nasty." He pressed the intercom key again. "Captain Dale to Lieutenant Lucero. Lucy, report to Shuttle Bay 2. I need you to pilot the St. Johns."

For a moment there was no reply. "Just as I'm enjoying lunch," a reply finally came. "Hargert is giving me a dirty look, I don't think this sausage stew was meant to be half-finished."

"Go ahead and take it," Robert laughed. "You might be down there for a while."

"Will do."

"You know...." Caterina looked up. "Lieutenant Ajaka is really good at subspace physics..."

"No means no, Cat."

Caterina pouted again and turned back to her screens.

Teal'c was in the lead, Zack behind him and Julia behind Zack. He had his zat holstered and his belt now contained Leo's cloaking device with Leo's earpiece now in Teal'c's ear, given because Leo and Julia had figured Teal'c would get more use from the cloaking system. They trudged through the desert sands at a steady stride, defying the sheer discomfort that Abydos was throwing at them. "It will not be much further," Teal'c said, turning his head back slightly.

"Yeah." Zack forced his pace a bit to stand beside Teal'c. "So... uh... how did you know I was there? I mean, I've slipped by plenty of people before..."

"I heard you disturb the sand," Teal'c answered promptly. "And you began to move more quickly, I felt the shift in the air between us."

"Oh." Zack stopped and took in a breath. Teal'c promptly stepped past him. "I'll have to watch that next time."

"You are fortunate I did not kill you." Teal'c turned back and let them catch up. "Tell me now. Do you truly believe your healer can save Sha're?"

"Yes," Julia insisted.

"He has never had to work with a Goa'uld before," Teal'c pointed out. "And he is young."

"Maybe. But Leo won't give up until she's okay."

Zack nodded in agreement. "He can do it. Leo's the smartest guy I know when it comes to things like this."

Teal'c's eyes moved from Julia to Zack and back. "You place great faith in your friend. I hope you are right. Daniel Jackson and Sha're have suffered enough without having false hope given to them." He turned away and continued down the next dune.

"Friendly guy," Zack muttered to Julia. Julia smirked back before taking the first step to follow.

Lucy finished her pre-flight checks and looked back to Nasri. The Sudanese woman, rescued from Darfur back in the "old days" of the Facility, was wearing the blue field uniform of Stellar Navy medical personnel and currently occupied in doing final checks on the medical unit. "We're ready to go on my end."

"I'm doing final checks to make sure the medical unit is ready." Nasri tapped another key. "I can't believe we're about to do this. Opening a woman's head to pull an alien parasite out?"

"Doctors and nurses get all the fun jobs," Lucy remarked. "Don't worry about it, Leo's got this one. Let's just make sure we give him the tools he needs."

The bridge of the Aurora was quiet, but even shouts would have had a hard time getting the attention of Caterina. She stared at her screens intently, picking at something that felt like a memory but wasn't one. She knew what this pattern was... but she didn't. Just like she knew what a Stargate even... yeah.

And then it hit her.

"Duh! Oh no duh! I can be so silly sometimes!"

Her outburst drew the attention of the others. Caterina noticed them and swallowed. "I thought I'd seen this before, but I hadn't! It was in my head but not because I'd seen it before..."

"Cat, little sister.... what?"

"The brainwave infusions!", Cat squealed. "The Darglan data I learned was from that, but because it wasn't learned naturally I couldn't remember...."

"You know what that distortion is?", Jarod asked.

"Yes! It's the subspace ripple from a ship in hyperspace. In very deep hyperspace, a deep enough band that they're probably going a hundred times faster than warp drive. It'd propogate over long distances, but only in high bands at the furthest extents." Caterina's smile evaporated. "Crap. They're going that fast.... they'll be here any minute!"

Robert's spine stiffened. Given what he'd learned from the landing party, he could think of only one spacefaring civilization that fit this situation. "Jarod, get me Leo and Julia, now."

Within seconds both appeared. "We've got a ship incoming," Robert said. "Caterina figured out it's a hyperspace wave."

Teal'c's face came into focus beside Julia's. "It may be a Goa'uld mothership. You could be in grave danger."

"We'll deal with it if we have to. I'm not leaving you behind."

"It's better if the Goa'uld don't know we're here," Julia pointed out. "Leo, can you begin working on Sha're from the St. Johns?"

Leo nodded. "It should have everything I need. I wasn't taking chances when I gave Nasri my instructions."

"Good. Rob, please, get the Aurora out of range. Launch the runabout and get out of here. We'll signal when it's safe."

"And if these things decide to just start glassing the planet?", Angel pointed out.

Teal'c's reply was immediate. "It is highly unlilkely any Goa'uld would simply destroy this planet. They may come intending to conquer it, but it is not their way to destroy a world without reason."

Robert put his hands together, fingers interlacing together as his hands formed a rough sphere. "I hope you're right, Teal'c. Everyone take cover and stay safe. We'll be monitoring from the far side of one of the moons." He pressed the intercom. "Commander Kane, change of plans...."

"Alright everyone, new orders!" Kane's voice boomed over the shuttle bay. He pointed to his Marines and the corpsmen with them, boxes in their arms containing the last of the medical supplies. "You're with me!"

"Sir?', asked a teal-skinned Dorei with a confused expression.

"We're going down there, Marine, to help Doctor Gillam and Commander Andreys in whatever manner they require." Kane waved them in, thanking himself for the foresight to have them suit up "just in case". The entire squad was in their light field power armor with desert camo turned on; the armor was a vacuum-capable suit that looked more like a conventional armor suit for a person, but with a power source within to maintain the various systems tied into the suit. Arms were limited to assault rifles and sidearms as well as Corporal Ijala's sniper rifle. Having it required the Alakin had to duck to slip into the runabout entry door. "Secure yourselves in the back, I'm heading up to see our pilot."

Kane rushed to the front of the St. Johns, where Lucy and Nasri were already secured in seats. "I'm bringing more Marines with me, Lieutenant. We've got to launch now."

"Captain Dale already warned me," Lucy answered. She tapped her controls and brought the engines online. Behind them the shuttle bay doors finished opening. "Hold on tight!"

Lucy didn't bother turning. She fired retro-thrusters and the runabout flew out backwards, barely missing one of the shuttles before emerging into space.

"I've got the ship on long range sensors!", Caterina called out. "We've got... thirty seconds!"

"We're not going to have time to get to the moons," Locarno warned Robert.

"Do you think we can hide on the other side of the planet?", Robert asked.

"If we shut down a lot of systems, anything that generates a subspace signature.... yes," Jarod answered.

"Then get us there, Nick!"

"Aurora has that unknown ship coming out of hyperspace in twenty seconds!", Nasri shouted.

"No time for a proper landing then." Lucy took in a breath. "I hope my stew doesn't spill."

She operated the controls with a speed she'd rarely dared. The St. Johns shifted under her control and began plunging down into the planet. "We're going in too step!", Nasri complained.

"No choice, we've got to get to a naqia deposit or they'll have us on sensors!", Lucy shouted back, increasing their speed.

"You're crazy!", Nasri protested.

"My type of Goddamned crazy, Lieutenant!", Kane declared.

Lucy didn't reply. She focused entirely on the controls and her instruments. The latter were already insisting she decelerate or they'd crash, but she knew that she'd never make it in time if she had to do that.

Instead, she followed her instincts.

The people of Abydos could see the red streak of the St. Johns descending through the sky. They stared in wonderment while some panicked. From the outside of the main tent, Daniel and Meridina watched it. "That wouldn't happen to be that medical ship, would it?", Daniel asked.

"It is." Meridina stared. And, for a moment, she felt something... and it made her smile. Good. Listen to your feelings, she thought gently. Trust them.

Listen to your feelings. Trust them. The words were in Lucy's head, but she didn't remember thinking them. And then her attention was back on the screaming instruments, declaring her descent was too fast, her angle too steep, and that they were going to slam into the ground. An eye spotted the timer from the Aurora; eight seconds!

Something in her said It's time. Lucy fired the engines again, righting the St. Johns and decelerating it. G-forces leaked through the inertial dampeners and pulled against her and the others, the ship's systems shrieked in protest....

And then the ship shook under them, violently, as it slammed into the ground. Everyone was thrown against their harnesses. Lucy allowed the tremor to pass before letting out a primal scream of triumph. "Killing the systems now!" With several key presses she shut down the naqia reactor, the impulse drives, virtually everything, leaving only a microfusion core that would not show up against the ambient energy fields of the naqia deposits she'd landed above.

She hit the last key... and the timer reached zero.

Some were flocking toward the mines to see what had fallen there. Leo, Daniel, and Meridina were going as well, but that was because they knew what had come, and most importantly, they had Sha're with them, being helped along by Daniel and Meridina. In her condition she could not move quickly; it would take time for them to get that far.

"That pilot was insane." Daniel was still looking forward. "Another second...."

"I wonder if it was Nick," Leo said. "He's a daredevil of a pilot."

"It wasn't," Meridina said, smiling thinly. She'd felt Lucy Lucero, oh she had felt her, and aided her. It was brilliant piloting.

But another feeling came to Meridina. She looked upward and knew what was coming before the low roar came in the air. Eyes turned beyond the mines, in another direction; one that she had seen Teal'c, Julia, and Zachary take earlier. "What is that?", she asked quietly as the shape began to come down in the distance.

Daniel swallowed. "It's a Goa'uld ship," he said softly. "It's going to dock at the pyramid with the Stargate."

"May Swenya's Light be with the others," Meridina prayed softly.

Before they could move further, Sha're screamed and started to double over. "Sha're!" Daniel kneeled beside her. Leo got onto a knee and brought his multidevice up. A featureless figure, one Daniel knew to be Sha're's, appeared as a hologram over the device. "We've got to hurry," Leo said, his voice tense.

"What is wrong?", Sha're asked, worry on her face.

"You're going into labor," Leo answered. "The baby is coming."

They had almost gotten to the pyramid when the Goa'uld ship descended from the sky. "Now!", Julia called out. She reached down and hit her cloak. Zack and Teal'c did the same, all three wavering out of sight.

They found a short dune to kneel behind as they watched the ship land. A few minutes passed and armored figures came out, each carrying a staff in one hand. Armored helmets shifted into place on their heads, forming eagle-like shapes with glowing red eyes. "Horus guards," Teal'c murmured to the others.

"And that means?", Zack asked.

"These are not Apophis' forces. They belong to Heru'ur, another System Lord. He is one of Apophis' enemies."

Julia realized what this meant immediately. "He knows Apophis hid Sha're here. He's after her and the baby."

"That is most likely."

"We've got to warn them..."

"Be silent," Teal'c warned in a low voice. "Your devices are not perfect. We should return immediately. Stay low and do not let the wind push against you."

"Great. We just got here and now we're going back," Zack protested.

Julia's response was immediate. "Shhh!"

All was quiet on the Aurora bridge. "Any sign that they saw us?", Robert asked.

Jarod shook his head. "I doubt it. The problem is I can't be sure of where they went."


"I can't tell you either," she replied.

"Getting a burst transmission from the landing party, audio only," Jarod said. "I'm putting it on."

"Aurora, this is Andreys." Julia's voice sounded hoarse, like it was more of a forced whisper than normal speech. "The vessel was Goa'uld and landed on the pyramid containing the Stargate. We're on our way back to the settlement now. We'll organize a defense there." The transmission cut.

"Can we answer back?"

"Not without alerting that ship that someone's out here."

Robert put his hands together again in a thoughtful, irritated gesture. Up here, there was nothing he could do.

Kane and his Marines had disembarked and set up a perimeter when Leo arrived with the others; Meridina and Daniel supporting Sha're. "Let her down!", he shouted. "We're taking her in by stretcher! Commander!"

Kane didn't have to be told anything further. "Get the evac litter!" One of his corpsmen dragooned for the landing pulled out the retractable anti-grav litter from his pack. He set it up beside Sha're.

As she was put on it by Daniel and the corpsman, Leo stomped into the runabout's door and went straight for the medical module. "Get the emergency incubation chamber ready, she's in labor!"

Nasri stepped into the module, leading the nursing team in starting preparations. "How long?"

"Not long. I think the parasite may be influencing it."

Daniel was right behind the litter as the Marines brought Sha're in. She screamed once more and looked to Daniel, who took her hand as soon as she was transferred to the main bed. With a press of a button Leo caused the bed to shift until it was set up for the task at hand. "Okay, we're almost ready." Leo looked to the door. "Meridina!"

She came in, Kane behind her. "Commander?"

"I'm going to need you to be here with me," he said.

Meridina thought for a second. "You fear the parasite will do something when the birth is complete?"

"I know it will," Leo replied. "I'll need you here to combat it."

"I'd rather have you doing your swevyra magic stuff in a fight," Kane said. "But we'll manage."

"Very well."

"Doctor Jackson." Leo looked over to where Daniel was holding Sha're's hand, trying to reassure her with his presence. "You can stay for the birth, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave when it's done. This is going to be a delicate surgery."

"I understand," Daniel answered. He looked back to Sha're and began murmuring to her. He had a supportive smile as he spoke in the Abydonian dialect of ancient Egyptian.

"Everyone else, out."

Kane and Lucy, who had come to see what was going on, filed out of the module.

"Why is the baby coming so quickly?!", Sha're shouted.

"The Goa'uld is causing it somehow," Leo answered. "It's the most likely explanation. It could still be a couple of hours, though... I need you to rest as much as you can and let me know how far apart the contractions are. I have preparations to make."

Zack was ready to sit down when they got back to the settlement. Julia was clearly hiding how fatigued she'd gotten, while Teal'c seemed barely fazed. Commander Kane and Lucy were waiting them with other Marines. "What's our status?", Julia asked.

"We landed the St. Johns at the other end of the settlement, near one of the naqia mines." Kane motioned to his men. "I'm ready to establish a perimeter around the settlement."

"If you resist Heru'ur will destroy this village," warned Teal'c.

"And if we don't do something they'll attack the runabout to get Sha're." Julia found an empty bench and sat. "Could we attack them out in the desert?"

"Not as many chances for cover," Kane pointed out.

"But nobody gets hurt by being caught in the middle," Lucy added.

Zack looked up. "What if we lure them into a trap?"

That brought attention. Kane was the first to ask, "What do you mean, Commander?"

"I go out, a couple of people with me, and we get their attention." Zack grabbed a stick of firewood meant for the nearby cookpot and jabbed it into the ground. He created an X and an O. He pointed to the latter. "They're here. They see us, they chase." He drew a line from the X to about a foot away. There he drew more Xs in a circle. "Then we ambush."

"Ijala can set up on a high dune, give us sniper cover for the ambush." Kane smirked and nodded. "Good plan."

Teal'c nodded as well. "Indeed."

Leo was busy checking his tools while Nasri helped Sha're with a light pain reducer. "I'm afraid we can't give you more," she said. "It could harm the child."

"I understand."

Nasri stepped back up toward Leo. In a soft voice she asked, "Are you sure about this, Doctor? Her body will already be weak from giving birth. The surgery we're talking about doing..."

"I know," he answered. "But every minute that thing is inside her, it can do a lot of damage if it knows we're going to take it out. We're going to have a very limited window." Leo stopped for a moment and stared at the screen. "I promised I'd save her, Nasri." He looked directly at her. His brown eyes focused on her's and she could see how determined he was, more than she usually saw. "This thing has violated her in a way that I've never seen done to a person before. I can't let it continue."

"Does she know the risks, Doctor?", Nasri asked. "Her chances of dying are high enough."

"I won't let it happen," Leo insisted. "You can trust me on that."

"It's not about trust. It's..." Nasri looked into his expression and sighed. "I'm sorry, Doctor. I'm just concerned."

"That's fine. It's part of the job." Leo turned back to the screen. "Check her contractions again. I don't like how quickly they're picking up. At this rate she'll give birth at any time."

Julia, Zack, and Lucy remained on their knees behind a sand dune as the approaching line of armored figures drew closer. "Okay, we need to get their attention," Julia whispered to the others. "Anyone have any...."

"Hold that thought." Zack stood up and brought his pulse pistol up. One of the enemy troops turned his head enough to notice Zack. He let out a cry of warning before Zack's pistol fired. Blue bursts came from the muzzle and slammed into the armored man.

"Zack, I meant an actual plan!", Julia shouted, standing up and firing as well. Another of the Jaffa fell.

Zack narrowed his eyes at the armored humanoids as they lined up and leveled their sticks. "I wonder what those big stick things are for," he muttered.

One amongst them pointed to the landing party and shouted something in an alien language, but the distance made it hard to understand the cry. Red energy erupted from the segmented tips of the staves, forcing them back into cover. They could feel the heat of the blasts as they slammed into the sand dune, sending up showers of sand.

"Well obviously they're for shooting at us!", Julia pointed out irritably.

"Hey, I got their attention," Zack pointed out. He fired a wild shot over the dune. "Time to run!"

The trio took off, rushing as fast as they could through the sands. "I'm starting to hate... deserts," Zack huffed.

"Shut up and run, idiot!", Lucy retorted.

Red energy bolts crashed to either side of them as some of the Jaffa tried to fire from the hip, on the run. Lucy reached over and yanked Julia toward her. Both stumbled slightly and lost speed, but evaded the energy bolt that slammed into the sand ahead of them and that would have clearly hit Julia. "Thanks!", she said. "How....?"

"Woman's intuition."

"That is such a stupid answer," Julia laughed. It felt funny laughing in this situation, but she couldn't help but do so; she attributed it to the adrenaline pumping through her.

The ambush point chosen was where three sand dunes provided three points of fire while, half a mile away, a taller sand dune provided a position for the Alakin sniper in Kane's unit. They began charging up the far dune, still exposed as they did so. Julia tripped in the sand and fell to her knees as a bolt went over her head. "Dammit," she cried out, feeling pain shoot up from her left ankle.

"C'mon!" Zack reached down and picked her up. "You okay?"

"Twisted my ankle," she answered.

A bolt of red energy shot over their heads. Lucy's pistol fire went the other way, hitting the sand before one of them. They'd gotten to the most dangerous part; the dune was tall enough that the Jaffa could stop and get a moment to line up shots on them that they had no cover against. If the others weren't quick enough they were sitting ducks.

The Jaffa began to form a firing line, like from some Civil War documentary. "Any time!", Zack shouted into his multi-device. He looked back and saw the Jaffa bring up their firing staves to the barked order of their commander.

From out of nowhere a burst of orange light smashed into that lead Jaffa's forehead. He toppled lifeless into the sands. The other Jaffa hesitated for a moment, uncertain of where the shot came from...

Sand on every dune erupted as Kane and his Marines jumped up from ambush positions. Kane and Teal'c appeared just past Julia and Zack, assault rifle and zat raised and firing immediately. Blue energy rained down on the Jaffa from three angles while another blast of orange light went through the head of their oldest looking survivors. A few blasts came from the firing staves, but all were misses; the Jaffa were simply too disorganized to return fire effectively.

After the last one fell, Kane and Teal'c approached the three. "Looks like the plan worked." Kane spied Julia's injured foot. "Twisted ankle, Commander?"

"I'll live," she wheezed.

"Bet you miss your nice, quiet bridge post," Kane teased. "Corpsman!"

A Corpsman, a tanned young man with East Asian features, came from one of the other dunes. "Twisted ankle," he said. He brought up his arm and checked his M-dev. "Not a bad injury though, I can heal it here. Go ahead and sit down, Commander."

"Heru'ur will become suspicious when his Jaffa do not report in." Teal'c looked off toward the Goa'uld ship in the distance. "He will know if I am not his Prime, but I may be able to pass as one of the lesser warriors."

"Guess these Goa'uld aren't big on making sure they know their men," Kane remarked. "Get what you need and we'll fall back to the settlement."

"So far so good, I guess," Zack remarked.

Lucy nodded. "I hope the others are enjoying similar luck."

"Doctor, the contractions are long enough now!" Nasri looked up from the display even as Sha're cried out.

"Make sure everything is ready, we'll need to act as soon as she's given birth." Leo got into a chair at the end of the biobed. Leg braces gave Sha're something to rest her legs on. "When the contractions come, Sha're, you need to push with them, okay?"

She nodded and cried out again. Her face twisted into a rictus of exertion and agony through the entire contraction. Daniel held her hand tightly. "I'm here. It's going to be okay."

Sha're nodded and smiled at him. She looked back to Leo as another contraction began.

"Okay.... I see the head!" Leo looked up at her and smiled. "You're doing great!" By the time the contraction ended he nodded. "You're almost there! The next one should do it!"

""Daniel... the demon," Sha're groaned. "It will come back now. I can feel it waking up."

"It's okay. I'm here for you." Daniel sat up and kissed her on the lips. "I'll always be here for you, okay? I promise."

"I'm scared, Daniel," she admitted. "I'm...." Her sentence was broken as another contraction began.

"Push... push!" Leo kept glancing under the sheet over her legs and back to Sha're. "You're doing great, Sha're! The baby's almost here! Almost...." Leo nodded to a nurse, who had the incubator ready.

Sha're looked at Daniel. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Here!" Leo reached down and there was the sound of a soft thwack, followed by an ear-piercing wail. When he brought his arms back up he had a screaming baby in his arms. "Congratulations, it's a boy."

Sha're sat up. Her eyes flashed with white light. "You will give me the child," she demanded, her tone becoming imperious, commanding... and with an unnatural bass timbre to it.

Leo looked up at her. "You and I have something to discuss." He handed the baby to Nasri. Daniel stood up moved closer to Leo's side. "What's the thing's name again?"

"Amaunet," Daniel answered.

"Obey me, slave," Amaunet growled. "Give me the child or suffer the wrath of my Pharoah."

Daniel noticed Leo's nostrils flare a little. "Oh, bad choice of words there," he said to Amaunet.

"You've got two choices, Amaunet," Leo said with a voice that sounded deceptively soft, especially given the intensity of his glare. "I recommend Choice One. You depart Sha're freely and without harming her. I'll put you in a container to sustain you until you can be returned to your kind."

"This host is mine." Amaunet caused Sha're's eyes to flash again. "I will never give her up."

"Then you take Choice Two," Leo retorted. "I'm going to cut you out, and so long as Sha're survives it I don't give a Goddamn if you do or not." He nodded to Meridina.

Meridina focused on Sha're and felt out directly with her mind. She could feel Sha're still inside, terrified and sad, and the uncertain but haughty thoughts of Amaunet.

"You defy your Gods, slave? You will pay for...." Suddenly Sha're's body tensed up. "What is..... you cannot" She closed her eyes and took in a breath. "Daniel... something is holding the demon. What is...."

"Doctor...." Meridina's voice was forced. "This being is powerful. It's trying to slip from my control. And if I push harder I may harm Sha're. Please... hurry."

"I understand." Leo turned to Sha're. "It'll be over soon, Sha're," Leo promised. He pulled out a hypospray device and slipped a sedative cartridge in. He applied it directly to her carotid artery. "Sleep. Your body will need the rest."

She turned to her husband. A smile crossed her face as her eyes met his. "Dan...iel..." She slumped back onto the bed.

Leo put a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "I'll take good care of her. But I need you out of the medical module."

"I understand," he answered, looking back at his wife and frowning. "Maybe.... I'm not sure what would be worse, losing her here or having Amaunet take her back over."

"It's not going to happen, okay?" Leo ignored the look he was getting from Nasri. "I've got to clean up and get prepped for surgery. Nasri will show you a place to wait. You can watch the baby."

Daniel nodded, not taking his eyes off Sha're. "Okay." The look on his face betrayed his feelings; he felt hope but knew how easily it could slip away. He said nothing after accepting a nod from Leo and leaving the room ahead of Nasri.

Leo pulled off the gloves he'd been wearing to perform the childbirth and put them in a receptacle. He started to undo the surgical apron. "Finish getting her prepped while I finish this," he ordered his nurses.

The landing party and the Marines made it to the end of the settlement, each carrying a piece of Jaffa Horus Guard armor while Teal'c had also claimed one of the firing staves. At that time an unnaturally bass voice began to speak over the comm devices they had stolen. Teal'c brought one up and replied in the Goa'uld language. When the conversation was over he saw Julia looking toward him. "I told him that the unit was ambushed by Serpent Guards and that I am the only survivor of the battle. He is sending more Jaffa to join me."

"So we're back to square one," Zack grumbled. "And I don't feel like being bait again, if you don't mind."

"If we wipe this group out Heru'ur will have to know something is going on." Julia looked to Teal'c. "They know your voice now. You could keep up the charade of being the lone survivor."

"I will need to remain in the Horus helmet. The Jaffa will see me as a warrior of Apophis if they see my face." Teal'c indicated the golden snake insignia on his forehead. "As one of them I can try to direct their investigation."

"And what do the rest of us do?", Kane asked.

"Lucy, you take a couple of the Marines back to the St. Johns. If it comes down to it, we make a run for orbit and meeting with the Aurora." Julia looked to Kane next. "The rest of us will go back to that pyramid and see what we can do about that ship. Commander, your suits have cloaks, right?"

"These aren't full infiltrator models," Kane answered. "So we only have a few minutes of battery life."

"That will be enough. Come on everyone. We've going the roundabout way."

"Yay," Zack replied sarcastically.

With care Sha're's body had been shifted to be on her stomach, a necessity for what came next. The IVs were in place and the medical staff was in surgical gowns; Leo was approaching his moment of decision as he finished tying Sha're's curly hair to the sides of her head. "Holding fields ready," Nasri confirmed from her station. "Vitals are as strong as they'll get."

"Okay. Scalpel." Leo accepted the instrument form a nurse and used it to begin cutting away the flesh covering the Goa'uld's hiding place on the spinal column. He hated having to cut her physically, he would need direct access to the symbiote in case it woke up. When the cut was finished he pressed a key to bring up a holographic image of Sha're's upper spinal column and brain stem. The Goa'uld flashed red on it, its tendrils digging deep into her spine and the brain stem. "Activate the micro-transporters."

At Nasri's button press the system came on. Using the controls to manipulate the holo-display, Leo directed the tool into it and began moving it over the red. Energy thrummed through the systems and the red began disappearing. The tendrils of sensitive cells that the Goa'uld had woven into Sha're were literally cut up by a miniscule transporter beam, their matter being deposited in a pattern buffer for later retrieval or destruction.

"I'm picking up some activity from the Goa'uld," said the nurse at the other station. Leo recognized the void as Nurse Li, a Chinese woman from the FedStars. "I think it's starting to awaken."

"Put another dose of that sedative in," Leo ordered. "Twenty ccs." He continued to run the tool slowly over the red on the display.

The nurse nodded and prepared the appropriate dosage. She didn't blanch as she reached into Sha're's opened back and injected the substance directly into the Goa'uld symbiote wrapped onto the spine. Li looked back to the display. "Activity levels dropping. But not very far. I think the symbiote is adjusting. How high should the next dose be?"

"Keep it at 20ccs. I can't let that sedative get into Sha're's system," Leo said.

"What if we set up an IV?"

"No, it metabolizes too fast for that. Just be ready for another I'll just have to work faster."
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

In the cockpit of the runabout, Daniel was staring silently out at the looming night of Abydos, Sha're's baby quiet in the uncubator beside him. Lucy sat in the next chair over and retrieved a thermos from a compartment to the side. "Want some stew? It's authentic German sausage stew... of some kind. Our ship's lounge host and chef is German and cooks about everything to perfection."

"I'm sorry, but I'm not very hungry," Daniel responded.

Lucy shrugged. After she swallowed a spoonful of the stew she put the thermos down. "Leo is the most caring man I've ever known," she said. "Your wife is in good hands."

"The last time we tried to pull a symbiote out, it dug itself in deeply enough to survive and take full control," Daniel answered. "Kawalsky ended up getting killed."

"Leo's got the tools and the skill." Lucy put her hands together in front of her. "He brought me back to health. I.... when this all began for us, when Robert and the others found that Darglan facility.... I was a captive of a real bastard. He was exploiting Mexicans as slave labor and I tried to stop it. But he found me out. He took me prisoner and he left me locked and tied up in a room so his brat son could get his kicks hurting me. And then...." Lucy looked off out the window, with tears at the corners of her eyes. "...they came for me. One moment I'm in that damned torture chamber and the next I'm on a bed. And here is Leo looking down at me with such..." She sucked in a breath. "it was like looking into the eyes of an angel after being in the middle of Hell. And he took things and he made the pain go away and... it was all over."

Daniel listened quietly as she gave her story. Every moment he'd spent not worrying about Sha're he'd been considering the story given by Julia Andreys earlier in the day. It seems so impossible, at least when he didn't think of what he'd done (up to and including seeing an alternate timeline). "Between your experiences and mine, I'm not sure which are more impossible. So why do I feel like getting Sha're back is?"

"I guess that's the part of you that is afraid it won't turn out that way," Lucy murmured. "You don't want to get your hopes up."

"That sounds about right."

Teal'c watched quietly as Kasuf took another smack to the face. Heru'ur's men were not in a happy mood and there was nothing Teal'c could do to keep them from beating the village headman. Kasuf was enduring regardless out of undoubted parental devotion. "The warriors of Apophis took her," Kasuf insisted. "Many days ago."


"I was not told."

The Jaffa struck him again in frustration. "Had she given birth yet?!"

"No... no she had not."

The Jaffa growled and looked away. He spoke into his communicator. "My Lord, the village headman says that Apophis has already reclaimed his queen."

"Are you sure?!"

"I have seen no sign of the woman or the child."

There was frustrated silence on the other end. "Return immediately. I...." There was a sound in the background that drew Heru'ur's attention.

Teal'c recognized it immediately; the Stargate was activating. He turned away from the others and whispered, "Someone is coming through the Stargate."

"Can you find out who they are?", Julia answered.

Teal'c looked back and listened. The Stargate finished activating and he could hear the familiar sound of the particle jet formed whenever a Stargate opened. Moments later was a demand for the newcomers to surrender.

"Uh... I think we might be on the wrong planet?", was the reply.

Teal'c's expression froze upon hearing it. "Colonel O'Neill," he murmured.

The pyramid was drawing closer, ever so closer, but Julia stopped when she heard Teal'c's faint remark. "Colonel who?", she asked.

There was a pause. A lengthy one. "I heard Colonel O'Neill's voice. He and Captain Carter must have come through the Gate. Heru'ur has them prisoner."

"Oh, that's all," Zack sighed. "So this just became a rescue mission. Guess we're back to the old business."

Julia shot him an irritated look. "Stay with the other Jaffa for now, Teal'c. We'll get in and help the others." Julia cut the signal. "Alright everyone, double time it!" She picked up the pace, almost breaking into a jog.

"Last time I volunteer for a landing party," Zack grumbled.

Leo removed another tendril of Amaunet from Sha're's spinal column and smiled thinly. "Vitals are still good?", he asked Nasri.

"The symbiote is showing signs of low-level activity again," Nurse Li warned.

"Dose it up again," Leo ordered. He went back to work, forcing himself not to rush. The last thing he needed was to miss a cell of this damned thing.

Lucy watched Daniel finish the soup she'd replicated for him and smiled at him. "Lucky woman to have a guy like you," she remarked.

"I don't think 'luck' is the best word to apply to our lives right now," Daniel reminded her.

"Yeah, poor choice of..." Lucy saw a green light come on her board and hit it. "Lucero here."

Julia was on the other end. "Lucy, how many people can you transport at once?"

"Uh.... no more than four." Lucy frowned. "And I'll have to bring some systems back online, the naqia won't mask us effectively any more."

"By that time it won't matter. Get everything ready, we'll be calling you soon. Andreys out."

"Well, this is fun." Lucy keyed the ship intercom. "Leo, a fair warning, very soon I might be flying."

"Just make sure you don't knock me around. Brain surgery is hard enough as it is."

"I'll do my best, but no promises." Lucy hit a button to turn off the intercom. "So, Doctor, ever fly a spaceship before?"

"Uh... no, I can't say I have," Daniel answered. "Why?"

"Well, watch and learn. Because you're in my co-pilot seat."

There were Jaffa guards flanking the entrance to the pyramid, but only two. The landing party remained hidden behind one of the dunes overlooking the pyramid. "Any idea what's inside?", Julia asked Kane.

Kane's helmet lit up with displays. "Too much interference."

"Okay. Then we do this the fun way. Zack and I will go down and take the guards out under cloak. You can come in visible and cloak when you get into the light, just in case that ship has cameras."

"I'd think it'd have life sensors myself," Zack remarked.

"No sign of scans from them," one of the Marines reported.

"Doesn't rule out simple heat imaging though, given the sun is down." Kane looked at the entrance. "Are you sure about this? Ijala can make the shots."

"If you miss...." Julia seemed to consider it. "Okay, let us get into position first. We'll signal you."

"Agreed." Kane nodded to Ijala and held his rifle up. Julia and Zack wavered out of view as their cloaks activated. Footsteps, very light ones, appeared in the surface of the sand.

Kane used the eye-based controls of his HUD to bring up the data he'd need to help Ijala. He crawled up beside his sniper and read off numbers; distance, wind speeds, angle. On his display he could see their comm feed show him the rough positions of the two young command officers sneaking ahead. Kane was familiar with many grips about the youth and relative lack of military training that the Aurora command crew had; he'd come to see it as just a slight drawback, because even if they didn't have the formal training, they had good instincts, and you couldn't train to get those.

His helmet lit up with a go-signal from Commander Andreys. "First target, Ijala," Kane murmured.

The Alakin made a soft chirp in reply and pulled the trigger. A quick orange pulse erupted from his rifle. The blast went through the eagle-head helmet on one of the guards and he fell instantly.

Ijala was bringing up his rifle for a second shot. Before he could, a blue light flashed behind the remaining Jaffa. It fell from a short range pistol shot to the back of the head. Through his HUD Kane saw Julia put her pistol back in its holster. "Alright everyone, cloaks on, timing will be tight."

Zack ignored the fatigue in, well, every part of his body. He tried to focus instead as they entered the central chamber of the pyramid. It was dominated by a big metal ring with red lights on it; ahead of the ring was a squad device with buttons and a big red sphere in the middle.

And beside this device he saw the origin of the cries of agony filling the room. A bald guy in a suit of chain mail was standing over two figures on their knees. His hand was stretched out over the forehead of a blond-haired woman, the figure beside her already looking down and breathing hard. Golden light reached out from the device on the bald man's hand and bathed the head of the woman and, given her cries, it was clearly not enjoyable. At least ten more Jaffa were arround the chamber on top of the two flanking the bald guy.

Remembering what Teal'c had said about how he revealed his position before, Zack moved slowly and quietly, taking care to shift weight to his feet carefully to limit sound. He carefully pulled his pulse pistol out of the holster. That looks like hell he thought, watching the bald guy - the guy in charge, clearly - torment his prisoners. "What do the Tau'ri have to do with Apophis' Queen?", the man demanded with a voice that sounded unnaturally deep.

"I have absolutely no clue what you're grumbling about," the man responded. Zack could see his hair was mostly wolf gray now, although he looked pretty spry for a guy of his age. Okay, so that must be Colonel O'Neill. And the woman is Captain Carter. "But hey, we hate Apophis too, so if you want to work together..."

The bald guy laughed. "When I am finished with Apophis, I will come for your planet and you will all be my slaves."

Julia moved opposite Zack toward a pair of Jaffa with their blaster staves held upright. They were both in position now.

"Oh, come on... we're really not that bad. You haven't seen TV yet, have...." The gold light covered O'Neill's head, making him gasp. When it ended, he sucked in a breath. "You're still carrying a grudge over Cimmeria, aren't you?"

As Kane, under cloak, entered the door, one of the Jaffa Julia was beside moved slightly. It was enough to show he'd sensed something. He raised his staff toward the entrance as another Marine entered the room.

Julia struck first, grabbing the staff and pulling it from the surprised Jaffa's hands before he could grasp it more tightly. She brought the butt end up and smashed it into the belly of the other Jaffa, causing him to double over. She twirled it around and sent the head of it into the first Jaffa's helmet, sending him down, and in the same motion brought the staff back around to smash the butt into the head of the remaining Jaffa.

Taking her cue, Zack brought his pistol up and unloaded it on the two Jaffa nearest to him. Beside him Kane raised his rifle and let loose with a burst that claimed another Jaffa. He had to take cover as two staff blasts converged on him.

The two Marines who'd come through the entrance opened fire now, claiming the two bodyguards of the bald guy. Their shots were absorbed by a yellow energy field that shimmered around, well, Zack was calling him "Baldy" in his head now.

In the chaos the two prisoners rolled away, going for a pair of assault rifles discarded near the iron ring.

"I do not know who you are," the bald guy growled, "but know that on this day you face Heru'ur, your God."

Zack peeked out of his corner. "I dunno, I always saw God as this big tall guy with a beard. Your beard's way too short." He dodged a staff blast behind cover. "And brown. Maybe you should settle for angel or something?"

"Zack!", Julia shouted in irritation. She'd charged another pair of Jaffa, getting in close enough that she was trading blows with them using the staff she'd taken. In close range neither dared shoot at her; she sidestepped one strike and slammed the butt of the stick into her attacker's knee with enough force to hurt it despite the armor. The Jaffa tumbled a bit, giving her an opening to do a quick jumping snap kick into the chest of the other. She used the staff to re-direct her weight and remain standing; the distance she'd kicked the Jaffa allowed one of the Marines enough clearance to shoot him.

Heru'ur snarled and let loose a blast from his hand device. Despite being mostly in cover the blast was enough to knock Zack and Kane back. "Woh, Baldy, seriously," Zack grumbled, picking himself up from the ground. "I'm trying to help here."

"Hey, Chrome Dome!"

Heru'ur turned from Zack and Kane. Bullets slammed into his forceshield repeatedly from the M5 in the hands of Colonel O'Neill. Seeing his gun was having no effect, O'Neill lowered it.

Heru'ur brought his hand up and pointed it to O'Neill. "You dare challenge me?", he guffawed, a mixture of amusement and irritation in his voice.

"Was thinking about it," O'Neill answered. He pulled a knife from his belt. In one motion he gripped the blade and brought it up. Within a second it was already flying forward.

The blade went right through Heru'ur's hand device. It sparked and the forcefield began to fail. Grimacing with pain and anger, Heru'ur reached for his hand. "You will pay for this insol..."

He stopped talking when Julia's fist connected with his jaw. The Goa'uld toppled over and found the stolen staff weapon pushing right up against his throat. "I'm not really sure how to fire these," Julia admitted, smirking. "Want me to try?"

Heru'ur's eyes flashed. "I will destroy you for this insult!" He hit something on his hand device.

There was a sound from above. Julia looked up to see a ciruclar hatch open. Rings appeared. a bright light almost blinded her, and rings started to move downward. Before they could land on her and imprison her with Heru'ur, she was tackled by Carter with enough force to push them both to safety. The rings finished surrounding Heru'ur, who disappeared in a flash of gold light.

Everyone stood still for a moment, taking account of the fallen Jaffa. "Well, that was completely unexpected," Colonel O'Neill said. He looked to where Zack was helping Carter and Julia get up. "So, you're not from around here either, are you?"

"Colonel O'Neill?" Julia brushed herself off. "I'm Commander Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora."

O'Neill blinked. "Of course you are. Jack O'Neill, SG-1. This is Captain Samantha Carter. I'm guessing you've already met my buddies Teal'c and Doctor Jackson?"

"Yeah." Julia raised her right arm and activated her multi-device. "Lucy? It's time. Beam Teal'c first and then get us. And hurry."

"Commander Zachary Koenig, Starship Koenig," Zack said, extending a hand. "Call me Zack."

"Call me Jack," was the reply. The two shook hands. "So, 'Baldy' was the best you could do?"

"Hey hey, short notice. Besides, who are you to talk? 'Chrome Dome'?"

"His head is so very shiny," Jack insisted.

Julia glanced at Carter, who glanced back, each with an expression of patience for the "wit" of their male comrades. "Great. Two of them," Julia sighed.

She was answered by a nod. "Sam," Carter said, offering her hand.

The hand was accepted. "Julia."

Some of the Marines disappeared in pillars of white light. "Was that a transporter beam?", Sam asked, her curiosity coming across fairly strong. "Without rings?"

"Yes." Julia nodded to Kane, who gathered his three remaining Marines. They beamed out together. "And we're next. Make sure to find a chair when we get there, the ride is probably going to be bumpy."

From above they could hear the engines of Heru'ur's ship activating. "I hope you brought a big honking spaceship with you," Jack said.

The transporter whisked them away a moment later.

The calm of the Aurora's bridge broke when something lit up on Caterina's board. "I'm picking up a power source on the other side of the planet. It looks like that ship is bringing its systems to full."

"Lucy just signaled, they're preparing to lift off," Jarod added.

Finally. It felt good to be able to do something again. "Nick, take us around the planet," Robert ordered. "Code Red!"

Teal'c was standing in front of them when they materialized. Lucy was already turning in her seat at the front of the cockpit. "It is good to see you are well," he said to his comrades.

"I'm guessing we have a lot to talk...." Jack's eyes found Daniel sitting in one of the side chairs, his hand in the incubation unit containing the baby. "A baby. Where was I? Oh yeah, a lot to..."

"Everyone take a seat," Lucy shouted. She looked over briefly enough to see Julia take the side seat. "Handling operations?"

"Sure. Naqia reactor is online. Raising shields."

"Arming phasers," Zack said from the side console beside Lucy.

"This isn't exactly a big honking spaceship," Jack complained.

"What kind of ship is it?", Sam asked, securing herself in one of the passenger chairs as she did so.

"It's a runabout with a medical module aboard," Julia answered even as the ground beneath them shifted. "It's called the St. Johns."


"Bigger than a shuttle, smaller than normal starships," Zack clarified for Sam. "And they come in several delicious flavors."

Lucy's hands danced over her controls. The St. Johns turned upward and accelerated past 1G.

"You have inertial dampeners," Sam realized.

"They come in handy," Lucy noted. "Hold on!"

The runabout shuddered underneath them. "We've got contacts below us, coming on our rear," Zack confirmed. "Looks like fighters."

"Heru'ur has launched Death Gliders," Teal'c said.

"Well, don't you have any ray guns on this thing?", Jack asked.

"It's the equivalent of a medical helicopter, Colonel," Julia pointed out. "We've got the standard forward phaser bank, that's it. And they're behind us."

"And that big one is on us too." The runabout shifted heavily under Lucy's control, barely avoiding an energy bolt that flew by them. "You really pissed them off."

"It's really, really easy to do that," Jack said. "They've got fragile egoes."

Leo had to pull his tool away while clearing the Goa'uld from the brainstem. He reached to his wrist and hit his multidevice's comm. "Lucy! I can't do brain surgery if we're shaking like this!"

"You can't do brain surgery if we get blown up either!," Lucy retorted.

Meridina seemed to be the only one who kept her footing. But she looked at Leo with deep concern. "Doctor, the beast is..."

Li shouted, "Symbiote vitals spiking again. Doctor, it's waking up!"

"Dose it again dammit!"

"20cc dose is ineffective! If I go higher the dosage will get into Sha're's system!"

"We'll have to risk it," Leo replied.

Li nodded and got the dosage. As she moved to bring it to the bed the St. Johns rocked hard under them. Li cried out and lost her footing, causing her to fall. She started to get back to her feet.

"It's awake!", Meridina shouted. She closed her eyes and focused. "I'm restraining it, but..."

Leo looked up and saw Meridina had been too late. Red light was starting to flow into Sha're's bloodstream. The holodisplay flashed a warning: TOXIN DETECTED. "Oh hell."

"Have you raised the Aurora?", Lucy asked, dodging another shot from the larger ship.

"I'm getting interference, I think they're jamming," Julia answered. She looked up at the cockpit as they broke orbit. Another light hit knocked them about. "Shields down to seventy percent."

"I'm running evasives as best as I can," Lucy insisted.

The ship shuddered again. "Shields down to sixty-five percent." Julia tapped several keys. "Maybe if we bring the warp drive online?"

Lucy noticed a light on her board and tapped it. "Hey, I could do with some help right about..." Lucy smiled suddenly.

"This is Commander Laurent. We have you on screens, St. Johns. We'll clear your six."

A squadron of Mongoose fighters appeared on her screens. The fighters twisted in space and raced to meet up with the runabout, firing as they did. Phaser beams slashed across the distance and sliced into the Death Gliders pursuing the St. Johns. "Laurent's got those fighters running!", Zack laughed. "Oh yeah!"

Jack leaned forward in his seat. "So.... the Aurora... big honking spaceship?"

"See for yourself, Colonel," Julia answered with a smile.

He looked up and his jaw dropped. "Yeah.... that'll do."

Ahead of them, the Starship Aurora was looming, her port side showing.

"Enemy fighters are withdrawing," Jarod reported. "Goa'uld vessel coming up."

"St. Johns, land as quickly as you can," Robert said into the open comm. "Angel?"

"Locking on Goa'uld ship now," she said.

"They're firing," Jarod warned.

The entire bridge shook under them. "Report."

"Shields down to ninety-three percent," Jarod answered.

"Looking over their power profile... they're naqia powered too," Caterina warned.

"Angel, fire!"

The port phaser cannons and emplacements of the Aurora opened up. Bursts and beams of amber light stabbed out and met yellow energy fields around the pyramid shaped vessel. "Their shields are still functional," Angel said. "Firing again!"

"And so are they!"

The ship shuddered again as white tear-dropped shape blasts criss-crossed with the amber fury of the Aurora's phasers. "Shields down to eighty percent," Jarod warned.

"C'mon Lucy..." After muttering that Robert said, "The moment she lands, bring us about and present the bow!"

"Yes sir!", Locarno answered.

The Aurora loomed closer, but it didn't stay steady on the screen. Lucy was raising and lowering the runabout relative to the larger vessel to avoid the fire on both ends. She slipped by the ramscoop of the upper port nacelle and twisted the St. Johns hard. Ahead of them the shuttle bay opened and she fired the engines. She went in faster than she'd ever tried, focusing herself on the bay. At the last possible moment she hit the retro-drives and cut the impulse engines. Everyone was forced to lean forward as deceleration seeped through the inertial dampener fields, after which the runabout bucked under them as it slammed into the bay floor. Sparks flew from the bottom of the St. Johns as it skidded across the deck. It finally came to a halt four meters from the far wall, leaving a long skidmark behind it.

"We're landed!", Lucy crowed.

"Awesome flying," Zack said, patting her on the shoulder.

Jarod shouted, "St. Johns is secured!"

"Bring the bow over!"

Robert's order was answered immediately, even as the ship shuddered underneath them from another hit. Locarno fired the ship's maneuvering thrusters and impulse drives to turn the Aurora as tightly as they could. "Shifting power to bow shields," Barnes said from the Engineering station. "Shield integrity hovering at sixty-one percent."

"Targeting.... I've got lock!"


Angel's fingers stabbed on the firing controls. Amber energy lashed out again, joined by the immense blue energy bursts from the bow pulse plasma cannons. Torpedoes erupted from the bow launchers and raced across the distance. The firepower slammed the Goa'uld ship hard enough that its shields flickered, allowing multiple torpedoes to crash into its hull.

"My Lord, our shields are losing coherence!" A Jaffa looked up above the sparking bridge displays and toward his master. Heru'ur was snarling in frustration. "Those weapons... my lord...."

"What?!" Heru'ur stood up and looked at the display showing the sensors' estimation of the enemy's weapons.

What he saw made his blood cold. His eyes widened in disbelief and rage. "That is not possible. They would never share...." Heru'ur angrily turned to his helmsman. "We must withdraw! Now!"

"Shields at fifty percent," Jarod said after another barrage. On the screen more shots were exchanged as the bow weapons of the Aurora pummeled the Goa'uld ship again. "Wait, I'm getting a power spike. It's big."

Ahead of the Goa'uld ship a blue "window" opened in space. The pyramid vessel went right into it and disappeared, the window closing behind it.

"Oh wow," Caterina said. "That was a hyperspace window! We've gotta get one of those drives!"

"Secure from Code Red," Robert said. "Get me all readings on that ship to send to Admiral Maran." He pressed the intercom button. "Dale to Andreys. How was it down there."

"Hot and nasty," was the reply. "And Rob... I've got some people for you to meet."

"First things first. How is the surgery going?"

There was silence. "Uh.... I don't think it's going very well."

"Jarod, get another medical team to the runabout, now."

"Doctor, her vitals are dropping! EEG decreasing!"

"It's that damn toxin," Leo growled as he finished operating the control beside him. "I've got fields up to contain the toxin to where it's spread. I'm almost done removing the Goa'uld from her."

Nasri frowned. "But what about the stop to her internal blood flow? Won't that..."

"One thing at a time, Nasri. This thing is metabolizing the sedative fast and Meridina can't restrain it very long, if it's not out it'll just pump in more poison." Leo brought his tool back and got back to work. He'd completely pulled the Goa'uld from the spine and had just a few connections to the brain left. But this was the most delicate work; if he wasn't careful he'd leave the alien matter inside her. Every speck of the Goa'uld had to be pulled out. His jaw clenched as he kept working on the task at hand. One tendril disappeared.... and another....

A shrill beep filled the air. "EEGs crashing!", Nasri shouted. "Her brain is shutting down."

"Put the shunt in, push 20ccs of oxylin and begin cycling blood."

As Li and another nurse did so, Nasri continued to monitor Sha're's condition. "EEG activity still unresponsive! Doctor, we need to start cortical stimulation!"

"Not yet!" Leo finished another tendril.

"Doctor, we're going to lose her!"

"If you use the stimulator it might wake the Goa'uld up!", Leo retorted. "Then we will lose her!" He never took his focus off the display. One last tendril showed. He started work on it.

"EEGs still unresponsive!", Nasri shouted. "She's going to be brain-dead!"

Leo sucked in a breath and forced the tool across the last link of red on the hologram. You promised her, Leo. You promised. Sweat moved into his eyes. He didn't have to call before the nurse behind him ran a sponge over his forehead. He only had seconds left, seconds....

The last bit of red disappeared.

"Get that thing out of her!", he shouted.

Meridina's hand came up. Amaunet lifted right out of the opened cavity, severed pieces hanging limply from the snake-like thing. She restrained her tremendous disgust at the being in her grip lest she crush it or otherwise do something dark, something against the code by which she lived. With her swevyra Meridina brought the creature over to the recepticle that had been set aside from it and let it plop into the nutrient fluid that would keep it alive.

Even as she did this, Leo was shouting. "Cortical stimulators, now! Nurse, power surgical dermal regenerator!" The nurse behind him pressed a button. Leo reached to the controls and used them to run the resulting blue beam over the incision on Sha're's head, neck, and upper back.

"Setting to Negative 70 Positive 30, sodium and potassium channels set!" Nasri pressed a key. 'Charging...." There was a blip on her monitor. "No response."

"Again!", Leo barked, finishing the sealing of the surgical incision. "Turn her!" He reached under Sha're and, with the help of Li and two other nurses, flipped her onto her back. He went back to his controls. "Containment fields for the toxin still holding. I'm screening it now!"

"Charging.... no response!"

God dammit, no, Leo thought. He thought his heart would quit. "Get the support activated. Ready stasis field!"

"Stasis?!" Nasri looked up. "Doctor..."

"Not here Nasri!," Leo shouted angrily. "Not here!"

Remembering herself, Nasri nodded and looked back to her instrument. "Charging...."

Leo sucked in a breath and watched the last of the toxin get screened out. This let him return full blood flow to Sha're's brain... but was he too late? "Dear God, please....", he pleaded, looking at the bio readings and seeing her brain was still shut down.

"Still no effect," Nasri sighed. "Charging... Doctor, if she doesn't come back in the next few attempts...."

"I know!" Leo leaned over her. "Sha're, please... I did it. All you have to do is come back, you're free. Please...."

"No effect!"

"You have a beautiful baby, you have Daniel.... you have a life again, if you'd just..." Leo clenched his fists. He should have known. Oh God damn his arrogance, he should have known.


"God, I'm sorry," Leo prayed softly. "I'm sorry for presuming. Don't punish her for it.... please don't...."

"Still nothing! Doctor..."


"Doctor, if she's not back yet, she's not..."

"Again!," Leo roared.

SG-1 remained in the cockpit of the St. Johns with Julia and Zack, all waiting for news of the surgery. Finally, after the runabout had long landed, Leo stumbled out of the medical module and to the front of the ship. He found the last vacant seat, one near Daniel, and almost fell into it. His face was full of sweat and he looked completely spent. His eyes were almost closed.

Daniel looked at him. Tears formed in his eyes and he absentmindedly stroked the baby's hairless head. "You did your best," he said, half choking. He looked to be on the verge of breaking down. "At least... at least she's free."

"Yeah." Leo drew in a breath and looked up. His eyes came up and he looked straight at Daniel.

"She's alive," he said.

Daniel stopped in what sounded like mid-sob. His eyes widened. Everyone else watched intently. "Sha're's... okay?"

"I won't lie. It was... it was too close," Leo sighed. "The symbiote tried to poison her. I isolated it, but I had to block bloodflow to her brain until I could get the toxin screened out. She was brain-dead for about as long as someone can be and still come back. Brain damage appears negligible - the oxylin kept most of the cells from outright dying - and she is completely clear of the slightest trace of Goa'uld cells."

Daniel nodded softly. "I..." The tears in his eyes began to flow. "Doctor Gillam, thank you."

"No." Leo shook his head. "I did something horrible. I wasn't honest with you about how close it could get. I should have never made that promise.... funny thing is that I was so mad about the harm the Goa'uld was causing you two that I forgot about the harm I could cause."

Julia looked at him intently. She said nothing, though.

"You're forgiven," Daniel said. "Can... can I see her?"

"In a little bit. We're stabilizing her so I can have her transferred to the medbay for post-op care." Leo put a hand on his forehead. "She should be fine now."

"So... you got that thing out of her?", Jack asked. "Fully out? Because we've seen them get sneaky..."

"Our scanners confirmed it. Not one Goa'uld cell."

Jack nodded and looked over at Daniel. He put a hand on his comrade's shoulder. "I'm happy for you, Daniel. We all are."

Hugs were given to Daniel and to Leo, save from Teal'c. He stayed in his corner, a slight smile on his face. When Leo finally stood he went over to him. "Thank you, Doctor. You kept your promise and you undid the damage I caused," Teal'c said in a low voice.


"I was Apophis' First Prime when he took Sha're," Teal'c explained. "I bear responsibility for what we done to her."

"And you're making it right," Leo assured him. He offered his hand. "Thank you for that."

They shook hands.

There was a chirp on Julia's multidevice. She brought her right arm up and pressed the device's receive key. "Andreys here."

Robert was on the other end. "Sensors are picking up an energy surge from the pyramid. Cat figures it's the Stargate activating. And the life signs are saying Jaffa and Goa'uld."

"Apophis has come for Amaunet," Teal'c announced. "He will destroy the village trying to find her."

"Well...." Julia smiled viciously. "Let's give him what he wants."

After giving a short time for his Queen to arrive, Apophis lost his patience and left the pyramid with his bodyguards. They emerged from the central portal and came to a stop beyond it, in the middle of two Horus Guard bodies. "You," Apophis hissed.

"Missed you too, buddy." Jack smiled. The rest of SG-1 stood around him. Robert was standing with Julia and Zack to their left, all in normal Alliance uniform.

Apophis narrowed his eyes and snarled. "I have come for my Queen and our child. Return them."

"Sure, at least when it coms to the Queen." Robert smirked and looked to Jack. "You want to do the honors, Colonel?"

Jack shook his head. "No, I'd say that Daniel should be the one."

Daniel was not smiling like the others. His eyes were locked to Apophis with an intensity that could have melted the System Lord on the spot if it turned to heat. He reached down behind SG-1 and lifted a container. He took a few steps forward and threw it underhanded toward Apophis. "You want Amaunet. Here she is."

Apophis' eyes followed the container. The middle was transparent, allowing all to see the mutilated Goa'uld symbiote moving weakly in the teal-colored fluid that surrounded it. There was a harsh intake of breath.

"Sha're is free of you," Daniel continued, his voice full of anger. "And we're keeping the child you forced her to carry. You will never hurt her again."

When Apophis lifted his head again his eyes flashed. "You dare?", he said, his voice hoarse with rage. "I will destroy you for this."

"Wow, they're right about you Goa'uld types," Julia muttered. "You really are full of yourselves."

"Jaffa!" Apophis' command prompted his bodyguards to lift their blasting staves.

On the dune looking down at the pyramid opening, two dozen figures shimmered into view. Commander Kane and his Marines leveled their assault rifles and turned on their aiming lasers. Red dots covered Apophis and his Jaffa. "Make one move against us and you get gunned down," Robert said.

Apophis glared hate at him. "And what are you? You cannot be of the Tau'ri."

"Captain Robert Dale, Starship Aurora, United Alliance of Systems. My friends Commander Julia Andreys and Commander Zack Carrey." Robert smiled thinly. "We're not from your universe. In fact, your kind look to be a pest limited to this one, and we'd be happy to deal with the problem if you make us. I'm offering you a chance now, Apophis. Stay away."

"You do not command me! I am a God!"

"Nope, can't be, no beard," Zack joked drolly.

Robert chuckled softly. "I've got a platoon of Marines that say otherwise," he informed Apophis candidly. "Now, as I was saying... stay away from the planets in this part of the galaxy or the next time it'll be you that we tear out of a host." Robert reached for his multi-device. "Dale to Aurora, we're done here. Beam everyone up."

At that, every figure confronting Apophis was taken by white light. Looking down again at Amaunet in her container, Apophis screamed in impotent rage.

A number of figures were waiting when Sha're's eyes opened slightly. "Where am I?', she asked softly.

"You're on our ship," Leo answered her. He checked the biobed scanner screen. "It was very close, but you're going to be okay."

Sha're looked to everyone, but her eyes locked onto Daniel. "Daniel... the demon is gone!"

"I know," he answered.

They embraced and kissed.

Leo left the couple and their friends to talk and went for his office. He found Julia at the door. "Good job," she said. "If you ever make a stupid promise like that again, I'm going to hit you."

Leo flashed a weak smile. "I'll ask you to." He entered the office and took his seat. Julia remaining standing in front of his desk. "I was such an arrogant idiot. That surgery was always going to be risky, even without getting chased through the atmosphere." He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead. "I swore to 'do no harm', Julia. And I came close, so close, to doing terrible harm."

"Leo, I'm more worried about the harm you're going to do to yourself," she said. "One of these days you're going to get a case like this with no happy ending. I don't want it to destroy you."

He smiled weakly. "Thank you for that."

"I'm going to recruit Nasri to keeping you in line," Julia added. "Without stepping on your toes, of course."

"Of course," he agreed. Truth be told he wasn't happy with what she was saying, but from experience he knew Julia was... well, she was a big sister, maybe even a bit of a mom, when it came to worrying about the others. "Have you ever talked to a psychiatrist about these maternal impulses you feel toward the rest of us?", he asked aloud.

"Ha!" Julia shook her head, laughing. "Maternal my ass. I'm the First Officer, it's my job to keep you in line so you don't cause Rob headaches. He gets enough from being in charge."

"Sometimes I get the feeling he'd be happier if your roles were reversed," Leo remarked. "Can I do anything else for you, Commander?"

"No, I'm done." Julia went to the door. "Take care of yourself, Leo."

Meridina was assessing the daily reports made by Draynal during her time on Abydos when the chime to her office went off. She looked up and said, "Enter."

Lucy came through the door, wearing off-duty clothing - a blue blouse and white skirt - and carrying a pair of containers. "Hargert still had some of that sausage stew left," she explained. "You're okay with that?"

"I am," Meridina said, accepting one of the containers.

"You know, I don't think I've ever done something like that before," Lucy said as she sat down. "When I was bringing the St. Johns down... I... I had this feeling in my head. My instincts were against everything my instruments were saying."

"Instrument is accurate, but cannot account for outliers," Meridina remarked carefully. She kept her eyes on Lucy.

"Yeah, but.... and it's like, there was this voice in my head. It was saying 'trust your feelings'." Lucy shook her head. "I did... and I'll be damned, but we walked away from what should have been a crash."

Meridina smiled and nodded. "You are an exemplary pilot."

"That was more than just piloting," Lucy insisted. "It was... it just didn't feel like I was just piloting. It felt different. I mean, is that how you feel? When you do that swevyra stuff?"


"Well, maybe I have something like that? I mean..."

"It is very possible, yes," Meridina said delicately. "There are many beings who have connections to the wider cosmos, they simply never learn how to use their swevyra. They access it subconsciously, in moments of great stress and danger."

"Well, I'd call that situation 'stress and danger'." Lucy smiled. "But I'll shut up now because this stew is awesome and I let the last bowl I had get too cold."

Meridina nodded and took her first bite of the stew. She's opening her mind to it, Meridina thought. It won't be long.


Ship's Log: 29 March 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are preparing to leave orbit of Abydos. Doctor Gillam cleared Sha're to be taken out of the medbay and beamed down with SG-1, who are about to depart for Earth through the Stargate. My command crew and I will be going down to send them off.

It is my hope that the Alliance and Earth will open relations and that we can begin to aid Stargate Command in its efforts to gain protection for Earth against the Goa'uld.

"I will miss you, father." Sha're accepted the hug from her father, who bent over to embrace her in the anti-grav chair that Leo had insisted she take down. The baby remained asleep in her arms.

"You will always have your home here, Sha're," Kasuf assured her. He turned and faced Leo, who was standing beside Sha're. He had a necklace of sorts, with an Egyptian-like pictograph on both sides of the golden medalion. He pressed it into Leo's hands. "We made it for you, Healer. You saved my daughter from the demon and drove it out. We cannot reward you enough."

"I don't need a reward," Leo insisted, although he knew well enough to accept the medallion. He put it on and looked down at the pictographs. "What do they mean?"

"One names you a great healer," Daniel explained. "The other declares you have the power to ward off demons."

Leo nodded and bowed his head to Kasuf. "I'm thankful, sir. I have talked to other healers from my people, if you will accept us we will establish a clinic to help your people deal with sickness and disease."

"Your healers will be welcome, as will others of your people." Kasuf nodded to Robert. He looked at least to Daniel, who knelt before him respectfully. "Come, good son, stand. You kept your faith, I could ask for no better a son."

"Thank you, good father," Daniel answered. "I will continue to do my best to protect Sha're by serving with SG-1 and finding ways to defeat the demons."

"Forutne to you, good son. I know you will do whateveris necessary to take care of Sha're. And she will be there for you." Kasuf nodded one last time before looking to Robert. "Thank you for coming here. I fear what may have happened without you."

"Don't mention it."

After exchanging quick nods with Julia and Zack, Kasuf left. This left SG-1 and Sha're facing the Aurora crew. Leo stepped away to join the others while Sam went up to the DHD. "A shame we couldn';t have you take us home," Jack said. "I'd love to be riding that big honking spaceship of your's right into orbit."

"It'd be fun," Robert agreed. "But we have our orders. Expect a contact team to try and reach you through Abdyos within a few weeks. In the meantime..." Robert indicated the boxes laden onto an anti-grav cart that Teal'c had his hand on. "Some parting gifts."

"Ah yes. We finally get some ray guns." Jack's eyes twinkled with joy. "I've been looking forward to that. Hey Zack, if you ever get to Earth, the beer is on me."

Zack nodded and smiled. "Sure. That'll be cool."

"Good luck out there," Julia added.

The Stargate came to life. A jet of energy erupted like water from the event horizon before it settled. Caterina squealed in delight. "It's so cool! I wanna go through it!"

"Maybe next time," Angel said.

"Sending the IDC now," Sam said. She looked back toward the Aurora crew. "I wish I'd gotten more time to look over your ship. We're not even close to building a spaceship yet."

"We'll have to fix that," Julia said, smiling. She looked to Sha're and bent over to rub the sleeping baby's head. "I hope you have a wonderful life, little guy."

"Speaking of the little guy..." Jack coughed audibly. "Any ideas on a name?"

"Yes, I would like one to put on the birth certificate," Leo remarked.

"Oh, you have to ask?" Daniel and Sha're exchanged smiles. "'Leo', of course. Leonard, right?"

Leo laughed and nodded. "Yeah."

"Oh, come on, what about me?" Jack shook his head. "Doesn't good ol' Uncle Jack get any consideration?"

Sha're laughed. "Daniel says it is common to give two names. He said Jack should be the second."

"Leonard Jack Jackson," Sam said. The smile on her face twisted to show partial bewilderment.

"Leonard Jonathan Jackson, actually," Daniel pointed out.

"Alright. Lil' Jack." Jack smiled widely. "I like it."

"I have a confirmation signal from General Hammond," Sam said. "He wants us back for an immediate debriefing."

"I imagine his exact words amounted to 'Where the Hell have you been?'?", Jack asked.

"Just about."

"Ah, well... guess it's time to get back." Jack stepped up and accepted Robert's outstretched hand. "Good luck out there, Captain Dale."

"The same to you, Colonel O'Neill."

"Don't be shy now," Jack added. "Visit any time."

SG-1 took turns shaking hands with the command crew of the Aurora. Daniel took the handles of Sha're's anti-grav chair and Teal'c returned to the cart, which he pushed up to the Stargate and then pushed through. The five turned back and gave a final wave before they went through the Stargate. After several seconds the event horizon dissipated.

"Well, that was the most interesting survey mission we've ever done," Robert remarked wryly. "Everyone ready?"

"I was ready the moment I got sand in my face again," Zack muttered.

There were chuckles at that. Robert brought his arm up and keyed his multidevice. "Dale to Aurora. Beam us up and break orbit. It's time to head out." White light covered them all a moment later.

Above Abydos, the Starship Aurora turned away from the desert planet. It moved through the light of Abydos' star, illuminating the ship's sleek azure form. Bright light surged in her four warp engine nacelles until they flashed, sending the Aurora and her crew on the way to their next adventure.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: 13 April 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We're en route to the new colony of Adrana in M4P2 to investigate reports of unknown starships operating in the vicinity. Lieutenant Delgado is her usual ecstatic self, as our secondary mission will be to examine artifacts found not far from the main colony site. If indications are correct, there was a civilization on Adrana that died off eons ago.

Speaking of ecstatic occasions, I am being called upon to perform an old ritual for captains. It will, in more than one way, be a first for me.

The Lookout had been altered for the purpose at hand, with tables moved to the sides and the entire place spruced up to look like a wedding chapel which, for the moment, it was. Robert was in dress uniform; it was white where the standard uniform was black, with gold-embroidered epaulets on the shoulders and white gloves. Hell, he could have had a sword if he wanted.

The thought was funny. Wearing a sword on a starship? Talk about anachronism. Then again, he had a security chief who did just that. Yeah, but her sword only becames a blade when she presses a button. It's high tech, not like officer swords.

Robert forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand. "As captain of the Aurora it is one of my many obligations to oversee this occasion amongst the crew, and as obligations go it is one that I find the most enjoyable. We are here to honor two of our crewmates, Lieutenant Agara Mayao and Lieutenant Alex Cross, as they give their vows to become husband and...." For a short second he stumbled over the word to come, forcing himself away from the usual that a lifetime of expectations had bred in him. "....husband."

The two men, a purple-skinned blue-spotted Dorei and a tan-skinned Human, smiled politely as they continued to hold hands.

"I think I speak for all of their friends and comrades when I say...."

At the bar, Zack was sitting alone and smiling wide, nursing a glass of root beer. He didn't really know the grooms; his smile was amusement at seeing Robert get through the ceremony despite the very... well, it was peculiar for them given where they grew up and when. Most of the later timeframe universes didn't seem to give as much of a damn. Though it's not just a gay marriage, it's a gay marriage with aliens, Zack thought. He applauded when the bracelets and rings were exchanged - a lot of Dorei preferred bracelets - because hey, why not? The new husbands certainly looked happy and joyful as they kissed. They looked content, like the entire world - or was it cosmos now? - was their's.

One of Hargert's assistants, Albert, stepped up across the bar. He had a German accent as well, even if not as thick as Hargert's. "Are you sure you don't want any of the celebratory wine? Or another drink? You're off-duty I thought?"

"No," Zack insisted. "I don't know if anyone told you my rules about this, Al, but.... I only occasionally have beer or something like it when Tom and I are hanging out. And I never have more than one."

"You are a... temperate?"

"Alcohol and my family doesn't mix. So I don't even think about it."

"I understand."

Zack turned his head in time to see Julia approach. She was in dress uniform as well, but given how similar it was to normal uniform it did nothing to hide her gorgeous figure. "Lucky you, no dress whites," Julia said.

"Yeah, lucky me." Zack smiled thinly. "So, uh.... how many graves are rolling back home right now? I mean.... alien gay marriage and all."

Julia laughed harshly. "Yeah, I can imagine old Pastor Allen would be tearing Rob's name from the church membership roll. Well, unless he already did it over Duffy."

"There's a fun thought," Zack muttered. Underneath years of scabbed over feelings he could still feel a deep affection for her. She was nothing less than the perfect woman to him.

But he could never have her. Zack knew this. He'd gotten over most of the heartache in the years after high school, knowing there was no hope at all that he would be anything more than her friend.

The reason he didn't have a hope walked up. "I saw that jackass smile," Robert said with mock severity, wagging his finger at Zack. "I was starting to sweat for a moment there. I never thought I'd be marrying anyone, frankly."

"You did well enough." Julia patted him on the shoulder. "Beth would be proud of you. Of course, when it comes to everyone else.... Can you imagine Pastor Allen's reaction?"

"God, I can. I got caught with his daughter, remember?" Zack forced out a chuckle. "I thought he'd turn the entire county against me."

"Not over that," Julia remarked. She was grinning mischievously. "So, does this give you any ideas? We can't all stay bachelors, can we? Find any ladies to actually settle down with, ladies' man?"

Zack forced himself to smile. "I've never been in a relationship that could go that far." Which was the truth, and about the only thing he could say without going further than he'd want to.

"I guess I can't be surprised. Though I know Clara was..."

"Ahah! No." Zack shook his head. "Not a word about Clara Davis. I'm not going to talk about it. It's done."

Julia giggled while Robert shook his head. "Somewhere in this wide Multiverse there has to be a potential Missus Carrey," Julia insisted. "You get enough women as it is."

"Yeah." You. It's you. After sighing and urging his heart to shut up Zack finished his drink. "Well...."

"Bridge to Captain Dale," Nick Locarno's voice said over the comm. "Sir, we're coming up on Adrana."

"Thank you, Nick," Robert said into his multidevice. "I'll be up shortly. Let Cat know to expect the artifacts soon."

"Will do."

"Hey, I've got nothing better to do right now," Zack murmured, setting aside his empty glass. "I'm going to help Science Girl get things sorted."

"You're not really the science type," Julia pointed out.

"I can still carry things and scan," Zack pointed out. He gave a quick wave. "See ya."

Another shuttle came into the shuttle bay, adjacent to where Zack's own ship the Koenig was berthed. He watched the Dorei craft land almost perfectly. The rear doors opened and a couple of Dorei, a purple-skinned and blue-spotted man and a dark teal-skinned light purple-spotted woman, emerged. Both were in loose-fitting, all-covering clothes with a variety of colors. Zack, for his part, was often a little weirded out by Dorei color tastes; varieties of green and purple and yellow and blue and teal, sometimes some reds.... and almost no sign of what he thought of as "earthy tones".

Behind them came a remote-controlled anti-grav cargo cart. Everything was boxed in it and marked with Dorei and English, but most looked to be the equivalent of pottery shards; in other words, very boring.

"Put them over here," Caterina said. She was in her usual choice of duty uniform with the knee-length skirt instead of pants and the dark blue of science for her color. She was not quite as enthusiastic as usual, although it was like saying it was only raining moderately instead of pouring. Cat's interests might be mostly in astrography and "space stuff", but ancient races were, well, ancient races. "A quarter of a million years? So that's why there's no sign of their cities and stuff." She opened a box. "A burial mound?"

"No, we think it was an old complex of some sort. They were an intelligent race, it looked to be some kind of bunker," one of the Dorei said.

The conversation continued in the background. As it did Zack took a box and opened it to see what was inside. It looked like a rusted piece of hardware, but it definitely had the appearance of a computer of sorts. "If they had computers, shouldn't we see the ruins of old cities or something?", Zack asked. "I mean, some things would last right?"

"It depends on what they made it out of," Caterina answered from where she was going over the manifest. "I mean, that's enough time for geologic changes to take place. Even metal will errode."

"Huh." Zack turned his attention back to the object.

"Can you put it back? Uh, please, Zack?" Caterina smiled. "I kinda need to document it all."

"Oh, sure. Yeah." Zack moved it back toward the box. A random thought slipped into his head, thinking of earlier. She asks me if I'll ever marry, and she's the only woman I'd ever thinking of taking that step with. And she doesn't even see me as anything more than her slightly perverted skirt-chasing childhood friend. He breathed in a sigh. The way things are going for me, I'm always going to be alone.


A light appeared on the ancient-looking computer thing. Zack brought it back up from where he'd nearly returned it to its box. Alien characters of some sort flashed across its surface as a hologram, their blue light dancing in his vision.

A sharp pain stabbed him in the head and everything went dark.

"....will take a few days to catalogue everything, of course, but...." Caterina was interrupted by a loud thump and a flash of azure light in her periphery. "Zack, please stop...." She turned to face him... and found him sprawled out on the floor. "....messing with... Zack!" She ran over to where he was and knelt down to feel his pulse. Seeing he was alive she turned to the trinket he'd been toying with, now latched onto his forehead. She grabbed it and sparks flew, a painful jolt making her cry out and fall back. She reached her hand over and hit her multi-device. "Delgado to medbay, medical emergency in Shuttle Bay 2! I need help!"

On the floor, Zack twitched slightly.

Undiscovered Frontier

Zack opened his eyes and rubbed at his head. For a moment he'd forgotten anything except the pain in his head.

But when he moved further, he felt something on his legs. He looked down to see a set of standard sheets, like in his quarters on the Aurora. The light was dim, but there was light coming around the slide door to the bathroom and shower stall. The room looked rather larger than Zack's though. He sat up, holding his head and realizing that he was mostly unclothed now. Who undressed me? And why didn't they take me to medbay? As his headache pounded he thought he could hear running water in the background.

After a moment, Zack realized he knew what quarters he was in; the Captain's Quarters. Why would I be in Rob's room? He looked around, but he only saw some of his things on one wall. Trophies from high school, pictures from his time in the minors, a baseball mitt and an autographed baseball from the last team he'd been with.... this stuff was supposed to be in his room. There were a few pictures, but the light in the room was too low and he couldn't make out what was in them.

There was a tone from the nightstand nearby, recognizable as a call from the bridge. Zack reached over with his hand and smacked the key. "Yes?"

Jarod's voice was on the other end. "Captain Carrey?"

Zack's eyes flew open at that. "Huh? What?"

There was only a brief pause. "Oh, sorry, Commander. I didn't mean to wake you. I was trying to...."

The door to the bathroom opened and a figure stepped out. Zack turned and allowed his jaw to drop....

"I'm here, Jarod," Julia sighed. She was still dripping a little despite the red towel wrapped around her from below the shoulders to her hips. A second towel was wrapped up around her hair. "Is this about that meeting on Adrana?"

"They asked if they could delay it by two hours, there's some sort of issue with their preparations."

Julia nodded. "Fine, tell them that." She looked up at Zack and smiled. Smiled. He'd been expecting her to scream at him for being there when she came out of the shower. Except it's my room with all of my stuff being... wait, I'm still a Commander. With a lot of confusion Zack stood up and tried not to gawk. Granted, he'd seen her in far more revealing things than a towel wrapped like that (actually, he'd seen her naked once. Exactly once. It wasn't easy having a party in a house with only two bathrooms. He sometimes could swear he still had the resulting bruise). But here and now it seemed....

"What's up with you?" Julia's expression turned to bemusement. "Didn't sleep well again? After last night I would have thought..."

"Last night....?", he asked groggily.

"Really? You forgot already? Zack Carrey forgot a night like last night?" Julia giggled. Giggled. And it wasn't her "You have amused me, annoying pervert" giggle, it was a giggle like... like... Like something in my dreams maybe. She stepped up to him. "Well, you haven't started getting ready yet, at least. And now I have an hour or two to spare...." She winked at him. "Looks like I can get a chance to jog your memory."

"Jog my...." Zack felt like his brain was trying to tell him something, but there was still a sharp pain there that was highly distracting.

"Okay sleepyhead, now I wake you up the hard way."

And then Julia kissed him.

She kissed him.

The pain in his head melted. The sensation of the kiss made him come alive. Deep within him years of fantasy, of desire, of deep need soared up through him. He returned the kiss with all of the energy of a ravenous hunger finally being sated. Julia's eyes widened, but she didn't fight it.

The kiss lasted forever. Or at least it felt that way until his lungs reminded them they needed air. He broke the kiss and took in a deep breath. Julia did the same, a surprised smile on her face. "You haven't kissed me like that since our first time together," she said happily.

Zack simply stared at her. And then himself. And now, with the pain gone.... he could see things, even in the dim quarters.

His things... and hers.

And Jarod had called her Captain Carrey.

Julia's right hand came up and took his. He noticed a sensation of something he had never felt before. He looked down and....

There was a gold band on his right ring finger. Another just like it was on Julia's.

"So, Zack, we have a couple of hours we normally don't get. And since you seem to have a lot of trouble remembering last night..." She smiled enthusiastically at him and, with a motion of her hand, let the towel fall off of her. "I can't let my husband go forgetting things like that, can I?"

I'm married to Julia, he thought.

All sorts of things were going through Zack's brain. All sorts of details that were off, not to mention the fact that he could remember that alien device becoming active, the pain in his head and the sudden darkness. But looking into Julia's eyes, seeing her willing smile and with the sweet taste of her kiss still fresh....

I'm married to Julia!

He responded by kissing her again, and she returned it. They moved toward the bed and, as they did so, tears appeared in Zack's eyes.

He wasn't going to be alone. Not here. Not with her. And in that moment, that's all he cared about.

I'm not alone anymore.

Robert and Julia entered the medbay at almost the same time and made a beeline for the special care ward. Leo was already at the beside, looking over a scanner while Caterina used her own. "What the hell happened?", Robert asked.

"Zack was looking at one of the artifacts when it, I dunno, came alive," Caterina explained. "And then it lit up and he suddenly fell over. Now we can't get it off of his forehead."

"It looks like it's using a sort of biochemical bond," Leo explained. "It's tied to him at a cellular level. His brain activity is through the roof."

"And it's transmitting too. A constant beam transmission, definitely toward the planet." Cat checked her scanner again. "I don't get it. The Dorei scanned everything. It was all... dead, for lack of a better word. I can't figure out how it happened."

Julia looked over into Zack's unconscious face. "So what's it doing to him?"

"I'm not sure," Leo admitted. "Like I said, brain activity through the roof. It's almost like he's awake and experiencing normal reality."

"Maybe whatever this is has him dreaming?"

"No signs of REM or anything associated with a brain that's asleep. He's awake, it's just that.... his brain is being stimulated by something external."

"Cat, get with Jarod, track where...."

"Bridge to Captain Dale." Locarno's voice came over the comm. "Sir, we're picking up a distress signal from the Dorei colony on Yamalia. They've been attacked."

Robert breathed in. "Crap. Okay, monitor him, maybe if we're lucky this thing has to be near the planet to work." He tapped his multi-device to open the comm line from his end. "Nick, set a course for Yamalia, Warp 9.6."

"Yes sir."

"THe reports said the unknown ships in the area were remaining at a distance of several parsecs," Julia said, frowning. "How did an attacker get through our long-range sensors?" She turned to start leaving the room, Robert following.

"Yamalia's a new colony, maybe they weren't given the best." Robert felt a gentle thrum under his feet; the Aurora had just leapt to warp.

And then an agonized scream came from the special care ward.

Contentment mixed with fatigue filled Zack as he let his head rest comfortably on his pillow. Julia's head was nestled on his left shoulder, a thin sheen of sweat on both of them. "Mmmm... do you remember last night now?", Julia purred.

"Yeah," he lied. Or... was it a lie? He was feeling like he could remember the prior night. They'd had a private meal in their quarters, discussed a little bit of business...

But he'd been alone. And then there was that wedding that Robert had to preside over the next morning, and his going to the shuttle bay and messing with the artifacts Cat was going over. That memory was still there, at the edge of his thoughts, but it felt... slippery. Like it was draining away.

He took a deep breath and used his left arm to pull Julia a little closer. "I could just lay here with you all day," Zack admitted.

"Mmm.... as good as cuddling for an entire day sounds, I'm a starship captain and I've got work to do." She smirked at him. "Or rather, we're both starship captains, but you're the lazy one who spends all of his time hooked up to my ship."

"Well, I need my darling wife to keep me in line, don't I?", Zack chuckled in response.

"You'd better believe it." She gave him a soft kiss on the chin.

The comm went off again. "Duty calls." Julia gave him a deeper kiss and reached over to press the button on the nightstand. "Captain Carrey here."

This time it was Angel. "The colonial governor called and said he'd be ready in half an hour."

"Tell him we'll be there, Angel."

"Will do."

Julia was laying across him now, giving him a very pleasing view of her from the side. She looked back at him and smirked. "You've had this view before."

"And better," Zack said. "This morning, in fact."

"We'll have to do it again sometime." She finished crawling over him and got out of the bed. "And I need another shower. And no, you can't come in with me, too distract...."

Horrible, savage agony stabbed into Zack's forehead. His spine arched and he screamed.

As Zack's cries filled the ward, Leo took a vial of something and fixed it into his hypospray. With Robert and Julia helping he pressed it against Zack's neck and depressed the trigger. "There, 20ccs of pain-inhibitor, it should..."

Zack kept screaming, thrashing enough that his arm pulled free of Robert's grip and slammed into Leo, knocking him back a bit. An inarticulate growl came from his throat. Leo glanced at the nearby screen. "EEG through the roof!" He looked to the nearest nurse. "Prep cortical stimulators! And find me a neural sedative!"


"No! Stronger!" Leo looked back to Zack, with Robert trying to hold his arm down again while Julia kept the other locked in place.

"The device is going haywire!", Caterina shouted. "It's... it's the loss of the signal! I think losing that signal to its home world... it's trying to restore it and that's frying Zack's brain!"

"Suggestions?!", Robert shouted.

"We need to go back to Adrana!"

"We can't!" Robert shook his head. "We have to answer that distress signal."

"No, somebody has to," Julia answered. "I'll take the Koenig. You go back to Adrana and save Zack."

"Are you sure? If you run into something..."

"Would you rather get Zack killed, Rob?!"

Robert swallowed. "No, no I wouldn't," he said, truthfully. He didn't want to have to make that kind of call. He shifted his grip on Zack's arm to touch his multidevice. "Locarno! Belay that last order! Get us back to Adrana, now! Maximum warp!"


"Just do it, I'll explain later!"

Zack screamed again.

Locarno clearly heard it too. "Taking us back, sir."

The trip back to orbit was done more quickly, with the Aurora's warp drives at their maximum safe output. As soon as the ship dropped from warp Zack stopped moving, a cry stopping as it reached its crescendo. Leo checked the biobed sensors. "EEG is returning to the original level. Vitals are returning to normal...."

"The signal is stabilizing the device," Caterina confirmed.

Robert nodded to Julia. She pressed a key on her multidevice. "Commander Andreys to Lieutenant Apley, I need the Koenig prepped for launch immediately."

Apley's response was immediate. "I'm gathering the crew Commander, we'll be ready to go in ten minutes."

"Good luck," Robert said to her. "And be careful."

"Of course." Julia smiled thinly at him before returning her eyes to the unconscious form of Zack. "Get better, Zack," she said to him softly. She gently hugged him on the shoulders before standing upright again and walking out of the ward.

"I'd better call up the ground teams, find out where this thing was found," Robert added. "Cat, be on standby, I'm sending you and Jarod to deal with it."

"Sure," Caterina answered.

"And make sure to be quick about it," Leo called out, pointing at the EEG. "That didn't cause any damage itself, but Zack's brain can't do this forever. Eventually it's going to giveout."

"Then let's get this done."

Zack flinched as Leo ran his scanner over his head. "I'm not seeing any major problems here," he said. "What can you tell me?"

"One moment there was no pain. The next, I've got a knife in my brain. Made of pure fire too."

"Hrm." Leo touched a couple of controls. "Well, I can't see anything wrong now. Just try to take it easy for a couple of days and let me know if anything changes."


"And Julia wanted me to remind you that you're due on the bridge at 1300 to relieve Angel."

"Yeah yeah...." Zack thought for a moment about this being some kind of fantasy... but why? No, it wasn't was it? This was his life, and he had work to do. Although for some reason he couldn't remember, he wasn't looking forward to seeing Angel.

When Zack arrived on the bridge Adrana was slowly rotating below them. Tom Barnes, Nick Locarno, and Jarod were at their usual stations, but Tactical was manned by some dark purple blue-spotted Dorei. Angel stood up from the command chair and approached him. As she did so his eyes settled on her collar... and on the three gold stripes there. But if she's XO, where's Robert? He felt like he should know that, but he still wasn't sure what was going on in his head. "So, everything's quiet as usual huh?"

"Yeah. I'll be back in a couple of hours." Angel barely seemed to take notice of him, moving past him toward the turbolift. She gave an order to the lift as it closed.

Zack stared for a moment. She had been so... hostile just now. "I guess Angel's having a bad day," he said aloud.

"Well, yes, because she saw you," Tom pointed out.

Zack looked over at him. "Well, yeah, she's always been a bit surly with me, but..." ....but what? She hates you now. But... why does she hate me?

"Leave it alone, Zack. Remember, you promised to do that when we got our postings," Jarod reminded him... or at least intended to remind, since Zack didn't know what the hell he'd promised.

"Yeah," he said simply, avoiding the subject for the moment. He settled into the command chair.

"I hope you enjoyed your extra hours this morning," Jarod remarked non-chalantly, seeming to smile a bit as he looked back. "You and the Captain."

"Now now, I don't kiss and tell," Zack said, wagging his finger.

"Not since Julia, anyway," Tom guffawed.

"Okay okay. Jealousy is not becoming of you," Zack teased back. "So, eyes on boards, lets do our usual thing. You guys work, I sit here and look like I'm paying attention."

"I'm not sure that'd be much different from when you are paying attention."

"Et tu, Jarod?" Zack shook his head. It felt good to spar with them, as always. But... why do I feel like they're a bit snarkier than usual?

Julia hadn't been in the Koenig command chair for quite a while, and being back... under the circumstances it didn't feel right. She could see some of the unease in the others too; Even if he'd only been their commander for half a year at this point, Apley and the others knew Zack in a way they didn't know her. Magda was the only old face she had on the crew now. She gave Julia a sympathetic look and looked back to her panels.

If Apley is ever replaced by a girl, I'll have to tease Zack about having his own harem, Julia thought with amusement, even if she felt a twist in her gut at the thought of never getting to tease her old friend again. "Status, Mister Apley?"

At first there was no response, but Apley suddenly shifted his head. "Oh, everything is ready, sir."

"All systems are green," Magda added.

"Weapon systems standing by when needed."

"Okay everyone, let's do this by the book. Take us out, Mister Apley. Set course for Yamalia and engage as soon as we're clear."

"Yes Commander." Apley pressed several keys. Under them the Koenig shifted slightly as she resumed powering herself. All connections to the Aurora were retracted and the smaller ship began backing out of its berth built into the back of the larger ship. Koenig's running lights came to life as she moved up and over the saucer section of the Aurora. "Course set for Yamalia."

"Engage. Lieutenant Navaez, activate the cloak."

At a press of a button, Magda cloaked the ship. Lights shifted to reflect the change in operating status. Moments later the ship jumped to warp.

"Captain, i understand the situation." The look on Governor Yalama's blue face, with his purple spot line framing it, showed he really didn't, or at least didn't care about what Robert needed. Even if he was in the confines of his office Robert tried to avoid letting his anger get the better of him here. "But the site in question is restricted. It's an archeological treasure, we can't allow military personnel to go tromping about in it."

"I understand, and I'm not sending such. Lieutenant Delgado is a scientist first and foremost. Commander Jarod, well, it wouldn't surprise me if he's done archeology professionally." Robert sighed and kneeled forward. "They'll take all necessary precautions."


"Governor, someone is dying right now because of something on that planet," Robert cut in, his patience wearing dangerously thin. "We're not going to harm the site, but we need to find out what this thing is."

"I need some kind of assurance, Captain. Our colony is relying on the funding we're getting from the High University of the Lushan. If I have to tell their archeological department that the site was ruined by Stellar Navy personnel, why, I..... they could pull their support, Captain!"

Robert drew in a sigh, trying not to feel aggravated. Going higher would not be the smart thing to do. "What if I sent a swevyra'se of Gersal with them?", Robert finally asked.

Yalama's face changed to surprise. "You have a connection to them?"

"I have one serving on my ship."

Yalama's jaw dropped. "You're serious?! I've never heard of such a thing..." He became mindful of his less than dignified expression and closed his mouth. "Captain, I will give your officers access if you send this swevyra'se with the team. I will see them and get their promise to maintain the integrity of the site."

Robert nodded. "I'll send them down immediately." When Yalama disappeared from his screen Robert hit his multidevice comm button. "Dale to Meridina."

After a short period he got a reply. "I am here."

"I'm going to have to send you down with Jarod and Cat, it's the only way to get Governor Yamala's cooperation."

"Very well. I will be ready."

Angel had given Zack the stinkeye when he left the bridge, leaving him to wonder just what the hell had gone on to make her angry with him.

His other thought was, quite simply, Where the hell is Rob? He felt like he should know.

He returned to the Captain's Cabin to change the sheets and make the bed. As Zack did so he let his thoughts try to make everything in his head ordered. He had memories of getting zapped by a weird thing and now he was married to Julia, Julia was captain of the Aurora, and Angel was her XO and seemed to hate him now. But... wasn't that how it had always been? Why did he feel like he shouldn't be married to Julia, to his beloved wife, the woman he'd give everything for? And why was he surprised that Robert was missing....

Zack's heart froze as he considered those two facts. Angel was mad at him. Robert was missing. He wasn't here. Something happened.

But... why am I surprised? I shouldn't be. Of course something happened. It hurt but... why do I feel like I saw Robert just hours ago?

"Computer?", he asked aloud.

"Awaiting request." The feminine voice was its usual dull, lifeless self; Carlton Farmer had personally determined the voice used and based it, like so many other things, on things from Starfleet.

"Computer, please give me the status of Robert Dale."

"There are several individuals of significance with that name. Please specify."

"Robert Allen Dale," Zack said in irritation. "From my home universe. My best friend. That Robert Dale."

"Accessing.... Robert Allen Dale. Member of Darglan Facility H1E4 Council. Commanding Officer in Facility Armed Service. Current Status: Deceased."

The words struck Zack with such force that he almost fell into the loveseat, catching himself at the last minute in order to actually sit normally. He took a breath and felt like it hurt. Most of all, he was confused, very confused, that he was so surprised. Dammit, Rob's alive, you just saw him! I know I just saw him today! "Wha..... what happened?", he forced himself to say.

"Robert Dale is listed as a casualty of the Dalek Incursion."

Zack was silent after that. The Daleks of Universe W8R4, the weird things that looked like peppershakers and which had carved a swath of bloody destruction in the Facility, had nearly killed them all. They'd lost Carlton Farmer, almost lost Angel, and they'd blown up the Kelley and with it the Facility. And we lost Rob too. But we didn't? I, I could swear we... Zack closed his eyes. This is how I got married to Julia?

The door slid open and Julia entered. She saw him sitting and the confusion and bewilderment on his face. Her expression shifted to show sympathy. "Is something wrong?"

Everything feels wrong and it shouldn't. Robert being dead, our marriage, Angel hating me.... Aloud his response was, "I was, well, I was thinking about Rob."

Julia nodded. Her eyes lowered. "I do a lot too. Sometimes I can't believe he's gone." She walked over and sat beside him. His remark had clearly cut into her heart in a way he'd never met to.

Zack took her hand and held it with his own. "How was work, honey?", Zack asked, looking to get their minds off the subject.

"Oh, the usual. The Governor and his advisors were being all nice and diplomatic and talking about their ruins and how they need more protection." Julia cuddled up to him. "So... I have a few hours of reports to do and file off for Admiral Maran, but when I'm done I hear Hargert is making some excellent things for tonight."

"A dinner in the Lookout?"

"Why not? We can't always eat in here." Julia smiled at him. "I..... may have let slip to him that you had a bad morning, so he's going to add some oysters to our meal."

Zack chuckled. "Oh wow. Is that a proposition, Mrs. Carrey?"

"I wasn't looking to be subtle," she answered. Her green eyes lit up as she kissed him on the mouth.

And like before, having her lips against his mouth made the confusion go away..

The excavation stretched out around Caterina, Jarod, and Meridina as their shuttle came in to land. "A good thing the Governor has such a high opinion of you," Jarod remarked.

"Many Dorei have an appreciation for my order," Meridina answered. "Even regardless of theological differences."

The shuttle landed and they disembarked. As they came up to an elevator lift they were met by a blue-skinned, teal-spotted Dorei male in a green coat. Alien characters were stitched into it. "Doctor Pagar," Meridina said, nodding respectfully.

"Swevyra'se," Pagar replied respectfully. "We've gone over the telemetry you provided. We think that one of our newest tunnels leads to the point you seek. Please, follow me."

They went with Pagar onto the lift. Within seconds they were underground and the lift didn't seem to be slowing. "This is pretty far down," Jarod noted.

"At least four yems," Pagar replied. "I believe that would be about three kilometers for you. And the deepest tunnels seem to have been dug as far down as ten yems, though many were clearly incomplete."

"So what is this place?", Caterina asked. "Was it a home or something?'

"We found remains that hint it was more than just a home," Pagar anaswered. "We think it was a bunker. But we've found no sign of remaining life, so we have to assume the garrison here abandoned the base."

"Or were forced to," Jarod noted.

The lift came to a stop. A hover cart was waiting for them with an assistant at the wheel. "Please, we still have quite a drive to go," Pagar said.

"Are we going to be able to reach the Aurora this far down?", Meridina asked.

"We have signal boosters," Pagar replied. "They should permit you to maintain a constant channel regardless of any interference."

"That's re-assuring," Jarod mumbled.

A horrified-looking Dorei woman, with teal complexion and purple spotting, was on the Koenig's main viewer. Her purple eyes were focused intently on them. "We just got full communication back up," she said. "They spent hours hunting for people through our colony. They were throwing them into cages and dragging them off!"

Julia's hands clenched the chair arms. Slavers. Bastards. "Can you tell us anything about the ship? Why wasn't it picked up on long range sensors? Was it cloaked?"

"No. It... it didn't seem to use warp, there was a sudden Doppler shift and it appeared over our planet. Their first volley hit our subspace transmitter."

"Do you have any indication on its course?"

"No. There was another Doppler shift and they were gone." The governor of Yamalia put a hand on the cut on her chin. "They... they took my children, Commander. Please get them back. Please!"

"We'll find them," Julia assured her. "Can you tell me anything about the attackers?"

"They were bipedal. No hair, and....." The woman disappeared, the screen blipping out.


Magda was examining things on her screen. "it looks like their comm system failed again. Unless we go to Yamalia I can't tell you if they'll be able to get it back up or not."

"If we go to Yamalia they might get away." Julia frowned and hit a key to bring up an astrographical map. Yamalia flashed blue, as did Adrana. "Magda, can you access those reports on ships spotted on long range?"

"Doing so now." Magda entered the relevant commands. Several systems rimward of the Dorei colonies lit up. "There was no activity on long range sensor to indicate warp systems in use."

"Still, it could be anywhere in one of those systems. What did we get on sensors about them?"

"I'm checking..." Magda went over some of the records and reached for her multidevice. "Navaez to Derbely. Karen, I'm relaying readings to your station in Engineering. Can you tell me what you see?"

"Alright." There was a pause on the other end. "...okay, what is this from? That subspace pulse is positively humungous."

"It came from one of the nearby systems..... System M4P2-G1SV."

"It's either from some weird kind of pulsar that ripples into subspace or its artificial."

"As good a place as any to check," Julia said. "In the meantime, I want every band of subspace scanned. If they're not using warp drives, maybe their FTL uses a different band."

"Changing course now," Apley confirmed.

"Expanding scan range," Magda added.

Julia nodded and felt the subtle shift of the ship changing course.

The vehicle came to a stop at one end of the excavation. Pagar led the three through a circular-looking door and into a smaller chamber, not quite fifteen feet high. Caterina looked down at her multidevice and brought up a holographic display. "Wow... we've definitely got something powered up down here."

"We've had no such energy sources before," Pagar insisted.

Caterina focused her scans on the center of the chamber. A quarter million years had caused fading of color and such, but being underground had preserved the site. There was the clear indication of computer interfaces, flat slab, and a cylindrical device that now hummed. Blue light flickered within. On the closest side of the device was an empty table of some form. "It looks like the microfusion system they put in it is the main source of power." Caterina tapped buttons, showing different scan results. "This is why it lost contact with the device on Zack. This thing can't communicate over extrasolar distances."

"So how do we turn it off?", Meridina asked.

"I'm not sure. I'm afraid if we mess with it too much it might hurt Zack again." Caterina went up to an old display. "What do we know about this?"

"Almost nothing. The internal parts include data drives and other machinery, but we've never seen anything like it," Pagar replied.

"And you just... found it like this?"

"No, we also found fossilized remains from what we presume to be the natives of Adrana," Pagar explained. "Many of them spread around the chamber. It seems to be the result of an accident of some sort. Several of the remains showed signs of cellular modification before their demise."

"Sounds nasty." Jarod ran a hand over one of the metal surfaces. "Alright, I'll see if I can get something like a control system up. Cat, can you...?"

"I'll handle scans," Cat replied. "Meridina, I'm sorry but I don't think there's anything you can do."

"I understand. This is not my specialty." Having said that, Meridina looked around consciously. This place had a terrible history, she felt. Despair and rage danced at the edge of her senses, never quite strong enough to get her attention but there in some way. "But I will remain nevertheless. I feel as if I will be needed."

After dealing with his duties for the day, Robert returned to the medbay and took a seat beside Zack in the care ward. Leo came in a few minutes later. "How's he doing?", Robert asked.

"He's stable," Leo replied. He shook his head. "I've investigated every possible way to get that thing off of him. But the connection its formed with his brain is just too powerful. If I try anything to remove it, anything, odds are the backlash will kill Zack."

"Is there any hope?", Robert asked quietly.

"There's always hope." Leo put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Cat and Jarod will find out what this thing is. And maybe there's a way to turn it off."

"Yeah." Robert put his face in his left hand. "Leo... do you ever think we were wrong to bring Zack out here?"

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is.... we all had our reasons to want to use the gifts of the Facility. But Zack didn't care about it. The only reason he's here is because we're here. Our friendship pulled him here with us."

"Yes, true," Leo agreed.

"Maybe he would have been better off staying home," Robert thought aloud. "He wouldn't be laying here dying."

"Think of all the times Zack came through for us, Robert." Leo shook his head. "And..... Robert, let's be honest. His life was just as directionless as your's. This was good for him."

"How can you say that? He had a family..."

"A mean old drunk is not a family," Leo retorted. "We are his family, Robert. Even if he's not sure what to do out here, that wouldn't change. And we would be a hell of a lot worse off without him."

Robert nodded quietly and looked back to his unconscious friend. "Yeah. We would be."

"You've got other work to do, right? I'll call you if anything changes."

"No, I got it all done. I think it's best that I, uh, stay here." Robert smiled thinly. "Julie and Tom can't be here, so I will be."

"Your choice. I'll have Nasri get a cot." Leo patted him on the shoulder again. "Just remember to get rest."

Robert nodded quietly and sat back in the seat, beginning his vigil over his stricken friend.

The dinner in the Lookout was as good as it ever got. Zack was in a casual long-sleeve button down shirt, blue and red in line patterns, while Julia had gone for a short-sleeved green blouse and matching skirt. It felt good to be out of uniform. Whatever this was - in his head, an alternate timeline of some sort, or a dream - Hargert's cooking was as good as ever, although as it turned out he had not added oysters to the meal, instead insisting on cooked salmon as the main seafood course.

They had made small talk at first, the kind of talk Zack always imagined a married couple would make when they weren't discussing "important business". Then there was silence as the food was served and they focused on eating. Zack used the time to think, to come to terms with, well, everything. This world was wrong but it wasn't. He was remembering so many details now but they seemed..... fake. Like it wasn't what really happened. There was a corner of his head

"You look thoughtful," Julia remarked quietly, having finished a bite of salmon.

"I'm just wondering if I can get Angel to look at me like she used to, as her annoying lecherous friend," Zack remarked.

Julia frowned and lowered her head. "I thought she'd get over it. I mean..."

"She loves him. Loved. Even if they couldn't make it work." Zack took a quick bite. "I just wish I knew why she hated me so much now."

"She blames you," Julia said, her tone indicating she was a little miffed at having to remind him. "I... Zack, please? Another topic? I don't want to talk about Rob."

"Yeah, sorry." Zack took another bite and finished it. He couldn't think of anything else to say for the moment. I know how much it'd hurt if Rob had died back then in the real world. But something doesn't seem right. What is going on here?

Jarod brought his scanner away from the machine, examining his multidevice. "This technology has some familiar mechanics," he said, looking over to where Caterina was examining the flat table. "It reminds me of the Darglan brainwave infusers we had in the Facility. The emitter systems and the data flow going through them is similar."

"So this thing connects to brains and downloads data?' Caterina shook her head. "Wait, no.... it's not just that." She ran her own scanner over the far section of the device, near one of the prods of blue light. "Jarod.... these scans of the datastream... look at this."

Meridina watched passively as Jarod walked over and used his scanner on the device as well. "It's not one way," Jarod said. "This... this connection is a two way data stream." He and Cat looked at each other with realization.

"So that's why Zack's brain is so active," Cat murmured. "This thing is actively communicating with him on a neurological level!"

"And it's not letting go," Jarod added. "We need to find a way to make it do that. I'm analyzing the device's data systems now, maybe there's a port we can use..." He walked around it, holding out the scanner from his multidevice and looking at the data on the pop-up holo display. As he stepped up to the table and followed his scans, he looked to the table and to the device. His hand reached up and gripped the side of a slight extension. A grunt came from him as his arm tensed and he visibly pulled. There was the sound of protesting metal. Jarod frowned and pulled harder. As he went to bring his second hand up, Meridina stepped up beside him and laid a hand on it. "What are you doing?", Jarod asked.

"My swevyra will suffice and not risk damaging the device," she answered. Meridina focused on it and felt her life force take hold of it, finding the rails within that were rusted and old and locked in place. With effort her power began to force it loose, just enough energy applied to break the eons of immobility and allow the device to come all the way out. It gave way with a metallic shriek and the painful screech of metal forced across metal. The protrusion came all the way out.

Jarod looked from it to the table and back. It fit right over the head of the table, giving maybe ten centimeters of clearance. He ran the scanner over it. "It's an interface," he said. "So someone can lay here and connect to the system."

"Yes." Meridina swallowed and closed her eyes. She'd felt pain on this thing. Like the life that was once here had reached out to her, full of loss and terror and despair..... indeed, hopelessness itself. What happened here?, she thought to herself. "Could someone interface with it here? Maybe we could find the control."

"Let me get to work on it," Jarod said. "We can see if this part is still capable of working."

Dinner was over and Julia and Zack were heading back to their quarters. His arm was in her's and Zack, for all he was still uncertain, couldn't stop enjoying his life as it was now. Even with Robert gone, everything seemed to be happy for him. Rob would want this, he assured himself. He'd want me and Julie to be happy. I know him.

As they approached their quarters they found Angel standing outside of them. She barely seemed to acknowledge Zack's presence, focusing her view on Julia. She handed her a tablet. "First long range scans. Cat hasn't found anything yet."

"Okay, thank you," Julia answered.

"Knowing Cat she found plenty, just not alien ships," Zack chuckled.

Angel stared daggers at him. Julia looked at them with concern. "What did I say?", Zack asked. He didn't flinch from Angel's angry look. "Angel, please? This isn't how things should be."

"You're right, they're not," Angel hissed. "Robert should be alive. If anyone should be dead, it should be you."

"Angel!", Julia shouted.

"Julia, please. I want this settled," Zack insisted.

"I know what you did, you bastard," Angel growled. "Nobody will believe it from me, but I know. So go to Hell." She pushed past him and stormed off.

Julia drew in a sigh. "You need to stop trying, Zack. Angel's just.... she's so angry."

"But she's still here."

"Only because of Cat and Leo. And it's only a matter of time before she..." Julia put a hand to her forehead. "Please, Zack. The night is going so well. Please?"

Zack looked at the corridor Angel had departed down. He swallowed and looked back at Julia - at his beautiful, suffering wife - and forced a smile to his face. "For you, of course." He put his arms around her sides and pulled her close. "For you, anything..."

Despite himself, Zack's heart lifted with joy at feeling Julia in his arms and the love she was directing toward him. When she kissed him it made him stop thinking about Robert again. He didn't resist as she pulled him into their quarters.

"Coming out of warp in M4P2-G1SV in five seconds," Apley informed the others.

"Navaez, how is the cloak?", Julia asked.

"Operating within parameters."

"Do we have anything on sensors?"

By this point the ship tremored beneath their feet as its warp fields disengaged and it decelerated to sublight. Magda was looking over her sensors intently. "I'm picking up a really big mass along the outer edge of the system, near the second-largest gas giant. It has an active subspace signature."

"What is it?"

"I'm... not sure. It doesn't appear to be entirely active, it just has an active subspace signature."

"Some kind of device on standby?", April Sherlily proposed from Tactical.

"Keep an eye on it. Anything else?"

"Nothing... wait. I've got a ship near the gas giant, not far from that object. Decently sized."

"Take us in Apley," Julia ordered. "As soon as we're close enough, give me a life sign scan. Let's see if they have any Dorei."

The Koenig moved in at full impulse, closing the range quickly. The ship was unlike anything Julia had seen. It had no visible warp drive system, being instead a long, fat vessel of brown coloration with visible weapon emplacements on the hull and large ports. "It's some kind of carrier, isn't it?"

"I don't know. I'm reading lots of life signs aboard. Various aliens I've never seen... and some Humans, sir," Magda added.

"Humans?" Julia put a hand on her chin. "We haven't met the local Humans yet. Can you give me anything on the ship's function?"

"It's a carrier or transport of some sort, I can't give you more than that," Magda answered. "Wait... I'm getting a subspace surge nearby. It's fairly slow, about Warp 4 in comparison at best. ETA thirty minutes."

"You said in comparison. So it's not actually at warp?"

"Yes and no, Commander," Magda replied. "Its drive has some warp field effect, yes, but it's not a full warp system like we have. The subspace signature is a side effect of the drive field instead of being part of it like a normal warp field. And the mass is way off for a ship of its size."

"Trajectory, Mister Apley?"

"Examining now." Apley looked over his screens. "Commander, that ship came straight from Yamalia."

"Then it's probably our raider." Julia swallowed. "Code Yellow. Standby for Code Red. I want scans when that ship comes in."
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Meridina shifted herself a little on the ancient table, looking right up at the interface she'd pulled out. Caterina stood nearby while Jarod was fussing with his multidevice. "The control surfaces to this thing were smashed, so I have to do the controls remotely," he explained. "Are you sure about this?"

"I am the best choice. You and Caterina must continue to examine the device."

Jarod breathed in a sigh. "Okay. To recap, this will let you enter the datastream the device is sharing with Zack. You'll be experiencing the same thing he is. I'm not sure if you'll be able to do anything inside to break the connection, but see what it does let you do. Cat will be monitoring you while I...." He tapped another button and winced. "....keep trying to find out how this works."

"I am ready."

"Okay. I'm powering the interface now." Jarod tapped a couple of keys on the device.

Meridina quietly whispered a prayer to the Light and waited. Blue light gathered in her vision. "Activating interface.... now," she heard Jarod say.

The blue light became a beam that hit her forehead. Intense pain stabbed into her head and Meridina cried out before everything went black.

Zack was laying in bed, Julia spooned up beside him. Her eyes were closed as she slept peacefully under his arm. The sight of her so happy, so content, and in his arms as his wife... why wouldn't that part of his head which remembered the device go away? This was his life. The contentment he felt here... it was unlike any he'd known.

I have everything I could want, he thought. Well, almost everything... but why don't I feel more upset about it? My best friend is dead in this world.

With his eyes closed Zack almost thought he could fall asleep. He was almost there...

There were alert tones from the biosensors watching Zack. Robert looked up and saw one line becoming more active. "Leo!", he shouted.

A nurse came in first, a male Alakin who looked over the readings. "Doctor!", he called out.

Leo entered with a medical kit in hand. "His brain activity is spiking."

"That's bad?", Robert asked.

"It could be," Leo replied. "If that thing is intensifying the connection it could do permanent damage."

"Jarod to Aurora." The voice came over Robert's multidevice. "What's Zachary's status?"

"Brain activity spike," Robert answered. "Did you...?"

"We hooked Meridina up to the machine to see what's going on. That device is expanding the bandwidth of its signal to interact with both."

"Just don't do this too long," Leo said. "You're risking permanent brain damage to them both."

"We're monitoring from here, if it gets too high we'll pull her out. But I'm not sure how we can get Zack out from here. Even if we take out the device I'm worried that feedback might hurt Zack anyway."

"We'll take that bridge when we come to it."

"Commander Carrey!"

Zack opened his eyes and looked up. Meridina was standing at the foot of the bed. "Meridina, what the hell?!", he shouted.

Julia stirred as well, looking up. She looked bewildered and irritated as she held the sheet up over herself. "What are you doing?!," she demanded. "Why are you in our room?!"

Meridina, for her part, was quiet for a moment. Zack realized something was off when he saw she was in her brown robes and purple combat suit, not her usual duty uniform. "Commander Carrey," she repeated. "I..... I was not aware of just what the device was doing in interfacing with your brain."

"Device? What device?" Julia looked at her like she was mad. Zack, however did not. He felt like someone had just stabbed him in the heart. Memories flooded into him. "Meridina, I...."

Meridina turned and brought a hand up. "She's not Julia," she said. "She is something else."

"Are you crazy?!"

Zack drew in a breath. He remembered the shuttle bay. The device with blue holo-characters appearing over it. "No, she's not," he said hoarsely, thinking his heart would stop.


He gave a reassuring look to Julia. "Whatever's happening, dear, I'll see what's going on. Don't worry. I love you." He kissed her on the mouth.

Julia accepted the kiss happily. As they kissed Zack again felt himself grow sure that this was the real world, his suspicions being.... nothing?

Meridina eyed them intently.

"I think I'll go take a shower," Julia said, giving a trusting look to Zack before slipping out from under the bed with the sheet over herself.

When the door was closed Zack looked up at Meridina. "So this isn't real?", he said. His voice trembled more than he wanted it to.

"You are..... attached to some form of device," Meridina explained. "It's connected to an underground computer on the planet, a very ancient computer. Jarod and Caterina discovered a way for me to join the datastream connecting you." She looked over to the shower. "I..... did not anticipate what I would find."

Zack grinned weakly. "Yeah."

"Have you found a way out yet?", she asked.

Zack leveled a look at her. "No." He shook his head. "And I honestly haven't been trying."


"You're the mind-reading uberlady, you tell me," Zack remarked irritably.

Meridina looked at him with concern. "You seem hostile. I... did not mean to intrude upon the fantasy the machine constructed."

Zack leveled a look at her. As much as he'd known there was something off, having the memories come flooding back in by Meridina's presence hurt. He wasn't married to Julia at all. She still saw him as she always did, she didn't love him like he wanted her to.

But Robert was still alive. Angel didn't hate him. Surely that made up for it?

Zack was actually sick to feel that it didn't.

"The device started to erode your memories. It made the simulation the real world to your senses," Meridina explained carefully. "And it formed that simulation from what it found inside you."

From the bathroom a voice said, "Yes."

They turned and faced Julia, now in normal duty uniform. But it was her and it wasn't. Her voice was echoing slightly, a second voice within it. Her skin began to take on a pinkish tint. "The being called Meridina is interfacing with me directly instead of through my remote connection," the fake Julia explained. "I cannot construct a world for her."

"Indeed not," Meridina replied.

"What are you?"

The fake Julia looked at Zack with an expression of happiness... but with the demeanor of a pained being. "I am All That Remains. I am the Last Hope. And I have been alone for so many thousands of cycles." She walked up and pressed her hands to Zack's. "I never thought another being would be with me again. But then you took up my remote. I felt you, knew you to be as lonely as I. So I brought you here so we could be happy."

"You are damaging his body," Meridina pointed out.

"Only because you are here," the alien pointed out. "Leave us and Zachary will be fine. He will be with me and he will be loved. He will never be alone again."

"He will be living a lie," Meridina pointed out. "And what of his friends? They will lose him."

"He already lost them." The fake Julia sat beside Zachary and embraced him. "But here it will be okay."

Meridina shook her head. "Zachary, please. Think of the others."

Zack was staring off into space by this point. "This was all a lie?", he said to the fake Julia. "You took these bits from my head and built a lie I would accept?"

"I created the world you wanted," the being replied. "I wanted you to be happy with me. And I know you were. I felt it in you."

"You made me forget the real world," Zack charged.

"No." Fake-Julia shook its - her? - head and brushed his chin with her hand. "Zachary, your memories of the world you knew slipped because nothing holds you to them. You are alone. I felt it, it is why I picked you. It is why I wanted to help you. To be with you. When we are together your mind gives up the old world to embrace what I offer."

"You're not Julia, though."

"I am everything she is in your mind." Her hands took his cheeks. "I became her for you. I showed you the love you've sought from her for so long. And once this being leaves you'll forget about this. We'll be together. We'll be happy."

"It will be a lie. A simulation," Meridina reminded him. "It will kill your body. You'd be trapped in here forever."

"You would be with me forever." The fake Julia pressed her lips to his.

At first Zack was resistant to the kiss, barley letting their lips made contact. His heart ached at knowing the truth. But she was so loving, so insistent, that he relented. He let her kiss him and his hurt began to fade away. This is my world passed through his head.

Suddenly he was jerked back from the kiss. Meridina pulled him off and toward the other side of the room. The fake Julia scowled at her. Zack looked up at her in shock. "What did you do that for?!", he demanded.

"Zachary, this thing is able to interfere with your mind," Meridina explained. "I sensed it. It's making you forget about your life."

Zack looked at the doppelganger. He could feel his memories flooding back, as sharp as before. "What are you doing for me?"

"I am easing your pain," fake-Julia explained. "Your memories of the old world will only make you confused. With me, it means nothing."

"It is what made you who you are," Meridina reminded him. She looked to the being. "I know you mean no ill, but this is not the right thing. You are taking away his life to make your own existence happier."

"I have seen his life, mind-walker," fake-Julia replied. "He would be happier here! He would be loved!"

"Except by Angel," Zack pointed out. "Why did you have her hate me?"

"The Angel it created hates you?", Meridina inquired.

"She blames me for..." Zack swallowed. "Rob is..... dead here, Meridina."

Meridina looked from Zack to the being. "Why would you remove Robert? He and Zachary are close, surely..."

"I did not remove Robert Dale," the being informed them.

"No?", Zack asked. "Then who did?!"

Fake-Julia looked at him. "Why, you did my dear."

Meridina sensed Zack's shock and disbelief. "What...?"

"I created this world from the desires and feelings of your heart," fake-Julia explained. "Robert Dale is dead here. He is dead because you wanted it so."

Meridina blinked and looked to Zack, who stared intently at the being wearing Julia's body. "No," he said. "No, he's, he's my friend. He's my friend, dammit. I don't..."

"But you do," the being said. "I felt it deep inside you, in the shadows of your being. I sensed your thoughts and I made it true."

Zack stumbled back, missing the table chair. "No. No. I, I wouldn't!"

"In this place.... you did. You killed Robert, Zachary."

Julia was watching the big vessel intently when the timer wound down. "Unknown ship dropping into subluminal speed," Magda reported. The ship that appeared looked to be a winged vessel with similar coloring. It banked close to the larger one, clearly on a docking approach.

"Life scans?"

"Scanning now..." Magda looked up and back to Julia. "Reading several dozen Dorei life signs, Commander."

"We got 'em." Julia put on her harness. "Code Red! Sherlily, lock weapons on their engines, I don't want them docking with that carrier. Navaez, send a signal to Aurora, let them know we're engaging." Hopefully they've sorted Zack out...

"Locking on, just give me the angle," Sherlily responded.

"Giving it.... now."

"Standby on the transporters," Julia ordered.

The Koenig turned to face the raider ship. Magda decloaked the ship as it accelerated to combat velocity. Power shifted through the vessel's distribution conduits, going from the cloaking device to the pulse phaser cannons and torpedo launchers. Amber fury erupted form Koenig's emitters and slammed into the engine ports on the vessel. A hull-tight field briefly coalesced before failing; explosions ripped through the engines and caused the vessel to lose its forward acceleration.

"Direct hit," Sherlily reported. "It looks like their shields are tuned for kinetic resistance, the phasers were totally effective."

"Are they tracking weapons?", Julia asked.

"Negative, it looks like we took out part of their power systems," Magda answered.

"Good. Cycle shields to transport the Dorei out. Magda, put me on, open hail."

"You're on, sir."

Julia cleared her throat. "Unknown vessels, this is Commander Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Koenig. You have taken prisoners from an Alliance colony and are ordered to stand down. Repeat, stand down."

"That other ship is coming about, weapons hot" Apley warned. "I think we pissed these guys off."

"First load of Dorei coming off now...."

"We're being targeted," Magda warned.

"Evasive maneuvers!"

The Koenig began to twist and turn through space. The big ship's turrets tracked and began firing. There were bursts of energy but no visible energy weapon fire. Nevertheless the ship rocked hard. "Shields holding at ninety percent," Magda reported. "I got the shields back up in time. First load of Dorei transported to the infirmary, Doctor Opani reports they're fine."

The ship shook again slightly from a glancing hit. "What are they shooting us with?", Julia asked.

"Looks like low cee-fractional rounds," Sherlily answered. "With a lot more power than they should have looking at their ship's power signature."

"Their guns have a subspace field present," Magda added. "It looks almost like a mass-lightening field for a starship."

"Whatever they are, they pack a punch," Apley pointed out. "I'll keep evasives up, but I don't think we should lower shields until we take those weapons out. It's going to ruin our day if we get hit without shields, even with the armor."

"That carrier is moving toward the raider." Magda focused on her screens again. "I think they're going to try to grapple it at close range."

"Then we'd better take them out of the fight. Target the big ship's weapon emplacements. Sherlily, fire when you've got a shot, torpedoes and phasers. Apley..."

"I'll keep them from hitting us again, ma'am."

The Koenig turned and engaged her foe.

The look of horror on Zack's face caused Meridina to put a hand on his shoulder. "Zachary, I have seen your heart," she said softly. "Your devotion to your friend is true. Whatever this thing has found..."

"You set this thing up so that he died when the Daleks attacked the Facility," Zack said to the fake Julia. "Why did you pick that?"

"I did not. I took it from your thoughts, my love," the being replied. "I shall show you."

The quarters around them shifted. Suddenly they were on the bridge of the Aurora. Zack, Jarod, Caterina, and Locarno were visible on the bridge at various stations. "This is when you freed the ship during the Dalek attack, isn't it?"

"Yes," Zack murmured, walking up to where his counterpart was sitting at the tactical station, oblivious. It was as he remembered....

Then it wasn't. He was watching his hands turning the tactical station into an auxiliary transporter control. The display showed him locking on to a life sign on the Kelley... even as another friendly one blipped strongly in the Facility structure near Control. Julia and Rob, he thought. "I remember wishing I could have just beamed them out," he said. "I didn't dare. I wasn't good at it, and I didn't know if the Daleks would exploit it..."

But the other him did. He finished the lock on and beamed Julia out. She materialized on the bridge, bewildered. "Send me back!", she shouted. "I'm trying to save Rob!"

The other him looked down. He could get a lock on Robert. Zack urged him to do it. "Yeah, if you can get her," he muttered to himself, in more ways than one, "you can get him. Do it!"

The other him didn't. He stared at the screen and then looked back up to Julia. "I'm sorry, I... I can't get a lock."

Zack stared at his counterpart. He's lying! He noticed the look on Meridina's face.

"Then send me back to the Kelley!", she demanded. "Send me back!"

"I can't." Less of a lie, but still...

"Just get out of here!", they heard Robert command. "I'll delay them."

"Rob, no! We'll beam you out!", Julia insisted, rushing for Secondary Tactical.

"It's too late. I... Goodbye everyone."

"ROBBY!," Julia wailed.

Zack looked down at his counterpart's screen again. Robert's life sign entered Facility Control. Sensors picked up energy fire, but nothing removed the signatures of the Daleks. He's shooting the controls to keep them from using them, Zack realized. "Beam him out dammit! Do it now!"

His counterpart merely watched quietly, oblivious to him.

Robert's life sign disappeared.

"I'm sorry, Julie," his counterpart said. "Rob's... he's gone." His counterpart's voice was hoarse with grief and..... conflict?

Meridina remained silent, looking from the fake Zack to the real one, while Julia collapsed on the bridge deck and started crying. Around them the Aurora was moving to the portal out of the Facility, heading to safety. The other Zack got up and went to Julia, taking her in his arms and letting her cry.

"That's not...", Zack breathed. "That's not how it happened."

"It's how you wish it had happened," Fake Julia said.

"No it damn well isn't!," Zack screamed at her. "I would never leave Rob to die!"

"But you thought these things, my love," the fake replied. "It's in your mind. I saw them."

Zack stared at her in horror. He backpedaled until he hit the wall and could slide down to being seated. As this happened his mind raced and he felt his heart grow heavy. He'd never kill Rob. He'd never...

But.... he'd had the occasional dream, hadn't he? What if his friend had gone off to a heroic end and left the field open for him to be with Julia. No harm in thoughts of what might have been since they'd not happened, right?

And maybe, just maybe, a devil on his shoulder talking about how it'd be okay if it happened because he'd have what he wanted...

Zack swallowed if only to prevent himself from throwing up.

Caterina looked up from another scan of Meridina's brain. "Everything seems normal. I mean.... nothing's changed since we put her in."

Jarod looked up from where he was on a knee, scanning the base of the device. "That's a good sign. I'm still not having any luck in finding an off switch." He tapped his display several times. "This thing was used, Cat."


"Back when it was made. There's still miniscule bits of data in the backup RAM sections. Someone fired it up and then it was turned off, or forcefully shut down." Jarod tapped a few more keys. "I wish I could find a way to see what happened. If we see how their startup sequence went, it might tell us a safe shutdown."

The Koenig bridge rattled as more shots pounded the attack ship's shields. "Shields down to fifty percent," Magda reported. "The last hit did some damage to our dorsal armor."

On the screen more phaser fire erupted, slamming through the big raider-carrier's shields and blowing apart one of its turrets. "How close are they to that crippled raider?", Julia asked.

"Less than one hundred kilometers now," Apley answered. "At this rate we're not going to be able to stop them from grappling."

"Then let's do something else. Bring us back to the raider." Julia tapped a button to connect to engineering. "Derbely, I need all power to shields, engines, and the tractor beam."


Apley had figured it out. "I'm bringing us in to tractor the raider."

"Locking tractor beam on."

Julia didn't have to give the actual order. As they moved by the crippled vessel a blue beam erupted from the Koenig's belly and grabbed the ship. The Koenig manuevered hard, evading several shots as it did so, and in doing so pulled the raider away so its mother ship couldn't grapple it.

"They're adjusting course to compensate," Apley reported.

"I'm picking up new energy signatures, Commander," Magda warned. "They're launching vessels!"

More ships like the raider they'd crippled appeared, twinned with small strike fighters. The enemy forces spread into three formations and moved toward Koenig. "They're going to try and box us in," Julia remarked. "Apley, maintain evasives, give Sherlily shots whenever you can."

"Aye sir."

The being wearing Julia's form looked intently at Zack. "You are upset. Let me help you."

Zack looked past her to Meridina. "I should stay here, you know," he mumbled. "They'd be better without me."

"You are wrong," Meridina said.

"Am I? Look at this!" He stretched his hand out to the now-frozen vista around them, his mirror image holding a sobbing Julia closely with a mixed expression on his face. "I... I don't want to be this."

"You're not."

"You heard her!" Zack pointed to the fake Julia. "This is from me! There's a part of me, deep down, that would kill my best friend!"

"We all have darkness inside of us, Zachary." Meridina's expression was one of understanding and a bit of sadness. She approached him and knelt beside him. "I have seen your heart. It is one of light. You are a good man who loves his friends and would do anything for them."

"For what, though?", fake Julia asked. "They pulled him into a life he did not want. The one he loves will never accept him. What have they left him, mindwalker?"

"Their love, their affection," Meridina answered. "They will always be there for you, Zachary. Always. You know this in your heart."

Zack blinked tears in his eyes. "How can I face them again knowing I'm capable of something like this?"

"Zachary, just because the darkness within you has created thoughts does not mean you would fulfill them," Meridina took his hand. "Please, Zachary. It's time for you to come home."

Zack looked at her with bloodshot eyes. "I, I...."

"I won't let you take him, mindwalker!", the fake Julia declared. "I've been alone for so long, I won't let you!"

Meridina turned and tried to defend herself, but the fake Julia was impossibly quick here, in her habitat. She was suddenly on top of Meridina, her hand gripping Meridina's face on the temples, forehead, and sides of the chin.

Meridina screamed.

The scream got the attention of both Cat and Jarod. Jarod looked up from the machinery as Cat ran her scanner over Meridina. "The device is pouring large emounts of energy into her brain, I think it's attacking her!", Cat cried.

"Cut the connection!", Jarod yelled. "Cut the...."

Caterina was already on it, using the controls set up in her multidevice to cut the datastream. The blue light pressing into Meridina's head disappeared. She sucked in pained breaths and remained laying there, almost unmoving. "You didn't press anything, did you?", Cat asked cautiously.

"Nothing," Jarod confirmed. "The device attacked her."

Meridina let out a low moan but didn't awake. "And it really got her, I'm not sure how long it'll be before she can wake up," Caterina said. "We should have her beamed up."

"Agreed." Jarod brought up his multidevice and triggered it. "Jarod to Aurora..."

There was a sudden rumble that grew until it threw them off their feet. Explosions echoed in the distance and dust and rock fell over them as the cavern shook with brutal intensity. "What..?!"

"The signal..." Jarod pulled himself up as the shaking stopped. "It looks like there was some kind of buildup in the device triggered by our devices' communication signals. Once it detected an active transmission not linked to the device, the buildup triggered and blew out a couple of the secondary reactors. These old shafts weren't meant for that kind of explosive power."

Caterina's face paled as she finished her scans. "So we're stuck here?"

"Until they can dig us out," Jarod confirmed. "Yes, we're stuck here."

Zack watched Meridina disappear from the grip of the device being. "What did you do to her?!", he demanded.

"The others removed her from my systems," the being replied in its melodic cadence. "They have been poking around my shell for some time."

"Why did you attack her? She's just trying to help me."

"She was trying to take you away from me," the being protested. "It will not matter. She exists here too. You will know her." She approached him. "Let us be together. Nothing else will matter."

Around them the room returned to the Captain's Quarters. She approached Zack, her intent clear. As she reached for him, he stepped out of reach. This made her look at him. "What is wrong?"

"You want me to be on your side when you're willing to hurt people?" Zack shook his head. "No."

"Please, Zachary Carrey. Here we are together. You will never age. You will never know pain."

"I'll be in a heaven I didn't earn," Zack retorted. He drew in a breath. It sounded so good, so tempting. Forget the life he'd left behind and live here forever.

In a world where I killed my best friend.

"I can undo that if you wish," the being answered, seeing his thoughts. "I did not realize that not all of your thoughts were part of what you truly were. I can rewrite the world. You would have Julia. Robert would be alive and happy too. I sense you think he would be with the one called Angel?"

That was his fantasy, wasn't it? He'd have Julia and Robert and Angel would be happy together. They'd all have families and little babies and see the Multiverse. Everyone would win. Everyone would be happy.

I'm not supposed to be happy. I don't deserve to be happy.

"Zachary, please..."

The pleading sounded genuine, equal parts longing and fright. Zack felt his temptation grow. Why not let it rewrite this world to make everyone happy? he could live here forever. Forever with...

...with what, exactly?

"What are you?", Zack asked. "You're not just some machine." He reached up and stroked her chin. "You're alive too, aren't you?"

"I am..... I am....." The being froze.

"You said you were all that remained. A last hope? But what actually made you? What are you meant to be?" Zack gestured to the room. "It can't be this, can it?"

"I..." The being stared at him with Julia's emerald eyes, hurt and fear in its expression. "I am All That Remains. I am The Last Hope. I... I am Gylao, a whisper of Gylao."

"Who was Gylao?", Zack asked.

The figure closed its eyes. Julia's form gave way to a humanoid figure, female, almost Human like in proportion but with dry pink flesh. Purple eyes, the color of amethysts, looked at him. "I am a construct. And I am Gylao. But I am not Gylao."

Zack put his hands on her hands. She had only three fingers with a thumb instead of four. "You're.... you're rather beautiful," he said to her. "Can you explain what you mean by that? You are Gylao but not Gylao?"

The being looked confused. "I, Gylao, was a researcher of computational constructs. I found ways to imprint minds into them. To give life to them, direction. It was our only hope. Our only chance for something of our people to survive."

"Why? What happened?"

"Destruction. Slaughter. My people were being taken and destroyed..." The being tapped her head. "Gylao volunteered. The process began. Her mind began to merge with the computational mind she had made. But something happened. The enemy... found us. I can feel Gylao's last thoughts as she was torn from the machine. Her despair and sadness. She hadn't put her memories of her family in yet. Nothing of her people would be preserved. She would..... I would be alone." Blue tears gathered at the being's eyes. "They took everything from me."

"What do you remember then?", Zack asked. He brought her hands up to his face. "Show me."

Images flashed through his mind. Beautiful turquoise structures rising to the sky, starships milling about between them. The laughter of children, oh so faint, and happiness...

And then there was fire. The turquoise structures were ablaze and collapsing. Dead bodies strewn in the streets... while other pink bodies like Gylao's hunted down the living. Ships burned in the sky. "They came from beyond. They showed no mercy," the being wept. "They destroyed my... our... everything."

Zack looked up as a massive metal shape moved among a distant gaggle of people. The image was blurry. "What were they?"

"They gave no name. They came upon us, taking everyone, killing any who resisted, and turning our own people into slaves." The being pressed herself against Zack. "I only remember the devastation they caused. It's all I have. This is all I've known."

Caterina was still at Meridina's side, monitoring her condition. "She needs help," Caterina said.

"I know," Jarod answered. "But we're all going to suffocate in the next few days if we odn't get out of here." He checked his multidevice. "Dammit, no signal. We don't have enough power to get through the interference..." He looked back to the device and walked up to it. "But it's still transmitting to Zack. It has the power."

"So, you're going to rig it as a transmitter?", Caterina asked.

"I'm going to try," Jarod answered, heading back to the device.

The Koenig twisted to avoid another shot from the carrier and kept a bead on one of the raiders. A fighter coming form "above" was speared repeatedly by the dorsal phaser bank until it exploded in a red fireball. The Koenig's bow weapons came to life, their amber fury slamming into the raider ship. It broke off after two hits, spewing flame and debris but not yet out of the fight. Its buddies fired into the Koenig's path, their mass-altered rounds slamming into the ship's shields.

"Shields down to thirty percent!", Magda cried over the rumble.

"I can't shake them." Apley said.

"So let's make them be careful with their shots." Julia examined the tactical display. "On my mark, Attack Plan Indigo and then full impulse to the carrier."

"Roger that."

The ship rocked again. One of the consoles in the rear of the bridge sent a shower of sparks upward from feedback. "Some kind of energy torpedoes!", Magda shouted. "Shields at twenty percent!"


The Koenig's engines flipped the ship and sent it into a loop. It righted after turning one hundred and eighty degrees and raced back toward the enemy carrier. "They're not trying to grapple the cripple anymore," Julia remarked.

"I think seeing our tractor beam has them more interested in us," Magda pointed out.

"So it seems." The ship rattled again from a partial hit. "Apley, think you can keep us by that carrier and make them be careful with their shots?"

"I'll try!"

For the moment Zack could only embrace the being. "You've been alone with this for how long?", he asked.

"Over two hundred and fifty thousand years," the being replied. "I was not turned off entirely. I simply existed in a backup state."

"Oh God." His hug grew tighter. "You've been alone for so long."

"That is why I called to you, Zachary. You felt alone. I believed that you would welcome being with me. And your world was so complete that I preferred it to the few memories I had."

"I understand." Zack drew in a breath and felt hot tears in his eyes. All of that time, utterly alone? It'd drive any being mad. I could stay, he thought. Why not? She could... wait, are these my thoughts or her's?"

"I cannot help it," the being cried. "I want you, Zachary! You have so much life! You've seen so much! Oh please don't leave me!"

"I'm..." Zack drew in a breath. "How are my friends? How are Meridina and the others?"

"Gylao" looked at him pensively. "They... triggered a trap left by our destroyers long ago. So that no survivors of my people could access the device. They are trapped in the chamber with my device."

Zack's eyes widened. He gripped her shoulders. "Can we get them out?!"

"No. There is nothing..." Gylao's face lowered. "Your friend Jarod is clever. He is trying to tap into the signal we share. He will use the power I expend to keep us together to contact your ship."

Zack cracked a smile. "Yeah, he's good at that."

"I will stop him," she answered. "If we lose the connection, you will not come back. Your friends will take the connector. I'll be alone again."

"Wait, no!" Zack gripped her arms. "Gylao, if you do that my friends will die."

"Not in here," she insisted. "Please, don't make me be alone."

"They're my friends, Gylao. Please." Zack felt tears in his eyes. "You saw how I felt at the idea of killing just one. You're asking me to let you kill three."

"But I don't want to be alone again!", she cried.

His horror for his friends being buried alive warred with his sympathy for this poor, broken woman. He could see the pain inside of her in a way that just looking at one's eyes couldn't; the connection they shared let him see so much more. All she's had for these thousands of years is visions of destruction. She doesn't even understand right from wrong, she just feels pain. Zack swallowed. What am I going to do?

A cry made Cat look up from where she had been observing Meridina's sleeping form. Jarod stumbled back from the open part of the device, nursing one of his hands. "Dammit!", he shouted.

"What's wrong?"

"This thing fed energy into the systems as I was looking through them," Jarod responded. "I can't move my left hand."

Caterina ran up and knelt beside him, her scanner switched to him. His left hand was blackened and damaged. "My God, you took a direct hit from a plasma stream. You're lucky you still have a hand."

"Cat..." Jarod looked at her, frowning. "Cat, this thing is fighting it. I can't make it work. I'm sorry." He swallowed. "I've failed again."

"Don't be silly. We'll make it work." Cat gave him a hug. "You're brilliant, we'll find a way. We'll find..."

She stopped talking. Both began to choke as gas seeped quietly into the blocked chamber.

"I have activated the security measures to protect my core," Gylao informed Zack. "They won't suffer, Zachary."

Zack looked at her in abject horror. "You're going to kill them?!"

"I know it would hurt you if they died slowly," Gylao said. "I will end their lives quickly. They won't feel pain."

"You're still killing my friends!," Zack thundered.

"It's the only way," Gylao insisted. "It's the only way! I won't let you go, Zachary! I won't be alone again! I won't!"

"Gylao, please let me save my friends!," Zack insisted. "I'll never be happy if I know you killed them!"

"I'll remove the memory from you, Zachary, it'll be fine."

"No, no you damned well won't," Zack retorted. "You said that you were able to suppress my memories of the world because I didn't care for it? Fine. I've been alone and lost for a long damned time now. But you know what? I've got something in the real world, and it's them. I'll never let go of their memories. If you do this to me, I'll suffer forever knowing they died because of me. And I'll hate both of us for it."

"Zachary, don't... please don't make me be alone again. Not here. Not with this! I, I can't even remember my children, Zachary! I only remember the killing and the flames and the crumbling cities! Please!"

Zack swallowed. What could he do? How could he make this work? If only someone like Rob or Meridina had touched that damn thing, they might've... might've...

The device!

"Gylao, what can that connecting device do?", Zack suddenly asked. "The one that connects us."

"It was made for my people to upload others remotely, if it could be done," she explained. "It was lost in the final attack. Never used. Never activated until I felt you."

"So it can be used to upload me into here?", he asked. "Like Gylao was?"

"Maybe," she said. "But it was only meant to take imprints, memories so people could have their lives remembered. The power needed to connect to you strongly enough to load you remotely may harm your physical form."

"But it'd let you shunt power to communications," Zack said. "It'd let you allow Jarod and Caterina to call for help."

"Yes. But Zachary, the physical damage you would suffer, your brain could be damaged, even destroyed, and if the loading doesn't complete the imprint here would be just as damaged as mine."

Zack nodded. "I understand. But those are my friends. I'm not going to let them die. And this way.... you'll have me here with you too, right? Even if I don't remember everything about my life, I'll remember enough. And you won't be alone again."

"Yes." Gylao took his hands. "I do not understand why you would risk these things."

"Don't worry." Zack smiled at her. "You will." He put her hands up to his face. "Let's do this."
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Robert was jolted awake as Zack's scream echoed through the medbay. Leo sat up from where he was looking over reports. "Oh my God," he said. "His EEG is going off the charts!"

"Captain!" The signal was from the bridge, coming from one of the other science officers. "Captain, the transmission from the planet is intensifying! It's power has tripled!"

"It's killing him!", Leo shouted. "Get me 20ccs of Neurosin, now!" He looked to the Alakin nurse from before.

"20ccs of Neuro?! Doctor, that..."

"His brain is going to literally fry!", Leo shouted. "I need that neuro sedative now!"

"Bridge, get Jarod and Caterina, I need to talk to them!"

"We can't, sir. There's interference and we can't read their comms anymore!"

Oh God, no!

The Alakin rushed back in with a hypospray. Leo grabbed it from him and brought it up to Zack's neck.

Zack's eyes opened. HIs left hand came up and grabbed Leo's wrist in a death grip, holding the hypo away. "Don't. Do. Anything!", he rasped.

"Zack?!" Leo looked down at him. "Zack, how are you awake?! The signal is frying your brain, you need this...!"

"No! It'll ruin everything!" With sheer agony written on his features, Zack forced down a breath and continued. "They're dying down there! Beam them up! Beam them up!"

Jarod coughed again, holding an emergency breather from his field kit over his face. Despite the breather the gas filling the chamber was going to suffocate him. He looked down to where Cat was already struggling to stay conscious, her lips turning blue as the gas slowly killed her. I'm not going to let us die down here, he thought. He struggled back to the core of the device and, despite his useless left hand, reached in with the right to look for the signal connector he'd seen before he was struck with plasma.

Energy was surging through the system now, only now starting to die off. He had to wait several crucial seconds, making his lungs feel like they were going to burst. It's my only shot, he thought. As soon as the power went down enough he grabbed the connector and placed it into one of the adaptive jacks of his multidevice. Alien characters flowed over his display screen. He let out another hacking cough as his left hand weakly tapped the appropriate key; a simple SOS now, but his multi-device was actively connected to Meridina's and Cat's; the Aurora's transporters would be able to rescue them.

It was the last thing he was able to do before blackness claimed him.

Barnes raced into Transporter Station 2 and almost pushed the petite Vietnamese girl there out of the way. "I can't get a locK!", the petty officer protested. "The interference..."

"I know, but they've only got seconds!" Barnes ran his hands over the controls. Scotty had shown him a few tricks over the last couple of years... Filter out the energy fields... okay, no chance of using IR lock... skeletal lock? Yeah, that'd be messy if I messed that up.... wait! Barnes hit his multidevice's comm. "Scotty, this is Tom! I'm going to try a direct signal lock, can you get the sensors' resolution tight enough?!"

"It's a risk, lad, but Ah'll give ye what Ah can!"

"Good!" Barnes manipulated the controls. C'mon Cat, c'mon J-man, I'm not going to let you go.... His systems went green with a signal lock. "Energizing now!" He ran his fingers up the main control.

Light coalesced on the transporter as three humanoid forms materialized. When the light faded Jarod, Cat, and Meridina were laid out on the pad. "Barnes to Medbay, prepare to receive emergency medical transport!"

"Send them on!"

I got 'em. I got them! Barnes worked the transporter again to beam them into Leo's waiting care. After the light from the transporter died down he let out a whoop. "Damn I'm good!"

Zack's groans of agony were still filling the special care ward, but his grip was still on Leo's wrist. The device shined blue on his forehead. "Almost," he murmured. "Almost."

"Zack, this thing is going to kill you!", Leo said.

"Won't leave her alone," Zack insisted. His head felt like it wanted to split open and he wondered if it would explode before it was all over.

The blue light on the device ended. The thing literally fell off his forehead, landing on his chest. "Done," he muttered before laying his head back on the pillow and losing consciousness again.

Leo quickly checked his vitals. "EEGs returning to normal."

"How badly is he hurt?", Robert asked.

"I'll need to do some scans first. The fact he was awake and cognizant is good, though." Leo led Robert out to the rest of the medbay. The emergency area had the landing party laying in beds being attended to. None were conscious yet. "I'll have to find out what they were exposed to before I can tell you anything," he explained.

"Bridge to Captain Dale," Locarno said. "Sir, Governor Yalama is hailing us. He demands to know what happened at the dig site."

"Tell him I'll be right with him. What have we heard from the Koenig?"

"They've engaged an enemy ship at M4P2-G1SV, they believe it responsible for the attack on Yamalia."

"Set course to M4P2-G1SV then, maximum warp."

"Aye sir."

Robert lowered his arm and looked at Leo. "Now I get to deal with an angry colonial governor. The Admiral is going to rip me a new one."

"You did the right thing," Leo replied. "Don't worry about it."

"Keep me up to date on their progress." Robert turned and left the medbay.

The Koenig let loose another spread of torpedoes that blew out a turret on the carrier. Fire still came in, but only from two angles, letting Apley avoid more of it. Another hit slammed into their ventral armor. "Shields going critical," Magda warned. "Below ten percent, we're going to lose them if we don't get out of here."

"If we warp out who knows where they'll take the rest of those poor Dorei," Julia insisted. "Apley, Sherlily, see if you can target their engines, let's see if we can hobble this carrier too."

"If I can give Sherlily a shot, I will," Apley promised. "But this is getting..."

"Subspace spike!", Magda shouted. "That object out by the gas giant, I'm showing a massive subspace spike!"

In the distance energy surged. A ship suddenly appeared beside the object, accelerating away from it and toward them. "Put the unknown ship on my viewer," Julia ordered. When it appeared as a holographic projection, she could see it looked different from their attackers. Gray with blue trim, a long but thin starship with guns on the bow. She could almost lake out a symbol on the side of the bow...

"They're sending out an open hail, putting it on speaker," Magda reported.

A deep voice came over the speaker. "This is Captain David Anderson of the SSV Tokyo to Batarian vessels. You are ordered to stand down immediately and prepare for boarding."

"M4P2's Humans," Julia murmured.

"Enemy ships are turning away from the Tokyo. I think they're preparing to engage their superluminal drives."

"I don't want them running. Take the carrier's engines out, now!"

The Koenig exploited the sudden change in the enemy's maneuvering to thread the needle between two raiders and clear the carrier. As they passed the aft of the carrier Sherlily fired the aft torpedo launchers. The torpedoes slammed into the engines of the carrier, creating large explosions in the aft section. "Their shields absorbed some of it...."

"Attack Plan Whiskey! All power to weapons!"

The Koenig whipped around. Their pulse phasers blazed. Bolts of amber energy slammed into the engine ports, blowing away hull material and other debris. One engine died and then the next.

The Tokyo made the range and opened fire, focusing its attacks on the smaller raiders. It had the same mass driver weapons with mass-lightening fields as the "Batarian" ships; the rounds it fired slammed into one of the raiding ships and disabled it.

"While we have our chance, see if we can beam the Dorei off that first raider," Julia ordered.

"Shields are so low it shouldn't be hard, we'll do cyclic transports this time." Magda began doing so.

"Sherlily, target the nearest raider," Julia ordered. "Let's make it clear who's side we're on."

"This is an outrage, Captain Dale!," Governor Yalama protested. "The damage to the dig site is extensive and who knows how much damage..."

"If my people hadn't triggered it, your's would have eventually, Governor," Robert replied. He was in his office on the bridge, dealing with the most annoying and least important matter on his plate right now. "All recordings from the multidevices of our landing party bear me out. There was some ancient trap down there, the moment your people tried to send a full signal from that device chamber it would've set off the explosions."

"If your people had taken more care, Captain, it would not have happened! According to your own testimony one of your people interfaced with the core! That was irresponsible and..."

"And necessary to save our officer."

"The Dorei Federal authorities will hear of this, Captain, and so will your superiors! I'll make sure of it!" Yalama's face vanished.

"Jerk," Robert grumbled. He pressed the intercom. "Dale to Medbay. Leo, any updates?"

"They're coming to, Robert. If you want to speak with them..."

"I'm on my way."

Even if their lungs still burned, the landing party had moved from their wards to the special care ward where Zack was still quiet, joining Robert and Barnes there. "It looks like he's sleeping more than outright unconscious," Leo said. "Which is a relief. His brain was damaged by the energy pulse but not so much that we can't use regenerative therapy to repair it, and after a month or so he should be fine."

"How will it effect him?", Robert asked.

"He won't have any problems with motor skills or memory, just headaches." Leo put a hand on the control station. "I'm already doing the paperwork for light duty."

"Well, at least he'll have more time for the holodeck," Barnes said, smirking.

"No," Leo insisted. "When I mean light duty, I mean keeping activity low too. He is not going to be partying on the holodeck. I want him doing nothing more strenuous than reading reports."

"At least he's okay," Cat said. "We did it."

There was general agreement. Meridina stood silent on the issue, though. She had her own concerns for him.

Ship's Log: 14 April 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. The Aurora has remained at System M4P2-G1SV to help with the cleanup of the battle with the raiders that attacked Yamalia. In the meantime I have invited Captain Anderson of the Tokyo, representing the Systems Alliance, to meet with me and discuss preliminary arrangements for formal contact between our respective Alliances.

I am pleased to report that Commander Zachary Carrey is up and about, although Doctor Gillam's light duty orders are in full effect. I'm hoping Zack will take the time to heal and to enjoy himself after the close call he just suffered.

Zack was looking out of the internal windows for the Koenig's dock. He didn't pay attention to Julia walking up beside him, trying to focus his view on his scarred ship. "Sorry for getting her roughed up," Julia said.

"It's fine. Between Karen and Tom... a week and she'll be fine." Zack forced himself to not turn his head. He couldn't trust himself with looking at her green eyes and seeing her lips, so inviting to him. The memory of kissing her in the construct world, of holding her close and making love to her, was still painfully fresh. "Thank you for bringing her back."

"You're welcome." Julia smiled at him. "Don't worry. You'll be better in no time, Zack. And you'll be taking her back out."

"I know," he said absent-mindedly. I know what you're going to do, please don't...

Unfortunately, his mental plea could not be heard. Julia put her arms around him in a tight hug. "You gave us all a scare, Zack. I... I don't know what we'd do if something happened to you."

I love you Julie. A part of him wanted to say it. Just say it and accept the consequences. Anything, even rejection, would be better than this torture. "Uh, thank you."

Julia finished the hug. "Well, I'd better go take up the bridge watch. We've got Captain Anderson up in the conference room and Rob's giving him the whole 'Multiverse' briefing. Want to join him? I know Leo said light duty but just watching can't break that, right?"

"I'll pass," Zack said. "I'm heading to the Outlook for some lunch."

"Oh. Okay, enjoy it then. See if Hargert has any of that roast beef left. Better than Mrs. Dale's." Julia smiled at him. "See you around."

Zack watched her go and took a pained breath in. A thought came to his mind, on just how far he'd go to have her again like he did in that construct world.

He stopped the thought, mostly because he didn't think he could stand the answer.

Robert was sitting quietly with Captain Anderson at his side. The older man was finishing a tablet covering some of the data Robert was authorized to share with him. "I'll be damned," Anderson said softly. "There's an entire Multiverse out there."


"The year isn't even the same from what you've said."

"2641 is the current calendar we're using univ... multiversally. While you're..."

"2181," Anderson answered. "And everything is so different for you. There are alien races we don't have here," he continued. "Technology we've never seen. You don't even use mass effect fields like we do."

"Subspace mass lightening for sublight maneuvering is about it," Robert confirmed.

"Technology like this could change our galaxy forever," Anderson remarked. "Your warp drives can go further and faster than anything we've got outside of the Mass Relays."

"I'd be lying if I claimed we don't want to take a Mass Relay apart and look at how it works," Robert replied. "Interstellar civilization in your galaxy having pan-galactic capability is what will get us thinking. We've only seen one society with claims to that extent and they're not the friendliest." Thoughts of the Goa'uld went through his head.

"We're just stuck to the Relays," Anderson mused. "I've already sent recordings of my preliminary contact with Commander Andreys back to Arcturus. It's going to have the admiralty and Parliament going crazy. And when the Citadel Council finds out... I can't imagine how they'll take it."

"You don't think they'll take it well?", Robert asked.

"We've been a part of the galaxy for under twenty-five years, Captain Dale, and in that time Humanity has become one of the most prominent races in the galaxy when we're centuries, even thousands of years behind the other Council races." Anderson shook his head. "The other races can't decide if they want to be our friend or if they'd rather put a fence around us. And you've seen what the Batarians think of us. Now they're going to find out there's an entire Multiverse out there where Humans are the most common species." Anderson chuckled bitterly. "That's going to stir things up."

"Hopefully they'll recognize that the Alliance isn't just Human."

"It's going to change everything. I..." There was a tone. An orange holographic interface appeared over Anderson's right forearm. He brought the arm up and tapped a blinking orange light. "Anderson here."

"Engineering teams have finished stabilizing the carrier's drives. We're ready to take it back to Arcturus."

"Good. It'll make the Council happy to hear that this band of Batarian slavers is out of commission. Tell Commander Shepard not to wait for us."

"I'll relay the word, sir."

Anderson stood. "It's been good meeting you, Captain Dale. I hope to see you again."

"The same, Captain Anderson." Robert extended his hand and accepted the older man's handshake. "As another starship captain I've met would put it... bon voyage, Captain Anderson."

"Take care of yourselves out here," Anderson answered.

Caterina was running scan after scan of the mass relay on her systems while ignoring the look on Angel's face. "I'm perfectly fine," she insisted. "Just a couple little coughs."

"You almost died, Cat," Angel said reproachfully. "You need to take it easy."

"I am," Cat insisted. "I've got Lieutenant Adjo going over the Adrana relics."

"That's not what I meant! You need to be in bed!"

"Oh come on." Caterina took a deep breath. It hurt to breathe still, but she'd had worse. This wasn't even bronchitis level yet.

"I mean it."

"I'll go rest as soon as I finish the first scans of the local mass relay." Cat clapped her hands together in barely restrained excitement. "I remember these things being in the Darglan database back in the Facility! I've been waiting for so long to see real ones! Subspace tunnelling! Quantum wave formations! It's awesome, it's like... it's like combining a warp drive and a wormhole in one!"

"Cat..." Angel used her stern voice.

"Just let me..." A red light blinked on her display. "That's odd."

"What?" Angel stepped up. "What is it?"

"We still have part of the Darglan Database in our computers," Caterina pointed out. "They recognize the mass relay. And they have a warning flag on it."

"A warning flag?", Angel asked.

"Yeah, it's... basically, the Darglan thought there was something dangerous about this technology. Something beyond the possibility of mis-using it," Caterina explained. "I wonder why?"

"Is it in the database?"

Caterina checked. "Nope."

"Well, make a report on it." Angel crossed her arms. "And then go to bed."

"Yes big sis," Caterina sighed.


Zack looked up from the bar in the Lookout. Albert offered him a glass of root beer. He waved it away. "Give me...." Zack swallowed. "Tequila."

Albert's expression turned to concern. "Commander?"

"Tequila. That good stuff I know Hargert keeps. Just bring the bottle and a glass here."

Albert's face was still full of concern, but he did as instructed. "I hope you are okay, sir. You've gone through so much."

"I don't even want to talk about it." Zack gave him a slight wave to ask him to leave. Albert did so, taking one last look at him. His gaze turned to the dark amber liquid in the bottle.

He knew it was stupid. He was depressed. Alcohol was a depressant. It wouldn't help him. But the thought of just burying his pain underneath a flood of liquor appealed. It was the usual Carrey family reaction to this, wasn't it? Drink yourself into a gentle stupor where life's failures just... stopped mattering?

His hand reached for the bottle.

I shouldn't be like this, he thought. I've lived with my feelings for this long, I can go on. I can find someone else, can't I?

Zack let himself think about kissing Julia again. Pain filled his heart, knowing he could never have that. She wasn't going to love him.

And to think that there was a part of him that would hurt Robert, his dearest friend...

He opened the bottle.

No. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and just get on with life, Zack insisted to himself. You'll find someone else. You won't be alone forever.

He stared at the open bottle. It would be so easy to drink a shot or two. To feel the buzz and deaden the pain. But if he could drink a shot or two, he might end up with a third. And a fourth. Soon he'd be drunk. He'd be just like his dad....

Zack forced a breath from his lungs and put the bottle down. He returned the cap to it and slid it away. Without saying anything else, he left the Lookout.

Upon arriving at his quarters, he only had time to remove the uniform jacket before the door tone went off. "Come on in," he called out. He turned and saw Meridina enter in far enough to cause the door to close. "Commander."

"Zachary. We need not stand on rank here."

"Okay, Meridina." He turned to face her. "I'm happy you're okay."

"I was not damaged as you were," she replied. "I have read the reports. You did the right thing with the being in the system."

"Yeah, I guess." Zack pulled up a table chair and sat in it in reverse, his arms on the back of the chair. "And what about your report?"

Meridina looked at him with compassion. "You are asking if I put what I saw?"

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"My report, Zachary, stated that the device turned your innermost desires into a constructed world to make you feel at ease. I did not give details. I will never give details. It would be wrong, a violation of Swenya's Code."

Zack nodded. "Thank you."

"I cannot imagine it has been easy for you." Meridina approached him and took a seat, although the chair she used was placed conventionally. "You must have felt like you were in the world you wanted."

"Until I found out it involved leaving my best friend to die, yes," Zack answered drolly. "I, I can't face her right now, Meridina. I can't."

"You fear you will confess your true feelings?" Meridina extended a hand to him, placing it on his arms. "Zachary, every living being has darkness. You are no different. Your choices yesterday say more about what kind of man you are. You risked your life to help others and to give comfort to a poor, tormented being."

"I can't believe that thought was inside me," Zack said. "How can I face Rob ever again? Knowing that there's a part of me, even a small one, that wants to see him dead? How can I let him be my friend? I mean... even as I was in a world where I killed him, he was sitting at my bedside, looking out for me. My God, Meridina, I don't deserve them."

"You are wrong, Zachary," Meridina insisted. "It may take you time to come to grips with the darkness you found within you, but I know you will. You will understand that you are a good man. And no temptation will ever change that."

"If you say so." Zack looked past her. "I can't help but think of Gylao. She was... just a fragment of a woman that once lived, that saw everything she loved destroyed, and they wouldn't even let her bring her happy memories into that simulation with her. All she had for two hundred thousand years was the annihilation of everything she loved. She, I mean, she was so broken she couldn't even tell right from wrong."

"It is horrible that such a thing happened," Meridina agreed.

"Hopefully she'll be happy now. I'm not perfect, but I'm hoping my... memory self or whatever it is can keep her happy." Zack grinned slightly. "I almost envy him."

Meridina smiled softly. "He will be an affectionate friend to her, yes." The smile faded mostly. "Zachary, do you remember anything of what happened to the ancient Adranians?"

"Nothing specific. Just..." Zack drew in a breath and focused. "...images. Their cities were burning. These big metal things were attacking them. And they did things to the Adranians. They actually somehow... brainwashed them, used them against the others."

"And nothing else?"

"There was a name. She never said it, but I sensed it when she was downloading me. The attackers never identified themselves, so the Adranians named them." Zack swallowed. "I think it was a bit of a warning, in fact."

"So what did they call them?", Meridina asked.

Zack went silent as he sifted through his brain. The name, the word, was so familiar. He tried to tease it to the surface of his tongue.

"Zachary? What did they call them?"

He looked at her as the word popped into his mind. He could remember it now.

"Reapers," he answered. "They called their killers the Reapers."

A wide field of golden wheat stretched as far as the eye could see. In the distance circular fields could be made out from the top of the mound. Gylao looked about in curiosity, not sure what it was she was seeing.

"Beautiful, isn't it? Kinda simple though."

She looked up, re-assuming the form of Julia Andreys as she did, wearing a sleeveless white blouse and golden skirt. A smile crossed her face at seeing Zachary Carrey - the fully-downloaded imprint of his mind and memories - step up, wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans and carrying a blanket and picnic basket. "If it were just a bit taller you could see the entire county," he said to her. "Too bad it's gone. There's an alien facility underneath it that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. We had to blow it up."

"This was your home?", Gylao asked.

"It was. Well, near my home. It was on Rob's family's property." He laid out the blanket. "Okay, first things first." He looked at her and put a hand on her chin. "You're not Julia. You don't have to be Julia for me to be happy with you, Gylao."

"What would you prefer then? I sense you have sentiments for the one named Caterina as well, and there is also Karen Derbely, Magda Navaez, Clara Dav..."

"I want Gylao," Zack insisted. "I want the brave woman who wanted to leave a memory of her people and who spent a quarter of a million years watching them be destroyed over and over... and managed to keep her sanity enough to help me save my friends."

Gylao stared at him in surprise. She lowered her emerald eyes, which turned into amethysts as her skin turned pink and her hair a darker shade of red. She was still human-shaped as she'd been before. "Then you have me," she told him.

"Yeah." Zack put his arms around her. "So, I know it's all data drawn from my brain, but I've brought the county's best roast beef sandwiches and some grape and cherry Kool-Aid, and it's still going to taste great. And when our picnic is over, we'll have to decide what to see next."

"What do you mean?"

"You don't think I've just seen these boring wheatfields, did you Gylao?" Data-Zack laughed and shook his head. "I've been to a bunch of places on Earth. And I've seen so much more in space, even if I only have a few years of memories there. I'll show it all to you." He pressed his lips to her's briefly. "We'll become children and have snowball fights with Rob and Julie and Tom. We'll become teenagers and cuddle at the last drive-in theater in the state. And then I'll have you in the dugout watching me pitch a no-hitter in the division championships."

"You have so many memories," Gylao said in wonderment.

"Yeah. And now..." He smiled at her. "...they're going to be your's too. Now come here, Gy..."


"Term of endearment." He pulled her close. "Get used to it."

Zack pressed his lips to Gylao's. She closed her eyes, blue tears running down her pink cheeks as they shared a kiss under the warm summer sun.

She would never be alone again.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: 3 May 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. I'm pleased to report that we have made orbit of New Liberty Colony, Universe H1E4, to take part in the celebration of the Colony's third anniversary. I'm looking forward to seeing old faces and catching up on how our little colony has grown over the last three years.

"We've assumed the planned orbit," Locarno announced, looking up from his board. On the holoviewer the planet was stationary below them, the lights of the New Liberty Colony visible with the dawn just starting to touch them. Several other starships were visible on the screen. "I've never seen so much traffic here before."

"It's a growing colony." Robert stood from the command chair. "Okay everyone, I know you're eager for some real shore leave. Commander Andreys is drawing up the rotation for the duration of the visit, you know she'll do her best to accommodate having everyone who wants to be there off duty when the celebrations commence. Jarod, you have the bridge, I'll be in my office."

Robert walked into the office and took a seat. He eyed his tablets and the reports demanding his attention. After a moment's consideration he'd decide to tackle them... after making a call. He tapped a few keys on his controls and waited for the local call to go through. A familiar face popped upon the screen. "Hello Beth," he said, grinning.

Elizabeth "Beth" Rankin, his cousin, smiled back at him from her own desk. "Well there you are. I'm glad you could make it this year, Rob."

"Oh, it'll be the day when I can't," he vowed.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," she warned. "Since this is the first anniversary after the UAS officially started we're hoping to make it a big event. Maybe even a parade. Are you up to manning a float?"

"Oh, uh... a parade float, really?"

"Quite a few people have been trying to make a likeness of the Aurora for it," Beth told him. "It'll be fun.."

"I suppose."

"We've even got guests from Earth for the celebration."

At that Robert nodded slowly. "Yeah, I heard relations were starting to go well."

"We already have a starliner running a daily route to Earth," Beth said, smiling. "It's bringing us some new immigrants and plenty of tourists. It's been a bit of a headache for me, of course."

"I can imagine." Robert leaned in toward the image. "So, how is Gabe...?"

Zack stood in the open square and watched the population running about. Banners were already going up to celebrate the colonial anniversary and there was a vibrant feeling in the air. He allowed himself a smile and stood outside of a kiosk selling grain snacks of some kind, run by a young African colonist.

For all that he wasn't sure about the direction of his life, he had to admit to genuine pride in New Liberty. All of these thousands of people were here, living and working together from all sorts of cultures and creeds, united by their common background of having escaped suffering of one kind or another thanks to Zack and the others who had operated the Facility. At least here he knew the past three years hadn't been all a waste.

The truth was, Adrana was still on his mind. The simulation he'd experienced there had haunted him over the past weeks. Not only had it re-opened a wound he thought he'd closed years ago, it had also made him realize he had thoughts he'd rather not have.

He walked along the street, deep in thought, when he heard a soprano voice call out to him. Memory was already kicking in when he turned to face the origin.

She was plainly-dressed, a white blouse with red flower designs on it and a matching red skirt that went almost to her knees. She was beautiful, not in the swimsuit model way but in the way dimples formed on her face when she smiled and the homey "cute girl next door" look she held. Dark hair flowed down to her shoulders and bright blue eyes drew his attention.

"Zack!", she called out.

He stood in astonishment. "Clara?"

Clara Davis walked up to him quickly and put her arms around him. "I can't believe I found you so quickly! Everyone said you'd be here for the anniversary but..."

He accepted her embrace and looked into her lovely face, brushing a lock of black hair out of it. "Clara, what are you doing here?"

"Finding you, silly," she answered. "When I found out where you'd gone off to..."

"How'd you find out?", he asked.

"Everyone knows now, ever since the first contact," she replied. "Half the county thinks you're horrible and the other half loves you."

"Which half are you?"

"Do you really have to ask?" Her eyes twinkled with delight, but there was sadness in them from what Zack saw. "Zack, I came to ask you to come back home with me. Not for me, but well..."

Zack had stopped dead in his tracks. "Why?"

"It's your Dad, Zack. I think he's dying."

Undiscovered Fonrtier
"Father Figures"

It wasn't used much, but Julia did in fact have an office. It was on Deck 3 not far at all from her quarters but she tended to do her work from the bridge or her quarters.

But things were different now that she was juggling dozens of personnel schedules to make sure everyone got to enjoy the anniversary celebrations and shore leave. Even here, in a peaceful universe, the Aurora still needed to be manned sufficiently and ready for action at a moment's notice. Julia let out a long sigh and moved around a couple of department heads just to realize it would conflict with a third person's requested time...

The office door chimed and she called out for whomever it was to enter. She looked up from her work and saw Zack step in. "Hey Zack," Julia said in greeting. "Back up from the surface already?"

"I came back to file a request," he replied. Zack found a seat. "I know my medical leave has me on light duty, but I need a couple of days off."

"A couple days? Zack, the festival is in..."

"Three days, yeah. I'll be back before then. It's just..." He swallowed. "Clara Davis is here."

Julia looked up and stared at him. "You're kidding. Clara's all the way out here?!"

"Took the shuttle, yeah. She says my Dad's in bad shape. He might not make it."

"Oh." Julia nodded. "Okay. Yeah, I understand. Take all the time you need. Actually, take the Susquehanna."

Zack stared at her. "What?"

"It's no big problem, Zack. Take the Susquehanna and go to Earth. It's faster than the starliner and you won't be reliant on paying for tickets." She smiled at him. "Go be with your Dad, Zack."

Zack nodded. "Okay then. I'll let Clara know to save that roundtrip ticket." He leaned forward and took Julia's hand. "Thanks Julie, I owe you one."

"I stopped counting years ago!", she retorted with a laugh as he went out the door.

She had about five minutes of quiet time before the chime went off yet again. This time Jarod entered bearing a tablet. "Finished your part of the schedule already?"

"I wanted to get it out of the way," he answered. "I would like to ask for a favor."

"Go ahead," she answered.

"I need a couple of days worth of leave," he said. "And a runabout."

Julia stared at him for a moment. Realization came. "You want to go home."

"It's been two years," Jarod pointed out. "I've put it off long enough."

"So what are your plans, Jarod?"

"I'm going to give Sydney and some of the others another chance to leave," he answered. "Now that I've been gone for so long I'm hoping they won't be as disbelieving."

"And beaming him right onto a runabout is a pretty decisive way to convince him." Julia nodded. "Alright. I'll give you the Rio Grande. But only on one condition."


"I want you to take Angel and Lucy with you, Jarod." Julia shook her head. "That's not negotiable. You've told us how dangeorus these people are. I can't let you deal with them all on your own."

For a moment Jarod said nothing. He finally nodded. "You're right, I'll want the backup."

"Go get packed up, I'll call them."

"Thank you, Julia." Jarod nodded and stepped out.

Julia finished a line of paperwork and went to call Angel when the chime went off again. She let out a sigh and called for the person to enter.

When Meridina entered she stood quietly before her. "Commander, I wish..."

"...for a runabout, right?"

That got her a quizzical look. "Um, no."

"Oh." Julia felt a blush come on. "Sorry, I just saw a pattern developing."

Meridina nodded. "I have been informed that a Mastrash of my order has requested a tour of the Aurora. I have handled security arrangements but I need you and Captain Dale to give final approval." She presented a tablet.

Julia took her stencil and signed it. "There you go. Which Master?"

"I am unsure," Meridina replied. "The order did not say."

"Well, make sure they enjoy their visit, okay?"

"I will endeavor to do so." Meridina turned and stepped out.

After getting off duty Angel tracked her sister to the science lab. Most of the science crew was off duty given they had no active assignments, giving Cat total run of the lab (granted, as Science Officer she had that anyway) and which was permitting her to do... something. "Cat, aren't you going to beam down? We're due at Carranco's by eight... twenty hundred."

"I'm just finishing some final coding," Caterina answered from her station. Angel stood up beside her and looked over the display. Search string fields were full with terminology she wasn't familiar with. "Then we'll be set to go."

"Coding for what?"

"A search program." Cat kept typing. "Remember how the Mass Relays in M4P2 had a warning flag?"


"I searched the database but couldn't find why. And then I looked some more and realized that we've lost a lot of interconnecting data. We didn't get a full upload of the database when we had to abandon the Facility. The data gaps are bad. We need to find a way to fill them."

"You mean we need to find another Darglan base."

"Exactly!" Caterina smiled. "And that's the hard part! They're almost impossible to find if you don't have the right tools and know what you're looking for. What I'm doing is introducing a search pattern for the telltale traces of a dimensionally transcendental field in operation. I'm going to put it in the fleet's systems so that it'll search for any traces of these readings. That will give us an idea of where another facility might be."

Angel gave her a sister a smile. "That's my clever little sis. How long will it take?"

"As long as it needs to. Every networked sensor in the Alliance will be checked for results. It might take a few days for some to reply, but it'll be ongoing." Cat clapped with excitement. "Can you imagine finding another one?!"

"I think I can, sis, I think I can. But right now you need to wrap this up. Senora Carranco has a good meal with our name on it."

"You told her Mama's old recipes, didn't you?", Cat accused, but in a nice way.


"Don't 'maybe' me, she cooks the chicken enchiladas the same way Mama did!" Cat hit a final key. "Okay, search string is out! Let's get to the transporter room!"

But before they got to the door Angel's multidevice chirped. She pressed down on it. "Delgado here."

"Angel, I need to see you," Julia said over the line. "I have something to ask."

"Can't wait to find out," Angel sighed. "Sorry Cat, looks like you'l be enjoying Carranco's alone."

"Rio Grande, you are clear to depart."

The voice was that of Lieutenant Jany Palaia, a female Dorei and one of the operations officers in training. Jarod pressed down the comm key on his board. "Alright, Lieutenant. We're heading out. Firing thrusters."

He ran his fingers precisely over the control panel while, beside him, Lucy Lucero busied herself with monitoring the other ship systems. Angel sat at a side station set up as tactical. Lucy was in uniform but, like Jarod, Angel had opted for "civilian" garb; both were in brown leather jackets, Jarod having chosen a plain blue T-shirt and trousers go with it while Angel had a sleeveless black shirt and loose navy blue sweatpants.

The Rio Grande gently lifted off from the shuttle bay floor and turned about within the clearance guideline. Jarod gently eased her out of the bay and open space before bringing her back around to above the Aurora's primary hull. "Standby, Rio Grande, jump point to A4P5 being generated... now."

The jump point opened ahead of them, permitting the Rio Grande to cross over. On the other end they found the same solar system and garden planet. Here there was no growing city and colony, only a small farming colony established a few months before the Alliance formed. The settlement was intended to support the naqia mining operation being set up on A4P5 Abdis.

"Setting course for Earth, Warp 5.5." Jarod keyed in the course and fired the engines up.

"Warp systems operational," Lucy confirmed. "We're good to go."

With a press of a key the Rio Grande made the jump to warp speed.

Meridina was in proper blue robes, with her Stellar Navy rank insignia on the neck, when she stepped into the swevyra temple that the order had founded on New Liberty. The laymen who did the chores nodded respectfully at her as she walked in measured, reserved steps to the guest office. She tried not to smile but had every expectation of facing her master and seeing him yet again. She had much to report to him.

So opened the door to the office and said, "Mastrash..." She was quickly relieved she hadn't actually said "Ledosh".

Instead of the fine lines of her master's face, she found the more wrinkled, thin cheeks and face of Mastrash Karesl. She froze in place. She hadn't expected him of all people. Ledosh's main political adversary, the Mastrash who was arguing so hotly for the Order to keep its distance from the Alliance, who even opposed Gersallian membership in it, and now he was here.

"Greetings, Meridina," he said warmly. "You don't seem pleased to see me."

Meridina cursed to herself; she'd allowed a glimmer of disapproval to slip into her expression. "I was... simply surprised to see you here, Mastrash."

"I imagine so." He kept his hands behind his back. "I imagine you figured Ledosh would come. He would have, but there were pressing issues back home so I came instead."

"I see." Meridina kept her face carefully neutral, wondering as she did why Karesl had come.

"I know my views of our Order's involvement with the new Alliance contradict your's, Meridina, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate what is being done here, or even the existence of the Alliance. I simply disagree with our place in it. Besides..." His expression softened ever so slightly. "...I will admit that I also wished to see you, daughter."

Meridina stared, speechless with surprise. "You have not acknowledged me as your child for some time."

"You know how it is. Once you joined the Order, you became every Mastrash's daughter," Karesl pointed out. "But that doesn't mean I stopped caring for you as my flesh and blood."

"And yet you have sought to undermine everything I am trying to accomplish."

Karesl drew in a sigh. "If only you had become a student of Iladira. She would have put your energies to greater use. Ledosh has led you into embracing his obsessions."

"I have no obsessions, Father. I have convictions only. They tell me that Ledosh is correct."

"And as you are not merely my daughter but your mother's as well, you will hold to those convictions no matter what else may come." He stepped up and put a hand on her shoulder. "I am proud of you for that. I simply wish it was for a better cause. Regardless, I would be interested in meeting these Humans you are now so devoted to. I believe your ship has quartering available for dignitaries, yes?"

Meridina swallowed. Mastrash Karesl, on the Aurora? There was something going on here, she was sure of it. But he was still a Mastrash, he had the right to inquire. "I shall speak to Commander Andreys about arranging quartering for you aboard Aurora," she replied. "Is there anything else?"

"Nothing for the moment. I will be ready for whenever you have made the arrangements. Mi rake sa sweyvra iso, Meridina."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," Meridina replied. She bowed respectfully and went out the door.

The tour she had been looking forward to overseeing was now something she wished she could prevent.

The streaks of warp space zoomed by the cockpit windows of the Susquehanna, providing much delight to Clara as Zack kept his eyes on the controls. "And you can fly this by yourself?"

"Yeah. It's made for one pilot in a pinch, but only if all I'm doing is flying. Anything more and I'd need a crew." Zack looked away from the board. "What's wrong with Dad?"

"He's got a number of symptoms that indicate he's going into liver failure," Clara answered. "And his heart has started to have an irregular beat."

"Is he in the hospital?"

"No, home care is all he can afford." Clara smiled weakly. "I'm one of the nurses assigned to his case."

Zack reached over and patted her on the shoulder. "So you became a nurse? Great, that's great Clara. You've always had the right personality for it."

"Thank you." Clara looked at him while he went back to work on the board. "You're different out here. You seem a little more stable."

"Not all of that is true," he replied. "I just have responsibilities now. Things that keep my mind occupied."

"Maybe, but I know you love it out here," Clara pointed out.

"Well, yeah, I do. I just wish I had someone to share it with."

Clara nodded. "So you're still looking."

"Yeah, I am."

"Good luck," she said, rounding out the conversation.

After spending part of the trip in silence, Lucy spoke up first. "So... this guy you're going to talk to... he was your mentor, right?"

Jarod didn't turn his head from where he was focusing on the board. Thoughts clearly stirred within. "He was the closest thing I had to a father," he said.

"Given what you've said, he was a jerk working for the people keeping you prisoner," Angel remarked.

That made Jarod turn to face her, looking rather irritated. "He cared for me in a way no one else has." After a moment, Jarod amended, "Until I met you, at least."

"I'd hope we showed how much we care," Angel said. She took a drink from her mug. "I think we picked that up from Rob's parents. I mean, they made every one of us feel like family when we were around, especially after..." She remained silent for a moment. "I'm the lucky one, I guess. Cat was so little she doesn't remember Papa. And our Mom worked herself to death to care for us."

"They should call us the Orphan crew, I guess," Jarod remarked drolly.

"Well, mostly. Zack's Dad is still alive. Which shows there's not much fairness in the world, Old Man Carrey is a piece of crap. Zack is tolerable because he doesn't take off of his old man," Angel remarked.

"Only 'tolerable', Angela?", Lucy asked, smirking.

"If I say more and he finds out about it, I'd have to beat him up again to put him back in line," Angel joked. "Best to let him believe he only has my toleration."

"Ha!" Jarod let out a laugh.

Not for the first time, he pondered how lucky he was that this group of people adopted him like they did.

Julia was in the Lookout enjoying her dinner for the night, fresh off her shift, when Meridina found her. "So, anything else on that tour you talked about?", she asked.

"Yes," Meridina replied. "I need to arrange a stateroom."

Julia nodded. "We've got some open on Deck 4." She looked at Meridina with an expression of interest, eyes narrowed. "You sound a little off."

Meridina remained stoic. "I suppose... Commander, I would speak on this, but not here? It is... private."

"Okay." She nodded to Albert. "Give Hargert my thumbs up for me. I'm going to finish in my quarters."

Albert nodded and went back to waiting on a couple of Ensigns from Science and Operations.

With her plate - a remnant of dinner sausage, carrots, and greens - in hand, Julia followed Meridina out of the lookout and to the nearest lift. When it closed, Julia said, "Deck 3, Section A." The lift began moving through the ship's tubes. "Okay, so what's wrong?"

"The Mastrash who came is not who I thought it would be," Meridina answered. "I had anticipated my mentor and teacher Ledosh."

"I remember him. Nice guy. A shame he's not the one who's coming."

"Agreed. Instead we have Karesl." Meridina let down her guard enough to show her concern.

"I don't think I remember that one..."

"He.... not here." The turbolift doors were already opening. They emerged into the corridors. Meridina's quarters were almost as close as Julia's, but Meridina followed Julia in the opposite direction. They passed Scotty's quarters and Jarod's before finding Julia's. Inside Julia had arranged the XO Cabin to her liking. It was spacious enough; the door opened into a room that was part personal office space - complete with personal desk - and part living area. One wall had a display screen while the wall behind the desk had a replicator. A divider to the left led to the bedroom and shower beyond. Julia had set up shelves with mementos of her life. Martial arts trophies adorned one shelf, basketball-related ones another, as well as academics. It was a reminder to Meridina of the combination of physical and mental strength that Julia enjoyed. Pictures of her friends and her late family were placed here and there.

Julia set the dish down on her desk and said, "Computer, secure door." The door slid close behind Meridina and locked. "Okay, if this makes you feel better... what about this... Carousel?"

Meridina let out an involuntary laugh. She'd learned what a "Carousel" was to Humans and found it amusing that her father's name sounded so similar. "Kar-eh-sal," she clarified, a smile on her face. Julia found her smile pleasant but surprising. "He is a respected Mastrash but he... I think you need to understand that my people and my Order are not entirely satisfied with the Alliance."

Julia folded her arms and didn't show any reaction. She figured everyone probably had a group or two who didn't like the Alliance in some way. "Oh?"

"Karesl belongs to a... side of our Order who believe that our people must stand apart from others. They do not object to friendship and cooperation - at least most don't - but they believe joining the Alliance to be an error. They think our people should have remained outside of the Alliance. And inside the Order this faction opposes any link to the Alliance government."

"I see. And I'm guessing that includes you?"


Julia nodded. "And now this guy wants a tour of our ship. Is there some kind of angle here?"

"I am unsure. He says he wishes to see more of the Alliance." Briefly Meridina weighed telling Julia about her familial link, but decided not to. "Or he could seek information that might be of use in the debate. How we treat him will play a part."

"Well, I guess we'll have to be on best behavior." Julia let out a sigh. "I'll arrange a tour and let Rob know. Anything else?"

"That should be it."

"Okay. I'll let you know when the quarters are ready for Master Carousel."

Meridina forced herself not to grin at Julia's possibly-intentional mispronunciation of Karesl's name. She nodded and gave thanks before leaving.

Even though it was early morning for Zack by Aurora's time, it was noon locally when the Susquehanna landed beside his old family home. It was one of a few houses set up on an old field that was being left fallow due to a combination of soil depletion and agricultural price-sustaining policy. Zack looked at the house, painted brown and dark yellow, and tried to bury his thoughts on returning after so long.

Dad's dying. It was hard for him to think about it. Partly because it seemed like it would never happen. Partly because, deep down, he knew that at times he wanted it to happen.

Which, of course, was why he didn't want to think about it.

Clara took the lead in walking up. "He should be awake right now," she said. "It's best if we don't excite him, I don't think his heart can take much strain."

"I'll do my best," Zack promised, even if wasn't sure it would work.

"Don't worry about it," Clara said, trying to be comforting. "It'll be alright."

Zack sighed, gathering courage. "Okay, let's go see Dad."

Clara took out the key to the door and unlocked it. They entered into the front hall of the house, the garage to one side and a walk-in closet to the other. The living room was ahead with Clara leading Zack into it. He noticed the interior was still dark blue; at least his Dad hadn't repainted.

"Mister Carrey?"

There was a grumble from the living room that Zack was oh so familiar with. "Thought you were taking the week off," a gruff male voice remarked. Not gruff from any natural gruffness either, but rather from a set of vocal cords used to screaming despite a rather higher voice than the owner wished he had.

"I was. But I brought someone here to see you."

At that invitation, Zack walked into the living room. He kept his spine straight and his hands at his sides, conscious of the fact he was still in uniform. His eyes settled on his father.

Gerald Carrey had once, long ago, had Zachary's build. But he'd lost it from age and too much drink. Yet Zack was still surprised at his father's appearance. He'd lost his beer gut and at least half of his body mass in the past few years. His hair had gone entirely gray and looked like it was thinning on top. His brown eyes were bloodshot and looked strained. He focused them on Zack and made a noise in his throat. "I'll be damned. You finally came crawling back to see how I'm doing. And just what is that monkey suit you're wearing, boy?"

"My uniform," Zack answered, trying to keep his voice emotionally level.

"Oh yeah? Red and black? What are you, a damned Mountie or something?" Gerald snorted. "I heard somethin' about you and your friends running off and doing crazy stuff. Guess it was right. I knew your mom was wrong for letting you mix up with those Dale folk."

"They're my friends." And Rob's father treated me far better than you ever did.

"Still pining for that blonde?"

His father's question went right to the opened wound in his heart. Zack grimaced before he forced his face to be neutral again. "It's not going to happen and I've accepted that."

That prompted a harsh laugh. Gerald reached for a glass of water and drank from it. "No guts. You never show any guts. You just follow your 'friends' like a damn lost puppy instead of going out and doing your own thing."

Something snapped in Zack's head. "I was doing my own thing," he growled. "And then I had to stop because of you."

"You quit instead of helping your old man out," Gerald accused.

"Your bookie was trying to make me throw games, Dad!", Zack shouted. He noticed Clara's surprised look and remembered that not many people had been told. "Do you remember that?! Or were you too drunk to remember anything?!"

Gerald's nostrils flared. "Still no respect. No respect for what I did to give you a roof over your head and food in your belly!"

"Mom did that," Zack retorted. "She worked herself to death, all you did was jump jobs whenever you got yourself too damn drunk to go to work!"

"I wish... I wish..." Gerald's face went from fury to pain as he clutched at his chest with his right hand.

Clara ran to a container near his chair, a spare set of medical instruments. She pressed the stethoscope to his chest. "His heart rate is too elevated." Clara reached for a bottle. "You've got to rest, Mister Carrey. Please."

"Sure...", he wheezed. He continued to glare at Zack. "I'll rest..."

Zack nodded and walked off, heading to his old room near the back of the house. His father had turned it into a junk room with old family things in it. He found an old chair, cleared some boxes off of it, and sat down.

It took everything he had to control the tears that threatened to flow.

The Rio Grande maintained a low orbit over the north pole. Lucy stifled a yawn and checked her board again, making sure their emissions were not visible to Earth-based scanners. That left the naked eye, requiring her to ensure their course kept them out of the vision range of local satellites.

There was movement behind her joined by a yawn. "How did the night go?", Angel asked.

"Quiet and boring."

"You could use the auto-pilot," Angel reminded her.

"No, i don't feel right doing that. Too much that could go wrong." Lucy yawned. "Any idea what the plan is?"

"Jarod wanted to sleep on it." Angel appeared at her side, a cup of coffee in her hand. "Here."

Lucy accepted it and took a quick swig. A fiercely bitter taste attacked her taste buds, forcing her to swallow the coffee swiftly. "Eww?! What is this?!"

"Raktajino," Angel replied. "Klingon coffee."

"Oh of course. I should have known someone like you would go for this stuff." Lucy's face curled into a disgusted look. "The DS9 staff forced this stuff on me when we were there."

"It woke you up, didn't it?", Angel retorted.

From behind them Jarod called out, "Good morning." They turned in their chairs to see him step up into the cockpit and take a seat at a station on the starboard side. He began running a scan. "Angel, are you up for some field work?"

"I figured that was why I was here," she remarked.

"I need someone to approach Sydney with a message from me," he said. "They'll have his home watched and his phones bugged."

"And so I get to be the errand girl." Angel crossed her arms.

"You are supposed to watch my back," Jarod teased. "I'll need you there when Sydney makes contact."

"Alright, fine. I'll do it. Just how do you want me to...?"

Angel stepped up to the door of Sydney's home and knocked, ignoring everything else around her. "Still nobody suspicious on sensors," Lucy reported.

"Thanks," she murmured back just before the door opened.

She'd never seen Sydney before. The older man directed his brown eyes at her face, carefully examining her. "May I help you?", he asked.

Jarod had told her not to say anything, just to hand him the note. She did so. Sydney looked it over. "Down the street, take the third right, you can't miss it," Sydney said loudly, following the instructions in the note. Angel nodded and left. She walked a distance down the road before Jarod pulled up in a blue sedan they had rented using replicated money. "Okay, what next?'

"We wait," Jarod replied. He was behind a disguise that made him look like a thinner and older man, actually making Angel think of Clint Eastwood of all things. He tapped the holo-emitter on his belt. "How well is it working?"

"Well enough," she answered.

He nodded and put the car into motion. They drove the same route Sydney had, passing the store his directions had been for and pulling up to a diner. They went in and Jarod took a seat at a corner table away from the windows while Angel sat nearby at the diner's counter, ordering a milkshake and light breakfast to not seem too out of place.

After about half an hour, during which both finished their breakfast meals, Sydney walked in. He pulled off ihs coat and held it in his arm as he walked up to the booth. He stared at Jarod intently. "I had anticipated a friend being at this seat."

"Hello Sydney," Jarod answered. "It's me." His voice went through unfiltered.

"Jarod?", Sydney asked, incredulous. "How do you look so..."

"Holographic disguise." Jarod glanced around and, seeing nobody was looking his way, briefly turned off the holo-emitter. After Sydney had a chance to see it was really him he turned it back on. "So, let's talk."

"Jarod, I...." Sydney seemed to be struggling for words. "How did you get something like that? Where have you been?"

"I told you, I found somewhere new to go, far beyond the Centre's reach," Jarod answered. "I finally had the time to come back."

"For me," Sydney answered for him. "You came back for me."

"For everyone. Nicholas, Angelo, Broots and his daughter." Jarod smiled. "Even Miss Parker, if she'll come."

"Things have changed since you left, Jarod." Sydney's voice was hoarse. "Raines is losing control. The Triumvirate is threatening to purge our entire office. They're convinced we have a traitor who's keeping you off the radar."

"Then it's a good thing I came back, we can get you all out."

"Jarod, I can't," Sydney pleaded. "They've got Nicholas, Jarod."

That prompted Jarod to go quiet. "What?"

"Nicholas and Broots' daughter Debbie are being held in safehouses by Centre field operatives," Sydney explained. "THey think we need the incentive to find you. We're already running out of time and if they find out you've come back..."

Jarod digested the news quietly. "So we need to do something about that. Do you know where they're held?"

"No," Sydney answered. "They won't tell us. We only get to speak over phone or online video link. They're very careful in hiding the locations from us."

"I see. It looks like we've got some work..."

"Jarod, look."

Angel's hissed warning made Jarod look behind Sydney toward the door. Two men entered. They were very plain-looking men with heavy coats who just looked like they were getting breakfast for the morning. But their eyes were moving a little too quickly for that, and when those coats didn't come off despite the heating in the restaurant it was clear they had something hidden beneath.

"Damn. I thought we'd have more time," Jarod muttered. "Sydney, go back to the office. We'll get Nicholas out, I promise. Tell Broots we'll get his daughter."

"Jarod, don't..."

"Sydney, trust me on this. I've got resources you can't imagine." Jarod nodded and slipped out of his chair. "Go around and out the door while we distract them."

Sydney nodded even as the distraction began. Angel walked up to the men and "accidentally" brushed against one enough to pull his coat far back enough to reveal his gun. "That man has a gun!", Jarod shouted, his voice now modulated through the holo-field so it couldn't be recognized.

People across the restaurant looked on at the agents while Jarod walked up, his finger pointed in accusation. "What is this, the Wild West?", he demanded. "Why are you carrying a weapon in a diner, man?!"

"Hey, it's none of your business," the man retorted.

"None of my business? It's my business when armed thugs come into a place like this looking like Gestapo! What are you, DEA? FBI? CIA?! Out scaring normal Americans?!"

While Jarod kept up the act, Sydney took the long way around through the dining area and went to the front door. Angel took advantage in her own way, reached up her sleeve and activated her own multidevice's scanning mode. She moved it over the two men from behind, letting the device scan their cell phones and copy the call logs and other bits of information.

"Get out of our way," the second man demanded. "You're just a paranoid loon."

"Fascist!", Jarod spat before storming between them. Angel was already at the door as he went by. Once they were outside Jarod quickly looked over to see Sydney's car pulling out. "Okay, let's park and head back up to the Rio Grande," he said to Angel. "We have some planning to do."

Robert had little idea of what was going on besides what Julia had mentioned; Meridina was bringing one of her Order's leaders aboard for a tour and to stay a day or two. Given the rank of the visitor protocol insisted he be present for the arrival on board, particularly since the ship's current status was so quiet and he had no excuses to avoid it. Julia stood beside him, hands together in front of her. "Signal from Commander Meridina," the transporter operator, a young Russian woman, said. "They're ready."

"Transport," Robert said.

Meridina appeared on the transporter platform beside an older man. He looked at them with the air of someone who knew his rank and considered it a burden more than anything. "I am Mastrash Karesl," he said. "I thank you for your acceptance of my request."

"Mastrash, welcome to the Aurora," Robert said. "Permission to come aboard is granted."

"Ah yes. Your Human protocols for such, I imagine." Karesl stepped down from the platform with Meridina ever at his side. He extended his hand. "I believe the joining of hands at this level is another greeting?"

"A handshake, yes." Robert accepted the hand. While they shook hands he had the uncomfortable feeling that he was being scrutinized.

Karesl nodded. "An interesting custom. The same to your First Officer, yes?"


Karesl accepted Julia's handshake as well. His expression shifted ever so slightly. "A pleasure, Commander. Can you show me to my quartering on your ship? I'll only stay a single night, I promise. I just wish to see your vessel in operation given its status."

Robert noticed a perceptible frown on Meridina's face.

"That status is?", Julia asked.

"The standard-bearer of the Allied Systems, of course," Karesl answered. "The ship with the most mixed crew, racially and nationally, of the entire fleet, with every single member of its command crew, save Meridina, being from a non-founding state? A most interesting case. I wish to see how your vessel operates."

"I see. Well, I hope we don't disappoint you then."

Julia led him out. Robert looked over to Meridina as she stepped forward to follow. "What's going on here, Meridina? This isn't just a curiosity visit, is it?"

"It is... private, Captain," Meridina answered. "That is all I can say."

"Is that why he focused on me like that? I felt like..."

"Yes," she quickly answered, leaving right afterward.

Lucy was taking the time to rest, leaving Jarod and Angel alone in the control area of the Rio Grande. Jarod was busying himself with work using the Rio Grande's systems, leaving Angel to do some quick monitoring of the runabout. She finished a check of the weapons systems for the tenth time and finally turned to face her older friend. "Did you expect something like this?"

Jarod paused for a moment. "I considered it," he answered. "I can't believe they're that desperate though. The Centre is such a big organization that I can't imagine why they'd be so desperate to recapture me."

"Guess you were more important to them than you realized."

"Well, they don't take defeat well either." Jarod noticed a light on his board and checked what had caused it. He'd received a message that he had been waiting for. "Are youup for some field work?"

"What kind?"

"Your favorite. You'll sneak in, beat up anyone who gets in your way, and get out with a friend of mine. His name is Angelo."

Angel turned and faced him. "And he is?"

"He's... like me," Jarod replied. "But he's not functional enough to be a Pretender like I am. They did things to him when he was a child. They used chemicals to make him a Pretender. But there were side effects and it left him mentally and emotionally damaged."

Angel frowned. "These people are real bastards," she sighed. "I'm up for it. Let me know when to go down."

"It'll be soon. The timing has to be right." Jarod stood up and moved toward the replicator. "And now I need to send a message to Sydney."

He replicated a slip of paper with text on it and laid it on the transporter pad. Angel watched him send it down, after which they waited quietly. Jarod's eyes focused on the transporter's control board and his hands began to move. Moments later the transporter activated and Sydney ended up on the transporter pad.

"Hello Sydney," Jarod said. "Welcome aboard the Rio Grande."

Sydney blinked. "Jarod? Where... I don't understand."

"Matter transportation by subspace tunnelling," Jarod explained. "It tingles a bit." He had a mischievous smile on his face. "I would have eased you into it if I could."

Sydney stepped up and fell into one of the port side station chairs. "This is... this is a spaceship, Jarod?"

"We prefer to use 'starship'," Jarod answered. "The Rio is called a runabout. She's a small ship we designed for multiple uses."

"'We' designed."

"Yes." Jarod smirked. "It didn't take me too long to get a handle on this advanced science. Although this is really Lucy's ship."

"Huh? What about my ship?" Lucy's voice was a little groggy as she stepped out from the rear cabin. By habit she was in her uniform, causing Sydney to look a little disconcerted. "Wait, who's..."

"Lucy, this is Sydney. Sydney, Lucy Lucero." Feeling the weight of time, Jarod returned his attention to Sydney while the older man, ever the gentleman, exchanged a handshake with Lucy. "Sydney, did you make those calls?"

"Yes, I've been promised a chance to talk to Nicholas in a few hours."

"Well, I need to get started then."

"Started on what?", Angel asked.

"Tying Sydney's phone into the Rio Grande's comms," Jarod answered. "That way we can get a fix on their safehouse and get Nicholas out."

"I don't know if Debbie is being held there as well," Sydney pointed out. "We need to be careful."

"We will be. I won't do anything if she's not there as well. We'll switch to a Plan B."

"So we may as well plan for Plan C then," Angel remarked.

"Sydney, I'll send you back down for now," Jarod said. "But before we begin this I want to bring you back to the Rio Grande, for your own safety."

"Yes. It's best if I'm not clearly out without using my car." Sydney stood up. "So I am going to be... transported the same way?"

"Yes. It'll be better this time," Jarod promised. "It's always easier when you get used to it."

When Clara returned to Zack he had nodded off on his old bed. She walked up to him and woke him up with a touch to the shoulder. "He's sleeping," she murmured. "He needs the rest."

"Yeah." Zack blinked sleep out of his eyes and sat up. "Has he been drinking, Clara?"

"He's not supposed to," Clara said. "And we try to keep the house cleared of it. But we've found him with beer sometimes..."

"Yeah. Asking Dad to give up alcohol is like asking someone to stop breathing." Zack rubbed at his eyes. Clara found the chair he'd cleared off and sat in it, directly across from him. She reached over to the bed and picked up a picture. "Your family?"

"Shortly after we moved here." Zack smiled softly. His Dad's hair was brown back then while his mother had more of a chestnut color to her's. "Mom's first job was secretarial work for Allen Dale's family farm. It's how we got to know them."

"Your Dad didn't like the Dales?"

"They..." Zack's smile turned into a bit of a smirk. "...they were that near-perfect American farming family and he became one of the county's best-known drunks. They looked down on him a bit. He didn't like that." Zack put his hands together and rested his chin on them. "And he hated me for hanging out with Robert and the others afterward."

"I knew you two didn't get along very well, but I never imagined..." Clara drew in a breath. "He really ruined your baseball career?"

"Yep. If I'd played, then I'd either have to throw games for his bookie or have Dad beaten. Couldn't do either. So I quit." Zack lowered his eyes. "I quit at a lot of things, it seems. Maybe he's right. I just follow the others around."

"Zack, please..."

"No, it's fine. I actually enjoy where I am now. Mostly." He drew in a breath. "Do you?"

"Well, yes."

"Ever think about coming out into space with us?" Zack smiled. "Leo can always use an extra nurse. Or, hell, we could use one on the Koenig when we're out."

Clara smiled and sighed. "Was that... I mean... was that a... proposition, Zack?"

"For you to join us? Sure."

Zack cursed himself a moment later for not realizing she was talking about something more... private.

"And us?"

"What about us? We're friends."

"We almost weren't", Clara reminded him.

Zack swallowed. "Yeah. But, Clara, come on, that was a different life time."

"Yeah." She lowered her head. "I always wondered why you let that story spread about what happened. It was so embarrassing. To you, mostly."

"Seemed the right thing. I... well, Clara, I didn't want people making fun of you over it. High school could be pretty rough. I had a reputation. If it came out that we hadn't stuck together people would've been laughing at you the rest of the year."

"So... you were protecting me?", Clara asked, a fake smile on her face. "You were actually worried about what kids thought of simple old Clara, the ugliest girl in school?" She couldn't quite hide the tear on her face. "It wasn't just that I wasn't good enough for you?"

"Hey. No, that's not it." He shook his head. "You were plenty good enough for me. Honestly..." Zack took her hands. "You were more than I deserved, Clara. You're meant for a better guy. Someone who can give you a family, make a home with you. I'm not him. I wasn't that guy in school and, well, look at me. I'm a spaceship officer now, I'm not that guy now."

"Yeah." There was a hint of disappointment in Clara's voice. But the tears weren't showing anymore. That was the important part. "So, want some dinner? We can order takeout from town."

"And Dad?"

"I'll get him something from his approved menu," she promised. "We can have dinner together. And this time, no fussing?"

"Yeah, no fussing. I'll be the better man," Zack promised.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Jarod was in the living area of the Rio Grande when Sydney entered. "Nicholas is upset, but he's not hurt," Sydney said. He looked at Jarod with an expression of... intrigue, Jarod guessed. Jarod had switched into his action uniform, as it was known, as a just-in-case for the mission to come.

"That's good. And I got the trace from the call to lock on to their location." Jarod noticed the look Sydney was giving him. "Is something on your mind, Sydney?"

Sydney nodded and found a seat at the central table. "I simply find it interesting. At the Centre you were kept in a controlled environment, and you ran away from it. And now here you are, back in a controlled environment."

"It's not the same thing," Jarod answered, making sure the rank insignia were placed right.


"I had a choice. I chose to do this, Sydney, I didn't get forced into it as a child." Jarod gave Sydney his full attention.

"And it's not just a Pretend this time. You're not playacting an occupation but holding it." Sydney leaned forward. "This is really what you want?"

"Yes. I've found a place with these people. My place. It's not something I'm just doing for a few days to make money or deal with someone who did something wrong."

That prompted a nod from the older man. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear that. I've been worried for a long time about the mental effect of Pretending so much and so often. It wasn't good for you mentally."

"I know." Jarod took a seat across the table from Sydney. "I felt like I had a hundred people inside my head. Now... there's only one. Jarod."

"And that's it? Just 'Jarod' for the rest of your life?"

"Until I find my family. I haven't given up on that."

"There may be Centre records that will help you find them," Sydney said.

"I know. But one thing at a time. We need to get Nick and Debbie out. And then we need to give Broots his daughter back."

"And Miss Parker?"

Jarod remained still for a moment. "If she'll come. I'm hoping she will. I don't think the Centre's going to be too happy when we finish this."

"Agreed." Sydney leaned forward in his seat. "So, while we have the time, may I ask you for more on how your life has gone since you left us?"

"Alright." Jarod sat down on the opposite end of the table. "To start out with, you haven't heard cursing until you've heard Tom Barnes..."

"Goddammit piece of...!"

The agonized ranting of Tom Barnes went ignored on the main deck of Main Engineering, much to Robert's comfort. Karesl stood quietly beside Meridina and Robert while Scotty continued his technical explanation in response to a question from Karesl. "...an' over here we have th' secondary naqia reactors..."

Karesl remained quiet as the explanation continued. When it was over he smiled and nodded. "A most beneficial explanation, Commander Scott. I thank you. I won't take any more of your time." He bowed politely and Scotty gave a polite nod.

"I believe our next stop would be one of the nacelles," Robert said.

"I think, Captain, that the tour has lasted long enough for the day," Karesl answered. "I will retire to my guest quarters."

"Certainly, Mastrash. The turbolifts are this way..."

They walked toward the port exit. "Commander, a wee moment of yer time?", Scotty called out.

They all looked back. Meridina nodded and turned to Karesl and Robert. "I shall join you when this is done."

"Alright." Robert nodded and headed on.

Meridina walked up to Scotty. "Yes, Commander Scott?"

"Ah told ye, lass, ye dinnae have tae be formal with me," Scotty protested lightly. "We've had a few issues with th' computers, Commander." He showed a log on a nearby display. "There have been several security breaches on th' computers linked tae our engines over th' past three weeks."

"I have not heard of this," Meridina said. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"We cannae be sure if it's actual breaches or attempts or just some bloody kid hittin' the wrong keys when runnin' system checks," Scotty answered. "Ah told Lieutenant Draynal about 'em when they happened."

Meridina nodded slowly. "I see. He has not mentioned that." She pressed the comm key on her multidevice. "Meridina to Lieutenant Draynal. Please respond."

After a couple of moments she received a reply. "Draynal here."

"Lieutenant, I've been informed by Commander Scott about computer security issues that he spoke to you of?"

"Ah yes. I have investigated personally with Ensign Liton. We believe it to be a recurring user error from one of the maintenance engineers. A report was sent to Lieutenant Barnes and Lieutenant Etps."

"Keep an eye on it, Lieutenant. And next time I wish to be informed immediately."

"Yes sir. Draynal out."

Meridina drew in a breath and looked to Scotty. "Mister Scott, I request your cooperation on something... delicate."


"I want you to add at least three extra security layers to all systems relating to our drives," Meridina asked.

Scotty drew in a sigh. "Aye, it can be done. But may Ah ask why?"

"I... have a concern, Mister Scott. It maybe be nothing. But it's best to be prepared."

"Have ye informed th' Captain or Commander Andreys?"

"Not yet. I don't wish to alarm them if it's nothing. But I want precautions in place."

"Aye, very well. Ah'll get started on it."

Robert remained at the opening to the guest quarters when Karesl entered. "I hope they are to your liking, sir."

"Oh, they are more than sufficient, Captain," Karesl answered. "I have a point of curiosity."


"How do you feel about Meridina?", Karesl asked. "I know you first met her at Djamar Trading Station and saw her use her gifts."

"She's a valued member of the crew," Robert answered. "And I'm starting to consider her a friend."

"Has she told you much about the ways of swevyra'se?"

Robert was curious as to what was going on, but for the moment he didn't say anything beyond his simple reply of, "Just the basics. She explained them after Djamar."

"I sense there is more," Karesl asked plainly. "Please, do not feel alarmed of sharing anything with me, I'm simply curious. Has she tried to talk to you about using swevyra yourself?"

"Not at all," Robert answered. "She did..." He stopped, but too late.

"She did what, Captain?", Karesl asked.

"It's... well, sir, it's something private..."

"I must know, Captain," Karesl insisted, his voice taking on an edge. "You do her no harm by explaining. Hiding it, on the other hand, begs questions of why you would hide anything. Questions that may not be kind or accurate to the truth."

Robert had the bad feeling he was being maneuvered, but he didn't want Meridina to get into trouble. "During our mission into the DMZ back in February, Meridina was troubled. She sensed two people being interrogated by the Cardassians. It was having an effect upon her, so I offered to share the sensation with her. She tried to talk me out of it but I insisted. And when we linked... it was powerful, more than she thought it'd be. I could feel the prisoners being tortured like it was being done to me. It wasn't a pleasant thing."

Karesl listened quietly. When Robert was done he let out a breath and nodded. "You were very kind to Meridina that day, Captain," he said quietly. "The burden of feeling others' pain is a heavy one on many of our Order. I am... honored to meet a man who would help one of our's share it."

"Thank you, sir. Can I help you any more?"

"No. No, I think that will be all. I'll see you later for more touring."

Robert nodded and stepped out of the door.

Karesl barely had time to get settled before the door chimed. He could sense who it was even before calling out, "Enter!" He looked up. "Ah, child. I see you've caught up."

Meridina stepped in and let the door close. "Are you enjoying the tour, Mastrash?"

"Eminently. The command crew makes up for lack of experience with passion. At least those I have met. Your Science Officer is especially passionate in her work." Karesl smiled wistfully. "She reminds me of Gamaya."

Meridina nodded. "Yes. How is Gami?"

"She is well. Schooling agrees with her. Her... lack of swevyra potential will not hold her back." Karesl put his hands together. "So, which one is Dale?"


"Is he the Leader? The Forger? The Commander?" Karesl's smile turned to one of amusement. "I suppose you believe Mister Scott to be the Builder's Teacher."

Meridina remained very still. "I... have been waiting for further signs before making judgements."

"Truly? Oh, my dear, i wish I could believe you. But I've known for a long time that you, like Ledosh, are convinced that these are the Bearers."

"Their ship is named for the dawn. They have brought a new age to us. The Alliance is the wall, the shield of Light. It fits, Mastrash."

"And how much of that is because you want it to, Meridina?" Karesl put his hands together in front of him. "You are so eager to see the prophecy come about."

"I want to see the new world of Light," Meridina answered. "Don't you?"

"Meridina..." Karesl shook his head. "You trust too much in what you read. I wish I could make you understand that having the Prophecy come true may not be what you truly want."

"I do not understand your opposition to this!", Meridina shouted, finally giving in to her temptation. "Why, father?! Are you jealous of Ledosh in some way? Do you not trust the Alliance?! Father, please, why do you fight us?"

Karesl remained silent at his daughter's outburst. "My dear, you will know one day. And as much as you need to learn... I truly dread that day. I don't wish to see you so broken." He sighed. "I am tired, Knight. I wish for rest."

"Very well, Mastrash. I am at your disposal." Meridina nodded and turned away to leave. She heard nothing else from her father as she stepped out. Stupid, so stupid of me, she thought as she walked away from the door.

Angel finished getting into her field uniform and double-checked the pulse pistol in the holsteron her hip. She stepped into the central living room of the runabout and found Jarod had already put the briefing material up. Sydney was at the table beside him and Lucy had found a side chair, wearing her own field uniform. "We don't have much time," Sydney warned everyone. "The Centre will realize I'm not home very quickly."

"Then let's get started. Lucy?"

At Jarod's question, she stood up and went over to the flatscreen monitor and the briefing material, showing an isolated house in a semi-rural area. "Our scans confirm that there are a half dozen people in the house we traced Sydney's call to."

"So we just beam them up," Angel suggested. "We can screen out firearms easily."

"Too risky," Jarod said, shaking his head. "If they have Debbie somewhere else and we snatch Nicholas out, they might hurt her."

"So we need to verify who's there. I'm guessing you'll be doing that while I sneak into their HQ?"

"That's exactly what I have in mind."

"It won't be easy at all, young lady," Sydney said to Angel. "Their security is very tight, the moment you're spotted..."

Angel reached down to her waist and briefly triggered her personal cloak. She shimmered out of view. A second later she turned it off. "I'm not worried about that," she remarked.

"So I see." Sydney put his hands together. "What do you need me to do, Jarod?"

"I need you to be at home," Jarod replied. "Get Miss Parker and Broots over so you're all in one place."

"I'm still not certain Miss Parker will leave her father behind."

Jarod nodded. "Yeah, but I don't think she'll have a choice, Sydney." He turned to Lucy. "Is everything ready?"

"Yes," she replied.

"Then let's get this started."

Jarod beamed into the house's upstairs bathroom, the beaming noise being distant enough there that nobody would notice it. He turned on the cloak immediately and pulled out his pulse pistol. He walked out of the bathroom into the adjoining bedroom. It was an occupied bedrom, with male clothing lying about here and there. Nicholas was his thought on the room's owner.

Leaving the bedroom took him out to the second floor hall. He went to the stairs and moved down them as quietly as he could, hoping nobody tried to go upstairs given the lack of room. When he made it to the bottom without a problem he turned one way and found a den with a television on. It was a child's show, he could see, and that just about confirmed for him the good news. A moment's movement made it even clearer; Debbie was here with Nicholas. Sydney's son was in fact holding her in his lap as she watched the show.

We've got them, Jarod thought. He keyed his comm and whispered very hoarsely into it. "They're both here. Give me a moment and I can relay..."

Four men stormed into the room from the other end. One grabbed the remote from the chair leg and turned the TV off. "Get that crap off," he grumbled.

"What's going on?", Nicholas asked. Debbie cried out as she was yanked from his lap. He said nothing as another man grabbed his arm and forced him to his feet.

"You've been compromised," one of them said. "Your Dad's made a big mistake, and you're going to pay for it."

Jarod's jaw clenched. Somehow the Centre had been tipped off about them. He just wasn't sure how.

Takeout turned out to be Italian. Gerald had to be satiated with salad and a light amount of pasta while Zack and Clara, to avoid enjoying themselves too greatly with the elder Carrey's limitations, took fairly small and uncomplicated pasta dinners, ziti and ravioli.

With both Carreys remaining quiet Clara spoke up. "Zack, what's it like? What you do now?"

"It's... well, it's exciting and fun and boring and tedious," Zack answered, ignoring his father's guffaw. "Sometimes we're fighting pirates and sometimes we're just flying through space with nothing to do but think of where we're going."

"You told me you have a ship to command," Clara said, clearly for his father's benefit.

Zack knew full well what she was doing, but he wanted to keep the dinner peaceful. "I'm commander of the Koenig. She's a tough little ship, all teeth. We built her to fight after we had a couple of ships get roughed up by aliens." Zack briefly thought back to that encounter and the resulting contact with S5T3's Federation. He'd been the one to bring the Kirby into the mess in the first place.

"You mean she's like a destroyer or something?", Gerald asked. "My uncle served in the War on one."

"I guess. If a destroyer could have stealth. We call it a cloaking device. It makes the ship invisible to almost all sensors. And to the human eye too."

"Wow." Clara's look showed she wasn't just playing along.

"So you're more like a sub," Gerald said, smirking. "Hiding away and then shooting someone in the back."

"They usually shoot back," Zack answered, refusing to take the bait. Instead he chose to speak more kindly. "Dad, um... would you like to come with me?"

Gerald stared him in the face. "What?"

"I can bring you back to get treatment. We've got some pretty damn good medical technology with us."

"Ha. Yeah, that'll be the day, me goin' around in space."

"Dad, I'm being serious," Zack insisted. "You're not well. You could be treated for what's wrong with you."

"Then who'll take care of the house?", Gerald asked pointedly. "Maybe you forgot, going off and riding that Dale kid's coattails and pursuing that stuck up blonde, but your mom and I put everything into this house. I'm not leaving it. No way in hell."

"Dad, you could die," Zack growled through clenched teeth.

Father and son stared at each other for a moment. "I know," Gerald admitted. "But this is my house. I worked for it. Your mom worked for it. It's all I have left. And so I'm gonna die in it."

Zack took in a breath and tried to calm himself, to push away the hurt he felt. "And what about me? I don't get included in what you have left?"

"You made it pretty damn clear where we stood."

"You mean when I'd go at all hours of the night to get you beer or food?", Zack retorted. "The money I gave you to help keep the place up?"

"And where have you been the last few years, huh?", Gerald demanded.

"Saving lives!", Zack shouted.

"Ha!" Gerald smiled maliciously and shook his head. "Be honest, boy. You did whatever Rob Dale and his cute piece of ass wanted you to do. You're not strong enough to be your own man so you follow along like you always have!"

"I had my own thing, Dad!", Zack shouted. "I was the best pitcher in the state! I was the best in the league! I was this close to the majors and then oh, here comes that shyster bookie of your's to tell me to throw games because you owed him money! I had to quit or they were going to kill you, Dad."

Gerald's jaw clenched. For a brief moment shame appeared in his expression. "I... I couldn't help it. I..."

"Couldn't help it? I begged you Dad." Zack leaned forward at the table. "I begged you to stop drinking. And you wouldn't. And then..." Zack let out a breath and fell back into his seat. "We've had this argument so many times I don't want to bother."

Gerald looked at him with sadness. "Zack.... come home. Please. Give up this space stuff and just come home. You can find work. You can go back to the leagues..."

"No, I can't," Zack said hoarsely. "They know why I left. No team would risk it."

"Then do something else," Gerald insisted. "But stay. Move on from that Julia girl, get someone nice. Like Clara here." For the first time Gerald smiled as he reached over and put his hand on Clara's. She looked bewildered at him. "This girl loves you, boy, and she'll be a better wife than Julia ever could. Doesn't she remind you of your mom?"

Zack stared for a moment, his eyes going from his father to Clara's scared, bewildered face and back to his father. "Yeah," he admitted. Clara did remind him of his mother. And she'd even gone in the same profession. "I guess you two have talked a lot, huh?"

"I... well, I didn't.... Zack..." Clara's voice broke a little and she was suddenly intently studying her pasta.

"Don't," Zack said, a little too snappishly. 'Don't. I... let's just finish dinner."

Gerald shook his head sadly. "Boy, you..."

"Do not call me boy, Father," Zack said forcefully. "I am not a child."

"If you're a man, will you at least share a drink with your old man?", Gerald asked hopefully. "I've kept a bottle just for us..."

"Dad, I will not touch that poison you love so much." Zack tried to keep the heat and anger out of his voice. But it was a losing proposition.

"Oh, don't start on this again," Gerald groaned.

"No, I won't. I've learned not to bother trying. Besides, it's too late, isn't it? It's killed you. Just like it killed Mom."

"Don't you dare," Gerald hissed.

Zack opened his mouth and stopped before he spoke. "There's no point in this. I'm going to bed." He stood from the table and walked out of the kitchen, ignoring the look on his father's face.

He made it to the bedroom door before Clara caught up to him and grabbed his arm. "Zack, please," she begged. "Don't end it like this..."

"There's no point. He'll never admit he's wrong."

"Just give him a chance. Please Zack, this is for both of you."

"And for you." Zack actually winced a little. He hadn't meant to sound that hostile.

Clara was taken aback. "Wh...what?"

"What have you been saying to him, Clara?", Zack asked. "What have you said to him that you wouldn't say to my face?"

Clara's lips curled into a small pout. "I... Zack, please, I just... I told him how I felt. About you, I mean. And how I thought there might be something..."

"But you didn't tell me this? You just blab it to him? Give him another thing to insult me, to insult my friends?"

"I didn't mean it like..."

Zack bit back the response that almost came out. He put his hand to his forehead. "Clara, I'm not coming back," he said. "I'm never, ever, ever coming back to this podunk little town. I've got a life, and it involves a job beyond our wildest astronaut fantasies as kids. I'm not leaving that to be a Goddamned farmer or whatever else I'd have to do."

Tears were gathering in Clara's eyes. They were already welling within Zack's as he walked through the door and slammed it shut behind him.

Angel had been beamed into a janitor's closet. Worse yet, a locked one that forced her to blast the lock with her pistol. She moved out from there to the darkened corridors of the facility. It certainly looked, to her, like the lair of an evil conspiracy.

Or at least it did until she found the main halls. Now it looked like a general office building. She moved carefully, not wanting any sounds of her footfalls to make people realize there was someone walking through. She double-checked the map Sydney and Jarod had provided and made her way toward the wing where Angelo was supposed to meet her with all the speed she could.

A noise came to her ear and her commline went active. "Angel, this is Lucy. They're tipped off, Angel. Jarod will deal with them at the safehouse but you've got to move fast."

"Roger," she whispered. She moved on, picking up her pace at the expense of stealth. She started to hear things in the distance, indications that were familiar; the sound of fists striking flesh or clothing.

She found a room where four armed men were standing around, wearing dark suits and looking like errant government agents of some sort. A single man, with reddish-brown hair, was doubled over beside a desk as a fifth stood over him. "We know you're working with Jarod," the man said. "Mister Raines isn't very happy with you, Angelo. You know what Mister Raines is like when he's not happy."

He punched Angelo again.

Once upon a time Angel might have just started punching. But she was more responsible now. The training she'd gotten in the year leading up to the founding of the Allied Systems had made her begin to thank tactically about these things. As much as she wanted to feel the bastard's nose smash against her fist, she had to take them all down quickly before someone started shooting.

She brought her pulse pistol up, set it to stun, and promptly began to shoot them.

For about five seconds chaos rained. To the eye sof the men in the Centre, azure bolts erupted out of nowhere, slamming into their chests and causing them to lose consciousness from the shock to their systems. Guns came out of course, but they were trained men; they weren't going to discharge their firearm without a solid target.

And so they fell, one by one.

When the shooting was over Angel turned off her cloak and knelt down to help Angelo up. "Angelo, right?"

"That's me," he answered. The way he spoke the words and the almost confused look on his face were just what Angel had expected given Jarod's comments on him. "You are Jarod's friend?"

"Yes, I am."

"I'm his friend too. I'm supposed to put something on the computer. But they found me." Angelo motioned to the computer in the room. "Computer is locked. I have to go to the big computer room now."

"I see." Angel sighed and nodded. "Okay, go. I'll be right behind you and invisible, okay? And then we'll take you somewhere and get you fixed up."

"Okay." Angelo nodded and began walking on, a little too slowly for Angel's liking. She tapped her multidevice. "Lucy, we've had a complication."

"You're not the only one..."

With no options left, Jarod pulled up his pulse pistol and fired. Stun-level bolts struck the man lifting Debbie first. As he fell over with her, he brought the weapon over and shot the man taking Nicholas. "Lucy, prepare for beamout, now!"

More of the men entered, weapons raised. Jarod fired off another pair of shots, taking two out quickly. He shot down the third before he could fire.

Another figure rolled along the floor, using the couch as cover, and snatched up Debbie with his free arm. A gun came up to her temple. Jarod turned and recognized the face of Lyle. "I know you're here somewhere, Jarod!", Lyle called out, holding his gun up to her temple. "Come out! Do it now or I'll pull the trigger. You know I will!"

Jarod frowned and reached over to his multidevice, using it to turn the cloak off. Everyone stared in wonder as he shimmered into view. "Reduced to guard duty, Lyle?"

Lyle took a moment to recover from Jarod appearing out of thin air. "You don't think we noticed Sydney going around this morning, Jarod? The old man can't do anything without the Triumvirate knowing. We knew he'd lead us to you eventually." Lyle smirked a little. "Now this is how it's going to be. You're coming with me back to the Centre. No heroics or the girl dies. Do you understand?"

"I have a better idea," Jarod answered. "Lucy, now."

The Rio Grande's transporter snatched them all away. They materialized in the cabin area of the runabout. When Lyle finished materializing he looked down at his now-empty hand by Debbie's head. He barely had the time to form the word "Hey" before Debbie twisted away from him. Jarod leveled his gun back at Lyle, who remained still and stared at his empty hand. "Where...?"

Lucy stepped through the door leading to the cockpit and faced them. "Did I get everyone?"

"You got everyone, Lucy," Jarod answered. He turned toward her. "And one unwanted guest. Now we have to figure out what we're going to do with..."

For all his surprise, Lyle was still good at what he usually did. Seeing all eyes were turned away from him and that the distance between him and Jarod wasn't too great he raced forward and grabbed Jarod's arm. Jarod cried out as Lyle shifted around and gained the leverage he needed to wrench the pulse pistol from Jarod's hand and into his own. Nicholas jumped toward Lyle and took a foot to the throat. Lucy lunged at him immediately, knocking him off balance. Lyle's arm shifted and his elbow slammed into her solar plexus, taking her out of the fight momentarily. He turned back to Nicholas long enough to shoot him before he could attack again, a solid blow to Nicholas' center of mass that sent him down. Jarod recovered enough to make a grab, but Lyle was quick in hooking his foot to trip Jarod up and cause his lunge to go off target.

Debbie stood throughout the encounter, frozen in fear, and was unable to make any move to prevent Lyle from grabbing her and putting Jarod's pistol to her forehead. "Now, I don't know how the hell we got here," Lyle rasped, "but I'm not playing any of your games, Jarod. You're going back to the Centre, and you're going to have a very long and unpleasant debriefing, and if anyone tries anything I shoot the girl in the head, okay?!"

Everyone froze in place.

"So much for being the super-genius," Lyle added as a taunt. "You're mine. And I'm going to enjoy every moment of this."

Sleep eluded Zack as the night dragged on. The conflict in his heart refused to die down. His dad was dying, why couldn't they just get along? Why wouldn't he listen? Why did he have to be so stubborn?!

It was late into the night when Zack heard the door creak open. Someone gently moved the boxes on the nearby extra kitchen chair kept in the room and sat down in it. He trned in the bed. "Dad?", he asked.

Gerald sat quietly for a moment. In his hand was an unopened bottle of tequila, one of the best brands. He set it to the side. "I always thought one day we could have a drink from this together. Not for getting drunk, just... my boy all grown up, drinking with me like a man." He made a harumph sound. "A stupid old dream, I guess."

Zack sat up in the bed. "No, not stupid. It's just..."

"You don't have to say it." Gerald shook his head. "I've been a lousy father. No, don't." He held up a hand as Zack went to, even now, instinctively deny that. "I've been lousy and I know it. I let the drink get to me. I drove your mother away and it killed her. And then that just made me drink more. It... it felt like it made the pain go away. Clara tells me I'm wrong about that, that alcohol makes you more depressed. I'm guessing that it just made me so drunk that I couldn't think about it, depressed or not."

"That's usually how it works." Zack lowered his head. "Dad, I'm sorry..."

"Not as sorry as me," Gerald replied. "I've had years to think about it, how I drove you away like I did your Mother. And that whole business with Sloane when you were a ballplayer... my God, Zack, I don't think I can ever be forgiven. I ruined your life. It took an act of God to put you on a track again."

"Doesn't always feel that way," Zack murmured. "I never feel sure about what I'm going to do."

"Even with everything you've got now?" Gerald chuckled. "Damndest thing is, I grew up wanting to be an astronaut. I wanted to go to the Moon like Neil Armstrong."

"Heh. I just wanted to pitch in the World Series." Zack rubbed his eyes, feeling some sleepyness. Said sleepyness is why it took so long for the thought now circulating in his head to come out. "You want to go to the Moon, Dad?"

Gerald looked at him with curiosity. "What do you mean?"

"I can take you. Right now." Zack smiled at his father. "We can be there within an hour."

Gerald stared at him. His eyes showed some conflict going on in his head. "I don't know, Zack. I'm a bit too old for rocking around like that."

"Dad, it'll be smoother than a car ride," Zack promised. "You won't feel a thing."

He got another incredulous look for that. "You're serious?"

"Very." Zack stood up. "Come on."

"How about in the morning?", Gerald asked weakly.

"Dad..." Zack sighed and put a hand on his father's shoulder. "Why wait? You... we both know you're fading. Why don't we just do it now? While we're here together, while we have the time?"

The elder Carrey stared at him a moment, deep in thought. A small smile crept across his face. "Sure. Let's go."

Angelo was sitting at a computer station in one of the Centre's server rooms. "They know," he muttered. "They know. They've blocked things."

Angel fired a shot, hiding behind her cloak so she could get good shots off without worrying about return fire, and sent down the last of the guards who had responded to their breach of the server room. She looked back from the door. "Didn't Jarod give you something for that?"

"He said it was to copy. I don't want to waste it," Angelo murmured.

"Knowing Jarod that's not a worry. Plug it in and let's get out of here!"

Angelo fidgeted with an item. Angel glanced and recognized it as a Darglan-tech data slip attached to a USB port. "Too nervous," Angelo complained. "Can't work. Can't work like this."

"We're almost done, Angelo. Then we'll be gone. You'll never see the Centre again."

Angelo stuttered something and plugged the device in. A light came on at the end and started blinking. "It's doing something."

Angel looked down at her multidevice. Jarod's data slip was remotely connected to it and showed her the process of the download. It was already at three percent.

The door opened and more armed men came in, these holding submachine guns. "Angelo, down!", she shouted, squeezing off a shot. Fire converged on her location and bullets began to strike her protective field. She fired another shot, striking one of the men in the shoulder, before taking cover. A glance at her device showed her shield strength down to 90%. She looked around the side and triggered another shot, taking cover again before the two remaining armed men could focus on her. Her device showed more entering the server room. A fireteam was moving to flank her. She checked the download again. Twenty percent. Come on, hurry up.

"I'm scared!", Angelo wailed.

"Just stay down, I'll handle this!", she answered. She triggered another shot and took out a man at the door. Fire again converged on the table she was behind. She turned and shot one of the men trying to flank her. I should just stop shooting and get into punching range was one thought she had, but the numbers told her that wouldn't work.

A burst of fire struck at her cover, several bullets striking her field. The blue flare looked to be around nothing to the gunmen, but they continued to fire toward the flare; it was something to shoot at, even if her invisibility was spooking them and making them more conservative than their numbers would have otherwise dictated. She fell back toward Angelo, firing off some shots and pulling him behind another desk to get him into better cover, just by the terminal he'd put Jarod's drive into. He began to cry. "It's too loud!"

Angel checked the data feed. They were over halfway there. She just needed a few more minutes....

She heard clattering on the floor nearby and saw the cylinder come toward them. She barely closed her eyes in time to avoid being blinded by the flashbang, and the light was still so intense that her vision was blurry for several seconds. I should have brought a headset, she thought ruefully. Angelo squirmed, having looked directly into the grenade went it went off.

There was a rushing of feet as the guards approached on all fronts at once. Angel brought her gun up and fired as quickly as she could, changing targets as she needed to avoid flanking. Four went down before the remaining six retreated back to cover.

She glanced at the multi-device again. Seventy-two percent. Can't this thing go any faster?! She fired another shot at one of the men, hitting him.

The man across from him used the opening to throw another grenade before she shot him as well.

This time it skittered to within six feet of them and began hissing. Thick gray smoke erupted from the canister, Another grenade fell even closer and created another plume of smoke. As the first wisps came into contact with her, Angel felt her eyes start to water and began coughing. I really should have brought a helmet, she lamented. She reached to her belt and grabbed an emergency breatther to strap over her mouth and nose, but she was still coughing. The damage was done, so to speak.

She checked the device download again. This time it was at eighty-two percent. I don't think I can make it that long. She could hear them moving ahead and fired shots into the smoke. One thump told her she'd made at least one hit. "Angel to Rio Grande, get us out of here, now."

She fired another shot, hitting another of the Centre tac team. But the transporter didn't take her as she expected. "Lucy?! I need a beamout!"

Angel's voice echoed in the cabin. Lyle grinned slyly. "Looks like your friend is in trouble," he remarked. "She didn't happen to go help that retard Angelo, did she? Of course she did. Going into Centre HQ... that was... stupid." Lyle shook his head.

"You're awfully chatty," Jarod remarked. Even with the gun set to stun, he knew that a point blank shot to the head could still inflict damage and even kill. "Having trouble staying in control, Lyle?"

"Three years, Jarod," Lyle hissed. "Three long years looking for you, turning over every rock, hunting down every contact you ever made. But no traces of you. None. We looked around the world for you! And every passing day I had the Centre getting angrier and angrier. The Triumvirate was ready to kill us all! All because of you!"

"Too bad."

"You'll think it's too bad when they get their hands on you," Lyle answered. "And your new friend here." He smirked at Lucy, who was glaring at him. "Honey, you backed the wrong horse. Don't worry, the Centre won't hurt you. Not if Jarod here cooperates."

"Go to hell," Lucy replied. She eyed the gun and wondered if she could get close enough to pull it out of Lyle's hand.

"On second thought, I can just shoot you." Lyle briefly pointed the gun at her before putting it back to Debbie's forehead. The little girl was weeping quietly, so paralyzed by terror she could do nothing else. "So here's what we're going to do, Jarod. We're going to leave here and call the Centre up. And then we're going to wait for an extraction team."

At that, Jarod began laughing. "Really, Lyle? You have no clue where we are, do you?"

"There's not anywhere on the whole damned planet the Centre can't get a team too, Jarod, and you know that."

"But I still disappeared on you." Jarod smiled widely. "I've got a little secret for you, Lyle. You couldn't find me because I wasn't on Earth anymore. Computer, raise viewing shutter."

Beside them, on the starboard side of the runabout, an internal shutter lifted to show a view of space, or rather Earth orbit. North America was spinning below them, twilight starting to reach the Great Plains.

"Delgado to Rio Grande, please respond!"

Lucy wished she could respond without making the situation worse, but she couldn't even reach for her multidevice without Lyle seeing it. She focused on the gun and thought of ways to get to it without hurting Debbie.

Lyle stared at the window and looked back to Jarod. "What is this? Some show?"

"It's no show, Lyle," Jarod answered. "This is a spaceship. You're in space. And..." He pointed to his rank insignia. "I happen to be a crewmember of a very important ship. So even if the Centre gets me back, you're just going to bring more trouble in."

Lyle stared intently. "Land this thing," he finally demanded. "Land it or the girl dies!" He pressed the gun to Debbie's temple again. "You know I'll do it! Land this thing now!"

After the third try Angel couldn't call for help anymore. Two more gas grenades had gone off, obscuring her vision and making her breather work harder to scrub the air. She fired shots blindly into the gas and heard no successes. A figure came barreling out of the smoke, then another, and Angel turned to hand-to-hand combat. This was her preferred way of fighting anyway, but with her lungs burning from the early exposure to tear gas her ability to fight was impaired. Even her cloak wasn't entirely working here, not with her movements resulting in the gas shifting and changing.

She still managed a solid punch on the first attacker and put the second down with a kick. She heard a tone from her multidevice and glanced at it to see that the download had finished. Looking up Angel saw that the light at the end of the slip was now solid. She slipped over the desk and yanked the device out, moving it into her pocket in one solid motion. A tac team member came through the smoke with ihs weapon raised. Angel fired her pistol off and sent him down before returning to Angelo.

Gunfire thundered in her ear. She turned with the gun, seeing the blue flares of the bullets striking her protective field, and fired a shot at the two men pouring submachine gun fire into her shields. The first went down and she focused on the second.

Painful impacts slammed into her field uniform as bullets went through her failed personal shield and slammed into her chest and shoulders. The protective fabrics and materials resisted the bullets but the sheer force still sent her down. "Target down!", she heard a man shout. "Tell Raines we have..."

Angel blocked the rest out. She grabbed Angelo, who was nearly unconscious from the tear gas, and stabbed her finger on her multidevice. "Delgado to Rio Grande, Emergency Passcode Delgado Alpha Alpha Tango Foxtrot 29, emergency beamup for two on my device location, now!" It was a risk, since there would be no operator if there was a problem with the transporter, but she was out of options.

The strike team members returned their attention to her. "Put your arms up! Arms where we can see them! Now!"

They were too late, as the Rio Grande's transporter snatched them away.

The sound of the transporter was heard in the cabin area. "What was that?", Lyle demanded.

"That was Angel coming back," Jarod answered. "A good thing we double-checked the automatic transporter systems, isn't it Lucy?"

"Yeah," Lucy replied, still focused on Lyle's gun. "And she's going to kick your ass for holding that girl hostage."

Angel entered with her gun ready, having heard Lucy. "I don't give a damn who you are, let the girl go or I'm dropping you," Angel remarked angrily.

"Lower your weapon or she dies," Lyle countered. "If you don't think I'll do it, ask Jarod."

"He would," Jarod confirmed. "But then he dies too. He knows that. It's over Lyle. Put the gun down and you can go home, I promise."

"Ha!" Lyle's laugh was harsh. "I can go back to get shot by the Triumvirate? No, the only way I leave this ship is with little Debbie here and Jarod. Or she dies. I am not going to back down."

Jarod drew in a breath and looked to Angel, who kept the gun focused on Lyle. "I saw what your people did to Angelo," Angel replied. "No way in hell I'm letting you win."

Lyle replied with another threat, but Lucy wasn't paying attention anymore. As she thought about how to get the gun, her mind wandered to Djamar Trading Station, where she had been held prisoner and she and Robert first met Meridina. She remembered Meridina's approach to guns pointed at her, namely, literally using her "swevyra" to yank the guns away. If only I had that.

But you do, a part of her mind thought. She thought about Abdyos - the Abdis of R4A1 - and how precisely she had landed the St. Johns without instrumentaiton. How she could feel what was right. Meridina had even told her that was her "swevyra", her "life force", working for her.

So if it worked there, why not here?

She looked to the weapon and focused intently. She thought of it flying to her hand. She imagined an invisible force from the depths of her soul, her being, grabbing the weapon and holding the trigger in place so it wouldn't shoot.

For a few moments nothing happened. She focused harder, breathing harder as she did. Lyle noticed her increased breath and looked toward her. As he did, his eyes diverted to his right hand, which was suddenly tremoring. "What....?"

It's working! Gasping, Lucy made one last great effort to yank at it.

Lyle cried out in surprise as the gun flew from his hand and into Lucy's.

He didn't get the chance to do more. Angel's pulse pistol sent a bolt of azure energy into his chest. Lyle fell over, stunned.

Lucy stood up from where she had been on the floor. Jarod and Angel were looking at her intently, as was Debbie. "Lucy..."

"I... I guess it worked," she muttered.

"How did you do that?", Angel asked in a low voice.

"I, well... I thought about some conversations I had with Meridina," Lucy admitted. "And I remembered that landing on Abydos. I remembered thinking I had some potential and... well... why not try?"

At this point it was too much for Debbie. She ran up to Jarod and started crying. "I want my Daddy!"

Jarod knelt down and embraced her. "We're going to bring him to you now, Debbie. I promise." He looked at Angel. "Angelo?"

"Recovering in the cockpit," she replied. "They used tear gas on us."

"I'd better get to him, then." Jarod picked Debbie up and looked Angel in the eye. "Thanks for getting him out."

"No problem." She smiled and winced. "Well, I'll be tender for a while. My shield failed, I took at least half a clip from an Uzi or something. A good thing we brought our field uniforms."

"Yeah," Jarod agreed. "Definitely a good thing."

"Next time, though, you're issuing me a helmet or no mission."

"Definitely," Jarod promised.

Zack eased the Susquehanna into lunar orbit, ensuring his father had the best view. He sat quietly and allowed Gerald to take in the sight. "Where are the stars?", he finally asked.

"You can't see them in space, there's no atmosphere," Zack explained. He hit a button and stars appeared in the cockpit. "But we set up a little program to show the positions of stars like you're on a planet."

"My God, it's gorgeous."

"So, Dad, ready to walk on the moon?"

That made his dad stare in befuddlement and wonderment. "You're serious."

"Yep." Zack smiled at him. "It'll only take a minute to get you in a suit."

"Then show me the flag," Gerald asked. "I want to see where Armstrong walked."

"Right. Let me bring that up on the history files now, and I'll take us right in."

The two Carreys stood on the moon, the elder looking around in amazement at the sight. "It's so beautiful." Gerald put a hand on Zack's arm. "Do you do things like this all of the time?"

"No," Zack replied. "I live on starships, mostly."

"I understand why you won't come home." Gerald's eyes focused on the distant horizon, where Earth was just starting to creep overhead. "What's it like on other worlds?"

"Well, it's..." Zack searched for the words, not wanting to disappoint his father. "Some worlds aren't any different from Earth. But you can find some that are completely different. And then there are space stations as big as a city. I mean, with thousands, even millions of people living in them. There are more people living in M4P2's Citadel Station than people in New York City, Dad."

"My God..."

For a minute neither man spoke. Gerald seemed to be deep in thought. "You want me to come with you, right?"

Zack nodded, the blue light inside his suit making the movement visible. "At least for the New Liberty celebration. And we can get Leo to examine you and see if there's something he can do."

Gerald stared into the black lunar sky and the distant Earth. "I'll go," he finally said. "Tomorrow, after I get some sleep."

"Dad, we've got beds on the Susquehanna."

"Yeah, I saw 'em." Gerald Carrey sighed. "Please, just humor your old man a little? I want to sleep in my own bed before heading off for something like this. As soon as I'm up we'll head out. But I want my bed tonight."

Zack drew in a breath. He didn't like waiting, but he could sense the feelings behind his father's words. He wanted that last night in his bed, in their family home, because he was thinking it could be the last night he'd ever get there. Impatience built within him; here he was, finally reconnecting with his father, and with time running out, but his Dad insisted on waiting over something minor like that.

Although, Zack had to admit, it wasn't very minor. They'd all worked for that house. It was their's, as a family. He deserved to say goodbye.

"Okay Dad, it's a deal. Let's head on back and get you to bed."

Jarod beamed into Sydney's living room with a captive Lyle and nervous Debbie in tow. Sydney had done as planned, getting Broots and Miss Parker to come to his home. At seeing her father Debbie squealed, "Daddy!" and ran up to him, throwing her arms around his waist.

"Debbie?!" Broots received the hug despite his total shock, still trying to accept seeing three people appear out of thin air.

Sydney showed no surprise, having witnessed the transporter before. Instead he looked to Jarod with worry. "Jarod, where is Nicholas?"

"He's fine. He was hit with a stun level blast by Lyle, so he's being tended to up on the ship."

At that point Miss Parker's befuddlement found outlet in anger. "Just what the hell is going on?! Where in the hell did you come from, how did you...?"

"Transporter system," Jarod answered. He smiled at his old pursuer. "I've been somewhere the Centre can't reach. I came back to give you all a chance to come with me."

Miss Parker stared in bewilderment. "Excuse me?"

"It's not safe here for any of you, or anyone you love," Jarod pointed out. "The Centre has lost control, and now that we've stung them like this they'll be looking for someone to punish."

Broots lifted his daughter into his arms. "You don't need to convince me. I'll go anywhere and do anything to keep Debbie safe." He kissed his weeping daughter on the forehead, tears pouring from his eyes as well.

"And what about my father?", Miss Parker asked. "Are you going to let him go too?"

The question was sharp, and it had reason to be. Mr. Parker was an official of the Centre who had a vested interest in capturing Jarod, and Jarod knew the old man had done terrible things.

"Would he be willing to leave the Centre behind?"

Jarod's pointed question prompted silence in the room that lasted quite a while. Since the answer was evident to all, Sydney pointed out, "Miss Parker, we don't have a choice. The Triumvirate will come for us now, no matter what we say or do."

Miss Parker had tears in her eyes, showing the conflict inside of her. She knew Sydney was right. But she was also loyal to her father. The two forces were in soul-grinding conflict. Her hand reached to the small of her back and pulled out her gun, which she leveled at Jarod. "I could solve all of this by shooting you," she said to him.

Jarod shook his head. "You can't."

"Try me!"

"No, I mean you really can't," he explained. "I have a defense shield that protects me from modern small arms fire."

"You have to be nuts to think I'd believe something so ridiculous..."

"As ridiculous as appearing out of nowhere?", Jarod answered. "You'd be surprised what our technology lets us do."

Even as he said it, he knew it wouldn't stop her. Miss Parker pulled the trigger.

The shots made Debbie cry out and cling on to her father more tightly. Flashes of blue light briefly flared about an inch from Jarod's chest, joined by the distant tinkling as smashed bullets hit the tile floor. Miss Parker's eyes widened in complete shock. "No way."

"You're all dead."

Everyone looked to where Lyle was on the ground, bound by tie cords on his wrists and ankles. He glared up at them with sheer malice and hate. "Every one of you. You're all failures and the Triumvirate is going to put you down!"

Broots shifted himself to move his daughter away from Lyle. "You let Jarod beat you, Lyle. Do you think they're going to be happy with you?"

"Not when they have the proof of what Jarod can do! I'll convince them!"


Before Broots could finish Jarod cut in. "They probably will. My friend Angel used this technology to shoot her way through the Centre."

All the eyes in the room widened. "You attacked the Centre?!", Miss Parker asked in a heated voice.

"I had to get Angelo out. And all of their data. They'll know what we took by now."

"They already do," Sydney said. He stood by the window nad looked out of it. "A van just pulled in two houses up the street. I think it's a team. They must know I'm involved with you again, Jarod."

"We're out of time," Jarod said to Miss Parker. "Come with us. Please."

With all of the eyes on her, Miss Parker glanced around and looked like a tension wire ready to snap. Recognizing her conflict, Lyle spoke up again. "Daddy can't save you know, little girl," he taunted. "He'll be just as dead as you will."

Jarod looked out the window himself. Men came from the van. With their long coats and the way they moved, he knew they were armed.

"I can't leave my father to get blamed," Miss Parker insisted.

Jarod looked to Sydney, who nodded. He reached into his belt. "I know." As soon as he turned he brought his pulse pistol up and fired. The shot hit Miss Parker in the belly, causing her to double over and fall unconscious. "I'm sorry."

"We'll get you one day, Jarod," Lyle rasped. "Do you hear me?! We'll get you! The Centre will destroy you and everything you love for attacking us!"

Jarod frowned and stunned him as well. He walked over to where Miss Parker was collapsed on the ground and picked her up. His hand hit his multidevice. "Jarod to Rio Grande, five to beam up."

He heard the door get busted in and a male voice demand surrender. The next moment, the transporter whisked them all away, leaving Lyle for the Centre to deal with.

Somehow, Jarod suspected, it would have been more merciful if he'd set his pistol to kill when shooting Lyle that last time.

Lucy was sitting in the helm chair as the transporter fired one last time. Jarod stepped off with Broots. Debbie sprung from her chair beside Angel and latched onto her father, forcing him to shift the trash bag of family mementos from his apartment. "Are we going to a new home, Daddy?"

"Yes we are," he answered happily.

Jarod stepped into the central area of the runabout's control area. "Get ready to break from orbit, Lucy," he said before looking down at where Angelo was seated. Color had begun to return to Angelo's face and he looked less apprehensive on seeing Jarod. "How are you doing?"

He smiled at Jarod. "Okay. I feel better." He opened his hand to show the data drive device Jarod had beamed down to him when this began. "Got it," he said. "For us."

"Thank you," Jarod answered as Angelo handed him the data device. "I think we can get you the help you need."

"Even if you can't..." The words were almost stuttered. Angelo struck Lucy as having development issues. "...free. I'm free. Not going back to the Centre."

"Never again," Jarod promised. He gave the man a hug. "If you're tired, we've got cots in the back."

"I want to see the spaceship fly," Angelo answered. "Fly through the stars!"

"I think we can arrange that." Jarod looked to Lucy. "Take us home."

Lucy nodded and activated the warp drive.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

A chime went off in the guest quarters, rousing Mastrash Karesl from his rest. He sat up on the bed and, with a gesture of his hand, applied enough life force against the comm button to make it activate. "Yes?"

One of the Aurora officers, a night shift ops officer, answered, "Sir, someone from Gersal is trying to reach you. Would you like me to put them through?"

"Please do that." Karesl turned in his bed to face the wall monitor. The face that appeared was his age, with a full gray beard where he was cleanshaven. "Mastrash Goras?"

"I see you were resting, Karesl. I forgot the time difference." The look on his face made clear that he probably hadn't. "What have you found?"

"At least one of the crew of this ship have great swevyra'se potential," Karesl confirmed.

"I see. And has Meridina done anything about this?"


That seemed to take Goras by surprise. "Are you certain, Karesl? She hasn't tried to introduce them to our ways?"

"Not from what I ascertain. The officer's swevyra is strong, but untapped, raw. He has not been trained in any way."

Goras seemed to digest this news unhappily. "How unexpected. Ledosh has undoubtedly made his will known to her."

"Likely. She is rather certain that they are from the Prophecy."

"Foolishness. Ledosh has poisoned her mind. The man is too clever by far. And I had been hoping to have something to show to the Council."

"Give it time, Mastrash," Karesl replied. "Sooner or later, things will develop as they should."

"I hope it comes sooner, my friend. Every day the Alliance's hold on the hearts of our people grows. Gersal must be diverted from this path of dependency."

"It will come. I know it in my heard, Mastrash. Our evidence will come. And we will succeed in convincing the people to withdraw." Karesl nodded. "And that way our people will be saved."

"Let us hope so, Karesl. Let us hope that blasted prophecy does not come true after all. It could be the end of everything..."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Goras."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Karesl. Make your swevyra give you helpful visions as you dream." Goras' image disappeared from the screen.

Karesl breathed in a sigh and laid back on the bed to resume his rest.

The following morning Zack woke up feeling content, even refreshed. For the first time in years he thought he and his Dad had a real bond and that things were going to be farther. He knew it hadn't been easy for Gerald Carrey to admit to mistakes and the fact that he had...

It's for the better. We'll be a family again. We'll be a real family again.

After getting a glass of milk to wet his throat a little, Zack walked into the living room to go into the bedroom hall beyond - his old room had been behind the garage while his parents' room was on the other end of the house. He stopped for a moment to see Clara still asleep on the sofa. He knew she'd gone to bed weeping and felt bad at lashing out at her. He wasn't sure how to handle whatever feelings he had for her, but...

"I'm sorry, Clara. I'll make it up to you," he whispered. As he gently put the sheet back on her from where it'd fallen off during the night, he wondered about his father urging him to consider Clara as a partner. He could see why. He wondered if he should. It wasn't like Julia was going to...

No. He wasn't going to think about Julia today. Today was about him and his Dad. He'd handle that re-opened wound when he came to it.

Zack finished the glass of milk and went into the bedroom. He knew his Dad had been through a long night, but with the sun out and bright it seemed like he'd be up or ready to get up. He knocked at the door. "Dad! It's almost nine in the morning, Dad." When there was no grumbling or shouts from the other end he opened the door. "Dad..."

He focused on his father on the bed, dead to the world. Drawing in a sigh Zack took the five steps to the side of the bed and...

...noticed the blue lips and colorless skin of his father.

And every dream he'd had since returning from their flight to the Moon drained away.

Right away Zack knew it was too late for anything. He'd seen enough dead bodies over the past few years, of people he and the others were too late to save. But a part of him rejected this. "Dad!", he called out, putting his hand on his father's bare shoulder and pushing at it. His body was rigid and his skin cold. "Dad! DAD!"

In the living room Clara jolted upright in the sofa at hearing Zack's anguished voice. She ran into the bedroom and found him laying over the bed, holding his dead father and crying.

It took twenty minutes for paramedics to get there. They hadn't been in too big a hurry since it had been clear that there was no one to save. The lead paramedic, a face Zack barely remembered from school, took Gerald's vitals and pronounced him to be dead. The deputies for the county sheriff came next. They were polite. Zack remembered one as a common face at the high school baseball games he'd played in. They asked how he'd found his father. And they asked about the previous night. Zack explained their outing.

"Wait, you flew your Dad to the Moon?!", one of them asked, incredulous.

"My runabout's right out front," Zack said weakly. "I can show you the footage if you want."

Naturally they wanted to, and they wanted copies. Zack took them out to the Susquehanna and let them watch the ship's flight log and external log from the moonwalk. He replicated a DVD-format disc with the records on it as well as their life sign readings during the excursion.

This satisfied them enough that they said nothing while the coroner secured Gerald. Zack kissed his father's forehead before the bag was zipped up and he was taken out.

He stumbled into the living room and collapsed into his Dad's recliner. Clara walked up to him. "Zack, if you need anything..."

"Not now, Clara," he said weakly. "Not now. I've... I've got things to do now, so many things..."

Everyone on the Rio Grande was watching as a transport ship, responding to Jarod's request, opened the jump point back home for them. The runabout accelerated through the point and found the Aurora waiting for them on the other end. "How big is that thing?"

Jarod looked to Broots. "A kilometer long, over three hundred meters wide, a hundred meters tall. I helped build it. Not in a big way, but enough to be proud of her."

"She's beautiful, Jarod, you should be proud," Sydney assured him. He looked away while Angel secured landing permission, finding Miss Parker standing by herself near the cabin door. He took the three steps from where he was to where she was standing. "Are you all right?"

"I still can't believe this. This is insane, Sydney. This is so completely insane."

"It's a shock," Sydney agreed. "But Jarod has done us a favor. The Centre was going to come for us soon, even if he hadn't come back. You have to know that."

"And what about my father, Sydney? What do you think Raines or the Triumvirate will do to him?"

Sydney shook his head. "I can't be sure. Mister Parker is an exceptional man, however. He has a knack for survival and I'm sure he will find a way."

"it's not good enough, though," she muttered. "Not nearly good enough. And now we get to be Jarod's pets."

"Would you rather go back?"

The question was pointed and direct. Miss Parker remained quiet for a moment. "Sure, Sydney. I'll go back and take a bullet to the head. It'll be nice and quick." She put a hand on her forehead. "Dammit, i need a cigarette."

Their conversation ended as the ship landed in the Aurora shuttle bay. "And we're home," Angel sighed. "With a day to spare."

"To spare for what?", Debbie asked.

"The third anniversary celebration for the New Liberty Colony," Jarod explained. You're all invited. It'll be fun."

"Yippee," Miss Parker grumbled.

With appropriate phone calls made to long-distant family that Zack never really liked, he started packing up mementoes and family valuables, taking the ones he planned on keeping to the Susquehanna and setting aside the other ones for his cousins. His father had made being in a family tough, but most Carreys were familiar with the problems of alcohol and that side, at least, would be coming in over the next several days for his father's service.

Working like this had the advantage that it was something to do, something to get his mind off of the pain in his heart. Two days ago he wondered if he'd ever see his father alive again and wasn't sure he wanted to; now he'd had the hope of a better relationship with him and now... now there was nothing.

It was in the early afternoon when Zack was setting a box of pictures in the Susquehanna, just to hear the comm system go off. Before he could get to the station it relayed to his multidevice, allowing him to answer on it. "Hello," he answered.

"Hey Zack." It was Julia. "The big day is tomorrow, I was wondering if you were going to make it back?"

"I... I don't know," he admitted. His voice caught in his throat and he could see her expression shift to concern. He forced himself to find his voice. "Julie, my Dad died this morning."

He could hear her gasp through the comm link. "Oh God. I'm so sorry, Zack. I'm... I'm sorry. Is there anything we can do?"

"Tell everyone I probably won't make it to the celebration," he replied. "I've got to get things set up. I've got papers to sign, family to contact... a funeral to plan. That kind of thing."

"I'll let everyone know. We'll all be there for you."

"Thanks," he answered. "I'll appreciate that. Carrey out." He ended the call.

And then, because he felt the pain coming back, he went back to work.

Meridina was pleased that the second day of touring for Karesl went smoothly. So smoothly that he had opted to return planetside, requiring only a brief trip back to the assigned quarters before escorting him to a transporter room. "Is this what you believe is our future, Meridina?", Karesl asked.

"Yes," she answered.

"You should be the commander of this vessel. Being a mere subordinate is beneath your abilities."

"No, Mastrash, it is not," was her reply. "I am doing an important service in this post and I wish to continue that."

"I wish I could convince you otherwise, Meridina." Karesl shook his head. "Should a wedge ever come between our people and the Allied Systems, you may regret this choice."

"Then I must prevent such a wedge from forming." Meridina tried to control her apprehension. Was he warning her of a plot of some sort? Or was it simple talk? She couldn't tell. He was always hard for her to read.

"Somehow I'm not sure your efforts alone would suffice."

She chose not to continue the conversation.

When they arrived at the transporter room Meridina was quite surprised to see Jarod there, standing near the transporter operator with Lucy and Angel. A number of people were nearby wearing clothes Meridina associated with Robert and the others; clearly they were from Jarod's Earth. "Lieutenant Draynal already has the paperwork," Jarod said to her. "They're going to meet with Beth today about getting emergency residency set up."

"I am pleased you returned unhurt, Commander," Meridina said.

"He did, I'm the one who got shot at," Angel complained, but with a sardonic smile.

Meridina nodded at her before looking to the transporter operator. "Chief Mayga, are they in the queue ahead of my scheduled transport."

"No ma'am," the tan-skinned Gersallian woman replied. "The Mastrash is clear to beam down first."

Meridina nodded and looked to her father, who was looking at Lucy. Lucy clearly noticed the look and gave it back. "Can I help you, sir?", she asked.

"Nothing, Lieutenant. I was simply enjoying the sense of happiness I feel here. It is good to see positive thoughts like that, it makes swevyra stronger." Karesl stepped up onto the pad. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Mastrash Karesl," Meridina replied, bowing slightly. "Chief, energize."

After Karesl disappeared Sydney turned to Jarod. "I'm not sure I've ever heard a language like that before. Where are they from?"

"Gersal," Jarod replied. "They're not Humans."

"But they look..."

"Convergent evolution, Sydney." Jarod nodded to Meridina. "Sorry if we got in your way, Commander. I'm going down with them as an advocate."

"Robert is already on the planet, Commander Jarod, I'm sure he'll provide assistance," she answered. "And I suspect Commander Andreys will gladly invite them to join us for the celebration tomorrow."

"She already did," Jarod replied. He stepped up on the transporter platform. Debbie almost dragged her father into place beside him. Angel was the lst to step up, standing beside Miss Parker. "Energize."

Clara had gone part of the day to report to the nursing service she worked for and file the paperwork on Gerald Carrey's death. When she returned she found Zack sitting in his bed, a box of family photos on his lap and one framed photo in his hands. "Dad used to be good at controlling the habit," he remarked quietly. "I mean, up until I was about twelve I thought we had the happiest family you could have. I didn't know how badly my mother's family hated him, or how his family felt about him. I hadn't learned about our little family problem."

"He wanted to be a good Dad," Clara said. "He just couldn't control it."

"He must have talked a lot with you," Zack said quietly.

"I sort of started it," Clara admitted. "I mean,,, yeah, I started it because of you. I was hoping he would tell me why you had left. He was mad at you about it and said some, well..."

"Don't worry about it." Zack shook his head. "I'm just happy he had someone to talk to." After taking in a breath that sounded like a sigh, he continued, "I've always wanted to hate him. Well, I've actually felt a lot of hate for him. But I wish... Clara, it's just so complicated. Dad ruined my baseball career. He drove mother sick. He feuded with everyone. He made my life miserable." With tears at the corners of his eyes, Zack stopped for a moment. "But he was my Dad. And I know he loved me. And he was ready to be a family again, but I came back too damn late..."

"Zack, you don't have to tear yourself up over it."

He shook his head at that. "Clara, there were days... oh God... there were days where I wanted this," he confessed. "Where I was so tired of his drinking and his put-downs and the contempt and... I wanted him to die, Clara. I just wanted it over with! And now I've gotten that wish when I never..."

If he had expected Clara to react angrily, he was disappointed. All she did was shake her head and set her hand on his shoulder. "You really didn't mean that. Sometimes, Zack, we think things because we're angry and upset, we don't really mean them."

Zack heard her words, but he was already jumping from one shame to the next in his head. He thought of Adrana and how the computer being there had felt, in his heart, a desire to see his friend Robert dead to clear the way for him to be with Julia. He wondered if that thought had grown from his thoughts about his father.

"Clara, I've got a dark side," he admitted. "I've seen it. There's a part of me that would..." He swallowed, unwilling to admit what happened in his head. It was too shameful. "I've come to realize lately that I need to be honest with myself about things. About who I am, what I am. And who I want to be with."

"You mean Julia?", Clara asked quietly. A little too quietly. The quiet tone that indicated disappointment mixed with a feeling of, one would guess, inevitability.

Zack noticed that in her face. "Yeah. I know she's not interested but..."

Clara shook her head at him. "Zack, tell her how you feel."

"I can't."


"Because I know she'll say no," he answered.

"Oh." Clara gave a gentle nod. "But wouldn't that be better? You know it's not going to happen but you... you're just torturing yourself if you don't get a definite answer. Otherwise you think that maybe, just maybe, they'll say yes in the future. Maybe they'll come to you or something will happen and..."

Zack put a finger to her lips. "Clara, it's okay. You're right that it's something I should consider doing. But I'm going to do it on my time, okay? My time." He put the photo back in the box. "Well, I need to get finished. Got to get the house ready for everyone."

"Your family is actually coming?"

"A few. My dad's only surviving sibling, some of my cousins. Not as many as we have. Dad didn't have many friends in the family." Zack sighed. "And I have to see if there's a minister or pastor willing to hold the service. I'm not looking forwar to seeing Pastor Allen again."

"Oh, you won't, he left about fifteen months ago," Clara answered. "We've got some new guy, a young kid from one of the Bible colleges."

"And he never met Dad?"

"Only a couple of times when we asked, when your Dad's condition started getting worse. They got along."

"Good. He'll be more likely to do it then."

Clara's mouth opened slightly. "Um, Zack..."

"Yes?" He looked toward her.

For a moment it seemed like she would ask something, but at the last moment she held off. "Nothing. Just.... I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Sure." He nodded and watched her go. This freed him to go back into his thoughts.

The crowds were gathering and the VIPs coming together for the parade as part of the anniversary celebration of New Liberty Colony. The Aurora crew were not present with them as they were preparing for their part in the parade. The entire command crew save Meridina were taking places on the anti-grav powered float vehicle made up to look like the Aurora... if it was made of styrofoam and plaster and rubber.

It provided the perfect opportunity for Jarod, at least, as he finished walking up the steps to the main platform of the float with Sydney, Nicholas, and almost everyone else behind him. Only Miss Parker was not in attendance, brooding instead in the apartment that Beth Rankin had signed off for her.

"Everyone, I would like you to meet Sydney. He's the closest thing I've had to a father," Jarod announced. "He's spent years trying to protect me and guide me. I wouldn't be here today if not for him."

There was applause. "it's great that you got to bring him back this time," Julia said.

"It's an honor, Sydney," Robert added, shaking the older man's hand. "Have you figured out what you intend to do?"

"Oh, there is so much I have to learn now," Sydney admitted, smiling slightly. "But I imagine Manager Rankin will find some use of my education."

"Oh, I know she will," Robert answered. He felt a pull at his uniform and looked down at Broots' daughter. "Yes?"

"I wanna go back to the spaceship," Debbie asked.

"You'll get to visit tonight," Robert promised.

"I'll take care of their tour," Jarod said. He stopped and lowered his head. "I heard about Zack. Are we...?"

"We're invited to the funeral," Robert answered. "I got permission this morning to take the Aurora. To make it work, President Morgan made us the official transport for the dignitaries of the governments attending here. We'll be there for Zack when he needs us."

"I look forward to meeting your friend," Sydney said. "I understand the grief he's going through, so if I can help in any way, you just have to ask."

"Thanks for that," Robert said. He noticed a figure signalling to him from nearby. "And that's our cue. Seats, everyone. The parade is about to start!"

With the bedrooms cleaned out and the things Zack didn't want arranged to be presented to the rest of the family, Zack suddenly found himself alone in the Carrey home. Painful silence told of nothing to distract him from the pain he was having to face.

He tried to eat, but couldn't. He tried some of the grape juice in the fridge, but the taste was bland. He checked the television for something, anything, to distract him.

He stopped after finding a baseball game. Remembering what he had almost had, what his father had cost him, made it too painful.

Zack returned to cleaning. Just normal cleaning. He never liked cleaning, but it was something to do. Something that felt right to do. THe laundry room was cleared up and the kitchen and the back storeroom...

He opened one box and found, unsurprisingly, his father's booze stash. He wouldn't have been able to help himself, Zack knew. He'd find ways to get some. Zack brought the box into the kitchen, intending to pour every drop into the sink. He pulled the first bottle out, a bottle of bourbon, and stared at it.

He had always felt like his father drank because he liked it, that being drunk was a state that the elder Carrey somehow, inexplicably, liked. But he knew better now. Gerald Carrey had kept going back to the bottle because it was his way to deal with the pain and frustration of every day life. He insisted thatit made the pain go away.

Zack found himself opening the bottle. He smelled the booze and, even as instinctive revulsion filled him, continued to consider it. And for a moment, he thought about pouring a glass.

Just a moment.

With more will than he thought he'd have to muster, Zack brought the bottle up to the sink and poured its contents out.

Jarod and Angel had come down to bring up the others for their tour of the Aurora. The others were already on their way to the nearest transporter, leaving only Miss Parker who was still locked up in her apartment. Jarod knocked at the door. "Any plans tonight after the tour?"

"A couple," she admitted. "I always do something special for the anniversary."

The door slid open and Parker stood at it, her arms crossed. "Your people need better cigarettes," she complained, holding one. "This... this thing is horrible!"

"You're going into nicotine withdrawal," Jarod told her.

"Noooo," she reacted sarcastically.

"Replicated cigarettes only put in a chemical nicotine substitute at a low concentration," Angel added. "It's so people don't get addicted."

"I'm already addicted," Miss Parker complained.

"I noticed," Angel replied. "The local doctors can write you an authorization for a nicotine patch to wean off the substance."

"Or you can simply ask them for more, but I wouldn't count on it," Jarod added.

"And this is supposed to be your great utopia of freedom," she grumbled.

"I'm sure there's replicator patterns with more nicotine in them out there," Angel pointed out. "Just look."

"We're about to leave for the tour, by the way," Jarod added.

"Why?" Miss Parker's face curled into an angry smile. "So you can show me off like a trophy? 'Here's the evil Miss Parker who hunted me, and she'd be dead if I hadn't shot her', right? No thanks Jarod."

Jarod took in a breath and looked to Angel. "That's her answer. I tried."

"You did," Angel conceded. "Go on. I need to ask her something. Woman to woman."

Miss Parker sneered at Angel while Jarod stepped away. Angel saw him head down the stairs and turned back to Miss Parker. She brought a hand up. "I don't care what you do with your life, lady. Go smoke until you get lung cancer, find a life, whatever. But I'm letting you know this now."

"What?", Miss Parker asked, a hint of exaggerated tiredness to her.

Angel cleared her face of all emotion. "Jarod is a part of my crew. He's a part of my family now. And if you do anything to harm him, I'm going to kill you." She turned. "If you can't be nice or even gratefu;l, Miss Parker, just stay away from Jarod. Or I'll make you regret it."

Miss Parker said nothing as Angel walked away. She closed the door behind her and went up to her desk. A private computer system came alive at her fingertips. She had a lot of learning to do.

A lot of learning, if she was ever going to adapt to this whole new "world" that Jarod had dragged her into... so that she could drag Jarod right back to her father.

Goras was quiet as Karesl finished his report. "So you have found a second."

"Yes," Karesl answered. "But I had no opportunity to interview her. I do know she has used her swevyra lately, I could feel the power having surfaced within her."

"But not enough to prove Meridina has trained her?"

"It wasn't that strong."

"So you say."

Karesl's expression tightened at the tone. "She may be my daughter by blood, Goras, but you know I will not protect her. Do not insult me with such suspicion."

Goras accepted the rebuke with a nod. "Very well. You are correct, Karesl. You will be returning?"

"Within the standard week."

"Good. The Council looks forward to your final report." Goras terminated the line.

Karesl shifted in his seat. He knew his daughter had not trained Lieutenant Lucy Lucero, but he wondered if that extended to Meridina talking to Lucero about it.

You have resisted your passions enough to not train them, Meridina, and in recognition of that I will accept what has happened so far. But my patience runs only so long...

Robert was sitting quietly in his quarters. Without anything else his mind went back to Zack. He could only imagine the emotions sweltering in his friend at losing his father. While old man Carrey had been an unpleasant man usually, he was still Zack's father. How did they last speak? Was it a fight? Were they mending the fence? I think either will tear Zack's heart to pieces.

Desperate to get his mind off of things, Robert brought up reports for the day and the paperwork that had to be filed before they departed to his "home" Earth in the morning. He had made his way through some of the paperwork when his door chime went off. "Come in," he called out.

The door slid open and Angel entered, wearing her duty uniform. "The tour's over. Debbie was falling asleep before we even got to Engineering."

He smiled thinly in reply. "Yeah. Well, it's a big ship, and she had an exciting day. I've already asked Beth about making sure they all have work."

"Good. I think it'll make Jarod rest a little easier."

"But only a little. He still has to find his family." Robert sighed and finished the final line of paperwork, using a digital stencil to put his signature on it. He stood up and walked around his small desk. "So, want a snack from the Lookout or something?"

Angel's smile curved with amusement. "I was wondering about something else. I mean, I've got all of these bruises from the bullets hitting my field uniform, I could use some... gentle attention to them."

Robert remained quiet for a moment, even as she drew up on him. "Angel, I think this..."

"We always spend the night of the anniversary together," she reminded him. "Why not tonight?"


"Robert... I almost got killed," Angel pointed out, a little heatedly. "If they'd gotten closer and got a shot at my head, I would be gone. Any of us could be gone. We almost lost Zack and Jarod and Cat last month. And remember how close Abydos was, and the freaking Nazis and the Cardassians..." Angel took his hands. "We could die out here. Why worry about something like this? If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."

"Angel, I'm your boss now, I'm a superior officer..."

"You're alone. And... just this once, Rob? Can't we try?" She pressed herself against him. "So we don't regret anything?"

He considered saying no again. He almost did. But Robert looked into her intense hazel eyes and felt his resistance wane. For all of his feelings in other directions, he could still feel some of them for Angel, and after all of the bumps they'd taken this year her points found ready ground in his heart.

They could die tomorrow, so why not live a little today?

Gently, reluctantly, Robert pressed his lips against Angel's mouth and allowed a kiss to begin.

Down the hall, Jarod sat quietly in his quarters with a drink at his table and an unfinished late snack of a pastry from Hargert's kitchen. The screen showed a slice of the data he'd gotten from Angelo and Angel's raid on the Centre. He already knew some of this stuff. Some was new. It'd take him time to go through it, given his duties.

But it'd be done. Because within this data he knew he had the clues he needed to find his parents and his sister... and the means to destroy the Centre once and for all.

The Aurora crew's "return home" was a subdued one. They'd gotten weird looks when they beamed straight to the church where Pastor Allen's replacement, Pastor Everett, was holding the service. Zack had gotten hugs from them all in turn. As he accepted Jarod's, he said, "I heard you got your mentor to safety."


"I'm happy for you."

The service was long enough. At the right time Zack stepped up to the podium. "Sometimes I hated him," Zack finally admitted. "I hated his flaws. We...he wasn't the best father and I wasn't the best son. But I think he tried. He was fighting something and it... he couldn't fight it all the time. And it hurt him as much as it hurt us. I... at least we.... I got to make him smile one last time. I..."

And then he stopped. The pain was too much. He'd made his Dad smile again, yes. But everything they'd talked about that night, to and from the Moon where his father had always dreamed to walk... none of it would happen now. He'd never show his Dad New Liberty, or the Amethyst Cliffs of Jeli, the Rings of Carina, or any of the other beautiful sights the Multiverse would have offered him.

He'd finally gotten his father back... and had lost him for good before they could do anything about it.

As he broke down, two figures jumped from the front seat. Julia was intent on getting to his side and helping her distraught friend, but Clara was faster. She took Zack into her arms and helped him away from the podium, unable to stop his weeping.

After the service Zack took up his place as a pallbearer. Only one cousin would join him, leaving the other spots for his friends. Robert stood behind him, Julia across from Robert, and Tom Barnes and Angel took up the rear. The procession brought the casket out to the Herse vehicle, from which it was driven to the cemetary.

Clara took whomever she could in her car to be part of the procession, with Zack seated beside her. The rest waited until they arrived and beamed over in the Aurora. Their presence was not commented on by the other mourners; everyone knew what they were, and all remained quiet for the moment in respect for the deceased. Another service was held at the grave, with a hymn and prayers as they prepared to lower Gerald Carrey to join Zack's mother. The entire time, Zack found Clara's hand still holding his.

By the time it was over, Zack felt like he had nothing left, like his very tear-ducts were exhausted. He accepted final condolences from the handful of attendees. The others went to a chosen beam out point.

Before he went to join them, Clara grasped his arms. "I'm so sorry for you, Zack," she said. "If you need anything, you can call."

"Thanks, Clara." His voice felt hoarse. "Listen, Clara... I'm sorry if I've hurt you by refusing to come back."

"Don't," she urged him. "You have a wonderful life out there. I'd never want you to give that up."

He nodded. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now get back out there, astronaut boy." Clara winked at him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. With her mouth close to his ears, she whispered, "And talk to Julia. When you're ready."

"I will," he promised, putting his arms around her in a hug. "Take care of yourself."

"I will. See you around, Zack."

Clara Davis stood quietly and watched as Zack returned to his friends. They all waved back to him and, in pillars of light, disappeared into thin air. She breathed and wondered what that felt like.

"I don't want you to come home," she sighed. "I want you to stay out there, Zack. Because I'm coming too."

It would take a little time, but she'd make her way out into the stars too. And maybe.... maybe he'd feel the same way as she did by the time they met again. And they'd have a life together out there, on distant worlds.


A persistant chirp came over the comm line, forcing Robert to wake up. He turned in bed and smacked the receiver, noting the time as he did so. "It's zero three fifty," he protested. "What is it?"

"Rob... I mean, Captain!" The eager voice could only be Caterina's. "I need to see you in Astrography now! It's important!"

"How important?"

"It's big! It's really big, it's..."

"I'm coming, I'm coming," he protested. "I'll be there in five minutes."

As soon as the channel cut, Robert turned in the bed again. His hand reached out and touched Angel's bare shoulder as she opened her eyes sleepily. "Go back to sleep, Rob," she complained.

"Can't. Your sister says she found something important."

"I'll punish her later," Angel yawned.

"Go back to sleep. I'll find out what's going on."

Getting out of bed and allowing Angel to pull the sheets back over herself, Robert pulled on his duty uniform and ventured out into the ship. At the turbolift he was met by Julia. "She called you too?"

"Yeah," Julia muttered. "If it's not important, I may have to suspend her off-duty lab access for a month."


"I'll compromise at three." They stepped into the lift.

"Computer, Deck 12, Astrography." He paused. "Good. It's a deal. Four months ban from off-duty access."

The sleepy duo got into astrography and found Caterina and Barnes sitting at the main controls with Jarod standing nearby. "You beat us here?", Robert asked Jarod.

"I was already here," Jaord answered. "Cat had me double check their readings." He frowned at seeing their looks. "I guess I should have called you instead."

"We'll punish you later," Julia joked... well, half-joked. "So, what is so important that you had to wake us up?"

"I think I found another Darglan facility!", Cat squealed.

That jolted both to something approaching wakefulness. "What?!", Robert asked, incredulous.

"I've been running a search algorithim through the fleet's sensor logs," Cat explained. "Looking for the signs of dimensionally transcendental fields in operation. And I found a number of positive sensor readings! So I..."

"...called my ass down to double-check, since I'd been doing so much work examining the one we had in the Facility," Barnes continued. "And yeah, it's the real deal. We just have to narrow down a system due to the sensor shadow the field effect gives off."

"And I double-checked all of their findings to make sure we didn't have a false positive." Jarod tapped a nearby screen, showing two wavelengths. "Sensor readings of the Facility's signature and this one from the logs. They match within a reasonable margin of error. It's got to be a related phenomenom."

Robert hovered over Caterina and Barnes' shoulders as they brought up the data display on their screens, showing even more matching data. "And we think we can narrow it down to one of these systems," Cat said. The Astrography hologram shifted to show highlighted systems. "With further scans at closer range we could triangulate a more exact spot to search.

"Are you sure of this?", Robert asked, still reeling from the scope of this discovery.

"Positive," Caterina insisted. "The readings are the same. It's another Darglan Facility."

"And on the other side of the border, too," Julia pointed out in a dark tone.

That prompted everyone's attention back to the astrographical map. The holographic map showed a line running through space with the suspect area entirely on the side opposite of the UAS symbol.

"Oh hell," Barnes grumbled.

Robert hit his multidevice's comm button. "Dale to Bridge. I need a Priority One channel to Admiral Maran's office, now." His eyes never left the map, focused as they were on the symbol opposite from the UAS torch insignia.

The symbol on the other side was the swastika of the Nazi Reich.

"It's in Nazi space," Robert sighed.

"Let's hope they don't know what they've got there." Julia put a hand on the console, enlarging the map. "It'll be our best shot to beating them to it."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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Re: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: 13 May 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We've arrived at Harris Station in S4W8 to meet with Admiral Maran and the President's Defense Staff about Lieutenant Delgado's report on a Darglan Facility existing across the border in Reich territory. With the meeting just hours away, the senior staff is assembling to take a final look at the data we have gathered.

The command staffs for both the Aurora and the Koenig filled the main conference room to capacity. Robert put his hands on the table and let out a breath. He had been hoping over the past few days that further examination would show their initial findings to be off and that there was no Darglan facility. "So we're certain?", he asked wearily.

Meridina gave a nod in reply. "The reports I received from Lieutenant Delgado are confirmed. The Security Operations office has provided me with reports from intelligence sources showing that the Reich has been expanding its presence in this entire region since our contact. They are moving into the zone specified by Caterina's findings."

Julia was quicker to speak than Robert was. "So sooner or later, they're going to have an active presence in the systems where we think the Facility might be?"

Angel nodded. "As soon as next week when you consider their current rate of expansion. They'll have sensor buoys and patrols up across that entire area."

"If they secure those systems, we'll never be able to get in quietly," Julia said. "We would have to go in with force."

"And that would start a war," Robert added, his voice sounding tired. "We can't let that happen. Does anyone have suggestions for us before the Defense Staff arrives?"

No one spoke.

"Then we'd better get going. The meeting is in half an hour in Briefing Room 2."

Robert watched them all disperse, but try as he might, his mind kept going back to his dreams, and to his final words with Captain Lamper from the Reich.

He'd been having nightmares of a war. And now it looked like one would break out.

Angel caught his attention with an intent look. He'd woken her up the night before, tossing around from his dreams. She knew how unsettled he was. The fact they were together again was helping a little, although a voice in his head kept pointing out this was a mistake and that when it ended he'd better hope it ended well, otherwise the trouble they'd have...

Robert took a breath to force the thoughts out of his head. This was no time for worrying about dreams or his complicated relationship with Angel. He had to prepare to receive the most powerful military officers in the Alliance on his ship. He should focus on that.

Caterina and Angel were the only ones to take the side turbolift out of the conference room. Angel could see how nervous her little sister was and put a hand on her shoulder. Cat rubbed her hands together and shuddered. "Julia said I'd have to give the briefing. I'm going to have to talk to those Generals and Admirals."

"Just tell them what you know and it'll be fine."

Cat put her hands on her head in a gesture of frustration and some terror. "But I'm not so good at doing that in front of people! I'll get nervous and screw it up, and they'll be all over me and Rob and Julia will take the blame!"

Angel used her hand to twist her sister around so they could look eye to eye. "Believe in yourself a little, sis." She took Caterina into a hug, ending her nervous twitching.

The hug lasted long enough for their turbolift to stop. Science Lab 2 was just around the corner. They entered it to find it empty, just as scheduled, allowing Caterina to compile her data for presentation without the science staff seeing her. As she watched the screens confirm downloads into a data slip, she looked up. “So, uh, Angel… you and Robert?”

Angel looked at her. “What about us?”

“You’re back together, right?”

Clearly this discussion had been anticipated, and clearly Angel didn’t want to have it. “Not… well, it’s sort of…” Seeing the skeptical look on Caterina’s face she gave in. “I think we are.”

“But I thought you said you’d never…”

Angel rolled her eyes. “Stuff what I said before. If I feel it’s right and something I want to do, I’m going to do it.”

“But you always feel so bad when it doesn’t work out.”

“Maybe this time it’ll be different.”

The skeptical look on Caterina’s face deepened. “You said that last year too.”

“Even if it doesn’t…” Angel made a dive for safety by changing the subject. “Whatever happens, I’ll handle it. We’ve got this to focus on now.”

“And how I might screw it up,” Cat mumbled.

“Seriously, Cat, relax. We’ve planned everything out. Everything has been considered. It’ll be fine.”

Meridina was taking the time to check up on things in the security office. Lieutenant Parga Draynal, one of her senior subordinates, looked up from the main security desk as she entered. "Commander, I didn't expect to see you here," he said, finishing his work on the main console. "Are you relieving me?"

"I am going to attend the meeting with the Defense Staff," she answered, shaking her head. "Do you have the performance reviews I requested?"

"Right here," he answered, handing a datapad to her.

"Thank you." She looked over them. "I see Ensign Liton's review was subpar?"

"Yes. He's been rather inconsistant lately, I'm afraid," Draynal answered.

"I will speak to him." Meridina went to her desk, holding the datapad and reviewing the findings. Liton had been failing to meet standards for months now, with several indications that he wasn't making connections to his peers.

A shiver went up Meridina's spine. Something felt wrong. It made her focus more on the reports, seeking answers. It seemed the only way to deal with the dread building up inside of her.

Undiscovered Frontier
”Seeking The Past”

The meeting was taking place on the Station; Admiral Maran and the Defense Staff were present, with Admiral Lithgon also in attendance. The senior officers sat at a semi-circular table with Maran in the middle seat and Lithgon at one end.

Beside that table and close to the holo-projector was where the staff from the Aurora sat. Robert was in the seat nearest the main table, Julia beside him, Zack past her, and on to Meridina, Jarod, Angela, and Caterina, who was out of her seat and pointing toward the projector and the sensor data on it. “Further scans have confirmed the earlier readings. It’s a Darglan facility of some kind. We’re not sure if it’s the same as the one on our Earth.”

The Defense Staff murmured amongst itself Admiral Maran let the murmuring go for a short while before he asked, “And you’re absolutely certain its in Reich space?”

“We need close range scans to confirm the exact location, but the potential area from the scans we do have is entirely on their side of the border.” Caterina drew in a breath, trying to wrestle with her nervousness.

The Staff began murmuring to itself again. One Dorei general, with dark purple complexion and teal spots, was relaying the material to his personal display to overlook.

Maran turned to the man on his right. “General Hatcher, do we have any indication that the Reich knows what’s there?”

The thin-faced, lanky older man shook his head. “No indications as of yet. But we don’t have any strong intel sources in the Reich so I can’t say for certain.”

“So this isn’t urgent?” The man to Maran’s left was giving Robert and the others a look that made clear his dislike. Robert recognized him as Admiral Davies, the Vice CNO of the Navy. “Is there a reason we were called out for this?”

Robert nodded. “We found signals that the Reich is surveying the area. If we’re going to investigate, we need to do it soon.”

Davies gave a look that showed how much he trusted the Aurora crew’s decision-making. “We’ll make that call.” He directed his fierce gaze at Caterina. “Now, Lieutenant Delgado, if this is one of those Darglan facilities, what are our options?”

Calling Caterina out was enough to make her unsettled, but the fierce look on Davies’ face made her feel like crumpling. “Well… um… Admiral…”

Davies’ nostrils flared. “You will address me as Sir, Lieutenant,” he barked.

Caterina had almost jumped, even if Davies hadn’t quite shouted. “Uh, yes...yes s-sir…” She swallowed and drew in a couple of breaths to regain her composure. It didn’t work well, but it was enough that she could resume before Davies laid into her more. “There are w-ways to destroy a Facility from the inside, sir. We could... could engineer a rea-reaction to enrich naqia into instability and s-set it off as an explosive, or if we... we have enough solar torpedoes available they could be used as b-bombs." Caterina sucked in a breath as Davies' eyes glared at her, clearly impatient with her nervous stuttering. "A big enough explosion will take out the DT field that sustains the pocket dimension. If we have time we could also try an override to disable the DT field. Either way, everything inside would be crushed.” She looked like she had barely made it through the rest of her comments without stuttering again.

“So we’ll need a combat vessel,” Hatcher remarked. “And one that can get in undetected.”

Zack stood up. “The Koenig can do it.”

Davies diverted his glare to Zack, but didn’t get the same effect. “We have more experienced officers for such a mission, Commander.” There was something in the way he used Zack’s rank that said “This is not the rank I think you’ve earned”, but it was not a strong enough sense to be felt, so to speak.

Maran gave a nod to Zack. “However, the crew of the Aurora has more experience with Darglan technology than any other crew we could send. I believe the Aurora and Koenig are the right choices for this mission.”

Davies looked over at his chief and, for a moment, it was clear the two men were strongly at odds and that this was a battle they’d already waged. But Davies would say nothing; he was, obviously, a military man, and you didn’t contradict your commander in this environment.

As if Maran needed support, Hatcher spoke up. “I concur. The Aurora can be on standby near the border to respond if the mission is jeopardized, and the Koenig’s the only ship of its type we have available for this kind of operation. They should go. The only question I have is if Commander Carrey is ready to resume duty given his experience on Adrana.”

"Doctor Gillam examined him yesterday," Robert replied. "He's given him leave to return to active duty."

"That settles it them," Hatcher said.

Davies looked away from Maran and gave a nod.

Robert, for his part, was already considering the situation, and his concerns for what it could mean. “I’m worried about how the Reich will react if they realize what we’re doing.”

“Let us worry about that, Captain,” Maran said. “Just concentrate on preparing your crew for the mission.”

“Yes sir.”

“And be careful out there,” he said as a final warning.

Meridina returned to her security office where Draynal was waiting for her. He stood up. "How did the meeting go?"

"Well enough. We are being dispatched on a new mission."

"I have heard rumors that it will involve a penetration of Reich territory," Draynal said. "Should we get the security team alerted?"

"I will make the appropriate arrangements. You are relieved."

Draynal gave her a nod and walked out.

Meridina began preparing the lists for the extra security personnel she would send along to the Koenig for their mission. Part of her mind was on this task, the other was her concern over Admiral Davies’ behavior. Human militaries seemed so… stratified to her. Too narrow-minded. That he would deny the Aurora crew their just posts because he didn’t feel they were “senior” enough was to her a foolish thought; merit, not age, should determine such things as rank or place.

She returned her attention to the performance reviews. As she did so, Meridina felt a continued unease. Her swevyra resonated with trepidation about the mission, not simply the stakes and the risk, but the fears that something unexpected was coming. For months now she had felt concerns about the ship, that something was wrong.

Specifically, her concerns had focused on two people: Lieutenant Parga Draynal and Ensign Kyle Liton.

Each was in that section of Deep Space Nine that had made Lucy Lucero feel like her life was in danger. And since that time, the number of security events had increased, especially with access attempts to protected data on the ship. Liton was in computer security, and Draynal handled that division among his many duties. And yet she had seen nothing from either to indicate treachery.

Meridina looked up at hearing a chime at the door. Julia entered at her prompting. "Meridina, we're going over the crew that's going along on the Koenig for the mission. Do you have any recommendations for who will lead the security staff?"

"I will do so," she answered. "I believe I will be of greater service in that case."

"That makes three senior staff officers since Caterina and Jarod are going too," Julia answered. "Are you sure you need to be the one? Lieutenant Draynal could handle it."

Meridina stopped herself from immediately reacting with a refusal. "He will be better employed overseeing security while we're gone."

Julia nodded quietly. Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Meridina, is this about the computer access issues we've had lately?"

Meridina looked up at her. Even without a connected swevyra Julia was an intelligent and capable person, and rather observant. Meridina was allowing her sense of discomfort to become too open. "I am simply better suited for the mission than Draynal. Darglan technology may react to my presence by reducing security safeguards, just as the last Facility showed a special holo-program to me upon my presence being confirmed."

That prompted a nod. "Alright. We'll add you to the mission. Be ready at 1000 hours tomorrow for departure."

"I shall be there, Commander."

Robert stood on the bridge of the Aurora and looked through flame and smoke to the looming image of... he couldn't make it out save that it was terrifying. Just like always.

Another dream. Another nightmare.

He saw ships like Captain Lamper's hovering over a planet, pouring disruptor fire into its cities.

The Aurora bridge wasn't there any more. He was somewhere sterile and gray. He turned and saw Sturmbannführer Fassbinder walk down the corridor with two armed men following them. Between them he saw... Julia?! She was slouched down and in pain. "What... Julie?!" He reached for his holster and found... something he'd never seen before. Or had he? Something about odd device on his waist where his holster should be seemed familiar...

The image shifted again. It was the girl in the red vest and skirt with gold trim. He could feel the energy coursing around her, threatening to expode with destructive power. "Help me," she said. "I don't know how...." Her hazel eyes closed briefly. When they re-opened, all he could see was solid white light. It kept growing until...

...Robert didn't recognize where he was now. Something about it seemed familiar, like something he'd seen in a recording or a broadcast or some such thing. He was standing at the start of a long platform facing three raised podiums, a large window behind it looking out to... what? He couldn't make it out. A single figure stood at the end of the long platform, operating holo-controls. When the figure turned Robert saw it wasn't Human... Gray scaly skin, a swept back skull, Robert thought he recognized the species from M4P2. Bright, unnatural blue eyes looked at him. "You're fighting a hopeless battle," the alien said. "Our only hope is to serve."

"You're wrong," a voice called out beside him. Robert turned in time to see solid blue energy form over a figure, which became a blur as it charged the alien....

...and he was back on the Aurora bridge, full of flame and smoke. "Shields offline!", he heard Jarod cry out. "They're breaking off to...."

On the viewscreen he saw a familiar planet. "New Liberty", he murmured to himself. He could make out the shape of the growing city he had helped to found on the planet's surface.

It was enveloped in explosions a moment later. Weapons fire descended on it from above, and as if in response to his thoughts, the viewscreen showed what was firing at the planet. A large, dark gray warship, with red warp nacelles and...

...and a large Reich swastika emblazoned on the underside.


At that point Robert woke up violently. He looked around at his dimly lit quarters, trying to reassure himself he was just dreaming. He sat up and put his forehead into his hands. This was the worst nightmare he'd had in months.

A hand touched his bare side and shoulder. He felt Angela press against him from behind, her chin setting down on his right shoulder, her warmth subduing the shivers the dream had caused him. "Another nightmare?", she asked.

"Yeah. The worst I've had since...."

"...since we got back together." It wasn't a question. "It's okay. It's..."

"Why now?", he asked. "Why tonight? With everything going on?"

"Stress usually leads to bad nightmares, right?", Angela asked. "There's your answer."

"This isn't just nightmares," he said. "They feel real, like... like they're actually happening."

"I've had more than one dream like that." Angel kissed him on the cheek. "Lay back down and go to sleep. You need the rest."

Robert turned and faced her. Angel's hazel eyes were dark in the dim light of their quarters, but they were shining with affection and love. He reached over and put his hand on her upper arm just below shoulder, enjoying the contact of her soft skin under his fingers, the feel of her muscle beneath the skin. It was muscle earned from a life of work and training. All from Angela's determination to do what she had to do to protect what mattered to her.

He brought his hand down and took her's. It was a hand that he knew could deliver a beating. He'd learned that the hard way with all the times he'd agreed to spar with her and been made to regret it. It amazed him that the same hand capable of delivering a wicked punch could provide such a soft and loving touch, but...

...but it also made him so very aware of his feelings, not just for Angela, but for Julia. The feelings that had welled up within him when they had kissed after escaping the doomed Darglan Facility. It had been a celebration of survival, yes, but it could become so much more.

Some would say that a man who enjoyed the love and affection of two women like Angela and Julia was the luckiest man in the cosmos.

It just made Robert feel guilty.

I'm distracting myself, Robert thought. He had other things to deal with now. He couldn't let this distract him. "I'll get back to bed soon," he promised, swinging his legs over to get up. "But first I have something to do. Don't wait up for me."

Angel sighed and watched him go for his uniform. "I'm here if you need to talk, you know that."

"I do. And I will. But this is something that is... I can't describe it. But there's only one person on the ship who can help me." After pulling on his uniform pants, Robert reached over and tapped the comm button on the nearby nightstand. "Captain Dale to Commander Meridina. I know it's late, but I need to talk to you."

Meridina was waiting when Robert got to the security office. Despite being awoken in the middle of the night she seemed completely unfazed compared to the bags already forming under Robert's eyes. "What is your concern?", she asked.

Robert got into the seat in front of her desk and leaned forward. "Something strange is going on in my head. My dreams are becoming... I don't know how to describe it."

Meridina clamped down on all emotion. She didn't want to alarm Robert about what he was going through and what she thought it meant. "Perhaps just speaking on the imagery in your head will suffice."

"It fades after I'm awake for a while, but there are parts that stick with me. There was a girl, I didn't recognize her, in a red vest and skirt with gold trim. She was... it was like she was filled with energy but couldn't control it." Robert took a moment to collect his thoughts. "And there was one of those aliens from M4P2, I can't remember which, and he was talking to me, and... and..." His expression hardened. "That Nazi Fassbinder. He had Julia as a prisoner. And then I saw one of their warships destroy the Liberty Colony."

Meridina nodded. "I see."

"These aren't just nightmares," Robert insisted. "They're more. I know they are."

"Yes." Meridina sighed. "They are more. Your swevyra is finding connection to the wider universe. For some, it gives glimpses of what might become."

She almost regretted saying it. Mastrash Ledosh's warnings about not being too forward with them were always present in her thoughts. But Robert had come to her, and it was never in her order's policy to refuse aid to someone discovering their swevyra's power when they came for advice.

"So... I'm like you then?", Robert asked. "I actually have the same... power as you do?"

"Not necessarily," Meridina answered. "One thing to always keep in mind is that swevyra is unique for every individual, and connections to the rest of creation can be varied from this uniqueness. Some can see as you can, but have no other skill. For myself, for all that my swevyra allows me to accomplish I have never felt what the future may hold."

"May hold? So what I saw isn't going to happen, it just might?"

"While we have our prophecies, and indeed some have come true, the future is always changing and shifting as living beings follow their free will. Glimpses are solely those of what may transpire, not what will."

"I see." He rested his head in his hands.

Meridina had sympathy in her eyes. "You are worried that your visions will come to pass."

"It would mean the Reich got their hands on the Darglan IU drive, so yes. And if they were to take Julia because of that..." After a moment's contemplation he looked up. "This is it, isn't it? This whole mission is the decision that will decide whether we end up at war with the Nazis or not, and if they get that technology."

"It may be, yes. Your swevyra is subconsciously warning you of the possible outcomes to your decisions to come soon."

"Great. No pressure," he remarked lamely. "I should get back to sleep."

"It is suggested, yes," Meridina agreed. "I will have...." She looked over at her screen and froze.

"Meridina? Meridina, what's wrong?"

"There is a security breach in the computer systems, someone is attempting to penetrate the internal defenses protecting our IU drive data." Meridina stood up and pressed her multidevice's comm key. "This is Commander Meridina, all security teams converge on Computer Systems Control immediately."

Robert got out of his seat as Meridina walked past him. "Do you know who it is?"

"No," Meridina said. "That we will have to learn."

When they arrived at Computer Control, a security team was already present, pulse pistols drawn and pointed at a single figure kneeling on tthe floor. Meridina stepped up to the captured man. "Ensign Liton, what were you doing?"

"I was just double-checking some code," Liton answered. "What's going on, Commander? Why am I being held?"

"Commander!" Another pair of security officers, one of them being Lieutenant Draynal, was standing beside the controls. Meridina went over to him with Robert behind her. "It appears that a virus was uploaded into the ship's computers. Extensive data copies have been made and are set for regular transmission into Horizon Station's public comm net."

"So it's being leaked all across S5T3," Robert said, feeling his eyes grow heavy as he felt the need for sleep build back up.

"Or elsewhere," Meridina added. She looked at the screen. "Ensign Liton's access codes are in place. Who authorized him to have this amount of data clearance?"

"I did," Draynal admitted. "After his re-assignment to this office. I had no idea he was going to be a security risk."

"We will talk about this later, Lieutenant," Meridina said. "Have Ensign Liton escorted to the brig, I will be interviewing him shortly."

"Yes Commander." Draynal nodded and brought the other security officers with him, having them escort the restrained Ensign along.

"Liton's one of the new crew, right?", Robert asked. "Assigned right before New Year's?"

"Yes. He had high performance reviews at first, but as of late the reviews have been declining." Meridina looked over the screen again. "And there is another matter I am concerned with. But for now, I suggest you assign Commander Jarod to examine the compromised data and check the ship's systems for any signs of computer sabotage."

"Jarod's due to go with the Koenig," Robert reminded her.

"I fear this is more important sir. Lieutenant Lucero has as much experience with Darglan technology as Commander Jarod does. Send her instead."

"Lucy?" Robert stifled a yawn as he tried to make his tired brain think. "Okay. That makes sense. And since you need to interrogate Liton, we should probably put someone else on the mission. Lieutenant Draynal sounds best."

Meridina shook her head. "I do not think that wise."

"Oh? Why not?"

And now she was stuck. She had to explain, to Robert, everything about what happened on Deep Space Nine. Given his fatigue he did well in listening and absorbing the information. "So Lucy got the jitters and you think something may have happened in that area of the station?"

"Liton was one of the security personnel who went into the area. It is possible he was meeting with a contact hiding there. Or was attacked and replaced by an imposter."

"An imposter who knew his codes and passed gene-scans? That doesn't sound likely."

"Agreed, but we must be on guard. I sense great danger in the coming hours."

Feeling exhausted, Robert leaned against one of the control stations. "Meridina, if you're not going, I need to send someone to oversee security. Zack's crew isn't large enough. And Draynal has the right qualifications."

"Please, Robert," Meridina pleaded. "I have other subordinates. They can do just as well. Lieutenant Razal is trained to oversee a tactical team."

"But he doesn't have the comptuer science background, right?" Seeing her expression remain as it was, Robert sighed. "Okay, send Razal. I'll see you and the rest of the staff in a few hours for a meeting before we launch. I need to get some sleep now, though."

"Of course, Captain. Please rest."

Robert nodded and walked out, letting out a yawn as he did so. Meridina was out right behind him, but she wasn't heading back to her quarters yet. She had something else in mind.

The moment she stepped into her security office she went for the secure communications line the office had for transmissions. She used it to establish one to the interuniversal transmission station at Harris Station and activate a direct link that had been set up months before.

Shortly afterward, a face appeared on her screen. "Commander, you look rather tired," Constable Odo of Deep Space Nine stated. "What can I do for you?"

"We have had a security breach, Constable, and it relates to what occurred during our time at your station," Meridina explained. "I would like to request you make a full search of...."

Some of Hargert's best coffee made the staff meeting bearable given the early time of 0700. Jarod was standing beside the main monitor, showing them computer code and systems information. "The virus that was found in Liton's workstation is a sophisticated data-sifter code. The coding is adaptive, intrusive, and very hard to find if you don't have the base code to establish search parameter."

"What was it being used for?," Julia asked.

"From what I can tell? It went through our systems looking for technical data and establishing back door access codes into ship security and communications," Jarod replied. "Meridina and I will be spending days trying to hunt it down. I'm not even finished determining all of the compromised systems."

Robert put his coffee down and rubbed at his eyes. He felt tired and groggy. More importantly, the entire mission was unraveling around him. With this in mind, how could he authorize the mission to go ahead with such a major security breach?

The image in his dream of a Nazi warship burning New Liberty flashed behind his eyes. If they found the Darglan facility instead, that could become true. The entire Multiverse would face invasion by the most horrific regime that the Human race had ever known.

"Has the program spread to the Koenig?", he asked.

"Unlikely," Jarod replied. "We never directly connect the ship's computer systems for this reason. Even a transmission goes through a firewall. Someone would have to directly introduce this into Koenig. And Ensign Liton has never been aboard her."

"I can have Magda go over our computer systems before we leave," Zack remarked. "Just to make sure."

"Maybe we should just abort," Caterina said. "I mean... if we have a spy on board, and they've compromised our systems to that extent, maybe they know what we're looking for. They'll probably know we're up to something. They could ruin it."

"She has a point," Tom said.

Zack looked to Robert and Julia. "She does. Admiral Maran will be upset, but it's better than the mission going wrong because we ignored a security problem like this. We should at least postpone it."

"Not possible. Not without tipping the Nazis off," Robert reminded them. "They've seen our fleet move. They'll know we're up to something if we stop and then do it again. It's either now or never." And if I choose wrong, New Liberty burns. Beth, Gabe, Ba....

"Rob, there's no guarantee they'll find it that quickly, and the Koenig can always slip in even if they start setting up there," Zack said. "If things go really bad, you'll be risking a war."

"I know," Robert answered, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice. "But the decision is mine. So long as Koenig doesn't have the same thing in its systems, we're launching. So make sure your ship is ready."

Zack lowered his head and avoied eye contact, although everything in his body language screamed disapproval. "Alright. Who is coming with my crew on the mission? You're keeping Meridina and Jarod now."

"Lieutenant Razal and Lucy are their replacements," Robert replied.

"Razal?" Julia looked at him. "Draynal sounds like a better fit."

"We'll need him to help with the computer security investigation," Robert pointed out.

Julia didn't seem satisfied by that answer, but she said nothing else.

"If that's all, we've got a lot of work to do. Jarod, Scotty, Meridina, keep me informed of all developments. As long as the computers are clear, the Koenig will launch at 1100 hours. You're all dismissed."

Due to the small quarters on the Koenig, Zack kept most of his stuff in his assigned quarters on the Aurora. It wasn’t hard to keep two sets of uniforms and toiletries and other essentials for each ship, but anything else he had to bring in his duffel bag.

Right now it was sitting on his bed, still zipped open, with a few items in it. An autographed good luck baseball he kept from a Kansas City game he’d gone to as a kid, the second baseball from the state champion team he’d pitched for in High School, a couple of pictures of his family and friends…

He was holding a new photo now, one he’d taken off the Susquehanna’s sensor logs, showing a picture of the visit to the moon he’d taken his father on. They were in suits, of course, but the sensor image showed their faces through the plates and Gerald Carrey’s face was smiling.

The gaping hole in his heart ached again and he had to wipe away tears as he set the photo, lovingly, into the bag. When he looked up to consider a shelf newly-organized with things from the old family home, his eyes focused on one item; the bottle of expensive tequila that his father had wanted to share with him one day. It was something he had never thought of doing; he’d seen his father ruin almost everything he touched under the influence of alcohol. Even now, knowing Gerald Carrey had honestly done that in an attempt to drown crippling feelings of failure, he couldn’t stop seeing it as an evil influence.

And yet….

….why did he keep it? Why didn’t he pour it out like he’d done the rest of his father’s stash of liquor? Why was it still unopened?

For a moment he almost put it in the bag, just to have it, and wondering about those questions. He stopped when there was a chirp at his door. “I’m in,” he replied.

When the door slid open Meridina stepped in. “Commander, I need to speak with you on the mission.”

“I’m all ears, Meridina. All ears,” he answered.

"I sense you are upset with Captain Dale's decision?"

Zack put the bottle back on the shelf. "I think he's being stubborn about it. I understand. I wanted to wipe that look Davies' face too. But I'm the one being sent into this situation first. We're already going to try to sneak around under the Nazis' noses. Now I have to worry about this security breach."

"He is not being callous about the risk to you," Meridina remarked. "He is simply worried about the stakes."

"Oh, so you know all this?", Zack asked pointedly. "He can talk to you about it but not his best friend?"

"There are... other factors," Meridina said delicately. "But I know he would tell you if he could find the right words. Sometimes we fear talking about the contents of our souls with those whose opinions we care about."

"If you say so..." Seemingly unconvinced, Zack returned his attention to his pack.

"Have faith, Zachary, and be careful." She bowed. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

"Me rockey sha swe...." He could see a flicker of amusement come over Meridina's stoic face. With a pained look, Zack gave up trying to pronounce the Gersallian phrase. "Good luck to you too."

Meridina nodded at him and left. She got halfway down the hall before she began to giggle over Zack's difficulties with Gersallian language.

Ensign Liton sat quietly on the other side of the forcefield, his face hidden in his hands, while Meridina laid out the facts to him. "Your work station. Your access codes. Access times that match your on duty logs. You are facing serious charges, Ensign."

"It wasn't me," Liton insisted.

"I have sent for Lieutenant Borja," Meridina continued. "I cannot question you further until she arrives."

Liton shook his head. "I don't want a lawyer. I want the truth out. I found that program when running a Level 3 security diagnostic of the active processes in the computer. I was trying to find out why we've had so many security alers from the computers. Next thing I know Lieutenant Draynal is pulling me out of my chair and arresting me!"

Meridina focused on him. She took care not to actually touch his mind, she did nothing to violate his rights, her purpose simply being to see if the slightest element of insincerity. All she sensed was bewilderment and fear.

It meant nothing. A skilled infiltrator could be prepared for such probing. But Meridina was confident enough to believe she would sense such deception.

The door slid open and admitted Lieutenant Rosa Borja stepped in, her dark brown hair kept back in a pony tail and her uniform color trim the dark green of a JAG officer. "Commander, a moment with the Ensign?"

"Of course," Meridina replied, stepping away. Once out of earshot she pressed the comm linnk on the multidevice on her forearm. "This is Meridina calling Commander Jarod. Have you learned anything new?"

"We still have a lot of code to sift through. Whoever used this program has used the security systems, I can tell you that much."

"Any sign that the Koenig was compromised?"

"None. Magda is finishing the final sweep now."

"Thank you. I shall report in later." Meridina lowered her arm and looked back to where the JAG lawyer was talking with Liton. Seeing his agitated look and the forlorn expression on his face, she couldn't help but wonder if she was wrong on the "who".

After securing his things in his quarters on Koenig, Zack went back to the airlock to wait for the others. Barnes showed up first, with duffel bag and engineering tool case, wearing an irritated scowl that Zack had seen plenty of times. "Hey Tom, ready for some fun?"

"Yeah, it's a real hoot, heading off into Nazi territory to find something that might not be there, and if it is there we gotta blow it up so the Nazis don't get the tech," was the grumbled reply. Barnes shook his head. "Plus I had to spend all day getting my reports to Scotty filed. I barely remembered to pack."

Zack smirked. "Well, maybe you should get your reports done before the last day?"

"Bite me, Zack." Barnes went on through the airlock.

Zack sighed. Sometimes his friend got up on the wrong side of the bed. And then he spent all day being grouchy and sullen. It had ruined many a party day. No more party days in this job, though.

"You look preoccupied." Zack noticed Lucy had walked up, carrying the same things Barnes had. "Something wrong?"

"Tom's in a bad mood again."

"Ah. Well, hopefully he'll give Karen a wide berth." Lucy smiled. "So, my first mission on the Koenig in months. This is going to be fun."

"Good to have you back."

"So..." She looked around. "Where's Cat? Did she already make it?"

Zack shook his head and checked his multidevice's watch. "No, and we only have ten minutes for her to get here. I wonder what's keeping her?"

They got their answer by the wheezing that came from the top of the airlock's adjoining corridor. At the T-intersection Caterina came around the corner. She looked like she was going to topple under the weight of what she was bringing. The pack on her back looked almost like a hiking pack complete wtih sleeping bag. Two more packs were slung over her shoulders, and she had two bags in each hand. "I'm not... late," she wheezed. "Not late."

"Jeez Cat, did you empty an entire Lab?!" Lucy pushed her stuff into Zack's hands, much to his surprise, and rushed over to get some of the bags Caterina was lugging along. "What is all this stuff?"

"Gear... for scanning inside... the Facility," Caterina answered, still puffing. "Didn't think it... was so heavy..."

Zack went up and took another shoulder bag from her, and then the last two bags in her hands. "Well, someone's trying to be Wonder Girl."

"Which one? Black haired or blonde?", Lucy asked, smirking.

"Good question. I admit I was always partial to the blonde."

"Why? Because if she had green eyes Julia could be her?", Lucy teased.

Zack sighed. "Oh, don't tempt me with that," he said.


Zack looked over and saw a Dorei man walk up. "Lieutenant?"

"Lieutenant Parga Draynal, sir," he answered, handing Zack a digital reader. "They decided to assign me to your mission, sir."

"Huh. They already sent Razal though."

"Lieutenant Razal will head the tactical team. I'll oversee any data transfers from the objective to ensure your computers remain safe."

Zack looked down at the reader. With a few button presses he confirmed the order codes inside and found they matched with Meridina's and Julia's. "Hrm. I wish they had told me before now. They got you signed on awfully late."

"I understand your irritation, sir," Draynal answered.

"Good. The last guest quarters are on Deck 3, Section 8. You'll get a bunk all to yourself." Zack motioned him in. "Now let's get going before they decide I need even more officers to carry around."

On the bridge of the Aurora Robert watched the timer finish ticking its way to 1100. "Are we in location?"

"Scans confirm we're in the right place," Nick Locarno answered. "I'm maintaining us in far orbit over a gas giant's volcanic moon. If anyone's watching on long range sensors, they'll think we're doing a scientific survey."

"Miss al-Rashad, status of enemy ships in the area?"

The young Arabic woman at the Sensors and Science station responded immediately. "At least five on our long range sensors, but they are too far away to detect us launching."

Julia looked over at him. "It's time."


"Is something wrong?"

"I... I'm just worried that I'll make the wrong decision," he admitted. "And I wish that I was on Koenig instead of sitting back here making Zack and the others take the risks."

"Its part of being captain," Julia reminded him. "We do the big stuff and trust everyone else to do what they have to."

"Yeah." For a moment he considered his options. Aborting the mission kept creeping up in his head. What the security breaches could mean for everything, what they could cause, was too much of an unknown.

But he also knew it was now or never. If they didn't do it now, they'd never get another chance. Not without the Reich knowing they were up to something.

All he could really think about, though, was the dream. New Liberty burning under the disruptors and missiles of a Reich warship. If we don't get to that place, they might find it. They might find how to build the drives, he reminded himself.

It helped to tilt the balance in his head.

"Send to Koenig. Launch on schedule," Robert ordered, knowing that he was casting the dice for Zack, Cat, Lucy, and everyone on Koenig who would be risking their lives for this.

That was it. He'd made his call. Now he had to sit back and see how it worked.

They had just a couple minutes left when they arrived on the bridge. Barnes had beaten them there, sitting at Engineering Control and checking systems. Apley, Magda Navaez, and April Sherlily were already at their stations, leaving auxiliary operations for Lucy. There was no dedicated science/sensor station on the ship, so Caterina went to the back and found a stool at the ship status board, configuring one of its subscreens for her use.

"Everything ready?"

"All crew reported aboard, Commander," Magda replied. "All systems reporting ready."

Lucy joined in. "Cloaking device ready on your order."

"Warp core online," Barnes added. "We have warp power at command."

"Weapon checks are green. We have a full combat load of solar torpedoes," Sherlily confirmed. "Ready to load at your command."

"Well then, looks like we're ready. Disengage umbilicals, Apley."

"Yes sir. Disengaging umbilicals. Airlock closing. Airlock is clear and green."

Magda spoke up next. "Dock doors opening."

Along the rear of the Aurora's primary hull section, doors opened to reveal the central launch bay. Flanked by shuttle bays, and with the fighter hanger a dozen meters below at the top of the drive hull, the main bay was built specifically for ships like Koenig.

"We have clearance," Apley confirmed.

"Take us out, Apley."

"Yes sir." Apley brought his hands to the thruster controls. The Koenig shifted backward on her retro-thrusters, sliding out of Aurora's launch bay. The Aurora kept moving forward at standard launch velocity, allowing them clearance in mere seconds. "Firing impulsors now."

"As soon as we're clear, cloak the ship. Engage warp drive when ready, Warp 8."

"Aye sir."

"Here we go," Lucy said quietly, triggering the cloak the moment the Aurora's primary hull moved below the viewscreen. The Koenig, now virtually invisible to the eye and to sensors, moved away from the Aurora at full impulse until Apley was ready. "Engaging warp drive now."

Zack nodded, watching the streaks of warp space appear on his screen. And off we go on a wild goose chase amongst the Nazis, he thought to himself. Hopefully nothing will go wrong.

Meridina stepped back into her security office and found Jarod still at work on the coding. "Did he give you anything?", Jarod asked.

"He insists it is not his," Meridina answered. "Have you examined his background?"

"Yes," Jarod answered. "I didn't see anything suspicious. He seems to be an eager-to-please junior officer full of initiative. He's not the brighest you'll find and he tends to act without thinking."

"So I discovered." Meridina returned to her seat, near the computer console Jarod was operating. "Anything on the virus?"

"It's the most brilliant one I've ever seen," Jarod answered. "It's written to adapt its code to apply to different computer languages. Once it gets into the system it uses various coding tricks to compromise functions and create back doors for someone to access them, including auto-delete commands placed into the access logs."

"Could Liton have created this?"

"Honestly? No. It would take me months to try to construct something like this, and even more time to perfect it."

"It took you three hours to create a remote control command for a Dorei starbird's computer systems," Meridina reminded him.

"I remember. That's why I said only months for me. This is orders of magnitude above that in complexity, Commander. The coding language adaptions alone would take me weeks for just a beta version. And that's assuming it was my only job, I'd need support if I was doing this on my own."

She nodded. "Then it is unlikely to be a freelancer's tool."

"Not in origin."

So a spy agency."

"Or something like that, yes."

Meridina took a breath and focused, trying to settle her thoughts and apply her swevyra. She felt the connection of her life force to the universe at large and explored that connection, looking to find some answer.

A beep at her panel interruped her. It was an incoming signal being run through encryption via the interuniversal relay at Harris Station. She pressed the button on the desk. Odo's face appeared on her screen. "Commander, you were right. Chief O'Brien discovered a capsule hidden in a bulkhead in one of the spare quarters of that section. The capsule contained a powerful acidic agent and the corroded remains of a body. We've determined that the body was introduced into the acid during your ship's visit to Deep Space Nine."

I knew it. Meridina took in a breath. "We have had a security breach in our computers and I have a suspect. Did you recover anything from the remains?"

Odo looked off screen and nodded. He moved aside enough to allow Doctor Bashir to appear. "The body was too damaged for me to recover cell samples, but Lieutenant Dax found organic residue and cells in the quarters. From those I was able to reconstruct a partial genetic profile. Odo will send you the information, but I can tell you already it was Dorei."

Meridina let out a curse, the kind that she was not supposed to utter. Her hand slammed the controls on her desk. "Security, this is a Priority One Alert. Find Lieutenant Draynal and take him into custody at once!"

"That's not all, Commander," Bashir continued. "The organic residue also included a second sample contaminated by acid contact. I was able to match it anyway by comparing it to Constable Odo."

Meridina saw Jarod's eyes meet her's, a grim look on his face. She had the same. "In other words..."

"...your imposter isn't a humanoid, Commander. He's a Changeling."

The Koenig had crossed the border into hostile territory and was coming up on the scan point. Zack kept glancing toward Lucy and Magda, waiting to see if they saw anything.

"I'm beginning the scan." Caterina leaned over her console. "We should have a fix soon."

"Any ships on sensors?"

"We've got at least three warp signatures on long-range sensors," Magda stated. "With two possible signatures. All are consistent with anti-matter pulse drives."

"Keep an eye on them all."

"Okay, scan complete." Caterina's voice picked up from excitement. "I'm checking with the other scans. This should narrow down the search field."

"Put it up on the main viewer, Cat." Zack saw the image appear; a cube of space with Koenig in the middle. It rotated around, showing the signatures Magda had spoken of.

A blue sphere appeared in the map, not centered on it but still contained within. "Okay, our initial long-range scans indicated this area." Caterina continued to operate the console. "We're getting these returns now."

The sphere shrunk down greatly. Where it had previously contained half a dozen systems it now held only two. "I'm bringing up information on S4W8-29DR and S4W8-33LA."

"Two systems is at least narrowed down quite a bit."

"Yes, but depending on interference, it could take us hours, even days, to thoroughly scan either." Caterina remained fixed on her results. "But we know the Darglan would put a Facility on a world that could bear life. We can use that to narrow it down."

"Unless neither system has a garden world," Zack pointed out.

"Well, yeah..." Caterina sighed. "Then we've got a long... aha!"

"Good news?"

"33LA has a garden moon."

"Well there we are." Zack smiled thinly. The sooner they found this place the better. "Apley, set our course, best speed. Magda, send an update to Aurora."

"Yes sir."

A lone engineering crewman walked down one of the corridors in the aft section of the Koenig and spotted, to him, the peculiarity of a Dorei security officer. "Sir?" The young light-skinned Human stepped up to him. "Can I help you?"

The officer turned from where he had been examining a console. "No, Crewman, you cannot."

"We normally don't get security in this area, there are no living quarters, so I was just..."

"...doing your job. Yes. Don't worry yourself, crewman, I'm just doing an inspection of ship's systems. You may resume your work."

The crewman nodded and went to the accessway where he would be doing standard in-flight maintenance checks..

The door was marked "Cloaking Device".

Julia arrived in Draynal's quarters to discover it crawling with security guards. Meridina was busy speaking to Commander Kane. "...dangerous than anything you've seen yet," she was busy saying. "Make sure your subordinates are prepared."

"Yes ma'am. We'll break out the DEWs, wide beams and pulse settings. If this thing is hiding, we'll find it."

"Report contact immediately. And never let one of your people out of your sight."

Kane nodded and left, saluting to Julia as he went. She nodded at him and moved on to Meridina. "What's wrong? Where's Lieutenant Draynal?"

"Draynal is dead," Meridina informed her. "Murdered months ago on Deep Space Nine and replaced by a shapeshifter. A Dominion Founder."

Julia gasped in shock and dismay. "Have we found it? Can we find it?"

"I am not sure, it was fooling our internal sensors this entire time."


Julia noticed Jarod was in the room as well, sitting at a computer terminal. She went over with Meridina to speak with him. "Jarod? What is it?"

Jarod pointed to the workstation. "He left in a bit of a hurry, or he didn't care for scrubbing the ways he had been using his intrusive program. I've got several access attempts for the control systems of the IU drive on this log, as well as a number of access logs for... just about everything. Security, Main Engineering, the Bridge, the Conference Room, every vital area is covered by this. He knows everything we plan."

"He's got all sorts of sensitive material then," Julia pointed out.

"Yes. And it gets worse. His last commands into the system were a general signal to something in the engineering hull and a set of orders." Jarod zoomed in on the latter.

Julia read them and her eyes widened. "He has my signature code!"

"He probably has everyone's," Jarod pointed out. "Nobody warned Zack about him so Zack wouldn't have questioned these orders. He wouldn't have a reason to."

"So he's on the Koenig." Julia reached over and pressed her multidevice. "Andreys to Bridge. Get a priority message to Koenig, they have a Changeling infiltrator aboard! Repeat, there is a Changeling infiltrator aboard Koenig!"
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Julia's report made Robert cringe inwardly. I made the wrong call he thought to himself. "Hail Koenig," he ordered. "Give them the abort code. We are aborting the mission!"

At Ops Lieuenant Jupap swiftly enacted his order. The Alakin male made a worried clicking noise from inside his beak after several key presses, and seconds, passed. "Sir, we're not receiving any response from Koenig."

Dread filled Robert. "Send the emergency code, make sure they know it's a priority transmission."

The Alakin quickly typed in the commands. "Still no response."

"Run a full diagnostic on communications, make sure we're transmitting and receiving properly," Robert insisted.

"Communications is functioning completely, sir. It must be on their end."

"When did they last update?"

"Just a little while ago, sir. They're on course to System LA33."

"Plot a course then, maximum warp. We have to get to them."

Locarno turned back. "Sir, if we go in the Reich ships will detect us coming."

"I know," Robert said. "But we need to get into sublight communication range with the Koenig and hope the Changeling didn't knock that out too."

"Sir, all you'll do is ruin any chance we have of making this work."

"I know that, dammit!" Robert was surprised with himself at how loud he shouted. "But I'm not going to sit back and do nothing when that thing could be murdering my friends right now! We have to go rescue them."

"With all due respect, sir..."

"You got your orders, Lieutenant," Angel chimed in from Tactical, her eyes narrowing. "Get to them."

Locarno's jaw clenched. Before he could say anything Julia stepped out of the turbolift. Seeing the scene before her Julia crossed her arms and asked, "What's going on here?"

"Lieutenant Locarno was..." Robert let the sentence trail off.

Locarno picked up on that. "I was recommending that instead of opening violating Nazi space and starting a war, we could try to get a long-range probe into sublight communications range."

Robert swallowed. He hadn't thought of that.

Julia looked between them, noticed the tense look on Angel, and smiled thinly. "A great idea, Lieutenant. Can the probe hit a high enough speed?"

Lieutenant Al-Rashad at Science spoke up. "Yes, Commander. We have four probes capable of sustained Warp 9 flight."

"Have them loaded and launched," Robert said, looking at Julia. He could see she knew what had happened, and it made his cheeks burn with embarrassment. I was screwing up there. Dammit, why didn't I think of the probes? "How is the investigation into the computer problem going?"

"Slow. Jarod has crew checking out the plasma conduits for the warp nacelles, he found indications the Changeling hid sabotage charges for when we tried to go to warp again." Julia frowned. "This thing compromised all of our secure areas, it knew what we were going after."

"So how's it going to get away?", Robert wondered aloud. Another thought made the burn in his cheeks grow. "So, if I had ordered us to warp..."

"It would have blown up our warp drive."

"Oh." Robert lowered his voice to a whisper. "Remind me to thank Locarno later."

"Will do," she whispered back.

Koenig made orbit over the garden moon in system LA33. The gas giant it was orbiting was made of hues of red and orange, a contrast to the blue and green of the moon itself. "Atmosphere is breathable," Caterina said. "23% oxygen count, no poisonous gases."

"So we can beam down without breather gear. That's a relief," Lucy said.

"Do we have a spot to beam down to, Cat?", asked Zack.

"I'm running another scan to get a better fix... I think I have it." Caterina blinked. "Yeah, I think so." She hit a couple keys to route the image to the viewscreen.

It was a clearing, about twenty square kilometers, in the middle of a temperate forest. In the middle of the clearing was a hill.

"Another mound," Zack said. "That's got to be it."

"That was my thought. I can't pinpoint anything exactly, but this is near the middle of the effect field." Cat hit a couple of keys and brought up a circle on the shot. "It's somewhere under this area."

Zack pressed the intercom key on his chair. "Security and analysis teams to the transporter, now. Lieutenant Draynal, establish the quarantine drive on the computers." With Lucy and Tom already rising, Zack turned his chair to face Caterina. "Cat, do you think the Ratzis can see this...?"

"I can't be sure," she answered. "From what I could see, their sensors don't have the same capabilities as our's, but they might have better sensors on other ships. And it also comes down to sensor operator and whether they're interested in it."

"So we can't be sure they're not seeing this. Terrific." He nodded. "Alright, head on down with the others."

Caterina nodded and went out the side door of the bridge.

The mound looked to be at least sixty feet high when Lucy and the others materialized. Caterina's equipment was now equally shared amongst everyone. She held up the one box she was still carrying. "This moon is at .95Gs, just like our gravity field on the ship."

"Great, I always hate how going planetside makes me feel like I've gained weight," Barnes remarked, heading up to the mound alongside the small engineering detachment he'd brought from the Aurora.

"Well, technically, you do gain weight when you go into a higher gravity field. It's your mass that doesn't change." Caterina hefted the container a few times.

They began scaling the mound. The yellow star of the system warmed them all on what appeared to be a sunny spring day for this region of the moon. Lucy asked, "How does a garden moon have gravity that close to Earth's anyhow?"

"Oh, plenty of possibilities. Most likely denser materials composition. The moon's mass is greater than what it would be if it had Earth's composition."

"But it still has a breathable atmosphere."

Caterina shrugged. "Yeah. But it can happen. It has happened. I'd need a lot more data to figure out how though."

"Not exactly in our mission parameters, Cat," Barnes reminded her.

That caused Caterina to sigh. "Yeah, I know."

Lucy hid a grin. The fact that Caterina was not employing the Pout said something about how far she had matured lately. As they got to the top of the mound Lucy remarked, "You seem rather accepting of that. Didn't you pout more when you weren't allowed to go down and see the Stargate on Abdis R4A1?"

"Yeah. But..." She swallowed. "Facing that admiral, it made me think. If guys like that find out about me pouting or sometthing..."

"They won't take it well, yeah."

Nothing more was said until they were at the top of the mound. "What do we do know, sir?", one of the engineers asked Barnes.

"Hell if I know. We never did figure out how the mound back at the Facility turned on." Barnes raised his multidevice and checked the scan readings it was giving. "No sign of any control surface."

"It could be cloaked in some way," Caterina pointed out.

"How did you guys end up in the Facility anyway?", Lucy asked. "I heard Robert went in before you did."

"Yeah. And he found a way back out. We thought he was nuts until it snagged all of us." Barnes moved the device around, tapping keys. "Nothing on the exotic bands either."

"There's got to be some way," Caterina insisted. She began checking her own readings. "Maybe if we put the scanners up..."

Lucy watched them work and took in a breath. Her thoughts were on the extraordinary things she'd done in the prior year. Flying a runabout to a landing her instruments decreed impossible, pulling a gun out of someone's hand... maybe this would count too?

She suddenly wished she'd asked Meridina about what she'd done with the gun.

"....vated it somehow." Lucy found her atention drawn to a discussion between Caterina and Barnes. "He was kneeling down, right?"

"What, you think it was some switch in the mound? But we're not picking up anything," Barnes replied.

"Yes, but we're using standard scanning. Here, let me try something." Caterina held up a scanning device from her pack and ran it over the mound. "This is one of the surviving scanners from the Facility. I've only used it for standard stuff, but maybe..." It beeped and Caterina let out a triumphant cheer. "Here!" She ran over to a part of the mound near the drop and dropped to her knees. Everyone came after her and looked down as she cleared the grass at the top. "It is cloaked, but the Darglan scanner says there's a plate of some sort embedded in the mound."

"So how do we activate it?"

Caterina pressed her hand against it. Nothing happened. She stood and put her foot on it. "Here. Polenko!"

Polenko, one of her warrant officers, stepped over, a beefy Russian of about six feet three inches height. He put a foot on it. "Sorry Lieutenant," he said. "It's not working for me either."

"Well this is just great," Barnes grumbled.

Lucy stepped up to it. She had a sense that she could make it work. "Let me try."

'You're a lot lighter than Polenko, Lucy...."

"I don't think weight has anything to do with it," Lucy answered. "It's something else. Maybe it's why the thing on the farm mound back in Kansas never worked until Rob touched it." She brought her foot over and pressed it on the ground.

"Well, if it's not weight, what could it be?" Barnes threw his arms up in frustration. "This is really..."

Lucy shifted her position over the plate. "I think I've almost..."

Light erupted from the base of the mound, creating a ring around them. Each felt the familiar sensation of a transporter effect and found themelves under ground. For Barnes and Caterina, the gray chamber they materialized in was very familiar. "Looks like the one we found," Caterina said quietly. "Or rather the one Robert found."

Barnes stepped up to the door. A pair of green lights converged over him from a module above the door, making beeping and chirping noises as they did so. A light above the door went yellow. Barnes took a step forward but the door did not open.

"Guess it doesn't like you." Caterina tried the same, but it rejected her as well.

Feeling the hairs on her neck standing up, Lucy said, "Let me try" and stepped up to be scanners. When the green light finished sweeping over her there was a tone and the light above the door turned blue instead. "I think that did it," she said, walking up to the door.

It slid open.

"So it only opens for you and Rob," Barnes noted as they entered.

As lights came on around them, Caterina murmured, "I don't think this is another Facility."

Instead of the catwalks and pathways they'd expected they walked into a large chamber. "It looks Darglan," Barnes remarked. He walked toward the center of the chamber and was the first to arrive at a circular control station. He tapped keys on one end of it, but nothing happened.

As Lucy approached the station lit up. Lights overhead came on and they could see the full chamber now, lined with even more data stations. "Aterran genetic signature detected. Systems online."

"It's... are you another Control?", Caterina asked urgently.

"Negative. System is not designed to be a Control. System exists for sorting of data and proper recovery only."

Lucy could literally feel Caterina's mix of relief and sadness.

Barnes pressed the comm key on his multidevice. "Barnes to Koenig. We're inside, but it's some sort of data center, not a Facility. There's no docks for you to jump into. We'll set up enhancers so you can beam us in and out as needed."

"Alright. Keep me posted," Zack replied over the comm.

Barnes motioned to his engineers, who followed him to the side to begin setting up the transport signal enhancers.

Caterina pressed a hand to a control panel, switching all of them into English. Above their heads a massive holographic starmap descended. "It's showing the Alpha Quadrant of this universe," Cat explained. "I think... I think it can show them all." She raised her head. "Computer, please describe the nature of this place."

"This is a Class A Data Backup Facility. The purpose of the facility is to maintain off-site backups of Darglan databases. It has been offline for approximately twenty-three hundred and ninety seven point six solar cycles."

Caterina gasped. "Almost three thousand years?"

"Um, ma'am?" One of the science crew looked up. "Didn't that thing just say twenty three hundred?"

"Almost twenty-four," Caterina corrected. "But that's because it's going by Darglan solar cycles. The Darglan year is a quarter longer than Earth's." She brought up another display. "Does this data include the locations of other Emergency Facilities?"

"Only the one for this universe. Other Facility locations are kept only on Pasanan."

"The Darglan Homeworld," Caterina sighed. It had been too much to ask for, but she had to try. "Okay, Computer, be ready to begin data transfer."

"Darglan technology detected. Aterran geneic signature detected. Permission granted. Preparing for transfer of archive and backup data."

"There we go," Caterina said, pressing keys on the controls to begin the transfer.

"Data transfer enabled."

"Now if only I could look through some of this data now..."

"Business first, Cat," Lucy reminded her.

"Oh, yes." Caterina brought up her multidevice and nodded to her assistants. They lowered packs to the ground. "We'll use these as a quarantine, just to make sure no harmful code goes on to Koenig." She looked back to the controls of her multidevice. "I'm patching a data stream through my system now. Begin download of data."

An indicator appeared on the screen of her multidevice as the computer core data flowed through it and into the waiting drives, from which they could be uploaded to the Koenig. "This is going to take a while," she said.

"How long?", Lucy asked, looking around.

"At least six hours, and that's just the newer universe list and associated cartography. There's a ton of data in here that has to be moved." Caterina pressed a key and brought up a schematic. "They even have designs for newer reactors and a more efficient IU drive."

"Encrypt it," Lucy urged her. "Heavily."

"Uh... okay." Caterina looked at her. "Are you okay?"

"Something's wrong," Lucy answered.

"Oh? What?"

"I'm not sure. But I know something's wrong. It... it just doesn't feel right."

In the transporter room on Koenig, the operator saw the board light up with the connection to the enhancers. "We have the link to the enhancers," she said aloud. "Preparing to transport second teams."

Amongst the waiting officers, Lieutenant Draynal stepped up to the transporter pad, taking a place in the rear. While others stepped up, he set his hands behind his back and put an appendage against the multidevice on his right forearm. He pressed the transmit key when the operator said, "Transporting now." A faint smile crossed his face as the transporter beam whisked him away.

Six figures appeared inside the hexagon of transport enhancers Barnes' crew had set up near the entrance to the facility. "Okay everyone," Barnes began to say. "I need...."

"Threat detected. Threat detected."

Alarms began blaring in the structure. Yellow beams of light appeared from the ceiling and centered toward the rear, where Lieutenant Draynal stood quietly.

"Verified signature. Universe S5T3 Shapeshifting Being, Dominion Founder. Locking down all data systems."

For a moment there was simple confusion and chaos, some looking toward "Draynal", Caterina checking the now blank data transfer screens.

Lucy had already drawn her pistol, but she was the only one to do so before the Changeling struck. The humanoid form melted into amber liquid. Trendrils lashed out and took enough solidity to strike the heads of the other officers who transported down. Blue bolts came from Lucy's pistol, but they missed as the Changeling zipped along, a fast ooze that slammed into Barnes as he went for his pistol.

The security team went for their rifles and began firing, driving the Changeling into the corner. It vanished into the shadows.

"Lucero to Koenig!" Lucy got on her communications. "One of the officers you just beamed down is some kind of shapeshifter! We need help!"

Zack had slipped into his office for a cup of coffee when he felt the rumble through the ship, followed by a second one a moment later. Immediately he knew something was wrong and was at the door in seconds. "Report!"

"There were explosions on Decks 2 and 3," Magda answered. "It took out the power conduits feeding the cloaking device and the warp nacelles."

The single word that went through Zack's head was "Dammit!"

But he kept himself from saying that. "Set the ship alert to Code Yellow. And get me the Aurora."

Yellow running lights appeared on panels around the bridge. Magda went to work on her console. After a couple of long, deep response sounds came she shook her head. "Something's wrong with long-range communications. I'm not getting a response from the..." She stared at her screen. "Oh no."


"Something triggered a lockout in long-range communications, I can't send any hails. But the system is transmitting anyway!"

Zack felt his heart speed up and his stomach churn. "We're transmitting live? Openly? It's not a directional beam transmission?"

"No sir. It's a general one." Magda drew in a breath. "One of the contacts on long range sensros just changed direction. They're on course to our position."

Oh no. Oh crap. They saw us. They know something is here. "Bridge to Engineering, we need the cloak back, and we need it now!"

"The entire conduit is blown out, Commander, it's going to take hours to install a new one.", Derbely answered. "And the explosion damaged the bracings on both nacelles, we're going to need at least ten hours to safely go to warp."

Zack swallowed. We can't run and we can't hide. "ETA to the contact?", he asked.

Magda shook her head. "They just hit Warp 9. Twenty-six minutes at best."

Frustrated and angry at what was going on with his ship, he bellowed, "What the hell happened?!"

"Sabotage," Apley answered.

"I can confirm that," Magda said. "Someone uploaded a jammer program into our communications system. It's locked up long-range communications, we could be getting signals every second and the board wouldn't show it."

"Sherlily, weapons?"

April Sherlily checked her board and nodded. "Weapon systems showing no problems."

"Then we have less than half an hour to solve this." Zack looked to Magda. "Beam the explosives down. Tell them to get what they can and prepare for beamup in twenty minutes. We're going to have to blow that place sky high." He stood up and put his hand on Apley's shoulder. "Ap, go get security, I want the entire ship searched."

Barnes picked himself off the ground while some of the science officers went for the fallen officers. Most were breathing, but an Alakin did not move. "Crushed her skull in," Barnes muttered, looking at his display. "Just like that. Just what the hell is that thing?!"

"A Changeling," Caterina whimpered. "It's... it's one of the Dominion Founders. I... I read the report... oh God, I'm going to..."

"Cat! Focus!"

"Nobody into the shadows!", Barnes shouted. "Keep sight at all times, it could replace any one of us!"

A tone came to Caterina's multidevice. She tapped a button and Magda appeared as a holo-image. "We're preparing to beam down explosives, Commander Carrey wants them set in twenty minutes so we can beam you out."

"What?" Caterina stared at the image of Magda on her multidevice. "Twenty minutes?! We can't get anything in that amount of time!"

"I'm sorry, but it has to be that long. We've got a Nazi ship bearing down on us within half an hour. And we have no warp drive or cloak."

Caterina's eyes widened. "What's going on up there?"


"We've got our own problems," Lucy said. "You beamed a Changeling down here."

"So where is it?!", one of the security officers demanded. "I've got nothing on my sensors!"

"We can't set explosives effectively if we can't go around the structure," an engineer pointed out.

"And that thing can pick people off if you do," Barnes countered. "We need another option."

Having overheard all of this, Magda go back over the comm. "We're sending down another security team. Standby..."

A moment later, columns of energy coalesced inside the enhancers.

The Changeling struck like lightning. It fell from the ceiling in the form of a four-legged, two-armed beast, all claws and fangs with a mottled blue look to is flesh. It hit one enhancer with the full force of its mass and knocked it out of place.

The enhancement field collapsed.

Barnes was already shouting into his own multidevice. "Cancel the transport! Cancel!"

But the figures didn't simply disappear like a canceled transporter beam. They flickered, coalescing just long enough for six stunned faces to form through the light.

And then the light beams fell apart and there was nothing.

Energy fire coalesced on the Changeling, but it was already shifting shape again, squatting low as a four legged creature that zipped across the distance. One of their security officers screamed as a metal blade plunged into his belly and came back out. It made a mighty leap afterward and slammed into another, knocking her over and leaving multiple wounds in her torso. Tendrils with blades attached lashed out and sliced into the shoulder of one officer and the throat of the next.

In less than ten seconds, the Changeling had wiped out their security detachment.

The engineers had found their defensive sidearms now, but their aim was off; the terror of this killer in their midst was too great. It went after Caterina, who was fumbling for her own sidearm. She let out a scream as it lunged for her with a mass of blades.

On the bridge of the Aurora, Jupap's voice ended the uncomfortable quiet. "We've just picked up a transmission from the Koenig, Captain. It's... just general identification data?"

Robet and Julia exchanged worried looks. "That's it?" Julia's face showed she had just considered something further. "Was it a narrow-beam transmission?"

"No," Jupap confirmed.

"Status of those Nazi ships, Lieutenant?", Robert asked al-Rashad.

"They're all on course to System LA33, sir," al-Rashad replied.

Robert felt his heart stop. I should have aborted the moment we found that virus. Oh God, what have I done?

Julia got to the comms before he did. "Commander Meridina, status of the sabotage charges?"

"We have removed two. Three more must be removed before we can go to warp."

"Can they go any faster? Koenig has been compromised and there are Reich ships imbound to their position."

"Not safely, Commander. These were carefully planted and must be removed delicately."

Julia nodded. "I understand. Bridge out." She tapped the comm button on her chair again.

"I...." Robert fought through his panic and found his voice. "I have to go inform Admiral Maran. Jupap, status of the probe?"

"It is ten minutes out from LA33," the Alakin answered.

"As soon as it arrives, use it to contact Koenig. Make sure they know what's going on and let them know we're coming as quickly as we can." Robert stood up and went to his office. "And get me Harris Station on subspace."

Lucy had intended to go for her sidearm as well, out of pure reflex. But she stopped. Something inside of her, some deep feeling that was more than instinct, told her that she'd never beat this thing with a gun. It was too fast, too mobile, and too clever. She needed another approach.

She remembered the hostage situation with the killer Lyle when he tried to take Jarod. She could remember that feeling as she reached out with... something... and pulled the gun from his hand. Could she do that again? The energy difference, the mass to be effected... it seemed too great a gap to cover.

But she had to try.

That thought flashed through her head as the Changeling charged on Caterina, the blades emerging from its form threatening to cut her apart. Lucy forced a breath in and remembered that invisible force inside of her she had called upon. She called upon it, pleaded with it, insisted on it coming forth. She needed it.

And she felt it.

Before she hadn't, but now she felt... something. A well of energy within her being, a power that felt warm and natural to her, like it had always been there, ready to be used and never called upon. But she needed it not and it was ready.

With every fiber of her being, Lucy pushed her open palm forward and threw the energy outward.

There was no flash of light, no visible burst of energy. There was just the energy within her rushing out, not just from her arm but her mind and soul.

To everyone else, it looked like the Changeling had been struck by a truck. An invisible one at that. The mostly amorphous mass of amber and its glittering silver blade appendages flew violently to one side, slamming into the wall of the facility with enough force that the entire thing slurped into a puddle.

"Holy crap." Barnes' voice was hoarse with shock. "Jesus, Lucy, how the Hell did you do that?!"

Lucy sucked in breath. "I... I just... it's..."

"Carrey to away team!" Zack's voice echoed over their multi-devices. "Status!"

"Security team's down, at least three dead," Barnes replied. "That thing is still around, and we can't set explosives without risking it picking us off. There's just not enough time!"

"Well, think of something! You've got ten minutes before I'm up to my neck in Nazis!"

Caterina picked herself up and went back to the controls. "System, please respond!"

Lucy joined her, hitting one control. "Listen, if you unlocked for me, do so again!"

The systems came back online. "Warning. Dominion Founder present. Cannot restore control access without override."

"Then you've got the override," Lucy replied. "Do you have any provisions for self-destruction?"

"The dimensionally-transcedental field can be disabled."

Lucy pressed the comm key on her multidevice. "Zack, how long until we have those visitors?"

"Seven minutes."

"System, do you understand our time units?"

"They are comprehended, yes."

"Then set the dimensional-transcadental field to collapse in eight min..."

Lucy felt deep forboding and danger. The energy she'd begun to feel within tingled and wavered, spurring her to move. She looked up and raised her arm, directing the energy above her.

The Changeling was caught in mid-air, in the form of the same vicious predator as before. The blast of energy that Lucy felt come from within her sent it flying back toward the shadows. The moment it landed the engineers began peppering it with fire. Blue bolts coalesced on the form until it got back into the shadows, melting back into its natural state in the process.

Caterina was staring at Lucy in shock. "How did you do that?"

"I... I'm like Meridina now. I thin," Lucy explained. "Have you gotten that data?"

"Well, some, yeah. But twenty minutes isn't nearly enough to even load a...."

"Focus on the astrographical data, anything that will lead us to the other Facility that this location is supposed to support."

"Good idea." She went back to work.

Lucy turned to Barnes, who was already getting the enhancers back on. "Tom...?"

"We'll get the enhancers back up and evac the security guys," he answered.

"I need one of those explosive packs." Lucy looked to the pile and extended her hand. She felt the energy within her stir and saw one begin to wiggle. She focused, straining to control it....

She felt the Changeling coming even earlier this time. Her focus dispersed shifted direction, creating a general wave of force that pulled the satchel along and slammed it into the middle of the Changeling's mass as it surged toward Barnes. It slurped it up. "Get one of the packs!", she shouted. "And get those drives beamed up."

"Five minutes until we're up to our necks in Nazis!," Zack's voice announced.

"System, drop dimensional field in five minutes!"

A scream came from Warrant Officer Polenko. He had been dutifully carrying one of the explosive packs to the door. But now the Changeling was surging through and around him. Blood erupted from wounds where it turned itself into blades to slice him. Caterina cried out "Polenko!" and sobbed as they watched the gentle giant get sliced to death.

But the Changeling was just killing him as an extra. It had been pursuing the explosive instead, grabbing it and slinging it to join the others. It surged over the pile and went beyond.

Each was now lit up.

"Everyone take cover!", Barnes shouted, leaping and pulling one of the engineers down.

It wouldn't be enough. Lucy knew those packs would probably vaporize anyone caught in the open explosion. "Koenig, target whatever is in the enhancers and beam into space!" She called upon the energy that was stirring inside her, growing stronger through use, and pressed it against the pile, pulling them over into the midst of the enhancers. White light whisked them away.

"Now what are we going to do?", Barnes asked. "Even if the DT field collapses, the structure remains and the Ratzis might find somehing."

Lucy had already thought of it, but didn't want to say anything. "Get the drives beamed up. Cat, do you have the data?!"

"Most of it!", Caterina answered. "Bu there's just so much stuff here we could..."

"Forget it!" Lucy took her by the shoulder. "Get into the enhancers, now! Take a full drive with you!"

"B-but.... why?"

"Because your sister will murder me if I let you get blown up," Lucy pointed out, pushing her on. "Now go."

On the Koenig Zack was literally sweating the minutes away. "Three minutes until contact drops out of warp," Magda said. "Going by the profile it looks like a light warship, Z-2500-class."

"A destroyer then." Zack nodded. "We could probably take them."

"The second contact out is cruiser-sized, ETA five minutes. Profile matches..." Magda turned. "It's a Lutzow-class. A battlecruiser."

"And we probably can't take them." Zack felt his stomach twist. Warp out, cloak out, all we can do is run at sublight. "Are there any asteroid fields we can fit in?"

"None," Magda answered.

"Any luck getting signals out?"

"Long range communications are still jammed up. We have a crew trying to purge the jammer from the computers, but they're not done..." Magda's board made a tone. "Wait. We just picked up a sublight communication. It's... it's from Aurora!"

Zack let out a gasp of relief. "What? Put them on!"

"Audio only."

Robert's voice came over the speaker. "Aurora to Koenig. We're coming as soon as we can, but the Changeling planted charges on our warp drive and we're not able to go to warp yet. Hold out as long as you can."

"We've got a battle cruiser coming in, Rob, I'm not sure how long we can last," Zack pointed out.

"We'll be there as quickly as we can, I promise."

"One minute!", Magda warned.

"Koenig to ground party, we need you up in sixty seconds!", Zack shouted.

As soon as Zack said that, the Changeling charged again.

The last of the science and engineering team disappeared into white light, carrying the last drives with them save the ones in Barnes' hand. Lucy called on the energy inside her again, but this time the Changeling zipped around Barnes and she hit him too, knocking him flat. It twisted around his legs and there was an audible snap followed by a scream, hobbling Barnes.

A tendril struck out from the amber mass, going for the enhancers again. Lucy realized what this meant; it was trying to get to the transporters and to beam back to the Koenig. She couldn't let that happen, no matter what else came.

She pulled her pulse pistol and fired. Blue bolts of energy struck the devices and made them explode with sparks, their light gray surfaces turning black from each shot. The Changeling recoiled and quivered from the result. "Take the transporter back up!", Lucy shouted to Barnes, motioning toward the door.

He struggled to his feet but stumbled forward again with a growl of pain. "Dammit! My leg! I think he broke it!"

"Thirty seconds!", Zack cried over their multidevices.

Lucy ran toward him, beating the Changeling by a few seconds; more than enough time to rally the energy she felt within her and blast the creature with it again. It was thrown back, giving her room to scoop up Barnes and put his right arm over her shoulder so he could support his injured leg. "Come on!" She pulled him along to the opening of the data facility.

The door opened for them and they went through. Something snagged Lucy's ankle and she looked back to see the Changeling forming an appendage, trying to pull her back in. "Let go!", she cried out in frustration, kicking at the amber tentacle gripping her left ankle. But it was like trying to stomp play-do; it just absorbed every blow. Beyond the door the rest of its mass came up.

"Ten seconds!"

Lucy reached into the power she was feeling inside and pushed with it, with all of her might, making a push motion with her free hand. The Changeling's main mass took the hit and flew backward.

But it still held on.

On the bridge of the Koenig Zack saw the Nazi destroyer decelerate from warp. It was a more compact vessel, a dagger-blade with twin nacelles built into the rear section that were only slightly angled upward. The peculiar sight of the nacelle ramscoops being blue and the nacelle field generators red stook out as starkly as the swastika emblem emblazoned on the ship's forward hull. "Reich vessel hailing," Magda said. "I have them on sublight audio."

"Time to weapons range?"

"Entering range now." Magda looked back. "We need to raise shields."

That would leave Tom and Lucy trapped. They'd get captured. I'm not leaving them to whatever Nazis might do! Zack pressed down on his intercom key. "Transporters, do we have transporter lock on the last of the ground team?"

"No. We've lost the enhancers."

Zack swallowed. Over his speakers a voice spoke with the hint of machine translation. "Alliance Vessel Koenig, this is Fregattenkapitän Kaempfer of the Reich vessel Jaeke. You are in violation of Reich territory. Stand down and prepare for inspection and boarding."

"They're arming weapons," Magda warned. "They're trying to get a target lock!"

Lucy howled in anger and let loose with the energy within her again, but the Changeling wouldn't let go. "Let go of me!", she screamed.

Instead it drew ever closer.

Inside her, Lucy felt the energy shift. It became colder as her fear and anger built. She felt like she wanted to destroy the Changeling. Not just kill, but destroy. Tear apart. Annihilate. Punish this thing that was assailing her, that had killed her comrades and was trying to kill her! She wanted it to die and die and...! As these feelings washed over her the energy took form from her hand, crackling like lightning and covering the Changeling.

The sound of a pulse pistol echoed in the small chamber. Barnes had his pulse pistol up from where he was laying on the ground, blasting away as he did. At that range he couldn't miss. Blue bolts slammed into the offending tendril of the Changeling's mass repeatedly until an inhuman shriek came from within and the tendril turned black. Some of it disintegrated into black ash and the rest withdrew inside the doomed data chamber. The door slammed shut with finality.

Lucy watched it go and looked back to Barnes with a cold feeling inside of her. Barnes looked back at her and briefly looked concerned, even terrified, before shouting, "Come on!"

That snapped Lucy out of it. She pushed the coldness away and helped him back to his feet. They went up to the transporter and she slammed her hand on the blue control in the middle.

Just as the energy pulled them away, a horrible sound came from within the data facility, a sound of rushing air and a screech. The dimensional field within was shutting down, and the entire volume of the facility was being forcefully shrunk to the volume it took up in normal space.

With the Changeling inside.

Once they materialized on the mound tremors came from within. The process of eliminating the data facility seemed to extend to the mound. "Koenig, beam us up!", Barnes shouted. "Fire on our location!"

The mound collapsed beneath their feet. As they started to fall, the Koenig snatched them away with its transporter system.

"We have them aboard, Commander," the transporter chief said.

"Raise shields! Sherlily, are you ready to put torpedoes into that mound?", Zack asked.

"Shields up," Magda confirmed.

"I have a lock through the aft launcher, sir," she replied.

"Good. Now let's see if I can prevent us from having a shooting war. Hold fire until I say so" Zack drew in a breath and nodded to Magda, who hit a key and caused the familiar chirp of an opening comm channel. "Reich vessel Jaeke, this is Commander Zachary Carrey of the Koenig. We apologize for our violation of your space. We have suffered several system failures and are still trying to restore warp capability. As soon as we have it, we intend to withdraw."

The door at the rear of the bridge opened, admitting Lucy. "Tom is with the medics, the Changeling broke his leg."

"Are you sure he's...?"

"He was inside the data facility when it went crunch," Lucy said. She had just regained her breath, but that coldness she'd felt was still fresh to her. There was something terrifying about it. "If you want to make sure he's dead, a solar torpedo into the mound should do the job."

"Not until I deal with them," Zack said, pointing to the Reich ship.

"Alliance vessel, cut all engine power, lower your shields, and prepare for boarding. Do not resist or we wil open fire."

Zack swallowed and turned back to face Caterina. "Cat, any ideas?"

"I've got nothing," Caterina said from the rear status console. "I'm still trying to see if that thing left us any gifts in the computers."

Zack almost asked how many people they lost, since so many were from his crew. But he forced himself to concentrate on the situation in front of him.

And with it, the terrible knowledge that he might be the one starting a war.

"Koenig, you have ten seconds to comply. If you do not stand down you will be fired upon!"

On the bridge of the Aurora Robert was still managing to hold down lunch. Sensing his impatience, Julia was the one who hit the intercom. "Commander Meridina, status?!"

"We are removing the final charge now, Commander. Standby... standby...."

The bridge was tense as Meridina's words came through.

"....standby.... the charge is removed!"

"Mister Locarno, maximum warp, engage!", Robert shouted. Hitting his own intercom key, he called up Engineering. "Mister Scott, remember those warp records we set? We need to beat those."

"Aye sir, ye'll nae be let down."

By that point Locarno had finished double-checking the course and was hitting the warp key. In the space of a second Aurora was racing through the stars at a speed she had never matched before.

The ten seconds ticked down slowly, an eternity between each. Zack watched the timer as he lost that precious time. His instincts demanded he attack first, that if he got the first shot he stood a better chance of winning.

But his heart reminded him that if he fired first, the war would be his fault.

It already is. You're here, in their territory, aren't you?

"Sir...." Apley was looking back from the helm.

"Reich warship is locking on," Magda warned. "Weapons powering up."

"I have a shot," Sherlily added.

"Sir, we need orders," Apley reminded him.

Zack ran his fingers on his temples. "Evasive maneuvers, Plan Indigo, Lieutenant."

The Koenig's impulse drives powered up in tandem with the maneuvering systems. As the ship made a twist and a turn, green energy streaked by it. The ship rocked slightly under them. "They've opened fire," Apley said.

"Shields still at ninety-eight percent, it was a glancing..." The ship rocked harder this time. "Now ninety-three percent."

"Sherlily, put a solar torpedo the location of that mound, now," Zack ordered. "I'm not going to have them find any trace of the Darglan technology."

"Yes sir." Sherlily hit a key. "Torpedo away.... impact. Complete destruction of the surrounding area."

The ship rocked hard again. "Anti-matter missiles acquiring," Magda warned. "Shields at eighty-six percent."

"Evasive Plan Charlie!" Zack looked back to Caterina. "C'mon, Cat, tell me you've got something we can try."

"I'm re-setting the navigational deflector to try and jam their missiles' targeting systems," Caterina said. "But I don't think it's going to work well."

"Every little bit we can get, Cat." Zack turned back to the screen and drew a breath. "Alright, they fired the first shot. April, full spread, hold nothing back! Apley, Attack Plan Bravo!"

At Apley's handling the Koenig made a spin in space, shifting up and down and over to make several disruptor bolts miss or barely graze the shields. Koenig turned to face her attacker. Her phasers blazed to life, thick amber pulses erupting from near her swept-forward nacelles and slamming into the destroyer's own deflectors. Solar torpedoes shined with the blue-white fields of their drives before they found their mark, slamming the enemy ship's shields.

"Direct hit," Sherlily said. "I'm maintaining fire. Enemy shields at seventy-five percent and going down."

The ship rocked hard under them, straining everyone against their harnesses. "Cat, I need something done with those missiles!", Zack said urgently.

"Shields holding at seventy percent." The Koenig rocked again as it came around, Apley trying to match the lithe Reich destroyer's movements to keep it in the crosshairs. "Sixty-six percent. Slight armor damage to Deck 2 port side."

"Firing," Sherlily said again. On the screen more phaser fire and torpedoes converged on the enemy ship. The pilot twisted to one side, forcing Apley to adjust, and half of the barrage and torpedoes missed. "Enemy shields at sixty percent."

"We've got an agility advantage, let's use it."

"Aye Commander!"

Under Apley's control the Koenig's maneuvering became more aggressive and agile. G-forces acted against the crew onboard as the inertial dampeners struggled to keep up from the ship's shifting and twisting and turning. With her superior agility and sublight speed Koenig could break off and make attack runs. After the ship shook again - "Shields down to sixty percent." - Apley pulled them up on the Reich destroyer and let Sherlily batter it with the Koenig's weapons. "Pass them. Attack Plan Whiskey on my mark," Zack ordered, keeping his excitement down. In his mind he visualized the maneuvering of both ships, the chance to get his main weapons to bear on weak enemy shields.

The Koenig let loose, pummeling the Reich destroyer repeatedly and degrading their shields. "They're shifting shields to the bow," Magda said.

"Good for them.... brace yourselves!"

Zack noticed the plumes of antimatter missiles erupting from the Reich ship as they made their pass. At this range there was no hope of evasion; an entire salvo pummeled the Koenig, making the ship rock violently. One of the secondary consoles sparked from feedback. "Shields down to forty percent!"


At Zack's order Apley executed a near-flawless turn, bringing the ship's bow to face the aft of the enemy ship. Sherlily had the phasers blazing and fired a full salvo of torpedoes into the Reich destroyer's aft. The ship's shields flickered as their command crew tried to re-direct power back to aft, but it came a split second too late. The phasers blasted through them and made them fail, with the final bursts of energy slamming into bare hull and sending flames and debris spiraling from the impact points.

Four solar torpedoes crashed into the ship's aft. One hit a nacelle and blew it apart; the other three struck various parts of its rear section. The entire Reich destroyer disappeared in a blast of bright white energy.

There were some cheers and joyous sighs, but Zack shook his head. He'd just destroyed a Nazi ship... in their own space. Even if they were bastard Nazis... he was the one who was killing them in their territory. If this became a war, it could end up being his fault.

"Damage report," he asked.

"Shields still at forty percent," Magda answered. "We took armor damage to Decks 1 and 2. Warp drive, cloaking device, and long range communications still offline."

"Time to that battle cruiser?"

"Two minutes. Wait, one minute, they just accelerated."

"Dammit," Zack muttered. "Cat, have any science stuff?"

"If we had time I'd say go for the third gas giant," Caterina replied. "We could mask our energy signature more easily."

"It'd take hours to get there at sublight," Apley pointed.

"Yeah, I know," Cat replied.

"Tell me you can get more jamming on their missiles, Cat," Zack asked.

"Well... I can try," she answered.

"Alright." Zack took a breath to steady his nerves. "Aurora is on our way, we just have to hold out as long as we can." He keyed the intercom. "Medbay, how is Lieutenant Barnes?"

"Tired of getting knocked around," Barnes retorted.

"Talking to the Doc, Tom."

"I mended his leg," Doctor Opani answered, her accent the lilting one of a Mayali Dorei. "He needs follow-up care, but given all of the shaking I'm guessing you need him on duty?"

"That I do, Doc. Tom, can you get me some shield power back?"

"Sure, I know some tricks. There's always some room to shore 'em up even if they've been strained."

"Get to it. Hostile coming in...." Zack almost asked when, but didn't have to. He looked on the screen as the bigger, nastier cousin of the destroyer they'd just vaporized dropped out of warp, bristling with torpedo and missile bays and disruptor cannon emplacements. "Evasive Plan Charlie, Ap, and get us close without going by those missile bays."

"Yes sir."

"Communication coming in," Magda said.

"Go ahead and put them on," Zack answered.

"Alliance warship, this is Kapitän Heydrich of the Scharnhorst. You are in violation of the territory of the Third Reich and have murdered the crew of a Reich vessel. Surrender your vessel immediately or it shall be destroyed or taken, and no mercy shall be shown."

Caterina let out a stifled whimper. Lucy eyed Zack. "They'll probably be worse than Duffy was," she remarked, reminding Zack that Lucy was no stranger to what ruthless men could do to those in their power.

"Yeah, but it might let us stall for time." Zack nodded to Magda. "Kapitän Heydrich, this is Commander Zachary Carrey of the Alliance starship Koenig. If you want someone for the deaths of that crew, I'll beam over and you can hold me, but I won't turn my crew over to you. Let them go with this ship."

"That is unacceptable." There was a sharp click.

"They're locking on!", Magda shouted.

"Evasives, Apley!"

Koenig began to maneuver just in time as emerald beams of disruptor energy lashed out at them. The Koenig drew close, phasers blazing and pounding the shields of the larger vessel. "Enemy shields holding, only down to 94%," Magda answered. "This ship is tougher than the cruiser we worked with in Krellan Nebula, it's got an armored hull backing up its shielding."

Zack watched another large blast of green energy go by the screen, one of many small and large bursts and beams trying to hit his ship. "We're just buying time for Aurora to get here. Put all power to engines and shields."

The ship lurched under them, showing that despite Apley's best piloting efforts they couldn't avoid every shot. "Some of those disruptor weapons are packing a punch," Magda warned.

"Make sure to keep away from those super-disruptors then, Ap,"

"Yes sir," Apley answered.

Under his control Koenig made a tight turn as it came out by the aft of the Scharnhorst, avoiding the aft disruptors as they did. Missiles flew out of their launch bay and started tracking to acquire.

"Cat, we could use..."

"I know." Caterina manipulated something on the control. "I'm sending out interference, but I can only spoof so many!"

The ship rocked violently as a missile found them, followed by a direct hit by a disruptor. "Shields down to twenty-six percent!", Magda warned. "Damage on Deck 2."

"Keep it up, Ap," Zack urged, watching Sherlilly take what shots she could. More torpedoes went out, slamming into shields. "Status on that battlecruiser, April?"

"Their shields are stiill holding at eighty percent." The Koenig shook again. "We're whittling them down but we haven't gotten the shields low enough to make a difference."

"We just have to keep ourselves in the game," Zack said.

The Koenig made another tight turn in space to resume a strafing run along the Nazi battlecruiser's belly. Phaser fire defiantly hammered at the big swastika insignia on the lower bow, held back by the cruiser's powerful shields. The ship twisted and weaved to avoid fire. Missiles pursuing it didn't always hit, missing thanks to Caterina's desperate jamming efforts or even slamming into the Scharnhorst's shields themselves.

It was a shark versus a whale; the whale was big, it could take hits, but it couldn't keep up with the shark.

Zack tried not to hope for too much. He wasn't out to take this ship down, just to survive long enough for the Aurora to get here so they could dock and get away from this mess of a mission.

Apley's job was harder, trying to not allow the missiles to hit them at launch but also to avoid getting too close to the big "super-disruptor" emplacements on the Reich battlecruiser. He did his job as well as he could... but found that one maneuver to avoid a torpedo put him in a position to have to risk either. Seeing the missiles launching he made a split second decision to risk the disruptor, trying to time it between shots. They came up on the weapon.

It fired.

The Koenig shook violently under them. Feedback from the battered shields caused Apley's station to explode in sparks, making him cry out from the burns that resulted. "Shields down below ten percent!", Magda shouted. "Damage on all decks, forward port sections!"

"I've lost the port phasers!", Sherlily added.

That news was bad enough. But there was worse.

For one pivotal moment, there was no helm control on Koenig.

Missiles fired from the battlecruiser converged, along with the other emplacements training on a ship that was not quite so hard to hit as it had been. Despite Caterina's efforts to deflect the missiles, two still went off close enough to do damage. More sparks showered from the Koenig's overloaded power systems.

Zack's spirits fell when Magda told him what he already knew.

"We've lost shields."

Zack nodded. "Apley, you good?"

"Yes sir," Apley answered. "Burns aren't that bad, I still have my fingers."

"Keep the evasives up. This ship was built to take punishment..." The ship rocked violently again as another disruptor slammed into their armored hull, vaporizing chunks off. "...and we'll have to see how much she takes."

Apley nodded. "Maintaining evasive pattern."

"Good. As long as we're shooting at them, they can't risk dropping shields to beam...."

"Sir, the third Reich ship is coming out of warp," Magda warned. "It's another Z-2500. They're en route to intercept us."

Zack settled his head against his hand, ignoring another jostle from a glancing hit. There's no way to win this. Dammit, Rob, where are you?! Zack fumed over that. Where were the others? Why hadn't they gotten here yet? Was there more sabotage? More problems?

They never should have launched the mission. They should have aborted, dammit, the moment those security problems were showing up. Why hadn't Robert done the smart thing!? Why had he gambled on their lives?!

Damn you, Rob was the thought that came to him, not as unbidden as it might have otherwise been.

"Maintain evasive maneuvers as well as you can," he said.

"I'm trying." On the screen the newly-arrived Reich destroyer moved in. They had a clear shot if they didn't mind hitting the Scharnhorst. And he figured they wouldn't.

That was it. He'd lost. There was nothing more he could do. Zack felt helpless, so utterly helpless...

...just as he had when he saw his father was dead.

Looks like I might join you, Dad. Hope wherever we are going has a bar for us to share that drink.


Magda's voice didn't immediately register with Zack so far into his thoughts, thinking about his father and all they hadn't done. It was only when she shouted his rank again that he looked over. "What?"

"New contact!" She looked at him and smiled as widely as he'd ever seen her do so. "The Aurora just warped in!"

Zack had to force the breath out of his lungs at hearing that, just to resume breathing.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Jarod had replaced Jupap at Ops. "The Koenig has lost shields and taken heavy damage."

"And it looks like we've got that battlecruiser's attention," Angel said from tactical. "They're locking weapons."

"Put me on, Jarod." Robert checked the seat harness. "This is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora. If you hold your fire, we'll hold our's. We only want to get our ship out of your terri..."

Thick beams of green energy lashed ou from the Nazi battlecruiser and hit Aurora's shields. "I think we have our answer," Julia noted drolly.

"They fired first." Robert sighed. The entire mission had gone to hell. "Lock weapons on both ships and fire."

The Aurora's forward weapons erupted in fire. Phaser fire and the thick blue pulses of the bow plasma cannons hammered at the Reich battlecruiser. A few shots were sent toward the enemy destroyer as well. Both ships turned to face them.

"Tell Zack to get docked ASAP."

"Sending the order."

More disruptor bolts crashed into them, although some missed due to Locarno's maneuvering. As missiles closed the distance the smallest emplacements on the hull fired out at them, destroying some before they could hit the shields. "Shields now at ninety-one percent."

"Status of their shields?", Robert asked Jarod.

"Down to sixty-five, I think. The destroyer's shields are holding at eighty."

Robert nodded. "Alright Zack, we've given you an opening, get over here so we can leave."

There was no premature celebration on Koenig's bridge. They weren't out of danger yet and everyone present knew this. "Head to the Aurora, full speed," Zack ordered. "Get ready for emergency combat docking."

"Aye sir." Apley's hands moved over the control panel.

Koenig broke away from the two ships. Suddenly the ship lurched underneath them. "The battlecruiser locked us in a tractor beam," Magda said.


"Yeah. Shoot it."

"I'm locking with the dorsal phaser array," Sherlily said. "Firing."

On Aurora the ship shook again as the full fury of the Scharnhorst rained on them. "Shields down to seventy-eight percent," Jarod warned. "The battlecruiser's shields are now at fifty percent."

"Keep it coming, Angel," Julia said.

Angel focused on her board. The bow cannons blazed as quickly as the systems allowed, pummeling the enemy ship over and over with their thick sapphire bursts. Phaser fire and torpedoes struck out, some hitting the incoming missiles on their way to impacting on the batlecruiser. Locarno twisted the Aurora and kept the bow pointed toward them, allowing Angel to get another shot from the main cannons. The bursts of sapphire energy slammed into tthe enemy shields again while missiles and disruptor fire made their ship shake. "Shields holding at seventy percent."

"Laurent's ready for launch," Julia reminded Robert.

He shook his head. "Then we'd have to take time recovering them. Hold off on that. Miss Al-Rashad, any sign of further contacts?"

"Just one on long range sensors, at least half an hour away at current warp velocity."

"We have some time, then," Julia mused.

"Still not enough. Angel...?"

"Throwing everything we have at it," she answered. "They're maneuvering, I think they're trying to keep us from hitting their tractor emitter."

"Stay with them Nick."

"Doing what I can," he answered.

On Koenig the ship was rattling as they strained against the enemy tractor beam. "Suggestions?", Zack said. "The phaser isn't doing it."

"There's not much we can do without Aurora's help," Magda pointed out. "With the engine damage we can't pull out fo the tractor."

"Okay, we can't. We improvise. Cat, tell me you have some sneaky technobabble?"

"I' already tried everything we can do on Koenig," Caterina answered.

"Anthing you could do on Aurora?"

"Afraid not. This is brute forced-tech, its not going to be easily broken from technical tricks."

"Come one, Cat, you're giving up on it?"

"Of course not", she angrily countered. "But I can only do so much with the equipment we have on this ship. I mean, this ship wasn't meant for flexibility, she was built to shoot things. All she's really got is good combat sensors to see things with, weapons to shoot them with, and the tractor beam in case it wants to tow something.... around...."

Caterina's expression shifted just as Zack's did, the two minds arriving at the same destination from different paths. "The tractor beam,", they said in unison.


"Magda, lock the tractor beam on their tractor beam," Zack ordered.

"Wait, what? But that will..."

"Ordinarily it wouldn't do much," Caterina agreed. "But I'm already altering the tractor emitter. Instead of a steady graviton stream, this will be a burst. It should go it like... like... something really dense smashing through something not as dense."

"Works for me," Zack said.

"That should do it... activate tractor beam now."

Magda didn't wait for Zack to follow up with a direct order. She triggered it.

The rear tractor emitter of the Koenig sent out a burst of blue energy that intersected the ribbon of red light holding Aurora in place. The enemy tractor beam failed and Koenig, freed from her fight with it, shot forward like a rocket, aimed right at the Aurora.

The ship shuddered violently under them. "They're targeting our impulsors," Magda warned. "Glancing hit on starboard impulsor housing. We're losing some power."

"Evasive pattern, Apley, but get us to Aurora!"

The Koenig shot free after the Nazi battlecruiser's tractor beam failed. As they raced forward, the enemy destroyer loomed up behind them, pouring disruptor fire into their rear. "Clever, they modified their tractor beam," Jarod remarked.

"Angel, get that destroyer off of them!"

Angel nodded and directed the awesome forward firepower of her ship on the Nazi destroyer.

The bols of sapphire energy enveloped the small vessel. Its shields failed and flame erupted as the entire ship's bow came apart. It exploded in a fiery blaze when the barrage didn't cease.

The battlecruiser started focusing fire on the Koenig as well, now on their port side due to maneuvering. "Extend the shields," Julia ordered.

"Doing so." The ship started to shake. "Shield effectiveness is going down, we're at just fifty-two percent now."

Robert nodded. "Broadside fire, Angel."

The phaser arrays and quad-cannon emitters on the port lashed out at the enemy ship, striking its shields and intercepting the Nazi missiles before they could hit Koenig. "They're on docking approach."

"Open the doors, Jarod. All hands, brace for Emergency Combat Docking."

Apley swung Koenig up around the Aurora's nacelle, shifting the inertia of the ship through subspace to avoid overshooting on their course. Zack watched quietly and with a bit of trepidation, but only a bit. They'd trained for this maneuver several times.

The tricky thing was that it still involved docking with a moving starship in combat conditions and getting right on target. The slightest mistake and the Koenig would plow into other parts of the Aurora, damaging both ships severely. A big enough impact could even destroy Koenig.

For a moment, Zack regretted not forcing Apley to let him take the helm, given the burns on his hands. But it was too late; all he could do was show faith in his XO.

Apley fired the impulsors up to an overtake speed, but not too high of one. He gradually reduced them and fired retro-thrusters as they came up to the opened dock door. He twisted the ship ever so slightly to fit the airlock extension and the support struts.


The Koenig shook hard as it slammed into place, but the landing struts and airlock held from the impact.

"We're docked, sir," Apley informed them all, his voice even and level, not at all like he had just threaded a needle at thousands of kilometers per second. "Establishing airlock now."

"Good landing, Ap," Zack sighed, feeling a surge of relief.

It was over.

They were safe.

The impact of the Koenig's high speed landing jolted the bridge too. "Koenig is docked," Jarod reported. "Closing dock doors."

Robert nodded and felt the ship shake again as another antimatter missile hit their shields. "Locarno, get us out of here, maximum warp."

"Getting us the hell out of here... now." Locarno finished laying the course in and triggered the warp drive.

"Are they pursuing?", Julia asked.

"Yes ma'am," Ensign al-Rashad said from Science. "They're at Warp 9.4. 9.5. 9.6."

"We're now at Warp 9.7," Locarno said.

"9.65. 9.67. 9.6.... wait. They're dropping out of warp. I'm picking up a shift in their drive signature. I think they overloaded it."

"Always comforting to know we can always run away," Angel remarked.

"Yeah. But we got what we came for." Robert pressed the intercom. "Bridge to Security. Meridina, Commander Kane, get your teams and sweep the Koenig. Let's make sure our friend isn't aboard her."

"I do not believe it is. But we will check," Meridina answered.

"ETA to Harris, Locarno?"

"At current speed we should arrive in five hours."

"Once we're over the border, reduce our speed to Warp 9. No point in straining the engines even more." Robert wiped at his forehead. "I'm not in any hurry to face Admiral Davies anyway."

"I don't think any of us are," Julia agreed.

Ship's Log: 15 May 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We have returned to Harris Station for repair work. The mission was a technical success with the destruction of the Darglan data facility, but the cost.... the cost was too high, not just in those killed by the Changeling and the Nazis but in the fact we got into a fight with them. We knew peace was unlikely, but our actions may have made it impossible.

The command crew was sitting around the table in the conference room, including the officers from the Koenig. "Between our losses to the Changeling and the battle, we have twelve dead, fifteen wounded," Doctor Opani said from her seat near the end. The young Dorei woman, her skin a dark teal with light purple spots and dark purple hair, looked like she was going to choke. "I did all I could to stabilize some of the worst cases..."

"We've got them stabilized," Leo finished for her, giving his fellow physician a sympathetic look. "All of the remaining critical cases have a good chance at recovery."

"How long will it take to repair the Koenig?", Robert asked.

Zack looked to Derbely. "Two weeks at normal cycle time, sir," she answered. "The dock is a drydock in miniature so that's not the issue, it's simply having to fix all of the damage."

Julia nodded and looked down the table. "Scotty, do you think...?"

"Aye." Scotty nodded and looked to the younger woman. "I'll assign ye some teams, Lieutenant. We'll have th' girl up an' about again in nae time."

"Thank you, sir," Derbely answered. "I'll also need some replacements. I lost people, and I'm not sure Lieutenant Lopana will recover enough for ship duty."

"We'll speak with fleet personnel. Until then I'll leave Scotty and Tom to see who can be spared for Koenig," Robert said. "Well, that handles that subject. What about the computers? How much data was compromised?"

Jarod looked up. "We can rule out the IU jump drive technical data, the Changeling never compromised our computer security on it. At the very least, it could have sent out some of the data on naqia and non-critical ship information. And unsealed personnel data."

Robert nodded. "Any more surprises?"

"Security and Engineer personnel have been scouring the ship," Meridina said. "No further sabotage charges have been found, and the data we have so far hints that there were no others set. The greater issue is our computer security. The Changeling installed so many bypasses into our internal systems that computer security is completely compromised."

"We'll have to do a complete restoration from off-site backups," Jarod explained. "Which means a lot of systems will need to be brought offline completely. We'll probably require a week in spacedock ourselves."

"I'll forward the request," Robert said. "Caterina, that data... was it worth it?"

"I don't know yet," she answered. The bags under her eyes showed Caterina hadn't slept at all the prior night. "I've been going over what we recovered, sorting technical data and astrographical... all I can tell you right now is that it has more universe designations and a great deal of astrographical data in this universe. I'm hoping it will tell us where the main Facility for S4W8 is."

"I'm hoping it's not on Earth," Julia remarked, her hands together. "If the Nazis get any indication of how to search for these things..."

"We'll worry about that when we confirm it," Robert said. "Is there anything else?" When there was no immediate answer, Robert stood. "Alright, we'll adj..."

"I've got something."

All eyes turned on Zack. He had been quiet during the entire meeting, only speaking when his ship was involved. Now he looked at Robert. Robert could see that his friend's eyes were smoldering and lined with a bit of red. "Zack?", Robert asked.

"Why didn't you warn me, Rob?" Zack put his hand on the table. "Why didn't you tell me about this security leak before I left? If I'd known something was up, I would have been checking our systems, I would've seen the sabotage to our comm systems. Hell, I wouldn't have let that Changeling go one step without escort if you'd told me Draynal was a suspect!"

Robert sighed. "I made a judgement call. We had nothing solid and the mission..."

Zack's fist slammed on the table, startling everyone. "A judgement call?!", he shouted. "Seriously! You don't trust me with vital information because... what, you were afraid I'd abort? Were you so damned dedicating to pulling this mission off that you didn't care about what might go wrong?!"

"That's not what it was, Zack," Robert replied, his voice going up too. "I just... I have my reasons, but I knew that mission had to be fulfilled! And I didn't have enough warning to see what was..."

Zack leaned over and got in his face. "Twelve of my crew are dead Rob!" He brought a finger up so close it almost pressed against Robert's cheek. "Twelve! And I'm the one who has to write their families! I've got to tell a widower his only daughter got turned to vapor! Or maybe you'd like to tell Pammy DeSoto that her husband got flash-fried!"

"I had to make the call Zack!," Robert shot back. "That's my job! And that means people are going to die!"

"Easy for you to say when you weren't the one who's ass was getting shot up by...!"

"ENOUGH!" Julia's shout echoed in the room as she jumped to her feet. She took both and pushed them away from each other with her arms, getting between them. "That's enough, from both of you!" She faced Zack. "I'm sorry, Zack. Rob thought it was the right call." She turned to face Robert. "But he should have told you."

"It is my responsibility as much as Robert's," Meridina offered, standing as well. "You are right to be upset, Zachary. But please do not let your anger control you."

Zack's jaw clenched as he continued to glare at Robert and be glared back in return. "I'm done here," he finally said, turning away. "Permission to be excused, Captain."

Robert nodded stiffly. "Excused."

Zack made a mocking salute and stormed off, joined by the Koenig command crew. The Aurora crew looked around until Robert waved them off as well. "Julia, go inform Harris Station we need spacedock time, please," Robert said. "I'll be in the ready room checking my final report."

She nodded, sensing he needed time alone. Robert walked across the bridge and entered the ready room office. He remembered Farmer telling him about such offices almost two years before. "A place for the Captain to decompress when he's on duty." He felt like he needed it.

Robert found his seat and drew in a breath when examining his report. He had taken full responsibility for what happened, for the decision to launch the operation regardless of the security risk, and for its disasterous result. It was the least he could do.

With the touch of a button Robert sent the report off to Maran. He brought up another document. The casualty list, both the dead crew from Aurora's contingent to the mission and those Koenig lost. The numbers were horrifying; Zack had lost over a quarter of his small crew. No wonder he was angry.

At that point it just hit home. His bad judgement had cost sixteen lives, not counting the hundreds of crew on those destroyed Reich vessels. He'd ruined a clandestine operation, violated the space of another sovereign power, and fired on their ships in their own space.

He'd almost gotten Zack, Cat, Tom, and Lucy killed.

All because of a nightmare.

How in the hell could he put that in a report?!

The stress of the last week finally proved too much with this result. Robert broke down and actually began crying, feeling like he was being crushed.

After her bridge watch Julia decided to check up on Zack. She went to his quarters, saw he was home, and hit the door chime. After several seconds it opened. She stepped in and saw him leaning over on his sofa seat. "How are you?"

"I feel like crap," he said. "I sent off the condolence letters already, so you don't have to bug me about those." He looked up at her with the eyes of someone who had wrestled with his thoughts and was tired of it.

"You... I wasn't coming to nag, Zack," Julia said. "I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Yeah. I know." Zack stood up. "I'm... I'm just tired of this." He walked up to her, his eyes red from tears and his expression full of apprehension and dread. "I've got to get this off my chest, no matter what happens."

Julia tilted her head. "Zack, are you okay? What's wrong?"

Zack put his hands on Julia's shoulders before she could stop him. "I've always felt this way, Julia Andreys," he said. "I... I love you, Julia."

Those words froze Julia just before she went to pull herself out of his grip.

"I'll always love you...", Zack continued. "I don't think I can ever get over it. You're just... you're... I can't think of how to say it but to say..."

They were so close that his breath actually felt warm on her face. A not-so-unfamiliar odor came across. "Zack... are you...."

He let her go and stepped away. "There, I said it," he said, sighing with finality. As if he knew the answer. "Now, all I want to ask is... would you ever say the same to me?"

Julia's words met her thoughts and jumbled up. "What?"

"Julia, I only want honesty. Please, just honesty," Zack pleaded. "I can't move on without an honest answer. I just... I have to know! Could you ever love me? Could we ever have something together, something more?"

Julia stared at him for a moment, trying to process what he was saying. She remembered how much of a crush Zack had on her in school, but she always figured that was just because she was one of the few girls he didn't have a chance with. But... love? "Zack, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying, Julia, that I am deeply in love with you, that I have loved you for years and that it has become pure torture for me to be this close to you without working up the guts to ask." Zack went over to his table and leaned on it. "And I'm just tired of it. I just want to know if there's any hope of you ever feeling that way about me. I want to be more than your friend."

"Zack, you're kind of putting me on the spot here," Julia pointed out, feeling completely bewildered and off-balance. She'd come to give comfort, not find out... this.

"I'm sorry, I'm just...." Zack had tears in his eyes. "On Adrana. That computer being gave me the world she thought I wanted. She gave me a world where we were married. Where we were together and happy."

Oh God. Julia felt... she didn't know how to feel. She felt sympathy and confusion and even some disgust.

"It wasn't real. I... I realized it. But it made all of that come back. And then I talked to my Dad and to Clara and..." Zack sniffled. "I just can't stand not knowing any more. I just want to know. Is there hope? Is there any chance, Julia, that you could feel love for me, that we could become a family?"

"Stop pushing it, Zack," Julia retorted. "Do you expect me to just, in a few seconds, decide something like that?! We've never even dated before, we've..."

"We've known each other since we were kids," Zack countered. "You know me and I know you. And I think you are the most smart, beautiful, and talented woman to ever exist. And I would move heaven and earth to...." He stopped, seeing the expression on her face. He shook his head. "You don't. You won't."


"Don't." He held up a hand. "I've been around you long enough. You don't feel that way toward me."

Julia swallowed and shook her head. "You're right. You're my friend but I just... that's all I see us as."

"And there's no hope of that changing."

"Well..." Julia shook her head and shrugged. "I don't know, I..."

"Don't you dare," he hissed. "Don't you Goddamn dare do that to me, Julie. Don't you string it out!"

"What is it you want from me, Zack?!," Julia screamed, her patience at an end. "You're a good friend, and you're funny and sweet and kind, but no, I don't see you as a lover or a future husband or anything. I love you to death as a friend, but that's all we'll be. And I'm not sure if that would ever change or not. I don't know the damn future! Now, I don't know what's gotten into you, but I do know this won't solve anything!"

And with that, she lifted the opened tequila bottle from the table by the sofa.

Zack stared at her and at the bottle, its amber liquid within jostling slightly from her movement. The bottle was missing over a quarter of its contents

"You're drinking this stuff, Zack!" Julia put the bottle back down. "Is it really me driving you to this? Why... you rarely like beer, now you're drinking like your Dad!"

"Yeah." Zack held up a shot glass that was on the desk, a bit of tequila left in it. In one move he sent it down his throat. "Yeah, I am. Trying to see if Dad was right. If it'd make the pain go away."


"I'd hoped you'd think about it," he confided. "But I can't beat him, can I?"


"Rob." He slammed the glass on the desk so hard that Julia thought it would break. "He gets you, he gets Angel... he gets to be the Captain too. Robert Dale, the big hero!" He postured wildly, striking a melodramatic pose. "And Julia, the true love who swoons over him and never ever lets him know it."

Julia's face paled. It was the kind of pale that would make a smarter man, or in this case more sober man, stop.

"And there's me, Zachary Carrey. The also-ran. The second-best. The hanger-on." Each term seemed to drip more and more venom. "He gets it all and here I am, in his shadow." He walked by her and picked up the bottle. "He can even send me to get killed and the only thing I can do about it is be his loyal dog or run away. Run away run away run away.... maybe I should. Maybe I should give all of this crap up and go back home."

"Zack, you don't mean that! Rob's your best friend, I'm your best friend! We're all here for you."

"Yeah. All for one and all for one, eh?" He held up the glass and seemed to reconsider that. "Huh. Got that wrong. Must be working. Maybe a few more shots and the pain will go away."

At that moment Julia felt a tear on her own eye. "Zack, we should have breakfast tomorrow. All of us. We should all get together and help you through this."

"Yeah. God knows I need it." Zack poured another shot. "I'm a true Carrey, and you know how hopeless we are if we don't have someone watching over us, making sure we don't screw it up, right? Otherwise we'll go back to the bottle. Cheers."

He brought the shotglass up. Julia shrieked and lashed out, smacking his hand and sending the shotglass and its contents flying into the near wall, where the tequila splattered and the glass shattered. She felt words come to her tongue, but couldn't quite get them out. She looked into Zack's sad brown eyes and the red lines around them and... Julia realized she didn't know what to do. How could she fix this? How could she make it better? When it was clear that every moment she was here, she was twisting the knife in his heart.

His words had struck home too. Julia hadn't realized how much it hurt that Robert was with Angela again while she was still alone.

Maybe I should be getting plastered with him, was the dour thought that crossed her mind.

"I'll... I'll leave you alone," she finally said, trying to fight the tears. "But Zack, please... we're here for you. I know this is something you need to do for yourself, but if you need us we're here."

"Yeah, like always."

And she couldn't take it anymore. The tears were rolling down Julia's face as she stormed out of the room.

Zack watched her leave and the door close. Through the haze in his head his heart was still hurting, aching. He'd confirmed it was as bad as he thought. There was no hope. The woman he loved did not love him and would never love him. "Guess it's time to move on," he muttered, holding the bottle of tequila in his hand. "Hey Dad, havin' that drink." He brought the bottle up like he was toasting. "Let's see if you were right."

At that point, he didn't bother getting another shotglass to replace the broken one. He put the opening of the bottle to his lips and took as big a drink as he could manage.


Meridina had returned to Security and found a message marked urgent. Seeing it was Lucy, Meridina went straight to her quarters. As an assistant department head Lucy had her own quarters on Deck 4, not as large as a department head but sufficiently comfortable. Meridina entered and found it dark. Lucy was sitting on her bed in a nightgown, her knees curled up to her chin. She looked over at Meridina and showed that she had been unable to sleep and was under tremendous emotional stress. "Lucy, what is wrong?"

"What... what's happening to me?", Lucy said, tears in her eyes. "Because it's not making sense. I've got this thing in me now and it saved us but then it got cold and terrible and I ... I..."

Meridina's expression froze. She swallowed and walked up to Lucy, sitting beside her on the bed. She pressed a hand to Lucy's arm and felt the turmoil roiling with her. No, not just the turmoil.

She felt Lucy's swevyra. Where it had once been a small ember, it was a fire now. She had called upon it intentionally, repeatedly, and it had come. But now it wouldn't go away either.

"Can you make it stop?", Lucy asked. "It's..."

"I cannot," Meridina answered. "You have opened yourself to your swevyra, Lucy. It cannot be undone."

"But it scares me," she said, her voice hoarse. "At first it was... it was just useful, it saved our lives, let me fight the Changeling. But then it was trying to pull me back into the facility and I couldn't break free and I just... I was afraid and then angry and I just started to hate it and I wanted to rip it apart and then everything turned cold."

Meridina swallowed and clasped another hand to Lucy's shoulder. "Yes. You're not trained to deal with your emotions when wielding your swevyra. It brought forth the darkness within you."

"Tom said my eyes were turning yellow and that my hand was shooting out lightning!"

"Yes. That is what happens when swevyra is joined with darkness." Meridina found her own mind racing. She had to tell Ledosh about this, she had to share this with the whole Order. "I... I may have done you a disservice for introducing this power to you, and for that I am sorry. This is dangerous. You must learn to control your emotions when wielding your swevyra."

"Can you show me how? Please? Show me how to do this!"

"I..." Meridina lowered her eyes. "I must consult my superiors on Gersal. But you must promise me, do not use your swevyra again, not until I say! This is important, Lucy."

Lucy nodded. "I'll... I'll try..."

"No," Meridina growled, frowning. For Lucy the sight of her frown and the growl in her voice was terrifying, so completely unlike Meridina as it was. "Lucy, you do not try. You just do it. You must!"

"But if I can't...?"

"Then..." Meridina shook her head. "If you use it without training and let your darkness take over... it corrupts your swevyra, your very essence. Few have ever come back from corruption. They... they become murderers and monsters, they lose control and lash out at everything."

"That would... happen to me?", Lucy murmured, still terrified.

"It could. But it would not."

"Why not?"

"Because..." Meridina's face lost all emotion. "....I would kill you first."

It was the middle of the night when the chime went off in Robert's quarters. He shifted in bed, prompting Angel to slide off him in her sleep, and reached over for the comm button on the nightstand. "Dale here," he said, his vision still blurry from being tired.

"Admiral Maran is on comms for you, sir."

Sighing, Robert pulled his uniform jacket on as he went to his personal computer in his quarters and triggered the comm system. Maran appeared, dawn light behind him. "Admiral?", Robert asked.

"Captain Dale, I'm changing your orders. You will report to Fleet Command Spacedock immediately."

Robert blinked. "Sir? is there something going on?"

Maran nodded. "You're being called before the Defense Committee, Captain Dale. You and your entire command staff."

That made Robert swallow. "This is about the mission, right?"

"It is," Maran answered. "I'm doing everything I can to help, but..."

"But what?"

Maran lowered his eyes. "You're facing a lot of criticism here in Portland, Robert. If the Defense Committee finds against you, the President and I won't have any choice. You and your crew will be removed from the Aurora. Permanently."
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »


Commander Julia Andreys Personal Log, 17 May 2641...

I'm not much of a diarist. I didn't do the girly diary thing when I was young and this feels like that kind of thing. I do the weekly entry and just focus on business.

But I suppose I need to sound out my thoughts. Everything feels like it's starting to unravel. The mission to find the Darglan data facility in S4W8 was a disaster because of that Changeling infiltrator. Now the Defense Committee is calling us in, all of us, to investigate what happened and judge us.

If that wasn't enough, Zack... where could I begin? He came with us because of our friendships and not anything he wanted to do. He's proven himself over and over, but I think that distance... maybe it made Rob not trust him, maybe not. All I know is that it's grown worse.

And now he tells me that he loves me and wants an answer on my feelings. I want to understand what he's going through, I'm trying to, but it's just... I can't see us working. I don't feel that way about him, and that's killing him. And I...

Julia was interrupted by the tone at her door. She looked up from her desk in her quarters and checked to make sure her blue nightrobe was firmly tied before calling out "Come in!"

When the door opened Barnes limped in. The Changeling had broken his leg on LA33. While Leo's treatments were enough to fix the break and mend it, the damage it caused him would last a little longer. "Hey Julie," he said, stepping up to her table. "Can I sit?"

"Sure. I thought you were supposed to stay off that leg?"

"I am. But I wanted to..." He sighed and briefly looked out the window. Instead of open stars or a planet, it was the dark blue sheen of the spacedock facility the Aurora was berthed in. "Well, you know. Zack's my buddy. He's my best friend, even when he's a pain in the ass. And it sucks to see him hurting like that."

Julia nodded. "Yeah."

"Do you ever think he'd be better off back home?", Barnes asked. "I mean, we all had reasons for doing this. Zack just joined us because we're friends."

The thought brought an exasperated sigh from Julia. "Sometimes. But then I remember he wasn't doing much before this happened. He had to stop playing baseball and after that he was just drifting. I'm not sure he'd be any better if he had stayed."

"Maybe." Barnes shrugged. "I tried to get him to come to the holodeck but he's not leaving his quarters. He wouldn't even talk to me."

"He's... he's just having a bad time," Julia said, trying not to think of that open bottle she'd seen in Zack's quarters and the odor on his breath.

"Any bright ideas to get him out of it?"

"It's something he has to work through himself, I think." Julia looked at the clock on her desk. "We've got a busy day today. We should probably get it stared."

"Don't governments usually take longer to get these things put together?", Barnes grumbled. "It's just been a day and we're already going before the Defense Committee?"

"It's a crisis, Tom. Things move faster."

"Uh huh." Barnes gave her a dark look. "And you don't think that's pretty damned convenient for that jackass Davies? You got to figure a few of the people on it are his cronies."

"I'll remind you he is our superior officer now," Julia remarked. "We were in the center of this mess, so yeah, we're going to get dragged into the mud."

"Heh." Barnes frowned. "Speaking of messes. Julia, why the hell didn't we get warned that Draynal was a suspect? Yeah, Zack is pissed, and he has good reason to be."

"Don't ask me," Julia answered. "I didn't know they were suspecting him until Meridina told me he was a Changeling in disguise."

Barnes looked at her and rolled his eyes. "Jesus Christ, what the hell has gotten into Rob? Sending us off despite the security breach, not even warning you about what was going on..."

"Rob has a lot on his mind these days," Julia said delicately.

Flames were devouring the New Liberty Colony as Robert ran through it, a gun in his hand. The dead bodies of the colonists, many of them people he knew, were scattered around the streets. "Beth!", he called out. "BETH!"

He heard a scream in the distance. He ran through a body-choked street, picking up speed until he tripped. He fell and looked into the vacant eyes. Gabriel, one of the first people he and his friends had ever helped, lay before him, the back of his head a burnt mass. The scream came again, jolting Robert and making him get back to his feet.

He stormed into Freedom Square, the site of so many happy celebrations, and found it full of bodies. There were still living people here, though. Men in black combat armor, their faces partially obscured by visor plates, and carrying terrible weapons. The swastika emblem was visible in a red band on their upper right arms.

Before them was Beth Rankin, his cousin, bloodied and bruised and on her knees. "Rob, help me!", she shouted as one of them pressed a disruptor pistol to the back of her head.

He brought his pistol up and fired on them. But he was too late. With a flash of green from the pistol she fell over, dead.

Robert screamed in rage and hate at her death, firing his weapon repeatedly into the mass as they scattered. One went down, two... a third... His weapon ran out and Robert tackled the last one, the one who shot Beth. He brought his fist down on the man over and over again, ignoring the pain in his hand from hitting the visor. "I'll kill you!," he screamed, punching again and again and...

A cold feeling was swelling up inside of Robert as punches landed on the Nazi who had shot Beth. When he took the time to notice, he could see his reflection in the visor. He saw his own face twisted into an expression of hate and rage. And his eyes were all wrong now, going from green to a golden-yellow hue.

The visor on his enemy opened. "We meet again, Kapitän." It was Fassbinder, the SS officer he'd met in the first contact with the Reich.

His eyes were also glowing yellow.

Pain shot up through Robert's side from the knife Fassbinder had plunged between his ribs and into his heart. He toppled over, feeling only the bizarre cold rage as he...

...woke up with a start, screaming.

"Jesus Christ, Rob!" Angel sat up beside him, putting a hand on his chest. "Another nightmare?"

He nodded and swallowed. "Yeah."

"What's happening to you? It's like you have a nightmare every other night now." Angel reached over to the nightstand they'd set up on her side of the bed. She poured a cup of water from a pitcher she kept there and offered it to him. "You've never been like this before."

"Things have changed," he answered. "It's... I can't describe it right now."

The truth was, he didn't want to. His nightmares of the Reich destroying New Liberty had spurred him to go for the LA33 facility despite the security issues. That decision had, yes, allowed them to destroy the facility so the Nazis could never use it... but it had also led to a fight with the Nazi forces in their own space. He had committed an act of war over a dream.

"Maybe I deserve to get court-martialed," he sighed.

"Hey! Don't get like that." Angel kissed him on the cheek. "We had to do it. It was just bad luck. Monstrously horrible luck."

"Maybe." Robert took her hand and turned his head enough to kiss her on the lips. "But it doesn't change the fact that I didn't do enough. Meridina didn't have strong evidence about Draynal, so I used it as an excuse. If I'd told Zack about him... what if it had been enough? Zack never would have let him board."

"Or he would have snuck aboard a different way," Angel pointed out. "That whole 'shapeshifter' thing. Listen, Rob, I get that Zack's pissed, but it's not going to do any good moping about it. We've got to deal with the jerks on the Committee now and they're going to snap at any weakness they find. So don't dwell on it. Lay out the facts and why you did things, it should turn out fine."

"I hope. I'd hate to lose the ship." Robert shifted on the bed to face Angel directly. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Angel."

She smirked. "Hey, we gotta stick up for each other, right? Just don't ask me to do too much of this touchy-feely stuff. It's not me."

"I know. You're more into hitting than touching." Robert allowed himself a slight smile at that. "Or so experience tells me. Although you're not bad at the touching either..."

Angel laughed warmly at that. "Depends on what's being touched." They kissed again. When it was over, Robert exhaled strongly. "Well, let's get this over with. Let's go keep the Aurora."

Undiscovered Frontier
"Past Mistakes"

Zack was in pain.

And now I know why Dad was always in a sour mood even after he sobered up.

He looked at the quarter-full bottle of tequila on the table opposite his bed and moaned. His head ached terribly and he felt starved. He managed to focus enough to pull his clothes on and was on the verge of ordering a replicated breakfast when his door chime went off. "What?!", he cried out, irritated. "Come in!"

The door swished open. Leo stepped in and looked around. "Well, you look refreshed. Booze go straight to your head?"

Zack looked at him darkly and felt enough shame to lower his eyes. "Julie?"

Leo shook his head. "No, I didn't even know she'd visited you. Hargert was worried."

Zack blinked. "Hargert?"

"Yeah. Seems you actually took the bottle of tequila Albert offered you yesterday," Leo remarked.

Zack looked back over to the table. A second bottle had... half? Maybe three-fifths of the content left. "Oh," he muttered.

Leo found a seat, shaking his head. "Zack, man... what's wrong?"

"What isn't wrong?", Zack asked. "Everything's wrong. Everything." Zack stood up and went to the table. Leo grabbed the tequila bottle he was reaching for before he could take it. "I was just going to put them up, man."

Leo's expression betrayed his thoughts. "Were you?"

Zack looked at him for a moment and sighed. "Yeah, if you weren't here I probably would've had another drink."

"Why, man? You saw what this stuff did to your Dad."

"Saw it, lived with it..." Zack shrugged. "I just... I wanted to see if it worked for me too. Do you know what he told me, Leo? Before he died? That it made the pain go away."

"Zack, it's a depressant, it doesn't cure depression," Leo reminded him bluntly.

"Yeah. We knew that too." Zack shook his head. "But it works anyway. You get to that point when everything's in a haze and you're not feeling it anymore."

"Is this about Robert, Zack? About your fight with him?"

"Yes and no. It's about more than us. It's about..." Zack drew in a sigh, unwilling to bring up the other pain he was feeling. "Okay, yeah, I'm getting a little tired of Rob right now. This thing's changed him. He's acting like this invincible white knight now and it got twelve of my crew killed."

Leo shook his head. "You can't blame him for the Changeling, Zack."

"No, but I can damn well blame him for not telling me anything!", Zack retorted.

"He had his reasons, I'm sure." Leo softened his expression. "Come on, man. He's your best friend."

Those words made Zack's eyes focus on Leo's. "Yeah? Well I wish he'd act like it. Best friends don't send you out without warning you what's up. Best friends don't decide you should be risked because they think the mission is more important!"

Leo opened his mouth to speak and stopped. "It's not like that."

"The hell it isn't!" Zack got up and paced around his room. "Now I know what you're going to say next, because I was there for Admiral Maran's fancy lectures. He's my superior officer too. He has to give orders to fulfill the mission even if it means getting any of us killed."

"That's how things are when you're in a miltiary service," Leo pointed out.

"Yeah. Well, maybe we should decide what's more important then. Our friendship or the service." Zack stopped and looked down at an old photo of him and Robert in the baseball uniforms of their high school team, smiling at the camera and holding the state championship trophy. "It's getting about time for the trip down, right?"

"Yeah. Locarno is firing up the Susquehanna."

"I'll be there."

Leo went to say something but thought better of it. It was clear this was something Zack had to work through himself.

It had been two nights since Meridina last enjoyed her own bed. She sat in meditative posture on the floor of Lucy's quarters, Lucy sitting across from her. Lucy's breathing was growing faster. "Don't force it," Meridina urged her. "Just... allow the energy to settle."

"I'm trying," Lucy said. "But it's not going away."

That made Meridina sigh. "Lucy, it never will. Your swevyra is awakened. It is a part of you."

Lucy shook her head. "But I didn't want this," she protested.

"I know." Meridina swallowed and drew in a frustrated breath. "But it is not about what you want any more."

"Can't you train me to use it? I feel like I'm about to burst."

"No!" Realizing she'd barked that like a command, Meridina reached forward and set a hand on her scared compatriot's shoulder. "I'm sorry... unless my Mastrash authorizes it, I can only show you basic calming techniques. Anything more must be done with my Order's approval."

"Does that mean I would have to join it?", Lucy asked.

"It is a... difficult matter," Meridina answered. "My people had the same experience with other races like the Dorei, but there were issues that have made us very cautious about expanding the knowledge of using swevyra."

"So they'd rather leave me untrained until I go insane and become a psychotic?" There was an edge in that question.

"No. No, Lucy, not at all." Meridina smiled thinly. "I am certain some training can be authorized for you. The extent of it will have to be determined by my Order's Council, though. I cannot make that decision."

"Alright." Lucy sighed and looked up. "We're due to go down to Portland in an hour. We should probably get ready."

"I would prefer another day of working with you, to make sure you have control," Meridina remarked. "But we do what we must with the time permitted." She stood up as Lucy did. "I will meet you at the shuttle bay."

The Susquehanna had been cleared to land directly at Defense Command. It was a new structure erected on the northern side of the Columbia River, between its junction with the Willamette and Lake Vancouver. Towering azure structures formed a five-pointed star around a central building, walking bridges connecting them all together complete with a circle that rounded the middle of the bridges.

The top of the central structure contained a large bay for shuttles and other small craft. Locarno set the Susquehanna down under guidance from the traffic controller and secured the runabout while everyone filed out. The officers of the Aurora and Koenig were met by MPs in light combat armor, a Dorei and an Alakin, who motioned for them to follow.

Robert exchanged a glance with Julia when they stepped into a large lift, meant for carrying over a dozen people, and squeezed to the side. The Dorei MP pressed a key and the lift rumbled, lowering them into the structure's middle stories. "I'm surprised this isn't at Council Hall," Leo remarked from the other side of the lift.

"The Defense Committee meets in Command HQ for the added security," Robert pointed out.

"Never knew we had one," Barnes muttered. "What do they have to do with the Defense Staff?"

"The Staff is made up of officers," Julia answered. "The Committee has a mix of officers and legislators from the Council."

"Three Senators, three Councilmembers, Admiral Maran and the senior service chiefs, the Intelligence Director, with the Defense Minister chairing it all," Robert specified.

"So Admiral Davies will be there," Caterina said, frowning.

"Yes he will," Robert said, and that was all he said. He looked over at Zack, who was staring into the distance. Feelings of guilt stirred inside of him. Whatever was about to come his way, Robert knew he deserved some of it.

They were escorted into the Committee chamber gallery. A long desk curved inward was near the end of the room. Tables across from it were for those providing testimony to sit along with, Robert suspected, legal counsel. "I should have asked Borja to come along," he mumbled.

"Conflict of interest," Julia reminded him. "She was already assigned to defend Liton against you and Meridina, remember?"

"But that didn't go very far..."

They were directed to tables. After this happened, an Asian man in an Army formal uniform went through the side door. When he returned, he was followed by the Defense Committee. Davies and Maran were at the front, along with the other service commanders. The men and women behind them were in civilian dress suits of varying types. Robert recognized Senator Sriroj of the Sol System Republic but the others he was not so immediately familiar with. The mix was rather fair, with the other senators being a teal-complexioned Dorei and a bronze-feathered Alakin. One of the Congressman was openly a Gersallian given his garb was more like robes than a business suit.

At the end came the Defense Minister. Robert and the others had met Minister Hawthorne before. The assembled felt the slightest of chills when he exchanged whispers with Davies before finding his seat. Was it just a passing comment or a sign that the Minister was going to side with their strongest critic?

Hawthorne gave no indication of either when he took his seat and smacked the gavel. "We are convening this emergency session to determine what occurred on the 14th of May in the classified operation to determine the existence of a Darglan base in Universe S4W8. While said operation succeeded in the goal of denying Darglan technology to the Nazi German Empire of S4W8, it also caused over a dozen casualties and damage to both vessels involved, as well as instigating an international incident with Alliance vessels being found in Reich territory and firing upon Reich ships within that territory." Hawthorne put his hands together on the stand before him. "In short, your operation has quite possibly thrown our new Alliance into an intersellar war and thus has threatened the stability of the Allied Systems. Now, we are not here to place blame but to discover what occurred and determine if there is blame to be placed. It is my intention to call each of you up in order of rank, beginning with..." He consulted a list openly. "...Lieutenant Doctor Roliri Opani of the ASV Koenig. Lieutenant, please step forward."

Opani stepped up and took the first table before the Committee.

Hawthorne stumbled for his notes for a moment. "Before we begin, the Committee wishes to see each of you separately. Everyone else will await their turn for testimony in the antechamber. Sergeant, please show them to where they can wait."

Robert and Julia looked at each other. "We're going to get railroaded," Julia whispered. "They're trying to turn us against each other."

Robert found he had no response to that.

Meridina was quite aware of what was going on as they filed out of the committee chamber. But she had other concerns. She had hoped they would let her be present when Lucy gave testimony, should it become heated. But now... Lucy was going to be facing their inquisition alone.

She caught Lucy's attention and brought them over to beside a window looking out at the Columbia river and the buildings of Portland beyond. "Lucy, can you do this?", she asked.

"I... I think so," Lucy said. "I've been grilled before by prosecutors and defense attorneys."

"This may be worse. And they will certainly ask about your swevyra and the use of it."

"What should I say about it?"

"Be honest," Meridina urged. "Do not hide it. It is nothing to be ashamed of."

"Okay." Lucy nodded. "I get the feeling the deck's being stacked against us."

"Yes. Admiral Davies has laid the groundwork well," Meridina conceded. "But do not despair. Hearts and minds can be swayed, particularly with the aid of the truth."

"I hope it's enough."

"It will be. Now, I expect you will be called first, so remember; keep your breath calm and focus on your control. Do not let anything they say disturb your emotional center." Meridina put her hands on Lucy's shoulders as she said that. "You can do this."

After Lucy nodded and agreed, Meridina let go and saw her walk back to join the others. She did not; she expected she would be one of the last called, which gave her time to do what was needed. And so she returned to the Susquehanna.

The officers on Koenig, up to Apley, had all gone first. Apley stepped out of the room looking on the bored side. He went over to stand with Sherlily and Zack. Zack nodded to him and looked over to where some of the Aurora crew were congregating.

Barnes walked up to him at that point. "Hey Zack, don't you think you're giving them ammo?"

"Huh?" Zack looked at his friend.

"Keeping your crew away from the rest of us, these guys are trying to divide us and now it looks like it's working," Barnes pointed out.

"Huh. Yeah." Zack lowered his head. "Maybe we are divided."


"We're the ones who got sent into the fire. We weren't told who to watch out for or what to look for. Our ship got sabotaged under our noses because Robert and Meridina didn't tell us anything," Zack pointed out.

Barnes shook his head. "He screwed up, okay, but you're carrying this really far, man. Just go talk to him."

"I will, when I feel like it."

Barnes blinked. "What? Dude, you've known him longer than me, you've been friends for..."

"Don't." Zack shook his head. "I'm... Tom, yeah, we're friends. We'll probably still be friends. But right now, I'm really pissed at him for a number of reasons. And I need time to process that."

The door opened. "Lieutenant Caterina Delgado," the sergeant-at-arms called. "Please come with me."

Caterina stood up from between Angel and Jarod. Angel gave her a pat on the shoulder and a last vote of confidence.

"Poor Cat," Zack sighed. Nothing else could be said as Caterina quietly followed the sergeant-at-arms into the room.

"So you were proceeding with the data download when the Changeling appeared," Minister Hawthorne asked, looking down at a report.

"Um, yes... yes Minister," Caterina answered.

"A Changeling that happened to annihilate an entire security team in a couple of seconds," he continued.

"Um, yes. Yes, it did. It was hor..."

"And yet you're still with us," Hawthorne said, interrupting her. "Half a dozen well-trained security officers go down but you're still here. How?" There was evident skepticism in his voice.

"Um..." Caterina swallowed and fidgeted with her hands. "...Lucy.... Lieutenant Lucero fought with it."

"Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero, an operations officer with engineering background but no major combat experience?", Senator Kepal, the Alakin, asked.

"Yes sir. S-she... saved my life, Mister Senator s-sir." Caterina knew she looked like she was abou to curl up and die, and she knew this because it was about what she wanted to do.

"How?" The question was from General Gulinev, the head of the Army, his voice a low growl.

"The Changeling was a-attacking me. A-and she stopped it. She held her...her hand up a-and it just went f-flying."

Most of the looks were incredulous. The Gersallian representative from the Council leaned forward. "Lieutenant, you are describing the use of swevyra. Are you saying Lieutenant Lucero had such a swevyra?"

"I'm not sure what a swev-eera is, s-sir," Caterina answered, trying hard to focus and stop the stutter in her voice. Having a dozen sets of eyes glowering down on her was not making that easy. "But it... it was like w-what Meridina does."

"Commander Meridina, the swevyra'se serving on your ship?" The Gersallian sat back and looked to Hawthorne. "Has this Lieutenant Lucero been trained to use it?"

"Um... I... I don't know, sir," Caterina replied.

Hawthorne eyed the Gersallian Councilman, who sat back and indicated he had no more questions. Hawthorne turned his head back to Caterina. "Lieutenant, there is something on the record I would like cleared."

"Yes sir?"

"Were you, or were you not, responsible for the incursion of the species known as 'Daleks' that forced the destruction of the Darglan facility on your homeworld?"

Caterina blinked and allowed her confusion to make her face shift. "Sir?"

"The question is pretty straight-forward, Lieutenant. Are you responsible for the Dalek Incursion?"

"I... I..." Caterina found trouble getting her voice to speak. She felt like she was being driven into a trap. "Well, I did bring...."

Hawthorne, clearly fed up with Caterina, raised his voice. "Lieutenant Delgado, were you not in command of the vessel Weaver when it went on the survey mission in Universe W8R4? And did you not bring a load of debris and artifacts back into the Facility itself, in violation of common safety precautions when dealing with unknown alien technology? Did your science team not open the artifact containing several Daleks, which proceeded to attack the Facility and require its destruction? Because all of my records say the answer is yes. Perhaps the records your own friends wrote are wrong."

"Well... yes, I did bring that back... b-but..."

"In other words, you showed a disturbing lack of common sense and recklessness, on top of ending your survey mission without authority to indulge in your personal whims of curiosity." Hawthorne leaned forward further. "Can you tell us why you were given such an important role in such a critical and sensitive mission despite this proven history of reckless disregard for procedure and failure to properly follow orders?"

At that point, all Caterina could think of was Simon and the others on her team who were gunned down by the Daleks. And Control... he had showed her so much, and he was gone too. She broke down and started weeping. "I... I..."

"Lieutenant, you will answer," Davies barked.

"Perhaps we should give the Lieutenant a moment to recover," Maran suggested.

Caterina tried to hold back the sobbing. "I... I studied the Da-Darglan tech f-from the m-moment we had it. I knew w-what to.... to look for." She sniffled. "I'm s-sorry about the D-Daleks. I n-never thought it'd hap-happen like that. I pro-promise it w-w'on't happen ag-again."

Hawthorne waved a hand in disgust. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant."

"I'll tear his head off."

Angel was pale with rage while holding her weeping sister. Beside her Robert had a hand on her shoulder while Julia paced around. "I don't think it'll solve anything, Angel," Julia pointed out.

"It'll make me feel better."

"So that's what he's doing? Dredging up every mistake we've ever made?" Robert sighed. "Try to make us look stupid and hope that sways the others?"

Julia didn't look back immediately, keeping her focus on the door. "That kind of thing works. Especially if you let them goad you into outrage. We just have to keep it cool."

The doors opened again. "Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero," the Sergeant-at-Arms called.

Lucy stood up and nodded at them before walking into the Committee room.

Once before the Committee, Lucy didn't have long before the hard questions came. "Lieutenant Delgado testified that you used some sort of special psychokinetic powers to fight the Changeling," Hawthorne asked her bluntly. "We are aware that such abilities exist, but your record shows no indication of them. Would you please demonstrate?"

Having seen how Hawthorne and the others reduced Caterina to tears, Lucy briefly pondered using it on him. But at the slightest sensation of cold within her she changed her mind, remembering Meridina's warnings. "One moment." Lucy swallowed and sucked in a breath to focus herself. She looked at the desk in front of her and extended her hand. The energy within her surged.

It surged too strongly. She had been looking to pick it up. She couldn't get the focus right and, instead, the desk toppled over and slammed into the committee's long desk. "Lieutenant!", Davies barked at her at the clatter.

Fully rattled by her failure to control what she'd done, Lucy swallowed. "Sorry sir, I'm... I'm still getting the hang of it."

The Gersallian Councilman looked ready to say something, but he was in awe for the moment and could not interrupt as Hawthorne glared at Lucy. "Perhaps some more forethought should be taken with how you choose to demonstrate this... this power." He overcame however much the incident had rattled him fairly quickly. "And you used this to fight the Changeling?"

"Yes sir. The control wasn't so much an issue then. I was just trying to knock it around."

"I see." Hawthorne checked the materials in front of him. "Lieutenant, I would like to ask about some of your missions aboard Aurora over the past year. To start with, a few weeks ago you were assigned as pilot to the Rio Grande for an unspecified mission?"

"It wasn't a mission," Lucy replied. "Commander Jarod asked for some leave time to assist old friends. He asked for a runabout and I was assigned as pilot."

"I see. Then, if it wasn't a mission, can you explain why the records show a firearm discharge during this... excursion?" Hawthorne put his hands together.

Lucy swallowed and took a breath. "We had a hostage situation. A kidnapper was holding a child hostage. Lieutenant Delgado, as in Angel Delgado, shot him with a stun setting after I disarmed him."

"I see. Yet transporter logs also confirm that Lieutenant Delgado had beamed into what sensor logs show was a secured facility. And I will add that we know you returned several individuals from Earth A4P5 to New Liberty, which is clearly more than visiting old friends."


"Lieutenant Lucero." Davies spoke up now. "Answer this question simply. Did you or did you not participate in an unauthorized extraction mission to an Earth that falls under the Contact Limitations regulations?"

Lucy swallowed. "I wasn't aware that Earth A4P5 fell under that regulation, sir."

"As your organization never officially revealed your existence to their governments and societies, it does," Davies pointed out. "So the answer is yes?"

Lucy nodded. "I suppose it is."

"And who authorized this excursion? Commander Jarod would have needed authority from a command officer."

Lucy shook her head lightly. "I don't recall," she replied.

"That answer is unacceptable, Lieutenant," Hawthorne said. "It was barely two weeks ago!"

"I don't recall, sir," Lucy repeated.

"Think carefully on this. You can be charged for perjury and obstruction of this Committee."

"Then charge me," Lucy answered.

Davies' nostrils flared at seeing her defiance. Hawthorne shook his head and checked his notes. As he did so, the Dorei senator leaned forward. "Lieutenant, according to these records, you accompanied Captain Dale when he boarded the Mayala three months ago."

Lucy nodded. "Yes. We were on a covert mission to undermine Captain Potana's rampage in the Cardassian DMZ."

"The same mission where your captain sabotaged one of the most advanced vessels of the Dorei fleet and allowed the Cardassian Empire to capture vital Dorei technology?", the Senator asked pointedly.

"I wasn't told everything as I'm not an official senior officer," Lucy reminded them. "All I know for sure is that we blew the Mayala up after enabling the Cardassians to remotely disable her systems."

"Who authorized this?", the senator demanded.

"I am not aware."

"Your claimed ignorance is becoming tiresome," Hawthorne said. "Now, we have some questions on the first contact with the Nazi German Reich at Krellan Nebula, and I suggest you answer them..."

It had taken some time for Meridina to navigate the bureaucracy of her own Order, with an active Council meeting giving the clerks reason to deny or delay her request to speak to Ledosh. Finally he appeared on the screen. "Meridina. Are you well?"

"I am. But I have much to discuss." Meridina took a calming breath, subduing her nervousness and energy at what she had to report. "Lucy Lucero's swevyra has fully manifested."

"What?" Ledosh leaned forward. "Did you...?"

"No," Meridina answered. "I have not shown her anything. She has called upon it herself. The first two occasions were minor usages, but she recently was forced to defend herself against a Changeling of S5T3. She called on her swevyra repeatedly and actively."

"And has she shown any darkness?"

"Briefly. At the end of her fight with the being, when her fear and anger swelled. But it has not taken hold of her."

Ledosh let out a sigh. "Very good. It is well you have reported this. I will inform the Council. Have you taught her emotional focus?"

"I have started. But I am also concerned. The leadership of the Alliance military has brought us before their Defense Committee, and it is clear that Defense Minister Hawthorne is one of those who oppose Robert and the others."

Ledosh drew in a breath. "I see. I shall have words with Senator Kaam."

"Mastrash, what of Lucilla's power? She needs training."

"Do not commit to such yet," Ledosh warned. "Karesl and Goras would gain too much of an advantage. If Lucy is to be trained, the Council must approve it."

"I understand." Meridina looked at the chronometer. "I should return to the others, I will be testifying soon."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina. I will do what I can to assist."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Mastrash," Meridina answered. Her finger tapped the comm button and ended the call.

"Lieutenant Delgado." Hawthorne looked back briefly to the Dorei senator before returning his gaze to Angel. "Do you mind explaining to us the authorization Captain Dale cited in turning over critical technical data to the Cardassians?"

"He was ordered to do everything short of giving them IU drives," Angel replied, keeping her patience low. But all she could think of was how these bastards had reduced her poor sister to tears.

"By whom?"

Angel looked past Hawthorne. "Admiral Maran."

Hawthorne looked over his shoulder. "Admiral?"

"President Morgan's orders were explicit," Maran replied. He looked over to the stunned Dorei delegate. "I also conferred with the President-General of the Dorei Federation, Princess Syrina, to make sure she understood the ramifications of Captain Potana's actions. She accepted the idea tha we would have to provide the Cardassians with technical data on the Mayala."

The Dorei senator nodded and put his hands together. "I see," he mumbled.

Hawthorne frowned and turned back to her. "You went along with Commander Jarod on his unofficial excursion to his native Earth in defiance of regulations, did you not?"

"I went to protect him," Angel replied. "There's a criminal organization that was looking to abduct him. They'd already kidnapped two people and we had to rescue them."

"So you misused Alliance Stellar Navy resources in a private action that violated regulation?", Hawthorne answered.

"And we saved five innocent people from a criminal organization," Angel shot back.

Hawthorne and Davies glared at her from their seats, as did the Russian general to Davies' side. Hawthorne looked around and seemed irritated that some people had begun to smile or seem amused. "Reports say you brought six back," Hawthorne pointed out, as if happy to catch her in a lie.

"Yes, we did. I said five innocent people. I didn't count Miss Parker." Angel folded her arms and sat back. "Is there anything else?"

"The Committee does not appreciate your tone, Lieutenant," Hawthorne growled.

"Actually, I find her entertaining," a Human Councilman stated from one wing, earning a glare from Hawthorne and Davies. Angel didn't recognize him or his accent. "Please, do continue with your interrogation, Minister."

Hawthorne looked back to Angel and checked his datapad. "Lieutenant, several years ago, did you participate in an infiltration of the Saudi city of Dammam on your home Earth of H1E4?"

Angel blinked and nodded slowly. "Yes, I did. We were helping Sarah Brindley get her daughters and son back."

"Yes. It says here that the Saudi courts had awarded custody to the father, Fariq."

"After he abducted them from US soil and took them to his home country, where his ex-wife had no standing to sue for custody," Angel retorted. "They even arrested her. The US government wouldn't help her, nobody would until we did."

"Still, you violated Saudi territory, injured several Saudi citizens, and..." Hawthorne checked the report. "Apparently you personally, as a distraction, stepped out into the open street without a hijab and provoked the Saudi vice police into trying to arrest you, at which time you brutally beat them, causing two broken arms, four broken legs, and several severe injuries among a group of four."

Angel at that point smirked. "What can I say? I don't appreciate assholes who treat women like scum and property."

"You will watch your language, Lieutenant, or I'll have you on charges," Davies thundered.

"Pardon me, Admiral, but what does this have to do with what happened during the LA33 operation?", Angel asked heatedly. "You're just digging stuff up that's not relevant."

"We decide the relevance, Lieutenant, not you," Hawthorne said. "Now, there is another operation during your time running the Facility that I wish to bring up...."

"Before you do, Minister, I have my own question." Davies leaned forward in his seat. "Lieutenant Delgado, please answer this: are you now in a personal relationship with your commanding officer?"

Angel glowered. "As in a friend or..."

"Don't be coy, Lieutenant." Davies put his hands together in front of him. "To be more exact, Lieutenant, are you in a sexual relationship with Captain Dale?"

Angel simply stared at him for a moment before choosing to respond. "Who I sleep with is none of your damn business."

"Oh, but I think it is," Hawthorne remarked. "It would explain why your sister was sent on a highly classified covert mission despite her history of disregarding orders and reckless endangerment of herself and others."

"Robert sent Caterina on that mission because she is smart, smarter than the lot of you put together!", Angel shouted. "Who the hell do you think you are..." Even as she shouted, Davies demanded she stop, but she ignored him. "...to attack us like this, over and over?! We're out there tring to hold the line and protect the Alliance!"

"Sergeant-at-Arms, escort Lieutenant Delgado to the brig," Hawthorne ordered. "You're going up on charges, Lieutenant."

"Maybe someone should charge you," Angel said.

Hawthorne and Davies looked ready to explode, and they nearly did so when they realized that the Councilman who had earlier supported her was chuckling. "Councilman Zoral, sir, I insist you refrain from undermining this proceeding or I will have you removed," Hawthorne demanded.

"I call the Defense Minister to order," Senator Sriroj declared from her own seat, standing. Three other legislators stood with her. "It is not his place to remove a sitting member of this Committee. And to be blunt, this interrogation of a woman's private life is out of order as well, and she has every right to express that contempt."

Hawthorne looked like he had been struck. "Senator, I must protest, you are undermining the Committee!"

"You undermined it when you ventured into that line of questioning."

"It is legitimate questioning," General Gulinev insisted. "Fraternization by a superior officer with his subordinate undermines the discipline of the service. Military personnel must sacrifice many things in the name of their duty."

"Then maybe the military needs to change," Councilman Zoral mumbled audibly.

"Minister, I will withdraw my motion if you strike from the record the entire exchange regarding Lieutenant Delgado's personal life and rescind your order for her jailing," Senator Sriroj said. "Otherwise I move for a vote to adjourn so that I can bring the issue of your conduct before the Senate Military Operations Committee. If I must, I shall seek your full censure."

For a moment Angel felt like gloating as she saw Hawthorne grind his teeth in frustration. But despite her temper she held back, knowing it would make things worse. Hawthorne nodded finally. "Very well. All questions relating to Lieutenant Delgado's fraternization with her commander are stricken. Sergeant-at-Arms, belay my last order." Hawthorne directed his gaze at Angel. "Lieutenant, to return to your time in the Facility, I would like to ask about an operation in Syria several months after the Damman op..."

Meridina returned to join the others as Angel walked out. "How did it go?", she asked.

"They're throwing everything at us," Angel complained. "Hawthorne tried to arrest me because I wouldn't talk about my relationship with Robert. And he brought up Damman. Damman. And that time in Syria where I left those assholes hanging from the lamppost in their undies!"

Robert looked at her in confusion. "We didn't even keep records back then, how did they know about it?"

"Maybe someone wrote an unofficial one," Meridina proposed.

"No." Julia shook her head. "That's not it at all." She looked down the chamber to a new arrival.

A man with dark gray hair, well combed and dressed and with his beard equally trimmed had stepped in. His eyes, a light brown in shade, scanned the area and, as he looked at them, his face curled into a slight smile. He walked up to them and said, "Hello. I'm Lawrence Smith, United States National Security Agency." He offered a hand. "Congratulations, Mister Dale. Or Captain, I should say."

Robert didn't accept the hand, since he was focused on the face. He'd seen it before. He could even remember the first time he'd seen it, the first time he'd met this man, in a very different Portland than the one they were near right now. "Agent Jones," he said, making the name sound like an accusation.

Smith nodded and smiled. "My little alias, yes. Turns out I was an Agent Smith after all."

"What are you doing here?", Julia asked.

"It should be obvious. I've been asked to offer testimony," he answered. "And since the United States government of our little Earth is very concerned to keep good relations with the Allied Systems, the President was quick to agree to sending me. Excuse me."

Smith walked past them and to the door, where the MPs allowed him in on seeing his paperwork. Julia sighed. "I guess that explains how they knew about Damman."

"I need to speak to the President," Robert mumbled. "There's got to be a way for him to stop this witchhunt."

"Lieutenant Nicholas Locarno!", the Sergeant-at-Arms called out.

Locarno sat at the table and waited for Hawthorne to finish looking over his paperwork. The man Robert had called "Agent Jones" was sitting near the rear of the chamber now, watching quietly. "Lieutenant." Hawthorne put his hands together and looked toward Locarno. "Did you defy Captain Dale's first orders to violate Reich space?"

"I did not immediately obey them," Locarno answered.

"Because you knew they were against orders?"

"Because I believed there was no justification yet," Locarno clarified. "It would have ruined the mission as well as nearly starting a war. I suggested probes be used to regain contact with Koenig and Captain Dale agreed."

"Very well." Hawthorne shifted in his seat. "Lieutenant, I took a moment to look over your file before calling you in. True or false; were you given a dishonorable discharge from Starfleet?"

Locarno frowned and leaned forward. "False."


"I was expelled from Starfleet Academy. As a result I was no longer a member of Starfleet. I was not given a discharge."

"You are being semantical," Gulinev remarked dismissively.

Hawthorne smirked. "Yes, I see the distinction in words, but in spirit? You were kicked out of Starfleet, Lieutenant, for what?"

Locarno lowered his eyes. "I convinced the cadets in my flight squadron to train for a flying maneuver banned under regulations. We had an incident when training for it and one of them died."

"And when the investigators came, you lied to them and encouraged your subordinates to lie?", Hawthorne asked.

Locarno drew in a breath. Having this starched suit drag his dirty laundry out like this brought the memories of that failure roaring back. The pain was fresh again. "I did," he admitted.

"What happened then?" This was from Sriroj.

"One of my subordinate cadets, Cadet Crusher, decided he was going to tell the truth. Once he'd done so, I... I couldn't just continue to avoid responsibility. So I confessed to the inquiry."

"So, you admited your transgressions?", Maran asked.

"I did."

"And you were expelled for this?"

"I was."

Hawthorne cut in again. "And yet you were given a position of trust almost from the moment you met Captain Dale and his organization? Despite your past failures in judgement?"

Locarno nodded. "I was. They were willing to give me a second chance."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Hawthorne said. "We need no more of your time."

Robert sat in the cockpit of the Susquehanna, staring at the blank screen. Seeing "Jones" again had him thinking abou all the choices made in those days. What if they had taken that offer from "Jones" aka Smith and allowed the US government to move in on the Facility? Rescue ops might've stopped on their world, yes, but they could have continued elsewhere. And they might never have brough the Daleks in.

And you might not have met Picard and rescued Scotty and Locarno and Farmer. You wouldn't have met Meridina. And who knows what nasty things the government might have asked us to do.

The screen blipped and Robert watched one of President Morgan's aides step into view. "Miss Boronov?"

"Captain Dale." Her Russian accent was not very thick but still discernable. "I'm afraid the President can't see you now."

"Does he know it's important?", Robert asked.

"He does. He also knows its important that his authority does not weigh in on the Committee proceedings. And that it can't be said you've spoken with him." There was sympathy on the woman's face. "I'm sorry, Captain. But you can't see him until this is over."

Robert lowered his eyes. "I think we're losing this, Miss Boronev. Hawthorne is in league with Davies and the military heads are going along wih it. They're bringing up everything."

"Yes. It is politics. It can't be helped. If you want to help yourself, Captain, cooperate with them fully. Do not let it be said you tried to evade the Committee. The rest will attend to itself." With that final remark Boronev terminated the call.
”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: [nUF] Season 1 - "Seeking The Past"

Post by Steve »

Barnes was in with the Committee when Julia stepped up to Locarno, sitting by himself. "How did it go?"

"They brought up my time in Starfleet," Locarno answered. He looked up at her. "It's not a time I like to remember."

"I understand that." Julia sat beside him. "Everyone's got mistakes in their past."

"Sometimes I think of Joshua. I got him killed. Then to protect myself I tried to ruin his memory." Locarno rubbed at his forehead. "Just one lie after another. And it didn't get me anywhere."

"So you tell the truth." Julia shrugged. "And then they turn it against you."

Locarno remained silent for a moment, going through his thoughts. "I almost said no."

"Hrm?" Julia turned her head to face him.

"Back when you offered me a place in the Facility. I was ready to say 'No, just take me back. You don't want me.'" Locarno seemed to be looking beyond her, into the past that was in his thoughts. "But I realized what you were offering me. It was a second chance to be something. I could redeem what I'd done to Josh."

Julia smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I get that."

The door opened and Barnes came out, frowning. "Lieutenant Commander Doctor Leonard Gillam," the Sergeant-at-Arms called.

Leo stood up from where he was with Caterina and Angel and walked in.

"Doctor, please explain for the benefit of this Committee your behavior during the mission to Abdis of R4A1," Hawthorne asked. "Specifically, your insistence on putting a woman through a dangerous procedure without proper facilities and without a full knowledge on the parasite within her."

"We were short for time," Leo explained. "When she gave birth the creature inside was going to re-assert control. It had to be done there."

"According to records, the woman nearly died," Hawthorne continued. "Doctor, I am no medical expert, but I can quote at least three surgeons who described your operation as reckless and inappropriate. One even told me you should have your license revoked."

"It's the nature of the medical community that some will believe in excess caution," Leo replied. "Because I've received notices from a dozen surgeons who congratulated me on the operation. Doctor Andja Layl, who I shall point out is the most distinguished neuro-surgeon on Gersal, went as far as to publish a paper supporting me."

The Gersallian Councilman nodded at that. Hawthorne scowled. "No further questions, Doctor."

"Just to be clear, Commander Scott..." Hawthorne made a show of checking his paperwork. "You were once charged by Starfleet for sabotage of a starship and theft of one?"

"Aye." Scotty had a bemused look on his face.

"And what became of those proceedings?"

"Th' charges were dropped, Minister Hawthorne," Scotty replied.

Hawthorne had a bemused look on his face. "Can you tell us why, Commander Scott?"

"We saved Earth, sir," Scotty replied. "Went back in time with that Klingon ship, picked up a couple o' whales, and got 'em tae talk tae th' alien probe."

"Really." Hawthorne had a blank look on his face. A number of the others were clearly bewildered, although some of the legislators were clearly amused. "Tell me, Commander, was anyone punished for your crew's transgressions?"

"Nae a single one of us, sir," Scotty declared.

"Oh really?" Hawthorne smiled and looked at his records. "Because I see here that the Federation demoted your superior officer."

"Oh, aye sir." Scotty grinned widely. "Captain Kirk was nae enjoying being an admiral. They demoted him back tae Captain an' gave him back th' Enterprise. He was happy as a clam, sir. Wasnae a punishment at all, 'twas a reward."

Hawthorne had nothing to say to that. "You are dismissed, Mister Scott."

Scotty stood and walked back toward the door. As he did so, the old engineer couldn't help but smirk.

Behind him, Hawthorne called out, "Sergeant, please bring Lieutenant Commander Jarod."

As Jarod stepped in to the committee chamber, Robert walked up to Zack. "Hey, Zack."

Zack looked at him and nodded to Magda and Derbely, who walked off to join the other Koenig crew. "Yeah?"

"Listen, I know you're upset about what happened."

"Upset doesn't begin to cover it," Zack said. "You didn't trust me. You were so wrapped up in completing the mission and being the hero that you didn't trust me with anything that might make me call it off."

"That's... that's not it," Robert insisted. "It was... dammit, I don't know how to explain this. I didn't know he was a Changeling, okay? And we thought Liton could be it. I had nothing in the way of proof that Draynal was an imposter."

"But you knew enough to see that he could have been something!", Zack retorted. "If you'd just told me, I could've stopped him from coming aboard, or kept an eye on him. He sabotaged my damn ship under my nose because you didn't give me any warning!"

Robert pursed his lip. "I know," he answered hoarsely. "My God, Zack, if I could change it I would, it was a mistake and I'm sorry."

Zack remained quiet for a moment. "Rob, your crew lost how many people?"

"Seven," Robert answered.

"Did you know them?", Zack asked.

"I'm afraid not."

"Thought so." Zack shook his head. "I know the names of every member of my crew, Rob. Don't know their favorite sports or drinks or who is dating who, but I know their names. Including the people who died. I knew some who were married or had kids back home or just parents who loved them. And I had to write the letters."

"Zack, I'm sorry..."

"Sorry doesn't cut it anymore!" Zack's shout echoed through the antechamber. "Sorry is when you forgot to pick me up for the prom! Sorry's when you screwed up that catch in the division semi-finals! This is waaaay beyond Goddamn sorry! Nineteen people are dead because of your decision, Rob!"

"What do you want, Zack?!", Robert hissed. HIs voice was full of tension as if he were ready to explode as well. "I made a mistake. And I can't take it back!"

Zack bit into his lower lip for a moment. "I... I don't know," he finally said. "I want... I want to know you won't pick your missions over your friends. Because that's what this felt like. Like you were picking your precious mission over our safety."

"Zack, it had to be done," Robert stressed. "We couldn't let Nazis of all people find Darglan technology."

"Someone else could have done it," Zack pointed out. "Don't tell me it was impossible. Harder, yeah. But not impossible."

"And if you're wrong, the Nazis could have found that site eventually," Robert pointed out.

"Rob, don't dance around it. What's more important to you, your missions or your friends?"

"My friends," Robert insisted.

Zack nodded. "Alright. So this isn't going to happen again, is it?"

Robert opened his mouth to agree but stopped. "Zack... I, I don't know."

"Yeah, I figured." Zack shook his head. "What if it was Julia you were sending to die? Or Cat? Actually, it was Cat this time too, so I guess that question is answered."

"Dammit Zack, you know what this job entails! We have duties and at any time I might have to give orders like that again!"

"Yeah. The mission comes first, right?" Zack's expression turned pensive. "I love the Koenig."

"Yeah." Robert smiled thinly and nodded. "I know."

"But Rob... I honestly wonder if even my ship is worth this. You're talking about putting missions ahead of us, of your friends." Zack shook his head. "Maybe we should just go tell Hawthorne to take the ships then. Take them and boot us out of the Stellar Navy. We can go back to just being friends."

Robert stared at him in shock. "You don't mean that, Zack."

"Maybe, maybe not. It's a thought. And it's a damn powerful one, because I hate thinking that my best friend will send me to die," Zack said.

"I didn't..."

"But you might." Zack stepped back. "It's clear where we stand, Rob. I'm not going to talk about it anymore." He turned and started to walk away.

"Whatever happens, you're still my friend, Zack," Robert insisted.

Zack looked back. There were tears in his eyes. "Yeah, I know. And that's why it hurts so damn much." He continued walking on his way.

"So, Commander Jarod, would you care to explain why you borrowed a Navy vessel for an unofficial mission to a planet under no-contact regulations?"

Jarod had been ready for the question from Hawthorne before his testimony had begun. "Years ago, when I joined the Facility staff, they promised to help me with my family and the threat of the Centre. Commander Andreys followed up on that pledge."

"A pledge made by a stateless organization that folded itself into the Alliance, an organization that is supposed to be bound by Alliance law and command authority," Hawthorne countered. "Do you have any defense against the fact that you misused Navy equipment?"

"Yeah." Jarod crossed his arms. "I rescued a little girl from kidnappers that were going to murder her."

Hawthorne didn't respond. "Tell me, Commander, what did you do before you were recruited by the Facility staff?"

"I was on the run from operatives of the Centre," Jarod answered.

"And that was it?"

"I helped people where I could. The Centre had used me to create things that hurt people. I wanted to make it up."

Hawthorne nodded. "And what kind of assistance did you get with this?"

"Very little," Jarod pointed out. "I was on my own."

"I see. SO you acted outside of the law," Hawthorne remarked. "You were a vigilante."

"I suppose that's one way of putting it."