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

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

Post by wellis » Fri Jan 26, 2018 12:06 pm

Steve wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 5:38 pm
wellis wrote:
Sun Jan 21, 2018 5:54 am
Steve wrote:
Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:37 pm
BTW, did you recognize Zack's drinking partner? :D
The clues are there. Guess. :mrgreen:
Jim Raynor!?

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

Post by Tomyris » Wed Apr 04, 2018 3:26 pm

speaker-to-trolls wrote:
Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:50 pm
^Very good points all around.

I also found it interesting that the War master compares them to Nemo since, if memory serves, Jules Verne presents a him as an admirable man , just misguided (and I think one of the main things he is supposedly misguided about is that he opposes imperialism) .

Shroom I must agree the crew of the avenger don't seem like the equals of the main cast, intellectually or morally. Maybe there will be a flashback episode where we see their fall from grace?
The reference about Nemo in a negative sense is intentional. Just because aliens may be well-read in human culture for reasons of strategy, politics, personal relations, etc, doesn't mean they're going to understand the stories the same way, because they have completely different touchstones and thought processes. Nemo is an example of the wild, unrestrained threat of anarchy despite his refined behavior -- a pretension of personal character, not a sign of inner strength or purpose of will, to a Dilgar. To Shai'jhur the Avenger crew perfectly meets the definition of the Nautilus, because she doesn't see Nemo's heroic qualities, she sees him as a kind of Ubermensch figure. She's read the story, but she doesn't understand it the same way we do.

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

Post by Steve » Wed Jun 06, 2018 7:44 pm

Alright everyone, sorry for the wait, but I've got enough episodes in the can, so to speak, to resume posting! Here is a release schedule for the next six episodes!

3-07 "Where the Wind Takes You" - June 8th
A visit to the Gy'toran Homeworld proves more dangerous than expected for Robert and Zack. Meridina and Lucy have to prevent an assassin from striking during a vital diplomatic summit in the Inner Sphere.

3-08 "Distant Thunder" - June 15th
An attack on the Dorei colony on Adrana by the mysterious Geth leads Robert and the others to the Citadel to unmask the rogue Citadel agent responsible; Robert adjusts to his new status and place on the Aurora.

3-09 "A Race Through Ruin" - June 22nd
Robert joins Commander Shepard on the SSV Normandy in a mission to the planet Feros; the Aurora crew's search for a young Asari xenoarcheologist leads them to the hostile world of Therun.

3-10 "Matters of Survival" - June 29th
The Aurora crew tracks Saren's activities to the planet Noveria and an experiment gone hideously wrong; the Normandy heads to Virmire in the hunt for Saren's base.

3-11 "Chasing the Cycle" - July 6th
It's a race against time when Robert, Commander Shepard, and their allies head to Ilos to prevent Saren and Sovereign from summoning the Reapers.

3-12 "All In" - July 13th
Fresh from their battle against Sovereign, the Aurora and their allies are thrown into a last ditch effort to seize the Nazi Reich's capital Earth, with the outcome of the war hanging in the balance.
"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 » Fri Jun 08, 2018 5:28 pm


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 21 April 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The Aurora has arrived over the planet Arc-Royal in Universe F1S1 with an Alliance diplomatic team to observe talks between the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere and the Clans of Kerensky. Secretary Onaran has spent weeks arranging this summit in order to stabilize the existing Clan-Inner Sphere truce and, it is hoped, establish the possibility of a more permanent peace.

In addition to our role in the talks, we will also be providing some of the security forces to ensure the safety of the negotiating teams.

On another matter, the new commanding officer of the
Koenig has arrived to take up his post.

The command officers of the Aurora and Koenig gathered in the conference lounge to greet the new arrival when he entered the room via the starboard-side lift.

The officer that Ensign Jean Hajar, a helm and engineering officer of the Koenig, escorted into the lounge was young as well. Well-combed and cut blond hair gave him the appearance of a disciplined young officer, as did the controlled expression on his round face. Light brown eyes surveyed those present and betrayed, just a little, the emotions under the surface. The newcomer looked almost uncomfortable in his Alliance military uniform, with the three gold rank strips of a full Commander on his collar. Julia introduced him to the others. "Everyone, this is Commander William Atreiad, formerly of the Colonial Navy, and the new Commanding Officer of the Koenig."

There was polite applause. Everyone was trying not to hold the fact behind Atreiad's appointment against him; specifically, the slow degradation of their friend, Zack Carrey, former commander of the Koenig. Nevertheless Julia noticed that Tom Barnes had an unhappy look. She restrained herself from sighing.

When the greetings finished, Julia nodded to Atreiad, who replied, "Thank you for the warm welcome." He seemed a little nervous himself. Julia couldn't be shocked; after a brief promotion to Captain in the Colonial Navy due to his role in Adama's ploy to delay the Cylons, he had transferred to the Stellar Navy with the equivalent rank of Lieutenant Commander, just to have the service bump him another rank in the span of a month to fill one of the needed command billets. The rapid rise was certain to jolt anyone.

"I understand I am taking a post held by someone that you all care deeply for," he continued. "Commander Carrey enjoys the respect of the Colonies as well, and I have to say that I'm daunted by the prospect of commanding the Starship Koenig in his absence. I pray that I'm capable of being half of the commander that Zachary Carrey is."

Those self-deprecating remarks won Atreiad the audience. Lieutenant Commander Creighton Apley, the First Officer and Navigation Officer of the Koenig, was the first to start applauding. Julia was the third.

When the applause ended Atreiad stepped up to Julia and handed her a datapad. On it were his official orders. "Commander Atreiad reporting as ordered, Captain," the young Colonial officer stated.

"Welcome aboard, Commander. Go ahead and take a seat, I'll give everyone a final briefing."

Atreiad nodded and did so, taking up Zack's usual seat beside where Julia herself used to sit, now Meridina's seat. Everyone took their typical seats and Julia settled into her own. "As you've all noticed, we've made orbit over Arc-Royal. Under the political system of the Federated Commonwealth, this planet is ruled by Grand Duke Morgan Kell, whom you may remember."

There were nods. Julia imagined Barnes was ready to call him the "cool old guy", but he said nothing and was merely frowning in his seat.

"The Grand Duke is a most remarkable individual," Meridina said. "I sensed there was something unique about him."

"Duke Kell has agreed to a request from ComStar's Primus Mori to host this diplomatic summit," Julia explained. "All of the Inner Sphere and many of the Periphery states are attending, as are representatives of the Clans' Grand Council."

"Huh." Jarod showed surprise at that. "That's quite an accomplishment. I didn't think the Clans would ever agree to talks on this scale with the Inner Sphere. Even the Wardens don't seem to actually like the Great Houses that much."

"The war against the Reich is the ostensible reason," Julia noted. "Officially the Clans are here to join in planning further invasions of the Reich's central worlds. To bid for them in their style. However, Secretary Onaran believes that ilKhan Kerensky can use any agreement as the basis for expanding, or maybe extending, the Tukkayid Truce."

"It won't be easy," Locarno said.

"Likely not. And it assumes the Inner Sphere can work together and present a united front." Jarod shook his head before looking to Julia. "So what are we doing here?"

"Observing, mostly," Julia said. "The Alliance is remaining officially neutral in Clan-House relations for the moment."

"Really? I thought we told both sides we'd help the Inner Sphere if the Clans invaded," Angel pointed out.

"That was before the Clans agreed to join the war too," Julia replied. "That complicates matters. Our guarantee wasn't withdrawn, of course, but we can't be assertive about it if we want to keep the Clans in the fight. Onaran may play peacemaker if he wants to, but our part is to simply watch, and to provide extra security. There are parties that would love to derail these talks."

"I will have security teams ready for your use, Captain." From her seat, one wouldn't imagine that Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond was barely two weeks away from having been stabbed to near-death by one of the rogues of the Avenger crew. "And we'll coordinate with ComStar and Kell Hound security easily enough. Might I borrow Lieutenant Lucero?"

"And Commander Meridina, yes," Julia said. "Any other questions?" There were none. "Then you're all dismissed." The assembled stood from their chairs. As they went to leave, Julia called out, "Lieutenant Barnes?", prompting Tom Barnes to stay. "How are you feeling?" she asked him once everyone was out of the room.

"Fraking lousy," the foul-mouthed engineer declared. "They… He's really done it." There was sadness in Barnes' eyes when they met Julia's. "Zack's gone for good, I mean? Because they've got that Colonial guy taking his ship now."

"He resigned, Tom," Julia reminded him. "For the moment Maran is holding the resignation on the grounds that Zack may not have been of sound mind, but if nothing changes he'll accept it. He'll have to. And in the meantime, the Koenig needs a commander."

Barnes clenched his fists. "Dammit, we let him down. We let Zack down. He needed us and we just… y'know, we just let things go."

Julia felt a lump in her throat. She knew he was right, even as she knew nothing was going to stop Zack from leaving when he did. "He has to want our help, too," she said quietly. "And he didn't."

"There has to be something we can do."

"Right now? No." Julia shook her head. "Wherever he is, Zack has to figure this stuff out on his own. All we can do is hope and pray he does, and that he's okay."

It was obvious Barnes did not like that answer. That was fine to her, as Julia didn't either. Her mind wandered for a moment, thinking of Zack and everything that had happened since the New Year.

"Mind if I go?" Barnes asked her. "Scotty needs me to finish a visual inspection of our impulsor engines."

The request forced Julia out of those thoughts. "Of course," she said. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant."

Barnes let out a deliberately-drawn out sigh at her formality before heading to the lift.

Julia watched him go and turned to face the windows. Arc-Royal hung in space "below" her, at the bottom of the gravity well that was keeping the Aurora in roughly the same relative position through a geosynchronous orbit. She watched the planet alone for several moments. The task ahead was going to be another difficult assignment, but the tricky diplomacy of the F1S1 universe was not what was on her mind. She found herself thinking, instead, of missing friends.

Zack, Rob, wherever you guys are… I hope you're alright.

Zachary Carrey was used to headaches when waking up. It was not an encouraging sign, given what it said about his drinking habits of late.

But now it was joined by nausea, nausea that drove him to scramble out of his bed. It was a softer bed than he'd enjoyed in weeks. His mind couldn't think of why, at the moment. The last few days had been a bit of a blur. Faces he was unfamiliar with, and only one he could put a name to. And even that one didn't fit his thoughts anymore.

A search of the room indicated the small closet space with a commode. Zack stumbled over to it and retched into the metal receptacle. It took a few minutes for him to regain control. His throat and nose burned from the stomach contents that had come up through his throat. His hand reached and reached until he found the switch for the commode. Jets of water forced the vomit through the bottom and to their final destination in the ship holding tank.

Standing up, Zack could feel his head clearing enough to recognize himself in the mirror. He was in a pair of white boxers with a blue line pattern. His bare chest showed muscle definition, but it was starting to atrophy from lack of sufficient exercise, or food for that matter. His face was pale.

"I look like crap," Zack muttered to himself, even as he tried to figure out where he was. This wasn't his room in the Deng Guo City traveler's motel he'd picked. Had he boarded another ship while drunk? The thought briefly scared him until he noticed the fading bruise on his stomach. He'd been punched, hard. Other remaining spots spoke of other blows. He'd been attacked. That had been stopped, and now he was…. here?

As his thoughts cleared, a face came to mind. Familiar, save the facial hair.

There was a knock at the door. Zack grabbed a pair of trousers from his open travel bag - when had he gotten his stuff? - and pulled it on while approaching the door. "Coming," he grumbled. His head still hurt. When he reached the door he tapped a key to open it.

The figure outside was one of those he wasn't sure about. A male humanoid alien in a jacket and leggings. After a moment Zack's brain registered the appearance. I'm on a ship with a Minbari? he thought, looking at the white bone crest on the alien's head. "Are you well?" the Minbari asked.

"I just puked and my head feels like an elephant was sitting on it. So no, I'm not," Zack answered irritably.

"I see. Your symptoms have not cleared yet."

"Who are you anyway?" Zack asked. The hall outside of the room had doors to what he assumed were other rooms. A control cockpit or bridge was visible to his left, through a sliding double door, with the streaks of warp space faintly visible. The color and look of the interior was definitely Dorei, vibrant shades of green on the walls with purple trim around the doors and panels. "What ship is this?"

"You are aboard an independent vessel, the Keyeri," the Minbari replied. "I am the co-owner of the craft. My name is Lennier." Lennier gestured toward the rear of the central hall. "Our eating area is open for you to use. You most likely require some form of sustenance given your condition."

Zack felt his stomach gurgle. Some of it was hunger, but the rest was queasiness. "No point until I know I won't just throw up," he replied quietly. With the moments ticking by his thoughts were focusing better. "I have a friend aboard."

"Yes. He is in the cargo bay."

Zack nodded and stepped out. "Thanks," he said. Lennier nodded and returned to the ship's cockpit area. Zack went in the other direction, toward the stern. A turn to his right led to a platform overlooking a relatively small cargo bay and a set of steps down to it.

There was little cargo in the cargo bay. In the middle of the open space two people were seated with crossed legs, in a way Zack associated with "meditation". The figure closest to him was a woman, a Dorei with blue skin and hair and light purple spotting. The latter was visible down the rear and front of her bare shoulder blades, as she was wearing a yellow tube top and thigh-length shorts of white color.

Opposite her was Zack's friend Robert Dale. He was in a white sleeveless undershirt and blue boxers. His hair was slightly longer than was normal for him, now approaching the base of his neck, and for the first time in his life Robert was letting his facial hair grow, with a trimmed beard and mustache of the same dark hair as on his scalp.

A bleary image came to Zack's mind. Of the look of his oldest friend as he reached down and helped Zack up. "It's been a while" echoed. It had been quite a greeting.

Zack's attention was now drawn to an object, or rather set of objects, hovering in mid-air between Robert and the Dorei woman. The frame suggested a rough cylinder, with parts creating a housing attached to a power cell and a control. A shining green crystal moved through the air and fit into a cradle in the housing.

Or so it seemed. A moment later a part fell from the housing. It came apart, the crystal next, and in a burst of invisible power the entire thing seemed to explode. Parts flew everywhere. One stopped in mid-air before the Dorei.

Another piece, small and stinging, struck Zack. Right between the eyes. He let out an involuntary cry and reached for the impact point. "What the hell?" he said a moment later.

Attention turned to him. Robert already had frustration on his expression, but now it turned to concern as well. "Zack, are you alright? I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" He sighed and started to stand. "How are you?"

"Feeling like crap," Zack answered.

"Hopefully you'll be through the withdrawal soon," Robert said. "I'm more worried about your head. Julia's message said something about potential brain damage from Niltox?"

"It's fine," Zack insisted, glowering. His bad judgement over the Niltox was another unpleasant sign of how low he'd gone. "What was that anyway?"

"Yet another failed attempt to follow Lucy's instructions," Robert said, looking disappointed. "I'm still trying to get a handle on my abilities now that they're stronger."

"I thought you were going to do that in some super-remote Gersallian monastery?"

"That was to help me get enough control that I wasn't spontaneously knocking things over," Robert pointed out. "I managed that after about a month." After that he gestured to the Dorei woman. "Anyway, this is Druni Jestani, formerly of the Order of the Silver Moon, and co-owner of this ship, the Keyeri."

"I met her partner already," Zack noted. His brow furrowed in recollection. "Silver Moon? The order of lesbians with the bondage sex rituals?"

Robert sighed while Druni snorted. "If you weren't his friend and clearly affected by drinking too much, I would smack you for believing that lurid nonsense," Druni grumbled. "We're not all yassi - lesbians, I mean - and banno egh banno is not sexual!"

"Remind me to remind Tom to stop watching those things," Robert moaned. "They'll just get him into trouble."

To that Zack snorted. Given his headache, he immediately regretted the reaction. "Getting Tom away from his porn is like getting you away from your heroics, Sir Robert the White. Although come to think of it, for you they might be about the same thing..."

That won him a playful glare, the playfulness made clear by the smile on Robert's face. "Well, I see your sense of humor is still intact," he said.

For a brief moment, Zack did feel like things were… normal? Right? Here he was, bantering with his close friend like the old days. But it's not the old days anymore, and Clara's still dead, and I've become a Goddamned drunk just like Dad.

Robert's smile faded. He could sense the shift in Zack's mood and, if not the thoughts themselves, the general thought behind them. Before he could say anything, a tone came from a panel on the wall.

Druni walked over to it and tapped a key. "Yes, Lennier?"

"We have arrived. I have brought the ship out of warp and requested landing clearance. We are standing by."

"Ah. Good." Druni nodded and looked to Robert. "We're here."

"I guess it's time to get dressed," said Robert.

"Huh?" Zack blinked. "Where is 'here', then?"

Robert responded by activating his omnitool. It was an amber-colored model, one of the M4P2 civilian omnitools instead of the blue lighting of a Stellar Navy-issue one. An image popped up of a garden planet. Tall, wide mountain ranges were visible on a great continent. The orbital space was full of starships, many of them utilizing solar-sails or, Zack realized, subspace-sails. And he could only think of one species that used such ships widely.

"Gy'sara," Robert answered, as if the ships themselves hadn't given the answer away. "The Gy'toran Homeworld."

[align=center]Undiscovered Frontier
"Where the Wind Takes You"

The Keyeri descended through clouds on her way to her destination. In the ship's cockpit Zack and Robert sat toward the rear while Lennier piloted and Druni supported him. They were watching as the clouds parted for good, giving a spectacular view of Utal Pranam, the capital city of the Gy'torans.

A G2 star, the same type as Earth's, shined golden rays upon the scene. Below them a city was sprawled among the hilltops along a great river and the canyon it had carved into the planet's surface over the last eon or two. The buildings were blocky structures of lavender, burgundy, and golden shades, with some other colors mixed in, some rising high enough that they were actually above the walls of the canyon. Said walls were not bare either, but rather bore structures built into the canyon sides. Long bands of nets connected some of the buildings to others at varying altitudes. Signs in the blocky cuneiform of the primary Gy'toran trade language were set into many of the structures.

The Keyeri remained over a hundred meters above the canyon on its approach, and for good reason. Just below them, a large craft made of wood and steel was gently plying its way through the air. Zack was astonished to see that the vessel was covered in great white canvases, like an old sailing ship before the days of steam, spread out above, to the sides, and even billowing out from the bottom of the ship. Small figures were hustling across the sails' attached netting, manipulating the sails with pinpoint precision. One sail began to fold in on itself; it was being furled in. Then another.

"A wind-sailer airship," Robert noted. "Just like their starships."

"Goddess, it is amazing," Druni breathed. "I had heard the stories…"

"How could that work?" Zack wondered aloud. "I mean, a ship that size would need an active anti-grav engine or a lot of speed and lift to stay aloft."

"It most likely has a gravity drive for these approaches," Lennier stated. "However, Gy'sara's gravity is lighter than many other species' homeworlds, and the mountain and canyon formations on the continents encourage higher wind speeds. Wind-sailing airships are quite feasible."

"And an integral part of their culture," Robert added.

"I am bringing us in to their aerospace port," Lennier added. "We will be landing momentarily."

Their course took them to the north of the main city. The buildings started to diminish in size, clearing the skies over the canyon below for greater aerial traffic. And that was precisely what was there. More wind-sailers were evident, some no larger than a rowboat with gliding sails. The Keyeri remained in her own approach vector that took her past a large, elegant wind-sailing ship with multiple internal decks and massive, furled sails. Zack looked over said ship with a keen eye. Its very size seemed to defy its ability to remain aloft, even if for the moment it was docked in what looked like a cradle extended from the canyon wall.

Said wall was their destination as well. Along this entire section door after door had been carved; the Gy'torans had turned this entire area of Utal Pranam into an aerospace port to service their capital. One such set of doors, a smaller set near the top of the canyon, was open for them. Lennier flew them in with quiet precision. The dock inside was a basic hanger. Visible fuel cells allowed for a variation of ship types to have vital fuel recharged or replenished. Work-coat clad Gy'torans scuttled along on four limbs to secure the Keyeri to her dock.

"Here we are," Robert said.

"Yeah." Zack blinked. "Uh, why are we here?"

"Why else would we be here?" Robert asked, his eyes glinting with humor. "Sightseeing."

Securing the Keyeri hadn't taken long, and Zack spent that time packing his bags. A part of him considered telling the others "No thank you" and going off to book passage on the next ship leaving for Alliance space. But he couldn't bring himself to do that. Not yet. It didn't feel right, not given the effort Robert had clearly spent tracking him down.

Besides, he wanted to see the Gy'toran homeworld too.

The aerospace port's main facilities were actually above the docks, built on the surface of the forested plateaus that overlooked the canyon. From the windows that lined the pathways of the terminals Zack could look out at the trees. They were primarily red, with pale violet and purple leaves, although some of the species evident were of a dimmer red color. An eight-legged animal of almost feline appearance darted up the surface of one of the trees, disappearing into the canopy. An avian with blue and green feathers swooped in close to the window before banking out to land on another tree.

"Zack?" Ahead of him, Robert broke off from the others and looked back to him. He was wearing the same Gersallian traveling robes he'd worn when rescuing Zack from his attackers on Guanxi, although he kept the hood down around his neck here. "We're heading to the hotel, we probably shouldn't split up until we get there."

"Right," Zack murmured. He walked toward Robert and they kept going.

"You've been traveling a bit yourself, haven't you?" Robert asked. "I mean, I almost caught up to you in M4P2, but you left Eden Prime before the Keyeri could get there."

"I heard it was beautiful there, wanted to see it," Zack said.


"I guess I'm jaded by New Liberty and New Caprica," Zack said. "Because it looked like just another garden planet to me."

Robert shook his head genially. "It had its charms though. And the Prothean ruins are spectacular."

"They were, I guess," Zack conceded.

When he didn't say anything else, Robert continued to speak. "I don't blame you for wanting to just get away for awhile. With everything that's happened…"

Zack said nothing.

"...anyway, I'm looking forward to this." Robert kept a friendly grin on his face, even as he felt like he was forcing it. "And look on the bright side. We lost a lot of weight coming here. That might have been useful back in school."

"Ha," Zack chuckled, but only slightly. He knew what Robert was trying to do, and he didn't feel like humoring him for the moment. He wanted some time to process his thoughts. Particularly the memories of talking with Clara. While she'd never mentioned Gy'sara in particular, this was the kind of traveling she'd talked about doing if Zack ever left the Stellar Navy. And now he was here doing it, and she… she was gone. Dead, not coming back.

Robert went to open his mouth again and stopped. Zack wasn't ready. He had to be patient.

They caught up to Druni and Lennier at the mass transit terminal. A large air-bus - not a sky-sailing model either - was already pulled up to the terminal and docked, taking aboard passengers. They got in line and waited.

The estate of Grand Duke Kell was the locale for the summit, in the planetary capital of Old Connaught. Julia looked out a window in the upper floor room set up for the talks and considered the city. While named for an Irish province, the capital of Arc-Royal was built more like the kind of homey, small German towns that Julia had seen in old photography in history classes or in Anna Dale's family photographs. Indeed, it was almost hard to believe it was the capital of a planet.

"It is quite a sight, isn't it?"

Julia turned and faced the man speaking to her. He was roughly her age, a little taller, wearing a dress uniform of light beige with brown on the chest. A brass-colored rank square with a red star was located on both lapels of the uniform's neck while the arm bore a red star with one ray longer than the rest pointed downward, a "daggerstar". Green eyes a different shade from her own eye color met her eyes. "Khan Ward," she said respectfully.

"Captain." Phelan Ward - formerly Phelan Kell - nodded once. "How do you like Arc-Royal?"

"It's… certainly a lovely world," Julia answered. "It's your homeworld, right?"

"To some extent, although I spent part of my youth traveling from world to world with the Kell Hounds." Phelan looked out over the town again. "Congratulations, by the way."


"On your promotion, and your command," he answered. "And on some of your accomplishments as well. I took the time to read up on your career so far as a captain. You seem to have had quite an eventful year."

"You could say that." Julia grinned slightly at that. "I'm surprised the Clan Grand Council let you come. Wouldn't they consider you biased?"

"They would have to defend such an argument if they argued it in the Council," Phelan said. "And I would have been honor bound to challenge them to a Circle of Equals." His mouth formed into an appropriately-wolfish smile. "And I'm not the easiest opponent to face, inside or outside of a 'Mech."

"Ah." Julia nodded once.

"Of course, that will not stop certain Khans from using my presence to debate against whatever arrangement we make," Phelan continued. "Which is why I am only here as an observer for the ilKhan. Khans from the Ghost Bears, Star Adders, Snow Ravens, and Nova Cats are the primary negotiators for our delegation."

"Right." Julia tried to remember which Clan was which. She recalled the Bears and the Cats as Invading Clans, but the Adders and Ravens were more of a blank. "The Clans have already taken a few worlds for their own, I believe?"

"Neu Brandenburg, Wesselwelt, and New Denmark," Phelan said. "And we have enclaves on ten other planets taken from the Reich, although your Alliance has insisted we honor your Harris Station Charter, so we do not enjoy full control of those other worlds."

Julia nodded in reply. She was familiar with said Charter, signed a month after the Battle of New Austria. It guaranteed political liberty to the communities of subjugated nationalities and ethnicities. The original intent of the charter had been to grant entire worlds freedoms, but between the needs of the war and the demands of the Turians, the charter allowed for the coalition members to maintain their own enclaves and bases on those worlds, even if the communities there would gain independence. Clearly the Clans were getting the same arrangement the Turians enjoyed.

"I had better go see to my fellow Khans," Phelan said. "Have a good day, Captain."

"Thank you, Khan," she answered. She took a final look out the window before walking away herself.

Julia soon found Meridina and Lucy in the company of Commander Richmond. They were with a Kell Hound officer, an older one with clear authority. "I can have the field ready within the hour, Colonel Allard," Richmond was saying, her upper class Australian accent a marked difference from the usual accent one expected of Australians.

"That will be acceptable, the first meeting is in ninety minutes," was the reply of Colonel Dan Allard, the commander of the Kell Hounds. He was checking his timepiece. "And speaking of that, I have to go assure Curaitis that everything is ready."

"Curaitis?" Meridina recognized the name, that of Archon-Prince Victor's security advisor. "Is he participating in security planning?"

"More like he's being given a partial say in it," explained Colonel Allard. "As are the security people for all of the House delegations. And the Clans for that matter. It's not making it any easier. But between your security and our forces, we'll manage. Please excuse me."

With Colonel Allard gone, it was just the four ladies from the Aurora. "What do you think?" Julia asked the others, specifically Meridina and Richmond as the former and the current security chiefs of the Aurora, respectively.

"I would feel better hosting these talks aboard the ship," Richmond admitted. "The Aurora is a more secure environment and it would be far easier for security to control access. The Kell Estate and Kell Hound Headquarters employ dozens, hundreds, of local civilians for their functions, and even with control checkpoints and other security measures, someone with the right tools and skill could penetrate the system anyway. We recently learned this the hard way, you may recall."

Julia nodded. She mentally flashed back to prior incidents in these situations. The attack at New Chicago when Draconian operatives attacked a diplomatic reception was a particular memory. Of course, even the Aurora had faced a similar security breach: the reception in the Lookout over the Dilgar survivors on Tira, when the renegade leader James Hawk nearly killed Warmaster Shai'jhur, the leader of the remnant Dilgar government. She suspected most threats wouldn't have access to the top-model Darglan technology that had let Hawk and his ally slip aboard the Aurora, but there were still plenty of stealth technologies and other methods a potential assassin could use.

"I would recommend you leave myself and Lucy on security assignment, Captain," Meridina stated. "Our presence makes it more likely we can detect a threat before it strikes."

"I agree," Julia said. "I'll ask Colonel Allard to prepare rooms for you so you can remain on site."

"Jarod's going to have to re-assign someone else for the port lateral sensor array's inspection," Lucy pointed out. "I was supposed to start that tomorrow, and we're already a day overdue."

"We'll handle it," Julia promised. "Your priority is protecting the summit."

Lucy nodded. "If that's where you need me." She looked around. "Maybe I should go swap into a security uniform then?"

"No, stick with what you've got," Julia said.

"Your call, Captain," Lucy replied.

Julia checked the time and looked to Meridina. "The other leaders should be arriving soon, Secretary Onaran will be expecting us to join him in welcoming them. We'd better get going. Let me know if anything develops."

"Of course, Captain," Meridina said.

"I'll inform you of any further issues, Captain, Commander."

After a final pair of nods, Julia and Meridina departed to join the Allied Systems Foreign Secretary. Richmond checked the latest report on her omnitool before looking to Lucy. "If you don't mind me asking, Lieutenant, why are you still in the operations branch?"

Lucy almost missed the question, as she was busy running a diagnostic on one of the security scanners they'd placed. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"Well, while you often do operations duties, during crisis moments you are usually in the field performing combat duties," Richmond pointed out. "It seems a waste to keep you in operations branch."

"There are times I feel the same way," admitted Lucy. "But I like some of the work. This," she gestured toward the lightsaber hilt on her uniform belt, "isn't all of what I do."

"I understand that, Lieutenant Lucero, but I think it's wasteful," Richmond said. "Whatever your role was on the Aurora when she first launched, your place on the crew has changed substantially. Your capabilities as a field officer with your metaphysical talents call for a re-evaluation of your assignment."

Lucy took a moment to consider the argument. Julia had made similar remarks not too long ago. She wasn't just an ops officer anymore, and hadn't been for nearly two years. Richmond wanting her transferred to security did make sense.

Although, when it came down to it, she didn't want to devote her time to security either.

"I'd like you to think about the transfer, Lieutenant," Richmond said. "I have an open billet for my second-in-command coming soon. I think it will be a good fit for you."

"We can decide it later," Lucy said. "We should finish getting everything set up first, though."

"Agreed." With that Richmond keyed her omnitool's comm system and said, "Taggart, Ihjamal, I need your status."

"Yes ma'am. We just finished installing the sensors on the ground floor dock. We're moving on to the interior foyer…"

The light in the temple was faded, reflecting the twilight sky outside. Low flames licked at the walls where the torches gave scant aid to the illumination of the room.

The flood of light that suddenly made the chamber as bright as a sunny day came from the armored figure in white that, even now, thrust her shining, almost-blazing sword into the flesh of the great wyrm guarding the chamber. Its powerful claw swiped at its foe and created sparks along the shield, also colored white with silver and gold symbols upon it.

Ensign Talara, the only non-Human of the party and the only one still standing, finished her casting a moment later. It took most of her remaining MP to cast the once-per-battle raise spell, but the circumstances demanded it. The bright light that emanated from her coated the fallen forms of her compatriots. They stood rapidly, as if freed from invisible bonds, although the truth was that the fallen forms had merely been holograms; the real players were, to reflect their status, merely locked out of the game.

Ensign Violeta Arterria acted first. She nocked an arrow into her glistening, silver-hued bow, sending said arrow into the eye of the great wyrm. "We've almost got it!" she shouted. "It's down to five percent!"

The next figure to strike was Angel Delgado. Clad in a crimson chongseom garment with gold embroidered figures, and defiantly missing the feathered headband that rounded out her class uniform, Angel rushed in and landed a punch on the scaly body off their foe. Faint, flaming light formed around her as another punch landed, and then a powerful kick.

"Angel, we would have won already if you'd just use the chakras right!" The protest was from her sister Caterina. At barely five feet she was the smallest, least intimidating member of the party, wearing voluminous blue robes and a floppy yellow hat that virtually obscured her face. It was perhaps fitting that she was also the one with the most powerful attacks.

"Don't worry about that, Cat!" Violeta shouted. "Another Flare should do it!"

Cat nodded and held her rod up. She began reciting words in Spanish. The actual words didn't matter for the game, and she could have used any language she wanted, really any words she wanted, so long as she identified the trigger word of the spell she wanted to use. But Cat felt that Spanish worked best for reality-warping spells, at least in lieu of actual Latin.

The great wyrm lashed out at Angel, who ducked a swing of its mighty tail, but wasn't quite fast enough to avoid a hit that sent her flying. The green bar on her wrist display dropped to twenty percent. Any follow-up blow would sent her back down, and for the rest of the fight.

Talara clanged her shining holy sword against her shield, creating a flash of light that seemed to get the dragon's attention. In the second before it attacked she cast a quick cure spell, which enabled her to survive the massive blow that struck her despite her armor and shields. She was knocked backward. "Are you ready?"

With a defiant "Flare", Cat unleashed the spell she'd been channeling. Red light gathered around the dragon. It looked like fireflies were suddenly gathering, all rushing in on the wyrm's body regardless of how it moved. The energy suddenly burst outward in red light and flame. The wyrm screamed in agony.

But it still wasn't dead.

Violeta put an arrow into its neck. Angel landed another series of punches. It struck out again and Talara, aided by the abilities she'd picked, intercepted the blow before it could level Violeta. Again her shield and armor absorbed some of the damage, but now her health was blinking red; she couldn't take another hit.

But because of those same abilities, Talara found herself allowed to make an immediate counterattack. She lunged with her blade and drove it into the scaly flesh of the creature's hand. It gave way, letting her cleave so far that the wyrm's hand was bisected by the blow. A colored marker appeared over its head.

Cat cast another spell, this time with blasts of blue energy from her rod. Violeta followed it up with an arrow. Their efforts hit the head directly. WIth a final cry, the creature toppled over.

A victory fanfare played around them.

"We… we did it…" Cat gasped for air for a moment. "We finally beat the Dragon King!"

"Without a dedicated healer," added Violeta. "That's the surprising part." She approached the fallen body, which faded away and revealed a chest. She opened it and grinned. "Ha!" She reached in and pulled out an elegant purple cloak that matched her eyes and hair. She unlatched her current cloak and put it on. "Diana's Cloak," she boasted. "I can't believe it dropped."

Angel reached in and retrieved a leather vest of dragonscales. "So… I wear this for now on?" she asked.

"If you want," Violeta said. "You can also set the game to consider it equipped without actually wearing it."

Talara pulled out a silver helmet with eagle wings on either side, wings that were twice as long as the pointed ears showing from the sides of her current white-coated helmet. "This is… an improvement?"

"Oh yeah, that's a Tier 10 helmet, your helmet is only Tier 8." Violeta giggled. "The drops are worth it, aren't they?"

Cat found a new rod, with a bejeweled tip. "That's a real rare drop!" Violeta proclaimed with awe. "The Starbringer Rod! You can use it to cast Comet four times per battle without draining MP."

"Oooh." Cat put the rod on her waist, unequipping the old one in the process. "So what now?"

"Given we finally cleared the Dragon King? I'd say we play the cutscene and then cast the Teleport spell to return to Caer Draconis. We have to turn the main quest in to get the full XP reward for the module."

"We can do that tomorrow," Angel said. "I need a dinner after that workout."

"And I need to change and get ready for my shift," Talara added.

"We can do that," Violeta said. "Computer, save progress and shut down."

"Processing… progress saved."

The Hall of the Dragon King disappeared, as did the empty chest. They were in a chamber of blue walls that wasn't even a quarter the size of where they'd just been. "The next module's a fun one," Violeta assured them. "The Palace of Cagnazzo. It's an underwater level."

"I am not swimming around," declared Angel.

"We can set it to behave like we're on dry land," replied Violeta. She grinned at Cat. "You'll want to practice your Thunder magic abilities."

"It'll be fun," Cat said. "And then maybe we'll be ready for the Floating Islands of Djubara?"

Violeta nodded as she walked past Cat. For a brief moment a look of what seemed like resignation formed on her face, but she didn't give any of them a chance to notice by assuring she was in the lead as they departed the holodeck.

The bus brought the four travelers into the heart of the Gy'toran capital city. A traveler's hotel catering to alien visitors provided rooms at an economical cost. Lennier and Druni departed for their rooms.

Zack nearly did the same, but ultimately he decided to follow Robert out of the hotel's front entrance and into the city proper. Utal Pranam buzzed around them. With some exceptions the figures that milled around them were Gy'torans. They were a six-limbed species with flexible sectional positions that allowed them to potentially run on four of their limbs. Even all six, if they had reason to stay low and needed to really move. Their faces broadly resembled koalas, while their fur ran a spectrum from blue through shades of purple to reddish colors.

Now that the two were on ground level, they could see the reason for the netting covering so many buildings. As they watched, one Gy'toran simply grabbed hold of said netting at the ground and began climbing up the side of the building. Within thirty seconds he was six stories up and entering a door set into the netting. "Woh," Zack said. "I guess they don't need elevators."

"Well, they probably do have them, if just for the injured or for carrying freight," Robert pointed out. Nearby another pair of Gy'torans lowered themselves to ground level from another set of netting.

"In this gravity climbing must be pretty easy."

"I'm not sure I'd want to give it a try, either way," Robert said. "Not without climbing harnesses."

"Don't you have superpowers now?" Zack asked. "You could just will yourself to float or something."

"It doesn't really work that way, Zack." They walked past what looked to be a shop. Gy'torans were burbling away in their native language outside.

The next shop they saw had holoscreen frames on sale. Test models were set to Gy'toran news casts and a couple of offworld ones, including the Interuniversal News Network (IUNN). Two smaller Gy'toran, youths, were staring at the screens. One turned and looked up at them as they walked past. His - or her, perhaps - face betrayed what looked like bewilderment. The Gy'toran nudged their compatriot and now another set of dark eyes focused on them.

"Um… hello," Zack said. He wondered if either had auto-translators.

"Hel...lo…" one said with a high-pitched voice. "Not speak Human well. Te'kam ri… you want buy?"

"We're just sightseeing," Robert said.

"Sight-see?" There was momentary confusion on the Gy'toran's face. Slowly realization seemed to dawn for the young alien. "Ah! Sight-see! Yes! I sell sight-see!"

Zack gave Robert a bemused look. "I don't think he understands that. Maybe you should say 'visiting'?"

"Visit! Sight-see!" The Gy'toran reached into a box and pulled out something that looked like a brochure. On the front was a ship much like the giant wind-sailer they'd seen while the Keyeri was on final approach. "We sell sight-see!"

The two immediately comprehended what the child was talking about. "You sell tickets to one of those big wind-sailers?" Zack asked.

The Gy'toran's nose tilted back and forth. Robert, for his part, sensed the answer was yes. "Sounds interesting." He took the offered slip of folded paper and unfolded it. A map showed the vessel in question and its route, connecting Utal Pranam to a major regional city of the north, Ilam Tran. The route, back and forth, went between Gy'sara's two greatest mountain ranges. Robert read descriptions in English, Lushan Dorei, Common Gersallian, Alakin Trade, and what looked like Asari Standard. He was pretty sure another set of characters was Vulcan. The designer of the brochure used every bit of space for either imagery or text. "It looks good." Robert handed the paper to Zack. "What do you think?"

Zack looked it over quickly. A part of him didn't really care. But there were some magnificent views. Finally he said, "Sure, let's go. I mean, nothing better to do, right?"

"You buy?" the Gy'toran kid asked, hope in his voice. He presented a digital device. With a keypress the Gy'toran cuneiform characters turned into English, listing the price of various tickets. Robert was thankful that he'd kept his savings up and ultimately decided on one of the better sets of rooms, a two-bedroom suite on the second-highest deck, with round trip tickets. Two days there, a day in Ilam Tran, and two days back sounded about right. He used his multidevice to connect to the Gy'toran sales device and confirmed an encrypted payment. He took special care to ensure safety protocols would keep his account information secure. A glance over the information showed this was some sort of vendor arrangement; the kids sold the tickets on behalf of the ship's operators in exchange for a small cut. He wondered if some cynical Gy'toran clerk figured aliens would be more likely to buy from Gy'toran children on account of how cute and furry they looked.

Then again, the Girl Scouts always did good selling their cookies, so the fur might not have had anything to do with it.

Once the transaction was complete Robert and Zack moved on. "Well, I didn't plan on this," Robert admitted. "But it should be fun."

Zack nodded once, trying not to think of how much he wished Clara was here to see this. Or, come to think of it, of how much he wanted a drink. Those thoughts he was especially careful to avoid as much as possible.

The Meinhoff House was an extended-stay residence in Old Connaught, one that was seeing a lot of business with the summit. Every room was rented out due to the offworld business.

One longer-term customer, who had been present for a number of years, was an uninteresting man named John Goddard. Goddard had an extensive history with the planet, being a resident of Arc-Royal for most of his adult life. This background had been instrumental in getting him hired as janitorial staff to the Kell Estate. His work was diligent, the quiet competence that rulers and their managers loved to see in domestic staff.

But the truth was, John Goddard didn't exist.

The man who wore the identity like one might wear clothing was a very plain looking man. He was Caucasian, average build, average height, and a face that easily gets lost in the crowd. That was the important part in his line of work. Having a face that never gets a second look from the viewer.

He was looking over the data again. The money being offered was quite good, but the real draw was the challenge. The chance to prove that even the high and mighty Alliance couldn't stop him was just the thing to cement his reputation in the underworld.

Plus… it was fitting, what he had been hired to do, and that always worked for someone with such a meticulous approach to life, granting further order to something normally so messy.

And it was indeed fitting that the man who killed Melissa Steiner would now claim the life of her child.
"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 » Sat Jun 09, 2018 12:48 am

Druni and Lennier were in the common area for the guests. Robert walked up to them while they were observing the activity of the capital. The head of a Gy'toran briefly appeared at the bottom of the window before disappearing - presumably said Gy'toran would have to go around said window while climbing around the exterior. "Enjoying the view?" he asked.

"Yes," said Druni. "How was your walk?"

"Interesting. And I ended up purchasing tickets on one of the passenger sky-sailers. Zack and I will be gone for a few days." Robert tapped at his omnitool. "I could buy a couple more if you want to go too. It's a five day round trip to one of the regional cities and goes right through one of the major valleys."

"I thank you for the offer, but it is best if I remain here," said Lennier. "Our ship requires some maintenance work I will be attending to."

"So I'll stay too," Druni added. "We'll be here when you get back." She nodded. "Help your friend, Robert."

He nodded back. "That's what I was planning to do."

After leaving Lennier and Druni, Robert found Zack in the hotel's lounge and bar. He was seated at the bar with a violet-colored beverage. For a brief moment Robert wondered if he was drinking again, but he didn't sense any impairment. He walked up and sat beside Zack. "Trying out the local stuff?"

"It's a fruit pop thing," Zack answered.

A Gy'toran with a deep blue tint to their fur walked over, two hands holding glasses and a third a bottle. "Want some, sir?" The pitch of the voice indicated the barkeeper was female. "The yattal is made daily."

"Sure." Robert watched the Gy'toran expertly pour a glass of the violet liquid for him. He grasped the glass and took a drink There was some carbonation, and the taste was sweet and tangy, almost too tangy. He swallowed it. "Wow. That's some pop."

"Pop?" asked the Gy'toran.

"A term we have for carbonated drinks like this," Robert replied.

"An interesting sound. 'Pop'. Pop pop pop…" The Gy'toran continued on.

After taking another drink Robert glanced back to Zack. He could sense the turmoil inside of his friend. A yearning for release from his pain. "Are you punishing yourself by coming here?" he asked.

"I have to be able to control it," Zack insisted. "That's where I went wrong. I couldn't control it."

"And you think tempting yourself will help with that?"

"Is there something you want, Rob?"

The question did get to the point. "I want to help you, of course," Robert replied. "I hate seeing you like this."

Robert could sense a part of Zack bristle. He almost apologized but stopped. It felt like anything he said, anything, would be taken badly.

A momentary sense of frustration came to him. How could he do this if anything he said would make things worse?

"The ship leaves in a couple of hours," Robert pointed out. "We should probably get our stuff together."

Zack reacted by finishing his glass. He stepped off of the bar chair. "Sure," he said. "Let's go."

Two hours later Robert and Zack were standing on the observation deck of the sky-sailer passenger liner Tri'kep. It was easily the length and width of a 21st Century cruise ship, if lacking the height of one, with four decks for passengers and facilities, the observation deck at the bottom, and the restricted top deck where the sails were accessed by the crew and the main pilot house was found. A rear section of the ship contained engineering spaces on all decks that were likewise restricted.

They were not the only beings on the observation deck. Other tourists were present, as were Gy'toran passengers.

"I guess they don't have transporter networks here yet," Zack remarked, watching a Gy'toran tend to her children. One of the larger children had to pursue and take hold of a small sibling who was walking away, as curious little children were known to do in many species.

"A lot of worlds don't," Robert remarked.

Looking around they noted various passengers. A group of Tellarites were nearest to them. Further down three Asari, two of blue complexion and one with more of a lavender shade, were pointing to the window and discussing the sights. A pair of Dre'kari were holding hands at another port. A lone Minbari in religious caste robes was quietly watching the others on the deck, as if his fellow passengers were more interesting than the sight outside.

The ship shuddered slightly under their feet. "Here we go," Robert murmured, turning his attention back to the window. Outside the aerospace port began to recede, slowly.

For nearly two minutes they slowly pulled away from the aerospace port and accompanying canyon wall. Because of the shape of the ship, with the observation deck as the widest one, they could look up through the clear canopy roof and watch as the great sails of the Tri'kep unfurled. Small figures moved rapidly among the horizontal masts supporting the sails, which quickly billowed out as the active winds of Gy'sara's atmosphere pushed into them.

The ship picked up speed now. The sight below began to recede as she gained altitude as well. Eight minutes after they cast off, the ship was entirely clear of Utal Pranam. Now the ship was over a forest canopy crossed by roads and pathways that connected small households. Inside the canyon the river moved through open fields and orchards market by small homesteads. A much smaller city, more of a town, was further ahead.

Around them the other passengers started to leave. Soon they were among only a few still sitting or standing on the observation deck. Wordlessly they too left, content with what they had seen so far.

The preliminary meetings ended early, allowing everyone to retire and make preparations for the main meetings to commence the next day. The Aurora security personnel assigned to the meetings were given spare rooms in the estate to facilitate their participation in the round-the-clock security effort.

Whatever his personal nature as a soldier and mercenary, Morgan Kell had the same obligations in hosting dignitaries and other nobles as any other Inner Sphere lord, particularly one who ruled an entire planet. The room was twice the size of Meridina's quarters on the Aurora and elaborately furnished. She felt somewhat uncomfortable being in the lap of such luxury. The suite had a living area with couches and seats upholstered with fine red and black material. The tables were made from fine woods from across the Inner Sphere. A door led to the bedroom and the bathroom for the suite, where a soft bed covered in a blanket of goose down was waiting for the end of the night. The bathtub had built-in water jets to make it… Meridina couldn't recall the word, but knew Humans treated it as a luxury item.

For the moment she eschewed all of the luxury. Now out of her uniform, she wore a plain sleeveless white garment and leggings while she sat on the floor to meditate.

She sensed Lucy's arrival in the moments before the knock came on the door. She responded mentally to invite Lucy, who entered without further word. "I figured you weren't enjoying the luxury," she remarked.

"No. It is unnecessary." Meridina shook her head. "While I understand some extra comforts, Humans have a tendency to be wasteful when they have the means."

"That's the Knight of Swenya in you talking," Lucy said. "I, for one, intend to soak in the bath for at least an hour before going to bed. With the jacuzzi feature turned on." She grinned wryly. "You should try it. It's relaxing."

"That is what meditation is for," Meridina replied. She watched Lucy as she took a seat nearby. "Is there anything you wish to discuss?"

"Nothing important at the moment. There's a bit of tension around here, but we expected that. And I have a… I don't know, just a feeling I guess."

"A feeling of…?"

"Worry. Like something is going wrong, but I can't be sure." Lucy sighed. "Plus I've got Lieutenant Commander Richmond trying to talk me into swapping my posting to security."

"Is she?" Meridina ran the thought through her mind. "It is a reasonable proposal. You are an important asset in field operations as a swevyra'se more than an operations officer. Security is a reasonable assignment."

"Maybe." Lucy shook her head. "But it doesn't feel right to me." She leaned forward in her seat. "I just… I don't know. I know that I've moved beyond being in operations. I'm not just an engineer anymore either, or a runabout pilot. But security doesn't feel right either. Nothing does."

"And yet, your place is on the Aurora."

"Yes, it is." Lucy let out a little sigh. "I still feel that. But it's like people want to fit me into a puzzle but the edges aren't fitting. And I highly doubt ships will get a department solely for life force users."

"Indeed not, given the attitudes of certain leaders in the capital." Meridina needn't mention Defense Minister Hawthorne or Admiral Davies by name. "Give it time. I suspect you will come up with something."

"Or have someone come up with it for me," Lucy pointed out. "Whether I like it or not."

"An incentive, perhaps, to not allow the question to linger." Meridina stood up. "Do you wish to train? It may help you settle."

"No. I think I'll stick to the plan to soak in the jacuzzi." Lucy smiled, and there was friendly mischief in the look. "See you in the morning? They're starting at 0920 ship time."

"I will see you in the morning," Meridina answered.

The next morning Lucy and Meridina were in place with other security personnel as the summit began.

Seated with Foreign Secretary Onaran, Julia recognized that the occasion was, for the denizens of Universe F1S1, historic. For the first time, the independent rulers of the Inner Sphere's states were sitting with leaders of the Clans and of the Periphery nations. Even the distant Hanseatic League had sent a delegation to attend negotiations.

Primus Mori called the summit to order. ComStar's delegation - Mori herself and Precentor-Martial Focht - were seated equidistant to the three large, round tables where the Inner Sphere, Periphery, and Clans were gathered. A fourth table outside the rough circle was where Julia and the other observers could watch the proceedings.

"I call this meeting to order," said Primus Mori. "Welcome to the Connaught Summit. I am pleased to see that so many have accepted our invitations to this historic occasion."

Julia listened quietly to Mori's remarks. Occasionally she glanced toward the other leaders to see their reaction. The Clan Khans looked the least impressed. They were here to bid for worlds to attack, nothing more. The Periphery leaders only showed interest when Mori briefly remarked on economic cooperation and the sharing of technology, as the Inner Sphere's markets were starting to see the release of Multiversal technology such as consumer goods.

"Now we must come to the primary reason for this summit," Mori said. "Many of the states assembled here have all declared war upon the Nazi German Reich of the S4W8 universe. Your contributions vary by your available resources and the needs of your home territories, but you have all made valuable contributions of one sort or another. We must now ensure that those contributions are being directed toward the intended result; the complete defeat of the Reich and the elimination of the threat it poses to us. Precentor-Martial, you may proceed."

Focht activated a holotank showing a starmap of the S4W8 universe, or at least a section of space including Earth. Julia noticed the apprehension in some of those assembled, especially the Periphery realms. While the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere were certainly no slouches in terms of possessing plentiful worlds and resources, it was clear why the war still raged as it did despite the size of the Coalition. Even with all of the space they had lost in the eighteen months since the Battle of New Austria, the Reich still controlled an area of space far greater than the combined space of all of the attending states of F1S1.

"As you can see, the war may be far from over," Focht remarked. "Although our victories have been increasing as of late, and there are some indications that the enemy's military power is stretched to the breaking point, they still control a significant amount of space. We must decide on the best course for reducing them." Focht nodded toward the Alliance table. "I have been in discussions with Admiral Maran and the Alliance Defense Command, among other Coalition military leaders, on the best avenues…"

"Under what authority does ComStar negotiate on the matter of the war?" asked a Clan Khan. He was in a uniform of green coloring; the holographic nameplate in front of him marked him as Khan Cassius N'Buta of the Star Adders. "Your ComGuards have not participated."

"True. But we are still belligerents," Focht answered. "Additionally, while I grant that the Clans have not given me leave to discuss the war on their behalf, the leaders of the Inner Sphere have, and I am presenting my findings on the subject. Unless you have an objection?"

The Clan Khans consulted with each other briefly. "We have none," said Bjorn Jorgensson, the Ghost Bear Khan and de facto head of the Clan delegation. "While the Grand Council keeps its own council on the war, we will consider the advice of the victor of Tukkayid."

"My thanks, Khan Jorgensson." Focht nodded to him. "In discussions with Admiral Maran and other Coalition military strategists, we have decided that an offensive aimed toward the taking of Terra S4W8 is our best strategic option at this time, and preparations have thus been laid. As this will necessitate the taking of many systems between our current frontlines and the Sol System, the proposal is to follow the example of the Clans. Each Coalition member providing ground troops will be assigned an invasion corridor. This will work to reduce complications to our logistics networks, strained as they are, as well as the issues that can arise from sharing those worlds that do not come under the Harris Station Charter."

"But what about naval support?" asked Sun-Tzu Liao. "If we divide our fleets per corridor, does this not give the enemy's remaining fleet strength the chance to attack our ships in detail and destroy them?"

"The Admiral is planning a military operation to deal with the remaining enemy fleets guarding the approaches to Terra," Focht remarked. "Indeed, ComStar has agreed to provide some of our refitted ships to these fleets as our first contribution to the military effort."

"The Grand Council will consider a similar contribution, then," the Snow Raven Khan, Lynn McKenna, announced. "We have completed several refits of our own."

"The important issue is to allocate invasion corridors," Focht stated. "Since logistics must be considered, our choices are already limited to these assigned routes." A tap of a key lit up several wedges of space pointed toward Sol, leaving other approaches dark.

The Clan Khans contemplated the map. Julia figured a couple of the offered ones wouldn't work for them, as the Clans would best launch from territory they controlled already.

Before this discussion could continue, a hand went up. All eyes turned to Princess Katherine Steiner-Davion at her seat, just down from her brother. The Heir-Presumptive of the Federated Commonwealth and serving Regent of the Lyran half of said state was a lovely woman with hair the same blond tone as Julia's, her eyes icy blue and vivid. She was in a blue and white suit, a civilian look in comparison to her brother's military uniform. Julia recalled her from the banquet at Tukkayid nearly a year before. One thing that came to mind was that she preferred to be called "Katrina", the name of her maternal grandmother.

The other was that Robert had been leery of her. When asked, all he would remark on was that he'd felt "hunger" in Katrina. Julia hadn't yet seen what he meant by that.

Focht nodded to her.

"Military matters are but one factor in what we are here to discuss," said Katrina. "Indeed, we have an opportunity before us that should be the focus of our efforts."

"Such as, Highness?"

"It is rather obvious, isn't it?" Katrina was technically addressing Focht, but in truth she was speaking to the others. "With the leaders of every branch of our universe's Humanity present, it would be a crime against our people to not make the ultimate effort." She set her hands on the table. Clearly even her brother didn't know what she was up to. "The goal of this summit should be nothing less than the restoration of the Star League, and I move that we add that item to the agenda."

The room erupted with shouting.

A day out from Utal Pranam and the sky-sailer Tri'kep was now flying over open farmlands. The grains and cereals of Gy'sara grew in abundance on the river-enriched soils beneath them. From the altitude they were at the structures of the Gy'toran farmers were small round things. Bumps on the mosaic of fields. Not quite below them, off to the east, was another of the planet's rivers. Along it were more structures, occasionally clustered together into towns. Boats still plied the waters.

Zack sat on the observation deck and let his mind wander. For all that he was on an alien world, the scenery reminded him of home. Childhood memories filled him.

"Makes me think of home."

The voice brought Zack's attention back to the here and now. Robert came over and sat beside him. "We're supposed to enter the mountains sometime in the next few hours," he said. "It's supposed to be a pretty good sight."


Robert went quiet, sensing his friend wasn't ready to talk. For his part Zack allowed himself to fall back in time mentally. A six year old boy living in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do until his mother decided to bring him along one summer day to work with that nice Dale family. They had a boy his age and his mother thought it might get him a playmate.

Instead, he got two, both the boy… and the boy's best friend, a cute girl with long blond hair and a sweet smile. And both quickly let this lanky new kid with the sad look join them in playing and watching cartoons and everything else they did in common.

"Do you miss being a kid?" Zack asked Robert.

Robert gave him a quiet look. "I guess sometimes," he admitted.

"We never had to worry. We could just play all day and nothing else mattered."

"We all grow up sometime," Robert sighed. "And I remember more than just playing. I remember farm chores."

"Yeah." Zack nodded. He remembered chores too. And the hardest of them all was "wake up Daddy to go to work Saturday", which often included his father's breath stinking from all of the whiskey and beer he'd been drinking away during the prior evening.

Robert glanced toward him, sensing that Zack's painful memories were being stirred. He also sensed the growing guilt within him. The feeling Zack felt that he'd become just as bad as his father. A desire to just stop feeling.

But that sense was soon closed off. Zack stood up. "I'm going to get something for lunch," he said. "I'll see you later." His tone brought doubt about that actually coming to pass.

Still, there was nothing for Robert to properly do but nod and say, "See you later". He watched his friend head for the stairway leading up to the other decks with a heavy heart. Zack was intentionally shutting him out, and for all of his abilities, Robert didn't know why.

And if he was going to help Zack recover, he had to find out.

The sun was only starting to set in Old Connaught, which reminded Cat of some of the small towns in Germany and Switzerland that she and Violeta had toured during their first leave together. The two were seated at a bistro near the town center. The cuisine was a mix of German and Gaelic food, and the offered special was a German-style beer from a microbrewery. Cat found the taste more enjoyable than she had expected it to be. Even though they were on leave they were still in uniform - with Cat favoring the skirt-bottom instead of trousers like Violeta had - and that drew the attention of many of the locals.

"They must not see a lot of Alliance personnel around here," Violeta observed while spinning her fork in a plate of noodles with gravy.

"I'm not surprised they don't. There aren't a lot of Alliance ships that operate in or near the Inner Sphere." Cat grinned. "Although maybe it's your hair and eye color too?" She pushed her fork into her potatoes and took a bite of what the fork picked up. Her fork next ventured into the bratwurst. "It's so interesting how these things happen."

"What?" asked Violeta.

"The way cultures get mishmashed on colonies, I mean," she said. "I mean, here you've got a planet with Irish city names mixed with German ones, but even the people with Irish or Scottish last names act like they're German."

"It's what happens when planets get settled by multiple nationalities from Earth for long enough," Violeta said. "Well, if they don't segregate themselves. That can happen too."

"It's all so… interesting. It's like they become big melting pots."

They continued to eat for a moment. Under the table Cat extended her leg and gently brushed her foot up against Violeta's. A grin crossed the face of the purple-haired woman. Cat noticed that the grin seemed to turn melancholy. "Is everything okay?"

"Hrm? Oh, yes." The grin became happy again. "I'm just… well, I'm just dealing with unexpected news."

"Oh? What is it?"

"Commander Locarno told me that I've been picked for an NOS promotion."

Cat's eyes widened. "Wait, you mean like on top of the one you're already getting?"

"Yeah." Violeta nodded. "So I'm going to be a full Lieutenant."

"Congratulations," Cat said, grinning happily. "You deserve it."

"Thank you. It's a lot of responsibility. I'll end up in charge of navigation and piloting officers. I mean, as in I have to evaluate them and write it out and read their reports… it's a lot of work."

"Oh, I know," Cat said. "I should probably get working on the paperwork from the science labs. I mean, I enjoy reading about their experiments and simulations, don't get me wrong, but then there's the watch logs for the other science officers manning the bridge sensors post too, and the daily activity logs for the science labs…"

Violeta nodded in understanding. It was clear that the promotion wasn't solely a source of enthusiasm for her, but she said nothing more about it for the rest of the dinner.

To say that the summit had been derailed by Princess Katrina's suggestion would be an understatement. The proposal to re-found the Star League may have sounded like an idealistic gesture to some, particularly those in the Inner Sphere, but it immediately resulted in a convulsion of hostility and emotion from the Clan Khans. It was clear Sun-Tzu Liao was displeased with the proposal as well. Julia pondered if that displeasure was linked to the Periphery delegations, specifically those from Canopians and Taurians, who reacted as if they'd been slapped.

Unfortunately for the summit, one of the delegates with the Taurian Protector Calderon had gone beyond merely disapproving of the proposal, instead embarking on a tirade denouncing the Inner Sphere's "infatuation" with the Star League, the "tyrants who murdered millions of innocent Taurians before subjugating the survivors", and insisting that it was an insult to the Periphery nations to even suggest restoring the "Camerons' bloody legacy". This in turn prompted a ferocious response from the Clans, specifically the Star Adder and Snow Raven Khans, in defense of the Star League and what it represented, and it took Mori half a minute of gavel-pounding to restore order before she could recess the summit.

Now, with a few hours for the participants to cool off, they were reconvening. Julia used the recess to file a report on the development and check up on her ship. Now she and the other Alliance observers would be back to their passive role, wondering if Katrina's innocent suggestion had ruined the entire thing.

Or not so innocent was the thought that sprang to mind. While Katrina was showing quiet resignation at the abuse her proposal had generated, and seemed as charming as ever before the session, Julia kept thinking back to Robert's ill feeling about her. She almost wished for his senses herself, if just to understand what he felt. Katrina came off more as a naive politician trying to push for an idealistic goal than anything. I may need to ask Meridina or Lucy about it later.

Once the session was underway, Ragnar Magnusson - ruler of the small rump remnant of the Free Rasalhague Republic - immediately made a motion to table any discussion of the Star League. It was swiftly seconded by Theodore Kurita and passed by unanimous vote. Katrina lowered her eyes as if disappointed or humiliated.

Immediately the discussion went back to military matters. The idea of invasion corridors was explored in depth. Theodore Kurita criticized one of the lanes, insisting it should be widened at the expense of the Turian Hierarchy (prompting an irritated look from the Turian observer nearby) to ensure the corridor's viability as it neared the Sol System of S4W8. Victor proposed another alteration and Sun-Tzu was criticizing the entire concept and Victor's argument in particular. Victor protested in turn.

At that point Katrina managed to get the floor again. Everyone wondered what she would say, given her lack of military background and the result of her last contribution. "What if we combined the smallest invasion corridors, then? I understand that it would complicate the shipping that supports the troops, but common…"

She never got a chance to finish. The snap-hiss of a lightsaber filled the room. Lucy let out a shout and lunged forward.

The shot rang out a moment later.
"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 » Sat Jun 09, 2018 3:04 pm

No human eye could see the round. Lucy herself didn't see it. She felt it. Where it was going to be. And she put her lightsaber in its path.

The piece of metal that struck the blue blade of her weapon was nothing but a sliver, but it had been accelerated to lethal speed. Instead of striking soft flesh, however, it collided with the containment field of the lightsaber. The result sent the sliver flying upward until it slammed into the ceiling.

The summit erupted in chaos with the gunshot. Even without seeing where the round landed, the security personnel surged forward and started throwing themselves on their respective leaders. Julia grabbed Onaran and pulled him down. Her omnitool flashed to life and she triggered the comm immediately. "Andreys to Aurora! Shot fired in the summit, we need additional security and a medical team now! I say again, a shot has been fired!"

Lucy stood in the middle of the room, her lightsaber shining in her hands and ready for any further attack. The threat she felt was fading. Whomever had taken the shot wasn't firing again. But where did it come from? She projected a thought toward Meridina. Do you sense where they are?

Meridina was standing near the Commonwealth table with her weapon out but, for the moment, inactive. No hostile presences.

And the windows are intact. No bullet holes. No sign of where the round came from.

With the time since the attack increasing with no follow-up, those assembled were picking themselves off of the floor. Lucy focused inward. She sensed the life forms in the area. The lingering fear, the shock, the uncertainty. There was nothing from an assassin. She felt no presence in the Flow of Life she couldn't account for.

Nothing. The thought came from Meridina. With her weapon drawn and active as well, she looked to Julia. "Whomever fired the shot has fled. I do not sense them."

Julia nodded. "We need to get everyone and everything secure. Then…" She noticed the confused, bewildered, and angry looks on the assembled. "...then we're going to need answers."

The Tri'kep was drawing closer to the mountains now. Below them the open fields were turning to hills. At their altitude the residents of said hills were completely invisible, their presence only indicated by the circular structures that dotted some of the hillsides and the strips of road set through the hills. A scattering of trees could be found closer to the river.

The cabin Robert and Zack were sharing was toward the bow of the ship. The windows were thin strips, too small to climb through for an adult, but thanks to the curvature of the hull the lower windows allowed them a view of the ground. The higher ones provided instead the growing profile of mountains. White-topped and gray, with patches of other colors to show the locations of trees, the mountains would be larger in the morning when they were well within the range and in the final day of the initial trip. Robert sat at the kidney-shaped personal desk that the cabin came furnished with. The furnishings were made with multiple species in mind, so there was no discomfort sitting in the armless chair that accompanied the desk. He looked over a message on the system.

Behind him, Zack was laying on his bed. The two beds were on opposite sides of the room. Single-sized but comfortable, topped with a amber-toned comforter with white sheets. The Gy'torans who ran the Tri'kep undoubtedly took their inspiration from visiting Human motels and inns.

The silence in the room ended when Zack looked up from the bed. "What are you up to anyway?"

"Replying to a letter from Beth," Robert replied. "She wants to know how we're doing."

"Oh." Zack made a low "hmph" sound in his throat. "I guess you can tell her about what a screwup I've been."

Robert turned his head back and faced Zack. "I wasn't planning on mentioning you at all. But if you want me to say hello for you…?"

"No thanks."

Robert nodded and returned to his message. After typing a few more lines he stopped and looked back to Zack. "I'm trying to respect your privacy, Zack, but I can't help but feel some of the things you're feeling."

"Ah?" Zack returned the look. "Well, Rob, now you know why I slipped."

"This is why you've been drinking?" Robert asked.

"Yeah. And don't bother with the 'alcohol is a depressant' speech, I heard it a thousand times and gave it at least a hundred." Zack's voice betrayed the anger and shame roiling within him. "It makes the pain go away for a little while."

"Or you simply forget the pain because you black out," Robert pointed out. He turned the chair completely to face Zack's bed. "Zack, alcohol isn't going to heal you. And that's why I'm here, to help you heal."

There was challenge in Zack's voice when he responded, "Who says I want to be healed?"

For a moment Robert couldn't reply to that. "Whatever has you so angry at yourself that you could say something like that, that's what you need to talk about, Zack. It's eating away at you."

It was clear Zack was well aware of that fact. He pursed his lips and turned on the bed to face away from Robert. Slowly Robert turned away, recognizing the conversation was over.

"How is that power thing going for you?" Zack asked out of the blue.


"Your powers being too much, I mean."

"Oh." Robert drew in a breath. "Well, I'm not spontaneously hitting things with it anymore. I've got it under that much control. The trick is using it. Big things… they're a maybe, so long as my control doesn't slip. But the control is usually easy. Small, finite control things, I'm still having a lot of trouble with."

"Yeah, I noticed." Zack rubbed at his forehead. "Do you like having more power than you used to?"

There was silence from the deck. "Well… I'm not sure," Robert admitted. "It gives me the means to better protect the people I care about, I suppose. But sometimes I think I'd prefer it if someone else had it."

Robert was surprised by the humorless laugh from Zack. When he gave him a wondering look, Zack explained, "Leave it to Robert Dale to get upset at having something a lot of people would love to have. Hell, something some people might kill for. But you, nah, you almost sound like you want to get rid of it."

"I never said that." Robert sensed the agitation in Zack. "But it's dangerous. And these powers already cost me my relationship with Angel. If I didn't think I'll need them in the future…"

Robert let the sentence hang. Zack didn't bother to pick up on it. The agitation that was inside of him was growing, festering. After several moments Zack rolled off the bed. "I'm hungry," he announced. "I'm heading to the lounge deck."

"I'll be up there soon," Robert said. Zack showed no sign of responding to him before stepping out the door. Robert shook his head and turned back to his message to his cousin. How do I get through to him? he wondered. Can I?

With the situation as it was, Julia held the staff meeting from a room in Morgan Kell's ducal palace on Arc-Royal. Meridina, Lucy, Richmond, and Jarod were with her; the others were in the conference lounge on the Aurora, visible above the holotank in the middle of the room. "We've gone over the data Jarod sent with the simulators in Science Lab 2," Cat said. "The firing angle is definitely the one he indicated."

"Aye," agreed Scotty. "There's nae a better angle t' account for th' information ye've sent."

Meridina glanced to the model and what it said about the intended victim. "Then the intended target was Katrina Steiner-Davion," she observed.


"I wonder why?"

Lucy's verbal pondering prompted a reply from Jarod. "She's more popular than her brother is in the Lyran worlds. They see her as a Steiner and Victor as a Davion, and a number of people think Victor may have even arranged his mother's murder to seize power. If Princess Katherine were to be assassinated, Victor could face widespread discontent. Maybe even uprisings. He may even be accused of masterminding it."

"Yeah, these wackos in the Inner Sphere are way too quick to believe tabloids," Barnes grumbled. "They probably believe in black helicopters too."

"What is just as interesting is the weapon," Richmond said, ignoring Barnes' sarcasm. "His Grace's security people have determined the projectile was barely the size of a grain of rice, and its contact with Lieutenant Lucero's weapon has left it reduced to a grain of sand embedded into the ceiling. The composition, according to scans, is an alloy of tungsten with nickel and iron. Their conclusion, which I concur with, is that it was fired by a weapon using a mass effect field."

"So the killer has access to weapons from M4P2," Angel noted.

"Or someone is using that universe's native technology to create their own firearms," Richmond added.

"There are sound reasons," Meridina observed. "The weapon can be feasibly built from materials that evade most standard security scans. It also permits an assassin effectively limitless ammunition."

"Where did they fire from, though?" Lucy asked.

"According to our calculations, the edge of the ballroom," Cat replied.

Julia frowned at that. "Security should have seen them. So whoever it is had a personal cloak of some kind."

"There is more to it than that." Meridina frowned. "We did not sense them. Cloaks cannot hide a being from the Flow of Life, nor keep their minds from detection by a farisa. A telepath." She clarified for the sake of Richmond. "Why did we not sense them?"

"Could it have been a robotic drone of some kind?" Locarno asked.

Meridina answered his question first. "The Coserians are rumored to have tested such, but a delicate operation such as this would require the drone in question to have been programmed quite carefully."

"In other words, they'd need to have an AI."

In response to Cat, Meridina clarified, "Or a very sophisticated VI, yes. The alternative of remote control is unlikely given the security systems."

"It might explain why it made only one shot," added Lucy. "Cloaking fields don't last forever, and it takes time to slip through this estate. It might have needed all of its remaining time to escape before the cloak failed."

"Don't rule out remote control," Richmond instructed. "It's always possible someone found a way to hide a signal from detection, or even piggyback on our frequencies."

"You and Jarod investigate that possibility," Julia said. "Meridina, Lucy, I'd like you to keep an eye on the VIPs. Concentrate on Prince Victor and Princess Katherine, but we can't rule out that a follow-up attack might not target another delegation. I know you can't be everywhere at once, but…"

"...we will sense where we are needed," Meridina finished for her benefit.

"Meanwhile, I have to join Secretary Onaran in briefing President Morgan," Julia said. "Not to mention smoothing over feathers still ruffled by the Star League issue."

"It would appear this 'Star League' has quite a diverse reputation," Meridina noted.

"The Clans revere it, the Inner Sphere sees it as part of a lost Golden Age, and the Periphery realms remember them as occupiers and exploiters," Jarod remarked. "Honestly I'm not sure what was in mind for bringing it up."

"I'd like to know myself, but that's not our priority." Julia stood up. "Everyone is dismissed."

The Kell estate's suites for VIPs had been nearly overrun by all of the dignitaries present. Walking through that wing of the estate, Meridina found she did not envy the task of the managers for Morgan Kell in having to arrange quartering and sustenance for so many leaders.

Even though her enhanced senses - the product of her life energies, summed up in the Gersallian word swevyra - enabled her to feel there was nothing amiss without entering the various suites, Meridina nevertheless knocked at each and checked with them directly. Given the assassin's ability to hide itself from her as it had, this seemed the best course of action, and the one most likely to be preferred by the attending delegates given the day's excitement. In many of the rooms she found the delegations deep in discussion about the disruptions that had afflicted the first day of the summit.

The first exception to this she found in the suite of the Kuritas, the ruling family of the Draconis Combine. There the Coordinator of the Combine, Theodore Kurita, was in discussions with his leaders and his son, Hohiro, who was still on Luthien and speaking with his father via a subspace uplink. Sitting by herself in one corner was Theodore's daughter Omi. She was clad in a silk kimono of black color with red trim. Her dark hair went down to her shoulders. Blue eyes the same color as Lucy's rose to meet Meridina's face. "Commander Meridina," Omi said politely. "A pleasure to see you again."

"A pleasure as well, Lady Keeper," Meridina replied. "All is well?"

"We have no troubles." Omi stood. "I have a request of you, Commander."


"I would like to visit a dear friend with another of the delegations. May I accompany you and meet him in your presence?"

Meridina immediately sensed the flutter of emotion in the other woman. The friend she sought to visit was someone she cared for deeply. More than cared for, in fact. Her reply was to nod. "I have no objections." She looked briefly to Omi's father to see if he had any.

Theodore had indeed been listening, even through his discussion with his son. He shook his head. "I am satisfied that my daughter's safety and honor are in safe hands with you, Commander," he said formally.

The wording was one Meridina found interesting. The Human English word "honor" seemed to have connotations that varied by culture. The Kuritans and their society put special weight upon their consideration of what honor was, and she recognized the gravity of the charge. "Very well. Let us continue, Lady Omi."

Omi remained quiet as Meridina checked in on the next few groups. Ragnar Magnusson had evidently retired, and his delegation were perfunctory in their exchange with her. Emma Centrella of the Magistry of Canopus was polite enough; she was, like Theodore, in consultation with her government back on Canopus. Her neighbor, Kamea Arano of the Aurigan Coalition, was enjoying a quiet meal with her delegation in complete safety.

They next arrived at the Federated Commonwealth delegation suite. Inside they found Victor with his security man, Curaitis, his aide Jerrard Cranston, and Morgan Hasek-Davion. Meridina noted Katherine was not present. She already knew that Princess Katherine had her own suite and a small Lyran delegation separate from Victor's, but she was surprised that the two were not discussing plans together.

The occupants looked to her and to Omi. Curaitis nodded politely, although Meridina had the feeling he wasn't pleased with their arrival… or rather Omi's. The others were friendly enough. It was Victor who stepped forward and took Omi's hand in what, for the Commonwealth, passed for a gentlemanly gesture. Meridina immediately sensed there was more to it, however. Affection, desire, and several other sentiments emanated from both. "Lady Omi, a pleasure to see you again," Victor remarked politely. "What can I do for you this evening?"

"A chance to see you again is sufficient, Prince," Omi answered politely. "Commander Meridina has been kind enough to permit my presence."

"My thanks to you, Commander."

"There is no harm." As Meridina said this the full weight of what was happening came to her. The feelings in the two, the way their eyes met, the affection when Victor pressed his lips to Omi's fingers in the gentleman's fashion of his people… these two, the children of houses with centuries of blood and hate between them, were deeply in love.

Caterina's work with the investigation on the assassination was over, as was her bridge shift for the day. After a check on the science labs to look over some simulations she was running on involving subspace interactions with normal space and hyperspatial domains - inspired by some of the things she'd seen while exploring W8R4 with the Doctor - she returned to her quarters. Much to her delight, Violeta was waiting for her, currently between watches on her shift. She'd even removed her uniform and put on a lovely shoulderless purple dinner dress that matched the gene-engineered color of her eyes and hair. It was a mark of Caterina's own progress that she wasn't self-conscious about how Violeta had more pronounced curves than she did, which the dress made perfectly clear.

On the table were two candlesticks with lit candles on them, candles made of a fragrant wax that gave the air a flowery, gentle smell. A bowl of salad was in the center, adjoined by two bowls of soup and two plates with thermal capture covers over them that kept the food from cooling and, for the moment, obscured what Violeta had ordered for her. Cat shed her uniform jacket and joined Violeta at the table. "It's not my birthday, and our anniversary is a few weeks away," she observed. "Is this another 'romantic dinner just for the hell of it'?"

"Yes," Violeta said, but Cat could tell something was wrong. Violeta herself quickly backtracked. "No. No, I wanted to give you this dinner so we could talk."

A little knot twisted into being inside Cat's stomach. The long fear that this was too good to be true came roaring back after spending so long suppressed inside of her. "Well, okay," Cat said, admonishing herself not to jump to conclusions. "Do you want to eat now or…?"

"Let's eat first," Violeta said. "Then we'll talk."

Meridina waited patiently for Victor and Omi to finish talking. Their conversation had been quiet and mundane as things went, covering their life experiences as of late. Meridina willed herself to not pay attention to what was actively said, although it was more accurate to say she intentionally forgot what she overheard after overhearing it.

When they were done they shared a platonic embrace. The pain of separation was acute with both of them, joined by another pain of longing. They wanted to be together, not just in the physical sense but emotionally, even spiritually.

Even that slight sense of such powerful emotion made Meridina think of Kaveri Varma. The deep sense of love and affection that the older Human woman had inside of her for the Dilgar leader Shai'jhur was one of the most intense feelings Meridina had ever felt. It made her realize just what had kept her parents together through the years, whatever their differences.

They left the suite and returned to the hall. "Do you have more stops to make, Commander?"

"No. Lieutenant Lucero has taken care of the others. I am available to take you back to your family's suite now, Lady Omi."

"Very well."

They walked through the ostentatious corridor quietly, at least at first. "You seem as if you have something on your mind, Commander," Omi said.

Meridina nodded quietly. "I suppose I have, yes."

"What is on your mind?"

The question was spoken with quiet, regal dignity. Meridina considered how to answer it. "I have... considerations, I suppose. Questions."


"Feelings. Love, I believe your word is."

Omi smiled sadly. "Victor and I did little to hide our affection for each other, true."

"My senses made clear the depth of your affections," Meridina said. "And I could feel frustration."

"Our love is one that cannot be fulfilled without violating our duties," Omi explained. "For us to be together, much less wed, would create terrible political circumstances for our realms. Victor's people would fear their worlds would become the dowry; my people would be incensed if such did not happen and see it as my father giving me away."

"That is unfortunate." Meridina considered the feelings she'd sensed in Kaveri Varma. She had also been divided from the one she loved due to duty. Indeed, due to war. "Falling in love with one who is meant to be an enemy is a great sorrow, although it has its opportunities I would think."

"Perhaps it would bind my people closer to Victor's. But the bloodshed between us… there is much hate."

"That is unfortunate. Hate is a conduit of darkness. The Flow of Life is impeded." Meridina felt a comfort in saying such. It was a retreat to the familiar for her, to discuss the philosophies of Swenya instead of the unfamiliar passions of love.

"My brother Minoru has written letters home about such teachings."

"Is he still on Solaris then?"

Omi shook her head. "No. He has since moved on. He is currently dwelling on Vulcan in a monastery, exploring the Vulcan beliefs."

"I see. I wish the best for him. He has what my people consider a connected swevyra. His life has a strong connection to the universe, through which he experiences the Flow of Life."

Omi nodded. "You have questions about love, yes?"

The subject was one Meridina had been glad to stay from. "Considerations, questions… Many things. I am not unfamiliar with the sentiment. My father is a rare figure among the Mastrasham for being happily married to my mother. My brother Qalkrsl has recently married as well, and my sister Leniraya and her lover Penrine have been together for many years. Whenever I have had the pleasure of seeing them I have felt the love they experience."

"But you have not experienced it yourself?"

"I do not believe so," Meridina replied. "In the Order of Swenya, love is considered a potentially dangerous feeling to have. It can unbalance one's perception. It makes one being more valuable than others. A Knight of Swenya must care for all other beings equally to remain in the Light."

"I see." Omi nodded. "But you are allowed?

"Yes, if we can demonstrate suitable detachment, the Council blesses unions," Meridina replied. "My father Karesl followed that path when he met my mother Drentiya."

"Then you could too."

"I could. I am no longer in the Order as it is. The choice is entirely mine." As she said those words Meridina pondered what they meant for her. Could she ever feel that way for someone? "If you were to define love, then, what would call it?"

"It is a complex thing. Many of our finest poets have written on the meaning of love for centuries, indeed, millennia. The Christians say love is kindness and forgiveness. For my people it is a spiritual and physical bond. Physical affection and intimacy are enjoyable aspects, but one must feel the spiritual connection as well, and it must be a pairing where both sides are honored. Indeed, many legends and histories speak of those who experience love of a purely spiritual nature, without physical attraction."

Meridina considered that. She searched herself for such feelings. Just remembering Varma's emotions was enough of an experience. The deep connection to another being seemed to be frightening in how it might warp her perception of the world. To make someone else more important than other beings. To experience the real fear that you might lose that person, a fear that was a real and dangerous path to corrupting darkness. Her training made it feel like something she should avoid. To not be able to be with the one you loved due to duty… that was right in front of her in the guise of Omi Kurita, barred from the one she loved by the needs of her people. It hardly seemed worth it.

And yet… and yet… the warmth she felt there. The warmth she had felt when Victor and Omi spent time together talking. The warmth her parents gave off when they were together. For the first time Meridina imagined experiencing that for herself. What would it be like?

"Is it worth it?" she found herself asking.

Omi remained quiet for a moment. "Is what worth it?"

"Your love for Prince Victor. Is it worth it, despite the pain I know it brings you? The pain that duty will forever separate you?"

Omi closed her eyes. A tear formed at the corner of one eye. While it was clear that even mentioning it was making her experience that pain of separation, Meridina felt the answer coming even before Omi spoke it. "Hai. Yes. It is worth it. Victor and I have only met face to face but a few times, but it has always been worth it."

"I see."

"Now may I ask a question, Meridina-san?"

Meridina gave her a curious look. "It would be only fair, I believe. What is it?"

"Your questions about love… is it because you love someone?"

The question made Meridina think. Did she feel that way toward someone? Did she feel a connection like that, a desire to always be near to them?

For a brief moment she considered that the answer was no. No, she didn't. But even as the sound began to form in her throat, she stopped. The look on her face betrayed a certain consideration on the subject, a sign that she, honestly, wasn't sure.

Omi smiled at her and nodded. She said nothing else as they went on their way back to the suite occupied by the Kurita delegation.

Dinner was quiet for Cat and Violeta. Cat mentioned in brief some of her simulation work, and Violeta remarked about the navigation officers' experiences as of late, but it was clearly small talk to get them through the meal. Cat wanted to enjoy the meal and made herself smile as she ate it, even though her appetite was now thoroughly undermined. Once they were done and the dishes fed into the replicator, they walked over to the couch and sat down beside each other. Violeta took Cat's hand. "Cat."

The food in her stomach didn't keep it from twisting. "Vee. What's wrong?"

"Straight to it. Always the scientist." A weak grin briefly crossed Violeta's lips. "It's about the promotion."

"Oh?" Some relief was showing on Cat's face. The fear that this was a pity dinner and that she was about to get dumped was gripping her with irrational strength (that she might deserve it made the fear all the more stronger). "What about it?"

"The promotion, the second one I'm getting, it's because the fleet needs more command navigation officers. Because my performance reviews have been so high, they picked me." Violeta's grip on Cat's hands tightened slightly. "I'm sorry, Cat, but I'm going to be transferred off of the Aurora in two months."

Cat drew in a breath. It took a moment, just a moment, for the news, and for the ramifications, to hit her. "Then… you and I… we can't…"

"Maybe once and a while," Violeta said. "I mean, if we can get leaves to match up. Or if whatever ship I wind up on meets up with the Aurora, we might be able to spend some time together."

"I…" Tears were forming in Cat's hazel eyes. "Can't we… can't we have you assigned here?"

"That's not what Personnel wants," Violeta pointed out.

"So you'd have to say no in order to stay…" Cat sniffled. "I… I guess that'd hurt you, wouldn't it?"

"Well, given the war? They wouldn't be happy with me," Violeta pointed out. "Especially if they realize why. It would probably tank my career."

"And… and I don't want that." Cat couldn't decide if she was lying or not when she said it. "It's just… I know it's silly, but I thought you'd always be here."

Violeta was kind enough not to agree with how silly the thought was. From the beginning of the Alliance, Cat knew that the way things worked now, nothing was guaranteed. Admiral Maran might generally work to keep them together on the Aurora, but that could change. It nearly had a couple of times already, especially when Julia was offered command of the Enterprise. Maybe that had "spoiled" Cat on the possibility, making her think it could never happen.

Except, of course, now it had.

Violeta pulled Cat into a hug. "I know it hurts," she said. "But we can find a way to make it work."

"Yeah." Even as Cat agreed, she was already dreading the likelihood that, in the end, it wouldn't work. She thought of all the times her sister had been heartbroken by Robert in their breakups. Now she understood Angel more than she ever had before.

There was nothing left to say for either of them. They remained quiet, holding onto one another in the quiet of the quarters.

The Tri'kep's upper-most deck - not counting the top deck itself - was primarily for the services aboard. A lounge-bar-restaurant and an adjoining recreation room dominated the deck. The lounge had, as one of its appeals, an open air balcony with seats for dining. A windshield glass followed the curve toward the bow to protect the diners from the air-flow of the vessel's movement.

Zack sat at one of the tables. A half-eaten roast beef sandwich and plate of french fries was before him, courtesy of the ship's replicator. Apparently food was one area where the Gy'toran ship wasn't equipped to immediately pander to Human tastes. For a drink he'd chosen a grape soda after a great deal of thought and the temptation to visit the bar.

Getting away from Robert, coming out to eat… it didn't help. The tangle of emotions inside of Zack, his loss and grief and guilt and shame, wouldn't go away. It never would, it seemed. He was stuck in a pattern of mourning Clara and blaming himself for her fate. She had been too good for him. Their happy memories together provided no solace for him. It only reminded him of how false he had been toward her.

You weren't false, a part of him insisted. It was real. But it wasn't Julie.

Another truth that made it all worse. Being with Clara had dampened the desire, certainly. His feelings for Clara were always genuine. But they never changed the yearning he felt for Julia Andreys. Given how long he'd desired her…

"That's not good," a voice said. Its pitch and tone was higher and had the cadence of a Gy'toran.

Zack turned his head and faced a Gy'toran male wearing the dark blue suit of the ship service staff. The dark eyes of the Gy'toran, set on a face that reminded Zack of a koala, glanced toward him before looking back out at the approaching mountains. His lavender fur seemed to be sticking out.

When he thought about it, Zack realized the cawing sounds were not new. He'd been hearing them for minutes. But only the Gy'toran's remark brought his attention to them. Flights of birds with blue and violet plumages were soaring past. Not just flights, but entire flocks, reminding Zack of what migrating bird flocks were meant to look like.

"What do you mean, mister…?" Zack stopped and tried to decipher the name tag of the Gy'toran, written in the cuneiform script of their trading language.

"Retan'timara," the Gy'toran answered. "And the birds. It's not good for our trip."


"Those are flocks of mountain birds. Tre'miri, Jatami… look at them all," Retan'timara remarked. "I've flown this route for twenty turns - you Humans call them years - and this only means one thing. There's a storm in the mountains. A bad one."

"What? You don't have weather control systems?" Zack asked.

Retan'timara shook his head. "Never. They would interfere with the winds. The winds are too important to our planet's life." The Gy'toran slipped into a seat at the table beside him. "You seem lost in thought, traveler."

"My name's Zack Carrey. Or just Zack." Zack made a little snorting sound. "Used to be Commander Zack Carrey, but I screwed that up royally."

"Ah. Zack it is. Human names sound so simple."

"'Zack' is the short form of "Zachary'," Zack clarified. That's my proper first name."

"I see. More sounds. And you Humans like to have multiple names." An interested sound came from the throat of the Gy'toran.

"So what do you mean about a storm?"

"Oh. We get them. Usually they are driven through the mountains until they collapse, but if a storm is strong enough or comes through directly from the Tran Plain, it can be vicious in the valley. Bad for wind-sailers."

"So we'll have to turn around?"

"Maybe. We're fast enough to outrace a storm. A moment." Retan'timara recovered a device from his pocket. Clipped words came through; someone speaking in Gy'toran. Zack listened as Retan'timara replied with increasing agitation. When the conversation was over Retan'timara's face contorted slightly. "They say the storm is not expected to enter the valley ahead of us. It will go south and we will miss it."

"You don't agree?"

"The wind is wrong," said Retan'timara. "For what they claim. No, I think the storm will come across us."

Zack didn't like the sound of that. "Aren't they making preparations?"

"Some. Even a new sailer knows to respect storm winds. But he will not turn south, or climb to go over the storm. Insisting on keeping our route. Peh." Retan'timara made a little gesture with his middle arms. "Thinking of bottom line. Would have to refund tickets if we returned to Utal Pranam. Expends more power from batteries if we climb. But I am a service staffer, so maybe he is right and I am wrong." Retan'timara chittered wordlessly. "You look as if the winds have pushed you off-course, Zachary."

"You might say that, I certainly feel like a ship getting tossed around by storm winds," Zack noted bitterly.

"The storm winds of life, yes. All sorts of winds can guide us on our lives. And one never knows quite where the wind will take you. All you can do is watch sails and keep straight."

"Your culture isn't just about winds and sailing, is it?" Zack asked.

"Oh, of course not! I know some aliens think that, so silly. And your entertainments always get it wrong. The winds are important, but they are not all. Winds spread the seeds, but it is the soil that grows the trees and the crops. Winds guide the birds, but the waters provide them fish and drink, the trees their nests. Just like your species, winds powered our ships for millennia, but now we have steam and thruster and anti-grav."

"Most species and cultures don't build sailing ships for space, though," Zack pointed out. "Or sailing airships."

"Gy'sara is special for that. Low gravity, high winds. On most worlds our wind-sailers would drop like stones!" The Gy'toran's laughter sounded like a rapid chittering noise. "I know little of space drives. Subspace-sails work for us. Good currents in our space, maybe? But like you we have thrusters, plasma drives, even impulsors now. And warp drive. But subspace-sail is our technology and we are proud of it."

"Well, can't argue with that, can I?" Zack asked rhetorically. His eyes looked back to the mountains. The sun was starting to lower in the sky. Still, he could make out the blue and green hues of the trees below, and high snow-capped peaks that reminded him of panorama shots of the Rockies. The birds were still cawing and flying by. The sunlight was just starting to turn to an orange shade as the sun lowered over the mountains. It was a majestic vista.

He wished Clara was here to see it.

Then another thought came. To be honest, he also wished Julia was here to see it. And at that, that she was here instead of Robert, and that their shared cabinn was for them, that she had finally found within herself a love for him that equaled the one he felt for her. With that thought came memories of Adrana, of the alien computer and the simulated world that the guiding intelligence had created for him. A world crafted from parts of him that he was not proud of.

And the truth was Robert was here. His best friend, someone always there for him, there right now in fact, looking to help him. And out of uniform so there was no longer that little gap that had popped up since… the beginning of the Alliance? Or of their Multiversal adventures as a whole? Whatever it was, it wouldn't be there any longer. Robert was just Robert again.

Just Robert and a bunch of weird life force energy powers, that was.

Thinking of Adrana and Robert and Julia and Clara simply reminded Zack of everything hurting him. It was a big emotional knot that he couldn't untie, and he was tired of it. He wanted the knot to go away.

And there was only one way it would.

If Robert had been there, at that moment, shame might have kept Zack from actually making the request. But he wasn't. And Zack… wanted to stop feeling so very much at that moment.

So he turned to Retan'timara and asked, "You wouldn't happen to have any tequila, would you?"

Making rounds around the Kell Estate was getting old. Lucy completed another circuit of the stairways leading up to the floor with the various suites used by the VIPs and checked in with Richmond. "All clear."

"Confirmed, Lieutenant." The Australian woman's voice barely crackled over the radio. "I need you to check on the air conditioning system on the roof, please. We're getting an anomalous reading from security sensors."

"I'm on my way."

"I'll send you backup, they should meet up with you just after you arrive on the roof."

"Roger that. Lucero out." Lucy ended the call and went to the stairs again. She used her omnitool to bring up the plans for the Kell home, showing her which stairway would lead her up to the roof. With her life force energy Lucy didn't feel quite as tired, not physically anyway, but mentally she was ready for the day to end.

At the top of the stairwell Lucy stepped out onto the roof. The old-fashioned external appearance aside, the roof nevertheless had flat areas where the air conditioning systems and communication receivers and transmitters were located, as well as a single low tower with a beacon light for warning away aircraft. Lucy called up the sensor readings that were anomalous she approached. She approached their centerpoint and found herself near one of the air conditioning units.

A sense went through her and drove Lucy to check said unit. As she approached the gray, block-shaped unit, she noticed that its profile was off. It didn't match others around her. As she drew closer she could see why; something had been attached to it. A gray canister with no markings was above the main intake. Tubing ran from one end of the canister and into the intake grate.

Lucy ran a scan of it and frowned. It was made of material to block sensors. Now fully suspicious, she looked it over to see if there were any signs of tamper-proof gear that might forestall removing whatever it was; something that, she suspected, would not be good for the occupants.

Her first inkling of danger was just a second before the gun went off.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

Post by Steve » Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:02 am

The surprise for Lucy was just how little warning she had. The instinctive sense of danger that her powers gave her usually proved far better warning than it had now.

The one second warning time basically eliminated any chance to avoid getting shot. Not with her lightsaber still inactive and on her belt. All Lucy could do was throw her body to one side in the second she had. She felt like someone had just run a razor blade on her skull, slicing away a bit of her curly dark hair along with a bit of skin and the layer of flesh on her scalp above her ear. A slightly different angle would have sent the projectile against the surface of her skull.

Lucy rolled on the roof when she hit it, shoulder first. Another shot grazed her shoulder with no wound, unable to defeat the Gersallian-made armor she was wearing, although it did put a hole in her blue robe. Even as the shot struck her, Lucy's hand was grasping the lightsaber on her belt. It came free as she had designed its strap to do. The moment she completed the roll her hand held it away and her thumb found the activation button. The familiar electronic snap-hiss answered and the cylindrical weapon in her hand formed a blade of shining blue energy. She moved the blade and another shot bounced off of it.

There was no sign of her attacker. Whomever it was had a cloaking device of some sort. Nor did she sense life, at least not the life she'd associate with a grown adult of any species. She focused with the life energy Meridina had taught her to wield and sought out the threat against her. More than that, the means by which the threat hid from her. Another shot from her foe was also batted away with almost contemptuous ease.

Lucy dashed forward before the next shot. Her lightsaber slashed through what looked like open air on the rooftop. A moment later a figure wavered into view, a Human female with skin a shade darker than Lucy's light brown complexion. Only one natural brown eye glared up at her; the other eye was gone, replaced with a cybernetic implant plate over the left side of the head, a big red electronic eye in place of the missing organic counterpart. Something sparked near the cyborg's mid-section.

The cyborg was carrying a Phalanx pistol from M4P2. When she raised the weapon at Lucy again, Lucy's lightsaber sliced the gun in half. "No more of that," Lucy said. "Whoever you are, surrender."

The woman didn't glower. There was no defiance. She considered Lucy for a moment before simply throwing herself backward with enough force that she fell from the roof.

Lucy rushed to the edge. She sensed nothing of the cyborg's thoughts and wondered if this was self-termination of some sort. When she saw her opponent land on her feet and start running, she realized it had been an escape.

The thought of pursuit crossed her mind. But even beyond the sticky, hot blood now pouring down the side of her head as a reminder of her injury, Lucy knew she had other, more urgent matters to attend to. She turned back to the air-conditioning unit and resumed her work on the attachment installed upon it, presumably by said cyborg.

Meditation had always been a problem for Robert when it came to these powers. Given his duties as a starship captain and the time demanded - not to mention time he wanted to spend with Angel - spending time just sitting around seemed wasteful. Deep down, he had resented that part of Meridina's training most of all.

It hadn't been until after his time on Gersal at Umintamil that his view began to change. There he had no duties to attend to, no girlfriend he was trying to show some attention to, there was nothing but vast empty stretches of time. Meditation was one of the few things he had to do. Quieting his mind and simply feeling the warmth within him, the energy generated by his being, resonate with his surroundings, that had proved an enjoyable experience. "The golden serenity of the Light of Life" was what Mastrash Kilaba, the "abbess" of Umintamil, had called it in their sessions. In his meditative state he imagined the older woman's face. The fine dark skin marked by but a few wrinkles, graying hair at her temples. Kilaba hadn't been the stodgy, stoic type he'd expected; she'd shown the same warmth and subtle, wry humor that Meridina often displayed.

His mind continued along this track, considering the discussions they had together and with Ledosh about his experience in the dreamworld. That the Flow of Life itself had acted to save his life after he took in the Time Vortex, that it was a force in of itself, aware and capable, but cooperative with those who could sense it.

This quiet train of thought sustained through his meditations could have lasted for hours. Sometimes it would. What interrupted it was a distant sense he felt. Loss, guilt, shame… it was Zack.

Robert's eyes opened. His mouth twisted into a frown, followed by a little sigh. He slid off the bed and left their suite. A walk down a fine-paneled corridor and up flights of stairs took him to the recreational deck of the Tri'kep. From there he easily found his way to the lounge.

Many people were out on the balcony now. Most of the passengers were, like the crew, Gy'toran, although Robert noted a felinoid Rr'timm and a Bolian couple with several Humans. The Tri'kep was coming up to a relatively-narrow pass between the mountain ranges and everyone was outside witnessing the closing space of the mountains. Distant storm clouds were on the horizon and a flutter of worry went through Robert.

But he had other things to concern himself with. He found Zack at the bar, leaning on it with a bottle of what was likely tequila in one hand and a glass in the other. It was half-finished. A second later it was entirely finished, as Zack gulped it down. Robert winced at it; he'd had only a few experiences with drinks over his life, and he couldn't imagine just gulping liquor like that. It must burn like hell. That Zack was apparently used to it…

Robert walked up and tapped Zack on the shoulder. "Hey," he said, trying to keep even the slightest judgemental tone from his voice. "Everything alright?"

"No," mumbled his friend. Zack was more inebriated than sober by this point. "Nothing's alright. Nothing's been alright for a long damn time."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Go away," Zack demanded.

Robert swallowed and considered his options. Zack's sullen silence was clearly meant to be a shield between the two, to keep Robert out. And he wanted to respect Zack's privacy. But at the same time, it was clear that Zack was suffering on the inside. His isolation wasn't helping him. For better or for worse, Robert had to crack that shell.

"You're drinking again. I thought you wanted to stop."

"I never said that." Zack reached for the bottle and poured another shot.

"The fact you nearly burned your brain out with Niltox tells me you know this isn't good for you. This… this isn't fixing anything…"

"Some things can't be fixed, Rob. Let it go." Zack took a smaller swallow this time. "You can't save everyone. Especially when we don't deserve it."

Sighing, Robert sat at the stool beside him. "What could have done that makes you say that, Zack? It's not just your grief over Clara, is it?"

"I'm the reason she's dead," Zack muttered. "Me. She'd be alive if not for me. She wouldn't have come out here, she wouldn't have endangered herself."

"I think you're being unfair to yourself. And to Clara. She wanted to help people. She wanted to do good. You can't just chalk all of that up to your influence." When Zack didn't react to that Robert continued. "And blaming yourself for it isn't helping anything. You'll never get better, never get over losing her, if you don't stop it."

There was anger in Zack's brown eyes when he turned them to face Robert. They were reddened from tears and stress, red lines crossing through the white of his eyes. Robert remained quiet and hoped Zack would speak. That hope was dashed several seconds later when he turned away again. "Zack, I know you're in pain. I feel it now. You're my best friend, I can't just stand by and let you suffer like this. I'm not leaving your side until…"

Given their respective conditions, what happened next shouldn't have happened. A man halfway to collapse from drunkenness should, in general, be incapable of surprising a man who could sense the immediate future through the metaphysical energies of his own personal life force.

But that's exactly what happened. Robert sensed the intent. He felt it coming. But it shocked him so profoundly that he denied the warning instinct. It couldn't be true. It couldn't be happening.

Which was why he was surprised when Zack twisted around and punched him in the face.

The blow landed on Robert's jaw and cheek, a few centimeters to his left from being capable of damaging or even breaking his nose. The pain of the blow was exceeded by the shock of it. Said shock, and the force behind it, toppled Robert from the stool and sent him in a heap to the floor. A damaged blood vessel in his mouth seeped blood at the side of his lip.

"You can't just leave it alone, can you? God dammit Rob! You always have to be the Goddamned hero!" Zack rose from his stool, not too drunk to stand, but more than drunk enough to have lost all restraint on his feelings. Around them some of the various beings were turning to watch them.

Robert's hand touched the side of his mouth. He glanced at it to confirm the blood. Instinctive fury at being struck was fought down. He wasn't about to throw a punch in retribution. Especially not here.

Zack loomed over him. "You can't help it, can you?!" he continued. "You literally can't Goddamned help it! You've got to be the White Knight riding in to save the day!" As Zack spoke the emotions within him filled Robert's senses. Anger, guilt, shame, frustration… and envy. "Is it your ego, Rob?! Huh?! Can't you just leave things alone when asked?! Oh, of course not! Because you're the great Robert Dale, the hero who found the Darglan Facility, who used it to liberate the oppressed and save the downtrodden! The man who flouted whole governments just so he could do what was right! The great Goddamned space hero who made the Alliance, the entire damned Multiverse as we know it, possible! Who are we mere mortals to tell you what to do?!"


"God damn you." Zack's voice was a hiss. "God damn you, you are my best friend in the world, and whatever I've said before I'd die for you, but you really piss me off sometimes, Rob. You take me for granted."

"No, I…"

"I'm talking now!"

All eyes were turning toward them. Around the blazing inferno of Zack's erupting emotions, Robert sensed the embarrassment and bewilderment of the crowd at the sight. He wondered when someone would intervene in the public spectacle Zack was causing.

"You always have to be the great hero. You always have to save the day!" Zack continued. "And you don't even think about the rest of us, do you? Me, Tom, Julie, Angel and Cat, Leo… you take us all for granted. You never stop to think that maybe we have an existence that doesn't involve being your fraking sidekicks! And now you're so dedicated to being a space life magic using swevyra-whatever that you literally threw away poor Angel! You broke her heart again… but she'll still follow you into the mouth of hell, and you don't even…" Zack lost his voice for a moment. The sentiments he wanted to pour out of himself after so many years of quiet suppression seemed to be warring for access to his voice.

"Why are you so jealous of me?" Robert asked quietly, taking advantage of Zack's momentary quiet. He eyed a blue-furred Gy'toran in the uniform of the ship's crew now standing nearby. A stun taser was in her hand. He held up a hand toward her and mentally asked, No, please wait. He had the feeling he had bought Zack only a minute or so.

The first response to his question was a bitter laugh. "You really have to ask?" Zack's question was subdued. Pained. "You had everything I didn't. Your grandparents adored you. Mine barely acknowledged I existed. Your parents were the perfect couple. My mom worked and stressed herself to death while Dad was usually too drunk to get a job, much less keep one. Your family supported your decisions. My dad forced me to destroy my career." One by one the items were ticked off, but it was clear that even now they were building up to something even greater. "And the big thing? I can never be with the woman I love because you got to her first. And you… you won't even acknowledge it. The thing I can't have and you just throw it away."

Robert stared at him in confusion. "What? I barely knew Clara, I…" He stopped. Awareness dawned on his features. His green eyes widened in realization of what Zack was saying.

"Yeah." There were tears in Zack's eyes. "Even Clara… I gave her all the love I could, and I know she returned it and appreciated it, but I think even she knew. She knew that there was someone I loved more than her. It's why I never deserved her."

"Zack… I never realized."

That made Zack chuckle, although it seemed a sob as much as a chuckle. "Of course you didn't. Just like you never realize how much Julia loves you. I think I would give my soul up to have her love me half as much."

Robert's mouth went dry at the revelation. How had he missed it? How could he never realize just how Zack felt toward Julia?

"The thing is, the damned thing is, I know I'm wrong to have these feelings." A real sob escaped Zack's throat. "You've always been there for me whenever I needed help. Whenever Dad's drinking got out of control. After Mom died. You've always been my friend, my best friend, even more than Tom. And it's wrong that I resent you so much. It's…"

At that point Zack broke down weeping. He collapsed to his knees. "Adrana showed me how wrong I could be," he cried. "The computer… it showed me a world wherever I had what I wanted. Where Julia loved me. And you… it thought I wanted you dead, and… and… I should be dead. Not Clara. She deserved better. It should be me."

At that point Zack could say no more. He just kept weeping.

Wordlessly Robert brought his broken friend to his feet. "Let's go somewhere private," he said gently. "Then we can talk about it."

Once they were back in their cabin, each took a seat on their respective beds, sitting at the ends and facing one another. "I always thought you were just being... well, being your usual flirting self," Robert admitted to his friend. "I mean, when it came to Julia. I had no idea you felt something like this."

Zack sat hunched over. He was in the worst place to be; too drunk to hold back, not drunk enough to have stopped feeling. "She was never interested," he mumbled. "Even when you were with Angel. Maybe if I hadn't started looking for other girls…"

"I'm not sure that was the only thing," Robert said. "But I'm sorry. We… it's painful for you to be around us. Especially around her. Isn't it?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes I just push it to the back of my mind. I be the friend I've always been." Zack rubbed at his forehead. "And I know it's wrong to have these feelings. To resent you so much. I shouldn't. But I can't help it sometimes…"

"You don't have to apologize," Robert insisted. "I know what you're going through."

There was a bewildered yet curious look from Zack at that admission. He brought his eyes back up to face Robert.

"You always had it so easy with girls," Robert said. "And with everyone else. You were the socializer, the guy who put the parties together."

Zack smiled slightly. "Although Julia was always the organizer when she was involved. And those were often the best…"

Robert nodded at that. "But I was neither. I couldn't even host them usually."

"It's not like you didn't have any social circles of your own, Mister Wide Receiver for the football team."

To that Robert laughed. "Yeah, for a coach who thought running it up the middle was the most important kind of play. And besides that, you remember how the jocks thought. I wasn't the star pitcher, I was the glorified blocker of a wide receiver who could be beaten up by his girlfriend." A bitter look came to his eyes. "Half of them thought I was just Angel's beard, too. The only girlfriend Rob Dale ever had was 'that dyke'." The look became dark. "Sometimes 'that dyke spic'." Robert nearly spat out the last word. He shuddered at recalling its use.

"Huh." Zack shook his head. "I guess a few guys from the baseball team thought the same way about Angel. But she was never the traditional girl."

"Unlike your conquests. And I think everyone in the county knew about Beth and why she left, and they loved to use that against me too. As far as they were concerned, my cousin was 'a queer', my girlfriend probably one, and maybe my sister too, and that meant my masculinity was in question."

Zack snarled at that. "Idiots." The snarl turned into a smirk. "Isn't it funny that they picked the wrong Delgado sister?"

"A bit. Although God knows how they would've treated Cat if she'd been out of the closet during her school years. But to get to my point…" Rob sighed. "You and Julie were the star athletes. Tom was in all of the geek circles, and Angel was the best fighter in the school. Even Leo was the darling of the pre-med honors courses and the biology department. I wasn't any of those things. Hell, I think the only person among us who could match my situation was Lucy."

"And now you two are the ones with the mojo powers." Zack sighed.

Robert nodded at that. It was an amusing thing to consider. But he had other things on his mind. "The damned thing is… you were right about it. I do sometimes take you and the others for granted. I just always assume you'll have my back, that you'll agree with whatever I was doing. Even with Julia trying to warn me when it isn't true." Robert shook his head. "From the day I found the Facility I've been dragging the rest of you along without really considering if it was what you wanted. I just assumed you'd stand with me…"

"Well, we did," Zack pointed out. "We made the Alliance possible together, so yeah, we joined you in standing for it. Maybe without thinking it through… I know I've always had a few problems with this military stuff."

"While Julia took to it like a duck to water," Robert opined.


For a moment there was silence. "I do love her, you know," Robert admitted.

"Well, yeah."

"And you do too."

"With all my heart."

Robert let out a sigh. "Isn't this awkward?"

Zack gave him an annoyed look. "Welcome to my world, Sir Robert."

"That computer simulation on Adrana really had you married to her?"

"Yep." A small blush came to Zack's face at memories of the simulation. "Oh yeah."

Robert laughed. When the laugh got him a bewildered look, he said, "It's just… that's what happened to me. After the Time Vortex nearly killed me, the dreamworld I was in… Julia and I were married. We even had a son."

"Huh. And the rest of us…"

"Around. Happy. Still living in the county, mostly, well, except you and Angel. You were a major league pitcher and were with Clara, Angel was a world-ranked MMA fighter. Our parents were all alive."

Zack moaned. "Of course. You get a dreamworld tailored to you and everyone's happy. I get one where I let you die so I could have Julia." Tears formed in his eyes. "See what I mean, Rob?"

Robert shrugged. "We all have dark sides to us, Zack. They just… come out differently, I guess. A part of me never wanted to come back from that dream world. Even if it meant abandoning you. Given I'm the reason you're all out here in the first place, what does that say about me?"

"That you wanted your family back. While that Adranian lady thought I wanted you dead so I could have Julia. And… the damndest thing of all… if I'd had that choice back then, of saving you or saving Julia… I'd have saved her."

"Good," Robert replied immediately. "That's what I'd want you to do."

Zack shook his head. "Yeah. But my motives…" He put a hand to his forehead. Shaking his head had been a mistake.

"Don't worry about that," Robert insisted, knowing full well Zack would.

Indeed, Zack nearly pointed it out. But he held back at stating the obvious, especially given Robert's gifts. Instead he said, "The same for me. Save her, not me."

"Of course," Robert agreed. A thought came to him. "Can you imagine what she'd say if she heard us right now?"

It took some effort for Zack to work out the reply given the haze brought on by the tequila. "She'd probably get mad at us. Grumble something about chauvinism."

"Yeah, she would," Robert agreed. He grinned thoughtfully. "Why don't you get some rest? The flight will be over by the morning." He stood from the bed.

A protest formed in Zack's mind and died before it reached his vocal cords. "Yeah, I guess. I'll get some rest."

While Zack laid back on his bed, Robert slipped out the door of the cabin. He returned to the lounge. There were fewer people present. He went out to the balcony, now unoccupied, and found a corner to sit and resume meditating. Even here he could sense Zack, not quite asleep, still fairly drunk, a big knot of guilt and shame and grief. Even with their breakthrough, these were feelings he would have to work out.

Robert considered Zack's admissions and what it meant for all of them. Looking back, he kicked himself for never realizing it. All of those times he and Julia and Zack had sat together for a meal, they had been torturing him on the inside. And poor Clara… he remembered how much she loved Zack. That she loved him in spite of his sentiment… the woman had truly been a saint.

An anxious feeling suddenly came to Robert, ending all of his musing on Zack. A nebulous danger was looming, or something like danger, but he wasn't sure what it was at the moment.

That is, until he heard a shrieking electronic tone. "All passengers, please return to your cabins. All passengers to cabins. This is for your safety."

Robert's eyes opened during the announcement. He wondered why it came, at least until he felt the press of beating winds on his face. He looked up at the sky and frowned.

The dark and gray clouds were now taking up half the sky.

And he knew, then and there, that the storm was coming their way. It was going to move right across the Tri'kep's path.

"Hold still."

Leo's voice betrayed his frustration with Lucy's refusal to keep her head from moving. Lucy responded by sticking her tongue out at him.

Julia fought to keep amusement off of her face at Lucy's playful immaturity. Meridina showed no reaction either way. "Jarod confirmed the substance. It was a nerve gas toxin, a really nasty concoction that would have killed anyone exposed to it through the ventilation system. Even if we detected it in time, we would have lost people. If not…"

"...everyone in the Kell Estate would be dead," Lucy finished for Julia. "Yeah. I'm guessing that was the desired outcome."

"Commander Richmond is exploring the likelihood that this was another attempt on Princess Katherine's life," Meridina noted. "Less discriminate, certainly, but perhaps speaking to the killer being uncertain of getting a better opportunity."

"The alternative is that the killer is just going for whatever will disrupt things the most," Julia said.

"Yeah. Kill Katherine, and the Federated Commonwealth is destabilized. Or just kill a bunch of people and you wreck the summit." As she spoke Lucy shifted her head again, prompting a frustrated look from Leo before he resumed running the regenerator over the wound. "Although there's another possibility."

"Multiple assassins?" asked Meridina.


"We'll know for sure once Leo compares your wound to the shot fired in the conference room."

"Which will require Leo to have a patient who cooperates," Leo opined, speaking in the third person for full effect.

Lucy rolled her eyes and braced her neck, letting Leo resume his work.

Julia let out a little sigh. "Well, I need to go deal with a few dozen dignitaries screaming that we're not protecting them sufficiently. Despite the fact that the attack was thwarted because our security is actually working. Let me know if you find out anything."

Lucy and Meridina watched Julia leave. Lucy forced herself to not turn her head to face Meridina, using only her eyes and her life energy to direct attention to her. "Are you okay?" she asked. "You seem, I don't know, tense."

Meridina did not respond immediately. When she did, it was with a shake of her head. "I have been considering… something. Thoughts."

"Anything interesting?"

"I am unsure. There are feelings I am unfamiliar with."

"Oh, so personal stuff. Say no more, go back to them."

Meridina appraised Lucy with her blue eyes. The two shared that eye color, indeed nearly the same shade of blue. As if it was a sign of the bond they now shared. Lucy could feel a degree of uncertainty in Meridina. An emotional one, not one of action.

"We must stop this assassin permanently," Meridina said suddenly, finding refuge in work. "Then the summit may continue uninterrupted."

"The problem is we don't know where she will be. We can't even be sure of her target. And we can't sense her with our life force energy. She must be completely cyborg. Hell, she was basically a Cyberman."

"I can only wonder what might drive an individual to allow such a thing, such an abomination, to be done to them." Meridina shook her head. "Perhaps it will be mercy for her as well to destroy her."

"That's going to be a tall order. If she's made to infiltrate, and if we can't sense her with life energy because she has none…" Lucy stopped.

Meridina sensed Lucy was in thought. Beside Lucy, Leo removed the regenerator tool. "And done," he said. "You can twitch now."

Lucy didn't move.

"Lucy?" Meridina asked.

Leo added, with some amusement, "Now she stays perfectly still."

"Energy," Lucy murmured.


"Energy. Energy is how we find her." Lucy slid off the bed and took off for the door. "Come on! I need to get some things from the machine shop!" With that, Lucy left the medbay.

Meridina and Leo exchanged bewildered looks. Just as another sarcastic comment crossed Leo's mind, the door swished open again and Lucy looked in. "And thanks, Leo! You're still my favorite doctor."

A little grin was his reply to her while Meridina moved to join her.

Despite the order for all passengers to head to their cabins, Robert was on his way to the top deck. Every fiber of his being was telling him he would be needed up there.

The access door was keycarded, as he expected, but it wasn't designed to stop someone with his abilities. Robert strained to keep his internal energies in check while using them on the delicate task of manipulating the interior latch of the door. His effort was not entirely successful; the latch was undone, but it was damaged as well. The door would be stuck open. There was no point in worrying about it, however, as he needed to get topside.

He emerged onto the deck near the stern. The surfacing was made of a fine-grained wood with metal rings at locations along the deck. Some had lines already latched to them, lines built into the harnesses of the deck crew.

And they were needed. The edge of the storm was coming over them, sending violent gales into the sails. Cries in the chittering Gy'toran language barely echoed over the howl. Robert looked up and watched Gy'torans scurrying over the masts and support structures for the wide sails, now being furled with great difficulty against the powerful winds.

"Human! Human, what are you doing here?!" The voice was high-pitched and furious. Robert turned and faced a Gy'toran with a reddish hue to his fur and a beige tone to his full-body uniform. The koala-like face of the hexalimbed alien was screwed into an expression of worry and anger. "You should be in your cabin! It is dangerous here!"

"I know," he answered, almost shouting over the wind. "But you're going to need my help. I'm trained in the swevyra arts of Gersal and I can…"

Robert's voice was cut off by an ominous cracking noise. He and the Gy'toran looked up to see one of the masts starting to lean to a side. The Gy'torans working on its sails, still completely unfurled and taking the full brunt of the incoming wind, seemed more intent on getting off of said mast than furling its sails. With a final snap the mast splintered, ripped away by the enormous force of the winds pushing into its sails. Both watched with horror as two of the six-limbed figures still on the sails were pulled away, betrayed by their own safety lines still rigged to the broken, falling mast.

Robert had only a second to act. He reached his arms up and felt his energy surge within him. The delicate control he learned with the Gersalllians asserted itself. The energies of life, his own and those in the Flow of Life, responded to his will. Those same energies gripped the flailing Gy'torans and pulled them toward the deck. Separate your lines! he urged them mentally. Whether it was his urging or their training, they did so, and were freed from the mast that even now fell rapidly to the stern. The two wheeled their limbs a bit in mid-air while Robert pulled them to safety. They landed on the deck before him, their dark eyes focused on him in shock.

The Gy'toran that was confronting Robert started chittering at them in rapid-fire Gy'toran. They replied immediately and ran off, leaving the two alone. "Thank you, Human, for saving my sail-minders," he said. "I'm the Sailing-Master of the Tri'kep, Tramiltaram. I believe you would call me the Captain."

Robert nodded. "I'm Robert Dale. Formerly Captain of the Starship Aurora."

"Truly? I have heard of you. The Alliance-founder." The Gy'toran nodded once more. "My thanks, fellow Vessel-Master. Although it may be for nothing."

"What's wrong?"

Tramiltaram raised his upper and mid left arms toward the bow. Robert followed the motion to see what was ahead of them. Tall, jagged mountains showed in the distance, drawing nearer.

"We are coming up to Jumatam Pass," said Tramiltaram. "But now that we've lost our front maneuvering sail, we won't be able to make the turn into it. The Tri'kep is going to plow into the mountain."

The attendees of the conference took convincing to attend another session. Onaran and Primus Mori both had to cajole Sun-Tzu into remaining. There was an uncertainty in the air when everyone got back together.

"An assault on Goeringwelt will require more than the forces you are allocating," asserted the Turian delegate, a general named Haras. "The Hierarchy can commit the 12th and 19th Regiments to the attack, but we will desire control of one of the secondary continents."

"Your offer of troops will be considered, General Haras, but for now we believe that the three Galaxies that the Burrocks and Coyotes have committed will be sufficient," answered Khan N'Buta. "Although if you wish to bid to join the attack, perhaps an arrangement can be made concerning the disputed enclaves on New Hebridia?"

"The Federated Commonwealth should also be consulted on that matter." This was from Morgan Hasek-Davion. "The 2nd Davion Guards played a role in the liberation as well, I remind you."

"Numerous states did, as I recall, General," Haras said. "But as New Hebridia is in the Hierarchy's Zone of Control, we reserve the right to approve final dispositions…"

Julia tuned out the finagling over occupation zones for the moment. Hearing them made her recall Robert's long time concerns about the Coalition and how the various belligerents might fight over the carcass of the Nazi Reich. Of far more importance to her, at the moment, was Lucy's plan. She spotted Lucy at her place, standing near the holotank. Meridina and Richmond were also at strategic points and Jarod was at the actual controls.

Is everything ready?

The thought led to a number of slight nods. Julia settled uneasily into her seat and waited to see how it would go.

"...dispositions can be decided later," Focht was saying. "As things stand, the attack on Goeringwelt will at least tie down enemy forces on that world and further stretch their military resources. The enemy maintains manufacturing capacity on that planet for their fleet that our invasion forces can interfere with, increasing the strain on their fleet and logistical network." He nodded to Jarod. "Commander, if you would please bring up the material on Rosenburg and the proposed attack by Marik and Liao forces…"

Jarod began doing so. The holotank shifted to show another world, a garden planet. "As you can see, the enemy is defending this world quite strongly," said Focht. "It is likely not simply from the agricultural output of its farming communities. I…"

Lucy's arm shifted. Her omnitool did not appear, but Julia knew that was a trick. She might not see it, but Lucy had it ready to act at a moment's touch.

She gave said touch.

There was only the faint trace of pale azure light over the room. It still got attention. What got more attention was the twitching, sparking form that suddenly appeared beside the Clan table, clutching the curved form of an M8 Avenger assault rifle. The figure was a woman, the same cyborg Lucy faced previously on the roof. Her face was a rictus of pain and surprise with sparks erupting from the red eye and the adjoining implant. When she collapsed, Julia wondered if she was alive or dead.

All eyes turned toward the twitching figure. Meridina and Jarod reacted quickly, rushing to the fallen body and securing it. "Definitely a cyborg," Jarod said. "Honestly more machine than organic, seeing these sensor returns. Most of the brain is electronic."

"Which is why we did not sense her," Meridina murmured. "There is no true Life here, nothing connected to the Flow of Life."

"I wonder who she is…"

Julia glanced toward the table opposite from where she and the other observer-delegates were sitting. There was a paleness in the expressions of both Anastasius Focht and Sharilar Mori. She frowned at that. She didn't need Meridina or Lucy to tell her that they knew something about this attacker.

Julia was so focused on the ComStar leaders that she didn't notice the change in Lucy's expression. Meridina looked toward Lucy and the tables with a sudden start.

Suddenly Lucy was more a blur than anything. She rushed across the meters separating the holotank from the various tables. Her lightsaber was in hand, but she didn't activate it.

There was no shot. There was simply a cry of pain as she moved in the space in front of Prince Victor, who was quite surprised when she fell back into his arms. Everyone began to stand. Jarod and Meridina rushed over toward her, as did Julia.

By the time they did, she was coughing up blood. A look of pain and sheer surprise was written over her face. Jarod's omnitool came to life and the scan was complete in seconds. "She's been shot," he said. "There's a bullet inside of her left lung." This, in clear defiance of the utter lack of damage to her Gersallian-made armor.

There was no need to call for medical help. The door swung open and Leo rushed in with Nasri and another nurse, a tan-skinned Human male. "We got the cyborg," Jarod muttered. "Where did…" His eyes widened in realization. After a second he hit his omnitool again. "This is Commander Jarod. I need the anti-beaming field intensified, now!" Even as he spoke he was operating another control on the omnitool.

Julia didn't have a chance to ask why. There was a small sparkle of light over Jarod and Lucy, after which a round hit the floor. "What's going on?" she asked.

"We're being sniped," Jarod said. "With a transporter."

The door that Leo had just entered flew open again. Julia looked up in time to catch sight of Meridina as the door closed behind her.

Meridina ran through the halls of the Kell Estate, weapon in hand. Her senses were on the alert for the trace feeling she sensed, a feeling of frustration and quiet worry out of place with the others. There was her target. The assassin who had wounded - perhaps fatally - Lucy.

To her surprise, that thought caused anger to well up inside of her. An instinctive fury that someone had dared to strike at Lucy, her student, her friend… Meridina forced her emotions to quiet at that feeling. She could not let them interfere with her at this point. She had to stop the shooter.

And she would not fail.

The mountains looming ahead of the Tri'kep lost their scenic allure at Tralmiltaram's prediction. Robert could easily imagine the wind-sailer plowing into the mountainside, killing the dozens - or was it hundreds? - of beings aboard her, Zack and Robert included. He couldn't let that happen.

"What if you cut all sails and just hovered with anti-gravs?" Even as he finished the proposal Robert felt a sense inside of himself that it was the wrong choice.

"The winds are too strong. We would be pushed into the mountains anyway," said Tralmiltaram. He noticed the look on Robert's face and shook his head. "And the anti-gravs don't have the power to turn us in time or raise our altitude. They're not powerful enough for that. There is a small hope of landing…"

Immediately Robert could sense that the hope would not work out. He concentrated on the problem, sensing the possible solutions… and realizing he had but one option.

His consideration was interrupted when he felt something tighten around his waist and chest. He looked down to see the Gy'toran captain tying lines around his torso. "Our harnesses will not fit you," he said. "But I cannot let you remain up here without a safety line."

"I understand." Robert drew in a breath. "Don't try to land. You'll never make it."

"We have no other choice. It is the only hope we have."

"I can save your ship. I can get you over the mountains."

The Gy'toran's dark eyes considered him. Tralmiltaram was both incredulous and yet curious. "How?"

"The same way I saved your people," he said. "It's our best chance. I'll need to concentrate though, and I have to start now."

Calculation showed on Tralmiltaram's face. Robert could only pray he would agree. It was their only chance to survive this.

"I entrust our lives to you," said Tralmiltaram, clearly uncertain.

Robert nodded and breathed in. I've never tried something like this, he admitted to himself. I know my power is stronger now… but can it manage this? The doubt gnawed at him for a moment. But only a moment. He couldn't let doubt hold him. Doubt was fatal to this power and would get them all killed.

He let out another breath and reached out his arms. The energy within him welled up, its golden warmth welcome to his soul, and slowly the ship began to lift higher in the air.

In a maintenance closet of the Kell Estate, John Goddard grunted with frustration as he finished dismantling his TR-116. He'd never suffered such a setback before, especially not when employing his skills with a sniper rifle. His target was unawares, security was distracted by that other assassin - a stroke of luck there! - and all he had to do was take the shot.

How did that damn woman know? How could she have known where to jump to intercept the transported bullet?

Maybe those rumors about people who could guess the future and fight guns with swords weren't as farfetched as Goddard thought. This was certainly more than just mind-reading, that was for damn sure.

The important thing now was escape. He could be searched upon leaving, so his TR would have to be abandoned. Breaking it down and hiding it would buy him time, at least, time to get to an egress point and slip away. He had a backup identity ready to flee the planet and, given his failure, his unhappy employer. Then… well, maybe it was time to check out another universe. His skillset would be valuable across the Multiverse, after all.

These considerations lasted only a few seconds. Goddard kept himself from continuing. He could do so later, when it was safe. For now he had to think about anything else, just in case.

Quietly, Goddard stepped out of the closet and went to resume his duties.

Meridina caught him a moment later.

The tilting of the Tri'kep woke Zack up. The alcohol was not yet cleared from his system, not entirely, but just enough had cleared that he soon realized something was wrong. He staggered along the uneven floor to the window. Outside it was dark. Rain slammed against the ports with a ferocity that made Zack remember childhood storms that could form the deadly tornadoes that once nearly destroyed the Carrey home. He shook his head once, as if it could further clear the remaining haze. Over the intercom a voice was speaking in various languages. Eventually it came back to English. "The ship is currently attempting a dangerous maneuver to reach safety. All passengers, please remain in your cabins and assume crash positions."

"Some vacation," Zack muttered darkly. A frustrated feeling came over him. Being in danger wasn't new to him of course. But he wasn't on the bridge of the Koenig facing Nazis or Batarians. He and Rob were just helpless passengers…

...which was when he noticed Robert wasn't in the cabin.

"Dammit Rob," he breathed, knowing for certain - for damn certain - just what his best friend was off doing.

On the deck of the Tri'kep, Robert was barely aware of his surroundings. The wind whipping at him, threatening to bowl him over, the rain soaking his clothes and hair, the screams and shouts of the frantic Gy'torans trying to save their ship. He was entirely focused on controlling the power surging within him, the same power now lifting the Tri'kep higher and higher into the atmosphere as the mountains ahead loomed ever so closer.

To say it was a strain would be an understatement. Every bit of control he had was being pushed to the limit. The danger was not only that he might fail to clear the mountain ahead, but that his power would lose control and that he might push the ship too far, causing it to fall apart or to capsize in mid-air or some other catastrophe. Robert grimaced at the exertion this brought, the tension between the raw power needed and his control of it. I can do this, he insisted. No doubts. Do not doubt. I can do this...

Ahead, the mountain loomed ever closer. Mere minutes, soon mere seconds, remained for him to succeed.

Meridina nearly missed the assassin, despite everything. She could barely sense the intent to escape or any other impulse but "get to work". The mind she was dealing with was disciplined in that respect, capable of accepting the most dull of drudgery as if it were nothing of consequence.

But there was the flicker. The flicker of uncertainty, of fear of discovery, of frustration at failure. She picked up on them. And she knew the man coming from the closet was the shooter.

"Please stop," she said to him. The man turned, a basket of cleaning supplies in his hand. He regarded her with the kind of annoyance a professional servant of his kind would. It was what one would expect to see and Meridina was surprised at how well the mask fit him. She could almost doubt her own recognition of him. If not for that merest flicker…

Meridina took no chances. She had her lightsaber ready to turn on at a moment's necessity. "You must come with me," she said. "I have reason to believe you are responsible for a shooting."

"Ma'am?" There was genuine confusion in the voice. "I'm not sure what you're talking about. What shooting?"

"You are quite a good actor," she said. "But I sense your deception regardless. Please surrender."

There were several moments when it looked like he might cooperate. The mask wasn't slipping any more than before, but she could sense the consideration of caution, of biding time. But then came the flood of worry, as he undoubtedly calculated his escape chances as being better before capture, and Meridina thus sensed the coming attack.

What she could not prepare herself for was the nature of it. The assassin flung at her a bottle from his basket. She sensed the danger and caught it with her swevyra.

The assassin brought his gun up and shot the bottle.

The explosion that resulted shook the hall. Meridina was thrown back into the wall behind her, slamming into it with enough force that she was dazed by the impact for a critical few seconds. The assassin was also thrown back by the blast, but as he had more space behind him he hit the floor instead of a wall. As he was ready for the impact he quickly recovered and ran away from her.

"Richmond to Meridina," a voice said over the comms. "We just registered an explosion."

"Yes. The assassin is here." Meridina got back to her feet. Her thumb shifted slightly and found the trigger for her blade, which flashed to life with the now-familiar snap-hiss combination. "I am pursuing."
"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 Jun 10, 2018 7:55 pm

The Tri'kep shuddered in the winds of the storm. Already another of her masts was cracking despite the sails being secured. Tralmiltaram kept himself busy directing the crew on the deck to reinforcing the mast while keeping a nervous eye on the bow and the mountain growing in size there.

Robert did not see the mountain. His eyes were closed and his focus entirely on the power within him, sustaining both the energy necessary to save the Tri'kep and the control on said energy. That was all that mattered - the storm that still raged could no longer register.

"Spirits of wind and sea, he's doing it," Tralmiltaram murmured. "He's actually doing it…" The mountain was disappearing from the bow. He fought through the wind to enter the pilot house, where digital screens showed the approaching mountain and the relative heights. "Status?"

The pilot's response was quick. "Ten thousand uta and rising, sir."


The violet-furred female kept looking ahead, with four of her hands occupied with the controls. "Twelve thousand and two hundred uta."

Tralmiltaram eyed the instruments. Given their remaining time and the rate of ascent… this was going too close to call. And there was still the storm, which would only get worse the higher they went. These ships could perform in higher atmospheres if necessary, and there was always leeway in the safety margins, but the cracking of the mast showed they were risking stepping over the line.

He looked with worry back out to the deck, where the Human who was saving them seemed oblivious to the wind whipping at his clothes and the rain blasting his face. His attention was wholly on saving the ship, and all Tralmiltaram could do at the moment was hope he succeeded.

The man who called himself John Goddard had never felt so betrayed by circumstance before. His foolproof weapon was thwarted. His cover was blown. An explosive that should have wounded, if not killed, his pursuer had barely stunned her. Now he was running for his life. His egress plans were in tatters. Capture meant eventual execution at the hands of either his employer or his target.

He couldn't even think about his contingencies either. Not with his foe possessing mind sensing. The need to act without thinking was contrary to his very being. His entire reputation was built upon his ability to think his way to any target and out of any situation.

That wasn't to say he couldn't manage it, just that it was difficult.

He was coming up to a hall leading toward his destination when two armed security confronted him from it. "Down! On the ground!" He ignored them. Let them fire. He couldn't stop. If he was lucky, they might even hit his pursuer. He ducked into the room to his right and rushed for the far suite. After shutting the door he retrieved an item from his pocket. The multidevice fit over his wrist perfectly. With it he activated his remote for his last hope of escape. It rose from the ground level - the staff parking lot - and approached the window.

While the security men entered the room and cleared the main living room, Goddard opened the window. The car was now just ten meters below and climbing.

The moment the door to the suite crashed open, he jumped.

Meridina threw the door open without touching it. There was a hint of fury in her expression that made the security personnel, both Kell Hound troopers, nervous, but they said nothing while following her. "Surrender!" she demanded, but she only caught a glimpse of the assassin as he jumped. She rushed to the window in time to see him land in an open-topped convertible aircar. The top slid close over him.

By that point, she was leaping. She landed on the top of the air car and brought her lightsaber down onto the roof. The material gave way to her blue blade, turning red-hot in the process. She pulled the blade back and went to strike again.

The aircar shot forward. Even with her skill Meridina lost her footing. She would have fallen off completely if she hadn't grabbed the wound she had just carved into the vehicle. There was a hint of hot pain in her left hand that gave way to numbness, not a good sign at all, and it was all she could do to hold on as the vehicle accelerated. It turned toward Old Connaught.

Letting go was not her intention. But her energy, her swevyra, screamed inside of her. Her life would end in seconds if she didn't. So she released her grip and began falling to the ground. Meridina disengaged her weapon and focused her power beneath her, using it to absorb the impact when she hit the ground with bone-jarring force.

She looked up in time to see a ruby beam slice clean through the aircar. It exploded in a fireball. She felt out and there was no sign of life from the wreckage as it fell to the ground. The assassin was gone, dead.

To her surprise and regret, a sense of satisfaction came to her. Not the basic satisfaction of preventing the assassin's escape, but a brief savage glee that the man who shot Lucy, who might have killed Lucy, was dead. Immediately she reproached herself at the thought. It was little better than the bit of dark satisfaction she'd felt at slaying Dralan Olati in their duel back on Jarod's home Earth nearly a year before. It was wrong to feel such, and that she felt it scared her.

She glanced to her rear and noticed one of the Kell Hounds' walking tanks, a 'BattleMech', standing over her. It was one of the smaller, shorter models, just a few meters in height, a humanoid form with a lupine head module. A hand that ended with a weapon muzzle was still elevated. "Commander, are you okay?" a female voice asked over a speaker. "That looked like a nasty fall."

It had been, but her powers had let her catch the force safely. Granted, it didn't do anything for her hand. Meridina glanced toward it and noticed the blackened, burned flesh from her instinctive grab of the hot wound her weapon had carved in the vehicle. "I am fine," she said simply, even if it was not at all true. She used her functioning right hand to trigger her omnitool. "Meridina to Richmond. The assassin is dead."

At the periphery of his senses, focused as they were on his desperate task, Robert could feel the worry and fear of the Gy'torans on the deck. The mountain ahead loomed close and the winds of the storm were driving the ship toward the highest point. This was going to be close. Everything depended upon him.

The weight of that alone could be crushing, but he bore it. He had to.

He did not see the mountain receding below them. He did not see the dark, open sky of the stormclouds ahead, a false safety certainly, but still better than hitting the mountain. All he felt was the golden warmth of the Flow of Life that empowered him, that connected him to the universe and made this feat possible.

It was this sense that told him he'd succeeded.

When his eyes opened, Robert started to feel a chill. His clothes were drenched with rainwater and sweat. He brought up a hand to shield his eyes from the powerful winds whipping across the deck and threatening his footing. Indeed, the ship was still swaying under his feet from the power of the wind buffeting it, and without the life line he ran the risk of falling and slipping right off the deck.

This all took time to process. Robert's head wobbled from the strain of his efforts, dulling him for the moment. That dullness kept him from reacting to the warning sense growing within.

There was a cracking sound. He turned in time to see that the increased winds and the prior damage to the ship were wrecking the main mast. It mostly collapsed in one piece at least.

But not entirely. A tangled line above caused one of the spars to disintegrate. Debris rained down on the deck, some of it small and inconsequential, and some of it quite large.

Such as the metal shard that struck the deck near the jagged remains of the mast… and severed his life line from its anchor.

He looked about for somewhere to secure the severed line. Before he could find something a wind gust blew across the deck and hit Robert with enough force that he fell over. The ship tilted in the same direction from the force of the winds against it. With the rainwater on the deck adding to the problem, he pitched toward the side of the deck. He threw his arms out to try and gain purchase, a handhold on the deck. He found one, it slipped, and then another, which slipped as well. The handholds were designed for the smaller hand and textured skin of a Gy'toran, not a human hand with human skin. The rain water left his hands too slippery to find purchase.

He did finally hit the rail and stopped for the moment. His hands gripped the rail. But the ship wasn't righting itself.

In the pilothouse, Tralmiltaram already knew why. The monitors showed that the anti-gravs on that side of the vessel had lost power, overloaded due to the unexpected strain. The entire ship was pitching and the ship was losing altitude. "Engineering, we need those anti-gravs back!"


Tralmiltaram braced himself with two of his limbs, holding himself to the side entrance of the pilothouse. Outside his crew were busy ensuring the lifelines were secured.

Then the ship's pitch worsened. The change in its attitude meant the wind pressed against it more strongly, which meant it twisted even more.

Robert braced himself against the rail with his arm while his feet tried and failed to find purchase. They dangled in the open air. His waterlogged sleeve and skin made keeping his grip difficult. His arm started to slip free. Below him trees and rocks loomed through the dark air of the storm, receding slowly as the Tri'kep cleared the mountain it would have otherwise crashed into. Could he land if he used his powers? Safely?

His senses made him think it highly unlikely.

But he wouldn't have a choice. His arm was starting to slip loose. He didn't know if he could hold on long enough for the ship to right itself, or help to arrive. His lifeline was curled up against the rail. He tried to focus on it. Maybe if he…


Robert looked toward the stern. His eyes widened at the sight of Zack sliding down the deck, feet first, a life line tied around his ribs. It grew taunt as Zack reached the railing. His feet, bare, seemed ready to slip on the rain-slicked deck, but by crawling forward and keeping his knee braced against the base of the railing Zack was able to approach him. "Your line!" he shouted.

Robert nodded. He looked to the line and focused. He couldn't use his hands, not with his arms desperately gripping the railing with decreasing effectiveness. He relied entirely on raw focus to grip the line with his abilities. It lifted from the deck and shot over toward Zack.

Zack caught it against the deck. He wrapped the lifeline around the railing and then wormed what excess slack remained around his own, double-securing Robert's line.

At that point, Robert lost his grip on the railing and fell free.

The line went taunt. Pain shot through his torso, and given the grunt from Zack he felt the weight too. Robert wrapped his hands around the hanging line and held on.

Zack was holding his line too and started pulling. His bare hands found some traction despite the rain. He pulled with all of his might and lifted Robert up. "This would be a lot easier if you'd use your powers!" he shouted, with little effect given the howling wind.

Robert sensed what he said more than heard. "I'm not sure I can!" he shouted back. "I could end up overshooting and flying off the ship!"

"I didn't hear a damn word!" Zack grunted. The cord was biting into the skin of his hands from the strain of his gripped. "I'm not sure I can do this!"

"Cut me loose if you need to!" Robert shouted.

Zack did hear that. A defiant grin crossed his face. "Like I'm going back to tell Julia I dropped you! She'd kill me anyway!"

Through the rain Robert could make out his friend's grin. He matched it.

Crying out in effort, every muscle in his arms and chest burning, Zack pulled again and again. The remnant alcoholic haze in his head seemed to fade at the rush. Rain pelted his face and left his hair soaked, obscuring his vision. The shuddering of the ship seemed to threaten his falling from the Tri'kep should it list just another degree or two.

Regardless, he kept pulling.

Robert's hand reached the rail first. It was only as he started to brace his arm that the ship seemed to tilt again, this time back to its proper level. Zack grabbed Robert's arm and hauled him over the rail as it continued to right. Robert landed with a dull splash. The two rain-soaked men looked at each other and laughed in relief. "You could've gotten yourself killed!" Robert shouted over the wind.

"Like you almost did?!" Zack retorted. He tried to wipe the water from his eyes and failed. "At least I have an excuse!"


To that Zack guffawed, "I'm still drunk!"

Robert's only response was to laugh. He continued to do so even when some of the deckhands arrived to escort them back below decks and out of the storm.

Julia and Commander Richmond arrived in the suites set aside for Primus Mori and Precentor-Martial Focht. They were seated with Secretary Onaran. "...disaster was at least minimized," Mori was saying. "The assassination of Prince Victor would have been a blow to the Inner Sphere."

"I concur." Onaran looked back, noticing the two officers. "Captain, Commander?"

"Commander Richmond has concluded her preliminary investigation and the Kell Hounds and planetary authorities will be taking over for her," Julia said. "From what she learned, the assassin who shot at Victor was a man named John Goddard. The weapon he used was a TR-116 with a unique modification: a miniature transporter."

"What do you mean by that?" Mori asked.

Julia glanced to Richmond. "With the appropriate sighting gear, which we found attached to the weapon, a sniper can fire through any number of obstacles and walls. The transporter attached to the weapon beams the fired projectile into point blank range of the target. The only defense is an active anti-beaming area-effect field. We were only using a standard anti-beaming field, which does not prevent beaming within the field's range, only transport in and out."

"Why one and not the other?" asked Focht.

"Because the TR-116's modifications are unique, sir. The transporter applied is a specially-made model, normal transporters cannot usually acquire and transport a moving projectile at such a velocity. As a result, the threat was not anticipated and an area of effect field deemed unnecessary due to technical and resource costs. Alliance security protocol will have to be updated now that we are aware of the possibility." Richmond frowned. "Whomever provided the specifications, they are still unknown. And the assassin's death precludes determining his source through interrogation. It is regrettable that the Kell Hound guards opened fire as they did."


"If I may, Primus, Precentor-Martial?" Julia waited for them to nod before continuing. "You seemed to recognize the cyborg. Can you tell us anything?"

The two ComStar leaders exchanged glances. "This should not leave the room, although we authorize the Secretary to share this information with President Morgan and Admiral Maran only in strictest confidence," Mori said.

"Agreed," the Dorei man answered.

"Her name was Amara de Luca," Focht said. "Specifically, Adept Amara de Luca of ROM."

Julia frowned. "ROM. As in your security and intelligence agency?"

"Yes." Focht nodded. "At our order, Precentor Pardeau dispatched her three years ago to infiltrate the schismatic branch of ComStar in the Free Worlds League. They currently operate there as the Word of Blake. She missed her scheduled contact point seven months ago. And we have not heard from her since."

"Dear God," Richmond gasped. "They did that to her, didn't they? They turned her into that… thing."

"We know that the Word of Blake secured what materials existed for our cybernetic combat augmentation projects," Mori said. "But our intelligence on them remains thin."

"There are similar capabilities in other societies in the Multiverse," Julia observed. "The Coserians of N2S7, the Bynars and Choblik in S5T3, the Solarians of S0T5, to name just a few." Julia thought of the Cybermen as well, not to mention the horror of the Borg. "These Word of Blake people might have acquired further assistance from any of them."

"A sobering possibility," Onaran noted. "I will share this information with President Morgan and the Defense Staff under the strictest classification. We may have to consider upgrading threat assessments of this organization."

The remark was welcomed by the two ComStar leaders. Focht turned his attention to Julia next. "Do you have news about Lieutenant Lucero?"

"She's in stable condition in our medbay," Julia replied. "Doctor Gillam was able to remove the projectile and repair the worst damage in emergency surgery."

"She has our gratitude and wishes for her swift recovery." Focht folded his hands together in his lap. "The concern now is for the summit. The disruptions are making progress difficult. And the Clans' distrust of the Inner Sphere has only worsened by what has been displayed. I do not think any extension of the Truce of Tukkayid is feasible."

"What if you simply expanded it then?" Julia asked. When she had their attention, she said, "The Clans still sometimes raid above the line, right?"

"Not as often as we anticipated they would, but they do," Focht answered.

"Well, what if you talked them into a secondary truce that covers both sides entirely? For the duration of the war at least and sometime afterward? They're getting all the fights they want now, so their warriors are getting the advancement that was turning them against the Truce."

"A reasonable prospect," Onaran stated. "And perhaps the best that can be attained at this point."

"It has merit," Mori agreed. "We will propose it at the next meeting, once military discussions have concluded."

"Your contribution is welcome, Captain." Onaran nodded to her.

Seeing there was nothing more to be said on the matter, Julia asked, "Permission to be dismissed?"


In the Aurora's medbay Meridina looked over her hand. The burn damage was gone, healed by the advanced technology available to Leo and his medical team, and her presence was solely for Lucy's sake now. She lowered her hand and looked again to Lucy, who slept peacefully on a biobed in the standard care ward of the medbay. Displays showed her vital signs for the benefit of the passing nurses and doctors. They seemed to show her as in a stable condition.

Looking at Lucy, her tanned, light bronze complexion paled by blood loss and a life being spent in space, forced Meridina to think about the feelings she was dreading. The thought of Lucy's death was a horror, a real visceral one beyond the reaction Meridina knew she should have. Her brief glee at the destruction of the being who had come so close to killing Lucy worried her greatly. That was not how Meridina should act, whether or not she was in the Order. It was a potential path to darkness.

Meridina drew in a breath and focused inward for the source of it. Why would she feel that way toward that loss? The loss of a friend or associate was painful, yes, but the sheer emotion behind it, behind the mere possibility…

No. That… I… She picked at the thought as one would test a bruise or a damaged, aching tooth. This was an unexpected sensation. She could understand that she was closer to Lucy than to others on the crew, so there was reason to feel the loss more keenly, but the mere thought of Lucy being gone brought an emptiness to her. That was surprising. Lucy had been part of her life for only a few years now, only really the last thirty months (thirty Gersallian months anyway, by Human reckoning it was closer to thirty-four). In that time she had repeatedly surprised Meridina, manifesting her swevyra, showing great promise in her training, great skill in moments of danger…

And she was there for me. On Gersal. Against Goras.

She remembered the waiting room, when her combat testing against Goras was yet to be waged. Lucy kneeling with her, begging her to reconsider, so upset at Meridina's readiness to die. "Don't you know there are people who care about you? People who love you and don't want to lose you?! People who will be hurt if they no longer have you in their lives?!" It had been plainly evident that as much as Meridina's own family counted in that, Lucy had been describing her own feelings.

And now… now Meridina had them too. She knew a life without Lucy would be full of pain.

Meridina found that both frightening and exciting, and she wasn't sure which feeling was the one she should be concerned about.

It's not how it should be, Robert thought glumly, laying on his bed in a fresh set of clothes. "Life has no sense of drama sometimes," he said aloud.

That won him a bewildered look from Zack. "What?" he asked flatly, sitting bare-chested on the other bed in a fresh set of underwear and a blue towel draped over his shoulders. "You just lifted a flying cruise ship with your mind or whatever it is. And then nearly fell off in a raging storm until I caught you. That's pretty Goddamned dramatic."

"Yeah, but once it was over, that's when the storm should have ended," Robert protested. He gestured with his arm toward the window ports behind him. The dark clouds persisted outside and rain still pelted the ports. The ship was even shuddering a little under the onslaught of wind. "The sun should've pierced the clouds or something, casting golden rays…"

"This isn't a movie, Sir Robert," Zack guffawed.

After a moment of silence, both men began to roar with laughter. The real terror and fear of what had transpired on deck melted away, even with the storm still battering the damaged Tri'kep.

"Is that your new nickname for me?" asked Robert.

"Only when you try to play the hero."

"Like how you call Tom 'Teddo' whenever he gets on your nerves?"

Zack smirked at that. "Probably, yeah."

Robert nodded and sat up to face his friend. The grin remained on his face. He let out a light sigh and ran a hand through his wet hair. "Thank you, Zack. You saved my life."

"You're welcome, Rob. It's a shame you can't fly, though."

"I don't think flying is something people with our abilities can do," Robert admitted. "I mean, not like you see in comic books or something. And absorbing the impact of falling is usually not from so high up and in the middle of a storm like this." He looked to the port again. "Brings back memories, doesn't it?"

"6th Grade," Zack confirmed. "We spent how long in that shelter?"

"Four hours. Without any toys or books or games." Robert shook his head. "And without Julia or Susannah to pass the time with."

"We managed it, though," Zack reminded him.


Silence reigned again. Both went into thought. Zack ultimately brought his head back up. "I want to get control of this," he confessed. "You were right about that. I have to stop."

Robert nodded. "It's what I'm here for."

"I thought I could do it alone. I… I didn't want…" Zack shook his head. "Well, you know how I feel, right?"

"You don't want to be carried. You're afraid you'll end up like your Dad. The drunk the entire county seems to know about, that everyone judges or pities."

"I was already pitied. Growing up. Not by you and your family, or at least it didn't feel that way…"

"We did pity you," Robert admitted. "But Mom warned us about it. She knew you and your Mom had to have some pride."

"Your Mom was a smart woman." Zack's eyes glistened with tears. "She and my mom…"

"Yeah. She was devastated when your mom passed. I think she hated your Dad after that. She blamed him for your Mom dying so young."

"I hated him often enough for the same reason," Zack admitted. "I always thought it wasn't fair that he lived and she didn't." While tears flowed Zack shrugged. "Now I'm in his shoes. Inside." He tapped his chest. "I still want it, Rob. I want to control it, I want to stop, but in here there's a part of me that enjoys just shutting down. Drinking until there's nothing in here, nothing that hurts."

"I guess that's always going to be with you," Robert lamented. "Grandpa told me that's how it was with his uncle. The one who survived the Argonne. He lost so many friends, and he was in so much pain from his wounds, he just kept drinking as a way to deal with it. Even when he had to stop, Uncle Henry wanted a drink every day until he died."

"A drunk? In the Dale family?"

To that Robert snorted with laughter. "We weren't as perfect as you thought, Zack. No matter what your Dad may have grumbled."

"I guess so." Zack chuckled at that. "I guess I have to live with this. With the need I mean. The temptation."

"But you can get help with that. I mean, you can do it without giving up your pride. It's not like you don't have a lot to be proud of already. You're a Founder of New Liberty like the rest of us. They'll be naming schools and roads and starships for you one day."

"Not sure I deserve some of that," Zack admitted. "Not just because New Liberty was mostly you and Julia and Beth. I got drunk on patrol, Rob. If I hadn't resigned my commission they'd probably have forced me out anyway."

"Maybe, maybe not. But if we get you cleaned up, I think Maran can work with that." Robert folded his legs under him, as if about to start meditating. "If you get help you can get back to your ship."

"You're more confident than me in that." Zack shook his head. "But it really doesn't matter. I have to do something about this, especially if I'm going to deal with my other feelings. So I guess I'll go find a therapist or something and let Maran know about it."

"The best thing you can do."

"As for my feelings about Julia…" He shrugged. "I've lived for years with them. Nothing'll change either way."


Before the conversation could continue, Robert looked to the ports. A little light was now shining over the horizon. The storm clouds were breaking. "Looks like we made it through. We should be to Ilam Tran in the morning I guess. Even though we're off-course."

"Good. And if I may, Rob?"


"We're going back in a shuttle," Zack insisted. "Do you understand me? A shuttle. Even if I have to hotwire it. Are we clear?"

Robert's "Yes" was followed by laughter.

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 26 April 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The summit meetings are still ongoing, but today the Inner Sphere and Clans have officially expanded the Truce of Tukkayid into a general truce between both sides, encompassing all space held by either. For the first time in years there should be no significant fighting in the Inner Sphere, allowing for forces from both sides to support the offensive against the Earth of S4W8.

The signing of the truce was held back until the day's military strategy meeting ended. Julia attended with several officers. The Khans signed on behalf of the Clan Grand Council, with any Clan defying the truce now facing punishment from the others; similarly Focht, Victor, Ragnar Magnusson, Thomas Marik, and Theodore Kurita signed for the Great Houses, with a similar pledge. The terms were verified as the signatures were given; the Truce of Ark-Royal would replace the Truce of Tukkayid for the duration of hostilities with the Nazi Reich plus one year, after which it would dissolve and the Truce of Tukkayid would again be in force.

"You know, given the wording," Jarod was saying in a low voice, "one could argue the Clans just agreed to add at least a year to the Tukkayid Truce. It was supposed to last fifteen years, after all, but it's effectively been frozen until this truce ends."

"Somehow I don't think the Crusaders would agree," Julia pointed out.

As soon as the truce signing was over, a hand went up. Julia felt somewhat perturbed to see it was Katrina. She was recognized by Mori. "Before we disperse, I would like to say one thing." She turned her attention toward Julia and her colleagues. "My thanks, and the thanks of the Lyran people and indeed all of the worlds of the Federated Commonwealth, go out to the officers of the Alliance vessel Aurora for their efforts in thwarting the assassins who attempted to disrupt this historic occasion. You have saved my life and my brother's life. Our people will not forget your service."

"We humbly accept your thanks, Your Highness," Julia answered formally.

Katrina nodded and sat back down. Victor stood instead. "I too would like to formally thank you. Particularly Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero, who twice put herself in the path of a bullet meant for members of my family." He approached them after receiving a box from Cranston. "For your actions in saving my sister's life and my own, Lieutenant, I present you with the Order of Steiner-Davion." He opened the box, presenting a shield-shaped red medal with a blue-eyed Fox emblazoned on it.

Lucy accepted the box with a small blush on her cheeks. Just a faint one; it was hardly the first time she had been presented with a high honor, as the Senate Order of Merit on the left breast of her dress uniform jacket demonstrated. "Thank you, Your Highness," she replied.

"You are most welcome." Victor's gratitude was evident to all. As was, at least to the senses of Meridina and Lucy, the swell of gratitude from the viewing gallery where the elegantly-attired Omi Kurita was watching with other non-participating VIPs. "In addition to the Order, it is also customary for someone who has saved the life of the sovereign to be declared a knight. Although you are not a citizen of the Commonwealth, I am still extending the distinction to you, Dame Lucilla."

"I am honored," Lucy answered. "Does this involve the full ceremony?"

To that Victor grinned. "If you desire it."

"If it is okay with you, I am satisfied with the announcement, Highness," Lucy answered.

Victor nodded in acceptance, never losing the grin, and returned to his seat. Others in the audience murmured slightly. For some the idea of forgoing a formal knighthood ceremony was ludicrous, but there could be little surprise that someone from another universe would feel differently on the matter.

"This summit's business is concluded," remarked Primus Mori. "We are adjourned."

"Another successful mission," Jarod said to Julia. "At this rate you're going to make Admiral before you hit thirty."

"I'd be satisfied if it's before I hit forty," Julia answered. "As things are, I'm happy with my command right now."

"Ah." Jarod grinned at her. "You know the best part about this being over now?"


"We can make the anniversary again," Jarod pointed out, still grinning.

Julia matched it. He needn't state which anniversary he meant. "I'll have to check with Maran, but yeah. Unless there's something urgent, we'll make the Founding anniversary in plenty of time." A small, sad look appeared on her face. "I hope Rob and Zack make it, at least."

Jarod nodded in agreement. "I do too."

They departed at that point. Julia found herself contemplating the last few days. The motives of a group like the Word of Blake were evident. From what she knew of the ComStar rebels, they abhorred Mori's liberalization of their order, and they were viciously opposed to the Alliance's technology-sharing programs and deals with the Inner Sphere. Breaking up the summit made sense.

But the assassin who tried to shoot Victor. The one who shot Lucy instead. Who was he? Who hired him? It irked Julia that she might never know.

A short time later, Katrina Steiner returned to her suite, frustration and anger burning inside of her. She was met by her advisor Tormano Liao. The latter, the uncle of Sun-Tzu and brother of Candace Liao of the St. Ives Compact, bowed his head in respect. "Princess, you were as majestic as always."

"It was necessary." Katrina took the best seat. "I couldn't allow anyone to say I was ungrateful. Although Victor upstaged me quite well by handing out the Order of Steiner-Davion to the Alliance woman." Damn him, she thought. You had to compound the insult, didn't you Victor? You just had to grind it in my face, the power you wield over me.

"He could hardly allow himself to seem ungrateful to the woman who saved his life," Tormano pointed out. "Although the granting of a knighthood might have gone a little too far, perhaps. Particularly with the ceremony involved turned down."

She didn't deign to indicate her grudging agreement with Tormano. Inwardly she stewed about the failure of her plan. If not for those damned metasensory types, psychics or whatever they were, Victor would be dead and she would be Archon-Princess! That someone else sent an assassin as well made the opportunity all the more appealing, if frightening given the attempt on her life. If the cyborg had gotten away she could have even used it against Victor by ensuring the right people made the right charges over the media.

And yet, despite everything, it was stopped…!

At least the assassin was dead. She didn't have to worry about that loose end.

"I worry about your brother." The voice came from the other occupant of the room. The woman, Benedita Soveral, was clad in the basic duty uniform of the Alliance Stellar Navy, a silver aiguillette on the left side of her uniform jacket marking her a staff officer and burgundy red branch trim denoting command branch, and the single gold square rank tab of a Rear Admiral on both sides of her collar. Her Mediterranean complexion contrasted with Katrina's light skin and the East Asian tone of Tormano.

Soveral's presence with Katrina's staff was one of Katrina's victories over Victor; demanding her own military liaison officer from the Allied Systems. Although Katrina had never imagined she might get such use from that victory...

"Admiral Soveral." Katrina nodded. "Whatever do you mean?"

"He is too close to the mind-readers," Soveral said. "To Robert Dale and now Lucilla Lucero. I cannot help but worry that his will and mind will become… compromised."

"I see." Katrina smiled thinly. "I appreciate your concern for my brother's mental independence. The freedom of the Federated Commonwealth is at stake…" And since I have lost my assassin, perhaps it will be your Admiral Davies who provides me the means to assume my rightful station as ruler of the Commonwealth and First Lord of a reborn Star League.

The man who had called himself John Goddard walked into the empty room aboard the small star vessel. He felt none the worse for wear for his close escape.

His backup, a human woman of dark skin clad in a blue jumpsuit, smiled at him. "Congratulations," she said. "You're dead."

"So the cloned tissues worked." He frowned. "But can that agent keep her mouth shut?"

"She is not a mercenary like yourself, Mister Thayer, or the Kell Hounds she was asked to join," the woman replied. "She knows her duty. And as for you… your new employer was impressed."

"By a failure?" John Goddard a.k.a. Noble Thayer, also once Karl Kole, was frowning. "Prince Victor didn't even get hit."

"That was never our goal. That was Princess Katherine's goal. We simply made use of it in your evaluation, and you succeeded. Congratulations." She grinned wickedly. "I hope you're ready to be rich."

Technically speaking, he was already quite well off for his prior jobs, even accounting for the funds he lost escaping from the Commonwealth. This wasn't for money. "And my employer? Do I finally get to meet them?"

The woman replied by turning and hitting a key. A circle lit up on the floor. "Step in."

The assassin did so. A system scanned him swiftly, after which a holographic figure began to appear in front of him. A Human male, Caucasian, middle-aged at least, in what looked like a metal or plastic chair. Goddard watched his new employer light a cigarette and take a single drag from it.

And that was when he met those eyes, those inhuman blue eyes, and had his first inkling of worry that he was getting in over his head.

"Good day to you, Mister… Goddard, is it now?"

"I have a lot of names," replied the man.

"So you do." The man took another drag from his cigarette. "And your ability to use them to the fullest advantage is one of the reasons I invested time and effort in your evaluation. My organization can use men of your professional ability and skill."

"And you are…?" asked the assassin.

"You can call me the Illusive Man," was the reply. "I oversee Cerberus, an organization dedicated to the cause of Humanity. And I would like to hire you."

Caterina was eating dinner alone in the Lookout. Violeta was on the bridge for an extra watch for the evening, and with all her work in the science labs done there was nothing more to do.

The look on her face undoubtedly served to lure Angel over to her. "How are you?" she asked her sister. "You look sad."

Cat forced a small grin when she faced her sister, but there was no hiding the tears in her eyes. She drew in a breath. "I guess I am."

"What's wrong, Cat?" Angel asked as she sat down, her meal in front of her. "Did you and Vee…"

"She's being reassigned," Cat said. "They're going to make her a full Lieutenant and a navigation officer on another ship. I mean, like Nick is here."

"Oh." Angel nodded. "Okay. I mean, that's good news for her I guess."

"We won't see each other any more. I mean, we'll be on different ships, probably in different universes most of the time… we can't…" Cat sniffled and shrugged. "I mean, I know some people manage it. But what if we can't make it work?"

"Well, maybe you won't." Angel reached over the table and took her sister's hand. "Relationships don't always last. But you'll at least have happy memories."

"Even if it hurts?" Cat blinked back her tears. "Is that how it is with you and Rob?"

"Pretty much," Angel admitted. "Just remember that. Whatever happens, the memories made it worth it. And maybe… well, maybe you'll find someone new."

"I don't know…" Cat shook her head. "I guess. I'll really miss her though. I'm so used to having her sleeping beside me, holding me when I… y'know, when I have bad dreams."

"You still have nightmares?" Angel asked.

"Well, yeah. Some are old. Some aren't. And Vee helps me get over them."

"Good for her. But you know, if she's not here, I always am."

Cat nodded. The smile became genuine. "Yeah, you are. I can't forget that. You're always here for me if I need it."

"What else is a big sister for?" Angel's grin turned mischievous. "Besides punching people who are mean to you?"

"Or goblins who try to stab me in the game," Cat giggled.

At that, Angel laughed.

Days after the storm that nearly crashed the Tri'kep, Robert and Zack stood at the one place Zack never thought he would ever see.

The gravestone dedicated to Clara Davis was not much larger than any of the others in the county cemetery. But it was impressive in the beautiful way it had been carved, the fine finish of the stone, and the sharp, well-crafted engraving. Clara's name was joined by her dates of birth and death, as was standard, and the epitaph "Beloved by all who knew her, may she know peace forever". An angel - clearly contributed by her family for the design - was carved near the upper corner. The other corner bore the firebird insignia of New Caprica.

Both men were wearing their Sunday best, as they would have put it in another life; dress jacket and button-down white shirts with dress ties and black trousers. Robert reached up and patted Zack on the shoulder. "Beth told me about the funeral," he said.

"She was here?"

"Clara was a volunteer of New Liberty, remember? It seemed right." Robert's smile was sad and soft. "President Roslin brought an entourage as well. Admiral Adama, Doctor Cottle, and some of the children she'd tended to in the school. Roslin and Beth announced that their governments are co-founding and co-funding a scholarship program in Clara's name, to send kids from our Earth to medical schools across the Multiverse."

"That's going to cost a lot."

"They've gotten a few donors to help out." Robert watched the tears flow freely down his friend's cheeks. "Clara made a difference out there, just as we did. She became a symbol of how much good people can do if they're just given the chance. Nobody can take that from her, ever."

"That's not what she wanted, Rob." There was a bitterness in Zack's voice. "She… she didn't go out there to be a symbol. She went out there because she thought she could do better… and because she wanted to be closer to me. All… all we were going to do was live a life on New Caprica. I was going to coach the kids in baseball and she… she'd nurse..." Zack stopped. He was sobbing too hard to continue speaking coherently.

"Yeah." Robert nodded. He kept a comforting hand on Zack's shoulder, feeling the sheer grief in his friend's heart, a component of the knot that months later still tortured Zack's very soul. "And I think that's why she's such a symbol now. She wasn't looking for it."

Zack gave no reaction to that. Robert didn't mind.

After taking a minute to get his sobbing under control returning to just the stream of tears flowing from his eyes, Zack reached into his pocket and removed a box of fine red velvet. Robert watched him open it and remove a beautiful ring set with diamonds. Zack kept the ring between his fingers and considered it. A small hollow feeling came over Robert at the realization of just what the ring was made for.

Zack put the ring back in the box and knelt at Clara's grave. "You knew how I felt about Julia," he said, "and you gave me your love anyway. I… I wish you were still here. I wish we could have had the life you wanted. You were… you were the kindest woman I've ever known, and I swear to God I would have been the husband you deserved. I would have given you the love you deserved, no matter what." Zack set the red ring box down at the base of the gravestone. "This is yours, Clara. No matter where my life goes or what happens, I'll always remember you, and you'll always have the love you deserved. Goodbye."

By the end of his final goodbye, Zack's voice was breaking. He stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. His head turned slightly. They were just a few rows from where his parents lay. Robert felt a lump in his throat at the thought that they were also a few rows from where his parents, grandparents, and sister were laid to rest as well.

And Julia's parents. And Leo's. Cat and Angel's parents are over in the Catholic section… The thought of all of the family members he and his friends had resting in this place served as a reminder of what they had all lost and, perhaps, why none of them were ever considering coming back to Kansas.

"Do you know what I want, Rob?" Zack asked quietly.

Robert had a good idea of the answer. He still asked, "What?"

"I want a drink." Zack certainly didn't mean water. "I want to drown the pain in tequila until I stop feeling."

"I know."

"She would be mad at me for feeling this way."

"Julie or Clara?"

"Both." Zack shook his head. "I can't help it though. I… I'll always want a drink, I guess. Maybe sometimes I won't want one too much, but still…"

"I think that's how it goes, sometimes at least. But maybe not for you?"

"I'll believe it when I stop wanting a drink," Zack answered. He sighed. "We probably shouldn't keep Lennier and Druni waiting."

"Right." Robert raised his forearm and activated his omnitool. "Keyeri, we're ready."

The two had time to give the cemetery one last look before the transporter beams pulled them away.

The Keyeri made orbit quickly and was soon on its way to a station-keeping point out past the Lagrange points. In the ship's mess area Druni was eating her favored seemai snacks when Robert and Zack entered. "We will drop you off on New Liberty, then?" she asked.

"Yes," Robert said. He looked to Zack, who nodded back. "There are people there who can help him."

"I will let Lennier know to set a course, but first…" Druni set her snacks down. "While you were down there, we received a communication for you."

"Oh?" Robert's brow furrowed. "From Beth?"

"No." Druni gave him an intent look. "It was from the President of the Allied Systems. Looking to speak to you."

That prompted Zack to look at Robert too. Robert blinked. "Did he say what he wanted?"

"He would not discuss it with me, only that he needed you in Portland immediately for a meeting of great importance."

Robert sighed at that. Technically he was on extended leave until considered recovered from his coma, but if Morgan was calling, he could expect that leave to be effectively rescinded. "I suppose you'd better get a jump to L2M1 instead, then."

"I will let Lennier know." Druni stood and left the mess.

"Do you think they're giving you a new ship?" Zack asked.

"From what Maran told me? No." Robert shook his head. "Too many admirals don't want me in the command chair given my history of 'leaving my post', as they put it. And frankly, I'm fine with that. With my abilities, and what I know… I think I'm supposed to stay out of command from now on."

Zack nodded. "I guess I can see that. But if it's not a command…"

"...then what is it?" Robert finished for him. He grinned. "I guess I'll find out soon enough."

Just a few hours later, Robert was in his formal Stellar Navy duty uniform for the first time in months. Whatever the admirals who hated him felt, his rank insignia showed he was still a Captain, and it did get him nods and respectful glances as he went through the Executive Mansion in Portland. His destination, as it turned out, was a conference room, one of many.

And he wasn't the first to arrive.

The first person he saw was Admiral Maran, sitting in a chair at the end of the table looking over reports. Maran noticed him and silently nodded. Robert knew they weren't going to speak yet. That would come later. So he looked over the others present.

The first face he found in this search was a familiar one, and the person in question was already approaching him to talk. "Hey, so they did call you in for this." A smile crossed the man's face. "How have you been, Rob?"

"Getting along, Buck," Robert replied.

Buck Rogers, the time-displaced astronaut and pilot from Universe N2C5, let the smile grow while offering his hand. Robert shook it. Buck was in uniform as well, the brilliant white uniform of the Earth Directorate from his home universe. "It's good to see you again."

"Same here. How have you been doing?"

"Oh, the usual," Buck said. "Earth - my Earth - is officially part of the Alliance now, so things have quieted down a little. The Draconians are staying away for the moment."

"Hopefully it'll stay that way," remarked Robert. "The others?"

"Fine as always. Wilma's off at the front, actually, commanding our expeditionary wing flying with your fleet against the Nazi Reich. Doctor Theopolis and Twiki are still working with Doctor Huer." Buck grinned. "There's a rumor that Doctor Theopolis might get named to the Alliance Senate, along with Huer."

Robert blinked. "Really? That would be… well, history-making, certainly."

"That's right. Oh." Buck gestured to his right. "Got another mutual friend here to show you."

The man Buck led him to was in the corner. Robert recognized him immediately. "Commander Kane?"

"Major Kane now, Captain," replied Carter Kane, the former Marine troops commander of the Aurora. He was in the proper olive-colored formal uniform of the Alliance Marines. Several medals, including an Alliance Star of Valor, were visible on his uniform.

"I heard about what happened," Robert said. "They managed to grow you new arms?"

Kane smiled slightly and shook his head. "No. It would've left me off-duty for months, I wasn't sitting the war out that long." He held up his right arm. With a faint metallic whine Kane's hand folded outward, revealing the metal structure beneath the authentic-looking pseudoskin… and a weapon barrel built into the arm. "Combat prosthetics," he said. "And compatible with battle armor. I was waiting for Command to get me a unit when I got the call to see the President."

"Any idea of what's going on?" Robert asked them.

"Not a clue," said Buck. "But with all of us, there's no telling what they have in mind."

At that point the far door opened. Everyone turned and watched President Morgan walk in. Tall, well-dressed, with fine dark skin from his distant African ancestors, the President of the Allied Systems gave them all an intent look. Behind him was the President of the Senate, Senator Sriroj Thiang, a Thai woman that Robert could remember from as far back as the initial negotiations to found the Alliance. "Everyone, please be seated," he said aloud.

One by one everyone found seats at the table. Robert ended up sitting beside Kane and a purple-skinned, blue-spotted Dorei man. Glancing around the table he made out several more people of all four species of the Alliance. Some were in Alliance military uniform, a couple in member service uniforms, and others had on fine civilian suits. He noticed the red robes of a Temple Knight of the Gersallian Order of Swenya on one attendee, and the blue robes of a field knight in the same order on another. A set of purple robes that resembled a Japanese kimono were on a Dorei woman of dark teal complexion and purple spots and hair matching the color of the robes, presumably marking her as a member of one of the Dorei religious orders with the same powers he had.

"Greetings." Morgan took a seat at the head of the table. Maran was to one side of him, and Senator Sriroj on the other. Beside Maran sat General Hatcher - the head of military intelligence - and across from him was the Speaker of the Alliance Council, a brown-feathered, gray-complexioned Alakin named Freepk. "I'm sure you're all wondering why you've been called." A few murmurs of agreement came from the assembled. "Each of you represent the finest in the organizations you have trained in. At one time or another you have faced high odds against you and managed to win anyway. And ultimately, you have all shown that you possess strong senses of right and wrong and a good character. That is why I have called you today."

"When we formed the Alliance, it was with the noblest intentions," Morgan continued. "It was to be the foundation for a new interstellar, Multiversal order, where species and star systems would attain peace by mutual cooperation and security. But it's clear we have a long way to go to build that Multiverse. There are threats to us, to the way we want to do things, and they have to be met. We are already at war with one due to the machinations of another, a group that we can count on to continue to bedevil us even with our new defenses against further infiltration."

"Even some of our allies for the moment may not remain so," he continued. "While others have also looked to cooperation for interstellar security, they are not above using sabotage and espionage, even assassination, to deal with those they consider threats to their interests. They may even resort to military force if they deem it worthwhile."

"It would be nice if we could ignore such means ourselves. But it won't do us or our ideals any good if we are defeated by foes we have no defense against."

Robert frowned. What was Morgan doing? A chill came to him as he thought of what the Alliance President might be building up to, of the things he and Maran had already done in the name of protecting the Alliance. His mind flashed back to the Changeling taken prisoner in the Senate attack, turned over to be a guinea pig for Sidney Hank's researchers.

Morgan placed his hands on the table. "But neither can we embrace these methods without some kind of check on them. That is why I have brought Senate President Sriroj and Speaker Freepk to meet you as well. They will be taking a role in what we are forming here today and ensure that we keep an accounting of ourselves in this work. There will be as much transparency as we can manage."

"Transparency on what, Mister President?" asked Kane. He was frowning as well.

"On you, Major, and what I ask you to do in the name of our Alliance," Morgan answered. He looked over them. "You have all heard of the Spectres?"

"Do you mean the special operatives employed by the Citadel Council against perceived threats, sir?" asked an Alakin in the uniform of the Alakin Union Defense Force.

"Yes. Those Spectres are fully supported by the Council. They provide for them and protect them. And in return the Spectres do whatever they feel they need to in order to enforce the laws and decisions of the Council, regardless of the costs." Morgan shook his head. "Such agents can be useful, yes. Having Spectres may have helped prevent last year's Senate attack, for instance. And with the consideration and support of the Council and Senate, the Alliance will field such agents as well."

By now Robert realized what Morgan was doing. He waited for him to finish.

"The Citadel has its Spectres." Morgan's voice grew firm. "I want something more. I want beings who can do this job without giving up on what we stand for, beings who will act with a code of ethics, a morality, beyond simple expediency and brutal pragmatism, and capable of accepting the need for oversight of their actions." His eyes met each of the attending in turn, including Robert. He could sense Morgan's resolve. His need to honor the morals and ethics he held in his heart and to have those who would do the same. "So I ask you, heroes and soldiers of the Alliance, to accept my invitation to become our Alliance's answer to the Citadel's Spectres. I ask you to become Paladins."
"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 Jun 11, 2018 12:55 pm


After Morgan spoke, a quarter of those invited refused for a variety of reasons Robert sensed. The others remained for the full session, including Kane and Buck. The powers and responsibilities of a Paladin were made clear, and Robert appreciated the effort that had gone into balancing the needs of such operations with the ideals of the Alliance.

When it was over, with all questions asked and answered, everyone began to leave. Morgan lingered with Maran long enough for Robert and Kane to approach. Robert let Kane go first. "I get what you're trying to do here, Mister President," Kane said. "But I don't like it. I don't like the idea of any government sending out agents with this much power."

"I understand your concerns, Major," Morgan said. "That's why I need someone like you to take up the mantle."

Kane considered Morgan for a moment before nodding in understanding. A small smile came over his face. "Right. I accept, Mister President." He accepted Morgan's hand and shook it.

It was Robert's turn, not just for a handshake, but for the question during it. "What about a base of operations? Your briefing stated we could pick our own. Are there any limitations to it?"

"I would prefer it if you picked something outside of the capital." Morgan grinned at him. "For now, having Paladins actively operating out of Portland might send the wrong message. But as long as you're in communication and capable of going where you're needed, feel free to pick anywhere in the Alliance."

Robert nodded. He matched Morgan's grin. Neither man, nor Maran, needed to say just what Robert had in mind.

"Well, Mister President, I'll be waiting for your call," Robert said. "But if you don't mind, I need to go catch my ship."

Morgan nodded in understanding. "Of course you do. Give my best to Governor Rankin, and thank her for the port. It's proving popular at my state functions."

"I'll pass that on."

With the aid of an Alliance vessel in orbit over L2M1 Earth, the Keyeri made the jump straight for New Liberty. Robert made sure to be in the cockpit.

After all of these months away, it warmed his heart to see the Starship Aurora in her quiet orbit.

"Thank you for my time here," he said to Druni and Lennier while they directed their ship toward the spaceport. "I've enjoyed traveling with you."

"I may miss you after all," Druni said to him. She gave him a smile. "Good luck with your new job, Paladin."

"It was an honor to have you," Lennier agreed. "I wish you the best on your new path. And on yours, Commander Carrey." Lennier turned and nodded to Zack, who was seated and waiting.

"Thanks," Zack answered.

The two friends carried their bags off of the Keyeri and into the private terminal of the New Liberty Spaceport. Outside Lennier and Druni would already be preparing their launch checks and requests. "Ever think they'll settle down?" Zack asked Robert.

"I don't know. I hope they're around long enough to have the option," Robert replied.

"And what about you, Paladin of the Alliance?" Zack asked.

"We'll have to see," Robert said.

"Rob?! Zack?!"

The surprised shout drew their attention. They found Julia, Jarod, Cat, and Cat's girlfriend Violeta at the next terminal. Outside a ship of gold and brown colors, one Robert didn't recognize, was settling in to dock. Without prelude Robert and Zack gave them each a hug, save for Violeta who accepted handshakes instead. "You made it for the anniversary!" Julia's smile was heartfelt. "It's so good to see you both!"

"It's good to see you." Robert grinned at them all.

"So, the powers thing?" This was from Cat. "Are you still knocking things over or…?"

"That's under control at least," Robert said.

"It's not the only thing under control," Zack added. Seeing their looks, he nodded. "I… I'm going to get counseling," he said. "If only because Rob sorta sucks at it."

That won him a droll look from Robert and an amused giggle from Cat.

"I can talk to Sydney for you," Jarod offered. "He knows all of the psychiatrists and counselors on the planet."

"I'll take you up on that, Jarod," Zack said.

"So you don't want to drink anymore…?" Cat asked. "That's good news."

"No, Cat." Zack shook his head, resulting in her giving him a bewildered look. "I want to drink. I want it. That's why I need the counseling. And when I'm not getting counseled, I figure I'll look into helping out with whatever Little League they've got here. Maybe even take a trip to New New Caprica or whatever they're calling it and see my kids playing there. They never got to throw me that tournament."

"Sounds like a good idea," Robert said to him.

Julia nodded. "Agreed."

Zack smiled at them both. "So, how did you know we were arriving?" he asked. "I didn't even know until barely thirty minutes ago."

Bemused looks crossed their faces, prompting Robert and Zack to show some confusion. "We didn't know," Jarod said. "We're not actually here for you, as bad as that sounds."

"Oh?" Robert blinked. "So who are you here for?"


Julia's answer prompted them to look at the gate for the new arrival. A short humanoid alien walked through it, wearing an Alliance Stellar Navy uniform with operations beige as the trim. A duffel bag was slung over her shoulder and another bag on her back. She was red-haired and Robert thought she looked distinctly feline, with some dun-coloured fur on her skin, but was clearly not Caitian or Rr'timm and, with the fur, definitely not Miqo'te.

Zack blinked in surprise. "Wait… her? That's… that's actually a Dilgar."

"Yep," Cat said.

"You just made contact with them last month," Robert said.

"We did," Julia replied. "And now the first officer they sent through the exchange program is here to join our crew."

The Dilgar woman walked up with enthusiasm showing in her body and her being. The moment she was in front of them her spine stiffened, ram-rod straight, and she directed her eyes at Julia. "Captain Andreys, Lieutenant Tra'dur reporting to your command."

"Welcome, Lieutenant."

"How was training?" Cat asked.

"It was exciting and taxing and quite well, all things told," Tra'dur said. "I am the first of what I hope are many Dilgar to wear the uniform of the Allied Systems."

"You look good in it," Violeta offered. Robert noticed that she and Cat were holding hands rather tightly, as if they might be pulled apart. It wasn't hard to tell there was something going on there.

"This is Lieutenant Tra'dur, formerly Combat Master Tra'dur of the Union of Tira and Rohric's military," Julia said to introduce her newest officer. "She is Warmaster Shai'jhur's daughter and served as the Dilgar liaison officer on the Aurora during the Tira Crisis. Lieutenant, this is Captain Robert Dale, my predecessor as Captain of the Aurora, and Commander Zachary Carrey…" Julia breathed in and gave Zack a sad look. "...former commander of the Koenig. We're all old friends."

Tra'dur acknowledged them with a formal nod. "Captain, Commander, it is my pleasure to meet you both."

Zack nodded quietly. "So Maran finally put someone else in? Apley?"

"No, not yet. Apley's still XO," replied Julia. "They sent a transfer officer from Adama's command. William Atreiad."

"Mark Atreiad's uncle?" Zack grinned wistfully. Robert sensed the pain in his friend at the confirmation that his ship had been handed over to another commander. "Well, at least he's the relative of a good pitcher."

"I guess." Julia's worry for him was obvious.

"Give him my best." Zack smiled at them all. "Well, I'd better get going, I need to arrange a place to stay and get my stuff put up. Maybe Gabe's got a spare bedroom."

"I'm sure Beth can get you a room in her home," Robert said.

"I might take her up on that, but either way, I need to go." Zack nodded at him. "It's good seeing you all again. You be careful out there."


"Julia, it's fine," he insisted. "I… I have a lot to deal with. Including finding ways to keep saying no to the drink I really, really want. But I'll do it. I need to keep my life going and I can't until I get some help, alright?" He set his bags down and embraced her. "Watch out for Rob for me."

"Yeah… I will."

Zack picked up his bags again. "Cat, you and Vee are adorable, and you take care of yourself and your big sis too. Tell her I'll remember her next time I take a hit to the ribs! Adios, compadres!"

The assembled watched him walk on until he merged with the crowd at the terminal exit.

"Will he be okay?" Cat asked Robert. "He seems… better? A little?"

"He's still in a lot of pain," Robert said. "But… let's just say he got some things worked out." He rubbed at his face subconsciously, as if trying to remove any further bruising from Zack's punch to his face.

"I hope so." Julia turned and faced Robert. "And what's this about me watching out for you?"

"Oh. Right." Robert grinned at her and activated his newly-issued (newly re-issued, that is) Stellar Navy omnitool. It felt natural to have the light interface as blue again. With a key press he transmitted the order from Maran and President Morgan. "I need a base of operations. Somewhere fairly secure, mobile, with access to secure communications to Admiral Maran and President Morgan…"

Julia read the text in front of her. Her brow furrowed. "'Paladin'? What…" She kept reading. "You've got to be kidding."

"I'm not," Robert assured her.

"But… you're basically…"

"Just because I can't command a ship anymore doesn't mean I can't help protect the Alliance," Robert said. There was something amusing with the look on Julia's face. "And this isn't me trying to…" He stopped. He didn't want to put it that way, he knew Julia wouldn't think that way… mostly. "I want to be back on the Aurora, Julie. I want to come home."

"Well, the orders are pretty clear." A small smile came to her face. "A Paladin. Well, I guess we know who Morgan had in mind when he came up with that title. That fits you to a T, Mister White Knight."

Robert sighed at that. "Not you too."

"Let's head back, Sir Robert," Julia teased. She started to walk toward the terminal exit. "We'll get you quarters so you can get your white armor polished."

"You're taking this too far now…" Robert began, following her.

"It fits so well though!" Cat insisted, following. "Now we just need to get you a shield and a sword…"

Violeta was giggling as she followed Cat in turn, leading a confused Tra'dur with Jarod. He gave his new subordinate a wink. "You'll get used to it," he assured the Dilgar woman.

"I… see."

Tra'dur fell in with Jarod while, ahead of them, Julia continued. "I don't know where we'll put your noble steed…"


Everything was dark. That told Cat something was wrong. It shouldn't be this dark. The ship should have more light.

She slipped out of bed, still in pajamas. Violeta was gone, as was her uniform. Why? She wasn't supposed to be on duty yet…

Cat walked out into the dark corridors of the Aurora. Her omnitool cast eerie blue light over the empty halls. "What's going on?" she asked herself. She tapped at the holobelt.


The voice was firm. It grew stronger as she approached a turbolift. It opened and she stepped through the door…

...and onto the bridge.

Everyone was dead.

Not just dead. Decayed. Withered. As if they'd been dead for a long time. She looked around at the dead displays, the dead lights, making the familiar place where she worked every day into a tomb. Horror built as she walked over to where her sister's corpse was sprawled against her dead console. Locarno was sprawled on the floor behind navigation. Jarod was half out of his chair, held only in place by his safety harness. His eyes, usually brimming with friendliness and intelligence, were dull and empty.

In the central chair, Julia was slumped backward, almost as if she'd fallen asleep. But her skin was gray and dry.

"It's only a dream," Cat murmured to herself. "Just a… a dream…" She approached her own console. She'd expected to find someone else there, but the expectation was wrong. She stared into her own lifeless hazel eyes. "It's just a dream," she repeated. "A dream." She backed up, one step at a time.

When she backed into someone she shrieked in surprise and turned. "What…?" Confusion joined fear. "What are you doing…"

The shadowed figure before her grabbed her head, and pain entered her head. She backed away, trying to escape, but she couldn't get his hands off her face. The pain intensified. She felt like she was falling into a darkness inside. Everything she'd faced… all of it was being consumed. "Please stop!" she begged.

A garbled reply came. She couldn't make it out.

The darkness in her mind opened, and Cat fell in, screaming.

When the darkness receded, she was in her quarters. In her bed. Her pajamas were damp with sweat. She sat up and looked around, wide-eyed, re-assuring herself…

"Cat." Violeta sat up beside her, groggy, tired, and concerned. "Another nightmare?"

"Uh huh," was all Cat managed.

"The same one?"

Cat swallowed and nodded. "Uh huh," she repeated.

Violeta embraced her. "Shh… it's okay. We're here. Nothing's happened."

It took a few more whispers from Violeta, but Cat finally laid back down, now cuddled in the arms of her girlfriend. And slowly, grudgingly, she fell back asleep.
"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 » Wed Jun 13, 2018 12:28 am

I am so glad Zack punched Rob :P

And Zack is really a compelling character. OK, Rob's character development helped make these moments with Zack even more effective. So, okay, that means I can accept Rob. Hopefully that he's now a Secret Agent with Julie as the commander of Aurora, it'll make for an awesome dynamic.

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

Post by Steve » Wed Jun 13, 2018 3:18 am

I suspected you'd enjoy the ZACK PAWNCH scene. :P
"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 » Fri Jun 15, 2018 5:00 pm


Beams and pulses of varying color filled the open void of space, creating flickers of light or plumes of flame and wreckage in their wake. Such was the visual sight of combat between starships of this level of technical sophistication and capability.

One such ship engaged was the Starship Koenig, even now twisting her way around the wreckage of one enemy to refocus her firepower upon another. A vessel of unique design - similar to the Defiant-class of the United Federation of Planets' Starfleet, itself the basis for the United Alliance of Systems' Trigger-class - the Koenig was made for this work, a dedicated combat vessel that sacrificed comfort, versatility, and cruising range for sheer firepower in as small a hull frame as could be managed.

Her foe was a Z-2500 destroyer starship of the Greater German Reich of Universe S4W8; known colloquially to the rest of the Multiverse as the Nazi German Reich. To the denizens of the Multiverse (and even others in S4W8) the very existence of this nation was a horror, an aberration, virtually a mockery of everything they held sacred. The Reich felt much the same way, leavened with their pride in their uniqueness and the sense that it made them special, and with their fear, indeed terror, in a Multiverse that now sought to eliminate them as well.

The Reich destroyer tried to evade. But it was itself committed to an attack run that its crew would not break off lightly. Even as the amber pulses of the Koenig's powerful pulse phaser cannon battery blew away the Z-2500's rear shields and battered away at her engines and hull, the destroyer finished the work of preparing her own weapons. Torpedoes raced from the launcher built into her bow seconds before the anti-matter that fueled her delicately-maintained reactors was freed by enemy weapons fire. The ship and her crew of a hundred men disappeared in a burst of light and energy.

Their torpedoes continued on, until intercepted by blue-white pulses and ultimately the flickering blue shields of the target of the doomed ship: the Starship Aurora.

The kilometer long ship was big, but the rapier-sharp lines and smooth, sleek shape of her hull gave her a feel of being far more agile than her size and mass suggested. Indeed, while certainly not as nimble as the Koenig, the Aurora was surprisingly agile. Under the expert helmsmanship of her navigation and piloting officer, Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Locarno, and guided by her captain Julia Andreys, the Aurora was even now dodging fire from the looming shape of a Nazi dreadnought, one of the dreaded Aryan-class. Thick, powerful super-disruptor beams lashed out at her. Only one of three actually stuck the ship.

On the bridge Julia felt her ship shudder regardless. At Operations Jarod didn't even turn his head. "Shields still holding at fifty percent."

"Maintain evasive maneuvers and continue fire on the dreadnought," she said in response. Julia's eyes ventured over to the tactical holotank, which was being utilized by Meridina as well in the Gersallian woman's function as First Officer of the ship. The markers there showed the Alliance combat group with the Aurora. Multiple Dorei starbirds, an Alakin warbird, three cruisers from the Federated Stars of Universe L2M1, a carrier battle group from the Kingdom of Avalon from S0T5, and new Alliance-model ships led by her own vessel and the Igasana-class heavy cruiser ASV Rotama. The Discovery-class ships Gagarin, Kitana, and Challenger were also present. Although as star cruisers they did not have the dedicated combat capability of the Rotama and other ships like her, they were still quite capable of combat and demonstrating that capability admirably.

Against the Nazi combat fleet the Alliance ships were facing even this force would have been woefully insufficient. But this was an allied fleet, with contributions from the other ships in the coalition assembled to fight the Reich. Ships from the Slavic Union, the Kerbals, the Dre'kari Community, and the Gl'mulli Directorate were present, as were a number of refitted combat-capable ships of the Federated Commonwealth, Free Worlds League, and Draconis Combine. A squadron of starships from individual clans and tribes of the United Clans of Ys'talla were a new addition, from those pro-Alliance Miqo'te tribes and clans exercising their rights to commit to the Alliance's efforts without requiring their planetary government to join in. Altogether, that gave this combat force equality with the Reich ships they were fighting.

Which was the point of it all, even if Julia wished she had more as the Aurora barely evaded another super-disruptor shot. Her plasma beams played sapphire energy over the flickering red shields of the Reich dreadnought to no effect. They needed more firepower to break its shields.

"What's our countdown?" Julia asked Jarod.

"Ninety seconds until mark," he answered.

She smiled confidently. It wouldn't be long now...

Deeper in the Aurora, over a dozen decks below the bridge and a few dozen meters astern, the Aurora's security office was on standby. From here Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond and Major Gabriel Anders, the chief of security and Marine Commander of Troops respectively, would work to protect the ship from boarding parties or prepare their own.

The two had their assistants with them, as was normal, but they were joined by another. Robert Dale, still officially a Captain in the Stellar Navy, was not in the same action uniform or combat armor as the other two. His own armor, colored blue, was based on the field armor worn by the Gersallian Order of Swenya's field knights. A pulse pistol was holstered on his hip, making him appear poorly-armed compared to the others until one considered he could bat them around the room with a few moments of effort and a matching will. The hard part for him, in fact, would be restraining the power he was using, not simply using it.

Despite his superior rank, however, Robert was not their superior in operation. He had nothing to do with the ship's functioning now, a fact that left him nowhere to go during a combat alert. Working with security simply seemed the best choice for his actual job description: one of the new Paladins, operatives under the command of the Alliance President invested with great authority on missions given by the same.

Had Meridina and Carter Kane, the predecessors of Richmond and Anders, been the ones present, Robert might have at least been in the company of people who knew him more closely. But Anders had never served with him before and Richmond had barely known him. The two seemed determined to focus on their jobs and leave him to his thoughts.

I feel like I should be on the bridge, he mused to himself. It couldn't be helped. Two years of commanding the Aurora made him want to be there. It was ironic given his actions in the past, and why so many admirals thought him unsuited for starship command.

"You get used to it," Richmond said, her Australian accent very refined, to the point it sounded almost like an English accent. Her green eyes met his, on a face of light, almost literally white skin - as white as the Human complexion spectrum permitted, virtually - framed by black hair. "Although I'm sure it's quite a change for you, Captain."

"It is," he admitted.

"Given your tendency to go out into the field instead of staying on the bridge, that's surprising," she pointed out.

To that he chuckled and grinned. "The thought crossed my mind too. God's sense of humor, I suppose."

"And we, the audience, are yet afraid to laugh."

"That's how the saying goes."

And again everyone went silent, waiting for a call from the bridge that might never come.

The ship shook again, bringing the shields further down. But Jarod had another fact to report first, as he finished his ten second countdown. "...three...two...one. Mark."

From the ship's science/sensor station, Caterina Delgado looked up. Her chair seemed larger, if only because her frame was the smallest on the bridge. "Subspace spikes! We have ships jumping in! It's the rest of the fleet!"

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Julia said. She noted with pleasure the arrival of the incoming ships. Markers for them also indicated their identities. The ComStar cruiser Avenging Sword led several lighter ComStar ships, reflecting that organization's first foray into the war. The Clan fleet contingent included a number of cruisers and destroyers of their fleets led by the Snow Raven cruisers Storm Cloud and Avalanche. By far the biggest contingent were ships from the Aururian Imperial Federation of A2M6 that included, much to Julia's delight, the battlecruiser Maya-Mayi under Margrethe von Lohringhoven, her opposite number during the crisis over the Oakland Colony of Phi Perseus.

The command of the force came from the two ships at the center of it, vessels larger than the Aurora that were even now launching their wings of starfighters and larger gunboat vessels: the Battlestars Galactica and Pegasus, sole surviving warships of the Colonies of Kobol.

"First Group, continue engagement," said the voice of Admiral William Adama of the Colonial Navy, speaking from his flagship Galactica. "Second Group, commence attack, priority targets are enemy dreadnought and supporting ships."

The jump-capable allied ships moved into engagement range immediately. Naval PPCs and lasers, phasers, and other weapon types opened up on the Reich force that now found itself outnumbered and facing an attack on a second vector. The enemy ships' formation soon began to disintegrate at the renewed attack.

For her part, the Aurora continued engaging the enemy dreadnought as best as she could, with the assistance of the Challenger. As the two ships poured their plasma beams into the flickering ruby light of the Aryan-class ship's shields, Kerbal bombers raced in at their typical breakneck acceleration, supported by fighters from the Avalonian carrier and, now, by Vipers from the Pegasus. The enemy fighter screens were fully engaged with the Alliance Mongoose starfighters from the Aurora and her Discovery-class cousins; what little remained were swept away by the Avalonian and Colonial fighters. The Kerbal bombers hit hard, focusing on the dreadnought's escorting ships. A Sedan-class cruiser faltered, its disruptors blazing away at the Kitana until the enemy ship succumbed to the attack from the Alliance cruiser.

Behind the Kerbals, Colonial Raptors and the various aerospace fighters of the Clans and ComGuards began their attack runs, shielded by more Vipers and a contingent of Aururian fighters.

With the dreadnought's escorts falling away due to the attack, the Aurora could focus more fire on the big ship. Locarno brought them about and Angel Delgado, Caterina's sister, opened up with the ten bow-facing particle pulse cannons built into the Aurora. Thick sapphire pulses battered away at the enemy shields. From "above", the Maya-Mayi moved in and engaged with her own cannons. Solid lances of gravitons from the weapons built into her bow struck the enemy dreadnought, bypassing its faltering shields entirely and subjecting the Nazi ship to vicious structural stresses that would easily damage internal systems over even a short exposure period. With the Reich ship faltering the Aurora's torpedo launchers opened up, sending the blue-white sparks of solar torpedoes into the ship's hull. They continued the attack run...

Hours later the mood in the Lookout, the Aurora's crew lounge built into the bow of the ship, was one of merriment and excitement. The victory celebration was ongoing to allow the entire crew, all two thousand of them, a chance to attend at some point between watches or shifts. The view outside the window showed the garden world that, appropriately enough, was New Liberty in their home universe. In this universe it was the site of one the early Nazi colonies, New Prussia, which had fallen to an invasion by Alliance and Aururian troops. The orbiting starbase was busily being repaired from Nazi sabotage to serve as an Alliance fleetbase, while in the interim yardships were helping with repairs to the damaged ships.

The Aurora was one of the luckier ships from the battle, with minor physical damage to her systems that wasn't tying down the crew from celebrating the victory and enjoying themselves. The celebration was taking on the air of a victory feast, much like the one undoubtedly being celebrated by the Avalonians. The Lookout's devoted host, Hargert, had an ongoing buffet of foods that the crew most loved, and given the versatility and skill of the old German cook, there was a diversity of choices to be had.

Another victory cake was being brought out when Julia entered the Lookout. Robert watched her enter from the bar with Barnes, Leo, and Angel. All of them kept quiet for the moment while Julia got her share of the dinner. Once this was done she murmured something at Hargert. Moments later a tone sounded over the speakers of the ship's comm system. "Attention, everyone," Julia said, her voice loud and clear here and, Robert suspected, across the ship. "The celebration we're throwing right now isn't just for one battle. We just received the official word. Admiral Maran and his fleet have beaten the main Nazi fleet at Epsilon Indi! The operation is a complete success!"

The Lookout erupted in applause.

"Command's estimating that the enemy's lost over a thousand ships in the operation," Julia continued. "All Nazi fleets around Earth have been routed. The Alliance and our allies are clear to begin the liberation of Earth itself from the Reich!"

The applause erupted again, even more loudly.

"You've all done well!" Julia continued. "And I'm proud of this entire crew. With your efforts and those of the other ships in our fleet and our allies' fleets, the war should soon be over, and we're going to win! I expect everyone to get their share of the victory meal. And I hope it's only the appetizer for the big victory we'll throw when the Reich surrenders!"

The loudest applause yet came, joined by cheering and hooting and other sounds. When it was over everyone settled back into what they were doing.

Robert kept watching Julia for the moment. For all of the awkwardness Robert felt sometimes while he was Captain, Julia clearly fitted the role like a glove. She was, indeed, in her element as a Captain.

"So, what were you doing during the battle?" Tom Barnes asked.

"Huh? Oh." Robert turned to face him. "I was in the security office with Commander Richmond and Major Anders."

"Why'd you pick them?" Angel asked.

Robert shrugged. "I figured I had to be somewhere to contribute. Helping with boarding actions seemed the best bet."

"That must've been new for you," Barnes said. "I mean, not being on the bridge while we were in the thick of it."

Robert nodded in admission. "Yeah, it was. It'll take some getting used to, I think."

"Now you know how I always feel," Leo remarked jovially.

"Just what will you be doing now that you're back?" Barnes considered his glass while asking. A bit of amber fluid - beer, Robert figured - swirled inside. "I mean, you obviously won't be doing Paladin stuff all of the time. It's going to be weird being around and not having anything to do…"

Before Robert could answer, there was a tone over the comms. This time the voice was Meridina. "Captain, we're picking up a distress call on all Alliance bands on the IU radio."

The look on Julia's face was concerned. She looked to the other command officers and Robert, who all approached her as she asked, "Where is it coming from?"

"Universe M4P2. The Dorei colony on Adrana."

"The Batarians?" Jarod suggested.

"No." Meridina had evidently heard them. "According to the distress call, they are being attacked by the Geth."

The assembled officers exchanged puzzled looks at the response. The Geth were barely known in the Alliance; a species of intelligent AI programs created by the Quarians and still occupying that species' homeworld of Rannoch, beyond the Perseus Veil at the far corner of the M4P2 galaxy. They were supposed to be a reclusive race that never interacted with the rest of their copy of the Milky Way. The idea of the Geth launching such a bold attack was shocking. "Meridina, are there any ships that can respond before us, given where we are?"

"Unfortunately not, Captain. Alliance and Systems Alliance patrols in M4P2 are out of position, and much of the fleet is assigned to the follow-up operations against the Reich. Ops has confirmed we could make it in two interuniversal jumps to Adrana, if we hurry."

"Meridina, commence the jumps immediately. Put us on combat alert, Code Red." With that, she left the Lookout with the senior officers.

Most of the crew followed as the electronic klaxons began to blare.

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Distant Thunder"

The spatial aspect of their last jump kept the Aurora from arriving in the Adrana System, but she was close enough that it wasn't more then ten minutes before the ship, her warp drives pushed to their immense capability, dropped from warp speed near the planet. Adrana was a garden planet settled in the first wave of Alliance colonies in M4P2, most of which were settled by Dorei colonists as part of the fair division of new extrauniversal colonies among Alliance member states.

As the planet loomed on the holo-viewscreen, Julia found herself considering the sad coincidence of their visits; the last time they'd come coincided with the beginning of Batarian attacks on Alliance colonies with the slaver raid on Yamalia. Now Adrana herself had been hit by an attack.

"I'm picking up three vessels in orbit," Caterina said. "Drive signatures are eezo-based, but the output… I've never seen an eezo power system with this capacity before." After a moment Caterina added, "I'm also detecting smaller craft coming from the surface. Landing craft, I think."

"Time to weapons range?" Julia asked.

"I'm already getting locks on them," Angel said. "But our approach vector puts Adrana behind them. Any misses could hit the planet."

"Right. Mister Locarno?"

"Adjusting course now, giving tactical a clear field of fire," Locarno said.

"While you do that, Jarod, put me on." She waited for Jarod to nod. "Attention Geth vessels, this is Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. You have committed an act of aggression against the Alliance. I insist you surrender immediately or we will open fire."

Seconds passed with no reply. "It does not appear they are concerned," said Meridina.

"Lieutenant Delgado, you are clear to fire when ready. Commander, signal the Koenig, commence combat launch."

It took another ten seconds for Locarno's course change to clear Adrana from the field of fire. During this time, the dock built into the rear of the primary hull section opened up. The Koenig backed out of her berth and triggered her own drives, twisting relative to the Aurora so she could make her own course toward the Geth ships.

As the Aurora was still pointed "upward" compared to the perspective of the Geth and the planet, the initial fire was with the ventral-facing plasma banks. Repeated beams of sapphire energy crossed space and sliced into the Geth ships. Their particle barriers were not meant for reflecting energy weapons of this type so the power of the shots primarily acted against the bare hull. The wounds carved into the Geth ships did not spew atmosphere like another ship might, although there was still debris and flame from the impacts.

The Koenig accelerated to combat thrust and opened fire as well, her pulse phasers adding to the damage inflicted on the Geth ships.

The Geth ships seemed more interested in evading than attacking, although for the latter it was soon clear they were pursuing a different approach. "They're launching fighters," said Cat.

"Alpha and Delta Squadrons are launching," Meridina said. "Echo and Fox are on standby to join them."

With their fighters moving to intercept their Geth counterparts Julia was free to observe the effect of their fire on the Geth ships. The first ship was taking the brunt of Angel's focus while the Koenig focused on the second ship. Locarno maneuvered the Aurora to bring the bow weapons to bear. The forward pulse plasma cannons fired. These had more effect on the lead Geth ship. Already slightly damaged, the thick sapphire pulses of the bow cannons blew entire sections out of the lean, bug-headed Geth vessel, which reminded Julia somewhat of a dragonfly if it had no wings or legs. The silver ship's acceleration died down.

"Picking up energy spike," said Cat. "It looks like they're activating their FTL drives."

By that time the first spread of solar torpedoes was already in flight. The spread crashed into the lead Geth ship. This time the shot was undeniably fatal. The explosions broke the Geth ship into pieces.

A few more shots began to hit the second Geth ship, but it was the Koenig that finished them off with her own spread of solar torpedoes.

The third Geth ship, untouched, seemed to blink out of existence with the activation of their FTL drive.

"I'm tracking them in subspace," Cat said. "It looks like they're on course for the mass relay in the G1SV system."

"Pursuit course laid in," Locarno said.

Julia didn't need to glance toward Meridina to know what her XO was thinking. And she already agreed with the sentiment. "No. Have the Koenig pursue. Atreiad is to engage only if he can do so without risking his ship, otherwise just observe until they depart through the G1SV relay. Helping the colony is our priority."

"Aye sir," Locarno replied. "Making standard orbit."

"I am alerting medbay to our situation," Meridina added.

"Securing from battlestations," said Jarod.

Julia nodded and sat back, letting the others implement her orders. Aid had to come first. Then the investigation could begin.

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 12 May 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. We are still investigating the Geth attack on the Dorei colony of Adrana. More importantly, we are rendering all of the aid we can to the planet below.

Commander Atreiad on the
Koenig has confirmed the last Geth ship has departed the area through the G1SV Mass Relay. I've ordered Koenig to remain cloaked in G1SV for the time being to monitor any traffic coming through the Relay, just in case the Geth come back with reinforcements.

Julia found herself staring at her report to Defense Command on the attack. Every fact was present, everything told exactly as she knew it, but it still felt off. The lack of knowing just what the Geth were after with the attack was frustrating. Hearing her door chime was welcome just for the distraction. "Come in," she called out.

Meridina was the one who entered, carrying a digital pad. She handed it to Julia. "The governor of Adrana has compiled preliminary statistics on the attack. Currently the death toll is at two hundred and six people, three quarters of them civilians. There are over a thousand wounded as well. The planet's medical infrastructure is overwhelmed."

"Is Leo bringing any of them up here?" Julia started looking over the data pad.

"The critical cases and some of the overflow. I have ensured the St. Johns and the Warri are available for his use." The two names were familiar: the St. Johns had long been the runabout fitted with a medical module, the Warri was a new Ebro-class runabout assigned to the ship that had a multi-mission capability and could thus be fitted for medical work.

"Alright. Command is trying to get response ships out, but for the moment we're the only ones here to tend to this." Julia tapped the pad. "As for the raid investigation itself, doesn't it strike you as odd?"


"The Geth attack. It looks like they only had a raid in mind, but they left entire sections of the colony untouched." Julia put the pad down. "And the things they took were minor pieces of technology and machinery. Nothing like what they might need. If I didn't know better, I'd say the raid was staged." She noticed the look in Meridina's face and knew she wasn't the only one to feel that way.

"Indeed," Meridina confirmed. "And I do have a suspicion as to their target."


"You will note that a number of the casualties were personnel at the excavation site examining what is left of the ancient Adranians," Meridina said.

Julia glanced and noted that. "This would be the dig site with the computers that Zack's mind was linked to when we were last here?"

"And where Caterina, Jarod, and myself nearly perished," Meridina reminded her. "Going by the casualty data, it looks like the Geth directed quite a lot of attention to this place. The casualties were extremely high, indicating that the excavation was swiftly overrun."

"In other words, you think it was the target." Julia frowned. "Why?"

"I am unsure," Meridina admitted. "The computer systems' directing intelligence was only a fragment of an old personality and there was little in the way of advanced technology stored within. Nevertheless, I would like to take a team to investigate what the Geth did there."

Julia nodded. "You've got my approval. See what you can find out."

"I will assemble a team immediately, Captain. May I be dismissed?"

"You are dismissed." Julia watched her go and considered what Meridina had found. Could the answer be that this was all to get at that ancient ruins? And if so… why?

The changes to the dig site in the two years since they'd last visited drew the attention of Meridina, Jarod, and Cat. More tunnels were present and more equipment as well, although some was now badly damaged, including the lift that had to be repaired before they could go down into the main complex. Blue blood spots could be seen from the victims of the Geth attack, although no bodies were evident.

A grim-faced Dorei man of dark blue complexion with purple spots and hair drove the large cart ferrying the team through the underground site. Joining the three who had visited previously were Lieutenant Lucy Lucero, in her ops officer uniform with her tool belt visible and her lightsaber hooked to it, and the newest ops officer on the Aurora, Lieutenant Tra'dur, the Stellar Navy's first Dilgar officer. Red-haired and dun-furred in coloration, her feline eyes took in the entire site. "So you have been here before, Caterina'Delgado?"

"Yeah. Two years ago," Cat said. "It wasn't a fun visit."

"The computer system we are here to examine forcefully linked to Commander Carrey's mind," Meridina explained. "We came to find a way to free him. Unfortunately, there were complications."

"An ancient booby trap that sealed us in, then the guiding intelligence of the computer system deciding to kill us rather than let us free Zack," Cat clarified, frowning. "It tried to gas us. We barely got out."

"Then this is potentially dangerous," Tra'dur noted.

"Maybe, maybe not," Lucy said. "Zack apparently had the computer system upload his mind into the system as well. Basically, a digital copy of himself to keep the intelligence inside company."

"Yes," said Meridina. "In the end, the intelligence's actions were warped by her incomplete upload when her people were wiped out. Most of her personal memories were lost, and all she had were the memories of her people's destruction. Commander Carrey showed great compassion in how he chose to deal with her."

"I would not count on them being intact," the Dorei driver warned. "The attackers inflicted much damage. As you will now see."

The cart came to the end of the tunnel. An open door led the five into a chamber, the same they had seen two years prior. But now the computer hardware showed visible damage. Scars from weapons fire covered nearly every surface of the main cylinder. Meridina and Lucy both suppressed an impulse to shudder; they could feel a lingering sense of hopeless despair and rage and grief that permeated the chamber.

Everyone began scanning, with Jarod and Cat focusing on the table on which someone could lay and interface with the system. "It looks like this part was undamaged," Jarod said. He checked the interface piece, now fully restored by the Dorei archeologists from the rusted state it had been in two years before.

"They were focusing their attack on the computer banks, or what they thought were computer banks," Lucy said, standing over one set of them. "And they definitely took out some of the physical memory bank."

"Tra'dur, can you help me examine the intact code?" Cat asked. "If we can verify the interface is safe, someone can go in and see if the personalities inside survived."

"Of course, Lieutenant." Tra'dur activated her omnitool and joined Cat.

"Curious that the Geth were most concerned with this device," Meridina said. "And they were not here to take it but to destroy it."

"Given the nature of the attack, this was clearly their real objective." Jarod checked another part of the interface. "Are you sure you want to go in? The last time the intelligence inside attacked you."

"I do not think she will do so again," said Meridina. "She has no reason to."

"Unless something happened to the copy of Zack," Cat pointed out. "If she's alone again…"

"Then the rest of you can do what you must to free me," Meridina said. "But I still believe it best if I go."

"Let's make sure it works first," said Lucy, who gave Meridina a concerned look. "If it does, then… I suppose it makes the most sense if you do."

"It does." This was from Tra'dur. "The four of us have the training and knowledge to deal with problems. No insult meant, Commander, but your skills are not the same."

"Indeed they are not, and I do not see your statement as insulting," Meridina assured her. "I await your findings on the matter."

An hour later Meridina was laying on the table, steeling herself for the pain that would accompany the uplink. She felt concern from the others, particularly for Lucy, but allowed no apprehension to form on her expression. "I am ready," she informed them.

"Alright." Jarod nodded to Lucy and Tra'dur. "Initiating the interface."

Meridina watched the device above her come alive with light. A sharp pain filled her head to the point that she could not help but cry out.

The pain ended abruptly. When Meridina could see again, she found herself standing on a field of dirt and grass. Beneath her feet was a square white bag of sorts with chalked lines leading out in two directions from it. A glance around led her to recognize just what she was standing on: a baseball field.

She turned her head and saw two figures standing at the mound. Zack, or rather the uploaded copy of himself in the computer, was wearing a white baseball jersey. Beside him was a woman of pink skin with red hair and bright, purple eyes, clad in what Lucy once called a "sun dress". She nodded at Meridina. "Mindwalker."

Meridina permitted herself some relief. "You are intact? We feared the damage might have harmed you."

"We sensed attackers coming," Zack said. "And we had time to move ourselves into the innermost data drives." He frowned. "It was still a close thing. And we've lost a lot of data capacity to the damage. I'm actually surprised you could come in here."

"Jarod and the others have repaired the interface to permit my entry," Meridina explained.

"Who attacked us?" asked the alien woman, whom Meridina recalled was named Gylao. "Why?"

"We are uncertain. They are called Geth, a machine race…"

An anguished look came over Gylao. "Is it them? Was it our destroyers?"

"I cannot say for certain," Meridina stated. "Yet… perhaps there is a link."

Zack nodded. "I doubt they mind my memories, and they were trying to eliminate our memory banks." He turned to Gylao. "It must be you they wanted."

"But why?" Gylao asked. "All I have are fragments of memories."

"Maybe that's what they're after, then. Those few memories you do have."

Meridina nodded. "You remember your destroyers, correct? Zachary - the Zachary who woke up I should clarify - mentioned that you thought of them as Reapers?"

Gylao shuddered and nodded. "I remember them. Great towering machines. And those of my people they turned into their servants. They showed no mercy. We were wheat before their blades."

"You think they wanted to eliminate Gylao's memories of these 'Reapers'?" Zack asked.

"It is the most likely explanation." Meridina frowned. "Why they would seek this, however, I cannot guess. Although the most obvious reason would be to deprive us of any knowledge about these ancient destroyers. That leads us to disturbing implications." She looked to Gylao. "May I see these memories? I know it asks much of you…"

"I would rather you not," Gylao admitted. "Zachary's memories have been my shelter from that horror..." Zack held her hand more tightly.

Meridina nodded. "Of course. I understand."

"But it may be necessary," Gylao continued. She didn't hide her sadness. "Whatever was in them, it may be important. Through Zachary I have learned much of your Multiverse. If something like this could happen to you, I…"

She said no more. Instead Gylao held a hand up. The baseball field disappeared. Meridina witnessed a cityscape of beautiful, turquoise structures, piles of blackened rubble among them. Flames filled the air.

As horrible as it was, and despite the pain she sensed from Gylao at the images, Meridina forced herself to watch the slaughter of a species.

Seconds passed, or perhaps hours. When it was over Meridina felt warm tears flowing from her eyes. She would see those terrible machines forever in her memories, like great giant beasts that came to devour and annihilate. It was so easy to picture them doing the same thing to Jantarihal, to see the giant things stomping about and leveling the gleaming towers of her homeworld's capital… to see them destroying the Great Temple and Swenya's legacy to her people.

It reinforced her appreciation for, and pity for, Gylao. It was no wonder this last remnant of the ancient Adranians had been so broken when they first encountered her. With nothing but these memories, no intelligence could remain sane.

"Thank you for your help," she said. "I appreciate the sacrifice you've made."

Gylao nodded. Beside her, Zack rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. "How long do you think it will take the Dorei to repair the device?" he asked. "It's a little crowded in here now."

"I will inquire," Meridina promised.

"Thanks." He smiled at her. "Is everything alright for the rest of you? How are Rob and the others?"

"They are well, for the most part. Although there have been difficulties for us. The Multiverse is, as ever, a dangerous place."

"Please let them know I said hello. Including, well, me."

"I will do so." Meridina smiled softly at them. "Take care, Zachary, Gylao."

The image of Meridina and Jarod filled the screen on Julia's desk in her ready office. "We're about done here," Jarod confirmed. "Lucero and Tra'dur are almost finished attaching that data drive to the systems. It won't completely restore the prior capacity, but it should give Zack's data duplicate and the Adranian intelligence inside some more room to stretch, so to speak."

"I've already cleared it with the local authorities," Julia said. "As soon as you're back, we'll have a meeting to go over everything."

"Understood. Jarod out." A moment later the image ended.

Julia went back to her paperwork, at least until the door chime sounded. "Come in," she said. She looked up and watched Robert enter. He was wearing a uniform again, but his rank insignia was missing, and the branch color was silver instead of red with a silver aiguillette, as if he were just an intelligence staff officer now. "That's what you're going for?" she asked. "You're pretending to be staff?"

He chuckled and shrugged. "Well, I figured it fit better than wearing command trim. And rank insignia might give the wrong impression."

"True." Julia set her datapad down while Robert looked over the ready office. The furnishings were the same as when he had used it, but she'd added her own touches with a few mementoes. One of her basketball trophies and several photos were on one stand. A model of the long-lost Kelley was on another. "What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping to discuss an idea I've been considering," he said. "It's about…"

Before he could finish a tone came over the ship intercom. "Bridge to Andreys," said the voice of Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi, Jarod's number two as operations officer.

"Go ahead," Julia answered.

"We're picking up another distress signal on Alliance bands."

Julia frowned. "From where? Is it the Geth?"

"I'm not sure yet. The distress call is from a Systems Alliance colony. It's Eden Prime."

"Damn. Even using mass relays, we're hours away. We'll never get there in time." Julia shook her head. "Make sure Command knows about it and see if they can vector a ship in to help. Keep me posted."

"Aye sir."

"Andreys out." Julia tapped a key on her desk to close the intercom channel. She noticed the concerned look on Robert's face. "The timing makes me say it's Geth," she said. "Not to mention the location."

"Yeah. And there's another common factor too. I was on Eden Prime several weeks ago," Robert said. "The Systems Alliance found intact Prothean ruins near their colony site. The excavation is still ongoing."

"The Protheans. They were from about fifty thousand years ago," Julia noted. "They disappeared about two hundred millennia after the Adranians were wiped out."

"Right. So in the span of a day, two worlds with ruins from long-dead cultures are both attacked." Robert shook his head. "I don't buy that's a coincidence."

"Nor do I," Julia agreed. "We'll bring it up with the others when they return."

The command officers of the Aurora and Koenig met in the conference lounge adjacent to the bridge, as they often did. As always Barnes attended alongside Commander Scott. Jarod was joined by Lucy and Tra'dur, given their part in the work in the ruin.

And down at the opposite end of the table was Robert, still in the rankless uniform with silver trim.

There was a peculiar feel to his presence in the room now. He was sitting at the exact opposite end of the table from Julia, taking up the last seat currently available, but it could be easy to imagine he was at the head of the table instead. And for most of those present, he had been in charge for nearly two years, the one directing the conversation as Julia was now doing (at least theoretically given the difference in their command styles).

"The Geth were definitely out to destroy the Adranian computer system," Jarod said. He kept his eyes on Julia. "It's the only case where the damage caused can't be consider collateral damage to the attack."

"So they wanted to eliminate whatever the Adranians left behind," Julia mused. "Why?"

"It may have been to eliminate any records of the unknown enemy who annihilated the Adranians," Meridina said.

"But why would they want to do that?"

Robert's question was a reasonable one, certainly, and just as certainly it was one everyone was already asking themselves. But it didn't change the subtle thrum of tension that now seemed to permeate the room.

"A good question." Julia leveled a quieting look at Robert, who nodded sheepishly and settled back into his seat. "Any ideas?"

Cat spoke up. "Maybe the Geth found something in their region of the galaxy? I mean, like an old ruin or something, and it's of these attackers, and the Geth don't want anyone else to know anything about them?"

Julia nodded once to acknowledge Cat's proposal. "The attack on Eden Prime may have a similar motive, then? Maybe they think the Protheans also left evidence of this same group?"

"It's a possibility, but really, we don't know enough to know for sure," Cat said.

"Could they just be out to destroy evidence of past civilizations?" asked Tra'dur. "Do we have any samples of Geth coding that can give us an idea of their thought processes?"

"No." Julia shook her head. A thought made her frown. "The only thing we have relating to the Geth was that sabotage device that was attached to the Aurora during our failed conference with the Batarians."

"Right." Robert matched her frown. "Could the Batarians be behind this then? Using the Geth as proxies, or maybe manipulating them into attacking us so they have plausible deniability? A way to escalate their attacks without risking their own forces?"

"Maybe they even found a way to control the Geth." This suggestion was from Apley.

Will Atreiad crossed his arms. "These Geth, they're like the Cylons, right?"

"According to our data from the Quarians, there are only partial similarities," Jarod said. "We know the Cylons can network themselves together, but the individual Cylon units are still autonomous. The Geth, however, are operating programs that form a neural net when connected. The more Geth you have operating together, the more intelligent the whole becomes."

"An' th' Quarians dinnae mean for th' Geth t' get that sophisticated," added Scott. "But it was t' late t' shut th' blasted things down."

"So they revolted. Just like the Cylons?"

Barnes nodded. "Right. And the frakkers ended up driving the Quarians off of their homeworld Rannoch, and clear out of their own Goddamned space. The Quarians have been living in space since." A dark, angry look appeared on his features. "And the other races have been treating them like crap too."

A thoughtful expression came to Atreiad's face. Whatever thoughts he had, they went unspoken.

It was nearly Robert who spoke next. But as his mouth opened he sensed Julia with the same thought, the same imminent remark, and he stopped himself. "So far it looks like we have nothing but speculation on the motives of the Geth attack, aside from their target. Am I right?"

She was answered with nods.

"I'll report what we have to Maran. Doctor Gillam, Doctor Epstein, what about the wounded?"

"We've taken over the most critical cases," Leo said. "Right now we're at two hundred and twenty-eight dead and eleven hundred and six wounded, with a hundred critical and major cases being tended to in our medbay. The colony's medical establishment is at full capacity."

"Alright. I'll let the Admiral know. Until I get orders to leave, we'll maintain our current relief efforts. Mister Jarod, Mister Scott, I'll leave technical relief up to you."

"Aye, sir. I have teams standin' by t' help with damage."

"And I have security teams ready to assist with law enforcement officials," offered Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the ship's Chief of Security. "Should they need the assistance with maintaining law and order."

"I will coordinate all aid with the Governor's staff," Meridina offered. "I will inform you of any such needs."

"Good. Then, unless there's anything else, we're done here." When nobody offered any further matters of discussion, Julia stood. "Alright, everyone, you're all dismissed.

The assembled officers stood and filed out. Julia remained standing where she did until they were gone, at which point she walked along the table until she met Robert. "That was kind of awkward, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah." He met her eyes and sighed. "Old habits, I guess. I'm sorry, I'm not looking to undermine you or assume your responsibilities, even if it looks otherwise."

"I know." Julia crossed her arms. "I guess we're all going to have to get used to this.."

Robert nodded in agreement. "It's an adjustment thing."

"But we'll make it work." A smile crossed Julia's face. She set a hand on Robert's shoulder. "You know I've missed you, Rob. You and Zack."

"I missed you too," he confessed easily. "We've been together… although not in that way…" Robert stopped briefly when Julia chuckled at the clarification. "...for so long that it was hard to not have you to talk to."

"I don't know if I could have gotten used to it," Julia admitted. Her smile didn't fade. "But you're back now, and that's the important part. So, what did you want to ask earlier? When we were in my office?"

"Huh? Oh." Robert quickly recalled it. "Well, I've been back long enough to know that there's an issue with Lucy."

"I wouldn't call it an issue." Julia shrugged. She briefly considered the best way to word what she wanted to say. "It's more of a question. Lucy's role on this ship has become complicated. Honestly, it's been getting that way since you were captain."

Robert nodded in agreement. "I agree. She's an operations officer we frequently use for field combat missions thanks to her abilities."

"Commander Richmond recently asked me to consider re-assigning Lucy to security," Julia revealed. "And I think the idea has merit."

"Maybe a little," Robert conceded. "But I don't think that fits her well."

"And she personally doesn't want it. I asked. But at the same time, she's clearly not a standard operations officer either, and I would rather free up her position in Jarod's department for someone who is more dedicated to the needs of operations." Julia shook her head. "But I don't feel comfortable pushing Lucy into a role she doesn't fit either, and I can't help but think that's what it would be for her to be in security."

"It would also be putting one of our original people under the command of someone who wasn't in the Facility back in the day," Robert pointed out.

Julia frowned. "That's not an important distinction. Honestly, Rob, I'm trying to diminish the feel that we've got a clique on this ship."

"I understand, and maybe I should have done more to do the same," he admitted. "But consider the position it would put you and Richmond in. Lucy has personal connections to both you and Meridina, especially Meridina. How long before those connections make Richmond feel like she's being undermined?"

"A good question."

"I have a solution," Robert said. "Assign her to me."

"Oh?" Her tone indicated Julia's interest, but perhaps a bit of uncertainty as well.

"As a Paladin, I'm authorized to recruit a small number of personnel to directly assist my operations," Robert explained. "Obviously I don't get an entire ship, and my staff has to be small…"


"...but I could use Lucy," he continued. "Soon I'm going to get a personal craft for use in my missions, when they take me away from the Aurora. Lucy can pilot it better than I can. Not to mention how much help she'll be on those missions."

For a moment Julia said nothing. Her expression was intent, showing she was considering it. Robert didn't let himself sense her feelings and waited patiently for her to react. "As things stand, Jarod and I have been wondering where Tra'dur would fit on the crew," she admitted. "If Lucy's permanently assigned to you, it solves that problem. And if we need her for something…"

"Lucy will have standing orders from me to help you and the crew," Robert assured her. "Just as I intend to help if you ever need it."

"Right." Julia smiled softly at that. "I'd expect that from you. Anyway… the idea works for me. You have my blessing."

Robert smiled back. "I'll ask Lucy later and see if she likes the idea. I'll let you know what she says."

"I'm sure she'll say yes," Julia said. "Either way… it was good working this out with you." Her aquamarine eyes twinkled with delight. "I missed this."

"So did I."

"And now I have a question for you," she asked.

"Oh? What?"

Her smile curled on along the left side of her lip. "Are you ever going to get a haircut? Or at least a shave?"

Robert couldn't help himself. He laughed, and Julia laughed too.

It felt good to be home.

Robert's quarters on the Aurora were smaller than the ones he'd enjoyed as Captain, not that he minded as he had plenty of room for personal effects he'd picked up from storage on New Liberty. The quarters were, in fact, second tier VIP quartering on Deck 6, about the same size as those of the command staff and meant for the senior staff of visiting admirals or state officials. If he had any complaint, it was that visiting Julia or anyone else now necessitated a ride in the lift.

For the moment that wasn't his concern. He was seated on the floor beside his bed for pre-sleep meditation. His breathing was controlled and quiet while he focused on the warm energy he felt within himself, the energy around him. The Flow of Life resonated on the ship. He could feel the bright warmth of Meridina's life energies, the intensity of Lucy's, and the quieter energies of the others. Some bright points indicated a few among the two thousand crew who had their own deeper connection to the Flow of Life that could one day be widened. The planet below had even more life on it. Over fifty thousand souls, all but a few Dorei, psionically sensitive and feeling different than Humans of equal number would.

But it wasn't as warm a feeling, and for good reason. He sensed fear, grief, shock, anger, rage. They had been attacked. Their neighbors harmed, even killed. Their sense of security smashed.

And there was something else. An even older sense from the planet. The same emotions, but intensified by despair and hopelessness. And a cold feeling. So cold that Robert actually gulped in realization; this was the feeling of an extinction. The extermination of the Adranians left an imprint in the Flow of Life. Death on a massive scale.

Without thinking about it, Robert felt his connection spread out further through the Flow of Life, a reach impossible to him before his exposure to the Time Vortex in the Doctor's TARDIS. On Gersal and while on the Keyeri he had tested his reach similarly, usually with little difficulty.

But not this time. This time he felt a… wrongness in the Flow of Life. An imprinted coldness that ran within it, detectable only by reaching as far and wide as he could, otherwise that cold would be overwhelmed by the warmth of life.

Robert's heart skipped a beat. This… this was the same remnant cold as he felt on Adrana. A lingering remnant of death, of the destruction of life, that seemed to be permanently woven into the Flow of Life in the M4P2 universe.

What could cause this? That was Robert's thought.

And then they came. The visions. Not in his dreams, as sometimes happened, but in his meditative state. He could see the burning cities. Piles of corpses. Giant, metallic things leveling a city. Crimson beams carving through majestic skylines, through vehicles, through living beings, destroying all. Alien forms covered in ghastly blue circuitry rushing through a crowd, biting and ripping and maiming, beings screaming as metal spikes impaled them…

And that sound. That horrible sound, like the Devil himself blowing a trumpet through an electronic synthesizer. It vibrated within his very soul.

He was standing in the Citadel Tower again, in the chambers of the Citadel Council. Flames and wreckage surrounded him. Robotic figures stood before him, weapons raised…

Not just robotic figures anymore. He knew them now. He'd seen them in the records from the attack on Adrana. "Geth," Robert murmured aloud.

And then there was the figure, standing at the end of the audience platform facing the Council. The cyborg Turian, with those glowing, ghastly blue eyes, the circuitry embedded into his skin. "This is our only hope to survive," he insisted. "We must prove we can serve. Or we will suffer the same fate as all the other species this galaxy has ever known."

"We can fight them!"

Robert thought the sentiment came from him. But he glanced to his side. He was joined by others. But only one he could see. She was in unpowered combat armor, Systems Alliance issue. An N7 was above the right breast of the suit. Her green eyes blazed with defiant will underneath the visor of her combat helmet.

And immediately Robert knew who she was.

His eyes opened. And the name escaped his lips.


The end of her work day saw Julia enjoy a warm, comforting shower. Muscles still tense from an end-of-the-day workout relaxed under the spray of the warm water. She sighed with deep content at the feeling, as if the water wasn't just washing away sweat and a day's worth of dead skin, but the worries that the day's events had brought her. From a victory celebration to a mysterious attack by even more mysterious robots, she thought darkly. Why do I feel like God is amusing Himself at my expense now that I'm the Captain?

A familiar tone sounded, even here in her bathroom. "Bridge to Captain Andreys," stated Lieutenant Takawira, the Gamma shift watch officer on the bridge. His accent still bore the thick tones of the Zimbabwean colony of Nkomo.

I think God just answered me, Julia thought, sighing deeply. She called out "What?" with some ferocity, and lied to herself that it was just to ensure she was heard over the shower.

"Admiral Maran is waiting for you over IU comms, Captain. He says it's urgent."

"I'll be right there. Relay the call to my quarters." Hoping she had rinsed off sufficiently, she left the shower. She wiped off the excess water with a couple of swipes from her towel and immediately pulled on a terry-cloth bathrobe, white in color, that she tied closed. She took a towel for her hair and began wrapping her wet blond locks inside of the white towel while walking to her desk. She sat, double-checked her robe, and satisfied that she met the bare minimum of modesty for speaking to her superior, she tapped a key on the desk control to accept the call.

Admiral Maran appeared on the screen. He was still on the Gersallian flagship, the Kentan, instead of his office in Defense Command, given the lack of a window behind him, much less the skyline of 27th Century Portland that Julia was familiar with. His dark hair had gray at the temples and along the fringes of his trimmed beard. "Captain, good work with your relief of the Adrana Colony," he said. "Governor Tamas has been forthcoming with praise at the aid you've provided."

"Thank you, Admiral."

"I've read the reports from you and your officers on the Geth attack. I admit that it's deeply concerning, especially given the Geth link to the Batarian plot to sabotage and seize the Aurora last year. If the Geth are allied with or controlled by the Batarians, it could trigger a wide-scale interstellar war in M4P2 we cannot afford."

"That's what we're wondering too."

Maran nodded. His expression darkened. "There are other, worse possibilities, however."

That comment surprised Julia. "Oh?" she asked.

"You've heard of the attack on Eden Prime?"

"Yes sir."

"The Geth caused a lot of damage, including the loss of a Prothean beacon discovered there, at least according to a friendly source on Arcturus Station. If this same source is correct, and if the evidence that the Systems Alliance intends to present is true… we may be dealing with something even worse than a Batarian-Geth alliance."

Only one possibility seemed worse. "The Nazis," Julia hissed. "Is it them? Did they…"

"No. We still have no indication that the Reich is fielding interuniversal jump drives at this time. What we do know is that Captain Anderson of the Normandy is being ordered to the Citadel to present evidence of Spectre involvement in the attack."

Julia's jaw dropped in surprise. "A Spectre did this?"

"That is what Anderson claims." Maran shook his head. "I find it hard to believe the Citadel would sanction a strike against us or against the Systems Alliance, not like this. And definitely not using the Geth. But if they have a rogue on their hands, given the resources a rogue might have access to, and the damage he or she could do even if the Council cuts them off… we need to know one way or the other, Captain. That's why I'm giving you new orders. I want you to depart Adrana immediately and head to the Citadel. Report to Ambassador Atama and be ready to observe what Anderson's evidence is, as well as providing whatever evidence is requested on the Geth attack on Adrana. If we have a rogue Spectre on our hands… we need to be ready."

"Right away, Admiral. We'll depart immediately."

"Just what I wanted to hear. Maran out." His image disappeared.

Julia hit a second key on her table. "Andreys to Bridge. Recall all personnel from Adrana immediately and set a course for System G1SV. Prepare the ship for mass relay travel. We're headed to the Citadel."
"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 » Sat Jun 16, 2018 2:39 pm

The Citadel. The name implied a fortress, a stronghold, and in many ways it fit the colossal space station in the Serpent Nebula. Obscured in a haze of particles and gases, the Citadel often thus had the impression of appearing from parting clouds in majestic triumph. It was altogether fitting imagery for a space station that served as the cornerstone of interstellar law, trade, and diplomacy in the M4P2 Milky Way galaxy.

Such was the site through the windows of the Lookout as the Starship Aurora approached the Citadel for the second time in her career. Crew members who had not been aboard for that visit, who indeed had never seen the place, clustered in the Aurora's crew lounge for a look at the station and its massive arms. Those arms were lit up with pinpricks of light, signifying the presence of the seven million beings that called the colossal space station home. Each made even the Aurora look small, being over forty times longer than the starship.

At one of the tables, Will Atreiad was gawking at the site. The Citadel made even the largest of the Colonies' fleetbases before the Fall seem small. The only structure of greater scope he'd seen was the Ring of Gersal, which wrapped itself around the planet's singular moon. And that had taken the Gersallians centuries of construction and reconstruction to manage.

Beside him Lieutenant Magda Navaez, the Koenig Operations Officer, said, "It is everything I hoped it would be." The other command officers of the Koenig agreed with her remark by nodding.

At a nearby table Dr. Roliri Opani, a Dorei woman of dark teal complexion and purple-colored spotline - the Dorei had spots similar to, but not the same as, the Trill of S5T3 - nodded in agreement with the hushed "It's beautiful" of Tra'dur. Seated with them was Cat and Violeta. Cat nodded as well and said, "Told you it was great."

"Will we be allowed to visit?" Tra'dur asked. "Not that I dare hope to see even a modest percentage of the Citadel in the time we will be alloted…"

"I'll clear it with Jarod," Cat said. "I want to show Vee around the Presidium."

"Might I join you, at least for a time?" Tra'dur asked.

Cat and Violeta exchanged brief looks before they nodded together. "Sure," Violeta said. "We'll be glad to have you along."

"It's too bad it's not purely a port-call," Cat lamented. "I don't think some of the others will get to enjoy the sights as much."

Due to his prior visit to the Citadel, Robert knew precisely where Atama's office was, just across the way from that of Ambassador Donnell Udina of the Systems Alliance. They found the older male Dorei at his desk watching footage from the attack on Adrana. His skin was a pale blue, his spots pale teal, and whitening teal hair was pulled back into a formal ponytail. His face was marked with violet tattoos. He looked to them and nodded. "I am Atama Y'raa Teme, Allied Systems Ambassador to the Citadel," he said formally. His accent was stiff, not from formality but as if he needed to fully elucidate every syllable. "Captain Dale, Captain Andreys, welcome."

They stepped further into the office. "Thank you, Mister Ambassador," Julia said. The two noted the photographs on a table beside his desk. Some showed a man of the same pale blue skin, but with darker purple spots, others women of pale blue skin but with dark teal and pale teal spots as well. All had purple hair that was turning white. "Your family?"

"Yes. We are the Raa hekli." Atama smiled pleasantly. "My fellow heko and heku you see."

"A group marriage?" Robert asked.

"I believe that is your Human English term for it, yes," Atama said. The smile did not change. "It is the way of the people of Omatei."

Neither recognized the name of his nation, but given there were over two hundred identifiable nations among the Dorei, not counting the various nations recognized in their oldest colonies, this was not too surprising.

"I hope your hekli got to come with you," remarked Julia.

"They have. But we have other matters." Atama now frowned and looked back to the frozen image on his holo-viewer, a Geth firing a weapon toward the recorder. "A terrible day for my people. It is not enough that the Batarians seek to make slaves of us. Now these… these machines dare to strike at us."

"We gave what help we could," Julia said apologetically.

"Yes. May the Jani bless you for it." Atama stood. "Ambassador Udina has scheduled a meeting with the Council. Given the Geth attack against Adrana, I have secured our place in the audience to observe the Systems Alliance's evidence on the attacks. You will accompany me."

"Of course, Mister Ambassador," Robert replied.

"Await me in the lobby below, and we will travel together."

The two walked out of the office. As they emerged, they watched the door further down the way open. Both recognized Captain David Anderson as well as his First Officer, Commander Jennifer Shepard. The former was a deep-voiced man with a mocha-toned complexion and dark, military-cut hair. Shepard had the paled bronze complexion she'd had the last time they'd met, during her month aboard the Aurora during the lead-up to the Battle of New Austria and the Gamma Piratus operation. Her hair had the same vibrant, almost fiery color, with the same short-cut style she'd had before.

The real impression was that she was wearing her combat armor, not a uniform, and had her firearms with her. Robert felt a flash of vision in his mind for it was the same armor he had seen her wearing while confronting the cyborg Turian. He sensed Julia's surprise at Shepard being armed for battle here in the Presidium of the Citadel.

"Captain Dale, Captain Andreys." Anderson's deep voice boomed with warmth at speaking to them. He walked up and offered a hand. "It's good to see you. I heard about Adrana. I assume that's why you're here?"

"The Alliance wants to see your evidence about the Geth attack on Eden Prime," Robert said. "Given the timing, it probably involves the attack on Adrana as well."

"We have an eyewitness who identified the killer," Anderson said. "Udina's on his way to the Council now, we're going to join him."

"You go on ahead, Captain," said Shepard. "I'll come with them. I'd like to ask them something."

Anderson nodded. "Just remember, we need you there, Shepard. Your testimony is going to be crucial." He walked on, leaving the three where they were.

"How can we help you, Commander?" Julia asked.

"I'd like to talk to Meridina," said Shepard. "When we're done here. I need her help."

"In what way?" asked Robert.

"The Prothean beacon on New Eden, it did something to my head." Shepard grimaced. "It gave me visions. Machines slaughtering people. But I'm not sure what I was seeing, I was hoping she could help me."

"I'll speak to her on it," Julia said.

"Thank you." Shepard looked at Robert with bemusement. "So… what's with the staff officer uniform now? And the hair?"

Julia flashed Robert a grin. Robert chuckled. "I've had a change of occupation," he said. "And I decided I wanted to try something different for a while. Growing a beard and letting my hair grow out makes me a little harder to recognize."

"Not that much harder!" Julia laughed.

Shepard grinned. "You wouldn't happen to be one of the Alliance's new Paladins, would you?"

Robert nodded. "Guilty as charged."

"You should be careful. No rank insignia means you're not considered in proper military uniform. There are governments that would shoot you over that, the Turians included."

"Given how many Spectres the Turians have fielded? That's rich." Robert shook his head. "Anyway, we'd better get going. Atama will be coming along shortly so we can see what evidence you're showing us."

"I'll see you in the Council Chamber."

Shepard departed at that point, leaving Julia and Robert alone. She flashed a bemused grin his way. "I didn't say it," she reminded him.

"No, you didn't. An amazing show of self-control indeed for the captain of a starship," Robert guffawed.

"Well, Sir Robert, if that's how you're going to be…" Julia winked at him and walked on toward the Embassy lobby area.

Robert couldn't help but chuckle as he followed her. "Good to know being a captain hasn't entirely removed your sense of humor," he called out while following.

For the first time in nearly twenty months, Robert stepped off of the lift of the Citadel Tower and walked onto the level containing the Citadel Council's audience chamber and adjoining facilities, this time with Julia beside him. Ambassador Atama stepped ahead of both to take the lead as they walked their way through the chamber. They passed a male Turian in C-Sec garb at one point, a Systems Alliance admiral at another. A Keeper moved ahead and then around them just before they reached the stairs leading up to the audience platform. Anderson was already motioning to Shepard to follow him.

Atama beckoned the others to join him and followed as well. Udina was already speaking with the three members of the Citadel Council: Valern of the Salarians, Sparatus of the Turians, and Tevos of the Asari. Additionally a hologram was depicting another Turian, toned amber by the projectors.

As the Alliance group approached Udina, the Turian Councillor, Sparatus, directed his attention to them. "And what is the purpose of the Allied Systems in this matter?"

"Adrana has been attacked by Geth, the same as Eden Prime," Atama replied. "The Alliance Government requests to observe whatever evidence has been given by the Systems Alliance on the matter."

"Then your time has been wasted, Ambassador," said the holographic figure. Robert and Julia recognized him: Saren Arterius, the Spectre that escorted Matriarch Benezia to the failed talks with the Batarians. "Just as our time has been wasted by this baseless accusation by Captain Anderson."

"We have an eyewitness, Saren!" Anderson retorted.

"What you have is a single dockworker terrified out of his mind." Saren raised a hand. "But it gives you an excuse to deflect responsibility for the destruction of the beacon and the death of Nihlus Kryik, a personal friend and colleague of mine. It must sting, Anderson, to know that yet again you Humans have proven incapable of assuming the power you hunger for. I'm not surprised you're blaming your failures on me again."

"You arrogant…" Anderson clearly fought for control. Robert sensed old anger and shame, something that had clearly eaten away at the man for years now, decades. His frustration with Saren was palpable.

Saren turned to face the Council. "This is clearly an attempt by the Systems Alliance to excuse Shepard's failure. She has proven incapable as a Spectre candidate, just as I warned."

"I object!" raged Udina. "Saren does not have the authority to…"

At that point Robert lost track of the argument. His eyes were entirely on Saren now. He'd met the Turian once before and found him unsettling. But seeing him again, seeing him in this place that his visions kept bringing him back to… Saren's face.

The visions flashed again. The CItadel Council chamber on fire. Wrecked Geth, dead bodies… and the cyborged Turian. "This is the only way for us to survive," the Turian insisted. "We have to serve."

Robert's mouth went dry. The face… even with the unnatural glow of the blue eyes, the cybernetics grafted onto the skin… it was the same face.

Saren was the Turian from his dreams, his visions.

Robert's attention was jolted back to the meeting once Saren disappeared. "As the matter stands, there is insufficient evidence to your charge again Saren," Tevos was saying.

"Particularly when you consider his long career of protecting Council space from threats," Sparatus added. "I find the accusation being made to be contemptible. A poor attempt to salvage Shepard's status as a candidate for the Spectres."

Valern spoke next. "We will begin our own investigation into this sudden emergence of the Geth, and to their attacks on your colonies. Given the potential threat, we hope the Allied Systems will provide us with data on the attack on Adrana, it may give us more insight into Geth intentions."

"The Alliance is ready to cooperate on the matter," Atama informed them. "After all, our purpose in this galaxy is to assist the Council in maintaining law and order."

"And we are thankful for that," Tevos assured him. "Ambassadors, have a pleasant day."

The moment they were clear of the audience platform, Udina turned to Anderson. "It was a mistake having you present, Captain. Your history with Saren undermines your credibility and taints the evidence."

"That much was clear," said Atama. "Although their outright dismissal of your witness seems immature."

"Saren's one of their best," Udina said. "Of course the Council won't turn on them. Sparatus even agrees with most of his anti-Human attitudes."

"Either way, Saren is a threat to the entire Human race," Anderson insisted. "There's no telling how much damage he'll do with the Geth."

"Maybe there are sources here on the Citadel we can use," Shepard said. "I overheard a C-Sec officer complaining about Saren on the way in."

"If you can find evidence against him, Commander, I will present it to the Council." Udina frowned at Anderson. "But Anderson can't be anywhere near it."

"In the meantime, Ambassador, I would like to discuss a mutual response to the Geth threat," said Atama.

"Of course. This way, Ambassador…"

The two diplomats walked away, leaving the four officers behind. They were quickly joined by two more Systems Alliance personnel, wearing combat armor like Shepard's. "Captains, these are the other members of the team that fought the Geth on New Eden," said Anderson. "Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko and Gunnery Sergeant Ashley Williams."

"Lieutenant. Sergeant, a pleasure." Julia took the lead in greeting them, shaking hands with them in order of rank. Kaidan had a light complexion, partly from space life, with close-cut dark hair and brown eyes. In contrast Ashley's Caucasian complexion had the slight tanning of someone frequently in sunlight, and her eyes were even darker than Kaidan's.

"Captain Andreys. Captain Dale." Alenko's hello was warm and friendly. He spoke English with an accent Robert thought of as Canadian.

"Ma'am, sir." Ashley accepted the handshake. "I take it the Council is letting Saren get away with it?"

"They require more proof, and that's exactly what you're going to get," Anderson said. "But it's best if I'm not around for the investigation."

Shepard noted the frown on her superior's face. "Just what happened between you and Saren?"

"Over twenty years ago, I was Humanity's first candidate for admission to the Spectres," Anderson admitted. "I was assigned to Saren to be evaluated. We ended up on an operation where Saren deliberately went off-mission and caused the deaths of innocent civilians. But he blamed me, insisting that I caused the mission to go bad. The Council believed him." A hard look came to Anderson's face. "That's why I know how much a threat the man is. Saren will do anything to complete his goals. Anything. No matter the bloodshed. Even among the Spectres he's the most ruthless."

Hearing Anderson describe Saren reminded Robert of what President Morgan had said about the Paladins. How they had to not simply protect the Alliance, but to do so without violating what it believed in. Saren seemed the prime candidate for showing why Morgan thought the distinction had to be hammered home.

But more importantly, his visions convinced him Anderson was right.

"I'm going to begin my own investigation," he said.

"Did you get orders?" asked Julia.

"No. But I don't need them. As a Paladin I'm authorized to act independently if the Alliance's security and safety is at stake. And… with Saren, I'm convinced it is."

"What makes you say that?" Alenko asked.

"I have my reasons."

"Those powers you started to use on Gamma Piratus?' Shepard inquired.

"Yes." Robert nodded. "Since my coma, my abilities have intensified." Seeing the confusion in Shepard's comrades, he added, "I've been trained by someone who served in the Gersallian Order of Swenya."

"I've heard weird stuff about them," Ashley said. "Wasn't sure it was true though."

"It is," said Shepard. "I've fought beside one of their Knights before. They're the real deal. But that's for later. I want to go track that C-Sec officer down."

"I'll see if there are any other avenues to take," Robert remarked. "If I can't find anything, I'll be in contact."

"Same here." Shepard extended a hand to him. "Good luck, Captain Dale."

"Good luck, Commander Shepard," he answered back.

The four personnel from the Normandy went on to the lift, leaving Robert and Julia. "Just how are you going to investigate a black ops legend like Saren?" Julia asked. Memories of the time they'd had Saren aboard the Aurora entered her mind. "Thinking back, we were so busy watching the Batarians that Saren could have been the one to plant that Geth device without being noticed. I would have brought it up if I thought it would do any good."

"Right. The Citadel Council's not going to turn on their best operative unless we have concrete proof against him. Something really incriminating." Robert lowered his head in thought.

"Maybe Intelligence has something on Saren?" Julia asked.

"Maybe, maybe not. If Jarod's not busy, ask him if he can find anything in the database." Robert's thoughts gave way to his feelings, specifically the Flow of Life and the energy linking them. He knew there was more to it, that it was itself alive in some ways… and now he knew that in this galaxy, it was somehow tainted, or wounded, by mass death. He could sense it here, just a little whisper…

"What are you going to do in the meantime?" asked Julia.

Robert didn't answer right away. He felt the energy around him and the pull within it. Realization came to him; he knew where he had to go. "I'm going to meet someone who might know who I should talk to," he said. "Ask Lucy if she can be ready to meet me when I call."

"You haven't talked to her yet, have you? About a reassignment?"

"No. I will, but for now this is an ad hoc assignment. Just in case Shepard's C-Sec contact doesn't pan out, I'd like options." Robert checked his omnitool. "I'll stay in touch."

"You'd better," Julia said. "You just got back."

"I know." He accepted a brief hug from her. "I'll be careful."

"Good." Julia ended the hug and tapped her omnitool. "Andreys to Aurora, one to beam up." After a few seconds she flashed away.

Once she was gone, Robert walked on toward the destination he had in mind.

Cat couldn't help herself. Seeing Tra'dur's wide-eyed, boggled expression at the Presidium made her giggle. "Incredible, isn't it?" she asked.

"Beyond words," Tra'dur insisted. "This is a true marvel of the Multiverse. We have missed so much in our forced exile…"

They walked along a footbridge linking the two sides of the Presidium, taking them over the waterway that spanned the section. With just point three Gs of gravity moving along was easy, but they were too busy enjoying the sights to hurry through them.

"Seven million beings live on the station," Caterina continued. "Mostly in the wards. I only visited the Presidium last time though."

"You lacked the time to do otherwise?" Tra'dur asked.

"Yeah. And I was shyer back then. I mean, I'm still a little shy, but not as bad…"

"You've come a long way, my sweet Cat," said Violeta with a smile tinged with sadness. She reached out and took Cat's hand, pulling her close enough to cuddle a little. Caterina accepted it without protest, simply a little sigh knowing she wouldn't be enjoying this for long.

They might have walked together in this fashion if not for a growl of "Can't you Humans show any public decency?!" A Turian approached. "I should report you to C-Sec!"

"For what?!" demanded Violeta.

"Like you have to ask," he retorted. "You Humans always behave like everything in the galaxy belongs to you. No respect for others." Without offering more remarks, he continued on, nodding politely to Tra'dur.

"What a jerk," Cat muttered.

Continuing on, they found that most people were looking toward them if just to look at Tra'dur. Finally the Dilgar woman asked, "It is odd, but I get the feeling they value my presence more than yours."

"Humans aren't always liked in this universe," Violeta explained. "Humanity fought a war with the Turians at the establishment of contact."

"More like the Turians attacked a Human colony because Humanity re-activated a mass relay that Council law said shouldn't have been turned on. Or something." Cat shrugged. "I mean, I think the local Humans are being a bit pushy too or something, so it makes the other species jealous of Humans getting so much prominence so quickly."

"Having the Alliance around doesn't help. Since we have a Human plurality in population, I mean."

"Yeah. But I can understand that." Cat shrugged. "I mean, Humanity being the most common species in the Multiverse is weird and a little unsettling for most species. The Citadel species are probably worried that we're going to take over or something… and ooh, here's the Krogan Memorial." She looked up at the statue of a Krogan. "They built it to thank the Krogan for destroying the Rachni."

"This was the conflict that the Krogan were uplifted to fight, correct?" Tra'dur inquired.

"From what I read, yes."

After answering Tra'dur, Cat turned her head and saw Violeta walking over to the railing overlooking the lake. Once glance toward Tra'dur was enough to signal to the Dilgar that they wanted a moment. While Tra'dur stayed back, Cat walked over to join Violeta. "So, this is probably our last shore leave together," Cat said.

"It's been almost a year," Violeta murmured quietly. "I mean, for me anyway."

Cat nodded. Her time with the Doctor had thrown her calendar out of sync with the others, so to speak, and things like anniversaries were something she had to re-adjust to keep them straight. She put the numbers together in her head. "Two days," she said. "Two days until our first anniversary. Well, if you consider Paris as the start…"

Violeta smiled sadly at that. "The first time we made love. I think that works as an anniversary."

Cat blushed slightly. She set her hands on the rail in front of them. "It was a magical night."

"Yes." Violeta took Cat's hand with her own. Tears were forming in her purple eyes. "Cat… oh Cat, I'm sorry."

Caterina turned her head slightly. The tears in Violeta's eyes were a surprise. "You don't have anything to be sorry for," she insisted. "I mean… I think we both knew this wasn't going to last forever?" Despite her intent, Cat could not put conviction in her words. "It hurts. I just… I guess this is life?" She put her other hand on Violeta's shoulder. "I mean, I'm not the first girlfriend you'll have to leave, right?"

"The others made it easy," Violeta said. "We weren't compatible in the end. And… and maybe you and I wouldn't have lasted either, but this isn't the same thing."

"You'd have to give up the career you want if you stayed on the Aurora."

"Yeah." Violeta sniffled and smiled bitterly. "I… I want to rise in the ranks. I want to prove I can do this, the same as you do. Oh God, I can say that even now. When it would be so easy to just…" She drew in a sigh. "In the end I'd probably be moved on anyway, you know. Even if I say no now, they'll eventually want to bring in someone who shows promise while finding another ship that could use me, even if I don't have promotions. Or if I'm not needed."

"I know some Human militaries act like that, but the Alliance isn't just Humans. I'm sure you could…" Cat stopped herself and shook her head. The little flicker of hope she'd felt went away. "I'm sorry. You're not going to."

"No." Violeta shook her head. "I've… this is my chance, really. And I thought long and hard about it…"

"Yeah." Cat sighed. "If we could make it work anyway…"

"Maybe we will? I don't know." Violeta shook her head. "But either way…" She let the sentence hang unanswered. Cat, for her part, did the same. They kept looking out at the water together.

Nearby, just out of easy earshot, Tra'dur turned away from them. She knew what they would be discussing and felt somewhat awkward to even be nearby.

Her eyes focused on one of the insectoid Keepers that maintained the Citadel. She watched the creature shuffle by wordlessly. A Salarian coming from the opposite direction distinctly ran his active omnitool over the Keeper, which seemed to ignore the movement. Tra'dur was somewhat new to the devices herself, but she was pretty sure the Salarian had just done something and stepped to the side to intercept him. "Excuse me," she said. "What were you just doing?"

"What? Oh, nothing," the Salarian insisted. "Just moving on, doing my business."

"It looked like you were trying to scan one of those things," said Tra'dur. "Isn't that illegal?"

"As long as we don't interfere with them, it isn't," the Salarian replied. "I'm just getting some harmless scans. Say, you're one of the species in the Alliance, right? The Multiversal Allied Systems?"

"I am a Dilgar, and we are potential members, yes," said Tra'dur. "Why do you ask?"

"My name's Chorban. And I could use your help on my research project."

"I am Lieutenant Tra'dur of the Alliance Starship Aurora," she answered. "And… I am listening."

Robert walked with purpose across the bridge spanning the width of the Presidium. Whatever route Shepard was taking for her investigation, he could sense the best place to start his own.

Twenty months before, during the Aurora's first visit to the Citadel, Caterina had passed on to him a crucial message from one of the most respected figures on the station: an Asari named Sha'ira, known as "the Consort". Looking back at his encounter with her, he now understood just where she got her ability to win the confidence of so many people; she, too, had a connection to the Flow of Life, to the force within it, that guided her. Before it led her to give him an object that turned out to be a Darglan command disc, one that allowed him to ensure the destruction of the Facility on Gamma Piratus before Nazi forces could claim it. He hoped that she might be able to help again.

He arrived at the entrance to the Consort's offices. An Asari maiden was at the entrance, wearing the almost-risque banded suits that showed skin while providing sufficient cover for all of those bits that society expected to keep covered. "Nelyna, right?" he asked.

"Yes." She looked him over. "I'm afraid I… oh, wait, I do remember you. You are Captain Robert Dale of the Aurora."

"I was," he answered. "And I still have that rank, though I have no ship now."

"Well, if you wish to talk to the Consort about it, I might be able to squeeze you into her schedule in a week or so…" Nelyna looked over the listing. "You look like you have had quite the change to your life, sir."

"You could say that," he said. Given the grown out facial hair and the neck-length hair he continued to sport, Robert wasn't surprised at the observation. "But I have other matters I think the Consort can help me with, and I really need to see her without delay."

"I understand that, Captain, I really do," said Nelyna, who was rather obviously reading from a script in her head for such insistence. "But many have need for the Consort's time, and she must be fair…"

From within the structure Robert could feel a shift of energy. He knew it was Sha'ira, and he was just as certain Sha'ira felt him. It was no surprise when her voice called out from within. "Let Captain Dale in, Nelyna. His cause is urgent."

"Right away ma'am." Nelyna nodded to him. "The Consort awaits you, Captain."

"Thank you," he answered politely. "I'm sorry if my request causes you any trouble."

Nelyna smiled gently at him. "It is no trouble, but I thank you for the consideration."

Robert walked on. Inside the Consort's subordinates, young Human and Asari in similar suits to Nelyna's, were comforting various clientele of all species. One Human woman, with a rich mocha complexion, was quietly reassuring a Hanar who was suffering a crisis of faith. A lavender-colored Asari was tending to another Asari of blue coloring who was grieving for a Human wife who just died. Robert couldn't help but know their problems, for here there were no barriers to prevent his senses from picking up on the raw emotions.

Past these sights was the room where Sha'ira received her guests. She was standing, waiting for him to enter, and beckoned him to a seat. "It has been quite a while, Captain," she observed. "I see you have changed in the last twenty of your months."

"A lot has changed," Robert answered. "Including me, yes."

"Before, the power I sensed within you slumbered still. Now it is beyond anything it might have been before." Sha'ira put her hands together. "But I sense there is pain in the story of how it came to be for you. There is a loss in your heart." Once he was seated Sha'ira touched his arm gently. "I am sorry about your child."

Robert forced a breath down. For months he had adjusted to the non-existence of the son he'd had in the Flow of Life's dreamworld. "You're very astute," he observed.

"And you grow moreso as well," Sha'ira answered. "But I sense your purpose is not to seek my help with your loss. You are here because of the attacks."

"A Turian named Saren Arterius is behind them," Robert insisted. "I've seen it. Through my abilities, the visions of possibilities I get from them. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"

The Consort nodded. "Yes. As I once told you, Captain, I too am a dreamer, and I sometimes dream of terrible things."

"I can understand why." He frowned. "I feel… an old sense of death here. Not just here on the Citadel, but in this entire galaxy. And you feel it as well?"

"I do."

"I think Saren is connected to something bigger," Robert said. "Udina and Anderson see this as an anti-Human campaign. But the attack on Adrana… it didn't accomplish anything that would help with something like that. There's another agenda here."

"I am familiar with Saren Arterius," the Consort said. "He is a ruthless man. Be cautious with him."

"I intend to be. But I need evidence against him."

Sha'ira nodded. "I may be of some help there." She quietly tapped at an omnitool. "While I wait for a reply, I would like to discuss your plight."

"My plight?"

"Yes. I can sense the unease in you. The power you wield… it is almost too much for you."

Robert didn't react at first. Finally he nodded. "I struggle with it. Especially with fine control. Too much is riding on me to do otherwise."

"That is true. But you are still disappointed in yourself, even though you should not be. Have you not aided your friend?"

"A little, I guess."

"More than a little, I think. And now you have come back to your vessel, though you no longer command it."

"It's Julia's ship now," Robert said. "And… I don't want to make her feel like I'm trying to take it back."

"I see." Sha'ira reached over and took his hand. "You love her very much."

To that Robert nodded. "I always have."

"And you do not want to hurt her. But you also want to be home." Sha'ira shook her head. "These things are not in conflict, though you feel they are."

"I commanded the ship before, and I'm still officially a Captain," Robert said. "Two Captains on a ship, it's… it can be confusing. I don't want people to start looking to me when they should still be looking to her."


"I didn't think about that when I made the choice," he continued. "I just wanted to be back where I belonged. With the others. For years, we've had each others' backs. We've been looking out for each other. I wanted to go back to that."

"And you wished to be with those you love," Sha'ira pointed out. "Even now, Captain Dale, I can feel the loss inside of you. Those whom you have loved who no longer live. That pain could overwhelm if you did not have the others."

There was no denying the truth in that. "Yep," he admitted.

"I do not say this to cause you pain. Merely to show you that you have reason for the choice you made. And I believe you were right to return to your ship, whatever issues that return may have caused." Sha'ira checked something on her omnitool. "Indeed, I believe remaining with your loved ones may be the most important choice you may ever make."

"Does your sense of what is to come tell you that?" Robert asked. "I mean, the visions you have with your gift?"

"Somewhat, yes. But I would believe so anyway." Sha'ira smiled gently at him. "I have learned many lessons in my time, Captain. And one of them is that we are always made stronger by remaining true to those whom we love and cherish." She seemed to check her omnitool again. "As for your other concern, I have contacted an associate who has confirmed a possible avenue for your investigation into these attackers."

Pleased to have the business at hand brought back into the conversation, Robert nodded once. "Thank you for your help. What can you tell me?"

"I can tell you very little," Sha'ira replied. "But Barla Von will be of much greater assistance. You will find him in his office in the Financial District further down the Presidium. I will relay the exact coordinates."

"Barla Von?"

"He is a volus trader working for the Shadow Broker. He is thus quite dangerous, but also quite reasonable." Sha'ira stood, prompting Robert to do the same. "He should be able to help you, Captain. And he is expecting you."

"I see." Robert considered that. He felt a vague sense of imminent danger already and resolved to make a stop first. "I'll go see him after changing into something a little more appropriate for the situation, then."

"Please do," Sha'ira said. "I look forward to your next visit."

"I do too," he answered, with some genuine belief behind the politeness of returning such a pleasant sentiment. "Take care, ma'am." Robert activated his omnitool. "Dale to Aurora, one to beam up."

The transporter whisked him away a moment later.
"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 Jun 17, 2018 5:02 am

Lucy was already preparing to go to the Citadel when she got the call to armor up and meet Robert in Transporter Station 2. A Human man was on duty when she arrived, in blue robe and purple armor with her lightsaber affixed to the belt.

Robert entered several moments later. He was clad in a similar set of armor, but colored blue, and the brown robes were not a usual color among the Gersallians. A pulse pistol was holstered on his hip. Lucy imagined he might have a backup holstered at the small of his back as well. "It's a set of traveling robes Mastrash Ledosh gave to me before I left Gersal," he said to her. "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything."

"I was going to check up on a Quarian sanctuary Meridina and I visited the last time we were here," Lucy admitted.

"I wouldn't have called you if I didn't need the backup. But there's no telling the danger we could run into, even on the Citadel," Robert remarked. "Saren's been an active Spectre for decades. If he realizes we're hunting for dirt on him, he might have agents that could attack us."

"Right." Lucy sighed. "Well, at least it's not security duty. I'm still waiting to see if Richmond convinces Julia to transfer me." Immediately she sensed Robert's thoughts shift. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"I will, when we have time. For now, let's go meet this Barla Von."

They beamed as close to the Financial District as possible, given the Citadel's new transporter-inhibitor fields. Barla Von wasn't hard to locate. Officially he worked as a data manager for a Volus-chartered bank on the Citadel, providing the necessary information on galactic conditions for the bankers and managers to make decisions on bank business.

Unofficially, according to both Sha'ira and a report from Alliance Intelligence, Barla Von worked for the Shadow Broker.

Nobody knew who or what the Shadow Broker was, or if they did, they said nothing about it. Generally speaking the Broker was referred to in the masculine, reportedly because the Broker addressed others with what most species considered a male voice, electronically altered to be unrecognizable. From wherever the Broker lived, the Broker managed an intelligence network that spanned the entire M4P2 galaxy and, perhaps, beyond it now. Alliance Intelligence warned against dealings with the Broker without authorization from the Defense Staff.

Of course, as a Paladin, such authorization came pre-approved for Robert.

Barla Von looked up from his desk the moment Robert and Lucy entered. "Ah. Captain Dale, Lieutenant Lucero." Von sucked in air after each sentence, an audible sound. "I have been expecting you."

Lucy gave him a look. "I'm assuming Sha'ira called ahead?" Robert asked.

"She did, as a courtesy," confirmed the Volus. "But it merely confirmed what I already expected. You are here to investigate Saren Arterius' connection to the Geth, and the attacks upon Adrana and Eden Prime."

"Did she share that with you too?"

"No. I am already aware of the accusation. The Broker has been keeping an eye on Saren for some time." Barla Von put his hands together. "He is aware that Saren is no longer working for the Citadel Council."

"I'm guessing he doesn't care to inform the Citadel, then?"

"The Broker is not loyal to the Citadel Council, obviously, and they would not heed him anyway. All he would accomplish was jeopardizing his contacts within Saren's organization." Barla Von gestured toward Robert. "But that is for another time. You may be running short of such time if you want to prove Saren's guilt." Yet again Barla Von stopped to suck in air.

"What do you know?" asked Robert. "And how much will this cost me?"

"I know something you need, and it will cost you nothing," said Von. "Saren's actions are against the interests of the Broker. I have been instructed to assist in discrediting Saren in the eyes of the Council. Sending one of the Alliance's new Paladin agents to deal with this problem will meet the Broker's desires quite nicely."

Robert crossed his arms. "Given his reputation, I'm surprised he wouldn't want to insist on a quid pro quo, especially given the amount of information a Paladin can access."

Barla Von waved his hand dismissively. "The Shadow Broker has enough agents in the Alliance, there is no information you would give us that we don't know already."

Robert felt Lucy's incredulity at the claim, a mirror of his own. But there was nothing but certainty in Barla Von on the matter. "I'm in no hurry to sell Alliance secrets, even in exchange for information I need on this, so I'll take your word for it."

"Understandable. You would not want to give Admiral Davies and Minister Hawthorne further cause to push for your removal. They have already insisted President Morgan revoke your membership in the Paladins as it is."

Again there was that damnable certainty. Robert felt a prick of cold nervousness on his spine. While there was to be transparency and oversight of the Paladins at the high levels of government, much about their organization remained classified. How would the Broker know for certain about such debates?

Because if he knows anything about how those men feel about me, about people with mental powers and metaphysical abilities, it would be obvious, argued a part of his mind. Stop being paranoid. And yet… yet…

"Either way, the Broker does not seek compensation from you, Captain," Barla Von continued.

"Oh?" Lucy spoke up. "He's going to help out of the kindness of his heart? Or hearts?"

"Hardly. Rather, he has an interest in this matter. Treachery that must be punished. Saren has bought away one of our people. A man named Fist, currently the owner of a club in the Wards. Chora's Den."

"I think it was listed on the 'enter on your own risk' list of the businesses," Robert observed.

"Yes. Fist's clientele can be dangerous, as he can be as well. Especially now that he has betrayed the Broker. And he knows the Broker is aware of his treachery. Be careful, he will be heavily guarded."

"And we'll find evidence linking him to Saren and Saren to the Geth?"

"No. Fist won't have that," said Barla Von. "But he knows someone who can connect Saren to the attacks. A Quarian approached him with the evidence, believing him to still be in the Broker's employ. Undoubtedly he will betray this Quarian to Saren's agents without your intervention. Regardless of your gifts, getting to Fist won't be easy. However, I know of a way for you to get assistance."

"Oh?" Robert asked.

"The Broker has already hired a bounty hunter to deal with Fist for his treachery. C-Sec is holding him currently, but I have already ensured he will not be arrested. If you go now, you should arrive at the C-Sec station closest to Chora's Den as the bounty hunter is being released. I recommend you work together to get Fist."

"I'm not going to assassinate someone," Robert answered. "And I'm not going to willingly enable it either."

"I leave that for you to settle with our man," Barla Von replied. "I, for one, care little whether Fist actually dies or is simply ruined. Either outcome will serve as the object lesson desired by my employer. Now, Captain, I suggest you hurry. Whatever else you may feel about the Broker, Saren is our common enemy, and he must be stopped."

"I'll agree with you on that," Robert replied. He nodded. "Thank you for your help."

"Of course." Barla Von placed his hands together again, as if in thought. He spoke again as Robert turned away."And should you ever need information, keep the Broker in mind. He will certainly be easier to repay than a man like Sidney Hank."

Lucy gave Robert a curious look. Robert frowned at the remark. "I'll keep that in mind, Mister Von," Robert answered coldly, after which he went straight for the door.

The message came while Julia was filing her report on the evidence Captain Anderson presented to the Council on Saren. Meridina arrived a few minutes later, stepping out of the bridge and into Julia's bridge office. "Captain, you wanted to see me?"

"I've received an invitation for both of us that I'm inclined to accept," Julia explained. "But I figured I would get your input before I signaled our acceptance."

"I see." Meridina nodded. "This invitation is?" she then asked in her usual lilting accent.

"It's from Matriarch Lidanya, the commanding officer of the Destiny Ascension," Julia explained. "We're being invited for a tour later today."

"Ah? Quite the honor, I imagine."

"Given we're talking about the Asari flagship, one of the Multiverse's most advanced and powerful dreadnoughts?" Julia grinned. "That's what I figured too."

"I will be pleased to join you," Meridina said. "I look forward to comparing the Destiny Ascension to the Kentan."

Julia nodded. She'd been aboard the Kentan a couple of times herself; the dreadnought-carrier was the largest ship in the Alliance, the flagship of the Gersallian Interdependency and Admiral Maran's usual choice for his personal flagship. Even before its refit with Darglan technology, it was one of the most advanced starships in the entire Multiverse and a direct competitor with the Destiny Ascension.

Julia mentally brushed those musings aside and typed a quick response to Lidanya's invitation, signaling her grateful acceptance. Moments later she received a confirmation, including an authorization code for the shuttle flight and a recommended time. Julia quickly signaled an affirmative. "Jarod or Neyzi can watch the bridge while we're done. Not that I expect any problems here. Between us, the Ascension, and the Turian squadrons covering the Citadel, even the Geth would have to think twice about attacking."

"And that discounts the ability of the various Citadel species to rapidly shift reinforcements through the mass relay network." Meridina frowned slightly. "Although given their fleet commitments to S4W8 and to other security needs in this galaxy, the ability of the Council species to react immediately to attack has been reduced."

"Good point." Julia crossed her arms in her seat. "My big worry isn't an attack on the Citadel. Or even the war. It's what's coming after we beat the Nazis."

"You are concerned about our post-war standing with the Citadel?"

"I'm sure I'm not the only one," Julia said. "It was clear early on that they don't quite know what to do with us. We're as much a threat as we are an ally, and we're way too large and powerful to simply be folded into the Council. Given how long they've effectively ruled the Milky Way, they can't like that."

"I suspect not," Meridina agreed. "And there will be the question of territorial disagreements in the former Reich worlds. The Turian wish to annex worlds they take is one that will be opposed by other parts of the Coalition."

"It's a shame to think that we could end up with tensions," Julia said. "We've worked together well since they got into the war. Maybe it was an alliance of convenience, but even then, we have too much to loose by falling into conflict."

"Hopefully our superiors and the Council will agree with you." Meridina slipped into a seat. "If I may bring up a delicate topic…?"

"Go ahead."

"When Robert returned to us at New Liberty, everyone seemed quite pleased, you included. But it is clear that there is some… discomfort on his presence."

A small, sad sigh was Julia's initial response. "I suppose you could say that, yes." Julia glanced over to one of her photos, showing her and Robert at the county fair when they were preteens. "It's awkward for him. I mean, for two years he was the captain of the ship, and I was his second-in-command. Now I'm in charge and he's… well, two years of habit can be hard to break. I think he's torn between contributing and feeling like he's undermining me if he takes the lead."

"I can understand the concern," Meridina said. She smiled slightly. "You have also evinced a certain… inclination to behaving as you did while you were First Officer, even though those responsibilities are mine."

"That's just Tom being frustrated that I'm still 'mother hen'ing him and the others," Julia said in a droll tone. "I can't help that part, I suppose."

"Just as Robert cannot help his inclination to want to lead," Meridina noted.

"Even though he's not as comfortable as a leader," Julia said.

"Not in the same fashion you are, yes," Meridina agreed. "But there is more than one type of leadership. You are more comfortable with the kind expected of a starship captain. Robert is better suited for a less formal organization."

"You mean these Paladins."

"Yes. They are more… flexible, it seems. They fit his approach the best."

"I probably teased him a little too much about the job title." Julia smiled thinly. "It does fit his 'White Knight' complex pretty well, doesn't it?"

"I admit, I am still somewhat uncertain about Human terms. I understand the term 'Knight' serves as the preferred translation for a swevyra'se, for instance, but at the same time your own history files show that medieval knights were little more than armed feudal nobility who sustained their readiness for war through legal control of land and attached work forces. No swevyra'se would ever conceive of such a thing."

"Historical reality and mythology, fairy tales, don't always add up," Julia noted. "Ask most people what they think a Knight is, and they'll think up King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, or a character from a fairy tale. Fairy tale knights, the good ones or 'white knights', are supposed to be brave champions of justice who fight to protect the innocent."

"Much as Swenya's Code requires," Meridina noted. "And an apt description for your purpose in the years before the Alliance."

"Yeah. And Paladins are… well, I think there were historical ones too, but it's also another term for what a white knight is." Julia chuckled. "I wonder if that's why President Morgan picked the name. I can't see him wanting to just emulate the Spectres, they've got too much freedom to do horrible things. But making people into 'Paladins' to encourage them to do good things and not just the necessary…"

"Such names and titles can have power, yes. Although when you speak of Robert having a 'complex'..."

"Rob has the most irritating compulsion to be the good guy that it makes me want to swat him on the head," Julia said. "When it doesn't make me love him to death."

"It is an admirable quality."

"Not when he's starving himself and not getting enough sleep because he wants to rescue more people," Julia said. "You weren't there for our early days operating the Facility. We had to scrub down his office because he started to personally reek."

Meridina gave her a confused look. "What do you mean?"

"He wasn't being hygienic," Julia clarified. "As in he wasn't bathing or showering. He wasn't eating. He wasn't sleeping. He was in full 'good guy complex' mode and all he cared about was finding more people to help. I had to force him to take time off in the end. And that was only after the Kelley had to be put into the dock for three days of necessary maintenance work." She chuckled. "He got better over time, at least."

"I see." Meridina recognized what Julia meant, and how it could have been frustrating to her. She recalled the training in her Order including insistence on self-care and the realization that no swevyra'se could "save everything".

"Either way, I'd better verify my report got filed." Julia put her hands back on her desk and activated her control. "I'll see you in the main shuttle bay in forty-five minutes?"

"Agreed. I shall reserve our shuttle now. Permission to be dismissed, Captain?"

"Permission granted," replied Julia.

A trip back to the Embassy led Robert and Lucy to the lift to the C-Sec offices. They stepped into the lift and Robert activated it with a press of his hand to the plate. As the lift began moving through the tube, an automated system began playing a newscaster reporting on the Geth attacks.

"You have something on your mind other than this case," Lucy said to him. "And it involves me. You might as well talk to me, Rob."

"Alright. I suppose this lift ride will be long enough." Robert looked to her. "I hear you're being considered for transfer to security."

"Richmond wants it. I don't." Lucy shook her head. "I don't mind working with her, but the job doesn't interest me. I think it's too limiting."

"But you're not satisfied with operations anymore, either?"

"I can't say I ever was, but it fit my skills the best so I just went with it. But now…" Lucy shrugged. "Well, I suppose it still fits the best. But what are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that I want to offer you a place under my command," Robert replied.

Lucy gave him a look. "What?"

"The Paladins are allowed to bring in a few people to be in their command," Robert explained. "And as potential recruits for being Paladins in their own right."

"And you want me?"

"It would probably fit you better than what you've got now," Robert pointed out. "I mean, your piloting and engineering expertise will come in handy when they finish building our new personal craft. And your personal combat skills are better than mine, especially if we run into enemies with life force powers and the weapons to compliment them."

"I don't want to become a secret agent, Robert," Lucy said, and in a harsh tone. "That's not what we're supposed to be. We're supposed to be open with what we are, we're supposed to inspire people to be better. What you're talking about is the kind of crap that Saren and his ilk do."

"I know, and I agree," Robert replied. "But we're not… we're not supposed to be Spectres, Lucy. President Morgan was clear on that. We need to stick to a moral code. And I think you'll help me do that."


"Yeah." He shook his head. "I'm not blind to the risks of this kind of work. It's easy to make terrible choices, do terrible things, and justify it as 'necessary'. Maybe some of the other Paladins will fall into that trap. I don't want to be one of them, though. Why else do you think I came back to the Aurora when I had to pick my base of operations?" He focused his eyes, and his thoughts, on her, allowing her to easily sense what he was feeling.

Lucy responded by crossing her arms and looking thoughtful. "I'll have to think about it," she said. "Later."

"Fair enough."

By this time the lift's transparent window was displaying the sight of the center of a C-Sec facility. Another lift linked to the various docks for visiting starships. Figures in C-Sec blue were everywhere, moving to and fro while they were on business.

Near the entrance to the officers area, three C-Sec guards were facing a Krogan in red armor. "I don't want to hear about you coming near Fist again," the lead C-Sec man stated to the Krogan. "Or you go right back into a cell, and I don't care how many friends you have calling, you won't be coming out for a good long while."

"Here's our guy," Robert murmured while the Krogan exchanged barbs with the departing officers. "I'm not sure I like the thought of working with him. Not if he's going to assassinate Fist." Robert approached and waited for the C-Sec members to move on. The moment the Krogan turned, his red eyes swept over them.

Robert expected many possible reactions, good and bad. He didn't expect the feeling of recollection from the Krogan, however. Nor did he from Lucy, who smiled wryly and said, "Hey there, Wrex. Getting into trouble again?"

A low cackle came from the Krogan. "Lucero. I didn't expect to see you again so soon." He looked at Robert. "Here with your boyfriend?"

Lucy laughed out loud at that. "He's not my type," she said, extending her hand. "Robert, this is Urdnot Wrex. Wrex, Captain Robert Dale, formerly Captain of the Aurora, and now…"

"A special agent working for the Alliance," Robert finished for her. He offered a hand and half-expected to have it crushed, but Wrex kept his grip just shy of such pressure.

"Wrex was on Tira," Lucy explained. "He helped us stop the Brakiri and the others from committing genocide against the Dilgar."

"Thank you for helping my friends, Mister Urdnot," Robert said.

Wrex snorted. "None of that 'Mister Urdnot' crap. 'Battlemaster' if you have to be formal."

"Your choice, Battlemaster."

"Once you get to know him, Robert drops the formality," Lucy said. "So, you're after Fist too?"

"I am. What do you want with him?" asked Wrex.

"He can lead us to evidence about the real culprit behind the recent Geth attacks," Robert said. "But we need to know more about what's protecting him."

"More than a dozen armed mercenaries and thugs," said Wrex. "I could blast through them, but it takes time. He'll run before I get to him."

"Well, you'll have us to cut through to him," said Lucy. "He won't have time."

"But don't kill him," Robert said. "We need him to find the Quarian with the evidence we need."

"I'll let him live long enough to answer," said Wrex. "But I've got a job to do."

"I'm not in this to assassinate someone," Robert insisted. "This is something bigger than one crook betraying another."

Wrex rumbled with what sounded like a chuckle. "Be careful what you say about the Broker. He destroys people when they annoy him."

Robert crossed his arms.

"Let's just get to Fist first," Lucy said. "Alright?" Sensing Robert was still unhappy, she looked to Wrex and asked, "A moment?"

"Sure. But we'd better hurry, Fist may already be planning to run."

"Just a moment." Lucy took Robert by the arm and led him away. "You're being a hardass about this," she grumbled at him once they were out of earshot.

Robert gave her a bemused look. "This, from the woman who was griping at me about becoming no better than Saren? He's talking about killing Fist in cold blood, Lucy. And he's going to. I can sense it."

"Yeah, me too. But…"

"But what?" Robert frowned at her. "You can't tell me you're on board for something like that. Even if Fist is scum, just killing him…"

"I don't want to just kill him, Robert. But given our situation, working with Wrex may be our only way to make sure we get him," Lucy insisted. "And I'm willing to give Wrex a pass on this."

"Because of Tira?"

"Yeah." The bronze complexion of her face paled at the memory. "Tira. He… they were butchering babies, Rob. You didn't see it. I… I did, and so did he, and we both reacted the same way. He turned on the Brakiri to stop their mercs from killing more of those babies. He risked his life to help us save Tira. And maybe I'm not comfortable with him just killing Fist, but I guess I'm willing to give him a pass on it because of that. And we could use his help."

Robert hadn't seen Tira, true. But he could see the image in his head now, courtesy of Lucy's memories of that reconnaissance-turned-raid, and his face paled as well. "I'm sorry," he said to her. "We've all seen a lot of horrible things, but that…" He drew in a sigh. "Alright. Let him know he can go with us. I'm going to call Shepard and see what she's found."

Lucy nodded and walked back into C-Sec. Robert watched her round the corner and hoped he wouldn't regret it. There was something to say for Wrex's honesty, at least; he wasn't pretending he wouldn't kill Fist if given the chance.

Still… I am not going to become an assassin, or help it along. That's not what we're supposed to be doing. If I open that door even a little…

Robert let the thought go and activated his omnitool. After several moments Shepard's face appeared on it. The image behind her included something like a biobed. "Shepard here. Go ahead."

"Dale here. I've found that there's a Quarian on the Citadel somewhere with evidence against Saren. But they trusted the wrong person and are getting sold out to Saren."

"I've heard the same. Some guy named Fist who runs Chora's Den. Officer Vakarian and I are going to go have a discussion with him. Interested?"

"Definitely, but from what I've found out, you'd better be ready for a fight. The Shadow Broker sent a bounty hunter after Fist for turning on him. So he's got at least a dozen guns protecting him."


"Yeah, and we've got the hunter on our side. A Krogan Battlemaster named Urdnot Wrex."

A small smile crossed Shepard's face. "And he's going to be joining us too? It almost makes me feel sorry for Fist and his people. We'll meet you near the Den."

"We'll be there as quickly as we can," Robert said. "Dale out." He lowered his arm and turned his head, allowing him to see Lucy round the corner with Wrex. "Shepard and some friends will be waiting for us near the Den," he said. "Let's get going."

There was a guilty look on Cat's face when they stepped off of the lift that brought the three down to Tayseri Ward. A fun tour of the Citadel was now a work project, and one that could get them in trouble. But the chance to learn more about the Keepers was too much to pass up for Cat. As always, Violeta seemed to be taking it in stride, and they were still holding hands when they walked out into the concourse. The lifts from the Presidium came together here, with a C-Sec security station and some shops before one got to the streets and pathways of the Ward proper. Beyond the window ahead they could see the massive Destiny Ascension loitering near the Citadel. Nearby the Aurora was in her station-keeping position, angled so they saw her belly angled to port.

Swiftly their attention was elsewhere. A Keeper walked by quietly and Cat swiftly scanned it. The initial results were interesting. The Keepers had a low-level data stream connecting them to systems on the Citadel, and additionally seemed to be more like biological drones than independent creatures, complete with heavy cyberization. There was still more to analyze, however…


Cat turned her head to face the voice calling out to her. An older Human man with graying, buzz-cut hair and blue eyes walked up. He was in the blue uniform of C-Sec. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

Cat almost asked what he meant, but she stopped. She followed his eyes and noted he was directing his gaze on Tra'dur, who's hand and omnitool were hovering over another Keeper walking by.

"Pardon, sir?" Tra'dur asked.

"That's against Citadel laws," he said. "You don't mess with the Keepers."

"Oh?" Tra'dur blinked. "I apologize, then. I was only scanning, I had no idea…"

The man sighed. "Didn't you read the visitors' booklet? It's listed near the top of the list of 'things you shouldn't do'."

"Wait." Tra'dur briefly glimpsed toward Cat and Violeta before returning her gaze to the C-Sec officer. "Those were laws?"

"What made you think they were anything but?"

"Well, the wording… perhaps it was a translation error, but I thought it was merely a list of things it was suggested not to do? I had no idea it was an item of law. I do apologize, Officer…"

"Bailey," the man replied. "Now, run that by me again."


Tra'dur had the C-Sec man's full attention, allowing Cat to slip beside him and approach the Keeper Tra'dur tried to scan. She glanced back toward Officer Bailey just to have her eyes run over Violeta. She nodded and put a finger over her (to Cat, very kissable) lips, signaling Cat to remain quiet and keep going. Cat followed the Keeper until it rounded a corner and approached a control console of some sort, which it used all four limbs to operate. Cat activated her omnitool and began scanning.

After several seconds Violeta got her attention by stroking Cat's neck and hair with her hand. Cat enjoyed the touch of Violeta's skin on her own, even something light like this, and glanced to see her shaking her head now. Cat immediately pulled her arm away from the Keeper. Her omnitool disappeared from sight.

Tra'dur stepped around the corner, joined by Bailey. "Do me and yourselves a favor," he said to them. "Help your friend go over the visitor booklet and make sure she recognizes what she's not supposed to do, alright?"

"Uh, yessir," Cat pledged. "We'll do that."

"Good. Don't want you ladies to get into trouble over these damn bugs. Some of the others will actually haul you in over this, just to make the point." And with his point made, Bailey stepped away.

Once he was out of earshot, Tra'dur asked, "Did you get the scan?"

"I did," Cat replied.

"We might want to stop," Violeta remarked. She gave Cat a concerned look. "I believe him when he says some of the others might arrest us."

"I shall do the scans, then," said Tra'dur. "It was I who made the deal with Chorban. I never realized how serious they took the matter… but there are only a few scans left and it would seem like a waste of time…"

"It would be," Cat agreed. She took Violeta's hand again and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you, Vee, for the help, and don't worry. Just a couple more scans and we're done, then… then we can go to lunch or something. Enjoy some of the local cooking. Maybe rent a skycar and fly it to a good view…"

"Very good ideas." Violeta grinned at her. "But you're paying. It's the least you can do given this."

"Oh, of course."

With the arrangement made, they continued on into Tayseri Ward.

The Citadel, being a metropolis in space, had more restaurants, bars, and eateries than a visitor could ever see. Tom Barnes, Leo, Locarno, and Angel opted for an open-air bistro in the Presidium, about a quarter of the ring down from the Embassy. Their meals, in various stages of completion, were arrayed around the table, as were the steins or glasses of drink they had. Angel took a small drink of what the bartender called Serrice Ice Brandy and decided she liked the taste. "I guess the Asari make good booze too," she said. "Not as good as the wine I had last time I was here."

"You mean when you and Rob tried to have a date here on the Citadel?" asked Barnes. "The one J-man interrupted?"

"I'd think that was a punching offense," Leo joked.

Angel shot him a playful glare. "He didn't seem to know, and I believed that. And it was important." She sighed. "Besides, we got to finish the meal at least."

"That's good to hear," said Locarno. He looked around. "I didn't get to see much of the Citadel last time."


"Too much paperwork to do," said Locarno. "And I've been Earth Spacedock before, and a few other Starbases in the Federation. I didn't think the Citadel would be that special."

"But it is, right?" asked Barnes.

"It's certainly unique," Locarno agreed.

Leo watched Angel as she looked away from them. Her eyes gazed into the distance as she quietly took another drink. "Now that Robert's not the Captain, maybe the two of you…"

"No," she said.

The others looked at her. "Oh?" asked Barnes. "Because usually…"

"I know what I usually do. And I'm stopping it." Angel considered her glass. "Robert and I… we don't work."

"Given how often the two of you get back together…"

"That's why I know it won't work." Angel turned back to them and set the glass on the table. "Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result… that's a definition for insanity."

"Agreed," said Leo.

"So I'm done. I mean, I'll still be friends with Rob. He's a good man, as annoying as his hero complex makes him at times." The others smiled and Barnes outright laughed. Angel grinned as well. "And I'll remember that it was fun at times. But I'm tired of replaying the past. So I'm going to do something new."

"I understand. And good luck with that. Finding a boyfriend willing to accept that you can beat him up can be hard," Leo joked.

Angel shot him another playful glare. "Keep it up, Leo. I can still punch you."

"But then who would treat your wounds the next time you lose to the Captain in the ring?" Leo asked drolly.

"You have subordinates," Angel retorted. "Besides, I win three out of five of those."

"Not by my count.."

"Either way…"

"Whatever your choice about romance, that's not what I'm worried about." Leo folded his hands on the table. "You've been restless lately, Angel."

"I know," she admitted. "It's just… with my decision on Robert made, and with Cat spreading her wings, a part of me wonders why I'm here…"

"I always thought it was because you enjoyed blowing crap up," Barnes remarked.

"A perk," Angel admitted. "Especially when it's Nazis. But…" She looked to her glass again. "I wonder if it's enough. When I was on my own a few months ago, while the Aurora was in drydock, it was… it was interesting. I saw more of the Multiverse. And it needs people like us back out there, doing good. Not just staying on our fancy-pants starship surveying planets and playing nice with corrupt jerks and their lackeys."

"I'm not sure that works as well as this," Leo said. "Even if you had a ship like the scouts to use…"

"It's just a thought," Angel said dismissively. "And I already know you're going to bring up Hawk and his merry band of brain-damaged assholes."

"I didn't think it necessary."

"And it's off anyway," Barnes protested. "We were never that bad."

"You could have ended up that way." Locarno shook his head. "They didn't have anyone to tell them not to overuse the brain infusers."

"It's not just the infusers, though," Barnes insisted. "Hawk and his people were already fraking assholes. Their Facility just makes them worse."

"You don't know that," said Angel. "It's possible they meant well."

"I'm sure they meant real damn well when they bombed the crap out of Earth C1P2," Barnes guffawed. "Did you know there's still a crapload of wars going on there? Anna was telling us about it when she got back from her leave."

"Not a surprise." Leo looked at the miserable expression on Angel's face. "We're here for you, though. No matter what you decide."

"Yeah," Angel murmured. "I know."

Shepard and Kaidan were waiting when Robert approached with Lucy and Wrex. In their company was a Turian in a blue C-Sec field uniform. "Glad you made it," Shepard said. "We're going to need the help."

Robert nodded. He sensed the ready tension ahead. The door to Chora's Den wasn't far, up a walkway over one of the empty spaces in the Ward, and there were armed men there waiting. "A direct assault could get dicey."

"I'll get you to the door," Wrex said.

Robert nodded before noticing Shepard's team was short one. "Where's Sergeant Williams?"

"Back at a clinic watching a friend of Vakarian's." Shepard nodded at the Turian. "This is Garrus Vakarian of C-Sec. He's been investigating Saren."

"With little luck, I'm afraid," said Garrus. "I'm hoping to find a breakthrough in the case through Fist."

"We all are," said Robert. He reached into his robe and pulled out his pulse pistol. "Commander, Battlemaster, if you want to do the honors?"

"I'll go with them," Lucy said. "You three watch our backs."

The six went for the door, the first three with shotguns out - or lightsaber, in Lucy's case - while the latter three had pistols ready. Shepard held up a hand with all five digits extended out. She pulled in her thumb first as she counted down, clenching her hand into a fist as she did. Robert drew in a breath and focused on the energies around him. The familiar sense of imminent danger sharpened his senses. Adrenaline began to work its way into his body.

Once Shepard's hand formed a fist, she hit the door switch. The door to Chora's Den opened, a dim crimson light spilling out from the inside.

The gunfire began a moment later.
"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 Jun 17, 2018 3:33 pm

The roar of gunfire filled the dark spaces and hot pink neon highlighting of Chora's Den. Armed figures at the bar and elsewhere poured fire into the space of the opened door.

Robert imagined Shepard would step back and let Lucy do the honors of getting in. Instead he watched, and felt, the energy gather around Shepard. In a flash of biotic power Shepard rocketed forward to slam into the bartender. The Human male's gun fell loose from the impact. Shepard brought the butt of her shotgun and slapped it into his face. The bartender screamed in tandem with the cracking sound of his nose being broken.

Lucy and Wrex went in next. Wrex's shotgun came out and barked. A merc went down. Lucy's blade of shining sapphire light came alive with an electronic snap and hiss. The lightsaber became a blur from the speed at which she was moving it, intercepting shots. Robert came up behind her and opened fire. Pulse shots struck a Turian merc several times in the chest, sending her down. Robert's next shot hit another Human male while Lucy, ready to use any opening she found, threw a bolt of invisible force that sent an enemy gunner flying into a wall.

A gunman came up from their left. A blast of blood and brain matter put an end to him. Robert felt a bit of appreciation at Garrus for his aim, even if he regretted the death. Kaidan fired a series of shots as well, sending another of the mercs back to cover.

Shepard was finished with the bartender. Next was a gunman standing on the platform above the bar area, on what looked to be a dancer stage. Shepard's arm flung out and biotic energy flew out. It struck the gunman directly. Instead of causing him to fall back, however, the force pulled him off the stage. He hit the ground in front of Shepard, who kicked him in the face and knocked him unconscious.

Again Wrex's shotgun roared, and again a merc fell. Kaidan and Garrus fired repeated pistol shots from the cover of one of the tables. Their suppressive fire forced another pair of the mercs into cover. Robert's shot, with his aim aided directly by his abilities and training, struck one of them, putting him down.

There was another burst of biotic power and light. Shepard was charging again, this time clearing the bar and slamming into one of the mercs moving out of cover. The impact threw her foe into the wall with enough force to knock him out. She pivoted on one foot and fired a shotgun blast point-blank into a second opponent, killing him instantly.

This bold attack might have exposed Shepard to too much danger, so far ahead of allies, but Lucy was quick to come to her aid. Her lightsaber cut right through the rifle of her first foe, then lopped the arms off a second to disarm them. Robert fired a shot that hit a remaining merc in the forehead. Lucy, freed from attack in that corner, turned and sent a wave of invisible force at the mercs still behind cover and exchanging shots with Garrus and Kaidan. They cried out in the second before they slammed into the wall. Robert tracked their movement and fired a couple of stun bolts that took them out of the fight as well.

For a moment it seemed the last merc was down. But now the door behind them opened again, and more armed men appeared. Everyone took cover from the resulting gunfire. "Fist must have called in every favor he has," Garrus called out. "He's going to run!"

Robert and Shepard shared a look. "Lucy, can you stay and help Alenko and Vakarian?" he asked her.

Lucy nodded. "Yeah. We'll keep them off your back."

"Good," said Shepard. She nodded to Wrex. "Let's go introduce ourselves to Fist."

The Destiny Ascension was a beautiful ship, Julia thought. The coloring reminded her a little of the Orsala, the religious caste-crewed Minbari War Cruiser she had visited briefly during the Tira crisis. But there was a utilitarian element to the Destiny Ascension's internal design that the religious Minbari lacked, a case of form with function instead of just one or the other that the Asari had worked to perfect in their designs.

Matriarch Lidanya's tour was not over-long. Her ship was much larger than the Aurora, and Julia knew from experience that a day-long tour wouldn't be enough to see everything of potential interest on her ship. The same applied here. Yet the lavender-complexioned Asari, with her face markings of brilliant pinkish-red, clearly had pride in her command. Given her ship was one of the largest and most advanced starships in the Multiverse, this pride was understandable. Indeed, the tour ran long enough that Julia and Meridina would be having another pilot fly their shuttle back while they beamed directly to the Presidium for necessary meetings involving Ambassador Atama.

"I hope you have enjoyed your tour, Captain, Commander," said Lidanya.

"It has been quite the experience, Matriarch," Meridina assured her. "We are grateful for the chance."

"If you have the opportunity, Matriarch, I would love to reciprocate," Julia added.

"I will get back to you on that." There was a warmth in the Asari's voice that made her sound closer to Julia's age, surprising since she was, from Julia's perspective and that of Julia's Earth, old enough that she could have traveled with Christopher Columbus or even Marco Polo. "In these past two years, my people have been blessed by the opportunities your Alliance has given us. Our maidens who once had only a galaxy to explore now range the Multiverse, and alien species we might not have imagined are now visiting Thessia."

"I would like to visit one day myself," said Julia. "Your homeworld has a reputation in the Alliance for beauty."

"We have worked hard to keep Thessia a garden for the benefit of the galaxy." Lidanya led them onto the control bridge, where other Asari officers in uniform were conducting standard operations. "Personally, I would love to visit Gersal and Doreia and Alakis. Or one of your Earths that has not been turned into a planet of mega-cities."

"Ah." Julia nodded. She'd seen images of M4P2 Earth, and how so much of the planet's surface was now marred by megacities to support a massive population not yet dispersing to the colonies. "A diplomatic tour of the Ascension would work wonders for relations, I would think."

"It is an idea," Lidanya agreed. She looked at them carefully. "My people have many varied opinions on matters, Captain, Commander. But for the most part, we always value diplomacy and good relations with other species. It is my personal fear that once the war with the Reich ends, the Allied Systems' relations with the Citadel will start to decline."

"I've worried about the same," Julia admitted.

"It is natural, I suppose," Lidanya lamented. "Your Alliance is too powerful to be admitted as an equal to the Council or to be held strictly to its decisions. Even more than the Terminus Systems or the Batarians, you are a potential threat to the Citadel's system of interstellar law and order. And that might make some people treat you as an actual threat when they shouldn't."

"The Alliance has enough space to expand to in other universes, so there is little prospect of tensions over regions of influence," opined Meridina. "But it would be foolish to overlook the simple fear that can arise from old certainties being swept away. This I can say from harsh experience."

Lidanya nodded. "The attack on your Senate last year. Yes."

"Matriarch, whatever the Council feels about the Alliance, what do your people feel about us?" Julia asked. "The Council was founded in part by the Asari, after all, and it embodies Asari principles of negotiation and collective security. I can see your people being afraid that the Alliance will undermine your creation."

"There are those who agree with the anti-Alliance faction among the Turians," Lidanya said. "But from the debates on the extranet, and the votes, I think it's clear most Asari are willing to give the Allied Systems the benefit of the doubt for right now. You've signed the Treaty of Farixen, after all, and worked with the Council on many issues."

"Hopefully that view will prevail among the Salarians and Turians as well."

After Meridina's remark Julia checked the time on her omnitool. "We'd better get over to the Presidium," she said. "Ambassador Atama is expecting us."

"The transporter room is this way," said Lidanya. "We adapted it from a secondary meeting room on this deck…"

The pair of mercs guarding the entrance to the rear storage areas were ready when Robert, Shepard, and Wrex came. It just didn't do them any good.

The three of them moved like a single mind even without the aid of Robert's ability to connect their minds. Wrex drew their fire and Shepard knocked them down with a biotic shockwave. Robert got both with shots from his pulse pistol before they could get back up.

They approached the door. Robert already sensed what was on the other side. "Don't shoot," he urged as soon as the door opened.

Wrex and Shepard still had their shotguns up, although they heeded his request.

There were armed beings on the other side. But they weren't fighters, not with the terror and fear Robert felt within them. They were the dancers, the waitresses, the workers. All had mass effect sidearms of some kind or another and, he suspected, most had little idea how to point them right. Only a few actually tried.

"Stop! Stop or we'll shoot!"

Robert felt hesitation in Wrex, but just hesitation. He'd pull the trigger soon if the guns didn't go down. It was Shepard who actually lowered her gun slightly. "We're not here to hurt you," she said. "We're here for Fist."

"Mister Fist is our boss, he gave us jobs we needed," a Human man answered. "We're not going to just let you hurt him."

"We're here to get questions answered, not hurt him," Shepard insisted. Robert sensed the skepticism in the others and was certain Shepard knew about it too. "Fist is just using you. He's willing to let you die if he can get away."

For a moment it seemed like one would protest, but he didn't. Robert could sense they were turning it over in their minds. Sure, he'd given some of them jobs, even let them earn extra on the side. But he wasn't out here, was he? He was in his office, putting stuff together to run.

That same consideration was on Robert's mind. They had to act now to catch him. He wondered about pressing his will against their will, mental manipulation as Meridina often did. He'd tried it a few times, even if he disliked the idea of violating minds…

"Listen, there's a firefight going on behind us," Shepard said. "So just stay here and stay down, I don't want any of you getting hurt."

"Wh-why should we trust you?" another asked.

"Because if we wanted to hurt you, you'd be dead already," Wrex remarked.

All eyes turned to the Krogan. Given the flicker of fear Robert felt, there was no doubt about how right he was. A moment later the weapons were all lowered.

"Thank you." With that simple response, Shepard moved through the parting workers. None dared to stop her. They didn't try Wrex either. Robert went through them with no issues, not even a hint of hostility. Relief seemed to be their primary emotion. Relief… and realization that Fist had intended for them to be his human shields.

They found the far door labeled "Office". A quick scan verified the life form within. He nodded to the others, who did a countdown before opening the door. They walked in without problems. Across the way from them was another door, still unopen, leading to rear access ways. To the left was the main office, with a section of wall hiding them for the moment from sight.

Normal sight, anyway.

Within moments all three were ready to turn the corner. Wrex started and immediately pulled back.

The gun turrets opened up a few moments later.

Julia entered Ambassador Atama's office, where Udina and Anderson were already seated at a table near Atama's desk. "Ambassadors. Captain."

"Come in, Captain," said the Dorei man. He gestured to another seat. "I am pleased you have made it. This way the report on our discussion will be more readily provided to the President."

"Oh?" Julia accepted the seat. "What is it?"

"The Geth attack and the prospect of a rogue Spectre directing them has ramifications for our security," Udina replied. "For starters, it is unlikely the Systems Alliance can provide the agreed upon units for your military's push on Earth in the S4W8 universe."

Julia didn't allow a frown to form on her face, but she knew her look was at least pensive. "That's going to require a lot of changes to our plans, I'm sure. While I'm not familiar with the particulars, Admiral Maran's made it clear we'll need every unit we can get if we want to take Earth before the Reich can recover."

"That's understandable, Captain, and we're not making this decision lightly, I assure you," said Udina. "But we have to care for our colonies too."

"There's no telling where Saren will attack next," Anderson said. "Or how. Millions of lives could be lost if the Geth hit a big colony like Elysium. Or even Earth itself…"

"Would the Geth have a fleet large enough to manage such an attack?" Even as Julia asked that question she realized the answer; nobody knew. The Geth were, to everyone else, one big unknown. Even the Quarians only had slight inklings of their capabilities. Given the centuries since the Morning War, the Geth could have built up quite the fleet with the resources of the solar systems beyond the Perseus Veil.

And since they don't require food or atmosphere or any kind of amenity that our ships have, even our most spartan ones… any ships they do have will be enormously capable.

That somber calculation was still in Julia's mind when the tones came over the omnitools of the two Ambassadors. Each excused themselves and walked away.

"I wish I could have been there," Anderson said.


"At Epsilon Indi. Or any of the other battles that supported Maran's main effort," said Anderson. "I heard Sixth Fleet was involved…"

"Yes. At Epsilon Eridani, fighting alongside our Eighth Fleet and the League of Democratic Worlds' Second Fleet. It was one of the larger flank battles, from what Arik - Captain Shaham on the Enterprise - said. Your ships helped them hold the system."

"And now we'll have to pull them out to deal with Saren." Anderson smacked his fist on the table. "Damn. And when we're so close to taking Earth."

Julia had no reply to that, given how right he was. Saren's timing was horrendous, not that he cared she was sure. "He struck me as reflexively anti-Human during his brief visit to the Aurora last year," she noted.

"He despises us," Anderson said. "He's always been upset that the Council stepped in and restrained the Turian military after Shanxi. He thinks we should have been reduced to a protectorate of the Hierarchy."

Julia considered asking about Shanxi, the site of the First Contact War between Humanity and the Turian Hierarchy, but she was prevented by the return of the Ambassadors. "I suppose we each got the same message?" Udina asked Atama.

Atama frowned and nodded. "Yes. This will be quite difficult for our efforts."


Udina looked to her and Anderson. "Captain Dale and Commander Shepard have been identified as part of a firefight currently happening in the Wards, at a bar called Chora's Den. Now we have to run interference with C-Sec until we find out what's going on."

"I'm certain the Commander has good reason for whatever she's doing."

"If she and Robert are both involved, this may be linked to the Saren investigation," Julia pointed out.

"And for their sakes, I hope it is," Udina said. "And I hope they get us the smoking gun we need. Otherwise they may be the ones who end up in a cell instead of Saren."

The turret fire was quickly joined by a barking gun. Robert was able to glance just long enough to see the man huddled at the desk behind cover. He pulled back before one of the turrets opened up again. Sparks flew from where the sand grain-sized rounds, propelled by mass effect fields to deadly velocities, were striking and slowly decaying the material.

"Do you think your abilities can handle the turrets for us?" asked Shepard.

"I can try," he offered. "Give me a moment." When he saw Shepard nod, Robert lowered himself to one knee and concentrated. He reached within himself and felt out for the turrets. He could sense them, bits of metal and ceramics, and worked on getting them to turn.

Using these powers was, as always, reliant on a tricky frame of mind. He had to think of it happening, imagine it, but not force it in his mind. His will, connected to the universe, was causing it, but not so much from active thought and willpower as it was a general sense that this is what is happening. The turrets were twisting. There was no doubt that this is what they should be doing, there could be no doubt, for doubting it was happening meant it would not. The connection required certainty.

The weapons fire changed direction as the turrets turned away from the entranceway to the office. A cry of frustration and surprise came from the desk. Fist was frantically trying to take control of his guns back.

Shepard and Wrex sprung into action. Wrex went for the turrets. His shotgun boomed repeatedly from his shots, each a direct hit on the guns until they broke down from the damage. Shepard, meanwhile, threw a bolt of biotic force that blew Fist into the air and toward them. He let out a curse as he hit the ground. Shepard and Wrex covered him with their firearms immediately. Shepard kicked his gun away from his hand. "Alright, Fist," she said, "start talking."

"I got nothin' to say to you," he insisted.

Robert followed them into the office. It was furnished, certainly, but dark and very impersonal. "Where's the Quarian?" he asked. "The one you're betraying to Saren?"

"I pay good protection," the man protested. "When C-Sec gets here…"

"When C-Sec gets here, they'll find a fellow officer pinned down and under fire," Sheppard finished for him. "So I wouldn't count on whoever you've been bribing to help. Especially when everyone's finding out you turned on the Shadow Broker."

"Let me kill him," said Wrex. "He's not going to cooperate anyway."

Fist's face went white. Robert sensed his terror and said, "Cooperate and you live."

For a moment Fist was weighing his options. Robert sensed the calculation of whether or not he could evade any reprisal by Saren, the need to run, losing everything he'd built in his years on the Citadel, versus the certainty of the very big shotgun in Wrex's hands. Finally he sighed. "She wanted a personal meeting with the Shadow Broker."

"That doesn't happen," Wrex said. "The Broker doesn't do personal meetings."

"She doesn't know that. I told her I'd set it up. But Saren's men will be the ones she runs into." Fist activated his omnitool and tapped several keys. "Here. These are the coordinates. The meet's going down in a few minutes."

Robert and Shepard received the coordinates from Fist through their omnitools. "That's not far from here," Shepard said. "It's the back alley connecting to the lift to the Presidium. If we hurry we can make it."

"Is he telling the truth?" asked Wrex.

Robert nodded. "He is. I can sense it."


The moment Wrex said that word Robert sensed his intent and cursed himself for not paying more attention to the Krogan. He raised a hand toward Wrex to intervene, but before he could act Wrex's shotgun thundered. Fist's head exploded in a mess of blood and gray matter that splattered the back wall.

Robert's other hand shot up. His pulse pistol now pointed at Wrex's head. Wrex, in turn, swiveled toward him with his shotgun ready. "I told you I'd kill him," said the Krogan.

"That was unnecessary!" Robert shouted. "You didn't have to!"

"The galaxy's a better place without him." Wrex's red eyes met Robert's without flinching. "I fulfill my contracts, Human."

"You didn't on Tira," Robert retorted.

"The Shadow Broker didn't ask me to stand back and watch infants being murdered. He's not that stupid."

"Both of you, stand down!" Shepard shouted, standing between them. It was her eyes, blazing emeralds that seemed to come straight from Robert's visions, that now locked on his own. "Captain, we don't have time for this. That Quarian's going to get killed if we don't move."

There was no arguing the point. Robert knew she was right. He lowered his weapon, but the frown didn't leave his face. "Right," he agreed. "I'm following your lead, Commander."

"Still with you, Commander," Wrex said. "I'm seeing this through to the end."

Shepard led them out of the office and back to the bar. The sound of gunfire had them ready for a fight. This proved premature when it ended just as they emerged. Lucy's lightsaber buzzed in the air from where she was holding it on a merc clutching the stump of his lost arm with his surviving hand. Nearby Garrus and Kaidan were standing from cover. "How did it go?" Kaidan asked.

"The Quarian's in danger," said Shepard. "We've got to keep going."

"Go on ahead, all of you," said Garrus. "C-Sec should be here soon. I'll handle them."

He was answered with a nod. The five ran on into the Ward.

The sight of the Citadel's great wards dominated the dock terminal window. The officers of the Koenig command crew stared out at the sight, the glistening jewels of lights from the high rise structures of the Wards and the large ships. The Aurora was plainly visible, as was the Destiny Ascension, both representing differing, but elegant, starship aesthetics. Will marveled at the difference from the more utilitarian designs of the Colonies of Kobol.

"I'm glad we got to visit this time," said Apley. "It's quite a sight."

"Yeah." Magda leaned against the railing. Beyond was open space between the deck and the window, with more docking terminals below. The edge of a Turian transport docked to the Citadel was visible just outside and below them. "A good way to make up for the leave time we lost. I can't believe we missed the parade this year."

"I wish I could have seen it," said Will. The Koenig had been detached from the Aurora the night before the New Liberty Colony's 5th Anniversary Parade, her presence needed with the allied fleet in the attack on the Reich colony Gottschee-of-the-Stars, a preliminary to Maran's main attack at Epsilon Indi and the various supporting actions.

"They were using a Koenig float this year," remarked Lt. Karen Derbely, the Chief Engineer. "And we didn't even get to sit on it. So unfair."

"Well, there's always next year," Apley pointed out.

Will nodded. He wondered if he would even be on the Koenig the following year. If Commander Carrey ever returned to active duty, Admiral Maran would probably be predisposed to returning him to his command. And Will, honestly, could not fault him for wanting to be back, as much as he enjoyed the honor of sitting in Carrey's chair.

"Gottschee was quite a fight," Apley said. He looked to Will. "And for your first in command, pretty epic."

"Yes it was," Will agreed. "I thank the Lords we came through it okay. What would they have said about me if the Koenig was lost in my first combat mission as her CO?" He smiled thinly. "'Over-his-head Colonial officer gets original Facility ship destroyed in first battle'."

"There wasn't a chance of that, Will," Magda insisted. "I know Zack left big shoes to fill, but he was a rookie starting out too."

"Actually, as blasphemous as it is to say it, you're better than he was starting out," Apley remarked.

"True," Sherlily added.

"Blasphemy!" Magda shrieked playfully. "I can't believe you're saying that!" Even as she spoke, Will's cheeks turned red.

"Sad but true," Derbely agreed. "Of course, you Facility types don't want to hear it, but you were pretty rough starting out. Why else do you think Command assigned us to the Koenig?"

Magda glowered toward her, still playful in her look… but perhaps not quite as much as before. "Hopefully I'll improve just as Commander Carrey did," Will said, recognizing that some old delicate feelings were being prodded. "Whatever his skills starting out, he's become a legend in the attacker community for a reason."

"Well, unless you're one of the really hardass types," Sherlily noted. "Some of them still see him as an amateur. You hear instead about Imra on the Heerman, Tasker on the Upholder…"

"To hell with those elitist jerks," grumbled Derbely. "We can outfly them all!"

"That we can," Will agreed, smiling, and thankful yet again for the opportunity this command provided him. He thought briefly on what might come in his future, if there would be other commands, bigger ones. If he might one day command a Battlestar or an equivalent in the Alliance fleet.

One day, perhaps. But for now, he was commanding the Koenig, and that was more than enough for him.

The five ran as quickly as they could through the dim halls of the internal sections of the Ward. The light around them turned red as they approached the back alley Fist had identified. Robert sensed the life forms ahead. Fist hadn't betrayed them. It made Urdnot Wrex's execution of the man all the more galling.

But that was for later concerns. Right now, they had to save the Quarian. Robert recognized the style of environmental suit as he and Shepard finished ascending a walkway, giving them a direct view of several figures in combat suits watching the Quarian. One approached her.

"Where's the Shadow Broker?" the Quarian asked, her voice possessing an electronic timbre from her suit. Despite said timbre, or perhaps because of it, Robert found he recognized the voice.

"Where's the data?" asked the assassin.

Before the Quarian could reply, Robert called out to her by the name he remembered. "Tali'Zorah, look out! It's a trap!" It was an instinctive reaction, a need to warn her before Saren's men could get closer to her.

Of course, this led to guns being pulled. Lucy and Shepard leveled looks of some irritation at Robert.

It was the only reaction they had time to give before the blast filled the alley.
"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 Jun 17, 2018 7:35 pm

GODDAMN IT! Cliffhanger! I'm really digging this action packed boots on the ground investigation stuff interspersed with SCAN BUGS MINIGAME. And I'm digging the Mass Effect setting too.

"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 » Sun Jun 17, 2018 10:52 pm

The origin of the blast was, surprisingly enough, from Tali herself. Her arm came up and an object left it, after which she ran for cover behind crates left in the alleyway. The explosive that went off didn't actually harm any of her would-be killers, but it contribute to the general chaos of the moment.

With the force within him guiding his aim, Robert's pistol came up and tracked the Turian closest to Tali. He fired off a shot, a bright blue spark of light that hit the Turian in the shoulder. Return fire from the others forced him to duck behind cover.

There was a surge of energy around them. A warped sense in the air… Robert felt it and knew it was biotic power being unleashed. Shepard's, to be precise. Wreathed in the purplish blue light of dark matter, Shepard shot forward and slammed into another of the mercs. Her shotgun swept over and blasted through the large helmet of a Salarian shooter. She slipped back into cover under the protective fire of Wrex and Kaidan, firing from cover themselves. Robert contributed with an aimed shot that grazed the leg of a Human assailant. This stopped said attacker long enough for Tali, wielding a Predator pistol, to squeeze off her own shot that brought him down.

At this point, only ten or so seconds of firefight had been waged, and the two sides were mismatched; despite their losses so far the mercs were pressing ahead with numbers. Grenades would be used, Robert sensed; they were devoted to fulfilling Saren's orders of killing Tali.

Unfortunately for them, those ten seconds had been more than enough time for Lucy to get into position.

She'd jumped over head to a catwalk along the upper reaches of the alley, allowing her to move further in while the gun battle kept the mercs' attention. Now she landed among them with a wave of power that knocked several of them over. Her lightsaber flashed to life, snap-hiss, a sapphire blur in the air. A limb flew and a scream from another Salarian filled the alley. Lucy turned, deflected a shot from another merc, and sent a wave of force into that shooter that sent him and a second one flying into the alley wall.

Lucy's arrival in their midst completely disrupted the mercs' attention. Alone, she had a chance of beating them before being overwhelmed. But she wasn't alone, and more than that, she had Shepard's help. Even without the same gifts Robert and Lucy shared, Shepard understood Lucy's tactic completely. She threw out a blast wave of biotic power that sent another pair of mercs flying, exploiting the distraction Lucy's maneuver created. Her shotgun barked once, twice, and both mercs were down.

Wrex charged in, shotgun blasting away, as if any return fire mattered nothing to him. Which, given the robust nature of Krogan physiology and Wrex's defenses, was inherently justifiable.

Given the nature of the battle Robert felt free to disengage. He went to Tali and knelt beside her. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, I am alright," she said in accented English. The twin points of light in her face mask seemed to focus on Robert. "Wait, I know you. You are the Captain of the Aurora."

"Former Captain," Robert corrected. "So… you're the Quarian we're looking for? You've got the evidence about Saren and the Geth?"

"I do," she confirmed. "Saren's agents have been trying to kill me for days over it."

"Well, we can protect you," he promised. The growing silence around them seemed sufficient proof off that. Shepard approached. "They're all down?"

"Every one of them." Shepard nodded at Tali. "I thought I recognized you. It's good to see you're alright. Do you still have the evidence?"

"I do. It's a recording I retrieved from a Geth scout."

"We'd better get this to Udina and Atama." Robert stood up. The fight was over; most of the mercs were dead or incapacitated. Lucy and Wrex were disarming the survivors while Kaidan approached them. "Are you okay with joining us at the Embassies?"

"They don't allow Quarians there, normally," Tali said. "I tried to approach, but they kept me out and threatened to call C-Sec."

Robert and Shepard exchanged frowns. All of this effort might have been avoided if not for the casual anti-Quarian bigotry of the Citadel. "They'll make an exception this time," Shepard promised. "You're with us now."

Meridina, Julia, and Captain Anderson were waiting with the ambassadors at Udina's office when Robert and the others arrived. "This had better be good," Udina growled. "Three shootouts in the Wards, all attributable to you two. The Council will have our balls in a sling if you don't have something to show for it."

Shepard nodded to Tali, who activated her omnitool. "I recovered this audio-file from a Geth memory core I found on the Galactic Rim." She hit a key and allowed audio to play.

"Finding the beacon on Eden Prime was a major victory," the recording began.

"That's Saren's voice!" Anderson proclaimed, prompting Tali to briefly pause the playback.

"There's more," Tali said. When she had silence, she resumed playing the file.

"The Systems Alliance defenders will never expect something like the Geth. And the loss of the beacon will be humiliating to them. It will buy us time to put together the other pieces we need to find the Conduit."

"And the ruins on Adrana?" The speaker sounded female. Robert thought he'd heard the voice before, and he sensed the same sentiment from Julia and Meridina. "We went to great lengths to discover the extent of the Dorei defenses."

"I am aware of your efforts, and I applaud them. The ruins on Adrana must be dealt with, yes. Any fragment of data left by the ancient Adranians might help our enemies. By attacking both worlds at once, we can ensure their reaction is divided and uncertain. And the attack on the Reich Fleet in S4W8 will provide the perfect opportunity." Saren went silent for a moment. "Finally, after all of these years, everything is falling into place. With the information in the beacon we will be able to find the Conduit."

"And with it, ensure the return of the Reapers."

Meridina visibly started at the term, and it did not go unnoticed. Udina barely seemed to notice, however, as he was more interested in the recording. "It is authentic? Saren will not be able to claim it a forgery?"

"The data is unmistakably Geth," Tali insisted. "Any analysis will show the data couldn't be faked."

"I'm quite sure the Council will put that to the test," Udina remarked. "But we'll make use of it regardless."

"What do they mean by Reapers?" asked Kaidan.

"Nothing," said Udina. "Perhaps a ruse of some sort for Saren to keep his control over them. Commander, Captain, thank you for retrieving this information. The Council will have to disavow Saren now, no matter what his original orders were. I'm going to present this evidence to the Council immediately. Ambassador Atama, as the evidence proves Saren plotted the attack on Adrana, would you like to join me?"

"I would," answered the Dorei. "This matter must be dealt with." He looked to Robert. "I will call when you are needed."

"I'll be waiting," he answered.

After the two diplomats left, Shepard looked at Meridina. "Meridina, that recording, what made you react to it?"

With all attention on her, Meridina answered. "I made contact with the intelligence inside the Adranian computers. The last surviving echo off that long-dead species has little in the way of memories, and almost all are of the extinction of her people. I saw the images of that terrible slaughter and the enemies that committed them."

"Going by the recording, Saren doesn't want us to learn anything about what happened," Robert noted.

"You say you saw visions of the Adranians being attacked." Shepard directed her attention at Meridina. "The beacon on Eden Prime showed me something like that. And Saren tried to destroy it by blowing up the colony after he left."

"You were given visions as well?"

"Images. But I can't make sense of them."

Meridina nodded. "I can link our minds together, Commander, if you are willing. There may be a deeper connection."

Shepard drew in a breath and nodded. "Alright. Whenever you're ready."

"Bring the visions to the surface of your thoughts. This will only take a moment…" Meridina stepped up to Shepard and focused her mind. She felt Shepard's thoughts. A resistance that was instinctive, but which gave way much as skin before a probing needle. Shepard's thoughts were ordered, disciplined. The thoughts of a tried soldier.

And then the images began. The Prothean beacon's imagery was not complete, perhaps due to Shepard's brain not having the means to understand their alien thoughts or languages. But nevertheless the images came, one by one, showing the killing, the slaughter. The machines showed no mercy, ripping and tearing the flesh of their enemies. Leaving butchered victims that numbered in the thousands… millions.

Meridina ended the connection. Shepard blinked and rubbed at her head. "Well?" she asked.

"There are similarities, yes," said Meridina. "I cannot be completely sure, but if I am correct, the Adranians and the Protheans encountered the same force of destruction. The aliens that the Adranians knew as Reapers."

"So the same force wiped out two species two hundred thousand years apart?" Robert asked.

"I believe so."

"That doesn't sound good," said Alenko. "What could this force be?"

"I don't know," Meridina admitted.

"But it's clear Saren is interested in them." Shepard shook her head. "For whatever reason. And whatever he's up to, it's a danger to all of us."

"Yes it is," Robert agreed. He felt a deep sense of foreboding at the subject. Not just foreboding… warning. Focusing on his powers didn't alleviate it either. If anything… it made those feelings worse.

He thought back to that sense he'd gotten, that feel of a constant stain of death in the Flow of Life.

"We should get to the Citadel Tower," said Julia, noticing Robert's look. "Udina and Atama may need us."

After their trip to Tayneri Ward, Cat, Vee, and Tra'dur returned to the Presidium. Cat took Violeta off to see if they could say hello to someone called the Consort, leaving Tra'dur to meet with Chorban. The Salarian slipped up beside her while Tra'dur was looking at the Krogan Memorial. "You've finished?" he asked.

"We have." Tra'dur tapped at her new, Stellar Navy-issued omnitool. This transferred the scans to Chorban. It was a complete transfer, leaving nothing on her system. She couldn't risk C-Sec finding the data and causing her, and her new crew, trouble. "What do you hope to accomplish?"

"By understanding the Keepers, we might be able to understand more about the Protheans. About what kind of society they had. Why they left the Keepers as they are. It may even tell us more about the Keepers themselves." The Salarian's eyes blinked in a way that seemed to reinforce his species' amphibian origins. "This kind of study work is centuries overdue. But there is always concern because the Keepers destroy themselves if analyzed too closely, so if we learned too much, all the Keepers might shut down. And without the Keepers, the Citadel might not function anywhere as well as it does. Another mystery about them that needs to be solved, and one I intend to solve. Your contribution will be noted, in name if you want."

Tra'dur leveled a look at him. "Why would I not want credit due to me?"

"It may make further trips to the Citadel difficult if our work with the Keepers is considered dangerous."

It was a reasonable point. That it conflicted with Tra'dur's burning desire to be published in the Multiverse, to be seen as a scientist, was beside the point. "I desire my due share of credit," she insisted.

"I'll note your contribution then, Lieutenant Tra'dur." Chorban noted something on his omnitool. "I took a few minutes to research your species."

"Oh?" Tra'dur wondered where he was going with this.

"I won't hold it against you, being a Dilgar. You clearly have evolved socially away from the behaviors you evinced in the wars against other species. And honestly, the Multiverse can use more non-Humans. Not that I am as suspicious of Humans as others of my species are. I simply want to avoid their numbers swamping us in the end."

"It is a reasonable worry," Tra'dur granted him. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Cat and Violeta approaching. "My friends are returning, so if you have nothing else to ask?"

"No. Good luck with your work, Lieutenant. Goodbye."

Tra'dur watched him walk away quietly. "So, was that…?" Cat's voice prompted her to turn and face the young science officer.

"Yes," she answered simply. She looked back up at the Krogan Memorial. "It is… strange to be here. To learn so much."

"In what way?" asked Violeta.

"I remember meeting those two Krogan on Tira, Wrex and Drack. I wasn't sure we could trust them at first, not until they proved themselves in the fight for the gate controls. If only I had known about their species' history, I might have known better." A dark look came to her face. When Cat and Violeta had no response to it, said look dissipated. A small smile settled. "I really must thank you for bringing me with you. This is an amazing place, truly."

To that Caterina nodded in agreement. "I'm glad you enjoyed it," she said.

"And there is still so much to learn about it. These Keepers, for instance. They run all of the critical systems, it seems, and with little regard for the rest of us. But why are they so secretive? Why do they not communicate? Are they truly mindless?" Tra'dur sighed a little. "Now I wish I had insisted Chorban let me keep the scan data. The chance to figure out what we're looking at with them…"

She let the sentence trail off at the look of bemusement on Cat's face. Cat quietly activated her omnitool and displayed a list of files. Scan results, to be precise. "I won't tell if you won't," she said, much to Violeta's amusement.

Tra'dur nodded. "You have my complete confidence, Caterina'Delgado," she answered.

Robert and the others stood toward the rear of the audience platform with Ambassador Atama, allowing Udina and Shepard to be the ones directly addressing the Council. There was clear aggravation on Sparatus' face as the evidence was shared and, more importantly, as their own experts verified the authenticity of the recording. "There you have it," said Udina, his voice betraying none of the feeling of smug satisfaction Robert sensed in him. "The proof you need."

"The evidence is clear," Tevos agreed. "Saren has betrayed us. He is responsible for the attacks and is conspiring against the Council."

"We are revoking his Spectre status and issuing an order for his arrest or destruction," Sparatus confirmed.

"And not just Saren." Robert stepped up to join Udina and Shepard. "The other voice on the recording, I recognize it."

"So do I." Robert could sense Tevos' bewilderment. "Matriarch Benezia. A powerful, respected leader among my people, with many followers. I don't know why she would throw in with Saren, but she's a formidable ally for him."

"I wonder about their mention of the Reapers, and the Conduit Saren speaks of," said Valern. "What is Saren's plan here? He is not one to embark on an operation without a clear idea of what he can accomplish."

"The recording speaks for itself," Shepard said. "He's looking to bring them back."

"Why, though?" Tevos asked.

"The Reapers are a race of machines that destroyed the Protheans fifty thousand years ago. And the Adranians two hundred thousand years before that," Shepard answered. "There's no telling how much power Saren might wield if he finds a way to activate them, or use their technology."

"Preposterous," Sparatus declared. "You seriously expect me to believe Saren is going to willingly bring back a race that has wiped out galactic civilization at least twice? What's in it for him? How could he expect to survive?"
Robert felt a voice in his head, in his memories. "We must serve if we are to survive." "Maybe he thinks he's saving the galaxy by helping them," he said. "If he thinks they're coming back anyway, by helping them he hopes to gain their favor."

"I wouldn't put too much stock in Saren's claims," Valern said. "The Reapers are a myth, a discredited theory on the fate of the Protheans. For Saren they're a means to control the Geth for whatever his true purpose is."

"No. They're real," Shepard insisted. "The beacon the Protheans left behind showed them, what they did."

"The Adranian computer intelligence we found also remembered the extermination of their species by machines," Robert added.

"An intelligence that your own reports indicate was incomplete and half-mad because of it," Sparatus retorted. "And we have no way of knowing what the Prothean beacon was made to show us. It might have been an entertainment fiction the Protheans left behind for all we know, much like your species' own apocalypse fantasies."

"Are you willing to risk being wrong?" Shepard asked. "We're talking about a threat to civilization, not just a single rogue Spectre. If Saren actually finds a way to bring the Reapers back, our entire galaxy, even the Multiverse itself, could be destroyed."

"Or he may be planning to use their technology for his own benefit," Meridina offered, sensing that Shepard's argument was not swaying them.

"Whatever Saren's purpose, his threat will be easily neutralized," Sparatus said. "He's been stripped of his Spectre status. He's a wanted man in Citadel space, deprived of all of his legitimate channels of supply, and on the run."

"That's not good enough!" Udina insisted. "You know he's hiding in the Traverse. Send in your fleet!"

"A fleet isn't the right tool to find one man," Tevos said.

"No, but it will keep the Geth from attacking any more of our colonies!"

"Sending a fleet into the Traverse could spark full-scale interstellar war with the Terminus Systems," Valern retorted. "With the war against the Reich drawing away portions of our fleets, we cannot afford to provoke the Terminus states into launching another one."

Udina looked ready to protest. Atama stepped up and shook his head. "They have a point, Ambassador," he remarked. "And while the Allied Systems would also welcome increased Citadel fleet presence to assist against the Geth, we recognize it as a political impossibility in the current environment."

"And are you willing to let Saren's Geth kill more of your people, Ambassador Atama?" Udina asked harshly. "Because that is what is going to happen, Reapers or no Reapers."

"Send me in."

All eyes turned to Shepard.

"I can take down Saren," Shepard explained. "I'm an N7 of the Systems Alliance Marines, Saren is the kind of threat I've been training my entire career to face. Give me the support and resources of the Council and I can hunt him down in the Traverse without causing a war."

"I know what you're aiming for, Shepard, and it's too early!" There was an urgency in Sparatus' voice. "Your species isn't ready!"

"It is an elegant solution," Tevos pointed out.

"Exactly. It gets the Ambassador his Human Spectre and lets the Council show it's taking charge in dealing with Saren without causing a war," Shepard said.

"Indeed." Valern nodded. "I call for a vote."

Sparatus glared at his colleagues, but there was no dissuading Valern and Telos. Wordlessly she tapped at her control board, after which the others did as well. "Commander Shepard, please step forward."

For a moment Shepard turned to Anderson, her commander, her mentor. A very slight smile formed on the older man's face as he nodded at her. Shepard stepped forward, Udina moving away to give her space. And as she did so, Robert sensed the energy in the chamber. More and more people were coming over to observe the proceedings, called over by the initial observers as it was realized what the Council was debating doing… what it was about to do.

"Commander Jennifer Shepard, it is the decision of the Council that you be invested with the powers and responsibilities of the Spectres," Councillor Tevos declared.

The crowd was now watching with rapt attention.

"Spectres are not trained, they are chosen…"

As Valern and the other Councillors expounded upon what being a Spectre meant, and what they represented to the galaxy, Robert and the others watched quietly. This was history in the making, every bit as important as the history they had already made themselves. Commander Shepard would be the first of M4P2 Humanity to stand as a defender of the Citadel and the interstellar peace it embodied. Given how brief her branch of Humanity's time in space was, it was a meteoric rise. There was danger in it, the danger of other races concerned with what it meant for Humanity's increase in influence, coupled as it was with the knowledge that Humanity was indeed the most common species of the Multiverse. Shepard would face scrutiny beyond what any Spectre had ever known before. Her decisions would be argued, debated, and used against her, and many would be eagerly awaiting the first inkling of unworthiness for her position.

As far as Robert was concerned, they would wait in vain. He'd had the opportunity to work with Shepard and to fight at her side. He knew full well that her training of his crew, and her leadership and skill in the Facility at Gamma Piratus, had been crucial to defeating the SS there. As far as he was concerned, this was long overdue.

When the Council was finished and adjourned, everyone gathered to congratulate the newest Spectre. "I'm proud of you," Anderson assured her.

"Thank you sir."

"Anderson." Udina gestured away from the platform. "We have matters to discuss. The Commander's mission, in particular."

"Of course. Captain, everyone…"

After they stepped away, with Atama as well, Julia beat Robert in extending her hand, which Shepard took. "You'll do great," Julia said.

"Thank you for the vote of confidence."

"I wonder what they'll do for assigning you a ship," Robert wondered aloud. "I chose the Aurora as my base of operations, but I'm still waiting for the personal ship when I'm on missions away from her."

"We'll need something to chase Saren." The remark was from Sergeant Williams. She and Kaidan saluted to Shepard. "And congratulations, ma'am. Please tell me you're bringing me along. I want to make sure my comrades in the 2-1-2 are heard from when we take that son of a bitch down."

"You'll be there, Williams. And you, Alenko. I'm just not sure where yet."

"Udina's arranging something, I'm sure," Robert said. "In the meantime, I have a report to file with Maran. Let me know what you find out?"

"Of course," Shepard answered.

Robert and Julia sat quietly in her ready office until the signal came from the bridge. With a press of a key Admiral Maran appeared on the display of her office comp. "Captains, I've gone over your report on the situation." Maran's expression was somber. "My congratulations on your success in proving Saren's duplicity. Even without Council support he is a severe threat. If he still had that support as a Spectre, moving against him would have precipitated a political crisis between the Alliance and the Citadel Council."

"Will you be sending me to go after him?" Robert asked.

"That was our thought. Actually, given the situation, President Morgan wants the Aurora herself participating in the hunt for Saren."

"We're high profile," Julia noted. "It'll be hard to go unnoticed."

"Agreed. Which is why you will be cooperating with Commander Shepard. I've already spoken to Admiral Hackett on the matter."

"So she's getting a ship?" Robert asked.

"That's being arranged right now. I leave it to you to decide on the best way to cooperate on the matter of finding Saren and stopping whatever he's planning."

"We'll need leads," Julia said. "Even counting for everything being on the relay network, the Traverse is an enormous section of space. There are literally hundreds of planets, moons, or stations that he could be hiding on."

"You don't know the half of it, Captain," Maran said. "General Hatcher's report on Saren Arterius has been eye-opening. With his Spectre status to back him, Saren has amassed a literal fortune to finance his operations. He owns, in way or another, several corporations, including Binary Helix, a research corporation chartered on Noveria."

"Noveria? I've heard of that world." Robert frowned. "There are a lot of reports of unethical experimentation by the corporations there."

"Yes. It is going to take some time to see into Binary Helix's operations there. Among other reports of holdings belonging to Saren, safehouses and redoubts… Intelligence is devoting as many resources as it can manage to the effort, but it may take time to get you information you can use. And we know that Matriarch Benezia has a daughter, named Liara T'Soni, who is a xenoarchaeologist who specializes in the Protheans. There may be a link there as well."

"We'll look into it," Robert said. "Anything else, sir?"

"Not at the moment. Good hunting, Captains. I'm leaving this investigation with you two." Maran reached forward and tapped a control, disappearing from their screen.

"Well, it looks like you're getting thrown in the deep end for your first official mission as a Paladin," Julia remarked. She grinned slightly. "It's only fair, given what my first mission was like."

"At least diplomacy was a possibility for you," Robert retorted. He was grinning regardless. "We should have Jarod get Conference Room 1 ready, I guess. I'll invite Shepard and her team over." He was answered with a nod.

The command crews of the Koenig and Aurora took up some of the seats in the Conference room. Several more were taken up by Commander Shepard and her current team. Sergeant Williams and Lieutenant Alenko had been expected; that they were joined by Wrex, Garrus, and Tali was less-expected. Three more officers joined Shepard: Lieutenant Pressley, Navigator on the Normandy, the Normandy's medical officer Doctor Chakwas, and Engineer Adams.

"I've been given command of the Normandy for this mission," Shepard explained. "Udina intervened with Admiral Hackett directly, and he agreed."

"Congratulations," Julia said. "Welcome to the club."

Shepard smiled slightly at that, but the look on her face wasn't amused. "It feels wrong," she confessed. "This was supposed to be Captain Anderson's ship. Now they're assigning him to Udina until another command is opened up."

"You will do him proud, I think," Meridina offered, feeling Shepard's mixed feelings, specifically her pain and the sense she had helped betray her mentor. "Do not doubt that."

Shepard nodded once in gratitude.

"So… where do we begin?" Tali asked. "We're supposed to find Saren, but it's such a big galaxy."

"We've been given some intel on Saren's movements and Geth sightings," Pressley offered. He gave an uncomfortable look toward Tali. Robert sensed he was not happy with her presence, nor those of the other aliens in Shepard's team. "I'll have courses ready for us as soon as we figure out which targets we're going for."

"There's also Matriarch Benezia's daughter, Doctor T'Soni," Shepard pointed out. "I hear she's an expert on the Protheans. If Saren's after more beacons, she may be helping him, intentionally or otherwise."

"Or she may be a target," Garrus pointed out. "Either way, I think finding Doctor T'Soni should be our priority."

"We're still waiting to hear from her academic contacts on possible sites she's working on," Jarod reported. With a tap of a key he brought up known dig sites. Many were on the fringe of the galaxy. And some were dangerously close to either Terminus space, or the Batarian-controlled clusters. "It's a lot of space to cover."

"Since so much of it is close to Batarian space, we might need power more than stealth," Julia said. "We can direct our efforts into finding Doctor T'Soni. And the Aurora has the scientific equipment to examine any Prothean finds she may have uncovered."

"Then we'll focus on the Geth sightings," Shepard said. "And I already have a list of Saren's known supply dumps in the Traverse, we'll hit those while we're out there."

"And what if we run into more Geth ships than we can handle?" Ashley asked.

Robert turned his head toward Julia. "Why don't we have the Koenig on patrol with us?" he asked. "Have Za-" He caught himself. "...have Atreiad move back and forth between the Aurora and Normandy to support whichever ship needs it."

"A good idea," Julia agreed. "Consider it done."

"We'll be ready to launch whenever you give the order," said Will.

"Are there any other matters to consider?"

For a moment nobody replied to Shepard, since the matter seemed to be decided. Meridina was the first to notice Robert was deep in thought. "Captain Dale?" she asked.

"Just having a thought," he said. Seeing attention his way, he directed his eyes toward Shepard. "I was thinking that to make sure we keep in communication on the investigation, having someone on the Normandy who can access Alliance communications and intelligence is going to be vital. So if it's okay with you, Shepard, I'd like to join you on the Normandy."

Those on the Aurora crew looked toward him with surprise.

Shepard, for her part, nodded. "We'll be glad to have you. Report to Dock 33 and I'll have you assigned a bunk and work space."

"I'll get my things as soon as we finish." Robert glanced toward Julia. "Is there anything else?"

"No," she answered, her tone reserved, very reserved. With a look that was both thoughtful and, he thought, more than a little hurt, she nodded. "We're done here. Everyone, you're dismissed. I want all crew recalled from liberty and the ship ready for departure within the hour."

The orders given, everyone departed the conference room.


Robert felt Julia's approach nearly a minute before she was pressing the door chime on his quarters. He looked up from the duffel bag full of belongings he was bringing with him and said, "Come in."

She walked into the door and faced him. "You never said you were planning this," she remarked, almost accusingly. "That you intended to go with Shepard."

"I wasn't sure I was going to do it, not until the meeting," Robert confided. "I…" He looked at her stony expression and sighed. "I guess I didn't want to leave."

"Did you? Or is this because you're having trouble fitting back in with the Aurora?"

There was a subtle accusation in the voice, and some pain. Robert closed his eyes and lowered his head for a minute. "You know, the whole time I was in Umintamil, I kept trying to think of ways I could come back to the Aurora. The only reason I didn't try when I finally left was because I hadn't figured out how I could justify living on the ship. Now… now I realized how short-sighted and selfish I was."

"It wasn't selfish," Julia chided him. "You missed us. It's why I can't understand why you want to leave again…"

"It was short-sighted to not think about how it might affect you, Julie," Robert pointed out. "To have me around, trying to get involved in things… I mean, that was always going to cause problems unless I did it right. And I haven't been. I should be following your lead, not trying to take it."

"As much as you hate to admit it, Rob, you find it pretty easy to take charge sometimes," Julia reminded him. "So it was no surprise you did it here."

"But I shouldn't have. And that's where I made my mistake."

"And this is what… apology for it? You messed up your big return so you're just going to leave again?" There was a raw hurt in Julia's voice that surprised her, a pain in her heart that she hadn't expected. "Did you ever think that whatever the problems we've had getting you fitted in here, this is where you belong? With us? With the people you love?" She took his hand and looked deeply into his green eyes. "With me, Robby?"

He responded with a smile and the shake of his head. "I don't doubt I belong here. I… maybe I'm just overthinking it. And this isn't a goodbye, Julie. This is just me doing what we have to in order to stop Saren. I… I can sense that I need to be working with Shepard on this one. Just for this mission. I'm not trying to avoid the problems of moving in. As soon as we've dealt with Saren, I'm coming back to the Aurora. This ship is my home, and I don't want to be gone long."

The passion and heat in his voice did its magic. Julia didn't doubt his intention. "Promise me you're coming back?"

He grinned and nodded. "I'm coming back."

And with that, they hugged.

The Aurora beamed him back to the Citadel. Lifts brought him to the dock in question, not far from the C-Sec office where he and Lucy met Wrex. The Normandy was waiting in her berth, held to it by circular magnetic clamps attached to what looked like wings or nacelles.

The Normandy was small, in the same size category as the Koenig, shaped almost like a 20th Century passenger jet aircraft with her long body and stabilizer fins. She looked like she was atmospheric, in fact. White was the primary hull color, with black along the side of the body and wings and thinners strip of red. The designation SR-1 on the wing was joined with the name written in white on the main black strip: NORMANDY in block letters.

Anderson and Shepard were waiting for him, Anderson in his formal uniform and Shepard in the blue duty uniform of the Systems Alliance. Robert had opted to stay out of uniform this time; he was in his blue-colored Gersallian armor and a set of brown Gersallian field robes. "Captain, Commander." He walked up to them. "Seeing us off?"

"Yes." Anderson nodded. "She's got a good crew, Shepard. They'll treat you well."

"I'm sorry it had to be this way."

"Don't be. This is your mission, your time, not mine," Anderson insisted. "I don't have any regrets."

"They'll find you another ship, right?" Robert asked.

"In time, perhaps. But the truth is…" Anderson shook his head. "The damn truth is, I've been doing this for too long. Normandy was probably going to be my final command as it was, and I'd either make admiral or find myself ashore. Well, the former isn't so likely now. But don't mind that." He faced Shepard again. "This is the mission you were born for, Commander. Go out there and make us proud."

"Yes sir," Shepard said. Her voice wavered slightly from emotion. Anderson was passing her the torch, and she recognized how much that meant.

He stepped away at that point, leaving Shepard with Robert. "Ready?" he asked.

Despite her feelings, there was no hesitation in her voice. "Yes."

"Permission to come aboard, Commander?"

"Granted." Shepard smiled and nodded. "Follow me."

They stepped into the Normandy through the dock. They had to wait for a decontamination system to run its course before the airlock green-lit their entry. The ship's operating VI acknowledged their arrival. "Commander Shepard is aboard. XO Pressly is relieved."

"You've never had to put up with that," Shepard remarked. "This way." She turned to her left, leading Robert into what was more of a cockpit than a control bridge. Alenko was seated in a side station beside the central one, where another figure was. Said occupant turned, revealing a Caucasian Human with a beard, in Systems Alliance duty blue with a baseball cap reading "SR-1". "Captain Robert Dale, this is Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau, one of the best pilots in the Systems Alliance. We all call him Joker."

"Joker, then?" Robert nodded and offered a hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"I'll pass on the handshake," Joker said. "I've got Vrolik's Syndrome, brittle bone disease. I'd rather not have the broken hand. Had that happen from a handshake once and let me tell you, it's no fun at all."

Robert answered with a single nod and a reply. "I'd say not."

With the introduction finished, Shepard got down to business. "Joker, it's time to go. Get our final launch clearance."

"Aye Commander." Joker turned in his seat and began the procedure.

"All stations reporting in," said Alenko. "Everything is good to go."

"And the team?"

"Aboard and assigned to bunks." Alenko eyed Robert. "They don't use the same sleeping bunks in your Alliance, do they?"

"Not on the ships I've worked on," Robert admitted. "But I know what you're talking about. I'll be fine. Not much different from the sleeping bags when my Grandpa Robert and Uncle Jim would take us camping in the White Mountains."

"I thought you were from Kansas?" asked Shepard.

"Yeah, but my Mom's family is from Massachusetts," Robert replied. "We visited in the summer while I was growing up."

"We have final launch clearance," Joker said. "Ready to go."

"Take us out," Shepard ordered. "We're heading to the Traverse. We'll start our search in the Hades Gamma Cluster."

"Right. Docking clamps releasing…"

On the screen the Citadel dock receded. Robert felt a thrum through the deck as the Normandy pulled out of the berth and turned to face the open space between the Citadel arms. They flew past the Destiny Ascension and toward the Aurora, already on her way to the Relay as well. He watched the ship, his home, grow large and then fall to the side.

It wasn't goodbye, not for good. He'd be back to her. Just as he promised.

The Aurora command crew were at their bridge stations watching the holo-viewer as the Normandy approached the Relay. The massive structure was lit up blue, a circle around its eezo core spinning about from the energies contained in the device. As the Normandy came up beside the core energy in the form of lightning crackled, connecting the core to the Normandy. A corridor of massless space opened up and the Normandy shot through it.

"I'm not sure I'll ever get tired of seeing that," Caterina confessed from the science station.

"It's certainly an interesting sight," Locarno agreed. He looked back at the others. "Do we have a final destination in mind?"

"There are a number of potential Prothean sites along the outer arm and the border space of the Traverse," Jarod noted. "I'm still waiting to hear from Asari authorities on where Dr. T'Soni reported she would be digging, but going by her prior reports and works, the Maroon Sea and Artemis Tau are our best choices."

"Then we'll start with the first cluster we can reach by relay and work out from there," Julia replied. "Mister Locarno, chart us a course through the relay system."

"Aye Captain."

"This will be quite the difficult mission," Meridina noted. "Saren Arterius is a skilled agent, and the Geth are a foe unlike any we have faced before."

"True." Julia nodded. Her expression hardened into a determined look. "But he's a threat to this galaxy, probably to the entire Multiverse. We have to stop him, and we're going to." She nodded at Locarno. "Helm, take us out, best speed."

"Aye aye, ma'am," Locarno answered, directing to the Aurora toward the Widow Mass Relay.

The video played again at the touch of a key. In the darkness of his command room, Saren Arterius watched the Council declare him a renegade. He watched as they yet again yielded to the impertinence of the Humans. As they elevated a Human to the same status they had just stripped from him.

Fools. They had no idea what was coming.

For all he had done for them, all he was yet doing to save the galaxy, that he was to be repaid like this, to be condemned to be hunted down like a varren by the Humans of this universe and the others… it was too much. Saren let out a shout of rage and slammed his hand on the controls hard enough to smash them. The image blinked out.

"Our agents on the Citadel have confirmed that Shepard has departed," said Matriarch Benezia, in a calm, level tone. As if she had not just been denounced herself. "It will be difficult to track the Normandy due to its stealth systems. However, the Aurora will be far easier to locate. Shall we order the Geth to pursue and destroy her?"

Saren was ready to say yes. He remembered the last failed attempt to eliminate the Alliance vessel. If they were assigned to the hunt, so much the better. Get rid of the Aurora and he could focus on Shepard…


The voice sounded in Saren's brain more than anything, a droning replete with ancient power. The voice of Sovereign, his ship, the vanguard of the Reapers and their invasion of the galaxy.

"While the removal of the Darglan vessel at an early stage would have been a benefit, now it is of little consequence," Sovereign stated. "The Geth are better employed to finishing the work necessary to locate the Conduit. Nothing must interfere with that task, not even an attack upon our enemies."

"If we do not stop them first, they will interfere," Saren pointed out. "We should attack first. Draw Shepard out and destroy her and all of her allies, keep them from-..."

Before he could finish, Sovereign's voice thundered once more. "You will do as I instruct, Saren, if you wish your species to survive the coming cycle!"

Saren silenced himself. That was, indeed, the entire point of his actions. The Turians, the Citadel Council they upheld… he had to save them. He had to prove they could serve!

"Let Shepard and the inheritors of the Darglan do as they please, it matters nothing," Sovereign continued. "They are too late to stop you from locating the Conduit, Saren. Concentrate upon that task and that task alone. Once the cycle begins, you will not regret proving your worth."

"Yes, Sovereign," Saren answered quietly. "It will be as you have said. The Conduit will be ours. The door will be opened. The cycle…" For a moment, just a moment, Saren stopped himself, as if he couldn't quite finish what he was thinking. But the thought finally, inevitably came. "...the cycle will be fulfilled."

"And your species spared, as no others shall be, so long as you serve," Sovereign finished for him, even as it continued its quiet course through the stars.
"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 » Fri Jun 22, 2018 3:17 pm


Personal Log: Robert Dale; 8 June 2643 AST. We're in our fourth week in the search for the rogue Spectre Saren Arterius. So far, our leads have all turned up empty. As things stand, we may have to wait until he makes a move, as much as I hate giving him any initiative. Maybe we or the others will get lucky and find something relevant before he strikes again.

Robert looked up from his digital pad and considered his surroundings. The lighting on the Normandy seemed dull compared to the Aurora. The low lighting made the walls navy blue in color. The surface of the floor was metallic hull plate, no carpeting or padding, so the blue meditation pad that Mastrash Kilaba had gifted him when he left Umintamil was kept rolled up along the wall. He would meditate later, but right now he wanted to continue his log.

Adjusting to life on the Normandy is a continuing process for me. It's a small ship, with a lot of space reserved for the ship's operating machinery. Doctor Chakwas continues to let me have access to her lab storage unit for personal space and meditation. I find the privacy necessary for the process.

Over the last month I've spent whatever available time I've found between missions to get to know some of the others on the team and crew. Due to my use of her lab, I have often conversed with Doctor Chakwas, for whom the
Normandy is just the latest in a long series of postings in the Systems Alliance Navy. Her only time in a planetside posting these past few years was at New Brittany in S4W8 after its first liberation. Her stories of her experiences there match up with those Leo shared.

Robert stopped for a moment. New Brittany, and the Retzoff concentration camp the Nazi SS had run near the planetary capital, was a particularly dark memory from his time as Aurora's captain. After several moments of considering that, he continued.

The ship's main helmsman, Joker, is a wit for certain, and he reminds me of Tom at times. I have to admit I did get tired of his mockery over my need to meditation. Not that I have to put up with it anymore. I seem to have convinced him that I am something of a living reactor and will explode if I don't meditate regularly, and since then I have not heard one mocking 'Ommmmm' from him.

The rest of the team are an interesting set of individuals. Garrus Vakarian, the C-Sec officer, talks at length about his father's distrust of the Spectres. Garrus himself seems more frustrated with his father's attitude and the bureaucratic nature of C-Sec. Looking back, Garrus would have been quite a good fit into the Facility crews back in the day. His complaints sound little different than the ones I've heard from Angel and Tom about how things have changed since we founded the Alliance.

I have to say I'm still a little surprised Shepard let Urdnot Wrex join the crew. His execution of Fist was uncalled for, contracts be damned. He's obviously a good fighter and a strong biotic, so he's certainly got a role on the team, but the way he shot Fist… and yet Lucy still seemed to be understanding of him last time I spoke to her. I know his switching sides at Tira was instrumental to preventing the genocide of the Dilgar, and maybe I'm being too harsh to him… I may have to meditate on this. As strange as it feels to replace "think" with "meditate", which demonstrates how my life has changed over the last couple of years.

At that moment Robert decided he didn't want to dwell on Wrex any longer. When it came down to it, this was Shepard's ship. Shepard's team. He was here by her invitation and that meant he was obligated to show trust in her decisions. Given his prior experiences with Commander Shepard, training with her, fighting side-by-side on Gamma Piratus… she deserved that faith. He continued on.

Tali'Zorah nar Rayya is another familiar face. So to speak. Tom sang her praises after that affair with the Batarian attack on the Aurora and I can see why. Engineer Adams seems ready to induct her into the engineering staff officially. His reaction is a bit of an outlier, unfortunately. Some of the Normandy crew seem to be unhappy with her presence, or her constant presence in the engine room. I overheard Pressly complaining to Shepard that she was a 'security risk'. The Normandy is a state-of-the-art stealth frigate for the Systems Alliance Navy and he felt letting Tali, or any of the aliens, have easy access to her workings was inappropriate. Shepard didn't dress him down like I thought she might, but I have to say she's very good at dealing with her crew's disagreements with her decisions without caving in to them. If I must be honest, Shepard, like Julia, is better suited for starship command than I was.

Robert stopped at the moment and thought about what he'd just recorded. Almost two years ago, Jean-Luc Picard - himself an experienced starship captain - told Robert he considered Robert a promising captain. Was Picard wrong to think that way? Was he mistaken? Or was it a case that Robert had the capability to be one, if he actually devoted himself to it? He remembered when Maran asked him to command a ship in the new Alliance fleet with much the same argument; that he was a promising commander, and the Alliance could use him. Maybe it just comes down to my choice taking me away from that path, Robert thought to himself. As that thought crossed his mind, his memory recalled another voice, that of the Doctor's TARDIS. If you do this, your life will end.

Before Robert could continue those thoughts, or his log, a tone came over the ship P.A. "This is Commander Shepard. All team members, report to the conference room immediately."

Robert locked his digital reader and set it aside. It was time to see if they'd found any more traces of Saren.

The uppermost deck of the Normandy was taken up by various control stations, with the cockpit far to the front at the ship's bow and the Captain's station at the rear, just in front of a division wall bearing the ship's name. To either side were the doorways leading to the stairs down to the second deck, where the living spaces and infirmary were located, while behind the division wall was the door to the conference room.

Said conference room was now occupied by Commander Shepard and the team she assembled. The aliens Robert had been mentioning in his log were already on hand, as were those team members he'd yet to comment on: technical specialist and biotic Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko and Marine infantrywoman Gunnery Sergeant Ashley Williams, sole survivor of the Geth massacre of her unit on Eden Prime.

"We've still got nothing on Saren sightings for the last six days," Shepard said upon their assembly. "And nothing from the Geth cores we've recovered in our last operations."

"It looks like the Geth may have figured out how I recovered the recording of Saren from the last core," Tali elaborated. "I can't get recoverable data from them anymore."

"We could transmit it back to the Aurora," Robert offered. "Jarod and Cat might be able to find something."

Shepard nodded. "I'll have Tali send all recovered data to you. Now, we do have one item of possible interest to consider. There's been increased activity at the Binary Helix labs on Noveria. The Citadel Council's had forensic accountants going over the company's books. Saren and Benezia have been funneling a lot of credits into the labs, enough to show they've got a major project of some sort that we know nothing of. Given the timing of the payments, though, we can be sure it involves their hunt for the Conduit."

"Getting Noveria's authorities to let us into that lab won't be easy," Garrus pointed out. "They're big on privacy there."

"Still, they're not completely independent," Robert said. "If they thought they were facing a direct Alliance and Citadel investigation into their businesses they might decide cooperation is safer for their other clients. Especially with Saren tied to Binary Helix, and through Helix to them."

"If we have nothing else to consider, Noveria sounds like our best bet," Shepard said. "Anyone have anything to add?" When there was no answer she stood from her chair. "Then I'll go let Joker know about our new destination. We'll meet again when we arrive at Noveria. You're all dismissed."

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Race Through Ruin"

After the meeting Robert went down to the armory. While the gear was almost entirely M4P2-made mass effect weapons and gear, he'd set aside a section for his personal armor, a set of Gersallian combat robes in brown color, and a rack of standard model pulse pistols.

He sat on the bench and began checking his weapons. Since they were directed energy firearms, there was no need to be concerned with the kind of problems a chemical-propellant firearm, or even a mass effect one, might have. But these weapons had their own maintenance needs. Capacitors had to be checked to ensure they could hold the necessary charges, the firing chamber had to be calibrated, the charge clip loading area checked for any buildups of dust or material that could impede transferring the charges to the gun proper.

Robert was halfway through the check procedure on the second gun when he noticed he wasn't alone. The next bench over was occupied by Ashley. She was in the middle of disassembling the M7 Lancer assault rifle in her personal kit. The weapon had its own unique look with the slope formed in the gun's body above the barrel, giving it a curved, circular look.

For a moment it looked like Ashley hadn't even noticed Robert. It was only after he returned to work that she asked, "Why the robes?"

Robert looked up. She was looking his way now. "They were a gift," he said. "From Mastrash Kilaba, the abbess of the Umintamil monastery on Gersal. It was her way of congratulating me for finally gaining enough mastery over my augmented swevyra powers that I could go back out into the Multiverse safely."


"My pronunciation of it sucks, even now," Robert mumbled. He cleared his throat. "The word has no proper translation into English, or German, or any other Human language I'm familiar with. It roughly translates as 'life force energy connected to all things'."

"Sounds like a bunch of alien mysticism."

There was something dismissive in her tone. Robert, for the moment, ignored it. "It can. But I've felt the truth in it. Some truth, anyway. There is an… energy, a force if you will, connecting all living things. Binding us together in a great flow of Life. It's what the Gersallians call it, actually. The Flow of Life. They just don't understand everything about it. I spent my time debating with them if the Flow itself had a guiding thought to it, an intelligence or being you might say."

"God," Ashley said. "That's what it sounds like you're talking about."

Robert nodded once. "It could be the Almighty, I guess. He, or it, or whatever… it spoke to me. In the form and voice of my grandfather. The force shielded my mind from the effects of the Time Vortex, it saved my life."

"That's…" For a moment Ashley seemed at a loss for words. Robert sensed her incredulity. "I've heard a lot about these aliens wielding powers. I'm a little frightened by it, actually. They have enough advantages over Humanity. But if you… are you sure what it was?"

"I'm not sure of the specifics, no," Robert replied. "It was a presence in the Flow of Life, a guiding Force, but it never gave me a name. Just a sense of its existence, and that there was far more to this than I or even the oldest Gersallian masters understand."

"That sounds like what God should be." A distant look came to her eye. "Greater than anything we can think of."

Robert nodded in agreement. He didn't feel it necessary to say anything. But he did have a question. "You said you were worried about aliens having these abilities. I get the feeling you're not happy with having non-Humans aboard."

"Well, Tali's not a concern. The Quarians aren't a threat to Humanity. I'd almost say they're a warning of what can happen to us if we rely on the Council too much." Ashley glanced over to where Garrus was leaning against the ship's ATV, an M-35 Mako vehicle. "But the Turians? And that Krogan? I don't like the idea that they get to move freely around the most advanced ship in the Systems Alliance. They can learn things that might hurt us."

Robert considered Ashley for a moment. He'd been around bigots before. He could remember the toxic nature of blind hate and fear. He remembered the taint of it on Admiral Davies and his aide. But he didn't sense that here, at least nowhere near to that level that disgusted him still. There was perhaps a level of fear, of worry anyway, and firm pride, but no hate.

And yet… and yet he still got a whiff of it, of the mistrust and paranoia he'd felt in Davies. This was a woman who, with the wrong stimulus, could become just as bad.

"I know I can't speak for the experiences of Mankind in this universe," he said, "but I've seen other universes that confirm for me that relations between Humans and other species doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. The Alliance has four species as full members right now."

"But aren't the aliens a minority?"

"There's no majority in the Alliance, actually," Robert said. "In individual states, yes, because the Gersallians, Dorei, and Alakins each have a unified government. But population-wise, Humanity only has a plurality of the Alliance population. So the Alliance is a truly multi-species…"

Robert was interrupted by the sudden sound of the ship's klaxon. Someone, likely Shepard, had the Normandy going on combat alert. Without a pause Ashley began putting her rifle back together. Robert set the pistol he'd been working on back on the work table, to finish later, before activating his omnitool. He tapped the blue light controls of the holographic light over his left forearm and brought up communications. "Dale to Shepard. Is everything okay?"

"We just picked up a distress signal from the colony on Feros," said Shepard. "They're being attacked by Geth. We're on our way to give whatever help we can."

"Right. Dale out." Without wasting a moment, Robert worked to get the pistol back in working order. The Normandy might be needing it soon enough.

The Normandy's arrival in the Theseus system went unnoticed on any sensors there. "Heat sinks are still showing green," said Joker. "Looks like they're clueless that we've shown up."

"What do we have, Kaidan?" Shepard asked.

"There aren't any Geth ships in orbit that I can see. The colony's automated distress signal is still transmitting."

"Take us in," Shepard instructed. She turned to Robert and nodded once.

He returned it. Together they left the cockpit area, headed for the armory.

The Normandy descended through the atmosphere, Theseus illuminating the sight of the many old Prothean skyscrapers that dotted the planet. The ship approached one of these in particular, where berths for ships had been built - or re-purposed? - to support the Feros colony.

An automated signal controlled by the ship triggered the docking system to grip the Normandy. An airlock swiveled into place to connect to Normandy's primary upper airlock on the command deck. When the door opened Shepard stepped out, in full combat gear. Ashley Williams and Garrus followed her, Robert and Tali behind them, and Wrex and Kaidan in the rear.

The attack began the moment they stepped from the walkway to the airlock onto the area around the dock. Robert was familiar with the humanoid-form Geth platforms that acted as their main troops. Their weapons fired specialized rounds that converted to plasma. The weapons fire sent everyone to cover.

But just for a moment. While Ashley and Garrus provided cover fire with their assault rifles, Shepard stood up and advanced in a blast of biotic energy. The impact disabled one of the Geth platforms. Her shotgun blasted through another, sending fluid and debris flying from the impact point.

Robert noticed another Geth, further down, taking aim. He reached out through the Flow of Life, willing the weapon of the Geth platform to rise. The Geth's shots missed Shepard completely. Her return fire, in turn, shattered the Geth's head, shattering the flashlight-like viewing aperture.

"Wrex, Kaidan, you're on guard duty," Shepard ordered. "Nothing enters the Normandy without my say-so."

"Roger that," Kaidan answered. Wrex affirmed the order with a grunt.

"Alright everyone, let's clear a path." With that order, Shepard continued on, shotgun raised and ready. The others followed with weapons similarly readied.

The resulting firefights with the Geth were short, violent affairs, each laden with danger. One shot nearly went through Tali's personal shield in a way to ensure a likely-fatal suit puncture. Another brought Garrus' kinetic barrier to collapse. Robert himself endured several close calls, even with the foresight provided by his abilities.

One by one, the units of Geth fell to their gunfire, aided by Shepard and Robert using their respective talents.

They approached the entrance to the colony… and promptly took cover from the fire of the residents. Once the shooting stopped Shepard shouted, "This is Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy! Hold your fire! We're here to help!"

A woman's voice cried, "Come out where we can see you!"

Shepard immediately rose from cover, her weapon lowered, and stepped out into the sunlight. "Well?" Shepard asked expectantly.

From his place in cover, Robert sensed relief in the armed woman. Relief and… fear? There was a nebulous feeling of fear around him, fear and despair.

"I'm Greta Reynolds," the woman said. She lowered her assault rifle. "I'm sorry for shooting at you, but the Geth have been attacking us ever since they overran ExoGeni's HQ. We're all a little fast on the trigger."

"No harm done," Shepard said.

By this point the others emerged from cover. "We're here to investigate the Geth attack," Shepard explained. "Is there a way to get to ExoGeni's headquarters?"

"The skyway should still be intact, but it's filled with Geth," Reynolds replied. "But before you go… would you mind helping us? Our power systems are almost drained, we're low on food, and our water supply's been shut down. We can't hold out much longer."

Shepard looked back to the others. "The longer we stay here, the more time the Geth have to finish whatever they're doing and leave," Garrus pointed out.

"Still, we can't just leave them without helping," Tali countered.

"I agree." Ashley nodded. "It's not going to do us any good to get to the HQ if the Geth overrun our fallback position here."

Shepard looked to Robert next. He remained quiet, considering the choice. As he did so, he continued to feel something odd. The fear and despair, an edge off resignation… was it just the Geth attack and the colony's plight? He wasn't sure. Given the needs of the moment, he finally nodded. "We should help them."

Even as he said those words, Robert could sense Shepard had already made her decision and was awaiting the recommendations of her team to implement it. She turned her head to Greta Reynolds and nodded. "Alright, you've got some help. What do you need done?"

"I'll have someone show you to the access way for the aqueducts," Greta said. "You may be able to find power supplies in our backup stocks as well."

"And food?"

"There are wild varren packs…"

"Garrus and I will handle those." Shepard turned next to Tali. "Tali, I want you to get the water supply running, and check those stockpiles for any batteries or other supplies the colonists can use. Ashley, Robert, go with her and watch her back."

"Yes ma'am," Ashley answered. Robert let her reply stand for him too.

Another colonist, a Mary O'Donnell, was summoned to take them to the aqueduct system. Robert sensed the same thing in Mary as in Greta, indeed as it was in everyone here. There was a nebulous sense around him, that something was not quite right…

"It must be different for you," he heard Tali saying. He realized she was speaking to him. "Not being captain of a ship anymore."

"It is," he agreed.

"I wonder how they're doing?" Tali asked. "I never got to speak with Tom when we were on the Citadel. Everything was happening so fast…"

"I'm sure he's doing fine. They're all doing fine." Robert allowed himself a wistful smile. "If we're lucky, maybe they already know where Saren is and they're on the way to blow him to atoms."

"Ha!" laughed Ashley, not hiding her amusement at the completely unlikely scenario.

Robert allowed himself a chuckle in reply, but his thoughts couldn't help but wander to the issue of how the others were doing...

Among the stars of the Artemis Tau cluster, the Starship Aurora continued her voyage at relative ease. A kilometer long and over three hundred meters wide, the advanced starship represented the pinnacle of starship design for much of the Multiverse. Her four warp nacelles, arranged in a flat X centered around the drive hull, thrummed with energy. With ease they maintained the warp field that kept the ship and its two thousand crew and residents moving along at Warp 9.2.

The Aurora's captain, Julia Andreys, was not watching the sight of colored streaks that was the usual visual effect of being inside a warp field. Her focus was on the display monitor for her ready office computer. Said monitor was displaying a caller, an Asari. Doctor Umari Lasana had a dark blue complexion and a fine, thin-cheeked face. Her shoulders were covered with a lavender material. "Captain, I thank you for your patience," she said in translated English. "The University of Serrice is hosting a Multiversal conference on xenoarchaeology currently. I'm afraid we're quite busy here in Serrice."

"I understand you have a lot to do, Doctor," Julia replied diplomatically. "Has there been any follow up on my requested information?" She kept any hint of frustration out of her voice for the weeks of effort she'd spent dealing with Asari academics and bureaucrats being troublesome over her attempts to find Doctor T'Soni. Most of those she'd dealt with seemed more worried about being associated with Benezia's daughter than her location. It took a lot of inquiry to finally track down Lasana.

The Asari professor checked something off-screen. She let out a little sigh. "Ah. Doctor T'Soni." Her expression betrayed what Julia thought to be sadness. "She was one of my best students. Utterly determined to become an archaeologist, in defiance to her mother Matriarch Benezia too I'll add. Her doctoral thesis on the differing natures of Prothean ruins across the galaxy was one of the best I ever read."


"She became sidetracked by… well, Captain, this is delving into academic politics here on Thessia… how familiar are you with the Protheans?"

"I know they existed fifty thousand years ago," said Julia. "And they are supposed to have built the Citadel and the Mass Relays." It took some will to keep her impatience from her voice.

"That is the generally-held belief, yes. The greatest question in the galaxy has always been 'What happened to the Protheans?' We have never found their homeworld and there have been no traces of their remains. We only know of their existence from their ruins, in fact. So there are many theories on their disappearance, ranging from a mass exodus to another galaxy to a plague that destroyed their biological remains in some fashion. One of the… less credible theories is the Reaper theory, which argues the Protheans were exterminated by an unknown force at the height of their empire."

Which is what the Eden Prime beacon seems to indicate. "Much like how the Adranians were wiped out a quarter of a million years ago," Julia noted.

"I have read some of the papers from that investigation and find the theory insufficiently proven… but yes." Doctor Lasana nodded. "And Doctor T'Soni has become a devoted adherent to the Reaper theory. She has argued in many of her papers for the theory's acceptance, citing evidence and observations from her dig sites."

"But you don't agree," Julia said.

"I have to admit some of her arguments make sense, logically speaking, but the theory's greatest weakness remains. We have no sign of such an eradicating force. No ruins. No debris from battles between the Protheans and their destroyers. There is absolutely no proof that you would expect to find from a galaxy-spanning war. The theory expects us to just accept as an article of faith that these ancient destroyers cleaned up all indications of their presence and the Protheans' remains, but left their ruins intact for us to find. It's… unfathomable."

And yet probably true. Julia didn't say so out loud. Instead she asked, "I've heard about Reapers being responsible. Given what happened to the Adranians…"

"They are just a legend, Captain, nothing more. And Doctor T'Soni has damaged her reputation trying to prove otherwise. That's what she's up to out there, trying to find the proof for the existence of the Reapers."

"Do you know where she is?" Julia asked. "It's imperative I meet and speak too her."

"Hrm… I suppose she could be on Therum. The Prothean ruins there are still being explored, the ones that the miners haven't ruined anyway." Lasana glowered. "It's been difficult to get approval to dig at sites from all of the hunting for heavy metals."

"Where is Therum?"

"The Knossos System on your charts. In the Artemis Tau cluster near the Galactic rim. It is the second planet. The Systems Alliance annexed the world years ago to build mining and industrial facilities to process the heavy metals that are plentiful on the planet. It's a very important world for Human mining efforts, I'm told the planet's resources are directly supporting the expansion of industry in the Human core worlds." Lasana frowned again. "Unfortunately it's made exploring the Prothean ruins on the world difficult. The mining corporations are dragging academic organizations through the Citadel courts in our efforts to protect Prothean ruin sites. They're more interested in the mineral wealth than the prospect of new discoveries. For someone looking for evidence of the Reapers like Doctor T'Soni is, the untouched ruins there can't be overlooked."

Julia nodded in reply. "We'll investigate it immediately. Thank you."

"You are welcome. I am always pleased to ensure our friendship with other species…" A look came to her face. "She's not in any trouble, is she?"

"Maybe, maybe not. She may need our protection."

"I hope it all goes well, Captain." Doctor Lasana said. "Whatever her errors of academic judgement, Doctor T'Soni is a good archaeologist, and once she gets over this flight of maiden fancy she'll be a credit to the field of Prothean researchers. I'd hate to see anything happen to her."

"That's what I'm here to prevent," Julia said. "Thank you for your assistance, Doctor Lasana."

"You are quite welcome, Captain Andreys. Good day." The Asari disappeared a moment before Julia could close the line herself.

Julia tapped a key. "Andreys to Bridge."

"Go ahead," replied Locarno, currently sitting a bridge watch.

"Change our course, we're heading for the Knossos System, Warp 9.6. We may find our subject of interest on the second planet, Therum."

"Aye Captain. We'll change course immediately."

"I'll be out shortly. Andreys out." Julia returned her attention to the daily reports that were part of running her ship. She amused herself with the thought of how much Robert hated this part of the job. I wonder how he's doing with the Normandy crew, she thought even as another report came across her screen. At least he won't be able to complain about the paperwork.

Between fighting Geth and restoring the water lines, it was hours before the entirety of Shepard's team was assembled again. If anything the time proved that the worry about the Geth leaving before they got to the HQ was erroneous - the Geth seemed more interested in attacking Zhu's Hope. "We are very grateful for your assistance, Commander," said Fai Dan, the head of the colony. He looked completely relieved, although Robert felt lingering discomfort in him. "Thanks to you we can hold out for days should the Geth return."

"It would be nice to know why the Geth are so insistent on overrunning your colony," Garrus said. "If they have ExoGeni's headquarters, what can they get from you? What does Saren want with Zhu's Hope?"

"I… I'm not sure," Fai Dan said. Even as he spoke, Robert thought he felt something wrong with the man. He couldn't get a feel for what was making Fai Dan fear so much.

"Maybe we'll find out when we get to the HQ," Shepard answered. "Do you have any vehicles to travel the skyway?"

"Yes. One of the Mako vehicles that ExoGeni bought for security… it should be in the garage above us," Fai Dan confirmed.

"Well, at least we'll be armed," Ashley observed.

"Right." Shepard turned to Garrus. "Garrus, head back to the Normandy. If the Geth hit Zhu's Hope again, it'll be up to you, Kaiden, and Wrex to help out."


As he walked away, Shepard turned to the exit Fai Dan indicated. "Let's go." She brought her shotgun to a ready position and entered the doorway leading to the elevators. The others followed, Ashley's assault rifle up. Tali was busy monitoring things with her omnitool.

As they walked away, Robert considered the feeling around him. The more he thought about it, the more he felt there was a presence of sorts in the colony. Near it, maybe. He couldn't be sure, though. Indeed he wondered if it was just the result of the foreboding feeling he got from the colonists.

"Are you okay?" he heard Ashley ask. She was looking to him, her eyes visible through the visor off her combat helmet.

"I'm… I think. I just feel like there's something else here. But I can't be sure."

"Well, that's reassuring," Tali muttered.

"Eyes sharp, people." Shepard glanced back once. "We've got other things to worry about right now."

Robert nodded and kept further thoughts to himself for the moment. The Geth were the main worry right now.

Again Julia's computer screen displayed an incoming comm call. This time, however, the image showed the familiar visage of Admiral Maran, in his office in Defense Command on the north bank of the Columbia River. Through the window behind him the skyline off 27th Century Portland was visible. "We've finished redeployment of the Seventh Fleet to Adrana to protect Alliance space from any further Geth incursions. The Seventh's dreadnoughts have been reassigned, of course."

Julia nodded. Not only would they still be needed at the front, but under the Treaty of Farixen with the Citadel Council races the Allied Systems were only allowed to deploy six dreadnoughts in the M4P2 Universe during local peacetime conditions. The Geth threat was unlikely to lead to the Citadel accepting a finding of wartime exemption.

"Every colony in our Alliance and the Systems Alliance is still under alert for the Geth," Maran continued. "Alliance Intelligence has been searching for Saren's base of operations in coordination with Citadel elements, particularly the Salarians' Special Tasks Group. Two of their Regiments are currently prowling the region for signs of Saren. But our leads are few. Saren was ready for this outcome."

"Given his reputation, I'm not surprised," Julia noted. "But taking the Seventh Fleet off of the front, isn't that setting back our operations?"

"Yes. But it can't be avoided. And in the long run it is not a severe setback to our plans. The Fifteenth Fleet's activation is nearly complete and we have the ships gathered for it. While it may cause some trouble in the rear areas from our need to re-assign ships, we'll have all of the vessels we need to hit Earth in about six weeks' time."

"I hope we have Saren by then so we can join the fleet," Julia said.

"If at all possible, I want you there, Captain. The Aurora has fought the Reich often enough, and we know the SS have a particular interest in your ship. Having you join the attack on Earth will send a nice message." Maran looked off screen for a moment. "Warmaster Shai'jhur is calling, and I have some issues to discuss with her. Keep me informed of your operations, Captain. Maran out."

He disappeared from the screen. Julia checked her final bits of paperwork and prepared to finish them… just for the comm system to chime. "Bridge to Captain Andreys." This time Meridina was speaking. "We are preparing to drop out of warp at Therum. Sensors are detecting a Geth ship in orbit."

Julia stood immediately. "I'm on my way. Go to Code Red status."

"Yes Captain."

By the time Julia reached the door to the bridge, the ship's alert klaxons were blaring.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:04 pm

On the Aurora bridge the command crew were all at their stations. Jarod was at Ops, Locarno beside him at the helm. The Delgado sisters Caterina and Angela were at their respective stations, science and tactical, with Tom Barnes seated in front of Caterina at Engineering and Meridina moving over to the First Officer's chair when Julia stepped onto the bridge. The klaxons had ceased, but the ship's running lights were shifted entirely to red. Across her kilometer-long hull the two thousand crew of the ship were moving to their battle stations due to those red lights.

Julia lowered herself into the central chair and secured her safety harness. "What's our status?"

"Coming out of warp in ten seconds," Locarno answered.

There was no need for a countdown. Julia waited the ten seconds until the ship's warp drive disengaged. The holo-viewscreen came online at Jarod's command, presenting the image of a planet with red streams of lava covering part of the otherwise reddish-brown surface. A single Geth warship was still in orbit, shaped like a wingless dragonfly. The insect like ship turned away from the planet.

"I'm picking up a power surge. Their FTL drive system is activating."

On the screen the Geth ship suddenly disappeared, shooting away in the blink of an eye.

"Bring us into orbit," Julia ordered. "Stand down from Code Red, make our status Yellow."

"Yes Captain," Meridina answered. Across the bridge everyone removed their harnesses, allowing them freer movement.

"Scan the planet. We're looking for a Prothean dig site where an Asari is present. There may be more than one."

Caterina immediately reacted to Julia's command. "I'm running the scan now." Cat looked over her readings. "I'm getting something in the northern hemisphere, the other side of the planet from the Human colony. An active power source is showing in what looks like an underground dig site… I can't get life sign readings though, there's an energy field interfering with the sensor returns." After double-checking something Cat turned to Julia and nodded. "And there are Geth there. A whole bunch of 'em, including a very big one."

"Lieutenant, can you relay those to me?" asked Jarod.

Caterina nodded at Jarod and did so. He looked over her readings and shook his head. "That energy field is going to make transporting down to the site difficult. We may need to beam down about two kilometers or so from the site."

"What about landing with runabouts?"

"Even with shields, the Geth have heavy weapons that might damage them, I wouldn't recommend sending any down until we've neutralized the Geth," Jarod answered.

"That means fighting through all of those Geth," Julia noted. "Could we have Laurent's fighters move in first and hit them with airstrikes? Or use our light weapons for orbital bombardment?"

"I wouldn't recommend it," Jarod replied. "Even with precision weaponry, they might cause damage to the entrance tunnel."

"So it's the Marines after all." Julia turned to Meridina. "Tell Major Anders I want a full Marine strike team deployed, heavy units included. And let Lucy know she's joining them. Make sure they know about the atmospheric conditions and temperature."

Meridina nodded. "I am relaying the order now."

"And inform Commander Atreiad I want the Koenig ready for launch within the hour." After Meridina nodded in acknowledgement, Julia turned her attention to Caterina. "Lieutenant, I want regular long range sensor sweeps," she said. "The Geth may be back with reinforcements, and I'm not letting them catch us by surprise."

"Yes ma'am," Cat answered. "And may I join the mission to the site once it's secure? There's a lot we might learn about the Protheans down there, maybe even something relevant to whatever Saren's trying to do."

Julia considered the idea, noting the concerned look on Angel's face. Still, Cat was the right person for the job, especially given the importance of the site. So she nodded. "Alright. Go put your team together, Lieutenant, and pick a runabout."

"Yes ma'am," Cat replied, slipping out of her chair in favor of one of the standby officers.

Julia returned to her seat and to her primary job at this point, possibly the hardest job on all the ship.


Only a single Geth scout patrol interrupted Shepard's team on the way to the lift, one easily dispatched. Once it was defeated the four took the lift up to the garage for Zhu's Hope. The Geth clearly had little concern for the vehicles present, most of which were unarmed civilian craft that would be death traps on the way to ExoGeni HQ. Alone among them was a M-35 Mako, a literal copy of the one still in Normandy's cargo bay.

Shepard triggered the vehicle to open with her military ID code. The engine came to life within it, as did all of the control screens and surfaces inside. Right inside the door was a driver's seat flanked by a gunner's seat with controls for the turreted guns of the ATV. Robert, more by habit than desire, slipped into said seat while Shepard took the driver's seat. Ashley and Tali took seats in the rear. "Ma'am, with all due respect, maybe I should drive," Ashley said. "I got top marks on the range."

"Commander's prerogative, Sergeant," Shepard answered.

"Oh dear," Tali said. "It's a good thing I updated my suit's motion sickness mods since Klensal."

Shepard frowned toward the Quarian as she slipped into one of the seats. Tali ignored the frown and pulled the protective harness down to hold her in the seat. Ashley took up the one across the way, giving each plenty of room given the vacant seats to each side.

Robert, who hadn't gone down on the scouting mission to Klensal, glanced briefly toward Shepard. Shepard's green eyes met his and narrowed. "Not you too," she grumbled. "Perhaps you'd like to drive?"

"Well, now that you mention…"

Before he could finish Shepard's foot slammed on the throttle pedal. The Mako leapt forward and Robert was thrown back into his seat. The shock of the sudden movement took his breath away for a moment and kept him from finishing the sentence.

Ahead the door of the garage automatically opened. The Mako was going so fast that it zipped through only a second after the garage opened high enough for the vehicle to have sufficient clearance to exit. The bright sunlight of Feros shined down on the skyway, a literal mid-air highway linking the tower where Zhu's Hope was located to another in the distance.

Robert glanced over to Shepard. "You did that on purpose," he accused.

"Yep," she confirmed.

"And you wonder why people are worried about your driving." He eyed the edge of the skyway. Even though it was curved upward to a lip along the edge, it wouldn't take much for the Mako to go over said lip and off the edge to a long, very long, very fatal plummet to the rubble-laden ground below. "Especially since we're what, a kilometer above the ground?"

"Kilometer and a half, easy," she replied, her eyes still focused forward. "And you've got bigger things to worry about."

Robert felt the danger even as his head turned to face it. A massive four-legged Geth platform was standing behind a line of bipedal Geth platforms. Each brought up a rocket launcher.

"You're in the gunner's seat, Robert," Shepard reminded him. "Taking them out is your job."

Robert looked down at the controls. "Right," he said, while gripping at the joystick that controlled the turret. He reached up and pulled the gunnery camera down to eye level, showing him a view of the enemy troops from the gun-camera mounted on the turret. With his right hand operating the control joystick, his left hand was free to control the camera, letting him zoom in and out and bring up the distance, displayed in meters counting down on the screen.

"Thumb trigger is for the machine gun," Ashley said behind him. "The index trigger controls the 155 millimeter main gun."

"Both mass effect?"

"Yeah. Composition is good for both armor penetration or area effect."


By this point the first rocket was already in the air, flying toward them so quickly Robert was sure it'd hit. But Shepard's driving was precise, swinging them just out of line of the rocket and leaving it to fly past. Robert brought the crosshairs over the center point of the four rocket-armed Geth and pulled the index trigger. The main cannon thundered. A plume of flame erupted from the midst of the Geth, blasting the two closest to it into clouds of flaming debris and sending the other two flying like rag dolls.

"Main gun has a safety lock to keep it cool," Ashley added, as if just remembering the point. "You can only fire it every four or five seconds."

With that in mind Robert put the crosshairs on the big four-legged Geth. His thumb pressed down. The machine gun attached to the main turret sent a spray of hyper-accelerated alloy metal, no piece larger than a grain of rice, into the big armored Geth. A kinetic barrier absorbed the shots with decreasing effectiveness.

Then the Geth fired a bolt of plasma that shot down the skyway at them. Shepard turned slightly to evade, preventing a direct hit, but the plasma impacted against the rear edge of the Mako's side. There was a slight tremor in the vehicle. "Looks like the barrier held," Tali noted, watching the action from her seat.

"I don't exactly have a lot of room to maneuver," Shepard warned. "Take that thing down."

Robert was already releasing the thumb trigger, given the heat warning for the machine gun was near the maximum level. The main gun was ready to fire again, though, and he put the crosshairs right on the Geth's torso and squeezed the trigger. The round from the 155 gun slammed into the kinetic barrier and through it, smashing into the silver surface of the four-legged machine. Again Robert triggered the machine gun and this time watched the Geth's body spark, wounds and tears forming in its skin. He let off again when the machine gun was about to overheat.

The Geth was shooting again. Shepard turned hard and braked by necessity, ensuring they didn't go over the edge. The shot flew right in front of them by less than a meter.

To Robert's benefit, the turret control systems ensured the turret turned as well, sparing Robert the need to turn the turret ninety degrees to face the Geth. It was already charging up another shot at the temporarily-immobile Mako.

Before it could fire, the Mako's main gun finished cooling down. Robert targeted the machine's chest and fired again. With no kinetic barrier to even slow it down, the round shot right into the heart of the Geth platform and wrecked its interior systems. The plasma charge dissipated and the flashlight eye of the Geth died out. After a couple of moments the entire Geth exploded, victim of an overload in its critically-damaged systems.

"Great shooting," Ashley said. "You're a natural at this."

"I have a little assistance," Robert said.

"There'll be more where those came from," Shepard warned, already gently pushing the throttle and turning the Mako back into line with the tower ahead. "Keep an eye out."

"Yes ma'am," Robert answered. As the Mako shot down the skyway again, he thought, And maybe Shepard's not really that bad a driver after all. Just… very precise.

He decided that it was best not to speak the thought aloud, though. Just in case.

Lucy had been to hot planets before. Abdis, or Abydos as it was called in R4A1, had been a broiler during the day.

But Therum took the cake. And, Lucy imagined bitterly, baked it too.

The temperature meter on Lucy's visor HUD showed a deadly 59.8 degrees Celsius as she and the Marines around her approached the dig site. Moving on foot with light and regular power armor - or swevyra power in Lucy's case - allowed the team to avoid a prepared defensive outpost the Geth had taken control of. Lucy felt hot in her armor. She hadn't bothered with the robes, which would only weigh her down and do little to help with the heat. The Gersallian armor was at least built to have cooling systems for extreme environments, combined with the standard issue helmet she used, and together it kept the internal temperature at a little over half the outside temp.

Which, granted, meant it was nearly ninety degrees Fahrenheit inside her armor, and that was distinctly uncomfortable.

But there were ways it could get worse, which is what happened when they arrived at the dig.

The Geth were waiting for them with a defensive perimeter supported with cover. Lucy felt a sense of danger and brought her lightsaber out. It flashed to life just in time to intercept the sniper round aimed at Anders. "Snipers!"

Another shot rang out. Another of the Marines, an Alakin, took a hit before he could get to cover. "My personal deflector is down to twenty percent," the Alakin said.

Even as the warning came Lucy sprang into action. There was no use feeling for her foes. The Geth were not connected to the Flow of Life themselves. She couldn't sense them. But nor were they invisible to her senses. She could sense the danger they represented to her and the others. An instinctive knowledge, revealed to her through her connection to the Flow of Life, that let her know where to attack.

One moment she was running over the volcanic soil. The next a shot came for her, deflected by her lightsaber, then another. She batted away the round, triggering its plasma discharge that instead went right into the flashlight head of the Geth platform that had fired the shot. While it fell its companions continued to fire.

But now they fired at nothing. Lucy made a leap into mid-air just as they fired. She jumped further and faster than a normal human being could have managed and landed behind the barricade the Geth were using for cover. The nearest Geth she sliced in half with a single swing. The same motion of her lightsaber became a deflection of another Geth's fire, sending the bolt of plasma intended for her into the hip joint of the third. Lucy reached out with her hand and through the Flow of Life to grip the damaged Geth. She threw it into its compatriot and sent both into a nearby rock formation.

That was when she felt another sniper shot being prepared. She brought her weapon up and caught the shot sent her way, sending it off into the rock wall across the pathway. She swung again to stop another shot. Looking up she could see the towers from which the snipers were shooting, towers beyond easy attack range for her. Especially with the other Geth in close range and still threats.

Then there were streaks of flame in the air; missiles, fired from the Marines in their armor suits, now crashing into those towers and engulfing the shooters' nests with flame and pressure. A flaming Geth platform flew from one due to a slightly off-angle hit. The other Geth were not seen, presumably blown apart from the closer direct hits.

Even the two Geth platforms she'd been fighting were eliminated before she could finish them herself. She tracked the fire to Anders and a squad of Marines advancing quickly on her position. The other Marines were behind them, either moving ahead or in cover returning fire from those Geth platforms not yet taken out. "Excellent work, Lieutenant," Anders said, a hint of sardonic amusement in his voice. "Charging ahead without orders and being able to survive is a hell of perk, isn't it?"

"It looks like you've made good use of it," Lucy countered, attempting an equal tone and not quite avoiding irritation. With no imminent danger the heat inside her suit was reminding her of how damned unpleasant this planet was. Why couldn't the Protheans have built their ruins on a cooler world?... and now we'll end up going to an arctic world at some point since I'm asking.

"Well, you disrupted their entire defensive formation, I'll give you that. And got the attention of their snipers." Anders chuckled to himself. "I'd bring up what I was actually about to do, but we should move on ahead." He gestured to where the other squads had already moved on to the rise beyond them. "The ruin entrance is just ahead of us."

"Lead the way," Lucy answered.

With Anders' squad trailing, they advanced on to link up with the advancing Marines. The Geth platforms clearly weren't experienced in dealing with retreats. Lucy sensed the elation of Anders' Marines at their successful advance.

Then there was apprehension. Shortly thereafter Lucy saw the bright burst of white-blue light ahead and a cry of pain and knew there was trouble.

The trouble wasn't from the agile Geth platforms slinking along the sides of the structures at the dig sites. The Marines were putting them down. It was the other Geth threat, the biggest one. A colossal four-legged Geth platform that looked like a cross between a metal turtle and a giraffe with its longer neck connecting the body to the big flashlight head. A plasma projector was already nearly done charging when it came into view, aimed at a squad of Marines, one of which was badly wounded. They were behind some cover, but the cover was flimsy and wouldn't absorb the entire plasma blast.

"Go go go!" Anders shouted at her, knowing his own teams weren't in position to properly engage before the Geth could land a fatal hit on his people.

His permission hadn't been necessary, but it was appreciated. Cursing the heat of the whole damned planet, Lucy reached for the warm power inside of her and felt it fill her body. Her muscles started moving faster, without strain, aided by the energy of life pulsing within her courtesy of the Flow of Life. Again her lightsaber flashed into existence. Not to deflect a shot, though. Even without the instinctive clairvoyance of the Flow of Life she knew, immediately, that the plasma discharge from the big Geth was simply too big for even a lightsaber to adequately deflect. If she could get to them before the shot, maybe her raw powerful could deflect it...

In the time it was taking her to close the range she looked about her surroundings, trying to figure out if she had an alternative. Her eyes settled on a sheet of metal. Given its shaping and structure, she figured it was heat shielding, and with the time left she had to hope it was. She raised her arm and extended her free hand, using it as a focus for the power flowing through her. Invisible force gripped the sheet and tossed it into the air.

The Geth fired. The orb of deadly plasma raced toward the stricken Marine and his compatriots.

The sheet got there first.

The orb splattered over its surface, crackling like lightning. But it could not get around the sheet.

Lucy turned her attention to the Geth war machine itself. With its main weapon she didn't want it blasting everything, given it could damage the tube leading to the underground dig site. She'd have to give it a target.

Namely, her.

So she ran toward it over the open. Her lightsaber swung to deflect incoming shots from the other Geth platforms. A couple shots were angled to go right back toward the Geth, one even hitting a Geth right in the flashlight head, while the rest sprayed everywhere. Behind her more Marines were moving into a firing position. This was good; it let her focus on the main target.

The big Geth's head tracked her. It's four feet shuffled, shifting it around to meet her as she came in. Energy surged near its head until another orb of lethal plasma was coming toward her. With a mere second to react Lucy dove and rolled under the shot. The blue blade of her weapon flashed in the air again, catching more of the fire from the smaller platforms, while her legs kept going.

It was going to be close. The Geth heavy platform was charging another shot, and she wasn't sure she'd get to it in time. Indeed, as it became brighter, a brief thought came to her head, that she'd miscalculated, that it was going to fire just before she got too close for it to hit her…

That was when a missile slammed into the flashlight head. The Geth's neck flailed wildly after the impact, the light broken, the machine blind.

Behind her, and in her helmet, Ander's voice cried out, "You're clear, Lieutenant!"

And so she was. As Lucy moved toward the Geth machine she brought her lightsaber up. It was well-constructed and gave resistance to the weapon, so the leg was unsevered by Lucy's cut, merely damaged. She twirled about and cut through it again, aimed at a weaker point in the armor around the joint. This time the blade cut cleanly through. The leg fell to the side. A confused, angry electronic warble came to the air, as if the Geth was crying out in pain.

As the Geth machine teetered, trying and failing to keep balance with just three legs, Lucy cut its other fore leg out from under it. Now it pitched forward and fell to the ground, Lucy getting out from under it before it could crush her. Her lightsaber lashed out again, carving an angry red wound into its side. Fluid from severed hydraulic lines spilled and steamed where it struck the melting point-hot metal skin around the wound.

And yet the Geth creature wasn't dead, simply wounded. Its head flailed. Plasma was still building up in its firing chamber, now targeting Anders and some of his Marines. They took cover in the moments before it fired, utilizing the misshapen stack of sheet metal Lucy had previously employed, which allowed them to survive the orb of plasma that came for them.

"Lieutenant, get clear!" Anders called out. "Marines, switch to anti-armor munitions!"

Moments later another pair of missiles from the power armored-Marines hit the front of the Geth machine. They penetrated toward the heart of it, blowing out large chunks of debris and fluid through two gaping wounds caused by the jets of super-heated plasma created by the anti-armor warheads. Lucy was already running for one of the last group of singular Geth platforms when the second salvo hit. More of the torso was blown out.

By the time Lucy was cleaving through the last Geth platform, another salvo had hit. This time, the Geth war machine was blown to pieces.

"Good job Marines. And Lady Knight." There was some bemusement in Anders' voice at referencing Lucy like that. "Sanders, Sanger, secure the perimeter. Khraa, Kutalaran, set up sniper nests and heavy weapon firing stations. If the Geth come back, I want them to find us ready for war. Step to it Marines!"

"Sir yes sir!" was the collective reply.

Anders wasn't finished, however. "Aurora, this is Major Anders," he continued, now on open comms to the ship. "Site is secure. I repeat, site is secure. Send in the science team, and we'll need medbay ready for one casualty."

"Good job Major," Julia said. "The St. Johns and Warri are en route. Tell your Marines that Hargert will have a meal waiting for them when they get back."

"Let him know it's appreciated, ma'am."

The St. Johns was lifting off with Doctor Walker already tending to the injured Marine inside. On the Warri, the rear module was full of specialized gear being packed up by the mixed team of science, operations, and engineering officers, some taking up the available seats.

Caterina took in a breath and observed her team - as chief science officer she was in command of these officers - while Tra'dur checked her helmet's seals for her. The field action uniform was the same she'd worn on Tira during the fight, with the attached helmet, gloves, and boots that made it an environmentally-sealed suit for her to survive the hellish volcanic temperature of Therum. "Seal checks are good," said the Dilgar woman. Her helmet was already in place on her own action uniform.

"Thanks." Cat turned to the other members of the team. Barnes was finishing suiting up with the helm of Ensign Tulari, a purple-complexioned, teal-spotted Dorei woman and one of the junior engineering officers. The last pair of officers were Lieutenant (J.G.) Theek, a male Alakin science officer with geologist specialty, and Ensign Talara, the Falaen/Altean helm officer who had some training for field operation support.

"So, sixty fraking degrees Celsius out there," Barnes grumbled. "And people actually live on this place. Why not just use mining drones?"

"Well, the kind of VI automation you're thinking of isn't common in this universe, at least not pre-Multiversal Contact," Cat reminded him. "Plus they might not have been able to afford it."

"Bah." Barnes sighed and reached down for his pack, carrying a collection of sensor gear and emergency survival gear. "Aren't we just here for some Asari babe? Why are we hauling this stuff?"

Cat gave him a sour look. "Because it's a Prothean ruin, Tom, er, Lieutenant. And our secondary mission is to see if there's anything of interest here about what destroyed the Protheans. Given what Commander Shepard saw from the beacon, and what Meridina was shown by that intelligence on Adrana… well, we need proof of the Reapers to get people to take it seriously."

Barnes grumbled something inarticulate before heading for the door.

Cat turned slightly and noticed the frown on Tra'dur's face. Her English had a faint Anglo-Indian accent when she asked, "How can someone that undisciplined be an officer?"

"It's his way of coping with discomfort," Caterina explained. "Once an engineering problem presents itself, that's when he shines."

"I see. Your people… they give allowances in exchange for merit."

"Some do." Caterina could remember, darkly, how nasty Admiral Davies and others like him could be around her and her friends. "Others, not so much."

Tra'dur put on her own pack. It had other science gear, as well as its own survival gear. "This is why Captain Andreys puts so much effort into maintaining formality, then."

"Yeah." Cat lifted her own, with some effort. There was a visible grimace on her face.

"The fate of the Protheans is an interesting question." This was from Ensign Talara, who stepped up to join them. "I've read some papers in my spare time since we began the mission. Although most of them dismiss the idea of an outside force destroying them."

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," Caterina said. "I mean, yes, without evidence you can't logically prove something, but it just means something is unproven. Disproving it would require confirmation that the Protheans' fate didn't involve the Reapers or whatever they are…"

They departed the Warri by the side airlock. Cat took in the sight of the battle, including the ruined carapace of what had been a big Geth combat platform. Anders approached with Lucy. "There aren't any more Geth on the surface," he confirmed. "My squads just took out the last stragglers, and Commander Laurent's pilots removed the Geth at the nearby checkpoint. But there's no guarantee that there aren't more inside. Combat sensors are showing too much interference."

"So we'll need you to cover us," Cat said. She tapped her sidearm holster, where a pulse pistol was secured. "We're armed too."

"Good, but if things go right you won't be using those. I'm leaving Lieutenant Sanger up here with a rear guard, but I'm taking a couple of squads with me to be your vanguard."

"And me, of course." Lucy smiled inside of her helmet. "To help both of you as necessary."

"Right. We'll follow you, Major," Caterina said.

Anders nodded and started gathering his squad. The other officers huddled around Cat, with Lucy joining them. "It'd be nice if Doctor T'Soni and whoever else is running the dig site has a climate-controlled atmosphere down there," Lucy said. "I'm sweating enough out here."

"I know. My fur already feels damp," Tra'dur complained.

"There are worse," Cat remarked idly. "The Doctor took me to this volcanic planet where the atmosphere could set you on fire if you stepped outside the atmospheric forcefields."

"A terrible way to die," Talara, observed.

"Yeah, it was," Cat answered, her voice a little hollow, more than enough to let the others know she'd observed it firsthand. Ahead of them, Anders and his Marines were already approaching the entrance to the dig site. "Well, let's go find Doctor T'Soni and see if there's any cool Prothean stuff here."

"Right behind you," Lucy assured her.

The flaming ruins of another four-legged Geth war machine burned as the Mako roared by. Robert returned the turret to its default forward-facing position. A quick check of ammunition levels showed that they still had another two hours worth of combat ammunition in the block, minimum. This was the great advantage of mass effect field-based firearms; whatever they lost in punch or versatility compared to directed energy weapons like phasers or Darglan-tech pulse guns, they made up for it with sheer firing capacity.

"No more Geth on sensors," Robert said. "No indications of jamming either."

"Right." Shepard kept her eyes on the skyway road. Ahead the entrance to another tower loomed. "Tali, what's our status? Any damage?"

"Nothing severe," Tali said, hunched over the access hatch to the Mako's engine and critical systems. "The kinetic barrier is at half strength and improving. Although it looks like you took some splash damage to the middle axle. Give me a few minutes and I can repair it."

"That might not…"

Shepard stopped speaking when a voice crackled over the open radio lines. "....that engine noise? They're getting closer…" She glanced to Robert as they pulled up to a ramp leading further up the tower, beside another ramp that was partially blocked and leading downward.

Instead of checking sensors, Robert felt out through the Flow of Life. With so much of the planet dead, the Flow was weak here, anemic. That made the handful of living beings near them all the easier to sense. "A half dozen or more," he said. "Very close." He eyed the downward ramp. "That way."

"Tali, looks like you're getting the time to fix that axle," Shepard said. "Ashley, Robert, with me." She pulled the Mako up beside the downward ramp and secured it.

"It'll be done when you get back, Shepard," Tali promised as the three stepped out of the Mako.

Shepard took the lead, as always, leading the two around the Mako and down the ramp. As they approached one of the barriers a gunshot rang out. Robert reached a hand toward his holster, the other up and ready to help him focus power if he needed it for defense.

"Not Geth," Ashley observed. "Sounds like a Predator pistol."

Shepard nodded. "Whoever's there, this is Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance, we're here to help!"

"Oh thank God," a voice cried out from below, that of an older woman. "Would you idiots put those guns away?!"

When there was no gunfire for several more seconds, Shepard finished leading them down the ramp. At the bottom was a makeshift camp where several people, all Human, were spread about. Two were in combat armor, flanking a man of mostly East Asian ancestry. "Are you in charge?" Shepard asked him.

"Ethan Jeong of ExoGeni Corporation," he replied. "I'm the administrator here." He frowned at another figure, an older woman.

"You're the one who cried out to stop firing?" Robert asked her.

She nodded. "My name is Juliana Baynham. And thank God you've come. Maybe you can save my…"

"Your daughter's probably dead, Juliana," Jeong said, his voice loud and irritated. "Right now the important thing is we may have a ride out of here."

"Aren't you the optimistic type?" Ashley gave him a disapproving look.

"I'm here investigating the Geth attack," Shepard said to them. "In fact, we're on our way to your HQ tower to see what the Geth are doing there. Is there anything you can share with me?"

"I'm afraid nothing of value," Jeong answered. "ExoGeni's purpose here is to research any remaining Prothean technology recovered. But we've had very little success with substantial new finds. Frankly the colony is costing my company money. I'm not sure what the invaders want."

Robert felt a prickle at the back of his head. An instinctive sense within him of deception. He kept any look of surprise off his face, saying nothing as Shepard continued to ask Jeong more about what ExoGeni was up to.

The gray-haired woman approached him. "Please, if you're going to the HQ, find my little girl. Find Liz." Robert sensed the very real worry and terror in the woman, suffering from one of the most primal fears many sapient beings could ever know: being a parent with a missing child. "Even if she's dead, I…"

"You have to know," he said. Robert nodded and tried a comforting smile. "I know what you mean, Miss… Baynham, right?"

"Yes. Juliana Baynham. My daughter is…"


"Yes. An excellent guess."

He nodded. In truth, it hadn't been just a guess, of course. "When we get there, I'll do what I can."

"We all will, ma'am," Ashley assured her. "Family is important."

To that, Robert nodded in heartfelt agreement.

When the three returned to the Mako, Tali met them at the door. "Everything is fine," she said. "I even realigned the axles. Whoever does the mechanic work here is horrible."

"Excellent work, Tali." Shepard returned to the driver's seat. Robert, again, took up the seat beside her, leaving Ashley and Tali to their prior seats. Shepard glanced over at Robert. "So, how much was Jeong telling the truth about?"

"Not hard to guess he was covering something up, huh?" Ashley asked.

"He was certainly lying when he said he didn't know why the Geth were here, and that there's nothing here of value worth an attack," Robert replied. "He's a decent liar, but I still felt the deception."

"He's a corporate type, who knows what kind of skeevy work he's trying to cover up?"

"I don't know." Robert shook his head. "I sensed something back in Zhu's Hope. Something… off. There's more to this colony than we're seeing."

"But what would Saren be interested in here?" Tali asked. "Could there be another Prothean beacon, like on Eden Prime?"

"It's possible, but I doubt it," replied Shepard. "Covering that up couldn't be done forever, and ExoGeni would get hit by so many sanctions and charges by the Citadel Council and Systems Alliance that it would ruin their business. No, this has got to be something else." She put the Mako into drive. "Now let's go find out what it is."

Robert braced himself this time, saying nothing as Shepard sent the Mako rocketing up the the next ramp.
"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 Jun 24, 2018 1:13 am

A literal tube sticking out of the ground was the entry to the Therum dig site. The Marines went in first, led by Major Anders, and the science team followed. Lucy led them down to the end of the tube, where a door was closed with a green light beside it. She waved her left hand over the light and her omnitool automatically triggered the door to open. It led to a lift, a large one made for carrying machinery and supplies as well. All seven of them easily fit into the lift. Once the door closed Lucy ran her hand over a control on the far side. The entire lift shuddered slightly before it began to descend.

The descent was quiet. Lucy looked over everyone. Cat, Tra'dur, Barnes, and Theek were going through gear. Tulari was by herself running her sensors. And Talara…

...the Falaen woman was standing to one corner alone, but not going over gear or her omnitool. Lucy felt her anxiety and concern, so she approached her. "Are you okay?"

Talara turned and faced her. Her blue eyes, over blue half-moon marks, also had lavender-colored irises, a marked difference from the eyes of many other intelligent species. "I am.. I am fine," she said.

"I sense otherwise."

"Right." Talara sighed and shook her head. "It's just… I feel this sense of imminent danger. Like our lives are about to be threatened."

To that Lucy nodded. "I see." She allowed herself a confident smile. "I feel the same."

"You don't seem worried about it."

"I've nearly died several times today, Ensign. I'm used to the feeling of danger."

"Ensign Talara." The new voice prompted them to turn and face Tra'dur. "I haven't had the chance yet to speak with you."

"You're Beta Shift, Lieutenant. I am Gamma."

"Yes. And I've often been busy with my orientation studies of the Aurora, so let me take this chance to say hello. I am very interested in the history of your people, as the Falaens' past is relevant to my species' current situation."

"As in, being the survivors of a near-extinction," said Talara.

"Indeed. And your species recovered from an even smaller surviving population than my own. Only fifty thousand, correct?"

"Yes. Just enough population to sustain sufficient genetic diversity."

"Then we Dilgar should feel fortunate." Tra'dur shook her head. "Although it is hard to say that for either of us given what had to be endured. But allow me to say that I consider the Falaen people to be an inspiration, a model that we Dilgar can aspire to…"

The lift shuddered again, coming to a stop and interrupting Tra'dur. The door slid open. Immediately the sounds of weapons fire came to them. "Stay back," Anders warned over the radio. "We've got a Geth squad holding the pathway. Give us a few minutes to clear them out."

"Please be careful," Cat urged. "I mean, if you throw around grenades or explosives, you could damage the cavern, or the walkway, or the site itself. We…"

"We're being careful, Lieutenant. Don't worry. Lieutenant Lucero, please remain with them for the moment, we've…" Anders stopped. A loud shot could be heard. "...we've got this under control. We'll let you know when we can move ahead."

"Let me know if you need anything. In the meantime…" Lucy, recognizing the readings on her helmet, released the faceplate and allowed it to slide open. Cool, climate-controlled air rushed in and struck her sweat-coated face. "...I'm just enjoying being out of that volcanic sauna above us."

Caterina let out an amused giggle in reply.

After another gauntlet of Geth rocket troopers and quadruped war machines, the Mako rumbled to a stop inside the tower serving as ExoGeni's HQ. The four piled out and Shepard secured the Mako.

Robert felt the life nearby immediately. It didn't come toward them, not like he expected it to do. "There's someone here, but they're acting shy. Afraid."

"Liz Baynham?" Ashley asked.

"Probably," Robert answered.

Shepard drew her shotgun from its holster at the base of her back. "We'll get to her if we can. Let's move out."

With weapons readied the four approached the entrance to ExoGeni. Upon sight of the blue energy barrier over the opening Tali ran a scan. "A Geth particle barrier. Given the power I wouldn't be surprised if it's being powered by a dropship, probably attached to the building."

"So we're not going through this way," Ashley said.

"I'm sure Jarod and Cat and Scotty could come up with something, but they're not here," Robert mused. He sensed out and felt a slight pull to their right. "This way. I think we can find a way under the barrier."

The team went in the direction he indicated. They came out into a large chamber full of dead varren. Robert immediately recognized the wounds; gunshots. He noticed Shepard steeling herself. She didn't need his senses to know an ambush could come at any moment.

He knew there was no 'could' about it. He felt the terrified intent. The gun come up, shaking in a pair of hands. The tension between fear, the need to survive, and the ingrained discomfort of a thinking being preparing to kill another.

Robert turned and reached out through the Flow of Life. A gunshot went off, going over their heads, accompanied with a shout of surprise and terror as the weapon in those shaking hands was wrenched upward by invisible force. A moment later he felt the weapon pull free. The stunned cry was joined by the thump of a falling body, then another…

...and a woman came rolling down from above them, following the inclined side of the Prothean-built chamber. Dust billowed from where she finally made an impact, graying her white jumpsuit, an ExoGeni patch on one arm. Nearby a pistol, one of the curved Phalanx models, clattered to the ground.

Ashley, ever ready to fight, brought her assault rifle up toward the woman. Her blue eyes widened in terror. "Please don't kill me!" the woman shrieked. "Oh God! Please don't!"

"She's not a threat," Robert said, holding his pulse pistol to the ground. "She's just terrified."

Shepard nodded to Ashley, who lowered her rifle. Turning her attention to the young woman, Shepard said, "Elisabeth Baynham, right?"

There was no reduction to her fear. "I… I can help you. Please don't kill me. I'll keep my mouth shut, I won't talk about…"

She stopped herself at that point, sensing their confusion, but Robert felt the word she was about to speak. "What's the 'Thorian'?" he asked.

"Oh God, you're one of them," Baynham gasped. "You're one of those telepaths from the other universes. Jeong actually hired…"

"We're not working for Jeong," Shepard insisted. "I'm Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy and Council Spectre. We're here investigating the Geth attack on Feros."

Disbelief and hope warred inside of Liz Baynham. Robert knelt down beside her and offered a hand. "Here," he said, bringing a friendly grin to his face. "Let me help you up."

Wordlessly Liz did so. She stared in bewilderment at him and then at Shepard. "I… I didn't know the Systems Alliance had telepaths now."

"We don't," Shepard replied. "Captain Dale here is a Paladin agent from the United Systems. We're working together against the Geth."

"I'm a metaphysical life energy wielder, like Gersallian Life Force Knights," Robert explained. "I don't read minds directly so much as I can sense the essence of your thoughts and feelings through my abilities. You don't need to be afraid. Whatever the Thorian is, it's not why we're here."

"It should be," Liz replied. "I… I was trying to get through to Colonial Affairs back at Arcturus. It's why I was left behind. But the Geth cut the power before I could establish a connection."

"What is it the Geth want?" asked Shepard.

"The same thing I'm talking about," Liz said. "They're here for the Thorian. To kill it. I don't know why."

"Okay, I'm confused," Tali admitted. "Why would Saren want to kill… whatever it is?"

"I don't know. I don't know who this 'Saren' is." Liz shook her head. "But I know the Geth will have to kill everyone in Zhu's Hope to get at the Thorian. They won't be able to flee, it won't let them."

"Maybe you should start at the beginning," said Shepard. "What is this Thorian?"

"It's some kind of ancient life form we found, a living plant of sorts. From the samples we've seen, it's been here for tens of thousands of years, at least. It may have predated the Protheans."

Robert immediately mused to himself that it would explain why Saren's Geth were here. This creature could have witnessed the Reapers exterminating the Protheans. But he didn't say so out loud to avoid distracting Liz Baynham.

Liz was continuing to explain. "I was assigned as a researcher for ExoGeni's examination of the Thorian. But it's all gone wrong… it's why I was trying to reach Colonial Affairs. Jeong's been keeping me away from offworld communication. He's basically kept me a prisoner, put me on probationary status..."

"Why?" Shepard asked.

"Because I opposed the project," Liz answered. "The Thorian gives off spores that let it take control of other life forms. It's how it protects itself. Jeong and ExoGeni… they wanted to test the spores, see how they interacted with other beings. So they used them on the colonists. ExoGeni turned the population of Zhu's Hope into test subjects."

Guilt was radiating from Liz Baynham. Robert felt horror and anger in the others. It matched his own. So much of the sense of fear and despair he'd felt in the colonists now made horrifying sense. "That's why things felt so off back at the Colony," Robert said to them. "I was sensing the Thorian and its control over the colonists. Their despair at having no control over themselves."

"Those bastards," Ashley swore. "We should go back and put a bullet in that lying son of a…"

"First things first, Sergeant," Shepard said, firmly. "I want proof of this."

"And we have to finish fighting off the Geth first," Tali pointed out. "We can't fight this thing and the Geth at the same time."

"I'm more interested in why the Geth want the Thorian dead. We need to see what they're doing in the HQ and neutralize them."

"There's a way under the barrier," Liz said. "I'll show you to it." She reached for her pocket and pulled out a piece of plastic that Robert quickly recognized as an ID card. "The system will think you're me. You can get all of the information I have access to from one of the VI terminals."

Shepard accepted thec ard. "Thank you. Alright everyone." Shepard gestured forward. "Let's go shoot some more Geth."

With the last Geth cleared out, the science team moved ahead to join with the Marines. With two Marines left behind the group took a couple of lift rides to head down to the next level. The science team was coming second and were together when the tower appeared.

"It's definitely Prothean make," Caterina observed. "And the source of the power signature."

"Including a particle barrier." Tra'dur checked her omnitool. "Someone must have activated the Prothean technology. Why?"

"I can think of a few reasons," Barnes said.

The lift came to a stop. Lucy and Anders were waiting at the bottom. "We're holding here for the moment," Anders explained. "Lucero and I will move ahead with you in case there are more Geth."

"Good. The less we disturb the site, the better," Caterina said.

They approached the tower via the catwalk. The particle barrier forbade entry at this level, but there was another lift to their left. Anders called for some of his Marines to come up and join them, leaving behind a rear-guard of four to watch the first lift. He briefly frowned as Cat and the others piled in. "You should let us go first."

"There's no Geth on sensors," Cat replied. "We'll be fine for the few minutes before we get down there. Besides, Lucy can jump down and join us."

Lucy gave Cat an accusing look. "You've been dying to see me do 'super-jumps', haven't you?"

"Yep." Flashing a grin at Lucy, Cat hit the control. The lift gate closed and the lift descended downward.

Lucy sighed and readied herself to make the jump.

Once the lift reached the bottom Cat frowned. "This says there's another level.

"It's blocked below here," said Tra'dur. She'd stepped out and turned to check below the lift. "Someone placed a container below the left." The Dilgar glanced to her right, toward the tower. "Wait, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I think someone's calling out," said Talara. "This way!"

As they emerged from the lift, there was a loud thud and an expanding cloud of light dust. Lucy looked up from where she'd jumped and asked, "Happy?" Seeing the others ignoring her, she felt out with her senses and realized why.

Near the tower, the catwalk had been broken as well, leaning down to the lower level. Tra'dur jumped down first, in a very fitting, feline way for the Dilgar woman, and Talara and Cat were next. Lucy got there just as Barnes finally worked up the nerve to join them, already knowing what they would find.

"Thank the Goddess," a female voice said. "I was afraid I was losing my mind."

On the other end of the particle barrier on this level was an Asari in a green and white working jumpsuit. Her complexion was sky blue, with sapphire-blue eyes that looked at them pleadingly. She was hovering in mid-air, trapped in a bubble of energy.

"Uh… Doctor T'Soni, I presume?" Cat asked.

Barnes chuckled lightly at that.

"Yes," the Asari said, her tone betraying a surge of relief. "I am Doctor Liara T'Soni." She looked them over. "You're with the United Systems, aren't you?"

"Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, Science Officer of the Starship Aurora," Cat replied. "These are my friends and subordinates. You're safe with us. You can lower the particle barrier now."

"I would like to, but I'm afraid I can't access it from here," Liara said. "I can't get out of the bubble. I'm not even sure how it came on, I was just trying to activate the barrier."

"Perhaps it was a security measure," Tra'dur suggested. "The technology was looking for Prothean biosigns or an approved biometric signature, and Doctor T'Soni is seen as an unauthorized user."

"Well, we need to find a way to disrupt the particle barrier," Cat said.

"Or see if the system didn't bother covering sections buried under the rock," Lucy added. "If the programming is sophisticated enough it may adopt power-saving methods like that."

"Well, how can we dig down quickly enough?" asked Talara.

"Given the rock type…" Lieutenant Theek checked his omnitool. "We're going to need heavier equipment."

"Yeah. I'm thinking a laser drill," Barnes agreed.

"Exactly, sir. Of course, it will take some effort to assemble…" Theek glanced toward Barnes in time to notice his grin.

"Not as much as you think, Lieutenant Theek," Barnes said, grinning widely.

The others saw the grin and followed Barnes' eyes… to the laser drill left by the vacant excavation team. He immediately ran up to it and began examining the machine.

"Lucero to Anders," Lucy said into her omnitool. "Standby up there. We're going to be firing a laser drill shortly."

"Understood. Be advised that the Aurora just sent us an update. We're expecting unwelcome company."

"That does not sound like a good thing," Liara observed.

"It usually isn't," Cat sighed. "More Geth?"

"That's the way it sounds. I'll take my team up and cover the door. Keep me informed."

After the call to Anders finished, Barnes called out, "Yo, Lucy, science geeks, this thing isn't going to fix itself!"

"Uh, stay right…" Cat stopped that thought before she said something silly. "...hold tight, Doctor, we'll be right back."

"I have nothing better to do," she answered, in a way Cat thought was more a desperate stab at humor in her situation than something meant nastily.

The moment the Geth ships dropped out of FTL, the Aurora and Koenig opened fire. It was a first strike made necessary by the numbers of Geth ships, with several of their wingless dragonfly-like cruisers backed by waves of smaller craft.

Meridina looked up from her console as the ship shuddered. "All fighter squadrons launching."

"Laurent can task the squadrons as he sees necessary," Julia replied. "What's our status?"

"Five of the Geth cruisers and ten smaller ships," Jarod replied. The ship shook again. "They're firing mass effect-propelled mass drivers and more of the plasma weapons. Shields still holding at eighty-nine percent."

"Return fire. Tactical, focus fire on their cruisers. Helm, keep us in orbit, don't let them past us."

Both Angel and Locarno affirmed their orders. The Aurora's main weapons began firing in retort of the Geth. A Geth cruiser to their bow endured, with little success, the hammer blows of the Aurora's powerful pulse plasma cannons. The Darglan-designed weapons, based as they were on the technology of R4A1's powerful Asgard species, blasted great melting chunks out of the Geth ship. Beams, from the plasma cannons and emitters of similar origin to the pulse cannons, lashed at the particle barrier fields of the Geth ships. The heaviest of these weapons also managed localized penetration of the particle fields, allowing them to carve deep wounds into the Geth cruisers.

While the Aurora engaged the larger ships, the Koenig went after the lighter. Under Will Atreiad's leadership, with Apley at the helm, the Koenig dodged and weaved around the Geth fire, drawing their attention so that Laurent's fighters got clear attack runs on these lighter vessels while other fighters engaged their Geth counterparts.

On the Koenig bridge everything shuddered. "Geth attackers to stern," Magda said. "Shields down to eighty-four percent."

"Helm, Attack Plan Charlie Sierra… execute!"

At Atreiad's command Apley pulled the Koenig into a tight maneuver, moving "upward" and flipping the ship in what, within atmosphere, would resemble a "Cobra maneuver". The Geth ships maneuvered away while Koenig continued the flip until her forward weapons were brought to bear. Pulses of amber energy shot through the orbital space of Therum and found their target, ripping the guts from one of the Geth vessels.

"The other ship is breaking off… wait." Magda checked her sensor board. "I've got another ship trying to slip past us. I think it's trying to get into low orbit, probably to launch dropships."

"Bring us about. Fire when ready, April."

At the tactical station, Lt. April Sherlily was already working her controls. The moment her systems showed a target lock thanks to Apley's maneuver, she opened fire with the phasers and a solar torpedo. The phasers did their job, blasting away the Geth ship's protective particle barrier so that the solar torpedo could hit bare hull. The naqia warhead within initiated and blew the Geth vessel apart.

With nothing but remnant radiation showing on her sensors, Magda turned her attention to other targets. The Koenig moved away from her wrecked foe.

Given the amount of energy being tossed around in orbit, those monitoring sensors or the same electronic instruments could not be blamed for missing the slight signature of the Geth dropship that emerged from the broken hull, damaged but intact, to descend upon the dig site below.

The ExoGeni headquarters, like much of Feros, was repurposed from whatever the Protheans had built it for. Crumbling rubble still marred the interior, either from the ancient age of the structure or the Geth takeover. Shepard moved ahead with care, Robert and Tali behind, and Ashley in the rear.

They found a set of stairs leading upward. From above a voice could be heard. "Access denied."

"Lousy machine", grumbled a deep voice. Hearing it, Shepard motioned to the others to be ready for a fight. "Give me the damn files!"

"Please contact your supervisor for a security exception."

By this point they arrived at the top of the stairs. Down the corridor a Krogan was standing in front of a holographic avatar. "If you don't give me the damn files, I'll blow your holographic ass into actual dust!

"Access denied. Please speak to your supervisor for a security exception, and remember company policy regarding the use of profanity while on duty."

They drew closer, as quietly as they could with weapons readied, attempting to get a clean shot without risking damage to the computer terminal.

The VI continued speaking. "At this time, I must ask you to move on. There is a queue forming behind you."

The Krogan, bewildered, turned toward them.

"Stupid VI," Tali grumbled.

By this time the Krogan was already lifting his weapon. He snarled and pulled the trigger.

There was no hope of getting to cover. So Robert jumped ahead of Shepard and felt through the Flow of Life, gathering its power and forming a wall of invisible force with it. It wasn't as easy as moving an object, and there was no time for him to even hope to grasp the individual metal slivers being fired from the rifle. He had to imagine force itself, a constant push away from him and toward the Krogan, with enough fine power to force the ME-field-accelerated slivers to stop.

He succeeded. Mostly.

Tali was the next to move. She lifted her omnitool and used its internal systems to project a thermal field, a use of the tool so delicate only an engineer or machinist of great skill could manage it. The weapon in the Krogan's hands stopped firing, emitting hot steam from its cooling vents, the sign of an overheat for a weapon using mass effect fields.

Shepard shot forward, wreathed in biotic energy, and slammed into the Krogan with enough force to drive him into the wall beside the VI avatar. The VI, aware of the fighting, stated, "It is against company policy for firearms to be discharged on company property. It is also against policy for any sort of physical altercation to take place. Roughhousing, throwdowns, and other such activities are…"

As the machine issued its complaint, Ashley fired on the Krogan. Her assault rifle's firepower was met by a biotic field that protected their foe for the critical moment he needed to stand. He reached to his back and retrieved a shotgun.

Shepard fired first, a shotgun blast into the Krogan's torso that went through the weakened biotic field and armor into flesh. The Krogan roared, just to be cut off by another shot from Shepard straight to his jaw. The result was a bloody mess and a gargle from the mutilated Krogan. Not to be outdone, Tali's shotgun fired as well, sending a spray of metal slivers into the Krogan's neck and torso. Ashley poured another few shots into it.

Robert did nothing. It seemed unnecessary at this point. And he had other concerns.

"That's pretty useful," Ashley said, turning toward Robert. "Being able to… oh God."

Robert grinned weakly while the blood oozed through his fingers, where his left hand was holding a point in his armor between his left hip and side. Multiple impact points showed where the armor had successfully stopped further projectiles. "Stopped most of them," he said. "But I didn't have the control to stop them all. A few slipped past." He moved to lean against the wall.

Shepard approached him and looked down at the wound. "It looks like a lucky hit," she said. "Slipped between thicker plates and hit just above the hip joint. Will you be able to walk?"

"Probably," Robert said. "Just have to stop the bleeding."

"Let's get some medigel on that." Shepard pulled open a pouch of gear on her suit and brought out a medigel dispenser. Moving it over the bloody area on his armor, Shepard found the gap caused by the lucky shot and dispensed a full dose of the gene-engineered healing substance into the wound. The pain immediately subsided, as did the flow of blood.

"Now I see why the Citadel Council turns a blind eye to this stuff," Robert murmured.

"Too damned useful, especially without dermal regenerators," Shepard agreed. Content that Robert was alright, Shepard turned her attention to the VI.

"Apologies. Due to technical difficulties, I am unable to summon medical assistance," the VI apologized.

"That's alright, it's handled," Shepard replied.

"Very well. I shall make a notation on your file, Researcher Elisabeth Baynham, that you are proficient in the provision of first aid. ExoGeni values employees with a variety of skills and talents. May I assist you further?"

"Yes, you can," Shepard replied. "To start with, just what was the Krogan before me asking? What did you tell him?"

"I was unable to provide access due to lack of proper company identification. The unknown individual was inquiring about Species 37."

Shepard immediately understood what that meant. "What did they want to know about the Thorian?"

"The inquiries were into the behavior off the test subjects enthralled to its control and alternate routes to its location."

"The Thorian is under Zhu's Hope, correct?"

"As of last recorded readings, yes. The Thorian is in the substructure of the tower beneath the colony. However, sensors observing the Thorian have been offline for several cycles. Current location cannot be verified."

Everyone exchanged looks. Indeed, everyone had the same thought. "What are its vulnerabilities?" asked Shepard.

"I am afraid that data is classified beyond your current access level, Researcher Baynham."

"Under whose authority?"

"Feros Administrative Operations Officer Ethan Jeong. It is recommended that you consult with Mister Jeong to learn more about your probation and limited access, Researcher Baynham."

"Oh, I think I'll be having a long talk with him." There was an edge to Shepard's voice Robert didn't often hear. "We're done."

"Shutting down. Remember, I am always here to assist you in improving your performance. ExoGeni would not be the firm it was without its dedicated employees." With that final remark, the VI shut down.

"I can see what the Wal-Mart back home might do with those things," Robert mumbled. "And it makes me nauseous."

"I've never understood why corporations speak to their employees like that. Like they're little children," Tali said.

"We can speculate about economics later," Shepard said. "Let's move out."

Anders was in the middle of that standard Marine duty - "hurry up and wait" - when he got the call from topside. "Major, Geth dropship on approach. They're bypassing the perimeters," said Sanger.

Damn. "I guess one got through the fight in orbit," Anders responded. "Get all teams back to the opening. My teams will cover from the inside." He motioned to the others. "Back to the lift, go, go!"

The other Marines responded. Anders followed them while calling up the geeks. "Better hurry up down there," he warned. "We've got company."

"We're almost done, dammit!" Barnes replied. "Just give us a few more minutes!"

"I'll do what I can," Anders pledged.

Geth fire streaked over Robert's head from where he and Tali were ducking behind cover. Below them, in what had once been a machinery space, the Geth were holding an open port through which their dropship was clinging to the tower. Computer interfaces nearby were joined by controls for the port in question. "If we can close that door, we'll shear off the arm," Tali noted.

Nearby Shepard and Ashley were opening up with assault rifles. Given the larger Geth platforms and the number of guns, Shepard was refraining from her usual biotics-fueled charges. Instead, whenever Robert felt the ripple of energy from biotics being employed, it was to see Shepard throwing bolts and shockwaves of biotic force.

Ashley threw a grenade down. A shower of rubble flew up, joined with parts from a broken Geth platform. "There's an awful lot of them." She glanced to Robert. "Why not rip the claw with your powers?"

Tali gave an answer before he could. "No, it's tied too tightly into the structure now. He could damage the entire tower ripping the claw loose."

"Right now I wish I had one of Lucy's lightsabers," Robert admitted. "I could have cut it loose easily."

"Can you try and force the door closed?" Shepard asked him.

He considered it. He had the power. Control… that would be the hard part. "I can try," he said. "But I need to be able to concentrate. And it'll help if I can see it."

"Get down toward the bottom of the stairs until you can see it from the wall. We'll cover you."

Robert nodded. Keeping his knees and back bent, he moved over to the stairs leading down to the area of the platform where the Geth were. Shepard moved up behind him and gave cover fire. He didn't see the effect her fire had until he could finally see the door from cover and noticed, to his left, the broken Geth platform that had tried to cut him off. Shepard knelt beside him and held her weapon up to cover the stairs. "Good enough?"

"Yeah," Robert said. He looked at the door and felt out through the Flow of Life, directing the warm power within him to grip the port from both sides and slide it inward.

Around him weapons fire continued, the ongoing firefight a distraction that was dangerous to him. Again he felt control slip. The immense power threatened to expand beyond his reach, to lash out wildly, and there was no telling the damage he'd cause if that happened. No. No, I am in control. Breathe in, breathe out, feel the Flow of Life and the connection within…

With the lessons he learned from Kilaba and Ledosh he held his control, forcing himself to breathe carefully, using that breath to direct his struggling grip.

There was a shriek of metal grinding followed by a loud crash. He'd closed the door partially, up to the claw itself… but he hadn't shut it hard enough. He kept the control he needed, refusing to let it slip, and directed the doors to open up completely and slam together again. This time the force almost did it, but again it wasn't enough.

So he tried again. One more time.

The doors sheared right through the trunk of the Geth ship's claw.

The loss of the connection was too much for the Geth ship. The tower shuddered as the other claw came loose, unable to keep a grip by itself. The shuddering stopped. The Geth ship was free of the tower and beginning its long, terminal fall to the rubble below.

"...hear us? Commander, this is an emergency!" The voice cut in from nowhere, immediately recognized by all as Joker.

"I'm here," Shepard said. "We just cleared the jamming source."

"That's a relief. The Normandy is under attack, Commander."

"More Geth?"

"No, that's the strange part. It's the colonists. They've all gone mad, they're trying to break in. I don't think they can, but Lieutenant Alenko and the others have a fireteam ready to open up if they come through the airlock."

"It's got to be the Thorian," Robert said, now moving over to join Shepard. He squeezed off a series of shots that took out a Geth approaching the front of the stairs. "It wants to take over your crew too. Or it thinks we're a threat to it."

"Well, it's right about that," Shepard remarked. Over her omnitool, she said, "They've been exposed to something, Joker. Just make sure it doesn't get into the ship. Switch to life support only if it looks like the filters are compromised. We'll see what we can do but right now we're still busy with Geth!"

As if to punctuate her point, Shepard rose above cover and fired her shotgun. The shot blew open the torso of a Geth platform. Robert was certain Joker overheard it. "Yes ma'am," he said. "We'll keep you informed."

Once the call ended Shepard gestured to the others. "Ashley, Robert, cover fire! Tali, you're with me, we're sweeping this place clear!"

Everyone responded in the affirmative and followed Shepard's lead.

In the Therum dig site, Anders' voice echoed over the science team's comm units. "We're holding them at the entrance right now. But they've got some Krogan mercs with them too, and they're not going down easy."

"We're almost done here," Lucy replied.

The sound of weapons fire and explosions echoed in the background of their linked comm units. Anders seemed unflappable when he replied, "Good. We'll hold the door open for you."

"So, it looks like the focusing lens is good. And the power source is ready." Barnes stood up. "I say we fire this fraker up!"

"Everyone over here," Lucy called out to the others. "Just in case."

The assembled team all came together behind the drill. Barnes finished a final check and then crowed, "Fire in the hole!"

A bright beam of concentrated light surged from the end of the drill. The chamber rumbled violently and debris flew upward, blown away by the violence of the energy being driven down toward the tower. Wisps of mostly-atomized rock formed clouds around the forming tunnel through the earth.

"Keep going," Cat said. "Keep going… stop!"

Barnes shut down the laser drill. Wisps of steam and debris rose from the new tunnel carved into the ground. As the cloud of debris settled the gray of the tower became visible, as did the bluish tint of the interior.

An interior uncovered by a particle barrier.

"Alright! You did it!" Cat hugged Barnes. "Good job!"

"Well, it's one of the reasons I became an engineer," he answered. "Blowing crap up is cool."

The team hurried down through the rock and into the interior, lit up and entirely different in atmosphere from the cavern they'd just exited. They arrived at the middle section of the tower, where a console was present. "This whole section is a lift," Tra'dur noted. "Most likely controlled from there…"

Cat looked over the control in question. Remembering what happened to Liara, she accessed it with her omnitool instead of pressing it with her hand. "Hrm, looks like some general security precautions. I think we can bypass it…"

"I believe so, Cat'Delgado," Tra'dur agreed, working her own omnitool. "Is everyone ready?"

"Well, yeah," Lucy said.

A few moments later, the floor under them shuddered and began to rise.

"This will get us to the next level," Tra'dur said. "Then all we need to do is free Doctor T'Soni."

"And get past a bunch of angry Krogan and Geth," added Lucy.

"Yeah." Cat looked over her scans. "The Protheans built this thing from some pretty exotic minerals. I doubt a transporter can safely lock onto us in here."

"We'll have to be ready to fight, won't we?" asked Talara.

"Most likely," said Tra'dur, as the lift finished its trip to the next level. Liara T'Soni was still trapped in her bubble and unable to look behind her back. "Give us but a bit of time, Doctor T'Soni, and you shall be free," Tra'dur assured her.

Cat went to the controls and interacted with them through her omnitool. Liara turned her head toward her. "Do you know why the Geth are attacking the dig site? There's nothing valuable here. Or is this some sort of trick by the mining companies?"

"Oh, they're Geth," said Cat. "And they may be here for you."

"Me?" Liara's surprise was obvious. "Why would they be interested in me? I'm just an archaeologist."

"An archaeologist specializing in the Protheans," said Lucy. "And one who's in favor of the Reaper theory, which may be far more true than anyone imagined." She gave the others a look to silence them. They'd bring up Benezia later.

"Wait, you mean you have evidence of the Reapers annihilating the Protheans?" Liara asked. Her voice rose in volume and excitement, hinting of almost desperate eagerness.

"Not enough to convince the Council, or even our own government," Lucy replied. "But we know they were behind the destruction of the Adranian civilization a quarter million years ago."

"The Adranians... Yes, I remember reading the papers that were published in our archaeology journals. When I was done here I planned to request permission to join the team exploring their ruins."

"One moment… Tra'dur, do you see…"

"Yes, the security programming. Very sophisticated. Tom'Barnes, if we link our omnitools with Cat'Delgado, I believe we can bypass the program that imprisoned Doctor T'Soni."

"Sure thing." Barnes brought his forearm up. Once his omni-tool came alive he operated it with his hands, creating the link Tra'dur proposed and running infiltration software. "Some pretty sophisticated stuff. The Darglan could have given them a few pointers on computer software though."

The bubble around Liara faded from existence, letting her drop to the floor. The particle barrier around the tower also died out. Lucy went to help her, but Cat beat her to it, helping Liara to stand. "Goddess, I was afraid I would die in there," Liara confessed. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Caterina tapped at her omnitool. "Delgado to Aurora, we've got Doctor T'Soni and the particle field is down. Can we beam out?"

"Negative, Lieutenant," Jarod answered. "We're still engaged with a Geth squadron. The shields are up."

"Then we'd better get back to the Marines," Lucy said. "Just in case."

Cat motioned behind them. "That lift can take us back to the top level of the site. Can you walk?"

"I think." Liara took a ginger step. She looked stiff from her prolonged time in the bubble.

"How long were you in that fraking thing?" Barnes asked.

"Um… a day or so, I think. I feel very weak."

"Here." Cat offered her canteen. "Have a drink."

"And rations." Tra'dur offered these, in the form of a bar of food matter. "Asari are levo-compatible, yes?"

"We are." Liara took the water first. Tra'dur continued to help her to the lift, then Cat took over, with some visible effort, when she switched to eating at the ration bar.

Barnes activated the lift. This time the shuddering beneath them was stronger. "That… wasn't the lift, was it?" Talara asked.

"No, I fear not," Theek said. The Alakin geologist had his omnitool active and was going over scan results. "Whether it was the particle barrier being raised and dropped or that laser drill, someone has destabilized a magma pocket under the tower. The internal pressure is building and will likely lead to a surface eruption within half an hour."

That drew a sigh from Lucy. "Nothing is ever simple in this job."

Shepard led the way out of ExoGeni HQ. Liz Baynham was waiting for them at the Mako, as Shepard had instructed her to do. Everyone piled back into the Mako, with Ashley taking the gunner's seat this time so Liz and Tali could look over Robert's wound. "It looks like the medigel seal is holding," Tali said. "You'll be fine."

Robert nodded. "A relief to know." There was still a sting of pain at the impact site, but nothing serious now.

He felt slightly more than a sting a moment later as the entire craft kicked into gear. Shepard's rapid turn pulled him into his seat, followed by an acceleration that drove them out of the garage. "No sign of any Geth, ma'am," Ashley said from her seat. "It looks like we got 'em all."

"Best news I've heard all day," Shepard muttered. "Now we just have to deal with this Thorian thing. Baynham, any suggestions? I'd rather not have to shoot my way through people who can't control themselves."

"My mother may know something that could work, she's done far more work on the Thorian than I ever did," Liz replied. "But don't ask her on the radio, if Jeong overhears…"

"You seem quite afraid of him," Tali observed.

"All he cares about is the corporation's bottom line. I… I thought he sent you to kill me," Liz confessed. "It's why I shot at you. He knows I'm trying to alert the government about the Thorian, and what he and ExoGeni have done. He might even kill my mother, anything to save the company."

"We'll deal with him when we get there, don't worry. But for now, hold on." With that Shepard accelerated the Mako down the Skyway, past the still-burning remnants of the Geth they'd fought before.

The trip up the lifts was nerve-wracking given the increasing rumbling. Once the lift stopped Cat shouted "Go! Go!" Lucy was impressed by the fact Cat waited until everyone was off the lift before continuing, letting Tra'dur and Tulari carry Liara. The entire shaft shuddered around them with enough violence that loose chunks of rock were flying free. They were met at the lift by two Marines. "The Major's above, holding the line," one of them said in a Gersallian lilt.

Cat nodded and followed everyone onto the lift. Lucy activated it the moment everyone was aboard. More shuddering threatened to knock over Liara and Tra'dur, the latter helping the former keep her footing. The lift began to ascend.

As for Cat, her heart was pounding and her legs felt rubbery from all of the running. She mused to herself that the Doctor would be teasing her, given how much they'd had to run during her journey with him. Her finger tapped at her omnitool. "Delgado to Aurora. We're less than half an hour from a major eruption in the magma pocket under this site. We need beamout ASAP."

This time it was Meridina who replied to them. "We are still heavily engaged, Lieutenant, and the enemy's positioning will not let us lower shields. You will have to fly out by runabout."

"Alright. We'll do what we can." Cat looked at Liara and cringed. "We left your suit behind, didn't we?"

"I am afraid the Geth took it," she said. "Probably to keep me from escaping on my own."

"We bring emergency spares, although they're only soft suits." Caterina reached into her pack and brought one out, a folded up square of insulated material with a plastic faceplate. She unfolded it and handed it to Liara. "It's got a small compressed breathing pack, but it won't last more than an hour. And with the top-side heat you're probably going to feel temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius, so hydrate again before the lift gets to the top."

"Thank you," Liara said, already fitting the legs of the one-piece insulated suit over her jumpsuit. "Although I doubt I will die of heat exposure before we all die from the lava eruption."

Talara heard that and drew in a breath. She felt trapped here, surrounded by danger. It wasn't the first time she'd felt this way in a life-threatening situation, certainly, but today it seemed even greater in intensity. She noticed Lucy looking toward her. "I'm just anxious, Lieutenant. It won't affect my performance, I promise."

"I know," Lucy said. She pulled her inactive lightsaber from her belt. "Get ready, everyone. The moment the lift gets to the surface, we're going to be in a firefight."

"Right." Cat felt toward her hip, where her pulse pistol was. She was a terrible shot, admittedly, and the Doctor would have shaken his head at her for carrying a gun.

Still, I don't have much choice, she considered before willing the lift to go faster.

The Mako raced into the next tower and turned onto the ramp leading down to the next Skyway level. As they moved in a voice cut over the radio. "Commander Shepard, this is Juliana Baynham. Please, I need to…"

"What are you doing?!" a voice demanded in the background.

"Get her away from that radio!" Jeong screamed.

"Mother!" Liz darted for the door. "Let me out!"

"Hold on." Shepard brought them to the bottom of the ramp. As soon as she brought the Mako to a stop Liz opened the door and jumped out. "Dammit Baynham, wait!"

"I'm with her!" Ashley responded. She finished removing her harness and leapt from her seat, pulling her rifle over her shoulder. Tali followed behind her, shotgun ready. Shepard and Robert took the rear.

Liz rushed down the ramp. "Mom! Mom, are you okay?! Mom, I'm…"

A gunshot rang out. There was a burst of blood and Liz Baynham collapsed to the floor in a scream.

"Liz! NO!" cried Juliana's voice.

"Shepard?!" Now it was Jeong. "Shepard, I want you and your squad front and center, no guns! Do it now or I'll be forced to take extreme measures! You've got thirty seconds or I start shooting!"
"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 Jun 24, 2018 2:37 pm

"Twenty seconds left, Shepard!" Jeong's voice nearly vibrated with the tense emotions Robert felt in him. Fear bordering on terror, frustration, anger.

"This guy's going off the deep end," Ashley remarked. "If we go in unarmed he could shoot us all."

"And if we go in with guns blazing, who knows how many people get hurt?" Robert asked. "I can stop him if he acts, but I say let's play along."

Shepard looked back at them, her green eyes moving from Ashley to Robert. After Jeong shouted five seconds she nodded. "Alright." Louder, she shouted, "We're coming out, weapons down!" Shepard holstered her shotgun and held her hands out.

Ashley gave a frustrated look and put her rifle up. Robert holstered his pistol and joined her in following Shepard into the open.

Behind them, Tali grumbled in Quarian, not bothering to let her vocoder translate it.

Stepping into the open gave them a view of what was happening. Liz Baynham was on the ground, a growing pool of blood below her and her mother kneeling over her. Juliana's hands were stained with her daughter's blood, trying to stop the bleeding from Liz's hip. Standing over them, gun extended, was Ethan Jeong. His security personnel had their guns drawn as well, if at rest. "I've read up on you, Shepard. And your team." Robert sensed the desperation, the near panic, within Jeong. Something had gone wrong. "I was still hoping you wouldn't find out about Species 37. That you'd get rid of the Geth and clear out. That this treacherous little bitch would be dead."

"Well, we know," Shepard said. Her voice was firm, but without the edge of active threat. "You used the Zhu's Hope colonists as test subjects. Little more than lab rats. You broke the law and made yourself a monster."

"Who cares about a few stupid colonists?" he shot back. "Analysis of the Thorian could lead us to whole new ways of understanding how to manipulate a brain. ExoGeni had the chance of a lifetime here on Feros, we couldn't let the colonists screw it up! Imagine being able to control violent prisoners without guns? Or being able to break up riots? We could do this with the Thorian's spores if we can figure out how to reproduce them and use them ourselves."

"You're talking about slavery," Robert said. "That's what this is."

"No it's not!" Jeong retorted. "But I'd expect to hear that kind of thing from you. I've read up on you too. You're worse than Shepard! You made a career out of sticking your nose in and demanding everybody obey you or get blown away by a starship gun."

"Put the gun down, Jeong," Shepard said. Again her voice was firm, and now it took a commanding edge. "I don't want to hurt you."

"I don't care what you want! Because of you, because of Saren, I'm ruined!"

Robert felt it then. Jeong's uncertainty, his fear, all of it held him in check. But it was starting to shift. Within seconds he would build up the nerve and give the order to open fire.

He reached up with his hand. With the movement his power reached out and gripped Jeong's firearm. Jeong cried out in surprise when the gun was wrenched from his hand and sent flying into Robert's own hand.

Biotic energy surged from Shepard's arm and struck one of the guards. He went flying backward.

The other guard brought his weapon up. But before he could fire Robert reached out with his energy again. This time, however, his control slipped. Instead of grabbing the weapon like he'd done to Jeong, Robert felt his energy become raw, unchannelled force. It struck the man directly and sent him flying as if struck by a car. He slammed into the opposite wall and fell, utterly still. Nearby researchers rushed to check on him. With a sense of panic himself Robert desperately sought out the man's life energy, to make sure he survived, and was relieved to feel said life was intact and not fading. He hadn't killed the man on accident.

Jeong stared at his open hand with wide eyes, followed by glancing back at the guard Robert had just tossed. Accident or not, it had a clear sobering effect upon the ExoGeni officer. "God, you… you're… you're not going to kill me, are you?"

"That wasn't in the plan, no." Shepard glanced toward Robert with evident concern. He returned the look sheepishly. "A bit much, wasn't it?"

"Not intended. I let my control slip."

"I'll say," Ashley said. "He looked like he was hit by an aircar. If he wasn't in tactical armor I think it might have actually killed him."

"Be more careful next time, please," Shepard instructed Robert. He responded with a nod. "And can you help Miss Baynham? It doesn't look serious, but I want to make sure she's alright."

"Sure." Robert went over and kneeled beside the mother and daughter. He could sense the wound was indeed not too serious, so long as the bleeding was stopped. "I'll hold it in while you get a medical kit," he told Juliana, who responded by pulling her blood-coated hands away. Robert, rattled as he was at his failure in control, didn't want to risk it again by using his life energies, instead pushing his hands to the wound and applying pressure. "You'll be okay," he assured Liz.

The wounded young woman responded with a nod.

Shepard turned her attention to the rapidly-paling Jeong. "Alright, why did you want to kill us? What's going on here, and what's it got to do with Saren?" Her eyes narrowed. "Start from the beginning."

"Saren Arterius found out about our experiment," Jeong said. "I don't know how, but since he's a Spectre I guess he had ways to do it. He came to me about a week ago and threatened to expose ExoGeni if we didn't give him access to the Thorian. He wouldn't let me call Corporate so I had to make the decision."

"And instead of helping us set a trap for the most-wanted man in the galaxy, you knuckled under," Ashley said accusingly.

"If these experiments were exposed, the company would be ruined!" Jeong insisted. "The fines alone, and plus the lawsuits…"

"Don't forget the jail time," Robert added from where he was aiding the Baynhams. Juliana was now returning with a medkit, including a medigel dispenser. "Especially for you. Your bosses certainly would've negotiated a plea deal."

"I couldn't let news get out!" Jeong insisted. "So I let Saren have access and thought it was over. Then yesterday the Geth attacked!"

"Whatever Saren got from the Thorian, he must be afraid we can get it," Tali said.

"I'm not sure… listen, the Thorian made him give someone up. One of the Asari he went with didn't come back." Jeong shook his head. "The Thorian, I don't think it sees us as living beings. We're… we're tools to it. Potential thralls, that's it."

"And you were feeding people to it." Ashley glowered at him. "How would you like it if the damn thing enslaved you?!"

"It was for a higher cause. The company… we would've compensated the subjects!"

"If any survived, you mean," Shepard said. "So why are you freaking out now? What's this about being ruined?"

"Since you got rid of the Geth, I was able to reach Corporate," said Jeong. "They've ordered a purge. They want the colony shut down."

"And the colonists?"

"As I said, purge." Jeong shuddered. "And my career is in shambles. I'm going to be blamed for this."

"Maybe. But you had bosses, right? People who approved this? Ordered it? You turn states' evidence on them and I'll put in a good word for you. If your bosses' bosses are smart, ExoGeni may even get out of this intact."

Jeong actually had to think about it. Robert sensed the calculation. He knew his career was over either way, but a reflexive part of him still didn't want to betray his company, still had a faint hope that maybe, just maybe, the company might make it out of this, and he'd keep his job intact. In the end, resignation won out, and Robert knew Shepard had won even before Jeong's reply of "Alright. I'll testify."

"Good. I'll hold you to that, don't doubt it," Shepard said. "Now, is there a way to disrupt the Thorians' control over the colonists? This thing is already attacking the Normandy with them. I don't want to kill them trying to get to the Thorian."

Juliana looked up from where she was finishing the medigel application to Liz's hip. "In testing we found there was a way to briefly disrupt the Thorian's control, using a weak, non-lethal concentration of a specific nerve gas mixture. It doesn't eliminate the spores, but it disrupts their control over the nervous system and knocks the subject out."

"We're going to need that gas, then," Shepard said. "And a plan on how to distribute it."

With Liz stabilized, Juliana and Robert stood. "This way," Juliana said. "We have the compound already loaded into gas grenades. We use them to secure colonists for taking blood and tissue samples after infection."

"You're okay with this?" Robert asked her.

"No, and most of us weren't," Juliana replied, guilt radiating from her. "But we didn't have the courage to stand up to Jeong and the bastards at Corporate. They made sure we couldn't leave until the tests were done and forbade anything but e-mails, which they read before sending." She shook her head. "It was just too easy for us to give up. I don't know if I'll ever sleep again." They arrived at a pile of crates. "Here, we should have a few dozen of them ready for use…"

In the orbital space over Feros, the Starship Aurora was still locked in combat against Geth vessels. Railgun and mass effect-propelled projectiles joined the plasma bolts of the Geth weapons striking her shields, while her own energy armament returned fire. Torpedoes from the bow launchers raced out and impacted against a Geth cruiser. Denuded of particle shields, the cruiser couldn't resist the naqia-enhanced warheads of the torpedoes. It was broken in half by the resulting detonations.

"Enemy target destroyed," Angel reported triumphantly. Her hands moved effortlessly over her tactical board, directing the Aurora's advanced Darglan-based plasma weaponry to continue the onslaught against the Geth ships. On her tactical sensors she observed the Koenig contributing. Under Will Atreiad, the ship was weaving in and out of Geth fire and returning said fire with its own. Torpedoes from the Koenig flew from the rear launcher and collided with a light Geth craft, nearly vaporizing it.

In her seat Julia could see they were winning the engagement, but not fast enough. Three Geth cruisers were still intact, weaving around each other to keep Angel's gunnery from tearing them apart one at a time. There were six more of the light ships and still many dozens of fighters engaging the Koenig and the flight group. "Can we beam anyone out yet?"

"I wouldn't recommend it," Jarod said. "Those Geth ships pack a punch against unshielded targets. If we drop shields and they get a direct hit, we could lose vital systems."

"How long do they have?"

At the sensor station, Lieutenant Amira al-Rashad checked her sensor readings of the planet. "Going by the readings, no more than twenty minutes."

Julia tapped a key on her chair. "Andreys to Anders, Andreys to Delgado. You need to get out of there, now."

"We're trying, Captain, but they're not making it easy," Anders answered. "They've brought a lot of firepower."

"Well, we won't be able to beam you out. So do what you can."

"Aye ma'am."

From their safe place at the entrance to the dig site, Anders and his Marines could fire back at the Krogan and Geth that were assembled. Above them a Geth dropship was still hovering, providing support fire and having driven off the relatively unarmed runabouts.

"I'm open to suggestions," Anders said. "Before we all get terminal cases of hotfoot."

From her point in the hiding place, Cat was looking out at the firefight through the helmet plate of her suit. They were back out in the hellish temperature, which didn't make the situation any more comfortable for any of them. "Well, Lucy can always do her badass Life Force Knight stuff to get the dropship."

Nearby Lucy shook her head. "I've never made a jump that high. If we can get it lower to the ground…"

"I doubt they're going to comply," Anders remarked.

"Do your heavy suits not have anti-air rockets?" asked Tra'dur.

"They do, yes, and I'd love to use them, but we're also under fire from multiple angles, and my perimeter teams are already hard-pressed trying to get through to us," noted Anders.

"We want the Asari!" a voice shouted. "Send her out and we let you live!"

"He's lying," Lucy said.

"Your powers aside, Lieutenant, I was already pretty sure of that," Anders observed sarcastically. "So, any options before we try a likely-suicidal charge? Or do we just hope and pray Captain Andreys can retrieve us without risking the ship?"

"Your landing craft, I thought some of them had transporter technology as well?" Liara asked.

"They do, Doctor, but that would require them to drop shields, and they can't with that Dropship here," Talara said.

"Why not order the pilots to fly a distance away, outside of the Dropship's effective firing range?" Liara asked.

"Ordinarily a good plan," Anders agreed. "I'd already be having them try it if it didn't likely mean they get shot at by the Geth ships in orbit."

"Although it might be an effective way to lure that Dropship away," Lucy pointed out. "The Geth may not want to divert attention from the fight in orbit."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure…"

As their tactical debate continued, Caterina checked her omnitool. She was thinking of their briefings on what the Geth were. "The Geth maintain an active uplink, right?"

"Yeah, according to the Quarians," Lucy said.

"Then maybe we can disrupt it," Cat suggested. "Enough to get that Dropship out of the way, at least. Or force it to come closer to maintain the network with the other platforms."

Anders smiled. "Okay, I like that one. Some good old-fashioned e-warfare. What do you need?"

"I need to isolate the frequency they maintain their network on. Then we can tie our omnitools and armor suits together and disrupt it." Caterina was busy operating her omnitool. "Wait… Lucy, Tra'dur, do you see…?"

"I do," Lucy said.

"As do I," Tra'dur added. "Operational at the one hundred and twenty-four point six kilohertz range in the second Groenitz-Hallen band. The omnitools, together, could create a short-wave disruption effect."

"Everyone, link your omnitools to Lieutenant Delgado's," Lucy ordered.

The science team did so. At the instruction of "You heard the lady, Marines!", Anders and his team did likewise. "Here," he said, checking over their findings. "For best effect, send out the disruption pulse at this…"

"Got it," Cat confirmed. "Ready… now."

Slinking near the entrance, and barely out of the incoming fire, Caterina brought her left arm up to point it in the general direction of the Geth dropship. After a couple of keystrokes she activated the pulse, powered by not just her omnitool but those of the others as well.

For several moments nothing happened. Then she noticed it on her scanners. The Geth ship was starting to descend. "It's working," she said. "They're trying to reacquire their network signal with the other Geth."

Lucy nodded and stood up. Everyone could see she was bracing herself. Talara even thought she could feel the energy settling in Lucy.

"What are you doing?!" demanded the Krogan outside. "Pull back up! Pull…"

It was too late. Lucy shot forward. She raced to the opening of the dig site entry tube and, just before the first step down, jumped. The energy in her leg muscles was amplified considerably by the life energies she was calling upon, sending her higher and further than even the best Human athlete could have managed in this gravity. At the apex of her jump Lucy's lightsaber flashed to life. The moment she landed on the Geth dropship she brought it down, slicing a gash through the vessel's armor-plated hull in defiance of its flickering particle barrier.

This spectacle, and the failed attempts of the Geth and Krogan to fire on Lucy, gave the others the moment they needed. "Semper Fi!" Anders called out, and at his order the Marines charged out of the tube firing. The heaviest armor went first, drawing fire they could better withstand and dealing out even more. Grenades and missiles flew through the air. The missiles exploded on impact, blasting through particle barriers to destroy Geth or kill Krogan. Some that missed still created explosive shockwaves that sent foes flying. The grenades did much the same.

"Behind us!" Anders shouted, and the science team, with Liara, fell in. Liara was in the worst shape. The water and rations had given her some energy, but she was still weak, and the emergency suit she was in was proving as incapable as feared in fully protecting her from the deadly heat of Therum's inhospitable surface. It took everything she had just to keep herself in the rear, where Cat was following. Occasionally plasma fire started to come toward them, but the Marines' own fire would quickly eliminate the Geth platforms making those attacks.

Anders himself spotted one of the biggest Krogan he'd ever seen emerging from cover, a massive shotgun in his arms. "Down him, now!" Anders cried. He opened up on the Krogan, as did the squad around him. The Krogan roared in retort and opened up with the shotgun. Anders didn't turn, but he heard the sickening sound of the powerful slug in the Krogan's shotgun shattering the helmet plate of the Marine beside him. Like that he knew he'd lost one of his Marines. That their mission was almost successful, indeed, that the runabouts were ahead and his perimeter teams already in place to cover their retreat into the waiting craft… that was soured by the knowledge he'd lost one of his people.

He was darkly satisfied to see the Krogan didn't last long enough for a second shot. He went down in a hail of energy pulses.

To remind him he had other problems, the ground quaked. The magma pocket below was about to erupt. "Double time it people, get to the runabouts!" Anders guided his Marines in, continuing to direct fire at the Geth force even now moving on his flank. "Just a bit longer, Marines! We hold until our science people are safe!"

"We're almost there," Talara urged the others. Ahead of her Tulari, who was holding a wounded arm, stumbled into the protection of a power-armored Alakin corpswoman who pulled her toward the Warri. Other Marines were already boarding the Gonzales. Talara looked back to where Liara was collapsing to her knees from exhaustion. She stopped, as did Tra'dur. "Doctor T'Soni, just a little further."

Cat came up and helped Liara up. "We're almost there," Cat said to her. "You can make it."

"How… do you… do this?" Liara asked between gasps.

"Practice. And not my first volcanic planet." Cat smiled from a memory. "But my first when I wasn't being chased by a lava monster. The Doctor and I got a little lucky with that one, we… watch out!"

Cat noticed the threat just before the enraged roar echoed in everyone's helmets. The bleeding, battered Krogan battlemaster was back on his feet and already charging toward them. A mad gleam filled his ruby-colored eyes, eyes that looked so close to Wrex's, but now full of nothing but mindless rage. "Look out!" she shrieked. With a heave of her arms, Cat threw Liara forward to get her to safety.

Then there was raw pain when the Krogan slammed into her. His arms gripped Cat by the ribs and carried her along until, a couple seconds later, he rammed her at full force into the pillar of the dig site's half-completed structure. Cat screamed from the pain of the impact, a savage pain that filled her chest and drowned out everything else.

That pain increased as the Krogan slammed her into the pillar again. And again.

With the Marines fully engaged fighting the remaining Geth, Tra'dur was the first to react. She raised her sidearm, the same heavy slugthrower with which she had shot down the raging Weyrloc Tral on Tira, and opened up. The first shot hit the Krogan's hip, shattering armor and sending blood erupting from the wound.

Cat, rendered nearly mindless herself from pain, feebly reached for her pulse pistol. But then the Krogan slammed her into the pillar again, this time with enough force that her head snapped back and slammed into it as well. There was a brief surge of pain in Cat's head and then a nice, merciful blackness that put an end to the agony.

Again Tra'dur's slugthrower rang out. This time the shot was nearly fatal, but the armored carapace of the Krogan's head and the angle kept it from penetrating fully. In agony and still raging, the Krogan roared and tossed Caterina at Tra'dur. Tra'dur didn't have time to evade before Cat slammed into her, flailing like a thrown rag-doll. The impact knocked Tra'dur to the ground.

The Krogan was already moving forward. Without even thinking about it, one of its powerful legs slammed down on Tra'dur's left leg. Pain exploded up the limb accompanied with the audible snapping of the bone. Tra'dur brought her arm up with the gun and fired again. This shot was the best yet, going through the Krogan's chin and pulping his right eye. But in the throes of a blood rage this pain was insufficient to register. If anything, it won the instinctive attention of the creature, who slapped Tra'dur's hand with enough force to send her gun flying from it. His other foot came down on her arm with enforce force to fracture bone. Tra'dur yowled in response, and thought frantically. She could already see the Krogan's next act. Likely to either be a boot on her head, or a punch. Unless the Marines acted, of course, and turned their weapons on the raging Krogan.

But the shots that hit Krogan were not from their rifles. It was the slightly weaker shots from a pulse pistol. Talara took up a firing stance, both hands on her weapon, and put shot after shot into the wounded Krogan. The setting was high enough to wound, to kill if she hit the right point, but the redundancies of Krogan physiology were making that difficult.

The benefit was that she'd drawn the Krogan's attention. He turned away from Tra'dur.

The downside was that he was charging her now.

It was a moment that, in retrospect, could have gone many other ways. Talara could have tried to dodge to the side. She may have even made it. Or she wouldn't have and, like Cat and Tra'dur, would have endured a hammering at the hands of a blood-raged Krogan. Or she might have opened fire, with similar chances of succeeding or failing and taking a hit.

But she did neither.

There was, for Talara, a moment of absolute clarity like few she'd ever realized. It was perhaps like the one she'd felt when she heard that the Alliance had gone to war with the Nazi Reich, and that it was a war she had an ethical obligation to fight in, a war where she and her fellow Falaens would be called upon to uphold the spirits of the mythic heroes of their Altean past, the memories of King Alfor and Queen Fala and Princess Allura that should be honored.

That moment of clarity kept her from leaping out of the way. It kept her from just trying to shoot. Instead, as if by instinct, Talara raised her hand and screamed, "No!"

Within her body, within her soul, Talara felt something resonate with that cry. A feeling similar to when she was trying to interface with the Castle of Lions, endeavoring to save the lives of Princess Allura and Lucy Lucero, came to her, but stronger. Greater. The feeling surged with power, and surged from her hand and from her, from everything that was Talara, leaping toward the Krogan.

Raw force, unseen, unheard, slammed into the blood-raged alien, sending the Krogan flying back into the pillar it had just been slamming Caterina into.

Tra'dur, despite the pain she was in, forced herself to sit up. Her eyes widened briefly at seeing what Talara had wrought.

Talara herself stared at her hand in surprise. Inside she felt strange. Like something within her was stirring. A part of her just now waking from a slumber that had lasted her whole life.

The Krogan roared and charged at her again. Talara focused on that feeling within her and drew from it, imagining the Krogan falling back, insisting it must.

Another wave of force answered. Yet again the Krogan slammed into the pillar.

And this time, he didn't move. He didn't have time. Anders and one of his Marines poured more fire into the blood-raged Krogan until even his robust physiology couldn't function any longer. He collapsed beside the pillar. Talara sensed something like a light going out. A flicker of flame dying, replaced only by nothingness.

"Move move move!" Anders' voice broke her from her thoughts. "Tend the wounded!"

"Right away!" Talara rushed forward and picked up Caterina. She was unconscious but alive. That Talara knew for certain.

There was an explosion from above them. Everyone briefly looked to see the Geth dropship blow apart. A moment later Lucy landed fifteen feet away, slamming the ground and creating a ripple of fine dust from the impact. Her lightsaber, still active, was held out and ready for more fighting.

But it wasn't a fight they had to worry about. The ground shuddered beneath them, more violent than before.

"Lava eruption imminent!" Theek shouted. "We must get to safety!"

Lucy shut down her lightsaber and returned it to her belt. She went straight for Tra'dur and helped her up while Anders picked up the exhausted Liara. "Let's go! We're out of time!" she shouted, running toward the Warri as she did. The rear hatch of the runabout opened, revealing the modular area in the back for storing their gear.

The shuddering under them ceased for a moment. Lucy and Talara both felt what came next in the seconds before it did. A loud roar filled the air and, behind them and the dig site, a jet of lava flew upward by at least twenty meters. As Lucy made it to the Warri with the hobbling, injured Tra'dur, lava spewed violently from the dig site tube. She helped Tra'dur into a seat and dashed to the cockpit. The Warri moved under her as she passed through the small living space between the cargo module and the cockpit. By the time she reached the cockpit the ship was already in mid-air. She took a seat at operations and tapped a key. "Warri to Aurora, we're clear. I repeat, we're clear, and we have wounded. How do you want to..."

"...handle this?" Lucy's voice said over the speaker.

The Aurora shuddered again, taking another hit to her degrading shields while, on the screen, another Geth cruiser was burning from Angel's efforts. "Shields are down to fifteen percent," Jarod said.

"The Koenig's shields are also down to twenty percent," Meridina confirmed.

"Status on pilots?"

"Four fighters lost. One escape pod."

Julia frowned at that. Six dead flight crew. "Tractor it or have Koenig pick it up. Helm, put us in position to receive our runabouts without exposing them to enemy fire. All ships, I want those runabouts back safe and sound."

"Aye ma'am," said Locarno.

"Orders relayed," Meridina confirmed. "Received."

"Aurora, we've received your course," Lucy's voice said. "We'll be out of atmosphere in ten seconds. Nine… eight…"

The Geth attackers finally seemed to notice the two runabouts climbing through the atmosphere. They broke away from where they were keeping Koenig boxed in. The attack ship maneuvered to open up on the aft of one of the ships, blowing it to pieces with pulse phaser cannon fire. Angel's plasma beams lashed out at the ships as well, slicing one apart and damaging the others. Nevertheless they fired.

"They're shooting at our runabouts. But no hits yet," al-Rashad said.

"...two… one…"

The two runabouts entered orbit. The Aurora was already moving to meet them. Of the remaining three Geth attackers, one went up to the Koenig's continued attack. The two remaining ones continued to move for the runabouts.

"Miss Delgado, I want those attackers out of the way!" Julia insisted.

"Aiming now, Captain," Angela assured her.

This time the Aurora's main bow cannons opened up. The thick sapphire pulses utterly obliterated one of the attackers. Sapphire beams carved into the remaining attacker, joined by the amber bursts from the Koenig's pulse phasers. It dodged and weaved, trying to get a clear shot on the Warri or Gonzales.

The Koenig's solar torpedoes raced out and struck the Geth attacker in the mid-section. It blew apart in a burst of white light.

More heavy shots from the lone surviving Geth cruiser struck their rear shields. "Shields down to ten percent," Jarod said.

"Come about and reinforce bow shields," she ordered.

The order was followed. It provided two benefits; bringing their biggest weapons to bear on the target and bringing the shuttle bays out of the line of fire.

"The runabouts are landing in the Main Bay," Jarod said.

"Good. Tactical, give them everything we've got left."

"Aye ma'am." Angel grinned at the order before finishing her new firing solution.

The resulting exchange of fire filled the orbital space over Therum. More sapphire pulses and beams were joined by over a dozen blue-white sparks, the drive fields of the solar torpedoes that followed the target lock Angel had achieved. The shields of the Aurora flashed blue as they struggled to repel the incoming railgun and plasma fire.

The exchange, when finished, clearly went against the Geth. The Aurora's bow shields were still intact, if degraded, while the Geth cruiser was reduced to a burning wreck. "I won't have the Geth attacking Nova Yekaterinburg in retaliation," Julia said. "Finish them off."

"With pleasure."

Again the Aurora's weapons fired, this time on tandem with Koenig. All energy fire, no torpedoes, which were unneeded. This barrage blew the Geth cruiser apart, leaving only debris field of inert, blackened shards.

"Status on Geth fighters?" Julia asked Meridina.

"They are under control," Meridina replied. "Commander Laurent assures us they will be eliminated within the minute."

"Task the secondary batteries to help finish them off."

Meridina did so. The particle interceptors on the Aurora continued firing where they could safely engage the Geth without hurting their own fighters. Julia watched with satisfaction as every glowing red dot on the holotank disappeared. She tapped the panel on her chair. "Bridge to Main Shuttle Bay. How did it go?"

"Anders here. Mission successful, but not without casualties."

Julia nodded and forbade herself even the slightest celebratory grin. "How bad?"

"Private Yamashita is KIA, headshot. Lieutenants Delgado and Tra'dur are wounded, Delgado badly wounded."

Julia glanced back to see the quiet look cross Angel's face. "How badly?"

"She got tackled and slammed around by a Krogan in a blood rage, Captain. She's alive, but the corpsman confirm head trauma, suspected concussion, and broken ribs at the least. Internal bleeding is confirmed. Doctor Gillam's just now arriving to get her to medbay."

"And Tra'dur?"

"Broken leg and arm. She's otherwise fine." There was an edge in Anders' voice. "I assume full responsibility for the injuries to the science team, Captain. I'll have a report to you by 2230 hours."

"I understand." Julia nodded. "Bridge out." She tapped the key on her chair again. Again she was looking toward Tactical, where Angel was quietly stewing in anger and worry, while one of her subordinates, Syrandi Luneri, remained quiet at her battle station, Secondary Tactical, along the starboard side of the bridge beside Auxiliary Communications. "Lieutenant Luneri, please relieve Lieutenant Delgado."

The Dorei, her dark purple skin joined by the teal-colored spots of her spotline and purple hair, looked up and nodded. "Aye Captain," she said in her accented English, the sound vaguely Pacific Islander to Julia's ears.

With gratitude showing in her hazel-colored eyes, Angel rose from her station and went straight for the nearest lift.

"Stand down from Code Red," Julia ordered. She released her harness and stood. "Maintain Yellow status. Commander Meridina, please join me. Commander Jarod, you have the bridge."

"Yes Captain," Meridina said. She released her harness and stood. Jarod did the same, leaving Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi to take Ops while he went to the command chair. Meridina followed Julia off of the bridge.

Once the Mako pulled back into the vehicle garage for Zhu's Hope, the trouble began.

The Baynhams, and a much-subdued Jeong, cooperated extensively with Shepard and her squad. Thanks to them the squad knew precisely where to go to get to the Thorian and what to expect. They found that the moment they pulled into the garage and encountered the husk-like humanoid figures, all that remained of age-old servitors of the Thorian. They resembled walking shoots of green plant more than anything, but Robert sensed the malevolent intent within them and pulled the trigger on his pistol. A WHUP sound filled the air with each shot, the resulting blue bolts of energy blasting away part of the creature. A shotgun roared, then another; Tali and Shepard were joining him.

There was more weapons fire from ahead. Robert sensed that veneer of despair and fear, made stronger now that he knew what it was. The colonists had a defense line here and the Thorian was forcing them to fight. Its control was absolute; any rebellion, even a thought, brought with it intense and unstoppable pain.

Ashley responded by firing from the cover of the Mako. "The grenades, now," Shepard ordered, pulling one off. Robert and Tali each added one. With a little nudging from Robert the three grenades landed in a perfect pattern to spread the gas to all of the shooters. One by one they collapsed.

This was only the start. At the lift, in the halls leading to the colony, at the colony itself, the colonists were all armed and fighting to hold them back. The Thorian had them shooting to kill while Shepard refused to give the same order, insisting on suppressive fire to support the throwing of the grenades. The Thorian undoubtedly realized what was going on. The colonists were becoming more aggressive as they continued, more heedless of their own lives. But regardless of the danger, Shepard continued to insist on the grenades.

By the time they got to the colony proper, the incoming fire was inescapable. "Commander, whatever you're doing, it's working. They're no longer attacking the ship," Joker said over their comms.

"Good. Get everyone you can spare into hazmat-compatible protection and send them out on my order," Shepard replied. "I'll need them to secure the colonists."

"Shepard, there's too much fire," Tali said. "We'll never get a grenade thrown without getting shot."

"Ma'am, maybe we should cut loose," Ashley said. "The way this thing sounds, they're better off dead than enslaved to it."

"I understand the sentiment, Sergeant, believe me," Shepard answered. "But I'm not killing these people unless we have no choice, and we still do. Get your grenades ready. Robert, we'll go in and draw their fire as best as we can."

"You want me to project a shield again." It wasn't a question. And Robert knew he didn't need to bring up what happened last time. There was still a sting in his side from it.

"Exactly. I'm counting on it. Ready?"

He drew in a breath to ready himself. "Yes. Let's go."

The two went out into the fire. Shepard's biotic barrier absorbed the initial shots to strike it. Before it could falter Robert focused his power forward, creating the same area of reversed force he'd tried in the ExoGeni HQ. His control strained to its limits.

Shepard spread her arms forward. Energies gathered before her, the purplish-blue of dark matter, joining Robert's shield of force and reflecting the attacks. "Now!"

Ashley and Tali came up and tossed their grenades, one after the other. Two, then four, then six were flying into the various areas of cover, all while shooting continued to wear at their defenses. Robert felt a sharp pain in the middle of his head from the strain he was taking on. Sweat dripped down Shepard's face at her own efforts.

Sickly green gas formed in clouds ahead, each grenade adding to it. The colonist shooters began choking. There was no cry of "Fall back!" as normal enemies might give. For the moment, their foes were not people; they were tools, mere things, reduced to such by the Thorian.

The grenades kept getting thrown so long as the shooting continued. When it finally stopped, and several seconds passed, Robert and Shepard dropped their defenses. Robert's legs felt little better than rubber and he went to his knees. Unable to wipe the sweat from her face on account of her helmet visor, Shepard satisfied herself with a gulp of water and several bites from an energy bar. Combat biotic rations, Robert knew.

"We're clear, that's all of them," said Ashley.

"No." Robert got back to his feet, with effort, and took a drink from his own canteen. "There's one more."

They advanced to the center of the colony. As they turned a corner around one of the prefab buildings, they found the last of the colonists still awake. Fai Dan stood with his hand on a pistol and trembling violently. "I… I was supposed to lead these people," the leader of Zhu's Hope gasped. "I… I failed them."

"This wasn't your fault," Shepard said to him. "ExoGeni did this to you. It allowed this."

Slowly Fai Dan's hand gripped the pistol. It came up with jerky motions, as if he were in the middle of a seizure. Robert felt his despair, his pain… and defiance. "It wants me to stop you," Fai Dan said. "To protect it. But… I won't. I won't be a… puppet!" He let out a wordless cry afterward as the pain within spiked. The spores in his brain were flooding his pain centers with sensation. "I won't!"

"No!" Shepard cried, realizing his intent.

Robert also sensed it. As Fai Dan brought the gun barrel to his temple, finger already tensing on the trigger, he acted. He reached out and grabbed the weapon with his abilities. The barrel rose before it fired, letting off a shot that tore skin and hair from Fai Dan's scalp, but did not hit his skull. Blood started to flow immediately from the wound.

"No!" Fai Dan cried, even as Tali's arm shot forward. The gas grenade landed at his feet and went off, creating another cloud of green-tinted gas. He inhaled it and began to shudder before collapsing, unconscious.

"Good job," Shepard said to them.

"I could sense the intent, and the defiance behind it. The Thorian's spores are literal torture, Shepard. Mental and physical." Robert scowled. "Even the most innocent independent thought is punished. Killing himself was the only way Fai Dan saw to get out of this."

"We should be careful going down," said Ashley. "If this thing's spores get into us..."

"We'll keep helmets on and run on internal air," Shepard said. Her left forearm came up and her omnitool appeared. "Shepard to Normandy, is my hazmat team ready?"

"We're on our way, Commander," Alenko answered.

"Good. Now…" She looked around until she found what the Baynhams had described. "They said the ship is blocking the path down. Let's get that crane moving to get it out of the way."

"On it," said Tali.

Shepard looked at Robert again. "Can you sense this thing?"

Robert attempted to do just that for a moment. There was life here, below, vast and ancient, and oh so very frustrated… and afraid. "I think. It's not happy we shut down all of its puppets. And it's frightened out of its wits, I think. I would expect trouble as we go down."

"Well, I can see it's smart." Shepard's expression was grim. "ExoGeni's crimes aside, this thing enslaves people. I don't take kindly to slavery."

"Nor do I," Robert admitted. "And you know what I used to do for a living."

"Yeah." She smiled at him. "So, ready to face another slaver?"

"Always," was the answer, with a smile added to the reply.
"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 Jun 25, 2018 4:25 am

In the primary hull of the Starship Aurora, on Deck 12, the ship's large medbay took up several internal sections. Designed from the getgo to handle humanitarian crisis events with enough bed capacity to deal with much of its crew, the wards of the medbay were the territory of Doctor Leonard Gillam, "Leo" to his friends. Standing at about six feet in height, Leo still consciously thought of himself as African-American from over a quarter-century of life on the home Earth he shared with many of the Aurora command crew, even though said designation didn't apply in many of the more advanced universes that they had encountered upon the opening of the Multiverse.

For the present moment he was finishing his final scans and examination of one of those friends. The injuries endured by Caterina were prominent on the biobed scanners and further data showed on his monitool. "She'll be okay," Leo assured Angel, Julia, and Meridina. "The helmet absorbed most of the blunt force, so she only endured a concussion. We've already taken steps to ensure there is no permanent brain injury. As for her busted ribs, they'll heal with time. And all internal bleeding has been dealt with."

"When is she going to wake up?" Julia asked.

"Probably by tomorrow," Leo promised.

Angel nodded. She remained beside her sister while Julia and Meridina followed Leo to his other patients. One, Tra'dur, was still conscious. One of Leo's nurses, the Darfuri woman Nasri, was busy tending to the Dilgar woman's broken limbs. "Captain," said Tra'dur. "Commander."

"Lieutenant." Julia stood at the foot of her bed. "Good job down there."

"Thank you. I was afraid the Krogan would kill her. I only wish my fire had been more accurate."

"Killing Krogan is pretty hard, from what I've heard. Don't be worried about it."

"When may I return to duty?"

"Well, I want you on light duty for a week," said Leo. "While we treat your injured limbs and make sure the bone fractures have regenerated properly. We'll see where you are then, okay?"

"Yes, Doctor." Tra'dur laid her head back and glanced toward Cat.

Their last stop was the one the entire mission had been intended to ensure. Liara T'Soni remained on her back on the biobed, relaxing after her ordeal. "She's suffering from mild heat exhaustion exacerbated by lack of sufficient food and water over the last twenty-four hours." Leo shut down his omnitool as they approached Liara. "Doctor T'Soni, you'll be fine, but I'm keeping you for the next sixteen hours minimum to oversee your condition. As a precaution."

"I understand, Doctor Gillam," the Asari answered. Her blue eyes shifted slightly to face Julia. "I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with your Alliance's military. You're a commanding officer?"

"The commanding officer, actually," Julia clarified. "Captain Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora, at your service. This is my First Officer, Commander Meridina."

"So you're in command of this ship? You seem younger than most human ship commanders I've met."

"I am one of the younger ones, yes," Julia confirmed. "How are you feeling, Doctor?"

"Bewildered. And tired." Liara shifted her arms and closed her eyes for a moment, as if to rest them. "I never imagined I would ever face a Geth. What are they doing beyond the Veil? And who were those Krogans they were working with?"

"They are working for a rogue Spectre, Saren Arterius," Julia replied. She eyed Liara carefully for signs of recognition, but there were no noticeable tells to her. Meridina gave no indication of falsehood being sensed. "With them he launched an attack on the Dorei colony on Adrana and on the Systems Alliance colony of New Eden."

"And then he comes after me. First worlds with old ruins, then an archaeologist." Liara frowned. "But why would he want me? I'm not the best archaeologist in the galaxy. Many consider me to be foolish for advancing the Reaper theory. I can't be his best choice."

Julia and Meridina exchanged looks. Liara's reaction to this next part would be telling. "Doctor, we have uncovered evidence that Saren is not working alone," Meridina stated. "He has a conspirator on his side, one with immense resources to add to his own. That is the reason why he came after you."

"But, I don't have any enemies…" She still seemed to not understand.

"No. But…" Meridina stopped. She glanced toward Julia.

"Doctor, I'm sorry," Julia said. "But our evidence indicates Matriarch Benezia is the one working with Saren."

There was clear surprise on Liara's face. "Mother… no, why would she… why would she work with any Spectre, let alone a rogue one? She has always been an advocate of peace!"

"We are uncertain as to her motives," Meridina stated. "But Saren was in her company last year when we met her for a diplomatic meeting, and we have audio evidence that she is in collusion with him concerning the attacks. They seem to be working toward the return of the Reapers."

Liara's eyes widened. "What? The return of… but that's… that's insane! The Reapers annihilated the Protheans at their height! Why would they want to bring them back?! What possible... " Horror dawned on her. "Could this be some form of conspiracy against the Multiverse?"

"I'm not sure that's their motive," Julia said. "Nobody's sure of it. But we're tasked with stopping them, and finding and debriefing you is part of that mission."

Seeing how agitated Liara was, Leo stepped between her and his commanders. "For the benefit of my patient, this should continue later."

"We have to stop them," Liara insisted. "Any way I can help…"

"I understand, Doctor," Julia said. "And we'll discuss that later. For now, let's follow Doctor Gillam's advice. We'll leave you be for now and talk later."

Liara's head descended back to her pillow. Disbelief and horror still showed on her expression.

Julia and Meridina left Leo to tend to work, or as the occasion required, meet Violeta as she entered the ward to speak to her about Cat's condition. They walked until they had the privacy of a corner. "I sense no deception," Meridina said. "She is having trouble grasping her mother's complicity, but she recognizes we are not lying."

"I don't blame her for not wanting to believe something so terrible about her mother," Julia answered. "So she's not working with them?"

"That I am sure of."

"Then the question is, why did Saren send troops to capture her? Was she intended to be a hostage? Or did he need her for something?"

"Either is possible, I believe…"

Their omnitools chimed. Blue light appeared above the back of their left hands. Julia pressed the light and said, "Andreys here."

"Captain, we have received a report. Saren's forces have been spotted on the colony of Feros," Jarod said. "The Normandy is already there, but they haven't sent any updates."

"Set a course for the Mass Relay and get us the necessary Relay path to Feros, Warp 9.2."

"Yes ma'am. We're putting in coordinates now."

By the time the two women left the medbay, the Aurora warped away from Therum in a flash of light.

After a short descent from the Zhu's Hope colony, Shepard led the squad into what looked like the central chamber of the tower. An open center reminded Robert of the interior of some older towers he'd seen, where the floors were along the walls while there was nothing in the middle, nothing but a long drop to the bottom of what might be the tower itself.

In the middle of that center, suspended by long cables of organic plant matter attached to the walls, was the Thorian.

A sickly, pale green was the primary color on the alien creature's body, marked by what looked almost like eyes in pale color facing toward them. A mass of tendrils hung from the bottom, and three larger, longer ones were formed at at the front, as if to mark the spot of a mouth.

A heart. That was what the Thorian made Robert think of. A big, ghastly heart with its aorta as the thick cables holding it in place.

"It knows we're here," he said to the others.

"Ugly son of a…"

Before Ashley could finish that statement, the Thorian's "mouth" opened. An orifice around the three tendrils distended enough to allow a form to begin emerging, coated in mucus. Disgust was the primary feeling among the others Robert felt at the sight of the humanoid figure emerging. The figure stood, revealed as an Asari in a dark suit. An Asari with green skin. She spoke blandly, and clearly with another's voice. "I have watched you closely, Shepard."

"Then you know I'm not very happy with you," Shepard said.

"I know why you have come. Saren." There was a moment of silence, in which nobody spoke. "Yes. I would treat with you. I would bargain as Saren did. I alone can tell you what Saren wished from me."

"But you're not just going to tell us, are you?" Shepard asked.

"As I said, I would treat with you. I will give you what I gave Saren. In exchange, I ask you to leave me and my thralls be."

Robert narrowed his eyes. The Thorian was… not being entirely deceptive. He could sense the creature was thinking of betraying them as Saren had betrayed it, but it was also scared. Scared that Shepard would actually succeed in killing it. When Shepard glanced toward him he nodded. "It's being genuine. Mostly. It's too scared of you to stab you in the back. It's afraid it'll lose."

"You are a strange one," the Thorian said through the Asari. "It has been aeons since I experienced a being with your power. Are you the true leader here?"

"No," Robert said. "I'm just a member of the Commander's unit, by invitation."

"But your power... " The thing seemed uncertain before returning its attention to Shepard. "Very well. What say you, Shepard? Will you make the agreement?"

"I have a counter proposal," said Shepard. "You tell us what Saren wanted and release the colonists you've taken over, and we'll leave you alone. We'll seal your chamber back up and you can live down here in complete safety."

"Unacceptable," the Thorian protested through its Asari puppet. "They are my thralls. My tools. Your people gave them to me willingly."

"Those people were criminals. They had no right to give you anyone," Shepard retorted. "If you want a deal, release them."

There was no reaction for several moments. Robert could feel the anger, frustration, the terror of the Thorian. It considered submission. It was afraid of them. It knew they could kill it.

But it was also afraid it would be killed anyway. Stripped of thralls, it had no defense, only the word of other beings, of aliens, whom had already proven untrustworthy.

In that moment, Robert sensed more of the history of this proud being. Through millennia the Thorian had never negotiated with anything. It always took, from the Protheans, and from species before that.

"Would you sacrifice your future for a mere handful of your people?" the Thorian asked. "I have seen the things Saren would call down upon you. They destroyed those who came before you. They will destroy you. I can be more useful than they."

"What you're doing is wrong," Shepard replied. "Thinking beings have a right to their own will and thoughts. You've taken that from your thralls."

"You torture them," Robert added. "I've sensed it. You inflict terrible pain on them for even the slightest independent thought. You make their existence a literal living death."

Right then and there Robert knew they wouldn't convince it. He sensed the disbelief the Thorian had at their argument. It simply couldn't comprehend the principles he and Shepard were speaking of. It had no concept of engaging with them as fellow sapients, it couldn't even conceive of that kind of equality. All other creatures, thinking or otherwise, only existed to be its thralls.

When the attack came, it was sudden. The Asari puppet lunged forward with hate in her previously lifeless eyes. Shepard's shotgun snapped up and thundered. A solid slug blew a massive hole through the Asari's neck and it collapsed.

Ashley unloaded her assault rifle on the Thorian. The slivers of material, accelerated to supersonic velocity, ripped into dense, thick flesh, but to little effect. "It's got some sort of organic armor within its upper layer," Tali said, observing her omnitool.

In the distance, they heard shrieks.

"It's sending those plant-husks toward us," Robert said. "And I think it's got more of those Asari to fight us with. I can feel the emptiness of everything that's not us or the Thorian." He touched a hand to his forehead. "It's like a cold spot in the Flow of Life. No sensations, no thoughts, just an empty shell for the Thorian…"

"Well, let's just shoot it until we blow through the armor," Ashley said. "Or set it on fire."

"It'll take forever," Tali said. "We can't kill it that way."

"The trunks," said Shepard. Her eyes were already tracking the thick, aorta-like cords emerging from the top of the Thorian. "We sever those." She raised her shotgun and fired a slug into one of the trunks. A loud, animal sound filled the chamber, but the cable remained intact.

"It may be weaker at the other end," Tali suggested.

"Now I wish I'd accepted Lucy's offer," Robert muttered. However strong the Thorian's organic hide was, he suspected a lightsaber would cut through it given enough time.

"You can regret your ego later, Robert," Shepard said. "We've got incoming."

He turned and saw what she meant. A whole host of the Thorian's husks were coming their way. He raised his pistol and started firing. At the setting he was using, the pulses were literally setting fire to the husks, although they didn't seem to pay attention to this.

Ashley switched to a shotgun, one of the Katana models, while Shepard continued to use her N7 Crusader prototype and Tali her Scimitar. The solid slugs of Shepard's weapon smashed the torsos and heads of the creatures; the sprays of flechette shot from the other two shredded them. Robert's shots set them on fire. "Go!" Shepard urged.

"This way!" Tali and Shepard took the lead. Tali's scans led them up a path where even more of the husks were coming. Enough that they would have stopped them cold if Robert hadn't thrown them out of the way with a wild, barely-controlled burst of force.

Partway up the level, they found one of the trunks holding the Thorian in place. The shotguns of the others thundered while Robert used more projected force to throw the Thorian's husks back. He felt the creature's panic spike, and for good reason. Tali proved correct; at this connection point the cable wasn't as dense, and repeated blasts from the firearms of his allies completely severed it in about ten seconds. A horrible wail filled the air, accompanied by sharp pain and rage. "We pissed it off," Robert observed with a hint of snark.

"Oh well, I knew I'd be pissing people off when I took the job," Shepard remarked, answering snark with snark. "Just a sign I'm doing something right. Now move!"

More Thorian husks came at them at the top of the ascent. Robert didn't need to use his powers; the shotguns of the others cleared them out in a few shots. They moved ahead to the portal leading to the next trunk…

Robert felt the familiar ripple of biotics and shouted, "Look out!"

A singularity pulse flew ahead and went off over the squad. The dark matter gripped the others and pulled them from the ground. Tali went flying into one wall, Ashley into another. Shepard flailed in mid-air, trying to get her bearings.

Ahead of them, beside the second trunk, was another Asari, literal clone of the first. Whatever process the Thorian used to recreate her, it kept at least some of the biotics intact. More dark energy gathered.

Robert threw his hand up. Solid force slammed into the Asari and sent her flying back. Using the moment this bought him, he used the same to grip Shepard and pull her clear of the singularity. This got her out of range just before it exploded in a burst of dark matter, enough force that there was lethal danger in the prospect. Shepard rolled when she hit the ground and brought her shotgun up just in time to shoot the Asari as she recovered. The clone shrieked and collapsed, her right thigh a mess of ripped flesh and muscle. Shepard stood and put another slug into the clone's head to put her down for good.

"Ugh. I hate those." Tali got up while Shepard went to work on the trunk, shooting her shotgun into the end repeatedly. "One moment. I need to make sure… ah, good, my suit is still intact. No punctures."

"Fighting biotics is always a pain in the ass." Ashley got back to her feet. "No offense meant, ma'am."

"None taken." Shepard fired again, Tali joined her, and after a couple of shots the trunk was ripped away.

The Thorian screeched again. Robert felt its sheer terror and the rage it was fueling. It realized it was likely going to die and was desperately trying to gather its remaining husks to overwhelm them. "We'd better keep going," he said. "It's calling in everything."

"Double time it!" Shepard led the way yet again.

They moved around the outer circle of the chamber, blowing away husks as they encountered them. With a wave of his hand Robert sent an entire group of them flying through the air and into the Thorian, pulsing with only one of its large aortic trunks still linking it to the wall of the chamber. Its fury and fear only grew with each moment.

"Another Asari, up ahead," he warned, feeling this one also preparing a biotic attack. Ahead were husks gathered into a barricade of bodies, trying to hold them from the opening ahead and the last node.

Shepard's arm lit up with biotic power. Her arm came up and a shockwave of dark matter moved ahead and slammed through the husks. Tali and Ashley opened up with their guns, firing until the weapons overheated, adding to the carnage. With the way still blocked by those left, Robert let loose with the force inside him again. His control was bad, but it was the husks that suffered for it, as he hit them hard enough that some were literally blown apart by the power he released. This final attack opened the way for them all.

The Asari was waiting on the other end. She released her biotic power at Shepard in a bright, large pulse of biotic power.

But she was too late.

Biotic energy wreathed Shepard's body and shot her forward like a cannon projectile. The biotic pulse thrown by the Asari fell apart at the impact when Shepard struck it with her charge. She slammed into the Asari and sent it flying back into the partition wall at the opposite end of the section. Ashley, Tali, and Robert opened up on the Asari before it could get up, their shots ripping through flesh until the Asari toppled.

Immediately Tali went to the opposite portal while Ashley turned and faced the way they'd come. The final trunk holding the Thorian was here and vulnerable.

Now despair gripped the Thorian. Robert felt an instinctive plea rise within it. Mercy! Mercy mercy mercy pleasedonotdestroymemercymercymercy! "Wait," he said.

Shepard had her weapon up. She looked at him pensively. "What is it?"

"It's… it's begging," he said. "It wants mercy."

Do not want to die nodienodieMERCYHUMANSMERCYPLEASE…

"It can hear us, right?"

At that Robert sensed an acknowledgement. Understand yes understand please mercy do not want to end! He nodded.

"Alright." She turned and looked down toward the Thorian's core below. "I'll let you live under these terms. Cooperate with us against Saren, release your thralls, and swear never to make more. Do we have a deal?"

The creature understood. Yes, a deal. Mercy. Do not want to die. Mercy and I will obey. Will give the Cipher Saren wished.

"It says yes."

Shepard lowered her weapon. "Then we're almost done here."

Robert nodded in agreement.

A feeling came over him then. It was a small one. For the most part the Thorian was relieved. It would live. It would not end. It would release the colonists.

But there was another sense, deep within it. A sense of defiant rage. Robert focused upon it. He wanted to see what it meant. He felt through the Flow of Life and tried to sense the future from this point on.

He saw the Thorian cooperate. An Asari released from a pod, with the Cipher, and the colonists' spores going inactive. It was sealed away. Left to its own devices.

And then… it would brood. It would plan.

It was a flash for Robert, a brief image, but he saw it and knew what it meant.

In that moment, he knew the only thing he could do with that knowledge, and he acted with more instinct than thought. He reached up with his hands, and the power within him, and gripped the last trunk. He ignored the sudden surge of terror from the Thorian, that realization of what was about to happen.

He ignored the MERCY that it again pleaded, and with one solid yank, ripped the trunk free from the wall.

The Thorian fell. It fell screaming, cursing them, hating them, so much hate…

...and then there was nothing.

"It's dead," Robert muttered. "Gone." He pulled off his helmet and wiped at his forehead with the other hand.

The others were looking at him. "Why?" Shepard asked. It was a simple question, but he felt the incredulity and anger behind it. "It agreed to work with us. To let everyone go."

"It did. But I sensed what it felt. What it planned, what it would do. Right now it just wanted to live." Robert moved his hand through his shoulder-length dark hair, disheveled as it was, and coated with sweat. "But it would never have forgiven. Next time it would have been quieter and more subtle. It would have taken the colonists over again, if they were still here, and exposed even more to the spores. Bit by bit. More suffering. More torture. I… I couldn't let it do that to those people. I had to stop it. And that was the only way."

"That works for me," Ashley said. She secured her gun at the small of her back. "So why are you so pale?"

"I killed it with my powers," Robert said. "I… I've never killed a living being like that before. Not with my swevyra, my life powers. And not even in the heat of battle, just… just killing it… while it was begging for mercy." He shook his head. "I'm supposed to uphold Life, and I just killed the only being of its kind in all of creation."

"It sounds like it didn't give you a choice." Shepard put a hand on his shoulder. "So…"

Something made a disgusting liquid sound nearby, in the next section. They went on to find a pod made of the same material as the Thorian starting to fall open. Once again an Asari figure fell out, but this time she was lavender in complexion. Cords dangling from the inside of the pod gave the impression of having been plugged into the Asari. She went down to a knee when she hit the ground before standing up. She shook her head as the others approached. "I'm… I'm free." She looked to Shepard. "I… thank you. Thank you for releasing me."

"Are you alright? Who are you?" Shepard asked.

"I will be fine." Green eyes looked them over. "I just need some time…" After shaking her head again, she seemed to remember the other question. "And my name is Shiala. I serve…" She stopped. A painful, betrayed look crossed her face. "I served Matriarch Benezia. When she joined with Saren, so did I. He gave me to the Thorian."

"Why did you let him?" Tali asked. "Why would Benezia let him do that to you?"

"He… he has a way of assuring the loyalty of his followers. To make us completely loyal. I was a willing slave until he gave me to the Thorian in exchange for knowledge he needed. Somehow… I don't feel his influence anymore. I don't…" She started to topple.

Robert stepped up and helped Shiala steady herself. He could sense the hurt within her, not to mention the weakness. The Thorian had only given her enough nutrients to keep her alive while dormant. Now that she was active again, her body was starving for energy. "We can continue this in the Colony," he said. "Right now you need food and rest."

Shepard nodded. "He's right." She activated her omnitool. "Shepard to Normandy hazmat team, we're bringing up a survivor. I need levo-compatible rations and water waiting."

"Acknowledged," was the reply.

"Let's get back to the colony and get you situated, Shiala." Shepard stepped up and helped Robert steady her. "We've got a lot of questions for you."

By the time Shiala was ready to continue speaking, normalcy was starting to return to Zhu's Hope. Some of the colonists were waking up. The spores were still in their bodies, but without the Thorian to control those spores, they were completely free of any pain or control. The Baynhams and other researchers from ExoGeni arrived - although with no sign of Jeong and his immediate followers - to help the wounded and to examine the dormant spores.

For their part, members of the Normandy crew were helping with the post-battle repairs to the colony. The exceptions were Shepard and her squad. They were in one of the residential pods in the prefab housing, quietly waiting for Shiala to finish her meal.

"I am ready," she finally said. She gently moved the mostly-finished meal to a waiting tray beside her seat.

"Start at the beginning," Shepard said. "Why is Benezia working for Saren?"

"A few years ago, Saren came to Benezia's attention. She recognized he was a formidable man and an asset to the Council, but feared his hatred of Humans would lead him astray. So she approached him and offered to guide and assist him. Saren agreed, and soon, the Matriarch and all of her followers, myself included, found ourselves in the Traverse, working with Saren. It seemed to be normal work for a Citadel Spectre at the time. Intercepting arms shipments, dealing with criminal elements, supporting research programs. Matriarch Benezia even founded a corporation with Saren for research on Noveria."

"So we've heard," Shepard said. "But what I want to know is what you meant by Saren being able to ensure the complete loyalty of his followers."

"Well… it's not Saren himself. It's his ship."

"A ship?" asked Kaidan. "How could a ship cause you to blindly follow him?"

"I'm… I'm not sure," Shiala admitted. "He has a dreadnought he calls Sovereign. It's not like any ship I've ever seen. And being aboard Sovereign, it gets to you. Over days, maybe weeks, your thoughts change. I can see that now, but at the time none of us realized it. It just… everything Saren said made sense. Saying no to him didn't. Even Benezia couldn't resist forever."

"So what did Saren want from the Thorian?" Tali asked.

"Something called the Cipher," Robert said. "That's what I felt it think."

"The Prothean beacons were made from a Prothean mindset," Shiala explained. "Language, and the way it was used, that was unique to the Protheans. Without it, you can't make sense of what the beacons are showing you."

"Yeah, I know what you're talking about," Shepard said. "I still can't figure out what the beacon visions actually mean."

"Good luck finding a Prothean to interpret all of this," Garrus said.

"Normally, you would be right," Shiala said. "But the Thorian has been around for many millennia. It was here when the Protheans settle Feros long ago. Even they fell victim to it. Because of its Prothean thralls, the Thorian learned their language and way of thinking."

"And that's what Saren was after," Shepard finished for her.

"Yes." Shiala nodded. "By offering me to the Thorian, Saren was able to get the Cipher himself."

"And now that the Thorian's dead, no more Cipher." Robert sighed at that. He thought back to that moment, when the clarity of the future he saw led him to that choice...

"I was the conduit for that exchange," Shiala informed them. "So I still have the Cipher." She looked to Robert. "Your mental skills should help you form a strong link with my mind. I can give it to you."

"I'm not the best candidate for it," Robert said. "Shepard had the contact with the beacon. The information's in her head."

"I see." Shiala turned her attention to Shepard. "I have enough strength to make the transfer to your mind, Commander. Are you willing?"

"I am."

"Are you sure about this, Commander?" Ashley asked. "What if she's still under Saren's control?"

"I'm pretty sure she's not," Robert interjected.

"But you can't be certain, can you?"

"It'll be fine, Sergeant," Shepard assured her. Shepard faced Shiala. "How does this work?"

"I will bond with you mentally. Please, relax, and stay still." The Asari reached forward and placed her hands on Shepard's head, a hand for each side of her face. "Embrace eternity," Shiala murmured.

While not a telepath in his own right, Robert sensed their connection through the Flow of Life. It was not a deep one. Shiala lacked the strength to form one, and the purpose didn't require it. For several moments they remained in that pose until Shiala fell back into her chair. She was patently exhausted.

Shepard put a hand to her head before running her fingers through the red locks of her hair. "The vision's… it's more intact now. I can understand it. It was a warning. But it's still not entirely together."

"Since the beacon was destroyed, maybe you didn't get the entire message," Robert suggested.

"Then we need to find another beacon," said Kaidan. "Maybe that will tell you what you need to know."

"Either way, we still have some cleanup to do."

At Garrus' remark, Shiala nodded quietly. "I won't stop you if you decide to kill me. Honestly, I'd rather die than risk being Saren's puppet again."

"No," Shepard said, her tone forceful. "You're a victim as well, of Saren and of the Thorian." She glanced at the others on the team. But none challenged her assertion.

"Then I am yours to command, Commander Shepard," Shiala said. "I am no longer one of Benezia's followers, and I doubt another matriarch will take me into their entourage."

"Why not stay here?" Shepard suggested. "Zhu's Hope will need to be rebuilt. You have talents the colonists could use, and with what you've been through, the colonists will know what it was like."

Shiala seemed to consider it for a moment. "I see the wisdom in the suggestion. If they will have me, I will stay here."

"We'll let Fai Dan know." Shepard stood. "In the meantime, get some more rest. There'll be plenty of work waiting for you tomorrow."

Fai Dan proved more than accepting when the offer was relayed by Shepard, with Robert accompanying her. "This Asari is as much a victim as we are," the colony's leader said. "She'll be welcome."

Shepard nodded. "And how are you?"

"I am…" Fai Dan shook his head. "I failed my people, Commander. I should have realized what ExoGeni was doing. I should have protected them."

"They misled you," Shepard said to him. "You can't blame yourself."

Fai Dan didn't seem too convinced. He glanced toward Robert next. "Thank you for saving my life," he said. He put a hand to his bandaged head. "I just wanted the pain to be over with."

"I know. But I couldn't let you die, not when you could be saved," Robert answered.

"Again, thank you both." Fai Dan's eyes narrowed. "If you'll please excuse me."

Robert sensed the resentment and righteous anger flare up inside the man. He and Shepard turned and noticed what Fai Dan had already seen. Ethan Jeong walked into the colony. Despite everything, he still gave off the air of a man who owned everything and everyone present. The ExoGeni bureaucrat noticed Fai Dan approaching and raised his hand to welcome him.

Fai Dan responded by punching him. "You bastard!" Fai Dan cried even as Jeong fell on his rear end.

Shepard chuckle. "Nice punch," she said.

"Yeah." Robert smiled softly. "Reminds me of Angel."

"It should." Shepard rubbed at her jaw. "Your ex-girlfriend has a wicked right hook."

"I'm probably lucky I haven't learned that the hard way."

That drew a laugh from Shepard. "Very lucky," she agreed. When she saw Robert's eyes grow distant, she asked, "Are you still thinking about the Thorian?"

"Visions of the future… they don't have to be set in stone," Robert said. "I've seen things turn out differently. I… I shouldn't have killed the Thorian, Shepard. It was a unique being. Given time and direction, if it could have been persuaded to recognize other sapient beings, the Thorian was a unique being that could have contributed something to the diversity of life in the Multiverse. Now it's dead. And its kind are gone forever." He shook his head. "Because of me. I killed it without a moment's hesitation because of what it might have become."

"That thing was never going to co-exist," Shepard answered. "It saw us as potential tools. Things to take over and control for its own whims and needs."

"But what if I was wrong?" Robert asked. "What if I killed a being that could have been redeemed?"

"Some can't," Shepard answered. "I wish it were otherwise. But sometimes, you just have to shoot the bastard."

"Including Saren?"

They exchanged a glance. Both knew the answer to that.

Then Shepard set a hand on Robert's shoulder. "You're a kind person, and a good man. And if I find the fact you want to save everyone to be occasionally annoying, well, we can't all be perfect. Except me, of course."

At that, Robert laughed. His laughter only ended when Shepard's omnitool activated. Shepard answered the call. "Go ahead."

"Commander, I just thought I'd let you know that the Aurora signaled. They're on their way. And they have Benezia's daughter."

"Looks like we're 2 for 2 against Saren now," Robert mused. He didn't bother keeping the happiness out of his voice at getting to see his loved ones on the Aurora soon.

"Let them know we'll be waiting for them, and relief supplies will be useful."

"Yes ma'am."

The Aurora was through the Mass Relay and nearly to Feros when the call went out for an upcoming meeting. Lucy, just finishing lunch, stood from her table and picked up her uniform jacket before going to the door. It chimed just before she reached it so she stopped and said, "Open."

The door did so. Ensign Talara was standing outside.

"I sensed it was you," Lucy said. "Anything wrong?"

"I… do not think so. But I feel different now," Talara said. "Ever since Therum…"

"You will." Lucy attempted a comforting smile. "The same thing happened to me two years ago, Talara. I called on my connection to the Flow of Life and since then, it's been here. That's how it feels, right?"

"Like a part of me that's been asleep my whole life," Talara agreed. "But it won't quiet. I don't know how to handle this."

"You'll need training." Lucy checked the time. She had to get going to be at the meeting, so she continued walking. Talara followed. "I'll talk with Meridina and see about when she can…"

"Why can't it be you?"

Talara's question caused Lucy to stop and turn. "What?"

"Why can't you train me, Lieutenant?" Talara asked. "Commander Meridina is the First Officer, and she has so many responsibilities as it is. You're the one who goes into the field now. I… I feel like you should be my trainer."

Many feelings went through Lucy at that prospect. She was surprised, frightened, humbled, and flattered all at once. Worst off all, though, was the small bit of uncertainty she felt. Can I train someone?

The prospect that she would one day have to was always there. Half the reason the Order of Swenya tolerated her continued training outside of their authority was the assumption she and Robert would found their own order for Humans with swevyra. But it never seemed she actually would start training anyone. And Talara's not even a Human

"Is… is my species a problem?" Talara asked. Lucy frowned with surprise. "I know you have no issues with aliens, Lieutenant, please don't assume the worst of what I'm saying. But it seems like…"

"...like you're already really good at picking up sentiments," Lucy finished for her. "No, that was… just an idle thought. The Order of Swenya always assumed I'd start teaching other Humans."

"Oh. So… you're saying Meridina has to teach me?"

"No. I'm… ugh." Lucy rubbed at her forehead. "I'm just… I've not given a lot of thought about teaching before, Talara. I have to…" She sighed and forced a smile to her face. "I'll think about it. About what we should do, what's best for us. Maybe I am meant to be your teacher, but this… it's important that we get it right. Important for both of us."

"Okay." Talara nodded.

"That said, you will need to learn control, so as soon as we're done with this meeting, I want you to meet me back at my quarters so I can give you a few meditation and control exercises. We'll see about the rest once you've got some control down…"

"Of course, Lieutenant," said Talara. "I will be waiting."

"Good." Lucy continued on, worried she might end up late now. As she continued on, she called back, "And while we're off duty, it's Lucy, not Lieutenant!"

"Yes Lieu… Lucy, ma'am!" Talara shouted back, smiling as she did. This felt.. right to her. She moved on herself, waiting eagerly for whatever Lucy could teach her.

Shepard, Robert, and the rest of Shepard's team and command crew arrived in the Main Conference Room to join the Aurora and Koenig command crews. Caterina was not present, causing a pang of worry in Robert. An Asari, presumably Doctor T'Soni, was seated with Julia and Meridina.

"Saren left Feros before we even showed up," Shepard said to the assembled. "The Geth attack was supposed to kill the Thorian so it couldn't share the Cipher with me."

"So we're back to square one on that," Julia noted. "What about the Cipher? What did it do?"

"The visions are a little clearer now," Shepard said. "But I still can't understand what they're meant to tell us."

A hand went up. "Um, may I?" Everyone looked toward a very sheepish Liara. She blushed slightly.

"Go ahead Doctor," Julia said.

"Thank you, Captain." Liara faced Shepard again. "A Prothean beacon downloaded images and memories into your mind? That is quite extraordinary."

"So I'm told," Shepard said. "All it gave me was a headache."

"But it does prove the Reaper Theory is true, doesn't it?" Liara asked.

"I believe it does. Especially after Commander Meridina and I shared the visions from the beacon and from the uploaded Adranian mind she encountered."

"I have studied the Protheans for decades," Liara said. "Maybe I could tell you more, if I saw the visions?"

"Are you sure you are strong enough?" Meridina asked her. "You are still recovering from your time on Therum."

"Yes, I know, but Doctor Gillam's treatments have helped. I believe I can manage it."

"I've got no objections," said Shepard. "You wouldn't be the first Asari in my brain."

Julia glanced to Leo and Doctor Allen-Epstein, the CMO of the Koenig. "She appears healthy enough," said the latter in a German accent. "Doctor, she is your patient."

"No harm, as long as we observe it," Leo replied.

"Then let us do so." Liara stood and stepped around the table where the Aurora officers were seated. Shepard left her seat and the two met near the holotank in the middle of the conference room. "Are you ready, Commander?" When Shepard nodded Liara put her hands to Shepard's head. As Shiala did, she seemed to focus her thoughts, and Shepard's, with the phrase "Embrace eternity."

Robert, Meridina, and Lucy all felt something of the meeting of minds. Liara's face twisted into a pained grimace as the images of slaughter and massacre filled her mind. Finally she broke away. She and Shepard both seemed to wobble. Meridina, Jarod, Robert, and Kaidan all got to their feet, as did the three doctors present, all ready to assist.

But it was soon evident it wasn't necessary. "Oh Goddess, that was horrible," Liara said. "I should be happy I'm right, but I can't."

"Will you be alright?" Shepard asked her.

"I will… I simply need to sit." She didn't resist Epstein and Leo bringing her back to the table. "I'm afraid I didn't see anything familiar," she admitted.

"So as th' Captain said, we're back t' square one," Scotty murmured. "Ye didnae recover anythin' hintin' where Saren's base is?"

"We didn't." Robert shook his head.

"I did find some data in the HQ tower," Tali said. She activated her omnitool and used it to relay information to the holotank in the room. It came alive and displayed the galaxy, zooming in one particular cluster around one of the major Mass Relays. "The Geth are gathering forces in the Armstrong Nebula. Saren may be planning to launch a major invasion somewhere."

"If we hit them, maybe we can set him back," Angel suggested.

"It could work," Julia agreed. "Our ships could split up and sweep the Cluster. If we hit any ground facilities they've set up, maybe we'll find enough information to justify sending the fleets in."

"Or at least disrupt Saren's plans," Shepard agreed. "The Normandy will go in first and scout out possible attack locations."


"What about Noveria?" asked Garrus. "Shiala confirmed that they're up to something there."

Liara looked up toward him. "Shiala? My mother's follower? You've spoken to her?"

"Saren used her as a pawn to trick the Thorian," Shepard explained. "Somehow the Thorian's spores seem to have cleared whatever control Saren had over her, so we were able to debrief her."

"Did she talk about my mother? Did she say why Benezia would be working with Saren?"

"She says Saren has a way of securing the loyalty of anyone who follows him," Robert answered. "A ship called Sovereign."

"Apparently the ship does something to you. It alters your mind until you're completely loyal to Saren," Shepard said, elaborating.

"I find that really confusing," Tali said. "How can a ship do that to someone? I understand falling for ships…"

"Dinnae be t' surprised if it be true, lass," Scotty said to her. "In my time, I've seen stranger."

"We have encountered a vessel fueled by a crystal bonded to the Flow of Life," Meridina added. "If another such vessel exists, it could potentially have a similar power, but bent toward mental manipulation and other abilities."

"Or it could be some form of physiological attack," Epstein proposed. "Technology exists to affect brainwaves and other neural mechanisms, perhaps the ship can cause a person's willingness to resist to decline? Or some other form of mental programming?"

"Like a Darglan brainwave infuser, or the Earth Alliance's mindwipe technology," Jarod agreed. "But engineered to alter personality instead of simply uploading data as brainwave patterns or erasing someone's memories."

"Either way, it's a potential threat," Julia noted. "Jarod, I'd like you to help our medical teams consider possible countermeasures. As for Noveria, I'm told there are political issues with just showing up, even for Spectres. That said, Admiral Maran and President Morgan are already working on that end. At the very least, we might be able to prepare the way for you, Commander Shepard, to best use your Spectre status without blowback."

"A good idea. In the meantime, let's prepare for the Armstrong Nebula sweep? And I'd like to give my crew the rest of the day to enjoy some R&R on your ship and its facilities, if you don't mind?"

Julia smiled. "We're ready to have them. Commander Meridina can help you secure holodeck privileges if they're desired, and I'll let Hargert know to break out the tubs of sausage stew. Anything else?" Julia waited to see if anyone spoke on something. When none did, she stood. "Then we're all dismissed."

When the meeting was over Robert approached Lucy. She sensed him coming without looking, allowing her to turn as he reached earshot. "What is it?" she asked. "I can sense you want to ask something, but you're not sure about it."

"More like I hadn't wanted to do it this way," Robert admitted. "But on Feros, there were points where I could have ended a fight before someone got hurt, or nearly so." His mind flashed back to the fight with the Thorian, and how Shepard and Tali had both risked injury because he didn't have the tool that would have defeated the Thorian right away.

Lucy sensed those mental images. And she knew right away what he was going to ask. "Did you bring the parts?" she asked.

"I left them at Transporter Station 2," he answered.

"And you're sure?" Lucy's expression betrayed her concern. "You wanted to do this by yourself. To improve your control."

"I still do," Robert admitted. He shook his head. "But it's selfish to put that ahead of the people I'm working with. I can't let Shepard or one of her team get hurt because I'm too prideful to ask for help."

"That's as good a reason as any," Lucy said. She smiled at him. "Let's go get your weapon made. And in exchange, you can give me some advice."

"Oh?" asked Robert.

"It's not difficult. I just want to know how good a teacher you think I'll be."

When Caterina woke up, she felt like a Looney Tunes character who'd just had an anvil dropped on her head. The lights of the medbay were painful at first, and she blinked several times before she could keep her eyes open and not feel like she was staring into a sunlamp.

She became conscious of her hand being held. Cat turned her neck and saw it was Violeta at her bedside, holding her right hand. Violeta's purple eyes opened fully at seeing Cat was awake. A smile crossed her lovely face. "You're awake."

"My head is killing me," Cat moaned. "And I feel like an elephant tried to sit on my chest."

"It should. That Krogan hit you hard." Violeta brought Cat's hand up to her lips, letting her kiss Cat's finger. It was a pleasant sensation that distracted from the pain. "They're treating you for a concussion. Your head slammed into something. If you hadn't been in a helmet…"

The image of her skull breaking like an egg being smashed against the counter briefly flashed into Cat's mind. It was unpleasant. "Yeah," she said. "I guess it was a good thing Therum was so damn hot."


"Did anyone else get hurt? Did we get Doctor T'Soni out?"

"We did," Violeta assured her. "You did it. You saved her from that Krogan too."

Silence passed between the two. Violeta was clearly agonizing over something. "Maybe I should say no," she finally said.

"To the promotion, the transfer?"

"Yeah. Maybe… I don't know. It's everything I've been building up to. Everything I dreamed. But then you came along and..."

"Don't give up your dreams," Cat said to her. "Not for me."

"Even if it takes me away from you?"

"I love you too much to let you sacrifice everything for me," Cat answered. "It's sort of funny, I mean. In a sad way. For me to keep you, I'd have to want to see you hurt. And then I wouldn't actually love you."

"Love can be selfish," Violeta reminded her.

"I'm not sure that's real love," Cat answered. "Real love is selfless."

"Oh God, you are the sweetest girlfriend I've ever had," Violeta declared, giggling. "I can't think of any of them saying something like that. It'd sound too…"

"...corny?" Cat offered.

"Corny, cheesy, something like that." Violeta leaned forward. "If it doesn't work, I mean, if we don't work out because of this… you'll have someone else. I'm sure of it, and please don't think otherwise."

Caterina responded with a nod. If anything this confirmed that Violeta, while still clearly torn up over it, had never really considered turning down her new posting. And to Cat, that was fine. That Violeta cared enough to not want to hurt Cat's feelings, to make Cat feel like Violeta couldn't wait to get away, as if Cat was the worst girlfriend ever… that was good enough.

"Thank you for considering it anyway," Cat said. She leaned up and allowed Violeta to gently kiss her.

Seconds after the kiss ended Cat noticed a shadow moving over Violeta. She looked past her girlfriend and ot the new arrival. Julia was looking as she always did in her uniform, combining authority and confidence, and even if Cat found some of it annoying at times - Julia's insistence on calling her "Lieutenant" or "Miss Delgado" on the bridge always felt off - she couldn't help but think it made Julia look completely cool most of the time. "How are you feeling, Cat?" Julia asked.

"My head hurts. I feel like something big was set on top of my ribs. But I guess I'm okay."

"That's good to hear." Julia smiled at her. "And I can sympathize with the ribs. I made the mistake of sparring with your sister this morning. I think she was trying to make a point."

Caterina giggled at that. "Why would you do that? Angel always gets wound up when I'm hurt."

"She does. And she needs to unwind." Julia placed a hand near belly. "Although I wish she wouldn't hit nearly so hard."

Again Caterina giggled, and Violeta did as well. "So Doctor T'Soni is okay?" Cat asked. "Violeta said we got her off Therum."

"We did. Your mission was a complete success," Julia assured her.

"And I have the injuries to show it, I guess."

Julia chuckled at that. "Among other things."


"For one thing, Cat, being wounded in the field means you get a commendation for being wounded in action. But more importantly, between this and Tira and your work in the sciences, well, Admiral Maran and I talked about that."

"About what?" Cat asked.

"About you. And what you've contributed. So now Admiral Maran's gotten the final nod from the board and, well…" Julia's smile widened. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander Delgado."

The only thing greater than Cat's shock was the smile that came to Violeta at the news.

Main Engineering was active as always when Barnes stepped in. Beside him, Tali looked around and said, "This is… quite impressive."

Barnes responded by leading her to the central control table of Engineering. "It damned sure is," he agreed amiably.

At the table Scott looked up. "Ah, lad, good t' see ye. I've been meanin' t' talk t' ye about…" He noticed Tali and gave them an intent look. "An' who might this be?"

Barnes nodded to Tali, who stepped forward. "I am Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, Commander Scott. I'm currently serving with Commander Shepard's team on the Normandy."

"So ye are. Ye're th' Quarian lass th' Koenig picked up durin' that whole mess with th' Batarians, aren't ye?"

"I am, sir. Tom let me join his engineering team when we attacked that Batarian pirate station."

"So Tom did, did he?" Scotty gave Barnes a bemused look. "An' from th' sound o' things, it was a bloody good idea. Ye did a fine job on th' Koenig's engines that time."

"Thank you, sir. And thank you both for letting me see your engine room. There's nothing like it in the Fleet."

"I knew you'd like it," Barnes said.

Nearby a younger officer with an East Asian appearance looked up. "Isn't this cute?" he asked in an English accent. "Barnes is getting approval for his new girlfriend."

"Uh, what?" Tali asked, clearly bewildered.

Barnes shot a glare toward the officer. "Can it, Li."

That prompted laughter from every engineer in earshot.
"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 Jun 25, 2018 3:32 pm


The Normandy departed Feros the following "morning", by the standards of the Aurora's ship time. For the moment Feros still spun quietly outside of Julia's ready office window. A report from Admiral Maran approving the Armstrong Nebula mission was on her display.

She was pulled from it by the door chime. She looked up and said, "Come in."

To her surprise, it was Liara who stepped in. "Captain Andreys, good morning," she said. She'd replicated a new Asari-style jumpsuit of white and blue color to replace what she'd worn on Therum.

"Good morning, Doctor." Julia shut down her screen and folded her hands on her table. "What can I do for you?"

"I would like to request permission to remain on your ship, Captain," Liara replied. "For when you investigate Noveria."

"Alright. Why?"

"I've spoken with Shiala. The things she told me, I…" Liara shook her head in disbelief. When Julia gestured to one of the chairs in front of her desk, Liara gratefully sank into it. "I've always had a difficult relationship with Benezia," Liara admitted. "She didn't approve of my choice of career. She thought I should be a scholar on Thessia and that I was forsaking my potential."

"I see."

"But no matter how bad things are between us… I simply cannot accept she is willingly following Saren's madness, and Shiala has me thinking… if this is some sort of mental manipulation, maybe I can help undo it. Maybe I can save her. And I have to try."

Julia nodded quietly. There was a part of her that sympathized with that. She would have loved to have saved her mother from the illness that claimed her. "Alright. But this isn't a safe place to be right now, Doctor, and I cannot honestly send you into the field unless I know for certain you can take care of yourself."

"I understand. And I can, Captain," Liara insisted. "I've trained in my biotics for years, and I don't think I'm boasting when I say I'm a powerful biotic. And I know how to use a gun. I had to learn in order to work out here."

"I see." Julia leaned back in her seat and considered the issue. "I'm not looking for a powerful biotic. But someone who understands Benezia, that I could use."

Liara laughed at that. The laugh had a tinge of bitterness. "I am afraid I am not as useful there, but I do understand how she thinks, and I'm familiar with my mother's business holdings. Unless Saren has changed her that much…"

Julia took the moment to consider Liara. She knew that the Asari were, compared to Humans, very long-lived. Liara herself was several decades older than Julia. But seeing her, Julia didn't see a being over a century old, but a very young woman who was determined and, yet, vulnerable. Whatever unfinished business she had with mother… well, that could complicate the mission.

At the same time, there was no denying Liara might be valuable. And if she could turn Benezia against Saren, that might prove vital to stopping him.

"Alright," Julia said. "Welcome aboard the Aurora, Doctor. I'll have quarters arranged for you in the VIP section on Deck 6."

"You needn't arrange anything special for me," Liara protested. "I've spent my career sleeping in frontier camps and run-down starships. I'll be fine wherever you can put me."

"If it makes you feel better, we'll put you in our smallest quarters on Deck 6," Julia said. "But our ship was built to accommodate guests at times, so don't worry. It's not an imposition." Julia stood from her desk. "I'll have an operations officer assign you quarters immediately." She extended her hand. "Again, welcome to the Aurora, Doctor T'Soni."

Liara stood and accepted her hand, clearly familiar with the idea of a handshake. "Thank you, Captain Andreys."

The Aurora was underway by the time the morning shift began its rotations for lunch. Lucy was enjoying Hargert's offering of roast beef and ham sandwiches and leftover sausage stew, among other choices, when Meridina took a seat at the table with her own lunch. "You are enjoying Hargert's meal as usual," she observed.

Lucy finished chewing and swallowed before answering, "It's always good for a pick-me-up."

"And you need one? I sense your uncertainty."

"I shouldn't be uncertain and I know it. I'm just... " Lucy sighed. Across from her Meridina was beginning her meal. "You've sensed Talara?"

I have, Meridina responded mentally, still chewing away at a sandwich. Her swevyra is potent. She has great potential if she is trained. Have you spoken to her on the possibility?

"I'm already showing her the basic control exercises, just as you did with me," Lucy said. "As for training… she spoke to me about it, actually. She asked me to train her."

Meridina swallowed and nodded. "I see. That is a great honor."

"Yeah, but…" Lucy rested her head on her hand, elbow on the table in uncaring defiance of proper table manners. That the thought crossed her head made Meridina smile slightly, amused as always by Lucy's tendency to intentionally defy propriety at times. "I know that I'm expected to train other Humans by your people. But I never put much thought into what I would do. How I would teach. I haven't had the possibility come up before. Is this something I can actually do, Meridina? Can I be a good teacher?"

Meridina seemed to consider the question. "Long ago, my father and Mastrash Ledosh told me that there was no more difficult task than to teach others. We must learn to balance our expectations with the realities of our students. We have to understand their needs and how they may need to be taught differently than we were. I learned this myself with you and with Robert."

"I get that. Talara may easily learn things I had trouble with, or vice versa. And I know it's my job to work with that. I just…" Lucy shook her head. "Meridina, what if I fail her? What if I don't teach Talara the right way, and she gets herself killed? Or if she falls to darkness? It would be my fault."

Meridina's response was a small, bemused laugh. "I know that fear," she confessed. "I felt the same with you. From your passions you often drew close to darkness, and I feared for you each time."

"I know. I remember." Lucy nodded. "I wasn't the easiest student."

"Talara does not seem to be as passionate as you."

"She may be more. She's just so eager."

"Indeed." Meridina sipped at her drink. "Commander Scott believes it makes her one of our best."

"Maybe. I'm just worried that her eagerness and idealism will get her into trouble. She's already charged up from meeting Princess Allura. I think she wants to match Allura."

"Yes. Much as I, as a child, wished to be as great a swevyra'se as my father. And that can get her into trouble, and it would be your responsibility to teach her how to avoid it. Or mine, I suppose." Meridina briefly set her lunch aside. "Do you wish me to train her instead?"

"You're First Officer now," Lucy protested. "You don't have time."

"This is important. I would make time for it. Although I sense that Talara would prefer you as her teacher, that may not be the best for her, if you do not feel you could bring out her potential." Sensing the twisted emotions that remark brought Lucy, Meridina continued with, "There is no shame in admitting such, Lucy, please be sure of that. There are many great swevyra'se who do not take personal apprentices. My father hasn't, as much as I wished he would take me. And he sits upon the Council."

"I don't know if I can or not," Lucy said. "Robert thinks I can. I think I might be able to. But I won't know until I try, and if I fail… Talara deserves better."

"What do your feelings tell you?" Meridina asked. "What does your swevyra lead you to feel?"

Lucy shrugged. "I… I suppose I feel I should. I feel I could do it."

"Then my suggestion is you follow your feelings. Just as I did mine when the choice of teaching you came."

Knowing how much that choice cost Meridina, Lucy accepted the advice with a nod. She drew in a breath and centered herself, pushing away the fears of failure, the stakes involved, focusing only on the question, and what the feeling inside of her told her was the right choice.

Without a further word, Lucy tapped her omnitool and activated the comm link. "Lucero to Talara."

After several moments Talara's voice responded. "Talara here, Lieutenant. What can I do for you?"

"Meet me at 1900 hours in Holodeck 2," Lucy replied, already checking the holodeck scheduling and laying a reservation in. "Tonight, I'll begin your training."

"You will not regret this, Lieutenant! Talara out!"

"See?" Lucy asked Meridina. "Eager."

There was a wide smile on the Gersallian woman's face. "Yes, she is, and in your own way, so are you, my former student."

Lucy sighed and matched the smile. The damned truth was that Meridina was right.

As the Normandy continued on her way to the Armstrong Nebula, Robert sat alone on the armory deck. His omnitool whirred as he finished the repair on his armor for the shot that wounded him on Feros. When he was done he put the armor back on its support rack.

As his eyes went over to his pistols, they focused on the new addition to his armory. He reached over and picked up the cylinder of metal. It was a little sleeker than the one Lucy used, with a prominent green button. He held it away and used his thumb to press it. A green energy blade flashed to life with an electronic snap-hiss. He gave it a few experimental swings, marveling at its lightness compared to the training blades he'd used before. He turned it off and put it back.

The elevator door opened and he turned. Ashley walked out, wearing her standard issue blue duty uniform. She went straight to her gun rack and started her daily routine of checking her guns. She looked over and noticed him. "How's the hip?"

"Healed," he answered.


Robert considered Ashley as she went back to work. Again he worried about her, the benign xenophobia in her character that made her uncomfortable around non-Humans. Relatively-speaking, at least, since she'd worked so well with Tali on Feros. Robert wondered if she was warming up to the Quarian girl.

The real test emerged from the elevator after it made a return trip. Garrus entered the armory/cargo deck and went for his gun rack. He pulled his sniper rifle off and brought the scope up. "Hey Sergeant?"

"Hrm?" Ashley looked toward him.

"Personal opinion. Does this look properly calibrated to you?"

"Let me see." Ashley brought the rifle up and looked through the scope. "It looks off by about a centimeter. Maybe two."

"Just what I thought. Good eye." Garrus received the rifle from her and set it on the desk. "You keep a good armory, Sergeant."

"Thank you," she replied. "Dad always told me that a good Marine always takes care of his or her weapons. 'Take care of them and they take care of you.'"

Garrus chuckled. "My father always used to make me field-strip the family rifle. Once a week, like clockwork, while he checked his C-Sec issue weapon."

"Huh." Ashley continued her own work. "I guess being in C-Sec runs in the family?"

"More or less. I guess we have that in common. Family service."

Robert felt a tinge of anger in Ashley. "I guess we do." She looked at Garrus and the anger faded somewhat, replaced with… understanding, Robert felt.

He didn't get a chance to muse on it. "What about you, Captain?" Garrus asked. "I've heard some crazy stories about your background. Did your elders ever put you in front of a rifle?"

"Grandpa, when I was ten." Robert smiled from the memory. "Took me shooting, and then told me I'd be cleaning the gun. He left me in the shed with the rifle, cleaning kit, and a bottle of cleaning oil. Told me to be careful with how much I used." The old memory made him blush slightly, which didn't go unnoticed. "But I was a kid, and that bottle was empty well before it should have been."

"Oh no," Garrus moaned.

"You didn't," Ashley said.

"Did. Spilled the whole bottle into the barrel."

The reply to that was laughter. Robert laughed too, and it felt good. Not just from the memory, or sharing it, but because he could feel some of that negative sentiment in Ashley draining away. She was starting to see Garrus as a comrade in arms, not a possible alien foe, and it felt good to know she was tilting away from the dangers of her more negative sentiments.

And if he had to endure a little embarrassment in that cause, well, he couldn't really complain, could he?

"Just what did your Grandfather do when he found out?" Ashley asked, genuinely curious.

"Gave me a good, long look, met me eye to eye… and told me to get that crap out of his rifle." Robert sighed. "Then he made me polish the whole weapon and the work table. I spent all night cleaning."

The reply was more laughter. And again, Robert joined in.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed Jun 27, 2018 12:27 pm

I like the character development of the Voltron Girl, her sudden emergence, the changing nature of the spotlight on Lucy, which graduates from the recent spotlight on Meridina... the Mass Effect folks were great and Robert works well in this totally supporting role and not the Main Protagonist Big Hero Prophesied Captain with Powers and a Love Triangle :P

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

Post by Steve » Fri Jun 29, 2018 2:43 pm


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 8 July 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. At the request of Admiral Hackett, the Aurora is tracking the civilian space vessel Ontario, now present in the Farinata System in the Hades Gamma cluster. According to Admiral Hackett a member of the Systems Alliance Parliament has been abducted by biotic terrorists and the Ontario is the ship they're fleeing aboard. Lieutenant Lucero is leading a team of Marines to investigate while we remain at a safe distance.

With the Ontario having an anti-beaming field up, the approach was made via stealth runabout. The team entered the ship through the port side lock. Lucy, as custom, took the lead. She had her lightsaber in hand but not active. Behind her, Talara was armed with a pulse pistol set to stun. The squad of light-armored Marines, under Sergeant Coleman, had their weapons set to a similar setting.

"I sense them," Talara whispered, her voice clear over the tactical comm link. Her eyes, blue with lavender-colored irises, were focused ahead. She was more intent on what she was feeling than the digital readouts of her helmet HUD. "They're frightened and angry. And in a lot of pain."

"They would be. Jarod did some research. The man they took sits on a committee for biotics and voted down reparations for bad implants." Even though she could send mental messages, she knew the Marines would prefer hand gestures, and she'd worked with them enough that she knew several of them. She signaled them to follow behind her, fire to stun.

They made it into the cargo hold and the fight began. Only a few of the biotics were armed, with mass effect field pistols, and Lucy found their shots easy enough to deal with. It was their biotic abilities that was the real threat, but Lucy had her own special abilities. She used the life-based force inside of her - swevyra as the Gersallians called it - to deal with the bolts of dark matter the biotics used on them. While she worked on defense, Talara and the Marines opened fire. The Marines' shots were made with what would have been lethal precision in a military conflict. One by one the biotics in the cargo hold went down to stun fire.

"We're secure," Lucy said to them. "Sergeant, detail two to secure prisoners. There's a few more up ahead."

"Roger, ma'am," answered Coleman. "Whitfield, Umitam, you're on! Secure prisoners and standby!"

With Coleman and the remaining Marine behind her and Talara, Lucy advanced to the forward section. Ahead was the control cockpit and to each side, living space. She sensed the fear in one room and entered.

"Don't come any closer!" a male voice cried. Two men and a woman, all armed, were standing opposite from them. On his knees was another man, in a nice set of clothes that had seen better days. He was on his knees, hands on his neck, and had a shotgun jammed to the back of his head. "I'll kill him!"

Talara watched with anticipation at how Lucy would handle this. They'd been training for a few weeks now, with control exercises giving way to actual training in these powers. While some of the exercises were uncomfortable - Talara disliked having to stand on her hand and hold things - she'd still learned many valuable lessons at Lucy's direction, with Commander Meridina occasionally observing. Now she wondered which of those skills Lucy would use to stop these people. Would she yank the guns from their hands? Use mental trickery to get them to stand down? Slice the gunhands off their arms to disable them?

To her surprise, Lucy did none of those things. Instead, she simply turned off her lightsaber and knelt on the floor. "Sergeant, fall back with your team. Await further orders."


"That is a direct order, Sergeant," Lucy said, insistent. "Fall back."

With confirmation of the order, Coleman did so. Talara sensed a tinge of relief in him. He didn't like hostage situations.

"Ensign, holster your weapon and join me," Lucy said next, ignoring the pistols raised toward them.

Talara, who was not quite so flippant about ignoring the weapons, hesitated a second before doing so. With her field action uniform and helmet, she might survive…

Lucy promptly reached to her neck and detached the helmet from her combat armor. She set the helmet to the side, allowing her curly dark hair to descend to her shoulders. She had visible Latin American heritage, with a lighter brown complexion and the shape of her face indicating the mestizo background she inherited from her mother. Bright blue eyes focused on both hostage and hostage-taker.

Without waiting, and yet with a great deal of worry, Talara removed her helmet as well. She felt the surprise as the Human biotics took in her alien features, such as her pointed ears, the blue half-moon marks on her cheeks under her eyes, and the lavender color of her eyes' irises. Silver-blue hair held into a small bun at the back of her neck gave her a further exotic appearance. By complexion she looked the most Human, having a bronze coloration just a shade or so darker than Lucy's.

"I'm Lieutenant Lucy Lucero of the Alliance Starship Aurora," said Lucy. "And I'm trained in the arts of the Gersallian Order of Swenya. This is Ensign Talara, a Falaen officer from my ship and my current apprentice in those arts. Who are you?"

"Our names aren't important!" snarled the leader, his gun still held to Burns' head. The bald man, with a formerly-trimmed beard of dark hair that now reflected a lack of care, was full of frustration and rage. "What's important is how the Alliance, our Alliance, has ignored us! This son of a bitch doesn't care how much we suffer, he just cares about pleasing the people who pay for his political career!"

"Please, you don't have to do this!" the hostage wailed. "I've changed my mind!"

"Now that I've got a gun to your head. Isn't that how it always works?! Letters don't do crap, you have to use force!" Next he glared at Lucy and Talara. "And you… you people! Do you even know what's going on here?! Who this bastard is?!"

"Martin Burns," Lucy said. "Chairman of the Systems Alliance Parliamentary Committee on Transhuman Studies."

"We're L2 biotics," the woman said. "The implants they gave us to control our biotics were faulty."

"More than faulty," the leader spat. "Some L2s are nearly crippled from what these implants have done to us! Those reparations were the only hope of many of us to have the damage treated! And Chairman Burns here denied them!"

"It… I'm sorry, all of the reports made it seem like the problem was overstated!" protested Burns. "But it's clear to me now that they were wrong, I was wrong! I never realized how desperate you were becoming! I'll change my vote, I'll see about getting reparations for the L2 biotics!"

"It's too late for that!" the leader insisted. "Like we can trust you anyway."

"You can," Lucy remarked. "I can feel the sincerity in him." Her eyes locked on the leader's. "Just as I feel the pain in you. Even now… you're in constant pain. Maybe… maybe we can do something about that."

"No, it's too late for that," the leader insisted. "A message has to be sent."

"And do you think murdering Chairman Burns will send the right message?" Lucy asked. "Death rarely solves problems so easily. His replacement will be just as likely to stand against what you need simply to avoid being accused of submitting to terrorism. If you want to get any victory out of this, Burns needs to live."

"And you expect us to believe you'll just give us what we want and let us walk free? Do we look that stupid?"

"No. You look like a man in constant pain who needs compassion," Lucy replied. "I know what it's like to be hurt."

"Don't you dare try to compare yourself to us! You don't know what it's like, what this does to us!" the leader shouted. "This is the kind of thing we're reduced to! We're struggling to survive…"

"Yes." Lucy didn't raise her voice. "You are. And it's so easy to convince yourself to do something terrible if it's in the name of surviving. But I'm telling you it's not necessary. You and all of the other biotics can get the treatment you need. You might be in jail, but you won't be in pain anymore. You'll have justice. But only if Burns lives. Without his voice to help you, you won't accomplish anything. You and those you're trying to save will keep suffering."

Talara observed quietly. She sensed the uncertainty in the biotics. The fear. The same was in Burns, joined with a genuine realization of error. He sympathized with these people, felt as if he had let them down. And like them, he did not want to die.

In Lucy, Talara felt… certainty. Resolve. Even with guns pointed at her and no weapon in her hand, she acted as if she was in complete control of the situation and knew it would turn out alright.

Slowly, the leader lowered his shotgun from Burns' head. "Alright," he said. "I… I don't want to die. I just want justice. I want the pain to end."

Lucy nodded. "Chairman?" She stood to her feet and Talara did likewise. "Please step over here. Ensign, secure their weapons."

They did as requested. "I assure you, Lieutenant, that I will follow through on this," Burns said to her.

"It's not me you owe that assurance to, Chairman," Lucy pointed out. "That said, I sense your sincerity, and I wish you the best in putting this right." Lucy brought her left arm up. An omnitool formed around her forearm. She tapped a key on it. "Lucero to Aurora. Everything is secure. We're ready for pickup."

A moment later Jarod answered, "Confirmed. ETA is twenty seconds."

Upon the Aurora's arrival, the biotics and Burns were beamed away first, for treatment and, in the case of the former, for confinement until a Systems Alliance vessel could arrive to secure them. This left Lucy and Talara alone. Talara looked to her. "Lucy, you said to ask questions."

"I did. What's on your mind?"

"This situation," Talara said. "It would have been over in seconds if you'd acted. You could have disarmed them and I would have easily stunned them. Without any threat to Chairman Burns. But you didn't."

Lucy smiled and nodded. "You're right. There were several ways I could have stopped them, even without using my lightsaber. If I'd needed to, I would have. But fighting isn't our purpose. Saving lives and bettering them is. That's why I had to let the biotics' leader surrender peacefully."

"So that they may be shown leniency?"

"Among other things. Had I simply overwhelmed them, it would have left them bitter and angry at being denied again. Even if it was justified. But they made the choice themselves, without being under immediate duress. They chose to spare Burns and accept his promise. He'll deliver on that and the lives of these biotics will be improved. That strengthens the Flow of Life."

"And that is our goal," Talara said. "I see." She nodded. "Yes. And not looking for a fight… I think that is wise. That has been the way of my people for millennia."

"Fighting is only a last resort. It's sad we have to fall back on it as often as we do." Lucy reached for her omnitool. "And it's about time we got out of here. Lucero to Aurora, two to beam up."

Hours later, the Systems Alliance cruiser Seoul jumped to FTL velocity and departed the Farinata system. Julia watched them go on the holo-viewscreen. Meridina and Leo were sitting beside her, the latter waiting to discuss the matter with her. She left Jarod in charge of the bridge when she led the two into her office. "Now that this situation is handled," she said, "we can get back to our primary mission."

"Handled is not the best way to put it." Leo crossed his arms and a scowl appeared on his face. "I looked at the scans on those biotics. Whoever approved those implants for use should be in jail, if you ask me."

"I understand the sentiment," Julia replied. While she and Meridina had command burgundy as the secondary color of their black-toned uniforms, Leo's had medical blue, with an open white lab coat bearing his name. "But it's out of our hands. We have a more important matter to worry about."

Meridina nodded. "Saren."

"Still no new news on him?"

"None," she replied. "Despite the efforts of many specialists in the Citadel races and the Alliance, Saren's location remains unconfirmed."

"It's been a month since he was on Feros," Leo said. "He's got to be somewhere."

"Unfortunately, there are dozens of clusters he could be in within the Traverse," Julia noted. "Hundreds, thousands, of star systems within reach of a Mass Relay. Even more if he's acquired ships with warp or hyperspace capability. And we still don't know what his personal ship is capable of. Meridina, do we have any more information on this 'Sovereign' vessel?"

"Regrettably little. Although by accessing Commander Shepard's reports and body armor footage from Eden Prime, as well as other recordings, we do have a likely suspect for the vessel." Meridina used her omnitool to display an image under a blood-red sky. It was a tall ship landed to New Eden's surface, looking very much like a sea creature from some sailor's fable, but made of metal with red highlight coloring. "Survivor reports claim that the vessel made a 'scream' sound into their minds."

"Which would confirm Shiala's claim that the ship is using some sort of mental effect for keeping the loyalty of Saren's followers," Julia noted. "Leo, any luck on that?"

"Little. Jarod and I have been going over all sorts of records on machines that can alter neurological states. Nothing like what Shiala describes has been encountered. We've been analyzing possible countermeasures, and we think that emissions-shielding could contain anything dangerous. But we won't know for certain without material to test."

"So nothing definitive until we find Sovereign itself." Julia nodded. "Well, continue what you're…"

A chime filled the room. "Jarod to Andreys. Admiral Maran is on IU radio for you."

"Alright." Julia went to her desk and activated her personal system there. She sat in time for Admiral Maran to appear on her screen. The bearded Gersallian man had short-cut dark hair that was just starting to gray at the temples. A decorated war hero of the Gersallian Interdependency several times over, he now served as Chairman of President Morgan's Defense Staff, and was the primary conduit through which President Morgan could personally direct the Aurora's missions. His position also made Maran the senior military strategist for the Alliance's war with the Nazi German Reich of Universe S4W8, a war nearly two years old now, and victory just within grasp of the Alliance and their ever-growing circle of allies. "Admiral."

"Captain, your rescue of Chairman Burns has provided us an unexpected boon," said Maran.


"Due to his position, he has influence with a number of companies that manufacture biotic amps. Most of them have facilities on Noveria and influence with the Noveria Development Corporation, the company that oversees the planet. Admiral Hackett informed him of our interest in Saren and Benezia's activities on Noveria through Binary Helix, and the Chairman followed through. I just received a call from one of the board members for the Noveria corporation. The board has approved our request for the Aurora to investigate Binary Helix."

"That is excellent news. We'll get underway immediately," said Julia.

"Expect a hostile response when you arrive. The Noverian board only barely approved your permission. Normally they only allow limited involvement by the Citadel Council by acknowledging authority from Spectres. Before you ask, we originally intended to let Commander Shepard handle Noveria, but the Citadel Council has something else in mind for the Commander that I'm not at liberty to discuss. So you'll be the one handling the Noveria situation. Expect that the local security forces may further impede your efforts. I'm told they don't like government and military officials meddling on their world. Further diplomatic efforts may end up being necessary. Do as you deem fit to acquire access to the Binary Helix facility on Noveria. We need to know what Saren and Matriarch Benezia are up to."

"We'll get it done, Admiral, that I assure you. Has the fleet moved into Armstrong Nebula?" she asked. Given the two weeks the Aurora, Normandy, and Koenig had spent clearing Geth outposts and detecting more in that cluster, she wanted to know how the fleet was responding.

"Seventh Fleet sent a task force three days ago. So far they haven't seen any further sign of the Geth. It looks like you scared them out."

"That is good news at least."

"It is. Whatever Saren was planning, you may have pre-empted him." Maran reached toward something off-screen. "I'll keep you up to date on any further developments. I look forward to your success at Noveria, Captain. Maran out."

The moment he disappeared from her screen, replaced by the seal of the Alliance's Presidency with its prominent torch insignia and the Alliance flag of blue, green, and white, with the torch insignia set over the middle. Julia was familiar with it and paid it no further thought, triggering the ship's comm system instead. "Andreys to Bridge. Take us to the Relay, our destination is Noveria."

"Aye sir," was Jarod's reply.

Moments later, the Aurora was hurtling away from Farinata faster than the speed of light, due for the next stage in the hunt for Saren Arterius.

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Matter of Survival"

The Aurora was on its way to the last relay that would take them to the Pax system, where Noveria was located. Aboard the ship, the two thousand plus crew and their civilian specialists and support staff went about their day as if it were any other.

With two thousand people aboard, the Aurora was a small town in its own right, and like any such community it needed the facilities and means to support them. Not just with sustenance or medical care, but with activities. The ship's middle decks, where the primary and drive hulls started to meet, often had such facilities interspersed with mission-specific ones or living quarters for enlisted and lower ranked officers. A large gymnasium, holodecks, the medbay that dominated Deck 12's aft-facing section, and multi-purpose rooms used for anything from staff lunches to movie showings to the occasional poetry slam (or greep thep, as the Alakin crew referred to such, given Alakin cultural mores).

One of these rooms was currently occupied by only two people, one sitting in the audience area and the other on a raised stage. With an intent look, Lieutenant Tra'dur continued to blow away at the bagpipes she held in her arms. She manipulated the complicated instrument with care, changing the tone wailing from the set of bagpipes into a tune known in many universes as "Flower of Scotland".

When she finished, Tra'dur allowed the blowpipe to fall away from her lips. The Dilgar woman let out a free breath. Her feline face formed into a grin at the applause.

"Aye lass, well done!" proclaimed her teacher. Commander Montgomery Scott was an old man surrounded by youth, but none denied that the old Starfleet engineer had his place as Chief Engineer on the Aurora. Youth, no matter how talented or skilled, could always use experience, and Commander Scott was free with the experience of his decades in Starfleet.

Tra'dur once spent several days reading up on Scott's home universe of S5T3 and the many successful missions and first contacts of the Starship Enterprise, the Enterprise of James T. Kirk and Spock and Leonard McCoy. It gave her a deeper appreciation that a man of such accomplishment would give his time to help her complete her mastery of the bagpipes. Just as importantly, he expanded her knowledge of the history behind them and the various songs that best suited the instrument.

"It brings a tear t' my eye t' hear th' auld tune played so well," Scott said to her.

"Thank you, sir," she said. "I had thought my use of the instrument was already excellent, but you've shown me how to master the pipes in ways I'd never considered. And these new bagpipes work so well for me."

"That they should." He stood up and picked up his own set. "Now, ye're doin' well with Flower and the Black Bear, but I'd like t' see how ye do workin' with another piper. Ye've been practicin' with th' Blue Bonnets, have ye?"

"Yes, Mister Scott," Tra'dur assured him.

"Aye, good. Then we'll start there, then work with Amazing Grace. That's always a good one, an it's expected for th' services when we lose comrades."

"I will show all due respect."

"I dinnae doubt that, lass, not at all." Scott smiled widely. "Ye're quite th' piper, an' ye're only gettin' better. Now, let's start this right..."

She followed his motions and the two, without further word, began to play their instruments, filling the room with the wail of the bagpipes.

The Aurora contained three science labs - one for computer and data sciences, one devoted to physics, and one for biological science - and the official master of all three was Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado, the ship's science officer, and newly promoted. Given her specialties, the second lab was her usual haunt, where she ran all sorts of simulations and analysis programs for astronomical phenomena.

But for the moment she was in Science Lab 1 with her friend, Lieutenant Commander Jarod, the Aurora's Operations Officer. Both were done with their bridge watch for the day, so they were taking the time to analyze data on the Geth, including cores taken by the Normandy and its crew in their operations. Digits of Geth code filled the holo-viewscreens at their workstations.

Jarod looked up from his workstation. "It's getting late," he said. "Won't Violeta being waiting for you?"

Caterina shook her head. "No. She's on watch right now with Nick. It's part of her training now that she's going to be a command staff officer."

"Right. Does she know her posting yet?"

"One of the new Enterprise-class ships."

"Right." Jarod nodded. "So you two, I mean, will you be trying to keep the relationship going or…?"

Cat knew Jarod was just trying to be friendly, but it didn't change the fact that it hurt. Violeta - Vee - was going to be out of her life. Possibly for good. It was strange, as she never thought of the relationship as being permanent, but yet now that it was going to likely end…

When Jarod turned to face her Cat sighed and shrugged. "We're still talking about it," Cat said. "I think we're going to go for something open."

"As in?"

"As in, if one of us finds someone new, we tell the other and there's no hard feelings." Cat couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.

Jarod looked her over for a moment. "You shouldn't blame yourself," he said.

She turned her head to face him. "I could have been a better girlfriend."

"That wouldn't have changed things. Violeta has ambitions. Things she wants to do in her life."

"Things more important than me."

Jarod sat back in his chair. "And that hurts."

"Yeah." Cat's expression shifted, her frown growing. "But maybe I deserve it. I'd… I'd love to travel with the Doctor again. And I dragged her to Vulcan when I could have taken that trip to Sirius she wanted. I can't blame her, can I? When I do it myself?"

"No, but it won't stop it from hurting." When he was answered by silence Jarod returned his focus to his work. "The Geth encryption is unlike anything I've ever seen."

"That makes sense. They're living programs with a unique neural link architecture."

"One you jammed back on Therum," Jarod said. "I keep looking at this and wondering if there's a way to do more than just jam lone remote connections in their network. What if we could do more?"

"Then, given the data, they'd lose the intelligence that makes them capable of being a threat." Cat shook her head. "I doubt we can effectively break the links of programs in an individual platform. But maybe the links between platforms could be jammed over a wide area."

"If we can make that work, it could protect whole colonies," Jarod observed. "But I doubt we'll finish that this evening."

"Probably not," Cat conceded.

"Since Violeta's on duty, you could always see if your sister is around. I get the feeling you want someone to talk to."

"Tonight she's focusing on training with Julia."

"Well, in that case… want to see what Hargert is spoiling us with this evening?"

Caterina considered telling him no. That she just wanted to be alone. But the truth was she didn't, and she knew it. And saying no to Jarod was hard: while he looked to be in his late thirties, he sounded and acted much younger. Right now he looked more like a younger cousin than the older relative he often managed to seem like.

"Sure," she said. With a few key taps she secured her workstation. She stood up. "Maybe he's made some new chocolate fudge squares that will make me feel better."

Jarod grinned in reply. "Lead the way." Cat did so, and he followed, quietly tapping away at his omnitool as he did to ensure Hargert had such a dessert ready for Cat when they arrived.

In the Aurora gymnasium, a familiar sight was again taking place. Julia and Lieutenant Angel Delgado, the ship's tactical officer, were having a sparring match in the ring. A handful of officers and crew watched the two exchange punches and kicks. Their choice of exercise wear - the service-issued sports bra and shorts in their respective branch colors - revealed the contrast in their builds, with Julia's lean athletic muscle giving her an apparent disadvantage to the thicker, developed fighting muscle Angel trained hard to keep. To many she looked like she was a Marine instead of a starship officer.

The fight itself was going as most did between the two. Angel was on offense, Julia on defense, both employing mixed styles. Julia's fusion of t'ai chi and Klingon mok'bara were vital to her ability to stay in the fight, evading the more powerful strikes from her stronger adversary until she could get in her own attacks. In some fights this even gave her the win, letting her seize advantage of Angel going off-balance to bring her down and get the leverage she needed.

But not today. Today Angel was a little quicker, or Julia a little slower, and she took a punch to the faceguard that stunned Julia long enough for Angel to land a follow-up kick that sent Julia onto her back. Angel dropped down to pin Julia's arms with her knees and hold her in place. After a couple of attempts to escape this, Julia tapped the mat. Angel let her go and helped her stand up. The winner pulled one of her gloves off and removed her teethguard from her mouth. "That's two out of three," she said, and her competitive side ensured there was a feral grin on her face.

Julia removed her own guard and then gently touched the point where Angel's foot had connected with her midsection. "You enjoy beating up on me too much."

"Hey, it's not like you don't get licks in," Angel reminded her. "You won one today, and you won the set yesterday."

"I'm starting to wonder if you let me win." The two slipped through the ropes and picked up water bottles nearby. A couple crew were already moving to take the ring themselves. "I don't have as much time to train anymore as it is."

"You still hold your own. And I don't hold back. Well, save a punch or two. But it looks bad if I send the Captain to medbay." Angel took a swig from the bottle.

Julia chuckled. "Leo tells me I should start wearing a full combat suit when we spar."

"Those take all the fun out of it."

"I'm starting to wonder if this is your way of getting back at me for Cat getting promoted first," Julia added, her jovial look making the intended humor clear.

"Cat getting promoted, no. Cat getting her brain smacked against her skull by a bloodraging Krogan? Maybe." Angel's grin turned sly. "Yeah, you could consider it incentive to keep my sister out of the field."

Julia knew that was as much a joke as her remark, but given Angel's protectiveness of her younger geeky sister, she couldn't help but think there was an element of seriousness in it. "I'll keep that in mind."

The two walked into the female-side locker room. After setting their things to the side they entered adjoining shower stalls. Replicated water from a common reservoir for the gym showers poured onto sweat-slicked skin, a comfort aided by the effect the warm, borderline hot water had on muscles burning from exertion. "Did they ever find out which side that Andorian was supposed to be on?" Angel asked, raising her voice appropriately to be heard over the showers.

"Male. Ensign Thavarash is a thaan. Actually, he's supposed to be called th'Thavarash, according to Jarod."

"Right. Four genders. At least the Gl'mulli have none and the Asari just one." After a moment's quiet, Angel added, "What about that Asari doctor? Has she given us any more useful info on her mom?"

"The investigators say yes. And Leo says she's fully recovered. I'm going to send her with the team we take down to Noveria."

"Somehow I doubt it'll be that easy. Corporate types get antsy when uniforms come round."

"Tell me about it. And I'll have to be the diplomat again."

"I bet you miss having Robert around to do that crap."

To that Julia laughed. "Even when he was Captain, I was still doing diplomatic stuff. Not that I don't miss him."

"Don't we all? But given what the Normandy is supposed to be like on the inside, I'm sure he misses us too."

"Yeah, he probably does." As she said that, Julia allowed her mind to wonder, an easy feat while enjoying the warm water of the shower. She wondered if Robert was missing the Aurora's amenities yet and sighed wistfully at wondering what he was up to.

The SSV Normandy was a small ship by most standards of the Multiverse. In the Systems Alliance she was labeled as a frigate, first of her class, with a crew near that of an attack ship in the Allied Systems. Due to her operational needs and the equipment required, the Normandy had little in the way of living space for her crew, and even less space for recreational activity.

Not that Robert Dale was doing anything he would think of as recreational.

For one thing, recreational activities rarely involved being repeatedly stung by an energy pulse.

Another one struck him an instant before he could move the emerald blade of the lightsaber Lucy constructed for him into place to block it. He let out a little "Ow" and cursed under his breath. His senses warned him another shot was coming. This one he stopped, sending the bolt off to harmlessly dissipate against the wall of the Normandy's lab, set behind the ship's infirmary.

The shots were coming from a training device Lucy assembled for him to go with the weapon. The semi-orb was kept aloft by the anti-grav generator Lucy built into it, along with a dumb-VI program that randomly fired low-energy pulse bolts at him. The sparks of blue light weren't capable of doing more than briefly setting off pain receptors at an impact point, a "sting", but getting stung over and over was starting to irritate.

It wasn't like he was weak in these powers anymore. Like Lucy, Robert had trained with Meridina, but for nearly a year it had been evident he wouldn't be as powerful as either of them, and would likely never powerful enough to wield a blade.

Then Robert briefly wielded the Time Vortex, courtesy of the TARDIS ship belonging to the Time Lord being known as the Doctor, to save his ship and friends. That it hadn't killed him in the process was a small miracle. What it had done was cost him two months of his life, give him memories of a beloved son he never had, and leave him with an unprecedented growth in his connection to the Flow of Life. The energy within him became so powerful he was knocking things, and people, over with no conscious effort. Only after weeks of training did he get such simple control back, control that sometimes slipped whenever he wielded the life energy and connected to the Flow of Life.

Unfortunately, it seemed his experience hadn't expanded his ability to wield a blade.

Another pulse went off, blocked, another, also blocked… and then another that sent a jolt of surprise and brief pain up his hip. "You damn bucket of bolts," Robert growled. When it fired at him again he deflected the shot right back into it.

"Deflection hit successful," said a computerized version of Lucy's voice. "Session over. Increase in successful deflections: one. Success rate: sixty-five percent Conclusion: You're getting better at this, Robert. Just remember anything less than one hundred percent means you got shot." The last part had the voice's monotone replaced by the all-too-familiar bemusement that Lucy could summon. With its report given, the orb lowered itself to the ground and shut off.

Robert took the device and stowed it beside his meditation pad. He felt agitated enough to think that might be in order, but the door slid open before he reached for it. Chakwas entered. "I'm sorry, Captain Dale, but I have need of my equipment."

"Of course, Doctor," he answered. "Anything serious?"

"Not too serious."

"Of course. I'm done as it is, so I'll leave this to you," Robert replied. "Thank you again for letting me use this space."

"You're welcome."

Robert left Chakwas and entered the medical area. Tali was waiting on one of the beds. "Oh, hello," she said, her voice distorted slightly from the electronic vocoder built into her suit's face, just below the faceplate. It lit up in time with her speech. "I hope we didn't interrupt anything."

"Not at all, I was just finishing." Robert looked down. He was wearing a workout vest and sweatpants, the latter borrowed from the ship's stores and marked with the Systems Alliance logo. "You're feeling alright?"

"I'm fine. Honestly, I'm only worried about that Geth data. I'm really hoping Shepard will let me bring it to the Fleet. We have so little information on how the Geth have evolved since the Morning War. It could be of great help to us."

"It's Shepard's call, but if you think it'll help, I'll ask her about it."

"I don't know. I'm afraid she might take it badly."

"Alright. I'll leave it be." Robert slipped up onto one of the other beds, just beside where Tali was waiting. He rested his arms on an upraised knee. "Speaking of the Fleet, how is your father doing? And Admiral Raan?"

"Well, they were fine when I last called," Tali said. "Not that I talk often with them. I'm supposed to be out here proving myself, after all."

"I see your point." Robert recalled Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya and could see Tali being discouraged from calling too often. "The Fleet seems to be doing well for itself from the last reports I've seen."

"It's rare that we find anyone willing to give us anything, usually we have to trade." There was a genuine warmth in her voice. "I still feel surprise that your people gave us sanctuary in your space. I'm sure the Citadel Council didn't make it easy."

"I think there were some frank exchanges of views," Robert said, not hiding his amusement at the sarcasm in the statement. From what he heard, the Council hadn't been pleased at all, but not so displeased that it impacted relations. "Are your people still debating the offer of a new homeworld?"

"Very carefully," Tali said. "We have to find a suitable world first. And worlds with Rannoch's characteristics are very rare."

Robert nodded. The issue of the Quarians' non-existent immune systems was always going to make that difficult. "Hopefully we can find something…"

Before he could finish, a tone filled the ship speaker. "This is your helmsman speaking," began Lt. Jeff "Joker" Moreau. "We are about to make our retrieval maneuver to pick up the Commander's Mako from the surface. Please be ready should my badass flying strain the inertial compensators and give us some turbulence. I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt. Thank you for flying Joker Spacelines."

"Shepard must be done with whatever happened on your moon," Tali said. "I mean, this universe's version of your moon."

"That's what it sounds like." Robert laid out on the bed and got ready for any jolts should Joker's flying produce them. He still had some curiosity as to what brought the Normandy to Earth's solar system. Shepard's superiors were very hush-hush on the issue, and indeed Shepard was enjoined from bringing anyone other than Kaidan or Ashley on the mission. It unnerved him a little that the Systems Alliance was keeping that kind of secret, even if he knew it was perfectly understandable.

It turned out there was little to complain about the retrieval. Joker's flying was precise, art as much as science, and the inertial compensators were barely strained by his maneuver. The next word they received was Shepard herself. "All crew and squad members, report for meeting."

"I wonder what happened?" Tali asked.

"We may be about to find out."

As it turned out, they didn't find out. Instead, shortly after arriving, everyone turned to face the holographic images of the Citadel Council. As usual, the Asari Councillor, Tevos, took the lead. "Commander, we've had a breakthrough in the hunt for Saren. An STG regiment has located his primary base."

The mood in the room shifted, the tension of a meeting with the Council turning to the anticipation for a showdown. "We'll set course immediately," said Shepard. "Where is he?"

"The Hoc system, on a planet called Virmire," said Valern, the Salarian Councillor. "The 3rd STG Regiment is already on planet. They are requesting immediate reinforcement."

"We'll get underway now. When will the fleet arrive?"

The moment the Councillors started giving each other looks, Robert knew it they'd be on their own. Sparatus confirmed this. "Hoc is on the border with the Terminus Systems, Shepard. If anyone deploys fleet assets, it could result in a war. There will be no reinforcement. The removal of Saren's base will be up to you and your assets, with the assistance of the Salarian unit already on site."

"I see." Shepard showed no aggravation at this news. "As I said, we'll be on our way immediately."

"If you can find any data on what Saren's goal is, it must be recovered," said Valern. "The disposal of his base is left to your discretion."

"We wish you the best, Commander."

With that, the Council cut the line.

"So, Saren's main base, and no backup." Garrus leaned forward a little. "Outside of a stranded STG force."

"What about the United Systems?" Ashley looked at Robert. "Maybe they can spare some ships?"

"Not likely." Robert shook his head. "I doubt the Terminus governments will view our ships on their border any better than they'd view Citadel ships. And that's if we had ships to spare. We're just weeks away from the final push for Earth in S4W8, and every available ship and asset is being called in." Seeing the disappointed looks, not to mention sensing it, Robert added, "But we could get a little backup by calling in the Koenig."

"A good idea."

"Then I'll call the Aurora as soon as we're out of here."

Shepard nodded in acknowledgement of the offer. "Anything else, everyone?" When no answer was given, she stood from her chair. "Then we're done here." She tapped a key on the chair. "Joker, we're heading to the Hoc system."

"I hear you, Commander," the pilot replied. "We're already on course for the Charon Relay."

Everyone started filing out of the room. Robert went the opposite way, stepping up to the communications controls and activating the system. After putting in his communication code and accessing the special channel he had for the Aurora, Robert had only seconds to wait before the conference room's holo-viewer activated. Julia was on the other end seated in her office. Seeing his closest friend again brought a smile to his face. Julia smiled as well. "Rob. How have you been?"

"Alright. And you? Everyone else?"

"Doing well. Cat's healed from Therum now, and her promotion is official."

"She's earned it." Robert sighed. "I wish I was there to celebrate with everyone else. This hunt for Saren, it's… it's a burden."

"It is," she agreed. "But we're heading to Noveria now to see if we can finally get answers there."

"Oh? You got permission? That's good news. As good as our own. That's actually what I was calling about."

"What is it? Maran mentioned Shepard would be receiving a different assignment."

"A Salarian STG unit has located Saren's main base and we're already on our way. It's a world on the frontier called Virmire, one relay jump away from the Terminus Systems in the Hoc system. Because of that the Council won't send ships, and I know Maran won't be able to either. But the Koenig can get in without being detected."

"Which explains why they're sending us to Noveria instead of Shepard," Julia said, as if a question on her mind had just been answered. "And you could use any backup that can be spared." Julia nodded. "Alright. I'll let Atreiad know and get the Koenig en route."

"Thank you."

"Good luck," she added. Something drew her attention. Robert could hear Jarod's voice come over the comm system - "We're preparing to drop out of warp" - and she nodded. "We just made it to Noveria. I've got to go. Again, good luck."

"The same to you." Robert closed the channel.

The Aurora dropped from warp and entered orbit of Noveria. On the bridge Caterina was already scanning. "They've surrounded the planet with an anti-beaming shield."

"Well, we knew we'd find something like this."

"Yeah, but there's more than that. I'm showing a handful of space stations at various points in high orbit. They look like they're armed battle stations."

Julia considered that fact. "Are they aiming anything our way?"


"Given Noveria's reputation, they might be for dealing with whatever is being worked on down there," Jarod noted. "Looking over the schematics, they're meant for bombardment more than orbital defense. Maybe against light raiding ships, but no match for a star cruiser."

"Keep an eye on them anyway." Julia started mentally weighing her options.

"The most obvious course is to take down an assault lander and a Marine team," Meridina said. "It would not be the diplomatic choice however."

"Correct. Hail the planet, I want to speak to whomever is in charge."

Jarod went to work on his control board. Julia leaned back in her seat for a moment before glancing toward Meridina. "This is not going to be easy."

"It rarely is with such," Meridina agreed. "This is a world of secrets, and we wish to shed light upon it."

"That is something to keep in mind…"

It took several more minutes before Jarod looked back. "I've got an Administrator Anoleis on for you."

Julia stood. "Onscreen."

The holo-viewscreen shifted to show an office. In the center of the screen was a Salarian in a suit of different shades of blue, a darker as the primary color. The Salarian had a light pinkish complexion with a blue tint. "This is Administrator Anoleis. With whom am I speaking?"

Julia kept her hands at the her sides. "I'm Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. I'm here to investigate links between the Binary Helix corporation and the rogue Spectre agent Saren Arterius."

"Hrm… request denied."

Julia crossed her arms. "We received permission from the board."

"Which is left to my discretion. I can't have you and your uniformed troops marching around down here. This planet is independent of Citadel and United Systems laws and the investors have paid us handsomely to protect the privacy of their research facilities."

"One of those investors is a company owned and operated by a rogue Asari matriarch and a rogue Spectre who is using Geth troops in attacks on the galaxy."

"Be that as it may, I must insist. You can appeal my decision to the board if you wish." Anoleis calmly pressed his hands together. "And just to inform you, we have quite an impressive array of anti-air weaponry at our disposal. Any unauthorized landing vessels will be fired upon and destroyed. Good day."

Without further word, he hit a key beside him and disappeared.

The Aurora crew remained silent. "Well," Locarno finally said, "it looks like diplomacy's not going to be so easy."

"It never is," Julia sighed.
"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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