"The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

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Shroom Man 777
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Dec 03, 2017 10:10 am

Steve wrote:
Sat Dec 02, 2017 8:11 am
Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2017 7:00 pm
Now this, this is intriguing. Especially because Robert is gone. :P
I still don't get what you have against poor Rob. He's a nice guy, really!
He's the walking, talking equivalent of a science-fiction premise wherein an infinite number of universes in turn filled with uncountable galaxies and worlds presents vast inconceivable possibilities of societies,species, technologies, circumstances and such to defy all sorts of expectations setting its alliance of superpowers' HQ in freaking Oregon.
He won't be back for several episodes, and when he does come back, it'll be for his episode with Zack on the Gy'toran homeworld. You may make "bromance" remarks here. :P
Thank goodness its set on an OC universes that'll be full of originally conceived stuffs. If his epic return has him and Zack in somewhere like Pop Tate's Chocolate Shop in interdimensional sci-fi future Oregon... I'd probably burn an American flag out of spite. :D
And when he does end up back on the Aurora, it'll be in an entirely new role. For the rest of the series Julia is going to be the Captain.
Fine, that's OK. It'll be like how John Cena reappears in WWE as a part-timer who elevates other performers but himself stays out of the main championship scenes. :D

Yes, I will imagine that Robert is John Cena, corporate tested to make sure he appeals to/is most accepted by the usual demographics, ensuring that he sells the most merchandise. :D

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Dec 03, 2017 12:25 pm

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2017 10:10 am
He's the walking, talking equivalent of a science-fiction premise wherein an infinite number of universes in turn filled with uncountable galaxies and worlds presents vast inconceivable possibilities of societies,species, technologies, circumstances and such to defy all sorts of expectations setting its alliance of superpowers' HQ in freaking Oregon.
Most settings pick the big US cultural cities like Chicago or New York or San Francisco. I picked Portland, where people pride themselves on being weird. I mean, it's a city where I can go to a place called Voodoo Donuts, "where the magic is in the hole", and stand in line with a person (I don't recall if they were male or female, or something else knowing Portland) with a mohawk wearing a torn sleeveless jean vest with jean trousers... with a hairless cat draped over their shoulder!

Portland is weird. I would think you'd appreciate that!
Thank goodness its set on an OC universes that'll be full of originally conceived stuffs. If his epic return has him and Zack in somewhere like Pop Tate's Chocolate Shop in interdimensional sci-fi future Oregon... I'd probably burn an American flag out of spite. :D
Fine, that's OK. It'll be like how John Cena reappears in WWE as a part-timer who elevates other performers but himself stays out of the main championship scenes. :D

Yes, I will imagine that Robert is John Cena, corporate tested to make sure he appeals to/is most accepted by the usual demographics, ensuring that he sells the most merchandise. :D
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"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Dec 03, 2017 3:52 pm

Ship's Log: 18 February 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The crisis at Phi Perseus has heightened with the arrival of the League ships under Captain de Montamar. The Aururian vessels are now significantly outnumbered but have shown no indication of withdrawing. I suspect their reinforcements are still en route and will arrive before Captain von Lohringhoven's ultimatum expires in five days.

The League's arrival to take the prisoners on behalf of the Trade Consortium is another matter. It's becoming clear that there is something going on here beyond the matter of some gun-running.

Copious amounts of coffee were steaming from pitchers and mugs in the Aurora conference lounge. With their clocks slowly ticking toward 0400 hours, most of those assembled were yearning for a return to their beds and dreading the fact that they would most likely have little time to get any more sleep before their main watch shifts commenced.

Julia sipped at a particularly strong cup of coffee. Hargert had promised her it could keep someone up for hours. She darkly suspected his claim would be put to the test. Once everyone was seated, she tapped a key on the table to activate the communication interlink.

Instead of a lone image on the wall behind her, the table's main holographic projector activated. It displayed images beside the table. One had Captain Shaham and his command staff, roused for the same reason. Captain Gartan and Commander Imra appeared in the other images. A third image showed a tired Governor Taylor with Committee Chairwoman Logan beside him. The final was of Captain de Montamar on his ship, the Poursuivante. The vessel, which was now visible through the lounge window, resembled the same aesthetic as the Aururian ships, but with sharper lines and a pair of long, gray warp nacelles built into the sponsons on either side of the ship and angled downward just enough to get the necessary clearance to function.

"On behalf of the Oakland Colony, I do thank you for your offer of assistance, Captain de Montamar," Taylor said. "However, I am obligated to keep custody of the prisoners in question until Judge Moore rules on their motions."

Montamar nodded. There was no sign of anything but a calm and patient demeanor in the man. "Of course, Governor," he said, his English fairly accented from his native French. "Your people are a free and democratic people as well, with laws and protections that must be cherished and supported. I will wait for the outcome to your legal proceedings."

"Although that will be a moot point if the Aururians invade," Shaham pointed out.

"If they commence hostilities, Captain Shaham, I am authorized to open fire in your defense. The League will not stand by while the Empire commits another act of aggression."

"Captain, the Alliance has been in this universe for a year now," Julia began. "Why has it taken so long for the League to approach us?"

"The Trading Consortium asked us to let them take the lead in your introduction to our universe," was the answer.

"Presumably they feared we would react badly if we found out about their neighbors." This was from Taylor.

"A reasonable fear," de Montamar said. "When do you expect the legal issues to be handled?"

"The day after tomorrow is the main hearing. Today will be a preliminary one to discuss the motion to dismiss…"

Even with the coffee, Julia felt the conversation slip away from her as it became less relevant to her immediate problems. It seemed that every development made war more likely to break out, regardless of what she planned or considered. And now she was tired and her eyes felt like weights had been attached to her eyelids. Having to think of solutions when her brain felt like it was in a fog would be an uphill climb.

Finally Julia noticed Shaham was speaking. "..don't know about these people," he was saying. "If we are to deal with them I would like to know more."

"And I will share with you what I know, gladly. Perhaps in person? I will bring a shuttle down to meet with your governor and the Consortium Sub-Consul."

De Montamar's offer prompted Taylor to nod. "I will be waiting."

"I look forward to meeting you in person, Captain de Montamar."

"I'll meet everyone planetside," Julia said. "Aurora out." She tapped a key and ended the call. "Any thoughts?" she asked.

"I'm not sure I like that answer," Locarno said. "About why it's taken so long for the League to make contact with us. If the Aururians are as aggressive as he claims, it makes more sense to open contact as quickly as possible to warn us and give them a potential ally."

"Perhaps their reluctance, and that of the Consortium, is linked to their alleged mistreatment of less-advanced species?" Meridina asked. "If the Consortium recognized that we would disapprove of their ally's behavior, they may have felt the need to keep us from learning about the League's actions until relations were firmly established. And the League may have feared we would oppose them as well."

From within Julia's sleep-deprived brain a thought kindled. I need to find out how things are going on the Koenig, she thought to herself.

"Yeah, but that's assuming the Aururians aren't lying," Angel pointed out, continuing on from Meridina's remark. "Maybe the League treats aliens just fine and the Aururians prop up terrorist groups to undermine them. All to have an excuse to attack them. Hell, maybe that's what the group down on the planet are. They could be terrorists themselves, for all we know."

"They're not," Doctor Opani declared. Eyes turned toward her in the chair to Leo's left. "They don't sound like terrorists."

"And you know how a terrorist sounds?" Angel asked pointedly. "You don't know anything about them."

"And neither do you," Opani shot back. "But you assume they must be bandits just because these people say so? These people, who may practice slavery?"

"I don't have to assume a damn thing to know these people are bad news." Angel's tone grew harsh. "Look at what they've done. These bit-" She stopped and corrected herself at the last moment. "...these people threatened an innocent colony, opened fire on us without provocation, killed a member of our crew, and are threatening to attack again if we don't knuckle under and give them everything they want just because they freaking say so! Why the hell should we give them the benefit of the doubt when all we've seen them do is shoot at us and threaten us? If you ask me, I think it's clear that these Aururians are bad news. And I certainly don't trust a damned one of them."

Opani's dark teal complexion gained a blue tint on her face. Her eyes narrowed and her long, pointed ears seemed to level against the side of her head.

"Both of you, calm down," Julia ordered. She leveled an intent look at Angel, who finally diverted her eyes from Opani. "I know we're all tired and cranky, but we've got enough problems without fighting each other."

"It's not really our place to worry about the prisoners, isn't it?" asked Leo. "That's up to the government on the colony. All we have to do is worry about protecting this world. Or, if necessary, evacuating it."

"We're rated for twelve thousand evacuees, maximum," Jarod said. "But it would take us several hours."

"We got all those people off the Tikvah in under an hour, didn't we?" Locarno asked.

"We were lucky that day, Mister Locarno," Scotty said. "I dinnae care t' try an' repeat th' performance if we dinnae have tae."

"Still, have extra transporter station personnel on standby just in case," Julia said. "With the Lrrik and Enterprise helping, we could get everyone off-world on the last day, if necessary."

"I am not sure we will be allowed," Meridina said. "The orders from Admiral Maran are quite clear on the matter of protecting Phi Perseus."

"I want to keep the option open. Just in case. Lieutenant, any luck with that beacon hunt?"

"You mean looking for something that might not be there?" Cat shrugged. "Al-Rashad and I have identified the best points for such a beacon to transmit, but it's going to take the Koenig a few days to investigate them all. We could probably do it inside of a day, but we'd have to leave orbit."

"Which we're not doing," Julia said. "Keep me informed. Doctor, anything more on that organism? The reason we came here in the first place?"

"Dr. Ke'mani'pala should have a batch finish growing today," he said. "It might take a couple of days, but I'm sure she'll figure out what it's doing to them."

"Let me know when she has results. We'll see if it corroborates whatever Montamar tells us." Julia stood in her chair. "I'll see everyone on the bridge by 0800. You're all dismissed."

Everyone began to file out, save for Meridina, Lucy, and Opani. And, Julia noted, Commander Richmond. "The sun will rise over the Colony in about three hours," Opani said.

"They said no?"

"They refuse to move them, but they do not forbid us from doing the same," Meridina noted.

"The Commander informed me of the proposal," Richmond said. "I could provide security teams for the purpose. But to minimize possible difficulties, I suggest another course of action."

Julia listened to what Richmond recommended. It was, indeed, a workable solution, and would keep the Aururians secure in the process.

I just have to hope this doesn't impact our relations with those new arrivals was the sole concern that went through her head.

The night had not gone well for Zack. The nightmares had come back with their full fury. Nightmares of Clara dying, of her accusing eyes, and those of Julia dying in the same manner. Of everyone turning away from him for causing their deaths. Sleep had only come after a good, solid night-cap, to drown away those dreams.

Or rather more than a night-cap, as it turned out. With his head aching Zack could barely moan, much less lift his head. Every tone from the alarm was like a knife to the middle of his skull. Finally he shouted, "Turn that damn thing off!" The computer complied immediately and, to get the last word in, issued him a reminder. "Ship time is now 0620."

The time demanded the attention of Zack's brain. It didn't want to cooperate. It took several moments for him to force himself to sit up. His eyes went over to the table, where his empty plastic tumbler was beside his bottle of tequila. He narrowed his eyes at the bottle. The level was down to about the three-quarter mark. That was far too low. He was certain it was too low. How could he have had that much. Just one drink the first night out and two drinks after the nightmare.

It was just two drinks, wasn't it? He could swear it was only two. It was only after he thought about it that he recalled the third. And the fourth. He had been trying to drown out the nightmares, hadn't he?

"Dammit," Zack muttered under his breath. Through the pain a cool feeling came to him. He was starting to become like his father, wasn't he? Drowning away sorrows with alcohol… And he didn't want to become Gerald Carrey. He had a life. A job.

A job. For the others, it was more than that. Zack had to think about that. Hadn't he ever considered this more than a mere job? Something to do with his life?

He had, yes. Flying the Koenig had been his favorite duty in the world back in the Facility days. The others were possessive of the Aurora, but he had always felt a deep affection for the gutpuncher that Carlton Farmer had put together for them.

That was before Clara had re-entered his life. Then it was something to do in order to be worthy of her. To live up to what she saw in him, the thing that brought her out to the stars too.

The thing that, in the end, killed her.

In a wave the feelings came back. That he had never been worthy of her. Those quiet dreams, that deep secret longing he'd never gotten out of him for another woman, all little betrayals of a good, kind person who had given him her love. Clara Davis would have been far, far better off if she had stayed far away from him.

Zack's hands went to the bottle and the tumbler. His first thought had been to put it away. But with those horrible feelings back, he felt a desire to put away another shot. Just one more. Something to dull that feeling. To get it out of him.

The comm system beeped right as his fingers reached for the cap of the tequila bottle. He pulled his hand back and hit the receive key on his omnitool. "Carrey here," he said. He knew his voice sounded off. He hoped it would sound more like being groggy from sleep than hung over or, now that he thought about it (as much as he could think), between being hung over and still being a little drunk.

"Navaez here," Magda said. "I came on duty early. I thought I would let you know we completed our sweep of this area. Still no sign of anything."

"Onto the next then?" he asked, grimacing from the pain in his head.

"We're already en route at point zero eight impulse power."

"Point zero eight?" He blinked.

"At full power, I might miss something on the sensors. This way I do not. Our ETA to the next scanning zone is ten hours."

"Alright then. I'll be up shortly. Carrey out."

Once the call ended Zack winced to himself. Even if he took the breath mints and got rid of any lingering smell on his breath, there was no way they wouldn't see he had been drinking. Zack turned to his personal replicator. "Niltox, six hundred milligrams," he specified. "And water."

"Warning. Requested dose exceeds recommended dosage by…"

"I know. Override and give me the damn pills!"

His outburst won him the machine's obedience. It produced two cups, one with the requested cool water and the other with three small blue pills. He downed the blue pills together and drank enough water to wash them down. With an eye toward the time clock, Zack went to his shower to face the day.

When everything was ready, Doctor Opani returned to the hospital. She was again waived through the doors to the quarantine ward by the guards. She found the prisoners to be freshly roused. Breakfast would be served shortly. She stepped into the area in the middle of the cells.

Kishala walked to the edge of her own cell until she was less than ten centimeters away from the forcefield containing her. "Doctor Opani."

"Ms. Abrakia." Opani grinned at her. "I need you all to stand beside each other in your cells."

"Why?" the Ralsan asked.

"So that we can take you outside," Opani answered. "The sun will start coming up shortly."

That prompted a reaction from the dark-skinned woman "Kat". "We are willing to accept a parole. Restraining us will not be necessary if you will but give it."

"You will not be restrained. We are transporting you to a site outside."

It was clear the others found the request to be bizarre. Doubly so for the lack of armed guards to accompany them. Nevertheless, the prospect of getting to see the sunrise won them over. They did as instructed.

Opani tapped her omnitool. "Lieutenant, they're in position."

"I see that. Beaming in five seconds."

"'Beaming'?" asked one of the other Ralsans.

Opani considered an explanation. But there was no time for one. She remained silent until she felt the familiar sensation of a transporter taking hold of her. The quarantine ward disappeared in a burst of white light that overwhelmed her vision.

When her vision returned, Opani was outside on a grassy field. The sky was dark and the stars were out. A thin sliver of dawn was visible on the horizon. The outlines of a forest showed beneath those early rays. Lucy and Meridina were standing beside her, Lucy operating the controls of a portable transporter system tied into the one on the Aurora.

In the moments after her sight returned, Opani watched ten more bursts of light appear. The prisoners found themselves standing in the middle of the grass field as the dawn approached.

The immediate reaction was utter shock. One moment they had been in their cells, then after a burst of light they were out in the open. They looked around and talked excitedly in their shared language about what had just happened. Kishala stepped out from among them and faced Opani and her compatriots. "What did you do to us?" she asked.

"We generated a subspace tunnel around you," Lucy replied. "And directed it here. It's safer than matter-energy transporter technology."

"These are two of my crewmates," Opani said to her. "Lieutenant Lucy Lucero, an operations officer, and Commander Meridina, First Officer of the Aurora. Meridina is a Gersallian."

Meridina nodded to them. "I know it is strange to see an alien looking the same as your own species. My people have had to adjust themselves to a similar truth now that we are in constant contact with Humans."

There was a look in the Ralsan's eyes. It was joy and wonder and uncertainty and, yes, a little fear mixed in. "Why?"

"You asked. And we have questions as well," Meridina said. "Our people have much to learn about this universe."

Kishala said no more. After one last grateful look she turned away and returned to the others. Opani noticed that for the first time her tail was moving side-to-side. She wondered if that was a good sign or not.

Between their time traveling in their ship and the days spent in confinement, the prisoners had spent weeks without seeing a planet-based sunrise. The three Aurora crewmembers watched quietly as they reacted to this one. Some knelt. Some sat. Two held their arms out, as if to embrace the rising sun of Phi Perseus. The younger woman with curly blonde hair who had restrained Kat in Opani's prior conversation with them stood in front of the others and greeted the rising sun with a soft melody. They didn't recognize the words. But they could understand some of the meaning.

"I believe she is the one," Meridina said to them. More specifically to Lucy, who was looking over the portable station.

Lucy looked up and toward the prisoners. After several moments of consideration she nodded. "I can feel it too," Lucy said.

The ceremony, such as it was, continued on through the sunrise. Some of the other women in the group took up the melody as the sun began its climb into the sky off the horizon. After about half an hour the assembled finished their singing and humming.

This time they all approached the trio. "We did not expect this," the young woman said. She gave them a bow of the head in gratitude. “As a Sister, I thank you.”

Meridina returned the head bow. "There is much hostility between our peoples currently. To allow it to continue not only increases the risk of conflict, it weakens the Flow of Life."

"The Flow of Life." The Aururian woman's look was one of curiosity. "That is your name for it?"

"It is."

"We consider it a gift from Anjea, the intercessor and protector of all the Singers, who convinced her mother Yhi - the Mother of Creation, who Sang all into existence - to grant us such a boon in our darkest hour."

Opani responded first. "Although I am ungifted, there are many among my species with the Gift who believe it to be the energy of the Supreme Being." Opani waited to see if they had more to say before she moved on. "We can do this daily. I have made the arrangements, and Captain Andreys will approve of it."

"She will," Meridina confirmed. "Captain Andreys is trying to learn more about your people. She hopes to find a peaceful solution to these disputes."

"One war is bad enough," Lucy added. "Fighting you would mean less ships to fight the Nazis."

A curious look came over some of the women. "Nazi?" asked the one named Kat. "You refer to the 20th Century movement led by Adolf Hitler?"

"Those are the ones," Lucy confirmed. "In the history of Universe S4W8, they won the war and at some point became the most powerful state on Earth. So they conquered the rest of Humanity, drove the rest to flee in space ships, and expanded into space."

The reply was incredulity. Incredulity that soon faded into general horror at the concept. “Mother above, you would think killing him once was enough…”

A tone came from Meridina's omnitool before Lucy could inquire as to what Kat meant. She checked it. "It is time for us to return you," she said. "We will bring you here again tomorrow."

"Again, you have our thanks," said the young woman who had led the singing.

"Before I send you back… what's your name?" Lucy asked. "If you don't mind?"

"I am Kirrhi," she answered.

"I hope we get this sorted out," Lucy said. "Meridina and I would love to discuss our cultures' different approaches to the Flow of Life."

Kirrhi's smile widened. "Yes," she said softly. "I think we would enjoy that as well."

The sun was still low in the sky when Julia and Jarod materialized outside of the government building. Security personnel directed them back to the same conference room Julia had seen the prior day. Imra and Gartan were present already with Governor Taylor at his seat and Logan beside him on the right. Julia and Jarod found their own seats to Taylor's left.

The next time the door was opened Shaham entered the room. He found a seat beside Taylor, one left for him by Gartan and Imra, allowing him to sit across from Jarod and beside Logan.

The door opened one final time. Captain de Montamar stepped in. Julia could now see the entirety of his blue uniform, with the gold-colored dual lines of buttons on the front and the gold cuffs, looking much like a combination of a 20th Century uniform and a Systems Alliance formal uniform jacket. The trousers had gold trim along the outside crease, at least down to his knee.

"Captain Guy de Montamar of the Poursivante, at your service Governor," he stated in accented English.

"Captain. Thank you for accepting our hospitality." Taylor gestured to a chair at the other head of the table. "Would you like coffee or tea?"

"The former, Governor, would be most welcome."

"For myself as well," Shaham added.

"I'll take one," Julia said.

"Tea," said Logan.

"I enjoyed a cup of tupari before beaming down," Gartan stated, referring to the Dorei equivalent of rich coffee. "I am not in need of more."

At a nod from Taylor, one of his assistants went to a replicator unit in the wall behind Logan, Shaham, and the other commanders. He ordered coffees for everyone available. The device lit up and in several columns of light produced half a dozen mugs filled with the dark fluid. "Cream or sugar?" the assistant asked those attending.

"A touch of sugar, I think," de Montamar requested. Taylor specified cream.

While this was arranged, Logan went to business. "Where is Sub-Consul Nio!sat!ny? I was informed he would be attending."

"I am uncertain myself," the League officer answered. "The League and Consortium often act in concert, but we keep our own counsels as well."

"I think we can commence without him, Chairwoman" Taylor said. "Captains?"

Julia and the other Captains gave nods of assent.

"Very well. I shall begin by bringing up a rather interesting distinction of our universe," de Montamar said. "I learned of this while examining the data that the Consortium was provided by your Alliance, trying to find why your universes are free of the nemesis of ours. It is quite astonishing." He removed a device from his jacket and placed it on the table. With a tap of a key the device generated a holographic projection of the Earth. Montamar tapped a few keys, generating a square that moved into the Southern Hemisphere and then into the Eastern Hemisphere until it was over Southeast Asia and Australia. Another key tap zoomed in.

Julia immediately saw what he meant. She didn't fight the surprise that came to her face. The interior of Australia, always brown or yellow from above, was instead lush greens with the light brown of plains. The desert areas seemed confined to a portion of the southern coast and a few other points in the northwest.

"An Earth where the Australian Outback doesn't exist." Logan raised her eyebrows. "That is quite intriguing."

"This is... " Jarod shook his head in amazement. "This is something entirely new for us."

"Presumably this altered the development of the peoples of this region?" Gartan asked.

"It would definitely have had to, as the known Earths so far see similar histories for the continent," Logan noted. "With the Aborigines never developing sufficiently to resist European settlement."

"There are several, though unlikely, explanations for such a change. Presumably the monsoons of primordial Australia never receded," Jarod remarked. "This would have drastically changed the development of the continent."

"Presumably not, Commander," said de Montamar. "Dry conditions may have killed the spongiform before it infected humans."

"We're still waiting for our scientists to finish their examinations of this organism," Julia said. "What can you tell us about it?"

"Much. It is responsible for the division of our entire species."

"That much we've been told," said Taylor. "How?"

De Montamar tapped the holographic projector, turning off the image of the Earth for the moment. "That thing evolved many thousands of years ago in a direction that let it infect Humanity," he said. "Once it is within a host organism, it spreads through the body. The host becomes ill, during which time the spongiform attacks and modifies the reproductive system, the bone marrow, the brain. In human males, the result is gruesome without immediate amputation of the most drastic sort. In females, however…"

By this point Julia realized where he was going with this. "It can carry genetic material from another source," she murmured. "We learned that much."

"Yes. Females infected by the organism can only transfer their genetic material between each other."

"They can have children," Shaham said in realization. "Without the need for medical technology, for in-vitro capability and embryo generation."

"Now we know why their ships are all female crews," Julia said. "Although that doesn't explain the other aliens, the Ralsan…"

De Montamar nodded. "I will get to that. The point, though, is that wherever Aururians went, it spread."

"The pheromone." Seeing the looks from the others, Jarod said, "It makes sense. Something like the pheromones could stimulate those not-infected to find those with the infection, those with the pheromone, desirable and attractive."

"In short, yes," de Montamar confirmed. "To such an extent the Empire has internal quarantines and cybernetic methods of resistance for privileged minorities. It is enough to explain their expansion, however. Especially when backed by the use of force."

"How different is your world's history?" Jarod asked. "I mean, from our current baseline? Something like this would… well, it would, it should, drastically alter the development of Humanity."

"I think that might be a little off-topic right now, Commander," said Logan. "What is clear is that even if the organism is not airborne, it might yet pose a health risk."

"So the Aururians developed in an Australia with more cropland and forest." Julia looked to de Montamar again. "And they eventually organized a society."

"Yes. Over the centuries they spread to the nearby islands and lands. Eventually contact with Europe occurred. The Aururians were developed enough that, even without the advantage of muskets, they were able to repulse a sizable expedition of conquistadors, after which they copied their ships, and sailed to Europe for aid. The English were the first friendly nation they found.”

"An alliance that seems to have stuck with them," Julia noted.

"Until they conquered those Isles.” He replied, dryly. “To sum up centuries in as few words as possible, the Aururians expanded where they could and worked their connections with Europe to protect themselves from conquest," de Montamar stated. "They stood as allies with the English in many of the great wars of Old Earth, and each time cunningly expanded their power, using their conflicts with Spain to gain entry to the Americas. The wars of the 20th Century saw them expand their reach even further, into the Near East, into Asia, even into Africa. By the 21st Century they had forged a network of confederated states and sub-states that spanned the globe and were in the first rank of powers. Sometimes they stood opposed to uninfected Humanity, but they were capable of working with us against a foe such as the Ralsan."

"Oh?" asked Julia.

"The Ralsan had no superluminal drive," said de Montamar. "They expanded over the course of centuries with fleets of slow-ships. When they arrived in our solar system in the first half of the 23rd Century, they found us a space-capable, industrialized species, fully capable of resisting them, where before they had not thought the world inhabited. The war that resulted was the last time the Aururians stood with us. The alliance did not survive the victory."

"A fight over the spoils of victory?"

"No. Something rather more painful for our people." A deep frown creased the man's aquiline face. "At this time, the world had come under the control of a central authority formed from the old United Nations. It was seen as necessary in the days before the Ralsan, when the remaining free Nations of Earth banded together to resist the reactionary tide of the Empire. Quarantines, trade sanctions… none of it worked. By the time of the Ralsan invasion, the UN had been corrupted under the relentless pressure. It devolved into a complete betrayal of the democratic principles of their founders. Hatred and fear fueled them, with apocalyptic, xenophobic visions filling their minds. They decided that for humanity to survive, the Ralsan had to die… and the Empire the same when it made a separate peace and settled the Ralsan survivors. When they developed the warp drive, the UN secretly moved to aggressively conquer the other worlds of the Ralsan empire. The Empire had gained such a lead in the pre-warp era that anything was deemed acceptable in the same of survival. Their colony ships were hunted down and destroyed in deep space, and the Ralsan were smashed, their worlds made into the resource base the UN needed to build a fleet, one that was to end the threat of the Aururians once and for all.”

As de Montamar described this, Julia's expression hardened into a frown. Some of the Aururian behavior seemed, if not excused, at least somewhat comprehensible. She also felt a tinge of sympathy for de Montamar. This was clearly not a bright hour in the history of his branch of Humanity, and he knew it.

"Eventually the Empire found out, over a hundred years ago," he continued. "About both warp drive and about the UN's behavior. Their response was a massive first strike. There was a nuclear exchange that shattered much of the Earth and a war in space between the UN's expanded fleet and the Imperial one. They even reactivated the Ralsan fleet and led them into action against the rest of humanity. In the end, all that our ancestors could do was evacuate as many of the survivors as they could and flee to their colonies. It would be decades before the fighting ended, with most of both halves of Humanity dead, and a new Ralsan-majority empire arisen from the ashes of our foes, under a human Empress and leadership. It fell to a great man, Captain Claude de Escuy of the UN fleet, to end the remains of the corrupt government that had provoked the conflict. He founded the League of Democratic Worlds under the ancient principles of the French Revolution and Republic. It was President de Escuy who insisted alien species must be protected and guided to true equality with Mankind, a new vision of the old œuvre civilisatrice.”

"The Aururians seem to think differently of your principles," Jarod noted.

"They do. It is a convenient excuse for them." De Montamar sipped at his coffee. "An excuse to launch war after war against the League. They have waged five wars of aggression against us since the Great Interplanetary War. Sometimes our lines hold. Sometimes our people are forced to flee their homes, driving us even further on our frontiers to find the resources necessary to protect ourselves. During the last war, a great coalition held them back, but instead of taking stock and reconsidering their aggression, they swore to double their fleet. Our desperation fuels unscrupulous men who take advantage of it to mistreat those aliens we are charged with protecting and uplifting, and the Empire uses that to provide an excuse for another all out attack. There is peace now, of course. We've had it for twelve years, but it won't last. It never does with them."

The more de Montamar spoke, the more Julia wondered if it was a mistake to ever come to this universe. On the one hand, she felt leery of the League. De Montamar's passion aside, how many of them were the exploiters and abusers the Aururians claimed they were?

But on the other hand… she felt a wave of horror at the concept of the spongiform. Not simply from what it did to those it infected, but the ramifications of the pheromone that the infected gave off. It made her think of reports about the Orion Syndicate, and how Orion women could enslave the minds of others with biochemically-enhanced pheromones.

Shaham beat her to the question forming in her mind. "This spongiform, Captain. Is it possible that it may be semi-sapient in some way? Does it alter the minds of those it infects?"

"That is a question that has been debated for a millennium, Captain Shaham," de Montamar answered. "For what it is worth, our scientists do not think the parasite actively controls the host.” He took another gulp of coffee. "Regardless, the Empire is are opposed to everything we stand for. The League stands for the sacred principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. We believe in democracy and freedom. The Empire is a cult of militant reactionaries. All cultures that come into their power are twisted into their form, expunged of anything that does not fit the Aururian view of a world governed by the Empress and the nobility. Consider Captain von Lohringhoven. Her ancestors were compelled to become Aururian, likely forcibly infected, after the fall of Earth. Her Germany is not the Germany of Kant and Goethe and Schiller. It is the Germany of Bismarck and his halo of bayonets put into the service of the Empire with a puppet Kaiserin. They only preserve shadows of other cultures, shadows of ancient crowns. And the only change for the Ralsans is that their Empress is a Human now. Indeed, though they call themselves Aururians, for most of the last centuries, they have been a Ralsan Empire in truth, demographically and culturally. The Ralsan are still militant conquerors, and that impulse of the Empire’s majority species has combined with the Empresses demanding relentless expansion to create an empire devoted to unending wars of subjugation."

The mood in the room was growing tense. "You paint a grim picture, Captain de Montamar," said Taylor. "If your perception is true, then we might as well prepare for a war now."

"A war we can ill afford," Commander Imra observed. "With the fleet fully engaged against the Reich..." She trailed off ominously.

"I can assure you, the League will support the Alliance in a war," de Montamar said. "It is a matter of survival for us too. The Alliance has the potential to swing the balance of power against the Empire and force them to finally accept a permanent peace."

Logan had another matter in mind. "Can it be cured?" Upon winning de Montamar's attention, she clarified. "The spongiform? Can it be removed from a host?"

"With great effort," said de Montamar, with an expression of distaste. "It takes weeks of careful blood chelation and filtration to remove all traces of the organism, along with a variety of other invasive and drastic procedures. Even then, the host is left sterilized and with a severely-depressed immune system."

"We may have medical science to deal with that problem," Logan said. "But I want to make sure we have a cure. Even if it is too late to prevent it from permanently altering the mind of the host, at least it can't spread."

"Understanding how to deal with the organism if it was introduced to our population is important," Julia agreed. "But right now I think our priority has to be stopping a war."

"I do not believe you can, short of surrendering this world to the Empire," said de Montamar. "And certainly not without returning the smugglers, which to be frank, would damage your relations with us."

"Maybe not, but there might be solutions we haven't considered yet," Julia said. "And the brutal fact is that we can't fight a war right now. We're too spread out."

"It is possible you would have to retreat for a time, yes," de Montamar agreed. "But in the long run, we do not need your full effort, merely your assistance."

"I believe this is outside of our purview," Taylor said. "Captain de Montamar, thank you for providing this information. I will forward it to the Alliance government immediately."

"Of course. And I will await the finding in your courts on the extradition order." The League commander stood up.

"The hearing is later today. In the meantime, you are our guest."

"Thank you, Governor, but I must return to the Poursuivante," he said. "And report to my government. As it is a Consortium extradition warrant, I leave that matter in the hands of the Sub-Consul."

"Very well. Have a safe flight back to your ship."

Captain de Montamar bowed respectfully and departed.

"We've heard one side," said Taylor. "What are our prospects of hearing the other?"

"Doctor Opani may have made progress with those prisoners," Julia said. "Maybe they'll be willing to talk to us."

"Not if their lawyers have spoken to them. They'll tell them to say nothing," Taylor pointed out. "And Captain von Lohringhoven has not been talkative."

"That I can confirm," Shaham said. "Our conversations have gone nowhere. Nothing more than the repeating of her ultimatum for our withdrawal." He shook his head. "Her Empire may be different, but I fear she was stamped out at the same Prussian mill they make Reich officers at.”

"I've been wondering about that, actually." Julia glanced toward Jarod. "Commander Jarod and I have spoken about whether a different approach may be best. A private meeting, maybe."

"I would rather you not," said Logan. "Exposing yourself to the organism is a foolish risk."

"It's not airborne," Jarod reminded everyone.

"No, but you heard Captain de Montamar. The pheromone that the hosts produce can undermine the will of a non-infected. There's no telling how little exposure a person can sustain before they lose control." Logan stood. "As of this time I am going to urge you, Governor, to re-institute the quarantine protocols."

"We're already holding them in the quarantine ward, so you shouldn't worry about exposure."

"It would likely take long-term exposure for the pheromone to have any effect," Jarod pointed out.

"But you don't know that," Logan pointed out. "You don't know the concentrations required. Until we know for certain, it is a risk I think we should avoid."

Julia said nothing to that. She stood from the chair and looked at Taylor. "I'm sending my JAG officer to the preliminary hearing. Will there be any issues?"

"It's an open hearing. There should be no problems."

"In the meantime, I have reports to file with Command," Shaham said. "And combat drills to deal with. Governor, Captain, I'll speak with you later." He nodded to them both and walked out, with Gartan and Imra behind him.

"Captain, Commander, I have a meeting with Colonel Littleton to attend," said Taylor.

"Of course, Governor," Julia said. "I'll keep in touch with you if anything develops."

Taylor nodded and walked out. Once they were alone Jarod glanced to Julia. "You didn't mention anything about Meridina and Lucy letting them out for the sunrise."

"No, I didn't," said Julia. "Logan doesn't seem to know. If she did, she might start insisting I stop them."

"And you have no intention of that."

"Not unless it's unsafe for them," Julia answered. "Which is why I'm going to share this with Leo. But either way, the last thing I need is to add to my headaches by having an argument with Logan. So until she says anything to me about it, I'm going to keep my mouth shut on the matter and see if anything comes of it."

"Sounds like a plan," Jarod agreed.

The morning's work ended early for Leo. The moment he got the message from Science Lab 3 he left the medbay in the care of Doctor Walker and made his way deeper into the ship. Science Lab 3, as their biology lab, was centered around three iso-lab capsules accessible only by an airlock system. Leo arrived as Doctor Ke'mani'pala emerged from the center one. The Gl'mulli scientist shifted her vocoder and visual stimuli-translator device toward Leo, allowing her to see him clearly and not as a faint EM trace. "Ah, Doctor," she said.

"You said you have something?" he asked.

"Oh yes, I do." Ke'mani'pala half-walked, half-slid her way to a nearby control. An appendage formed from the cyan gelatin of her body. It shifted to form fingers and started to tap the control. An image of the spongiform appeared on the holo-screen. "After my examination of the sample, I have been able to determine the role of the pheromone. Simulations indicate it is part of the reproductive process. It interacts with the brain of a Human being, and perhaps other species, and stimulates a biochemical response."

Leo watched the simulation light up centers of the brain. "The parts linked to attraction and desire," he noted. "The pheromone encourages someone to desire physical intimacy with others."

"Not merely others, Doctor. There are some species of fauna I have examined that use a similar method in their mating process. It encourages others to mate with them."

Leo shook his head. "That's rather horrifying in its implications. Prolonged exposure to these people would make a need for contact with them unbearable over time."

"Difficult, certainly. But I believe this explains the implants you reported."

For a moment Leo wondered what Ke'mani'pala meant. When the moment passed, the memory came to him. "You mean the implants on the Irresistible crew who didn't have the spongiform?"

"Yes. I believe it may be a device to prevent the pheromone from interacting with the brain."

"How?" Leo asked.

"I can only speculate on the exact mechanism," trilled the Gl'mulli. "But with time and testing we can replicate the technology, making our people immune to their influence. Perhaps in time, with fortune, we may even determine a means of inoculation not requiring implantation."

Leo nodded at that. "Good work, Doctor. Thank you for putting aside your other projects for this."

"You are most welcome, Doctor Gillam. And one does not grow an Aurorus sapling in a day, thankfully. My primary project is not disturbed by this work."

"You still deserve the thanks," Leo assured her with a grin. He looked over the data on the screens again. "Replicating that implant will take time, but I'd like to have something available now, if we need it." Biochemistry was not his speciality, but he had enough general knowledge to have an idea come to his head. "What if we could chemically immunize someone?"

"I do not believe it would last, Doctor," Ke'mani'pala answered.

"True." Leo tapped at the screen. "Not without causing similar permanent biochemical changes to the body. But I'm not thinking of permanent protection."

A low trilling sound came from the vocoder. "Hrm. It is a possibility. I would require your assistance."

"Given the situation, I'm ready to give it," Leo replied.

Upon returning to the Aurora Julia returned to her office and finished her paperwork for the morning. She was about to stand and depart when her door chime went off. "Come in," she said.

The door slid open and Meridina stepped in. "Jarod informed me of the day's meeting," she said.

"Good." Julia leaned back in her chair for a moment. "Do you have any insights?"

"I found it interesting that Captain de Montamar admitted to the fact that the League has not treated alien species well," Meridina said. "Although his words indicate he does not see it as the Aururians do."

"I'm not surprised. They're claiming that it's slavery, he makes it out like a few excesses that the Aururians blow out of proportion to justify wars of aggression. The spongiform makes them look even worse."

"Jarod informed me of the accusations of forced infection," Meridina said. She took a seat on the other side of the desk. "Although it appears they no longer practice such."

"I think the idea they might is scary enough," Julia answered. "And the fact the spongiform alters the brain. This thing, Meridina… I'll admit it's scary as hell."

"There is a cure, yes?"

"Not an easy one. And it still leaves a mark on you. And when you count the pheromones, I wonder if this thing is conscious in a way. If it's actually looking for people to infect." Julia stopped there and considered how she sounded.

"The organism is not a sapient being," Meridina said. "I sense nothing of it."

"And I'm sure scientists would have discovered something like that centuries ago, if it were fully sapient," Julia agreed. "But the thing sounds so pernicious. Maybe if the pheromones didn't exist…"

"I am reminded of our reports regarding the Orion Syndicate. But I have been in their presence, as has Lucy. We felt nothing. It is probable that prolonged exposure is necessary."

"Either way, when you combine it with the Aururians' expansionism and readiness to fight, it can make them seem, for lack of a better term, inhuman. Like the Borg."

"That is a harsh and unfair assessment of them," Meridina insisted. "They are living, thinking beings like any other. Whatever this organism has done to them, they deserve that consideration."

Julia nodded in agreement. "I know you're right. But I wonder how many people will agree." She thought back to how Chairwoman Logan took the news. It had seemed to trigger something in the woman, something close to panic and certainly laced with disgust. "And that hasn't changed the situation. We can't afford to fight, but we can't let the Aururians chase us out either. And they're not backing down. I wonder if there's some way to get them to share the system. Maybe divide the resources between us…" Julia glanced at her omnitool and stood. "Anyway, I need to be going. I need to see Vajpayee before he goes down to the hearing. And then I think I need a meal."

"Of course. I shall maintain the bridge watch for you."

As Julia reached the door she turned back for a moment. "How did it go? The sunrise service?"

"It was appreciated by them, I believe. They sang more than they prayed. At least one of the songs reminded me of the songs I have heard our people sing." A thoughtful look came to Meridina's face. "I believe I shall go again in the morning."

"Go for it." Julia continued through the door, not hiding the thought that came to her head.

I just hope they give you something I can use, or we're going to have a shooting war here.

The Lookout was filled as it could be despite the ongoing Code Yellow running status. Julia sat at one of the tables along the port side and watched her crew enjoy their meals. They gathered in groups and talked and gossiped, as they always did, as if they weren't one mistake from being caught in another war.

"Captain." The accented voice drew Julia's attention to Hargert. The elderly steward of the Lookout placed a platter before her, a battered fish fillet with cabbage stew and a rice pudding. A glass of fruit juice was set down with it. "I have missed you the past few days," he said.

"I've been eating in my office," Julia admitted. She tapped her digital reader. "And I'm trying to figure this situation out."

"It appears to be quite tense," Hargert agreed.

"That's not the half of it," Julia sighed. "These people, these Aururians, they've got this thing inside of them. It alters them, and if you're exposed to them for a long time it can make you tempted to, I don't know, sleep with them I suppose. To expose yourself to being infected with the spongiform too."

"Ah." Hargert nodded. A look of slight disgust appeared to his face. "It sounds quite terrible, doesn't it? The idea of being compelled into something you're not?"

"Yes," Julia agreed. "I know a lot of people are going to be leery of them now. It's going to make keeping the peace harder."

"Yes." Hargert sat down beside her. "How much do you fear this, Captain?"

"Fear the Aururian organism?" Julia considered that. "I… well, I can't get over the thought of it forcing me to be something I'm not. Of having this thing inside of me, rewriting who and what I am. This thing stays with you, even if you manage to get it out of your body. It leaves its mark. And it sounds like they've forced people to be infected before. Or might have."

"That is the most terrible, frightening part," Hargert said. "That word might. The uncertainty of it all."

"Yeah." Julia nodded. She looked out the window of the Lookout. Due to the orientation of their orbits, she could see the bow of the Maya-Mayi. The two graviton weapon emplacements there were an ominous reminder of the danger the warship posted to her ship and crew. It was a more immediate threat than the one she had been considering.

The two threats were linked, of course. If fighting started, if the worst happened, and they were overwhelmed and taken prisoner, would they be forcibly infected as a consequence? The spongiform rewrote brains, didn't it? Could the component include an element of compelling loyalty toward others with the infection? A way for the Aururians to convert enemies into themselves, like the Borg assimilating other species? A raw sense of fear came to Julia at the prospect.

Hargert noticed the change of her expression. "At least you are learning more about them," he said. "Knowledge does not always remove fear, but it can help make the fear reasonable."

A small grin came to Julia's face. "You love to do that, don't you?" she asked, turning her head to face him. "Say the wise things."

"With the same hope that all beings my age have," Hargert answered, grinning in reply. "That the things bitter experience has taught us will spare the young from repeating our mistakes." He shrugged. "Besides, I read it in a book, and it sounded very profound."

Julia couldn't help herself. She chuckled in reply, which prompted Hargert to chuckle as well.


The voice prompted Julia to look toward the door. Approaching her was a stocky man with a light brown complexion and close-cut dark hair. He was in an Alliance uniform, with silver branch color to mark him as a support service officer. She stood and said, "Lieutenant Vajpayee. How did it go?"

Lieutenant Shivdhar Vajpayee stood at her height with striking brown eyes and a face bearing a warm expression. When he spoke, it was with a clear, although not thick, accent from the northern region of India.

"The judge was a tad permissive toward the prisoners' case. Nothing extraordinary or irregular, he is simply giving them a benefit of the doubt that not all judges would grant."

"I can't imagine the Sub-Consul was happy."

"He was not. He was quite adamant that the judge dismiss the motion and order the extradition."

"And what do you think, Lieutenant? How will this go?"

Vajpayee looked thoughtful for several moments. "I can't say for certain. If the attorneys can prove the charge of re-extradition, the judge may dismiss the warrant on those grounds. It will not be easy, however. Extradition hearings usually defer to the State’s case."

"Usually. But I doubt that those judges had to deal with the prospect of a hostile battlecruiser bombing their home if they did." Julia motioned to the table. "Get a late lunch if you'd like, Lieutenant, and I'll go over your formal report on the hearing when it's done."

"I appreciate the sentiment, Captain, but I generally take lunch in my office," Vajpayee said. "I will have my official report finished for you in an hour or so. Would you like me to draw up a brief to file with the court? If you wish to weigh in on this case, I mean."

Julia shook her head at that. "I'm not going to involve myself in that process. I've got enough problems to deal with without delving into legal…"

A stray thought came to Julia. Or rather, a thought that had been simmering quietly in her mind these past few days, a sentiment, which she now saw from a different angle.

"Captain?" Vajpayee leveled a look at her, confused by her sudden trailing off.

"Lieutenant, there is something else you can do for me," Julia said. "Some legal and historical research, you might say. About our situation here."

Vajpayee nodded slowly. "I think I know what you mean, Captain. I'll look through the records and get back to you when I find something."

"Thank you," she answered. She watched him leave and returned to the table. Hargert was still sitting there, watching with an amiable, pleasant look. "Is everything okay?" she asked him.

"I am not sure," answered Hargert. The look turned into another grin. "But it is possible it will be. Good day, Captain. If you come back by 1930, I will have pork dumplings ready."

"I may do just that," Julia assured him.

The craving hit Zack after lunch, a raw need to go and get a drink. To feel the world go hazy around him. It was a sudden surge of need he hadn't anticipated and the strength of it made him close his eyes and concentrate.

It's the boredom, he thought. It has to be that.

Empty space filled the viewscreen. They were approaching the central point of one of the "optimum broadcasting zones" that the Aurora's science team had picked out. Magda was intent on her sensor returns. Sherlily was assisting from tactical while Apley kept the ship crawling along.

Boredom wasn't new to Zack. Sometimes this job could be dreadfully boring. It could be boring even when they were in combat zones in the war. But this was different from that tense, expectant boredom, when any moment a Reich attack ship could start lobbing torpedoes at unsuspecting ships. They were alone out here, unseen by the other ships, nothing but the Koenig crew and their mission of finding a microscopic needle in a haystack the size of the Empire State Building.

A microscopic needle that might not even exist.

The thought that this was all for nothing, that was the worst part. It helped with the desire to drink. It also made him wonder what the hell he was doing. Was this really worth it? Was this how he wanted to spend his life?

What life? was the bitter thought that followed. He had nothing now. He'd lost the one person who seemed willing to spend her life with him. He couldn't even think of New Caprica anymore. He had, quite simply, lost too much.

Thoughts of Clara were not what he needed right now. They made him want to drink.

"April, do you see this?"

Magda's inquiry, spoken in her clipped, accented English, ended the quiet on the bridge.

Sherlily looked over her scanners. "What?"

"I'm seeing a radiation trace," Magda said. "About three kilometers, bearing 348 mark… 112."

At tactical Sherlily double-checked her reading. "I'm still not… actually, maybe I am seeing it."

"When you say radiation trace, what are you meaning, Magda?" Zack asked.

"Going by what I'm seeing, it's a trace amount of radioactive material. Consistent with a fission battery."

"Like what you might find in a beacon that's meant to transmit for years?"


Zack thought of that. "How could the survey teams have missed it?"

"The same way we almost did. We're crawling along at one-twentieth impulse power right now, and I barely saw it. At normal sublight speeds? A ship could go over it a hundred thousand times and never see it." Magda tapped a few keys. "I'm refining the sensors to… here we go. Apley?"

Apley noted something on the helm board. "I see it."

"More traces," Magda said, anticipating Zack's question. "It looks like whatever it comes from is moving away from us. Course 288 mark 038."

"How fast was it moving?" Zack asked.

"The trace remnants are irregular, so there's no telling an exact speed. Not too fast, however. If I had to guess, a meteor impacted with whatever it was."

"Follow it, Ap."

"And I need you to keep us below one tenth impulse power," Magda added. "Otherwise we might lose the trail."

"Aye," Apley answered. "One tenth impulse."

Zack settled back into the command chair to begin the long wait.

The day was coming to an end, bringing Julia closer to the deadline imposed by Captain von Lohringhoven. There was nothing yet from Lieutenant Vajpayee on her question. His report on the hearing was concise but ultimately repeated what he'd already told her.

Now she was alone in her quarters, seated at her desk with a half-finished drink to one side and their formal written orders about keeping Phi Perseus on the other.

Her reading of the orders made the intractability of the problem starkly clear. Defense Command felt that the plentiful resources of Phi Perseus made exploration and use vital for the war effort and inevitable post-conflict rebuilding. She was only permitted to withdraw from the system if under "insurmountable military threat". And if that happened, the likely result would be war anyway.

A war they couldn't afford for a system they couldn't abandon. No matter what she did, she and the Alliance would lose.

Thinking of the Aururians sent another shiver up her spine. She conjured up a mental image of the thing getting inside of someone and rewiring them, altering their bodies until they were accepting hosts. It was the exact opposite of how the Cybermen had intended to take over her crew. More insidious, definitely.

And there was that sunset ceremony issue. Their one piece of goodwill with at least that part of the Aururians. If only I could transfer that goodwill

The idea clicked into place at that point. It might not work, but if it did… then maybe they could make something of this.

Her finger tapped a control on her desk. "Andreys to Bridge," she said.

A few moments passed before Lieutenant Neyzi answered, "Bridge here".

"Open a channel to the Maya-Mayi," Julia ordered. "I have something to ask Captain Lohringhoven."
"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Dec 03, 2017 5:30 pm

I'm really loving this and the Aururians.

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by wellis » Sun Dec 03, 2017 9:21 pm

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2017 5:30 pm
I'm really loving this and the Aururians.
They sort of remind me of the male & female factions from Vandread. :D

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:34 pm

wellis wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2017 9:21 pm
Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Sun Dec 03, 2017 5:30 pm
I'm really loving this and the Aururians.
They sort of remind me of the male & female factions from Vandread. :D
IKR? I also can barely decipher the written descriptions of a lot of the ships particularly those with Star Trek-type features, I don't know how "long bridge blending to mid-section with multiple necalloides" or some such translates to visually as I'm not really that Trek-versed, so I envision the Aurora as looking like the Nirvana of Vandread.

I've also suggested to Steve to feature Vandread lol, since the premise is interesting and instead of Earth as Spacemerica Inter-Alliance HQ of Great Superpowers with the city of San Frandrescher as capital, we have Earth full of evil bloodsucking eternal youth-craving lunatics that the sexually-divided space societies with space mechs and sexy space ships have to work together to beat.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Mon Dec 04, 2017 5:46 pm

Julia didn't get much sleep. The day on Phi Perseus 4 was shorter than the standard 24 hour day the Aurora used and sunrise was at 0545. She was up at 0400 to have time for her abbreviated morning routine with a quick breakfast and then her planned stops.

She met Leo at the entrance to the shuttlebay. Before she could say anything he pressed a hypospray to her neck and triggered it. There was no pain from the injection. The device sent its contents in almost microscopic streams through the pores of her skin into her bloodstream. The tingle it made caused her to rub at her neck. "What was that?" she asked.

"A little something Doctor Ke'mani'pala and I came up with," Leo said, grinning slightly. "I've already given two doses for Opani to use on Lucy and Meridina."

"What's it do?"

"It should keep your brain from registering the presence of the pheromone, at least for a little while," Leo explained. "We think the Aururians use something similar on their non-infected crew through those implants we detected in them."

"And you're sure this will work?"

"About eighty percent sure," Leo admitted. "You'll know it's not if you start feeling an attraction toward any of the infected. Which I imagine will be very awkward."

"I suppose that depends on how much you believe Tom's remarks about my sparring matches with Angel," Julia joked. The humor helped to deal with the awkward sense the thought gave her. "I'll let you know how it goes. If it works, we'll want to inform Command."

"Good luck," Leo said. "And when you get back, we'll need to talk about your sleeping habits."

Julia leveled a playful glare at him before walking onto the basic Mark II shuttlepod that the shuttlebay crew had prepared on her order. It was a personal transport shuttle, six seats with only small stowing net cargo spaces. She got into the cockpit and settled into the pilot seat. The customary pre-launch check took just a minute. The shuttle's micro-naqia reactor came to life. "Flight control, shuttlepod B prepared to launch. Awaiting clearance," she said.

"You are clear, Shuttlepod B," responded a man with the slow lilting accent of a Gersallian.

At the press of Julia's index finger to the appropriate key, power surged into the thrusters that lifted the shuttlepod from the floor. She carefully maneuvered the pod about and toward the exit before triggering the main thrusters. The craft accelerated out of the shuttlebay and into orbital space.

Orbital space looked more open in the pod. She watched the rear of the Aurora move away to her right upon her banking to port. The Enterprise's lower nacelles were visible at the top of her view. The Lrrik was almost dead ahead, at least until she changed her course slightly, allowing her to fly past the Steslus-class destroyer. The blue orb that was Phi Perseus 4 loomed ahead. It looked much like Earth in color. The continents gave it a unique look, however. The wide band of a Pangea-sized continent that spanned much of the southern hemisphere was covered in greens and light browns and visible mountains. A big blue thumb the size of the North Atlantic stuck into the southern continent, not quite splitting it entirely. The Northern Hemisphere of the planet was mostly water on this side, but there was a continent a little larger than Europe that banded the temperate zone and just barely dipped down into the subtropics. She pointed her shuttle toward that continent's western coast and prepared for reentry.

The reentry went smoothly. So did the landing, just outside of the Oakland Colony at a promontory overlooking the ocean. Julia stepped out of the shuttle and waited quietly. A comforting warm sea-breeze brought the salty scent of the ocean with it.

Light appeared in the night sky above her. As it drew closer the light cast a deep shadow over its source and obscured its origin. It wasn't until the small craft set down that Julia made out the shape of the Aururian shuttlecraft, the same type she had seen a few days before.

Captain von Lohringhoven stepped out. Her curly hair was still pulled back into a severe bun at the back of her head. "Captain," she said. "I will advise you that it was against my own judgement, and the considerations of my officers, that I have come."

"Fair enough. I can't say I blame you given what happened a couple of days ago." Julia motioned to her shuttle. "I promised you access to the prisoners. I want to keep that promise."

Lohringhoven eyed the shuttle warily. "Why did you not have me land in your Colony?"

"Because we're not going to the Colony," Julia replied.

A quiet moment followed. Julia fought to keep her expression clear of any apprehension. The slightest overeagerness, or any other wrong reaction, could cause Lohringhoven to get back in her shuttle, or worse, and render this entire trip moot.

"Then I will trust in your word of honor, as suspect as it has been," Lohringhoven answered. Julia sensed the anticipation in her tone. Lohringhoven was already wondering just where the betrayal was going to come from. Which begged the question of why she would still come down.

Because her Empire doesn't want war any more than we do was the thought in Julia's head, but she didn't dare to speak of it.

"If you will accompany me?" Julia looked out over the horizon. They were on the eastern shore of the hundred mile wide peninsula that Oakland occupied the western coast of, so it was over the midnight black of the sea that the first hints of the impending dawn were starting to show.

Without a further word Lohringhoven followed Julia into the shuttlepod. She took up the co-pilot seat and quietly considered the touch-panel interface before her. Julia tapped the key to close the hatch and lifted off the second she heard the hatch finish shutting. They flew to the north, moving steadily inland over hills that, in daylight, would look lush with green and blue grass.

Julia brought them to a landing in a wide field. Meridina and Lucy were already present with the portable transporter. Lucy was operating that device when they stepped out of the shuttlepod. The Aururian Captain leveled a skeptical gaze at Julia, who checked her omnitool. "Any second."

Four columns of white light briefly burst into being. When they fell away, four figures now stood nearby; two Ralsan women and two Human women. Another four columns formed within ten feet of those first arrivals, bringing the last two Ralsan and two other Human women. Three final bursts of white light brought with them the last of the Aururian prisoners with Doctor Opani. One of them, one of the younger women, looked to Lucy and Meridina and nodded respectfully.

All briefly looked to the eastern horizon, where the corona of an early dawn shone over the distant forested hills. One by one they seemed to notice the shuttle and with it the presence of Julia and Lohringhoven.

There was a brief moment when Julia wondered if they would try to take their chance now. If, with Captain Lohringhoven and her pistol to help, they would attempt to rush Julia and her comrades. It was eleven against four now, after all, and they might not realize Julia had locked down the shuttle, nor the extent of Meridina and Lucy's capabilities.

But they didn't. Opani nodded respectfully to her and said, "Captain." For the benefit of the prisoners, she said, "This is Captain Julia Andreys from the Aurora."

They nodded to her with respect. But their real focus was on Lohringhoven.

"Captain von Lohringhoven," said the older woman who had been beamed in toward the end. "An honor." She bowed her head. Those with her did as well.

Lohringhoven returned the bow slightly. "Ladies. Sisters. It is good to see you are healthy and well. I can assure you that Her Imperial Majesty is pursuing every avenue to secure your release."

"We are honoured by the attention from Her Majesty," the older woman said simply.

The younger woman, the priestess whom Julia remembered was named Kirrhi, motioned to the dawn. "We would be honored if you would join us, Captain."

"It has been too long since I enjoyed the sunrise," was the answer.

Julia walked over to join the others while the Aururians took up positions together. Some seemed to be reaching out to embrace the sun as it rose, others knelt, and all sang. The translators still didn't have the Aururian language deciphered completely, but Jarod had been able to apply the known languages of the Australian aboriginals to the program in order to partially translate Aururian speech. With this Julia was able to understand some of it.

The older woman who had beamed in with the priestess sang her own song lowly to herself, on a different melody to the others, and it seemed, in English. "Oh why soldiers, why, why should you be melancholy girls, should it be you or I, whose business it is to die…?"

Opani interrupted Julia's quiet observation of the eleven Aururians. "Captain, I have a confession."

"Yes, Doctor?"

"I do not want to turn them over," Opani admitted.

Meridina and Lucy didn't react to this admission. Julia twisted her head slightly to face the Dorei doctor. "Oh?"

"I believe they are good people who are fighting a good fight," Opani said. "That they bring the means to resist slavery to the species oppressed by this 'League'."

"Have they admitted to that being their purpose?"

"Not directly. They say nothing." Opani shook her head. "But I can feel that as the reason. I believe that if we turn them over to the Xou!tasam, they will be given to the League and end up enslaved or killed."

"Strong words," Julia said. "But without proof I can't do anything about it, Doctor. We have a treaty with the Trading Consortium. We have to obey it."

Opani glowered. "We made the wrong friends in this universe."

"Did we?" Julia looked at her directly. "Even if the League Captain was misleading us about the cause of their conflicts, we've seen the Aururians behave aggressively. They're threatening to expel us from this solar system on the basis of a claim they've shown no proof of. They killed a member of our crew in an unprovoked attack."

Opani's minor glower turned into a betrayed frown. "So you're siding with the Consortium and the League? With people who practice slavery?"

"I'm not siding with anyone, Doctor," Julia replied. "At least not until I know more. All I'm trying to do is stop this from becoming a war."

"A single solar system, no matter how wealthy its resources, does not seem worth a war over. Not considering our current predicament," Meridina pointed out.

"On that, I'm in agreement. But Command isn't. They insist we need these resources, and we need them now, and they're willing to gamble that the Aururians will blink first." Julia returned her attention to Opani. "You've gotten pretty close to them, haven't you?"

"They are good people, Captain," Opani insisted. "They're doing the same thing you did in the years before the Alliance."

"That's… entirely possible," Julia admitted. "And I do want to know more about them. I want to hear their side of the story. And when it comes down to it, I want to find a way to stop this from becoming a war."

Opani took a moment to consider her reaction. She ended up nodding quietly in reply.

The conversation ended and the four officers from the Aurora continued to observe the sunrise celebration quietly. When the singing ended Lohringhoven made quiet conversation with the priestess and the woman who accompanied her.

One of the Ralsan walked toward Julia and the others. "Doctor, Commander," she said. "Thank you again for this. You give us hope that justice will be done for us."

Opani glanced toward Julia before she nodded in reply. "You are welcome, Kishala. But you should also thank Captain Andreys."

"She made it possible," Meridina added.

Kishala faced Julia next. Her yellow eyes scrutinized Julia for several moments before her head bowed once more. Her tail swished from side to side. "Thank you, Captain, for your compassion and nobility."

"You're welcome," Julia answered. "I was hoping this might break down the barrier between our peoples so that we might find an end to this crisis."

"There is naught that we can do on that matter. I am sorry."

"Maybe you can't…" Julia shifted her head slightly, allowing her to meet Captain von Lohringhoven's eyes as the Aururian officer approached. "Captain von Lohringhoven."

"Captain Andreys." The severeness in the Captain had not disappeared. But there was a small warmth in her voice now. "You have fulfilled your promise to me. I am sure you wish to discuss matters."

"What I want is your side of the story," Julia said.

"I take it Captain de Montamar has explained our history to you? The horrors of the Great Interplanetary War?"

"He did. He told us about the old government's crimes against your peoples, the Aururian and the Ralsan. And he told us about the spongiform and the pheromones it produces."

"And yet you come amongst us anyway." The slightest hint of a smile appeared on Lohringhoven's face. "You and your people need not worry on that score. The Chorus of Singers is best improved by the willing."

"He also charged that your Empire is the aggressor, launching war after war against his people."

"He would, yes." Lohringhoven seemed bemused by this. "It is true that we have often initiated the conflicts, but only in response to the terrible abuses that the Northern League have inflicted on other species. For all of their talk of reform and pursuing equality, they behave toward others just as they did when they were the United Nations of old."

"You refer to them as the Northern League," Meridina noted. "Why?"

"Because they are the descendants of the Northern Hemisphere nations that abandoned their allies in the Great Interplanetary War," Lohringhoven replied. "I suspect he did not mention that. The more powerful states in the north abandoned their allies in the Southern Hemisphere when they fled Earth at the end of the war. The ‘Global South’ was naught more than chattel to be dispensed with at the whims of the North. And that is how they still operate, Captain. Whenever they find a hospitable world for settlement, they seize it. Any indigenous species are brought under 'protection' that rivals the worst of the European Empires of the 19th Century."

"And you fight to liberate these species?" Julia asked. "And that's all?"

"Of course it is not," said Lohringhoven. "The Empire does take worlds from the League. We have captured their capital twice, in fact. It is our intention to reduce them to the point they are no longer a threat. But they always find new worlds to seize and exploit and new allies to throw into the flames. And so we continue this bloody dance, and I suspect we will until the League finally surrenders completely."

"You could stop," Julia said. She considered the alternative response - pointing out the assumption that it was the League that would ultimately submit and not the Empire - to be unconstructive. "Why not offer a peace treaty in exchange for the League ceasing those exploitations?"

"That would require us to trust them, Captain. We do not." Lohringhoven looked at her with pity, condescending pity, which Julia did not appreciate. "Your people will learn the same harsh lesson so many other nations and species have about the Northern League. Whether they are Democrats or Fascists, their view has proven the same; the galaxy and its worlds and races exist for their benefit, riches meant solely for the satiation of their most base desires. If we break them enough, this attitude will no longer lead to the abuse of innumerable sapient beings, but it is sheer fantasy to assume they will stop on their own. Certainly no treaty will constrain them. They will always insist upon it as a necessity, and justify it under the same lie."

"Yet you only fuel hostility and resentment with this approach, Captain," Meridina noted. "Your Empire and the League seem to be trapped in this cycle. They fear you, you fear them, and in the resulting mutual hatred the darkness within your peoples grows stronger with each conflict. The Flow of Life is weakened and all suffer."

"A bitter reality is a reality still," Lohringhoven answered. "And I imagine you have other concerns than our conflicts with the League. Your own position here is precarious and undefended by right. Disputed frontiers have ways of starting wars."

"You continue to insist this system is yours, Captain, but you have provided no proof of that," Julia pointed out. "I've been made aware of how you claim these systems. All you need to do is provide to us the marker showing your earlier claim, and we would acknowledge the justice of your claim."

"You would wage a war with the Empire for but one solar system, Captain? When you claim to have multiple copies of our galaxy to settle?"

"Under ordinary circumstances, likely not," Julia conceded. "But we are not in ordinary circumstances. We are fighting a war in another universe against the Nazi German Reich. I'm not sure if the Nazis ever developed in your history…"

Lohringhoven's eyes narrowed. "They did."

"Well, in S4W8, they won. They defeated the Allies. And by the end of the 21st Century, they subjugated the entire planet and forced what was left of their opponents to flee into space. Then they expanded into space themselves and began to exterminate any alien species they encountered. They've got a large interstellar empire that we've only begun to liberate. We need every resource we can get to finish them off before they recover their strength or, God forbid, reverse-engineer our interuniversal drive technology. We need this system, Captain."

Their eyes met. Lohringhoven was suspicious of the claim, that was obvious. She glanced toward Kirrhi. "Sister? You are a priestess. What does your gift say about this?"

"The good Doctor and her friends already spoke to us of this war, Captain," Kirrhi said. "I sensed truth. And I believe they…"

When Kirrhi stopped, the others turned toward her. "Priestess?" one of the other Aururians asked, bewildered with her sudden silence. The growing unease on her face made Julia wonder what was wrong.

"We are in danger," Kirrhi said.

Meridina nodded. "Yes. There is something…"

Some of the others were looking at the sky behind Julia. She turned to see what was there.

"Get down!" Lucy screamed. Julia felt someone - she didn't know who - slam into her back and throw her into the grass.

By the time she looked up, her ears were already ringing from the first blast. Two voices, one Human and one Ralsan, were screaming in the aftermath. Another pair of blasts went off around them that were accompanied by cries of shock and pain. She looked toward her shuttle and saw that it was reduced to a burning wreck.

A dull roar was in the air now. Despite the overwhelming ringing in her ears Julia was able to track it to the south side of the field. A craft was settling to the ground, or near to it, with ripples of blue flame spurting from beneath it. The vehicle was a dropship of some sort with blue and white coloring. An insignia she'd once seen - but where? - was emblazoned in blue on the strip of white facing them.

Figures in white and blue armor, with the same insignia on their chests, jumped from the craft. Her eyes widened at seeing that they were not all Human. The thin, top-heavy form of a Turian was among their number. A harsh voice barking, "Secure the target!" spoke with a guttural sound that Julia recognized as Batarian.

One of the armored figures raised a gun and fired. Julia watched the woman beside Kirrhi collapse to the ground, who with her bronze skin and straight black hair had stood out from the others but been silent and unassuming the entire time. She didn't fall as if she had been shot, mortally or otherwise, but rather in a boneless collapse as if she fainted. And she was the target?

There was a loud burst the next moment. One of the gunmen fired a round toward the crowd of Aururians. Julia expected to a weapon using mass effect fields. Instead she got a burst of flame followed by a spray of flesh and blood with an accompanying scream of agony. One of the Aururians went down.

Ahead, Lucy rose to her feet and ignited her lightsaber. The blue energy blade intercepted a shot aimed toward them. There was no burst of flame. The shot had been cleaved in half. Julia could barely hear the second electronic snap and hiss from Meridina's lightsaber.

"Waste 'em!" a Human voice cried, and the armored beings opened fire, focusing on Meridina and Lucy. Their lightsaber blades became whirring blurs of sapphire light, intercepting and destroying the incoming fire.

But not all of the enemy were involved in that fight. Two soldiers broke off and charged toward the fallen form of the lead Aururian. Julia was reaching for her pulse pistol when Kishala threw herself at one of them and brought the female Turian down. Another Aururian tried to intercept the second attacker, a Human male, and was shot point-blank in the chest. The weapon was a vicious one; a burst of flame in front of the Aururian that seemed to shred into the poor woman's body, sending a cloud of blood and flesh away from both the impact point and the opposite point on her back. The Aururian toppled.

Just as suddenly, a burst identical to the incoming fire tore into one of the arriving Turian troopers and sent him toppling in a spray of blood. Julia saw that the shot had come from Lohringhoven. Those are Aururian guns they’re using, she realized, grabbing for her own pistol in the cover that Lohringhoven’s fire gave her, and promptly opened fire on the human as he lowered himself to pick up the unnamed Aururian target. Her pulse shots dissipated against an energy field. The man growled at her and raised his weapon to shoot her.

Lohringhoven suddenly appeared between them. Julia didn't see the burst of flame, but she did hear it. Lohringhoven's left arm became shrouded in a storm of sparks. A sharp pain ran across Julia's left shoulder and arm, as if she had been cut by a blade at several points. She ignored the pain and stepped to the side to get a clear shot. Lohringhoven fired as well with her sidearm. The blue spark of light from the pulse pistol was joined by a burst of fire and what looked like a storm of impacts against the upper chest and neck of the trooper. The protective barrier had failed. Blood erupted from the neck of the man at the same moment Julia's pistol found its mark, blasting him in the face.

The explosive weapon went off again. A harsh cry of pain came from Kishala, who fell onto her back. Her torso was a mess of dark red blood - too dark to be Human - and shredded cloth and hair. The Turian female she had been engaged with brought her weapon over toward Lohringhoven and Julia as Lohringhoven paused with a sharp look to Kishala.

Before she could strike, the woman the entire attack seemed focused on leapt back to her feet as if she had just been lightly napping on the grass, only a minute after receiving a stun blast at close range. Julia watched in fascination as the woman's hand expanded outward, exposing a gun barrel where her palm had once been. A burst of ruby light sliced into the back of the Turian woman. The Turian's death cry sounded briefly over the battle.

The immediate threat of these two particular foes had occupied Julia's attention. Now she allowed herself to consider the others. She turned to see what was happening just in time to see the Batarian lose an arm to Lucy's lightsaber. The white-and-blue-clad attackers were falling back to their dropship. One managed to get into it and swung out what looked to be a vicious heavy weapon.

Before he could fire it, Lucy's arm reached out and pulled. The man flew from his seat as if pulled, flying over his heavy weapon and to the ground. When he tried to get up Lucy held her lightsaber toward his throat. "Surrender," she ordered.

Whoever he was, he'd had enough. He raised his arms.

The pilot of the craft had apparently seen enough. The dropship began to lift from the ground.

Meridina didn't let it get far. After cleanly disarming the last of the attackers - namely by severing her arms at the elbow - Meridina twirled around toward it. In the same motion her right arm extended. Her hand released her lightsaber, at least physically, while her will guided it to its target. The blue blade looked almost like a complete circle of sapphire when it hit the tail of the craft and sliced cleanly through it. The engine in the severed portion died in the seconds it took for the piece to slam into the ground. The rest of the craft soon followed.

The fighting was over at this point. But Julia couldn't relax. The attack had made certain her suspicions that there was more to this group than appeared. What was so important about that woman…?

Around them the Aururians still alive from the ambush were contributing by bringing together the surviving attackers and securing their weapons, those that were not frantically trying to stabilize and comfort the wounded and dying. The prisoners acquiring weapons was another cause for concern. If anything kept Julia from worrying about it, it was the sight of the dead and dying women in the field. Lucy and Meridina had drawn the fire of the attackers quite well, but there were three Aururian women and one Ralsan who had yet to move from their places on the ground.

Two Ralsan, Julia corrected herself, at noticing Kishala. Opani was crouched over her while Lohringhoven watched quietly. "How is she?" Julia asked.

"Multiple internal injuries," Opani answered. "I need time to stabilize her." Opani pulled a hypospray from her medical kit and went to work.

"Have you worked with a Ralsan before, Doctor?" asked Lohringhoven.

"No, but during their quarantine we took detailed medical scans while trying to figure out the spongiform. I can at least stabilize her for transport." Opani finished injecting Kishala and put the hypospray back. She removed a pack from within the kit. "I have to stop the bleeding first."

"I can," said Kirrhi. She knelt down beside Opani and laid her already bloodstained hands over the stricken Ralsan woman. Her eyes closed. The flow of blood from Kishala's wounds seemed to slow, and then stop entirely.

With the situation stable, such as it was, Julia lifted her arm and tapped the comm key on her activated omnitool. "Andreys to Aurora, we have an emergency situation. I need medical teams and security teams to my location ASAP."

After a few moments Lieutenant Takawira answered. "Right away, Captain. They are on their way."

"I have not seen these species before," Lohringhoven stated, look at the Batarian. "Do you know of them?"

"That's a Batarian. The others are Turians. They're from Universe M4P2. And I'm not sure what they're doing here, or who they are."

"I believe I do," said Meridina. She finished pulling the pilot out of the craft. A set of shackles she'd found in the dropship were now wrapped around the Turian's wrists. "I recognize this symbol. It is the insignia of the Blue Suns, a mercenary organization from Universe M4P2."

The question of why popped up in Julia's head, and was as easily dismissed. She thought aloud by saying "Someone hired them to take someone from the group. And probably kill the rest."

"The League. Or their Xou!tasam allies," said Lohringhoven.

Julia turned and looked over the Aururian captain. Her own left arm and shoulder had a couple of bleeding cuts. The uniform sleeve of Lohringhoven's left arm had been shredded. Pieces of flechettes hung from the metal cylinder they had embedded themselves in, now revealed by the gashes and holes cut through the fabric. "They're the most likely," Julia agreed. "If they're afraid the extradition will be denied. Or that you could successfully prevent it from being carried out. This craft had a cloaking device, otherwise we would have seen it."

By this point security and medical personnel were already beaming down. A bronze-skinned man in a security uniform stepped up to them, with the rank insignia of a junior lieutenant. "Captain, we're securing your attackers now."

"Secure the wreckage too, I want it analyzed immediately."

"Yes ma'am."

Another bust of white light heralded the arrival of Leo and more nurses. He looked toward Julia before moving to join other nurses checking over one of the fallen.

"Your people have not worked with Ralsan physiology before," Lohringhoven observed, looking tow here Opani was still securing Kishala. "My surgeons can save her life."

Julia nodded quietly. "Can you have one ready?"

"Your transporters can send the girl to them on my ship."

A harsh chuckle came from Julia's throat. "And that means I defy an Alliance civilian court by returning her to your custody without a court order."

"Is that a more important thing than this woman's life?"

The question was a fair one. And it was the kind of call Julia would be making a lot now that she was a captain. She suspected Robert's reaction would be to just hand her over.

But Robert wasn’t here right now, at this moment, to make this call. Julia was. She had an obligation to uphold the Alliance's laws. She also had an obligation to uphold its ideals, its principles, and saving the Ralsan's life regardless of legal quibbles was one of those things. And as commander, she had to make the decision, and she would have to live with the consequences.

Her first try was to go with a compromise. "Your surgeon can come over to the Aurora," Julia said.

Lohringhoven kept a cold look to her eyes. "And what of the others? It is clear they are not safe on this world. Whomever is behind this will try again, and I can assure you that the Empire will mete out harsh justice to your people for allowing their deaths in that eventuality."

"I agree," Julia replied. With all of the adrenaline in her system getting her heart to slow to a normal beat was proving impossible. This was not helped by the thoughts she felt circulating in her head. "Whoever did this could try again. So as of now, I'm assuming custody of these people. They will be kept on the Aurora, in comfortable conditions, while my officers investigate this attack."

"Somehow I suspect your civilian court will not appreciate that approach either."

"Maybe not, but I can justify it, and I'm betting Governor Taylor doesn't want a mercenary group blasting its way into the colony's hospital." Julia let out a breath. "So. Your surgeon?"

There was quiet for several moments. Lohringhoven's hand reached for her belt and pulled off a device. She opened it like an old-fashioned cell phone. "Captain von Lohringhoven here," she said into it. "Inform Surgeon-Commander Vega that her services are required on the vessel Aurora. Have her report to the hanger bay immediately. And send another shuttle down to my location. We shall need to retrieve mine."

"Yes Captain," replied the woman on the other end.

Julia tapped her omnitool again. "Andreys to Aurora. Have the medbay send someone to the main shuttle bay. We're getting a shuttle from the Aururians with a doctor on board, we'll need her in medbay for our patients."

"Yes Captain."

Nearby there were flashes of light. Opani had just beamed up to the Aurora with the stricken Ralsan woman.

"We still have more to talk about, Captain," Julia said to Lohringhoven. "Whatever your feelings are toward the League, going to war with the Alliance over a single solar system can't be your Empire's wish."

"It is not a matter of wishing, Captain. It is a matter of our rights. We claimed this system openly and properly. Your people have violated that claim. While I am willing to grant that you did not do so intentionally, the Imperial Federation cannot permit our territory to be taken in this manner. It would encourage other such encroachments by the other powers, and that would most definitely result in war. My ultimatum stands."

"Then why not a joint possession of the system? The Alliance and the Imperial Federation can hold equal title."

"That is but a minor improvement. And it still encourages the same behavior we must dissuade." Lohringhoven shook her head once. "Had things gone differently, had our peoples made contact before this colony was founded, a negotiation might have yielded such an arrangement. But we cannot accept it now. The fact of undisputed Imperial sovereignty over this system must be upheld. Upon that point we cannot yield."

"I see." Julia kept herself from sighing out of disappointment. "Just as much, we need the resources of Phi Perseus to fight the Reich. An interstellar war of this magnitude, and the defenses the Alliance requires for our other member systems… we need everything we can attain."

"Then there is nothing left to be said on the matter," Lohringhoven stated. "I wish to see my Sisters before you bring them to your ship."

Julia nodded quietly and said nothing more. Lohringhoven walked off. Seeing the visible metal on Lohringhoven's left arm, it made Julia wonder how much of "Iron Margrethe" was truly made of iron.

Meridina walked up to her. "Captain, you should return as well. You are wounded."

Julia looked to the wounds on her left shoulder. They were still bleeding. And she had things to do back on the Aurora, starting with getting Commander Richmond's help with their new guests. "Alright," she said. "I'll beam back up. You're going to take over the investigation?"

"Indeed. I will be interviewing the prisoners while Lucy and Lieutenant Liton examine recovered data from their computer systems."

"Good. Let me know what you find." Julia tapped her omnitool. "Andreys to Aurora. One to beam up."

The grass field, now stained with blood, disappeared from Julia's vision in a flash of light.

A pounding headache was Zack's reward for waking up at 0700. It hurt enough that he couldn't resist the temptation to dull it with a shot of his ever-dwindling bottle of tequila. He looked at the bottle, now between the halfway and one third mark, while the substance burned its way down his throat. "Crap," he muttered. The headache wasn't going away. And now anyone getting near him would smell the alcohol on his breath. He swiveled his chair to the replicator and barked, "Computer, six hundred milligrams of Niltox, a cup of water, and one mint breath mint, now."


"Override," he added, every syllable dripping with profound irritation at the machine nagging him yet again. "In fact, never bring up the dosage warning on Niltox again."

"Unable to comply with order. Dosage warnings may only be overridden by authorization from a Chief Medical Officer."

Zack glowered at the machine. He didn't have a doctor aboard right now anyway, and even if he did, he wasn't going to breathe a damned word about this to them, or to Leo or Opani or any of the others. He ran a hand through his uncombed brown hair in frustration. Get it together, he demanded of himself. You're starting to lose control, just like Dad did.

Once the machine fulfilled his order and provided the medication and the drink to wash it down with, Zack did so with a single gulp. He put the breath mint in his mouth and went off to his shower. He stood under the warm water and felt it spray him in the face. It woke him up fully, just as the Niltox was beginning to purge his system of the remaining alcohol and reduce the power of his hangover.

He might have remained in the shower forever if a tone hadn't come over the ship's intercom. "Bridge to Commander Carrey," Apley said.

Zack closed his eyes and sighed. A tap of a button just outside of the shower stall opened the channel. "Carrey here," he said wearily.

"We're approaching one of the solar system's moons. According to our sensors, the radiation trace is growing stronger. Lieutenant Navaez thinks that whatever it was, it might have gotten trapped in the moon's gravity well."

"Then assume an orbit and keep scanning. I'll be up shortly." Zack tapped the key again and let out a sigh. He would have to replicate another breath mint before going up. The worried thought came, that said mint would give him away. He didn't often chew on things.

"Gum," he murmured. "That'll work. Since I couldn't have breakfast. Yeah…"

The wounded Aururians on the planet were undergoing treatment in the medbay when Julia arrived there. A male Dorei nurse approached, his light teal complexion contrasted with the dark blue spots lining his forehead and hairline. "Captain, let me look at that."

Julia followed him to a biobed and sat on it. She removed her uniform jacket and pulled her undershirt up over her head to reveal her left shoulder and arm. Three lines of crimson stood out on her skin. The nurse scanned them for signs of infection before reaching for the dermal regenerator. Julia watched him hold the instrument over her wounds. A blue light softly ran over the cuts, closing said wounds as it passed over like a zipper being pulled across her skin.

When this process was over Doctor Walker stepped up. Julia had only met her once before; a woman near her age with a deep brown complexion and long dark hair. "It seems you were one of the lucky ones, Captain," she said while doing a scan. "I'm reading no other injuries."

"Don't I know it? What about the others?"

"Three dead, four wounded," answered Walker. "The worst is that alien… Ralsan, correct?" Upon Julia's nod she continued, "The Ralsan wounded. The Aururian surgeon and Doctors Gillam and Opani are in the OR now. We won't know if she survived until they're finished."

Julia nodded quietly. "Keep me posted." She slid off the bed.

At that moment blue light appeared on the back of her left hand. An electronic tone accompanied it. She tapped the light. "Andreys here."

"Captain, another shuttle has arrived from the Maya-Mayi," said Jarod. "It's asking for landing permission."

"What do they want? Who is it?"

"It's Captain von Lohringhoven. She's asking for permission to see the wounded."

"Then grant it and send someone to escort her to the medbay. I'll wait here for her."

"We also have Governor Taylor and Chairwoman Logan on comms for you."

"And I know just what they're calling about," Julia sighed. She knew she couldn't talk to them here, in the middle of the medbay. But with the growing questions in her mind, she wanted to be present when Lohringhoven arrived. She looked to Walker and asked, "Is there somewhere I can have some privacy?"

Walker nodded. "I'm sure Doctor Gillam won't mind you using his office."

"Thank you, and I'll thank Leo when I see him." While Walker moved on to check other cases, Julia left the treatment ward. To get to Leo's office was a short trip through the medbay. She stepped in and took one of the guest seats before re-activating her omnitool. "Put the Governor through to me," she ordered.

"Patching them in now."

Her omnitool projected a screen in front of her showing Taylor and Logan. "Captain, we've heard about what happened," Taylor said. "We're glad to know you're safe."

"Thank you, Governor."

"When can we expect the return of the prisoners? Sub-Consul Tio!sat!ny has made inquiries on the matter."

"I'm holding them on the Aurora for the time being," Julia answered. "Until we know more about who launched this attack and why."

"You don't have the legal authority to do that," Logan insisted.

"Given the situation, Madame Chairwoman, I'm acting in the best interests of you and your Colony," Julia answered. "The last thing you need is for more mercenaries to start shooting their way into your hospital, or your jail. The Aurora is a target they can't simply attack. I'm also going to return the three dead Aururians to Captain von Lohringhoven so they can be returned to their families."

"That is an usurpation of...!"

Taylor's raised hand forestalled the angry protest from Logan. "It's a reasonable action, Madame Chairwoman. We don't extradite the dead."

"I'm starting to wonder about this entire case, Governor," Julia said. "The mercenaries were after one of the Aururians in particular. We don't know why. We don't even know how they found us yet. I can't help but think that there's more to this case than charges of gun smuggling."

"Perhaps. But it's not my part to decide that. I have Chief Jiang and Colonel Littleton investigating where the mercs came from. As soon as we confirm the details and whether or not there is a further threat, I expect the return of our prisoners immediately."

After a moment of thought Julia replied with, "I understand your concern that the extradition agreement with the Consortium be upheld. I'll let you know if I find out anything regarding that."

"Of course. Good day, Captain."

Their image disappeared and Julia's omnitool returned to its standby status. She sat and considered her options. It occurred to her that under certain readings of regulations regarding emergency situations, she could assert authority over the Aururian prisoners and keep them in her custody instead. Returning them to Captain von Lohringhoven as part of a settlement ending the standoff would be acceptable in that circumstance. But the regulations might not stretch that far and the resulting tussle with the civilian legal authorities was not one she could take lightly.

The real key to the situation was the woman that the mercs tried to snatch, the one with the cyborg implants. She stood up and returned to the ward. The woman in question was remaining quiet at the side of Kirrhi the priestess, who was consoling one of the others. Given the quiet sobs Julia could easily imagine it was over one of the dead Aururians. She walked toward the unassuming woman and got a better look at her. She and Doctor Walker shared skin tones and hair color, although the woman was rather older. Seeing Walker looking over scans at a station, Julia went up to her and spoke in a low tone. "What do you know about that patient? The one sitting over there?"

Walker followed Julia's eyes. "She's healthy. Middle-aged, at least forty-five," Walker answered. "She has substantial cybernetics."

"She woke up from a stun blast within a minute," Julia remarked.

"That would be the cybernetic implants in her central nervous system," Walker said. "If they're shielded appropriately, they can allow rapid recovery from stun effects."

"Is that something you'd normally install in someone's implants?"

"I probably wouldn't," Walker admitted. "Those kinds of implants can run into difficulties normal ones can't. They consume more energy, for one. I imagine she wanted shielded implants for a reason. They were certainly hard to find. Most of my scanners showed her as completely organic. I had to use our Cylon-scanner to confirm the presence of cybernetics."

Julia considered that. "Really. Did she give a name?"

"Nina was the only name she gave."

Any further conversation ended when the door slid open. Lohringhoven entered in the company of Ensign Talara. Julia walked toward them. "Thank you, Ensign. You're dismissed."

"I'm pleased to have been of assistance, Captain," Talara answered before departing.

"Captain, welcome to the Aurora," Julia said to Lohringhoven. The Aururian captain had an intact uniform jacket now and didn't look like she'd also been in a fight for their lives.

"Your vessel is certainly an interesting sight. It seems to have been made for more comfort than normal for a military warship," Lohringhoven answered.

"Yes, well, the Aurora's purpose is not just to serve as a combat starship," Julia replied. "We consider her to be a star cruiser capable of non-military missions such as exploration, research, and diplomacy. We even have a contingent of civilian specialists aboard for those purposes."

"And yet your vessel has quite impressive armament, given the devastation it wrought to the Irresistible," Lohringhoven pointed out.

Julia nodded quietly. "We are capable of defending ourselves, yes. We have to be. Every universe has its dangers."

"I would expect such." Lohringhoven walked past Julia and approached Kirrhi. "Sister, what is the word?"

"We have lost three." Kirrhi replied solemnly. “Dead before medical aid could be given. Katherine and Lietan are lightly wounded and recovering. Naoko is gravely wounded but has been stabilized due to the efforts of Doctor Walker."

"I see."

Julia didn't need telepathy or life-force powers to figure out what Lohringhoven was going to ask next. "I will return the deceased to you, Captain, so that you can return them to their families, or perform whatever burial rites are necessary."

"I appreciate the gesture, Captain," said Lohringhoven. "But I am more interested in learning what rogues are responsible for this atrocity."

"Commander Meridina is leading the investigation," Julia answered. "She was once the ship's chief of security, and she's worked with law enforcement during her time in the Order of Swenya. Commander Richmond is, I've heard, quite the detective as well. I'm certain they'll figure it out." She frowned. "I wish to know what was going on as well."

"I am certain you will find the League or the Consortium behind this affair," Lohringhoven insisted.

Julia glanced toward the woman called "Nina". "I'm leaning that way too," Julia admitted. "But I'm more interested in why they were after that woman. The others, Katherine and Kirrhi and Kishala, seemed more important in this group." Julia was already looking at Lohringhoven again by the time she finished that sentence. She wanted to see the reaction to speaking on Nina.

"I do not care to speculate as to their motives, Captain. What matters is that this affair come to an end. I am hoping that you will yet see the injustice of the charges and release my people on your own authority."

"The Alliance places civilian leadership over military. If I ignore a civilian court, I betray that principle," Julia pointed out. She kept her poker face on. Lohringhoven's denial was well-spoken, yes. But she didn't believe it. Lohringhoven knew who "Nina" was, and why she was so valuable. "If I had a good reason to defy the court, though, or something I could bring to Governor Taylor to consider him to rescind the extradition order…"

An intent look appeared on Lohringhoven's eyes. "I cannot help you with that, Captain."

The door leading to the critical care and operating room wards slid open. Leo emerged. He was clearly finishing the act of pulling his lab coat back on. "Captain Andreys," he said formally, recognizing the presence of their visitor. "And Captain von Lohringhoven."

"I am, yes," she answered. "Doctor Gillam, what is the status of Kishala Abrakia?"

"Ordinarily I wouldn't share patient information with someone who wasn't next-of-kin or on a list of authorized persons, but given the situation, you're more likely to speak to her family than I." Leo crossed his arms. "She lost a lot of blood, and her internal organs suffered severe damage. Honestly, if not for Doctor Vega, I couldn't have saved her. Your surgeon's knowledge of Ralsan physiology allowed us to systematically deal with the worst of the damage. She's critical right now. Hopefully she'll be stable enough for the remaining surgery she requires, but I can't make promises yet."

"I see." Lohringhoven was utterly impassive. "Can I see her?"

Leo shook his head. "In her state, I would be remiss to let anyone but family around her. Her condition is still very serious…"

"I understand, Doctor." Lohringhoven glanced to Julia. "Captain, I am returning to await the outcome of your officers' investigation."

"I'll let you know what they find out," Julia replied. She watched Lohringhoven leave while restraining her frustration over the continued refusal to help her deal with this problem. Her eyes briefly moved back to "Nina" before she left the medbay.

The Koenig moved into orbit of the moon labeled Phi Perseus 7-XII, one of twenty moons in regular orbit over the Saturnine gas giant that was the seventh planet in the solar system. The moon in question formed a beige-tinted sphere on the Koenig's viewscreen.

"Are you still following that radiation trace, Magda?" Zack asked.

"There's interference in the moon's atmosphere," Magda answered. "A strong electromagnetic field." After a few key presses she said, "No wonder. The surveyors found several large deposits of Cameronite along with high-purity naqia."

Zack blinked. "Just how large are these deposits? That stuff's the rarest of the rare, right? Some variation of Ripleyite?"

"It's more conductive than Ripleyite, and for an EM pattern this strong the deposits are about the biggest you can find in nature. Whoever ends up mining this stuff is going to make a bundle."

Zack whistled. "No wonder Command's ready to start a war over this place."

"Give me a moment…" Magda continued her work on her console. Zack imagined she was trying to get the sensors to search in bands less-susceptible to EM interference. "I think I might have it… there. I've got the radiation trace again. It's faint… and it's on the surface."

"Can you put it on screen?"

The screen shifted to show a close-up of the beige-tinted surface of the planet. There was a rock formation in the center of the screen and, faintly, the indications of an impact that had struck underneath an apparent overhang. "That's the best I can do," Magda said. "We'll have to move whatever is under there out."

"Can we beam through that EM field?" Zack asked.

"I wouldn't recommend it," Magda answered. "At least not without modifications."

Zack tapped the intercom key on his chair. "Carrey to Engineering. Karen, we need to beam through an intense EM field. What can you do?"

After a moment the reply came. "Give me a couple of hours and I might be able to rig up the cargo transporter to punch through."

"Sir?" Apley turned in his chair. "I think we should send the Kirschner down with a team to recover… whatever it is. That way we don't risk the object with a failed transport."

For a moment Zack thought on it. He tried to hide his irritation at the fact that he should have thought about it before Apley. His approach could thoughtlessly destroy what mind be vital evidence in this standoff. "Right. Good point, Ap," he said. "Take Hajar and a team with you and whatever tools you might need."

"Aye sir." Apley stood up and left the bridge. One of the new officers, Ensign Brady, walked over and assumed the helm.

Zack considered letting Julia know, but he decided to wait and see what it was first.

In the grassy field where the ambush had taken place, Aurora security officers were now being joined by Oakland police. Chief Jiang stood beside Lieutenant Commander Richmond as she stared down at one of the survivors, a Turian. "You realize that you're facing a long prison sentence, don't you?" she told him. "Multiple counts of capital and attempted murder, including four involving Alliance personnel."

"The Blue Suns don't rat on clients," the Turian answered. "Besides, I've been imprisoned by the Hierarchy before. Your luxury jails don’t frighten me."

Richmond had her arms crossed. She was clearly considering other approaches to the interrogation. Jiang weighed in by saying, "You would rather spend decades, if not your whole life, in prison?"

The Turian said nothing.

The two walked away and were met by Commander Meridina. "They are uncooperative," Meridina said. There was no need to ask.

"Unfortunately. And very much so," Richmond grumbled. "From the sound of things they think our prisons are resorts."

"According to intelligence and security reports, many have operated as little more than pirates in the Terminus Systems for years," Meridina noted. "Given the reputation of those worlds, it is indeed possible that the humane conditions in Alliance penal facilities are no threat."

"We could always say we will turn them over to the Aururians," Richmond remarked.

"The unknown might frighten slightly. But I doubt it will be of much use."

"Then I don't see what the point is keeping them here," Richmond said. "We've finished interviews with all of them. We should either throw them in the brig or turn them over to Chief Jiang."

Meridina turned her attention to him. "Can your jail facilities hold them?"

"I'm not sure I want them," Jiang said. "Hard-boiled mercenaries are a security threat my jail personnel are going to struggle with."

"Then you have no objections to our taking them?" Richmond asked him.

"The Chairwoman might," Jiang conceded. "But if you ask me, it'd be a big favor to us if you did."

"That is sufficient, then," Meridina said. "Commander, begin transporting them to the brig."

"Happily. I'll triple brig personnel while I'm at it." Richmond stepped away to do so.

"I'm sorry we haven't been able to get them to cooperate," Jiang said to Meridina. "I'd like to know where they came from myself. Under our current colony code, we have to be informed if someone hires a group this heavily-armed. Actually, I think the Governor can even refuse to let them come."

"Someone did not care much for your law," Meridina noted aloud. "I am placing my hopes in the recovery of data from their hardware. Follow me, please."

The two walked over to the wrecked remains of the Blue Sun dropship. The merc unit's armor, weapons, and other devices were piled beside it. Three operations officers from the Aurora were going over them with the help of security personnel. Lieutenant Kyle Liton looked up from where he was examining an inactive omnitool. "Ah, Commander."

"Lieutenant." She nodded. "I have not yet had the chance to welcome you back to the crew."

"Oh, it's fine," he said. Nearly two years before Liton, still an Ensign, was with the computer security branch of Meridina's security staff on the ship. He had been framed by a Changeling from the Dominion of Universe S5T3 and, while exonerated, asked for a transfer off the ship due to the experience. Meridina was pleased to note that the young man seemed more seasoned than he had been before. "Honestly, after serving on the Libra, being back on the Aurora is a welcome change. But that's not why you're here."

"Have you made any progress?"

"Some." Liton tapped at his own omnitool and brought up a screen showing computer code. "These Blue Suns guys are pretty good at their computer security. Their wipe program was pretty thorough. But it's not complete. I think I can reconstruct some of the fragmented remnants of the data using Lieutenant Delgado's data compiling program. I've already sent it to her."

"Very good." Meridina stepped up into the crashed dropship. "Lieutenant Lucero?"

Lucy's head emerged from the cockpit. "I'm here."

"Any luck reconstructing the dropship's flight path?"

"I was just about to finish that," she said. She motioned for Meridina to follow her. Jiang came as well. The cockpit was lit by the overhead lights. There was no visible window for the pilot, whose seat Lucy returned to. She started tapping at the hardlight controls again, occasionally pecking away at her omnitool. "Their data wipe program did eliminate the logs from their sensors. But their own safety systems make that moot."

"In what way?" Jiang asked.

Lucy was grinning. "Because they didn't wipe them."

"And how does this help us?"

"The systems are designed to observe power flow to track potential faults and compensate," Lucy explained. "Or to warn the pilot so they can set down before suffering an overload or power loss. I can use that to determine when the dropship launched and get a close estimate as to the speed it was managing on the flight. And then I can check the systems that maintain flight control and use that log to reconstruct the maneuvers the dropship took, allowing me to establish a flight path." Figures appeared on a hardlight display above the cockpit controls. Lucy entered them into her omnitool. "Here. Let's see how the numbers add up." Her omnitool projected a screen showing a flat map of the planet centered on their location. After a few key presses a line left the area. It moved west until it reached the perimeter of the Oakland Colony.

"That's not possible," Jiang insisted. "The Colony Police would know if we had a mercenary unit in town. They're supposed to register with us." He eyed Lucy. "Are you sure they didn't come from a ship?"

"The power distribution logs don't lie," Lucy answered. "The engine power used is consistent with atmospheric flight only."

"Where is that in the colony?" Meridina asked Jiang.

He looked over the map closely. "It looks like it's near the spaceport. It would have to be, there's no way we'd miss something like this there. Going by the area…" He frowned. "Damn. It is them. This is not good."

"Who is it?" asked Meridina.

"My boss," Jiang answered simply.

There was a quiet tension on the Koenig bridge after the Kirschner dropped from the ship's ventral shuttle bay. The shuttle flew downward into the atmosphere, turning into a red streak as it made re-entry.

"Entering the EM fie-.... -ference on com-... -justing to…. -sate. Kirschner to… -nig, please respond."

Apley's voice was partially obscured by the static, but toward the end it became slightly clearer. "We can barely read you," Zack said.

"Roger. We've boosted the comm trans- …-er. It's the best we… do. Approach- radiation tra- ...source."

"Send us an image when you can."

The following seconds expanded into minutes. Zack glanced toward Magda. "They're still on visual sensors and the ship's intact," she said.

Zack tapped the key on his chair's arm to re-open the channel. "Ap? What's going on down there?"

"Stand by… -mander. Sending image now."

"We're getting the data. Even with data loss, I think I can clean it up enough to…" Magda used her controls to run a process in the ship's computer to sharpen the image forming on the viewscreen.

Zack watched the pixelated image sharpen enough to make out the detail on it. "Send this image to the Aurora immediately," he ordered.
"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:34 pm

Well done. This blending of police and diplomatic procedural stuff is great!

I wanted to ask too... what were the Gl'mulli like before contact with the Alliance?

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:44 pm

About the same that they are now. Curious gelatinous beings.
"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:52 pm

Steve wrote:
Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:44 pm
About the same that they are now. Curious gelatinous beings.
I meant to ask if it was contact with other interstellar societies that gave them technological capacities, or were they already space-faring without those visualization rigs, did they attain space travel and such with their natural humanly-inconceivable sensory systems?

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Dec 04, 2017 8:45 pm

Pretenders and other scarily multi-talented people make me wonder. I know a guy who (he's pretty well off) dabbles in all sorts of stuff and gets pretty good with them, on the other hand the grandmasters and masters I know aren't that well off but they focus on few things and get frighteningly good and can translate these to competence in other fields too.

It's strange, how competency in one thing can be transfered to another, if one has a flexible mindset. Our grandmaster's son, who is a master in stickbeating, seems scarily adept at jiujitsu after mere months of training at it (he learned things on the side while being the professor of stick at some Vietnamese MMA gym).

It's enviable, I try to do it when I train in other things (and I think the eclectic life is what has enhanced my writing, which puts a roof over my head). It's just something to wonder on. I know people who are too sheltered (y'know, nerds who do it wrong) and the effects are kinda sad.

There's this guy who is a stickbeating master who is also the head of an arts school and an advertising company, who used to get into street fights. His dad was like a "lieutenant" and master under our grandmaster.

My buddy and housemate, known in O1 circles as my collaborator in Jaded Chronicles, illustrates and draws as if he's hitting something with a weapon (he also introduced me to martial arts via joint locks and stickbeating). I guess part of it ties into how I treat genres, I think it's such a meta thing, looking at the sociology of things whether its reading Robert (and perpetually bitching at you about it :P ) or figuring out how to armbar.

I also applaud how you write the Aurora crew and come up with diverse situations and show off their diverse capabilities. This episode's combination of legal, law-enforcement, diplomatic procedural-style narratives is really great. Okay, I'll admit it, you're doing something great with the sci-fi TV series format that I'm not that hot about. :D

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:16 pm

Even though there were four days left in the Aururian ultimatum, Julia entered the Government Building for the Oakland Colony with what seemed to be a sense of urgency. Meridina, Lucy, and Jarod all followed behind her. "They're here?" Julia asked the lady at the front desk.

"Yes, Captain," she answered.

The main door opened again. This time Chief Jiang entered with two uniformed policemen. He nodded to Julia and the others and motioned for them to go first. Julia nodded back and walked into the hall to lead her to the conference room. They found two uniformed officers already standing outside of the door, providing security.

Inside Governor Taylor was already seated with the others. Chairwoman Logan was to his right and Tio!sat!ny was seated to his left. Captains Shaham and Gartan were seated on the same side as Logan and Commander Imra was by Tio!sat!ny. The starfish-like alien shifted one of its arms, allowing its "eyes" to look toward the newcomers. "Ah, Captain," he said through his vocoder. "What has prompted this call?"

"I wanted to speak to everyone about the attack this morning," Julia said. "Specifically, I want to know why the hell New Horizons hired the Blue Suns mercenary group to abduct one of the prisoners."

Logan's face twisted into a scowl. "What do you mean by that, Captain?"

Julia nodded to Lucy. "We examined the computer logs on the Blue Suns' craft," Lucy said, tapping away at her omnitool. The display popped up and showed the map she had assembled, tracing the attacking ship back to Oakland Colony. Specifically, to the exact coordinate of the New Horizon complex near the spaceport. Logan looked on in stunned surprise. "We were able to reconstruct the flight path. It took off from your buildings."

Taylor shot Logan a look. "What the hell, Joann?" he asked.

Logan's scowl hardened. "You can't prove this," she insisted.

"Actually, we can now," Julia countered. "Your company invested in some pretty good sensor-deflecting materials, but the Aurora's sensors are directly of Darglan design. Jarod?"

Now Jarod activated a display, showing the New Horizons complex from above. The two large ten-storey structures were the most prominent feature. "Upon examination of the complex with sensors, we were able to determine that the lower level of this outer building" - he indicated a two-storey structure on the north end of the two towers - "contains another two dozen life signs and sensor returns consistent with the crashed Blue Sun craft. In fact, using specific sensor returns…" He tapped a key and the image shifted to make the roof of the building seem translucent, revealing two visible craft and what looked like armory stands. "As you can see, the structure is an armory and barracks."

Taylor's expression was now a full glare. "What the hell are you doing, Joann?!" he demanded. "What did you hire those mercs for?!"

"I didn't!" Logan shouted back. Her defiance had melted into an expression of disbelief and fear. "I… New Horizons agreed to host them in exchange for pay and considerations."

"From who?" asked Gartan.

Logan didn't speak. She didn't have to. The glare settling on Tio!sat!ny spoke volumes as it was.

"Sub-Consul." Taylor turned to face him. "What are those mercenaries for?"

"To protect my business interests, of course," Tio!sat!ny answered.


"I had Chairwoman Logan's permission. Her company even provided the barracks space since my structure could not. How can it be illegal if the head of the Colony government approves?"

"Because she didn't do it as Chairwoman of the Council," Julia pointed out. "She did it as an officer of her company. Less paperwork that way, Chairwoman?"

"It was harmless," Logan insisted. "And of benefit to my company. How was I to know what he was doing?"

"You are surprised that the being who asked you to skirt the law might do something illegal?" Commander Imra asked pointedly, her accented voice dripping with sarcasm.

"The Consortium never gave indications of such behavior before," Logan protested weakly. It was clear on her face that she realized how bad her situation was.

"Well, they have now," Julia said. "They attacked the Aururian prisoners with the intent to take one. And they were using Aururian firearms in the attack. I don't have a doubt in my mind that they would have killed us all and framed the Aururians for it. But they didn't expect Commander Meridina and Lieutenant Lucero."

"And why would they launch this attack?" Logan asked. "The extradition hearing is today, and in all likelihood the judge would have upheld the warrant in the end. There was no legal reason not to."

"They were after one of the prisoners," Meridina stated.

"Their leader?" Taylor asked.

"No. Another woman." Julia looked to Tio!sat!ny. "I'm guessing that the judge being lenient the other day made Tio!sat!ny worried that the extradition would be denied."

"It would be understandable if it was," the Xou!tasam answered. "The Aururian threat to prosecute any official who enabled our lawful extradition of the criminals is a powerful motivation to ignore the law."

"And what was your motivation?" Shaham asked.

"Why, business of course," Tio!sat!ny answered. "I have extensive business interests in the League that are threatened by the activities of these Aururian agents. The woman we sought to recover could provide valuable intelligence on Aururian gun-running to the League's protectorates, once she is turned over to the League for interrogation."

"So you admit that you would re-extradite them," Lucy pointed out.

Tio!sat!ny's upper appendages quivered. Julia pondered if it was the equivalent of a shrug. "They are more capable of such things than the Consortium. And it is their worlds."

"Why her? Why not Katherine Roberts? Or Kishala Abrakia?" Julia asked, recalling the names of the two leaders of the group.

"They are not the true leaders of the unit, Marshal Huaman is," said Tio!sat!ny.


In response to Julia's remark, the appendage with the eyes curled in once. The equivalent of a nod, Julia figured. "Yes. Marshal Naira Huaman, of the Empress' own personal police force. She is rumored to have the Empress' confidence. League intelligence identified her when she was seen on Trapaka. They have hunted her since."

"And that's why you nearly killed me and my officers this morning?"

"It had been my intention to strike the hospital if it proved necessary, but you provided a venue that would be less likely to cause undesired collateral damage," Tio!sat!ny explained. "I'm a businessman, so I took a chance. And like any failed gamble, I will not dwell upon it. We have other business to attend to. Despite our failure, our extradition request is still legitimate, and it is my intention to collect them today."

"Like hell," Taylor said. "Not after what you've said. As of right now, I'm personally rejecting the extradition warrant. Captain Andreys, the prisoners are free to go." He glanced toward Logan, as if anticipating protest, but Logan was too busy glaring at Tio!sat!ny. Her pale face made it clear she understood the ramifications of his actions, and of her own. She had likely destroyed her career over this.

The alien shifted in its cupped seat. At first Julia thought he was simply getting comfortable. That thought ended when she saw the device that was now curled around one of his arms. It resembled a camera more than anything but there was no mistaking what it was given the way he pointed it at them. "It is displeasing to me that you would allow this business to become so personal, Governor," Tio!sat!ny stated.

Behind them, the doors opened. The uniformed personnel stepped in and raised their rifles… at Julia and her people. There was no sign of Jiang's police officers.

"You're insane," Logan gasped.

"I find it is your species that is often insane, Chairwoman," Tio!sat!ny replied. "You Humans are often infuriating with all of the ways you complicate simple business transactions. Your Alliance, the Aururian Empire, the League, all of you distort the simple joy of trade through your bizarre morals and behaviors. We would not be in this mess if the Empire did not seek to meddle in the business affairs of others. Or if the League did not suffer from the inefficiencies that result from their refusal to properly establish markets on their protectorates. We had hopes that the Alliance would make a more reasonable neighbor, but you are little better."

If Lucy and I act in concert, we can disarm the two guards without risk, Meridina's voice stated in her mind. But Tio!sat!ny is likely to fire when we do. I can sense his intent.

"You realize that this is going to set back our relations with the Consortium substantially," Logan said.

"Will it, Chairwoman? Is your Alliance not in the middle of a war that demands resources we can provide? Are you not still facing the Aururian fleet over this system so necessary to that demand?" Tio!sat!ny made the wiggling motion with his upper appendages again. "Simple business logic shows that you need the Consortium more than we need you. Now, Captain Andreys, you will call your vessel and direct that the Marshal be transported to my mercenaries immediately. Once we confirm she is in custody, they will depart."

"The Aururians won't let you run," Julia pointed out. She eyed the firearm wrapped in one of Tio!sat!ny's appendages. He was too far away for her to get to, meaning Logan or Taylor was likely to take a shot once the shooting started. Her eyes briefly glanced toward Commander Imra. Her own eyes were hidden behind a pair of round, dark sunglasses, so she couldn't see where Imra was looking particularly. Meridina, can you reach into Imra's mind? She might be the only one who can keep him from firing.

I have attempted contact. She seems quite capable of deflecting telepathic connection. I cannot guarantee she heard me

Tio!sat!ny's reply was already coming by that point. "My vessel has a cloaking system. Bought at great cost through sources in your S5T3 universe, I will add. I look to make the investment pay off by slipping free of this system. Iron Margrethe will not know the Marshal is gone until we are halfway to Jao!senat. Now, Captain, if you will please contact your ship? No trickery, I would hate to see more violence. It is always an unnecessary complication to business."

Julia crossed her arms. "And if I refuse? You can't think you'll take all of us down."

"I do not need to. My Blue Sun associates are quite capable fighters, I assure you. It is what I pay them for. They will shoot you all before even your capable officers can respond."

"And then? You still won't have the Marshal," Julia pointed out. "You'll still lose out."

"Correct," Tio!sat!ny said. "Which is why I hope you will be reasonable, and then we can resume business. It is your fault that our relations have declined to this point, after all."

"Our fault?!" yelled Logan. "You bastard, you're the one holding a gun to us!" She jumped from her seat and leaned over the table. Her eyes glistened with rage. "You've ruined me for nothing!"

"I have many contracts at risk if I fail, I assure you, Chairwoman. And that is not 'nothing'. Please return to your seat. I would be especially saddened to kill you. You seemed the most sane Human on this world before now. And I hope that..."

Tio!sat!ny didn't get to finish his sentence. Behind them Lucy and Meridina pivoted on their feet. Energy struck out and slammed into the guards, causing their weapons to point upward before their reflexes could trigger them. Small bursts of flame exploded on the ceiling and sent slivers of deadly metal into the ceiling with enough force that they went up into the next floor. The familiar snap-hiss of lightsabers activating filled the room. Two blades of sapphire light twirled and found the rifles gripped by the disguised Blue Suns men, severing both weapons. The mercs, stunned by their sudden disarming, held their arms up in surrender before either could strike.

By this point Tio!sat!ny had also fired. But his aim was thrown off by the sudden strike of Commander Imra and the blast of orange light only scorched the far wall. Imra's hands were clasped like a vise around Tio!sat!ny's appendage. An inhuman shriek untranslated by his vocoder erupted from his mid-section. Julia watched the appendage in question go limp. The weapon it had held dropped to the floor.

"My limb!" Tio!sat!ny cried. For a moment, he tested the enormous muscles of his body against Imra, but she seemed as unyielding as a bar of steel, and he abandoned the effort.

"You don't have bones that break," Imra snapped. "Feel fortunate."

"Chief, take all of them into custody. Get them out of here!" Taylor demanded.

Jiang was already on his radio. Not a minute passed before armed police entered the room. Jiang directed them to cuff the mercenaries.

"I am a diplomat!" Tio!sat!ny shrieked. "I cannot be held!"

"You can't be charged," Taylor corrected. "But I'll damn well have you escorted from the building. You have twenty hours to leave the planet, Sub-Consul, or I'm having you sent back to Jao!senat on a Warp 3 sled." Taylor motioned to the door. "Get him out of here."

"But you can't… I'll be ruined!" Tio!sat!ny's uppermost appendage turned toward Julia. A bundle of eyes all focused on her. "Please, Captain, turn the Marshal over to me! I'll pay you well! I'll give you half of my holdings! I'll give you control of my company's fleet! Please! I'll lose everything if I don't hand over the Marshal!"

Julia crossed her arms. "I'm not for sale, Sub-Consul. I never was."

"This is madness," the horrified Xou!tasam insisted. "Absolute madness! How do you people maintain an economy with this madness…!" Even as Tio!sat!ny was led out by Jiang's police, he continued to blubber until his vocoder was overwhelmed, spurting out bursts of nonsensical sound joined by the keening and whistling noises of Xou!tasam speech.

Once he was gone Taylor settled back into his chair and sighed. Logan, looking utterly spent, stood up. "I have a letter of resignation to write," she said simply.

"Before you do, I have something to share with you," Julia said. She brought her omnitool online and used it to interface with the conference room's holo-display projector. An image appeared on it of a rocky beige surface. "The Koenig sent this to us just before we came down," Julia explained. "It's from Phi Perseus 7-XII."

On the screen the image moved up into a shadowed area. A light appeared, obviously from an atmospheric suit, and illuminated wreckage on the rocky surface. Pieces of rock were embedded into tempered metal alloy. As the light widened and focused, the shape of a cylinder snapped nearly in half by an impact could be made out. Small stubby bits showed what was left of what had been attachments.

The end of the cylinder was marked by a roundel of blue, copper, and dark purple. The same roundel they had all seen previously on Captain von Lohringhoven's shuttle.

Taylor recognized it immediately. Logan took a moment to realize the significance and rested her ashen face in her palm. "There was a beacon," she sighed.

"An asteroid impact knocked it out."

"It was small enough that it didn't just shatter the entire beacon," Jarod added. "If it had, the pieces wouldn't have had nearly as much velocity to them, and the surveyors would have found them. Instead the meteorite pushed the beacon toward Phi Perseus 7. In fact, if not for about half of a degree, the beacon would have gone on into the gas giant's gravity well, and we never would have found it. Instead it got caught in 7-XII's gravity and landed on the moon."

Taylor ran his hand over his head. "Dammit," he muttered. "What do we do?"

"It was still a good faith colonization," Logan murmured. "They can't hold this against us."

"But if their claim has justice, then we can't just dismiss it." Taylor folded his hands. "I'll need to speak to President Morgan and Secretary Saratova about this."

"I'll write a report when I get back to the Aurora," Julia said. "And see if this changes our orders. In the meantime…"

"In the meantime, I'll begin preparations for an evacuation. Quietly." Taylor looked defeated. "Thank you, Captain, for bringing this all to light. If it helps defuse this scenario…"

"It's worth it, yes."

"I'm going to inform Judge Moore that the Colony is now rejecting the extradition," Taylor said. "Release them to Captain von Lohringhoven, Captain. And I will speak with you later."

Taylor stood with Logan. The two walked out of the room.

"This may not change anything," Gartan noted. "It was a good faith colonization, and we are entitled to consideration from the Aururians. If they persist on demanding the colony leave or transfer its allegiance, our orders still stand."

"I know," Julia said. "And I know we need this system. We'll just have to see if we can work around that. We still have three days before we have to commit to an evacuation."

"The Enterprise will be ready for either case," Shaham promised. "I will speak to you later?"

Julia nodded. "Let's go home, everyone," she said to the others. "We still have work to do."

Two hours later Julia was sitting in the ready office sipping at her coffee. That she needed it this late spoke of how tired she was. The day's reports were slow-going. Better was the news that with Tio!sat!ny in custody, the Blue Suns in the New Horizon building didn't try to fight when Chief Jiang arrived with Chairwoman Logan to order them out. Having the colony militia armed up and ready to take the barracks with the help of the Aurora and Enterprise Marine troops undoubtedly helped with that.

Jarod's voice came over the speaker. "We have Admiral Maran on IU comms for you."

"Put him through." Julia turned to the screen in time for Maran to appear on it. He was in his Defense Command office. "Admiral, you got my report?"

"I have," he replied. "The discovery of the beacon has forced us to reconsider our assessment of the Aururian response to the colony. And you are returning their prisoners to them?"

"I informed Captain von Lohringhoven that they can go when they're ready. They're still waiting on their wounded to recover enough for transfer."

"Understood. What is their status?"

"Still at three dead and four wounded. Leo has the severely wounded Ralsan back in surgery now."

Maran nodded once. "It's good to know that part of the crisis is solved. It might help with the negotiations."

"There are none right now," Julia said. "Von Lohringhoven's made it clear. The Aururians can't accept anything less than sovereignty over the system."

"And we must have the system's resources."

"Could we trade for them?"

"Unlikely, unless the Aururians are stupendously generous," Maran said.

Julia sighed. "Admiral, I know it's not my place to question policy from Portland, but this seems ridiculous. We simply can't hold this system without committing to a major military effort, and that means a second war while we're still fighting the Nazis. What good is holding the system and getting its resources when it means that we have another war we have to divert ships to?"

"That is an argument circulating in the Council now. But there are those who believe the Aururians are bluffing. That they won't risk a war with the Alliance since our territories are out of their reach while theirs are vulnerable to Alliance attacks. Especially not if the League joins the conflict on our side."

"That's not a gamble I'd want to take," Julia mumbled.

"It is not a pleasant one, true. But for the time being, that is the one the Alliance Government is willing to take. I fear that the reports on the spongiform have proven particularly inciting for this faction." Maran folded his hands on the table in front of him. Julia found herself wondering if the pro-confrontation faction included Hawthorne and Davies. "If you can find an alternative that the Aururians agree to, I will ensure it is received with my endorsement, and it may change minds."


"Until then, your orders stand."

"And what about the Consortium?" Julia asked. "They abused the treaty with us."

"That is being discussed as well. Secretary Onaram has yet to inform me of any final decision on our relations with Jao!senat." Maran reached forward, toward a control on his desk. "I'll keep you informed if anything changes. Maran out."

After Maran disappeared Julia leaned back in her chair and devoted her thoughts to the intractable nature of the problem. There had to be some way out of it…

"Captain, an Aururian shuttle is asking for landing clearance," Jarod said. "It's Captain von Lohringhoven."

"Let her land." Julia stood up and walked out to the bridge. Jarod was in the command chair and Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi at Ops. Ensign Arterria and Lieutenant al-Rashad were at the conn and tactical and Angel was in the final hours of her shift for the day. Jarod stood until Julia motioned for him to remain. She went to the lift and stepped in, fully intending to head to the shuttle bay and meet Lohringhoven.

But she didn't. A thought came to mind. Lohringhoven was the one who gave the ultimatum, true… but she was just a Captain like Julia. She was probably following orders in the same fashion. There was only so much Julia could do with her.

"Computer, Deck 12," she said.

She arrived in the Medbay and walked toward the uninjured Aururians. Her eyes focused on "Nina" to the exclusion of thinking about Kirrhi and the Ralsan beside her. "Nina, was it?" she asked.

The woman nodded.

"I'd like to talk with you about the abduction attempt." Julia leaned closer to her and, in a quiet tone only she and possibly Kirrhi could hear, added, "In private, Marshal?"

There was a small rush of breath from Kirrhi. The Marshal's expression didn't change. She merely nodded her assent. Julia turned her head to see Walker checking on the injured Aururian on the bed. "I'm going to borrow Doctor Gillam's office again."

Walker nodded in reply and went back to work. Julia led Marshal Huaman out of the ward and through the corridor to Leo's office. Once the door was closed behind them she turned and faced the Aururian woman. "Alright. Can you tell me what is going on?"

Huaman remained quiet for a moment. As if judging whether to cooperate or not. Finally she nodded. "I cannot speak of everything, you understand. Merely that I was asked to attend to one of our aid missions."

"To the world Trapaka?"

"Yes. There is a native species on that planet, the Itilmi, that the League uses for forced labor in their mining and farming operations on the planet. We have been providing the Itilmi weapons to fight back against their occupiers. I was tasked with negotiating with the Itilmi King and his rebels."

"For more weapons?"

"And aid to fix the ecological damage from the League's mining efforts, yes. Unfortunately there was a traitor in his court that reported us to the League's colonial governor. We had to flee."

Julia nodded. "If we'd known, we might have figured out what was really going on. The Consortium insisted you were just regular gun-runners."

"That is our cover. If the mission's official character was known, the League might consider it justification for war. Marshals make any operation they are part of one that, by definition, cannot be disavowed. They know that our efforts to improve our fleet are outpacing their armament program. A war now would be preferable for them, if they could excuse it to the independent worlds and the other powers."

With the explanation given, Julia thought of her wording before moving on to the other matter in her mind. "Tio!sat!ny said you are a confidante of the Empress."

"A confidante is… not quite the correct phrasing. The Marshalry is… how do you say; the oil in the machine of the Empire. We ensure that the entire engine runs smoothly by… unwanted events being arranged to not occur. Each of us is personally appointed and overseen by the Empress, to be her eyes, ears, hands, voice... and arrows, if necessary. She will assuredly be expecting a full report upon my return.”

"And if you don't mind me asking, what are you going to say to her about us?" Julia asked. "How will you advise her in dealing with the Alliance?"

"That depends, Captain."


A hard look came to the woman's face. "On how your Alliance deals with the murder of my girls while we were in your custody."

It was a fair question and Julia gave her a fair answer. "We're charging the mercenaries with at least three counts of murder and several attempted murder charges. And attempted kidnapping. Because my officers and I were there, they'll be answering to an Alliance court as well as the Colony court."

"Then they will face the firing squad or gallows?"

"Neither," Julia answered. "At least, not to my knowledge. The death penalty is not widely practiced in the Alliance, although individual members are not forbidden from applying it with sufficient safeguards and protections for the condemned. I'm not aware of whether the Oakland Colony answers to one of those member states. It is more likely that they will face life imprisonment, or very long-term imprisonment at least."

"Hrm. That is, perhaps, even better. I would prefer death to a life in a cage myself." Huaman's expression did not relax. "And their paymasters? You have discovered them?"

"The Trading Consortium's Sub-Consul apparently had businesses within the League that he would lose if he didn't deliver you," Julia said. "He masterminded it. Since he has diplomatic immunity he can't be charged and tried, but Governor Taylor's already ordered him off-world. I figure the government will ban him from any further work in the Alliance."

Huaman considered that. "And you will leave it at that? The Consortium will not be punished?"

"Oh, I don't know about that," Julia said. "Through him they abused the treaty they signed with us. And even before this, it's clear they were being untruthful when informing us of this area of space. I'm pretty sure they're going to find it hard to deal with us for a while. They'll probably have to fire Tio!sat!ny and make reparations at a minimum. And they might find their links to the League's exploitative behaviors will be closely investigated. It may sink any further trade agreements unless they shape up."

There was a nod from the older woman. Julia thought it might be one of at least partial approval. "There is still the matter of your colony on our planet," the Marshal said.

"There is," Julia agreed. "We've found your beacon. Or rather what's left of it."

"Oh?" Huaman gave her a curious look.

"From what we can tell, a meteor hit it," Julia explained. "One small enough that it didn't break apart at the impact but was instead pushed into orbit of one of the gas giants. Or rather, into one of the moons of the seventh planet. One of my ships found it earlier today."

"A rather odd coincidence," Huaman noted. "And Captain von Lohringhoven informed me the marker is gone as well."

"We didn't know where to look for that, but I'm not surprised."

"Then your Alliance will acknowledge this system is ours by right?"

"We do recognize your claim preceded ours," Julia said. "At the same time, our colonization was a good-faith act. And we have immediate need for the resources. We would like to negotiate with you on the matter."

"We cannot negotiate away sovereignty in this situation, Captain," Huaman said. "Not without inviting attacks on our beacons across our frontiers."

"Just as we need the materials to fight our war with the Nazi Reich."

"Yes. We have seen further proof of this conflict while on this ship." Huaman's expression turned into a frown. "If not for the issue of our prior beacon being lost, the Empire would have considered ceding the system as part of a wider arrangement for suitable compensation. But the principle of the matter must be kept."

"I was hoping to find some flexibility in your position," Julia said. "We don't want a war with you, but my orders haven't changed. We need this system and its resources. If there was a way to reconcile our positions…"

"It is my regret that these are our circumstances, Captain. Given the fate of our beacon, we cannot simply sell away the system. It would invite others to attempt the same. Still, if you have an idea that meets our requirements, I am willing to listen. I may speak, provisionally, for Her Imperial Majesty in time-critical situations as this."

Julia couldn't keep the disappointment from her voice. "Well, I see." She motioned to the door. "I suppose that is it, then. You and the others are free to go with Captain von Lohringhoven when she returns to her ship."

"We will remain with our comrades until they are fit to travel, Captain," Huaman insisted.

"Then I'll arrange quarters for you."

With nothing more to say on the matter Julia led Huaman back out to the receiving ward. Leo was present now and speaking quietly with Kirrhi and the others. Presumably Kishala was out of surgery. "...touch and go for the moment," he was saying. "But Doctor Vega and I think her chances have improved. We'll probably need one more surgery when her system has recovered enough."

Lohringhoven and Meridina were coming through the door a moment later. Meridina was not in uniform but in her purple training bodysuit. "My apologies for my appearance," she said. "There was an issue arranging an escort for the Captain. I was called from my training to do so."

Julia shook her head. "It's fine, Commander." She turned her head slightly to face von Lohringhoven. "Captain. The Marshal and I were just discussing matters. She and her team are free to go. The Governor has rejected the extradition request of the Consortium in light of their violation of our treaty."

To Julia's great surprise, palpable relief flooded von Lohringhoven's expression. "Thank you for informing me of this development, Captain Andreys," she said. "Marshal, I am pleased you are well.”

Huaman nodded in return. "She will be waiting. It’s safe now, Margrethe."

Julia and Meridina exchanged bewildered glances. Lohringhoven walked past them to Leo with a barely contained trembling. "Doctor, I would like to see Kishala now."

Leo looked toward her. "Like I said before, with her condition, I can only justify family members visiting her."

"Then there is no issue, Doctor." The stolid expression that Lohringhoven typically held had cracked at the same time her legs had begun to shake. "She is my wife."

Leo's look betrayed his surprise. Julia's poker face faltered from the widened eyes of her own surprise. She went back in her mind and thought over Lohringhoven's behavior these past few days, trying to see how this could be. She was very upset when she found out about the extradition, Julia recalled. And it explains why she wanted to see them personally.

Meridina didn't look as surprised. Or rather, she looked like someone who finally had an answer for something that had mystified her.

Lohringhoven reached into a jacket pocket and produced a small frame. With a tap it produced an image. It showed her with her hair in a less-formal style in a crisp, smart dress uniform with gold-tasseled epaulets and a plethora of medals over her left breast. Her hand was clasped with Kishala's, the Ralsan wearing a fine dress of bright color.

Images could be forged, of course. But it didn't seem a reasonable possibility. And besides that, there was a real vulnerability, a real concern, in the usually-austere Lohringhoven's eyes.

Leo was immediately convinced. "Alright, follow me," he said. "We'll find you a chair and you can watch over her."

Relief showed on Lohringhoven's face and in her posture. Quietly she followed Leo to the door to the other wards. He let her through.

"I had sensed her apprehension and worry," Meridina said. "And it was quite personal to her. Now I see why."

"What are her chances, Leo?" Julia asked him as he stepped through the door.

That caused Leo to stop. He turned to face her and shook his head. "Better than they were a few hours ago. But she's not out of danger yet."

Julia found herself wondering if those were better odds than she had of solving this problem. She decided she didn't want to answer that just yet.

Given the day's activities, Julia retired early and slept in. The morning meeting went by without any changes in the status quo, including no new orders from Command. The bridge watch saw no major changes to the situation. There was a meeting over comms with Taylor, Littleton, and the various ship commanders present. Two more Alliance cruisers jumped in during the course of the day, the Scorpio-class Sagittarius and the Nehru-class Ambedkar. The former had a compact arrow-headed shape, with armored warp nacelles built into the rear stardrive section of the ship. The Nehru-class ship closely resembled the Discovery-class and thus appeared to be a smaller version of the Aurora with two warp nacelles. But the primary hull was slightly wider in beam and the drive hull began further back on the frame.

Julia could see the two arrivals from the Lookout. She sat with her dinner and mused quietly about their situation.

"You look distracted." Angel sat at her table with a plate of Hargert's dinner for the evening, roast pork and carrots, with a bowl of steaming sausage stew. Her glass was an opaque one, but Julia imagined it was either a fruit punch or milk.

"You could say that," Julia murmured. "My first mission as captain of the Aurora and it looks like it's going to end in a war."

"You didn't exactly get the easy survey mission Robert got to start off," Angel offered.

"Hmm. Yeah." Julia took a bite of pork and carrot mixed together. "I keep wondering if there's something I've been missing. Some kind of solution that will fix this."

"Well, you know what I'd like to do."

Julia gave Angel a knowing look. "Somehow I doubt that 'smacking sense into them' would work as well as you'd like."

"But it would feel damn good," Angel pointed out.

"Maybe." Julia shook her head. "I just… I don't know. It almost feels like I didn't get enough done to make this work. Opani was the one to connect to the prisoners. Zack and his crew found the beacon. Lucy and Meridina stopped the mercs. Twice. And all I've been able to do is talk a lot and fail to find a solution."

"Yeah," Angel said. She held up her hands and crooked the index finger of her left hand into the index finger of her right. "You also approved of Doctor Opani's plan to talk to them, you approved letting her and Meridina and Lucy give them their sunrise dance party, you sent the Koenig out to see if there was a beacon, and you gave the orders that led to Lucy finding out where the mercs came from." She was up to her right hand's pinky at that point. "Basically, you did what you were supposed to do. You gave the orders and everyone else did their jobs. And because you gave those orders, we dealt with this whole prisoner crisis."

Angel's argument was, in all of its bluntness, also completely correct. Julia had to grin at her friend's assessment. "You're right. Unfortunately, it'll all be for nothing unless we find a way out of the impasse."

"Do you really think these Aururians will attack?"

"I do," Julia said. "From their point of view, they have to. If they don't, they're basically announcing that anyone can come into their frontier and shoot down claim beacons before colonizing, just so long as they're smart about it."

Angel shook her head. "But they're in the same bind as the Nazis. They can't hit our fleet stations and our bases. All they can do is overrun a few colonies. And if this League joins the war, and maybe the Consortium too… well, they might even lose."

"But people would still have to respect their beacons," Julia pointed out. "They might think a lost war is worth that. Sort of like when a young fighter goes up against someone who has a hundred pounds on her and picks a fight because that someone knocked over her little sister at PE." She gave Angel a knowing smile. "She knows she might lose, but it'll keep people from thinking they can mess with her little sis whenever they feel like it."

Angel laughed at that. "It's like that, huh?"

Julia nodded with a mouthful of pot roast. "Uh huh." She was swallowing when her omnitool lit up. She tapped the blue light on the back of her left hand. "Andreys here."

"Captain, this is Lieutenant Vajpayee."

"Go ahead, Lieutenant."

"May I see you, Captain? I have found something you might find useful."

"For what?" Angel asked.

"I'm finishing up my dinner right now, Lieutenant. Meet me in my ready office on the bridge in half an hour."

"Yes Captain."

"So what's that all about?" Angel asked.

"I'm not sure," Julia admitted. "But I'm going to find out."

Thirty-four minutes later, Julia was looking up from her monitor on the ready office desk, not sure if she should dare to hope this was it. "And it will work?" she asked Vajpayee. "You're certain of it?"

"As certain as I can be, Captain," he said. "The legal principle is sound."

Julia considered it for about ten seconds. With relief she nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant. It's inspired. You're dismissed."

"Thank you, Captain."

Vajpayee stepped out of the ready office. The door hadn't even closed when Julia herself stood. "Computer, is Captain von Lohringhoven still aboard?"

"Guest identified as Captain von Lohringhoven is located in Medbay Critical Care Ward."

"And Marshal Huaman?"

"Marshal Huaman is in the Medbay."

"Good." Julia went to the door.

The two Aururians were now in the reception ward with the rest of the Marshal's team when Julia arrived. She nodded to them. "How is your wife, Captain?"

"Her condition has further improved due to the diligence of your surgeons, Captain," Lohringhoven answered.

"That's good to hear," Julia said. "May I speak to you and the Marshal in private?"

"I believe Doctor Gillam is currently in his office," Lohringhoven replied.

"That's fine. Follow me."

Julia led them back out of the medbay and further through the deck until they arrived at their destination. A plain blue inside caused the two to look around in curiosity.

"Computer, activate archived holo-surroundings. Model sunrise sky."

"Working. Holodeck engaging."

Their surroundings disappeared in favor of a soft grass field just as the sun was coming up on the eastern horizon. The two Aururians looked around with interest. "A holographic chamber? Compact enough for a ship?" Lohringhoven asked.

"We call them holodecks. They combine transporters with matter replication," Julia said. "Computer, please add three comfortable chairs. Put them in a gazebo."

A white painted wooden gazebo appeared. Three high-backed chairs were inside. Julia walked up into the gazebo and took one seat. Lohringhoven and Huaman took the others. "I think I've found a way through our impasse," she said to them.

"You have?" Huaman seemed interested. "What do you propose?"

"A measure that will keep this system as sovereign Aururian territory, but let the Oakland colonists stay where they are and let us mine the resources we need."

That had their attention.

Julia leaned forward in the chair. "What if the Alliance leases the system?"

"A lease?" Huaman asked.

"Yes. A lease, for a specific amount of time in which the Colony remains under Alliance law and control, and the Alliance gets to use the resources of the system. When the time is over, Phi Perseus completely reverts to Aururian control."

For a moment neither reacted. Julia didn't know if that was a good or bad thing, so she waited for some sort of reaction. Lohringhoven leaned over to speak sotto voce to Huaman. “Her Majesty’s foremothers leased Nepean Bay on Karta to the British for two hundred years, Marshal.”

The bronzen woman nodded, her expression inscrutable for a moment. "What sort of compensations would be offered?" Huaman asked, and when she did, Julia felt her first thrill of hope.

"Payment in currency, I imagine. A cut of the annual yields?" Julia suggested, not wanting to lose the moment.

"Acceptable," Huaman said. "And upon termination of the lease, all improvements to the system would revert to Her Imperial Majesty's ownership."

Julia nodded. "I think that can work."

"Then… yes." Huaman nodded. "Yes, I believe these terms work. Affirm your government's willingness to accept the leasing term and I will report the offer to Her Imperial Majesty immediately."

It took some restraint for Julia to resist the urge to cry out in triumph. She settled for a wide smile and a nod. "I will call my superiors immediately."

"And when you speak to them, please, add this note." Huaman stood. "Inform them of the likelihood that Her Imperial Majesty will appoint an ambassador to immediately commence talks with the Alliance."

"Talks on what issue?"

"On our participation in the war, of course," Huaman answered. Now she smiled. "Knowing Her Imperial Majesty as I do, and our people besides, once confirmation of the existence of this star-faring Third Reich becomes known, the Empire will be determined to crush the evil of their regime just as our foremothers did many centuries ago. The Alliance can expect Her Imperial Majesty to declare war on the Reich once she is convinced that the reports are genuine."

Julia couldn't fight the smile that crossed her face. "I'll let them know," she said. "It will certainly be appreciated." Inwardly she wondered about that. Depending on the size of their contribution, it would require providing them with IU drives as well. What effect would that have upon the volatile politics of A2M6? Would it convert the League of Democratic Worlds into an enemy?

I'll leave that for the diplomats to handle was her final thought on that. Even as a starship captain, there was only so much she could do.

Ship's Log: 23 February 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. Today the Aururian ultimatum expires. Thankfully it is now a moot point. As of this morning, the Alliance Government approved the plan for a lease agreement over the Phi Perseus System of Universe A2M6. Peace has been maintained. And we may have gained an ally against the Reich in the process, if not two allies. Captain de Montamar has informed me that the League of Democratic Worlds is likewise interested in declaring war on the Nazi Reich and contributing ships to the conflict. Not as many as the Aururians, I suspect, but enough that they will maintain some parity with the Empire in relations with the Alliance.

I will have a final meeting with both sides today at the formal lease signing treaty. Admiral Maran has informed me that I have been chosen to co-sign the agreement on the Alliance's behalf. It is, I suppose, a fitting cap to my first official mission as Captain of the

Conference Room 1 had been arranged for the signing. Julia and the others arrived in dress uniform, the white color and golden tassels and epaulets of said uniforms filling the room given the attendance of over five dozen other Alliance officers.

The Aururian contingent was just as large, led by Captain von Lohringhoven's commander, Admiral Kadesadayurat, wearing the uniform of the Royal Siamese Navy, one of the Empire’s “untouched” associated States. Marshal Huaman led the delegation, incongruous in a severe black outfit that recalled formal fashions of centuries before.

The size of the two contingents was thanks to the reinforcements that had already been ordered by both before the agreement was reached. Julia briefly mused, darkly, that had the lease agreement not been proposed or accepted, sixty-three Aururian warships would have ended up in a shooting war against forty-nine Alliance starships and, presumably, Captain Guy de Montamar's squadron. The officers of the latter were also in attendance, in finely-crafted blue uniforms of their own. They showed no indication of being opposed to the lack of a conflict.

The ceremony was short and sweet. At the Marshal's direction, Captain von Lohringhoven joined her in signing for the Aururian Empire. Governor Taylor and Julia signed for the Alliance. The financial terms were relatively light, given the value of the system, and for the first term of the treaty the Aururians had waived any share of the mineral rights. Every ten years the Alliance would have the option to renew the lease for another term, for an increasing sum of money and an increasing share of the mineral yields. After thirty years the lease would permanently expire and the system and all mines and facilities in it would revert to the Aururian Empire. The Oakland Colony would be granted autonomy status in the Empire if its residents remained after the handover. Whether that would convince the settlers of today or tomorrow to stay, Julia could not guess.

When the signing was over Julia looked to Lohringhoven and asked, "How is Kishala?"

"She is recovering well," was the answer. Leo had decided that Kishala was sufficiently recovered to be transferred to the Maya-Mayi the prior evening.

"Do you regret that she's involved in these kinds of missions? That she's away all of the time?"

"No more than she regrets my service in the Navy. She and I are committed to each other, and part of that love stems from our commitment to the cause of the Empire." Lohringhoven smile gently at her. "I imagine you have a similar feeling, Captain Andreys. Maybe even a similar trouble as we do."

"You might say that," she admitted. Duty always took a toll on personal relationships, it seemed.

"Then I will pray that things turn out for you as well." Lohringhoven nodded. "I am pleased things have turned out as they have. You would have made a capable foe had we put it to the touch, but I much prefer you as a steadfast ally. I hope to see you and your fine vessel on the front when we get there."

"Oh, we'll end up there sooner or later," Julia said. "We always do."

As the post-signing meal - provided thoughtfully by Hargert - was consumed, Julia found herself alone in the corner of the room. A plate of Hargert's cake - as always, he was eager for a reason to bake one, or rather two big ones in this case - was still in her hand. She mused that she would be spending a few extra hours in the gym the next few days to work off the calories she was consuming.

"Captain Andreys."

Julia turned to face the speaker. Captain de Montamar was resplendent in his dress uniform. "Captain de Montamar," she said in return. "A fine day?"

"Yes. The war has been delayed. And perhaps, now, it will never come," he said. "For the time being we, for the first time in nearly two centuries, share a common foe with the Empire. It will be odd to fight beside them as allies."

"Maybe it can be the beginning of a new future for you both," Julia suggested. "A chance to reconcile through shared sacrifice."

"Perhaps," he said, in the tone of a man feeling hope and doubt. "At the least, we hope to convince your Alliance that we deserve your support as much as the Empire."

"That will take some doing," Julia noted. "The Alliance is as opposed to the exploitation of other species as the Empire is. Your League may have to decide whether or not it prefers us as a friend over its current economic policies."

"It will not be easy," de Montamar said. "We have lost over half of our wealthiest star systems to the Empire in the last several decades. We need the resources those worlds provide us for our economy to function."

"You also need the goodwill of the Multiverse," Julia countered. "Your political system may be closer to our standard than the Aururian monarchy's, but most of the powers of the Multiverse aren't going to accept a state that considers the exploitation of other species necessary to their economy, much less an inherent right. You're going to have to make that choice. I hope you make the right one."

De Montamar nodded stiffly. "I do too. We must do more to uphold our principles. I will concede that."

"And hopefully, you'll stop trying to manipulate other powers into conflict with the Empire," Julia added bluntly.

Given the absolute lack of response in his expression, Julia figured de Montamar was a great poker player. "Whatever do you mean?"

"What I mean, Captain de Montamar, is that it's awfully unlucky that a meteorite of just the right size and velocity managed to take out the Aururian beacon. Likely within weeks of the Alliance survey mission showing up. And said meteorite comes that close to sending the beacon into a gas giant where it'll never be seen again?" Julia crossed her arms, at least as much as she could with the plate in her left hand. "A lot of things are possible Captain. But this is just a little too coincidental for my taste. Especially with their non-transmitting marker also removed."

A quiet stillness came over de Montamar. Julia wasn't shocked to see it. "You knew?" she asked.

"You and I… we are captains. We are officers who believe in a cause. When we are given orders in the name of that cause, we follow them, though we find them disagreeable."

Julia knew she would get no stronger answer out of him. She went to step away.

"I have faith," he said suddenly. Julia turned back to face de Montamar, who met her eye-to-eye. "I have faith that in the end, our common values as democracies will be stronger than any dalliance your people may have with the Empire. Given time, their reactionary nature will repulse you, or will drive them to turn on you when they see you cannot be converted to their ways. We will be waiting patiently for that day."

With nothing more to say, the League captain walked away.

When the lease treaty signing was over, Zack returned to his quarters as quickly as he could just to get out of his dress uniform. Once he'd removed it and was down to his undershirt and shorts, he went to his quarters' living area and sat on the couch. The bottle he had been drinking from on the Koenig was on the coffee stand. There was barely a quarter left in it. He reached for it.

But he didn't grasp it. "I've got to stop this," he murmured to himself. He was letting this start to become too much, he was letting it take over. No more. He wasn't his father. He withdrew his hand and walked into the bedroom of his quarters. Once he settled onto the bed he picked up a picture of himself and Clara. Tears came to his eyes. It hurt so much to know she was gone forever. The usual thoughts - that he was responsible, that he hadn't deserved her - came to him. He sobbed quietly in response. Again he wanted a drink. He wanted to stop feeling.

But he couldn't. Not tonight. He had to prove to himself he had this under control. He had to if he was going to face his friends ever again.


The world of Espérance had the distinction of being the third capital world of the League of Democratic Worlds. It was one of the first wave of colonies under de Escuy's first administration. Over the decades the splendid garden world had absorbed the millions of citizens who fled planets seized by the Aururian Empire. In the Fourth War the planet's defenders had successfully repulsed a determined invasion by Imperial troops in a resistance that Free Traders had declared "fanatical". Rebuilding Espérance had been a high priority afterward. Over the decades billions of francs had been poured into the planet's economy to make it the most wealthy - and most heavily-defended - planet in the entire League.

The main capital of the planet was found near the equator in a subtropical steppe region, at the base of the planet's main space elevator. Nouveaux Escuybourg was designed to emulate Paris from the pre-war Earth, with architectural nods from other great capitals added to emphasize the brotherhood of the League's nationalities and their equality. Some of the most brilliant of these buildings were the Houses of Government, where the various offices of the League's central government maintained themselves along the splendid Rue de Escuy.

One of the more magnificent structures along the Rue de Escuy was the Defense Ministry. A neo-Parisian structure, it had all of the security one would expect for its purpose. The offices of the League's military forces and intelligence services could be found on its twelve floors.

In one such office, Vice Director of Military Intelligence Jean-Baptiste Bouchard read over the report from Phi Perseus and sighed with discontent. He set the data reader down and held his head of thinning gray-brown hair in his hands. Not only had they failed to ensure the Alliance and Empire became enemies, they had also failed to get their hands on Marshal Huaman. Their efforts to secure their protectorates and colonies from Aururian interference would be set back by that failure.

"We're running out of time," he protested to Victor Renard, his senior aide. "The Empire's arms buildup will not long be diverted by this war. They will come for us again when it is over."

"I understand, Vice Director. But the Minister is embracing the President's policies on the matter."

"He has his reasons, yes," Bouchard agreed. "But nothing changes the fact that without the resources of our protectorate worlds, the League would be left destitute. And for what? Species that would never have discovered basic medicine without our guidance? Species where mad theocrats and oligarchs and kings rule as tyrants over populations who know nothing of their natural rights? And the Alliance expects us to simply walk away from these poor worlds?" He waved a hand dismissively. "It is all an act, Victor. The Alliance must pander to its alien members. When they no longer feel that need… well, I hope we can survive that long."

There was a tone from his desk. Bouchard pressed the key for his intercom. "Yes?" he asked.

"Vice Director, your appointment is here."

"I am ready," he said bluntly.

"Who is this?" Renard asked.

"Someone sent by our man on Jao!senat. Given the report I am uncertain…"

The door opened. The figure that entered was a woman in a stylized dark suit that fitted League fashions for professional women. A perfect, gorgeous woman, or so Bouchard thought. She made him immensely self-conscious of his graying hair, receding hairline, and definite paunch. Nevertheless he found himself and stepped forward. "Good day, Madame…"

"Je m'appelle Miranda Lawson, Monsieur Director," the woman said in flawless French. She offered her hand to Bouchard, who took it and kissed the knuckle. "A pleasure to meet you."

Julia's morning routine began as usual. Warm ups and t'ai chi forms (with some mok'bara learned from Worf), shower, breakfast, and the overnight reports from Lieutenant Takawira and the other Gamma Shift supervisors. By 0800 she was on the bridge. The rest of the command staff had reported as well.

"So, your first mission is a success," Locarno said from the helm. He was grinning. "You uncovered a conspiracy, stopped a war, made allies, and I hear that you even managed to get Senator Pensley to like us."

Julia gave Jarod a knowing look. He returned it with a bemused grin. "I may have talked about that note he sent you," Jarod admitted. "GIven all of the nasty things he usually calls us, you have to admit it's a novel experience."

"It is," Julia agreed. She still wondered about whether or not Davies and Hawthorne felt the same way.

"It would appear you succeeded quite well in your first mission as Captain," Meridina said, smiling gently.

"We did, you mean," Julia said. She couldn't help but smile too as she took her seat. Meridina quietly moved over to her chair as First Officer. Julia's eyes went to the holo-viewscreen and the image of a nearly-denuded orbital space. The only Alliance ship left, other than themselves and the soon-to-depart Enterprise, was a Predator-class destroyer. Nearby was an Aururian frigate of the same class as the Irresistible, the first of many Aururian ships that were to be permanently posted here as a result of the lease agreement.

"The lease idea was all your own, Captain," Meridina said.

"And sending the Koenig out," Jarod added. "And letting Opani…"

"Yeah, yeah, Angel and I already had this conversation," she pointed out.

"What the frak was that?" Barnes turned in his seat. "Did you just say 'Angel'? Not 'Lieutenant Delgado?' Who the frak are you and what did you do with our stuck up, formal address-only Captain?"

Julia gave him an amused look. "Captain's prerogative. I can waive formality for a moment or two."

"Oh, and here I thought you were lightening up. My bad."

Julia giggled at that. "Don't ever change, Lieutenant Barnes."

"So I have official permission to be the ship's asshole engineer?"

"Only if you don't make me regret it," she answered. "So, is everything ready?"

"The crew is all aboard, Captain, and we are ready for departure," Meridina said.

"Well then. One mission down…" Julia's small smile turned into a wide grin. "...a whole lot more to go. Mister Locarno, Mister Jarod, we're due in D3R1. Please set the jump drive to the Proxima Centauri jump anchor and prepare for jump."

"Aye, Captain," Locarno said first, beating out Jarod's "Yes ma'am" by a couple seconds.

Julia said nothing more at that point. She didn't need to. Her eyes found the Enterprise on the viewscreen and she realized she didn't quite feel the same pull as she had earlier. This was her ship. Her crew. Her place. She was the Captain of the Aurora. Given her role in the ship's construction, it felt like this was what she had always been meant for.

"Jump drive locked onto Proxima Centauri anchor, Captain," Jarod said.

Julia replied with a brisk nod and a smile. "Jump."

The Aurora moved away from the formerly-disputed planet. The kilometer long ship looked quite swift and graceful in her maneuver. Ahead of the vessel a burst of green light appeared. It expanded into an open tunnel between universes that the Starship Aurora flew into, heading out for another mission.
"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:09 pm

I love it, Maggle!

I love the interplay between 'em. The dynamics are great, it's all so grey and ambiguous, between the amoral don't-care alienoids, the supposedly democratic but desperate and shady humans they're aligned with, the ruthless imperialistic undemocratic but non-enslaving Aururans

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Fri Dec 08, 2017 5:25 pm


Ship's Log: 8 March 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. We have been dispatched to Universe S0T5 to begin the Alliance's first expedition into the region of space known as the Fracture. An unknown calamity caused a portion of the galaxy around Earth to become partially warped in this area, leading to the apparent destruction of the Sol System itself and a number of phenomena not seen elsewhere in the Multiverse. Because of the fluctuations in space standard navigation is unreliable, forcing us to rely upon star readings from outside the Fracture zone to chart courses.

There is a mental component to the phenomena as well. Every Dorei on the ship has reported symptoms to the medbay. Commander Meridina and Lieutenant Lucero have been particularly hit by our surroundings.

The viewscreen of the Aurora showed the A sequence star as best as it could. The crew on the bridge was intrigued with how the star seemed to shimmer and contort in space. Caterina Delgado, the ship's exuberant science officer, was busy at the science station examining what she could on the sensors. "This place is… I can't even begin to describe this. This is a T'Vral Distortion. A real T'Vral!"

"A what?" her sister Angela asked from the tactical station.

"Doctor T'Vral of Vulcan. She was a subspace physicist and theorist of the 21st through 23rd Centuries in S5T3," Cat explained. "She theorized the possibility that the gravity well of a star in an area of space compromised by intense space-time distortion could allow for the bleeding of subspace into real space, causing a distortion effect around the star from the resulting interaction. And this… this is it, exactly as she theorized! It's never been seen before!" Cat excitedly tapped away at her console. "I've got every sensor on the ship recording this. The Vulcan Science Academy is going to love this!"

Julia had to stifle what would have likely been a giggle at Cat's behavior. This was helped by a sympathetic glance to Meridina. She was seated quietly in her chair beside Julia. While her position in the chair was not, in of itself, a sign of something wrong, the pale skin of her face made Meridina look like she was suffering from a stomach ailment. "You're still not adjusting?" Julia asked.

"I am afraid it is not that easy," answered Meridina. "This place feels wrong."

"So wrong it makes you physically ill?"

"To a degree. Given time, I will adjust," Meridina insisted.
Meanwhile Caterina was still gushing. "I need to examine these readings more closely. I am going to write the most awesome paper on this! It's going to take me all night, but it'll be worth it!"

Angel loudly cleared her throat. "Cat, while you're normally adorable when you get crazy geeky like this, I think you're forgetting something?"


"You're already due for something tonight." Angel gave her sister a significant look.

"Huh?" Cat turned to face her sister. "What do you mean? I don't… oh." Realization, and a heavy dose of guilt, made her blush.

"Yeah. And if I'm coming dressed up again, you're coming to."

"Are you going to wear the feather this time?" Cat asked.

"Never," replied Angel.

A few hours later found the two sisters in the holodeck, standing on a winding mountain path. Caterina was in a voluminous set of blue robes that looked a few sizes too big on her small frame. She topped this with a floppy yellow hat on her head. Angel had a cheongsam of red with gold designs. Caterina's girlfriend Violeta was in her light-colored vest and shirt with billowy pants. She had a complexion similar to their own, but her hair and eyes were a vivid purple color, with her hair covered by a broad pale blue hat with a feather. She held an elaborately-carved bow out to nock an arrow into it.

Angel dashed ahead at the foe barring their way. The dragon was large and powerful. Muscle rippled under its crimson and yellow-tinged scales, and wide red eyes burned with fury. Angel's fists landed several blows on its chest before she had to fall back to avoid a swipe of the immense claw. The arrow in Violeta's bow struck next. It lodged into one of the dragon's big ferocious eyes. It shrieked in rage and blew a wide column of flame into them. Although they didn't actually feel any pain, the HP indicators they kept all showed the damage had sapped at least one quarter of their health.

"Blizzaga!" Cat shouted. She raised her staff and a column of pure ice shot from the end of it. The ice grew upon impacting the dragon's head, encasing it in seconds.

That was when the fourth member of the party made their move. Or, rather, when she landed. A blur of blue slammed into the neck of the creature with an elaborate spear. The impact drove the point through the thick armored scale of the creature. Though it did not sever the head, it did puncture clear through to the other side. The dragon's iced-over head flailed about. As it did the attacker jumped off and landed with them. She was the tallest member of the group by far and the only one wearing armor, blue armor that shined in the artificial daylight and covered her torso and her arms. Only her mouth and nose were visible under the mask of the blue helmet, which was itself shaped like the head of a dragon. Her visible skin shared the same basic shade as the sisters and Violeta.

Once the dragon's head slammed into the ground, definitively showing the creature was dead, the helmet retracted upward partially, revealing the long pointed ears at the sides of her head and her blue eyes. Blue marks were painted on her cheeks that looked like wide, slightly-curved half-moons. "That was fun!" Ensign Talara declared. "Being this… what is it again?"

"Dragoon," Violeta answered. Her Sirian accent sounded almost English with a little tonal difference.

"Yes. It is quite fun. Thank you for inviting me."

"You won't be thanking me when we get to the Hall of the Dragon King," Violeta said. "I've heard horror stories about how hard that fight is."

"Well, I'm looking forward to it," Angel declared.

"You're just looking to hit something," Caterina teased. "And you're still not using the chakras right!"

"I am not spouting that pseudo-Chinese gibberish whenever I throw a punch," Angel insisted.

Violeta giggled at that before leading them onward.

Caterina woke up tangled with the sheets and with Violeta. With one arm asleep and a leg cramping she had difficulty getting free without waking her girlfriend up. After this task was managed she took to the usual morning routine. Within forty-five minutes of waking up Cat was in Science Lab 2 with a bowl of colorful marshmallow cereal and a plate of scrambled eggs. She ate breakfast while going over the sensor logs from the star with the T'Vral Distortion. Examination of a debris field and the infrared emissions indicated the star could be Beta Pictoris, but it was at least five parsecs off from where that star was located in other universes even accounting for the extra stellar drift of S0T5's progressed calendar. Cat put down her spoon long enough to jot the necessary notes. She was looking forward to Professor T'Rya's response to them, especially to the witnessing of a bona-fide T'Vral Distortion.

A T'Vral Distortion! She was the first scientist to discover an actual T'Vral Distortion! Caterina felt goosebumps at the thought. It made her think of Spock's log, and all of the things he had been the first scientist to encounter. And now she was doing it! She would have to organize the readings and write a paper!

Cat's eggs were consumed, and most of the cereal eaten, when her omnitool's comm unit went off. She slid the bowl to the side and tapped the blue light that appeared. "Delgado here."

"Lieutenant Delgado." It was Julia. And she didn't sound very happy. "Would you like to explain why you are ten minutes late to your post?"

Cat blinked. "Wait, I'm…" She activated her omnitool and checked the time. A wordless shriek of disbelief was her reaction to the time flashing 0810. "Oh no! I'msosorryI'monmywayDelgadoout!" She jumped from the chair and ran for the door.

At which point she turned and ran back to snatch up her unfinished cereal bowl from its place beside the console she'd been seated at.

A bemused Ensign Tagas had graciously accepted Caterina's frenzied apology when she arrived on the bridge. She took her station immediately and slouched a little in the chair at seeing Julia's "I am not amused" look. Stupid! Stupid, how could I lose track of time like that?! She dutifully went to work monitoring the sensor returns. It was easier said than done in this twisted section of space. The Fracture was living up to its name. It was the space equivalent of a haphazardly-spread blanket that curled up at some points and was stretched out at others. Light that seemed to be coming from one direction would suddenly shift, showing its origin point to be from an entirely different heading. Gravity sources were revealed as being less massive, or more massive, than their sensor returns otherwise indicated.

"Lieutenant Delgado, I'm having trouble locating Gamma Serpentis," she heard Locarno say. "I can't be sure we're on our proper course if I can't see it."

"Right." Cat looked over her sensor returns and the logs. The star was one of those outside of the Fracture that they were using for the purposes of astrogation in this area of space. Losing it meant that Locarno no longer had the exact frame of reference he needed to ensure he knew their heading. Given the powerful states that resided in this region of space, that could be dangerous, and she lost no time determining that one of the Fracture's twisted sections of space was distorting the light from the star. "We can't see Gamma Serpentis from this angle," she said. "Here, I'm highlighting Delta Serpentis for you."

"Thanks," he answered. "Re-calculating course."

"Make sure you keep us clear of borders, Commander," Julia said. "The last thing we need is to wander into Aurigan space. Much less NEUROM space. I don't have any desire to deal with those people again."

"I don't blame you," he answered. NEUROM agents had gotten involved in their mission to Solaris several months before, and Julia and Zack Carrey had narrowly avoided being dragged back to NEUROM space with them. "Course correction entered. We're back on course."

Caterina returned to her balance of looking over sensor logs and examining the twisted nature of the Fracture. She wondered just what could have caused such damage to space-time here.

A blip appeared on one of her sensors. Caterina blinked and checked it over. For a moment she thought it was a false return - not surprising given where they were - but when she saw it again she was certain it couldn't be. "I've got some kind of energy signature on sensors, Captain," she said aloud.

"What kind?" Julia asked.

"I can't tell. I've never seen one like this. Although I can't rule out that it's being distorted due to the Fracture. We'll need to get within visual range for me to confirm what it is."

Julia took only a moment to make her decision on the matter. "Commander Locarno, change course. I want a look at this."

"Aye sir."

After making that decision Julia glanced toward Meridina. She still looked pale. But her expression was no longer one of misery but of interest. "Commander, what is it?" Julia asked.

"I am sensing something," Meridina said. "Despite this… wrongness in my swevyra."

"Is it dangerous?"

"I do not think so. It is… I feel power of some sort. Light."

"We're almost there," Cat said. She counted down the seconds by observing with her sensors.

"Dropping out of warp now," Locarno said. The ship thrummed briefly from the warp drive disengaging. "We're approximately a hundred thousand kilometers out from the object."

"Can you get us a visual, Commander Jarod?"

"In a moment." At Ops the born savant was working on the ship's visualization systems, which took both raw light and other sensor data to form coherent images for the holo-viewscreen. "The local effects of the Fracture are distorting the image. I'm trying to clear it up."

"I'm picking up trace remnants of neutrinos and tetryons," Caterina added. "And a few other exotic particles."

"There we go…"

Interested in the sight of her find, Caterina looked up from her console to the holo-viewscreen. The image on it started as a vague blob of green and a few pixels of white. "Magnifying," Jarod said, pre-empting Julia's request.

The blob became a close-up image. Initially pixelated, Jarod's efforts gradually sharpened the image until they could make out the object. Caterina's eyes widened as she made out the shape. Julia breathed out a "Is that a…?"

Caterina double-checked her sensor returns briefly. They were now indicating the shape that had formed on the viewscreen.

The image finished sharpening. It confirmed what they were seeing. "Well, I didn't expect that," Jarod said.

The first inclination had been that the source of the power signature was a ship. And Caterina considered it might still be one. It was primarily green and white in color. The black object showing on the top of the craft had a design she couldn't make out given that they were mostly looking at the side of the thing.

But its design was not simply that of a ship. The four pieces sticking out from the ventral side of the craft, originating on the sides, were clearly limbs. Legs, with sharp claws. A motionless tail was visible from the rear. And the front of the craft had a module that was clearly a head, with dull yellow eyes and a white mouth, framed in the same green as the main body.

"Is that what I think it is?" Julia asked aloud.

"Yeah, I think so," Cat said. "It's… a metal lion. A big, green metal lion."

Undiscovered Frontier
"The Whims of Fate"

Starships could come in many shapes and sizes. Differing design aesthetics, or the requirements of specific systems, could determine how a ship was laid out or shaped. Sometimes resemblance to animals could even be had; the Alakins, Dorei, and Romulans all likened their starships to birds.

But this went further than that. This was a craft that, for some reason, had been built to look like a four-legged metal lion.

"Lieutenant, what is this thing?" Julia asked.

Caterina was already working on her readings. "Whatever it's made of isn't registering on our sensors. And I can't make out the power supply itself." Something came to her attention. "I am picking up a life sign aboard."

"There's somebody in that thing?"

"Yeah. The life sign is showing as Human. I think they're unconscious."

"Commander, can we get a transporter lock?"

In response to Julia's question Jarod checked his instruments and answered, "Once we're within five hundred kilometers. Any more than that and I'm worried about how the Fracture might distort the transporter."

"Getting close is advisable if we are to take it aboard," Meridina noted.

"Will it fit?" Julia asked aloud.

"In the landing bay for the fighter wing, yes," Jarod answered.

"Then tractor it in." Julia tapped a key on her command chair. "Bridge to medbay. You're about to get a patient."

"We're ready," answered Doctor Leonard Gillam.

The Aurora drew closer to the craft with her sublight drives. Caterina kept her scans going the entire way. "I can't tell you anything new about the lion. The level of neutrinos does make me suspect a wormhole opened recently. And there's something about the tetryons…"

"I'll leave that to you, Lieutenant," Julia said.

"We're in range," Jarod said. "Transporting now."

"I'm bringing us into position to tractor the craft into the hanger."

"The flight deck reports all craft stowed," Meridina added. "They are ready to bring the vessel aboard." She looked at Julia. "May I recommend sending Lieutenant Lucero to oversee an investigation of the vessel?"

Julia nodded her assent.

Lucy Lucero had seen a number of things she would once have called "bizarre" in the prior few years. That included herself now, given what she was capable of. Finding new surprises was becoming harder.

But sometimes it seemed the Multiverse was determined to keep surprising her despite that.

The metal green lion was a snug fit on the flight deck. It had been tractored in on its side, giving it the appearance of a cat laying on its side and asleep. Lucy tapped at her omnitool to access the scanner functions. The scan showed the material was something that even the Darglan had never encountered. "We're going to need an atomic analysis scanner," she said out loud.

"Yes sir. I'll let Lieutenant Barnes know." The voice speaking to her was strained. Ensign Jampa was a Dorei of teal complexion, with dark purple spots running down the sides of her face at the hairline. Her light purple, almost pinkish hair was pulled back into a bun.

Normally Jampa was one of the excitable junior operations officers. Every technical problem or question was a mystery demanding she solve it. But there was hardly any indication of that attitude right now. Lucy imagined it was for the same reason she was feeling sick.

Ever since the Aurora entered the Fracture, Lucy felt ill at ease. The force within her, the life force power that the Gersallians called swevyra, was telling her that the universe itself had gone wrong. That the Flow of Life was warped beyond recognition.

But there was something else. Lucy walked up to the inert machine's head and concentrated. Her stomach twisted at the attempt. Taking in a breath, Lucy focused and resumed her effort.

And there it was. She could feel something in the machine. The Flow of Life, distorted as it was in this space, radiated at this spot. Something in this spacecraft resonated with her power. As if it were, itself, alive.

Lucy's hand went to her omnitool and the key to open comms. "Lucero to Meridina," she said into it.

"Meridina here. Do you have a report?"

"Not yet. But… I need you to come here. I need your opinion on this."

There was a short pause. "Very well. I am on my way."

Lucy looked back to the occupant of the flight deck and stared. "Just what are you?" she wondered aloud.

The command staff was gathered in the conference lounge with the Koenig officers, as well as Tom Barnes and Lucy. The latter had a pale look to her lightly-tanned brown complexion. Like Meridina she was not finding staying in this space easy.

Julia started by looking to Jarod and Cat. "Any suggestions on where this ship comes from?" She motioned to the holodisplay above the table that was showing the green lion, now laid out on the flight deck for the Aurora's starfighters.

"It doesn't match anything we've been given on ships from S0T5," Jarod answered. "In fact, the design doesn't match anything in our records period."

"Could it be a ship from a Fracture nation we have no records of?" Julia asked.

"I'm not seeing any sign of technology consistent with the star nations in the Fracture," Jarod replied. "And the materials aren't anything we know of."

"I can confirm that," Lucy added. "The atomic analysis scans we've taken show this is a completely new element we're dealing with."

"Although people in this universe are nuts enough to build spaceships shaped like lions," Angel mused.

"Actually, I think it might be from another universe," Caterina said.

Everyone looked to her. A brief surge of her old anxiety toward such attention held Cat back for a second. There was no sign of stuttering, however, when she resumed speaking. "The neutrino and tetryon traces are consistent with an interuniversal jump point's profile within twelve hours of opening," she explained. "Normally those kinds of traces fade from external effects so they're not actually detectable after so long. But with the Fracture the way it is, I think this specific area of space is a sort of null zone that keeps them from being affected as usual."

"So the lion ship has an interuniversal drive?" Julia asked.

"Well, I don't know about that," Cat replied. "I haven't had a chance to examine it."

"We have," Lucy said.

"And I didn't pick up any indications of an IU drive on the damn thing," Barnes added. "Hell, we can't even get in. There aren't any hatches."

"It's probably in the mouth," Lucy remarked. "Which is remaining shut."

"It's possible something else might have caused an interuniversal shift," Cat said. She went into deep thought. "Not likely, but possible. I'll need to examine the lion ship more closely. Or talk to the pilot."

"What about the pilot?" Julia turned her head toward Leo Gillam.

Leo was still wearing his white lab coat over his black-and-blue-trim uniform. His dark brown eyes looked toward Julia. His hair, black in color, was cut short to his head, and his dark skin was only a shade lighter than his hair. Leo tapped a key and brought up the image of a figure in a set of what looked like armor, prominently white with green segments and what looked like a black-colored suit beneath the armor. A head of brown hair was settled onto a pillow.

"The pilot looks rather young," Meridina observed.

"She is a Human female, primarily Caucasian, estimated to be between fourteen and eighteen years of age," Leo recited. "I'm leaning toward the lower end of the estimate myself, as there's no sign of malnutrition to explain the relative lack of growth if she were older."

"That is… really young," Locarno said.

"Until we know more about the culture she comes from, I don't see any point in idle speculation." Jarod looked at Leo. "Do you have any idea what's wrong with her?"

"I haven't found any inherent problems in her body's systems, so I'm ruling it as an incidental episode," Leo answered. "That is, something specific shocked her system and caused her current condition. I imagine she'll be awake in the next day or so."

"Post a security officer nearby, but not in the open," Julia ordered. "Let's not scare her when she wakes up."

"I'll have the rotation up by the time we leave," said Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the chief of security.

Julia nodded in acknowledgement. She returned her attention to Lucy. "Is there anything else we should know about the lion ship?"

"It's… well, it's got a feeling to it," Lucy said.

"As in with your powers?"

"Yes. Meridina and I both felt it."

"I would almost suspect the lion ship of being alive in some way," Meridina said. "I can feel its presence in the Flow of Life."

That brought uncomprehending looks from the others, with the sole exception of Caterina. Pure interest was bubbling in her voice when she asked, "You're saying it's a living being?"

"I cannot say that. But it is not merely an inanimate machine," Meridina noted.

"Either way, I don't know if we'll be able to learn more until the pilot wakes up," said Lucy. She gave Leo a curious look. "Can you give us an estimate?"

"I'm not seeing any reason our patient shouldn't wake up soon," Leo said. "Whatever shock made her fall unconscious could mean she'll wake up in a minute, or in a week."

"We'll just have to wait," Julia said. "Cat, is there anything more you can learn from this area?"

"I'd like to finish a couple of in-depth scans," Cat answered. "They'll be done in a couple of hours."

"Let us know when they're done. Then we resume the rest of the survey mission. And Lieutenant?"

"Yes?" asked Cat.

"I know you're enormously interested in this ship, and in the Fracture as a whole, but make sure you're keeping watch on the long-range sensors. I want warning if we end up running into someone."

Cat nodded quietly. She had been expecting a dressing down for her late arrival. This was preferable.

Julia stood. "Everyone's dismissed. Except Commander Carrey."

There were nods from the assembled. They stood and filed out of the conference lounge. Within a minute only Zack was left with Julia.

"How are you feeling?" Julia asked him.

He gave her a forlorn look in reply.

"I would feel better if you agreed to counseling," she said. "You've been through alot this year."

"A counselor's only going to tell me what I already know," he lamented. "They'll say I've got survivor's guilt, and that's why I feel the way I do about losing Clara. And that if I want to get better, I have to accept it's not my fault and that she's gone for good. Since I know this, what's the point in wasting time?"

"There could be more to it than that," Julia pointed out. "I…" She stopped and sighed at seeing his pointed look. "Why do I get the feeling you want to suffer, Zack?"

He turned away briefly before looking back to her. A sad smile was on his face. "Maybe we've been friends for too long, and you know me too well," he suggested. "We know each other's' moods. Same with Rob and Tom."

A question arose in Julia's mind. One that she was afraid to ask, one she dreaded hearing an answer for.

"Do you need me for anything else, Captain?" Zack asked.

"Just… be on standby with your crew," Julia said. Her voice betrayed her continued inner struggle over her concerns for him. "Just in case something happens and we need the Koenig out there."

"We're ready for when you need us," Zack promised. He waited to see if she would ask anything else, if indeed she would ask that, but she didn't, and he departed.

Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent was not entirely happy. His fighters were, for the moment, completely grounded due to the lion ship on their flight deck, which made landings unsafe and thus forbade any launches. This meant that there was little for him and his pilots to do but sit around, grouse, and maybe log simulator time.

He arrived on the flight deck to see all of the engineers and operations officers looking over the craft. It was another sight that he would have to log away in his mind on the list of miracles his life had included since that day, four and a half years before, when a group of well-meaning people had saved his family and many others. Not simply saved them, but introduced them to an entirely new life, one that had led to Patrice serving as the head of a wing of starfighter pilots and his sister Madeleine commanding an entire starship.

"Who would build a ship like that anyway?" The question came from beside him. Lieutenant Gwen Skydancer was a Sirian woman with striking green eyes and vibrant purple hair drawn back into a pony-tail. She was tall, with a statuesque build. Her uniform, like his own, had light blue as the branch color on the collar and trim areas. "I can understand a starship with an avian look. But a lion? What's the point?"

"I suppose one could use the legs for vectoring thrusters," he said.

"It is a really unique design!" another voice stated. This one had pitch that was distinctly non-human. The two pilots peered down at the short form of Lieutenant Jebediah Kerman, the Aurora crew's lone Kerbal. The species had yet to join the Alliance, although they were rumored to be close to finalizing their admission, but that hadn't stopped Kerman from joining the Stellar Navy within a few months of the Alliance's foundation. He had been the first of his people to fight the Reich as a result, although the Kerbals were now a full member of the Allied Powers and contributing their experienced (and to Laurent, near-suicidal) starfighter corps and carrier ships to the Allied fleets.

"I suppose it's the kind of thing you Kerbals would build, if you could make it work," Gwen teased.

"Maybe I should send the images back home," Kerman answered. "We can fit trinium claws to the legs and shred up enemy ships! And the armoring…"

Patrice couldn't help but chuckle at the enthusiasm of the Kerbal pilot. Kerman had been his wingman for over a year now, even turning down a flight command to keep his place on Patrice's wing. After so many combat flights with the Kerbal Patrice wasn't sure he'd want another wingman himself. Kerman had saved his life too often.

"I just want that thing gone," Gwen said. "I don't like being cooped up on the ship, unable to fly."

"I know the feeling, Lieutenant," Patrice sighed. "I know it all too well."

A short distance away, Meridina and Lucy were looking at the machine intently. While Barnes and the others were examining it with their devices and instruments, the two were sensing it through the Flow of Life. The power within it was quiet but still steady. A gentle thrum rippled in the Flow.

They were finding that this had a pleasant side-effect. The power of the thing, the life in it, was helping to improve their connection to the Flow of Life. For the first time since the Aurora had entered the Fracture they felt content.

"Do you think the Council might know something about this?" Lucy asked her.

"I do not think so," Meridina replied. "Nothing like this vessel has been recorded in Gersallian history."

"Hell, the Darglan might not have known something like this," Lucy pointed out. "This could be entirely uncharted ground. And you and I are the ones here to learn about it."

"It is a great responsibility." Meridina closed her eyes and breathed in. "But I must say I enjoy it as well. A machine powered by the Flow of LIfe, Lucy. Can you imagine it?"

Lucy nodded. At the same time, her mind briefly wandered. She thought of her Trial in the Temple of Perception back on Gersal and the vision of a bizarre machine that had also been permeated with power. Not the power of the Flow of Life, but something else, something stranger and more foreboding. If this was possible, then maybe such a thing was as well.

It was something to think over, but for the moment she focused entirely on her work, sensing the power source of the machine and, slowly, starting to understand it.

The end of Caterina's bridge shift couldn't have come soon enough. Not only did she have the data on the T'Vral Distortion at Beta Pictoris to go over, she wanted a look at the lion ship and its pilot.

Lieutenant al-Rashad was checking the scanner board while Caterina watched. "Nothing strange, or at least stranger than we've seen since entering this blasted place," the Arab woman murmured. She turned the chair and looked up to Cat. "Although there is that bit at bearing 221 mark 098."

"221 098?" Cat asked. She looked at the screen herself. "Oh yeah, that. Given how space is warped around that spot I think it's a result of the gravitational distortion. I suppose it could be something more. Keep an eye on it?"

"I will." Al-Rashad smiled at her now. "So, how goes the paper on the T'Vral? I was looking at some of the readings. It was lovely, wasn't it?"

"Did you see those variances in the mid to low Groenitz-Hallen bands?" Caterina asked, enthusiasm brimming in her voice. "Even T'Vral didn't expect that."

"An artifact of the A sequence star itself?"

"Possible. If we can find another T'Vral around a different kind of star that would be great." Cat checked her time piece and glanced toward the front of the bridge. Violeta was on duty at the helm for another three hours. When she was off duty they were due for dinner together and then what they usually dubbed "cuddle time".

But I've got so much to do… a part of her complained. Another part of her retorted with She's your girlfriend, she's more important than stuff you can make time for later.

"Let me know if you see anything," Cat said to her. "Have a great shift."

"Oh, I always look forward to it, don't you know?" al-Rashad teased.

The Fracture was thousands of years old. And in those thousands of years, it had always been inhabited. Living in the Fracture was not a pleasant experience, and never an easy one.

But like always, life found a way to do it.

Many cultures lived in these twisted spaces and over their existences they learned how to cope with the challenges it presented. They discovered ways to use it to their advantage.

One such method was to use the warping of space to hide a ship in such a way to spy on other vessels. Just such a thing was happening to the crew of the Aurora, as a distance away from them a vessel was hidden in the twisted spaces of the Fracture, carefully watching.

The vessel in question was not large. It wasn't even a quarter the size and mass of the Aurora. The main body was made of an exotic blend of metallic alloys and artificially-grown tissues from an Aurigan man-of-war, a giant species of cosmozoan that could wipe out ships by tangling them in its tendrils and sucking the energy out of them until their crews were deprived of life support. The ship-crafters of Cabea had discovered how to cultivate these void-dwelling denizens of the Fracture and produced ships that made use of their energy-resistant hides and minimize their ships' detectability by one of the few scanning methods not afflicted by the properties of the Fracture. Specialized grasping lines could then be employed on unsuspecting targets to debilitate ships by draining their energy. The Cabeans had won some regard for this successes in bio-adaptive engineering from their allies in the organization known, and feared, as NEUROM. They had even been granted a semi-permanent seat on the guiding committee of CORTEX, a rare honor for one of the weaker members of the alliance.

The Cabean ship Judgement of Fate observed its prey with the same quiet deliberation of the creatures it was designed to emulate. On the bridge of the vessel Sub-Commander Hayten Tothwallad considered his circumstances. The vessel Aurora's presence had been known of for some time. The word from his superiors had been simply to observe her and not engage. So long as the Alliance respected NEUROM's frontiers, they had no quarrel with these strangers from another universe.

That had been then. This was now. Tothwallad looked to the dark-clad being sharing his bridge. "You are sure, my lady?"

A pair of yellow, angry eyes glared at him. In other circumstances Lady Dolores would have been attractive. She had smooth skin the color of bronze and a fit figure that her bodysuit hid little of. Tothwallad was himself a fine example of Human fitness, courtesy of a demanding physical fitness regimen programmed into him from childhood by memetic compulsions ordered by the Cabean Republic's Ministry for the Complete Health of the Citizenry.

Whatever her attractiveness, no sane person wanted to be near such an agent of the Ministry of Fate. They thrived on Human pain and suffering. If they feared anything, it would be the Fates themselves, and those were just a myth (or so it was sometimes said). Dolores would leave nothing of Tothwallad if he crossed her. Which, through his question, he had come dangerously close to doing.

"I sense that power even here," she said. "It is a power that will be ours."

"We cannot fight a ship of that size," he protested. "We would not survive long enough to put even one arm on that ship."

"Nor do we have to. We need only maintain contact until the Ministry's ships arrive." Dolores frowned. "Can you manage this without mewling, Captain?"

Tothwallad nodded. It was, in the end, the only answer that didn't involve dying right then and there.
"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Fri Dec 08, 2017 7:11 pm

Yes. Oh yes. Bwahaha!

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sat Dec 09, 2017 5:09 pm

Let's see if this works. It'll give Shroom an idea of what the Aurora looks like.


It's not perfect. The warp drive nacelles are too small, the front view is missing lines delineating the tapering shape of the hull area leading up to the deflector dish at the bottom. But it should give a rough idea of the Aurora's look.
"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Dec 10, 2017 12:02 am

Zack Carrey tossed and turned in his bed. The dream had him again. He was at the mine complex on New Caprica. There were dead bodies and wrecked Cylon centurions everywhere. "Clara!" he screamed. "Clara, I'm here!"

He came upon the bodies. The dead Cylon humaniform. The wounded woman. And on the bottom… Clara, with the tattered back of her nurse's scrubs covered in her blood. He turned her over as always and looked into the empty blue eyes.

"Why weren't you here?" Clara's voice asked. Despite being clearly dead, her lips moved. "Why did you bring me here to die?"

"I… I didn't," he insisted.

"I came out here because of you. Now I'm dead. I'd be alive if you never knew me." The dead face twisted into an angry one. "They were right. You never deserved me. And now I'm dead because of you!"

"Clara, no… I never…" But there was no conviction in his voice. This was what he believed, after all.

Zack was so full of guilt and horror that he couldn't face the accusing revenant of Clara any longer. He turned away from her and toward the woman bleeding out. But he knew something was wrong the moment he looked toward her. The figure that had been in civilian clothes before was now in a Stellar Navy uniform. His eyes wandered up her bullet-ridden torso to her face. His heart skipped at seeing the woman's face was new. A familiar one. "Julie," he rasped.

"Zack." Her voice was weak and pained. "Why… why did you let us die?"

Now the field was bereft of the mining vehicles. Bodies covered it. Bodies in Alliance uniforms covered the ground. He turned away from Julia's wrecked body and faced another form. Tom Barnes' chest haad nearly exploded from the gunfire that claimed him. A big, bloody hole filled Cat's forehead. The back of her head was gone.

"No," he whimpered. 'No! No no no not!"

At that point he woke up screaming. He looked around at his darkened quarters on the Aurora. On the nightstand his omnitool was giving off the blinking blue light of an incoming call. At first he didn't react. He couldn't. Not with the images from his dream still fresh in his mind.

When the omnitool kept going off Zack finally had the presence of mind to reach for the light and trigger it. "Carrey here."

"Commander, I need to see you in the ready office," said Julia, being all-business as usual. "Right away."

With his nap ruined already, Zack had no objections. "On my way," he said. He stood up and put a fresh uniform on. It was only when he was about to go out the door he remembered that he had taken a couple shots of tequila before his nap. He trudged over to the replicator and said, "Computer, a glass of water and six hundred milligrams of Niltox."


"Override," he grumbled. The replicator came to life and left the pills and water. He put the three pills in his mouth and washed them down in one gulp. With that much Niltox, he expected to be virtually sober by the time he reached the bridge. That was the important part, too. He had to be completely sober, even if he looked horrible.

Once the NIltox had a minute or so to start working, Zack left his quarters.

The door chime for Julia's office sounded. She looked up from her screen and said "Enter". Once the door opened her expression lost its business-like demeanor, becoming one of concern. "My God, Zack, what's wrong with you?"

Zack walked up to the chair and set himself in it. His eyes looked tired and weary, which went with the deep, purplish-black color under them. His face was drawn and pale. And he didn't even bother trying to fake a smile. "Bad dreams," he said. "Nightmares. Worse than usual. I haven't slept well the last few days. My nap didn't go well either."

"Christ," Julia muttered. "Look at you. This is why you need to get counseling…"

"Not now, Julia, please," he pleaded. "I don't want the mother hen routine right now."

"Someone's got to say something," she insisted. "You're… Zack, if it's causing you this much trouble, you're arguably not fit for duty."

"That's just what I need," he insisted. "I need to be out in my ship, I need something to occupy my mind."

She gave him a sardonic look. "We both know bridge watches can be quiet and boring, so I'm not sure I see the improvement." When he didn't respond she sighed and continued, "Well, I need you out there anyway. The Koenig is our scout, after all, and we need one now."

"Can do," he answered.

"I'll have Nick relay you course data to you. Maintain the best scans you can."

"So, let me get my people together, we should be good to launch in an hour."

"You're dismissed. Good luck, Zack."

"Thanks." He left without a further word.

Leo's work day was officially over when he returned to his office with a mug of coffee. He sat and began to drink while he monitored their patient. She was laying in the standard care ward just two beds down from the one Robert had previously occupied.

Doctor Lani Walker stepped in a moment later. She was about a year younger than him, a bright young physician who joined the Alliance service out of idealism like so many others. She had a brown complexion and long dark hair with an ovular face. A pendant with a crystal was her one personal ornamentation, something Leo presumed came from her origin in the Tohono O'odham Nation, the self-named "Desert People" of Arizona and Sonora.

Leo looked up. "Doctor Walker, how can I help you?"

"I wanted to be honest with you," she said. "Over the last eight hours I have been feeling occasional spells of nausea and a sense of anxiety."

Leo pondered that admission. The symptoms were general enough that they could be from a number of possibilities. On the other hand, they also fit the symptoms he was hearing from others. He raised an eyebrow at that possibility. "Would you like something?" he asked.

"It is not severe," she replied. "I've felt worse before. But I thought you should know."

Leo stood from his chair. "Just for form's sake, I'd like to…"

He was interrupted by a clattering sound outside. He moved around Walker to the door. She followed him into the standard care ward of medbay.

Leo's chief nurse, a Darfuri woman named Nasri, was standing with hands held up in a peaceful gesture. "You are okay," she insisted.

Leo followed where she was looking to see their gown-wearing patient was off of the biobed. Her light brown eyes darted around the medbay ward in an obvious search, presumably for the armor they had removed while treating her. Leo fully entered the ward and brought his hands up, palms out. "Hello," he said. That drew the girl's attention to him. Her eyes were wide with disbelief and confusion. "I'm Doctor Leonard Gillam, I'm in charge here. We're only here to help you."

"Where is this?" she asked, or rather, she demanded. "This isn't the Galaxy Garrison… Who are you?!"

"I'm the Chief Medical Officer of this ship, the Starship Aurora," Leo answered. "You're safe here."

"But Earth doesn't have this level of technology yet," the girl protested. She began to wobble where she was standing. "You're lying. Are you…"

Nasri got to the girl just as she pitched over. "Doctor!"

Leo had his scanner ready when he got to them. Their patient wasn't entirely unconscious at the moment but it was clear she was too woozy to communicate effectively. "She's still recovering," he observed. "Let's get her back in the bed." He put an arm under the teenager's back while Nasri got her legs. They returned her to her bed gently.

Her eyes opened slowly. They were the same brown as her hair. "Where am I?" she asked. "Where are the… others?"

"Conserve your strength," he urged her. "Whatever happened to you on your ship, you're going to need more time to recover."

"But the others… the Castle!" She gripped his arm. "Did they get clear? What happened?"

"I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about," Leo said. "Just relax for a while. When you've got the strength, we'll do whatever we can to help you." He almost asked her name but held back. She clearly needed more rest. Natural rest too.

The girl's eyes slowly closed. She was fast asleep.

Leo gestured to the others to join him in stepping away. Once he felt they were far enough away to not disturb the patient, he said, "Okay, I'm going to inform Captain Andreys that she woke up and that she needs more sleep. Doctor Walker, would you mind monitoring her vitals for any more changes?"

"Not at all, Doctor," she answered.

"If you have any more anxiety problems or nausea, let me know. I can have Doctor Hreept fill in for you." When she shook her head in reply, Leo left the matter alone. He looked to Nasri next. "Did she say anything before we got in?"

"Nothing audible," Nasri replied.

"Alright. I'll let the others know. If she wakes up again, let Doctor Walker know first and me second. And give her something to eat and drink."

"Of course."

Confident in Nasri's ability to care for the patient, Leo left it at that.

Zack stepped into his quarters on the Koenig and placed his bag on the table. He zipped it open to check on the contents. The upper contents were a few personal things that he always brought with him, such as photos from his baseball-playing days in the minors, and they were quickly placed on his desk.

The tequila bottle and plastic tumbler? Those stayed in the bag.

Zack stowed the bag under his desk and departed his quarters, heading for the bridge. Once he was in the turbolift he was met by a man of light, almost pale, complexion, with a solid build. The man had blond hair that was pulled into a regulation-satisfying ponytail that went to the back of his neck. He had a wide face with a trimmed beard that matched the color of his hair. His uniform included the blue trim of medical branch and a single gold stripe on the collar rank tab, marking the man an Ensign. Given the size of the crew, this made his identity easy to discern.

After giving the lift the verbal order of "Bridge Deck", Zack turned to the other occupant. "Doctor Epstein," Zack said. "Did you get settled into the infirmary yet?"

"Of course, Commander," Doctor Wilfred Allen-Epstein answered. His English was pronounced with a German accent. Zack had only met his new Medical Officer a few times and thought he looked to be about Leo's age. "I'm quite ready for my first deployment on your ship. I enjoy working with Doctor Gillam and the others in the Aurora medbay, of course, but I appreciate the chance to go out on my own."

"That's the spirit, Doctor," Zack stated with less enthusiasm than he had been intending.

"I have heard about your loss, Commander. You have my condolences." A sad look crossed the young doctor's face. "I'm not sure how I'd take it if I lost Ben."


"My husband," Epstein clarified. "He and I left Earth together to join the Alliance. I signed up for the Stellar Navy as a medical officer. He's a civilian science specialist, a biologist assigned to the Pathfinder."

"Oh? Which Earth?"

"Your's, actually." Epstein nodded.

"Ah." Zack forced any sign of emotion from his face. He couldn't help but think of Clara. And with that came the desire for a nice drink or two in order to dull the pain.

"Yes. I am from Bonn and Ben lived in Phoenix. We met over the Internet years ago. Before the Multiverse contact."

Zack nodded once in reply before stepping forward. The lift doors opened and they were on the bridge deck. Epstein followed him to the bridge, where everyone else was already at their stations. Zack settled into the command chair. "Alright everyone," he said. "Let's do this. Begin launch procedures."

A minute later the Koenig pulled free from its dock at the back of the Aurora's primary hull. The attack ship pointed slightly upward before its impulsor drives fired. The Koenig was soon gaining distance from its base ship. The warp drive nacelles built up into a flash and the ship was gone in a second.

Caterina struggled to think of the last time she ever visited the flight deck. The three hundred meter-long deck was lined with the berths to feed the ship's Mongoose starfighters into their launch tubes. The far end had the opening, now closed, to retrieve the fighters. Safety gear and tractor beam emplacements lined the walls and ceilings while, at the bow end, a control room overlooked the entire deck.

A handful of crew went about in duty uniforms marked with orange branch color. Cat rarely saw that color, which was for flight operations personnel. They were now outnumbered by the more familiar beige of operations and engineering crew, with a couple of the science specialists with engineering backgrounds helping out and wearing dark blue-trimmed uniforms that matched Cat's. Only Cat had the uniform skirt, however, instead of the trousers almost everyone else preferred.

She activated her omnitool scanner as she approached the lion ship. Seeing it up close and personal was the kind of sight she lived for now. The mysterious craft had been built with an entirely different aesthetic design to their own. Cat's mind raced with the possibilities. Was the design inspired for cultural reasons? Religious? Why would someone make a spaceship modeled after a feline species?

"I was wondering when you'd get down here." Lucy walked up beside Cat. "Couldn't stay away, could you?"

"Well, no," Cat admitted. "I've got to start working on my paper for that T'Vral DIstortion. But I wanted to see this first. What have you found out?"

"Nothing much. There's an internal space in the head where the cockpit is located, and we're pretty sure the entrance is inside the mouth." Lucy shrugged. "And Meridina and I feel something in it. It's power source is linked to the Flow of Life."

"You mean it's a machine that is powered by the same stuff you use for all of your metaphysical magic power? Has anything like this been heard of before?"

"Not by the Gersallians," Lucy said.

To that Cat's grin widened. "Another first for us then," she said. "I mean, imagine the papers we can write on this. Who knows how well the internal power source works? It might even be better than naqia."

"Maybe. The Flow of Life is capable of some amazing things. Although controlling it might be an issue. Also…"

Cat heard the tone in Lucy's voice. "What?"

"The Flow of Life's power, you don't just plug into it. Emotions and feelings, they all influence how the power works." Lucy frowned from the memories going through her mind. She thought of the cold power when dark emotions seeped into use of those powers. "What would happen if a machine reached into it? Darkness weakens the Flow of Life. What would machines do to it?"

"Well, that's what experiments are for," Cat said. She couldn't keep the excitement from her voice. "That's science, Lucy. You ask questions, you make guesses, then you test for them and record the results to check against your guesses."

"I'm not sure I want to trust something like this to just guess-work, Cat."

"I'm sorry if this bothers you," Cat replied. "But if we don't try, we'll never know. Sometimes you have to…"

Lucy's expression changed from the stony frown it had been to growing surprise. Cat wondered why when she felt something as well. There was a sense that something was looking at her. Into her. The sensation was a surprise.

The bigger surprise came a moment later. The lion ship's eyes lit up. Without warning it rolled onto its legs. The officers surrounding it all watched in shock at the sudden movement. Those nearest fell away from it, as if it might pounce on them.

It didn't. Rather it sat its hind legs down before lowering its forelegs. Its shining yellow eyes looked directly at Lucy and Cat. Or, rather, Cat herself. Cat responded to the attention with an audible gulp.

"It's… it's reacting to you," Lucy said. "It senses something in you… something that I think it likes?"

"Oh? That's… nice," Cat squeaked. "So it doesn't want to eat me?"

"No. The trace feels faint. What do you feel?"

"Just this… like it's looking into me," Cat replied. "It's like it's uncertain about something. I… wait." Cat concentrated and thought she heard a voice. A faint "Who are you?" resonated in her mind.

"There's another mind in the link," Lucy said. "It's…"

"...the pilot." Cat tapped her omnitool. "Delgado to Medbay. Leo, is that pilot awake?"

After a few moments Leo's reply came. "She was. She went back to sleep."

"I'm thinking she might not be asleep anymore," Cat said.

"Why? What's…" There was silence from the other end. Lucy and Cat gave each other uncertain looks during this silence. It ended with Leo's voice returning. "You called it, Cat. She's awake again."

"How is she?"

"Resting. Why?"

"I think we should talk to her," Cat said.

Julia and Meridina arrived at the medbay just ahead of Cat and Lucy. The four of them entered the standard care ward together and joined Leo and Nasri at the biobed occupied by the pilot The others noted their guest was out of the armor she'd been recovered in and wearing a blue patient's gown. "How are you feeling?" Julia asked.

"Better. I'm still not sure what happened to me." She looked at them in turn until her eyes fixed on Cat. "You're the one I felt?"

"Yeah." Cat nodded. "Although I'm not sure why your ship linked to me."

"It liked something in you. That's how the Lions bond with pilots." The pilot rested her head on her hand. She still seemed woozy. "I'm sorry, I'm just…" She looked back up at them. "Did you find the others?"

"Others? There are more?" Julia asked.

"Yes. My friends are in the other four. We were all in the wormhole when everything went crazy. I lost control of my lion and fell toward the side of the tunnel. Then everything went black and I woke up here."

"I thought a wormhole was involved," said Cat. "That explains the neutrinos at the spot we found you. But we haven't found any other lion ships."

"Before we go much further, we should probably introduce ourselves," Julia said. "I'm Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. This is my first officer, Commander Meridina, and Lieutenant Caterina Delgado is our science officer. Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero is one of our operations officers."

The girl on the bed nodded. "My name is Katie Holt. My friends call me Pidge. I'm a Paladin of Voltron." Her expression betrayed confusion. "Are you under the command of the Galaxy Garrison?"

"I'm afraid we don't know what that is," Julia answered. "This is going to sound outlandish to you…"

"There's not a lot that's outlandish to me these days," Pidge admitted, grinning slightly.

"That's a feeling we're all familiar with." Julia let herself smile at that thought. "But we think you hopped universes."

The grin turned into an expression of confusion. "Uh… what?"

"We're from an interuniversal state called the United Alliance of Systems," Julia explained. "We're a union of various Human and non-Human solar systems that span multiple universes, including multiple copies of Earth, using interuniversal jump drive technology. I come from the Earth of Universe H1E4, as do they." She indicated Cat, Lucy, and Leo. "Commander Meridina is a Gersallian from Universe N2S7."

Pidge's eyes widened. "You're… you're not kidding, are you?"

"No. Right now we're in Universe S0T5."

"Then…" She shook her head. "Whatever happened to the wormhole… it threw me here. Maybe the others too."

"I've been making the best sensor sweeps I can since we found you," Cat said. "But we're in a region of space called the Fracture that has some really screwed up spatial characteristics. I can't guarantee finding anything beyond a certain range."

"I think I can help you with…" Pidge tried to slip off of the bed. Leo caught her. "No, it's okay…"

"It's not," he said. "Your nervous system took a shock and you need rest."

"But my friends might be out there," she protested.

"Well, we can try to find them," Cat said. "Do you know of any special way to scan for them?"

"The Castle could. The Castle of Lions, I mean. It's the spaceship we use as our base. Now that I think about it, maybe it could be here too."

"If your ship has a link to your lion, maybe we can use that," Lucy said. She looked to Meridina. "What do you think?"

"It is worth a try," said Meridina.

"Do what you can." Julia nodded to them and they walked off. "I'd like it if you continued to rest, Ms. Holt. We'll keep you up to date on any developments." She gave Cat a wry look. "And I think Lieutenant Delgado is going to burst if she doesn't get to start asking you questions."

Their guest turned her head slightly, as if just now noticing the wide, anticipating grin on Cat's face. That grin faded slightly at seeing Leo's rather dour expression. "I won't wear her out," Cat promised.

"You can talk until her meal comes," Leo said. "Then you're out until tomorrow."

"You know, I really don't mind…" Pidge began.

"I'm your physician, and I do," Leo said. "Until I'm satisfied with your recovery, Ms. Holt, you're staying here and resting. Now, I'm going to see about your dinner. Nasri here is available if you need anything. Okay?"

"Okay," Pidge answered.

With a final nod to the others, Leo walked away.

"I have other duties to attend to," Julia said. "I'm sure Cat will answer any questions you have."

"It's only fair!" Cat agreed with great enthusiasm.

Assured that their guest was going to be well-cared for, Julia left the medbay. She could hear Cat's excited voice throwing out its first question before she went through the door.

With an imminent change in both shifts and watch, the Lookout was fairly busy. Those coming for dinner were treated to Italian courses.

Violeta was still on duty herself, but was off-watch for her mid-shift meal. In contrast Angela Delgado had just finished her last watch. The two sat together at a table closer to the starboard bulkhead of the lounge area, enjoying spaghetti and meatballs in Angela's case and a spinach lasagna in Violeta's.

Angel typically didn't take meals with her sister's girlfriend. This was supposed to be a meal with Cat for both of them. Her failure to appear so far left them feeling increasingly awkward. Finally Angel got tired of the silence and asked, "So, fun game the other day, right?"

"Yeah. If only we'd cleared the Dragon King fight. We really need a healer." Violeta flashed Angel a little grin. "Or a monk who uses the Life Chakra properly."

Angel gave her a sardonic grin. "I draw the line at spouting gibberish," she retorted. "Isn't there a way to just, I don't know, say I'm using the ability? Isn't that how these games usually go?"

"I would have to adjust the settings. And it would be really immersion breaking."

"Oh." Angel put her fork back into the spaghetti and began to twirl the noodles around it. For several moments she seemed focus exclusively on her food. The time let Violeta finish chewing another mouthful. "So, how are you and Cat doing?"

"We're fine."

Angel gave Violeta an intent look. There was something about the way she said it that sounded familiar. "Well, that's nice," Angel said. She took a bite, chewed for several seconds, and swallowed. "I mean, I love my little sister, and I want to see her in the kind of happy, mutually-beneficial relationship I've never had."

And there it was. The look in those vivid purple eyes Angel had expected to see though did not want to see.

"I thought it was really nice of you, actually," Angel said. "Letting her take you to Vulcan of all places for a science conference, instead of visiting your folks on Sirius."

"It was a big moment for Cat," Violeta said quietly. "I couldn't ask her to give that up."

Angel nodded quietly. Violeta was hiding it well, but there was just a hint of the tone to her voice that made it clear how disappointed she was.

The conversation might have continued if not for the newcomer. "Pardon me, Lieutenants?" They looked up to face Talara. The Falaen had a plate full of what looked like ricotti. "Do you mind if I join you?"

"Not at all," Angel said. "Do you, Violeta?"

Violeta shook her head. "No, it's fine," she said.

Talara sat at another chair, back to the lounge bar. "I wanted to thank you. I know I am new to your vessel and do not know any of you very well. But despite that you still allowed me to participate in your game."

"Everyone's going to be new at some point," Violeta said. Her smile was genuine now. "And you seem to have a lot of fun as a Dragoon."

"I am actually curious about that," Talara said. "According to the history files I've read, dragoons in your history did not wear such armor, nor did they jump as part of their fighting. They were mounted infantry of various sorts. Why does your game show otherwise?"

"It's all fantasy," Angel pointed out. "It's like how the game lets me punch a lizard the size of a small house and not smash the bones in my hands in the attempt."

"It's not supposed to reflect history, but legend," Violeta said. "It's fantasy."

"I think I understand. My people have their own heroic legends. Maybe I could introduce them into your game?"

"There are custom campaigns, we would just have to add Falaen legendary stuff to it within the framework of the rules." Violeta lifted her fork. "But first we beat the Dragon King."

"I will do my best to be there," Talara promised.

Caterina squeed with delight. "That must be amazing!" she exclaimed. "A big robot, from all five?! So what, you just control the arm?"

"Yes and no," Pidge answered. "It's… kind of both. We control our own parts, but at the same time we're controlling it together. It's this link that's in your head. As long as we keep it together, Voltron stays together." Grinning, Pidge held up two fingers. "And now you owe me two questions."

"Ask away."

"So you came from a 21st Century Earth, and your sister's boyfriend found that underground alien base. How did you learn to use the technology?"

"The Darglan had what they called brainwave infusion technology. It let us download raw data into our brains," Cat explained. "I learned like four different methods of faster-than-light travel on my first try."

"Woh. That sounds useful."

"Well, you still had to do things the old-fashioned way for the learning to really stick," Cat said. "I spent months reading up on the science involved. I kept asking Leo for more infusions, but he kept refusing me. He said he would burn my brain out. And we later learned he was right." A somber look crossed Cat's face at remembering the rampage that the Avenger had inflicted on Earth C1P2.

"Alright. Let me think of my next question." Pidge's face showed intense thought. "Okay, so what happened to these Darglan?"

Now the somber look turned painful. "They were wiped out a thousand years ago," Cat said. "By a species called the Shadows."

"Wow. Even their name sounds nasty."

Cat nodded. "And they were. And it's horrible, because the Darglan weren't a harmful species at all. They were scientists and explorers. They believed in diplomacy. We've learned they even used to transplant sapient species between planets to protect them from calamities."

"It sounds like they would have gotten along with the Alteans."

"The Alteans?"

"They were the people who built the Lions and Voltron," Pidge answered.

"Oh!" Cat finally smiled. "That was my next question!"

Pidge briefly matched the smile before looking sad again. "They were wiped out by the Galra ten thousand years ago. Princess Allura and Coran are the only Alteans left."

"That's horrible." Again Cat was frowning. "It's a shame it was so long ago. That means the Darglan weren't around, they couldn't have saved any of them."

For a moment both were quiet. Cat nearly asked if Pidge was ready for her to leave. "So, since I answered your question before you asked it, this means it's my turn again?" Pidge finally asked.

"Hey, no fair!" Cat complained in a playful tone. But she nodded anyway.

"What kind of ship is this?" Pidge asked. "You look like you're not that different from the Galaxy Garrison."

"The Aurora is called a star cruiser. The frame was actually built by the Darglan three thousand years ago, and we filled it in afterward." Cat used her omnitool to call up a holographic image of the Aurora. Pidge looked at the ship with interest. "She's built to do a lot of things. Science missions, exploration, diplomacy, transport. And military stuff if we have to. I honestly don't like the military stuff, I prefer exploring new things. Like I am now, actually. Yesterday we actually came across a T'Vral Distortion!"

"And that is…?"

"Nah ah. I get the next question."

"And time's up," said Leo, walking in behind them. He brought with him a covered tray.

"This isn't hospital food of some kind, is it?" Pidge asked.

"I had the head cook of our ship's crew lounge prepare it," Leo replied. "Calling Hargert's food 'hospital food' would be completely unfair." He tapped the side of the biobed. A hardlight table appeared over Pidge's lap. "Here you go, Ms. Holt. Hargert's trying out Italian cuisine tonight. I expect you to eat all of it and to then get some rest."

Pidge removed the top cover, revealing a plate of cheese-stuffed ricottii pasta in a marinara sauce covered in melted mozzarella. A bowl to the side had chicken soup, and there was an apple to the other side. A drink container of reddish liquid, fruit punch Cat guessed, was present as well. Pidge's reaction to the sight was to literally lick her lips. "It's been too long since I got to have real food," she said. "On the Castle, all we have to eat is this green goo stuff. This looks like my mother made it."

"It sounds like the Alteans never developed replicators," Cat said.

"What do they do?" Pidge asked while reaching for a fork.

"You can find that out tomorrow," Leo said, leveling a look at Cat.

"Okay, okay, I'm going," Cat said, slipping off the biobed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Mmhmm", was the muffled reply through a mouthful of ricotti.

The excitement of Caterina's talk with Pidge had slightly overshadowed Cat's interest in continuing her paper on the T'Vral Distortion. Even as the data from her scans of the star in question moved over the screen of her personal monitor in her quarters, Cat couldn't focus on it. All she could think about was the scientific mysteries of the Green Lion, the Alteans, and all the other things Pidge had told her about her home universe.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn't notice the door open. Violeta entered with her uniform jacket already unfastened, revealing the burgundy red shirt beneath the uniform. "How was your day?" Violeta asked Cat

"Oh, it was… great. The pilot of the lion ship woke up and I got to ask her some questions," Cat answered. "What about you?"

"Since we're not leaving the area yet, there wasn't much for me to do on my helm watch," Violeta replied. "It was boring. I spent most of my time wondering what we're going to do with that Dragon King encounter."

"We almost beat him last time," Cat pointed out. "And on our first try."

"I'm worried it was beginner's luck." A sly look crossed Violeta's face. "It would help if your sister used the chakras right."

"It's like the feather for the headband. It's something she's doing to convince herself she's not fully immersed in the game." Cat's eyes wandered back to her monitor. "What did you want to do?"

"Maybe see if someone else is interested in playing a healer class. We've been making do with our self-heals and the healing potion items, but this encounter was made for a properly-balanced team. Do you know if anyone…?"

"Zack might, if I asked him nicely," Cat said. "Or I guess I could take a Potion of Introspection and branch into the white magic tree?"

"No, because you'd probably have to give up your Blizzaga spell, and you'd lose all of your progress toward the other Tier 3 black magic." There was a pause. "What's so interesting?"

"Oh, I'm just examining our readings of the area. I'm trying to see if I can find any indications that more of those lion ships are around." Caterina tapped a key on the control. "The pilot, Katie Holt, said something destabilized the wormhole they were entering and that her ship hit the side of the tunnel. I'm wondering if whatever it was could have altered the wormhole they were traveling in. Maybe infused it with just the right particle signature to punch into sixth-dimensional space."

"Huh. Well, that sounds important. I'll leave you to it then."

Cat was so focused on her work that she didn't notice the hint of disappointment in Violeta's voice. Nor did she notice the sound of the door opening. She only realized Violeta had left when she finally looked up and said "Vee?" in her quiet quarters. Seeing her girlfriend had left, presumably to go to her own shared quarters in the junior officers' area on Deck 5, Caterina sighed and returned her attention to the monitor screen.

Leo arrived at the medbay to begin his morning rounds. Doctor Singh met him at his office door. "Good morning, Doctor," the New Punjabi woman said amiably.

"Good morning," he answered. He accepted the digital reader she handed him. A quick look over it confirmed nothing major happened. "How are our stocks of genralim?" he asked, referring to a Dorei-specific drug that they were using to help those feeling sick from the Fracture's effects.

"We have enough to last our Dorei crew through another week and a half, at least, going by their current consumption rate," Singh replied. "If we're still in the Fracture in five days I would recommend we start rationing the remaining dosages."

"Hopefully we won't be," Leo replied. "We're only scheduled to be here another six days as it is. Although our find may change that. Speaking of that…"

"Patient Holt slept through the night," Singh informed him. "She awoke half an hour ago. All of her vitals are good and she's not showing any sign of the fatigue or nervous strain she had yesterday. And I've already arranged her breakfast, so you needn't worry about that." She shook her head. "Just how did a fifteen year old wind up in this situation anyway?"

"I've asked the same myself," Leo said. "Although I suppose we can't complain too much. Cat was only eighteen when we started operating from the Facility."

"A little on the young side, but at least she was at the start of adulthood and not a youth," Singh pointed out.

Leo nodded once to indicate he accepted her point. "Well, that will do it. Have a good day, Doctor."

"You as well, Doctor." Singh walked out the door.

Leo put on his white lab coat and walked to the standard care ward. He found Pidge wolfing down a small stack of pancakes. A few fluffy fragments of what had been scrambled eggs were obvious on a plate to the side, as was the husk of an orange. "Well, you've got quite the appetite," he noted. "Maybe I will have to put restrictions on your diet."

"I've been eating green goop for too long," she answered.

"Ah. Well, whatever it was, it certainly worked well with human physiology," Leo remarked. "So how are you feeling?"

"Better." She set the fork down. "When can I go? My friends are still out there. I need to find them."

"Well, I'm going to run some scans first, but if you can stand and move on your own without any problems, you should be fine." Leo tapped at his omnitool to generate the medical scanner built into it. "So let's get started on that…"

When Meridina reported to the bridge that morning, Julia noted she still looked ill. "Isn't there anything the medbay can do for you?" she asked as soon as Meridina sat down beside her.

"I am afraid there is not," Meridina replied. "My physical ailments are merely a symptom of the greater problem. This place… it is fundamentally wrong, Captain, in a way my people have never known. And I feel there is more to it than a mere warping of space."

"I'm going to put in a commendation for you when this is over," Julia said. "And a recommendation that any further exploration be done with crews that don't include psionically-sensitive members."

"I admit I am looking forward to leaving this place and never returning." Meridina shifted in her seat. "But until then, we have duties to attend to, yes?"

"We do." Julia turned toward the port side of the bridge, where Caterina and Barnes were at their Science and Engineering stations respectively. "Anything new to give me this morning?"

"That lion ship is Goddamned insane, and we've learned nothing new about it," Barnes answered.

Julia restrained a sigh. Tom Barnes was admittedly trying to clean up his speech, as she'd asked, but it was clear that this was a long-term project. "Lieutenant Delgado?"

"Given how local space is formed, long range scans aren't as clear as I'd like," Cat said. "So I can't be sure of a similar signature nearby.

"We could try and re-open the wormhole from our end," Jarod said. "If we can do that it might give us a chance to determine the universal coordinates of her home."

"We should be careful about opening any kind of interuniversal point inside the Fracture. There's no telling what could happen given how messed up local space-time is."

"We'd need to be precise," Jarod said.

"Yes. And I'm not sure…"

When Cat let that sentence trail off she drew the attention of the others. "What is it, Lieutenant?" Julia asked.

"It just might work," she muttered. "It just might... " She looked up from her checking of sensor logs. "The lion ship is supposed to have this special dedicated connection to their home base. If we could tie it into our systems, we might be able to use that and my scans of the residual energy to re-open the wormhole safely."

"How?" Jarod asked.

"The same way the Daleks opened that rift to the Void," Cat said. "We tie the jump drive into the navigational deflector."

"You mean the thing that nearly caused some sort of fraking ancient horror to come out?" Barnes asked. He didn't even hide the sarcasm.

Cat shot him a look. "That's why we're going to be careful. We can cut the particle feed at the slightest hint of it going wrong. But with the right configuration, all we'll be doing is re-opening the wormhole that already formed."

"Even if we do this, hooking that lion ship up is going to be a pain," Barnes said. "The thing only fits on the launch deck. We're going to have to build connections from scratch if we're going to tie it into the jump drive or the sensors."

"And we'll need Katie, er, Ms. Holt," Cat added. "She knows her ship's systems better than we do."

Julia considered the idea for just a moment before nodding. "Alright. See if Doctor Gillam is ready to release her from the medbay. Lieutenant Barnes, get started on your end. I'd like to see progress before the end of the day."

Barnes stood from his station and was relieved by a Gersallian ensign. Cat looked over and said, "if you're okay with it, I'll go get Ms. Holt."

For a moment Cat wasn't sure what reply she'd get. In the end, she got a single nod of assent from Julia, and jumped from her chair.

Cat made a beeline for the standard care ward when she got to medbay. Pidge was still on her bed. Now she was wearing the black suit that was normally under her armor. "How are you feeling?" Cat asked her, smiling.

"A lot better today." Pidge smiled back. "Doctor Gillam's letting me go."

"That's good. We're going to try something and we need your help. It may be your way back home."

Pidge got off the bed. "Lead the way."

Cat led her out of the medbay and into the blue-lined corridors of the Aurora. Pidge looked from side to side, taking in the sights of a Human-crewed starship like none she'd ever seen. They came to a door that opened and revealed the interior of a lift. Once they were inside Cat said "Deck 22, Section I." The lift started to move.

"How long is it going to take us to get across the ship?" asked Pidge.

"A minute or two. The lifts move horizontally as well as vertically," Cat answered. "The flight deck is on Deck 22. Section I is the second section of the ship back from the end of the primary hull. The lift will open close to the main entrance to the flight deck."

"How many people are on this ship?"

"About two thousand crew and one hundred civilian specialists," Cat answered. "The civilians are mostly science specialists that work in our science labs. And a few support personnel."

Pidge was visibly impressed. It was certainly more than the small three-man crews that the Galaxy Garrison managed for its exploration ships. "And how many science labs?"

"Three specific labs. Lab 1 is for computer science and analysis of unknown technology. Lab 2 is for physics-related experiments and analysis. Lab 3 is biological sciences. I'll have to take you by Lab 3 later and introduce you to Doctor Ke'mani'pala. She's a Gl'mulli, although using a gendered pronoun really doesn't work for Gl'mulli, they're an agendered species of gelatinous beings."

That revelation clearly interested Pidge, and brought on her next question. "How many species do you have in your Alliance?"

"Right now? There are just four currently, and Humans are by far a plurality from the number of Human states in various universes. The Gersallians and Dorei of N2S7 and the Alakin of A7R6 are the other species in the Alliance, and a few like the Gl'mulli, the Dre'kari, the Gy'torans, and the Falaens are still thinking about joining."

"But they still join your crews?"

"Yes. We have programs that let non-Alliance citizens join the Stellar Navy."

By this point they were at the starboard entrance to the flight deck. Once again the engineering and ops teams were at work around the lion. But instead of being on it or around it, they were working further away with data cables and power conduits.

Pidge had a satisfied look at seeing her lion sitting on the deck. "Have you been inside?"

"The door's in the mouth, and it won't open for us."

"Well, since you answered so many of my questions, let me show you what my lion is like on the inside."

Cat let out a little squee. "Sorry," she said afterward. "Force of habit."

Pidge's reaction was a gentle chuckle. "I feel like doing the same thing. This ship is beyond anything my Earth has put together." She walked up to the Green Lion. After a moment it opened its mouth. This revealed a circular hatch in the throat. She stepped into the mouth and looked back. "Don't worry, my lion won't bite."

Cat nodded and followed, feeling very much like a circus lion-tamer sticking their head into the lion's mouth.

With his morning bridge watch over, Zack returned to his quarters. On arriving he pulled off his uniform jacket and set it on a hanger in his closet space. Once he was comfortable he sat at his desk and breathed in a little sigh. For the moment there was precious little to do given the nature of their patrolling. Which meant he had more undesired time to dwell on his pain and loss.

What made it all worse was the conflict raging inside of him. A part of him knew that he needed to go to the others. To Julia, to Tom, or to Jarod or Leo. Admit his problem to them. Get their help in dealing with his pain.

The other part recoiled at the thought. The last thing he wanted to be was a burden on them. More than that, he was ashamed. Zack felt like he was teetering down the slope toward what his father had become. He didn't want his friends to see him that far, to see how far he'd already gone.

Wordlessly, almost without thinking about it, Zack drew his tumbler and a fresh bottle of tequila out of his bag. He broke the seal on the bottle and poured himself a shot. For a moment he did nothing but stare at the drink. He knew he shouldn't take it. He knew he should be putting the bottle up. It was just too easy to decide that a single shot could be followed up by another, and another…

Even now he felt the pull. After all, he'd already opened the bottle and poured himself a shot. He might as well enjoy it, right? It would be silly to waste good tequila.

That other part of him was still protesting when his hand wrapped around the tumbler and picked it up. Its contents burned their way down his throat.

But a single drink didn't bring reprieve. It made the shame worse. He'd given in again. He knew he shouldn't, but he did, and by doing so he was just proving what he feared. He was losing control.

Just like his father.

The part of him that wanted to put up the bottle mused that Clara would be disappointed in him. Everything he'd done, all of the battles won, the ships saved, and it would be for nothing if he didn't stop this.

Zack put his hand on the bottle. For the moment it stayed there. He knew, he knew, he should be putting it up. He was out in the field. Niltox couldn't cover the smell on his breath. People would know what he was doing.

Perhaps they should. If anything it would force him to admit his problem.

Like that's a justification was the snarky thought in his head.

The entire struggle wore away at Zack until the emotion became too much. At that point he surrendered to the inevitable and poured another shot.

The cockpit of the Green Lion was only made for seating one person, the pilot. Pidge occupied the chair and Cat stood behind her, checking her omnitool. "Tom and Lucy are close to finishing the connection you'll need to the ship," she said.

"Great." Pidge tapped at the controls of her lion. "Right now I'm not picking up anyone. Your idea is probably my best hope of finding the others."

"Thanks," was Cat's reaction. "So what next?"

"I'm opening up the maintenance access ports so I can run your cables into the Lion's systems."

"Right." Cat said nothing for several moments, not wanting to disturb Pidge as she worked. Finally the curiosity became too much for her. "What is it like? Piloting this I mean?"

"It's pretty amazing." Pidge looked back to her. "My lion and I share a bond. I can feel the lion while I'm in here."

"That is… wow. I mean, I know some strange stuff can exist. I've seen Meridina and the others use their life force power stuff. But it just seems so weird. Cool, but weird."

"I never imagined something like this could work either," Pidge admitted. "But I'm glad it does. Green and I, we understand each other." A quiet moment passed, with Cat unable to think up more questions. "I need to get into the internals to set things up," Pidge suddenly said. "Can you watch the cockpit and tell me when the systems show they're ready to link up?"

"Well, yeah, I can," Cat said.

"Great." Pidge left her seat and went to the compartment behind the cockpit. She looked back and said, "With your help, we'll be ready to find my friends in no time."

Apley remained quiet from his place in the Koenig command chair. At the helm Ensign Jean Hajar, a former Starfleet officer and Starfleet Academy graduate, was fulfilling Apley's usual function on the bridge with her usual diligence. Magda and Sherlily had gone off-duty after Zack. In Sherlily's place was Technical Officer Jesus Perez. Beside the Nuevosalvadoreño, at Ops, Ensign Hrnaahr U'ruhn was busy examining the sensor returns at his station. The tan-complexioned Miqo'te man had wheat-colored fur lining the feline ears at the top of his head. A tail with a tuft of fur of that same color was laid over the top of said chair.

Apley noticed U'ruhn seemed to be particularly focused on the sensors. "Do you see anything, Ensign?" he asked.

"I'm showing what looks to be a very small power source on sensors." U'ruhn drew out the "r" sounds in his speech a little.

"How small? It's not a ship, is it?"

"I don't know, sir. Our sensors are not working well in this environment. It could be."

Apley considered his choices. "Cloak the ship," he ordered. "Ensign, take us in. Let's get a look at this."

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is called the
Aurora, Lord Minister.

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

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

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

The Fates are always with us, Lady Dolores

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

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

"What is it?" she demanded.

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

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

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

"When will we be in visual range?"

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"On screen."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have you now…

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

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

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

"Break away then!"

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

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

"Lieutenant Sherlily, open fire!"

"Phasers aren't responding. Firing torpedoes!"

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

"No effect!"

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

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

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

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

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

Apley tapped the intercom key again. "Bridge to Engineering, you've got maybe two minutes, or we're all dead."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:40 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Beginning overload now."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What about our power levels?" Apley asked.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More torpedoes appeared and exploded around the limbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sending now, Lady," was the response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cat sighed. "He gets like this sometimes."

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

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

Pidge nodded.

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

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

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

"Miss Holt."

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

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

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

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

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

"She probably will."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia looked forward. "Jarod?"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?" asked Julia.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Just another moment," Cat urged him.

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

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

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

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

"They're hailing."

Julia nodded at Jarod. "Put them on."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And find a way home," Coran added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Cat, those simulations you want to run?"

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

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

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

"It is not," she agreed.

"And are you thinking what I am?"

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

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

"Possibly," Meridina agreed.

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

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

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

They would just have to make it worthwhile.

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

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

"So have I."

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

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

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

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

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

"I suppose evil can be found anywhere."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Galra were allies?" Pidge asked Allura.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Swevy-what?" asked Pidge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And you stopped being Alteans?"

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

"But you remember the other name."

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

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

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

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

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

"Thank you, Captain."

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

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

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

"The Fracture may be interfering with your sensors."

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

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

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

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

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

"Right away, Princess."

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

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

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

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

"Especially the food."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And what have you done about it?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talara nodded. "Yes, of course."

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

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

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

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

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

"Where? Around us?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lucero here."

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

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

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

"Yes ma'am."

"And elevate running status to Code Yellow," she added. "Something's wrong, and I don't want it catching us by surprise."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How does that work?"

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

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

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

"What do you mean?" Pidge asked.

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

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

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

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

Cat looked to her. "Where are they?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hopefully we won't need it."

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

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

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

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

"Lieutenant Delgado, can you identify them?"

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

"You mean the octopus one?" Angel asked.

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

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

"Most concerning," Meridina agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Consider it as you like. We do not fear your Alliance. The Fates are with us. Cross the Fates and face our fury."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 5:20 pm

I absolutely love how unlike even the Aururans, NEUROM's people don't fuck around and are super belligerent. If they're dicks by SOTS standards...

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Wed Dec 13, 2017 12:30 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Take us in, helm," he said.

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

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

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

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

"Even through shields?"

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

"Jarod, warn them off."

"No response," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next shot didn't miss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shield cohesion back to ninety-two percent."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Tactical, fire at will!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Roger, Alpha 1," were the replies.

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

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

"On your six, Alpha Leader!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Impact in five ticks! Four! Three!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They are," he confirmed.

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

"I'm on it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Damn. Evasive maneuvers, now!"

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

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

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

"Take them out! Now!"

"Trying!" Angel replied.

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

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

Space rippled ahead of the NEUROM ships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Put everyone on screen."

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

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

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

"You have our thanks," said Allura.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes sir," Hajar replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody said anything more while the Koenig docked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course. You're both dismissed."

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

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

Everyone nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So why not tow them?" Locarno asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Maybe what?" Pidge asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Aye sir," Lucy answered.

Julia nodded. "Mister… Coran, is it?"

"Yes, Captain?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pidge nodded once. "Yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They're your pets?" Talara asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He must have had his reasons."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"On viewer."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post by Invictus » Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:09 pm

It's nice to see the ol' S0T5 again. And Voltron!
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed Dec 13, 2017 6:36 pm

NEUROM people are deliciously evil yet not reprehensible like genocidal Nazis. Too bad these NEUROM/Ministry of Fate people are evil in a cold way, it'd be great if someone outright cackled in the view screen... but that kinda happened already with Buck Rogers, right?

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:27 pm

Invictus wrote:
Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:09 pm
It's nice to see the ol' S0T5 again. And Voltron!
Woh. Hey Vic. I didn't know you were reading too. Glad you're enjoying it. :)
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Mon Dec 18, 2017 4:54 am

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

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

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

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

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

"It concerns Commander Carrey, ma'am."

"I figured."

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

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

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

"So what happened?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, I already ate," Lucy lied.

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

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

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

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

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

"Piyam?" Tasker asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you finished your science work?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Cuddle time," Violeta agreed.

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

"Hey," Lucy said.

"Lucy? Is everything well?"

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is he awake?" Julia asked.

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

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

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

"He keeps pushing us away," said Julia.

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

"You're probably right. I…"

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

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

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


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

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

"Yes Captain," Lieutenant Takawira replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We may not have a few hours."

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

"I'll let you…"

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

"Go ahead," Jarod said.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"On screen."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They're firing again!" Cat shouted.

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

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

"Sending the orders now."

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

"Just what we need."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was ready to take the lumps to get a good hit on the enemy box. This proved unnecessary when a series of amber energy pulses wiped out four fighters in front of her. She recognized the Koenig moving in, weapons blazing, and with at least a dozen NEUROM fighters tacking them as well. Missiles and energy fire were constantly battering the Koenig's shields. Pidge returned the favor with a sweeping shot from the Green Lion's mouth cannon that blew apart at least half of the pursuers.

The Koenig, meanwhile, fired a spread of torpedoes set for proximity detonation into the unengaged fighters ahead of them. The blue-shite sparks of light looked like energy weapon fire more than projectiles to Pidge. When they exploded with bursts of light and energy, another dozen enemy fighters were outright destroyed and several more damaged.

The enemy were adapting to them. More and more of the NEUROM fighters were concentrating on the Green Lion and the Koenig. Pidge had to keep her lion moving from the volume of fire she was taking. The Koenig's shields repeatedly flashed to life from the missile and energy impacts against it. One of the larger missiles fired from a larger NEUROM craft nearly hit as well, being caught only at the last moment by the Koenig dorsal phaser bank.

Nevertheless Pidge couldn't help but think the Koenig's shields were getting a little duller with every passing moment. Some of the shots seemed to be striking hull even now. A burst from the tail laser destroyed another pair of fighters, and the Koenig's guns claimed more - including one of the larger gunboat-sized fighters - but there were still so many.

"I really hope someone has a plan," Pidge said into the tactical commlink.

The Aurora took another hit from one of the full-sized missiles. "Damage report."

"Shields holding at fifty-four percent," Jarod said. "Minor damage to Decks 10 and 11, Sections A and B."

Julia looked to Meridina and to the tactical map beside her. The number of blinking red icons was still overwhelming. "What is our status?"

"We have lost ten fighters. The Koenig's shields hold for the moment but they have some surface damage." Meridina checked her screen carefully. "There are still over eighty enemy craft left."

"I thought you would say that." Julia weighed her options. "Helm, take us into range."


"Take us into range, now," she insisted. "Have everyone clear out at my mark. Tactical, I want full torpedo spreads readied, fore and aft. And be ready to fire everything, and I do mean everything."

"Yes ma'am," Angel answered. Luneri added an "Aye sir".

Under Locarno's control the Aurora raced ahead with increasing speed. The enemy fighter elements would, under normal circumstances, easily withdraw and keep the range. But they were tightly engaged with the Aurora fighters, the Koenig, and the Green Lion. As a result, while some did seek to gain distance, the others seemed more interested in continuing their fight with those craft.

The Aurora plunged into the thick of the NEUROM fighter units. "Mark!"

At Julia's command their fighters, the Koenig, and the Green Lion all broke away at full burn. The enemy fighters swarmed around them. Some finally sought to re-open the distance. Others started firing directly into the shields or looked to pursue the craft breaking away.

As soon as the tactical map confirmed their own craft were as safe as they could be, Julia shouted "Fire!"

Every torpedo launcher on the Aurora spat out a full spread of solar torpedoes, sending eight astern and sixteen forward. The torpedoes were joined by the fury of every weapon emplacement on the ship, from the point-defense particle interceptors to the large pulse plasma cannons. The latter destroyed fighters with even glancing hits, the former filled the space around the Aurora with blue pulses that damaged, even crippled, the enemy fighters.

The torpedoes did yet more damage. The enemy fighter formations had nowhere safe to go if they hadn't already tried to break away. The torpedoes blew them apart.

"Forty enemy fighters destroyed or heavily damaged," Meridina reported. "It would appear they are breaking away."

Meridina was quickly proven correct. The NEUROM fighters were breaking away from combat. More were lost in this attempt, hit by the Aurora's weapons or those of the fighters. One by one the survivors seemed to surge away. Soon they were alll gone."

"All enemy fighters have hypered out," Cat.

"Secure from battle stations for the moment. Recall all fighters and the Koenig." Julia tapped the intercom key on her chair. "Bridge to Engineering."

This time it was Scotty who answered. "Engineerin' here, Cap'n."

"I need that jump drive, Mister Scott."

"Aye. I sent Tom t' take over repairs. We should have 'em back online in half an hour."

"Thank you," she said. She added I hope we have that long mentally.

The bridge of the Tatrin's Bane remained silent through the report from the head of the strike force. Admiral Gal-Nazad nodded quietly. "You have done as expected," he said in summation before disengaging the call. He looked to his communications officer. "Has the Lord Minister replied yet?"

"He has, Admiral. You are ordered to seize the Alliance vessel as well or to destroy it."

"Ah." Gal-Nazad grinned. "As I expected. Relay those orders to all ships."

"Yes sir."

The last of the perimeter picket runabouts dropped out of warp in the company of two Mongoose fighters. Meridina quickly relayed the landing orders to them before nodding at Julia. "That is the last of them."

"Good. I don't want to leave anyone behind." Julia almost hit the intercom but didn't. Bugging Barnes wouldn't get the drive fixed any faster. "Status on the shields?"

"Back to full strength," Jarod replied. "And we're ready to put all the generators online to maximize shield strength."

"Including the power from my cannons," Angel noted.

"Odds are there will be more targets than we can reasonably shoot." Julia left it at that. All that remained was the waiting, and that was hard enough.

"The Particle Barrier is at full capacity again," Coran informed the assembled.

Allura nodded to him before looking at her station again. "Still nothing from the other lions. Is this even working?"

"The system is fully linked, and I verified the transceiver was functioning myself," Lucy said. "But the Multiverse is theoretically infinite. Although if I may, we can do this sort of scan from any universe. The real question is if the Aurora will get their jump drive back on in time."

"What is the plan if we can't jump out?" Talara asked.

"I can't let the Castle fall into the wrong hands. Whomever these Humans are, they're no better than Zarkon and his Galra." Allura's expression was pained but resolved. "I will trigger the Castle to destroy itself first."

"If you can set the self-destruct we could beam back to the Aurora," Lucy said. "The Lion can fit in the landing deck, so at least we'll get that away by warping out."

"That was my thought, yes," Allura said. "Although I do regret it. Without the Castle the chance of finding all of the Lions is… very small."

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Lucy said. She considered the alternatives that might require. "Right now…"

A pair of tones went off. The first drew their attention to a holographic scanning result. Two more of the Lion ships appeared; a red one that looked similar to the Green Lion and a larger, winged black one. "It worked," Talara said. "Look!"

Lucy activated her omnitool to relay the coordinates the transceiver was showing for the signal. It was only after she hit the confirmation key that COran was calling their attention to the other tone's meaning.

The NEUROM fleet was arriving.

"I just got a signal from Lucero's omnitool," Jarod said. "We've confirmed the universal coordinate."

Julia nodded. She didn't get a chance to reply verbally due to Cat's announcement. "Hyperspace transitions on sensors. A lot of them!"

"On screen."

The screen showed a number of vessels showing up. Julia felt a twist in her gut at the numbers they were facing. There was another dozen of the frigates they had already fought, now joined by at least a half-dozen ships that were twice the length and carrying even more of the same heavy weapons with larger plates of armor. One massive warship, easily the Aurora's length, appeared in the center of the formation.

"Their shields are going up. And they're definitely Darglan-based."

Julia nodded. "Raise shields and divert all available power to keeping them up. Mister Jarod, hail the lead ship."

"They're already hailing us," Jarod said.

"Put them on."

The man that appeared was in another fine golden uniform. He had a similar complexion to Cat and Angel's, with his left eye replaced by a red cybernetic implant. "I am Admiral Gal-Nazad. By order of the Ministry of Fate, in the name of the governments of the NEUROM organization, I demand your immediate surrender."

"No," Julia answered.

"Come now, Captain. We outnumber you heavily. You will not escape us."

"We'll see about that. Although I'm still interested in just what right your people have to attack us."

"You have interfered in an operation sanctioned by the highest authorities of the Ministry. You have slain Ministry personnel. You have cavorted with aliens and powers that are hostile to us. You will make an object lesson to the rest of your peers on the penalty of crossing NEUROM, Captain. I will see to it myself. All ships, commence fire!"

The image disappeared. Blasts of ruby energy started coming their way immediately. Within seconds they were impacting on the Aurora's shields and the Castle's particle barrier. Missiles streaked in with the weapons fire to be met by the interceptor batteries on the Aurora and the efforts of Pidge in the Green Lion to shoot them down. She darted in the space around the two ships, firing her weapons as quickly as she could in the effort to keep the missiles from hitting. Even though, ultimately, they were in such number, and from differing angles, that she could not.

In the jump drive access room on Deck 30 Tom Barnes felt the shudder in the ship and knew they were running out of time. He looked back to the burnt out power line and finished pulling it free. "Replacement!" he barked. A engineering crewman handed him the desired replacement. The power transmission wire in question was one of a dozen that fed energy into the drive. Ten had burnt out from what happened when they reopened the wormhole. A number of other related mechanical burnouts and other problems were why this repair still had to be done. It would be the last, at least.

Assuming he had time to finish it.

With one hand he guided the wire end to the drive-side of the cylinder casing protecting the line. He felt it plug into place with a reassuring snap. His other hand quickly managed the other side. Wordlessly he shut the casing and moved on to the next. "What's the status of that projector!?" he shouted.

An operations officer, Ensign Hondo, answered in accented English. "All tests are green."

"Good." The ship shook again. Barnes opened the casing. The wire inside was even more burnt out. "And the particle channel?"

"Still working on it, sir," answered Lieutenant Marlua, with an accent from one of the Dorei languages.

"Get it done!"

"Shields down to seventy percent," Jarod said on the bridge while everything shook again. "I'm putting everything I can into the shields."

Julia acknowledged him with a nod. The NEUROM ships were forming a sphere formation around them, ensuring all quarters of the two ships were coming under fire.

On the Castle of Lions Coran finished making his own report about the particle barrier. As critical seconds passed by Lucy considered their options. The need for energy wasn't what should hold them back. Not with the Balmera crystal seeming to actually draw power from the Flow of Life. "Is there a way to generate more energy from your crystal?" Lucy asked. "Anything from your experience on drawing more power?"

"The systems can only take so much," Coran said. "If we draw too much power from the Crystal it could shatter."

"But it's connected to the Flow of Life. Your ship uses that energy. In more ways than one." She looked at Allura next. "Your energy is what it uses for opening wormholes, right?"

"It is, yes," Allura said.

"I can sense it myself. It's essentially the same thing to what I have, just used differently." Very differently, Lucy considered. "I'm not sure how your systems can be used to draw on it, but maybe you can boost the particle shields with the same energy you use to open the wormholes."

Coran shook his head. "It's not the same thing. It would be very dangerous for Allura to do it for long."

"But it may buy more time," Allura said. She went to her controls and activated the system. Two columns, each topped with a point for one of her hands, moved into place. She set her hands on the columns and concentrated. White light appeared around her with particles of the same rising up from the floor. Lucy felt the life energies channel into the ship.

Outside the particle barrier on the Castle started to glow with white light. "The barrier's power is increasing to twice the standard intensity," Coran said. "No, wait, four times… the concentration is too much, I'm widening the field before it burns the projectors out!"

"Then do it," Lucy said. "Cover the Aurora, it'll buy time for their shields too." Even as she spoke she looked to Allura with worry. The effort on her face betrayed the incredible effort she was making.

"Shields down to forty percent," Jarod said of the latest barrage. "Stress on all primary generators is approaching critical. We can't keep this up much longer."

"Bridge to Barnes, we need it now!"

"Ten minutes!"

Before Julia could remark about the lack of those ten minutes, the screen showed the pattern of the Castle's particle barrier forming in front of the Aurora. "What's going on?"

"I'm reading a massive power spike in the particle barrier fields on the Castle. It's at roughly ten times the standard field strength. They've enlarged their shields entirely to protect us." Jarod shook his head. "I'm wondering how Lucy pulled that off."

"It's not her," Meridina said. "I can sense the source of the power. Princess Allura is using her own life energy to charge the shields, as her ship usually applies it to charging its wormhole drive." There was visible worry on the Gersallian's face.

"What's wrong?"

"I am fearful for her life, Captain," Meridina admitted. "I do not know how long she can sustain this without draining her body of all energy."

"We'll just have to hope Lucy keeps her from doing that. And that Tom gets the drive fixed in the time this is buying."

On the Tatran's Bane Gal-Nazad watched with interest. This explained the All-Father's interest completely. This power would suit the Ministry well against its enemies, even against other factions in NEUROM. "Maintain barrage," he ordered. "We must take those ships!"

One minute turned into another. The determined look on Allura's face was giving away to one of visible weakness. But the light around her kept its intensity, as did the particle field.

"Allura, you've got to stop!" Coran insisted.

Jampa had her omnitool out. "Her vitals are failing, Lieutenant," she said to Lucy. "Whatever this is, it's killing her."

"I know." Lucy stepped up. She wondered if she could help. If the system would accept her life energy, her connection to the Flow of Life. It couldn't be entirely linked to physiology, could it? "Allura, let me help you. You're killing yourself."

There was no evident reply. But Lucy, here, could sense the desperate need in Allura to succeed at this. Within that feeling she sensed something that was close enough to assent that she acted. Lucy walked around Allura to face her and set her hands beside Alluras'.

The sensation almost knocked the breath from her. Allura was part of a circuit now. She gave it direction, but it was draining her like a battery. This device hadn't been made to be in constant operation. It could, indeed, kill her.

And now Lucy was in the circuit too. She felt the energy within her being drawn by the machine. Dimly, at the fringes of her awareness, she heard Coran remark that the particle barrier was becoming even stronger.

Coran said more, although Lucy wasn't paying attention. "It's too much. I'm going to fire the defenses to give the energy somewhere to go!"

Beams of light lashed out from the particle barrier. The shields of the NEUROM ships held against the individual beams. But as the hits piled up on them, some began to take damage directly to their hulls. Their armor stopped some of the hits. The others sent debris and flame from the long gray vessels.

Talara observed as well. She thought she could feel both of them slowly dying. The machine was never meant to draw from them so intensely. They were buying time… but what would be the cost?

Barnes looked up from the last of the protective casings for the power lines. "All lines restored," he said. "What about that particle channel?"

Marlua looked up from where he was fixing it. The teal-complexioned Dorei man shook his head. "The channel's still faulty. I can't get it to align properly."

"Dammit, let me see that." He stomped up and checked the status screen. "Reset alignment parameters."

"Don't we need to resynchronize first?"

"That's what I'm doing, but a full resynch would take an hour, and we don't have it!"

"Bridge to Jump Drive Control. Status?"

"We're almost there! Two minutes, tops!"

Everyone on the bridge heard Barnes' remark. Meridina shook her head quietly. "Perhaps he is. But it may be too late for Allura… or Lucy…"

"This is Captain Andreys. The jump drive is almost done. Whatever you're doing, you don't have to keep it up for much longer."

The others on the Castle bridge heard Julia's remark. Lucy and Allura did not.

The good news was that the system seemed to be adjusting for Lucy's presence, that included not relying so much on Allura's life energy.

The bad news was that it might still kill them both.

"Their vitals are declining," Jampa said. "Shut it down!"

"I can't, not from my end," Coran insisted. "It has to be them." He stepped toward the platform, wincing at how bright the light was around Lucy and Allura. "Princess! You have to disengage the system! You've bought enough time!"

But neither could react.

It was left to Talara to do so. She came in from the side and reached to place her hands on the columns as well. Coran shouted, "Don't! It won't work for…"

She didn't hear the rest. Her hands touched the columns and immediately she felt it. The machine wanted to draw everything from her. It was out of control. It would kill her, Lucy, and Allura if it wasn't stopped. "We have to stop it!" she shouted.

They didn't hear her. But they felt her presence. Her part in the circuit allowed Lucy to grasp what Talara was thinking, and she in turn made sure Allura felt it with a surge of her will.

The others watched in silent horror as the machine's brightness soon threatened their vision.

Then the light around them died down. The small particles of light ceased to flow. All three tumbled to the floor of the bridge.

Outside the enlarged particle barrier shrunk back to its normal size. The fire of the enemy ships was again striking the Aurora's recovered shields while battering their own.

Coran went for Allura where she fell. Tasker knelt by Lucy. Ensign Jampa scanned them. "They're alive," she said. "Their vitals are stabilizing."

The vessel shook. Coran looked up in time to see another missile crash into the failing particle field. He bottled back over. "This isn't good. We're taking so much fire that the particle barrier is about to collapse!"

Again the Aurora was shaking from multiple hits to their shields. "Shields back down to forty percent," Jarod said. "Thirty-six… thirty-three."

Julia was back on the intercom. "Jump Drive Control, we need the drive now!"

Barnes watched the results. The particle channel wasn't pretty, but it would work for a couple jumps before they had to resynch. He pulled himself away. A sudden rocking of the ship caused him to lose his footing. He fell over. A glance from his place on the floor told him Marlua had fallen as well. The Dorei was lying nearby and not moving. "Marlua! Marlua, get… crap." Barnes struggled to his feet as another jolt caused the ship to rock violently.

"The shields are starting to fail! We're out of time!"

"I hear you dammit!" Barnes shouted in frustration. He barely managed his footing again and got back to the drive. He closed the particle chamber access hatch and secured it. A key press along the side set the drive back on. "You're good! Go for it!"

Jarod didn't wait for Julia to react to Barnes' reply. His hands went to the control. "Activating jump drive now!"

A twinkle of green light formed in the space ahead of them. Within moments it enlarged to a full-size jump point. Jarod could immediately see that it was Wrong. The gravitational profile was completely off. The jump point's vortex crackled with energy in a way it normally did not. The Fracture was actively distorting the point.

"Full speed! Take us in!" Julia shouted.

Locarno triggered the engines. Over on the Castle Coran did the same. The Green Lion took up a position between the two. All three craft accelerated for the point.

Gal-Nazad watched the jump point open. His prey were escaping. "All ships, fire on the vortex! Fire!" he screamed.

At that command the ruby light of their guns adjusted. Their barrage was now focused entirely on the jump point.

Cat was already observing the jump point closely. The distortions in it from the Fracture were fascinating, or rather, would be if they were close to possibly dying right now.

The enemy fire on the point wasn't necessarily going to disrupt it. Some of the shots simply went in and then out the opposite end. It was only after a few seconds that she noticed the disruption effect forming. "The jump point is destabilizing!" she shouted.

It did more than destabilize. Whatever had twisted space in the Fracture so long ago, it turned local space hostile to the very existence of the jump point. The crackling of the energies was building. On the inner core of the point, right before the transition horizon, the vortex looked more like a violent maelstrom than its usual appearance. "It's going!" was all Cat could say, but it was too late for them to have time to stop

Locarno and Jarod noticed the danger too, though. They didn't need her readings to know it was going bad and Locarno was already cutting forward movement. Jarod operated the tractor beams to snag the Lion and Castle before they could go into the collapsing point. When it did collapse, it created an expanding sphere of green energy that enveloped both ships. The Aurora rocked violently from the impact. When it was over Jarod quickly confirmed his fears.


"The shockwave did a number on our shield systems," he said. "They're down."

There was no mistaking the look on Julia's face. They'd done everything they could. And in the end, it wasn't enough. The Fracture itself had defeated their attempt to flee.

Allura and Lucy were regaining consciousness when the ship lurched from the Aurora tractor beam grabbing them. They looked up in time to see the distorting jump point collapse. "No," Lucy breathed.

"It didn't work." Allura's expression betrayed her disappointment. "We didn't get away."

Lucy shook her head.

"Then… we have no choice." Allura struggled to her feet. "Have your ship transport you back. Coran, please go with them."

"My place is with you, Princess," Coran announced. "It was your father's last request."

"And mine is that you survive. You go to our people…" She glanced at Talara. "...and you tell them everything. Help them find the past they lost." Allura stepped back up to the controls. "And I will destroy the ship."

Coran's feelings were bad enough. But Lucy sensed the despair and horror in Talara. There was a look in her eyes, on her face, that spoke of warring impulses. A desire to beg Allura to come with them… but also a recognition that this was something Allura couldn't be talked out of, and a respect for it.

It was a moment later when Lucy felt the sensation that caused her to shout, "Stop! Wait!"

The Aurora was taking a pounding on their armored hull now. "Damage to Decks 4 through 10, all sections, Decks 12 through 28 and 30 through 34, multiple sections…" Jarod operated his controls. "Armor self-repair systems are struggling to keep up."

"Be ready to jump to warp on my command…" Julia felt her gut clench. "Use the transporters. Get everyone off of the Castle and beam over armed solar torpedoes to key sections. We'll scuttle her as make the jump to warp."

At her station Cat could do nothing but observe the readings from the NEUROM ships. Tears were in her eyes. How could they have failed? Why? Was there something she missed? Something that would have helped them get away…?

What had she done wrong?

Despite these feelings, Cat still had her eyes on her station. She watched the reading form on her screens with surprise, certainly bewilderment. The training reminded her to report what she saw. “Captain! I have a subspace distortion forming to starboard!”

"On screen."

The distortion their sensors had detected appeared from nothing, shimmering into view like a ghost gradually going from the immaterial to the material. It was something like a ship decloaking. Or like the videos of Shadow vessels appearing from hyperspace.

The object that appeared was a ship. It was so massive that it might as well be a station save for the sleek lines. The hull was solid black, and Julia shot a look to Cat as it fully materialized.

“Cat, what is that…?”

“It's definitely a ship. A big one. I'm reading dimensions of six-point-four kilometers long by one kilometer on the diameter of the hull.”

The fire from the NEUROM vessels was immediately interrupted by a wall of wavering, translucent yellow hexagonal shield forms. Missiles and plasma fire harmlessly vanished into it. The brief moment of supreme terror that the ship itself belonged to NEUROM vanished with the fire that it harmlessly absorbed. Hanging in space, it ignored the fire of the NEUROM force with all the effortless contempt of a champ prizefighter being gone at by a drunk in a bar.

Cat switched to a composite view based on UV light and the ghostly form resolved into a cigar ship, the hull of constant diameter amidships but tapering on each end. The ends terminated in a blunt taper that was surmounted by a short spike, a hundred meter pyramid. It had cruciform fins, angled back and curved, but terminating in blunt edges, and the fins themselves were a kilometer and a half long in their projection from the hull, with a second, tiny set forward like guide-fins on a rocket, and blisters marring the otherwise perfect cigar form running the length between the two.

Four tiny, miniature cigar hulls a hundred meters in diameter ran half the ship’s length and were offset at forty-five degrees from the fins, about three klicks in length and attached to the main hull by massive armored columns. The pitch-black hull showed blue running lights to port and orange to starboard, but beyond that and a squiggly marking of gold right forward at the bow, it was pitch black, without a single light or visible opening.

“It has the same volume as Starfleet Spacedock,” Locarno muttered.

Jarod nodded. “And it was pulling six thousand Gs when it decelerated into position."

"Cat, get all of this. Now," was all Julia could manage.

"Already doing it… wait. I'm picking up… it's opening a jump point."

Another emerald vortex opened in space ahead of them. Moments later the crew heard a voice.


It took a moment for all but Meridina to realize that it was being transmitted telepathically.

"The jump point is stable," Jarod said. "I'm not sure how it's defeating the interference from the Fracture, but we can go through it."

"It is… off," Meridina said. "Peculiar. But the presence is earnest."

Go now.

Julia considered the option for a brief second before deciding that, trap or not, it was more likely to be better than being killed or captured by NEUROM. "Take us in, Helm," she said.

"Aye ma'am."

The Aurora's engines moved it toward the jump point. The Green Lion joined them.

It was a moment before everyone noticed the Castle was not.

The same voice was heard in the minds of those in the Castle of Lions. Lucy felt something off about the voice. It didn't feel like the normal telepathic contact she'd experienced with Meridina before. "We should probably do what they say," she said aloud. "Coran? Allura?"

Neither were moving. Lucy and Talara both turned to face Allura. Her blue eyes were widened with shock. "It's… it sounds... "

Surprise came to Lucy when she sensed what Allura was meaning. "You think it's…"

"Mother." Allura's hand reached out and activated the ship's communications system. "Mother, is it you? Is it really…"

There was no immediate answer. Lucy noticed that the Aurora was already starting to move to the point. She knew they should go. But if it was truly Allura's mother, then her own experience told her it would be cruel to interrupt.

The voice returned. It was genuine, and there was warmth, but something of it made Lucy feel… off. Allura. I have seen you fighting Zarkon. I am so proud of you.

The tears were flowing freely on Allura's face. Hearing the admission brought utter shock to Talara's face. "You're coming with us? You're coming back to us?" Allura asked, hopeful and ecstatic. "We have new Paladins. We have Voltron again! And our people still live in the other universe! Together we can defeat Zarkon and stop the Galra!"

That is your destiny, Allura. It is not mine. I cannot come with you. Lucy sensed a slight pain in the thought. Resignation.

"What?" The look on Allura's face was pained. "Why not?"

I am not who I once was and I never will be again… You must go now.

For a painful moment, nothing further happened. Allura managed to respond despite the sob that came from her at the realization that she wasn't getting her mother back in her life. "Mother, please, come with us… I've already lost Father…"

Coran, your Queen calls on you for one last service. Take my daughter and go. Fulfill your own destinies.

There was sadness on the older Altean's face. His usual cheerful, peppy nature was entirely missing at the moment. "Yes, Queen Fala," he managed. He promptly turned and fired the sublight engines.

"I don't understand," Allura wept.

My fate has been tied to another. I am bound to that service forever. That is the price I paid to see you again, Allura. And I would pay it all over again for this day. Ahead on the monitor, the jump point was drawing closer. Goodbye, Allura. I love you, and I am so very proud of you.

The jump point drew closer. Allura seemed to slump against the control columns for support. In the final seconds she managed a reply. "I love you too, Mother. Goodbye..."

And then the Castle followed the Aurora and the Green Lion into the jump point. The vessel surged ahead and made the transition between universes. On the other end, the vessels found empty space.

"I'm detecting the Lions on our systems now," Coran said quietly. "We're back in our home universe." When there was no reply he turned back to face her. "Allura?"

Allura was weeping quietly. Coran took a step toward her, but it was Allura that took her into an embrace. Whatever her own stunned feelings at encountering the legend that had saved her ancestors, for the moment Talara was more focused on the other legend now weeping in her arms for the mother she had regained and lost again.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Invictus » Mon Dec 18, 2017 4:52 pm

Steve wrote:
Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:27 pm
Woh. Hey Vic. I didn't know you were reading too. Glad you're enjoying it. :)
Well I thought SOTS was always something in a guest-starring capacity, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it revisited this soon.
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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