"Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Feb 20, 2017 6:42 pm

wellis wrote:
Mon Feb 20, 2017 5:42 pm
After reading the SOTS Master List, and some of the discussion on the main SOTS page, I kind of feel a lot of stuff was added in more because it was cool than because it really fit together well.
Uh this multiverse-fanfic of Steve's isn't really centered on SOTS and the "SOTSverse" aka universe S0-T5 amounts to just a minor "cameo" verse anyway (I think the galactic-level multiple Cold Wars in SOTS precludes any single major power from simply just obtaining game-changing IUtech that might cause enemies to go all-out-war to prevent getting screwed over by possibly-undetectable or un-intercept-able IU-incursions).

What do you think are examples of "added in more because it was cool rather than because it fit well" here?

(And I wonder why reading the SOTS Master List and discussion thread would make you think this... and besides, SOTS is an original verse and not a crossover ;) )

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Mon Feb 20, 2017 9:32 pm

wellis wrote:
Mon Feb 20, 2017 5:42 pm
After reading the SOTS Master List, and some of the discussion on the main SOTS page, I kind of feel a lot of stuff was added in more because it was cool than because it really fit together well.
I'm not necessarily going to have everything from that master list. But there are elements to the setting that I think will be of use in the arcs of nUF, and I already had permission to include the universe for light cameo stuff. In prominence it's not going to be too major - arguably Star Trek and Mass Effect will continue to have the biggest presences in the arc of all the non-original content - and I reserve the right to tweak what exists in the nUF version of SOTS to make it fit the Multiverse cosmology I'm creating.

For me the most important bits are the fate of Earth and some of the metaphysical stuff, since with the latter I want to explore the idea that what the Gersallians call swevyra, and what the Jedi would call the Force, is something more than either understand. That it's more versatile and diverse and varied than either discipline yet grasps, but at the same time they do have good ideas on what it is.

Hence my introduction of Kasszas in 2-07 along with the Harmonious Val-Drillim (Which Shroom tells me is being added to SOTS canon :D ). To showcase yet another view on this power and the abilities it can grant.

We'll be seeing even more diverse elements to it in Season 3, when I introduce one UotW in 3-04 and then induct another key player into the mythos in 3-15 and 3-16. 8-)
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by wellis » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:52 am

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Mon Feb 20, 2017 6:42 pm
wellis wrote:
Mon Feb 20, 2017 5:42 pm
After reading the SOTS Master List, and some of the discussion on the main SOTS page, I kind of feel a lot of stuff was added in more because it was cool than because it really fit together well.
Uh this multiverse-fanfic of Steve's isn't really centered on SOTS and the "SOTSverse" aka universe S0-T5 amounts to just a minor "cameo" verse anyway (I think the galactic-level multiple Cold Wars in SOTS precludes any single major power from simply just obtaining game-changing IUtech that might cause enemies to go all-out-war to prevent getting screwed over by possibly-undetectable or un-intercept-able IU-incursions).

What do you think are examples of "added in more because it was cool rather than because it fit well" here?

(And I wonder why reading the SOTS Master List and discussion thread would make you think this... and besides, SOTS is an original verse and not a crossover ;) )
I guess what makes me feel the stuff is sort of squished together is the bragulans and their bragulan-ness, with their brag tech, and the Earthreign psi-tech that mutated peoples' thoughts and souls to the point it literally and metaphorically erased Earth. There's more stuff I guess, but I guess it just feels weird. Like the Oversoul stuff. I guess it's just feels sort of confusing and rambling a little, when reading through the main thread.

Part of me was wondering how Steve was going to be adding bits from it but he has explained that part.

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:34 pm

This ought to be in the SOTS-thread really. :P

But anyway...
wellis wrote:
Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:52 am
I guess what makes me feel the stuff is sort of squished together is the bragulans and their bragulan-ness, with their brag tech, and the Earthreign psi-tech that mutated peoples' thoughts and souls to the point it literally and metaphorically erased Earth. There's more stuff I guess, but I guess it just feels weird. Like the Oversoul stuff. I guess it's just feels sort of confusing and rambling a little, when reading through the main thread.

Part of me was wondering how Steve was going to be adding bits from it but he has explained that part.
Yeah it is pretty weird and the SOTS thread's perpetual conversational approach does make it harder to keep track... even the Master List can only do so much.

We decided to go with really "soft" crazy "high concept" but also goofy but also srs bsnss but also really unhinged 70s style sci-fi playing-loose kind of things, like European-style Jodorowsky stuff and also Kirby-esque, Starlin-y Silver Age comic stuff, with the New Gods/Apokalips/Darkseid and Thanos/Infinity Gem/Celestials/Galactus setups. Or Doctor Who and even the original Star Trek.

And I can't emphasize enough the influence of Image's continuation of the Prophet comics. The psychic galactic tyrant Earth Empire is a direct inspiration. Brandon Graham is <3 And Saga.

I mean it's sci-fi, one verse or multi-verse, there should be more to it than just guys in suits in some Space America sending rank-insignia'd Commanderalissimos or Generadmirals to reenact Space Vietnam or other items from the checklist of US military folklore. We're not stuck to a TV budget so we can go weirder than "omg they're so alien because their foreheads are so ridgey but otherwise they're totally human! let's somehow sell First Contact as being so amazing when if they wore a hat on a crowded sidewalk we wouldn't even notice their alienness!"... and even then low-budget Doctor Who did magic with paper mache and puppets :D

And it's like how in Star Trek you've got the biomechanical totalitarian weird-science Borg and prankster-deity Q god-beings co-existing in the same 'verse :P
We are deliberately trying to figure out how polar opposite concepts exist in the 'verse, since we want totalitarian nukepunk stalinist space bears vs. psychic greyoid aliens with crystal thought-bomb WMDs, super-cyberpunk humanoids vs. super-Zerg swarms, etc.

IMO this is really nothing weirder than Star Trek or 40k... but I guess we don't have the enormous shoulder pads people normally expect :P

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:15 pm

The fate of Earth in the nUF version of SOTS is one thing I've changed, and it will play directly into the main story arc. :)
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Tue Apr 25, 2017 6:36 pm

I am super late to this party but, Steve, that last episode was a triumph, I put on all the hats I own and take them off to you, all at once :ugeek: :!:

Just, such DRAMA, such SUSPENSE, and honestly the fact that they are the Chosen Ones and the fate of the cosmos hangs in the balance is kind of a background detail, it was an epic battle with only four combatants for the life of their friend and the future of her home and it was, honestly, the most epic thing in the series so far :!:

So I eagerly await the end of the mid season hiatus (there are only two things I hate in this world, Mid season hiatuses and the Arge... Um, intolerance? :? ) and the return of the Starship Aurora!
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Tue Apr 25, 2017 11:22 pm

Yeah, the mid-season hiatus was necessary because of a bit of burnout, unfortunately, plus my desire to finish my "Rule The Waves" LP (it's on SDN and SB). And the second half of the season has, regrettably, been a major slog due to my home distractions (including the one called "Mass Effect: Andromeda"), my trouble with sleepiness during what should be my peak writing hours at work, and other general stuff.

Hopefully with 2-12 I can get flowing much more rapidly.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by wellis » Sun May 07, 2017 5:05 pm

How are you enjoying Andromeda Steve?

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sat May 13, 2017 4:56 pm

It was fun, and some of the complaints about it are just the usual bullshit and why we can't have nice things.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Fri May 19, 2017 7:31 am

You know what? Fuck it. Fuck my distractions, fuck my inability to focus. I'm going to light a fire under my own ass.

I've spent the last ten weeks trying to write these episodes. I should be on fucking 2-15 by now, or at least finishing 2-14. But no. Distractions, sleepiness, it's all messed up my productivity, my pace. I'm still 60% or so through 2-12. This is un-fucking-cceptable. And yeah, that even accounts for that time I spent playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. And for the episodes all breaching 30k words again because fuck these stories are getting huge.

And then I recall how I did the last three episodes, finishing them on the weekends of their actual proper release because dammit, i was going to finish them on time. So you know what? Fuck it, that's what I'm going to push for again. Starting the first Friday of June, the second season is being released, even if I write the last five of them on their actual weekends of release because of this damned problem.

So here's the release schedule for the last half of Season 2, starting June 2nd!

2-10 "The Path Before Us" - June 2nd
Robert, Lucy, and Meridina each face new challenges with the changes in their lives; the Aurora crew are sent to parley with the Clans of Kerensky to prevent a new outbreak of war.

2-11 "Under Fire" - June 9th
Leo faces tough decisions while working in a field hospital under Nazi attack.

2-12 "Common Ground" - June 16th
The Koenig comes to the assistance of alien wanderers during training exercises with the Citadel races; Robert and his crew attempt to negotiate peace with the Batarian Hegemony.

2-13 "A Tale of Two Sisters" - June 23rd
Angela and Caterina help a group of alien-seeking 21st Century Londoners being stalked by an alien monster.

2-14 "Solarian Nights" - June 30th
The Aurora crew visits the city-moon of Solaris and gets caught in a game of intrigue with an enigmatic billionaire.

2-15 "Blast from the Past" - July 7th
The Aurora crew must protect an Earth seeking Alliance membership from a powerful empire.

2-16 "All That Remains" - July 14th
Robert and Meridina seek out the rebel telepath Lyta Alexander to learn more about the Darglan and their connection to the First Ones.

2-17 "Between Two Fires" - July 21st
The Aurora crew struggle to repair their crippled ship while helping the alien traveler known as the Doctor investigate a mysterious army of ghosts.

2-18 "Choices" - July 28th
Caught in the crossfire between the Daleks and Cybermen, Robert and his friends face decisions that will change their lives forever.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Fri Jun 02, 2017 3:12 pm


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 1 July 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. I am happy to log our official return to active duty following six weeks of repairs from the battle at 452TD. Commander Scott has performed the usual miracle of getting our repairs and shakedown work done ahead of schedule and getting us back out of spacedock.

I am also happy to log another occasion. Given the time, I will remark upon it in my next entry. I'm due in the Lookout

The crowd of uniformed officers and crew grew quiet when Robert reached for the small box on the table beside him. He opened it to reveal a rank tab of two gold strips and a silver strip. "It is my honor and privilege to say that as of this day, July 1st 2642 on the Alliance Standard Calendar, the Alliance Stellar Navy has awarded a meritorious promotion to Nicholas Locarno for outstanding service on numerous occasions as Navigation Officer of the Starship Aurora." Robert grinned at Locarno, who remained at attention while Robert clipped the new rank tab in place. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander."

"Thank you, Captain," Locarno answered.

Cheers came from the assembled crew, including the members of the command crew of the Aurora and of the Koenig, the attack and escort ship that usually remained docked to Aurora's large docking port at the rear of the primary hull. Locarno looked to the assembled, including to one slightly-grinning Ensign Jean Hajar from the Koenig, before noticing that the Lookout's civilian host and cook Hargert was already rolling out a large cake. The icing lettering, silver and gold in color, spelled out "For Lieutenant Commander Locarno". Impressively Hargert had managed to make a reasonable facsimile of the Aurora with blue and white icing.

"You baked a cake?", Locarno asked Hargert. "For a promotion?"

Hargert gave him a look of faux mortification. "As if I would not? Come now, Commander, certainly you know by now that I never miss an opportunity to bake a cake." The aged man's German accent was slightly hoarse, if only from the obvious age in his voice. The smile on his face was a far more evident indicator of his mood.

"I hope mine is chocolate." That remark came from Caterina Delgado, still a Lieutenant and the ship's Science Officer. She was one of the smallest people in the room, not surprising given her height was - in old English-US terms - just a few inches over five feet. Hazel eyes glistened with the presumed image of a chocolate cake in her head. "Some of that Swiss stuff."

A bemused sigh came from beside her. Ensign Violeta Arterria, one of Locarno's subordinate helm officers, was holding Cat's hand. Her purple eyes - matching the deep purple coloring of her genetically-engineered hair - looked at her girlfriend with affection and some feigned irritation. "I should never have taken you through Switzerland before we got to Venice."

Caterina looked to Violeta and playfully stuck her tongue out. Violeta started giggling at her in reply.

Robert, as Captain, got dibs on the second piece. He also secured the third piece for its proper recipient, who was currently nursing a glass of fruit juice at the lounge's bar counter. Commander Julia Andreys' long blond hair was pulled into a ponytail as always. Her green eyes, shaded close to aquamarine, were looking to Robert as he stepped up. She extended a hand and accepted the offered paper plate and plastic fork. "Thanks," she said, smiling.

But there was more behind the smile than simple joy. Robert could sense the emotional tension within Julia. He could have even without his "abilities", those life force-derived powers he had been training to use for over half of a year. Reading Julia was almost second nature to him, and the same for her reading him. "Doesn't this bring back memories?", he asked her as she took a bite.

"Hrm?" She had a mouthful of cake to chew.

"Well…" Robert smiled back at her. "I think my earliest memory is your fourth birthday party. Grandpa brought me to your house. I remember looking at you with icing all over your mouth, and all over mine, and Grandpa joked that when we were older we'd be licking it off each other."

By then Julia had swallowed. That was a good thing, as she broke out giggling. "Oh my God, I think I remember that too. Mom just stared at him."

"My Mom told me years later that your parents actually complained about it. Dad had to smooth things over." Robert shook his head. "Grandpa always had his own sense of humor."

Julia shook her head. "And he always thought you and I would get together when we were old enough."

For a moment it was clear both were flashing back to that moment under the wide open Kansas sky. The mound on the family property had collapsed with the destruction of the Facility far below. They had barely escaped it together. They had been caught up in the thrill of that moment when they shared a kiss… and immediately decided together to stop there and continue their relationship as it had always been, free of any romantic entanglement.

"Speaking of being together…" Julia looked to the crowd. "How are you and Angel doing?"

Robert drew in a breath that came dangerously close to being a sigh. He looked back as well and saw where Angel was gently teasing her sister over something. While Cat was a small, skinny girl, Angel was several inches taller and filled out. Although her uniform didn't show much of her body below the neck, he knew what was beneath. His mind brought up the images from his memories, of the rippling, tough fighting muscle under the bronze complexion of Angel's skin. Angela Delgado had spent much of her life learning to fight hand-to-hand, and she could be an utter terror in a fight.

"We had some time together. During the repairs." He sighed. "But now that we're back on full duty…" Robert shook his head. "I keep expecting the shoe to drop, Julie. I want this relationship to work, but with everything else I have going on…"

"Isn't your training with Meridina supposed to be over?"

"I used to think that, but now, I'm not sure if it'll ever be over," Robert admitted. "Now that we know what was going on with the Gersallians, I can't help but feel I have to stick to the training. And Angel's not happy."

"You might have to make a choice, Rob," Julia said. "About what's more important to you."

There was something in the way she said those words that made it clear Julia wasn't just thinking of his situation. The feelings he had sensed in her when he stepped up were returning. His training with Meridina made that clear, even if he would have realized that without that training or the abilities the training was honing. "What about your choice?", Robert asked. "Have you made it yet?"

"I haven't made it official," Julia said. "I'm just… torn, I guess. I want to be a Captain, and Admiral Maran's offering me the Enterprise of all ships. But if I say yes, I'll either be going off on my own, or I'll be splitting us up if anyone joins me. I don't want to do that."

"Julie…" Robert took her hand. "I think you should do it. I think you have great potential as a captain. Honestly, I think you'll be better at it than I am."

She smiled at him in response.

Before either of them could say anything, blue holographic light appeared over Robert's left forearm. A voice came from the hologram. "Bridge to Captain Dale," said, or rather chirped, an alien voice. Robert recognized it as the voice of Lieutenant Jupap, who was currently minding the bridge. The Alakin continued. "Admiral Maran is on subspace. He needs to speak to you immediately."

"Tell him I'll be on my way to… wait." Robert chuckled. "Just let me step out of the lounge."

Julia nodded and grinned. Another piece of cake was already on her fork. "Hurry back if you can." A mirthful look came to her eyes. "I'll try to protect your piece as best as I can."

"From the others, or from yourself?"


Robert smirked back at her and stood from the counter stool. He walked past a few of the others and stepped out of the Lookout and into the adjoining corridor. Once the door slid closed his right finger pressed the blinking blue light.

Until just a few weeks ago, the Stellar Navy had used the multidevice. Specifically, an electronic all-in-one device of ultralight "space age" material that acted as general scanner, communicator, and computer access all at once even on general models - specialized ones could do even more, like send out exotic electronic emissions or make specialized scans. The Earth of Universe L2M1 had first developed the specific concept, although several of the other Earths in the Multiverse had variations on it.

But then contact with Universe M4P2 happened the prior April. M4P2 went one better than all the others: the omnitool. A small, lightweight piece with built-in holographics emitters, it was even lighter than multidevices and more versatile, replacing the physical key controls with an interface generated entirely with holographics and projected hard-light machinery. Organizations within the Alliance, public and private, had spent much of the year negotiating licensing rights on the technology with the manufacturers in Citadel space. Only now was it bearing fruit: as of June the Stellar Navy was issuing new, specially-made omnitools for its personnel. The Aurora crew was in spacedock at just the right time to get them issued.

One of the benefits of having omnitools appeared on a holographic screen created by the one Robert was wearing. Admiral Maran appeared from his office at Defense Command, near Portland in the Pacific Northwest of Earth L2M1. The Gersallian man had his usual immaculate appearance, with graying dark hair on his head and the solid expression Robert had long become accustomed to. He was even accustomed to the fact that because of the whims of evolution or fate or God himself, the Gersallians were aliens who looked, on the outside, like Humans.

"Admiral," Robert said respectfully.

"Captain." Maran nodded. "I'm pleased that your ship is back in full running order. We need you back out there."

"Has anything happened with the war?"

The Admiral nodded. "The 11th Fleet just won a victory at Beta Laurentis that has secured our hold on that sector. Allied ground troops have finished securing Scheerwelt and Neu Posen. Which is related to the subject of my call."


"We would have never managed the troops to take both of those worlds without the presence of Inner Sphere units. The 3rd Davion Guards and the Orloff Grenadiers played critical roles in the fighting. That's why I'm concerned by reports we're getting from our Inner Sphere allies."

Robert frowned at that. "What?"

"Something is going on in the territorial zones held by the Clans. Intelligence indicates some sort of political upheaval is underway. President Morgan and I are concerned that this could be a prelude to a renewal of the Clan Invasion."

At that, Robert frowned. From what he knew of Universe F1S1, the Clans were a caste society that had arrived on the Inner Sphere's Coreward frontier about seven years ago. They had technological superiority over the Inner Sphere in military terms, and a highly-trained and lethal warrior caste leading an invasion of the Inner Sphere, stopped two years later at a planet called Tukkayid in what was left of the Free Rasalhague Republic. "If that's true…"

"...then Prince Victor, Captain-General Marik, and the other Inner Sphere leaders would be forced to pull their troops off the front," Maran finished for him. "The Inner Sphere's leadership is assembling for a conference on Tukkayid called by ComStar. Primus Mori and Precentor-Martial Focht have invited President Morgan and myself to attend. And we want you there."

Robert nodded. Diplomatic meetings were one aspect of the job he was getting used to, even if he often found them dreadfully boring. "Understood, Admiral. We'll jump for F1S1 immediately."

"I look forward to seeing you on Tukkayid, Captain. Maran out."

The omnitool shut down the screen. With a conscious thought and a movement of Robert's arm, the blue holography of the omnitool came to life around his left forearm. The Stellar Navy-issue version was different than those usually found in M4P2, and not just in color: the designers crafted the basic interface to resemble that of an old multidevice, as if it had been a touchscreen. Robert hit the visible key for opening a commlink. "Dale to Bridge."

"Yes Captain?", Lieutenant Jupap responded over the audio channel.

"Activate jump drive, set to F1S1. Once we're through, set a course for the system Tukkayid and engage."

"Yes Captain."

WIth that done, Robert turned back to the Lookout. WIth no immediate jump anchor to their destination, or anywhere near it - jump anchors had yet to be installed anywhere in the Coreward half of the Inner Sphere - they would take a day or two (or more) to arrive at Tukkayid. This meant he was not needed immediately on the bridge or elsewhere.

And that meant he could, at least, get to actually finish that piece of cake.

Undiscovered Frontier
"The Path Before Us"

The quiet solitude of Meridina's quarters were meant to let the Aurora security chief have her daily meditation. A chance to reflect on the day and sense where her swevyra, her life force, was leading her.

Once meditation had come almost second nature to her. Once it was clear she had an attuned swevyra, one that could reach out to the universe and made her capable of great feats of power, her father Karesl had taught her meditation. And like any daughter-turned-student eager to please the father she admired, she'd taken to it and with discipline had become quite the capable meditator. Even after her entry to the Order of Swenya and being given to another of the ranking members of the organization for training, her father's training in the meditative side of their work had guided her.

But meditation no longer came easily for Meridina. These past few months had been a trial for her, the greatest in her life, and everything had changed. She had been taken as a host by the vicious Goa'uld Amaunet, severely wounded by her own student Lucy Lucero in the act of stopping and killing the vile being, and then had to deal with the grief and guilt of what Amaunet had used her body, and her abilities, to do. The deaths inflicted at Stargate Command, the pain that had been caused, all of it had driven Meridina toward darkness. And then came her confrontation with the corrupted Draman Olati, the attack on the Alliance Senate by an extremist faction of her own people, and the leader of that faction trying to kill her after forcing her into a trial before the Council of her Order. Even vindication had been bitter: the corrupted Mastrash Goras might have been defeated, but in the wake of his fall and the death of the Council's leader Maklir, the Council had decided to turn its back on everything Meridina had been trying to build. She was ordered to return home.

Instead, Meridina put her bond to the crew of the Aurora before her devotion to the Order of Swenya. She resigned from her Order, turned her back on everything she had once lived for, and was now firmly upon the path she and Mastrash Ledosh, her teacher, had foreseen.

And it hurt. It hurt like nothing she had ever considered before.

It was getting late in the day. Meridina gave up on meditation and decided to look for Lucy. Now that Lucy's training was known, there was no need to be subtle with it or with Robert's, and Meridina was no longer holding anything back on their education in their abilities. And that meant more training and more time. Regrettable given Robert's responsibilities, but he needed the training if he was ever going to be capable of defending himself adequately with his life force.

Perhaps I should force myself to call it that more often, Meridina pondered to herself. Robert has such trouble with pronouncing it. A very small smile came to her face at that thought.

Given the time, Robert was probably busy doing daily paperwork in his office. He had already alerted her to a staff meeting in the morning to discuss their arrival at Tukkayid for the following afternoon. She would collect him second, then.

And she already had a good idea where Lucy would be.

Meridina put on a cream-colored vest and loose black trousers before she left her rooms. It was a short trip from her quarters to a turbolift. "Deck 25 Section G," Meridina stated. The lift sped its way through the lift tubes connecting the ship's various decks together until it brought her to the destination she described. Deck 25 was one of the middle decks of the drive hull of the ship, and this specific section was within the engineering area.

A short walk brought her to her destination. The door panel referred to it as "Machine Shop B". Inside she found that things were generally quiet. A pair of petty officers and four crew were looking over various machinery replicators and fabricators. Shop B was for precision work on small items, the tooling and pieces that had to be kept up in the inventory for the ship to have spare parts on the many thousands of individual machines that, together, formed the Starship Aurora.

Lucy was in one corner, working quietly with one of the fabricators. She was in a work uniform, black with beige trim and a tool belt around her waist. Her curly black hair was pulled into a curly ponytail at the back of her head. As Meridina walked up she turned and stood. "Meridina?", she asked.

"I was coming to get you, it is nearly time for training."

Lucy's blue eyes blinked. "Wait, what time is it? It's only like 1800, right?"

Meridina smiled gently. "1930," she clarified.

Lucy made a face and then covered it with her palm. "Oh. Dammit. I lost track of time."

Meridina gave Lucy's work station a peek. Not that she needed to; there was only one project that Lucy was so wrapped up in that she would lose track of time like that.

"How is your work going?", Meridina asked gently. "Are you close to reproducing Swenya's Blade?"

Lucy shook her head. "I don't know. My scans were pretty thorough. But it's like re-assembling a puzzle when you've got pieces missing and aren't even sure where some are supposed to go."

"I am certain you will manage it, Lucy," Meridina said. She set a hand on Lucy's arm to be supportive.

"What about you? I know the last few months have been rough…"

Meridina tried to keep her sadness off of her face. Being forced to choose between the Aurora and her devotion to the Order of Swenya had been excruciating. She felt an odd sense of being cast adrift even through her devotion to her purpose: to work with the Aurora's crew to fulfill their role as the Bearers of the Dawn.

This was especially important given what they had learned about the Prophecy of the Dawn, a work passed down from Swenya herself three thousand years ago. Her own mentor had revealed that the Order Council had doctored the original copy to hide the ending line. That line was a warning that an ancient threat known only as "the Darkness" would return. And my people know nothing of it.

Lucy reached over and turned her station off. "Why don't we get this training out of the way and then get some dinner?"

"It will be a late one."

"I know." Lucy grinned. "But we'll be hungry, and it's a chance to unwind and decompress. Even swevyra'se or Life Knights or whatever you term want to use need time to themselves. Time to take it easy."

"You forget that I am no longer swevyra'se."

Lucy responded to that with a small smile. "Then just what are you busting my ass for when we go train?"

It was a rhetorical question. A soft smile came to Meridina's face. "An interesting point. Very well. We train, and then we eat together."

"Great. I'll see if Hargert has any tasty stuff left from Nick's promotion ceremony earlier."

Without another word, they both stepped out of the machine shop.

After the day's work was done Angel went to Robert's quarters. He wasn't in. This did not surprise Angel in the slightest and she entered the quarters to wait for him.

Robert had kept all of his important family things after leaving his family home years ago. Some family items he'd left with his cousin Beth Rankin, now the Governor of New Liberty, while some he had with him. Mostly they were replicated copies of family photos. On one wall his old high school football jersey was hanging with a frame showing clipped newspaper articles. Angel's memories went back a decade to recall those nights, when he had put in a good performance as a wide receiver. He hadn't done well enough to be offered a full scholarship at a university, though.

I can't imagine how different our lives would be if he had gotten a scholarship, Angel thought. She sighed. But I bet it would be another thing to keep us apart.

She looked at the time. 2150. It was getting too late for anything, even for a dinner, and that hurt. It looked like they were going back to the way things had been since before New Year's. Day after day after day of Robert doing his Captain work and training in his abilities, leaving no time for her.

Those damned powers. If only Leo had a way to get rid of them.

Thinking about freeing Robert of the burden of these "life force" strengths made Angel recall what that blind Zigonian had said to her. Kasszas had told her that she wasn't in love with Robert anymore. That she loved a "phantom", a memory of what he had been before he started using those life force powers.

She'd denied it at the time. Even now she wanted to deny it. It brought her pain to realize she couldn't. Looking back to all of the times she and Robert had been dating, and all of the times they'd broken up… wasn't that how it happened? That things would happen, he would disappoint her and she'd disappoint him, and then it would end? As the damned lizard had said, her affection was more for what she wanted him to be than what he was.

Angel sat on the couch and felt tears form in her eyes.

She waited in the quietly, silently weeping in frustration and uncertainty. At about 2220 the door finally opened. Robert stepped in, wearing the sleeveless cream-colored vest and baggy brown pants he usually did for the training sessions. He was covered in sweat and fatigued. When he saw Angel, a guilty look came to his face. "Sorry, Lucy was late and we…" He stopped. his eyes lowered. "How long have you been waiting?"

"Not too long," Angel said. And it was true: a bit over half an hour was nothing compared to waiting two hours, or all night, as she had sometimes done. "Did you want to catch something to eat?"

Robert shook his head. "Meridina picked today to increase the weights I had to lift. And to try out the augmented running course. I'm too exhausted to do anything but wash up and go to bed."

It was with a small voice that Angel said, "Sure, I understand."

Robert didn't need to hear the disappointment in her voice. He'd felt her presence, and her knotted feelings, even before he got to his door. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I know," she answered. "You always are, and I know you mean it." She looked at him and they made eye contact. "I think we should talk about this, though."

"Is there anything new to say?", Robert asked. "Because it seems we discuss it all of the time."

"Yes, I think there is," she answered. "For one, it's pretty obvious your training isn't going to end. Whatever Meridina said about 'learning control', she had far more in mind. What happened on Gersal made that clear. And if you're going along with that, well…"

Robert swallowed and said nothing. His past promises that the training would be over soon and he would have time again were clearly no longer being kept. "Yeah," he said. "It's not fair to you."

"Like I said, we'll talk." Angel gestured toward his room and the shower unit beyond. "Why don't you go wash off real quick and get to bed?"

There was nothing for him to say to that. He nodded and went to the shower.

After said refreshing shower, weary to the bone, Robert made his way to the bed. Angel was already lying there in her nightgown. She gave him a little kiss on the lips as he settled into place beside her.

They both fell asleep shortly thereafter.

When the Starship Aurora dropped out of warp, it found itself in the middle of company.

The most prominent of the ships visible was a type Robert and the others rarely got to see: a Sirian League carrier-vessel. The ship was two hundred meters longer than their own, thirty meters wider, and about the same height. It was one big solid hull, with the surface painted dark green with blue streaks, and the eight-sided starburst insignia of the Sirian League prominent on the side. Near the rear of the ship the hull bulged out and became circular.

"A ring drive," murmured Locarno from his place on the Aurora bridge. The command crew were all in their normal places.

"A what?", asked Angel.

"It's a big ring for the warp drive assembly instead of warp nacelles," Cat explained for her sister. "The Vulcans still use them on some ships."

Locarno added, "They're easier to protect, but their warp maneuverability isn't anywhere near that of a nacelle-using ship."

"The ID code of the ship has her as the Majestic," Jarod said.

Robert nodded. The Cincinnatus, the Earth Confederacy dreadnought that had been President Morgan’s usual interstellar means of transport, had been lost in the same failed attack campaign where they had been ambushed at 452TB. Robert wondered whether or not the Majestic would take the place of the lost ship or if it was just a stand-in for the moment.

"I wonder if the Inner Sphere states have brought any of their starships," Julia wondered aloud.

"Unlikely." Jarod shook his head. "It's only been three months. I'm betting they're still working on the refit plans."

"So where do you think they are?", Robert asked.

"I'm picking up indications of other warp drives that came into the system over the last couple of days," Caterina said. "It looks like warp-capable light interstellar passenger liners."

"As in…?"

"Think passenger jet, not actual big liner ship," Cat finished for her sister.

"That would make sense," Julia said. "You can buy those almost anywhere, including government transport models."

A tone came from Jarod's console. "We're getting a hail from the planet. It looks like it's coming from the central ComStar facility planetside."

"Put them on screen."

Jarod did so. Admiral Maran appeared. He looked to be in an office space, presumably one set aside for his use. "I see you made it."

"We jumped in a bit further away than I would have liked," Robert admitted. "But without a jump anchor close to Tukkayid there didn't seem to be a point in using one."

"I was the one who ordered you out before the Majestic was ready to depart. We proved lucky in the arrival point." Maran drew in a sigh. "Regardless, it's good that you're here. Tonight is the arrival banquet and the political discussions begin tomorrow. But things are moving more quickly than we anticipated and I want to get you up to speed. Standby to beam up a delegation on my signal. I'll see you shortly. Maran out."

As soon as he disappeared from the screen Robert and Julia rose from their chairs. "We'll have them beamed up to Station 1. Jarod, you have the bridge, and have Jupap ready to take over. I suspect this will be a command staff briefing."

"I'll have Meridina meet us there," Julia offered.

A young man with technical crew rank was manning the transporter station controls when the two arrived. Meridina came in just behind them. "We're getting the ready signal from the planet, sir," the man said.

"Whenever you're ready, Crewman."

The young man nodded and operated his controls.

Moments later six columns of white light formed on the pad. The light burst briefly, quickly enough that it didn't blind, and five figures now stood on the pad. Robert and the others straightened their backs to stand at attention as Admiral Maran stepped down. "Captain, Commander, good to see you in person again."

"It's always a pleasure, Admiral." By now Robert was looking over the other attendees. He recognized Victor and Jerrard Cranston first, Victor right behind and beside Maran in the middle row and Jerry Cranston behind Victor in the rear. Standing beside Jerry was an East Asian man in a St. Ives Compact uniform.

To Maran's side in the front section was a man in a robed uniform of white with the ComStar insignia on the breast, with rank insignias as well. He had an eye patch on over the right eye and looked quite old, easily in his late sixties.

The sixth figure, placed beside Victor, was another older man, with gray hair and a military-style buzzcut. His uniform was dark gray and had a red disc with a black wolf's head on it placed prominently on the neck.

Maran stepped down. "I believe you already know Prince Victor and Colonel Cranston. This is Precentor-Martial Anastasius Focht of ComStar and Colonel Jaime Wolf, former commanding officer of the Wolf Dragoons. And this is Colonel Kai Allard-Liao of the Compact. Gentlemen, this is Captain Robert Dale."

"Precentor-Martial, Colonels." Robert nodded. "This is my First Officer, Commander Julia Andreys, and my Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Meridina." Looking to Kai he nodded. "I'm sorry we missed you, Colonel Allard-Liao, during the visit to St. Ives. I hope your mother is doing well."

Kai nodded respectfully and smiled. "She's doing quite well. Doctor Gillam's suggested treatments are working like a charm. She'll never have to worry about the cancer again."

"He'll be happy to hear that." Robert kept himself from sighing. Leo had made the suggestion for further anti-cancer genetic treatments after learning that Duchess Candace Liao, Kai's mother and ruler of the Compact, had survived a bout with breast cancer a decade before. It had been a very poor substitute for failing to save Joshua Marik.

Robert turned his attention to the older men next. "It's an honor to host you, sirs, aboard my ship."

"It is a fine vessel." Focht looked around with his one eye. "And it lives up to the reports from the newsvids during your diplomatic tour. Unfortunately a tour is out of the question, Captain. We are pressed for time now."

"For the banquet tonight, you mean?"

"Not just the banquet." Focht's single eye focused on Robert. "The peace of the Inner Sphere is at stake. The Clans are preparing to renounce the Truce of Tukkayid. We have only days, perhaps, with which to prevent a resumption of the Invasion. And your ship may be the only thing that can succeed."

Robert nodded and glanced to Julia, who glanced back with the same look in her eyes that he knew was in his own. A look with a single thought behind it.

It looks like it's up to us again.

Conference Room 1 was set up with tables in a half-circle around the central holotank projector. The command crews of the Aurora and Koenig took several of the seats, leaving a table for the Inner Sphere leaders and one for Robert, Julia, and Admiral Maran to sit at. Focht offered a ComStar-made data disc to Robert, who passed it to Jarod for use in the briefing. He stood up

"Since the Truce of Tukkayid came into effect, ComStar has maintained various intelligence assets in Clan-held space," Focht stated. "Our greatest concern is that the Crusader faction would one day manage sufficient votes to overturn the Truce."

"The Crusaders are the pro-war faction, right?" asked Zack.

"It would be inaccurate to identify the Clan factions as pro-war or anti-war, Commander," answered Focht. "Their culture is built around combat. The Wardens believe in remaining apart from the Inner Sphere as a protective force while the Crusaders believe in conquering the Inner Sphere to restore the Star League under the rule of the Clans." Focht stepped up to the holotank. Jarod activated it and brought up a starmap of the Inner Sphere. Various stars signifying populated star systems lit up and three-dimensional borders came into existence to delineate the current territorial dispositions.

The Clan Invasion zones were the most prominent feature on the map; four narrow strips plunging from "above" toward the middle. Six icons appeared over the map, spread among the four zones. To the spinward "left" a zone was marked with the emblems of a green bird and a snake's head, then a snarling wolf head, a roaring white bear's head, and then a pouncing gray feline and a feline face in the middle of a sunburst-like pattern. Focht, for the benefit of his listeners, briefly identified each zone's holders: the Jade Falcons and Steel Vipers, the Wolves, the Ghost Bears, and lastly, the Smoke Jaguars and Nova Cats. A line on the map appeared at the rimward edge of the invasion zone. "Under the terms I negotiated with ilKhan Ulric Kerensky, the Truce of Tukkayid forbids any Clan forces from moving beyond this line."

"And they evidently don't care about securing all of the territory coreward of Tukkayid," Julia observed.

"They do not," Focht said. "They have raided above the line on occasion, but they appear to consider such attacks to be a waste of material. Unfortunately, this may have contributed to the current threat against the Truce."

"They want more fights?"

"Yes, Captain. For their youngest generation, it is a matter of their future." Focht looked to Colonel Wolf. "Colonel Wolf can explain."

The aging mercenary leader stood up from his place and walked to join Focht. "In the Clans, advancement for warriors requires combat. All promotions are done in Trials of Position. And to earn these Trials, warriors must accumulate victories in battle."

"And with the Clans at peace, you get fewer chances for big flashy victories," Angel observed. "It's like being a professional fighter. It doesn't matter how well you train, you're going to be stuck in your place and ranking if you don't get in any good fights."

"The analogy is a good one. But for the Clans, even more is at stake than mere statistical rankings. Every warrior longs for a chance to win a Bloodname." When no one inquired as to what he meant, Wolf kept going. "In the Clans, what you refer to as family names, or surnames, are strictly prohibited. Only warriors who have won a Bloodname receive a second name. The Bloodnames come from the eight hundred men and women who followed Nicholas Kerensky in the Second Exodus. No more than twenty-five warriors are allowed to hold each name at a time; to win a name requires victory in a Trial of Bloodright tournament."

"And to get in a tournament, you need to have a good record," Julia observed.

"Yes." Wolf nodded to her. "I cannot emphasize how important a Bloodname is to a warrior of the Clans. It is the only guarantee that a warrior's DNA will be used in future generations of Clan warriors. Bloodnamed warriors get the best command opportunities and are members of their Clan Council. They elect the Khans and Loremaster of a Clan from among their number." A dark look came to the man. "It is the fear of not getting this opportunity that is turning the newest generations of Clan warriors into ardent Crusaders."

"Okay, but the Truce is only for fifteen years," Julia said. "They'll still be in their thirties when it's over. They'll have plenty of time to get their shot when the Truce expires, won't they?"

"You are thinking in your social terms," Wolf said. "The Clans consider a warrior too old by the time they reach thirty-five."

"Woh." Thomas Barnes shook his head. "That's pretty… I mean, that's not even middle-aged."

"Much of this is due to the Clan eugenics program," Focht replied. "Their scientist caste has been constantly refining their genes for centuries. Every five years is a new generation, considered superior to those beforehand. A thirty-five year old warrior is three generations out of date."

"Which is the problem." Jarod spoke up. "The Truce is for fifteen years. The newest generation of Clan warriors would be approaching thirty-five when the Truce ends. By Clan standards they'll be too old."

"What happens if a Clan warrior hits that age without a Bloodname?", Julia asked Wolf. "Do they forcibly retire them?"

"They are removed from frontline units and assigned to garrison forces or second line forces," Wolf answered. "Most will become solahma. They will spend their time fighting bandits as a last, desperate hope to get at least some of their genetic material into the breeding program. If they survive to a certain age, they usually end being relegated to caretakers of the sibkos. That is, the children of the warrior caste, taking care of them and training them until they reach the age for their Trials of Position."

"For a people devoted to martial glory, that's a lot of incentive to keep fighting," Julia observed.

"Exactly," Focht said. "As it is, with raiding between Clans low and no conflict with the Inner Sphere, the young warriors have few opportunities to gain the victories to secure places in Bloodright challenges. And with fewer Bloodnamed warriors dying in battle, they have fewer opportunities to join the ranks."

"And so they have plenty of incentive to resume the war. The handful that do become Bloodnamed are voting the Crusaders' way, adding to their vote totals, and even those who don't provide the Crusaders with a lot of lower rank support to pressure their superiors." Robert nodded. "So we need a solution to this problem. Preferably one that doesn't involve drawing away from the war."

Jarod looked to Focht and Wolf. "Is there any way we could offer them a chance to ally with us against the Reich? That would give their junior warriors the chance to fight and reduce the pressure."

Wolf nodded. "It is possible. But it is also dangerous. The Crusaders will see your offer for what it is and oppose it."

"Or they will not, but instead demand the same technological compensation you are providing to the Inner Sphere," Focht observed. "This would allow them to repudiate the Truce at their leisure after the war. And you would expect them to demand the right to your drives so they can maintain conquests in the S4W8 Universe."

"So we'd be handing over worlds to the Clans." Robert frowned. "And I thought the Turians getting to impose their system on freed worlds would be bad enough…"

"Unfortunately our options are limited." Admiral Maran spoke up now. "If the Clan Invasion resumes, we're obligated to help fight it, and that will come at the cost of the war with the Reich."

"But if we give the Clans access to our technology and to the resources of other universes, we make them stronger too," Julia pointed out. "And when the war's over, we run into the same problem we have now."

Victor joined the conversation at this point. "Every day of peace with the Clans is another day that the Inner Sphere is better prepared to fight them when the invasion restarts. Even if you have to give them technology, we're getting the same, and we'll still have the stronger position with the Alliance on our side."

"Prince Victor's right, our situation will be better," Jarod added. "With the Reich defeated, our ships are free to deal more decisively with the Clans. However more powerful they grow, they can't fight the Inner Sphere and the Allied Systems at once."

Julia nodded, but the frown on her face told of how much she was still leery of the outcome of Jarod's suggestion. She looked at Colonel Wolf. "Colonel, could we do it? Is this a solution?"

Wolf nodded. "It could work. The Nazi German Reich gaining your interuniversal drives is still a possibility, and it is the sort of threat that the Wardens believe the Clans exist to fight. Some of the Crusaders may also see the advantages of blooding their newest cadres in battle before the renewal of the Invasion. But they will not agree lightly, that you can be sure of. Your people will need to decide what they are willing to pay to secure Clan assistance, and a deferment of the Invasion." The Colonel allowed the smallest smile to show on his face, with Maran getting his attention for the next comments. "As for the Dragoons, my successor has agreed with me that if this threat is prevented, the Wolf Dragoons are ready to accept a contract with the Allied Systems to fight in your war. And we have contacts with many other elite mercenary formations in the Inner Sphere that will be open to similar offers."

"A generous offer, Colonel Wolf," Maran answered. "The President and I will bring the matter straight to the rest of Defense Command once this matter is resolved."

"Regrettably, I cannot make a similar offer." Focht shook his head. "The ComGuards are needed in the Inner Sphere. All I can pledge is that ComStar is ready to expand its current relations with the Alliance and that the First Circuit will consider more extensive joint research and technology agreements."

"Of course." The Admiral looked to the rest of those assembled. "We'll bring Commander Jarod's proposal before the leadership in tomorrow's opening meetings. I would like to have you there as well, Captain, as well as Commander Andreys. You are also all invited to this evening's banquet. Formal dress uniforms, of course."

Robert looked over the others. Maran hadn't said it, but it was blatantly obvious that "invitation" was silently joined with "ordered". And that mean wearing dress uniforms, a task that nobody took with any relish.

So of course he answered, "We'll be there, sir."

"Be ready to transport down at 1900 standard," Maran said. "This meeting is adjourned."
"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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sat Jun 03, 2017 1:15 am

Nice. I like the deranged Clan social advancement/martial-meritocratic system. That's a great inspiration for my not-Mandalorians, the Mandragorans.

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sat Jun 03, 2017 3:34 pm

Robert and Julia dutifully escorted Maran and the others back to the Transporter Station to see them off. From there it was back to the bridge and to the conference lounge to the side. The transsteel windows showed Tukkayid's vibrant colors and a large starship of one of the F1S1 nations in orbit near them. The others were waiting.

"It's not going to be that easy," Locarno stated. "Warrior cultures don't just talk. You just know they're going to challenge us to a fight at some point."

"He's right." Jarod looked up from a digital reader. "I've been looking over the material we have on the Clans. Going by the reports from ComStar and the Commonwealth, the Clans do everything by combat trials. Even some exchanges of technology and trade can involve ritual combats."

"So what, they're going to ask us to fight them even if they agree to join us against the Nazis?", Angel asked.


"Then we'll need to be ready for that." Robert nodded. "Jarod, keep researching them, and we'll make sure everything's ready for a combat. If the Clans want to fight us, we'll show them just what that means."

"Unless they challenge us to fighting in those big walking tanks." Barnes crossed his arms. "Do we even have anyone who knows how to do that?"

It was a good question. Robert looked to Commander Kane, the Marine officer who commanded the Aurora's Marine detachment. The sandy-haired man shook his head. "We haven't been training to use F1S1's BattleMech systems. Although I've considered some anti-'Mech tactics."

"Would they work?"

"In the right terrain, and with the right employment." Kane nodded. "Our powered armor squad can probably give a few of them a good fight. But unless we sneak up on them, we probably lose, oh, seven times out of ten. Those things have too much armor and too much raw firepower."

"What about air support?" Robert looked to Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent, commander of the Aurora's fighter wing. "The Mongoose fighters have atmospheric flight, don't they?"

Laurent nodded. "Our support munitions may be enough. But I'm sure the enemy will have air support of their own. I will have to assign specific squadrons to air superiority and to ground support."

"I'll leave you to that. Starting tomorrow." Robert checked the time on his omnitool. "As for now, we should adjourn so we can get ready for that banquet. Full dress uniforms. And that means the pants, not the skirt." He looked to Caterina when he said that. She frowned and, for the first time in weeks, put on the full Pout. Robert was, thankfully, immune. "Every leader of the Inner Sphere is going to be present. President Morgan too."

"Whoever came up with the dress uniform was a sadist," mumbled Jarod.

Robert smirked at that. "You won't hear any argument from me on that point."

Tukkayid had once been a minor planet in the grand scheme of the Inner Sphere. There had been little in the way of facilities to host the assemblage now gathering on the world.

Robert and the others could see that in the years since it had become a household name in the Inner Sphere, Tukkayid had changed. ComStar had shining new facilities on the world and had essentially taken the planet over. Then they had gone on a building spree that had raised, among other things, the kind of facilities useful for hosting large scale affairs of state.

The dining hall was at ComStar's main civilian facilities, very close to their military headquarters and the new war college they were constructing. It was a massive hall built specifically for these kinds of summits. The interior had fine, soft carpeting of light blue and gold trim with massive electric chandeliers hanging every twenty feet down the length of the hall. Long tables full of dishes from every major culture stretched down the sides of the hall.

The Aurora and Koenig officers arrived at about 1850 ship time, a full ten minutes before Maran had requested them. They'd beamed down even earlier, just to spend over ten minutes in line with other notables and attendees as the master of ceremonies or whomever it was announced the arrivals one by one, complete with noble titles. The brilliant white of their dress uniforms contrasted to the usual black they wore on their duty uniform jackets. The shoulders had golden board epaulets with tassels of the same color hanging down from the epaulets. The various medals and commendations they'd won - including the shiny new Senate Order of Merit that Robert, Meridina, and Jarod had gotten for stopping the Gersallian Dissenter attack on the Senate - were glinting from their places over the left breast of their jackets.

When they finally got to the door, a Caucasian man approaching middle-age in a fine dark suit met them. "Sirs?"

"Captain Dale and crew," Robert said.

"Of course, sir." The MoC turned to the hall. He activated a microphone at his throat to be heard across the hall. "Now presenting Captain Robert Allen Dale of the United Alliance of Systems Stellar Navy, Commanding Officer of the Alliance Starship Aurora, with command officers." The man's accent was not the snooty English accent that a near-quarter century of 20th Century television had trained Robert's subconscious to associate with such pomp. It instead had a deliberate Midwestern tone. "Commander Julia Megan Andreys, First Officer. Commander Montgomery…"

"Seriously?", muttered Barnes, as the MoC insisted on naming each and every one of them, full names with rank and position, so that it took over a minute to introduce them. Then came Zack and his crew, but since he only had five officers with him that was mercifully quick.

Once they were done Julia looked to the others. "Let's be careful what we say or do here. Everything here will be taken politically."

"So what are we supposed to do?" The question came from Caterina, who looked both uncomfortable and disappointed. "I mean, if someone starts to talk to us?"

"Then be as courteous as you can be," Robert said.

"Or just talk science at them until they get bored," was Angel's response. She grinned at her younger and smaller sister. "That usually works."

Instead of a happy retort, Cat smiled thinly at her sister's jest and walked on toward one of the tables.

The crews dispersed across the room to find food. A little rumble in his stomach reminded Robert about his small breakfast and lunch, and that he had an immediate need to find something. A passing waiter was kind enough to offer something from a small creme-topped pastries that were delicious, if rich. A second waiter offered him a glass, which he took absentmindedly. Robert was more focused on scanning the room to see if he recognized anyone he had already met during their tour of the Inner Sphere.

Officials from all of the Inner Sphere states were present. They provided an interesting contrast with various forms of dress. Davion suits had more of a martial flair to them, even if they were distinctly Western, while the Lyran parts of the FedCom delegation were dressed up to the nines.


The German accent in the voice would have been enough for Robert to recognize the speaker, even if he hadn't recognized the tone. He turned and nodded to Prince Victor. Victor was in the company of Jerry Cranston, as expected, and a large middle-aged man with graying red hair. "Highness," Robert answered respectfully, offering his hand. "You were pretty silent earlier today."

"I felt Focht and Wolf had more to say," Victor replied. He gestured to the red-haired man. "This is my Marshal of the Armies, Morgan Hasek-Davion, Duke of Syrtis and head of the Capellan March."

Robert nodded to the man. He was, if Robert remembered the family tree he'd seen, a cousin to Victor, the son of an aunt. "Marshal," he said. He took Morgan's hand and they shook. "A pleasure to meet you."

"The same. Victor's told me that your visit to New Avalon was the highlight of the year for him." Morgan nodded. "I saw the vids from the press on Victor's tour of your ship, so I can see why."

Robert answered with a nod. There was admittedly more to why Victor would feel that way. But given everything he knew about the court politics of F1S1, Robert knew that some things were best left unsaid. "I hope the people of the Commonwealth share your opinions. I'd like to think that we have enough in common that Alliance-Commonwealth relations will always be good. But I understand that it's going to take some time and patience. The existence of the Multiverse is a lot to take in for your people."

"It has been," Victor said. "But…"

He stopped speaking. Robert could see his eyes were drawn toward the door. Cranston had a reserved look on his face. Robert felt something of the emotions from both men. A feeling of distrust, dislike, a sense of broken promises and trust, the latter particularly strong in Cranston.

Robert turned now and faced the same direction as the others. At the opening of the door was a tall, splendid-looking woman, immensely beautiful and wearing an ice blue sleeveless dinner gown and a jeweled tiara. Long wintry green dinner gloves went up past the elbow of her bare arms. Her blond hair was the same color as Victor's, done up in an elaborate braid and ponytail at the back of her head.

"Presenting Her Royal Highness Princess Katherine…" There was a hushed remark. "...I am sorry, Katrina Morgan Steiner-Davion," the MoC said. "Regent on Tharkad, Duchess of…" He listed off several titles. Some were presumably courtesy titles of some sort or another.

"Your sister," Robert murmured.


"I didn't get the chance to meet her," Robert said. "The Aurora ended its tour at Orestes. What's she like?"

There was no answer from the two men, or from Morgan. But Robert could sense that had they given an honest answer, it would have been unkind. And seeing that Katrina was making her way toward them, he decided not to press.

"Victor, it is good to see you," Katrina said amiably. "I hope New Avalon is treating you well, little brother." A teasing smile crossed her face.

"Well enough," Victor answered, smiling quietly. "My congratulations to you on the job you're doing on Tharkad."

"Keeping our people safe and happy is a pleasure." Katrina turned to face Robert. Their heights were close, so her eyes lifted to face him, crystal blue in their color. "And you are Captain Dale. I'm thankful to finally get the chance to meet you, Captain. I regret that you didn't give Tharkad a visit as you did the other capitals of the Inner Sphere."

There was something to the remark that told Robert there was more to it. Ignoring that, Robert pressed on. "Yes. I had hoped to see your world too, but since we had already met the leader of the Commonwealth, Defense Command felt it necessary to send us on."

"I see." She extended a hand. "Better late than never, I suppose. Thank you for your assistance in the Joshua Marik matter, Captain. I hope that it is merely the beginning of your Alliance's involvement in the Inner Sphere."

Robert took it and kept his eyes on her as they shook hands. As they did so his life force senses flared up. Her hand felt cold, unnaturally so, and it took a moment for Robert to realize the sensation of cold wasn't physical, but through her life energy.

He focused quietly on that, on Katrina herself. Not deep enough to see anything, certainly not to the level of reading minds or sensing current motions, just a sense of who he was with.

For a moment Robert thought he was being pulled by something. There was an inexorable force within Katrina. A vortex of some sort…

No. A maw. A hungry, ravening maw demanding to be sated, capable of anything if it meant satiation. The sense of pure desire was frightening in its intensity, hidden as it was below the veneer of quiet composure and familial ribbing that Katrina had kept up. Robert got the sense that he could be drawn in, used up, and spat back out once he no longer met the needs of that hunger.

The sensation of the feeling was enough that he froze in mid-handshake. A look of bewilderment bordering on distaste flashed across Katrina's features. It was enough to jolt Robert back to movement. "Oh, sorry," he said, sounding sheepish, which wasn't hard as it wasn't an act. "I'm afraid I've got a lot on my mind, Highness."

"Of course." Katrina was clearly not convinced, but it was obvious she didn't know what to think.

Robert's strange reaction to Katrina hadn't gone unnoticed. "Hello," said a friendly voice, as Julia stepped in. She nodded to Victor and to Katrina. "Your Highnesses."

"Ah. Commander Andreys." Victor extended a hand and she accepted it. "This is my sister, Princess Katherine, my regent on Tharkad overseeing the Lyran half of our united realm. And our cousin, Marshal Morgan Hasek-Davion."

Julia nodded, still smiling warmly, and accepted handshakes from them and from Jerry Cranston as well. Robert could tell she was aware something was up, given the way she was drawing the attention of the group to herself. "Katherine, or is it Katrina?", she asked the other woman.

Katrina was looking at Julia with interest, and now a small smile. "I was born Katherine and Victor's used to using that name for me. But I've taken my grandmother's name now."

"Ah. Well, I'll go with Princess Katrina then. I'm Commander Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora, First Officer."

"Indeed." Katrina's smile remained amiable. "It seems you and I have similar positions, then."

"We run the day-to-day things while the boys get all the credit?" Julia chuckled. "Something like that. And I regret that we never got to visit Tharkad, I've heard it's an amazing world."

"Yes, quite…"

Talking to Julia seemed to draw Katrina's interest, and the two walked off together, leaving Robert to collect his thoughts while Victor and Cranston looked on in stony silence.

Robert felt unsettled by his experience. He'd never felt such an immediate sensation from meeting someone. At best, he could get a good sense of current feelings and honesty. But that feeling from Katrina, that ravenous maw, left his heart racing and his head woozy.

"You do not look well," Victor observed.

Robert shook his head and swallowed. "I… it was just a shock." He went to excuse the matter by blaming his drink before his short-term memory kicked in, reminding him that he hadn't even started it yet.

"My sister can be… an experience."

The bitter feeling inside of the Archon-Prince returned. Robert looked at him. "Your sister is special. I've never felt an impression like that before."

"Does this have to do with your… abilities?", Cranston asked.

Cranston's question gave Robert a brief, instinctive flare of shock. But it was only a second in length before the instinctive reaction went away. His secret was, for the most part, out. Even if the recordings of the Gersallian Dissenter attack on the Alliance Senate hadn't been fully released, the Gersallians had openly broadcast Meridina's trial before her Order. A trial where his training had been revealed and then demonstrated.

"Yes," he answered. He looked over to where Julia was introducing Katrina to Jarod and Scotty. Looking back to Victor, he added, in a stone tone, "I always had the sense that your feelings toward your sister weren't the best. Now I can understand why."

"What was it?", Victor asked. "What did you sense?"

Robert briefly looked back to Katrina. Even across the room, he thought he could feel that pull. "Hunger," he murmured. "Insatiable hunger."

Victor and Cranston exchanged knowing looks. Robert could see they weren't surprised.

Somehow, that was the scariest part of it all.

After being introduced to a few new faces Angel made her way over to where Cat was staring quietly out of a window, an unfinished plate of pastries in her hand. "Some of this stuff is good," Angel said, indicating a rich-tasting fish filet on her plate. "You can't just eat pastries the whole time."

"They make me feel better." Cat sighed. "I wish they'd let Violeta come with us."

Angel rested her free hand on Caterina's shoulder. "She can't go everywhere with you."

"I know. But this is… I mean, she would love it here." Cat took her last bite and finished what she had after some chewing. "I never thought being in love would feel like this. I'm not even in my labs as often now. I'd rather be with Violeta."

"I know what it's like," Angel said.

"Yeah, you would." Cat looked over and up at her sister. "Are you and Rob… I mean, I know you're upset with all of the things he's doing now. Are you...?"

"We're still together. Technically." After saying that Angel sighed. "It's complicated, Cat. I know for you it's going well right now, but over time… well, things get in the way."

"He's breaking your heart again, isn't he?"

"Maybe… I don't know." Angel shook her head. "It was all so easy when I came to him last year. But now this 'life force' stuff, and…. other things that have come up."

"That prophecy stuff you heard on Gersal?", Cat inquired.

"That." Angel drew in a breath. "During that mission we went on to rescue Jarod, one of the people who helped us was this Zigonian named Kasszas."

"The blind one?" Seeing Angel's curious look, Cat answered the unasked question by saying, "Jarod mentioned him a few weeks ago."

"Yeah, that one." Angel looked out the window and let the memory come through her. "I… asked him if there was a way to remove Rob's abilities. He said no. And then he said I didn't love Rob anymore."

Cat frowned and furrowed her brow. "Well, that was a pretty mean thing to say."

"I thought so too." Angel nodded in agreement. "But I keep thinking back to that... He said I was trying to love an image of Rob and not the real thing. That I had to accept his powers in order to love him." Angel shook her head. "Just like that. I had to accept something that's tormenting Rob every damned night, it feels like. Half of the time I'm waking up and finding him curled up on the bed. Or he wakes me up screaming something." Angel shook her head. "And I'm supposed to accept that. But I won't."

"Leo said there's no way to remove this stuff from him, though."

"There has to be a way," Angel insisted. "Something nobody's thought of yet. You're into science, can't you find…"

"I'm not a biologist," Cat protested. "I mean, I know some basic things, but my specialties are in entirely different fields. I wouldn't know where to start when it comes to life force stuff." She frowned. "Besides, isn't that stuff good? I mean…"

By then it was too late. Angel was already giving her an angry look. "It gives him nightmares all of the time, Cat, so no, I don't think it's good."

"But without the powers, the Nazis would have killed me," Cat said. "Robert needed them to save me."

"We could have found another way," Angel insisted.

"I don't think…" Cat stopped. She could tell from Angel's expression that this conversation was going nowhere. She set the plate she had down on the window sill and took her sister's hand. "Angel, I don't want to see you hurt. But I'm worried about this. What Robert's got now… whatever it is, I don't think it's something you get rid of. Not with science anyway. Maybe it's just something… it's a change and you have to go with it. Or…" Seeing that was upsetting her sister, Cat sighed. "Violeta and I have this thing, Angel… we always ask each other before we… well, before we do anything. And she was pretty clear on letting me take the lead because I'm new at the whole 'lesbian relationship' thing. That's because we both have to be happy for the relationship to work. I mean, obviously not happy all of the time, but…"

Angel was starting to tune her sister out. That wasn't something she normally did. But it felt like Cat was saying the same thing to her. She had to accept it. She had to accept this… this curse that Robert had taken up, and should give up finding a way to cure him of it.

Maybe I should, was her brief thought on the matter. But some part of her instinctively rejected that. These abilities, this power, was destroying their relationship. She felt like they were getting to the point where they weren't even together anymore, just… what, friends with benefits?

And I don't want that anymore. Not with him.

Caterina finished speaking. "You stopped paying attention to me," she said with a hint - more than a hint, really - of accusation in her voice.

"I'm sorry," Angel said. She looked down at her plate and put it on the sill. "I'm… I'm not hungry."

"Angel…" Cat reached for her sister's arm, but she was too slow. Angel tromped off into the crowd, looking very much like she wanted to be alone.

The Master of Ceremonies began to call out new arrivals again. These new arrivals were clad differently from the other groups, wearing Japanese-style formal robes and suits, with the black dragon-on-red disc insignia of the Draconis Combine stitched into the torso areas of the robes. An East Asian man of graying dark hair was immediately recognizable to Robert: Coordinator Theodore Kurita.

He had little stake, emotionally, in the arrival of another Inner Sphere potentate and family. But he could feel Victor's emotions shift, longing and need taking over from the lingering irritation and distrust of dealing with Katrina. That won his attention and Robert soon looked back again, even as the Ceremonies master introduced "The Keeper of the Honor of the House of Kurita", a woman in a red and black kimono with her long dark hair pulled back into a formal knot at the rear of her head. She looked nearly thirty, probably a few years older than Robert. Bright blue eyes scanned the crowd and faced Robert. Her expression remained fixed. Nevertheless Robert could feel a joy within her, the joy of seeing someone who met much to her.

He looked over and felt nearly the same from Victor, tinged with bittersweet feelings. Cranston was looking at Victor with a little concern. "Huh," Robert murmured. "And I thought my love life was complicated."

"Whoever you want to be with, you don't have to worry about provoking a civil war by marrying them," Victor lamented.

"Eloping to Las Vegas wouldn't exactly work for you two either, would it?", Robert sighed.

That got him a harsh laugh from the Prince. "If only…" Victor shook his head. "The Archon-Prince of the Federated Commonwealth marrying the Keeper of the Family Honor of the Draconis Combine is the sort of wedding that requires all sorts of state protocols and functions. Including dowries and gifts."

"You mean that your people would be convinced you were going to give up worlds to the Combine in any gift exchange. But I've met Theodore, he's not stupid enough to push for something like that…"

"He would have to have something for show to avoid domestic problems," Cranston pointed out. "And popular opinion in the Commonwealth would never allow that."

Robert's response was to rub at his forehead. "Just whose bright idea was it to set up aristocracy and feudalism in the Inner Sphere, anyway?"

"Michael Cameron," Victor answered nonchalantly. "Although feudalism has mostly been a result of the Succession Wars."

"I thought some of the old Earth nobility still existed in some Alliance states?", asked Cranston.

"Well, I think some do," Robert admitted. "European and Arab royal families. But they don't have these kinds of politics involved in their marriages anymore." He shook his head and gave Victor a look that he hoped was comforting. "I'm sorry. I can only imagine how much it hurts for you."

"And what about you?", Victor asked. "The way you're talking, you have your own relationship problems."

"Well, nothing to the level of a civil war over them." Robert shook his head. "For me it's more of a question if I'm even going to have a relationship for much longer. Between my duty to train in my… abilities, and my duties as a captain…"

Victor gave him a sympathetic look. "Duty and love don't always go together."

"You're right about that." Robert cleared his throat. "Well, enough of that I guess. We still have to figure out what we're going to do about the Clans."

"That's what the strategy meetings are for tomorrow."

"Maybe. But I've already started to think of something with the others." Robert gave Victor a thoughtful look. "How much do you know about the Clans' combat trials?"

The following day Robert, Julia, and Jarod were the ones to beam down to join President Morgan and Admiral Maran at the grand strategy meeting. The ComStar conference room was arranged with tables in a curved line across the room, all facing a raised dais and podium marked with the ComStar insignia and with a holotank above and behind it.

There was no difficulty in finding the Alliance table - President Morgan had been given a place between the Marik and Kurita tables on the right side. The Commonwealth was represented by one table with both Victor and Katrina sitting at it. Robert didn't recognize the woman who was with Katrina, although her military uniform gave her rank as a Marshal, while Victor had Marshal Hasek-Davion at his side as well as another man, with a full beard of wolf-gray hair and a head of hair to match. His uniform was different, clearly that of a mercenary.

Focht was directing the briefing. "We have determined more about what is going on in Clan territory," he said. "And the news is grave." He gripped the podium. "A few weeks ago, the Wolf Clan Council convened a trial hearing to hear accusations leveled against ilKhan Ulric Kerensky by the Clan Loremaster, Dalk Carns, who is a known Crusader."

"What was he accused of?", asked the wolf-haired man at Victor's table.

"Treason, Your Grace," replied Focht. "The charges are spurious, that much is clear, but the newest generation of warriors in the Clans are opposed to the Truce and are pushing the conviction. From what we have gathered, Loremaster Carns leveled a very grave and heavy accusation against the ilKhan. He accused him of plotting genocide against the Clan."

"That sounds farfetched," noted Thomas Marik. "How could such an outrageous charge hold weight?"

"Our sources in the Wolf Clan state the charge is based on the Truce, that the Truce was planned to destroy the warrior caste," Wolf said. "It is a ridiculous charge, but it is one that the Crusaders can take advantage of. Ulric's actual actions are irrelevant. The Crusaders want the Invasion to resume. Presumably they have hoped that Ulric would renounce the Truce to save himself."

"Then we must prepare for war." This came from Sun-Tzu Liao, Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation. The sharp-eyed Asian man was flanked by his red-haired sister and one of his high military officers. "The Clans will be resuming their campaign."

"As things stand, that is the most likely outcome." Focht looked to the Alliance table. "Although we may have one last chance to prevent it. President Morgan?"

Henry Morgan stood. He looked every inch the seasoned statesman, and his business-like suit - a dark blue jacket with seamless sealed cuffs over a silk white shirt and green tie - was in sharp contrast to the ostentatious uniforms of the Inner Sphere leadership. "The Allied Systems are ready to assist the Inner Sphere in resisting Clan aggression," Morgan said. "Although it is our hope to prevent a resumption of the hostilities so that the conflict with the Nazi German Reich is not prolonged. As many of you are aware, we suffered a setback nearly two months ago that has cost us some of our reserve. And I shouldn't need to point out that regardless of our success in preventing the Reich from gaining control of the Darglan Facility at Gamma Piratus, the longer the war rages, the more likely the Reich will manage to discover how to use IU drives through examination of the ships we've lost in action within their territories. So we must put all of our efforts into preventing this potential Clan threat."

"Do you have a proposal on how to persuade the Clans to uphold the Truce, Mister President?", Katrina asked from the Commonwealth table.

Morgan nodded at her. "I do. Precentor-Martial Focht has informed me that the Clans' upcoming meeting is on the planet Tamar." He held a hand toward Robert and the others. "It is my intention to send Captain Dale and his ship to Tamar to open our first diplomatic contact with the Clans and to secure, by any means possible, their cooperation."

Theodore Kurita nodded from his table. "That is, perhaps, the best chance we have. Seeing your vessel and some of the technological advantages your Alliance enjoys may cause even the militant Clans to reconsider."

"Although it will not be easy." Colonel Wolf was speaking up next, from his own table near Focht. "If you have read the reports I made available, it is clear that the prolonged peace is causing enormous strain within the warrior caste. Many of the younger generations of warriors are insisting on new conflicts. I fear that the Truce will not last despite the Alliance's presence."

Robert gave Maran a look. Maran stood. "I believe Captain Dale and his officers have a suggestion to propose to the summit."

"We are prepared to hear him," said Focht.

Robert stood and looked over the assembled leaders of the Inner Sphere, from the hollow visage of Rasalhague's Elected Prince Haakon Magnusson to Victor to the emissaries from the Periphery realms of the Magistracy of Canopus and the Taurian Concordat. "I've been discussing this issue with my officers while examining our material on the Clans. Commander Jarod has found a possible solution that will ease this… pressure on the Clans' internal affairs. But it's going to have a long-term cost, and I can't suggest it at Tamar unless the leaders of the Inner Sphere, and President Morgan, are ready to consider it." Robert drew in a breath before continuing. "We could offer the Clans a part in the war with the Reich."

"Which means they would also get access to the same technologies you are offering us, correct?", asked Thomas Marik.

"Yes, Captain-General sir. They would."

A few protesting voices arose. "You can't!", Magnusson cried. "We're already under enough threat, with your technology the Clans would overwhelm what's left of the Republic in a day!"

"What if they insist you remain neutral in a renewal of the invasion?" This was from Katrina. "There has to be a line that you will not cross."

"I would never intend to offer that term, not without guarantees… or as a calculated risk for an immense benefit," Robert insisted.

"Or as a means for the Alliance to abandon the Inner Sphere to the Clans," charged one of the Lyran officers with Katrina.

"That is not our intention," Morgan stated flatly. "And I will not allow it to come to that."

"So you would betray any such term if it's made with the Clans? How could anyone trust you…"

Before Sun-Tzu could continue, Robert spoke up again. "If I were to even consider such a thing, it would be to meet a Clan offer to end the Invasion for now."

"The Clans already agreed to a fifteen year truce. We are only five years into that truce and they are already planning to break it." Sun-Tzu shook his head. "I cannot accept such an agreement. It would be base treachery by the Alliance against the Inner Sphere. Indeed, I am deeply suspicious of this entire concept now."

Robert met the Capellan ruler's glare with an understanding look. "I understand your skepticism. But your people have fought beside ours, we're not going to abandon you like that. All I'm asking is for leeway to act as I need to if it means stopping the Clans from rescinding the Truce. Believe me, if it's clear we can't dissuade the Crusaders… if Ulric Kerensky is removed as ilKhan and the Crusaders are preparing to resume the invasion, we'll break off the talks. And the Alliance can prepare to join you in a war with the Clans."

Victor stood. "It's worth a try," he said. "Even if the Clans gain something from joining the war, the Inner Sphere and the Alliance can hold them at the Truce line ten years from now. That's ten years for the Inner Sphere to continue building defenses. Ten years for us to finish off the Reich."

"Not all of us are involved in your little crusade, Prince Victor," Sun-Tzu said. "Do not presume that the Capellan Confederation will jeopardize its defenses to assist in that war."

"Obviously not, Chancellor Sun-Tzu," Victor answered. "But many of us are committed to helping end that threat before it could possibly bring us harm, and that is what I was referring to."

"Regardless of that issue, it is clear we should consider Captain Dale's proposal." Focht put his hands together on the podium. "Let us vote on it by delegation."

The vote was held. The Commonwealth, the Combine, and the St. Ives Compact voted in favor of. The Capellans and Rasalhague voted against. Those assembled looked toward Thomas Marik.

The Captain-General, in turn, looked to the Alliance table and nodded. "The Free Worlds League votes in favor of the Alliance proposal." He studiously ignored the slight displeasure on his future son-in-law Sun-Tzu's face.

Thomas Marik's vote eliminated the tie-breaking vote that Focht and Primus Mori could have employed, as controversial as that might have proven. Robert nodded at Julia and Jarod; their mission was good to go.

Victor stood. "In support of the mission, I propose that an observer be dispatched" Victor looked to the older, wolf-gray-haired man at his table. "Duke Morgan Kell of Arc-Royal is my choice."

The older man nodded.

"Given the short time we have to influence the upcoming Clan Grand Council meeting on Tamar, I would suggest that Captain Dale and his ship be released to depart by this evening," Focht stated. "Are there any objections?"

There were none.

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 4 July 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are currently en route to Tamar and expect to arrive during the evening hours. Grand Duke Kell and a small group of ComStar-provided analysts have been issued quarters for the duration of this mission.

I spent much of the night going over the material on the Clan leadership provided by Colonel Wolf and Precentor-Martial Focht. There are a few ways to approach this problem. I only hope I can read the Clans correctly and find the one that will work.

The lunch crowd in the Lookout was of the standard size. Freshly roused Beta Shift crew were getting their breakfasts while some Alpha Shift personnel took lunch breaks. Robert had opted for lunch in the Lookout in the hopes that Angel would join him. Unfortunately she had other arrangements with Cat, and he was dining alone.

He chewed quietly on the reuben sandwich that Hargert had given him and found that, for all that the mission meant for the future, it was the future of his relationship that he couldn't get his mind off of. He and Angel had always had issues with staying together. Family obligations - Robert to the (eternally struggling) family farm, Angel to watching her then-underage little sister - inevitably got in the way of things, and then would come the arguments, the recriminations, and a breakup. A few weeks, or a few months in some cases, would pass, then they'd meet up in a social setting and become friendly, just for the cycle to lead to hooking back up and straight on that same path as before. This entire cycle had started in high school and continued on into early adulthood, and it left Robert wondering if he was cursed to continue it.

It felt so different this time. Like knowing we could die out here made it easier to keep things going. Our obligations weren't interfering… not at first.

A small burning sensation of guilt came to Robert. How much of this was because he knew he could stop these issues easily? All he had to do was tell Meridina he was done with training. That he was satisfied with his level of control and that he needed to focus on other things? That was what was supposed to happen, after all. All of those months, he had trained under the impression that he was only ensuring basic control of his abilities, of what the Gersallians called "swevyra", and he had promised Angel he'd have more time for her once that training was over. But with everything that had happened on Gersal, and the revelation that Meridina had intentionally been training Robert and Lucy Lucero more extensively than control… With all of that, he had decided to keep training.

Maybe I should take that back, he thought, and not for the first time. Angel deserved better than being third-string in his life behind his captain duties and his life force ability training.

And like every time he thought of that, he remembered other things. He remembered the Prophecy of the Dawn, as Mastrash Ledosh and Meridina had describe, and he remembered the message in the Darglan Facility on Gamma Piratus. The warning about "the Darkness". And his dreams, his nightmares, of stars going out across the galaxies of the universe…

Robert might have stuck himself into another cycle of thought if not for the new arrival. "Captain Dale," said a voice made hoarse by age, but still tempered with the firmness of command. Robert looked up from his meal to face Morgan Kell. The ex-mercenary commander had a plate of his own. "May I?"

"Oh… yes, yes of course."

Morgan sat. "You reminded me of the monks I once lived with," he said. "But it was rare to see someone so intent upon their thoughts, even in those days. Does this mission trouble you?"

"It wasn't about the mission," Robert admitted. "There were other… things on my mind, you could say."

"Ah." Morgan took a small drink from a cup. Robert couldn't tell what was in it. "I'm curious about how your crew seems to operate on duty. It's not the military style I would expect."

"It would be on other ships," Robert said. "But for vessels in direct Alliance service, with crews from different species and different cultures, we had to find a good median point. Alakins require more sleep than Humans, for instance, from a medical standpoint, but they are more alert while awake and require fewer breaks."

"Ah, yes." Morgan nodded. "I am still getting used to the idea of non-Human life. I actually felt sorry for the first alien delegation that I hosted on Arc-Royal, those… Tarans? Tarians?"

"Turians?", Robert offered.

"Ah, yes. Turians." Morgan nodded. "They were an interesting sort. They came to inspect my family's BattleMech factory and observe the Kell Hounds in field exercises. But they spent most of their time dodging reporters and dealing with culture shock."

"I'm not surprised. Ever since first contact with the Inner Sphere, people have been looking into your BattleMechs as a possible new weapon system."

"I've been considering installing mass effect weapons on BattleMechs myself. The chance to have autocannons without heavy ammunition requirements, or explosive ammunition, is compelling." Morgan took a bite from a sandwich on his plate. Once he was finished, he spoke again. "My son is a Khan in the Clans, you know."

Robert blinked. "What?" With a movement of his hand he activated his new omnitool and brought up a data display of the known Clan leaders. "Which? I mean, how is that possible?"

"He is Khan Phelan Ward in the Wolves," Morgan continued. "They let him compete for the Bloodname because his mother is descended from a Star League officer, Jal Ward, who joined Aleksandr Kerensky's exodus over two hundred years ago. Ward ended up being one of Nicholas' eight hundred followers."

Robert found the name, and with it the image. In fact, once he started reading over the ComStar bio Morgan's words were quickly confirmed. He felt a little embarrassed at not knowing this. I've been focusing on reading up about the Crusader Khans since they'll be the ones I'm having to fight the most.

It was clear Morgan knew the "why" of Robert's ignorance. He made no comment on it. "I have a vested stake in your mission, Captain, as you now see." Morgan sighed. "While my Kell Hounds will most likely fight the Jade Falcons and Steel Vipers instead of the Wolves, the Invasion resuming means that my son and I will be enemies again."

"Your son's with the Warden faction, right?"

"The Wardens may oppose continuing the Invasion, but they are obligated to fight if it restarts. Knowing Phelan, he will throw his full energy into getting the Wolves to Terra first."

"Because Earth is their goal," Robert noted. "The first Clan to reach Earth gets to take charge over all of the other Clans."


"But that's not enough, not if they want to reunite the Inner Sphere under their leadership." Robert shook his head. "I mean, Earth has some strategic value, being in the dead center of the Inner Sphere. But throwing everything they have into seizing it first makes no sense. They're creating long flank lines that the Inner Sphere can exploit."

"The Clans are used to winning in the end, and to quick and decisive battles," Morgan reminded Robert. "Strategy is not always their strong suit." The older man sighed. "And I fear it may eventually lead to Phelan's death. I have already mourned him once. I don't wish to go through that again."

"Yeah." Robert noddded. "I don't blame you. I know what it's like to lose the people that you love. And I'll do what I can, Duke Kell. I'll find a way to keep the Truce." And maybe, if we're lucky, it may not be so temporary in the long run

With the Koenig docked Tom Barnes was back in his usual role of being Scotty's #2 man in Engineering. And it was work he preferred; the Koenig was a little asskicker of a ship, but it sucked to live on it, and that was what Tom would have to do if it went out for any extended missions before Karen Derbely finished her operations and rehabilitation from getting most of her body flash-fried by coolant plasma.

For the moment, he was looking over the plasma feed line leading into Nacelle Pylon 3, the lower starboard pylon on the ship. An engineering rate Crewman, Gabe Howell, was standing beside him with a tool. "Do you see what I mean, sir?", he asked.

Barnes looked back to his own scan results, displayed on his nice new omnitool. He delighted in operating the holographic device. "Yeah," he sighed. "Yeah, I can see that. Looks like a fault in the valve." Barnes tapped a hard-light key on the omnitool display. "Barnes to Scott."

"I'm here, lad," was the reply from his mentor.

"Howell's right. The valve on Feed 3B is stuck in the open position."

"Alright then. I'll have the backups brought online. Go ahead an' get a replacement valve from th' shop."

"On my way." Barnes looked to Howell. "Let me know if anything else happens, I'm going to get a replacement valve built."

"Yes sir," the young engineering crewman replied.

Barnes smiled thinly to that as he walked away. This was the part he loved about this life. He wasn't just an engineer, he was an engineer on one of the most advanced machines that an engineer could ever imagine. Forget designing a car or a jet, he had helped to design, and was helping to run, a kilometer-long starship that could go faster than light and hop universes.

He walked up the work ramp for the nacelle pylon to the deck it was attached to. From there it was a short trip around the various machinery spaces and the access doors for them to a turbolift and Deck 25.

In Machine Shop B he went to the bank of fabricators. An engineering officer, Lieutenant Teikue, was overseeing the shop crew. "Lieutenant Barnes, sir?", he asked.

"I need a new plasma-holding valve for one of the feed lines." Barnes brought up his omnitool and looked up the information. "Model… PV210 should do it."

"Yes sir."

Barnes left Teikue to relay the order to his shop workers. For the moment he had nothing to do. A job like this would only take ten or so minutes depending on various factors and he might as well wait.

It was while he was waiting that he recognized a head of curly dark hair nearby. Even without seeing her face, he could see it was Lucy and called out, "Hey Lucy, still working on something?" When she didn't respond he crossed his arms and repeated her name. When a second repeat of said name didn't work, he smirked and said, "Hey, Earth to LL. You there, LL?"

She stopped moving her hand on the control and took in a breath. Lucy turned and gave him a playful death glare. "You know I don't like that nickname. I never have."

"Yeah, I remember. You finally told us that only after a few years and finding the Facility," Barnes replied. "But I didn't know how else to get your attention."

"Shouldn't you be in Engineering helping Scotty?", Lucy asked.

"I'm waiting for them to get me a new plasma valve for one of the Nacelle 3 plasma feeds," he answered. He stepped up closer and noticed the cylindrical object in what looked like a manual fabricator assembly. "Still working on that… laser sword or beamblade or lightsaber, whatever it is?"

Lucy sighed and shook her head. "Yes. But there's still no luck with the crystal issue."

"Have you checked the inventory? We have a few focusing crystal types around."

"And none of them work, they can't handle the energy load," Lucy answered. "I need stronger crystals."

Barnes blinked. "Woh. Did you see what kind of crystal was in that weapon?"

"I got scans, but I'd need a full atomic material scan for that," Lucy said, "and I didn't want to risk taking the blade apart. The Gersallians would have been mad as hell if I had wrecked their relic."

"Huh." Barnes pondered the question. "Well, I'll see what I can find for you. I know some people who are examining new types of crys…" He was interrupted by a tone from his omnitool. Someone was calling him. He tapped the holographic key to open the channel. "Barnes here."

"Tom, I need you to double-check the engines before we get to Tamar," Zack said. "Hajar said something about that plasma coolant line having some irregular results from the testing yesterday."

"How soon are we going to be there?"

"By tonight, I've heard."

At that Barnes rolled his eyes. "Dammit…" He looked to Lucy. "Hey, they're getting me that valve soon, a PV210. Mind getting it from Teikue and taking it to Feed 3B for installation?"

Lucy nodded. "Since you're doing me a solid on my crystal hunt, sure."

"Thanks." He turned away. "I'd better get to the Koenig then. See you around."

Robert entered the gymnasium in uniform and quickly found who he was looking for. Julia was standing on a practice mat in a white martial arts gi with a black belt around her waist and her hair pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head. She was in one of her practice stances, moving through a sequence of what looked like t'ai chi moves and holds.

She wasn't alone in this. Angel was standing beside her, doing the same, and they had a new addition to the group. Robert was somewhat surprised to see it was Meridina, wearing the same kind of martial arts gi the others had instead of her usual preferred training vest. She mimicked the movements of Julia and Angel flawlessly.

Politeness demanded Robert remain to the side until they were done. Within a minute Julia did what looked to be the final movement, culminating with her hands coming together, palm-against-palm, in what looked almost like a "praying" gesture. She let out a final breath and her body relaxed. "Well, there we are," she said. She looked to Robert and grinned. "One of these days, Rob, I'm going to get you into this."

"Well, you've got Angel and Meridina now…"

"...and Lucy," Julia added. Her grin remained. "When she's not spending all of her time in the Machine Shop trying to build a new light sword."

"It is an interesting discipline." Meridina nodded to Julia. "And it served Lucy against Mastrash Goras."

"And I only gave her one lesson," Julia pointed out. "If she'd been fully trained, I'm not sure Goras could have landed a hit. Not with anything physical anyway." Julia looked to Robert again.

He was, in turn, embracing Angel for a moment. She gave him a small kiss on the cheek and pulled away. "We don't have long, right?", she asked.

Robert shook his head. "Maybe an hour. Locarno will let me know when we're fifteen minutes out. If need be we'll slow to make sure we're ready when we get there…"

"I'm going to shower. See you on the bridge." Angel nodded to him and walked to the exit.

Meridina gave Robert a sad look. "I am sorry."

"Sorry for…?", he asked.

"For undermining your relationship with Angel," Meridina answered. "If it were not so important to continue your training…"

"Is it?", Robert asked. He was still looking at the door that Angel had just walked through. "What if we dialed it back a little? Maybe a couple nights a week?"

"By all rights we should be doing more, Robert," Meridina pointed out. "You still have much to learn in how to use your swevyra."

Meridina had been gentle in her reminder of his relative lack of capability. He still had trouble dueling Lucy, who only had six months of training on him, and even in comparison to her his advancement in most of the relevant abilities was lacking.

It wasn't the first time Robert had felt frustrated, or even dejected, about his lack of progress. But now it added to his frustration over his failing relationship with Angel. He frowned. "I'm having trouble making the time for what I do now, Meridina. Maybe…" Robert shrugged. "...I don't know. I'm starting to think that maybe I should just accept that this as far as I'm going in terms of my force abilities and end the training."

Meridina listened to him say those words. For a brief moment there was a small flinch on her features, joined by a quivering of her heart. Whatever it had been, she forced it away. "I understand your frustration with your progress Robert. But not everyone advances as fast as Lucy has. You are advancing at the pace I would expect. It is possible that you may never have the same capability in combat, yes..."

"Then what's this for?", Robert asked pointedly. "I mean, I've got the mental control down, I'm not going to give in to my darkest impulses, you can be sure of that. But if I'm never going to be able to fight alongside you and Lucy with these abilities, maybe I should just call it quits. Before I give up something I don't have to."

"I understand that I may be asking much of you. It is a sacrifice. But I believe it a necessary one. You need to learn how to better harness your talents."

Meridina's words were spoken gently. But they cut deeply regardless.

Part of that may have even contributed to what came next. To the instinctive, defensive reaction that led Robert to responding, "Maybe I don't think that sacrifice is worth it anymore."

Meridina looked at him closely. For a moment he thought she would initiate some sort of mental contact, a connection to gauge if he really meant that. In the end all she did was nod. "I see. If that is how you feel, if it is the path that your swevyra is guiding you toward, then I respect it. Please let me know later if this is the way you wish things to go."

Without another word, Meridina walked away.

Even before she reached the door, Robert could feel the pain welling up inside of her. The only thing keeping him from recanting on the spot was his own surprise that he said that to her.

He was even more surprised by the sudden jolt of pain in the back of his head. "Yow!", he cried out in surprise.

When he turned his head to face the source of the slap, he found himself staring into a pair of infuriated aquamarine eyes. "In all of our years together, Robert Allen Dale," Julia began, anger lacing every word, "you have rarely been more of a thoughtless idiot than you were just now." As he drew in a breath to speak Julia interrupted. "You really want to do that? To bring up 'sacrifices' and if they're worth it?" She pointed to the door with a single finger. "To her. That woman gave up everything, Rob. She walked away from the organization that gave her life purpose, that… that she spent her whole life wanting to be a part of… to stay with us, to train you and Lucy. Because she thought it was the right thing to do. And you want to whine about making sacrifices to her."

Julia stopped. Robert swallowed and shook his head. "I was out of line," he admitted.

"Waaaay out of line." Julia shook her head. "Listen, I get it. Angel is… Angel. She wants a boyfriend who'll be there when the night's over and who will spend time with her."


"But you can't, Rob," Julia pointed out. "You couldn't from the start. And if Angel can't live with that… then maybe you two shouldn't be together now."

"But we were doing so well," Robert insisted. "Before this life force thing came up, I was making time, and she was accepting when I couldn't, and it was working. We were compromising, recognizing mistakes… we were doing everything right for a change. It felt like this was it and we had finally made it work!" He sighed. "And then this training started and the whole thing just… derailed."

Julia nodded. She spread her arms and took him into a hug. "I'm sorry, Robby," she murmured into his ear. "I'm sorry that you two might not work out after all. But sometimes… it just isn't meant to be."

She could feel him breathe heavily as part of a sigh. After a half minute of holding tightly they pulled away from each other. "I need to go shower and get into my uniform," Julia said. "You should freshen up to."

"I'm heading to the shower now," Robert answered. "I'll see you on the bridge, Julia."

Julia nodded in quiet agreement.

Everyone assembled on the bridge in time for their arrival. Locarno brought the Aurora out of warp just inside the lunar orbit of the planet. Caterina was quick to confirm scan results. "It looks like there are six armed ships of capital ship size in orbit. The ComStar records and the IFF codes confirm them as warships of the six invading Clans. There are several dozen ships of smaller size. I think it's their non-jump capable 'DropShips'." Cat looked over something. "They're definitely reacting to our arrival. They're launching fighters."

"If they know anything about us, they know we can be in combat range in minutes," Julia remarked.

"I know. So let's start this right. Jarod, put me on with the local authorities."

"You're on."

"Attention, Wolf Clan leadership, and those of the other Clans," Robert began. "I am Captain Robert Dale of the Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. I've come to open communication with the Clan Grand Council on behalf of President Henry Morgan and the government of the Alliance. I request safe passage, or safcon as you call it, to orbital space in order to speak with the Council."

For several moments there was quiet. A gruff voice finally replied, "We have received your message, Captain Robert. Standby."

"Did he just use your first name?", Angel asked. "That's pretty rude, right?"

"It's how the Clans address others," Julia said. "Given names only. Only Bloodnames are recognized."

"Well, I guess Jarod will feel right at home," Locarno said. That caused a bemused grin to come to Jarod's face.

When a voice came over the other end, it was the rough voice of a woman just starting to sound like she was entering her elderly years. "This is Khan Natasha Kerensky of the Wolf Clan. Your request for safcon is granted, Captain."

Robert recognized the name immediately. He'd heard that Khan Kerensky was not simply a Clan leader, but had been a feared mercenary commander in the Inner Sphere for decades before returning to the Clans. "Thank you, Khan Kerensky. We'll assume a standard orbit immediately."

"The ilKhan is going to present your request to the Grand Council shortly. We will inform you if they are willing to hear you speak. That is all."

"Nick, put us in standard orbit."

"And right under all of their guns," Angel murmured. "And I guess we don't have permission to raise shields?"

"Not unless they lock on us first."

"Right." Julia nodded in agreement. "Somehow I think taking defensive precautions after they've promised to give us safe conduct will not go over well. It would be saying we don't trust them." She looked at Robert. 'So, who's going down?"

"I want to make an impression. You, Zack, Meridina, Commander Kane, and Jarod. Get Lucy up here to take Jarod's place. Nick, you just made Lieutenant Commander, please don't get the ship shot up on your first mission after the promotion."

Locarno smirked. "I'll try not to," he answered, taking the remark as the humorous gibe it had been intended to be.

"I'll signal Grand Duke Kell to meet us at Transporter Station 2," Julia said. She brought her omnitool to life in a flash of blue light.

"Alright everyone," Robert said. "Let's go stop a war."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Jun 04, 2017 7:56 am

On arrival to the landing area in the Wolf Clan headquarters, they were met by two power armor-clad troopers flanking a man in a uniform made of gray leathers. A red star with one elongated point was prominent on the uniform.

But the real identifier was the family resemblance on his face, the look in those green eyes, and the subtle shift of emotion Robert felt in both the man greeting them, and in his own party. So he nodded slightly. "Khan Phelan Ward?", he inquired.

"Yes." Phelan looked away from his father. "The Grand Council is expecting you. Follow me."

Phelan led the way while the two power armor troops - "Elementals" - followed behind them. A series of halls led them to an amphitheater-like room. Eleven other people were seated physically while vidscreens displayed another twenty-two faces. Those present were wearing their own uniforms, colored in the fashion of their totem animals, including fine enameled masks bearing the stylized heads of those same creatures. Falcons, Bears, Jaguars…

Sitting apart from the others, on a raised platform with a podium, were two more figures. One was a gnarled, aged man with multiple cybernetic attachments to his body, with the green-colored uniforms that were evidently those of the Jade Falcons. A middle-aged man sat nearby, wearing the same gray leather suit that Phelan had on. Robert recognized him from the briefing materials Focht had provided: Ulric Kerensky of the Wolves, ilKhan of the Clans.

Ulric stood. "You are all familiar with the reports we have received of a new power in the Inner Sphere," he said. He looked over to Robert and the others while Phelan took a seat near to Ulric, where the red-and-gray-haired Natasha Kerensky was already present. "And now we have come to their attention." Ulric looked to Robert. "As you have ours, Captain." He indicated the middle of the room.

Robert nodded and walked to said point. With the exception of Morgan Kell, who remained standing to the side as an observer, the others joined him. Robert cleared his throat and looked at the array of masked men and women either present or watching from over a thousand light years away. "I am Captain Robert Dale, commander of the Alliance Starship Aurora, here on behalf of President Henry Morgan and the United Alliance of Systems. These are some of my fellow officers. We've come…" He stopped for a moment, noticing the wincing and grumbling from some of the assembled. "...we have come to address the risk that the standing Clan truce with the Inner Sphere is about to be abrogated, and to persuade you to let it stand."

"So you come to join with the usurpers of the noble Star League," a voice boomed. A very, very, very large man stood, wearing light gray leathers with a mottled cape and the enameled mask of a gray-furred jaguar. "You will suffer their fate."

"Let us not be hasty, Khan Osis," one of the Khans on the screens stated. This one had a helmet and mask modeled off of a scorpion; the voice was clearly feminine. "I have seen the records transmitted by the Wolves on this man's vessel. It is clearly of a technological base unknown even to the Star League."

"And that excites you, Khan Suvorov?" The use of the name allowed Robert to connect the dots from the data he'd read: this was clearly Lincoln Osis speaking. "I care not for this. What I do care about is that we now have clear proof of the charges against the ilKhan, that he is conspiring with our enemies out of his misguided hatred of the Crusade."

Phelan jumped to his feet. "Watch what you say about treason, Khan Osis. Or I will meet you in a Circle of Equals."

Lincoln Osis fixed his glare on Phelan. "I do not fear MechWarriors, freebirth. Inside or outside of their machines."

"That is good. I do not fear Elementals either." Phelan smirked. "I have beaten your kind unaugmented before."

A rumble of laughter came from some of the assembled. Robert let it build and fall away before resuming the conversation. "I am not privy to the secrets of ComStar or the Inner Sphere," he said. "But however they learned of them, they told us about your charges against ilKhan Ulric. That you consider him a traitor because you feel the Truce is dooming three generations of Clan warriors to no chances to fight and gain experience." Robert waited for a moment to see if anyone refuted him. None did. "Well, we can fix that. You have undoubtedly heard by now that some of the Inner Sphere's nations have joined us in a war in another universe. I have come to extend the offer for you to join that conflict as well."

That did it. All eyes focused on Robert with hawkish intensity. He could tell that in some cases it was not a positive intensity. So he forged on. His hand ran over his omnitool. When it came to life the room showed clear interest in it. His hand moved over the holographic controls to access the holoviewer built into the device. It activated to show the image of a starship. Not just any either, but of an Aryan-class Reich dreadnought. The Nazi swastika emblem was plainly visible on the bow.

"Do you recognize this?", he asked. "I suspect some of you do. It's been a thousand years for your history since this emblem flew on a flag. But I know from experience that most human societies that experienced this one's rise have never failed to remember it."

One of the physically present speakers, wearing a feline mask with a star-like mane, stood. "We know of it, yes," said the Khan of the Nova Cats. "And we know of the evil it spawned. You are showing us a universe where the evils of Hitler were not destroyed?"

"I am." Robert nodded. "The Nazi regime won their wars in this universe's history. It eventually subjugated the entire world. They exterminated entire peoples and enslaved the rest." He looked over the assembled Khans. "And we're at war with them. The Federated Commonwealth and the Free Worlds League have joined that war, and the rest of the Inner Sphere's nations may yet follow. Now I am here to offer you the same. A chance for your warriors to fight real battles, good battles, against a foe worthy of your time and of your skill." Robert matched Lincoln Osis' glare. "You want to talk about a Crusade, Khan Osis? This is a Crusade. Stopping the evil of the Nazi German Reich. This is the foe worthy of that title. Join us in fighting this evil and you will get the same benefits we are giving to the Inner Sphere."

"I am no Warden," Lincoln retorted.

"Nor are we mercenaries." An older voice spoke up, coming from a man with a Jade Falcon helmet and mask. "Did you think you could come here and purchase our services?" The man bristled with indignation, indignation that Robert felt was a little too forced to be genuine. "You are no different from any of the other freebirths of the Inner Sphere. You represent disorder, chaos, the very things the great Star League was formed to stop." Elias Crichell looked over at the assembled Khans. "Do you not see? This is nothing more than another sign of our ilKhan's treachery. He sees that we are about to unseat him, so he sends to the Inner Sphere to arrange another deception. We must not fall for this trickery. We must press on with the Invasion. If our enemies choose to fight in this bizarre war, let them suffer the consequences."

Some of the assembled cheered or voiced support. Robert noticed the sour look on Crichell and realized that he hadn't gotten the number of outright supporters he had anticipated.

Of course, that didn't mean Robert had won. They might still vote against the Truce.

"They're our allies now," Robert pointed out. Again he noticed the wincing of the others, and this time he remembered why. They don't like contractions. Well, I don't like them being jerks, so it evens out. "If you resume the Invasion, you'll fight us as well. And even if it means we have to pull forces from our war with the Nazis, we'll do it."

Robert could feel the tension from Julia and the others. Shifting gears to blunt threats was, ordinarily, way out of line. In this case, however, Robert felt he was onto something with this. The Clans weren't another legislature or body that would respond to kind words, rational argument, and deal-making. Give them a concession the wrong way and it would be seen as weakness and cowardice, not reason.

"Now the mask is stripped away, then." Crichell stepped up toward Robert. "You are here to impose terms upon us. Upon the Clans. Do you think we fear you? We are the finest warriors Humanity has ever produced. If you stand against us, we will destroy you."

"Really, Khan Crichell?" Julia walked up beside Robert. "Are you telling me you would commit your Clan to a war with an enemy you know little about? You do not know what we can do, what our technology is capable of." Robert glanced toward Julia. Every word spoken was careful and deliberate; Julia was playing the voice of reason, and doing so while obeying the Clan's peculiar taboo about contractions in English. "You do not know how many warships we have. How many troops we can command. Or even what our weapons can do." She turned and faced Ulric at his place. "IlKhan, I suspect you are the one with the most knowledge of what the Alliance is. How deep is that knowledge?"

"I have seen some of your broadcasts," Ulric said. "It is clear to me that your people have technologies that our finest scientists have yet to fathom. Even your method of interstellar travel is different." Ulric kept his eyes on Julia and Robert, although it was clear he was speaking for the benefit of the other Khans.

"And you did not see fit to share this information with us?", accused another of the Khans from a screen, this one wearing the likeness of a horse.

Ulric gave the Khan in question a bewildered look. "On the contrary. I sent reports to all of the Clans on the material I reviewed. And I find it hard to believe that the other Invading Clans did not pick up the same transmissions."

"We have." The woman speaking was behind a white bear mask.

"It appeared to be nothing more than Inner Sphere deception," stated Lincoln Osis' fellow Khan, Brandon Howell.

"Now you know better." Robert and Julia exchanged a glance. She nodded, so Robert took the lead again. "Your people have a problem. We came with the solution to it. You have three choices: join our effort and reap the benefits the same as the Inner Sphere, do nothing, or abrogate the Truce and resume your Invasion, knowing you will face us along with the Inner Sphere."

"Will your people honor our victories?", asked the female Khan in the Bear mask - Robert recalled the name Aletha Kabrinski. "Will you recognize our conquests from the Reich's worlds?"

"If your people bleed to take a planet, we recognize you have a right to it," Robert replied. He wasn't happy with the answer. This could only lead to a hodgepodge of Clan-held worlds in the heart of Reich space. But this was going to be a sticking point.

Maybe we shouldn't bother having the Clans in the war, a part of him thought. But despite what he just said, he knew that the Clans only really had two choices here: join the war and get access to the same benefits, or throw the dice on resuming the invasion. Doing nothing meant continuing their current deadlock over the fate of their new generations of warriors. So even if they chose that now, the resulting pressure would inevitably lead to the abrogation of the Truce.

No, the important question was if the costs of the Clans getting involved, the costs still in the future, were worth the benefit. And President Morgan and Admiral Maran had already made that decision with the (admittedly grudging) acceptance of the Inner Sphere's leaders; it was worth it. And he had to make that happen.

After his reply, the Bear-masked man - Jorgensson, Robert recalled - looked to Ulric. "There is wisdom, then, to accepting this offer."

Crichell leveled a glare at the Bear Khan. "Wisdom? How can you call this wisdom? They are turning us from our purpose. We are here to restore the Star League and destroy those who betrayed it! This is nothing but a trick. A means to distract us from the Crusade by using our warriors to fight their battles. If you accept this, they will take us into war after war, seeking to grind our warrior caste down to nothing so that they can conquer us with ease." Crichell raised a hand and pointed toward every Khan, those present and those observing by screen. "We must stay true to the course. First, we must remove the ilKhan who has betrayed the Crusade and sought to destroy us from within. Then we must resume the Invasion and take Terra to restore the Star League."

"And when what?", Robert shot back. "So you take Earth. That doesn't mean the entire Inner Sphere will shrug and say 'you're the boss now'. There are literally billions of people on the other worlds who will continue to fight."

"Then they will be treated as we would any bandit," Crichell declared. "What you offer us is a poisoned gift."

"What I offer you is a chance to fight with honor against a foe that can't be allowed to grow stronger," Robert retorted. "A foe who, with every battle, gets additional opportunities to copy our interuniversal drive technology. If you join with us, the risk of this threat diminishes. But if you attack the Inner Sphere instead, then you will fight us too. Maybe you will win in the early battles, as we struggle to fight on both sides… but with the Inner Sphere ready for you, and the Alliance's fleet growing stronger with each passing month, do you really think you can win in the end?"

"We are warriors bred as the pinnacle of Human ability," Lincoln Osis rumbled. "I do not fear you, freebirth."

Robert looked to the others before looking to the towering giant. It was clear he was genetically engineered - even the strongest bodybuilder never achieved that sort of muscle bulk or shape - and looked like he could snap a normal person in half like a twig. "I am not asking you to fear me," Robert said carefully. "I am asking you to respect me."

"Respect is only earned in combat," was the retort he received.

A few options went through Robert's head. He drew in a breath and felt the warmth inside of him, the energy of his life, move through his mind. It was hard to describe it when he tried to glimpse what could be. It wasn't anything like visions, or like his dreams. It was a feeling of what the future held if he picked one choice or another.

The easiest thing to do would be to set up Osis to fight Meridina. He didn't have a prayer even if she refrained from telepathy. But he could sense this would not work. The Clan Khans would not respect him setting a junior officer against a Khan. Even though he was technically just one of many Captains, he was still the senior officer present.

That meant it had to be him. He had to act.

Robert leveled his gaze at Lincoln Osis. "You want a fight, then?", he asked. "That is fine with me. You people have one-on-one fights, right? You call it the Circle of Equals? How about you and me in one? Just the two of us."

Silence came to the Grand Council Chamber. Robert could feel the mix of reactions from the others. Disbelief, amusement, surprise, and in many cases, a sense that this was something that was winning him respect.

Of course it would, Robert thought. The Clans ultimately believe in "might makes right". They overturn majority decisions if the other side wins a combat trial. In the end, the only thing they really respect is being willing to fight and being good at it.

A harsh laugh came from beside him, where the Falcon Khan Crichell remained standing. "You think to challenge a Khan? To a personal combat? You, a freebirth who has no Bloodname?" Crichell seemed to be smirking underneath his mask. "I am sure we could find an un-Blooded Star Captain for you to fight, quiaff?"

"I did not challenge a Star Captain," Robert retorted. He looked back to Lincoln Osis. The massive man's eyes were fixed on Robert. He met the gaze. "I challenged Khan Lincoln Osis of the Smoke Jaguars."

"And you are aware of how the challenge works?", Osis rumbled. "As the challenged party, it is my right to decide how we fight. Are you prepared to face me in direct combat, unaugmented?"

"As in without battle armor suits?" Robert nodded. "Yes. Yes, I am."

Crichell looked up at Lincoln Osis as well. "This is foolishness, Khan Osis. This freebirth is not worthy of facing a Khan in a Circle of Equals. The very idea is lunacy."

"We should consult with the Clan Council, my Khan," Osis' peer said.

Osis was still facing Robert directly. Robert kept his face stern and unmoving. He would not show even the slightest fear, nor worry, or any emotion beyond what he intended to seem as grim resolve.

"If he were a Clan warrior, we would," Lincoln said. "But he is not. He is an outsider proving his peoples' worth to the Clans. I will answer his challenge and prove how worthy he and his kind truly are."

At that point Robert felt something unexpected from Crichell. Although his body language remained disapproving, he seemed to be… content. As if this was what he wanted all along.

So much for the vaunted Clan sense of honor, there's no way that guy's not a politician first and foremost. He wants me to fight Osis and is just pretending to be against it. Robert might have pondered that more, but he could feel the wave of concern from the others.

"ilKhan, I will face this freebirth," Lincoln said. "As challenged, I declare we will fight unaugmented."

"Very well," replied Ulric. He looked at Robert. "Your challenge has been accepted. A suitable space will be arranged for the combat. The Grand Council will observe."

Robert nodded.

"The Wolf Clan will inform the combatants of the time and location of their duel." Ulric thumped a gavel on his podium. "I declare this meeting adjourned under the Martial Code as set down by Nicholas Kerensky."

The various Khans not present disappeared from the screens. Those who were physically present stood from their places. A few looked toward Robert before departing. He became keenly aware of the attention of the Khans wearing the Nova Cat masks and watched them leave.

Julia stepped into his sight with a bewildered expression on his face. "Are you insane?" she asked.

"Yeah," he answered.

"You're going to take on someone like that? In a hand-to-hand fight?"


Julia sighed. "If Khan Osis doesn't kill you, I think Angel might."

Robert winced. "Yeah."

"Are you insane?!"

Angel's thunderous demand filled the conference room. Robert looked to the others, who all seemed to be in agreement with the query. "Commander Andreys already asked me that," he said, being formal for the sake of their attending observer.

Locarno looked over the holographic image and shook his head. "He's built like a Brikar. And you challenged him?"

"It had to be me," Robert said. "And Osis made the most sense. Crichell would have wanted a fight in their 'Mechs. I stand a better chance of a hand-to-hand fight."

"So you're going to fight the Human Brickhouse instead?" Angel shook her head. "Listen, even I'd think twice before picking a fight with something, someone, like that. I mean… look at him! I doubt he'd even feel a hit on a pressure point, not unless you hit him with a metal club!"

"Or with a life force-backed punch," Robert remarked. He looked toward Meridina.

"It is possible," she said. "The Dorei even have organizations of Fenari devoted to unarmed techniques bolstered by their swevyra." Meridina shook her head. "But I am not sure you are capable of such, Captain."

"I have to try."

"Or maybe you can forget this whole stupid honor duel crap," Angel said. "That's playing the game their way. I say we play it our way. They either give up their invasion or we blow the crap out of them."

Julia shook her head. "Somehow I think that abusing their safe conduct would make things worse. It would be impossible to make peace with them if they saw we would break our word."

"Oh? And why is it we're here again?" Angel thumped her hand on the table. "Oh, right, it's because they're the ones about to break their word. Who's to say we can trust them?"

Jarod nodded. "She makes a good point. The thing about warrior societies is that, no matter what they say about honor, if they want a fight they can find a way to justify one."

"And we already had the Klingons bail on us," Zack added. "Who's to say the Clans will be any better?"

"All good points," Robert agreed. "But I'm sure they were already debated above our pay level, and the President's decision was still made. And if we're to implement that, we need to follow up on this challenge."

Angel let out a small growl of frustration. "You're going to get yourself killed."

"Not if I work at this." Robert looked to Meridina and Lucy again. "I'd like to see about bumping up my training. Focusing on unarmed combat. We may only have a day or two for me to get ready."

It was clear that both were not sanguine about his chances. "We will do what we can," said Meridina.

"That's all we can do. For now, I don't want any incidents with the locals, so no shore leaves are permitted. Maintain a Code Blue watch and be ready to raise shields the moment it looks like something has gone wrong." Robert nodded. "You're all dismissed."

"Lucy and I will be waiting for you in Holodeck 2," Meridina said softly.

Robert returned to his quarters to change into his training outfit. He had barely gotten his uniform jacket off when the door swished open and Angel stepped in. "It's not enough that you almost got yourself blown up last year playing the hero, now it's this?", she asked, and in a harsh tone.

"I didn't have a choice," Robert insisted.

"Yes, you did! You could have not challenged them at all!", Angel retorted.

"Then they would have ignored me. Ulric would have been deposed and the Truce would have been repudiated. We'd be looking at another war."

"Maybe, or maybe this Ulric guy would have played another card. He's a politician, they do that kind of thing."

"I can't make plans based on what someone I don't know will do," Robert replied, although it did make him wonder. Seeing that Jade Falcon Khan act more like a manipulator than a straightforward fighter - first in his emotional manipulation of the others and then goading Osis into accepting his challenge - made him wonder how effective at this Ulric Kerensky had to be if he'd managed to keep his post this long against that kind of opposition. That meant Ulric had his own plan on dealing with the attack on him. He wondered what it had been.

Angel reacted by slamming her fist on the table. "Dammit Rob, this is stupid of you. And you would never have done this if you didn't have those damned powers now."

"No, likely not," he admitted. He walked up to Angel and put his hands on her shoulders. He felt her frustration and anger and worry all tangling up inside of her. "Angel, I know this is tough for you, and I'm sorry. But this is the job we were called out to do. If I didn't do this, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere with the talks. And billions of lives could be riding on this."

Angel shook her head. "You know…" She swallowed. "A year ago, I asked you to be my lover again because… I realized that out here, anything could happen, and I didn't want to have regrets."

"I remember," he answered, his tone remaining gentle.

"And it seemed to be working, even with your responsibilities as the Captain of the ship. And we were happy. We were making it work." Angel's hazel eyes brimmed with pain as she spoke. "But those dreams kept getting worse. And then you found out you were developing the same power that Meridina and Lucy have, and then you started using it, and now…. Over these last few months, everything's changing. First it was only training for control, then training because you weren't doing so well, then we learned all of that crazy prophecy stuff on Gersal and since then you haven't said a word about walking away from it." Angel drew in a breath. "I'm sorry, that came out… Just answer this for me, Rob, and please tell me the truth."

Robert didn't let himself glance at the time. He knew it was getting late, and that Meridina and Lucy were waiting for him. But he wasn't going to make Angel feel rushed. He answered her with a nod, indicating he was ready for her question.

"If it came down to this training or being together with me, which would you choose?", Angel asked.

At that Robert's mouth went dry. It was a question he had pondered over the last several months, when it became clear that the training was driving a wedge between them. What, ultimately, was more important to him? These abilities, and mastering them? Or his relationship with Angel?

The answer should have been easy. He should have said "You". He knew he should have said it. He loved her. No matter how many times they had broken up, they kept getting back together because of that affection they had, and the sheer stubbornness on trying to keep it. How could he pick anything over that?

He found that the answer to that was… yes, he could, if it was a matter of survival, of life and death for all of them. He had seen the glimpses of the future. He knew that these powers were going to be a part of that future. That they might be his only hope, their only hope, of surviving what was coming.

Robert could feel that sense right now. That if he picked Angel over his training, over his abilities, then the result would be their deaths and the loss of everything.

He didn't need to say it. The way Angel's eyes shifted, the pain that grew in her expression… it was clear that she could sense what his answer would be. And it wasn't a question of understanding it. Of seeing that he had to do this or they would all die. He knew that, for Angel, it was a realization that no matter how much they loved each other, he would always pick this path.

Her voice was hoarse when she said, "You should get going. They're waiting for you."

"We'll talk later," he promised.

"Yeah. Later." Angel walked away from him and to a chair. Robert felt how much it was hurting her and wished he could say something, say anything, to make that better.

But there was nothing he could say or do that would work. She would know he was lying, and he would know it. After these months, all of their attempts to avoid that truth - that his training was more important, in the long run, than their relationship was - had failed. The truth was there, in front of them, and it couldn't be avoided any longer.

And as was often said, the truth hurt.

Lucy arrived at the appropriate holodeck and found Meridina had already set up their training program. She was standing in the middle of the outside space, in a circular covered pavilion of Gersallian architecture. Lucy could feel turmoil inside of Meridina as she stared at the holographic recreation of the Great Temple of the Order of Swenya. "Maybe we should change the program," Lucy said.

Meridina turned. The tears on her cheeks were real, as raw as the hurt inside of her being. Months ago, Meridina would never have allowed anyone to see her like this. She would have taken the time to re-assert emotional control and show the stoic face of resolve to the world.

It warmed Lucy to realize just what this meant. Meridina didn't just see her as a student now. She saw her as a close, personal friend, someone she could be vulnerable with. Someone she could share her hurt with. And Lucy knew how much Meridina hurt. Her own people had given her the stark choice - her place in the Order, or continuing the work that she felt was vital for their future. She chose the work, her beliefs, and walked out of the Order that had defined her life since she was a child. It had not been a happy parting.

"Perhaps we will," Meridina said. Her voice wavered a little. "But for now, we must focus on Robert."

"Yeah." Lucy sighed. "He should have set one of us up with that fight."

"He undoubtedly feared that the Clans would not respect the Alliance in such an occasion. He feels it must be him. And so we must do what we can to make sure he has the best chance of victory in this fight."

"Against a behemoth like this Khan Osis guy? He looks more like an alien than a Human." Lucy shook her head. "I mean, either of us could put him down, but Robert's strength…"

"...is not in the combat arts, true." Meridina nodded. "But I believe he does have the potential to apply his swevyra enough to defeat Khan Osis."

"I just hope he's doing the right thing…"

Before Lucy could finish that thought, the door to the holodeck opened. Robert walked in wearing his training outfit. "Alright," he said. "The Wolves sent a signal. They've set our fight for 0900 sharp the day after tomorrow. We've got tonight and tomorrow to see if I can avoid getting squashed by that Human bulldozer."

Meridina nodded. "Clear your mind, then. Feel the energy of life around you, the Flow of Life connecting you to the universe…"

Robert awoke the next morning and, after enjoying a quick breakfast and a shower, reported back to the holodeck for more training.

Meridina had spent months showing him the finer points of control and focus, with the sword practice being his only training in martial use of his powers. That training had made it clear that he didn't have the same set of talents that Lucy did. He would never be the type to, as he had once put it after meeting Meridina, "bring a sword to a gunfight and win".

But now his life depended on fighting with his abilities.

A holo-opponent had been created for practicing on. Meridina had made a fair approximation of his opponent in mass and size. Then she and Lucy had taken turns tossing the opponent around with their abilities. "The key, Robert, is to let the energy flow through you and energize your body," Meridina explained. "Again."

The holographic giant stomped toward her with great speed. Meridina ducked one blow, sidestepped the next, and thrust her hand forward. Sheer energy came from within her and slammed into the hologram, sending it flying by nearly twenty meters.

Robert nodded and looked toward a second copy of said foe. "Begin," he said. The holo-foe charged at him. He moved around the blows, letting his feelings, the instinct of his life tied to the universe as a whole, guide him around the blows.

Summoning his strength, Robert threw his hand forward and felt his power surge out.

The result was the foe did get thrown back. But only by about eight meters.

"Well, if you knock Osis out of the circle…" Lucy looked over the fallen figure. "Maybe that's enough?"

"I have a feeling Osis won't give me that kind of opening," Robert sighed. He shook his head. "Maybe there's another way to approach this. I don't have the raw power you two enjoy."

"You may be more powerful than you imagine, Robert, Meridina insisted. "You must not doubt."

"Because doubt is the enemy." Robert nodded. "I know that. But I'm just not sure this will work."

"Well, maybe there's another way," Lucy said. "Give me a few minutes, I'm going to see about getting some help."

When Lucy returned, she wasn't alone.

Julia walked into the holodeck wearing her martial arts gi, with black belt, and with her long blond hair pulled back into a bun. "So, Lucy tells me Rob may need an alternative approach to fighting that giant."

"It may be necessary, yes."

Robert could already see where this is going. "You're thinking of t'ai chi, right?"

"Got it in one," Julia answered, grinning. "And it's good for you to know."

Robert shook his head and chuckled. "You've been trying to get me to do this stuff for years."

"Yep." The grin on Julia's face widened. "And all it took was you provoking a fight with a genetically-engineered super-warrior with muscles the size of your head." She finished walking up to him. "So, let's get started."

"This stuff really works even with these powers?"

"It does," Lucy said. She grinned as well. "It's what helped me beat Goras."

Memories of that fight made Robert's arm flare up with a shadow pain. "Right," he said. "Okay. Then I guess I'm learning t'ai chi."

"Damn right you are," replied Julia. "Now, let me show you the first form…"

Angel stood her morning watch at tactical without incident, with Jarod and Locarno alternating in command the entire shift depending on who was on duty while Julia was, it was said, off training Robert as well.

It was just as well nothing happened as Angel kept letting the previous night's conversation go through her head. She should have been happy to finally get the truth from Robert. That his training had really become that important to him. And a part of her had the thought that she should be more accepting of this. If he felt that way, he had to have a damned good reason. And she had been there, hadn't she? To hear them talk about that old prophecy or whatever it was, a prophecy that seemed to tie into things Robert learned back in the Darglan Facility on Gamma Piratus.

And yet… she still felt like her heart was breaking. To think that they had actually managed a year as a couple. A whole year. And now… were they really going to end that over this?

When Angel's bridge shift ended she went to her quarters to eat a meal. She would likely assume another watch later, this time a command watch, given how the others were busy. For now Angel would have time to herself. Time to think of her failing relationship.

She couldn't stop the tears forming in her eyes.

Angel's door chime sounded. "Come in," she said gruffly.

Caterina stepped in. She was in her uniform, with skirt instead of pants, and seemed to be glowing. Then again, she had been like that since returning from the European trip that Violeta had taken her on. "Angel?", she asked. "I was coming by to offer lunch…" When she saw the tears on Angel's face she stopped. Cat's eyes fell. "Did he…"

"No. At least, not…" Angel shook her head. Cat walked over and sat beside her on the couch. "He just made the truth clear."

"And that is…?"

Angel sniffled. "His, uh… that his training in the life force stuff is more important than his relationship with me."

Cat stared in wonderment and disbelief. "What?!", she cried, and with some anger.

"He didn't… he didn't say it. But when I asked him which he would pick, the training or our relationship, he… he just froze up and I could see it in his eyes. I saw it, Cat. He thinks the training is more important."

Cat's eyes widened. "That… that bastard."

Angel stared at her sister in shock. Did she just call someone a bastard?, was the thought that went through Angel's head.

"He just… how could he…?"

"It's… it's this prophecy thing from Gersal. And something he got from Gamma Piratus. Some message about Darkness. And supposedly some super-powerful race known as the Darkness once existed and the Darglan had to fight them and… it was all really crazy, but Rob believes it. And he's picking this stuff over me." Angel sniffled and shook her head. "And… it's funny… I understand that. In my head, I mean. If this is all true, this is something really dangerous, and his having these… life force abilities or whatever they are might be what saves us. I can see this is important. So why can't I accept it? Why can't I just make things work?"

Caterina remained silent for a minute. She was busy trying to think of what to say, or if she could say anything. Generally speaking, her older sister had far more relationship experience than she did. It felt odd to be in the position to give her advice.

"Like I said, Violeta and I have this…" Cat shook her head. "I'm trying to think of how to… we have an arrangement." She looked at Angel to make sure she hadn't lost her sister's attention. "I mean, I'm new to this relationship stuff. And Violeta isn't. So we had a talk, and she told me that it would only work if we were both happy. We both have to be comfortable with things. That's why she has me take the lead on stuff. I've never done this before and she wants me to be comfortable with something before we try it. And I know that sounds like something completely different from your problem, so…" Cat stopped for a moment, as if looking for the words. She knew she had to say the right thing. "...it's like, you and Robert only work together when you're both happy. If you're not happy, then you try to fix it. And if fixing it doesn't work, well… I'm not sure what else you can do? I know you don't want to end things with him again. Or have him end things with you. That always really hurts you and, y'know, I'm supposed to be the sister who cries about things, so…" Cat stopped. She blushed in embarrassment at realizing her little tease might have sounded wrong. "But if you're not happy, and he can't make you happy… then it's not really a loving relationship anymore, I think. It's just holding on to something that hurts you."

The response she got from Angel was a thoughtful look followed by a small grin. "Well well, look at you," Angel said softly. She wiped at her tear-streaked cheek. "Giving relationship advice to your big sis."

"It wasn't really good advice, I know."

"No, it wasn't really good. It was the best." Angel reached across the couch and pulled her sister into a hug. "You are growing up, little sis."

"Not enough to have curves," Cat sighed wistfully.

"You're beautiful as you are, Cat, and if anyone says otherwise…"

"You'll punch them?"

"No." Angel laughed. "I'll start by punching them. Then it'll get more painful."

The two sisters started giggling at the thought.

Julia and Lucy remained standing to the side while Meridina looked over Robert. He was standing still, his arms and legs in a ready position to fight. "Do you feel it?", she asked.

He nodded.

"Good. Focus on that energy. Feel it fill your body."

Robert didn't bother remarking that he had done this before. This part of the training wasn't new; it was to learn how to use this power to augment his natural physical abilities. Lucy and Meridina had been showing this to him for months. It was how they could run fast, or how they could be fast enough to use blades to deflect fire from guns.

"Remember that this is beyond standard muscle control. Let your swevyra, the force within you, guide your movements."

Meridina stopped in front of him and assumed a similar position, facing a holographic figure. She breathed in, focused, and Robert felt her power swell and shift with that focus.

When she finally started moving, She nearly became a blur. Her arms and legs changed position instantly. The computer couldn't keep up; within seconds her foe, struck repeatedly and caught entirely off guard, went down. After a few moments she stopped. "Now, do so. Let go of physical control. Let the life within you, the life around you, be your guide."

Robert let out a breath and felt that warm energy inside him begin to shift and buzz. His arms moved, more quickly than he would have managed, catching one blow from the large foe he was facing and deflecting it away. His foot popped up in a kicking motion that slipped into the enemy's defenses. The reaction of hitting that much mass made his leg feel like it was going to vibrate. But the kick had power behind it, not just muscle power but that of the energy of life, and it transferred into a blow that sent the massive holographic foe flying back.

Robert sighed and nodded. At this point he was feeling tired and stiff. They had been working out virtually all day.

"Wow," Julia said. She smiled at him. "I suppose Angel and I can't just invite you into the ring anymore, you actually could beat us."

"I don't think so," he answered. "I'm not a fighter like you or Angel."

"If you can move that fast, I don't think you'd need to be."

"You'd be surprised," Lucy remarked. "But he's actually showing some improvement."

"In about twelve hours I have to fight a two and a half meter tall, muscle-bound giant who wants to crush my skull," Robert sighed. "Let's just say I'm motivated."

"I sure as hell would be," Julia said. She walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "You have to understand that I'm just trying to give you some inspiration. The forms aren't something you pick up right away. This life force 'let the energy guide your body' thing is going to be the thing that saves you. But hopefully you can keep some of the things I said in mind while you're fighting."

"Yes. The whole thing of meeting hardness with softness, sticking or yielding to strikes…"

"And watching your breath, your energy. T'ai chi is about energy. It's why I started to focus more on it." Julia smirked. "Especially after I ended up as your second in command on a big starship with two thousand people aboard."

"And it is why I feel Lucy's choice of bringing Julia to help you was inspired," Meridina said. "The practice of swevyra is about energy, sensing the Flow of Life and opening yourself to it. To win tomorrow, you will need that energy."

"But not as brute force." Now Lucy was talking. "You can't brute force this guy, Rob. Hit him when you get an opening. Get him when he's weak."

"I feel like I'm in one of those kung-fu movies we watched as kids," Robert confessed to Julia. "And with this thing of augmenting myself with my life energy, it's like… what was that comic book Zack always liked to tease you with. 'Steel Fist'? 'Iron Fist'?" Before she could say anything he shook his head. "Sorry, I'm just… maybe I'm a little nervous."

"You probably should be." Lucy shook her head. "I could probably bat Lincoln Osis across the room with my swevyra and I'd be feeling nervous. With that much muscle? If he knows how to use it, all he'll need is one punch, and any of us would go down."

"Which is why you must be focused and in tune with your swevyra," Meridina said.

"I got that part."

"I would hope so." Meridina smiled slightly. "It would be very embarrassing if one of my students fell victim to a clumsy punch."

Lucy giggled at that. Robert and Julia gave the stoic Gersallian a bewildered look.

Meridina's only reply was to that same small, bemused smile.

After the day of training and a small late meal, Robert laid in his bed and hoped he could sleep given what was to come in less than eleven hours. And while he was at it, he hoped that he would be able to sleep without the interruption of dreams.

He got the first wish.

The images were some of those he'd seen before, in a rapid fire succession of scenes and sounds. He watched a city burn and was surprised to see that it was flying the banners of the Clans, while in the distance particle weapons of some kind carved deadly red light through buildings and screaming people.

Then an explosion engulfed a richly-dressed middle-aged woman at a podium. Her face was familiar.

A second face, with the same blond hair and blue eyes, flashed across his vision, cold and calculating and oh so hungry.

He made the connection. Princess Katherine. Then the woman that was blown up…

Before he could let that thought finish things changed further. He was in a room. A man with a glowing, cybernetic eye and with a flowing robe stepped up to a figure on a throne and bowed. Robert caught only one word - "Master" - as the scene dissolved.

And then it was the unknown figure again, in shadow, and a woman's voice. "Bad Wolf", said the woman, and his hearing was so garbled he couldn't make out the particulars of her voice - age, accent, et cetera.

"What do you mean? What does 'Bad Wolf' mean?"

"Your choice," was her response. "Bad Wolf."

The next thing Robert knew, he was awake. He blinked and stirred groggily in bed before looking around in his dark room. His clock displayed 0553. Robert groaned lowly at the thought of the near hour of sleep he'd lost by waking up this early. He certainly wouldn't be getting back to sleep in time for it to be worth laying back down.

He showered first. The entire time he was dwelling on the thought of what was to come. He had no doubt Lincoln Osis would kill him if the Jaguar Khan had the opening. He wondered if it had been the smart play, calling Osis out and challenging him to a fight.

No. Don't doubt it now that I've done it. What I'm doing won't work if I dwell on doubts. He forced that thought into his head as he got out of the shower and dried off. He put on a bathrobe for the moment and went to his work desk in his quarters. A thought was coming to mind. Of things he should say. Things he might not get a chance to say.

"Computer, set up to record a video message," he said. "The message is to be delivered in case of my recorded death today."

Within a second, the female voice of the computer responded. "Working. Please specify recipient."

"Angela Delgado."

"Recipient logged. System ready."

Robert drew in a breath and looked to the screen. "Angel, if you're seeing this…" He stopped for a moment. It was hard, thinking of how to say this, and knowing the circumstances she'd be hearing this in. "...Angel, I'm sorry. I hurt you the other night. I… didn't mean to. You mean a lot to me. And I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, that I haven't been the man you wanted to have in your life. All of this life force stuff and training, it got so big and involved… and now that I know more about what's been going on, all I could think of was that I had to stick with it. That our lives could be depending on me having these abilities, and knowing how to use them." He lowered his eyes and shook his head. "But I never wanted to hurt you. And I'm sorry… I'm sorry I couldn't say that you were more important than the training. I just don't want to be the one to get everyone killed. I… we're out here because of me. Because these are things I wanted to do. Something I wanted to live for, to serve with. And I've dragged you and everyone else along for it."

He stopped there. Did that sound right? He was starting to think it didn't, that it sounded arrogant. That he was turning Angel and Julie and Zack and Cat into nothing more than followers. People without an existence aside from their relation with him. "I mean… I know you like what we're doing too. And I know you believe in stopping the bad guys. But you wouldn't be in danger if I hadn't found that Facility. If I hadn't insisted on using it like we did. Maybe it's arrogant of me to think so, but I feel responsible for you being out here. And if anything happens to you, to any of us… I feel like that would be my fault in some way."

"Maybe I'm just being the White Knight again, or I'm being brash or overconfident in calling for this duel. If you're hearing this, it means…" he swallowed and shook his head. "...it means I was being stupid. I'm dead because of it. And I know you're probably looking at this and not knowing whether you're angry with me or what's happened…" Robert stopped speaking again. He imagined the scene; Angel's tears of grief and rage pouring down her cheeks, her hands balled into fists, and possibly the temptation to go down and kill Lincoln Osis with her own two hands. "I'm sorry, Angel. I'm not sure what else I can say but that. I'm sorry I'm not here for you now, and I'm sorry that I wasn't what I should have been for you. All I can ask if that you forgive me. I hope that, in time, you find someone who can give you the happiness you deserve." He leaned in toward the monitor. "I love you, Angel." He forced a smile that he hoped wasn't too sad to form on his face. "Goodbye."

With a tap of his finger, he ended the recording. "Message logged. Terms for delivery confirmed."

For several minutes Robert sat there. Saying everything he had said… it made him wonder about what life would be like if they had walked away after losing the Facility. If they had moved to New Liberty and focused on building a life there. He imagined that he and Angel might still have gotten together. And maybe… they would have been happy.

Or maybe not. He knew that in her own way, Angel loved it out here too. She loved her job. She loved "kicking the bad guys' asses". She wouldn't have been as happy on New Liberty Colony, he thought.

But maybe…

A tone interrupted his thoughts. "Andreys to Dale."

"Dale here," he answered.

"It's past 0700, Rob. You should get to the Lookout and get some breakfast. Hargert's made you a good luck meal. And you'll need the energy."

"Yeah," he murmured. "I probably will."
"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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Sun Jun 04, 2017 1:26 pm

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Jun 04, 2017 2:12 pm

speaker-to-trolls wrote:
Sun Jun 04, 2017 1:26 pm
It's a sci-fi staple. At some point, the captain has to have a fight to the death with a warrior culture's leader or something. :D

Or be forced into a fight with an alien by even more powerful aliens. Kirk was just lucky that he could find the ingredients for a mortar. 8-)
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Jun 04, 2017 3:23 pm

I LOVE Robert being an idiot. Not this duel, though this is stupid. But him quitting on Meridina and Julie calling him out on it.

Poor Angel.

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Jun 04, 2017 7:18 pm

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Sun Jun 04, 2017 3:23 pm
I LOVE Robert being an idiot. Not this duel, though this is stupid. But him quitting on Meridina and Julie calling him out on it.

Poor Angel.
The sad thing is that challenging Lincoln Osis is probably the only thing he could have done to accomplish his goal. Giving the Clans an alternative that lets them deal with the whole "not enough fights for our current generations of warriors" problem is one thing, but the Clans don't know jack about the Alliance and would be unlikely to make any alliances, temporary or otherwise, unless they felt satisfied as to the capabilities of their proposed allies. Robert being willing to fight to accomplish his mission is just the kind of thing the Clans would accept and even admire, even if it seems reckless or stupid to us.

Hell, Kai Allard-Liao blew up his 'Mech to set off charges that buried an entire Falcon cluster, and the Clan reaction to this was to consider Kai a magnificent badass. The Clans venerate the memory of Tyra Miraborg (A Rasalhaguan aerospace pilot who flew her crippled fighter into the Clan flagship bridge, killing the Jaguar ilKhan leading the initial invasion of the Inner Sphere and nearly killing Ulric Kerensky) as much as the Rasalhaguans do. The Clans even named a new class of fighter-carrier DropShip in her honor. She got listed in the Remembrance, which is part tribal history book part holy book for the Clans. And for the woman who killed their war leader and forced the leaders to return to Clan space for a new ilKhan election, giving the Inner Sphere a year to regroup.

I brought that up to emphasize my point: the Clans actually like possibly-suicidal boldness like that. Robert is earning their respect... but may only get what he needs if he actually wins. Which I will post in an hour or so.

As for the other thing... yeah. Robert's still Human, and I thought it would fit to give him that moment of selfish impulse. A part of him who wanted to pick Angel over the training that might just save the Multiverse one day. And he thoughtlessly said something like that to Meridina of all people which just aggravates this flaring of selfishness. It keeps him from being a simplistic "Big Hero" character.
"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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:16 pm

Julia left Robert to eat his pre-fight meal. She had something to do before they went down.

Which is why she was drawing in a breath before hitting the chime on Angel's door. "Angel?", she called out.

After a few moments, the muffled reply of "Come in" came from inside. Julia moved her hand to the door again and it slid open.

Angel's quarters were a tad messier than Julia's. Nothing terribly messy, but there were a few digital notepads on one table scattered haphazardly, energy drink cans that had been left beside the chair, and a few other things that gave the quarters a lived in look, and lived in by someone not afraid of having a little clutter. Amateur fighting plaques and trophies were along one wall, a reminder of Angel's own sports hobbies in their former, definitely non-space-age lives. Discarded exercise clothes were in one corner beside a portable washing machine tied to a water filtration device. Angel did the usual job of feeding her clothes for replicator-based cleaning - basically being disassembled and re-assembled by the replicators to remove sweat and skin cells and the like - but there were some old gym shirts and such that Angel wouldn't want to commit to the replicators.

Angel was sitting quietly on her couch half-dressed. Her uniform trousers were beside her on the couch, leaving her muscled legs fully visible from the thigh down, and a sleeveless uniform undershirt of gray color was still visible with her uniform jacket hanging on her shoulders.

"So, you want to come down?"

Julia's question went unanswered for a moment before Angel finally seemed to stir. She looked up and blew out a frustrated sigh. "I don't know," she admitted.

Without a word Julia sat in the chair across from the couch. Both were standard-issue furnishings, nothing special to them in terms of appearance or, as the grumbles sometimes went, comfort. "I have to admit, I'd rather you stay up here," said Julia. "The last thing we need is for you to decide to jump in."

Angel chuckled harshly at that. "Yeah, I figured that."

"But if you want to come, I'm sure Robert will appreciate you being supportive."

"He would, yeah." Angel laid her head back.

Julia had been around the two long enough to know what was going on with Angel at the moment. "It's happening again, I guess?"

"Hrm? Oh, yeah." Angel didn't bother to look at Julia. "Yeah, it is."

"Right." Julia sighed. "Yeah, my relationships have usually gone meltdown on me, so I can't give much advice on that. But if you want to talk…"

"I've talked enough." Angel shook her head. "It's one of those sacrifice things. You know, how people have to sacrifice for a relationship to work? Well, I've been sacrificing, and it's not working for me. Not that it's permanent now."

"I understand."

"So now I'm twisted up inside. I'm wondering what I want to do."

Julia shook her head. "I can't really help you there. If you ask me, this is something you and Rob should talk out between each other. After the fight, of course."

"Right." Angel shook her head. "I used to blame you."

"Pardon me?"

"For our break-ups. Every time Rob and I broke up, I blamed you at least a little."

Julia would have to admit she wasn't shocked by that revelation. "I figured you might."

"It's not your fault. The two of you have just been together for so long… I mean, even when we were doing good, he'd still come to you to talk about things."

"Yeah. Well, yeah, that's what it's always like for us. Even when we were little, if we needed anything, we always had each other."

"Am I kidding myself, Julia?", Angel asked. "Were we ever in love?"

"I think so." Julia nodded. "But sometimes… maybe it's not enough to simply be in love. Love can be tricky, I mean. Look at me." Julia sighed. "I once thought I was in love with Phil Duffy of all people." She laughed weakly. "I guess I dodged the bullet there. The important thing, I guess, is if you're happy. And I know you're not. And Rob isn't either."

"But one of us, I mean… it's also supposed to be sacrifice. You sacrifice something for the one you love, to make them happy."


"And we're not doing that. I'm not…"

"Sometimes… maybe the problem is that we try to force something that doesn't work in the end," Julia said. "I think it's better to be honest about yourself, and with the other side of the relationship. If one side won't or can't sacrifice, and the other side has to sacrifice something that's too big, maybe it's best to just admit the relationship isn't working and to end it before it becomes too painful. I mean… forcing a broken relationship to work usually just makes both sides miserable, and for a lot longer than a breakup." Julia checked her omnitool. "We don't have a lot of time left. Do you want to go down with us?"

For a long moment Angel thought about it. She finally nodded. "Yes. Let me finish getting ready."

When the time came, the team going down was assembling in Transporter Station 1. Meridina had escorted Morgan Kell to the room when Robert arrived. "Good luck," said the old mercenary.

"Thank you sir," he replied politely.

The door slid open as they went to the pad. Julia and Angel stepped in. "I hope you don't mind," Angel said. "Despite everything, I want to be there for you."

Robert found he was happy to hear that. "Thank you for coming," he said, with genuine warmth and gratitude in his voice.

She smiled thinly at him and promptly stepped up beside him on the pad.

Their arrival was in the same place, but this time they were met by Natasha Kerensky. "You've got guts," she said to Robert. "I like that. Actually, a lot of us like it, and even the Crusaders appreciate courage. If you win this, it'll go a long way to establishing respect for your Alliance among the warrior caste."

"I notice you are speaking with contractions," Meridina stated. "I thought this was inappropriate for your people?"

The famed Black Widow's expression shifted to show a nasty grin. "It is. And I've killed more than a few warriors in the Circle of Equals who thought they should challenge me for my behavior. I've always held that slavish adherence to ritual is a sign people don't have anything better to think about." She gestured. "This way, kid. We've got the trial arena set up for you."

The trial arena made Robert feel like he was going to a sporting match, not a fight possibly to the death. Rows of seats were available on all sides, enough to seat hundreds, if not thousands, of people. The attending Khans were all in seats at the top of the initial rows, seats clearly made for the purpose of VIPs. The same monitors from the council chamber were now present for those Khans in the Clan homeworlds.

Not only were the Khans attending, but so were their retinues, with Clansmen in various uniforms from all of the Invading Clans taking up the seating.

The front row on the north side had a section reserved for him and the others. On the south side, the Jaguar Khans sat with their retinue.

In the middle of the arena was the battle space. It wasn't even a ring or a raised platform. It was just a section of hard floor with a white circle drawn around it. Robert figured it was at least twenty meters in diameter.

Once everyone was seated, Robert checked the omnitool's time stamp. It was 0858. Two minutes. He briefly wondered if the nervousness he felt was similar to what professional boxers and MMA fighters felt before their matches. Without the prospect of death, of course.

In deliberate steps Ulric Kerensky stepped up into the circle of the ring. "Greetings, trothkin near and far. I stand as the Oathmaster in this affair of honor. Let the combatants approach."

Robert stood and walked up and into the ring. Across from him, Lincoln Osis did the same. Without his helmet on, Robert could see the man's features. Dark eyes, dark skin, and a buzzed mohawk haircut - Lincoln was bald save for a strip of buzzed blond hair running across the top of his head.

"Are you, Captain Robert of the Alliance, upholding your challenge?"

Robert nodded. "I am."

"And do you, Khan Lincoln Osis of the Smoke Jaguars, still accept it?"

"I do," the giant man rumbled.

"This is a matter of honor between you. Under the rules of this Trial, let it remain such. For the benefit of the outsiders in our number, I will remind the warriors here that to step outside of the circle will be an admission of defeat."

"I understand," Robert said.

Lincoln Osis pulled off his uniform and handed it to a waiting aide. Underneath hie was wearing a sleeveless muscle shirt. As if I needed reminding that some of his muscles are the size of my head. Robert undid his own uniform jacket. By the time he was ready to hand it off, Julia had stepped up to the edge of the circle. He handed it to her.

"Good luck," she whispered to him.

"Take care of Angel, please," he answered.

Julia nodded wordlessly. Robert was down to his plain-colored, short-sleeved undershirt. While he was not like Osis, he did have some visible muscle on his arms, and it was clear Robert kept himself in shape. But in a direct physical fight, it likely wouldn't be nearly enough.

Once this was done, Ulric Kerensky walked back to the perimeter of the circle. He held up a hand.

Silence filled the arena.

Moments of tension later, the hand came down.

Lincoln Osis charged.

Robert sensed it coming. He even felt where it was going to go. His body was moving in conjunction with that instinct, tied to the powers and abilities he had learned, to evade.

But the startling part was how fast Osis had been. For all his size, he moved with a speed Robert could hardly believe. He was a mere half-second from a blow that would have sent Robert flying out of the circle.

Robert had an opening of a second and used it to throw a punch upward. The uppercut hit Osis in the chin. Pain surged through Robert's knuckles and made his hand ache and throb. It felt like he had punched a wall, not flesh and bone.

Every instinct in his body surged. His muscles went into instinctive action and turned and ducked, barely avoiding an attempt by Osis to punch him. This time there was no opening to exploit as Osis was already bringing his other arm up. Robert rolled away and got himself a couple of meters off open space. He concentrated with his energy, the life-based force energy that Meridina still called swevyra, and threw it out in an invisible burst. Months ago, such a burst had sent Nazi troopers flying.

Lincoln Osis stumbled backward a couple of meters, toward the edge of the circle. But he didn't fall down, and he didn't fall out. He regained his balance and brought his arms up in a defensive position, as if to absorb blows.

Robert focused and sent another burst of unseen energy at Lincoln Osis. The energy slammed into the Jaguar Khan. It pushed him back another step.

There was clear disbelief on Lincoln Osis' face now. Whatever rumors or reports he had heard of life force abilities or the like, it was clear Osis had been skeptical about them.

He wasn't skeptical anymore.

Robert knew he had to act fast, and immediate. Throwing more bursts wouldn't work. They were tiring and Osis was adjusting to the sudden force throwing his weight off. He needed to hit him with something else.

Robert made his decision as Lincoln charged again. This time he took a tactic he'd seen Mastrash Goras use against Angel in their battle. He reached out and gripped Osis' ankle. He could feel the physical force through the link and had to put a lot of energy into it.

The result was what he wanted. The sudden immobility of his foot caused Osis' balance to fail. The giant infantryman stumbled and fell short of Robert. Robert used the chance to get distance and move nearer one edge of the circle. If he could get the angles right, one solid pull with his power, or a push depending on angle, would send Osis outside of the line. And that would be that; he'd have won.

While he hadn't done much damage to Osis physically, he'd certainly stoked the massive man's temper. Osis howled in rage and stormed at Robert again. The lunge was side-stepped.

And that was how the fight was clearly going to go. Osis would charge and Robert would evade and counterattack with his abilities. They did this a few times, much to the frustration of the crowd. It was clear most warriors present considered Robert to be cheating in some way. The fight wasn't what they expected nor wanted.

And yet, it couldn't keep going like this. Eventually Robert knew that he would tire or Osis would, and he was laying odds on Osis not tiring before he did. He needed to end this.

So he took a gamble. Robert intentionally moved back toward the east side of the circle. Very close. And he wanted for Osis to charge.

Osis was so mad at this point that he did so. He wanted Robert dead. And…

Robert's senses screamed warnings at him as it happened. His body began to shift to accommodate the instinctive warning as Osis, starting to feel the grip of Robert's life energy on his foot, immediately jumped. The change in his attack pattern, the power of the jump, broke Robert's concentration. He lost his grip on Osis' foot and the Jaguar Khan was free to leap into the air.

And it was quite a leap. A carefully calculated one that would keep Osis inside the circle… and which swiftly carried him into an arm's'-length range of Robert. Robert ducked to avoid the first punch and began to swivel to the side, to get position to throw Osis out of the ring…

But Lincoln Osis had planned on him to make that move. And Robert sensed this at the last moment.

A moment too late.

Osis' massive leg came up in a snap kick that hit Robert right in the torso. Ribs cracked under the force of the blow. Momentarily stunned by the pain of broken ribs, Robert failed to respond to the next surge of instinctive warning.

He had been punched before. He had been hit before. Julia and Angel had both given him a lot of trouble during their various attempts to train him in fighting during their lives. He'd been punched in school. He'd even been tackled by a 270 pound seventeen year-old linebacker destined to play in the NFL.

But this was levels beyond that. This was a big, massive fist, larger than any Human's fist should be, coming down like the wrath of God on his face, a quarter of an inch too high to break his jaw.

Robert's head spun and his vision swam. He barely felt himself hit the surface of the fighting circle. He could barely think for the pain. His body refused to move, no matter how much he wanted it to. It seemed a shock that he was still conscious.

With groggy confusion he looked up. He was facing Julia and the others. Their horror was plain on their faces, in their emotions, and he could just about sense them. What's going on? He tried to think. His head was still ringing from something and he couldn't concentrate.

A voice rumbled behind him. "Your powers, whatever they come from, have made you arrogant, freebirth."

That term. He didn't recognize it. What did that… oh. Right. Clan terminology. He was fighting a Clan leader, wasn't he?

"Arrogance, yes!" Osis' voice rose with anger. "You thought you could face me as an equal. Me! The product of generations of the warrior caste breeding program and the strongest bloodlines of our Clan. Now look at you. A broken fool reliant on bizarre sorcery, not true strength."

As he spoke, Robert's mind began to recover. His head was aching, his face was full of pain, and his ribs throbbed. Worse, he could feel something wrong inside of him. When he choked, blood came up.

"This is what we are, people of the Alliance. We are the Clans. We are the finest warriors to exist. And now I will make that point clear to your people."

In a moment of truth, Robert could sense the imminent future. The feeling of Osis' powerful hands gripping his head and throat. The sudden, sharp application of force. His own neck snapped like a twig and the stillness of death.

And that would be it. The Clans would lose any concern they might have for fighting the Alliance. War would be the result. The Alliance and the Inner Sphere would fight the renewed Clan invasion. And the real enemy, the Nazi Reich, would gain a breathing space that they would undoubtedly use to terrifying advantage.

And his friends… his cousin Beth… they would be left to grieve.

This realization forced his mind to focus. It forced that focus on his entire body, his entire essence. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let that come about. He had to act.

There was resistance to it. The blow to his head was like none he'd taken. His brain seemed to resist his demand for commands to be sent out to his body. But Robert persisted. He had to. He had to save himself.

He heard the foot come down near him. Osis was looming above him. His arms were starting to reach down for Robert's neck.

But Robert acted first.

He didn't look up. He didn't have time to do anything but move his leg… and concentrate. He pressed his power into the muscles and joints of his hip and knee, into the bottom of his foot. All of his power, all that he could muster, into one last desperate strike. He breathed in and let that leg kick out.

There was a crunching sound. And a loud, surprised scream of pain.

Robert turned as Osis toppled over onto his now broken knee. His arms wheeled away from Robert's head as he lost balance. Robert felt his head spin while he got back to his feet. Osis' right leg had failed him. The knee had been utterly shattered by the force of the blow.

Osis growled at him and tried to lunge. His bad leg kept him from the speed he needed to hit. Robert moved around until he could get the shot he wanted. Again he focused everything he had on his leg and kicked out, this time at Osis' left knee.

This wasn't a straight-on hit. It took Osis' knee from the side. There was still an audible crack when Robert's kick landed home. Osis' knee was broken out of joint with the limb now curved unnaturally from the side. Another howl of pain came and the colossal man toppled onto the ground, both of his legs out of action.

His arms were still dangerous though, so Robert immediately backed away from him. He sucked in a painful breath - his broken ribs were happy to remind him of the fact they had been broken - and focused his power again. This time it wasn't a wide burst but small, rapid ones. Every movement of his hands drove another blast of invisible force into Lincoln Osis'. And he could feel Osis begin to slip into unconsciousness from all of the pain he was in.

Robert stopped for a moment. He looked over the assembled crowds. He could see Meridina's stoic, solid expression. The fierce glee on Angel's face. The worried, yet happy, expression on Julia's. He looked over the Khans of the Grand Council and the myriad of expressions they had, from rage to disbelief to reserved interest. A thin smile was on the face of Khan Crichell - clearly ideological affiliation was not enough for the Jade Falcon leader to sympathize with Osis in his imminent defeat - and a slight one had arrived on Ulric's face. Natasha Kerensky didn't bother hiding her glee, smirking with her arms crossed. Phelan Kell Ward, seated beside her, had a smug grin on his face.

Robert's eyes focused back on the other Khans. One of them, in the uniform of the Nova Cats, was looking at him intently.

The other warriors were too. Each was interested in what he would do. Would he kill Lincoln Osis? Throw him out of the circle? Knock him unconscious? What kind of power would he display?

He thought about those options. Killing a man who was down was not a thing Robert could ever do, not in his heart. But how should he finish off Osis? Which choice would make the biggest splash? How could he use this to give the Alliance sufficient respect that the Clans would keep Ulric and the Truce?

That thought made Robert think of the ilKhan himself. He glanced toward Ulric again. He could sense a word in Ulric's mind. A concept. Something Ulric was thinking he would do in Robert's situation.

His mind flashed back to the materials on the Clans that Focht and the others had written. He recognized the word in Ulric's mind from that. What the word meant.

And he knew what he had to do.

If only the side of my face wasn't swelling up, this might actually look impressive.

Robert calmly turned back to Lincoln Osis. The Jaguar Khan's knees were worse than Robert's face. He was on his side. Dark eyes glared up at Robert from a face that was turning purple and blue as well. He could feel Osis' rage and sheer defiance. He was almost daring Robert to kill him or otherwise finish him off.

"Khan Lincoln Osis." Robert met his glare. "You have given me the fight of my life. You fought with courage and skill against an enemy capable of things you never thought possible. In that spirit, I offer you hegira."

The entire arena turned its attention to Lincoln Osis amid a ripple of surprise and intense interest from those assembled.

Robert, for his part, never took his eyes off Lincoln Osis' eyes. I beat you fair and square, and you're not going to forget that, he thought. You're not going to forget that things have changed irrevocably in your universe. I'm offering you a way to survive those changes. Take it, Khan.

He could sense the defiance in Osis start to give way. Lincoln Osis knew he had lost the fight. But Robert sensed he hadn't expected this gesture of respect. He had just been given the means to accept his defeat with dignity.

"You know something of our ways," Lincoln observed. "Tell me, Captain. Do you truly believe you can hold off the Crusade forever? That the day will not come when the Clans resume the march on Holy Terra?"

"The future is the future," Robert answered. "Maybe you will resume that march one day, and maybe we will fight against you when you do. But the future is not set in stone. Your Clan, all of the Clans, may find themselves changing in ways they never imagined now that your universe has been introduced to the wider Multiverse. For the present, it's enough that your people and mine have enough respect to face the enemy we should hold in common. My people fight an enemy as evil and vicious as any the Human species has ever produced. We have done so even as allies have abandoned us to follow their own agendas. Every day our people bleed and die to stop the Nazi Reich." Robert was still looking at Osis, but none could mistake the fact he was speaking to the entire audience. "I know your ways are different from the ones I grew up with. But I think even your people may understand one of my deeply-held beliefs, whatever they may feel about its truths. I believe in might for right. I believe that power must have purpose."

"Your society has forged a great war machine. Now you bicker and argue among yourselves about how it should be used. You are debating throwing away a truce that you negotiated in good faith because you fear that your warriors will waste away without a foe to face. You have power, but you are still hunting for your purpose, and you may even destroy yourselves in that pursuit."

Robert swallowed. The pain in his chest was getting worse. He darkly suspected that Osis' kick might have caused some internal bleeding. He needed to finish this up.

"I am offering you a different way, Khan Osis. I am offering you that purpose." Robert knelt down onto one knee, although he was still remaining out of swipe range of Osis' arms. "Let the future attend to itself, Khan Osis, and for now, join our cause, and see your Clan's honor grow in battle against the Nazi Reich."

There was silence from the large man. A long silence, full of weight for Robert. He kept himself from swallowing or, as he desperately wanted to do, slumping over.

And then Lincoln Osis spoke again.

"I accept."

Robert breathed out in relief at those words.

For the benefit of the audience, Osis repeated his words in a louder voice. "I accept your offer of hegira."

The answer to Osis was a nod. "Then the battle is over," Robert replied.

"Aff." Osis looked to Ulric and nodded.

Ulric replied with a half-nod. "Trothkin near and far, this Trial is concluded," he announced. "Honor has been satisfied."

That seemed to be the signal for Osis' people to move forward. Robert's entourage did the same. Julia had her omnitool active by the time she reached Robert and was running a scan. The programming of the omnitool would simplify the scan results to allow even a non-medically trained operator to see clear problems. "Christ, Rob, you're going to be in medbay for…" Her brow furrowed. "Dammit, it looks like you've got internal bleeding." She tapped a hard-light key on the display. "Andreys to Aurora. I need a medical team on my location, ASAP. Alert Doctor Gillam that internal injuries are involved."


Meridina was already pressing her hand against Robert's chest. "I cannot heal you entirely," she said. "But I can keep you stable until help arrives."

"Thanks." Robert looked at Angel. "I didn't get a chance to say it before, but thank you for coming."

"Yeah." Angel nodded.

By this time two Jaguar Elemental soldiers had helped Osis to his feet. He held up his hand to them and they stopped moving him away. He looked to Robert intently. "When the Grand Council votes on your proposal, you will have the voice of the Jaguars on your side," he said simply. "But I warn you, Captain, that my people will not be so easily diverted from the Crusade. It may fall to my offspring, or their offspring, to do the task. But the day will come when the Clans rebuild the true and proper Star League. I hope that when this day comes the Alliance will recognize the rightness of our cause. If not, then we will yet meet on the field of battle."

"If that day comes, I hope both of our peoples acquit themselves with courage and honor," Robert replied, taking the statement in stride. "Because if we decide your people are in the wrong, we will fight against you."

"Spoken like a warrior," Osis remarked. "As I would expect." He smiled. "Bargained well and done, Captain.

With that Lincoln Osis motioned to his men and they resumed carrying him off.

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 7 July 2642. Captain Robert Dale reporting. I am grateful to report that I have been released from Doctor Gillam's care. He has ordered me on light duty for the next couple of days due to the severity of my injuries sustained in my fight with Khan Osis. With some customary protest, he has agreed to my attending the Clan Grand Council meeting being held today.

Robert had beamed down again, this time with Julia, Jarod, and Zack, with Grand Duke Kell joining as expected. They were seated as observers and guests when the Grand Council reconvened. Robert looked to the Jaguars' table where Osis was seated. He had limped in favoring the leg that Robert had inflicted the most damage on. It was clear, however, that he would be a force to be reckoned with.

Ulric called the Council to order. The business of the day was the genocide charge against him. Elias Crichell, the Jade Falcon Khan, rose and began a long-winded and utterly preposterous speech about the issue, accusing Ulric of being part of a grand Inner Sphere conspiracy that would, among other things, subjugate the Clans. He brought up the connection of Victor to Omi Kurita and added to it claims of other marriage alliances, including one for Kai Allard-Liao who was, to Robert's knowledge, already happily married.

"There's no way he really believes this," Jarod whispered.

"Right. It's just an excuse."

Phelan gave the defense. It called out Crichell's ludicrous claims as just that, pointed out Ulric's combat successes, and then reminded the others that with the existence of the Alliance and the Multiverse, plunging forward into an invasion facing foes they still had little understanding of was ludicrous.

Now it only remained to be seen if the diehard Crusaders would ignore everything, even the prior day's fight.

The votes by Clan commenced. It was immediately apparent that the Crusader cause was going to face an uphill battle with the Smoke Jaguars voting against the conviction. Other Clans began to weigh in, one by one, and by the end of it only the Jade Falcons, Ice Hellions, and a number of other Clans or Crusader Khans supported Ulric's conviction and an abrogation of the Truce of Tukkayid. The majority sided with Ulric.

At that, Robert breathed a sigh of relief. His mission had succeeded.

And all it took was me getting punched by a genetically-engineered super-soldier.

"The charges against the ilKhan are dismissed," announced the cybernetic old man, Kael Pershaw. He looked to the assembled, as if expecting someone to declare themselves ready to resist the finding with a combat. But none did.

"With this matter settled, I see it is time to present the proposal we have before us." Ulric nodded to Robert and the others. "The Grand Council must now decide whether the Clans shall respond to the Alliance mission sent to us. With the Grand Council's support, I shall negotiate with an Alliance representative on the entrance of the Clans into the war with the Nazi German Reich of the universe they call S4W8."

This time the vote was nowhere near close. Most of the Clans who voted to convict Ulric nevertheless voted to join the war. Robert suspected that for the Home Clans, this was their best opportunity to get involved in territorial expansion, and all the Clans wanted a chance to try their troops.

Of course, this wasn't the end of things. This arrangement still had to be negotiated. Robert would have to send to President Morgan for actual military and diplomatic negotiators to make the final arrangements. But the Grand Council's vote would be a strong starting point.

"Well, we did it," Julia said after Ulric adjourned the meeting. "We stopped the resumption of the Invasion."

"And we gained more allies."

"Allies who might give us some trouble," Robert said. He felt warm senses of familial joy and pride and glanced to see Morgan Kell with his son and a woman in Wolf Clan uniform, with short-cut almost-white blond hair.

"Hey, hardhead."

Robert glanced to the direction of the voice. Natasha Kerensky was smirking at him. "Me?", he asked.

"You took a punch from Osis and didn't go completely out? Yeah, you." She gestured. "The ilKhan wants to see you and your people. I'll show you to his office."

There was something refreshing with the way the rough old Clanswoman spoke in a way none of the other Clanspeople did. "We're on your heel, Khan Kerensky."

"Just be thankful that's not literal, or my foot would be up your ass," she retorted.

She led them through the halls of the Wolf Clan headquarters until they arrived in an office. The furnishings were decent although not quite what one would expect from a Head of State. Robert could sense Jarod's thoughts on that, namely, that the Clans weren't exactly a standard "state" by any definition of the term.

Ulric was already seated behind a desk. Natasha took a seat to the side and lounged back in the chair. Ulric, however, stood and nodded. His hand moved up. "I believe this is the customary gesture among your people?"

Robert nodded and accepted Ulric's hand for a handshake. "Thank you, ilKhan. You had something you wanted to discuss?"

"I wanted to extend my congratulations to you. Not only on your victory, but on the way you handled it. If you had simply knocked Osis unconscious or thrown him from the Circle, he would have never forgiven the humiliation. The Jaguars would have voted against the Truce. Instead, he respects your people, even as freebirths, for your conduct."

"I was inspired in that moment," Robert said quietly.

"Of course." Ulric nodded. "Now, your people must understand it will take some time for us to become fully involved. The Grand Council will have to debate the size of our contribution to your conflict, whether or not every Clan will be permitted to participate, and there will be the bidding for which Clan will fight in which region."

"We understand that," Robert said. "As soon as your Clans are ready to contribute, we'll be ready to provide our end of the arrangement. And President Morgan should have representatives out to you within a week or two that can begin the process."

"Of course. Hopefully he chooses well. I am myself curious about the reports I have heard on your Alliance including non-Human beings…"

"We do."

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are a couple of Dorei in any delegation," Julia added. "Some of the Dorei nations have their own warrior and honor codes. They may understand your people more than some of our Humans do."

Ulric smiled thoughtfully at that. "That would be quite an interesting experience. To see aliens more familiar with our people than our fellow Humans." He nodded at them. "I will not keep you any longer, Captain. We all have duties to attend to, after all."

"Yeah." Robert nodded. "We do."

They went to leave. Just as he approached the door, Robert turned back. "IlKhan, may I ask a question?"


"What was your plan if we had not come?", Robert asked. "I mean, if you had faced the vote on those charges without the Alliance here offering alternatives?"

Ulric nodded and grinned. "I did have my plans, yes." He glanced to Natasha. "And while I doubt he would agree, Khan Crichell should be thankful that you arrived."

Robert wasn't looking into their thoughts, but given the wolfish grin that came to Natasha Kerensky, not to mention Ulric's own grin, it wasn't hard to imagine what would have happened. Ulric might have gone down, and the Warden cause may have failed, but he would have taken a lot of Crusaders with him. And likely those with an affinity for green plumage.

"Speaking of Crichell," Robert said, "I get the feeling he was goading Osis into fighting me."

"Of course he was." Natasha snorted. "Either way, he wins. Either Osis kills you and the Crusaders ignore your Alliance and go ahead with the repudiation of the Truce, or you beat Osis, humiliating him and giving Crichell greater influence in the Crusader movement."

"Elias is undoubtedly unhappy with your offering of hegira to Lincoln Osis." Ulric seemed pleased at this. "You undermined his effort to assume greater authority."

"It looks like politics aren't just for democracies," Julia remarked.

"Our advantage, Commander, is that we allow one to challenge the politicians to a combat trial," Ulric noted. "I would recommend it to your people. It would improve the quality of your politicians."

Robert smiled in reply, thinking of Hawthorne and Davies, although he recognized the same might be applied to President Morgan. "Have a good day, ilKhan."

"The same to you, Captain."
"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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Jun 05, 2017 12:02 am


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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Mon Jun 05, 2017 11:04 am

It was toward the end of the day and Robert was in his quarters, finalizing his reports on the Grand Council vote. The ache in his chest hadn't gone away. No more fighting seven foot tall super soldiers for me…

The sound of his door chime drew him from his thoughts. "Come in," he called out. He looked up in time to see Angel stepping in. She was in her uniform and was likely just off a bridge shift. Her expression was solid and quiet. It was clear to him that Angel was here to say something, and it was something she had thought about. "Angel," he said. "Did you want some dinner or…?"

She shook her head. "No. I'm… not hungry at the moment."

Robert felt the welcoming grin he had started to form disappear from his face. That didn't sound good.

"I've… I've been doing a lot of thinking, Rob," she said. Angel swallowed and let out a long breath as she took a seat by his work desk. "About us."

"I see."

"You and I… we've been doing this since we were sixteen," Angel said. "This relationship has had… it's been fun. And it's been heart-breaking."

"It has," he agreed. "And I know I've never been the best boyfriend."

"And I've never been the model girlfriend." A small smile appeared on her face. "Most high school football players don't have girlfriends who can beat them up, after all."

"Well, I've been close friends with Julie since we were little, so I was used to it," Robert replied with humor in his voice.

"Yeah. Julie." Angel nodded. "Listen, I know that we've, well, we were making a good run of it, weren't we? After we hooked up again last year?"

"I thought so."

"There were times I was frustrated," Angel admitted. "But for the most part… it worked."

"Until my training began."

"Yeah." Angel nodded. She gave him a sad look. "Robert, I'm… well, I've tried. I… I've tried as hard as I can to accept… this. This burden you've got now that you know how to levitate things with your life energy or whatever. But the truth is… this doesn't work for me."

Robert let out a breath. "I know."

"And seeing you yesterday… I know you're not going to stop this training, Rob. I know it's important to you, that you think this is a path you've got to take to, I don't know, save the Multiverse or whatever." Warm tears were now flowing down her cheeks. "I'm not asking you to stop. I'm honestly starting to think you shouldn't. But… I also…" She shook her head. "I can't… this relationship doesn't work anymore. For me. I can't make this work."

Robert felt his mouth go dry. An old, familiar pain started to overwhelm the ache in his ribs. "So… so that's it, I guess?"

"Yeah," Angel said, tears flowing. "Yeah, I think that's it."

"Is there anything I can try?", Robert asked, really pleaded, even as he knew the answer already.

"I wish you could," was Angel's admission. "But I think we both know what you can or can't give up. And you won't give this up. It… it's just not meant to be now. I guess."

Robert subconsciously reached for his chest. The fingers of his right hand started to rub the skin on top of his heart, as if they could assuage the pain growing there. "I… well, I was hoping that this time…"

"...yeah." Angel nodded. She briefly sniffled. "I… I don't want this to be more painful than it has to be. So maybe… for now… I mean, we work together, so we'll see each other on the bridge or in staff meetings or whatever, but we should probably…"

"...maintain some space," Robert finished for her. His voice was dull with pain. He'd been expecting this, of course, but he hadn't imagined this would happen now. And he had hoped that maybe adjustments could be made.

It had been a silly hope, perhaps, now that he could consider it in retrospect. But it had been there.

"So… I'm going to get the last few things of mine in here. And I'll see you on the bridge tomorrow morning."

"Yeah," was all he could manage.

Angel left. Tears flowed for a while, at least until the pain in Robert's heart could subside. He had seen this coming, hadn't he? With how unhappy she was after he started the training, and then to find out it didn't have a definite end…

It really felt like it was going to work this time, was the thought that went through his head, over and over.

A tone from the ship's comm system took him out of this loop. "Captain, incoming transmission from Tukkayid."

"Put them on." Robert looked to the screen. He didn't think it'd be Maran or Morgan - he'd reported to them already - and so wasn't surprised when Prince Victor appeared on the screen. "You're the talk of Tukkayid right now, Captain," said Victor. "I'm still shocked you walked into a fight with Lincoln Osis and came out again in one piece."

"Well, one piece outside of some of my ribs," Robert answered. He forced a grin to his face. "I hope everyone's taken it well?"

"We have. Although there are some dissenting voices, the leaders of the Inner Sphere have decided to endorse the Alliance's plan to let the Clans join the war. If anything, we hope it will give their warriors something to do for the rest of the Truce."

Robert thought about what Lincoln Osis had said. "I think you might manage to the end of the Truce, at least," he finally said.

"And we have you to thank for that."

"I haven't been able to keep up with all of the things being decided in the conference," Robert admitted. "Has anything else been decided?"

Victor nodded. "Well, we have spent most of the time determining our strategy against the Clans. Now that the threat is minimized, I think we can focus more on the war with the Reich. I'm told Theodore Kurita has already signed a military and technological aid deal with President Morgan. I can't say anything officially, of course, but I expect some of the elite Combine regiments will soon be joining our armies in S4W8."

"They'll be welcome," Robert said.

"Sun-Tzu is still keeping the Capellans out," Victor continued. "But probably not for long. He's not as stupid as he acts, and Chancellor Liao won't want his nation to be the ones left out to dry on all of the new technologies entering the Inner Sphere. He might only send mercenaries, but I think he'll sign up, and so will the Canopians and Taurians. I, on the other hand, had to ask President Morgan for an additional liaison staff."

Robert gave him a curious look. "Oh? Why?"

"My sister insists," Victor said. His expression darkened slightly. "She's pointed out to all of the upset editorials about our alliance, and how it seems to be run exclusively by House Davion. So I asked for another liaison staff, and diplomatic personnel, to be sent to Tharkad to establish Alliance relations with the Lyran half of the Commonwealth."

"Ah, politics." Robert nodded. "Well, I can't see that causing too much damage…" Even as he said it, Robert realized how wrong he was. All he could think of for a moment was that deep rapacious hunger he'd felt in Katherine. If she could turn something, anything, into an advantage for pushing the expansion of her personal power, she probably would do it.

Before Victor could say anything else, he was distracted by something off-screen. "I'm afraid I must go, Jerry and Curaitis insist on whisking me off to some meeting. Take care, Captain, and thank you."

"Have a pleasant evening, Prince."

The Wolves had, as a matter of course, set up spaces for the entourages of all of the assembled Khans of the Invading Clans. One such set of buildings bore the standard of the Nova Cats.

On the roof of this structure, with the sun setting in the distance and the stars emerging, Khans Severen Leroux and Lucian Carns were being met by the wizened old Oathmaster of their Clan. Biccon Winters looked to them. "Is this what you were expecting, Oathmaster?" Carns asked.

"Yes," Winters replied. "It is."

"Then your visions…"

"You do not doubt me again, do you, my Khan?"

The question was put with quiet and reserve. It had an edge to it, but the edge was in the history of these three leaders of this specific Clan.

"Tukkayid taught me the harsh lesson in that regard, Oathmaster," Lucian Carns answered. "I do not doubt your vision. It is just… the scope of it…"

"I understand. I too was frightened. But let it be recorded in the Remembrance nevertheless. Our future hangs in the balance." Winters nodded. "I grieve for the loss our Clan, that all Clans, will endure when the veil is breached. But I have seen it too often in my visions of late to believe it is nothing but dreams." A distant look came over her face. "A great darkness is coming. If the Clans are to survive, we must find and support the dawn."

"The Alliance Captain… his ship is named for the dawn. This can be no coincidence," Leroux remarked. "And he showed great vision and power when he faced Lincoln Osis. He… they… may be the ones we seek."

"Then we must remain alert," said Winters. "Let the Clan bid for the war with the Nazi Reich. They are an evil that we must extinguish. But our vigilance will lie elsewhere. The vessel Aurora and the crew of that ship may be the key to our survival. We must remain ready to do whatever it takes to protect them."

The two Khans nodded. "Seyla," they said in unison, signifying their agreement.

The quarters on the Aurora were quiet and dim, save for the quiet tapping of fingers to a control keyboard. A portable battery pack, appropriately shielded, provided the power that suddenly surged into the transmitter. The figure applying this was in a plain yellow robe with the maarkings of an Acolyte of ComStar, one of many that Precentor-Martial Focht had send with Morgan Kell.

The man who appeared on the screen was clad in a red robe. His tan, cocoa-colored complexion had begun to pale from his current living habits. Gray covered his head and the right side of his face, the gray of his extensive cybernetic implants. A red laser sight had replaced his right eye.

The simply-clad figure looking at the image in the dim light bowed their head. "Precentor."

"The shielding worked." It was not a question.

"Yes. Their systems did not detect my transceiver."

"Do you have anything to report?"

"The Clans will uphold the Truce. It was as you said, Precentor. The captain of the Aurora faced and defeated the Khan of the Jaguars in one-on-one combat."

"Then the Clans will join the war?"

"It seems likely."

"Very well. Then all is as we anticipated. Our test is a success. But there is no point in testing fate. From this point, maintain radio silence. Finalize all reports for delivery to the courier when you return to Tukkayid." The figure nodded gently. "The Master will be pleased with your performance, Acolyte."

"I am proud to have served, Precentor."

"The time of your ascension is nigh. Keep this in your thoughts. Apollyon out."

The transmission ended.

ComStar had provided all of the visiting leaders of the Inner Sphere with facilities, including temporary offices. The annex allowed for the Commonwealth housed both Davion and Lyran contingents, with Victor getting the largest office spaces for himself and his aides.

This annoyed Katrina Steiner-Davion. It annoyed her greatly.

The time on Tukkayid was still early enough in the evening that she could expect company. For now she was going over the reports from Tamar. Katrina's feelings were profoundly mixed on the outcome. Certainly it was good that she would not have to face the Clans any time soon. On the other hand, her brother was certain to draw more of her troops into his extrauniversal crusade, and the less-intimidating the Clans were, the harder it was for Katrina to make her brother look worse to the Lyran people.

And then there was the matter that the victor on Tamar was clearly on her brother's side. Katrina could tell that when they met. And whatever hopes she had on perhaps winning an ally in Captain Dale's executive officer seemed unlikely, not in the face of the information she'd seen on them. Turning Julia Andreys into her ally would require persistent, frequent discussion and contact, contact that had to occur naturally from their positions. That did not seem likely.

Katrina's musings were interrupted by a knock on her door. She banished the thoughtful frown and instructed her secretary to let their visitor in.

The arrival was an Allied Systems military officer. A naval one, too, with a rank insignia of one star on both collars. The cuffs of her uniform - black with silver trim to delineate a staff officer - had one thick gold band and one thin one. The woman was at least a decade older than Katrina, with a light bronze complexion that you just never saw on Tharkad, striking dark brown eyes, and dark hair pulled back into a severe and professional bun. Katrina could see from the way the woman carried herself that this was one of those "rigorous professional" types. Normally she might find such boring, but they had their uses.

"Greetings," Katrina said. "I am Princess Katrina Steiner-Davion, the Regent on Tharkad."

"I know, Highness," the woman replied. Her accent almost made Katrina think of a Latin speaker from Skye. "I am Rear Admiral Benedita Soveral. The Alliance Defense Ministry has assigned me to be our liaison officer to the government on Tharkad. I wished to introduce myself to you without delay."

Katrina beamed at that. At least her brother wouldn't be monopolizing contact with the Alliance now. "Thank you for your prompt attention, Admiral. I look forward to working with you."

"And I with you, Highness. My appointment was hastened by Minister Hawthorne himself due to various… concerns. As a staff officer I hope to give you the same benefits I gave to Admiral Davies, my former immediate superior."

"Your Vice Chief of Naval Operations? I see." Katrina thought on that. She recalled something in the reports, on the politics in the Alliance. Davies had been involved in thwarting the attack on the Alliance Senate. "I hate to think I have deprived a man with such an important position of a good officer."

"Oh, there is no problem with that, Highness." Soveral grinned slightly. "Admiral Davies proposed my assignment himself, and arranged for my immediate arrival. He and Minister Hawthorne place great stock into securing our relations with both halves of your Commonwealth."

Katrina's senses picked up on that. There was opportunity here… "Do they indeed?" she asked, keeping her voice from giving the purr of satisfaction she felt within. "Well, I am gratified to hear that. And I hope that through you, I might work closely with them and the rest of your great Alliance in the coming years…"


In the bowels of the Starship Aurora's drive section, the cry of near-triumph resounded.

Shortly thereafter, the call came. It came just before Robert could sit down to a lonely breakfast in the Lookout. He eyed his breakfast ham and eggs longingly before the message appeared again on his omnitool's display.

Get down to Machine Shop B now.-Lucy

He picked up the plate and put it back on the bar on his way out. By the time he made it to the turbolift, he decided he was ready to smack Lucy on the head for interrupting his breakfast.

Is that me talking, or the part of me angry about getting dumped? thought Robert as the lift moved along. He couldn't decide which.

By the time he actually made it there, he was met by Meridina. "Just you?" asked Robert.

"It appears so." Meridina nodded to the door. "Let us see what Lucy has summoned us over."

Inside the machine shop one shift was settling in. Lucy had a bank of fabricators and other tools all to herself. She was waiting patiently, or not so patiently, for them, with a bleariness in her eyes that told Robert she might have been up all night. "Well?" he asked.

Meridina smiled slightly. "Have you done it, Lucy?"

Lucy grinned widely at them. She reached back to the table and held up a round, cylindrical object. It might have been a flashlight if it ended with the right tip.

Robert's heart fluttered. Had she really…?

Lucy's finger stroked a button on the object. Pale blue light erupted from the end with an electronic snap and hiss. She waved it around for a moment, creating a buzz in the air as she did. "I made it work!" she declared. "I mean, I made one that works! It functions…"

There was a surge of sparks from the base of the pale blue light-blade. It cut out a moment later, replaced by a puff of flame and smoke that left the upper end of the weapon blackened.

"...as well as it can," Lucy sighed. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "But as you can see, even though I can make it work, I've still got a big problem."

"It would appear your weapon… cannot remain on?", Meridina inquired.

"The focusing crystals can't handle the power demand," Lucy lamented. She threw the dead item back on the table. "Not a single crystal I've tried actually works. It's so frustrating too…"

"But if you had crystals that could handle it, this would work?" Robert pointed his hand to the broken device. "You could make a weapon just like Swenya's Blade?"

"Well, not quite like it. The power source won't last thousands of years, that's for certain." Lucy finally nodded. "But yeah. I could do it."

Meridina put a hand on her student's upper arm. "Marvelous, Lucy. I see your hard work has paid off."

"If we can find the right crystals…"

"Have faith that we will," Meridina said. "And until then, we will continue to rely upon our lakeshes."

Lucy's expression became visually distraught. "But, you don't have one, right? Goras broke yours. And the Order would never let you build another. I mean, that would make you an outlaw on Gersal, right?"

"True. The Order would be most displeased if I built a lakesh without their authorization." Meridina grinned. "Fortunately, I already had an extra. It is still in my room awaiting some… final touches."

"Wait." Robert blinked. "You're allowed to have extras?"

"Yes, and no," Meridina said. "This was the lakesh I took from Dralan Olati on Jarod's home Earth. I have made some alterations to remove what I believe were insignia that identified himself to other swevyra'kse, to other dark-users. But the blade is functional." She turned her head to face Robert. "Hopefully your training will continue to progress, Robert. The Order will be less upset if you were to receive a lakesh." She gave a gentle look to Lucy, full of understanding and encouragement. "Although perhaps we should wait to see if Lucy succeeds in finding the right crystal for her weapon."

"What are you going to call it, anyway?", Robert asked Lucy. "A laser sword? Beamblade?"

She chuckled. "Tom asked me the same thing." She looked back to the busted device she'd spent hours putting together and testing. Her mind went through all of Tom Barnes' proposals.

And she decided that one sounded… just right, after all.

"Lightsaber," Lucy said. "I think we'll call it a lightsaber."

The gymnasium on the Aurora was modestly filled with about two dozen officers and crew doing their workouts. Most were on machines or on the running track, while Chief Harlan Lewis was giving boxing lessons to a half-dozen younger personnel.

Angel remained to herself, wearing her usual olive sports bra and exercise shorts, throwing punches at a bag. It wasn't really a proper workout. She wasn't using good form, she wasn't maintaining the right stance. She was just punching something because, in her mood, Angel needed something to punch.

"So, you did it."

Angel looked over to see Julia walk up. She was in her white martial arts gi. "Did what?" Angel asked.

"You broke up with Rob," Julia said.

"Oh." Angel drew in a breath and then gave a brisk nod. "Yeah. I broke up with him."

"And you feel like you want to punch something."

"Yeah." Angel turned back to her punching bag. "And that's all I want to do, Julia, so no t'ai chi or mok'bara or whatever. Not right now."

"I wasn't thinking of that."

Angel turned back in time to see Julia shedding the gi. Underneath it she was wearing the same thing as Angel, just with black and red coloring, her visible arms, belly, and legs showing lean, athletic muscle compared to Angel's thicker, fighting muscle. "Best of three?", Julia asked.

Angel gave her a look. "I'm in my 'punch something' mood, Julia. Are you sure about this?"

Julia nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure." She didn't have to say the obvious. That Angel was her friend, and Angel needed someone to help her work out her frustrations.

Indeed, that was Angel's thought, and the smile that slowly formed on her face showed that she knew this. "Best of three, then," she agreed. "And I'll even help you get to the medbay when I'm through with you."

Julia made a fake, playful wince at that. "Oh, don't make me start to regret this…"

That caused Angel to laugh all the way to the nearest vacant fighting ring.
"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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Jun 05, 2017 10:36 pm

Hurm not much to say since this is just wrapping up the conclusions of the arcs in the previous post...

But! I'll comment on how I dig now normal it seems for a couple to just have a breakup, the most normal/ordinary of things albeit sad. Right after the whole TRIAL BY COMBAT versus GENEUGENIC BROCK LESNAR WARLORD thing to stave off intergalactic war. :mrgreen:

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Thu Jun 08, 2017 8:27 pm

Since Shroom is incredibly impatient and persistent, and since it's technically Friday in the land of duck fetuses, beating stick martial arts, and the Southeast Asian equivalent of His Trumpiness, here's the opening of 2-11. :P


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 17 July 2642 AST. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are currently in orbit of the major colony world New Brittany, to provide medical support and protection to the newly-liberated colony. New Brittany was the site of the Reich's concentration camps and prisoner of war facilities in this sector. The need for medical assistance to the victims our forces liberated in these camps has necessitated that Doctor Gillam and most of his physicians beam down to the various hospitals to assist.

Robert was halfway through the day's paperwork when the tone sounded at his door. "Come in," he said.

As he expected, Julia stepped in. She had no digital reader for him this time. Her face was drawn and pale. Robert could sense why even before he asked, "What did you see?"

Julia nearly dropped into the seat in front of him. "More of the same. Just seeing those prisoners down there, how much they've suffered, what the Nazis did to them…" Julia clenched her fists. "We read about these things in school, but I never thought I'd see it in person like that."

"It's not pretty," Robert sighed in agreement. "And every hour, more of the weakest of them die unless we get them the attention they need. I'm hoping Leo and the others can make a dent in that." The look on his face spoke of his quiet frustration and the idea that, if things had been different, they could have gotten to this planet earlier, to the camp earlier, and ended the suffering without more deaths.

"We both know he'll try." Julia clearly had a desire to change the subject. That subject change was one Robert expected. "So… you're single again."

"I'm single again," Robert said. "And probably will be for the foreseeable future."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out in the end."

"So am I." Deciding turnabout was fair play, he gave Julia his best, innocent look. "So, have you accepted Admiral Maran's offer?"

The look on Julia's face said she didn't buy a word of that. "With all of the people asking about that, it almost feels like you want me to leave."

"No, I don't." Robert smiled at her. "What I want is for you to be happy, and to get the recognition you deserve. Taking command of the Enterprise when she's ready? You'd instantly have the most prestigious command in the fleet."

"And what about you and the others?", Julia asked.

"We would make do." Robert leaned forward in his chair. "We knew this could happen one day. We wouldn't get to serve together forever."

"Yeah." Julia nodded. "I know."

"And I think I knew that Angel and I were… not going to work out," Robert admitted. "In the end, we never do." He sighed. "I think it… I think we just don't have the long-term compatibility we always hope to get. In the end, maybe it's for the best."

"Well, you know where I am if you need to talk," Julia said. "I'd better get back to the bridge."

"I'll be along shortly," Robert promised.

Field Hospital Charlie had been established beside what had been the Retzoff KZ. It was predominantly a labor camp where the Reich imprisoned the sector's political dissidents or those who were in the sector "illegally": having violated the Reich's rigorous controls of which ethnic groups and nationalities were permitted to dwell in which sectors.

Given the number of war refugees that had fled the combat zones, this figure had grown quite high in the months leading up to Alliance forces taking New Brittany.

Although New Brittany was technically under the authority of the nominally-independent National Republic of Brittany back on Earth, they were still part of the Reich as a subordinated state, and they had been compelled to let the Reich build the camp on their soil. Indeed, near their planetary capital of New Rennes.

Naturally, once the war began, the SS had eventually moved in further and opened a prisoner-of-war camp beside the rapidly-expanding labor camp, and in many cases had relegated the prisoners therein to said camp.

Now Field Hospital Charlie tended to the former prisoners of both facilities in addition to combat casualties. It was already full to capacity and its medical staff undermanned to deal with all of the cases of malnutrition and abuse.

Leo looked over the occupants of one ward. Virtually all were down to living skeletons. It was a sight familiar to any medical officer involved in the war and, for him, it would never lose its power. These people were the living embodiment of everything that was cruel and evil about the Reich and the ideology it espoused.

The key word there is 'living', Leo thought. There are even more dead embodiments than I could ever count.

Nasri stepped up behind him. "We've secured the supplies. Doctor Singh is already up to her elbows in cases in the trauma unit."

"While here…" Leo's mouth was dry. "God, Nasri… look at this. How can people live like…" He stopped and gave her a sad look. Given what she had lived through in Darfur, he felt like he had just stuck his finger into an old wound. "Sorry."

Nasri smiled sympathetically. "It is fine, Doctor. That is your compassion showing."

"Doctor Gillam?"

The female voice was one Leo had heard before. He showed some surprise when he turned his head and faced another doctor already making rounds in the ward. Like his own uniform, her uniform was primarily black, with blue on the shoulders, but while his lab coat was white hers was the same blue as her uniform's shoulder area. She was middle-aged, but her hair was still completely red without a tinge of gray.

Leo nodded. "Doctor Crusher. I wasn't aware you were here."

Doctor Beverly Crusher, the former Chief Medical Officer of the destroyed Federation Starship Enterprise, nodded. "Yes, well, I was initially assigned by Doctor K'lei'tana to Hospital Bravo, but there was a change in the rosters." Crusher stepped up to him and offered her hand, which he shook. "It's good to see you, Doctor Gillam. We need every doctor we can get."

"I'm happy to help," Leo assured her. "How about I get one row?"

"You do that, and I think we'll be done in no time," Crusher answered, showing a small, relieved grin.

Like any local resident in similar straits, Andre Faqin had gone to the new occupiers to find work. This was a choice fraught with danger. Even if it meant extra money that could buy food beyond bland replicator rations, or which might one day get a ticket off the planet and out of the war zone, every New Breton who took even the slightest job with the occupation force would face the wrath of the Nazi Reich should the planet fall back under their control. It was, all things considered, quite the deterrent.

Faqin, however, had his own insurance against that possibility.

After a day of sweeping floors and bringing food to decrepit camp survivors, Faqin returned home from Field Hospital Charlie. His home, such as it was, was a rented basement apartment in the urban areas of the capital. He went into his own subbasement in his unit and went to the corner. The floorboards pried away easily where he had left the loosened nook. Underneath was the shielded box he desired. He opened it and reached inside.

The communication set had a portable power source. It was powerful enough to open a secured, encrypted channel through a transmitter in the city, and from there to where it was needed to go. Faqin did that just now.

He waited, patiently, until his screen showed as room, although with the chair in the picture turned away from the screen the only face Faqin could see was that on the large portrait of the First Führer behind it. "You risk much opening such a channel," the man in the chair warned in German.

"I may have seen one of those you said you were seeking." Faqin removed a data chip from the small phone unit he had with him and placed it in his transmitter.

The man accessed another device in his hand and looked over the arriving photographs. Faqin could tell his hidden elation from the tremor in his voice. "They are at New Brittany, then?"

"I don't know," Faqin admitted. "But that man is. And I know I heard his ship was still in orbit."

"Well… you have done well, agent. You will be well-rewarded when the Reich reclaims your world. Maintain a constant watch and report to me any changes."

"Then… you are confident you are returning?"

The man turned in his chair and smiled, which was not something Faqin was used to seeing on the face of a man like Standartenführer Erik Fassbinder. "Oh, yes," cooed the SS officer. "With the Aurora and her crew present, I can promise you we will be returning to New Brittany very soon indeed…"

Undiscovered Frontier
"Under Fire"

With his bridge watch done for the day, and with it most of his paperwork, Robert went to his other daily obligation.

Which is why he was holding a wooden blade and waiting patiently for Lieutenant Lucy Lucero to strike at him with her own.

Fencing had never been his thing. But he knew enough of it to know that fencing involved reading your opponent's body language and trying to guess when and where their strikes would land.

This was even more elaborate than that. He and Lucy had what the the Gersallians called "connected swevyra". He preferred the term "life force" even if it wasn't entirely accurate to cover what the Gersallian term meant. It was one thing to say someone had life in them, but the Gersallian concept of the swevyra, of life bound to the other life of Creation and the Universe as a whole in a great "Flow of Life", went to a whole different level.

Because of this particular talent, Robert and Lucy could do… things. They could manipulate the energy they felt within themselves to move things with their will, to sense the thoughts of others, to move faster and hit harder than their muscle mass would normally permit, it even permitted instinctive understanding of things like, oh, where a bad guy was about to shoot, allowing them to evade or deflect such attacks. Robert thought of it as "the ability to go into a gunfight with a sword and win". And it took training to perfect.

And sacrificing a working romantic relationship, as it turned out.

When Lucy struck Robert was already moving into a defensive block position. He caught her blow with his wooden blade. The next swipe also resulted in the clack of a wood-on-wood collision, as did the next. After a fourth and final failed attempt to overcome Robert's defense, Lucy backed off. It was his turn.

After several seconds he started to move. First he tried to switch from a high strike to a low to catch Lucy off-balance, but she had her weapon ready for that. A second go, high, was stopped. And a third.

For the fourth blow, Robert decided to mix things up. After drawing Lucy's attention with a cut at her waist, Robert pulled at the energy within him and used it to push forward. Immediately he…

…lost his balance as Lucy, sensing the move, broke off contact and left him to push with force against nothing. Before he could recover she struck his blade with hers, rotated the weapon and wrenched his from his hand, and promptly knocked him to the floor with a burst of energy.

All in less than five seconds.

"Robert Dale, Human pin cushion, loses again," he sighed while sprawled on the floor.

"You are improving," Lucy assured him. She looked to her side. "Don't you agree?"

Commander Meridina nodded. "Yes." She gave Robert a direct look. The Gersallian woman's blue eyes glittered with quiet pride. She had given up much to continue training them; to see Robert and Lucy continuing to improve was therefore something she could take real joy in.

Robert had always been struck by how alike Gersallians were to Humans. Sure, on the inside Gersallian organs were laid out differently, but externally, they looked just like Humans. Skin, hair, even a bit of the smell, all looked like just Human equivalents. "I think you're both well ahead of me," he said. "Although I can't complain too much. I was able to beat Lincoln Osis even with my abilities being so weak compared to yours."

"That is a good attitude to take, Robert," Meridina agreed. "But you must have recognized the potential strengths of your swevyra off the battlefield?"

"You mean the freakly dreams and the future-sensing."

"Indeed. Certainly you have felt a change in them."

He had. He still had the nightmares of course, and how they might be visions of possible futures, but now they were less-frequent. He was getting better rest than he had before. And sometimes the dreams were… happier.

Dreams of his family. Dreams of a family, flowing waves of golden-colored grain on some quiet world, children with his green eyes and Angel's dark hair and brown skin running and giggling and playing in those golden waves.

Although that last one had only been a few times. And it was clear that wouldn't be coming about now.

But above all were the dreams that wound up with the shadowy figure of a woman and those two confusing, vexing words. "Bad Wolf." What did it mean?

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Meridina," Robert said. "I've been hearing these two words in my dreams. 'Bad Wolf'. I'm not sure what they mean. Something about a choice."

"It is best not to dwell too strongly on such a matter. Whatever your connection to Creation is telling you, you must also recall you are in the present, and the present has its own matters to attend to." Meridina stepped up and placed a sympathetic hand on his arm. "You will figure this out, Robert. In due time. For now, though, we should continue to train and refine your control and connection."

Robert nodded. "I don't have much else to do as it is. What do you have for us next."

From the faint grin on her face, Robert knew he wouldn't like the answer. Yay, more standing on my hands trying to levitate things…

Once their work in the ward was done, Leo joined Doctor Crusher in heading for the hospital mess. "I'm surprised to see you here, Doctor," Leo said to her. "Not that I'm complaining. Our medical services are overstretched by the war as it is."

"So I've heard." Crusher nodded. "And since I was waiting for a new posting, I joined Admiral McCoy's volunteer detachment."

"He's quite the character, isn't he?"

Crusher looked at Leo. "You've met him?"

"I did," Leo admitted. "And he's every bit the legend that Scotty promised he'd be."

Crusher answered that with a grin. "And what about you? I read your paper on dealing with terminal stage leukemia patients."

Leo felt a surge of pain in his heart. He remembered a smiling preteen boy who should have had the rest of his life ahead of him. "I hope it will be of use to other physicians in saving lives. The information came at a high price. Too high."

"The Joshua Marik case." Crusher took his arm. "Doctor, I'm not sure any of us could have saved his life. HIs condition was too advanced."

"You're probably right." Leo nodded. He couldn't keep the haunted look off his face. "But it doesn't change how I feel. That boy had such a future, if only we'd had more time…"

"It's not easy losing a patient like that," Crusher agreed.

The conversation quieted once they entered the mess. Federation-style replicators were set up on one wall while an older-style mess line was on the other, serving fresh non-replicated food. Leo could see a diversity of species and organizations represented in the medical suits and uniforms of the doctors, surgeons, and nurses present. He recognized the medical jumpsuits of personnel from M4P2, Minbari healer robes, Earth Alliance medical jumpsuits from E5B1, Alliance medical uniforms, and Starfleet ones as well. There was even a Klingon physician in one corner, scowling at a plate, while a group of physicians in ComStar robes were at another table discussing the day's work. "It looks like every medical organization in the known Multiverse is pitching in," Leo observed.

"I know. Sometimes it feels like I'm at a medical symposium more than a field hospital." Crusher went over to the replicator. She tapped the key to activate it and said, "Crusher 3."

The system responded and a tray materialized. The plate on it contained with a chicken sandwich sided by a bowl of salad and a glass of what looked like grape or cranberry juice.

Leo tapped the key next. "Computer, cold turkey sandwich, lettuce and onions included, and a side of french-cut fried potatoes."

The replicator quickly provided the specified meal.

"Adding some starch to your diet?" Crusher asked as they walked into the tables.

"For lunch, anyway," Leo said. "Tonight I'll probably see about a good salad before I beam back up to the Aurora."

They found one table with a few occupants. Leo was surprised to recognize one. "Doctor Franklin?"

"Doctor Gillam." Doctor Stephen Franklin extended his hand over his plate, now mostly finished. Leo accepted it. "I heard your ship was coming with new supplies." Franklin had a bowl of what looked like a beef soup in front of him. His suit was recognizable as the standard pale blue medical coats used in the Earth Alliance.

"We got here this morning." Leo gave him a questioning look. "What is the Earth Alliance Director of Xenobiological Research doing in a field hospital on the front?"

"I'm on an inspection tour," Franklin said. "There are drawbacks to being the least senior among the various medical directors back at Bethesda Dome. Instead of drawing straws it was easier to rush through the paperwork assigning the entire thing to me." A bemused smirk appeared on Franklin's face. "But it's given me a chance to study some of the new species that Multiversal contact has opened up. So I probably can't complain too much."

"I'm not sure I could stand going back to Starfleet Medical," Crusher said.

"Tell me about it. Half the reason I came out here was to get away from the office politics," said another, deeper voice. The woman now sitting across from Crusher and beside Franklin was also in a Starfleet medical uniform, with curly blond hair graying softly at the temples. She seemed a little older than Crusher, further into middle-age, with some wrinkling on her face. "Doctor…" She extended a hand across the table toward Leo. "...Gillam, was it? As in Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Aurora?"


"Doctor Katherine Pulaski, Starfleet Medical," the woman replied. "Formerly on the Repulse." She nodded to Crusher. "I even served on the Enterprise for a year, while Doctor Crusher was serving her sentence at Starfleet Medical."

Leo recognized the name. "I remember reading your paper on the health challenges on the Reymond Colony. The parasitical fungus that kept infecting the colonists. I thought your solution was brilliant."

"Thank you, Doctor Gillam. I rather enjoyed the paper you wrote on extracting those parasites in the R4A1 universe. That was a risky surgery."

"It wasn't the operating theater I had in mind, true."

"I still think some of you people are spoiled for space." Another woman, with an English accent, spoke up from beside Pulaski. Her hair, neck-length if shorter than Crusher's, was gray, and she had green eyes. She was in a Systems Alliance jumpsuit, Navy-issued. "Doctor Karin Chakwas," she said by way of introduction, extending a hand. "It's nice to meet you, Doctor Gillam."

"The same." Leo accepted Chawkas' hand for a quick handshake before he settled into his seat. "A lot of medical talent here today. And all necessary."

"Very," Franklin agreed. "Part of my job here is to reassure Earthdome that the requested medical supplies are necessary. Once they see the recordings I have…"

"I never thought I would see something like this outside of a holodeck recreation," Crusher admitted. "These cases, and the casual brutality…"

"There's a reason most of our cultures remember this movement, even after centuries." Chakwas picked at a pasta salad. "We lost two more in the Intensive Care ward this morning. I'm frankly surprised we've saved as many as we have."

Crusher's face and the brief lowering of her eyes showed how she took that news. "We've got enough of our moderate cases stabilized that we're sending them off-world today."

"Speaking of leaving…" Pulaski looked to the wall and a timer. "I'm beaming up to the Jonas Salk in a couple of hours, so I need to brief my replacement."

Crusher looked at Pulaski and asked, "Anyone we know?"

"That new Asari doctor that arrived yesterday," Pulaski replied. "T'Perro."

"Doctor Lexi T'Perro," Franklin clarified. "I interviewed her last night. Brilliant doctor and a fellow xenobiologist." He smirked. "From the other side of the equation, of course."

"An Asari doctor, huh." Leo raised his eyebrows. "Given how old the Asari can get, she could have more doctorates and experience than the rest of us put together."

"She does. Her file puts her age, in Human years, at about 273, give or take a year," Franklin answered.

"Where are you off to?", Chakwas asked Pulaski

"I'm due on New Austria and Starfleet Medical's main hospital in this universe. Admiral McCoy's asking me to relieve Doctor T'Pela so she can attend to a family affair on Vulcan."

"You'll be missed," Chakwas said. "Hopefully we can catch up to each other soon and share a drink. Have you ever tried Serrice Ice Brandy?"

"No, I have not." Pulaski grinned. "Sounds interesting."

"And worth every credit."

The others gave their goodbyes to Pulaski as she left, emptied food plate and tray in hand. "I think it's only going to get worse as we get closer to Earth in this Universe," Leo said.

"Yeah." Franklin's expression went blank as he let that thought sink in. "Hopefully the war won't last much longer."

"Half of the known Multiverse is either fighting the Reich or helping the Coalition fight them." Crusher took a quick bite and, after a couple of seconds of chewing, swallowed it. "They can't hold out against that kind of opposition, can they?"

"When you've got fanatics like that SS man Fassbinder around?" Leo shook his head. "They'll fight as long as they have means."

"It sounds like you've learned that the hard way."

"We did. Fassbinder was the SS officer on Captain Lamper's cruiser during our first contact." Leo frowned. "And he oversaw the mission at Gamma Piratus. He nearly killed some of my friends and colleagues. As much as it sounds inappropriate to say as a physician…" Leo's expression darkened. "...I'm thankful he's no longer among the living."

"Strong words," Chakwas said. "But I can see they're earned."

Leo nodded in response. It was the only reaction he could properly give.

The planet Himmlerwelt was one of the first thirty planets settled by the Reich. From the beginning the planet had been selected to be the preserve of the Schutzstaffel. Only SS members and their families were permitted to own land on the planet, and only pure Aryan-blooded Germans were permitted to live and work on the world. This had kept the planet from getting the population of other colony worlds settled in the same timeframe, as even today it had a population of only a hundred million spread out across the world.

This suited the SS, of course. This was their center of power outside of Germany itself. The planet's economy was entirely geared toward providing for the needs of the SS across the entire, beleaguered interstellar empire that Hitler's Thousand Year Reich had been building for over four centuries. The Wehrmacht had nothing like it, and if the SS had their way, the regular national forces would never accomplish such a thing.

For Standartenführer Erik Fassbinder, it was his homeworld, physically and spiritually. It was natural that he had been called back to Himmlerwelt to recover from his grievous injury suffered in the system the Alliance called Gamma Piratus. On this world he was able to recuperate.

And more importantly, he was able to plan.

With practiced and firm steps, Fassbinder stepped into the office of Oberst-Gruppenführer Hans Kranefuss and raised his arm in salute. "Heil Sauckel!", he declared.

"Heil der Führer." Kranefuss returned the salute. The senior officer's head of blond hair had begun to gray at the temples, with lines forming on his face from age and work. His uniform was, as Fassbinder thought it should, immaculate and well-kept. He had the wide and strong shoulders that Fassbinder enjoyed as well, the common fruits of the SS' gene-engineering programs to enhance their bloodlines and widen the gulf of superiority they enjoyed over others.

Kranefuss had an office fit for his high rank in the organization, with medals and commendations displayed on the walls, holos of family going down to a newborn great-grandchild, and the fine furnishings one would expect for the Head of Special Operations. Behind Kranefuss an open window showed the marble spires arrayed around the Heinrich-Himmler-Platz and the wide avenues of the Hitlerstrasse.

"How is your shoulder, Standartenführer?", Kranefuss asked.

"It has healed, sir," Fassbinder insisted. "I am ready to return to the field. Indeed, I already have a proposal…"

"So I have heard." Kranefuss eyed him warily. He had clearly read Fassbinder's report made this morning. "I admit I am concerned. Eicke's obsession with that vessel led him to his downfall. Now you too seem to place great stock with the Aurora. We have already diverted material to this chase..."

"We came close to catching them in the trap. Had the Heydrich and her battlegroup arrived just minutes earlier…"

"I am aware." Kranefuss nodded. "And I am aware of the real gains to be had if we were to capture the vessel or cause its destruction. The morale loss to our enemies would be noticeable. And the gains to be had from interrogating the command crew are well worth a dedicated effort. But you must understand my concern for your motives. The Reich cannot afford for you to turn this into a personal vendetta, Fassbinder. Eicke forgot his duty, and it destroyed him."

"If I may, Oberst-Gruppenführer, I am not Eicke," Fassbinder insisted. "Though I sympathize with his anger at being denied his prize. I have no such motives. I wish for the ship and the crew to be our prisoners, nothing more or less. Even just one or two taken could be of great advantage."

Kranefuss considered that. "The Raumkriegsmarine is already gathered for a counter-attack in that sector, but they intend to bypass New Brittany entirely. Are you certain you can bring enough force to secure the world?"

"Give me ten divisions and the Schirach Battle Group, Oberst-Gruppenführer. We can be at New Brittany behind the counter-offensive."

It was clear Kranefuss was still wavering. But he had to admit the prospects seemed good. The counterattack of the naval elements would draw off ships and forces from the planet. Reclaiming New Brittany was a prize worthy of this thought even without issue of the Aurora. So it was that after nearly ten seconds of consideration Kranefuss nodded. "I will send the orders. Attack only if the RKM's offensive is succeeding."

"Jawohl." Fassbinder nodded. "You will have no cause to regret this choice."

"See that I do not," was Kranefuss' reply. "You are dismissed."

Fassbinder stepped out of the office. The grin on his face widened. Although he would lack the rank to actually command the Schirach or the force being sent, with Kranefuss' orders in hand he could direct their efforts.

Those were his thoughts in the minutes that passed from the time he stepped out of Kranefuss' office to stepping into a lift. Once inside his hand reached into his pocket. When it came out, a 25 Reichpfenning coin was in his palm. He looked over the silver-sheened disc. The face side bore the visage of Führer Joachim Seickert, the seventh Führer, who had overseen the economic plans that made the conquest of the United States possible. The tail side displayed the courtyard of Hitler's Victory Memorial, with the monuments that incorporated the broken remnants of the statues from Trafalgar Square.

He held his palm up to his eyes and focused on the coin. He reached within himself and felt a surge of spiritual strength, the strength to dominate, to control, to rule, as was his birthright.

The coin lifted from his palm. It began to rotate in mid-air while sweat appeared on the brow of the SS officer.

Content in his test, Fassbinder put the coin away just as the lift doors opened. He gave a customary "Sieg Heil" to the two junior officers that they properly returned. And he walked on.

He had an attack to plan.

It had been a rough couple of days for Leo.

In those two days, he'd seen just about every kind of case he had never wanted to see in his career. It had become clear why Field Hospital Charlie had such a concentration of medical know-how given the quantity and difficulty of cases, not to mention the sheer number of them.

The need to care for the survivors of the planet's concentration and POW camps were further complicated by the situation for New Brittany's population. The Reich had essentially taken over the planet's economy and had ruthlessly seized the majority of the planet's food production to divert to the military and to German-inhabited colony worlds. The result was sad and utterly predictable. As a result, malnutrition and starvation were sending more people to the Hospital's remaining beds while occupation authorities struggled to get food supplies to needed levels.

Today Leo was in the most grueling ward of them all.

The Child Ward.

The KZ camps had child barracks, and the Nazis had proven no better at handling children than adults. All around Leo were sick, weak little stick figures passing for living children, struck by malnutrition and reduced to skin and bones in many cases.

Some of the children could barely get out of bed. Leo was busy with the sickest cases. Diseases, medical conditions aggravated by abuse, the abuse itself…

He looked down at a little boy who looked no older than six. Tears were streaming down the sobbing boy's face, gaunt and pale as it was. "I want my mummy!" The boy's accent was distinctly English.

"Well, I can look and see if she's here," Leo proposed. "I'll need a name."

"Her name is Mummy."

Leo smiled gently. "Well, I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, I need you to tell me where it hurts."

His examination confirmed the various maladies that the boy's battered little body was suffering from, including an unhealed broken rib from getting kicked by an SS guard. Leo gave him what medications he could, made sure the child's next meal was scheduled to include the nutrients he most needed, and walked on. Nasri kept step behind him. "Where did all of these children come from?", Leo muttered. "Christ…"

"The records say that the Reich imprisoned war refugees in the camps as well," Nasri replied. "If they come from nationalities not allowed in this sector." She reached for his arm. "Doctor, are you okay?"

Leo looked at her and couldn't keep the pain from his face. These were children. Children who should have been spared the horrors of what Humanity could do to itself. Instead they had been forced to endure it.

But what was even worse was his thought on the last time he'd had a child-patient. Whenever he looked into these emaciated little faces… he kept seeing the face of another young boy, in a body wracked by terminal leukemia. The boy he could not save.

Nasri's expression softened to one of sympathy. "I should have asked them not to send you here."

"It's fine. Someone has to do it." Leo shook his head. "And I was going to have to care for children again some time." He sighed. "I guess I should have remembered the lollipops."

Nasri smiled at that. "I think the others might have disapproved. Given the nutritional problems."

"Maybe." Leo looked around the ward. "But given all of the misery here… sometimes you have to accept that happiness is a category of health on its own."

"Well, perhaps we shall have to go replicate some…"

Before any more could be said, a loud tone took their attention. They looked toward one of the beds in another line and ran toward it.

Before they could get there, a Minbari was already at the bed checking vitals. "She is going into shock," the Minbari woman announced.

"Let's get her elevated." Leo helped do this task while scan results were compiled. "Anything?"

"I don't know where to begin." Nasri looked over the girl. She looked to be around twelve, which meant she could be as old as fourteen, with a pale coloration that was just tinted enough that Leo suspected she was at least partly non-Caucasian. "Multiple organ problems, injuries…"

"Okay, we need…"

Two hours later Leo was done with the emergency case and the rounds in the Child Ward. Crusher and the Asari doctor, T'Perro, had taken over the girl's care after Leo and the Minbari, Kannel, had stabilized her condition, and the teenager or near-teen was now in Intensive Care. Efforts were being made to determine if her family was among the living.

He sat quietly in the mess hall with a mostly-uneaten plate of salad in front of him, joined by a cold half-finished bowl of sausage stew.

The maker of that stew now sat across from him. Hargert noticed Leo's failure to fully take his meal. "It is terrible here," Hargert agreed.

Leo nodded. As he got a good look at the Aurora crew lounge's cook and steward, he could see the dark circles under his eyes. The lines and wrinkles on his face were deeper than usual and betrayed the fatigue in the old man. "You should take a break," Leo said. "You look like you're running yourself ragged."

"My staff and I have been cooking for the last fifty-two hours," Hargert confessed. "Food for the medical staff and for the patients here. Especially the children."

"It's what they need," Leo agreed. He sighed. Hargert had clearly not intended it, but he was making Leo feel incredibly guilty. "And I guess I should respect your efforts by finishing what you worked so hard to make."

"I understand if this work has cost you your appetite," Hargert said. "But it's not just that, is it?"

Leo sighed and shook his head. "No," he admitted. "Seeing the children makes me think of Joshua Marik."

"Of course." Hargert nodded. "That is a wound you will always carry."

"Tell me about it." Leo put a spoonful of cool sausage stew into his mouth. The lack of warmth made the taste less-appetizing than usual, but it wasn't bad by any standard, and he savored the taste a little before swallowing. "I've seen a lot of things out here that I know will always haunt me."

"Yes." Hargert resumed eating his own meal.

Given the time that flashed on his omnitool, Leo did the same. He had another set of rounds due soon. He didn't want to be making them with a grumbling stomach.
"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

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Thu Jun 08, 2017 9:24 pm

Well done. You really do know how to make things pretty grim. :(

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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Fri Jun 09, 2017 4:40 pm

I get a rare sense of dread reading this opening, the image of a hospital about to come under fire or be taken captive is especially disturbing. Nice work.

I'm going to pre-emptively say Poor Leo, because I'm sure this is going to be an absolute turd of a day for him.
"Little monuments may be completed by their first architects, but great ones; true ones leave their copestones to posterity. God keep me from completing anything."

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