nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

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nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Tomyris » Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:35 pm


Captain (substantive Battlemaster, promotion from Battle Captain effective three days before) Zhen’var f/k/a Zhengli Varma had arrived on the ASV Huáscar one month before her commissioning ceremony for the intensive trials and efforts which would result in her being stood up as an active-duty ship of the Alliance Stellar Navy. A month of shipyard trials being run by the dockyard personnel with Lt. Commander (substantive Battle Expert) Elia Saumarez as the ranking naval officer had concluded with a reasonable punchlist of items to be corrected, and soon after the Battle of Germania Captain Zhen’var had arrived to assume command. The pre-commissioning trials had shaken loose a few more problems, and the shipyard personnel were still working to remedy them in many areas of the ship even as the ceremony was being held.

Within a week of her commissioning ceremony, she was expected to leave for a month-long final shakedown cruise under regular commission with her crew at full list strength and her arms lockers and magazines full. When it was finished, she would begin to receive regular duty assignments as a part of the Fleet. Thus it would be only three months and one week after her physical completion as a functional ship that she would be fully operational, as a testament to the efficiency of the shipbuilders.

The ceremony was held at Naval Fleet Base Alexandra in H1E4 on the docking-arm main assembly concourse. Admiral Maran was there, as well as the Foreign Minister and Warmaster Shai’jhur. The Foreign Secretary was of course the first to speak. Lentiro Onaran was a Dorei gentleman with ocean blue eyes and teal spots, dressed in a yellow and bronze formal suit of Dorei fashion as he came to the podium. In attendance, in formation, were the crews of the Huáscar and the Heermann, all in their dress uniforms. The Marine complement was present, too, in their own dress blues, the officers in their dress whites.

Everyone was there: There was Commander Imra, decorated twice for bravery. Daria Seldayiv, her bright colouration contrasting with the white of the uniform, decorated much the same. So was Lt. Commander Poniatowska and several of the others. There was Elia and Will, Operations and XO, the two most important people, Zhen’var’s Hands, looking a bit uncomfortable at the ranks of medals and campaign ribbons a hell of a lot of their subordinates had. None of the medals matched the odd contrast of the two that Zhen’var wore. One was for operations over Germania, and one was the Line Medal. It stood above even the highest decorations for bravery in the whole of the Alliance. It was the medal which let someone know that you had held the Line, and there was no equal, save perhaps if the Spartans had seen fit to strike one for Thermopylae.

In the audience was one fellow in a uniform like Shai’jhur’s, with a medal like Zhen’var’s. Governor the Battlemaster Ari’shan, looking uncomfortable between his Line Medal and the ribbon hanging low from his neck showing him the Grand Chief of the Order of the Champions that Warmaster Shai’jhur had created to award valor. He couldn’t help but keep peeking a look toward his son in the ranks of the pilots in their sky-blue full dress uniforms. Close by his side was Commander Montgomery Scott, having arranged to be in attendance for Anna Poniatowska, one of his engineers like Tom Barnes, and now standing up to commanding the engineering spaces of her own ship.

Minister Onaran cleared his throat and politely steadied himself on the podium. “Gentlebeings, welcome to Fleet Base Alexandra. I shall keep my remarks short. I would not be present for the commissioning of a conventional warship, however, the Huáscar is a bold experiment at inclusion which promises to realise the great objective of ‘a more perfect union’. Crewed equally between the nations of the Alliance and a State in the admissions process, the Huáscar shall demonstrate the power and potential of the alliance to represent all nations in the Alliance’s stand for peace and sapient rights throughout the Multiverse.

“The hour of supreme danger in the formation of the Alliance is over, and the terrible power of the Nazi Reich has been forever broken. Now is our chance for bold experiments to build the peace and hold our course as a beacon of liberty. The Multiverse still has many dangers in it, and to maintain the vision of the Alliance against those dangers, the Stellar Navy assumes all risks. In welcoming the Dilgar into the Stellar Navy, we make a powerful lesson for this Multiverse: The sins of the past will be forgiven in the deeds of the present, and nothing else. And nothing is more appreciated than the absolute willingness of the Dilgar nation to demonstrate those deeds. Your thirty-five ships and twenty-five divisions at Germania made the difference between victory and defeat. Your willingness to adapt to the Alliance is a testament to your future course. We want to walk this course hand in hand, eventually as one. And with that vision in mind, we bring the Huáscar to life, as one exemplar of a shared sacrifice in duty and honour to the ideals and mission of the Alliance. Without further ado, I present Warmaster Shai’jhur, Head of State of the Honourable Union of Tira and Rohric.”

Slight and frail, with her grey-tinged fur, Shai’jhur stepped to the podium next. She held her right hand out as a gesture, moving it in short, sharp movements. “Comrades and friends, today we are gathered to celebrate something I long held as an objective. I believed urgently and correctly that our future would be in understanding humans, and appealing to humans with our deeds and with the moral reform of our society. This comprehensive reform, which evidenced itself in the way Dilgar voluntarily took up dharma study and democratic institutions founded on a completely indigenous conception of participatory government, led us to the moment over Tira where we could justly proclaim ourselves the wronged party, fighting for our lives and our homes, and desirous of being allies and members of the great experiment of the Allied Systems.

“Today is the culmination of that effort. We will stand together as allies and friends all on the same ship, as we stood together in the fleets over Welthauptstadt Germania. Huáscar is now a unique name for the Dilgar, since it was the name of the ship which also defended Tira under Captain Zhen’var. When I subsequently read the history of the name, I was struck by the amazing courage which marked this ship. I decided the name had to live on in the Alliance Service, and Admiral Maran as Chief of Naval Operations kindly agreed with me. I thank our allies and I also take our place of pride: In four months we mobilized one-point-five million Dilgar to fight this war. Our population has barely reached forty-five million; in fact half that number, about two percent of our entire population saw action on the fronts against the Reich, even though they were engaged for a brief time. I do not wish our new friends in the Alliance to think this was but a single burst of activity for our people. We shall make ourselves useful henceforth as well, and to me, the Huáscar is the manifestation of that promise to our friends and allies. Be proud, Huáscareños, no matter what your blood is, you are the spirit and the future of the Dilgar Champions!”

She stepped aside, flashing a wryly pleased look to Admiral Maran as he approvingly went to the podium next. He coughed, and smiled. “Gentlebeings, together we are gathered here to give life to a ship. The Huáscar is no common ship, but one of the finest, newest ships of the fleet, a showcase of the technology which was brought to us by the Aurora, of the legacy of the Darglan. Her mission is simultaneously exploratory and military, to be one of the foremost ships in defence, humanitarian aid, and discovery that we can field. She will follow in the footsteps of sisters and half-sisters like the Aurora, Enterprise and Excalibur. Yet for all her technology, it is the sapient intelligence, the power and emotion, the service and the honour, of those who crew her, that truly matters.

“When her name was proposed to me by Warmaster Shai’jhur, I hesitated in agreeing. First, I turned to the histories of the name. They reassured me immediately. Here was a ship whose crew, in the service of two nations, had followed Right, rather than the simple, the easy path. Many of them paid for it with their lives. Our mission is not an easy nor a safe one, and theirs was much less so. They stayed the course, just like the most recent Huáscar did with her terrible and painful choice and struggle over Tira. We honour all of that with her name. Most of all, though, I believe as, a Gersallian, we can learn a great deal from the first Huáscareños. It was Captain Miguel Maria Grau Seminario who, on defeating the Chilean Esmeralda and seeing Captain Arturo Prat of the same struck down on Huáscar's decks in a ferociously brave boarding action, decided to write this most tender message to Captain Prat’s widow:

Dear Madam:

I have a sacred duty that authorizes me to write you, despite knowing that this letter will deepen your profound pain, by reminding you of recent battles.

During the naval combat that took place in the waters of Iquique, between the Chilean and Peruvian ships, on the 21st day of the last month, your worthy and valiant husband Captain Mr. Arturo Prat, Commander of the Esmeralda, was, like you would not ignore any longer, victim of his reckless valor in defense and glory of his country’s flag.

While sincerely deploring this unfortunate event and sharing your sorrow, I comply with the sad duty of sending you some of his belongings, invaluable for you, which I list at the end of this letter. Undoubtedly, they will serve of small consolation in the middle of your misfortune, and I have hurried in remitting them to you.

Reiterating my feelings of condolence, I take the opportunity of offering you my services, considerations and respects and I render myself at your disposal.

(Signed) Cpt. Miguel Grau

“This great humanitarian soon enough fell in battle in the defence of his country in the terrible War of the Pacific. The Chilean service of the Huáscar was no less meritorious than that for Peru, and the ship remained as a museum, a reminder of the heroism of two nations, a promise of peace and reconciliation between two peoples--the grave of two brave men. It is that spirit which transcends the name Huáscar being something heroic, and makes it into an ideal, just like the ideal of the Aurora and the ideal of the Enterprise. Truly, we should all meditate on the story of the Huáscar and be happy and confident that her latest incarnation shall serve as those of the past have served.

“As for her Captain, Captain Zhen’var served valiantly in the attack on Welthauptstadt Germania, providing critical naval support. Her record there is well-publicised, so is her record over Tira, where she lost her home and her command for the sake of what is Right and Just. These were not easy choices, and they showed she was a fit woman for the Alliance, where we shall always strive to make Right and Justice the values for which we fight. In closing, I will simply say that the rest of her career requires no explanation and her choices require no defence. This is her ship to bring to life. Captain Zhen’var, please report.”

“Admiral Maran, Captain Zhen’var reporting, aye!” She wheeled out to the side, stepped forward, and came to attention, forcing her hand not to salute by raw strength of will to avoid the wrong tone at the ceremony. Twenty years of muscle memory screamed at her and reminded her how informal the Alliance service was even at a time like this.

“Captain Zhen’var, I hereby give to you the commissioning pennant of the ASV Huáscar. By the power vested in me by President Morgan and the Government of the Alliance, you are directed to proceed without delay in crewing the Huáscar and insuring that every billet is taken to strength, securing that she is structurally fit for War in every respect, and taking aboard all the stores and arms required for her service as a Ship of War in regular commission.”

“Sir, I accept my charge and order, Sir!” She again forced herself not to salute and accepted the commission pennant into her hands.

“You may step forward and speak,” Admiral Maran added with a gentle, almost grandfatherly smile, as he stepped to the side.

Zhen’var stepped forward to the podium. “Thank you, Admiral Maran. Gentlebeings, Huáscareños, I would like to add a little bit to the story of Captain Miguel Grau. You see, Latin America in the 19th century had endured wars which were utterly terrible, and traditionally governed by things like the Decree of War to the Death. Prisoners were not taken, or were brutalized and then killed. Atrocities governed the liberation wars against Spain and often occurred subsequently. Nothing like the Geneva Convention existed. But instead of decency being imposed from without, it grew from within. Miguel Grau was part of that process, the Knight of the Seas, famous for his humanitarian conduct toward his prisoners of war and civilians.

“He gave his life cleanly and bravely, fighting for his country on the deck of his little ironclad against overwhelming odds. In that way his life is a lesson in both humanitarianism and in courage. He reminds me strongly of another man, who the crew of an earlier Heermann than our own were some of the last to see alive. A man who’s struggle with Rightness, to uphold dharma and condemn adharma, was a personal one in which he overcame the prejudice of his time. He was refused for the Naval Academy because of his three-fourths Indian blood, enlisted, and promptly won an academy spot anyway for merit. In the American participation in the Great Pacific War or Second World War, he first served on a destroyer forced to flee during the East Indies campaign.

“He swore his first taste of defeat would be his last. On October 25th, 1944, he was in command of his own destroyer, the USS Johnston, when confronted by the overwhelming force of the Japanese Combined Fleet. With the rest of the screen out of position, and his ship the nearest, he immediately launched a headlong torpedo attack against four battleships, eight heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and twelve destroyers. Delivering his torpedoes and crippling the Japanese cruiser Kumano, his ship was shattered with a dozen rounds of main-calibre fire.

“Breaking off into the squalls, he received the order of Admiral “Ziggy” Spruance that all screen ships were to conduct a general attack. His torpedoes exhausted, two fingers from his left hand severed by shrapnel, half his ship’s propulsion plant disabled, limited to seventeen knots with the helm worked by the chain falls on the steering gear, he swung back into line and attacked the full strength of the Imperial Japanese Navy a second time. Again taken under intense fire, the bridge was hit by main-calibre shellfire and most of his command staff slain. Badly wounded, Evans was last seen cheerfully waving to the Captain of the Samuel B. Roberts as he stood on the fantail of the Johnston, shouting helm orders to the men on the falls and steering closer to the enemy to engage a third time, his ship a burning ruin.

“I will be plain with you, Huáscareños. Evans’ words when he commissioned the Johnston are my words exactly, and we will all pray to the Almighty that we will not see the day we must true them. ‘This ship is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in Harm’s Way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.’”

The Dilgar rankers erupted into cheers that sounded much like howls and growls. “Harm’s Way is the Valiant Way!” they cheered in their native tongue, the translators working to capture the intent. To avoid the moment being lost for the human crew of the Huáscar, Zhen’var raised her fist into the air. “Viva Huáscar!”

“Viva Huáscar!”

“Viva Huáscar!”

“Viva Huáscar!”

As the three cheers finished rolling across the hall, Zhen’var turned, ramrod straight, to face Elia Saumarez, and presented the commissioning pennant to the black-gloved woman. “Lieutenant Commander, your order is to man the ship and bring her to life!”

“Aye-aye, Sir!” She spun on heel and marched to the front of the column of the assembled. “Huáscareños, man the ship and bring her to life!”

With Will at her side, Zhen’var stepped back up to Admiral Maran. Again her arm twitched. “Sir, by your instruction, the Huáscar has been crewed. I invite you to inspect the crew at review stations.”

“Your offer is accepted, Captain. Lead on.”

They toured the crew mess, engineering, the bridge, the magazines and ammunition lockers, the flight decks, the Marines’ bunkerage, the science labs, seeing in the crew turned out, lining the main halls at attention in their dress whites. Ari’shan, as a distinguished guest, accompanied the Captain and XO and Admiral Maran. The Foreign Secretary had already gone off to his next important event.

A group of Dilgar officers were waiting, at attention. Behind them was one of the most impressive pictures that Will had ever seen. It was a terrible visage of a half-ruined ironclad ship, surrounded by four others, two close, two far, pouring fire on it. Wrecked and burning, the ruin in the heart of the formation returned fire fitfully, but defiant.

“Admiral, Captain. Our gift for the Mess.” The leading woman, in a Lieutenant’s uniform, bowed. “La combate de Angamos. We wished to show we could be true Huáscareños to the memory of such a man as Grau, too! His death was as valiant as a Dilgar could seek. Please, accept the token, that we may never bring dishonour to our name.”

“It is a very fitting work.” Zhen’var leaned in at the detail of the canvas, and nodded. “I accept the gift in the spirit it is presented, Lieutenant. It shall hang in the mess, as a reminder of our profession - and our traditions.”

“You honour us, ma'am.” The officers came to attention and saluted. Unlike Zhen’var, they didn’t even bother to try and stop themselves. The punishment in the Union Navy was too harsh to consider anything else.

Afterwards, Zhen'var and Will went to Zhen'var's ready room with Admiral Maran to meet Commander Imra--and Warmaster Shai'jhur. The ready room had its own portrait, of Miguel Grau, a copy of one commissioned long ago for the Peruvian Naval Academy.

As the junior Dilgar officer there, Zhen’var stiffened to attention, and spoke conversationally for the sake of the other two there; “Here stands a Warmaster!”

“At ease, Captain,” Shai’jhur responded mildly, stuffing her hands into her pockets and looking coolly at the image of Miguel Grau. “It’s a good reminder to keep in your office, Captain.”

“He was a remarkable man,” Maran agreed, moving to sit with the Warmaster. “At ease, Commanders. Please sit with us as well.”

Zhen’var moved to sit, glancing about the still sparsely decorated ready room, making mental notes what she’d place where, and what she would have to try and find. “The crew is ready, from my impressions.”

“I agree,” Maran said. “They snapped to duty with a remarkable alacrity, and your handling of the matters of cultural integration like the cheer was very wise. I don’t think integration is going to prove a difficulty at all.” A slight frown. “However, your shakedown cruise could be relatively difficult. For reasons that are not particularly germaine, you are to conduct your shakedown cruise in E5B1.”

The captain’s face stilled, though she gave a single nod. “Of course, Admiral. Do you have the briefing, then?” Could be relatively difficult? That is quite the understatement.

“You will be proceeding to reinforce the Darglan patrol, and conform to the orders of Captain Feroi of the Riachuelo. There are intelligence indications of instability in Interstellar Alliance territory focused on the Earth Alliance. That is a suitable duty for a shakedown cruise, for the duration you will have a supporting role only.”

“Of course, Admiral. We will stand ready to support Captain Feroi’s command as-ever may be necessary.” Her response was automatic, though already, her mind was thinking to what she’d seen from the news reports, trying to think of what it could be in the recently unstable Alliance.

“Then, there is one final consideration,” Shai’jhur now spoke, softly, and deliberately. “Battlemaster Ari’shan will be your guest aboard for the shakedown cruise. He is there at the special request of the Alliance government… Provide him every bit of assistance possible. His mission is primarily a diplomatic one, but unfortunately the details cannot be forthcoming at this time.”

“I obey in ignorance, Warmaster.” She replied, wondering if there were any more problems that were about to be thrown her way. The war hero of the Dilgar War, who’d fought on the Line and actually shot down several Nials? No pressure at all, Zhen’var!

“Thank you, Captain.” Shai’jhur exchanged a sharp look with Admiral Maran, who sighed.

“My apologies, Captain. Your ship will bear this trial as her first, however. And I am confident in the outcome.” He rose, Shai’jhur rose. The other officers moved to depart.

Shai’jhur paused at the door, turned back, and winked. “It will be fine, daughter-Zhen.” With that, she too departed.

Zhen’var flopped back into her desk chair, and carefully forced the informality of first names she would soon get used to through her lips--and one name that she had plenty of familiarity with. “Will, please get Anna and Elia up here so we can start planning. We are going to start with the assumption that our playing backup for the Darglan guardship is going to last for all of five minutes, and go from there!”

Undiscovered Frontier: Origins

"Matters of Honour"

Act 1

Spacers, by and large, thought space to be beautiful. For the most part the crew of the Huáscar was no exception, loving the space around them. They were after all volunteers. Even the Dilgar had been volunteers, at least for this duty. They held themselves a breed apart, but so did many sorts of people, for many different reasons.

With her crew still settling down, a week into the voyage, Zhen’var had invited her senior officers to dinner. Will, Abebech, Anna, Elia, Nah’dur, Fei’nur. Operations was “over the others” as a matter of practice, though by rights one could argue that Lar’shan could be invited--however, Zhen’var treated Abebech as the supreme commander of her attached parasite forces, fighters as much as the Heermann, and it made a certain level of sense, since the Heermann could easily be used as a Forward Air Control ship for the fighter wing.

She held a brief moment of silence at the start of the meal, as the inherently multicultural nature of the Service dictated. They were an intensely eclectic bunch, as Zhen’var’s eyes roved over the group. Each was settling into their roles, and she smiled as the moment of silence ended.

“Our mission has lasted longer than five minutes, thank the Divine for small favours. Your reports all indicate that everything is coming together well.”

“Ship operations are as smooth as can be expected after a relatively short duration of operations. We’re meeting our objective metrics for decreases in response time across drill scenarios, though not really outperforming them, either,” Elia explained, gloved hands slicing fish. They ate a lot of replicated fish to keep group meals respectful of everyone’s diets. “Which is management speak for ‘we’re meeting your objectives, Captain, but not exceeding them.’” She grinned.

Anna was eating her salmon with a dill sauce, and looked up thoughtfully. “Engineering is exceeding objectives for recommended times in reactor shutdown drills. I’ve always considered that a personal objective. The rest is within metrics.”

“Is the breakdown the same across the operating divisions, Elia?” Will asked.

She shook a gloved hand in the air. “Mostly. Tactical is bringing up the tail, but it’s strictly due to the lack of experience in anyone except L’tenant Seldayiv.”

“That sounds like an excellent reason for more holodeck sim time.” Huáscar’s crew already found (in)famous their Captain’s love of the things for training, though trying to get a recreational pass was another matter entirely.

“I could devote some time to one run as the OPFOR,” Abebech remarked pleasantly from her side of the table. She ate, but it always seemed like she was just picking at her food.

“Merciful God, that might humiliate Daria a bit,” Elia looked skyward.

“Do not crush their spirits, Commander, but do not go easily on them either. I need them to get better, not feel the effort impossible.” Zhen’var replied, neatly nibbling apart another morsel of fish.

“Of course, Captain.” Abebech drizzled some sugar into her coffee and stirred the froth.

“I’ll go over some strategies with Daria tomorrow on accelerating their learning in the sims,” Will added, jotting down a note on a pad. By mutual consensus Zhen’var and Will had banned omnitool use at the dinner to avoid distractions--department heads could easily spend all night signing e-docs--and had to lead by examples.

“Thank you. Colonel?”

“No problems, Captain, though a real battle will do more than anything else to settle the differing cultures in the detachments.” She grinned, as Zhen’var shook her head.

“So noted, but I am not going to try and give you one. Surgeon-Commander?”

“Oh, ah, Captain. Everything is fine in sickbay. The Mha’dorn Mental Hygienist--Lieutenant Va’tor--has established her evaluation schedule for the secure information authorizations and I have ninety percent compliance with physical standards and get-well plans for the rest.”

Will leaned over to Elia. “...Do they really call them mental hygienists?”

Elia grinned. “I know it sounds bad, but she’s just a therapist.”

“Yes, the Dilgar have therapists. I know this is something the wider multiverse will not believe even after meeting her.” The captain’s voice was intensely dry as she took a sip of her tea.

“So, how long is our VIP going to be aboard?” Anna asked from her side of the table. There wasn’t much else to cover at the moment, and it was odd.

“I assume until he leaves.” There was a pause, before she broke into a smile. “More seriously, do they ever really tell the Fleet why they are hosting VIPs for no reason? I am sure there is some reason we do Not Need to Know.”

“Yet.” Will added with a cheerful grin.

“Spare us surprises,” Elia gestured grandiloquently with a wry roll of her eyes.

“Oh, at least there will be excitement when we find out.” Zhen’var gave a soft laugh as she replied.

The dinner turned to some lighter topics, and lingered for a while, until the officers slowly let themselves out when Zhen’var signalled it over. In the end, it was just her, Will and Abebech, Captains and XO.

“Well, Captain, quite the merry bunch. Feels almost amazing not to be thrown straight into fighting, too,” Will chuckled.

“We needed it, and I am grateful. We shall be in desperate combat soon enough. Thank you for being here, both of you. You’ve both proven yourselves even better than your files said.”

“I execute my orders, Captain,” Abebech smiled. “Thank you for the endorsement, nonetheless--it does mean much to me. Will and I shall try to avoid being your Attacker mafia.” The last sentence raised a chuckle from her fellow Commander.

“Well, thank you for that! I disagree, profoundly, with how they’re organized. We are one crew, one ship in two hulls, and should be inseparable.”

“I concur. It is an idiosyncratic operational system which comes down to a good personal relationship between the three of us to be successful.”

“The good news is that I think we have one. Other ships are not nearly so lucky. Have a good evening, Commanders. I have the usual drudgery of daily reports to finish.”

“Thank you,” they chorused, and rose, leaving Zhen’var alone to retire to her ready room and cabin.

It would be shortly after she had settled down when the chime activated on the door and the computer provided that slightly-too-helpful introduction. “Governor Ari’shan of Tira.”

The Dilgar woman frowned as she triggered the unlock from her console, forcing herself to rise to her feet with a soft groan under her breath. “Governor. What brings you here so late?” Datapads and holo-displays covered the desk in neat stacks before her as she waved the lights marginally brighter.

“Captain Zhen’var,” he stepped in politely, remaining standing. “My apologies, but the final details of my mission came through, and I wanted to inform you immediately.”

“Go ahead, Governor. Sit, please.” Her look was more than a bit wary. “It does not involve you flying a starfighter, does it?”

“Certainly not. It’s part of a diplomatic effort,” he answered, moving to sit as offered. “As you may recall, I made friends with many of the Earth Alliance Intelligence personnel who debriefed me after my capture.”

“I do.” She felt her face still slightly, almost involuntarily. Anything involving Earth was still an intensely raw nerve. “I am suspecting I see where this is going, but, please, continue.”

“You certainly are well-aware of the reality that tensions between the Allied Systems and the Earth Alliance are at an all-time high… It was your mother who explained to me many of the moral principles that are the basis of our government’s legitimate criticism of the Earth Alliance, in fact. There is a fear these could escalate, and a desire to prevent it--a desire which is fervently held by EAI. They’re trying to reach out to me to arrange a series of informal talks to discuss issues between our nations and reduce tensions at the institutional level.”

“The deep state indeed… very well, Your Excellency. What do you need from Huáscar?” She took in the information and accepted it, without making any comment of how awkward it was for her.

“I’m not sure who had the idea of using your ship, Captain,” Ari’shan offered, perceptive enough to see the unspoken comment. “You will just host talks on the frontier with claimed Earth Alliance space. It is only ten hours by warp, and their ship should arrive eight hours after that, roughly, from the intelligence message I just received.”

“Perhaps someone who does not want the talks to succeed. Very well, Excellency. I will brief Fei’nur to have security measures in place, and we’ll keep to a moderate speed to not raise suspicions from others, but I will be briefing my senior officers first thing in the ship’s morning.”

Hangar operations was located in a build-out that the earlier members of the class lacked, a sponsoned, windowed control tower molded into the hull lines on the starboard side above the main dorsal hangar as an additional hull blister. There, Chief Warrant Officer Anastasia “Stasia” Héen was queen of the void in the immediate vicinity of the Huáscar, dishing it out to the pilots with her handleless navy mug in one hand and microphone on her headset pressed not-quite to her lips in her light blue starfighter forces uniform, the septum ring as a personalized touch from her Tlingit ancestry. Her voice brooked the steady confidence of a civilian professional, handling the operations like air traffic control, the impersonal voice of God, between slugs of the dubious coffee made from an actual pot in PriFly rather than a replicator.

Surrounded by glass, windows to give a 360 degree view of the dorsal surface, crew working at a dozen screens that processed anything from sensor displays to control boards for monitoring space utilization inside of the hangars, it was second only to main engineering as a place of apparent action on the ship. It also offered the perfect place for Ari’shan to watch his son.

“Do you have the waypoints confirmed, Sir?” Stasia glanced over to Lieutenant Arterus tr'Rllaillieu, the ship’s Astrogation Officer.

“Confirmed and set,” Arterus repeated from his temporary console. “You are free to execute, Airboss.”

“WC-50 Actual,” Stasia keyed the channel over to reach out to the commander-on-scene of the 50th Naval Flight Wing, Lar’shan, “you are clear for grid area epsilon-43, repeated epsilon-43. Navigation waypoints set and locked for high energy manoeuvring. I have placed recovery shuttles in epsilon-42 station ninety-alpha and epsilon-38 station seventy-foxtrot, over. Proceed at your discretion.”

“Huáscar PriFly, this is WC-50 Actual. Commencing high energy manoeuvres through grid area epsilon-43. The squadron is now manoeuvring according to engagement waypoint pattern. I read epsilon-42, epsilon-38 as locked and nav on all fighters confirming restrictions.”

“Restrictions verified and set. You are clear, WC-50 Actual. Huáscar PriFly out.”

Ari’shan watched the holotank in PriFly that was, now that the wing had rapidly moved beyond visual range, his only image of what was going on. He watched as the fighters blossomed in a half-a-hundred directions and began a series of manoeuvres, not for combat, but just to practice deconfliction and close-quarters handling without collisions. His son was there, directing them all.

“He’s a damned fine pilot, Sir,” Stasia remarked as she watched the holotank herself, old-style headset dangling--she wanted to avoid the sometimes imperfect computer-directed voice pickup in a operations room that had a dozen people. Also, it was a tool of the trade.

Ari’shan smiled up to the taller human woman. “I wouldn’t go around denying that.”

“He speaks in glowing tones about you, Sir. Damned fine pilot yourself, I would think?”

“...That, perhaps, he needs to do less of.”

Arterus stepped up to the older Dilgar ace’s side. “I confess, from the way he does, Sir, it seems like you should have been given your own wing or two for Germania simply by asking.”

Ari’shan smiled, in a way Stasia interpreted as wan. “Perhaps it is so, but I am getting old, and don’t have any flight time since the Line. Reflexes ultimately grow slow, and I’ve never commanded a warship. Or even served in the operating crew of one.”

Perhaps it could have been left at that, but instead he continued, his eyes never leaving the holotank even as he spoke of something unrelated to his son’s manoeuvres. “It was also a delicate time on Tira, and they needed someone of the Old Imperium to guide them into our future. War Expert Fiy’jash was … Unwell, and the Warmaster wanted me. At the end, I spoke at length with my mate and with the Warmaster’s eldest daughter Battlemaster Tia’jhur and we agreed that, as odd it is for me, my place was there, not in the cockpit. This is a time for my son’s glories.”

“To everything there is a season,” Stasia murmured, and then turned aside to deal with something.

“It’s hard to admit there’s a time when the front-rank is no longer for you,” Arterus remarked. “Few would be able to overcome the vanity.”

“Well,” Ari’shan laughed, “Front-line service, yes. But not completely. As the civilian governor I am fortunately not supreme commander of the defence force, which lets me serve in the reserves as a Wing Commander for one of our aerospace fighter wings. I expect I might still do a little to even the odds for the reservists.”

Considering the man’s reputation, Arterus couldn’t help but laugh. He expected Ari’shan would do altogether much more than ‘even the odds’. There was something very Rihannsu in the unassuming, droll tone to an expectation of mayhem that sentence had promised. He liked the man.

Then an alarm trilled and Stasia jerked to the side, studying the holo. “Distortion in Epsilon-39 -- that’s a jump point. Block it off as an incoming.”

“Incoming, Epsilon-39,” one of her plotters repeated.

“WC-50 Actual,” Stasia toggled her line to Lar’shan’s fighter. “We have incoming. Keep your wing clear of Epsilon-39 and stand by for orders from Huáscar Actual.”

The ship that arrived was an Omega, as yet unmodified. She ran close to the border after leaving hyperspace and her thrusters fired and fired again to line her up to tread along the imaginary line in space. Zhen’var came up to the bridge a minute later.

“Captain,” Elia came to attention. “The ship is the EAS Charybdis. It appears that the Governor’s friend is ready to come aboard by shuttle.”

“Very well. Signal our readiness to receive them in the main bay.” Zhen’var gave a wary look to the tactical display. So they’ve sent an Omega, and not one of the ones that would let us see their progress at multiversal adaptation. “Colonel Fei’nur, get your teams ready to meet them. I do not want Earth Alliance Intelligence to learn too much avoidable.”

“Understood, Captain!” The Dilgar woman stiffened to attention, before starting to move to the lift. She was still not used to the rank, but then with her promotion to Battlemaster on the same day as Zhen’var, she wasn’t used to her Dilgar rank either.

“Commander Saumarez, please, lead the side party so she can concentrate on the security arrangements.”

“Understood, Captain. Do I stand relieved?”

“You stand relieved, Commander. This is Captain Zhen’var, I have the deck and the conn.”

Around Elia the bridge remained a well-oiled machine, seamlessly moving from her direction to the Captain’s. She caught a second turbolift belowdecks, leaving behind the starship for the uncertainties of the surface. The shuttle took long enough that she had enough time to quickly switch from duty wear into full dress whites. Confirming that the shuttle was two minutes out, she headed from her quarters and took another turbolift to the main hangar.

The commander of their Marines and security forces was standing ready for her, having thrown on a light combat rig. Fei’nur was intimidating even in a state of perfect peace. “Commander, I’ll be keeping an eye out for any infiltrators, and have escorts available for the party. They’ll follow your direction, though Lieutenant Har’un will be the tactical lead if anything goes wrong.”

Elia headed for Fei’nur, though she blinked at the combat rig. “Colonel Fei’nur, they’re heading in now. Are we ready?”

“We are. Don’t worry, Commander, just an old woman’s paranoia.” She shifted on her feet a bit, and there was a momentary shimmer as the harness disappeared.

“It’s your judgement.” Elia flashed a smile and a gloved thumbs up before walking out into the bay. “Just as long as the side party isn’t rolling hot, right?”

“Don’t worry, I have missile teams for that!” It was said with a laugh as the side party assembled.

The LSO had programmed the computer to display Earth Alliance standard landing signals for the shuttle’s approach, and the Christmas Tree flashed with the instructions. The ACHO was already re-spotting several shuttles with manoeuvring dolleys to make sure that the fighters could be recovered successfully despite the big EA atmospheric shuttle sitting in the VIP position in the main hangar.

The shuttle came to a stop smoothly, whomever was piloting was quite veteran at it. As the hatch to the shuttle lowered, the bosun’s whistle blew. An older man walked down the ramp, and Elia immediately tensed. Even she recognised who it was instantly.

“Permission to come aboard?”

She cleared her throat and presented a neutral smile. “Permission granted. Director O’Leary, welcome to the ASV Huáscar. I am Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez, Ship’s Operations Officer. This is Lieutenant Colonel Fei’nur, FMF Commander Huáscar. Governor Ari’shan will be in Conference Suite Two.”

Fei’nur considered not giving one of the men most responsible for the loss of the Dilgar War a death glare of homicidal intent to be one of her greatest efforts of self-control in recent memory, for her part, as she stared resolutely and blankly ahead.

“...Lieutenant Commander,” Francis O’Leary answered stiffly, looking at the gloves, and the Flying Eye of Dilgar telepaths being worn on a human. “I understand this must have been a surprise for everyone involved,” he allowed after a moment, nodding in Fei’nur’s direction. “Colonel.”

“I’m pleased to do my part for pacific relations between our nations, Director,” Elia answered diplomatically. She could feel the eyes on her from the group of EAI personnel who had followed Francis O’Leary down the ramp. With the eyes came a smattering of thoughts from insulting to obscene; none were new. “Right this way.”

As they walked, one of O’Leary’s subordinates couldn’t help it. “You think you’d take off those gloves now that you have the chance,” she said, sotto-voice.

The response she wanted to give, would you kindly take off your panties and flash us? had been one she had never yet vocalised in her life. She had been raised from a young age to de-escalate situations with Mundanes, not escalate them. “Some things are worth keeping because they work best, Miss…”

“Sara Danvers, Lieutenant Commander,” she answered sharply, as if the rank itself were something of an embarrassment or a joke. Even strictly restraining herself, Elia knew that in fact both thoughts were true.

“Be polite, Sara,” Director O’Leary’s voice interrupted from behind. “I’m the one with the most complaints against the Corps and that doesn’t give me, or you, reason to be impolite to the Operations Officer here and her ship. They’re all Ari’s friends.”

“Of course, Director,” she replied, ruffled.

Elia wondered, for a moment, what it meant to be in someone’s good graces solely because of their alien friend. The fact that she was on only that basis had been made very clear. She shrugged lightly. Professionalism helped. “Director, I’ve arranged to have Chief Ashley Sherrod organise refreshments in the conference suite with the Food Management Team, and she’ll be waiting to make sure everything is right, and depart on your request. She’s our PAO lead and also has responsibility for coordinating VIP space, so if any of you choose not to return to your ship for the evening she can make sure Billeting has suites arranged.”

“That’s unlikely, as nice as the digs probably are on your ship, Lieutenant Commander,” he answered, sincerely bemused. “I’ll need to return to the Charybdis on a regular basis for secure communications.”

“Understood, Director. The Air Boss, Chief Warrant Anastasia Héen, has orders to clear your shuttle upon the request of anyone in your group. Just ask and you can cycle through. And of course we’ve been cleared to hold station on the frontier for as long as necessary.”

“We’ll certainly avail ourselves of it. Is the Captain going to be attending?”

“At the request of yourself and Governor Ari’shan only.”

“Well, we’ll check up on Ari first.” On reaching the Conference suite, Director O’Leary stepped in with no further ado. His staff followed in a cluster -- and one of them pressed the door-close pad as they stepped in.

Elia came up short as she watched the door close in her face on her own ship. In a sense it was a relief, since it ended her exposure to their minds. “I suppose you will,” she muttered after a moment, and then stepped to the side and activated her omnitool. “Captain, this Lieutenant Commander Saumarez. Our guest is nobody less than Director O’Leary of EAI. He wanted a private meet and greet with the Governor, but you should probably expect to be down here shortly.”

“Understood, Commander. Take a short spell in the wardroom, then I will hand the deck to you when you arrive back on the bridge. Thank you.”

Elia deactivated the comm channel. Too bad this isn’t an Aubrey-Maturin novel, then I could make it a wet lunch. Of course, that didn’t stop the Dilgar crew.

Zhen’var’s omnitool was trilling an incoming message just a few hours later. “Captain Zhen’var, Governor Ari’shan here. Director O’Leary has requested your presence.”

“Understood, Your Excellency. I should be down in about fifteen minutes?” Her voice was calm, as she rose from her desk.

“That will be fine, Captain,” Ari’shan replied.

Well, that took less time than I was expecting. Let us see just what the director wants… She schooled her face to blankness when she stepped out of the lift, walking to the Conference suite. “Your Excellency, I am here.”

“This way,” Ari’shan offered with a smile. One of the Food Management Team members was putting out snacks in one of the small, side conference rooms. “Francis, Captain Zhen’var.”

Every. Single. Eye in the room was on her. Francis himself betrayed no emotion, but several of his subordinates were veritably transfixed.

Zhen’var didn’t hesitate, only moved to offer her hand. “Director O’Leary.”

“Captain Zhen’var. Ari was explaining to me some of the complexity of your relationship with the Alliance of Systems. And just catching up.” He shook her head readily enough, meeting her catlike eyes levelly. “Tira sounds lovely, I’ll have to visit after I retire.”

“It is, Director. Rohric has its’ own charms, though I understand why you would be unwilling to subject yourself to them.” There was a hint of challenge in her eyes as she said it, though none showed in her voice. “I am glad to hear that you two have such a strong friendship despite recent travails.”

“I opposed the forced relocation, it’s not in the best interests of the Earth Alliance,” Director O’Leary answered. “Come on, let’s sit. We do have a lot to discuss. I’d extend that to complimenting Warmaster Shai’jhur’s bloody-minded brilliance in laying low on Rohric, but unfortunately we do have some more serious matters to concern ourselves with.”

She moved to sit, then, finally giving the others in the room a quick once-over. “Of course, Director. What seems to be the matters at hand?”

“Well, first of all, I just want to verify what Ari’shan said--it’s important to have it for the record, you understand--that despite the fact you are not a legal Alliance citizen, you have the right to function on the behest of its government, like a Consul.”

“As long as I hold command of this ship and am not actively under direct command of a superior officer, that statement is correct, Director.”

“That’s good enough for me. So, the first thing is that I just want to be emphatic that we don’t have a long term problem over the Dilgar. Our allies might, but Earth doesn’t. Our points of friction are purely with the Alliance and have come primarily over competing territorial claims and issues with,” his expression was a bit pained, “criminals fleeing Earth Alliance space.”

“Criminals, Director?” Zhen’var’s face reflected the honest confusion she felt. On her patrols in the League when she’d served in Earthforce, she’d never heard anything of the like before.

“Telepaths, Captain. There is a serious issue with unregistered telepaths leaving the Earth Alliance. The government has come under pressure from Psi-Corps to find a solution. I wanted to act pre-emptively to try and strategize a solution which will reflect our best interests.”

“Would not that be an Earthforce function, Director? Certainly, it is a matter of concern for Geneva, I would think.” And the Free Colony is a bit problematic, depending on what you are wanting from me.

“Let’s be clear, Captain. Personally, I understand someone’s striving to be free. I’ve seen what Psi-Corps is, and I’ve lost friends I respected to their actions in regimes of dubious legality. But I am here to make sure that Earth’s interests are communicated clearly to the Alliance of Systems and that I have an opportunity to report to President Luchenko on how we might begin to de-escalate tensions between our countries. That’s what this is about. Well, one of the biggest tensions is created by the feeling in certain parts of EarthGov that you have a giant terrorist camp in your space right now.” Francis O’Leary was playing a double-game, his opposition to Psi-Corps he was making clear even as he carefully maintained the government line, and in principle it offered an opportunity.

“I understand why they would think that, Director. Some matters, I will need to consult with Portland before opening discussions upon, but attacks on Corps assets are unacceptable terrorist activities. If they are happening, and supported from within Alliance space, we will certainly move against such actors.”

“I know you’ll have to consult, and that’s fine. EAI doesn’t have the longest leash, either, we’re just here because of the connections. However, I think we might just be the best-placed people to see a path to a solut…” he trailed off as his comm trilled. “Major Johansen, what’s worth the interruption?” Barely the moment he’d said it, Francis stiffened almost imperceptibly.

He offered a smile to Zhen’var a moment later. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Captain, I’m going to have to return to the Charybdis for consultations right now, in fact. We’ll reach out to you when we’re ready to resume, but based on shipboard time here, I’ll give it at least nine hours so you can sleep.”

Zhen’var felt a slight flicker of worry at his expression. “Understood, Director, nine hours. That will not be a concern.”

Of all the people that Zhen’var had expected to be woken up by after only two hours of sleep, her science officer was lower on the list than most. But Lieutenant Commander Fera'xero’s voice sounded urgent through the comms. “Captain, I was watching ISN to learn more about human culture in this universe, and there is breaking news. A major terrorist attack just occurred on Mars. However, I believe the footage is at least several hours old and has been subject to editing.”

Zhen’var kept rolling, straight out of bed. She tried to think of what would be the easiest place to display the footage. “Computer, summon all off-duty department heads and senior officers to the Wardroom.”

“Acknowledged,” the mechanical voice droned back.

Damn it all, this is a poor omen.

A large collection of sleepy people, humans, Dilgar, other species, had assembled at the directive, since the ship’s time meant most of the Department Heads were off duty. Will had the conn, though, so the XO was absent. Abebech had brought along the department heads of the Heermann, three human men and the very proper looking Lieutenant Ca’elia who had put herself together even in the middle of the night.

“Good… well, calling it a morning is rather a joke at this point. Commander Fera’Xero has some footage for us to view. There has apparently been a major terrorist attack on Mars, several hours ago. I have already requested information from higher echelons on the details involved.”

Fera’Xero himself activated the holo-projector, zooming in to ISN. It was still in full coverage mode, nominally ‘live’. Someone had a drone camera which was showing a prominent hole in the side of a Martian dome, about mid-point.

Anna stepped forward and insistently traced it with her finger. “Commander Fera’xero, do you agree it’s bowed outwards?”

“Yes, and not enough difference in atmospheric pressure to make it a result of the depressurisation, either. Internal blast, but,” he used his omnitool to scroll back through the images he had recorded. “Here’s one that came externally, and there are reports of atmospheric raiders operating against the domes. This is dreadfully unfortunate, the Martians justly fear a dome-breach as we do a suit-breach.”

“Free Mars, even the radical ones who do not agree with any remaining ties with Earth, would never strike big domes as that, and especially not with atmospheric raiders. Clark’s strikes on the domes would be far too raw. Do we have any information on the targets?”

“The first Dome was a habitation, but the second one Fera’xero showed,” a tired Elia with bloodshot eyes spoke, fixed on the images, now showing ships manoeuvring as someone talked about evacuations, “the one attacked by atmospheric raiders, I mean. That was a Psi-Corps facility.”

“Damnation.” Zhen'var growled, looking balefully at the screen for a long moment as she gathered her thoughts from a fatigued and scattered brain.”It is my belief that the second target was the primary aim, and I am concerned by the Earth delegation bringing up a worry that the Alliance was harbouring ‘terrorists’ in the Free Colony. Thoughts, my fellow Huáscareños?”

“We’re about to be accused of supporting a terrorist attack,” Nah’dur said very matter-of-factly.

“Concur,” Abebech added.

“But why Mars?” Goodenough ran a hand through his long hair and stared at the screen in frustration. “All right, why Mars? It’s a foreign country to Earth these days here. I thought.”

Elia groaned and squeezed her gloved hands before moving to sit. “Allow me to explain to our comrades, Captain?” The wardroom attended some informality, even in the moment.

“Please do. Not everyone has the same background. While you do, I need to send some urgent follow-up messages. The now very urgent risk is that the Alliance has harboured the planners of this attack, unintentionally.”

Elia grimaced, feeling the worries and confusion around her. “Of course, Captain.” As Zhen’var left, she looked around at her colleagues. “Comrades, Mars was granted independence at the point of the bayonet, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. But the independence is incomplete. Several critical services are managed through Earth. Technically in fact Mars only has representation in the ISA, it relies on the ISA for foreign representation.”

“And one of these services is the Psi-Corps, Elia?” Abebech looked down, having remained standing. She was as composed as Ca’elia.

“...Yes,” Elia said after a frustrated pause. She knew Abebech was a telepath, couldn’t prove it, wasn’t her business necessarily, but she wanted some support as she thought of the civilians who would have been inevitably swept up in the attack on the installation. Like, basically all of them…

“So, an attack on Psi-Corps on Mars.” Jonathan Goodenough fiddled his fingers. “A weak point in their campaign against the Corps? The government has the power to disband it, might be more receptive?”

“It’s possible,” Nah’dur kicked her feet onto a chair, and looked back and forth between the door and the replicator, unable to decide if she wanted to give up sleeping or immediately return to bed. “Go where control over telepaths is weakest, where opposition to the Corps exists because it’s seen as ‘Earth’, hit it hard there. Except, there’s a lot of Martian civilian casualties, so why would anyone be well-inclined toward telepaths after the attack? Something about this doesn’t make sense.”

“Psi-Corps is more than a government department,” Elia replied, clearly uncomfortable. “It’s a culture, a home, a people, with their own language, their own culture, their own standards. I wouldn’t, you know, we don’t talk about it, but these gloves, I could no more take them off than an observant Muslimah take off her headscarf. So Psi-Corps invested heavily in retaining its influence on Mars, because Marsie telepaths are still telepaths. They’re closer to the rest of us than to other Marsies.”

“This entire thing is a set-up, El’sau,” Nah’dur said, using the Dilgar-form of Elia’s name and yawning. “I’m just not sure who’s behind it yet. We’ll get our orders soon?”

“I imagine so, Surgeon-Commander,” Abebech said. “But they might well involve remaining in place and doing nothing. In fact, I am almost certain of that. We would need a request from the Martian government… And even then, the EA would push back.”

“And they might accuse of us of doing it anyway, it appears,” Fera’Xero added.

“Quite. Oh, in fact, certainly,” Abebech elaborated. “The Byron Free Colony opens us to the charge if we are correct. Ah well. Comrades, I suggest you all get some sleep, we will have duties tomorrow.”

The Department Heads and senior officers filed out, slowly, until it was just Elia and Abebech left. Elia looked steadily at Abebech, at the foreign woman from S0T5, with her gloves and her glasses. “They’re killing us,” she said softly. “It’s begun.”

“You will find,” Abebech replied with a gentle, sad smile, “that this is a more common store for Espers than you could imagine. If only it were not so.”

Elia closed her eyes and nodded. When she opened them, they confirmed what her senses had already told her. Abebech was gone, and she kept a tight lock on her own mind that it was usually like she wasn’t really there. Elia was alone. So very, very alone. Stretching her hands, she got up, unable to even think about sleeping, and wandered out to find Va’tor. She needed someone.

The Chai came out of the replicator to the side of the great painting of Captain Grau. It was as hot and delicious as one could ask for, as good as anything Zhen’var could remember from a Chaiwalla back in Mangaluru as a child. She understood nothing of the snobbery of some folks about replicator rations. Earthforce’s had taught her to love the convenience and variety now at her fingertips, even as her body still adjusted to the diet Nah’dur had given her.

As she reached her desk, the workstation pinged an income message on the priority secure channel. Her reports to headquarters had been taken seriously, and urgently. She let out a soft sigh as she reached for the teacup, tapping the acceptance button with her other hand. Stimulants this time of ship’s day were quite necessary for what promised to be a very intense conversation.

“Captain Zhen’var,” a man in Gersallian civilian dress meeted her. “I’m Feraiju, the Admiralty Foreign Ministry Liason. Thank you for your very prompt report. The government of the Earth Alliance had revealed nothing and we were uncertain of how widely this was being reported by Geneva until you confirmed it was actually being broadcast galactically.”

“I do not believe in assuming my superiors have information in my possession unless they have already indicated so. It is my belief based upon personal experience, that this may prove a matter of political crises that will drag in the Alliance for any of several reasons as enumerated in my report.” Taking a sip of her tea, she focused on the screen. “Mars has a very complex relationship with Earthgov. The Psi Corps even more so.”

“That is quite…” Feraiju shook his head wryly. “I understand, Captain, that the closest equivalent anyone has been able to find is the Irish Free State between 1922 - 1931, amongst human examples.”

“An understatement, yes. I do not expect the situation to go predictably, nor calmly. I have briefed my senior officers, and we are standing ready for any of the multitude of possibilities.”

“Nothing at the moment, you will receive any directives from your chain of command when they are decided, Captain. However, I can tell you that there are problems on Mars as a result of the damage that are serious enough that Marsies are actually seeking temporary shelter elsewhere in Earthspace. This is apparently quite irregular and the reason for these temporary refugees, the kind of damage Mars has suffered, has not been made clear. We’re seeking out permission to provide aid to the Mars government, and you will be updated on that. They key thing right now is that the Earth Alliance is actually refusing requests to grant temporary shelter.”

“I can understand why they would not do so. The gravity issue would loom high over any refugees, Luna has always been loyalist by comparison to Mars, and public opinion on Earth is not exactly pro-Mars, it has not been since the Minbari War. As to the irregularity and damage… There were always rumours about black sites on Mars, but I can’t see why anyone would attack an old weapons depot with that level of collateral damage at risk.”

“There is much about the attack which is not at all clear yet. Has the Director of EAI withdrawn, or is there any other indication the private talks have been cancelled?”

“He withdrew for consultations with his government. I expect talks to resume in approximately four hours, but in this situation, I would not expect a great deal from them.”

“Understood, Captain. Hold the line on the fact that we freely accept telepath immigration. I find it interesting that the Director has not seen the situation as one meriting his return to Geneva. Of course, terrorism is intolerable and unacceptable.”

“It is rather more complex…” She trailed off, and shook her head. “I understand my instructions and shall carry them out. I will request reports to support the position that we are attempting to prevent any such crimes, in the event they attempt an ambush with their own reports.”

“Understood. They will be prepared, Captain. You can expect to hear more details in the morning from your chain of command, and I will report on our conversation to the Foreign Ministry and attempt to continue coordination with the appropriate contacts from the EA, ISA and Martian Government. I believe that’s all, Captain.”
Last edited by Tomyris on Sat Jan 05, 2019 11:14 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 1 "Matters of Honour"

Post by Tomyris » Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:02 pm

Posting Schedule and Dramatis Personae:

Posting Schedule and Teaser:

Episode 1 -- "Matters of Honour" --
12 Oct '18
The Crew of the Huáscar is assembled and promptly put into an uncomfortable position as loyalties and ideologies are tested against the unsolvable knot of the Telepath Question in E5B1; Commander Saumarez is put to the test on the question of Psi-Corps versus the political objectives of the Alliance Government, as the Telepath Resistance presents itself with a stunning terrorist attack on Mars.

Episode 2 -- "God Bless the Ottoman Empire" -- 3 Nov '18
In the wake of the fall of the savage and horrifying Nazi Reich, former Nazi subject races are locked in bitter ethnic struggles as the terrible legacy of Nazi divide-and-conquer rule. On the world of Drachenfeldt the liberated peoples engage in ruthless reprisals against the German minority while arming to fight against each other for control of the world. Into the toxic mix, the Huáscar holds the high ground in a peacekeeping mission bedeviled by genocidal radicals eager for ethnic cleansing, threatening to go hot at any moment!

Episode 3 -- "Case Armageddon" -- 17 Nov '18
During explorations of a newly discovered universe, Commander Abebech Imra makes a single impulsive decision over an Earth with an utterly unique history which alters its fate and course forever. In a heartbeat, the Huáscar is plunged into the heart of Case Armageddon: The objective, to stop the killing in a state of savage total war!

Episode 4 -- "The Border Patrol" -- 1 Dec '18
Deployed on a routine mission to serve as the Guardship for an Alliance member world in the notorious Triangle region of S5T3, Lieutenant Arterus tr'Rllaillieu finds out that his cousin, the Pretender to the vacant throne of the Romulan Star Empire, is being threatened by the Tal Shiar on a remote world in the Triangle. He requests permission to launch a mission to save her as the Huáscar stands poised on a knife-edge for combat while around them the threat of the Alliance tumbling down into total war runs them ragged.

Episode 5 -- "Big Iron" -- 15 Dec '18.
Hunting clues in a universe where humanity appears extinct, the Huáscar finds herself confronted with a desperate uprising in a troubled star cluster against a totalitarian government that is guilty of brutal experimentation against its own people. Commander Saumarez organises a mission to rescue experimental telepaths from the heart of government territory as Captain Zhen'var prepares to unleash the Big Iron on her hip -- the mighty Huáscar!

Episode 6 -- "Principles" -- 29 Dec '18
Operating in Universe S0T5, the Huáscar is pressed into an unlikely alliance with NEUROM to save a planet of Espers from genocide. The morality and principles of the crew and their loyalty to their orders and government will be put to the edge as they collaborate with the murderous totalitarians of the Ministry of Fate toward the singular objective of stopping ethnic cleansing.

Episode 7 -- "Golden Triangle" -- 12 Jan '19
The Huáscar negotiates a withdrawal by the League of the North in A2M6 from a planet wracked with a bitter insurgency against the Colonial troops of the League, just to find the insurgency has been funding itself with horrifying drugs, bringing the Aururian Empire calling to assert order and put to the test the distinction between ideology and law in Alliance policy.

Schedule for the second half of the season will be decided later.

Dramatis Personae:

Some character introductions, in order of seniority:

Captain (substantive Battlemaster) Zhen'var, f/k/a/ Zhengli Varma -- adopted daughter of the legendary explorer Captain and Tulu kshatriya Kaveri Varma. She commanded the EAS Huáscar during the Tira Crisis in episodes 3-5 and 3-6 of the main series. After the mutiny by her XO which led to her being locked up, she had a nervous breakdown but still managed to regain control of her ship and help win the Battle of Tira against League forces determined to finish off the Dilgar survivors. The Earth government refused to sanction her actions, so the Huáscar traveled to Tira, where part of the crew took Union of Tira and Rohric (Modern Dilgar state) citizenship and part immigrated to the Alliance. The psychological impact of this experience led to her seeking out surgical modification into a Dilgar, which her much younger stepsister (her mother having married the Dilgar Warmaster Shai'jhur on the basis of their wartime relationship) Surgeon-Commander Nah'dur assisted with retroviral treatments to make at least partially into genetic fact. Considered insane by many, Shai'jhur gave her command of a lend-lease cruiser during the Reich War and, convinced of her stability for command, Admiral Maran was impressed upon to give her the new Huáscar in a joint-crewed ship as a gesture of Dilgar-Alliance friendship.

Colonel (substantive Battlemaster) Fei'nur -- Commander of the Marine Regiment on the Huáscar, she is the last survivor of Warmaster Jha'dur's famed Corps of Spectres, the genetically, biochemically and cybernetically modified shadow assassins of the Dilgar Imperium. Every single other remaining Spectre was killed in operations around the Battle of Third Balos, but Fei'nur was more stable than the other Spectres, who had been mostly recruited from broken men, those who had killed their officers, serial killers, and other psychopaths. Fei'nur was a regular Dilgar recruit who had improbably killed an entire squad of Drazi in hand-to-hand combat with an entrenching tool. She was too badly wounded to ever be returned to service or even have much of a life, but with Jha'dur's Spectre modifications could return to the field and the Dilgar War. Having the practical perspective of a ranker, she realised the situation was lost and escaped to do SERE on the surface of Balos, where she survived on stolen rations and sometimes eating bodies, staying quiet and only murdering when needed to, until she could escape to look for other Dilgar resisters. Unfortunately her escape was too late to warn Warmaster Shai'jhur about Omelos' sun. She was responsible for organising the stealth evacuation of less than two million survivors from Omelos in the short hours between the withdrawal of the League and the sun decoupling. Had a brief relationship with Warmaster Shai'jhur in the aftermath of that which they are both embarassed about but which helped keep her from killing herself. Helped raise Shai'jhur's children, but in Dilgar, who lack an effective psychological mechanism to classify non-biologically related Dilgar as relatives, that hasn't stopped Surgeon-Commander Nah'dur (homosexuality being biologically mediated in Dilgar like in humans, she got it from Shai'jhur) from having a massive crush on her that she doesn't reciprocate, the girl literally being young enough to be her kit.

Commander Abebech Imra -- a formidable mercenary from the weird S0T5 (Solarian/NEUROM/Fracture) universe who personally takes great advantage of the lax uniform regulations of the Alliance. Is perpetually seen in public in sunglasses and gloves and with sharply pulled back hair. Is probably of Ethiopian or Eritrean extraction. Dignified, cultured, and utterly fearless, her attacker the ASV Heermann is named after a WW2 Destroyer famous for its actions at the Battle off Samar and is the attached parasite ship of the Huáscar. Does not talk about her background. Lt. Commander Saumarez suspects she is an Esper, which is common in S0T5, but Imra is profoundly isolate for one. The strict disciplinarian is nonetheless a brilliant shiphandler who has already established a long record of success. She helped in the rescue of Lt. Commander Fera'xero and other slaves from a Batarian cruiser while on the MacArthur, an old dreadnought given by one of the Alliance member states to the new Federal Navy, along with Lieutenant Daria Seldayiv. The MacArthur was lost in action against the Reich and Imra was the ranking officer who led the survivors of the crew in SERE against Reich attempts to capture or execute them.

Commander (substantive Colonel) Will Atreiad -- Colonial Navy officer on the Galactica under Admiral Adama who was responsible for a critical part of the operations against the Cylons during 3-02. Transferred to the Alliance due to the fact the Colonial Navy only has two ships in service (Galactica, Pegasus). Was given command of the Koenig when Commander Zach Carey was removed as a medical casualty and participated in operations with the Aurora and during the final months of the war against the Nazi Reich. Huáscar's XO. Has some measure of survivor's guilt over the fact he has a comparatively intact family on New Caprica (Secundus). Token blue-eyed blonde white male.

Surgeon-Commander Nah'dur -- Daughter of Warmaster Shai'jhur and a Distant Relative of Warmaster Jha'dur, the auburn-haired Dilgar is barely more than a teenager, but is already a qualified shiphandler and a Surgeon-Commander, a military specialist doctor in Dilgar terminology. She is the Chief Medical Officer of the Huáscar and a highly talented geneticist and surgeon. She is very pleased with the trust placed in her by the Krogan to engineer a cure to the genophage, and loves biological tinkering, including that which turned her older stepsister into a proper Dilgar. She feels that the Alliance medical establishment is incompetent and has been unable to adapt to the true potential of combining medical technology and talent from dozens of universes, so she's going to do it herself. Because of her complicated single-mother upbringing, she idolises Fei'nur in a somewhat inappropriate way and wants to establish a political organisation to encourage solidarity between felinoid species. Is very enthusiastic about the Old Imperium Days and sometimes evidences a bit less of a moral code than her elder sisters. Got promoted too fast.

Lt. Commander Anna Poniatowska -- former Engineer of the Koenig, Anna Poniatowska is an 1850s Szlachta woman and descendant of a King of Poland, from the Russian dominated Kingdom of Congress Poland whose family was exiled to Siberia for opposing the Tsar, where the crew of the Aurora rescued her before the Aurora was even in service. She is the Chief Engineer of the ASV Huáscar, having used a combination of Darglan neural flash-learning ("brain wave infusions") and the practical, hands-on experience of working for none other than Engineering Captain Montgomery Scott to educate herself in modern Alliance technology and become a competent and detail-oriented Engineer. With her homeworld a postapocalyptic nightmare after the attacks by the Avenger she is not sure if she has any living relatives and is part of the "Victorian" contingent of refugees from 1850s Earth on the Huáscar.

Lt. Commander (substantive Battle Expert) Elia Saumarez -- was the P-9/10 military department telepath of Psi-Corps on the EAS Huáscar. Zhen'var was the only person in the crew who reliably treated her like a human being, and they became friends. At considerable risk to her own life because the Corps would have to disavow her for involving herself in abrratry and politics, she participated in the mutiny against Major Foster that led to Zhen'var regaining control of the EAS Huáscar at Tira, and was critical in its success. Zhen'var made her an Acting Ensign in Earthforce at that point--one of the reasons for the disavowal of her actions by EarthGov. Elia immigrated to Dilgar space with Zhen'var, where she joined the Mha'dorn, the Dilgar telepath organisation, and the Rohrican military. She stayed with Zhen'var, and when Zhen'var accepted commander of the ASV Huáscar, went ahead of her to be the commander of the naval acceptance team for the Alliance for the Huáscar and the commander of her plankowners. Was a first-rate Cricketeer who could have played professionally on the women's circuit if telepaths weren't banned from professional sport in the Earth Alliance. Is a descendant of the famous Saumarez (also spelled Sausmarez or Sausmares) family of the Channel Islands including a direct descendant of Admiral James Baron Saumarez of Algeciras, and grew up reading Aubrey-Maturin and Hornblower novellas and always wanting to serve in the Navy, another thing that telepaths were banned from doing in the Earth Alliance. She still feels loyal to Mother and Father, which makes others uncomfortable. Has a child in the Corps who she gladly left to the cadres because never wanted children or marriage, and a loveless marriage she actually went to the effort of obtaining a rare divorce inside the Corps over.

Lt. Commander Fera'xero -- Quarian who on pilgrimage was enslaved by Batarians and forced to work as a machinist even though he was a scientist in training. Developed a way to modulate the FTL drive to send a distress signal, which was found by the ASV MacArthur, which rescued him and the other slaves in the crew of a Batarian cruiser. The rescuers included Commander Abebech Imra and Lieutenant Daria Seldayiv, the later before she transferred to the Aurora. Is a highly capable scientist who maintains a side-hobby in watching foreign popular broadcasts and is a source of information for the crew. Quietly grieves over the loss of the MacArthur against the Reich and is very committed to the Alliance's ideals and personally to Abebech and Daria as some of the few survivors of those who saved him from slavery.

Major (Substantive Battle Expert) Lar'shan -- Eldest son of legendary Dilgar Champion Battle Expert (now promoted to Battlemaster by Warmaster Shai'jhur) Ari'shan, the famed Dilgar knight of the spaceways and one of the few Dilgar pilots who could use a Thorun to fight a Starfury. Ari'shan became governor of New Eden and afterwards, mated and had a family there. Lar'shan was taught to fly in a reproduction Sopwith Camel trainer that his father's friends arranged for his father and him to have since otherwise the Dilgar on New Eden (circa 50,000) were banned from spaceflight. Eager to prove himself and unfailingly polite, his upbringing means he has more of a connection to humans than most of the Dilgar aboard the Huáscar. He fought in action during the later months of the Reich War and is already an ace against the Reich space forces when assigned as wing commander to the Huáscar, where he is the subordinate in flight operations to Commander Imra.

Lt. Commander Jonathan Goodenough -- A Gunner (Warrant Officer and head of the Gunner's Mates, who were Petty Officers) in the Royal Navy of the 1850s. The Royal Navy offered him an opportunity for a stable career as a mulatto man from the West Indies in the era. In the chaos caused by first the Aurora and then the Avenger led to Goodenough falling in with the Aurora's crew before contact with the planet was cut off. He went through education and brain-wave infusions on New Liberty and then joined the new Alliance Stellar Navy where he served on several ships before, with the Reich War raging, he became the XO of the Attacker Heermann. Abebech Imra appreciates his rigid, mid-19th century approach to the naval profession, and he respects her competence and iron will, uniting the talents of a woman from thousands of years in the future and a man who literally served under one of Nelson's officers early in his two-decade career in the Victorian Royal Navy. The multiverse is wild, dizzying, and sometimes uncomfortable, but people still form navies and fight in ships, so he's got something to do. Wears his hair in a long early-19th century sailor's pony tail still, and like the Dilgar and Imra thinks the Alliance uniforms are ridiculously plain.

These are the senior commissioned officers. The Department Heads and senior warrants and noncoms will follow.

Character Introductions, Continued:

Lieutenant Daria Seldayiv -- A cross-trained tactical and security officer and Dorei woman faithful to the Goddess, she participated in the rescue of Fera'xero on the MacArthur before transferring to the Aurora before the MacArthur was lost in action against the Reich. She grew up in a rural, humble family in a high mountain vale far from the great temples, which is part of why she wasn't discovered as a sensitive to the path of light (swevyra in Gersallian) until much later, when her abilities manifest under stress while fighting Cybermen on the Aurora during the orbital portion of the Battle of Canary Wharf. She then spent several months studying at a temple before deciding her course in life was to continue serving as an officer in the Alliance. Feeling overwhelmed at times by the attitudes of the crew of the Huáscar, she's been trying to fit in while striving to follow the path of her Goddess as a sensitive once she was, to her surprise, assigned to the new Huáscar on her return as the head of the Tactical Department (Weapons).

Lieutenant Arterus tr'Rllaillieu -- Cousin of the Pretender to the Romulan (Rihannsu) Star Empire's vacant throne and descendant of the legendary Ael t'Rllaillieu, first and last Empress of the Rihannsu. He briefly served in the Rihannsu military before being forced out by the Tal Shiar, who planned to permanently eliminate the Imperial family's descendants. With the help of a human woman operating under the code name "Charlotte Corday", he helped his cousin escape from Rihannsu space to the Triangle. Once there, she encouraged him to seek his honour and glory by serving in the Alliance military against the Reich, to which assented and enlisted for officer's training and served in action in the last months of the war against the Reich. He was assigned as the Huáscar's Astrogator.

Lieutenant Abel Veeringen -- The Chief Engineer of the Heermann, he is an assiduously competent engineering genius from a long multi-generational shipboard family in D3R1's Colonies, and is stereotypically a fanatical libertarian. Abebech tolerates him because he is very, very good at his job. Commander Goodenough wonders why he "talks about bloody economics" all the time. Something of a loner compared to the rest of the crew, he doesn't care who or what you are, but he is very worried about the tendency of nanny-statism in the Alliance. This manages to occasionally irritate even Abebech.

Lieutenant Violeta Arterria -- Sirian mild gene-mod woman who joined the Alliance out of idealism from one of the Sirian worlds in L2M1, the Alliance capital's universe. Was a helm ensign on the Aurora for a sustained period of time before being promoted to Lieutenant and put in commander of the Huáscar's helm rotation. A self-described nerd with an interest in holo-games she's found the fit under Zhen'var's extremely military leadership to be somewhat rough, but has from the start performed well as a capable helmswoman and good leader of her detachment. Caterina Delgado's ex-girlfriend.

Lieutenant (substantive Combat Master) Va'tor -- Ship's Mental Hygienist. Many human crewers are uncomfortable with going to the Mental Hygienist, but Va'tor, a Mha'dorn professionally trained on Tira, is happy to help anyone of any race be their personal mental best with any psychosurgery and integrative therapy required to fix their problems and help them fit into their society and responsibilities in life. She's a bit confused about why humans have such a disorderly view of mental hygiene when they are the creators of the legendary lockstep fleet which broke her people in the Dilgar War.

Lieutenant Abdulmajid Mehmet -- often incorrectly shortened to Abdulmehmet, he bears this with bemusement. Another 1850s refugee, this time from the Ottoman Empire, he, like Abel, keeps to himself, but his a bit wild and melodramatic in combat. And very, very gay. He makes no secret that he thinks Commander Goodenough is cute, with the Commander wishing the Turk would mind his damned business. The Heermann's tactical officer, Abebech tolerates his quirks for his respective demeanour to her and his extreme competence at his job.

Lieutenant (substantive Combat Master) Ca'elia -- Helmswoman of the Heermann, this Dilgar woman from New Eden was raised on 20th and 21st century British movies by Police Inspector Martha Whittaker, a Scotland Yard Detective who was responsible for training the Dilgar police force of Ari'shan's Governorate. Since the Dilgar there were not allowed lethal weapons, she was skilled in the use of batons, stun guns, morph gas projectors, glue guns, sonic guns, and water cannon, as well as martial arts. Her great love however was the sea, and she took the name Catherine Amelia and created a detailed persona as a Brit while commanding the sole Police Cutter the Dilgar had on the seas of New Eden. She is a highly disciplined, stiff-necked eager go-getter who could compete at the Olympic level in gymnastics if she ever had the chance and fits Abebech Imra's command style perfectly, having already proved herself a highly capable helmswoman.

Ensign (substantive Combat Captain) Aur'ma -- a tactical officer on the Huáscar, Aur'ma is an Islander, a Valangar, one of the few noticeable (surviving) Dilgar ethnicities. Like Warmaster Jha'dur's flag captain, Battlemaster An'jash, she is a silver-blonde furred and haired Dilgar with violet/pink eyes, but in bone structure a Prime Dilgar, which is what saved the population of her peoples' native islands from genocide. The only Islander on New Eden, she was raised by Ca'elia's mother as a rare act of decency toward an orphan encouraged by the human occupational authorities, and occupies a definite space of her own as Ca'elia's exasperating goofy little sister. By the present she is part of a community of around 1,900 surviving Islanders trying to keep their unique culture alive among the other Rohrican and Tiran Dilgar.

Chief Warrant Officer Anastasia Héen -- The highest ranking warrant officer on the Huáscar and Heermann, she is from the same Earth as the Alliance founders. A down on her luck mariner who had had her fishing purse seiner foreclosed on after trying to fish for a living after being laid off from the Alaska Maritime Highway System, Robert Dale's cousin Beth Rankin had brought her into the facility solely because she needed a job That Badly and had been Beth's friend for a while before the Darglan Facility was found. A highly experienced civilian Mate on Automobile Ferries in the Alaskan Inside Passage, with an unrestricted 3,000 ton Master's license, she still never served as an officer on the Aurora because she didn't want the unimaginable responsibility of a ship that could single-handedly nuke the planet. Instead, she served as the ship's Chief of the Boat, a position where she felt ignored by the Aurora's command staff, ultimately requesting a transfer to a shore training establishment to help train the massive intake of volunteers during the Reich War. She was promoted to Master Chief Warrant Officer after completing Air Operations Training and is essentially the Chief Air Traffic Controller for the Huáscar, managing both on-deck handling of parasite craft and traffic control and fighter direction duties in space as "The Queen of PriFly". Her background is indigenous Tlingit, Raven Moiety, and she is a strict teetotler and a (very badly) lapsed Russian Orthodox Christian. "Just call me Stasia". Usually found with a 24-oz replicated knockoff of a classic Alaskan beverage, the "drive-up stand latte".

Master Chief Petty Officer Richard "Rick" Dugan -- The Bosun's Mate from the EAS Huáscar, he was a twenty-year veteran of Earthforce who had joined up after getting laid off from his job as a Fuel Cell Repair Technician and then proceeded to stay loyal to Captain Zhen'var during the mutiny at the cost of his career and his home, and then joined up with the Alliance after the Tira Crisis because "If you can't kill Nazis, who can you kill, man?". A caucasian with sandy brown hair with flecks of gray and an utterly impressive 80s Cop mustache, he is the Chief of the Boat on the Huáscar, the ranking Noncom. Good professional friends with Stasia Héen, the two Chiefs make sure that the ship runs like a Navy vessel whatever the hell the wishy-washy Alliance regs say, and try to keep the Dilgar ratings' illegal stills under control. Master of the knife-hand and capable of terrorizing any rating into a pile of goo without opening himself to an EEO complaint, he has purely blue collar interests, respects Captain Zhen'var despite the fact she went a little crazy, and is never found without a 32-ounce coffee in hand. In combat he stands ready with the critical and highly dangerous EVA Damage Control squad. Says Stasia drinks fancy coffee because she's a girl. She started brewing pots of diner coffee in a real dinner coffee machine in PriFly in retaliation. Was friends with Elia on the old Huáscar and still calls her "Leather" when he can get away with it, except now with "Ma'am" added, in reference to her gloves.

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Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 1 "Matters of Honour"

Post by Tomyris » Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:03 pm

Act 2

The next morning, despite everything, the Charybdis requested permission for the negotiating team to return. Quickly given, Zhen’var had the opportunity now to assemble a proper team in the suite and await Director O’Leary’s arrival with Ari’shan.

She was already slowly pacing after last night’s conversation and the lack of sleep after it, turning to glance at the others in the room after each circuit. Her friend, Elia Sausmarez, the keen wit of the ship’s surgeon, Ari’shan himself, Lieutenant Seldayiv for her training in interpersonal negotiations, and from the Heersman, Jonathan Goodenough. It was a real team this time, and it would hopefully be good enough.

“Excellency, did you have time to read the briefing file I sent you this morning?”

“Ah yes, I did,” Ari’shan smiled. “I learned to actually read briefing files a very long time ago. It’s quite unfortunate,” his expression turned serious, “what’s happened on Mars. I’m surprised Francis wasn’t called back to Earth for it, in fact.”

“That, Governor Ari’shan, is actually a matter of some concern to myself, along with several of my officers. We might have had such problems with Rohric in the distant future, if not for what happened, but Mars… something is not as it seems.”

“I agree that you’re right about the nature of this attack. It doesn’t fit with the Earth-Mars conflict,” Ari’shan answered. “At all.”

“It’s a Signature Attack,” Nah’dur said softly. “The damage to other domes is just to demonstrate what their capabilities are. I think it’s only the Psi-Corps attack that matters. I think you need to look at this as a four-body problem: Earth, Psi-Corps, Mars, and the terrorists.”

Elia grew very quiet, her face pensive.

“A four body problem gives me unfortunate memories of West Point. All right, everyone, they will be here in a few minutes. If it is four groups, we must be cautious, and expect the Earth team to behave unpredictably. The ground of this negotiation is no longer solid.”

Goodenough stepped quietly over to Nah’dur’s side, hands behind his back. “You mean, Surgeon-Commander, that the lack of Earth Alliance casualties means they regard Earth and Psi-Corps as separate?”

“Precisely,” Nah’dur whispered. Then they both stiffened to attention, as the doors opened. Fei’nur was leading Director O’Leary and his team in.

Zhen’var’s face broke into a natural, if reserved, smile as she turned, offering her hand. “Director O’Leary, welcome back. I wish it was under better circumstances, we have seen the ISN broadcast. You have our sympathies for those injured and killed in such a barbaric act.”

“Thank you for your sympathies,” Francis replied, a bit stiffly. “However, most should be directed to the Government of Mars. We are of course concerned about human life on Mars, but the reality is they chose their own direction and in doing so put themselves outside of the umbrella of protection that our intelligence services and military forces could offer to them.”

“Of course, Director O’Leary. Please, make yourselves comfortable. These events clearly add some urgency to our conversations.”

They set, and introductions passed around the table. When they got to Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, the Director shot her an extended look that hardly passed unnoticed. She returned it levelly, auburn hair framing her calm face. “Director?”

“...Nothing, Surgeon-Commander. Just surprised at the family resemblance.”

“Moving on, Director, we have Commander Jonathan Goodenough, as well as Lieutenant Daria Seldayiv. You met Colonel Fei’nur and Commander Saumarez yesterday.”

“Yes, I did,” he answered, and looked sharply at Saumarez. “You know, Captain, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it’s considered bad faith for one side to have a telepath present when the other does not.”

“The Mha’dorn are very well represented amongst those who volunteered to serve with the Alliance, Director. Commander Saumarez is my Operations officer, and is present in that capacity.”

Director O’Leary’s level look was not impressed. “Captain Zhen’var, that isn’t the issue. I’m glad that Commander Saumarez is in fact able to be an officer here. I’m sure she is happier than she would have ever been at home. We have issues, but my private opinions on those are not the facts of the matter. Quite frankly, I have a friend who is a telepath, my best friend died saving the life of a telepath who mattered a great deal to him. Personally, in a show of respect to a naval officer, I would accept her word of honour she isn’t using her abilities as an advantage against us.”

Daria looked like she knew what he was going to say next, and the silent expression that she gave to Zhen’var warned her, sucking in her breath…

“...But,” Francis continued, “the reality is that if I went back to Earth and told them--and not telling them isn’t an option--they would discount and discredit the negotiations entirely on the fact that a telepath was physically present in the room, and all that we might have accomplished would be ruined by that fact alone. In the interests of international peace we should accept that reality and act accordingly. I need Commander Saumarez to leave the conference suite.”

Zhen’var stiffened, her hackles raised, and she was silent for a long several seconds, her lips pressed into a thin line before she finally spoke, voice flatly calm. “The Union of Allied Systems does not presume to accept without negotiation dictates placed to it by representatives of the Earth Alliance, Director O’Leary.”

“Okay, we’re doing it that way.” Francis rubbed his face. He wasn’t a professional diplomat himself. “Ari? I’d remind you that I came here to talk to you.

“Director, you came here to negotiate with the Allied Systems,” Ari replied levelly. “That their culture and laws permit telepaths to sit at their tables as equals is perhaps something…”

“Ari, I know!” Francis was frustrated, showing in red on his broad Irish face. “It isn’t about that. Damnit, we've been friends for years, you know that. It’s about our talks having any kind of credibility at all with the Government.”

“You knew the Alliance has telepaths in many roles, Director. Why is not there at least a Commercial or Military Division telepath here to make, as the corporations say, a ‘level’ negotiation?” Zhen'var pressed.

“These negotiations were not meant to involve the Corps,” Francis replied, and shot another hard, long stare at Elia, including her gloves. “Ari, just the two of us, please.”

“Your Excellency?” Zhen’var looked to Ari’shan - from her point of view, the question was all-or-nothing. Without her, the negotiations from the Allied Systems side were on much shakier ground.

“Francis, you taught me too well what human rights mean. No. The telepaths are in the room or we don’t talk.” Ari’shan’s expression was curious, an inner steel flickering in his eyes. "If you won't compromising with the Clarkists still in the government this wouldn't be happening."

“You’re a better man than I am, Ari’shan.” With that, and a weary sigh, Francis got up, and his delegation did as well. None of them were taking it as well as the Director was, and the intensity of the emotions had Elia pale and drawn. “Talks will only resume when appropriate conditions have been met. We need to return to the Charybdis at this time.”

“Farewell, Director. Colonel Fei’nur, escort Director O’Leary and his party to their shuttle.” Zhen’var’s expression remained studiously blank. As soon as the hatch closed, she let out a soft sigh. “That was bizarre. Elia, the only way that makes any sense is if they think you are a foreign agent inside the Alliance… and that they do not see the Corps as part of Earthgov.” Her expression was pained.

Nah’dur looked around slowly. “This relates to what Commander Goodenough and I were discussing, Captain. The attackers didn’t see the Psi-Corps as part of EarthGov. We just spoke to the Director of EAI, who doesn’t see the Psi-Corps as part of EarthGov.”

“Elia,” Zhen’var began, her voice quiet. “Tell War Captain Kei’tor," she referenced the head of the Mha'dorn. "Your family has need to know what Director York started is coming to a head. I shall take the court-martial if higher command deems I am exceeding my authority.”

“I spoke with another telepath on Deep Space Nine when I was there. He pressed me to help, but of course I was true to my oaths. Captain, he alluded to it, Markus alluded to it, and now… You are right. I believe that was an attack by the Telepath ‘Resistance’ transitioning into an active guerrilla force.”

“A war,” Goodenough added simply.

“Yes.” Nah’dur stretched and rose. “And I don’t think EarthGov knows what side its on.”

“When it comes to preventing incipient genocide, I know what side we are on. Warn them, Elia. Commander Goodenough, let Imra know, this is about to get much more complicated, and likely worse before it gets better. If it does. The Resistance… forgets why the Corps came into existence in the first place.”

She looked to Governor Ari’shan.

“Though it is hard to find the statistics, the first year after telepaths were scientifically proven to exist among Earth humanity, between murders and abortions, something like a hundred thousand to a quarter million died.”

Ari’shan’s head jerked. “Hunted down in the street, like a pogrom of the night-furred who had bred with the Dark Dilgar, in the days after the war with the Dark.”

“Yes,” Zhen’var agreed simply.

“The song of my people has been sung in both pain and pride, and the Corps was the place of our pride.” Elia rose, her face ashen. “Do I stand dismissed, Captain?”

“You stand dismissed.”

Elia returned to her quarters and activated a secure channel. Her interaction with the Earth Alliance team had been chilling. Francis O’Leary had been perfectly sincere and his politeness was not a show. He really meant that he hoped she was well, and thought she would be happier. He wanted to end the Corps, and he wanted to do so out of moral principles. Unfortunately, that meant nothing good for Mother and Father.

She tried to think of how to send the message. It would be easiest if she were in hyperspace, of course. One of the functions of a Military Department Telepath was to communicate over extreme distances in hyperspace, she had been trained in how to do it. She could go up to PriFly and communicate across lightyears. But they were not in hyperspace and that was unlikely to happen soon, which meant using a public network, which meant passing a message that the EAI could likely read.

Except for the fact that she doubted that Markus had been to Deep Space Nine just to talk to her. She tapped open the extranet connections which integrated with the subspace comms network of the United Federation of Planets, first pulling all of her clothes off above the midriff and pulling on a nondescript black blouse.

The woman who appeared on the screen was vaguely familiar. “Quark’s,” she said. “How can I help you?”

“I’d like to speak to the proprietor, please,” Elia answered with a smile. “Do tell him it’s about a business venture.”

“...A business venture, right. Yes, I can do that! One moment, please.” She disappeared from the feed, and Elia waited.

The wait only lasted a few minutes before Quark arrived, and spent a while staring at her neckline.

“Quark, is it?” Elia pasted the same smile on her face she’d used around mundanes so many times, it certainly helped here.

“Yes. I heard you had a business deal for me? Miss? I remember you, one of the gloved humans.”

Sausmares,” she said, accentuating the syllables in the old Island Norman French style. “And indeed I do. Do you remember my friend Markus?”

“I do.” A frown. “I am not a secret agent! Legal repercussions are bad for business…”

“Unless the profit outweighs the risk. Anyway, I’ll be coming back to DS9 soon and I’d love to see your holosuites… So, I’m quite certain Markus and his associates will pay a great deal for this information, and it’s about a situation with stock, not some secret agent matter.”

“Stocks are also… How much profit are we talking about?”

“The kind over which countries live and die, Quark,” she gleamed. “Little for passing the message, but much more as the information broker later on. I think Markus’ associates will be very interested in speaking to you. So, here’s the trick. Please tell Markus that ‘The Franco-Irishman in charge of Einhart und Annhauser Industries has gone wobbly so it’s time to short-sell on Effingham Aoraki.’ And let him know it’s from the girl who pulled Alice’s ponytail in fifth year. That’s it.”

Quark repeated the message several times. Elia stretched a bit and flashed her gloves in a dainty wave. “Got it perfect,” she grinned. “You’re awesome. You were really kind to me on Deep Space Nine. I can’t wait to come back and bring my business associates.

Quark eyed the gloves. “I have at least five hundred holosuite programs that could feature those for you…”

“And I’ll be looking forward to when I can see them,” she said with a cheery wave, and winked before killing the comm, and sinking back onto her bed. Somehow, doing that with an alien wasn’t actually as bad as dealing with a human with a telepath fetish, but it was probably solely because it wasn’t in person. The shudder was still present.

The Charybdis had left, and for the next day, the Huáscar had patrolled the frontier as if the entire meeting had not happened. After the major terrorist attack on Mars, it seemed that an immediate recall of a major fleet asset already in the area was not in the cards.

Captain Zhen’var was not expecting the calm to hold, and she had taken the border patrol as a chance to drill her crews in some of the more esoteric procedures involved in combat search and rescue, with her communications and sensor sections kept on wartime cruising conditions for any scrap of information that might yet come in.

It was like as not no surprise when Will asked her to come to the bridge at about 0400, shortly after she had woken up and before her own shift started. “Captain, we’ve detected a warp signature across the line in EA space.”

“A warp signature? Move us to Condition Two as a precaution. I am on the way.” She slapped the comm unit and moved to the replicator for a spill-proof mug of chai. That means an extra-universal ship, likely, or a free trader. Either way… this does not bode well.

On the bridge, Ensign Joanne Wilkins was at the helm, Will rose from the command chair, Elia’s Gersallian second-in-command Lieutenant Orallian was at Ops. The rest of the stations were staffed with noncoms or warrants, but that would change quickly even at Condition Two -- Will had recognised what she had meant, and acted accordingly, even if it wasn’t actually the language used by the UAS, it was his, too, and that of most of the senior crew in fact.

“I have the deck, you retain the conn. Hail them.” She had a habit of leaving the junior deck officer in command of the helm, freeing herself to wrestle with other problems… like this.

“We’ve resolved the warp signature,” Will said after their exchange of command was completed, walking over to Orallian’s post at ops as the Lieutenant brought up the long-range scans. “It’s a fairly typical Independent trader from S4W8 registered the Star of Carissa, making Warp Factor Five. They originated from Earth, or one of the straight-shot jump-gates.”

“Keep up scanning for other ships in the area.” Zhen’var pressed the intercom button on the side of her chair. “Engineering, this is the Captain. Warning orders, I may ask you for full speed on short notice.”

Anna had already reached her post. “Full power at your orders, Captain.”

“Thank you, Engines, very well anticipated. Communications, any response to our hail as yet?”

“Getting one now, Captain… On bridge speaker?”

She gave a single nod, and forced herself to lean back in the captain’s chair. This is somehow going to make my life much harder.

“Alliance Vessel Huáscar, this is the Star of Clarissa. We are carrying refugees from Mars, two hundred and five souls, under contract. Will we be allowed to cross the frontier?”

“Yes. You shall slow to relativistic speed and prepare to be boarded for inspection and questioning after crossing the border. Is that understood, Star of Clarissa?”

“We confirm, Huáscar..” The message trailed off into static.

“Captain,” Orallian reported from his post, Elia having arrived and standing by, but not interrupting, “jump-point forming right ahead of the Star of Clarissa.

“Let me guess, they are being jammed… compare with the Earthforce standard jammers in the EW database, please.”

“Fera’xero, take it,” Elia directed, moving to assume the ops console.

“Confirmed, late-series refit Hyperion type Back Top set, Captain.”

“Of course.” Her voice sounded quite resigned as she flipped up a protective cover on her control panel and delicately pressed a demi-claw into the single red button there.

“BATTLESTATIONS! ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLESTATIONS! SET MATERIAL CONDITION ZEBRA THROUGHOUT THE SHIP! BATTLESTATIONS!” It was Elia’s voice as the Operations Officer that tore through the ship, unlike the old days of having a senior NCO on the bridge do it, but otherwise it was right enough, and the Huáscar, already standing at Code or Condition Yellow, came forward smartly enough.

“The Hyperion is broadcasting her peacetime IFF, Captain,” Fera’xero reported a moment later. “She’s brought the Star of Clarissa to a halt point-oh-five parsec from the buoy-marked line of demarcation. EAS Nerissa.

“She knows very well we can do nothing, but we can at least protest. Hail her, query her intentions with an Alliance freighter outbound to our space.”

A new channel shortly opened in response to the hail and inquiry. “Lieutenant Velarro, EAS Nerissa to ASV Huáscar. Stay on your side of the line of demarcation, I repeat, stay on your side of the line of demarcation.”

“Captain Zhen’var. Repeat, Nerissa, state your intentions with an Alliance flagged freighter outbound to Alliance space.”

“Stay on your side of the line of demarcation, Huáscar. We are exercising our sovereign rights within Earth space.”

“Move us to right up to the border, XO. Nerissa, we request clarification of precisely what rights you are exercising.”

A different voice came on the feed, but didn’t identify itself. “Huáscar, the Star of Clarissa was engaged in passenger trade within Earth-space while only bearing permits for the transport of dry goods.”

Will was quietly moving them right onto the demarcation line by impulse and then thrusters, but couldn’t resist a sardonic look and shake of his head.

“Forgive me, I was unaware that the carriage of refugees intending to claim a right to remain was passenger transport. Has the Earth Alliance changed the relevant laws, Nerissa?” The entire ship held at the line, like a runner waiting only for the starting gun.

“The Marsies want to go back when the situation is dealt with, they’re passengers taking a vacation, not refugees seeking asylum.”

“If they loaded from Mars, are they not an in-transit vessel through your space, that with no touching at a starport, never passes through Earth Alliance customs?” It was somewhat unfair, having a former Earthforce officer to remember the legal handbook.

“Kitty, why the hell do you even want them? Do you think your masters will let you play with them?” It was pure, speciesist baiting, and baiting was exactly the reason for it. Get the other side to cross the border first…

“Sir,” Elia said after cutting the pick-up momentarily, “they haven’t actually boarded the Star of Clarissa yet. You have them.”

Zhen’var gave a nod, and her lips pulled back in a smile. “I hope so, we have rather run out of catnip.” She could respond to venom with biting humour, and not let the baiting affect her in the slightest.

“This is Captain Lamarck,” a third, definitely female voice came over the comms. “Have all the Marsies you want. The Star of Clarissa is permanently banned from Earth-space.” With that, the Nerissa turned on her thrusters and pulled clear of the space between the freighter and the border.

The conference room was quickly full, since it included all of the department heads. Lieutenant Violeta Arterria, the commander of the navigation section, was rubbing her face and studying a readout covering information on the galaxy. Nah’dur stretched and started munching on a plate of sugar-glazed meat sticks. Anna was sitting across from her, Fei’nur was fussing with the replicator, and Abebech sat at the Captain’s right-hand side with her legs crossed and her seat kicked back, Fera’Xero studying intently to try and figure out how she had managed to prop it up. They were all still getting used to each other.

Zhen’var considered the extreme diversity of her people as she entered, holding her hand to forestall them from rising. “No, at ease.” Then she moved to sit, and immediately began. “It appears to be worse than we expected, everyone. Earthforce is throwing their weight around, and has already banned Star of Clarissa from their space. They’ve put out a Notice to Spacers that the same will apply to anyone else who transports Mars citizens without the proper paperwork. This is going to have a chilling effect, at the least, and non-Alliance ships are being turned back.

“So we’ve got an enemy… Err.. A nation that’s hindering the access of refugees to shelter,” Violeta said. “They’re actively blocking us from helping. And we haven’t received any orders, Captain?”

“I have been updating higher command, but our orders have not yet been changed from border patrol. Legally, there is little we can do to interfere inside Earth Alliance space, I fear.”

Nah’dur stretched again. “Well, Captain, we’ve brought the refugees from the Star of Clarissa onboard. Except for a few with injuries, we’re just going to out-process them back aboard for the trip deeper into our space. I’m sure the Star will be re-named and reflagged and traveling back to Earth in no time at all! For the most part they were in good health, and apparently the concern is an overall bulk oxygen shortage on Mars due to several cracking plants being knocked out.”

“To dome-dwellers, an oxygen shortage… that explains the panic and the flight anywhere they could get tickets off-world. Luna will not take them, and Mars-born cannot handle Earth gravity well, if they even could get through, but it will cause even more anti-Earth unrest, this is a blockade of an independent state.”

“So how do we help them? You’re right, this is a blockade,” Anna sighed.

“Move the mountain to Mohammad,” Abebech murmured.

Nah’dur, who had certainly had plenty of access to human culture from her mother, flared her eyelids. “In a pinch we can hold twenty thousands, and we can send repair parties for the cracking towers. We can go to Mars!”

“How would we go through Earth space when they are stopping civilian ships?” Fera’xero asked.

“Oh, that’s easy. Passage from one point in your own territory to one point in the territory of a third party, through the second power, is innocent passage and protected even for warships under the laws of nations,” Daria perked up from where she’d been quiet at the end of the table.

“Perhaps it’s time for a freedom of navigation exercise,” Abebech smiled thinly to Zhen’var.

“If you start blasting rock music at the Earthforce ships, I shall claim I do not know you.” Her expression was… pained, if there was a smile. “I will urgently request permission from higher command to cross the border… if a Martian request is made, which I shall recommend should be solicited.”

“Shall I assume Heermann will un-dock to proceed in concert?”

“Not yet, but I do not expect that to last long after arrival.”

“...Rock music?” Nah’dur was looking at Abebech and Zhen’var.

Zhen’var gratefully took a sip from her mug of tea as she gratefully sank into her desk chair with a soft sigh, reaching out with a hand for the keypad at her desk. Tapping through the comms menu, she sent a request for communication to Portland - accepting the queue time before anyone would answer, and starting to work at the never-ending tide of paperwork that all Captains were cursed with.

This time, the response was routed directly to the Admiralty, and came through with relatively high priority. As her operational commander, it was Maran who answered, too. “Captain Zhen’var. My staff had received and was processing your reports.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I wish to request your permission to proceed to Mars if a request is received from the Martian government. I believe the situation is dire enough to risk the diplomatic conflict, and furthermore, I believe something is… wrong on Mars, above what ISN is reporting. There is too much panic on the Mars-side.”

“You believe there is something else going on with the situation on Mars, in fact?” Maran asked.

“There have been dome breaches before, but this did not cause the sort of panic leading to flight off-world that we see now.”

“It’s outside of the character of the people, in a way that makes it automatically suspicious?”

“The Mars-dwellers, Mars-born especially, are a stubborn lot. Nothing Earth could do to them would crack their love of their homeworld - several oxygen plants being knocked out is one thing, but from my experience, that should have caused unrest, but not this much, if you will permit personal inference, Admiral.”

“I trust your judgement on the matter. As it happens, we have already received a request for assistance via Babylon 5. Therefore, you are granted permission to proceed with all dispatch. We must uphold the legality of passage to Mars, in addition to the humanitarian concerns.”

“Understood, Admiral. Are there any changes to standing orders?” She felt a jolt down her spine - a Freedom of Navigation exercise through Earth Alliance space? This was going to be… exciting.

“There are no changes to standing orders, Captain. Get to Mars-sphere as fast as you can. Good luck to Huáscar.

Zhen’var nodded. “Of course, Admiral.” As soon as the screen blinked off, she sighed and closed her eyes. And once more unto the breach… against those who were once my comrades.

“Bridge, this is Captain Zhen’var. Maintain Condition Two, set course for Mars. All ahead full. I will brief the crew once I have made it up there.” And so the Dilgar will finally see Sol… in quite a different light than they once might have.

Even while she was walking, the Huáscar crisply spun up her engines and crossed the border, surging with power below her feet. They were headed in.

During the first day, the Huáscar did not face interception as she made Warp 8, avoiding systems in favour of warping her way in. The Earth Alliance had peaked at official control of 43 Planetary systems and 9 non-planetary systems with jump-gates, including twenty-two habitable planets outside of Earth. This peak had been obtained since the annexation of three of the four systems in Markab space (the Descari having successfully seized the fourth). Various revelations since then had covered a bevy of secret worlds, including at least one which was naturally fully habitable.

While this did not sound large, the jump-gate system and the limitations of hyperroutes meant that in practice the space this territory covered was vast and uneven. As it was, the former Darglan space, long cut off from good hyperroutes and jump-gates, actually lay very close to Earth. It would require only 28 hours for the Huáscar to reach Earth at Warp 8 from the frontier.

On her morning tour of the ship, Zhen’var found a holo-board set up in PriFly. Stasia Héen was leaning over it, entering commands to shift shuttles as the rest of her crew, including a couple of Ensigns that actually reported to her despite her being a W-series, worked on simulating strike generation.

“Captain on the Deck!”

They began to straighten, but Stasia’s cool, slightly accented voice cut the motion off instantly. “Do not interrupt flight operations.” Even in a simulation, that was a critical lesson everyone in the new crew had to learn quickly.

“Save standing-to for when we are not at Condition Two, everyone.” Zhen’var kept her voice low, and hung back from the teams around the holo-board until they’d finished the simulation, watching the movements with the eye of a woman trying to learn as quickly as she could.

When they finished, Stasia looked up, her express casually mirthful and her hand never far from her coffee mug. “Captain.” With an oval face, dark eyes and brown hair her ethnicity was indistinct but clearly not quite white; coming from the Aurora, she’d taken advantage of the loose grooming standards there to show a few traditional Tlingit touches. “The good news is that we know what we’re doing, in principle. The bad news is that with full rescue and recovery operations using every shuttle and troop transport we have, welcome to it taking seventy minutes to fuel, arm, spot, and launch a strike. The ship simply compromises too much to be a true carrier. Ma’am.”

“They tried to make her do everything, and she is mistress of nothing, you mean. Much like the Omega, I would say. Do the best you can, we will be intensely hard-pressed over Mars, no matter how good or ill this goes.”

“Understood, Captain.” She was about to turn to something and speak to the Captain about it when alarms flared.

Zhen’var looked to the repeaters, instantly all business as she checked the situation. “Let me guess, Earthforce is here…?”

“Jump-points forming to port and starboard right ahead, Captain -- but we’re at Warp Eight so we’re already past them…” The alarms trilled again.

“...Or not.” Stasia shifted the view. It showed two of the already ugly Nova-Omegas, Novas rebuilt with artificial gravity, which had now had a cruciform of warp nacelles mounted on them to keep their gun arcs clear. Around them, the Huáscar’s alarms began to sound for Condition One--Condition Red to the Alliance--as what were essentially the two most ugly ships ever put into regular commission began to close with her on either beam.

“Put the Wing on Alert Five, Chief, I need to get to the bridge before the blast doors seal.” Her expression set firmly, Zhen’var turned to depart at a jog.

Stasia shouted into her mic. “ALERT FIVE, Do it! Get me Wing Commander Lar’shan and confirm his pilots understand it. ALERT FIVE.”

Zhen’var reached the bridge just in time. Elia had brought the ship to stations of her own initiative and Will had reached Reserve Nav a minute before. “Captain on the Bridge!”

Elia spun and saluted. “Two Earth Alliance Dreadnoughts holding formation at Warp Eight each one hundred kiloklicks off our beams.”

“Well, let us be polite. Comms, inquire as to their intentions and provide them our near-term course, we do not want an excuse for collision, after all.” She had a smile, as she moved to strap herself in to her command chair.

“Aye-aye, Sir,” the Dilgar CPO at comms activated the ship to ship channel and read off their course, making the request of intentions.

Elia sheepishly returned to the chair at Zhen’var’s right and strapped herself in. Lieutenant Veronica Richards was at Ops. “Maintain course and heading,” she ordered, acutely aware that she still had the conn.

“I have the deck. Remember, we have every right to be here, and they have every right to offend any sane person’s sense of aesthetics. No, we do not need them on screen.” Keeping a light attitude, for now, could avoid stress that leads to mistakes, to Zhen’var.

“Captain,” the CPO at comms--his name was Bor’erj--looked over wearily. “They’re insisting we come about immediately and withdraw from Earth Alliance territory.”

Elia unbuckled herself again and went to ops to relieve Veronica now that she no longer had the deck.

“Give me the channel, no change in course or posture.” She paused, waiting for the light to illuminate on her control panel that indicated she had the channel. “This is Captain Zhen’var of the Huáscar, to whom do I have the privilege of speaking today?”

“This is Captain Ivan Mashkenov, EAS Thaumas. Captain Varma, treason has prospered, I see. Heave-to and take that cruiser out of our space. You in general and particular are not welcome here.”

“We are engaged in innocent passage through Earth Alliance space, Captain Mashkenov, starting and ending our journey at points not under the jurisdiction of the government in Geneva. I am unable and unwilling to comply.” Her expression stayed calm, though her demi-claws had pressed into the small stone strips she’d added to her command chair, to protect the finish until she developed the instinctual control a Dilgar usually learned over her claws in childhood.

“Accidents can happen in crowded space, Captain.”

As he spoke, Elia tensed. She thumbed the tactical interlock -- every member of the bridge crew had the ability to cut off the feed so that important messages couldn’t be overheard by the enemy -- “They have turned in toward us and increased speed to eight-point-one, Captain, they’re making to cut us off with their warp bubbles.” This was recklessly dangerous, it was clear they had little experience handling ships at warp speed.

“Conn, free helm. Manoeuvre as needed to avoid the reckless idiot. Cut off our course feed.” She kept her expression calm, as she pressed a button marked klaxon five times… into the open comm feed.

“Aye-aye, Sir.” Violeta grinned tautly as she began to punch in helm commands and alter the warp geometry to shift course. The Huáscar turned down, and toward starboard. As the Novas began to manoeuvre to stay interposed, she skewed the bow sharply to port.

“Eight kiloklicks and closing, Captain,” Lieutenant tr'Rllaillieu sang out. With the screen off, the bridge crew couldn’t see it, though PriFly certainly had a bird’s eye holographic view of the warp bubble indicators creeping closer.

“Bring up tactical display. Bridge to Engineering, we have some idiots in Nova-Refits trying to play tag at Warp Eight.”

Daria activated the tactical display, showing the situation as the Huáscar was skewing to port and the Novas were now almost interposing as they swung back hard to keep ahead.

“You can have Warp Nine at your pleasure, Captain,” Anna’s voice came back. “I’d rather not bump something twice our mass.”

“Conn, you heard the woman, bells at your pleasure. Operations… do sound collision in case they do something very stupid, please.” Now Zhen’var was starting to feel a bit of tension she ruthlessly suppressed any external sign of. Inexperience and arrogance was always a dangerous mixture.

“Aye-aye, Captain.” Violeta bucked the ship ‘down’ relative to the dreadnoughts hard, and then brought her velocity up.

“Four kiloklicks… Three kiloklicks,” Arterus kept singing out.

Elia flashed a nervous grin. But Violeta was all concentration, bringing them up to Warp Nine, and then sharply levelling out. As they accelerated, they suddenly snapped away like a projectile.

“Twelve… Twenty.” A palatable relief surged through the bridge.

Zhen’var would not let herself share it until she was sure the Earthforce ships did not have any reserves of speed, but once she was, she’d wave her hand. “Secure from collision stations. Excellent work, helm. Maintain course and speed, sensors, watch for any more ships seeking to intercept, those Novas will certainly send word ahead.”

“Understood, Captain.” Confirmations chorused.

Elia rose, and stepped down to her Captain’s side. “Final analysis, Captain, is that they’re fully shielded and engines have been substantially upgraded, but the warp drives reduce their manoeuvring to that of an ore barge, and they peaked at Warp 8.9 trying to pursue us.”

“Send that with our next intelligence update to Portland, please. I would prefer not to have to ever engage them, however. Dilgar have a long-standing aversion to Novas.”

After the excitement--and the General Quarters alarms--had faded away and the ship’s alarm had sounded the all-clear, Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur had decided to finally go get breakfast. She went to the mess, selected a large platter of Indian-style seekh kebab, in her continuing effort to understand her sister’s and other-mother’s culture through her stomach. Seekh kebab was the easiest part to understand.

Her eyes widened when she saw Fei’nur had just sat down at a table with her own breakfast, and she promptly dashed over and moved to slide into the booth alongside her. “Good morning, Battlemaster.”

Fei’nur gave the younger Dilgar a wary look for a moment, before nodding and forcing a smile. “Good morning, Surgeon-Commander. More human meat dishes to try?” Her own plate had what seemed to be a series of plastic skewers with a variety of meats grilled on them - what would have been Ogkarin street food, for the middle and bureaucratic classes.

“They had almost as many as we did, despite being omnivores,” Nah’dur answered, and snuggled in a little, reaching for her thermos of viri, stimulant tea. “So how many classic kinds of Ogkharin food have been successfully programmed into the replicators?”

“Forty-seven. We’re working on doubling it, but there’s… the problem of nobody being able to agree on exactly what some of the things tasted like, especially regional or specialty dishes. We’ve got a lot more noble dishes in there, but people like me? Nobody really saved the proper taste of a fried G’sha wing.”

“I think the best strategy would be to keep altering until each person thinks they taste correct who remembers the taste. Then someone who disagrees can just cycle through the options until they get to one they agree with. It may never be exactly right, but the library of recipes would at least be there for people to enjoy, experiment, debate, centuries from now.” Nah’dur curled her lips back, leaning as she ate her kebabs.

“That seems to be the only option, really. Though most of us just want to remember what the shack on the way home sold! It… we’ll never have Omelos again, but too many of us remember it.”

“We will, a little. We’re going to build domes over the monuments that still stand. We’ll settle the world, and it will be a symbol of our pride in the Multiverse, Fei’nur. I’m sure of it.” She tried to be encouraging.

“Perhaps. And now we’re going to Earth… only one Dilgar’s seen it, you know. I can’t talk too much about it, but we had… one soldier make it to Earth. The fleet that the Warmaster sent, that vanished without trace.”

“It’s going to be strange. Can you imagine?” She switched into a lower, softer tone. ”The five cheers? The Thoruns being armed with bombs? The feeling that we are about to win? And now… Here we are. Three hours out and running hard.”

“We never had that feeling after the humans came over the border to Markab, Nah’dur. Never. We never had hope we had a chance until Balos.” Ghosts of the past danced in the old commando’s eyes.

“Last night I dreamt that the Darglan homeworld had been accessible to us. It was a nice dream. Forty systems… We wouldn’t have had to fight if we had been so rich.”

“We would have. But it wouldn’t… have been the same. Our leaders wouldn’t have been as hard-pressed as they were. We couldn’t admit weakness with the Drazi there… so the die was cast when the exploration efforts failed. Conquer or perish… and we failed. Dream, Nah’dur. Please, dream, and seize those dreams.”

“I will, Fei’nur. But I hope that you have some dreams left, too.” She leaned in and nuzzled at Fei’nur’s arm, very briefly, though the gesture only intended to reflect the closeness of a girl who had been partly raised by her mother’s bodyguard, not the more complicated feelings she felt for the Spectre.

“I keep them very close, Nah’dur. Fate, and this multiverse we live in has been very cruel to my dreams.” There was a wistfulness in her voice, as she gently rested a hand on the doctor’s cheek for a moment.

Nah’dur smiled, and gently separated when Fei’nur removed her hand. “Well, today we get to stand tall. Humans in Sol are asking us for help. It is the irony of the ages.”

“Mars, not Earth. They are divided, and at each other’s throats. If we’d known then, what we do now… perhaps it would have gone differently. Perhaps.” Fei'nur fell silent; she didn't want to talk about the ghosts of the war anymore. Those silent lines of ghosts, which always made her wonder why she had survived, when more than a thousand like her, by numbers, had died, for each survivor... She shook her head, and smiled fondly at Nah'dur, and privately, was grateful for what she represented. If only...

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 1 "Matters of Honour"

Post by Tomyris » Sun Oct 14, 2018 4:35 pm

Act 3

Zhen’var had agreed with a suggestion by Will to slow the ship to allow everyone to finish lunch before arriving in Sol. It was quite possible that they would not have the opportunity otherwise if they were forced into combat, and the potential consequences of an exhausted crew so deep in Earth Space were not pleasant to think about if they were to be sorely tried. So it was that four hours after breakfast on the Huáscar, they began to approach at Warp 6. The system was a howl of activity around them as they did, with alarms, warnings, and mobilisation orders flashing from base to base, planet to planet.

“I believe, by the number of Earthforce ships swarming about, they think we are launching a one-ship invasion. Tactical, give me a sensor picture.”

The tactical picture blinked into existence as Daria brought up the system image. “Captain, it strongly appears that there are energy signatures of weapons firing immediately outside of Mars sphere, in a position congruent with IFFs for a contingent of Earthforce warships.”

“I want more information than that, give me high-resolution. I need to know what they are firing at and why, Guns.”

“Two minutes to Mars sphere,” Arterus called out.

Daria bent at her console with a twisted bit of a grimace as she tried to resolve the sensor picture, Elia’s ops console shooting her a full spectrum analysis to interpret. “They’re firing warning shots across the bows of a group of eleven small civilian merchants trying to leave Mars-space, Captain. Most have hauled out, but a group of two are proceeding onwards. One is a Solarian Republic ship, one is showing the IFF codes for Baker’s Dozen in S5T3.”

“Hail the merchants, ask if they need assistance… and move us in. Weapons cold, please, I am not going to give Earthforce an excuse to start shooting. Divine knows that has happened enough times in this galaxy. Call the crew to stations. Bridge to Heerman, I may need to detach you to present a multi-body problem if this starts degenerating. Stand to, please.”

“We are at Ready Ten, Captain, I am moving to Ready Five,” Imra reported back. They used Ready for the Heerman and Alert for the fighters to avoid confusion.

“Weapons cold,” Daria confirmed, stiff-backed after the implicit rebuke Zhen’var had given her.

“Dropping out of warp…” Violeta warned, as the star-field shifted before them and the Huáscar surged into position by the transports. The Earthforce squadron was already pulling away from the transports and positioning itself to engage the Huáscar in a direction from which they would not be cut off by the great Alliance ship.

“This is the ASV Huáscar to Earthforce ships, what seems to be the problem?” Zhen’var expressed such friendly openness in her voice, it almost belied that the words were coming from Dilgar lips.

“This is Admiral Jason Fernandez, Earthforce. Captain Zhen’var, withdraw back into the technical 0.5-AU limit of Mars Sphere immediately. We are preventing the violation of our territorial integrity by uninspected elements, nothing more.” The attempts to board or turn aside the transports had, however, completely ceased.

“I have the second freighter on comms,” Lieutenant Tor’jar was at the comms post now, one of the senior officers at communication. The male Dilgar looked across the bridge, briefly overriding the audio feed. “It identifies itself as the Star Newburg out of Baker’s World and in irons after delivering cargo to Earth. They say they took one hundred and eighty Martians seeking safety onboard.”

“Inform the Star Newburg that we are willing to take the Martians aboard to permit their departure. Solarian freighter?” She pressed her comms button. “Stand-by, Admiral Fernandez, we are preparing to withdraw to Mars orbit.”

“Understood, Captain,” his voice came back. Zhen’var could distantly remember the man, a very Americanized Hispanic gentleman who had been a loyalist in the Civil War. Unlike the others, he didn’t resort to baiting or unpleasantries, and one could almost detect a hint of relief that the Huáscar’s arrival had presented him with a legitimate distraction from the duty of his squadron.

Tor’jar spoke again. “Captain, Elaria confirms two hundred and seven refugees aboard. Also requests transport.”

“We can do both in two minutes flat with all the emergency transporters on-line, Captain,” Elia said from ops, tapping the beam-up plan into action and holding it ready.

“Maximum safe rate with a healthy margin for error, Commander. Heerman, it is my intention to keep you clear of refugees to preserve your freedom of action, I expect it is going to get quite crowded aboard, very quickly. Engineering, I want a volunteer team for beam-down, the sooner we reduce this pressure pushing the Martians off-planet, the less tense this entire situation shall be. And make sure to include forensics evidence, intelligence will want all the data on these terrorists we can get” She took a breath. “Admiral Fernandez, we are taking the Martians aboard, that should allow you to clear the two outbound ships by restoring their compliance with their inspected manifests, correct?”

“I will accept that interpretation,” Admiral Fernandez replied. “Proceed with your operation and when the life-scanners record correct numbers the freighters will be permitted to proceed.”

“The other freighters have retreated into Mars orbit already since they were halted further back,” Elia noted. “I’m beginning beam-outs now.”

Heermann should be launched as soon as we are in Mars orbit, Captain,” Imra advised over the channel. “The bay can be sealed and used as additional emergency shelter space.”

“Agreed. Welcome back to semi-independent command, Captain. As I said, I expect to be hard-pressed here. Divine willing, it we won’t be down to cramming your bay full of Martians.”

Nah’dur thought that, in general, the ship’s “humanitarian” relief role was one of its more interesting functions. She was excited to actually get to test it. It also challenged her as Surgeon-Commander in a way a conventional Doctor might feel overwhelmed, since it was her responsibility in Zhen’var’s operational plans to actually organize all of the humanitarian relief operations on the Huáscar, and she had a command staff course, anyway.

She had laid out the plans for responding to each transporter in operation, to organise based on space-available to provide rations and water to everyone brought aboard on arrival, plus mats, blankets, and pillows.

To sort out the situation herself, she also contrived to beam aboard the Star Newburg directly to assess if anyone needed direct medical assistance and couldn’t be transported, assigning corpsmen to the other ships. The freighter was originally of Romulan construction, as best she could tell from her ship recognition guides.

Standing in front of her in the transporter room was an impressively tall woman that Nah’dur recognised as being of Vulcanoid extraction. “Miss?”

“Sophie Mankiewicz,” she offered, folding her hands. “You’re the Chief Medical Officer on the Huáscar?”

“That’s absolutely correct. Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, at your service. Do you have any wounded who need transport?”

“Just a ‘sec.” Sophie spoke through a comm, and a moment later a second, shorter Vulcanoid woman, who also looked distinctly Japanese, stepped through the doors.

“I’m Captain Ogawa of the Star Newburg,” she introduced herself. “There’s absolutely nobody who can’t be transported, we already treated and stabilised those with injuries onboard, I have an excellent Doctor here. So, you should probably transfer back to your ship and see to the wounded from the other vessels.”

“Well, hmm. Is your doctor here? I’d at least like to get case summary files.”

“Yes, she’ll be along in a moment,” Captain Ogawa replied, frowning. She didn’t seem inclined to let Nah’dur onboard, and so the Dilgar woman paced in the transporter room.

An Andorian, of one of the more female sexes, arrived a moment later with a stack of flimsy printouts. “Case-files, ah, Doctor…”

“Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, as it is,” she smiled.

“Yes, well, here you go.”

Nah’dur took them, glancing through them, and on a such a small freighter was actually quite impressed with the quality. “Oh, this is indeed quite sufficient. I guess I should be leaving now,” she added, a bit dumbly. But as she turned to the transporters, she slyly handed something to the Doctor.

A moment later she was gone, and the three women left in the transporter room on the ‘Star Newburg’ stared at each other.

“Do you get the feeling she figured out a lot more than she should have?” Sophie asked uneasily.

Her Captain had a distant, thoughtful look, as if distracted by something, so it was the ship’s doctor that answered. “As a matter of fact, I’m certain of it, because of all things, I was just handed a personal business card. Who still has business cards?”

“Presumably, Dr. Shrati,” ‘Captain Ogawa’ answered, “Dilgar physicians whose last name is Dur.

Robert Donovan and Xavier Montoya were the two Ministers of the Martian Government on hand when Zhen’var arrived at Mars Dome. Donovan was an infamous name, his original name had been Benson, but he had adopted his nom de guerre legally when elected to the Provisional Government. Montoya, of course, had been a member of the collaborationist government who had turned on it during the Civil War. The two men didn’t like each other, Montoya had worked in the system and Donovan was a terrorist, full stop. But Mars, for whatever reasons, had succeeded in putting both in the same coalition government.

Zhen’var decided in the circumstances it was best to arrive alone, and in full dress uniform, she did so. There was more than a little of sharp-eyed watching as people observed an honest-to-god Dilgar walking through Mars Dome and up into the Ministry Palace, an ostentatious name for a structure that, if larger and heavier, was just as prefab as everything else on Mars.

She glanced about - once, she’d been stationed on Mars for a few months, and not liked it overmuch, especially in the aftermath of the Minbari War having ratcheted tensions so highly. Now she was here as a Dilgar, and an Alliance captain. Zhen’var could feel people taking out small cameras for the moment, as she kept her expression studiously blank.

The guards showed her into a private meeting room in one of the upper floors of the building. Donovan and Montoya were waiting for her at a small conference table. “Captain Zhen’var,” the old terrorist greeted her with a surprising kindness. “Holloran said you were solid, and she said that opinion wasn’t changing, too. Have a seat.”

“Thank you, I think. What seems to be the problem, sirs? I have an engineering and search team on standby to do what we can.”

“We could use the engineering team immediately, we’ve got damage to three of our domes with loss-of-pressurization,” Montoya said. “Temporary shelter is preferred, everyone wants to come back. Of course, the problem is that Earth has been… Finding excuses to make temporary evacuation very difficult. We could handle things ourselves if…”

“If it wasn’t for the monsters in the tunnels,” Donovan finished, shooting Montoya a sharp look. “We want your specialised technology. There was some kind of biological experiment in the extraterritorial facilities that Earth is still operating here, and it got loose. That’s all we can figure out.”

“I have a scout team which is ready to deploy into the tunnels at once, to determine just what is going on down there. If you will give me a location to deploy my engineering team, I can start sending down people at once to begin repairs. No other information available, either on the attack or aftermath?”

Donovan grimaced. “Get the engineering team to Achates Dome. As for the other matter, there’s no definite proof.

“Intelligence, however, believes it was the work of rogue telepaths,” Montoya said, taking a sip of water and looking hard at his counterpart at the table. “The fourth dome attacked, the extraterritorial facility, that was Psi-Corps.”

“Tensions keep growing higher, I see. Thank you, I will brief my people to be cautious.” They’re hiding something… I think. “I will brief you once the situation is stabilized then, gentlemen. It appears I should get my people deployed and working as soon as possible, agreed?”

“As soon as possible. If you can go ahead and contact them now, feel free,” Montoya offered.

“Give me the coordinates for deployment, and I will get the process underway. Captain Zhen’var to Huascar, put the away team on alert to deploy, and start loading the engineering team aboard the shuttles. We’ve more than a few problems to deal with, and the quicker we resolve them, the better we will all be.”

She smiled politely at the two men before her, already trying to think ahead as to just how this could somehow get more complicated; assuming the worst had not led her astray yet, and she feared this would be another example.

Following Zhen’var’s orders, Will had assembled the away team in one of the briefing rooms. Fei’nur, Nah’dur, Elia, Daria, based on her desire to have as much ability to handle unusual events behind the group as she could.

“All right,” Will grinned as he went to stand in front of the briefing table. “Other than the fact that we’re going to be--what’s the line, more crowded than Grand Central Station at rush hour?--in about fifteen minutes, everything looks nominal in our preparations. Unfortunately, we’ve got issues on the surface that go beyond just simple humanitarian relief.”

“Commander?” Fei’nur tracked him from her seat at the table.

“Nah’dur has some idea, and based on Captain Zhen’var’s conversations with the Mars government,” he turned more serious, “there’s something down in the tunnels. We don’t know what it is, but…”

“The evacuees are describing monsters,” Nah’dur explained crisply, rubbing her hands against the sides of her padd. “Wild, unusual monsters.”

“Monsters in the Martian tunnels doesn’t add up, unless they were intentionally released by the attackers,” Daria remarked.

“You’re exactly right. Something else is going on,” Elia added, and looked sharply at Will.

“By all means, the Captain and I agree with that, Commander,” Will replied. “Of course, since we’re all cheerfully chiming in, I will note that the Captain has already spoken with the Martian government and they did confirm something was down there. So it will be all of you, plus a squad of …”

“Marines are preferred,” Fei’nur answered fast enough he didn’t need to finish the sentence, though he had been kind of leaning that way anyway. “If the Martian government lets us.”

Will rolled his eyes. “Well, I don’t think they’re going to care at this point, to be honest. They certainly didn’t say anything about it one way or another.”

“Good,” Fei’nur smiled, tautly, perhaps the most concerned Will had ever seen her. “Then, one squad of Marines will be acceptable.”

“All right. So we’re all clear on the objective? Find out what’s lose in the tunnels. This is recon, no need to solve the problem, we can bring heavier forces in conjunction with the Martian Government to bear to do that.”

“Understood,” Fei’nur nodded sharply, and maybe just a little too quick. “I will be in command?”

“You are the ranking officer, Battlemaster,” Elia replied.

“Commander, depending on the situation, I will let you be the face of the landing party. I do not think there are monsters in the tunnels. I have met monsters in the dark, and there are not nearly enough dead for it to be anything like that.” There was a sort of flat deadness in her eyes as she said it.

“Understood, Battlemaster. I will make the appropriate arrangements. Commander,” Elia looked to Will. “I believe we’re ready to go.”

“All right then. Stand-by to beam down in twenty minutes, and you’re all dismissed.”

Will headed out, leaving the four of them in the room, and three of them were looking at Fei’nur, because Elia and Daria could feel that she was not well and Nah’dur had an inkling why.

“What?” Fei’nur asked them, sensing the looks and letting defensiveness bleed into her voice.

“...El’sau, Lieutenant, could you leave please?” Nah’dur asked softly.

The older Dilgar grimaced. “They are battle-comrades. They can stay, Nah’dur. I trust them.” There was still an underlying tension in her voice.

Nah’dur got up and stepped over to the replicator, where she said, simply, “Computer, voice recognition for Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, Chief Medical Officer, ASV Huáscar, recognition code alpha alpha bravo sierra foxtrot seven niner. Override prescription interlocks to allow replication of medical drugs and implements.”

Fei’nur’s eyes widened in surprise. “... Nah’dur, you can do that?! You can just make it give you drugs?

“It’s not like, say, capsaicin, is substantially less complicated than sulpha, or the flavor of proteins in seekh kebab less complicated than a lithium injection,” Nah’dur answered, and grinned. “So it’s a matter of permissions, not capability. This allows me to, say, in the case of catastrophic damage to sickbay, set up casualty clearing stations anywhere on the ship we can get a portable generator rigged and re-start a replicator.”

“Replicators seem so much like magic sometimes. I don’t understand how people take them for granted… you’re distracting me, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” Nah’dur answered, interfacing with her omnitool to tap in the configuration of drug she wanted, and taking the syringe and needle after it appeared. “The Battlemaster is fit for duty, and always will be,” she said flatly to Elia and Daria. “However, the reality is, this is not a good situation for her memory-wise.” She walked over to Fei’nur and rested a hand on the older Dilgar woman’s shoulder.

“My Warmaster would be most disappointed if I was ever unfit for duty with anything less than a large hole in my skull or massive traumatic injury elsewhere.” Her eyes flickered up for a moment. “Tunnels. Gods, but I hate tunnels.” There was a revulsion in the woman’s voice, as she ended her sentence with a sharp hiss on the final syllable.

Elia sucked in her breath and nodded significantly, looking to Daria. “Balos.”

“You would have studied the Earth side of it in school, wouldn’t you? I bet they didn’t talk about just how near-run it was, did they? Or when they dropped the damned Gaim on us.” She shuddered.

“Indomitable Gaim warriors cleared the tunnels one by one in bitter fighting, carefully supported by Alliance divisions,” Elia recited by rote. “That’s it, though. The Psi-Corps curriculum considered it to only need one line. I’m sorry, Fei’nur.”

In the meantime, Nah’dur had peeled back Fei’nur’s Marine uniform jacket, considerably more ornate and military than the uniforms of the line crew, and sanitized her skin. Because a disposable one-shot needle was much easier to replicate and Fei’nur had never been bothered by them, a quick jab followed.

“It is really a nice, completely fucking sanitized way to say ‘We dropped millions upon millions of Gaim warriors atop the Dilgar and let them physically tear everyone apart they could reach before we ever let any humans be exposed to danger’. Which is what they did, after all. We never controlled the tunnels, the Balosians did. You sent in a division, you got a company back.” Her gaze was distant as she felt the injection flow through her veins. “Warmaster Jha’dur won the space battle, and so Earthforce withdrew underground. Our idiotic generals didn’t press them hard enough, so most got into the tunnels, aside from the rear-guards, which killed us seven to one. But it was always that way, against them. They always used the masses of materiel and guns dozens of systems and loans they’d never have to pay back let them buy to blast us apart. So we went down into the tunnels, and they kept killing us. The Warmaster wanted O’Leary, so we went in, all of us Spectres, trying to get the man who’d shattered our codes and killed millions of Dilgar. Some of us found him. They died. Everyone died. Shot, stabbed, tortured by Balosians, hunted for sport after the third battle in space meant everything on the surface was blasted to rubble. Not me, though. I hid. I ambushed those who came after me, made it look like booby-traps and accidents. Never let them know one of us was still alive. I took rations and water from the dead, and kept going after I couldn’t even find those, as they dumped Dilgar bodies into piles and burned them. It was fair, after what we’d done to them. I kept my stealth suit working, and I did what I had to to stay alive.“ Her voice was hoarse, and her hands visibly trembled.

“Just another minute, Fei’nur,” Nah’dur whispered, looking at Elia and Daria, transfixed, barely willing to breathe for fear of interrupting the moment. Nah’dur had started rubbing the commando’s shoulders again after carefully re-buttoning her uniform for her. “It’s one of the more interesting drugs to come out of our experimental research, back in the day. It completely removes the particular flavour of fear humans call anxiety without impacting the other, rational fears which keep you from acting recklessly. One injection can easily last thirty hours and has no side effects which impair combat ability.”

“Part of my combat cocktail, but the auto-dispenser comes with several other drugs I don’t need unless it’s life and death.”

“Also the injection version has a longer duration of action and isn’t as bad on your organic bits, my friend,” Nah’dur smiled. “Anyway, it has utterly no side effects, that was the point, so it doesn’t down-check someone for combat, no drowsiness or lack of killing instinct. I believe we’re running out of time, though, so we need to get ready…?”

“Uh, yes,” Elia agreed, starting, and fingering the Mha’dorn pin on her uniform reverently, before looking to Daria, who silently nodded with a mildly stricken expression on her purple face. There was nothing to say.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get everyone back safely, no matter what it takes. I need to get my Marines ready.The trembling had passed, and Fei’nur started to look more like herself as she stood. “I’m sorry, you two, I know that could not have been pleasant to experience. I try and keep the control the Mha’dorn forced into me when the Warmaster picked me to join her, but sometimes it can be a bit too much.”

“Do not ask the brave how they won, simply know they are brave because they did,” Nah’dur quoted a Dilgar aphorism, and hugged Fei’nur as she went out.

Continuing to advance through the almost endless tunnels of Mars, the four officers and the squad were armed, using night-vision gear to avoid illuminating and making their presence blatantly known. The localisation had been simple: Fera'xero had simply run a regression and then a few genetic algorithms based on the residence locations of Marsies fleeing their homes who were not in a damaged dome. With damaged domes excluded, they had quickly localised a worthwhile section of tunnels to search.

The tunnels mixed mining, transportation, habitation, and terraforming uses (frequently water pipes or gas systems). There were a lot of them, because it was cheaper than building a dome, and autonomous Tunnel Boring Machines could pretty much keep drilling and sealing forever. Power had been lost, but there was nothing that kept their sensors from working at close range.

It was an improvement from the last time Fei’nur had been down in a series of tunnels, as she crept ahead, invisible and silent, sending short sensor burst updates to the rest of the squad - a firm believer in having options, rather than letting the other side dictate the course of events. Mask and visor protected from the dust and gave a ghostly outline of what lay ahead in pitch blackness, though this time she wasn’t hunting an Earthforce general and his command staff. Every two minutes came the short all clear sensor burst, as she led them deeper and deeper into the warren.

Nobody was speaking. Sound might kill, in the circumstances, so they were all staying quiet, using hand-signals when they could, the officers except Fei’nur in light tactical gear and armour, the Marines in full battle rig. With great uncertainty as to what the ‘monsters’ were… They quite simply had to assume the worst.

Keeping calmly wary, Fei’nur would press forward until something pricked her senses, sensors, or instincts - all of those had kept her alive before, and they would again. I won’t hurt them if they won’t attack me. Gods, I’m not asking too much, am I?

For a long while, there was no response except to advance, but then they reached an area which the maps the government had given them indicated was an emergency stores prepositioning facility. As she led the way, Fei’nur felt a sudden rush of air and a strange, hideous beast of fur and scale began to form before her -- but it wavered, and was indistinct, like so much of a hologram. The rigorous training she had at the ends of the Mha’dorn left her with a distinctly strange feeling touching her consciousness.

“El’sau. Telepathic illusions.” It came through her subvocal mic, as she reached to her belt and flung a remote speaker into the darkness ahead, keying it as she displaced from her throwing location.

This is Battlemaster Fei’nur of the Dilgar Imperium! I do not wish conflict! We are not with Earth nor Mars!” She thought about adding ‘rescue’, but decided that telepaths, Corps or rogue… or any humans for that matter, would be very unlikely to believe a Dilgar was here to rescue them.

Elia dashed ahead at the warning, and as she came up short, the rearing monster abruptly disappeared. As she came into line of sight of the stores, around her flooded voices, minds, by the dozens. Her heart nearly stopped. They were Young.

Everything is all right, she thought very simply and clearly. My name is Elia Saumarez, and the Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. It was a glyph, not words, all telepathic communication was, but the intent was plain, the meaning clear.

Sitting down with her legs folded, she glanced up to Fei’nur, quickly.

Grimacing, Fei’nur dropped her cloak, and dropped to a crouch, holding empty hands out to her sides, and letting some of her effort to shield herself mentally fall away. Gods, she was wary and tense, but not hostile, as she spoke slowly and clearly in English. “Contact appears non-hostile, form a defensive perimeter. Weapons on safe, turn your lights on. Commander El’sau has point.”

As she finished speaking, the first, braver, of the children, started to step out from behind crates.

“Oh Gods, they’re kits?!” Fei’nur’s voice expressed real surprise, as her eyes widened. “We need to get them safely out of here, Commander.”

“Do we ever…” Elia murmured, and brought her omnitool up. “Huáscar Actual, this is Commander Saumarez. We’ve located the source of the problem.”

“Go ahead, Commander.” Zhen’var’s voice crackled out of the omnitool, as she sat straighter on the bridge.

“Children, Captain. Children defending themselves. Telepath children.”

There was a pause. “Understood, prepare to bring them up as soon as you can.” On the bridge of Huáscar, Zhen’var was grimacing, as she pressed a comms key, and spoke in Dilgar; “Surgeon-Commander, the ‘monsters’ are a group of telepathic children who appear to have lost their adult minders. I need you to prepare a segregated and secured area for them. Have all the Mha’dorn aboard report to you, anything we can do to soothe them, the better. Do not inform the Martians aboard. Questions?”

“I’ll beam aboard immediately and make the preparations while El’sau arranges the transports, Captain. No questions at all.” She nodded to Fei’nur, now in visual range. “Orders,” she mouthed, and vanished into a swirl of the transporter.

Elia grinned and faced the kids, quickly turning the sparkly effect into a teachable moment. All right, this is going to be an adventure. You’re going to get to teleport!

On the bridge of the Huáscar, Zhen’var activated the intercom to the central security office, where Major Janice Armstrong should be subbing for Fei’nur. “Major, please come to the bridge immediately. I need to brief you on an imminent situation...”

After having gotten the first group to transport, Elia quickly worked with Fera’xero to lock down a transport position for the second concentration of ‘monster attacks’. “The children are very special,” she updated her team as fast as she could with what she had learned from the mental contact. “They’re telepathically activated kids who have unusual manifestations of psi abilities. So bear in mind, just like with the last group, they’re not all there, and that’s okay. They should have been raised to minimise any danger they could put others in, in a communal environment.”

“Don’t worry, Commander, I’ve been through Mha’dorn resistance training and the Warmaster’s laboratory. They’re kits, just special ones. Be open about wanting to protect them, everyone. Nothing to be afraid of.” Fei’nur’s voice was calm and clear, as she glanced about. “Perimeter posts, are we still clear?”

“Clear,” the voices crackled back.

“Daria, ready?” Elia asked, looking ahead to where the woman was sitting on the ground ahead of her, concentrating as the last group of six children waited. A moment later they vanished in a burst of light and Daria rose as well.

“I’m ready. Transport at your command, Commander.”

Elia brought up her omnitool. “Transporter Room One, beam us to Site Two.”

A moment later the transporter effect bounced them straight down to the next site on Mars where they expected to find another group of the children.

As soon as she could move, Fei’nur’s head was on a swivel, as she signaled her Marines to spread out. Step one, secure the landing zone…

Corporal Gar’akh swung out down one of the main passages. “Battlemaster,” he almost immediately squawked. “We’ve got a party of armed humans approaching in the nine o’clock tunnel. Adults with lights.”

Fei’nur immediately began running in that direction, signaling to the rest of her team; “Defensive positions! Corporal, fall back and await my arrival. Reserve fire-team, you’re with Commander El’sau!” There was something profoundly jarring about trying to use authority rather than knives to deal with humans in a tunnel.

“Colonel, allow me?” Daria asked, falling in at her side.

“Very well, Lieutenant. I will give you the first chance.” She still had her short rifle in hand as she was talking. This could go very wrong, very quickly, and she’d promised to get her team back. Before coming into view, she activated her stealth suit, and vanished, moving to cover her subordinate.

Daria stepped forward, her purple-based coloring immediately marking her as an alien like none locally known, and drawing the approaching humans up to a halt. “I am Lieutenant Daria Seldayiv of the ASV Huáscar and, we are here at the behest of your government. Do you need assistance?”

The men paused, but a shorter, dirty brown haired woman with them pushed forward. “Yeah, I’m Liz Maguire, and I sure as heck need assistance. There’s been attacks in these tunnels, and we think they’re coming from this area, the last two parties were turned back by what they thought were monsters, but we know better.”

Daria remembered her deescalation training, and smiled politely. “Of course. So, these attacks, what have they been?”

“People have been getting chased by these things.”

“And food is missing,” a man with a salt and pepper beard added. “Hard to get food right now, and whatever is down here is overtaxing t’scrubbers, too.”

“So you are looking to stop the missing food and the threats?”

“Exactly. So help us drive ‘em out, whatever it is,” Liz nodded firmly, and thumbed a plasma cutting torch.

“While we appreciate that the help, that would be an extremely risky endeavour. We already have a squad of marines in full armour here,” Daria answered. “I can alert you when we’ve finished our mission?”

“I don’t hear any shootin’!” the bearded man shouted. “So how the hell are your ‘marines’ dealing with it?!”

Daria reached out to Fei’nur. Knife display, please. “Oh, we have our methods.”

Fei’nur ghosted into view, wavering into visibility as she did, a fighting knife flashing in her hand, giving a mocking salute to the humans with it as she did. The very nature of her suit had left her with far too much experience up-close-and-personal. Weapons could be picked up on sensors, knives far less so.

Daria smiled. “I think we’ve got the situation perfectly well in hand,” she winked, and then watched, with her arms casually folded, as the group of humans started to disperse and head back from in front of their position. She waited until they were gone a good hundred meters before speaking softly into her pickup feed.

“All right, I think we’ve taken care of that. Commander Saumarez, have you located the children?”

Static. Daria’s eyes flashed as she spread her perception again. “Colonel, we need to get back to Elia’s position now.”

She didn’t make a sound, just vanished from sight while taking off at a sprint. “Reserve team, converge on Battle Expert El’sau’s position now! Reports! Lieutenant, try and keep up!”

Daria managed to keep up very impressively, matching pace with Fei’nur even though she was cloaked. The distance to cover was not great, as one team of Marines assumed cover positions behind them and they tore through the tunnels. Of all the things it could be…

Probably not the children, but why didn’t she send an alert on the comms…? By all the hells, she knows better!

As they tore around the last corner, catching up with their reserve team just moments after they had arrived, the situation became clear. A dozen humans, much similar to the first group, were scattered around. Some were on the floor, shaking. Some were on their knees, glaring hate. Some, locked in a rictus of determination, remained in place on their feet. Weapons had dropped to the ground around them.

A group of children cowered to one side behind some crated equipment. In the centre, carefully keeping all twelve of the adults in her field of vision, Elia stood with a rictus of pain and concentration on her own face, utterly silent and completely absorbed into her task.

Fei’nur let out a snarl of rage as a telescoping club slipped into her hand. Without even decloaking, she slammed into the first target. “Stun, take them down now!”

Daria and the two Marines on scene needed no further prompting. They opened fire simultaneously with weapons on stun, splaying them across the human gang again and again. Another two Marines reached the position in time to join in for the last bursts.

As they did, Elia closed her eyes and staggered backwards. One of the children, a boy of about ten, broke loose from his hiding place as he did and ran straight to her, hugging her right thigh and steadying her.

“Defensive positions! Battle Expert, are you all right?!” Fei’nur flickered back into view, holstering the club, and spreading out her hands to show she was unarmed. “Lieutenant, give her Nah’dur’s shot for over-stressed telepaths. Kits, it’s all right! I know we’re not Psi Cops, but we’re here to help!”

Daria stepped over to Elia, projecting calm with her own gifts as she knelt by the woman, easing her into a sitting position back against the tunnel wall, and quickly gave her the injection through the veins on her arm after rolling her sleeve back from her glove.

Keep herself very carefully controlled, to avoid projecting to the children, Elia looked to Fei’nur. “Battlemaster,” she said carefully in Dilgar, “they’re not some vigilante gang. They had stun cuffs and syringes.”

Fei’nur’s expression got stormy at hearing that, and her mental walls slammed down. “Marines, secure the prisoners. They’re under arrest on suspicion of kidnapping for purposes of slave trading.”

“Universal jurisdiction on that count,” Daria spoke, in case anyone thought to hesitate. They didn’t, and quickly secured the prisoners.

By that point, Elia had recovered enough to the point that she was coordinating beam-outs of children, 68 in all in this group, and from what she could feel, it was the last, the two groups having fully accounted for those present at the facility. That, at least, was a relief.

“Battle Expert, I want to get us all back to the ship as quickly as I can. This entire situation gives me a bad feeling, and I don’t think we’ve shaken the sabre-cat yet.”

Elia nodded in concurrence, still a bit shaky. “Transporter Control, this is Commander Saumarez. I have twelve adult signatures, no transponders, my location. Beam them directly to the brig.”

“Mission successful, for now. Battlemaster Fei’nur to Transporter Control, bring the rest of us up as soon as able.” When her muscles seized with the energizing of the beam, she was still frowning. I don’t like this feeling… not one bit. The sooner I get to Security Central, the better.

As they arrived, two security guards were covering the entrance to the transporter room, looking edgy. “Colonel,” the transporter operator said, “We’ve got problems.”

“Understood.” Fei’nur brought her omni-tool up. “Major Armstrong, this is Colonel Fei’nur, I’m back aboard. Give me the data-dump to my rig, I’m taking command.”

The arrival of the first tranche of children had initially gone off smoothly and without problems. They arrived, Nah’dur’s medical teams greeted them, and then started taking them off a special set of cargo bays set off from the other refugee areas under utilization to date.

News, however, spread fast. Most of the refugees had some kind of link device connecting them to the Martian news. Or someone offhandedly mentioned where the kids had come from and why, a classic case of loose lips sinking ships that would never be definitively pinned down.

Though they were not being taken to the same locations, their paths across the ship did cross, and it was as Nah’dur was personally leading the last group that moved through the ship. As she did, a group of tired and dirty refugees who had just arrived paused, and watched the kids.

“Hey, whose kids are those?” One woman in the group asked.

“Oh, they’re kids we were rescuing,” Nah’dur answered, coming to a stop. “I am Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, the Chief Medical Officer. And you are..?”

“Joan Watkins. Whose kids are those? Why are kids being taken away separately like that?”

“They were rescued from the surface independently. They didn’t have parents with them.”

“Well, give them to us? We can take care of our own little Marsies! I mean, you’re a Dilgar, whaddaya gonna do with those kids? Eat ‘em!?”

Nah’dur grimaced. “Look, they’re not your kids, Miss Watkins.” She wanted to murder the woman instead for suggesting she’d eat kits.

“Hey, Joan… I think she’s on to something.” A man stepped forward, rubbing at his mustache. The children in the group had stopped, and he was staring at their silent self-organisation. “They’re not our kids. They’re those monster kids from the surface. The Psi-Corps experiments, that was the rumour, it must be true!”

“Now look here, they’re not monsters, they’re telepaths…”

“Telepaths,” Joan hissed. “Telepaths not in gloves. Little freak ones that do crazy things. We’ve heard about that facility. There’s rumours people go in there and never come out again. Get them off your ship, Dilgar.”

“No, they’re safer here.” Nah’dur took a measured step back. “And you all need to calm down, please, there’s plenty of room for everyone, there won’t be any fighting over lifeboats.”

The man stepped forward, leaning into her face. “Now, see here, ‘Surgeon-Commander’, those things shouldn’t be on the same ship as we are. They’re dangerous.” And abruptly he shoved her back into the wall and took off down the hallway toward the kids.

He made it all of six feet before Nah’dur shot him in the back with a pistol set to stun, of course. Then she turned it on the Marsies, who didn’t know about Alliance stun settings and turned on her with a sudden rage.

“You said you’re a doctor and you SHOT HIM? MY GOD, YOU SHOT HIM!” Joan screamed, and charged Nah’dur.

Nah’dur fired again, this time on wide-beam. And again. The group collapsed, stunned, but further down the corridor, other refugees had seen it all happen. She shouted at her omnitool. “Emergency line to the bridge -- Captain, the refugees are trying to attack the telepath children, we have a riot on our hands!”

By the time Nah’dur had gotten back to the sickbay, Fei’nur had arrived back on the ship and received her report. Six cargo bays were in the hands of the rioters, and several security personnel had been wounded in melees with infuriated Marsies who had fled the surface just to find their ‘tormentors’ back among them.

“I want Marines in at least reinforced squad strength and in battle armor, security in full riot gear. Reduce the oxygen content in the cargo bays, seal them off with the blast doors. Nobody breaks order on a Dilgar ship!” Her blood was up, as she started to give sharp orders to her teams to contain the Martians and protect the bays the telepath children were in, jogging to the front lines. “Attention Martian refugees! You are engaged in a riotous assembly! Disperse to your assigned cargo bays and cease attacking Alliance personnel, or force shall be used to compel your submission! This will be your only warning!”

A man in the front of the group she faced made an obscene gesture. “We’re Marsies, and you can take your law and stuff it up your…”

“Open fire.” The order flashed on headsets, and crackled in earpieces, the Last Spectre’s expression utterly pitiless.

Glowing stun beams raked across the rioters from the entirety of the reinforced squad. They started dropping like flies, and the Marines advanced, mostly managing to not step on the stunned people, continuing to fire as fast as they could.

Keep your ranks, Marines, advance at the half-step! Like you were trained! One-two, one-two, do not break your ranks!

The Marines shifted forward in a strange shuffling half-step which had the effect of psychologically recoilling the mob between shots. They organized no effective opposition, a few objects bounced off helmets and that was it. Really, the only problem was that in another three minutes, they’d completely cleared all opposition from the corridors. Just like that, it was over. Security teams had advanced behind the protection of the Marines to restrain and stabilize the stunned Martians, Fei’nur nodding in satisfaction as she keyed her transmit button. “Captain Zhen’var, we have restored order. Transferring the riotous elements to the brig now.” Clicking her transmitter off, the old marine shook her head. “And here I thought it would be challenging to take this assignment.”

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Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 1 "Matters of Honour"

Post by Tomyris » Wed Oct 17, 2018 4:33 am

Act 4

Anna Poniatowska had led a crew of almost 300 engineering and damage control personnel down to the surface of Mars shortly after their arrival. This was a heavy burden to the Huáscar, but trained personnel were critical for the engineering phase of emergency response. The Martian government had already been into the engineering response and recovery phase when they had arrived, and that, if anything, made her just as important as Nah’dur’s medical staff to the operation. They had environmental systems to fix, and physical Dome envelope repairs to be made.

Dome repairs were their own unique kind of special. A geodesic dome structure was neat, geometric, symmetrical. Beautiful to a designer. In a way, though, Anna would have preferred a solid continuous dome. It would have required a special patching structure to hold the patch composite in place, but once you controlled conditions for the cure strength, it was straightforward enough. Repairing a geodesic required having parts which fit within the standardised table.

The marsies had plenty of dome repair parts--it was one thing they had hardly run out of and never would if they could help it--but the assembly was laborious, which was Anna and her team from engineering fit in. A starship was a piece of equipment which virtually defined complexity, and engineers possessed hundreds of specialist tools for repairing damage in combat. This fit essentially the equivalent starship case of a structural bulkhead torn and exposed to space, but here the structure was not massive duranium frames sheared by heavy fire and buckled and melted plate.

Because the specialized parts took so long to fit, the idea was to create a patch first to quickly restore pressure. This seemed straightforward, except the problem was that in a geodesic structure load had to be distributed to be held, it was enormously strong but the individual pieces were weak. Put a patch on the edge of a shattered section and it would start progressive tensile failures. So Anna was working with Vera Anagnos, PE, the Facility Engineer of the Dome, to complete finite-element modeling of the structure load to finish sizing the attachment points of the dome.

Once the modeling was done--and the Huáscar ’s computers made this much faster--they could start rigging cables which the airtight fabric would be attached to. On the edges of the patch would be special buckles attached to the frame, which directed the cables to tightening ratchets. The ratchets would draw the patch tight while redistributing the load away from a single point, and the system was tensioned enough with a second set of circumferential cables and ratchets that the contact pressure alone would form the gas-tight seal, there were no adhesives on the edges.

“Starting the twenty-seventh iteration now. Your sensor scans of the failure region were almost too precise, Anna,” Vera remarked with a wry grin. “The system keeps flipping between two different ring sizes.”

“We could just make the command decision to go up to the next patch size since it might be necessary anyway.”

“We could,” the Martian-Greek woman agreed, “but we only have one patch that big, so if we come under attack again, we’d be screwed. Unless we can finish dome reassembly in the depressurised region before then. Gonna stay around for the fun part?”

“I hope so. I want to get you all set.”

“Well, it’s appreciated. Marsies aren’t really used to Earthers who give a damn about us, you know,” Vera shrugged, and reached over for the coffee pot to give them both a refill. They were inside the emergency command trailer, and the urgency of the situation--complete with a countdown clock to when the deep survival shelters exhausted their CO2 scrubbing capacity--didn’t mean there wasn’t time for coffee, in fact, it made it mandatory.

“So,” Vera began again as she was glancing at some of the news on a subsidiary computer screen as the model ran the next iteration. “What’s up with this entire teep thing? They let these monster kids loose in the tunnels and…”

“Monster kids, Vera? Surely? They look like humans with souls to me.” Anna goggled for a moment, before sighing. That was too intemperate. “Apologies, I know you…”

“Maybe I did mean it,” Vera replied, her face turning blank. “I don’t understand who in a million years could support those monsters. Who could raise them? They could take over the minds of any parents. Who could integrate them into society?”

“I assume the Psi-Corps had a plan,” Anna answered, now with a bit of heat in her voice. “Look, you have to try, you can’t just abandon people.”

“They were never people, they were teeps. And you’re helping them instead of punishing them for terrorising Marsie civilians.”

Anna grimaced. “Look, once you start dehumanising one group, you tear down the laws that protect everyone, and next up, they come for you. Thathappened, you dehumanised telepaths and then they came for Marsies. Period. That’s what happened.”

“Just wait until one of them gets in your mind, and then we’ll see how precious your high ideals are, Alliancer. Now shut up and let’s get back to work.” She was clearly restraining herself from outright exploding, as frankly Mars culture favoured at that moment.

Anna grimaced tautly. All human life was valuable, including that of Marsies who were essentially racist toward Teeps. She turned back to her console, and adjusted some of the parameters. They needed a stable solution and they needed to get to work. This would all be better when the dome was re-pressurized. Maybe. She was about to go on to some forms that her omnitool told her she needed to e-sign, when another alert flashed.

“Just a second, Vera, I’m going to use the WC.”

“Fine,” the woman answered, uncompanionably ignoring her.

Anna stepped back into the bathroom and closed the door. “L’tenant Rutgers, what did you find?”

“Commander Poniatowska… There were Darglan energy signatures in the weapons used for this attack.”

The next morning, Zhen’var decided to hold a staff meeting to try and sort out the details of the chaotic events which had defined their first full day in orbit of Mars.

“Anna, thank you for ensuring nobody was shot while repairing the domes - nobody was shot while repairing the domes, were they?” Zhen’var’s voice came out from where her face was in her hands. One hundred six people were in the brig… and the overflow brig spaces as well. She was already having nightmares about that many Ten-Eleven’s, or as the lawyers called it, the Report on the Use of Potentially Lethal Force .

“No, Captain, nobody got shot while repairing the domes. Though there may be an accident today involving ratchet bolts going through peoples’ skulls,” Anna answered, cuddling her coffee cup like a lover.

Elia was trying to smile at the humour, looking at Arterus across the table from her and trying to keep her spirits up. Most of the other staff were in Anna’s position, but not quite so blatant about it.

“Make sure everyone is in their PPE.” She replied, deadpan to her engineer. “In all seriousness, very well done, Elia, Fei’nur, Nah’dur, all of you. Nobody was killed, the children were rescued, kidnappers were arrested. Commander, how are they doing? I have all the Mha’dorn on the ship assisting, but I know most are not conversant in Earth languages without the translator, which means they are not at all easily understood via mental glyphing, yes?”

“Most have been learning with me and can maintain some kind of positive mind contact,” Elia answered. “They are… The misfits of the Psi-world, they didn’t fit into what EarthGov wanted out of telepaths, so the Corps was raising them here, to try and understand them and help them be functional adults. At least one is likely capable of teleporting short distances like the rumoured powers of some very old Asari Matriarchs. Most are low-level teeks.”

“They are children , that is what matters. Do we know if their guardians were killed or separated in the attack? I assume there is some sort of parental bond, or was… I am hoping for the second, honestly. Children need parental figures. Diplomatically , of course, this is going to explode on us at any moment.”

“Some of the Guardians were killed,” Elia said, and rubbed her face with a gloved hand. “Captain, they were driven out into the tunnels intentionally. The telepaths who attacked the facility wanted to cause chaos on Mars.”

“Well, they have succeeded. I do not think it impossible the Martian government will demand all Psi Corps facilities but Commercial ones be removed from the planet in the wake of this. They are just children. No matter what, Elia, we are going to keep them safe. You have my oath.”

“Thank you, Captain, but what about the kidnapping gang we arrested on the surface?”

Daria leaned in first. “We’ve got to take them back for trial, of course, it’s the law, we’ve got jurisdiction, we know the MO of these types of gangs in this universe.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t care what the Martian government said to us right now,” Will agreed. “We’ve got ‘em in the brig, keep them there.”

“I am not handing them over. Not after the Martian behaviour yesterday. We will hold them, and while they are off balance, I want what-ever information we can get, admissible or not. If someone is kidnapping telepaths, the Corps needs to know, as do our own law enforcement people.”

“Thank you, Captain. With your permission, I need to get back to the children now. Nah’dur has them all camping out in a field-trip format in the sickbay to keep them out of the refugee zone right now.”

“That… is remarkably adorable, Commander. Yes, granted. I will arrange your duty shifts to be filled as long as you are needed there. If you need me to pay a visit as part of the effort to keep them distracted… children are children.” She gave a warm smile, before looking to the rest of the table. “That means the rest of you are all being given an effective bump a level up the command chain as long as Commander Sausmarez is needed in Sickbay, but you will all rise to the occasion, I am sure.”

Elia left, feeling vaguely dissatisfied with herself that she had tried to be neutral about the condition of the kids. Sometimes, attitudes of old simply died hard. Behind her, with the flow of refugees having stopped, she could hear Zhen’var talking about recalling the Heermann now for rest.

Zhen’var, watching her go, looked down at the information she had received from the surface. Not even here with her staff was she going to bring it up. It was for one pair of ears only.

The call from Mars Dome was not long in coming. It sounded insistently, and before long a voice from comms summoned the Captain, warning her that the Martian Directorate wanted to speak directly to her--urgently.

“I will take it in my office, thank you.” Pulling on a uniform jacket, Zhen’var looked into the mirror, sighing softly as she straightened her hair.Diplomatic crisis, check. Sitting carefully in her chair, she tapped the key to bring the connection live. “Your Excellencies, you wished to speak with me?” She asked, with a politely rising inflection.

“Captain, you have made arrests of our people on your ship--and of our people off your ship. This is, needless to say, what we expect ofEarthforce, ” Donovan leaned in. “You have treated Mars sovereignty like so much of a wad of t--tissue.”

“On suspicion of kidnapping for purposes to supply the slave trade, to the second, sir, and universal jurisdiction applies in such a situation. As to the first, any unrest aboard ship is as dangerous as that inside a dome, Excellency.”

Minister Montoya folded his hands. “What’s wrong with that picture? Oh right, universal jurisdiction: We have the bigger guns. I’ll point out that the situation involves Psi-Corps essentially abandoning unstable children who are a safety and security threat to roam through our tunnels at will.”

“An Earth agency,” Donovan added, “which has treated us very much like a dumping ground, this is just the latest straw.”

“A human agency,” Zhen’var answered. “I am given to understand that casualties among those raising and guarding them were not minor. The Corps was not the ones who pushed them into the tunnel, those who breached your domes are the ones to blame.”

“Be that as it may, we need to get out of this war. The Telepath Resistance should have no cause for attacking Martian targets,” Montoya frowned. “Captain, do you think you’ve finished your little round-up?”

“We believe all the children have been rescued from the tunnels, if that is what you mean, Mister Montoya.” She hid her frown at the direction this conversation was going.

“Well, make sure they don’t come back,” Donovan added flatly. “Captain Zhen’var, we have withdrawn permission for Psi-Corps to operate on our territory. Those are not Marsie telepaths, they’re Earth telepaths, and you cannot return them to the surface under any circumstance. That decision has been voted on by the Provisional Congress of Mars and the record will be forwarded to the Huáscar.

“You are making a mistake, Minister.” Zhen’var’s voice had gone oddly flat, as her expression froze. “This is exactly what those terrorists wantedwhen they struck your domes.”

“Mars made a mistake by agreeing to permit Psi-Corps to remain in our space to begin with. In the future, Mars telepaths will be organized by us Marsies and no outsiders from anywhere. Good day, Captain.”

The screen blinked off before she could open her mouth to reply, and the Captain sank back with a loud groan. Elia needs to stay with the children… “Captain Zhen’var to Lieutenant Va’tor, please report to my office as soon as is convenient.”

The ship’s mental hygienist, with her brown-blonde hair over typical Dilgar thin, dun fur, arrived a few minutes later. “Captain?” She asked. “Reporting as directed.”

“With Commander El’sau occupied, you are the highest-ranking Mha’dorn officer aboard.” She paused, fiddling with her hands, before forging ahead, looking up with worry deep in her feline eyes. “The Martian Government has voted to expel the Psi Corps and take control over Martian telepaths.”

Va’tor inhaled sharply. “It’s happening, then. The war that El’sau has feared.”

“That is my fear. You may access the comms system as needed, I do not want to know what plans the Mha’dorn have, but the time may have come to put them into effect. I am unsure how long it will be before we are expelled from orbit. Any questions, Lieutenant?”

“Our superiors in the Alliance… Should I even ask, Captain?”

“I shall inform them, but we cannot predict their response with certainty. I do not expect them to take it as seriously as we do.”

“I will send the message immediately, then.” Before we receive contradictory orders was manifestly something that did not need to be said. She came to attention. “By your leave?”

“Granted, Lieutenant. May our gods smile upon us and all we do.” And Divine, but we need all the help we can get.

She couldn’t escape giving a report to Admiral Maran at this stage, of course. The events had pushed the limit of a starship captain’s authority, or at least, had largely defined it during humanitarian operations. This was now a major event. Zhen’var started to type, quickly; she preferred the ability to marshal her thoughts inherent in old-fashioned text. That did not, however, mean she was not expecting a possibly angry comms message to follow very soon afterwards.

A few minutes later, the priority channel went live from Portland. However, it was Maran himself, so at least it wasn’t going to be angry; it seemed the Gersallian Admiral never truly got angry.

“Admiral, sir, I had expected an urgent reply to my report. Please accept my apologies for not submitting it sooner, the situation has been both urgent and deteriorating.”

“You have acted according to humanitarian principles to contain the situation, I have no complaint about your decision of when to report, Captain,” he replied, his tone still mild. “As it stands, we have no interest in a conflict between the Telepath Resistance and Psi-Corps, except, of course, that it pertains to the Byron Free Colony.”

“The situation has grown somewhat more dire than that, Admiral. Mars moving against the Corps will turn into a humanitarian disaster. Martian anti-telepath sentiment already caused a riot against children aboard this ship, sir.”

“I would caution you to at least consider that the sentiment of the Martians may as much be based on their resentment of Psi-Corps’ presence as on sincere fear toward telepaths, however, I acknowledge that the situation is serious. We will be dispatching a special diplomatic team to Mars to assist their government in the drafting of legislation and to encourage them with economic incentives to comply broadly with human rights norms, and that is, of course, out of our purview in the fleet.”

“I wish I shared your confidence, sir. I expect to be expelled from Martian space within the next few days, at best . The situation in human space here for telepaths is very poor, and a collapse of the Psi Corps… does not bear thinking about in terms of consequences.”

“Many in Portland, Captain,” he said, now very carefully, “would consider the collapse of Psi-Corps to be a great advance in telepath rights in the Earth Alliance. Certainly, no Gersallian, who enjoys the company of his or her relatives so blessed as farisa, and admits them normally to family relations and society, would regard without a tinge of horror the current situation in which the gloves and badge mark a caste devoid of rights and protections under the law. Are you certain you are not evidencing your own past in your view, Captain?”

“Yes, Admiral. I believe the Corps needs reforms , but it was Earthgov who forced the telepaths into the ghetto known as Psi Corps, and steadily exerted more and more pressure that warped the entire system, before finally upending the entire basis of the Corps at the dawn of the Clarkist regime. Gersallians did not start murdering telepaths, born and unborn, as soon as the existence of them was proven. Earth did , Admiral Maran. I know my position is not popular, sir, and I do not often share it, but if you read the human theory of the stages of genocide, sir, the humans in this galaxy are between the seventh and eighth stage when it comes to their own telepaths.”

“And you think the Telepath Resistance will serve to enable that activity?” Maran’s expression, thoughtful and serious, showed he was not disregarding the idea entirely. “The extremists, creating a justification for the genocidaires on the other side?”

“I do not think the Resistance remembers why the Corps exists, and how it became what it is, sir. What they have done on Mars has resulted in the removal of what few protections Martian telepaths had left .”

“We will be monitoring the solution under a genocide watch, Captain, I can assure you. In the meantime, what about the children? If the reports in the Martian press are correct, Psi-Corps has been using them for experiments, and that, of course, puts the Corps in a very different light than you would have me believe. I grant those reports may be wildly inaccurate, but the claims by refugees in the Byron Free Colony suggest it is not out of the realm of possibility.”

“I intend to hold them aboard until such time as I have a sufficient understanding to make a decision, sir. I would like to speak to those who had been stationed at the dome before releasing them. If they have been treated as nothing but experimental subjects, then returning them is clearly out of the question, I agree. I do not think that the case, but I understand the need to prove such to the government.”

“Understand that under Alliance law, Captain, it is somewhat more complicated than that. Unless you can demonstrate family reunification after an urgent disaster, their cases must be adjudicated in our family law courts for fosterage and location of living relatives.”

“The Corps does not quite work in a way easily compatible with Alliance law as I understand it, sir, but I shall keep my duties firmly in mind.”Somehow. Elia, what have you gotten me into now …?

Taking a breath, she launched into the part which both served as a riposté for Admiral Maran’s feelings of moral ambiguity on the subject, and perhaps the most dangerous thing of all for Alliance involvement. Because they might, in fact, have some involvement. “Admiral, before we finish, there’s one more thing I need to bring up.”


“There’s evidence the attackers had access to Darglan weaponry…”

Due to the fights with the refugees that had resulted from the arrival of the kits, Nah’dur had ended up moving her Marsie patients to the emergency sickbay and concentrating the telepath kits in the main sickbay, all 209 of them. That had turned it into a glorified nursery, but most importantly, it had put them all in one place for Elia be present.

Nah’dur was not exactly sure what Ops was saying to the kits, but she had gotten them all calmed down from the earlier case, so whatever it was, it had worked. Surrounded by large numbers of children who were now sitting on the floor and calm, she was thankful these human kits had some of the Dilgar virtue of small kits who could sit patiently with their mothers at work all day, as long as they were rewarded with food afterwards.

She dug into lab results, keeping herself closely focused on them. The kits would just be upset by excess thinking, and she wanted some valuable calm. For all Marsies had disrespected them immensely, the sick and injured still needed their lab results and treatment plans. Nah’dur tapped a way for a while, stretching and flashing her demi-claws when the relative boredom of the assignment got to her.

After finishing up the really important ones, she switched to reviewing notes from the data that the Krogan had sent to her. Urdnot Wrex had come to trust her at some level in their correspondence after Tra’dur had introduced them and the genophage was an actual challenge. She caught herself from thinking more such idle thoughts for the sake of the telepath kits, and focused on the chemistry.

Behind her, Elia had managed to organise nap-time thanks to the supply of emergency bedrolls, mylar blankets and rubberized cover pillows from the emergency stores for humanitarian disasters. Now the children were waking up again.


Nah’dur corrected the voice without thinking of it. “Surgeon-Commander,” she said idly, and then blinked widely.

“Surgeon-Commander!” The little male-child bounced to her left. “You’re the ship’s Chief Medical Officer, Miss Saumarez said. I’m Lucas.”

“Lieutenant Commander Saumarez!” One of the girls corrected. “She gets to be an Officer.

“Well, Lucas, and?”

“Betsy,” the girl offered.

“She does indeed get to be an officer, and I am the Chief Medical Officer. CMO. Militaries love acronyms; my name is Nah’dur. Lucas and Betsy. Is there a reason your counterparts don’t talk? Other than telepathically, I mean.”

“Oh, well, I mean we’re special! That’s why we have a special Sigma Cadre all to ourselves. Everyone’s different here.”

“That is something of an understatement,” Nah’dur remarked.

The words brought a quick reaction. “You’re not going to hurt us like the Marsies, are you? I…” Betsy’s face scrunched up.

“Aren’t sure because you don’t have much practice reading the intentions of aliens?” Nah’dur replied with a grin and a wink. “And especially Dilgar? Why, don’t worry. I happen to like the lot of you a great deal. The Martians or Marsies or whatever they call themselves are being ridiculous and you were just defending yourselves, weren’t you?”

Lucas nodded widely.

“I have some experience with the concept,” Nah’dur elaborated drolly.

“We never thought we’d get to meet Dilgar,” he said softly.

“We’re very hard to kill, little Lucas. I’m glad to be around to help you. So! ...Do you have families? Nobody was really quite sure about that.”

“Oh yes, we were telling Miss-Commander Saumarez about our creche parents!”

“Creche parents, now that’s an unusual practice for humans. They love you a lot, don’t they?”

“Yes.” Several nods came from those not speaking.

“I was starting to get the idea that was true. Very well then, I shall make this something of a day at the lab for you. I am helping a gentleman named Urdnot Wrex; his species was attacked by a half-baked, retarded little imperfect bio-weapon, and he needs a professional to eliminate the long term consequences. Fortunately for him, he got to be friends with my sister, and so here we are. Today, children, we shall learn about the genophage, and how I am going to eliminate it!”

The children giggled. Nah’dur paused for a moment and fluffed up, before continuing onwards with her example, and getting far more rapt attention. Fortunately for her she never noticed the reason for the giggles: Elia had rolled her eyes behind Nah’dur’s back in friendly bemusement at the young Dilgar genius’ penchant for self-confident proclamations.

Nah’dur nonetheless cheerfully led them through an educational precis reasonably well-targeted to their age groups on what a genophage was and how it could be cured, in principle. Then she declared they were all a great help to the Dilgar, and so with great seriousness, replicated a large quantity of child-sized Mha’dorn badges and passed them out to the kids to make them honorary Mha’dorn. All in all, Elia actually thought Nah’dur was surprisingly good with kids.

Regardless, the Nah’dur improv train for keeping human telepath ‘kits’ happy wouldn’t last forever. Elia knew that politics be damned, she had to get them back to their family. As much as she didn’t feel comfortable doing it, Elia took advantage of the break to go talk to someone.

She needed Commander Imra in her court.

By the evening, they had completed major dome repairs and had begun returning refugees to the surface. This considerably relieved the pressure on the ship, both in onboard space terms and in terms of having their engineering and damage control crews back up to full strength, making Elia’s unique duties in sickbay a little bit easier to manage.

The respite would be short. Shortly after dinner that evening, it finally happened. Two crisp looking shuttles in formal government livery marked with the Omega of Psi Corps began approaching Mars Sphere, escorted by a flight of Earthforce Starfuries. The event brought an immediate response from the small Martian defence force, mostly armed freighters.

They scrambled toward the intrusion, running their engines hard, and this brought up an immediate set of alarms on the bridge of the Huáscar where Will had the deck. He looked at the insignia on the shuttles and saw the tactical display with energy up in the capacitors on the Martian ships. That was enough.

“Hail the incoming shuttles and inform them that the Martians are rolling hot. Advise that we cannot defend them against an intrusion of Mars-Sphere. Condition One, battlestations.” It was the fourth time in four days that the ship had gone to stations, each potentially in earnest.

“They have returned our signal,” L’tenant Tor’jar was back at the comms bank. “Sir, they’re asking if a direct approach to the Huáscar will place them under our protection.”

Will sucked in his breath. He didn’t have time to wait even seconds for the Captain to reach the bridge with those kinds of closing rates, he had to make a decision now.

“Sir,” Arterus was reporting from his console, “That Warlock at 223 Mark Four is coming about at full thrust toward the line of control.”

He made his call. “Tell the Martians we’ll take the Psi Corps delegation aboard to help them avoid a shoot-out with that Warlock and vector the shuttles in for landing. Warn them that we’re not going to permit them to be fired upon when on a direct heading to land aboard. And Launch Alert Five. Get them out to cover the shuttles!”

“Aye-aye, sir!”

The moment that the order came in from the bridge, PriFly leapt into action. Stasia’s voice snapped into the comms that fed the helmets of Lar’shan and the three other pilots of his flight. “Alert flight WC-50 you are go for launch.”

“Completing final launch checks now, PriFly Actual!” Lar’shan answered instantly, fingers punching across rows of control systems to do final launch checks. “Lead Flight, confirm final checks.”

“Camel, this is Lead Two Confirm.”

“Lead Three Confirm.”

“Lead Four Confirm.”

Lar’shan checked the green-lights across the board again. Externals had already been checked on Alert Five. His aircraft was being guided by magnetic tracks in the deck into one of the launch tubes. The Huáscar was the first ship modified to have these tubes, firing directly below the primary hull. They were linked by elevators that could handle anything up to a runabout between the main hangar above them and the fighter hangar below -- though bombers now spilled into the main hangar. This had increased the capacity to 72 fighters and 24 of a new design of bomber and improved handling of runabouts and shuttles, and relieved crowding on the troop transports--in theory.

One of the advantages was that the flank tubes meant for launching a full strike, which were linked to the prep bays for the fighters, were augmented by two tubes firing directly forward. These tubes and the small pad from the elevators associated with them could keep four ready fighters on standby and launch them as required, and then cycle through bombers or fighters. Unlike the other tubes, they were away from the hangar where arming and fueling occurred and so allowed both activities to happen simultaneously, at least at a low rate. These changes and the addition of PriFly were the main modifications from the standard Enterprise class in the Huáscar.

The spinning hands of the flight deck crewers indicated they were about to load the first element of the flight. Lead 3 and Lead 4 went into the tubes first. Safety hatches slammed shut behind them, allowing them to bring their engines to test holding thrust. A moment later, the signal lights turned red -- two fighters had just been accelerated to 10km/s and, as they cleared the Huáscar, the engines were brought to full military thrust, one fighter turning to port, one to starboard to clear the ship and each other.

Lar’shan was next in, confirming the tube was clear and safe. Once the indicator lights turned to green, he brought power up to test on his own fighter. “PriFly, Camel launching!”


The moment Stasia’s voice came back, Lar’shan hit the toggle which, through the interlinks, triggered the electromagnetic accelerators. Inertial dampers compensated for the acceleration, which exceeded 400g’s. A moment later he in space, banking to starboard and diving down. Somewhere behind him, Stasia would be cycling four more fighters up into Alert Five.

Captain Zhen’var appeared at the bridge hatchway, trying to keep her deep gasps for air and pounding heart under control after having sprinted from her quarters, not taking the deck until she had a clear grasp of the situation, though she immediately noted that Lar’shan and his wingman had just gone flying out the launch tubes.

“Captain, we’ve got two shuttles with Psi Corps markings coming in. I just vectored them for a landing and warned the Martians off from attacking. Two Earthforce ships are nearby and one, a Warlock, is coming in at full thrust on a course that will violate the Line of Control in,” He glanced at his console, “five minutes.”

“Captain has the deck! Hail the Warlock, inquire as to their intentions. What is her IFF, Commander?” She’d been woken up from a dead sleep and was already facing another possible flashpoint.

“EAS Styx, Captain!”

“Well, it could be worse. Bridge to Flight Control, two Earthforce-types shuttles coming in, clear the deck for landing. Commander Imra, as we have gotten quite used to as of late, Ready Five, please.”

“Ready Five, Captain, in five minutes.” They had only been back onboard the Huáscar for ten hours, but there was no complaint from Imra.

“Captain, this is Chief Héen. I’m spotting them in the lower troop bay with your permission, if I take them in Bay One we’re limited to Alert Ten for the Wing.”

“Good enough, Chief. They can accept a bit of cramped quarters for their shuttles. Move us up to the Line of Control, helm, get those shuttles aboard now , before somebody does something we will all regret.”

“You have full military power, Captain,” Anna reported from engineering. She hadn’t needed specific orders for that.

“Straight on to the LOC, half-impulse,” Ensign Van’bur confirmed from the helm position, and they eased ahead to meet the shuttles. As they did, the Martians peeled away from them. The Styx kept coming in, and abandoning the shuttles, they were turning toward what might be a real threat. Lar’shan and his fighters had the situation well in hand, driving sharply toward the Martians and interposing themselves, before weaving back around the much slower Starfuries and sending out the reminder that they had legally violated the LoC.

“Bring us to a stop on the Martian side of the line, Ensign. You have full freedom to manoeuvre to protect the ship without my order, but do notcross that line.”

They came about to port, facing the Martians, and as they did, the shuttles lined up for final approach. When they did, the Starfuries peeled off, and when the final approach tractors caught shuttles the Warlock finally broke her trajectory as well. The Captain of the Styx had apparently been escorting the Psi Corps group in.

“Commander, you have the deck. I am going down to meet our new ‘guests’ myself. Comm Lieutenant Va’tor to meet me there.”

“Understood, Captain. Permission to use my discretion in standing down?”

“So granted, Commander. You have the ship. Well done, everyone.” As the doors to the bridge closed behind her, Zhen’var shook her head lightly.And to think, how long has it been since I met a Corps member, well, aside from Elia? A distant memory of Talia Winters flickered for a moment. That might well be the last. She still wasn’t even quite sure what had happened to the woman, only that it had been a sore subject amongst the daytime command staff on Babylon 5.

When she arrived at the bay, she could see Lar’shan and his wingman come in close enough to give a waggling salute before peeling off to port and starboard to re-form aft of the Huáscar, while the shuttles made their way in assisted by the landing tractors and indicator lights. Landing on their wheeled gear, they both quickly came to a stop, the design familiar for the Dilgar crewers in the bay, for it had been stolen from their people during the war and mass-produced by Earth in the subsequent decades. And out of it came the representatives of Psi Corps.

A younger man, only somewhat older than Elia, stepped out of the lead shuttle. He looked vaguely Eastern European and was dressed in a modern business suit, only the pin and gloves marked him. Following him was a woman maybe a bit more than half-decade older than Zhen’var’s mother. She was fairly clearly an Anglo-Indian by Zhen’var’s familarity with the ethnicities of her homeland. Behind her was a woman slightly older than she was, of indistinct but probably Latina ethnicity.

“Permission to come aboard, Captain?” The leading man asked.

“Granted. Welcome aboard the Huáscar .” The Dilgar woman stepped forward, and bowed politely, offering namaste . ”I am Captain Zhen’var, and this is Lieutenant Va’tor.”

Va’tor, standing in place with the Flying Eye badge, bowed from the waist.

The man before them smiled. “I’m Marcel Szewczyk, MetaPol. Behind me is Doctor Nishita Cavanaugh, Medical Department, and Erika Flores, Legal Department. Thank you for covering us on our approach, Captain Zhen’var.”

“It was my duty to avoid any incidents. Pleased to meet you, Officer Szewczyk, Doctor Cavanaugh, Miss Flores. May I offer you the ship’s hospitality? The situation on Mars has degenerated drastically, I fear.”

“We heard the comms on approach, Captain,” Nishita said. “It is… Grim, unfortunately.”

“To put it mildly,” Marcel agreed in his mostly Polish accent. “We do accept your hospitality, Captain. Please lead on.”

A brief flash of communication connected the group with Va’tor. She was an alien mind to them, and they to her, but she had been learning from Elia and both sides wanted to be polite, but in this case the fulcrum of their talks was necessarily Zhen’var. Still, the exchange provided useful information which gave Nishita a small smile, at least.

“You believe you have all the children onboard, Captain?”

“My landing teams believe so, yes. After the experience in the tunnels, I would not have withdrawn my people without being reasonably sure that was the case. Children should be protected from such experiences.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“You are welcome.” Leading through the ship, the Dilgar woman led them to one of the conference rooms, directing them to sit. “Please. You have free use of the replicator while you are here. What do you seek of me?”

“We want to get our children and bring them back to safe facilities, Captain,” Nishita took the lead, lest it seem like too much of a Metapol operation. “The political ramifications of the attack on Mars make this more pressing, more urgent. And we do have a list of children present at the facility to compare against those aboard, to make sure there are no stragglers.”

“The list I can and will take, Doctor, but I am bound by oath to enforce Alliance law.” Zhen’var’s face had formed a grimace she couldn’t hide, and she went on, bleeding reluctance through her mental shields. “I will need to demonstrate family reunions to my superiors in the aftermath of an incident such as this, or our family courts will claim jurisdiction and attempt to place them with blood relatives. I know that is not how the Corps works, before you protest, but my latitude is quite limited. I am under explicit orders. Can… you help me?”

The frustration from Marcel hit Va’tor like a wave, but he wasn’t leaving it at that as he faced Zhen’var. “Captain, that is very much not how the Corps works,” Marcel began. “Personally, your family had an excellent reputation in the Grapevine, I mean, your mother was the only Captain whose ship Military Telepaths actively sought out assignment to. I know you’re not trying to hurt us. But this is a serious matter. You’ve already let terrorists settle in your territory, are you going give them our children, too? They intentionally abandoned them in the tunnels after terrifying them!”

Nishita turned to Marcel and for a moment there was a silent conversation before she looked to Zhen’var. “Forgive us. You asked for our help, we can at least try. Erika…”

“Alliance law lets me file for an emergency injunction from an Alliance jurisdiction, which the ship is,” she offered, a more hopeful smile touching her face. “So I can at least let the litigation begin immediately.”

“That is good. Please, anything you can do to buy time will help. I need a family reunion, it does not have to be a conventional family. Can you help me with that ?” Zhen’var’s voice was hopeful, though hurt had flashed through her gaze when the Bloodhound had snapped at her.

Nishita opened her mouth to reply, but the words never got out of her lips when a trilling buzzer warned Zhen’var of an urgent communication.

“Captain, this is Commander Atreiad, I need to speak to you urgently.”

“Excuse me, please.” Standing, the captain moved to step into the hall before activating the sound-suppressing field on her omnitool. “Go ahead, Commander, privacy bubble engaged.”

“Mars Gov just ordered us to vacate Mars Sphere in the next five minutes or they will request Earthforce to intervene. It’s so abrupt that I don’t know what’s going on, and I half think they’re bluffing about the second part.”

“Something very ill-omened indeed. Send an emergency report to Portland, and prepare to break orbit. We cannot assume it is a bluff. Thank you, Commander.” She took a breath, and took advantage of the privacy bubble to whisper a soft prayer. “Captain Zhen’var to Commander Imra, emergency priority.”

“Captain, we are still holding at Ready Five. What do you need?” She didn’t even miss a beat.

“We are being expelled by Mars in five minutes. I want a stealth launch before then, you are about to be the officer on scene, Commander Imra, I am delegating local command to you. Load what-ever you need for possible long-duration independent operation in the next five minutes.” Zhen’var’s voice was clipped, clear, and tense. “The Martians are threatening to cooperate with Earthforce, the situation has degenerated beyondHuáscar ’s ability to overtly influence.”

“Permission to depart in tandem and return to the system under stealth? I believe, Captain, my mission should be to resume contact with Psi Corps. At this juncture, we risk a breach otherwise.”

“I agree, and permission is granted. I wish I could remain to provide assistance, but irrationality appears to rule the response to our presence now.”

“Don’t worry Captain. I’m not the one who has to tell MetaPol they’re getting a free ride to somewhere they don’t want to go.”

“Which I will now be doing to avoid awkwardness. Coordinate with Commander Atreiad for your needs. Divine go with you, Commander Imra.” After the telltale blinked off on the interface, she turned back for the conference room. Somehow, I do not think this is going to go well.

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 1 "Matters of Honour"

Post by Tomyris » Thu Oct 18, 2018 4:17 am

Act 5

Abebech Imra watched the Huáscar disappear at warp, and began to give her own orders. “Set our course for the outer system, Warp Factor 8.”

Ca’elia confirmed the order, and soon the Heermann was warping out of the system as well. At that high velocity it took only minutes, and then Imra gave her next order. “Cloak the ship.”

“Cloak the ship, aye,” Goodenough confirmed, and a minute later they were invisible. They were comfortably cloaked and certainly in no functional danger on the Heermann, but that meant little. At some level, the abrupt Martian willingness to cooperate with Earth was a total catastrophe. That clearly required a solution, and Captain Zhen’var had authorised her to find one.

“Stop all engines,” Imra ordered. A moment later, they were out of warp, drifting at the outer edge of the Solar System.

“That Psi-Corps delegation didn’t arrive from Earth, did it, Goodenough?”

“No, Captain, it came from direction Io,” he answered after a minute of reviewing the records.

“Io. They arrived from the Gate, didn’t they?”

“Possibly, Captain, our sensor data doesn’t range that far, but that was certainly their heading.”

“We need to make contact with them separate from EarthGov or else something is going to go down here, and I’m not sure if it’s EarthGov or the Corps that will be starting it,” she said after a moment.

“L’tenant Ca’elia, set course for the Io gate at Warp Factor Six. Maintain cloak.”

Without further ado, they headed back into Earth space, except this time, invisible to Earth Alliance sensors. Abebech expected by long experience that once she could get into hyperspace with the Heermann, she would be able to execute the next phase of her operation.

After the exchange with Captain Zhen’var, Dr. Cavanaugh had made her way to sickbay to see the children and the woman who had been taking care of them for the past few days. Greetings, Commander, she glyphed, as the images of the children flooded in. Some were excellent young Psi-Corps kids who were as controlled as adults, some blooped like crazy. Such was a Sigma cadre.

Doctor Cavanaugh… I’m very sorry about this situation. Elia straightened.

It’s all right. I’ve been told about how you’ve helped us. I know by law there are things you cannot do in your current position, and good press is more important than anything else right now. Can Marcel and Erika come? I know they’re not trained to handle the children, but you weren’t, either.

Of course they can, Elia glyphed back. Among other things, I could use some sleep. Though first we’ve got some pretty serious things to discuss.

That’s … yes, but I’m not sure which one is the most important.

Children first. Do we have lists of definitive creche-parent relationships for them including second-in-line as a godparent equivalent?

Yes, I can provide that documentation right now, Nitisha agreed.

Marcel and Erika entered at that point, everyone’s conversations briefly distracted by the excitement of the children.

After a few minutes, Marcel turned his attention to Elia as well. Commander. Thank you for working to get the children to a place of safety, even if it was temporary.

It’s my duty to Mother and Father, Officer Szewczyk. No thanks needed.

No, I really think they are, Marcel answered. I’ve seen too many even with good intentions turn cruel and heartless toward their kin. That’s why even good intentions in blips I no longer care about. They don’t last.

I understand. There were traffickers already operating on the surface of Mars. We have a dozen of them in the brig. Our security chief and a couple of Mha’dorn have been working on wearing them down.

What they deserve, Elia, is…

Marcel, her glyph conveyed a bright cheery sentiment that rarely connected with what came next, our security chief was a personal agent of Warmaster Jha’dur.

Oh! Everything is in the most appropriate hands already. Maybe I can just sit back and sample mixed drinks from the replicator.

Elia giggled. I will leave it at my absolute trust for Battlemaster Fei’nur.

Good. I see Nishita has already taken care of the children… Elia, do you have any useful information on the attack?

Not yet, but the Captain knows something. Anna’s team found something out on Mars and she’s held it close to her chest since. Do you want me to try and ask? If it’s already been restricted, I won’t be able to tell you, but if it isn’t, I can fudge.

...I’ll take what I can get. Please. Marcel felt a little bit like a caged tiger at the moment, though the thought of one of Deathwalker’s agents working the traffickers made him want to giggle.

I think trafficking has increased lately, Erika observed, interjecting. Legal has gotten a considerable uptick in related cases and frankly the centres aren’t at all obvious.

That is correct, Marcel agreed The terrorists had to go and distract us at a critical time.

I should raise the possibility of an extrauniversal source, Elia glyphed.

If you can get any evidence on that, either from this interrogation or another, that would be critical. Surely you can share that without restrictions?

Stopping the slave trade? The Alliance wouldn’t exist if it was throwing up roadblocks between me and that, its creators would help me tear it down. Yeah, if there is a link, you’ll hear about it, Elia promised.

Well, I think we’re all on our way to making lemonade, then. Marcel thought for a moment about what else to talk to. Any other human telepaths on the ship, or is it just you and all of your Dilgar friends, Elia?

Elia got a taut smile on her face. Let’s put it this way: Oh boy is there ever.

Abebech had relied on Ca’elia’s brilliant piloting, the Dilgar woman with ice water in her veins, bringing them straight behind a liner through the Io gate with only a few hundred meters of clearance. Goodenough had seen the small, slightly satisfied look on his Commander’s face and knew that she’d found a keeper when it came to the new helmswoman.

Since then, they’d started a series of sweeps, drifting in hyperspace near the gate, but going steadily out from the beacon.. And not toward the beacon network. This was making Jonathan a little nervous, but Abebech was doing the calculations herself.

After somewhere around six hours, they had left the network completely, Abebech sitting with a mug of coffee in her hands, watching the screen intently through her sunglasses.

Every so often, Jonathan stole a look at the complicated inertial navigation program running on the Heermann’s mainframes to try and keep track of where they were.

Then Abebech raised her gloved left hand and pointed a finger at the screen, showing only the crazed, mottled reality of hyperspace. “There. Come about oh-four-nine mark one. Ahead one half impulse power.”

Oh-four-niner mark one, one half impulse power,” Ca’elia sang out. The ship surged ahead and raced down the tiny blip Abebech had so casually pointed to.

It rapidly resolved into a modified Hyperion class cruiser. And they knew they were coming, Jonathan could see it from the way power spiked. “Captain, they’re charging weapons!”

“Lieutenant Mehmet, hail them and inform them we have come to discuss the repatriation of the children from Mars. One will beam aboard, unarmed.”

Aye-Aye, Captain..” He shook his head, muttering something under his breath.

“Helm all stop,” she directed next.

“All stop Aye,” Ca’elia confirmed again, glancing to Jonathan, who just shrugged. One, unarmed, of course it will be Abebech, of course she’ll be fine.

“...We accept your parley, they signal, Sir. Captain Rhee, Commanding.”

“Captain Rhee.” She rolled the name on her tongue. “Very good then, inform the Transporter Chief to be prepared for one beam-out. One only.”

When the flash of the transporter effect faded from the bridge, what remained was a gaunt, female individual of greatly above average height, skin an odd, unhealthy tone of bleached black that didn't quite qualify as mocha. She was in the full dress whites of a Stellar Navy Commander, unarmed, her hair sharply yanked back with a rigid level of control that, considering the kinky mass, must have been downright painful. Her eyes were concealed under an immense pair of ray-bans and when she turned to the side, it revealed her black-gloved hands in silhouette. Her mind was the most uncomfortable sense of them all, well-contained, highly disciplined, able to brush aside anyone on the bridge, it nonetheless slipped along like it was vaguely wrong, like the difference between skin and old leather.

Her lips pursed into a faint smile. She spoke, aloud, though everyone on the bridge knew she didn't have to, but clearly rigidly controlled herself to the point she would not admit even the slightest contact. "Apologies for the dramatic entrance," the voice offered with an faint tinge of old Afrika and plenty of aristocrat. "but I felt it necessary to come personally to make sure this doesn't turn into a disaster for the both of us."

Captain Rhee wasn't in her chair, instead she stood with her knees bent in a fighting crouch in response to the unfamiliar sight but known danger of a matter transport. Her bridge crew and marines had taken cover positions and had hands on weapons, but upon seeing Abebech, she stood up straight and ordered her crew to stand down.

"No apologies necessary, though I would caution against such sudden entrances in the future. I'm curious, if you'll indulge me; what are you doing working for them? Commander Saumarez I understand, but you... " Captain Rhee was a tall woman for her Korean ancestry, fit and athletic, at a glance worthy of her post.

"A favour to an old friend. Our mental lineages intertwine, but only distantly, Captain." Abebech inclined her head. "My universe has known not centuries but millennia of violence between espers and normals."

"I see. You're not here on behalf of the Alliance then, or they would have more of an institutional clue. Whose diplomatic credentials am I currently accepting?"

"Captain Zhen'var's. I know her character, Captain. I managed to speak with Commander Saumarez before the demarche from the Mars Government forced the withdrawal of the Huáscar, and I understand that the children had formal caretakers, foster parents essentially, is this not correct?"

Captain Rhee Sueng breathed a sigh of relief. "Ah. I was concerned about a distinct... Nth party. Having multiple universes with a truly staggering number of intelligence services and unknown entities is sending our intelligence branch crawling up walls. You are correct, our children had house-parents before the attack."

"Can the parents be brought to a rendezvous with the Huáscar? I know you were preparing a pursuit to recover the negotiation team that's trapped aboard. You will give Captain Zhen'var legal cover and moral certainty if she can see family reunifications, her own rigid sense of honour will handle the rest even if it's just a single pair of those who survived so we are not talking about the reunification of all--it will still be all the children getting handed over. I know this entails risk, Captain. It entails your trusting the Captain and myself with the lives of telepaths who are not in the business of war. However, I will remain aboard your cruiser until it is finished."
Trust was hard. This woman had locked herself down harder than was normally possible. She was clearly methodical. She was also offering herself as a hostage.

Sueng tried to probe this disturbing women's defenses, but she was strong and frankly locked down tighter than any Psi Cop she'd ever seen. Not even the shape of her mind--other than the sense of Otherness--was detectable through her defenses. Her first instinct was to say no. She didn't trust the Dilgar, and she didn't trust this person. But Elia Saumarez was still in the Corps, and she could be trusted even if she was in involuntary exile.

"We do have several of their house parents,” Sueng elaborated. “We managed to recover them successfully when the Bloodhounds arrived. We cannot confirm the existence of this ship but we can send a shuttle. However, would it be acceptable if I provided an armed escort? They've been through... a nightmare, and would feel better being protected by our own people."

"Yes." Abebech straightened her head back. "Yes, they may arrive armed."

One could tell she was meeting Sueng's gaze through her glasses. One didn't need to see her eyes to feel it. Her breathing was barely visible, the only skin she showed was above her tightly starched collar. "You have the word of Abebech Imra, Captain. I know my commander."

"Excellent. If you're willing to accept our hospitality, it is extended. We have guest quarters for visiting dignitaries that I'll make available for you, and if you wish, you can join us for dinner in the officer's mess." Sueng had to consider for a moment how many to send. She wanted enough men to secure the safety of the Education telepaths she was sending, and possibly to hot extract all others, but not enough to be considered a threat. After a moment, she decided. Captain Rhee activated her comm unit and spoke into it.

"Lieutenant Gonzales, I need four of your best marines, preferably above P9 to escort some VIPs. I'll brief them in thirty minutes."

"I will accept your offer, Captain." A thin smile crossed her lips. "I could stand the entire time I am here, but it would be a trifle pathetic." She raised her own communicator. "Commander Goodman, you will be escorting a shuttle to the Huáscar's position while I remain aboard the cruiser. Expect the shuttle to depart the cruiser in about forty-five minutes. When it does, proceed with the rendezvous immediately and then make haste to the Huáscar. Understand that I will not further be in communication, until you return at the completion of the shuttle's mission."

"Confirmed, Commander. Heerman Actual, standing by."

Her subordinate's voice didn't sound in the slightest bit concerned, and with no further ado, Abebech pulled off her emergency comm-badge and presented it to Rhee.

"Oh I wouldn't call it pathetic Commander just... well, it would be rude of us." She gave Imra a wry grin and took the badge "If an emergency arises due to outside intervention, I will of course hand this back to you."

"I have no doubt," Imra murmured. "I shall appreciate being the guest of your wardroom. I can tell at least a few stories, and I don't eat that much. Can someone show me to the quarters? I don't want to waste more of your time when you're preparing for the shuttle launch."

"Lieutenant Popov, would you be so kind as to show Commander Imra to the guest quarters? I think Navigator Etsiddy can keep an eye on the local void in your absence."

"Aye Captain! Commander, if you would follow?" the electronic warfare officer said in a Russian accent, stepping out from behind his seat.

"Lead on, L'tenant." She gestured with one hand. "Thank you for your courtesy, Captain. We will find a way together." As she was stepping out toward the exit from the bridge, she paused for a moment. "Just to make absolutely clear, you'd never use sleepers on another telepath in any circumstance whatsoever? Even for me there are many lies and much disinformation attending to your situation."

"No. Never. Those drugs are a cruel abomination. If we had to drug a telepath--or more likely a telekinetic-- to ensure the safety of others, we would use sedatives instead."

Rhee could feel Imra probing the answer, and in that brief moment of connection, the confirmation of the obvious, was left behind the faint, unnerving whisper that Imra was more concerned about the consequences for Rhee and her ship than she was for herself. "Everything will be fine then." With a mild expression, she turned back to follow the Lieutenant.

The next night, they were still ten hours out from the Earth Alliance frontier. Zhen’var was sipping at a mug of decaffinated chai, leaned back against the bulkhead in her bunk - watching the stars slowly drift by through the viewport which replaced an actual transparency in-between working on a redshifted datapad. Everything seemed to have gone utterly wrong so quickly, and her Alliance still seemed to be drifting to the wrong side in the war she feared was already beginning.

The alarm softly trilled. “Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez,” The computer announced, though the voice was damped for the evening.

“Lights to one-quarter. Unlock.” She set the tea down and reached to pull on a robe. “Come in, Commander!”

Elia stepped in, off duty. She didn’t have her uniform jacket on, just a robe she’d pulled over, but her gloves were there as always. Her hair was let down, and she looked tired. “I hope you don’t mind, but since they’re here, I at least let Doctor Cavanaugh take over watching the kids. She was quite touched by the Dilgar having given them all Mha’dorn badges.”

“You know very well anyone who emigrated would be given the same badge you wear… though our public relations remain almost hilariously poor.” Zhen’var smiled fractionally, and gestured to a chair. “Sit, anything from the replicator you would like, Elia. I do not mind, either. I think that is the best place for them, at least until the war begins in earnest. That… makes me fear I will have to make another hard choice, with even fewer standing with me this time..”

“I don’t think it’s that bad. I think we’ve found people who know right from wrong,” Elia answered. “And if not, eh, Viva Huáscar, right?” A wry, if mirthless, grin.

“If I die half as well as so many Dilgar have these last decades…” Zhen’var sighed, her shoulders slumping. “Why does no-one else see what we do?”

“It’s pretty obvious. They’re not as awesome as you and your mom, Zhen’var,” Elia said, flopping down onto the bunk next to her. “I don’t think you need to think about the worst, Captain. I’ve got evidence from the Psi Corps delegation covering creche parent relationships to every single child on the ship.”

“Really? I can use that to demonstrate family reunions if we can re-unite is admissible evidence, Elia?” The woman’s short depressive fit cleared, and her eyes lit once again.

“Thaat… Might be harder. I’m not sure how it will work. But I left a summary with Erika and she’s the one who will be speaking to a judge. I’m not quite sure what went down, but she got herself admitted to the bar in the Alliance.”

“Corps people are clever. Present company assuredly included, El’sau.” Zhen’var grinned, flashing teeth in honest amusement. “It is an opening, we will take it.”

“I’m glad.” She lapsed into silence for a moment, and shifted a bit. “Captain, what did we find during the search of the planet? For evidence of the terrorists, I mean.”

“Something I will push all effort in pursuing, Elia.” But I cannot say more than that with how explosive it may be. She tried to project the thought with all the effort she could muster.

Elia nervously ducked a look around even Zhen’var’s quarters. And then, very quickly, leaning in on herself, she pulled her right glove off, holding it almost nervously in her left hand. The skin of her hand was utterly pale, unexposed to normal sunlight over the whole course of her life. It was delicate, because of it, her plain nails short-cut.

“You’re the closest friend I’ve ever had outside of the Corps, Zhen’var,” she whispered, and that was sincere, as much as there was a second layer of intent in the action.

“Thank you, Elia.” She’d averted her eyes when she saw the other woman pulling her glove off, an audibly sharp intake of breath echoing through the room. Zhen’var was nervous, though not afraid.

Elia let her hand hang, an invitation even as her face delicately pinked. There were plenty of ways to misinterpret this considering they were both sitting on Zhen’var’s bed. But that was of course not the point.

The captain reached out with her own hand, turning her gaze to Elia’s, not looking down at her friend’s hand out of a polite sense of modesty.

Elia smiled as their skin touched, and didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Her expression turned, but she kept a brave look on her lips. Thank you. I understand. And that was it. She didn’t let the gesture linger, gently pulling her hand away after that and quickly covering it. But it was enough.

“I am sorry, El’sau. I have already said too much, but you know my fears now.”

Elia raised a gloved finger, and smiled gently, though sadly. “We’ll manage.”

We will, yes. Thank you, my friend.”

Zhen’var had barely gone to sleep after the quiet, dark encounter with Elia, when the alarm on her computer trilled with the warning of an incoming communication of high urgency.

“A Captain’s work is never done…” Checking the header codes would inform whether the robe or uniform jacket would be needed, as she rolled out of bed and waved the lights brighter.

The code signalled that it was Heermann Actual seeking to reach them, bounced through a League hyperspace tachyon relay, no less.

That decided it, uniform jacket it was. Abech Imra’s poise was something that her commanding officer tried to emulate at the best of times, as Zhen’var put herself together and activated the comm terminal. “Huascar Actual, go ahead Heermann Actual.”

“Captain, this is Lieutenant Commander Goodenough,” the image resolved into the crisp professionalism, seaman’s face and pony-tail of Commander Imra’s executive officer. “Commander Imra beamed herself aboard a Psi-Corps vessel laying off the network in hyperspace near Earth. She told me to convey to you that she was offering herself as a hostage for the safety of a group of creche-parents, and a Psi Corps vessel would make a rendezvous with you carrying them aboard, so you have legal cover for the return of the children.”

“I left her as senior officer on scene, very well, Commander Goodenough. The creche-parents of the cadre children… yes, I can use that to satisfy a review of my actions. I would have hoped that it would not be necessary for Commander Imra to put herself in such a situation, but I understand why. You have my agreement to her plan, Commander.”

“I’m sending a coded transmission of the rendezvous coordinates. Captain, Commander Imra was pretty confident Psi Corps would have attacked the Huáscar otherwise to retrieve the children and the negotiating team. They’re taking this very seriously. She wanted to get everything on the right foot. And of course, as usual, she doesn’t have a lick of fear.”

“I do not believe the Corps quite knows my mettle nor my attitude.” His superior officer had a note of annoyance in her accented voice, her eyes narrowing. “Once I can prove a family bond, I can return the children. That has always been the objective.”

“Understood, Captain. The burst should be coming through now. We’ll hold position and keep tracking the Psi Corps ship, but I just do not feel the Commander is in any great danger,” Jonathan replied after a moment.

“I trust your judgement, Commander. We will get underway for the rendezvous at once. The sooner this diplomatic nightmare ends, the better. Keep up the good work.”

The next day, about fourteen hours in, they arrived at the coordinates bordering the tripoint between old Darglan space, the Earth Alliance and the Koulani regime.

Sitting in her position on the bridge, Captain Zhen’var spoke softly; “Helm, all stop. Any local contacts on sensors?”

“Nothing in realspace, Captain,” Fera’xero reported. “I can try deep tachyon scans to attempt hyperspace detections, but the false positive rate is very high.”

“Rig for silent running. The ship we are to meet knows we should be here about this time, and we want to attract no other attention. Keep up your passive scanning, just in case.”

“Understood Sir, rigged for silent running,” Lieutenant Orsallian confirmed at Ops.

The minutes ticked by, and Zhen’var frowned slightly after most of an hour had gone by. “Stand down the crew by rotation to take a quick meal. We may well be here a while.”

It was about twenty minutes later that Fera’xero looked up from his console, vocoder flashing. “Captain, hyperspace jump-point forming twelve kiloklicks off the port bow, one one five mark two.”

“Call the crew back to stations. Are they are our intended rendezvous partners, Commander?” Zhen’var wasn’t rattled, calm as she took the news calmly, setting her mug of tea into the shockproof holder beside her command chair.

Sixth time at stations in five days. Will had some stubble on his face at this point as he cast off for the secondary bridge. Violeta returned to the bridge, lunch abandoned half-eaten. The usual vagarities of their Captain’s willingness to sound stations at the slightest risk.

“Yes, Captain. The ship is a standard Asimov class liner in hull configuration, but she has power bands suggesting she has been modified into a warship,” Fera’xero brought the detail display readout up on tactical.

“Hmm. She has many more sensor and observation masts than usual as well. Interesting and clever of the Corps. Hail them.”

“Receiving signal back, Captain,” L’tenant Tor’jar reported. “They are identifying themselves as the Transport Department Ship Nephthys. They have come to arrange familial unifications per negotiated agreement.”

“Understood. Inform them we stand ready to receive shuttles.” Divine, but let this soon be over.

The reunifications were almost stupidly happy. Most of the creche-parents had survived, and there was someone familiar with all of the kids present at some point in their upbringings. Elia was socialising with more human telepaths than she had frankly ever thought would happen again in her life.

Zhen’var made herself present for the initial pleasantries. They were not a definitive outcome, however. The parents might be aboard, but the question was how to satisfy the legal necessities.

For that, Erika had followed her injunction up with a request for a preliminary hearing with a judge of the Alliance Admiralty Court, 2nd Circuit, to try out the legal argument she expected to end the situation as rapidly as possible.

In the meanwhile, Fei’nur had asked for a meeting.

Interest piqued, Captain Zhen’var invited her to her ready room within the hour. The old marine rarely formally asked to speak with her, and it implied she’d been successful, as the ship’s captain smiled. “Battlemaster Fei’nur, come and be at ease. You requested to speak with me.”

“Captain.” She offered a salute. “The interrogation has been completed. Reputation alone sufficed to break the weaker ones, and we leaned on the rest from that. It should not result in any of the human law-suits.” There are no bruises!

Oh thank goodness. I was not ready for an Inspector General Audit… “Give your report, Battlemaster. This information will no doubt be useful. I do not care if it is problematic.”

“The slavers worked for an organisation called the Trading Concordate. It is extrauniversal and very interested in trafficking telepaths. The prices are so high as to disrupt the trafficking market which already exists in the Earth Alliance, Captain.” Fei’nur managed to nicely combine stiffness and a hint in her voice of what she wanted to do to these people, probably simply on general principle. Warmaster Jha’dur had hated pirates and slavers, too.

“Do you have a written report, Battlemaster? If so, I wish you to give a copy to the MetaPol agent aboard. They will have an extreme interest in such a thing. The original shall go to headquarters with my report under a separate cover. Excellent work, Battlemaster.”

“Certainly, Captain. I recall they moved to the conference suites?”

“Correct, Battlemaster. I will be along to speak with them later today in the event they need any clarification. This is your intelligence triumph, Fei’nur. I will not seek to share it.”

Stiffening to attention, the older woman sharply saluted. “I shall obey, Captain.”

Zhen’var smiled, and gently shook her head. “Dismissed, Battlemaster Fei’nur. Again, thank you, and well done.”

Spinning on her heel, the marine commander crisply departed, only pausing for a moment after the hatch had closed. The Captain is a very strange woman sometimes, though it is not often unwelcome. Tucking her report under an arm, Fei’nur moved off through the corridors of the Huáscar.

When she arrived, the children and creche parents were gathered in the main auditorium, and Fei’nur paused by the back, where Marcel was standing, mostly out of sight. “Officer…”

“A moment please,” he whispered softly. “I’m watching something I’ve never seen before.”

“Ah, of course.” She glanced at front of the auditorium. Erika Flores was there, speaking to a human in the clothes of a Judge through the telelink feed. Fei’nur’s brow furrowed in confusion. Something he’s never seen before…? She’s just talking to a Justice, isn’t she…? Oh. Right. Human Mha’dorn aren’t allowed to do… well, anything!

“Under the law of the sea, emergency rescues should not prejudice national jurisdiction, Your Honour. The precedent is established in Alliance Admiralty Law under AUCA-15-10. The children were rescued from domes; it cannot be considered a case outside of the scope of Admiralty law because the law in Stansted v. Levin clearly establishes that under the Alliance courts, the jurisdiction includes any artificial structure which, by damage, may admit a vacuum no different than a grounded barge is still under Admiralty law when fixed on a sandbank on the surface of a planet. Your Honour, the children were rescued from domes on a planet that requires regular shipments of oxygen--the domes are structures dependent on artificial intervention to sustain life. The Huáscar brought the children aboard in the context of that emergency situation, and they should be released to go with their families now that practical and safe conveyance is available. Family reunification in the case of shipwreck and rescue in the void is a summary matter, and accordingly I am requesting a summary ruling that the children may depart with their parents aboard the conveyance we have so provided.”

I actually mostly understood that! At least the last part… Fei’nur respected the request that she remain there silent, but she’d never seen a court proceeding herself before, if one did not count summary drumhead trial in the Imperium’s army.

“Well, young lady,” the Judge looked over the filing she had made, and back at the assembled. “The reasoning is sound enough, if a unique interpretation of the legal status of non-self-sustaining habitats. A summary motion prejudices the outcome of any appeal by removing the children from the jurisdiction of the state, you know.” He chuckled softly. “But it was an Act of War, or rather terrorism, and I’m prepared to enter the summary judgement accordingly. Get the kids back to somewhere pleasant, Ms. Flores. They’ve been guests of the Navy for long enough. It should log in the court system in about thirty minutes, and I’ll file the Huáscar’s JAG officer as a recipient.”

“Thank you, Your Honour!” Despite how simple and straightforward it had been, she looked almost unimaginably pleased.

The old judge grinned and winked. “With that, that I make the summary finding that the children were rescued under the character of shipwrecks and should be rendered to their families, citizens of the Earth Alliance, without delay. With that finding, this proceeding is hereby closed.” the gavel smacked down, the screen went blank, and Erika jumped up in the air in triumph.

“I think that was brilliant…?” Fei’nur murmured, blinking at all the legal manouvering required to produce such a simple and, to her, obvious result. “Officer, before you depart to escort the kits back…”

“I almost wonder if she was showing off a little,” Marcel shook his head. “Yes, Colonel Fei’nur?” His look left no real doubt that he knew something was up… But nor did a telepath go around finishing sentences for people, if they were wise.

She held out a locked folio. “My report on the interrogation of the attempted kidnappers. It is alarming. I believe the Mha’dorn will be enacting several planned additional safeguards on the basis of it alone. Multiversal backing with enough support to completely up-end the prices of the native… market.” She said the last word with clearly revolted distaste, for the fact that they went after alien and thus potentially Dilgar telepaths had been enough to seal the deal in her mind.

Marcel took the folio, his expression turning bleak for a moment. Then he forced a smile. “After all of this time, leaving myself convinced absolutely no-one would help us, I find assistance from the Dilgar. Thank you, Colonel. I suspect you may grasp how important this is to us.”

“Even the Supreme Warmaster would have helped you for her own reasons, if we had successfully kidnapped and interrogated your Assistant Director in New York as planned.” Fei’nur didn’t even flinch. “We didn’t know your situation. We didn’t know anything about Earth, but that is the past. Is there anything else, Officer?”

“Oh, so you got the information personally, too. No, no,” he had a big grin now. “That will be all. Give Captain Zhen’var my regards as well. The hospitality has been truly wonderful. I’m not about to get upset over a Deputy Director from thirty years ago having nothing actually happen to her.”

“I shall. If your people have learned the military arts, it would not be unwelcome to someday fight with you.” Fei’nur nodded her head, sweeping the room with a wary gaze reflexively, before turning to leave.

Nah’dur was helping with the final handover as the last of the creche parents were departing with the remainder of the children. They were bringing them over to the Psi-Corps ship in a return trip from one shuttle, the first two having sufficed for everyone else. A small waiting room was present next to the main hangar bay, and Nah’dur had retreated to it when she saw Dr. Cavanaugh there, packing up a final duffle.

“Doctor,” Nah’dur greeted her nonchalantly, stuffing her hands into her lab coat.

“Surgeon-Commander.” Nishita greeted her in return, then tilted her head “Is something bothering you?”

“Not in the conventional sense of making me upset, but I did have an observation.” She glanced around and pulled the door shut. “You did experiment on the children. I’m not going to raise a fuss over it, of course. They are also very well cared for, so I don’t see an ethical issue.”

“But others might, if I understand your Alliance, and indeed most of our own galaxy correctly.” Dr. Cavanaugh took in a deep breath and sighed “Our own world has a rather unfortunate history with things like human experimentation and informed consent. Typically, the subjects are thoroughly otherized and dehumanized. It is markedly different in this case.”

“I noticed. It is surprising, actually. During the war, we called aliens animals and invented propaganda around this precisely to overcome the mammalian biological programming. To your own kits? It is remarkable -- hard to understand compassion and humanity existing hand in hand with experimentation, Doctor.”

“The reality is, children are going to keep being born who are telekinetic, or who can phase into hyperspace, or who can see the future. The human mind isn’t equipped to handle telepathy very well, let alone that; and no animal model exists to understand the phenomena, or treat the resulting psychological instability. We develop treatments as safely as we can using animals and adult volunteers as a safety check, but ultimately we have to do efficacy testing. There simply isn’t a choice. It’s because we love them and want them to have lives worth living that we run those experiments. We’re just trying to clean up the Vorlons' fucking mess.”

“Nobody asks what’s left when the war is over. I remain very unimpressed by the Vorlons.” Nah’dur smiled, her lips curling to show her teeth for a moment. “Thank you for the precis. I am … Understanding of the position.”

“You’re welcome.” Nishita smiled back, not showing her teeth, uncertain how a show of teeth would translate with a carnivore and not wanting to tempt fate “I too am not impressed with them. They created us as tools; weapons to be used, but we are not tools.” she chuckled “Not being impressed might be something of an understatement.”

“I wish fortune for your people, Doctor, especially because you are brave enough to hold no truck with your creators. I’m collaborating with El’sau on a few projects you may or may not be aware of -- but I hope you will see the fruits soon enough.”

“And I yours. You’re people have done well by ours, you in particular. You may not fully realize it, but you are excellent with children and helped them considerably. They’ll keep those pins you gave them forever, I think. We won’t forget that. And I look forward to seeing what you and Elia come up with. If we survive the next few…” Nishita hand-waved away the timescale, not wanting to think about it “maybe we can form a lasting partnership.”

“Perhaps we can. May your den be secure, Doctor. I do believe it is time for your shuttle to depart, so I’ll be glad to show you myself. Your presence, to me, has been welcome.”

“Yes thank you. If I’m not on that shuttle there’s no telling what havoc Marcel will unleash.” Nishita grinned, mostly joking about the havoc, “It’s been a pleasure working with you, and I certainly wouldn’t mind the company.”

Two days later, the Psi Corps children and families safely away, the Heermann met up with the Huáscar in orbit of the Darglan homeworld and returned to her dock. Commander Imra was aboard, apparently no worse for wear. She returned to her quarters without seeking Zhen’var out, however.

Her Captain respected her apparent desire for privacy, at least at first. They would need to speak before she finalized her report on the entire operation, but offering oneself up as a hostage was, to Zhen’var, both stressful and worthy of appreciation. She sent a request to Imra’s and Goodenough’s electronic schedulers, requesting their reports on the events during the detached operation.

The next day, when Zhen’var was off-duty, the door buzzer trilled to her cabin.

Working at her small writing desk, the Dilgar woman looked up with a small frown ghosting across her face. The faults of an open door policy, I suppose. “Come ahead!” She’d managed to find a way to make the computer stop introducing everyone by name and title, at least.

“Captain,” Imra said as she walked in, dressed starkly in black from toe to neck, off-duty herself, and looking impressive for it. “You wanted my report, and I wrote it, but I felt you wanted more as well.”

“I did wish to speak with you, but I did not wish to push the point. Sit, please. Any refreshments? Thank you for coming to talk with me, anyhow.”

“You’re quite welcome. No refreshments are needed, Captain.” She moved to sit in the offered chair, crossing her legs lightly.

“I regret that it was necessary for you to take the actions you did, though understandable. What are your impressions of the Psi Corps, Commander?”

“They are armed to a far greater extent than anyone realises, and maintain the will and resilience and planning to prosecute a war. Morale is high, despite poor odds if the government were to turn against them. The ship I encountered and the ship you encountered are surely but a fraction of their strength,” Abebech answered, so much of her facial expressions lost behind the glasses.

“They have had much incentive to protect themselves. Unfortunately, I think their efforts will soon be needed. I fear more that we may be on the wrong side if open conflict breaks out.” She didn’t specify which side that was, sighing as she reached for her mug of chai. “It was good to see the children so happy to see their parents again, at least.”

“I hope they will grow to be adults,” Abebech said on a long exhale. “We will know the answer sooner than I should wish. I was fine, of course.”

“I trust your judgement, Commander. I merely regret the necessity. At least the crew has some time to recover from being run ragged these last few days. Being able to trust utterly your judgement when Heermann is detached… it is invaluable, Commander. I shall be mentioning your superlative initiative in dispatches.”

“I have some experience, Captain,” she said at a murmur. “I am honoured, as ever, to bring the Huáscar to a more perfect form for our trials together.”

“I shall not ask, Commander. If you wish to volunteer information, so be it, but I respect the privacy of your past.”

“If I need to volunteer it, I will. Until then… I serve of my volition and that is what matters. Still, you know, in my universe, something similar happened very long ago to the telepaths of my universe. They fought back and won. The ramifications of that story… Have hardly finished unfolding.”

“Given how they are treated… I hope they find a victory here, though the ramifications will be equally enormous.”

“Speaking as a telepath, Captain, I think I would rather die than live like one here. Of course, in reality, death is rather terrible, so I suppose I would adapt.”

“They have. I fear in so doing, the Psi Corps became warped, twisted, and riven into factionalism, as Earthgov kept trying to use it… but by Mother Durga, it is better than the alternative telepaths face here. ”

“I don’t disagree. Ah, well. The war has begun, we both know it. ISN won’t stop showing new footage of the latest terrorist attack. It is a rolling drumbeat. Makes you almost long for one of those old multinational Empires to keep the peace, doesn’t it?” Abebech seemed distant for a moment. “One can hardly imagine Austro-Hungary or the Ottoman Empire passing the metasensory registration act.”

“If not for the contact with the Centauri, Earth would have overturned itself in war. If not for the Dilgar, the Earth Alliance never would have gained the confidence that led to war with the Minbari…” She sighed tiredly, dullness settling into her eyes as she glanced over to the case of medals hung on the side of her desk. “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. I suspect am a background story in all this as well. There is enough sensationalism involved, after all.”

“And when it is all over, they want to tear each other’s throats out…” She rose, slowly. “Well, such is the way of humans, and most other species, your’s included. But you are a different mettle, Captain, and that is why I follow you personally.” She turned to go.

“Thank you, Commander Imra. Thank you. And if I may, that was actually quite charitable towards my people. Most think we want to tear other species’ throats out by default.” She dared to offer a hint of a smile, still trying to feel her way around interacting with the strange woman who commanded the Heermann.

“Well, true or not, I’d never hold that against you.” She smiled a secretly bemused smile. “Have a good evening, Captain.”

“Yourself as well, Commander.”


Zhen’var had called the ‘great council’, the assemblage of every department head including those under Elia, for her announcement and discussion. She wanted to make sure that her objectives were clear and that the message was taken for what was truly important.

“Good morning everyone, I intend to get started after everyone is comfortable, so please, replicate away.” Their first mission had gone well, and she watched everyone milling about as they moved to their seats, laying a few flimsies out before herself in neat piles. First the debrief, then the upending.

A collection of snacks and coffee soon appeared. CWO Héen and MCPO Dugan were off to the side with coffee, talking to each other and SCPO Ashleigh, the Chief of Boat on the Heermann. The rest were fully commissioned officers, but their presence was unusual on Alliance ships where it seemed non-coms were rarely integrated into the command structure. Also noteworthy were the uniforms of Lar’shan and Fei’nur, the two Marines in the room, one with the wings of a Marine aviator. The rest were naval officers.

Will stepped over to Zhen’var’s side. He had been briefed in advance, and was still wrapping his head around part of what she was going to say. “Have you noticed before that the Alliance seems to have a problem with its noncoms?”

“They give them the ranks, then the officers show no signs of using them even as a resource, just as gears in the machine that is the crew, yes.” She sipped at her chai.

“That’s gotta change. We’ll pay for it otherwise. The crew of the Aurora is brilliant… But since they got to determine their ranks by fiat when they got started, everyone with the slightest bit of ambition got to be an officer. I explained it to Captain Andreys before I was reassigned. But at least we’ve got a real winner in Dugan for Chief of the Boat.”

“More than that, Will. We have skills, people we won’t even recognize as being as valuable as they truly are. I am going to find those people.”

“I guess we’re going to start today… About ready to get going, I think?”

“I think so. Go ahead and sit down yourself.” With that, Zhen’var cleared her throat. “Again, everyone, good morning. For the duration of this meeting, we will be discussing matters like the professionals we are, rank does not matter, and reference shall not be made. We have just come through a very active shakedown cruise, and I will be opening the floor to discussion - what did we do well, what did we do badly, and how do we fix it? I can certainly start - I do not think I had to call you all to stations so many times that Will was starting to consider bringing a pillow to AIO.”

There was laughter. A few officers glanced around, trying to get a sense for how this would go. Arterus took a half-step forward. “Captain, it seemed it was necessary to guarantee we were never taken by surprise if events turned hostile,” he offered.

“No ranks. I mean that. Nothing said in these hot washes will ever affect someone negatively. Nothing.” Zhen’var’s eyes scanned the room. “Now, if that were the case, was it necessary to keep the crew at stations so long? A relaxed condition with the crew near their stations would have been better, if we had one. Boxed rations and so on to let the crew eat and sleep at stations, perhaps?”

Violeta thought about it. She actually found the meeting kind of cool, not what she expected from Zhen’var’s disciplinarian reputation at all. “What if we find a way to give ourselves more warning time? We can set Condition Two -- Code Yellow, Condition Yellow -- modified ZEBRA and have limited movement through the ship.”

“I like that idea, let us build off that. What options do we have to give ourselves more warning time? You will have to tell me, I did spend my entire career learning how Earthforce ships worked. Alliance ships are something of a new experience.” Zhen’var smiled, flashing teeth as she reached for a samosa.

“Using fighters as a scouting element,” Stasia ventured abruptly, looking up from the knot with the non-com Chiefs. “I mean, why not. They’ve got warp drives. We could even use the runabouts as well, more powerful sensors. The new bay configuration could let us run a continuous CAP.”

“Is it something we can do as is, Ms. Héen, or will we need modifications to be made by ship staff?” Her eyes were alight, as their Captain leaned back in her chair. “Standing CAP, be it barrier or what-ever under the direction of Ops, perhaps?”

“We should be able to keep two flights up continuously, of just fighters, keeping the bombers reserved for a strike,” Elia replied at what she felt was her cue. “Maybe deploy in four elements of two, with the two elements in the predicted threat directions reinforced by runabouts? But only for Condition Two or above -- the objective is early warning of hostile action in a situation where we are anticipating it, after all. Can you handle that, Ms. Héen?”

“Yeah, we can manage that tempo for a week at stations, if necessary, from the logistics side.” She looked to Lar’shan for confirmation.

The Dilgar pilot nodded. “I confess, not only do I approve, but I felt our fighter wing was underutilized in typical Alliance tactics. A standing CAP is a much better option for avoiding surprises and guaranteeing fighter support to any contingency and we should be able to push out several light minutes while still being fully supported.”

“Let us work on that. What else do you have to add, Lar’shan? We have a bomber wing, but finding tactics for using it seems to be incredibly difficult in the database. Anyone else have something? Not just the air-wing, any aspect of our operations. One brain is far outmatched by many.”

“Let there be a signal to the Chiefs about discretion in manning at Condition One. We can have ready service rations distributed as part of Condition Two preparations and emergency ration lockers can be marked as such and re-stocked from the replicators if it is necessary to go directly to Condition One,” Anna replied. “So, if there is a situation at Condition One which merits allowing small rotations of crew to get food or rest, shouldn’t that be up to the Chief of the Section?”

“I can trust the Chief’s mess to do that, yeah,” Rick Dugan finally spoke, brown eyes over mustache as he faced the officers, in fact with all the confidence of a veteran NCO. Zhen’var’s bosun on the old Huáscar had been one of her most important loyalists for the new. “Guys get a feel for the tempo of an op pretty fast and know when to do little tasks, when to slow down -- to help we can use all these fancy displays to broadcast ship situation reports, right?”

“Do we trust everyone with those?” Arterus asked.

“Hell, if we’re boned, you don’t need a report to figure that out,” Rick answered. “It’s more about, say, we need repairs or urgent maintenance, we can swing it at stations if we know the system isn’t going to be called up during a fast switchover. The best can figure that out, but cues avoid errors. Same thing with maintenance of people, naps all-standing and eating might make sense for different posts in the ship at different times. Yeah, it’s a good idea.”

“A great idea.” Zhen’var’s smile was getting a bit dangerous. Rick had brought it to a place she had worried would take longer than this to develop. “It brings up the other reason for this meeting, one I have discussed with Will. As I have said previously, I do not have a strong background in the operation of Multiversal technology, as many of you do. That ignorance could be dangerous, or even fatal. How do we deal with it?”

Daria flexed her ears and blinked. She had felt like she had screwed up with sensor reports from tactical--precisely because they were a responsibility of ops or science from her past understanding--and had been dressed down for it. This was a new event in its openness and frankness. Still, she tried to make it count. “If you don’t know how the technology works -- you may misapply it -- so that the person using the technology may understand the order doesn’t match the capability?”

“They may. They should, perhaps, one may even say. Given the need for quick obedience of orders under military discipline… perhaps I should stop giving them? The best thing for an ignorant woman to do is to stop talking, after all.” She said it with a cheshire grin on her face, which given the content of her speech, was strange.

“Cap-?” Arterus, raised in the Romulan Star Empire, felt something like the universe had become minorly unhinged. He was perceptive, though, and saw that Abebech Imra was also grinning at this point. He abruptly had the feeling he was going to learn something very important.

“I know what I want to do, but not how to do it. If I give you an order to “Plot a course to this system, maximum warp”, that is what you will do. An example of intent, Mister tr'Rllaillieu, would be ‘I wish to reach this system as quickly as possible, there is a plague which we must deliver our doctor to fight’. You know it is possible to use the IU drive to increase speed. You know my intent and the reasons behind it, you can thus use your skill to get us there faster, in keeping with my intent, whereas my order would have slowed us.” Her eyes flicked across the room. “I am going to cease giving all orders except for those involving initial weapons release. The decision to take life when necessary is my moral responsibility as Captain, I shall not force any of you to bear it.”

“This will be difficult to push down to a lower level. I admit that I have tended to give very precise orders on the Heermann,” Abebech began. “It is against nature, especially,” she glanced to Arterus, but then also Fei’nur, “to someone coming from a system which strongly selected against it. That includes myself, I might add. But consider the great benefit of this challenge. She’s absolutely right--a dozen brains are better than one, a hundred better than a dozen, and a thousand better than a hundred. It’s also especially true that it’s going to empower our Chiefs, and they’re an underutilized asset in the Alliance Navy with real talent and skill. As your comrade, hold me accountable, please, in making a sincere effort to follow this example.”

Fei’nur looked horrified. “But Ca… Zhen’var, it’s… how are we going to keep order on the lower decks! As quickly as we knock over one still, they’ve built another!”

“Teach them the consequences,” Will said, his eyes sharp. “Show them what the drinking does to their ability to support their comrades in an immediate crisis. Make them decide being productive sailors is more important than their rot-gut.”

“I think holodeck simulations are going to be an important teaching tool…” Zhen’var’s eyes were bright as she looked about the room. “We are going to be introducing mindful action as a concept as well. Related to what we have been discussing. You will point, and you will vocalize an action, or what you are checking or observing. Rick, you had a leave in Tokyo, I think, where you would have seen this in action?”

“Yeah, I did. They called it Point-and-Call. In fact, I’ve got a CPO--Nishimura--who worked for Japan Railways in one of those other universes and actually knows the system. We’re gonna use it, aren’t we?”

“Dilgar will not think it beneath them, and we have a mostly green crew who are learning how everything works. They can try to make the same number of mistakes as any other crew, but catch them, either themselves, or by others at their stations, or so I would think?”

Fei’nur looked half like she wanted to ask Nah’dur if Zhen’var had been struck in the head recently.

Nah’dur looked to her, and then to Zhen’var. “I believe it meets principles of neurology applicable to most of the crew. The learning curve will be hard, the results worthwhile.”

“We’re going to be a team implementing this. And an example,” Elia clasped her gloved hands together. “We’re going to show how systems of redundancy also empower because they provide a control other than the responsibility of a single person giving an order.”

Zhen’var felt that made a very nice coda. They would even have the time to implement it in a relatively low-risk sector, since their orders were taking them to a region of space in S4W8 which had been liberated from the Nazi Reich and was filled with non-Germanic ethnic groups. Support for humanitarian relief and nation-building efforts would be the perfect time to get the system down.

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Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Thu Nov 01, 2018 4:18 am


Elia returned from Babylon 5 and her temporary assignment to the Aurora looking exhausted, physically, mentally, emotionally. The transporter deposited her below the bridge with a duffel bag over her shoulder, and she started up to report in to the Officer of the Watch.

Arterus had the rotation. Elia liked him, though they hadn’t had much time to talk. He sat with confidence in the command chair, and like essentially all Rihannsu (and Vulcanoids in general) registered as a low-level telepath to Elia, though the nature of their telepathy was subtly different, relying more on electrical fields, and thus far more efficacious in direct skin contact. Elia was still envious of a society where everyone was a telepath.

“Lieutenant tr'Rllaillieu, Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez, reporting for duty with TDY aboard the ASV Aurora complete.”

He rose, and saluted. “Commander Saumarez, welcome back aboard. I’m about to initiate a speed run to our jump position. We were supposed to depart for Drachenfeldt four hours ago, but the Captain ordered us to hold and wait for you instead and make up the time.”

Elia’s eyes widened briefly. Zhen’var isn’t the kind of person who normally makes allowances for friends in operations. Period. “I won’t take up another minute then, Lieutenant…”

“Oh, well, you should at least have the chai the Captain had me keep ready for you,” Arterus answered with a chuckle. “She left standing orders about that before she retired for the night, Commander.”

“I’m not sure if it’s too early or too late, which I suppose means I might as well.” Elia looked in comfortable surprise at her favourite thermos being supplied full and hot. “You’re a perfect gentleman, Lieutenant. Carry-on!”


Elia headed back to the turbolifts and keyed in the code for the Officer’s Mess, nursing the spiced tea as she did. It wasn’t always her favourite but right now it made her think of Zhen’var, and home, the Huáscar, and that was important. She felt too keyed up to sleep still, and would have nothing to do until she was put back in rotation, so it made sense to not even think of sleeping.

When she got to the Mess, she saw a table near the bar with Anna and Abebech at it, talking. Elia realised with a jerk that it was actually very early morning for the Huáscar, about 0400 in fact, since the ship ran on Portland time when the Aurora ran on New Liberty time… She was still incredibly out of it from her experiences on Babylon 5.

Anna gestured to one of the empty chairs at the table. “Please, Elia, have a seat. Welcome back. Not even enough time to take your duffel back to quarters?”

“Just didn’t much want to.” Don’t want to be alone right now, having to think about everything I talked about with Captain Dale.

“What happened?” Anna asked. “Do you want coffee?”

Elia raised her mug. “On top of my tea? Come on, Anna, I’m not that wired… I might, actually. It might be better to stay awake than sleep; I don’t want to ask Nah’dur for some pills that will knock me out for the next twenty-four hours, even though it is tempting.”

“The bleary realities of the unending absence of sleep,” Abebech murmured, surprising Elia. She was getting used to the woman rarely communicating with her, her shields like some kind of pit into which thoughts would slowly disappear. Elia was grateful that Abebech had essentially worked her job for her in addition to Abebech’s own for the past weeks, and Abebech was probably brutally exhausted as a result. But some more communication would have been appreciated.

Abebech was another telepath, even if she was from S0T5, where the history of telepaths--’espers’--was mired in uncertainty and legend surrounding the Earthreign. Many states there, as here, oppressed telepaths, and Elia had hoped to share some kindred sentiments with the formidable woman.

Instead, Abebech had maintained a deep reserve of a type alien to most telepaths of her homeworld. There was no mental contact with her, only with the Dilgar onboard who belonged to the Mha’dorn, welcome friends all, to be sure. But now Abebech regarded her from behind those shades she always wore. Elia decided to risk it: <Hi.>

“You’d be surprised how much you can keep getting done anyway,” Anna interjected.

A very faint smile touched Abebech’s lips for a moment. “I am certain the Captain won’t return you to rotation for a few days. You can ease yourself back into it.”

So much for that. “So what did I interrupt?” Elia dared next.

“Commander Imra and I were having a cordial disagreement about the likely outcome of reorganisation efforts in the Reich. We’re going to a planet called Drachenfeldt which has German, Bulgarian and Japanese ethnic communities on it,” Anna explained. “Commander Imra thinks the situation will rapidly disintegrate, based on precedent when the local Imperial hegemon is removed and considering Nazi governance practices. Well, I come from the tradition of the Commonwealth, and the voluntary union and collaboration of Poland and Lithuania. I think people actually can learn to work together in the outer regions of the old Reich, even without centuries to become modern or anything else like that.”

“The Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów was an exceptional case,” Abebech countered. “With little comparable precedent in history. The slow collapse of many great Empires, and not just on the ground but also in the stars, suggests a depressing regularity of war as the hinterlands find themselves no longer subjected to a metropole.”

Anna rolled her eyes. “You say that, but we did exist successfully for centuries, and it provides a path forward. Or I’m just one of those idealistic Aurora people… So, Elia, what do you think?”

Elia had looked up Drachenfeldt on her tablet in the meantime. One of the first things in the intelligence report was a nationalist music video that had momentarily transfixed her. She looked up with an expression neither of the others liked. “Ladies, I think we’re going to find out.

Undiscovered Frontier: Origins

Season 1 Episode 2

“God Bless the Ottoman Empire”

Act 1

Drachenfeldt was a relatively normal third-wave Reich colony deep into the antispinward reaches of Nazi territory which had been occupied two weeks after the Battle of Welthauptstadt Germania and the surrender of the primary Reich elements. Their orders and their arrival had hardly been attended with any kind of urgency. Despite the very real risk of raids from Reich ships which, by the hundreds, had refused to surrender, the planet had no other allied warships in orbit. A single understrength division from the British Stellar Union formed the garrison. For the most part, the trip there had been occupied by training sessions, attempting to sort out point-and-call and Zhen’var’s initiative centric command structure.

The reports were composed on the ship’s readiness, Fei’nur’s on the Marine battalion readiness for ground operations and Security personnel support capability, Nah’dur’s on their ability to support humanitarian relief operations, Elia’s on their ability to transporter support for humanitarian supplies and transport, and Abebech’s on the status of the support wing. Below her fake windows a faithful image of the planet was revealed in all the blue glory of a garden world, of which the Reich had possessed many.

Zhen’var finished the reports, and then headed to the main conference room. There, Will was preparing the briefing as the full strength of her senior officers--even Lieutenant Tor'jar at comms--was mustered along with the senior NCOs. “All right, comrades. Will has put a fair amount of effort into the briefing prep, and he should give us the top down without any problems. If you are ready, Commander, go ahead and get started.”

“Of course, Captain.” Will smiled, but as his projection came up, he grimaced. “Welcome to Drachenfeldt. It’s a fairly typical of the Reich colonisation scheme, Germans occupy the major cities and the most fertile farmland. A bare plurality of the population is Japanese--even after the war which reduced the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere they were not re-classed as untermensch--but they were subjugated as miners and here were working in the lowest status jobs in processing industries as well. The Japanese are a proud people, and there has been considerable resistance in the past to the Reich overlords.” He grimaced again. “With concomitant massacres.”

“The next ethnic group comprises the middle-class in the large towns and small cities and holding the marginal farmland and many fishing industry jobs--Bulgarians, who were exempted from the general massacres and reduction of the Slavs by their status as allies during what the Reich historians called the Great Aryan Crusade. It’s been the Bulgarian population who have traditionally owned the mines which employ the Japanese, who very slightly outnumber them. Racial enmity between subordinate groups was intentionally kept high by the Gauleiter of the planet according to standard practice in Reich governance. And now comes the bad part.”

He took a drink of water, looking up with a wry expression. “So, the commander on the surface has informed us that an extensive store of arms for reserve and second-line forces has been looted and is held in part by all sides; at least some Reich soldiers melted away and are working for the Bulgarian National Council instead of surrendering, and there are probably some Werewolf holdouts as well. So, bottom line: Drachenfeldt is swimming in racial enmity and arms.”

“So, you are saying it would be difficult for the situation to be any worse?” A wry tone suffused Zhen’var’s voice as she summarized her read of the state of the planet.

Will sucked in his breath and chuckled morbidly as he moved to sit. “Yes, that’s about the beginning and the end of it, Captain.”

“They aren’t shooting each other. Yet.” came the gruff voice of their Marine commander, as Zhen’var sarcastically grinned back to Fei’nur. “Thank you, Colonel, you are always capable of finding the way a situation can get worse.”

“So… We’ve got to find a way to help these people all get along when they’re interested in score settling and armed to the teeth is the way I see it,” Violeta offered. “A challenge, but we’ve certainly just got to pathfind a solution and keep the peace until civilian resources are brought to bear.”

“Were it that simple, Leftenant,” Abebech spoke. “The reality is that the Harris Station Charter finds itself committing the Alliance to the partition of Reich space. As a result, our job is to hold order until the final disposition of the planet. No different than one of the great multiethnic Empires of Earth history.”

Violeta blanched. She was aware of the Harris Station Charter, but the implications stuck in the craw of any kind of liberty-minded person.

“Not only that, but we must do so with minimal force and an indifferent garrison. A scratch division with limited heavy weapons. Do we have any word on whom the planet is to be assigned to in the…” Her lips curled. “... peace?”

“Not yet, Captain,” Will said, more subdued. “Or even ‘if’. Might be, might not be. In some way, the collapse of the Reich was faster than expected, the diplomats are still working.”

“Not an improvement. Thank you, Commander. We have our orders, even so. We are going to carry them out as best we can, and prepare in case… the usual result of such an ethnic powder-keg comes to pass.”

Elia was studying a holo-display from her omnitool. “Captain, shall we deploy a scansat grid? Not just for communications but also to support distributed sensor networking for armaments detection. It seems worthwhile in the situation you’ve just described.”

“Please. Any other ideas from the table? This is going to be a difficult situation, at best.” Zhen’var’s eyes flicked around the officers and NCOs gathered. “Our intent is to find the best outcome for the planet and its’ people, without violating our over-arching orders..”

“We need to find out what the common people actually need,” Goodenough offered from the wing of the table occupied by Heermann officers.

“Concur,” Anna added. “The Reich has ruled these peoples like serfs--which mean the politically active will be the upper class. We might override whatever their objectives are if we can just offer immediate needs to the mass of the people.”

“To a point. Even an under-class can have some level of organization. There will be many conflicting interests, and even more hidden ones we cannot see. Let us try and divine what of them we can. Everyone, get comfortable. We may be here quite a while...”

That evening, Zhen’var received a communication from the surface as she was in her ready room. An officer in British khakis with the rank of Major, a fresh-faced, freckled redhead, appeared on her screen. “Major Sara Haraway, adjutant for CO, Drachenfeldt Garrison Division. Captain Zhen’var, Huáscar commanding?” Receiving a nodded confirmation, she continued. “Brigadier Jonathan Peacham, divisional commander, sends his compliments and invites you and your senior officers to Saackenweld, the planetary capitol, for dinner and an opportunity to meet officials of the local population.”

“Thank you, Major. Do you have a preliminary report on the local situation for my officers? We stand ready to assist you as may be needed, with up to a single ad-hoc battalion.” She was all business, voice already having developed the same sort of mixed accent Warmaster Shai’jhur possessed.

“It’s been hard enough for us to simply patrol the built-up areas around the capitol, I’m afraid, and we only have a brigade-level staff. The briefing you got is probably all the prelims we sent out. BLUF is there’s two major organised groups, the Bulgarian National Council, and the Rejuvenation Society, which was a secret society of the ethnically Japanese miners. Both are armed. The Germans are quiescent, frankly in a state of shock over the Reich being defeated. The Brigadier will try to fill you in with more details when you arrive on the surface.”

“Good enough, Major. I will assemble a delegation. We will see your CO for dinner. Please extend my thanks to Brigadier Peacham.”

“Of course, Captain. Eighteen hundred, if you please. Local, of course--in two and a half hours.”

“See you then.” With a sharp nod, she let the connection break… already dreading a formal event as this. Now she needed to figure out who to bring. Elia has certain special skills, certainly. Fei’nur is not… exceptionally diplomatic, but useful if the other side is less than diplomatic. I should bring one of the Warrants as well, if I am treating them as warrant officers. Nah’dur will never forgive being left behind. Will will keep in command in my absence… I’ll ask Imra if she has any she’d nominate for the experience from her crew as well. Fera’xero can’t eat the food… I’ll let the Chiefs pick one of their number, remember, intent, Zhen!

Two and a half hours later, Zhen’var had assembled her entourage in the transporter room--mostly. Stasia and Chief Rajia Kerandit, the later a bluish Dorei man, arrived by selection just before Elia came in, leading Arterus and Daria. Fei’nur was already waiting, and Commander Imra had encouraged her to bring Ca’elia, saying the woman had a good bearing for such an event. Nah’dur was dawdling somewhere, since she hadn’t showed up yet.

Just because you are my half-sister, Nah’dur, that does not give you license to be tardy!

“Lieutenants, Colonel, Chiefs. Everyone looked over the quick British Mess Etiquette pamphlet sent along with your instructions?”

“Yes,” generally came a list of affirmations.

“Never been to anything fancy like this, Captain,” Stasia murmured. “Closest thing to it was ceremonial feasts back home.”

Before Zhen’var could reply, Nah’dur came running into the transporter room, and then climbed up onto a spare pad without a word, looking innocent while she breathed hard.

“Surgeon-Commander, have you reviewed your etiquette pamphlet, now that you have decided to join us?” She was smiling, even as she delivered the gentle rebuke.

“Oh, ah, well, keep my back stiff and use a fork and knife!”

Zhen’var gave her ship’s doctor a look. It was not an approving one. “If you have not reviewed the pamphlet, Surgeon-Commander, are you certain you are ready for this meeting?”

Nah’dur straightened crisply to attention. “Battlemaster, I am prepared to comport myself.” The sting had clearly hurt, particularly in public.

Zhen’var gave her a long, searching look, before she gave a single nod and turned towards the transporter operator. “When you are ready, beam us down.” Zhen’var’s expression didn’t show the slight twinge of guilt she felt at reprimanding her half-sister like that, but Nah’dur was still rather… unpolished. She was young.

“Aye-aye, Captain!” The transporter operator looked like he was trying to hide a grin as they vanished. Whatever they would think of it, Zhen’var’s sharp dressing down of her sister was going to make waves.

The last thing he saw as the team flashed out of existence was his captain’s glowering look of disapproval aimed at his grin.

After the usual pleasantries on the surface, they were taken in seized Daimler aircars to the old Wehrmacht Hauptquartier in Saackenweld. A Brigadier in British mess dress, of a mixed ethnicity similar to Goodenough’s, British to the core, stood with a group of three Colonels and two Majors, including Sara, with escorts and guards standing by. Likewise standing at the reception line was a group of eleven men in Reich formal civilian dress.

“Captain Zhen’var,” he presented his hand, “and officers of the Huáscar, welcome to Drachenfeldt. I am Brigadier Peacham and, according to someone in the Alliance who thought it a good idea, I am the Governor of Drachenfeldt.”

One could, in fact, see a slightly portly man of a vaguely Slavic extraction grimace at the words. He was dark-bearded with a hint of gray, at the head of the group in attendance, which was unsurprisingly all-male. The Reich had enforced gender roles even among its subject nations it had seen fit to allow to live.

Giving her own gloved hand as she stood to attention, Zhen’var gave them a thin smile. “A pleasure, Brigadier Peacham. May I present Colonel Fei’nur, head of my Marines and Security detachments, Commander Saumarez, my Operations officer, Lieutenant Seldayiv, tactical officer, Lieutenant tr'Rllaillieu, astrogation officer, Lieutenant Ca’elia, helmswoman of the Heermann, Chief Warrant Officer Héen, and Senior Chief Petty Officer Kerandit.”

Officers,” he said after a moment, and allowed a small smile. “Colonels Roberson, Tirulipatti, and Ferazad. Majors Haraway and Acharya. And, to our left, President Ivan Alferov of the Bulgarian National Council, with the extraordinary committee of the National Council.”

Zhen’var nodded politely to each of the officers, before giving a polite “Your Excellency.” to President Alferov. This certainly felt fraught enough, and they’d barely even started.

“Captain,” he replied, staring sharply at the aliens, herself included, for a moment.

“This way, please, Offiziere und Herren,” the maître d'hôtel bowed deeply and precisely. They were shown to their seats according to rank, keeping Peacham, Zhen’var and the ‘President’ close together.

The table was expansively laid with fish, shrimp and mutton, curries and kedgeree. It was not what one would expect of traditional British cuisine, but the British Stellar Union was a radically different land. It was served with wheat bread, but roti and gurung were the styles, not western loafs. Perhaps the most familiar touch was the pot of something next to the bread that looked suspiciously like Marmite instead of an Indian chutney, and the extensive use of peas in the curries and the presence of kippers and jellied eels amongst the hors d'oeuvre, or the mutton being served with mint sauce.

It was a bittersweet reminder of home for Zhen’var, one she didn’t dare let any of their hosts recognize.

“Captain,” Ivan began. “I’ve heard that you Dilgar fought a very famous war yourselves, were defeated, but have lately survived and recovered -- everyone knows of the assault on Welthauptstadt Germania, it will live on as a great gesture, many of the liberated nations shall remember it fondly.” While he spoke, the Bulgarian man was ladling shrimp and salmon into a roti which he then covered in Raita for the want of sour cream, and finishing his sentence, began to eat with gusto. From the sommelier’s wine selections he was downing a Lechthaler from the Trentino.

“The war is very famous in our home universe, at least, sir. It is part of our recovery to pay such dues in blood as fate deems required.” Her voice was quiet, as she carefully assembled a plate for herself, small selections of most of the meat dishes adorning it when she was finished.

“I think your national reconstruction is quite well along, Captain!”

He looked like he wished to rise with his wine glass, and Brigadier Peacham quickly tinged his glass and avoided the faux pas for his officers by rising first. “The Queen.”

Zhen’var led her officers in responding to the Loyal Toast, as was proper, even if it was doubly strange for her. She was also next in rank and would need to propose the next toast.

She rose, catching herself before starting with ‘Warmaster’, and spoke calmly; “President Morgan.”

They began the table. Ivan Alferov finally had his chance, and rose, but had composed himself, instead of a more informal slavic toast, what followed was impressive bombast. “To the Bulgarian National Liberation Movement!” There was a moment of nervous silence as the allied officers tried to figure out how to respond to it. Before they could, he simply continued talking.

“Comrades, allies, friends of the Bulgarian Nation, who have been so cruelly oppressed by the savage and barbaric, the merciless Nemski, today we stand on the edge of the Dawn! This world, which the Nazis call Drachenfeldt and which we shall call Nowo-Apraxin, shall be the new home of the Bulgarian people! Here shall we remember Tarnovo and Sofiya in our construction, and become the natural home of the Bulgarian nation in exile. Nazdráve, comrades!” He raised his glass and drank. And drank.

He wasn’t finished as he refilled his wine from a carafe on the table. “Soon the Bulgarian nation shall join other races like the Gersallians and Dorei as a full member of the Alliance, here where we will obtain our natural and full development. The mines of this world are our natural path to economic sovereignty and prosperity and our inherent and sovereign mineral wealth will allow all of our pensioners to enjoy vacations throughout the Alliance and other natural aspirations of the Bulgarian people to the style of life from which they have for so long been cruelly denied. Bulgarian arms, like those of our brave Dilgar friends, will become renowned throughout the Multiverse, and we shall again propagate the Orthodox faith to our brothers far and wide, and renew the true Christian Church!”

Why, Almighty, why did he just have to keep talking…? Zhen’var’s expression had frozen into a polite smile. She had expected the bombast… but there were multiple other groups on this planet that might object.

Elia had a perfectly frozen smile on her face that matched her Captain’s. Nah’dur looked like she was fascinated in a disturbingly clinical sense. Perhaps Fei’nur was the least bothered, the Colonel not understanding why there was anything wrong with what the President was doing or saying!

After the dinner was over, Peacham approached Zhen’var as she wandered away from the table, the Bulgarians slowly being herded away in their drunken boisterousness. “Captain, one of the reasons I brought you here was to see the situation in the flesh -- my problem is that, to be quite frank, Alferov’s Panteri, panthers, the paramilitaries of the Bulgarian National Council, could easily overwhelm my division.”

“I am concerned that any of the planetary groups, with how many weapons have gone missing, could cause a disasterous reverse, Brigadier. We should perhaps bring Colonel Fei’nur into this discussion. It will be her that, I think, your request will fall heaviest upon?”

“Certainly, Captain, that’s her, correct?” He pointed to Fei’nur. “I confess I’m not familiar with your people, but the look of a veteran is clear enough.”

“A long service veteran up from the ranks, she is. The only of us here who fought in that war Alferov mentioned, and has gone through hells darker than I want to imagine to stand here today.”

Peacham nodded with a quiet recognition, stepping forward with Zhen’var. “Colonel Fei’nur. Glad to make your acquaintance. Your Captain and I were just discussing some operational matters.”

“Brigadier.” She stiffened momentarially to attention, before returning to her previous posture. “A Marine deployment is in the offing, Captain?”

“Perhaps worse than that, Colonel. The situation is most poor. Please, continue, Brigadier.”

“Alferov’s paramilitaries alone have enough strength to overwhelm us, Colonel. But their preoccupation is with the ‘Rejuvenation Society’, the Japanese paramilitaries who have seized the planet’s mines. In particular the entire contents of a major reserve depot called Grunwald 9 were seized by the Rejuvenation Society. I can’t realistically get Alferov to disarm until the Rejuvenation Society has been disarmed, so I’d like to use your battalion to search the mining districts near Grunwald 9 for caches of arms.”

“It puts small groups of my people in position to be overwhelmed, Brigadier. I would need to come down in force, and it will anger the local populace. Beyond the usual atrocities and retribution that accompany any situation as this. They will resist my efforts and refuse our authority. You still wish me to try, however, by your expression…?”

“We have no choice if we are to keep the peace, Colonel. If you could land as soon as is practical, tomorrow, perhaps?”

Fei’nur’s expression was glum, as she nodded. “Let me give them a good breakfast before we beam down, then. Captain, I’ll need all the heavy equipment we have, and can replicate. Armour is critical to suppressing overt resistance.” She paused, and went on with the air of a woman resigned. “At least until they start firing anti-tank missiles.”

The next day around 1100 Huáscar time, the transporters began landing troops and gear, with the transports bringing in certain heavy equipment unsuited for transport behind them. The Marine battalion had only three companies, but with various specialist troops from the Huáscar’s FMF, Fei’nur could fill out the rank table of a full battalion. Supporting them was a company of Security personnel, wearing the Navy BDUs rarely seen in the less formal service.

She was still thinking dark thoughts at how utterly stupid this idea was, heading down with the first waves to set up the perimeter for the transports - the Security troops would follow later, though the ad-hoc nature of the full ground deployment made her grind her teeth. The old veteran felt like she was being thrown to the sabre-cats by the ‘garrison’ of the planet, and she used that term very loosely.

The transports quickly set down the full complement of twelve cruiser tanks which were carried in the holds during war fit, but weren’t even necessarily part of the regular peacetime equipment. They had no others, though there was a scouting company of twenty-eight heavy armoured cars and a fire support section of six self-propelled railguns capable of firing smart submunition projecting shells.

As they moved out to establish their first-line perimeter from the landing zone, one of the companies was assigned to set their positions along a rail corridor. Traditional railways were still highly efficient for things like ore hauling, and that’s exactly what the Reich was using them for in this case.

The light utility trucks they used for general mobility, and the hover-cars for forward reconnaissance, went zooming down the roads with their heavy repeating pulse rifles and automatic mortars crewed. Giant mountains loomed around them, while the terrain itself featured rolling hills opening into wider valleys, with deep-cut valleys into the rock covered mostly in trees ahead, though several vicious yellow scars from mine tailings were well-visible.

It hadn’t been but five minutes or ten when Fei’nur’s omnitool flashed an urgent incoming message. “Colonel, this is Sergeant Waters, First Scouting Element.” Jessica Waters had been one of the rare soldiers as Corporal Waters on the first Huáscar who had not merely followed Zhen’var into exile, but followed her to her new command as well. “You need to see this, Sir. It’s… Bad.”

“I have some suspicions. In person, or via the tool, Sergeant?” Fei’nur was already remembering some of the very many horrible things they already could have stumbled upon. Probably bodies. The question is how displayed, in a way that would disturb a combat veteran.

“There’s no need to turn it into a theatre,” Sergeant Waters answered after a moment. She tapped her omnitool a few times, and projected the image so Fei’nur could see it as a hologram on her own.

It clearly showed a line of at least dozens of decapitated bodies, strung from the catenary towers of the railway line. They were hung upside down with razor wire by the ankles, with the heads on the ground below them and large quantities of blood, suggesting they’d been beheaded in place. Placards with an unfamiliar script--no, it was recognisable, the script of the Japanese and her old Warmaster’s great rival--marked each corpse.

The old Colonel’s lips curled. “We’ll use drones to cut them down, and use the earthmover attachments to at least bury them in a mass grave. The archives are all that needs to keep seeing this. It’s clearly begun - the strife I was dreading. Keep your perimeters tight, everyone. Nobody can be presumed friendly here.” It’s always the same. Fei’nur growled as she cleared the holo-display, the auto-translator helpfully giving her the text the local guerrillas had intended to provide an example.

This German Defiled Japanese Womanhood”

“This German Killed Japanese Youth”

“Rejuvenation of Society shall come in blood!”

“Let us all join in the national reconstruction.”

The bloodletting had begun, and now Fei’nur intended to keep her people out of it. Finding arms caches came second to avoiding the quicksand this situation could become, very, very quickly. Still, she had orders, as she gathered her forces into scratch battle groups.

The next component of the operation required actually meeting with the miners. It had been straightforward enough for Zhen’var to agree to direct Fei’nur to use operational latitude in her approach. Disarming those who were armed was done when they agreed to it, or when they were dead, nothing more.

Battle armor was not exceptionally diplomatic, but it was something Fei’nur would never go without in a hostile situation… unless she was invisible, and that was difficult to reconcile with a diplomatic meeting.

The mining town was stark, simple buildings built of clapboard, tin metal, wood and a little bit of handmade stonework. Company stories and processing facilities. Dust everywhere. And barricades with rising sun flags blocking their direct approach by road or rail. The town had no names on the maps, just O. Targonoff Company Town No.17, the property of someone other than its inhabitants, even the name of its owner twisted to fit German expectations. But now the inhabitants were armed, and they had some idea of their use, from the way positions were emplaced covering the barricades from three angles. The company commander under Fei’nur, Captain Gei’fuor, quickly brought her troops to a halt and prepared to set her dispositions. “We can break through it easily enough, but it will require a set-piece assault to breach, Colonel.” The Dilgar mind still turned instinctively toward dealing with the problem directly. The old Empire days were not quite gone from the heart.

“It will, but we aren’t going to assault. No Dilgar blood for someone else’s future colony. Get me two volunteers, one with a truce flag, another with the Alliance flag. Set your troops in covering positions, though go ahead and draw up the assault plans. I’m going to go try and talk to some brave and stubborn men over there.” Her eyes were narrowed through her visor as she breathed through the filters that covered the bottom part of her face.

“Understood, Battlemaster!” A flashed salute, and the positions were laid out. Two volunteers came forward, with quickly improvised flagpoles, reported to Fei’nur, one Dilgar and one human.

“If they start shooting, pop your personal shields and fall back into cover, understood? No heroes for scraps of cloth against this lot. Keep far enough back to not be in the same fire-lines as I. Any questions?” Her mind flashed ahead, as Fei’nur wanted to grit her teeth at the sheer idiocy of this entire plan.

“Understood, Colonel!” Flashed salutes, the Marines weren’t about to give them over, and they headed forward under cover.

At first there was no response from the lines of the miners. The two soldiers with their flags stood there, utterly exposed, for two, maybe three minutes. And then a man wearing a hachimaki and miners’ overalls stepped forward with a rifle slung at his shoulder, carrying his own Japanese banner, and walked out to meet them.

Fei’nur stood there in the open, daring to let her rank flashes show in the active camouflage paint upon her armor, her own rifle slung the entire time. A single, sharp bow of the head was the most politeness she would give, in an attempt to put the locals at ease.

A second man stepped out. Burly, his hair still dark, he went right for Fei’nur, and stopped ten paces away.

“I am Colonel Fei’nur of the Alliance. What is the name of your village, and who am I talking to?” Her question was level, if wary.

“We call this place Matsuo, alien Colonel,” he replied. “I am Haikyo Jun, the Chairman of the Rejuvenation Society for Matsuo. Why do you come to our town, Colonel?”

“I am to keep order in these areas, and attempt to arrange mutual disarmament of heavy weapons between yourselves and the Bulgarian movement.” Which is not exactly my orders, but those orders will get me shot with a grenade launcher if inflexibly applied.

“Colonel, you doubtless have your orders,” he answered. “However, understand that we have paid for this land in the blood of our fathers, our grandfathers, our sons and brothers, who have died in these mines, and in our daughters and sisters and wives and mothers who have been poisoned here and died. Their blood is in this ground, they are interred in this ground, their spirits are in this ground. They have bought it for us. We no longer have Japan, but here we may be Japanese, honour our ancestors, and restore our traditions. This is what our toil has won, we will not ever concede it to the Bulgarians.”

“I… wasn’t asking you to.” Fei’nur blinked, visibly confused. “Gods, if they’d tried to take our factories and housing blocks from us, we’d have taken up arms just like you have. I’m just trying to help keep more people who don’t deserve it from dying. That’s all.”

“This is exactly what the Bulgarians want! Here, we are Japanese, we want lands enough for our people and these mines,” he thundered sharply, now. “Tell the Bulgarians we will partition fairly the lands of the Germans. We are free. We will not take orders from your Alliance, we have not fought you, we have not been defeated by you. We will protect our homes and grow strong with them. That is our terms. The Bulgarians have cut off our supply of food and would starve us into being their slaves! If you do not send us food, or they do not, we will have to take it from the villages around us. That is just the truth, Colonel.”

“Humanitarian aid is something I can request. I’m not giving you orders, but my troops won’t be leaving, either. Is this understood and fair to your thinking?” Fei’nur was trying to cogitate as quickly as she could to keep the lid on the boiling tension.

“I am stating facts,” Jun answered, and folded his arms impassively. “We will not be denied food. Stay out of our towns, Colonel. We are a free people now, and we will not give that up.”

“You would be…” Fei’nur trailed off, and shook her head. “Your words are noted, and will be passed on.” The veteran Colonel gave a sharp, shallow bow and turned to depart. The situation gets messier and messier...

Zhen’var had at least had an entire week of uninterrupted sleep when the call came from the surface. It flashed on her red priority channel and shook her awake in her cabin in the middle of the ship’s night, the light side of Drachenfeldt below her, but the view blanked out to give her a pitch-black rest.

Letting out a softly grumpy noise, she rolled far enough to flick on a dim light, blinking furiously as her eyes tried to adjust, pulling on a uniform jacket and yanking her hair back into order with rough quickness. Only then did she acknowledge the message. “Huáscar Actual, go ahead.”

“Captain Zhen’var.” It was Brigadier Peacham. “We’ve had an urgent, and concerning development. There’s a local holonet broadcast on the H-band, 22Mhz frequency, which is coming from an unknown vessel at sea. They’re using moon bouncing to reach their immediate vicinity and a large part of the planet, and it seems they’re broadcasting propaganda associated with the Internal Apraxin Revolutionary Organisation, IARO, which is an extremist splinter group from the Bulgarian National Council.”

Zhen'var grimaced, her expression darkening. “So the incitement has begun, then? We will have to move against the transmissions, of course, quietly. A moment, Brigadier.” She paused, then pressed her comms key for the intercom. “Captain to bridge. There is someone on the planet below broadcasting an incitement to mass violence via lunar reflection down below. We need it stopped, now.”

“We’ve got the broadcast,” Will answered a moment later, having already ordered the science officer on duty to pull it. “Do you want to see it, Captain? We’re trying to localise it now.”

“Go ahead and feed it down here, Commander. I might as well see how bad it is.” She forced herself out of her chair to replicate a cup of chai, hope of more sleep now truly lost.

The broadcast was impressive in its hokey authenticity, considering the bleak subject matter. A green flag with a yellow lion rampant, faced hoist, flashed on the screen, the flag emblazoned with the words in Bulgarian cyrillic “Liberty or Death”. Images of beautiful mountains covered in trees in summer flashed by and were replaced with a recording of a band with an accordion, drums and several string instruments. A man was singing. Everyone was wearing a balaclava.

“Bulgarian people, arise from your slumber…”

“...As long as there is Apraxin, Bulgars shall exist..”

The song faded into what looked like a news broadcast being run entirely by people in balaclavas and camo fatigues. This part actually looked live. “This is a News Broadcast of the Resistance Force of the Internal Apraxin Revolutionary Organisation! Comrades, Bulgarians, Christians, tonight we read the truth of resistance.”

The man had a rifle on his desk as a prop as he spoke, and he kept one hand lovingly on the barrel shroud. “The incredible defeat of the Nemski has removed forever the notion of Reich invincibility. Right now we are praying for the Christian evangelism of the Nemski, who were subjugated by the precursor of the Anti-Christ, Adolf Hitler himself. A restoration of Christian civilisation generally is absolutely necessary in general and on Apraxin in particular if we are to successfully resist the impetus of the Asiatics, who even now are seizing the legitimate property of the Bulgarian nation.”

“Nowo Apraxin is absolutely critical as the legitimate homeland of the Bulgarian nation, to allow our natural, national restoration. The wealth represented on this world will allow us to become a great nation among the Multiverse, and must be stoutly defended. Recall, too, that asiatics have a natural lust for white women and the power the treasonous miners have gained by seizing Reich arms is a severe threat to our civilisation and womanhood. Unless the Alliance moves immediately to restore Bulgarian control of the mines, extreme measures will be required! Nemski, be reminded that we are fellow Europeans, return to God, and understand that the protection of your daughters as well is a sacred charge of Christian Bulgarian manhood. If you respect our rights to Nowo Apraxin, due consideration for your survival and prosperity will be taken into account.” He held the rifle up with one hand and shook it. “If you do not, it will be impossible for the manhood of the Bulgarian nation to protect your daughters from the Japanese! You will know the shame of being helpless unless you submit yourselves to our rule!”

Zhen’var turned the feed off. She’d seen enough. “Will, has there been any luck localizing the transmission?”

“No, Captain, it’s coming from a large cluster of fishing boats working the same grounds. Because they’re bouncing it off the moon--that’s an old trick--it’s too broad band to identify the exact transmission source in the group. I did however ask that Chief Héen organise a reconnaissance. She chose to scramble the alert fighters for a closer look.”

“Understood. They will probably have gone to ground by then, but there is a chance we will get lucky.”

Lar’shan usually took the alert lead on the night shift to set a good example for the rest of his pilots so they could actually get some sleep during the normal ship’s night. Ironically, this had already led to his being scrambled, since crises seemed to like to evolve on the Huáscar in the middle of the night, following some ancient rule of the universe that trouble woke people up from a well-earned slumber.

They dove through the atmosphere in fifteen minutes, Stasia’s slightly warbling and high but cute voice guiding them in. “All right, you’re fifty klicks off the bank at five klicks asl, heading two-three-niner. Go ahead and drop down to one klick asl and prepare your pass, PriFly Actual over.”

“Copy PriFly Actual, this is WC-50 Actual, we are descending and will make a left bank around Point Echo. Infrared cameras on.”

Circling the position, the footage was being broadcast directly to the Huáscar and resolved into a digital, three-dimensional image of each of the trawlers. As each georeferenced point in the orbit of the fighters was correlated relative to each other, a full three-dimensional model of each of the trawlers was constructed by the computers on the starship.

Ensign Oulata in the science department was on duty, and immediately processed the images through standard recognition databanks. The cross-correlation produced nothing. There were no unusual antennae or broadcasts.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” he reported to Will. “The models are good, but it doesn’t matter. The power draw is the same as the other trawlers and there’s no unusual antennae on any of them. We can’t localise the signal.”

“Lords,” Will sighed. “I’m sorry, Captain, but no dice.”

Rolling through the valleys, most of the eyes were pointed up, beyond being on swivels. An ambush from top down was always the worst. The hovercars zipped up and down the side slopes while the wheeled vehicles rolled fast down the road, heading toward the next village. The flocks of sheep fled from their approach across the fields marked by wooden fences across steep hillsides. Here and there, a herdsman on horseback or a shepherd boy looked down at the rolling convoy. It was summer, and rich red dust was rolling out behind them from the tyres as the pintle gunners sat uneasy at their mounts.

Jessica Waters was commanding the platoon, since the “scratch” nature of their fourth company made them short on officers. She appreciated the fact Fei’nur trusted her as one of the sergeants with a platoon command in exigencies. Certainly she had never expected to be taking orders from a Dilgar. Fei’nur was as rough and gruff as the worst old GROPOS gunny she could remember, but was a good mustang and remembered where she came from and trusted her and the other human NCOs, if anything a little more than her own.

Unfortunately there was no time for reminiscence. The scene she had witnessed the day before was graphic proof of how dangerous the situation was that kept her platoon hot and ready. The radio crackled every few seconds with a new report from the outriders or the IED detection wheeled drones rolling ahead of the vehicles. The utter medieval nature of the scene around them bothered her, too. Other than the line of fibre-optic and power transmission wire quaintly suspended from wooden poles alongside the road, it looked like a fantasy novel instead of a modern colonial society. To Jess, who grew up with domes, the very human geography was deeply unsettling, right down to the packed dirt her column roared up toward the village of Ticha.

The town was made of crofter’s homes of rock, wood and thatch. There was a small clinic of the Health Department of the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda and a grander building marked Reichspost -- Hilfsbüro Esläuft. The signs to the town had been marked Ticha in Bulgarian and Esläuft in German--the Reich had not even permitted their subject peoples uncontested rights to name their villages. A pub or drinking hall and a few shops, barely grander than the houses, rounded the place out. It had perhaps seven hundred inhabitants.

“They have a post office?” One of Jess’ soldiers asked incredulously.

“Yeah, subject races were banned from using their extranet to keep it pure and Aryan, so they provided an ‘auxiliary post’ for them,” the driver shouted up.

“Damnit, Jackson, you’re some kind of nerd.”

Around the now halted column a large number of townspeople had gathered. Sergeant Waters hopped down from the IFV and flipped up the goggles on her helmet. The universal translator handled Bulgarian well enough. “People of Ticha, we are Alliance soldiers who have arrived to restore order after the defeat of the Nazi Reich.”

“Heil Allianz!” One of them shouted with a crisp Hitler salute. Many others followed the gesture, almost instinctually. “Thank you for rescuing us from our tormentors!”

Jess saw one of her troopers flinch visibly at the symbology, but she knew that the villagers just didn’t know any other way to greet foreign troops, and would have been in hot shit if they hadn’t saluted for an SS column rolling through, so why not salute for the Alliance that had liberated them? “Thank you. We will be assessing your needs and moving up the road tomorrow. We’ll make camp outside of town on the north side,” she explained.

A couple of men stepped forward, exchanging glances. It wasn’t hard to figure out they weren’t used to women in positions of authority in the military. One of them was an Orthodox Priest, the others slightly more prosperous versions of the mass, shopkeepers perhaps. The Priest spoke. “Shall the livelihoods or faith of the village be altered, Ma’am?”

“Absolutely not! We will, however, provide food and medical assistance, if required.”

“Medical treatment?” One of the men in the crowd dared to scoff. “That is what the Germans promise us, but our children just get sick and die, all we have is prayer to Holy God!”

Children get sick and die… Jess grimaced. “May I see?” Glancing back. “Corpsman to the front on the double! PO Symonds,” she added, addressing the one science rating from Fera’xero’s department, embedded into the platoon for analytics on the surface, “get your sensors running. Atmospherics.”

“Understood, Sergeant!” Over the next ridge was one of the largest strip mines they’d ever seen, after all, with warrens of tunnels extending deeper in from it.

Jess and Ger’ahn, the corpsman, went forward together to where a group of children were being kept away from the others. They looked horrible, malnourished and sickly, a couple coughing with disturbing substances coming from their lungs. The medical scanners required only seconds.

“Atmospheric heavy metals poisoning, Ma’am,” he said flatly. “They’re as bad off as I was as a kit, except they’ll just keep getting worse from this instead of reaching a homeostasis like we do with the spores.”

“Yeah, I thought so. We need a medical team with a Doctor down here, don’t we?” The sheer magnitude of the problem was starting to dawn on her.

“Yes Ma’am. Probably every down-wind village, too.”

“I’ll comm Commander Saumarez.”

The next day, a request for a meeting by CWO Héen flashed onto Zhen’var’s calendar. The commander of the small craft support operations was not a common visitor to the Captain’s office, though she had certainly been fully willing to bring concerns before, with her forthright practicality as a former merchant mariner.

She tapped ‘approved’, fitting her just before lunch, wondering just what the Air Boss wanted to bring up. If this is the start of my ideas bearing fruit, I shall take it. She always seemed a skilled sort, one of the founding cadre of the Alliance.

Anastasia arrived for the meeting in her light blue flying corps uniform, crisp with the pinned-up blouse, and hair pulled back in a long braid. “Captain, thank you for seeing me so quickly.”

“No issue, Chief. Sit, please. Replicator is yours if you wish anything. I admit, we have not talked very often, what is this about?” Her voice was querulous, not sharp.

“Well,” she took a cup of coffee, and smiled faintly. “I want to go to the surface. The fishing boats were operating out of a town called St. Mark of Apraxin, and I think I can find out from the local community, or with their help identify who is behind the broadcasts. I’m a fisherwoman myself, owned my own purse seiner in the past. And though I’m lapsed from the faith, I was raised Orthodox. I can speak their language in a cultural sense. That’s going to be the only way to crack this, and I want to, I have tools that are useful and I can help stop a genocide from starting on our watch.”

Zhen’var leaned back, face inscrutable as she considered the idea. “It is commendable initiative, Chief, and while I am wary, I support the intent of the idea. You will lead the team.”

“A team, Captain? Well, very well; I don’t really want to end up dead,” she answered back, a hair wryly, and sipped her coffee. “We should have a science officer and a portable sensor pack in case we end up trailing them at sea.”

“Agreed. A Mha’dorn as well? Security with an NCO, I think?” She was asking, not ordering, phrasing suggestions in that way.

“All right, a security squad and a Mha’dorn officer as well. That makes… Eleven of us. Quite the little troupe, though,” she frowned. “Well. I guess it’s needed considering the opposition we might face, and it will look more like an assistance group, then. Yes, that will do, Captain. By your permission?”

“So granted, Chief. Good luck in your first detached command.” Her eyes gleamed, in that sort of way that implied the Captain was plotting something.

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Wed Nov 07, 2018 4:19 am

Act 2

Arriving on the surface, Stasia beamed down to St. Mark of Apraxin with Ensign Kel’dar, a Mha’dorn working as an ops officer. With them was a security detachment of eight under PO Arvarez and Ensign Oulata, an Alakin science officer. As a CWO in the Alliance system, Stasia could issue orders to non-command-grade commissioned officers when so-assigned, as was the case now, but it didn’t make her particularly happier about the situation since it seemed like too many people in general.

On foot with backpacks and battle harnesses, they made an immediate stir. People arrived by transporter rarely in St. Mark of Apraxin, and some of the old folk crossed themselves. The dirt streets ran down the hills into the cove, laid out with trawlers and inshore fishers at anchor, nets and traps out to dry. Combined with the Orthodox Church prominently at the centre of the town, it actually seemed a little like home. Stasia had them wearing the Surface Weather Conditions Covering (SWCC), a fancy name for a greatcoat over their Navy BDUs that were intended as camo away team dress, but the kepi option instead of a helmet to reflect the intended lack of combat risk. With a chill air coming in off the sea the coat was appreciated.

Based on local intelligence, there was an ‘Outlanders Hotel’ close to the Church, and Stasia started wandering that way. Alongside of it were a series of Ship’s Chandlers and a couple of General Stores, the fish processing plant was located on the edge of town and a row of restaurants and bars led from it to the centre of town--pretty typical. The usual Reich-run Health Department office and Reichspost were overt signs of the government’s presence, with the more ominous one being that St. Mark of Apraxin was big enough to warrant a Gestapo office which was still marked by an Eagle clutching a Swastika close to the local police headquarters. There had been surveillance cameras, but their poles were all ripped down and the cameras themselves stolen or smashed.

There was a small bike and car repair shop next to a building identifying itself as the hotel, with a second hotel further down. A group of men were working under a few rigged lights, rewiring and soldering connections to make the fuel cells on an old model Volkswagen work again, drinking beers and stealing glances at a soccer match being broadcast from the capitol.

“Hej, guys, the Allianz has come!” One of them shouted, spying Stasia and her team. A crowd quickly started gathering.

Stasia couldn’t help but tense. Most of the population was beat-down, old before their time. Not completely unlike her little hardscrabble village, frankly, a fact she didn’t much like to think of. A few of the merchants took great pride in their clothes, but most did not have the money for that. There was a priest, though, descending from the steps of the church.

“Alliance soldiers, why have you come?”

“Father, bless,” Anastasia Héen answered formally, and bowed, the priest giving her an instant opportunity to make some friends. “Father, we’re sailors, we’re here as part of an assistance program to help with the fishing yields. National reconstruction!” She saw the plump woman in formal old Bulgarian national costume who approached at the priest’s side, clearly his wife, and bowed again. “ Matushka .”

“Has the National Council approved your assistance?” The Priest asked suspiciously, though he was astonished at her correctness, and the unfamiliar word seemed to spark a flicker of surprise.

“What do you know about fishing!?” Someone in the crowd shouted.

“Yes, they are aware, Father,” Stasia answered, and crossed herself. “I have skippered a trawler myself. Please, Father, we’re just here to help.”

“...You’re Orthodox?” the priest asked in some surprise. “The Alliance is godless sodomites, atheists, aliens,” he muttered.

“Father, I was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church,” Stasia answered levelly, ignoring words she had certainly heard before.

“The Russian Orthodox Church.... Now there is a name I have not heard but whispered.” He prepared to bless her, and Stasia, knowing well the forms, formed her hands in the shape of a cross, and kissed the hand of the priest when he blessed her. “You are not Russian, though.”

“I am Tlingit, Father. Our people were evangelized by Russia, we are American indigenous.”

“A Red Indian!” One of the well-dressed men in the crowd shouted. “Dear God, I saw a documentary on State Television about the Wildlife preserves in Wisconsin once! But, My God, she is Orthodox, and wears clothes!”

The priest turned sharply toward the man. “Stepan Stepanovich, this woman is a baptised Christian! The Reich spoke lies about other humans!” He laughed broadly and stroked his beard. “Not only that, but I think she wants to stay in your hotel! Child, what is your name?”

Offizierstellvertreter Anastasia Héen, Father,” she answered promptly, her back stiff but a grin now lighting up inside of herself. It had worked. And she was about to make the man who had said those words very uncomfortable.

The priest smiled broadly. “Miss Héen, welcome to Saint Mark of Apraxin. Our town is humble, but we will be thankful for your aid. We have received no help from the central government at all, and the Gestapo officers fled two weeks ago to go surrender to the Britischers in the capitol. Is it so, child, that there is freedom for the Orthodox faith in the Alliance?”

“It is so, Father.”

“God be praised! Stepan Stepanovich, show her officers and men to the finest rooms.”

“My God, Father, please, the Reich, I shall lose my certificate of German lodging and I shall never get it back!” The man exploded into desperate action, running up to the Priest and bowing. “I cannot have a Red Indian and Aliens in a hotel approved for lodging by Aryans, it will ruin me forever! They will never let me get it back! My family has maintained that certificate for two generations!”

“Stepan, child,” the Priest said with a cold chuckle and a glint in his eye. “God be praised, for the Reich is never coming back. Let them in your Inn, or you will never have customers again.” Then he looked to Stasia. “I am Father Aleksandar. Trust that tonight you will not be troubled, the men of our village have rifles now. We are now strong, and shall remain so, and greet you in Orthodox brotherhood.”

That didn’t necessarily actually make Stasia feel any better, considering what her mission was, but she bowed again. “Thank you, Father Aleksandar. We are glad to be in Saint Mark of Apraxin.” As they walked to the hotel, men laughed at Stepan Stepanovich and cursed him, while he pretentiously held his back straight and rubbed the waxed ends of his mustache. He was not a popular man in the town.

The hotel was certainly sumptuous by local, rural standards, though it was no Ritz. Unsurprisingly, Stepan claimed that he had no food for preparing a breakfast, and with uniforms and arms, Stasia led her people to the waterfront cafes, some built on pilings over the water.

“Don’t you have magic food that comes out of the air?” The short-order woman behind the counter asked wryly when they came in.

“Still prefer the real thing,” Stasia answered, “and we don’t have it here.”

“Well, eat what you want, but follow the same limits as everyone else,” she replied.

Limits. Stasia looked up at the chalkboard. Banitza-- one slice per customer. Apple--one per customer. Bob chorba -- one bowl per customer. Ribena chorba -- no limit. Tarator -- one bowl per customer. Gubena supa -- one bowl per customer. Turshiya -- no limit. Grilled fish -- no limit, whatever is caught. Tsatsa -- no limit. Drinks: Boza -- one cup per customer. Beer -- one bottle per customer. Traditional coffee -- one cup per customer. Chicory coffee -- no limit.

There was nothing else on the menu. Most of her people were using their omnitools to translate as best as they could. “I’ll take an apple, Gubena supa, tsatsa, and coffee. My real cup, please.”

“No Banitza ?” It was a legitimate question, seeing as it was the only typical breakfast food actually on the menu.

“Save it for my comrades, they might not like many of the others,” Stasia grinned. “As long as you get me the coffee.” She paid for all of them, in Reichsmarks which were overprinted with the words ALLIED OCCUPATION AUTHORITY, OCCUPATION DOLLAR, and the Alliance seal. Electronic payment systems were nonfunctional and the Reich had encouraged the use of paper currency by subject races to avoid giving them large amounts of convenience technology, anyway.

The tables were rough-hewn wood, the chairs with more artistic flair but much the same, and the only open space big enough for them was at one long table where a woman clustered with four children, likely enough two sons and two daughters. She looked to be in her sixties, with massive corded muscles and stocky, thick arms and legs, a scarf tied up over her gray hair, but wearing practical fisher’s overalls. “Do you mind if we sit, grandmother?” Stasia asked.

“What? Oh merciful God, it is not my table to say no.” Her eyes were sharp and wide, matching those of her children. “You are Miss Héen, are you not?”

“Yes, that’s right, who are you?” Stasia went to sit, and her food came clinking out, from the fried sprats that were tsatsa to the mushroom soup. The coffee came first.

“Gergena Kirilova Tambovna, Officer.” She answered formally. “And these are my children. You said you would help us find more fish?”

“Yes, but it might take time. You fish?”

“I have a boat!” Gergena said proudly, though her face then fell. “For the past ten years I have worked it with my children, I am forty-five years old now and getting old, but when the Nazis shot my poor Anton, there was nothing else for us.” She changed the subject quickly. “You are Anastasia, yes? They said you claimed to fish.”

“I did,” Anastasia agreed. “I had a trawler, the Lillian S. And that is my name. Of course, these days, I am in the Navy.”

“So you are! Women could never serve in the Reich, not like it would matter to us.” She glanced around, and lowered her voice. “My daughter Alexandra, she needs to learn to fish properly,” she gestured to the eldest, who looked in the best health. “The old Gestapo commandant hired her as the file-clerk, and since the surrender, she has been out of work. Without her income, I can’t hire a hand for the boat, she’s been working it instead, but she’s not tough enough.”

Stasia pursed her lips over her sprats, one of the two who had dared to have some--Kel’dar unsurprisingly being the other. She felt a bit like it was abusing the trust involved, but they could make sure things worked out for Gergena Kirilova. “I can sail with you first and help, Gergena?”

Alexandra was blushing furiously at the questioning of her ability. Her mother grinned. “Don’t worry, child, the Officer will set you right soon enough. Yes, I accept.”

In trying to get a handle on the situation in the mining towns, it quickly became apparent that, in fact, Jun’s claims had been perfectly correct. There were no food supplies reaching them. The relief forces under Peacham’s control weren’t even making an attempt to get through to the towns. And that was rapidly escalating the situation viz. the Bulgarian herding community’s vulnerability to raids from the mining towns.

“Request communication with Brigadier Peacham, please. Do tell Colonel Fei’nur, and you can quote me, ‘You were right, it will likely fall to you. Suggest planning accordingly’. At least the complete… confused mess was not exploding , but… Zhen’var frowned visibly. “Divine save us from idiotic staff work. Let me know as soon as you have the Brigadier.”

“Brigadier Peacham on your channel, Captain.”

“Put him on, please.” She still did not have a pleased expression on her face, even if most of the frown faded before the comms image shimmered into life.

“Captain, I was told that this was urgent?” Peacham looked more than a little surprised, but serious enough at his desk.

“The mining villages are cut off from food shipments with the ongoing unrest, Brigadier. If we do not get them some very soon , we are going to be in a shooting war with these ‘Rejuvenation Societies’ when they go to take it from the Bulgarian villages.”

“They’ve made that decision themselves, Captain. Standing regulations do not allow us to place relief corps personnel under the power of armed militants,” Peacham said. “The reality is they might easily kill anyone sent into their midst. Unless they submit to being disarmed, it’s simply not an option.”

“Are you forbidding me from making the effort myself, Brigadier?” Zhen’var’s face had gone studiously blank, her voice flatly calm. “There will be major intra-planetary conflict we cannot contain with forces on hand if we do not solve this issue now . They will not disarm unless the Bulgarians do, and do not consent to be governed by them.”

“If the consent of the governed mattered here, Captain, we wouldn’t be playing gaoler for the entire planet waiting for the next round of overlords to take it over,” Peacham replied grimly and with real vinegar in his voice. “Later today we do expect a private relief organisation to arrive, but they were scheduled to assist your health and wellness efforts in the Bulgarian herding villages in the Grunwald region. You can, by all means, devise a strategy to supply food to the mining towns but I certainly cannot permit regular relief corps personnel to directly place themselves under the power of the Rejuvenation Society paramilitaries.”

“If they attack the villages, they will be under their power anyhow , as hostages , Brigadier. This will boil over.” She audibly sighed. “I understand the standing orders, Brigadier. We will come up with a strategy to delay the clash, if possible. That was all, Brigadier.”

Stasia knew her fishing. Wearing her oilskins and greatcoat, she set nets and pulled them and diagnosed some broken hydraulics on the rigging gear. Respecting Gergena’s authority on her boat, the CWO had turned the voyage into a bit of a commercial fishing clinic for her own people, going over the details of every step in working the boat, and catching up on maintenance as well. By the end of the second day, she was oily and looked a bit of a mess, but looked as happy as a clam and had thoroughly won over the tough old Gergena’s children.

To keep them going, she got Spacer Robby Larkin in the security detachment to start making stews out of the stocks onboard and their own emergency rations, and cracked open her backpack to reveal neat vacuum-sealed packages of Cafe Bustelo, the cheap Cuban espresso blend of the supermarkets of her native Earth that she had used to sustain herself honestly when poor and working her turns on trawler and ferry. It was a familiar life she was at least fond of.

Alexandra proved as able as the rest of her family to adapt to the demands of the fishing trade, under Stasia’s confident and friendly tutelage. It was nearly idyllic, if you liked hard work and honest food. Of course, that all obscured the reason they were really there, which was the discrete sensor pack that Ensign Oulata was running.

“Chief,” he said as he approached with the sun setting. “I’ve localised the transmissions tonight to the Tamandor Bank. We’re only fifteen klicks off, and it’s a good ground too. Can we move there in the middle of the night?”

“Just a sec,” Stasia answered, putting down her binoculars on the bridge rail and stepped into the bridge. “Gergena, can we make for the Tamandor Bank tonight?”

“Aye, we could, Stasia, it’s good ground, but pretty crowded.” A pause. “Well, you’re helping enough. I won’t ask questions.”

Stasia’s words caught in her throat. She was using this honest woman. And she knew it. “You have my word, as one fisherwoman to another,” she finally said. “Your family will be safe and prosperous.”

There was a moment of fraught tension. Gergena knew she was being used, knew there was a military objective. “Might be nice to have a Volkswagen, too,” Gergena smiled wryly, and spun the helm over.

You’ll get your Volkswagen. Stasia swallowed. That wasn’t the concern...

At sea you couldn’t escape the smell of salt, and on a fishing trawler, you couldn’t escape the smell of your catch. On a hard-bitten small family trawler like this, they fried up the introduced sprats to eat the moment they caught them. There were instant potatoes to go with them for breakfast, mashed into cakes with a little wheat, and onions to toss in the fryer with the sprats. They had Boza and Stasia’s Cafe Bustelo from a percolator, and enough seasick pills that the spacers who had never felt a salt-water boat’s roll were able to enjoy it.

Stasia sat in the kitchen nook, crammed into the pads on top of storage boxes which formed half the seating at the u-shaped table. Gergena was next to her with big plates before them, both exhausted and hungry. Kel’dar had stood the night watch to let them get some rest, and the bedraggled looking Dilgar was eagerly eyeing a double portion of the tsatsa. Behind Stasia’s back the chiller-compressor set looping cold glycol through lines in the fish holds was rumbling hard enough to give her a rough-hewn massage.

“It’s almost dawn,” Alexandra said, looking at the chronometer. “Just one more day, mother?”

“Just one more day,” Gergena agreed. “Even with the competition at Tamandor it’s rich enough ground we should be heading to home tonight. And it’s closer in-shore.”

“What’s your space like, Anastasia?” Alexandra asked then.

“Oh, there’s … A lot of work to do. Fighting Nazis, keeping fighter pilots from crashing into each other. I do more of the later than the former.” A grin. “Really, there’s a hundred Earths, a hundred galaxies. There’s more space than you can imagine out there, and there are beautiful sights a thousand times grander than anything else.”

“It would be wonderful…”

“We’ll never afford that,” Gergena said flatly, and flashed a look to Stasia, appealing to get her to stop talking about space.

Stasia smiled. “Well, looking up to the stars can be just as grand. And very useful to your navigation. Anyhow…” She re-filled her coffee. “I should get up-deck and check on my wayward Fahnrich.” She shared a laugh with Gergena and clambered up a ladder to where Ensign Oulata was running the sensor rig.

The first rays of dawn were peeking above the horizon as she arrived. “Found anything?”

“Yeah, the morning broadcast definitely came from the bank, that group of ten trawlers over there.”

“Ten.” Stasia gritted her teeth. “Do we know which one, ensign?”

“Not the slightest, Chief. Here, do you want to see the replay? I’ve got an infrared recording of them as the transmission was happening.”

It took Stasia’s practiced eye only a moment to realise that one of the trawlers was not like the others. It was not in the appearance, there was nothing out of the ordinary about that. It was in the way she was behaving. Unlike the other trawlers, which were following the rhythms of the sea, phosphorescent krill and the operations of setting and recovering nets, she had been holding station during the dawn broadcast, in such a position that she could bounce a signal off the moon--Stasia used her omnitool to quickly confirm the angles--and reach half the world.

Stasia smiled tightly. “That’s the one. Locate her in the current group.”

“Aye-aye, Chief.”

Next, Stasia stepped past him and inside the currently unmanned pilothouse. She reached in, having learned a few to read the key words in Bulgarian already, and turned off the Iron Mike.

Next to her, Ensign Oulata collated the data and shot it to Fera’xero on the Huáscar. At a warning, Fera’xero had swung out of his quarters and moved to the primary science lab a few minutes before his shift started. Now he took the data, cross-validated, and used the uplink information from the transponder in the portable sensor to validate position relative to the Huáscar, and then queried five spaceport beacons on the planet for the same time period, and finally the AIS for Gergena’s trawler. At that point the mainframes handled the complicated mathematics to turn the Huáscar’s position, confirmed by five points on the planet, into the position of the trawler, measured by calculating the arc-length difference of only ten meters between the AIS transponder and the sensor cluster. It was enough.

At that point they knew which trawler they were looking for, and it only required regression of the AIS tracks to identify where she was now. Three minutes later, Ensign Oulata returned to Stasia’s side, and visually pointed out the trawler, silhouetted in the rising sun, as their omnitools crosslinked and confirmed the position.

“Thank you, Ensign.” Stasia adjusted her cross slightly. “Keep the Tambov family belowdecks, and get all of us updecks with pulse rifles locked and charged.”

Kel’dar came up to Stasia’s side as she steered the ship. He took a pair of binoculars and looked out to the deck of their target trawler, where a group of figures in their own greatcoats were hastening about. It was direct line of sight, and for Kel’dar, that was enough.

“Chief, they’re on to us! They’re bringing up and readying heavy arms.”

“Oh Christ. ” Stasia reached over to the throttles and threw them all forward, and brought the wheel to starboard, slewing them hard in toward the other trawler as their engines whined. As they did, she could see them swing a heavy Reich pulse cannon onto a tripod mount on the foredeck they had just erected.

Huáscar this is Chief Héen our trawler is coming under attack by crew-served weapons on the target trawler, over.”

“Squad open fire!” Firing from their port beam, nine pulse rifles opened fire in unison. Ensign Oulata joined in with a tenth, and then Ensign Kel’dar with an eleventh. Two men rigging the heavy Reich cannon collapsed from pulse fire, and the gun toppled onto the foredeck of the enemy trawler, as her team delivered fires from the port bridge wing and the port foredeck.

On the fantail of the Bulgarian trawler, the lion flag on green fluttered up the mast, and a sharp, crackling split of light filled the dawn’s murk. A mortar bomb rose and descended, detonating as it hit the water twenty meters off the Tambov trawler in a tremendous flare of light and plasma. The bridge windows blew out around her.

Stasia had ducked at the flash and brought her arm up to cover her face, and it avoided any serious fragments tearing into her, the massive greatcoat covering her from most of the glass. She blinked her eyes open, and swung harder to starboard, keeping the firing lines open to the enemy trawler as sporadic rifle fire slammed into the deckhouse around her, starting fires in the paint.

Huáscar, WE ARE TAKING FIRES, PLASMA MORTAR AND RIFLE.” Stasia screamed into her omnitool’s general direction, spinning back in to port to narrow their profile. Another mortar round split the dawn’s light, and Stasia felt the heat on her right cheek. With the windows already gone, she didn’t flinch.

“Chief Héen, this is Commander Saumarez, I have Lieutenant Seldayiv ready to beam down with a scratch team in full rig. But we need an open spot on the enemy deck or they’ll be cut to pieces when they beam in. Can you create one?”

Stasia had always prided herself on her ability at small craft handling. “Sure. Beam them at my mark.”

“Linking you to the transporter room now,” Elia replied.

“Transporter Chief, stand by at my mark,” Stasia shouted. She threw the levers that would adjust the intermix ratio on the engines, and with a scream of power the engines overreved. The moment they did, she spun back harder to port.

On the bow of the enemy trawler, a fresh group of men were making an effort to rig the heavy pulse cannon again. As they did, Kel’dar rose and, where the vibrations and rolling in the waves made accurate shooting almost impossible, one of the Bulgarians froze and toppled from an abrupt telepathic interruption of his conscious bodily control courtesy of the Mha’dorn officer. It was enough to collapse the second effort to bring into action a weapon that might have been decisive.

“Team, shift to starboard and brace yourselves !” Stasia weared the trawler on the port quarter of the Bulgarian. As she swung up alongside with her engines surging, the helm was spun back sharply, the rudder bucked in the propwash, and the trawler lurched back to starboard. Slamming her old-tyre rub-guards into the matching equivalents on her rival, the two vessels made contact in a surge of sea and spray.

“Fire until you see the glow!” Stasia shouted, and then: “Beam ‘em down!” The impact had strewn people down onto the deck of the pirate broadcaster. A moment later Daria flashed into view with a reinforced squad of twelve Huáscarenos. Swinging her rifle up she dropped one, two, three of the IARO paramilitaries on the deck with a preternaturally accurate aim. The squad charged forward and fanned out in elements into the deckhouse.

Stasia throttled back down hard, seeing smoke rolling off the decks aft. She grabbed the bullhorn still tucked in place on the bridge. “All hands, man your fire extinguishers and axes! Damage control on the double!”

The news that they had successfully secured the pirate broadcast trawler and didn’t have any serious casualties brought a palpable relief of tension to the bridge of the Huáscar. Elia, who had decided on the course of the battle, looked particularly relieved.

“Well done, Commander. I will take the deck.” Zhen’var spoke from where she’d burst onto the bridge about thirty seconds into the action. “ Veryquick thinking. That was most of the QRF we had left, was it not?”

“It wasn’t even one,” Elia replied. “I just had a list of people who had been in past QRFs but were not currently assigned. Captain.”

“You exceed my already-high expectations, Commander Saumarez. I expect, and worry, we will have more need of such. If you think it possible, anything we can spare, kept ready for the call, may be wise.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Elia replied. “I greatly appreciate the confidence you show in me.”

“It is deserved. I believe the situation is delicate enough to start to hold some fighters on Quick Reaction Alert, or even a CAP, as part of the QRF.”

“Understood. Bringing the ship to Condition Yellow, MC YOKE.” Not modified ZEBRA, it would still allow passage through the ship, so a more relaxed posture than their typical Code Yellow, but they were unquestionably alerting everyone that combat could be considered imminent, and as part of it, an eight-fighter, two-runabout CAP would be authorised, with four more fighters on QRA.

“Oh, and Commander? Though it needs not be explicitly said, I expect a planetary threat, possibly using hugging tactics with friendly units.” Zhen’var already was feeling the stress of this assignment, and she’d not yet been on station very long either .

“Understood, Captain. However, we have another issue. It’s quite likely that IARO paramilitaries will threaten the owners and crew of the trawler that assisted us. Chief Héen is requesting a garrison for St. Mark of Apraxin to protect them.”

Zhen’var, for a moment, looked like she wanted to plant her face into her hands, before rallying and offering; “Of course. That is perfectly logical. You can liaise with Colonel Fei’nur to find one between whom-ever we have left with any training.”

“We’ll need to pull a detachment off of her force to have anyone capable of securing St. Mark, Captain,” Elia replied bluntly. “But we don’t have any choice or our credibility is gone.”

“Do it. If the locals cannot trust us, you are right, we will have nothing left in their eyes. We are being badly overstretched, and our status reports to higher command have garnered no response. We will make do, somehow.”

The next day, the initial private response teams from the Humanitarians Without Borders umbrella group had set up and were already dispensing aid in villages near the frontier line between the Bulgarian and Japanese townships. Nah’dur was holding a surgery clinic in the town of Norovno, cheerfully doing bone marrow transplants on a couple of children with leukemia in a prefabricated surgical ward.

She’d already spoken with the leaders of the HWB group, and though they seemed a bit oblivious, were going to move into the Japanese territories soon. Her own plan had been to start mass replication of simple, nutritious rations on the Huáscar and just beam them down into the Japanese towns, but there were millions of Japanese on the planet and a huge backlog.

Some members of the Rejuvenation Society had already tired of waiting, and had pulled out to make attacks on the food convoys now moving to the Bulgarian towns. They were too far out and with unreliable comms, and proceeded with their attacks. The first inkling Nah’dur had of it all was the sound of shots being fired and screams outside. The nurses and corpsmen around her visibly started, a couple of the junior ones looked for the exit to the tent.

“Keep working,” Nah’dur said calmly. “We’ll be done in another five minutes.” She didn’t even look up from what she was doing. The shooting quickly died off anyway, replaced by the barking of orders in a tongue that Nah’dur was familiar with, for all the wrong reasons.

“Aalmost…” She worked through her procedures methodically, still ignoring the sounds, right up until the moment that a Japanese in a hachimaki and overhauls burst into the operating theatre holding a Reich standard pulse rifle.

“Out! Immediately! You are hostages!”

“I’m busy,” Nah’dur replied in perfect Japanese, and went on to the next procedure. “Don’t listen to the honourable soldier,” she added, letting the universal translator handle that as she instructed her people. “Honourable soldier, it is necessary for me to finish this surgery, or else the patient shall die.”

“A Bulgaria…”

“A child,” Nah’dur cut him off, still not looking up. “And quite possibly Japanese,” she sniffed under her mask. “You can’t tell, not with all of these tubes and masks. Honourable soldier, leave, I must finish the surgery. Please. It would dishonour your service otherwise.”

The man had a silent, inscrutable expression for a moment, and then lowered the rifle and stepped out. Nah’dur calmly continued her surgery. As she had worked, she had quietly clicked on the broadcast feed on her omnitool.

When she finished the procedure, she looked up from her patient to her staff. “Stay here and stabilise the patient.”


“I need to go somewhere,” she answered, and instead of going out through the entrance, took a scalpel and cut herself a new exit out of the back of the surgical tent.

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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Thu Nov 08, 2018 1:02 am

Act 3

Outside of the medical tents, the leaders of the Rejuvenation Society company had forced all the aid workers to kneel, keeping them well-covered with guns as they tied them up. It was being broadcast live by a simple hand-held recording camera and a primitive antenna rig.

“Alliance, know that we are strong and the age in which the Bulgarians could oppressed us with the encouragement of the Gestapo and complete impunity is long gone!”

“We will no longer tolerate being starved into submission. We will fight for our livelihoods, our towns and mines, the blood of our ancestors and their hallowed souls. The independence and sovereignty of all Japanese-occupied territory and sufficient German lands for food self-sufficiency on the surface of Drachenfeldt is an absolute requirement, or else we must take extreme measures to insure our independence!”

Behind the group, a single Dilgar in surgical scrubs very quietly circled through the town. Her omnitool was still broadcasting. The Rejuvenation Society paramilitaries were no professional troops, by any measure.

There was only one guard on the rear of the motor pool of Technicals that the Rejuvenation Society paramilitaries had arrived in, and he was more interested in listening to his commander’s speech than doing his duty. Rather than risk alerting them, Nah’dur crept up with one of her scalpels. That was over a moment later, for though usually too delicate for such a use, it was perfect for severing everything important that was exposed in the human neck. Dilgar at least had a line of cartilage covering the really important parts…

Nah’dur looked down at the body and spreading blood with a perfect sense of clinical detachment. She hadn’t actually intentionally killed anyone before, it was a surprisingly unproblematic experience. Or perhaps not surprisingly at all. Ahead of her, there was one ore-hauling truck with the right orientation, broadside to the plaza of the town, which was a small ore-hauling truck--big by the standards of road trucks--and fitted with a massive twin anti-aircraft pulse cannon.

That will do. She clambered up the side and up-checked the gun with the practice of an automaton. Fei’nur had been utterly determined to make sure she and her sisters were never unready. It was only when she kicked the mount traverse and swung it around to bear on the main body of the Rejuvenation Society troops that they realised precisely what had happened.

“Just for future reference, Dilgar Surgeon-Commanders don’t swear the Hippocratic Oath,” Nah’dur said with a tight grin, purely for her own benefit. The gun had opened up before she had finished the sentence.

The shock and confusion of the Rejuvenation Society troops was completed when a volley of pulse rifle fire slammed into their flank, a scratch response team assembled from Fei’nur’s headquarters platoon and led by her personally in frantic response to Nah’dur’s open comms line. She had to rely on the universal translator, her voice cracking out over the speakers of her armour; “Surrender or die!”

Leaning into the harness of her gun, Nah’dur stitched her away across the Rejuvenation Society positions, driving them back whenever they threatened an attack which might imperil the hostages, hugging the ground over which her pulse bolts flew. The gun was powerful enough to simply blow straight through a lot of cover, and they’d already decimated the main body.

Sweeping forward, Marines took up positions, leapfrogging forward through the town, clearing pockets of resistance and taking up positions around the central common. Paramilitaries toppled like tenpins in the heavy fire, not well trained enough to take effective cover.

It was over--operationally, if not in fact. Some of the Japanese proved quite unwilling to surrender, but for the most part they did. Their discipline and organisation had collapsed quickly under the shock of the abrupt attack and the surprise of the quick reinforcements. They were armed miners, not professional soldiers. Fei’nur’s Marines had quickly earned their salt in the attack.

Nah’dur checked her fire to avoid hitting any of them. She looked around, blinking widely, like it was only now dawning on her what she’d just done.

“Secure the area!” The Colonel waited long enough to ensure her people had the situation under control, before she’d step closer to the technical Nah’dur had captured, her expression softening. “Come down from there, Nah.” She murmured, once close enough to let her speak directly without anyone else hearing.

Nah’dur jerked at hearing only her personal name, with her eyes widening, clambered down from the side of the truck to face Fei’nur. “Colo… Fei?” She asked, softly.

Fishing into her combat rig, Fei’nur brought up a small flask. “Drink, one swig, no more.” Her voice was still quietly kind, as she stepped closer, and clapped a hand on Nah’dur’s shoulder. “The first time’s always the hardest. You did wonderfully, Nah. First combat badge and with a pin for you, I’d say.”

The moment she drank, Nah’dur knew it was Ish’la’fran. Her eyes and mouth shook from the hearty swig. Holding the flask until her hands steadied, she handed it back to Fei’nur.

“Thank you, Fei,” she answered now, looking up with wide eyes. “I crept up close to the vehicle guard and took him with a scalpel. That was the hard part.”

“Your mother always had some in her desk, just in case. She’d be proud of you. You cannot ask others to take life if you aren’t willing to do it yourself. Spilling blood is our calling as soldiers, and you did what you had to, to save the lives of those hostages.” The arm around her pulled the young doctor into a quick hug. “Try and stay close tonight, like when you were younger. It should help you sleep, Nah.”

“I will, Fei. Thank you.” She squeezed back in the hug, and then drew back. “I should check up on my patient. She was in surgery when they burst in, I told them to leave -- they did, but it was still very crude.”

“Of course, Surgeon-Commander.” Fei’nur gave her a last smile as her mask of command slipped back onto her face, muttering as she turned away, “I think I am starting to hate this planet...”

Perhaps the only positive thing about the aftermath of the fight at Norovno was that when Zhen’var tried communicating with the Rejuvenation Society, they answered over the comm channels with alacrity. The Japanese man who appeared on the screen even bowed deeply. “Captain Zhen’var, I am Takahashi Akinari, of the coordinating committee of the Rejuvenation Society, and I wish to extend my personal apology for the incident at Norovno. Our leadership did not sanction Shigeru’s actions, his heart was wild and could not be controlled.”

“It was gekokujō, then?” Zhen’var was not well pleased after the report, but she would drill down to deatils, and accept the apology, if she was satisfied.

Mr. Takahashi inclined his head. “You understand our people. Yes, it was so. Again, I am very sorry.” He once more bowed. “We will talk with the Bulgarians, aboard the Huáscar. We will not make terms first. But we must have food.”

“Your apology is accepted, sir. I have provided food to Yatsukawa, Kenyako, Renbatsu, Narakonai, Shiragawa and Kenkanai. We are working as quickly as we can to clear the backlog of starvation, Mister Takahashi. We are beaming down rations as quickly as we can, and if we have your word the aid workers will be safe, they will proceed under escort into your claimed territories. I know it is slower than we both wish, but we are making our best possible effort to provide food.”

He nodded stiffly. “You have my word. We will protect any who come to distribute food, or medicines.”

“Then you have mine that I shall consider myself bound by obligation to keep the peace, and protect and succour non-combatants and those who do not actively use their arms.” She was somewhat stepping into dangerous ground, but her habit of going far beyond her orders had not changed.

“You honour us, Captain. We will await further communication” The transmission blinked off.

Having used the computer to locate her operations officer, Captain Zhen’var paused at the door to the wardroom, knocking gently on the frame. “Permission for the Captain to enter?” It was, after all, the wardroom of the officers - and in the old navy traditions, Zhen’var considered it a privilege, not a right, to enter.

“Come in, Captain! Permission granted!” A youthful Dilgar Ensign with the incredible colouration of the Valongar had the honours of greeting her, after Elia had given her permission herself as the ranking officer in the wardroom. Ensign Aur’ma, the islander woman from the Earth Dilgar colony--whose adoptive mother had something of a history with the Varmas.

“Good afternoon, Ensign. Settling in well? Your first cruise after the academy back on Tira, is it not?” Zhen’var smiled as she went to fill a mug with tea from the replicator, along with a small plate of snacks.

“Oh, I’m very well settled, Captain. Yes, it is.” She surged with pride. “I’m very thankful to be able to follow my elder sister to the same ship. Is Ka’var well?”

“She is, though too long in zero-gee has taken a toll, I fear. Her days charging into in harms way are done, hopefully; when the Wrath returns from this galaxy to Rohric, I do not believe mother will serve again. That will help. At any rate, Lieutenant Seldayiv rates your skill highly for one so fresh to the service. Keep up the good work, Ensign. I fear I must speak to Commander Saumarez.”

“Of course, Captain,” she turned back to her snack of satay.

Elia was smiling, nursing a cup of rooibos tisane. “So, what do we need to talk about, Captain?”

“Mha’dorn business, I think. The Bulgarians we took. I do not think they were just planning to broadcast incitement, do you?” She sipped at her always-present tea, lips pursed as she popped a morsel of Chicken 65 into her mouth.

“Hmm… Terrorism, genocide, probably a few other things, yes,” Elia said blackly. “You want me to interrogate them, don’t you?”

“No. I want to interrogate them. I just want you to stand by for it. I shall not turn you into an intelligence woman, unless you ever want to be. I think there is an exception for imminent terrorist attacks, the ‘ticking bomb’ clause, is that correct?”

“Correct. Earth Alliance law had something else, though of course Marsies would do things like fantasize about the suicide bombing they were about to commit to make Earth-born telepaths report it and then get in trouble when it wasn’t real.” She looked down into her cup, not wanting to dwell on the situation back home, but unable to ignore it, either. That she was performing her duties in such an exemplary fashion anyway was a testament to her discipline.

“If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know? You are holding up better than I would, Commander.” Look at me! After all, I turned myself into a Dilgar, pretty sure most people say that is the opposite of ‘holding up’.

Elia cracked a massive grin. In this freaking multiverse, Zhen, you’re one of the sanest people around. The willingness to speak to a mundane like that was unfathomable back home. But here with her Captain and friend she’d gotten comfortable enough for it. “I’ll work with Daria. Her powers give an extra insight that would make us a good team for this.”

Have I told you recently how cool it is you can do that, Elia? Zhen’var’s face broke into a small grin. Ever since the first time her friend had done that projecting into her head, she’d found it fascinatingly awesome.

Oh, just a few times, Elia winked and laughed. “Thank you for taking my mind off everything,” she added verbally, and leaned back. The impulse to communicate with a mundane through vocal chords was still strong after years of socialization under the law.

“What are friends for, Commander? Whenever is convenient for the two of you, then. You both will be under more strain than I.”

“Understood. We’ll make the call together. Now, before you eat all of it… What are you eating, and can I try some?”

“Snack food. Chicken 65. And no, I do not know where the name came from. As spicy as anything else from where I grew up, so be careful!” She offered her plate, comfortable and smiling amongst her officers.

Having finished that, she was heading towards the Laboratory section aboard - she had a meeting with her science officer, and a knotty problem she thought he could rather solve, as she pressed the annunciator button near the door - not wishing to interrupt anything extremely delicate by using the override.

A minute later the door opened, revealing the Quarian, who came to attention. “Captain. How may I be of assistance?” Fera’xero showed the customary Quarian deference to the concept of a Captain, distinct from the rank, but was clearly immensely proud of the Huáscar’s labs from the few tours she had been given by him so far.

“I was wishing to speak with you, Commander, about whether you had any ideas about locating some of the masses of heavy weapons looted by the two groups on the surface that seem bound and determined to start a war with each other?” She glanced about with a look of approval - he did manage the labs well, and with how she’d unleashed her crews’ initiative, she was expecting much from everyone… especially how Quarian and Dilgar views on engineering seemed to build off each other in an almost exponential way.

“Weapons storage is an interesting dispersion problem. Certain areas will not be used for it, because it would be detectable in different ways. It is possible to radically limit the surface area of the planet which is being employed -- but five percent of the surface is still impossible to search, say, from orbit.” he stepped over to a holotank and activated it, making the surface swell. “Let’s look at the mines first, there’s anecdotal evidence there’s major stockpiles there from the intelligence reports.”

He zoomed in further, until he resolved the architecture around a heading shaft. “Observe the size of the tailings, the inclination of the shaft, and the mine equipment around it. That’s what I have to work with, as well as the location of say, Grunwald 9. I could develop a genetic algorithm which would reduce through the variables to select for mine-shafts with satellite images which indicate horizontal head approaches and with tailings and equipment large enough to indicate both linear length and physical diameter sufficient for the military heavy arms we are searching for. Then probe-drones could be sent to orbit the sites at night to look for gravitic anomalies in the tunnels.”

“I will admit only mostly understanding that, Commander, but I trust your abilities. Coordinate with Operations to get the drones and your needed sensor time. Is there anything else you will need?”

“Reserved mainframe time, twice the usual allotment for Science. This algorithm is very intensive with the number of variables we are working, Captain.”

“I will approve the request, the Chiefs should have some idea what runtime we can delay to give you the resources, Commander.” Zhen’var was already thinking about ways she could have arranged it, before she forced herself to stop. “Let the watch-standers know what you need, you should have it.”

Elia had gotten used to the idea that telepathy for military purposes was a side gig she would never quite escape. She was less sure about Lieutenant Seldayiv and the powers she had; they were something that Elia still grappled to put into her own frame of reference as much as she could.

The two women met in the little security office in front of the brig. Crewers were already joking after the steady succession of events lately that it was the more utilized part of the ship. Elia thought that if they managed to maintain such an enviable record it would be well worthwhile. “I know this is something of a ‘bum job’,” Elia offered to the Dorei woman.

“No problem. I’m happy to help, and it is important before my Goddess, you know,” she explained. “Staying in tactical required considerable prayer for me, actually.”

“I can imagine. It isn’t a usual profession, direct weapons fire, for your practice, is it?”

“Certainly, but that makes it all the more important to have someone who is morally grounded in the role,” Daria replied. “That, in the end, is why I stayed with my career. As long as the Arms of the Alliance work toward morality, toward the liberation and salvation of peoples, there is nothing wrong with our stand.”

“I wish I had such certainty about anything except for my family and my friendship with Zhen’var,” Elia replied.

“By family you mean Psi Corps, don’t you?”

“Mother and Father and all that implies,” Elia agreed readily. “And of course the Mha’dorn, the cousins I’m staying with,” she added with, a smile on her lips.

Daria got herself some seemai strips from the replicator, thinking about that. “You know, there’s a lot of propaganda in the Alliance these days about the Corps, but they all seemed reasonable when they were here, so I’m not sure of what to think about it.”

Elia sighed. “It’s all lies, and I feel like I’m constantly having to address it. The laws were passed by the mundanes, they ordered us to enforce them, they are the ones who produce the propaganda which demonizes us even at the same time we are required to send our best to enforce their laws, which burns them out and leads them to die by forty. They’re turning against us. Straight up the genocide ladder.”

“I’m sorry, Elia.”

“I accept the apology in a way I wouldn’t from a mundane,” Elia replied. “The apology for even bringing up that slander. We are a nation, and the Earth Alliance can annihilate us at will.” She rubbed her forehead and grimaced. “Speaking of dead at forty, I need to replicate Nah’dur’s brain protectant.”

“Understood. Another minute?”

“Yeah,” Elia agreed, as she punched in her prescription code. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I will take the lead in talking with them. They may just not respond to an alien. To be blunt.”

“You’re probably right. I’ll listen for trouble, then?”

“That would be the idea, yes.” As Elia replied, the drug she had the prescription for was replicated in front of her and she used the single-shot applicator. Strangely enough, she’d barely ever felt safer than she did being Nah’dur’s guinea pig for drugs to help telepaths. She just had the intense conviction that anything the woman made would be beneficial, or at least not hurt her.

“Nah’dur’s something else for a Doctor, isn’t she?”

“We telepaths believe pretty strongly that blood runs in families, I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all,” Elia replied.

Dur, you mean?” Daria looked sharp.

“Yes. She’s a genius.”

“Most people wouldn’t want a relative of Jha’dur to operate on them, genius or not.”

“Oh come on, Daria,” Elia smiled wryly. “The kid’s just a big ball of cheerfulness. Whatever relation to Jha’dur she has is hardly important. We both know that.”

“You are right. The Goddess would never have it any other way. Let’s do this, Commander.”

Elia nodded tightly. “Yeah, let’s.” She keyed open the hatch and stepped forward, the Dorei woman following close behind. Inside was the group of Bulgarian nationalists they had seized from the trawler.

One of them glared up sharply at them as they entered. Elia had always fancied herself rather clearly Caucasian, from an old Norman French noble family, but her blood had tended toward some of southern Europe thanks to the marriages over the centuries, and she did have curly hair.

The man before her, dressed in tattered camo and with five days growth of a beard around his mustache, looking about third and wiry muscled, assumed something else. “Zhid?” He spat. “Wiping out your kind was the only good thing the Nazis ever did.”

For a moment Elia considered letting the man continue his assumption, but she realised from the sense of him that he was already negatively inclined toward Daria and she didn’t want him to clam up. “Unfortunately, no, I’m not Jewish. They have some of the tightest community in the Corps, so I’m rather envious. In fact, I think I’m one of about five Channel Islanders in the entire Corps. My name is Elia de Saumarez and the last time I recall, I am considered an Aryan under the Reich Blood Purity Laws.”

“Your family might have the heritage, but a Gauleiter would never let his son marry you, anymore than a Bulgar!” he laughed bitterly. “What else was I supposed to assume, when they make you wear those black gloves like your own Alliance’s version of the mark of the Jew?”

Daria shivered from the sheer intensity of the virulent hatred. She had been prepared for it, though. The Nazis milked the spectre of “the Jew” to keep all the surviving subject races of Earth united in fear and hate of the ultimate boogeyman, the mysterious, cunning, supernatural and demonic “Jew” that had been the subject of hundreds of years of sophisticated propaganda.

“Boyan, you moron, why would you think the gloves mean she’s a Jew? Everyone knows Jews have big hook noses!” A bearded man in the back laughed at the first, and they all roared at their compatriot, who turned red as he glared at Elia. “Hey pretty lady,” he added, “talk to me, Mladen, I’m not afraid of an Englishwoman.”

“Norman French, more like,” Elia answered, her face pale and her body stiff. It was the only way to get by the undressing she was receiving in Mladen’s mind. “You gentlemen are in a lot of trouble. You were inciting massacre and violating the orders of the military governor by broadcasting propaganda illegally.”

“I’m not worried,” he laughed. “We’ll drive you from the planet and have plenty of hostages to get us back with. The Bulgarian people will never stand to be slaves of a foreign power again. You don’t have the strength to hold every world of the Reich, the Nemski will fight to the death before they let you marry their daughters to aliens and Jews. You don’t have enough troops to hold them all. And if you give us our freedom, we’ll send tough guys, Bulgarian freedom fighters, to help you crush the Nemski, take their god-cursed scalps! I’d say this is your last chance to negotiate, Alliancer. We’re not afraid of your prisons, you need us.”

As he had spoken, Daria focused on their minds, taking advantage of their passion to look through the weakened barriers, toward the information they sought to hide. She was overcome with visions of violence. A shaven-headed man in a beret, leading troops. Captured Nazi tanks firing into buildings. Particle cannon were whining, plasma mortars exploding in great flashes, and men in camo walking into battle as they crossed themselves and exchanged kisses on the cheeks. The green Lion flag was flying… Over the old Gauleiter’s palace, and the city was burning. Church bells were ringing, and she can hear prayers on lips. Our Time is Come! It came from a million thoughts, a million minds.

She did not nod, she simply glyphed it with her own powers to Elia: A rising is coming on.

Understood. Elia smiled ever-so-politely to the men in front of her. “I will relay your words to the Captain, thank you.”

They both beat their retreat from the intense mental confines of the close presence of this rough-hewn, racist men. “Goddess,” Daria murmured. “It is coming, very soon, they expect it very soon, Elia.”

“The 22nd of September in the local calendar would be the anniversary of the declaration of Bulgarian independence,” Elia replied, referencing her omnitool.

“Sooner. It doesn’t seem nationalist. There was praying,” Daria answered insistently.

“Uhh… Well, it is an urgent solution.” She steeled herself. “PO Jameison, please bring the man named Mladen to a separate room.”

“Aye-aye Sir,” the security lead answered, and took two of his sailors under her arms to do the move inside the brig. He returned a moment later, indicating he was finished.

Tensing herself, Elia went back to the room. When she returned a few minutes later, she was sweaty and pale. “Captain, this is Commander Saumarez,” she barked into her omnitool immediately. “It’s happening, God, it’s happening. Not Bulgarian National Independence Day. It’s set for the Elevation of the Holy Cross -- September 14th. Tomorrow, Captain, we’ve got to warn the garrison!”

Peacham answered the emergency call with a faintly tired voice, though there was no indication of irritation in it. “Captain Zhen’var, we appear to have an emergency. What is it?”

Zhen’var’s voice was urgent, far flatter than normal. “Engage your Plan White immediately, brigadier. A wide-scale rising by the Bulgarian radicals is imminent - for the Elevation of the Holy Cross, tomorrow!” There was the background sounds of the Condition Yellow klaxons sounding as the ship shifted to a higher alert state.

“A rising by the IARO?” Peacham’s bleary voice snapped into alertness. “The Elevation of the Holy Cross starts in just a few hours, technically. We have very little time. God… We’ll have to call the outlying units of the brigade in as fast as we can to avoid having them cut off and give us enough strength to hold the capitol.”

“It may trigger the attack once you do, Brigadier. Colonel Fei’nur has been alerted, but I have no further ground units available to assist yourself. I am preparing my wing for close-air-support duties, and my batteries for bombardment. The Navy is at your disposal in resisting this assault, but what little I have gleaned indicates the IARO is both well armed and confident.” If the divine is kind, it will be enough.

“We will make all possible preparations, Captain. Thank you. The British Army will, as usual, hold.”

To Zhen’var, and where she had grown up, it was a matter of poor taste to talk about the British Army and holding against risings, though she held her tongue, and gave a single sharp nod. “We stand ready to assist, Brigadier.” Now we need to avoid a second rising at the same time.

What followed was the utmost testament to the cunning and brilliance of the rebel and the insurgent when staging a rising against an occupying power. Meticulous subterfuge was pitted against all the technology of the Alliance and its friends. Buses had their windows painted over with scenes of people inside and translucent paint for driving at night. Railway cars on the ore railway had been brought to the spaceport with tanks hidden under cardboard gondolas. Bombs were placed in the sewers.

When the hour came, cars piled full of armed fighters drove through the streets flying green Lion flags. Tanks began to form up and roll from the railway depots by the spaceport and industrial sektors. And power armour directly attacked the barracks of the brigade in the city.

The last one was what caused the dying. The IARO was a disciplined terrorist organisation which had invested real effort into training over the past weeks with the equipment, and knew some of it from past experience with looted examples. They were attacking an enemy unprepared for their assault, which had settled into the regular routine of a peaceful occupation.

The British troops had sensors and autonomous vehicles patrolling around their barracks’, but the level of warning they provided in an urban area was insufficient against an abrupt, all-out storm assault by power armour. Rockets and close-range plasma cannon blew through local shields and collapsed walls, while homing missiles destroyed vehicles while they were still warming up. The night was filled with flashes of plasma, particle and disruptor fire and short bursts of explosions.

As the attacks by the power armour developed, men rushed forward with dump trucks to critical positions in the city, dumping their loads across the thoroughfares. Box trucks for delivering to businesses followed, swinging around behind them. Their boxes had been cut by welding torches and then repainted, so that when the hour came, a couple of one-minute cuts allowed the fighters showing up to man the positions to throw the entire structure off, revealing a heavy support particle repeater mounted to the bed and facing along the gravel piles, to which shovels quickly integrated the truck boxes for further protection. The batteries of fuel cell-electric vehicles were tapped and rigged to spools of razor wire used for sheep ranch fencing to produce electrified stop barriers.

The sound of honking horns and ringing church bells filled the city as IARO men used the ‘net to coordinate crowds of supporters who were unwilling to mobilise as paramilitaries to get in their cars and drive into the streets of the city, honking their horns in unison to the sound of the national anthem.

All of this in fact hardly hurt the British. The Army of the Stellar Union was superb and even when poorly led, the men from Captain rank down to the sergeants and the privates themselves could quickly organise. They piled from their barracks back into defensive positions around their motor pools and began to bring them up, dragging the wounded back and establishing field stations if the main clinic or hospital on post was burning. Heavy energy fire smashed into groups of Bulgarian power armour: The men inside those suits were not SS, by any measure, they were coming on like they were invincible in the suits, and their initial wild rush had been successful, but their tactics consisted of just that, a wild rush to charge the enemy and overwhelm them, and their small unit tactics were essentially primitive.

From the moment the British troops had some kind of semblance of order, they opened up on the power armour formations, improvised sotnias led by officers whose experience was usually a college degree and an ability to read German and thus Wehrmacht field manuals. They flanked the sotnias and delivered precision fires, calling in drones from launch points that were not under direct fire. Leaders were identified and terminated with homing missiles as most of the Bulgarians misused their defensive masking systems from inexperience.

The attacks were failing, rapidly and decisively. The British Army, its usual self, was consolidating, methodically pushing back, and destroying its attackers. However, the IARO leadership had expected as much. The Power Armour attacks, while flashy and impressive, were just there to keep the British disorganised while they brought the Panzers up, driving in columns for the Gauleiter’s palace. This was a coup d’etat, and their target was the Brigadier and the Bulgarian National Council. The abrupt shock of heavy armour charging down the streets followed by trucks loaded with fighters to reinforce the attacks quickly brought the situation to a crisis.

By that time, the Huáscar was at relaxed general quarters, just like they had discussed before the mission had begun. Zhen’var and her department heads were on the bridge, monitoring the fighting on the surface, when the request came in.

“Major Harraway on the emergency comms line, Captain,” Lieutenant Tor'jar reported.

“Major Harroway, this is Huáscar Actual. Go ahead.” Her voice was clipped as she could hear her comms section monitoring the situation on the ground - a worsening situation, by the shift in tone she could hear in the background.

“Captain, the Brigadier assesses that we need immediate reinforcements. Battalions of panzers are moving into the city centre and our outer patrols are being hard pressed by them. Considerable numbers of infantry fighters are with them. We need the full strength of your battalion, if possible.”

“Stand by, Major. The Colonel will deploy what she is able.” Zhen’var resisted the urge to growl - while she had expected this to happen, she had hoped it would not. “Get me Colonel Fei’nur. Her usual pessimism will have led her to plan for this, at least…”

“Colonel Fei’nur, on your channel, Captain.”

“Colonel, this is the Captain. The British urgently need everything you can spare in the capital, the enemy is making a push with heavy armour for the centre of government and there are doubts our forces can hold.”

There was a moment of dead air, before the older Dilgar woman’s voice came back. “Understood. I will have the bulk of my forces moving shortly. I intend to liaise with Operations to provide me reconnaissance and keep up speed. If you have no objections, I should be about it, Captain.”

“I do not, Colonel. Let your strike find the mark. Huáscar Actual, out.”

There was a disciplined process to shift troops halfway around the planet. The personnel transporters would shift the troops with their light arms, and the cargo transporters would handle the heavy equipment inside of the prepared defensive positions, from whence it could be quickly re-crewed.

The troops were moved en masse, for they needed coordination and coherency to their formations to survive in the midst of heavy urban combat. Positions near combat, but outside of it, were chosen, where Fei’nur’s battalion could pinch one of the flanks of the IARO armoured advance. And then, ready, with their guns pointed out, they flashed from the mining ranges into the midst of the capitol, the transporters cycling four platoons a minute.

It was a new evolution for Fei’nur, but one that she had forced herself through, again and again on the holodeck, until she felt she had a firm grasp upon it - though she had not been expecting to use it again so soon.

There was a burst of light, and there they were again, facing their enemies. Fortunately that was only metaphorical, though the transport did entail for providing covering fire the moment they arrived with all of their small arms, while the mortars and support weapons were set up and missile teams deployed, and this was done despite the lack of an obvious threat. It was part of doctrine, and no chances were being taken as the rest of the troops beamed in and they nervously awaited the impending arrival of their heavy equipment, the sixteen light tanks and ten artillery pieces which would make this affair somewhat more fair… For them.

Fei’nur watched through her HUD the icons that were her command as they spread out to take their positions, securing the transport zone for the heavy equipment to follow. She didn’t give orders, not yet. The situation was, for now, still firmly in the book she’d tried to drill into her lieutenants.

They rushed forward and took up positions to cover the arrival of the vehicles as the rest of the troops continued to beam-in… Ten minutes to complete the entirety of the battalion re-position, after the first seven, the tanks began to arrive, and the artillery pieces as well. That was the same time when the warning went out.

“Panzers, coming in!”

One of her Captains was already on that heading, the Linzstrasse: “Hunter-Killer teams, take cover in defilade!”

Fei’nur gave soft orders - her subordinates, she allowed initiative, but she herself kept control of coordinating the different wings. “Welcome to the fray, everyone. Artillery, position yourself to recieve fire requests - we have our objective, Combat Command B, start moving forwards to support Second Company.”

“Aye, Ma’am!” Security troopers in their field BDUs and heavy weapons dashed off to reinforce the Marines, and finally behind her, the artillery and tanks started to be crewed. Barely the moment that they were, though, explosions from mortar fire started to fall around them, and the chatter of heavy weapons cut across the front ahead.

“Armour to the flanks, A and C! Objective is the British brigade headquarters! Get our overhead defenses up, and observers, start calling fire!”

Their guns loaded anti-tank submunitions and waited for the order. The observers followed her directives, and started calling fire. The guns started firing twenty rounds a minute. Guided anti-tank submunitions were minimally impactful on a built-up urban area, but there would be collateral damage. It couldn’t matter right now. The tanks revved their whining turbines and roared into action, while the sound of missiles from the forward teams indicated that they were already at close quarters.

The Bulgarian IARO had already committed its reserves in responding to the sudden appearance of a reinforced battalion on one flank. Within moments, Fei’nur’s unit was in close quarters battle with the better part of two Panzer battalions, but in doing so they had already in a sense won. Their drones with anti-tank missiles were going up to reinforce them, and now they had to hang on. If they could break through to the brigade headquarters, they’d have done their job. If they merely held, they would still like as not do it by diverting powerful enemy forces from their primary objective.

Fei’nur was a Dilgar of the old school, if one that had learned many new tricks. She had an objective, and she was already shifting her companies about to take advantage of the terrain, moving up to nearly being under fire herself. At such range, even her light tanks could ambush the heavy Reich units with the quality of support they had, darting down narrow streets and wheeling sharply as the tactical net came alive. “Keep the chatter down, this is madness enough.” Her voice cracked out to keep the frequencies clear for the information that could keep her people alive - insight, rather than just dots on a holo-display.

The strategy of using the light tanks was capable enough. The IARO had no such experience, had no experience at all, in fact. It took only minutes for the convergence to occur, and as it did, the artillery knocked out the heads and rear of Panzer columns, and then the light tanks spun on one tread around side streets and opened fire into the flank of tanks trapped in the column, knocking them out before withdrawing. Within the first ten minutes, twenty of a hundred and twenty IARO heavy Panzers coming for had been knocked out and she hadn’t lost even one of her own tanks. The thunder of heavy and light weapons alike rolled through the canyon of the city streets in a continuous rumble, turrets whirring and sensors spotting fire accurately onto critical parts of their heavy enemies as the war-veteran Marine tankers used better handling and proper artillery support to the maximum advantage.

Bold hunter-killer teams charged into close range against tank columns trapped by burning Panzers. Bringing their anti-tank homing missiles to the ready, they targeted tracks and engine intakes. Now the Marines were taking losses, because the IARO was quite capable of swinging around crew-served support disruptors and particle cannon and letting loose with everything they had against infantry in close quarters, but they were overwhelmed by the tactical situation and lashing out at everything around them.

Just like the old days, except this time we can actually hurt them with our missiles. “The enemy is off balance. Third Company, you have a possible opening... White, this is Shovel, request local jamming of enemy tactical net starting in three minutes.”

“Leather confirms, Shovel. White on point for ECM in three repeat three minutes.”

“Copy, thank you.” She switched channels. “Companies, snow starting in three, stand ready to pounce!” She knew the systems would adapt, but with the IARO hard-pressed, she was betting the short collapse of their tactical net would let her get her breakthrough.

“Confirm, confirm…” Call-outs ran back to ‘Shovel’, and Fei’nur’s officers prepared themselves for an aggressive counterattack and lunge for the British Brigade headquarters. This was no small task as they brought up their scout vehicles and other light equipment and transports. Acting on the offensive against a much stronger foe, even a disorganised and inexperienced one, required the utmost in professionalism and ruthlessness.

She had confidence in her people as she watched the clock tick down in the corner of her HUD. “Stand by… three… two… one… mark!”

Her companies exploded into action, her tanks overtaking their positions and charging forward according to the assault plan they had worked up even as the transport was underway. Pushing forward, they manoeuvred around the burning ruins of the Panzers they had already knocked out and engaged others pinned in place in columns in the street. Reinforcement was nonexistent, and this time they kept going until they made a few tank aces knocking out the enemy in the dense urban quarters.

Neither side had enough time to properly fortify buildings, outside of the main British positions, but the worst fire came as some of the IARO troops rushed into the buildings to take up positions and direct counter-fire down on them. This was purely on local initiative from IARO officers smart and capable enough to take it in response to the rapidly worsening situation. Already Fei’nur’s tanks broke through the initial forces they had engaged in two thrusts. Now they had to break through the main enemy barricades along the Sauckelstrasse. The tankers didn’t leave anything to chance. They revved their engines to full power and plunged through the city, letting nothing stop them as the city was lit with the flashes of energy weapons and explosions on the horizon, the power still on to shopfronts and billboards contrasting with the active combat in front of them.

With her ad-hoc headquarters platoon, she was racing after her leading elements, trying to keep everything coordinated, and her infantry companies following after the tanks, trying to catch up to screen them from the same sort of assaults she had been directing against the insurgent’s tanks. It was the sort of madness which she had always risen to the top of, bracing herself as she shifted information between her spearheads and tried to keep some cohesion between her captains.

As she did, her tanks stormed the barricades while laying down shrapnel rounds, tearing through the unprotected gun positions. Dismount platoons followed into the chaos as mortars mounted on vehicles provided close support. They cleared the barricades in short, close-quarters work with rifles and grenades. Beyond them, the enemy adapting to the comms snow, their reserve battalion of Panzers was preparing to move out when it was blindsided by Fei’nur’s two converging columns.

The result was a short massacre, not, perhaps, as one-sided as the groups of tanks taken apart so expertly at first. But the IARO fighters didn’t handle their vehicles well enough to use their advantages, and the better part of half the battalion fell back in the chaos -- now having local superiority, Fei’nur’s tankers turned on the other half and started to finish the job. The Union Jack was flying right ahead. They’d done it.

Around them, the city rustled, intact except for the spots of burning buildings, the positions where the IARO still held. It was a success but not a triumph. The cantonments of the Panteri, the troops of the BNC, were still filled with armaments, the clatter of guns still echoed behind them, and the better parts of a division were still swirling in fighting around them. If major IARO reinforcements arrived, they would still lose. Fei’nur figured she had an hour to get her troops into defensive positions around the government district; there were more Bulgarians coming and the night was far from over.

Sergeant Waters had been shifted with the group detailed to keep order in the city of St. Mark of Apraxin. A single company of regular marines with the support of four light tanks and two artillery pieces, they were certainly adequate for the original envisioned purpose. The eruption of fighting in the capitol had left everyone aware of what might be coming down the pike, though, and their position was not adequate for that.

Rather than wait for the situation to develop, Captain Hur’tir had ordered his troops swung out into defensive lines outside of the city. He knew it would be better to fortify the city itself, but the Dilgar officer was acutely aware of the new ROEs compared to the Dilgar service which forbade such intentional impacts on civilians. Anyway, the village rising around them would make the situation worse, so it had some logic. They had already set up HESCO bastions around the main approaches to the town, Hur’tir was no idiot, and used a couple of wheel-loaders from the village to cut trenches and prepare rudimentary berms. Now they manned them, and got their recon drones up.

Sergeant Waters’ platoon laid out their positions carefully with forward flanking positions for the anti-tank missile teams for firing from defilade as any attacker was driven into the barriers. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long until the trouble was detected, and unsurprisingly with the Huáscar overtasked it was the drones that found it. Sixty tanks, leading a brigade-strength formation, coming up the road and running fast.

A chill ran through every single one of them. That was far, far more firepower than they could directly face. “We’ve got support,” Jess flatly interjected onto the unit comms before any panicked chatter could show up. “Just hang tough and we’ll deal with it. They’re heading down this road to get to the capitol, that’s the only reason for such a force. And we’re not going to let them.”

Hur’tir blinked again at the sensor reports from his drones. His command post was close-in to the front and he could imagine the tanks, and see them clearly from the sensors, which even, in the midst of the night, revealed the flags gaudily waving from the sensor aerials of each ‘panzer’. They weren’t regulars, they weren’t veterans, his people were. He flashed a report to Battlemaster Fei’nur, Shovel, who shot back that simple, chilling order a minute later: You are to hold until relieved. Lethal force is authorised. The order had certainly come in from Huáscar Actual, but Fei’nur would never abrogate such responsibility for herself. The woman was a legend for good reason.

The young Tiran Dilgar saw the tanks light up a moment later as the autonomous anti-air turrets began to thunder at his drones. Someone had noticed the warnings the Nazi sensors had given them. He called the drones down to low altitude and pulled them back to continue getting some data and keyed up his artillery section. “Lieutenant Barrow?”


“You’re tracking your positional data on the incoming column?”

“We are, Sir.”

Hur’tir tried to remember the Captain’s example on orders. “Lieutenant, I want you to buy me as much time as possible. You are fire free.”

Barrow pretty much knew exactly what to do. He needed to get the enemy to deploy out of line as far from their position as possible. He ordered his guns to load guided AT cluster munitions and laid down fires on the lead of the column. The bomblets were designed to terminal home on the heat of the engine housings and penetrate them with jets of plasma. Most of them were shot down by the anti-air turrets on the tanks, but the spread of rapid-fire artillery shells was precisely staggered to overwhelm the lead, and the tanks were not in an artillery-defensive box but regular line of march, so the rear tanks in the formation couldn’t add their defensive firepower to those in the lead.

A wall of fire erupted from the leading tank element as two, then four tanks exploded, one flinging its turret into the air in massive pyrotechnics easily visible from Waters’ position. Still klicks away, the abrupt detonation of the lead of the column left the IARO force in confusion and disarray. Their natural impulse was to immediately shift into the attack and drive home the attack using the Panzers as aggressively as possible to overrun the enemy they now abruptly found themselves engaged with, their only warning the drones they had detected minutes before.

Hur’tir brought up his comms. “White, Hotshot. We are under heavy attack by a mechanised brigade. Air support urgently requested.”

“Leather for Hotshot, White dispatching assistance. You have your instruction from Shovel,” Elia replied.

“We hold,” he answered. Ahead, the sharp artillery strike was having the desired effect because many of the vehicles transporting infantry were not fully off-road rated and were having difficulty bypassing the burning tanks and torn up ground. But now, the Panzers were bringing their guns into position and opening fire on the lines of bastions, an obvious target once they were in line of sight. They fired as they charged, and Hur’tir admired their élan, in part because it made his job easier: They were now opening the distance from their own infantry support.

This still wasn’t going to be easy if the air support didn’t get to them quickly. “Anti-Panzer hunter-killer teams, prepare for engagement with unsupported panzers!” As he finished giving the instructions, Lieutenant Barrow’s guns spoke again.

Lar’shan surveyed the fighter hangar around him. To avoid problems with arming, he was prepping a half-deck strike. The final complement of the Huáscar had been 72 fighters and 40 bombers. They were arming half the force completely with small-diameter guided bombs, optimal for precise ground support. The other half, his half, sat armed and being spotted into the launching tubes, some of the fighters being shuttled up to the forward tubes by elevators where they were already being launched. The fighters could carry twelve each, the bombers forty-eight, including in the internal rotaries.

Around him, the pilots and crews completed boarding their craft. He keyed his line to Commander Imra as he pulled on his helmet and climbed into the cockpit of his own fighter. “Commander, we’re three minutes from beginning the main launch cycle. I’m doing final pre-flight now.”

“Confirmed, Major,” Imra’s calm tones answered. “PriFly has been directed to clear for the strike launch. Coordinate accordingly and launch when ready.”


“Good luck, Major.”

With that, Lar’shan quickly began his final pre-flight, attaching his life support connections, sealing his helmet, checking the arm status on his ejection seat, and brought up PriFly. “PriFly Actual, this is WC-50 Actual. Request commence primary bay launch.”

“WC-50 Actual,” Stasia’s voice answered. “Is 50B1 up-checked?”

“Confirmed, PriFly Actual, 50B1 up-checked.”

“Commencing launch by squadron now, WC-50 Actual.”

The traditional salute from the catapult was snapped by a dozen hands as the lead wave of bombers roared down the tubes. Lar’shan completed his pre-flight and greenlighted the boards. A moment later, one of the handling trucks plucked his fighter out of its arming position and swung it toward a launching tube, locking it over the lead magnetic ring. Lar’shan saluted the handling crew, and with a rush of hard g’s, they were off. It was the first deck strike in earnest from the Huáscar.

The Marines had been busy in the meantime, doing their jobs. Even just two guns had left them in a position to fight back. The artillery had destroyed twelve tanks coming in. Then the hunter-killer teams had gone to work. Their own tanks had waited until the last moment and then delivered precise fires from behind cover.

What had followed was a bloodbath. The IARO forces were completely unprepared in terms of training to face a real military. They had the finest Nazi equipment, but at the end of the day, their élan in pressing the attack was the only thing which made them dangerous. They fought their tanks like amateurs and their infantry tactics were simplistic.

Of course, when you were a company fighting a brigade, that didn’t matter for nearly as much as it should have. Within ten minutes at close quarters, having pinned the IARO advance, the order to fall back rippled down the line. As professionals, they dealt with it calmly. It was part of the plan to make them hold as long as possible, there was no shame in it. The trick was to do it cleanly.

A second line of bastions provided a last-ditch cover, and there were several advantages to giving ground against a force of this size as the infantry caught up with their panzers. Jess ran along her positions, urging her troops back. “Move move move! Second line of defence, fall back now! Get that out and rolling!”

She piled into the last of the light scout vehicles as the fire from the panzers pounded into the barriers and knocked them around. Their artillery had fallen back first and laid down smoke for them, the tanks covering their retreat with their turrets facing aft. And then they were rolling, but they weren’t the only ones who were rolling.

WC-50 Actual to ground forces, We are Rolling Hot.

When Jess heard that, she looked behind from the scout vehicle and grinned. “Oh you are so screwed now you bastards.”

Lar’shan brought his fighters and bombers in at high altitude. Speed and altitude were the best defence against a disorganised field force. Against a heavy, integrated defensive network, he would have led his fighters and bombers in right on the deck. Doing so against a mechanised field force would just unnecessarily expose himself to intense defensive fire.

The Panzers were dangerous to his aircraft. They had main guns which could track and engage aircraft at altitude, even shoot at satellites in orbit. But lacking in trained, disciplined coordination, they were a random threat to shielded fighters. And as they approached their targets, the fighters began to fire drones and jammers from their torpedo tubes, which couldn’t take SDBs. The drones were probes with small pop-out winglets which began to orbit the battlefield, the jammers did the same with massive electromagnetic interference while the probes used lasers to range-find and deconflict the battlefield, tight-linking data back to Lar’shan’s group.

“Confirm DEX,” he snapped as the trackers on his laser targeting pod into active.

“DEX confirmed… We are good on targeting..” each squadron leader reported in turn as computers were crosslinked to the telemetry.

The next order was for the bombers only, as Lar’shan finalised his attack plan. “Bombers: Altitude hold at twenty thousand meters.”

“We know the drill, just sit on your ass, pickle and leave,” Vanessa Carter, 50B2 Lead, laughed over the comm. “Confirm altitude hold, twenty thousand meters.”

Lar’shan watched the green-lights flash across his taclink. “Huáscar Actual, we have the enemy force targeted, IFF deconflict with Company A.”

“All fighters, attack!” He switched his bomb switch and pickled, before leading the lead flight into a smooth dive off to port. Each of the three squadrons followed suit. As they dove out of cover he snapped the next order. “Full atmospheric thrust!”

The fighters burned hard into powered dives, sonic booms slamming down toward the ground, klicks and minutes away. The IARO finally picked them up and tank turrets hastily spun skyward to try and engage, but the diving profile toward the deck meant that the shots went wild toward space, and with their shields up and conformal a few hits from tank guns mattered little.

What did matter was that they had just painted their positions beautifully with thermal signature and fire tracking for the bombers, which now pickled and then turned back at altitude to escape the area at full power.

The hundreds of small bombs converging on the formation took a solid minute to fall on their final courses. As they did, they swept the anticipated tracks of the vehicles they were engaging and the brigade comprehensively. The tanks brought their autonomous turrets up and engaged, and in fact something like 30% of the bombs were engaged and shot down, but the sheer quantity meant there was plenty of overkill to deal with attrition.

The troops on the ground were treated to a lightshow like no other. The vast array of bombs detonated in salvoes and clusters from each aircraft and each squadron, coordinated to cover a particular grid and track a particular set of targets. The entirety of the attacking brigade and their former position disappeared into blossoming white flashes and intermingled columns of flame and smoke, flashed into existence in the dark and remaining visible through the light of the explosions to follow.

Interlocking shockwaves thundered in the air around them, automatic hearing protection kicking in as sod and flame were shorn into the sky, the shockwaves outright visible through the smoke and flame of past explosions. As each tranche of explosions faded, another from the bombers slammed home as five flights delivered twice as many bombs as all of the fighters put together.

“Mother of God,” someone muttered in her platoon.

“That’s flyboys for you, private,” Jess snorted. “Sit around and jerk off all day until they get a clean target, then roll up and make it look easy and claim all the glory.”

Just as she finished saying it, the tactical comm channel activated. “This is Bomber Two, making it look easy! Backetcha, Jarheads!” That it was a woman’s voice made it even better, followed shortly by a few chords from Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride before Lar’shan ordered his squadron commander to cut it out.

Jess rolled her eyes.

In front of them there were twenty-five hundred dead men and four hundred burning vehicles as the light faded away into the flickers of heavy black electrical smoke. The town of St. Mark of Apraxin certainly didn’t sleep that night, but it was safe. They’d stared enough. She raised her voice and pitched it against the sound of the burning and occasional secondaries. “Platoon! Take -- Positions!”

With the assault on the Gauleiter’s palace and the Panzer column at St. Mark of Apraxin both defeated, the risk of an IARO takeover of Drachenfeldt had effectively been eliminated, and the situation on the bridge of the Huáscar had calmed considerably. The second half of the wing had just been detailed to attack another column advancing on the capitol, but by itself it offered a substantially reduced threat.

“Captain, we’re getting a transmission from the mining sectors,” Elia said, her voice cutting across the atmosphere of relief on the bridge, conveying subconscious tension. “It’s on the emergency channels.”

“What do I need to know?”

“It’s from the Rejuvenation Society. They’re declaring the independence of the ‘State of the Mountains’, all the Japanese populations and mining towns and mines. It’s a call to arms and a declaration of independence, Captain.”

Zhen’var sank a little deeper into her command chair. “Commander Fera’Xero, find me their arms caches. Now. We are out of time.”

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Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Fri Nov 09, 2018 3:47 am

Act 4

Immediately, Fera’Xero knew that the situation depended utterly on his own efforts. They had pulled back all of their troops acting as peacekeepers between the mining towns and the Bulgarian villages in the area. They might be winning against the IARO rising, but they had no reserves, and the planet would boil over if the BNC joined the IARO, which they probably would if the Rejuvenation Society rose unchecked.

The satellites he had deployed into orbit had been mapping the planet with each track, across multiple spectra and bands of data. From those masses of data came the problem of pattern hunting. True AI could do this but true AI grew naturally more unstable the larger it got. partial-AI or VI to his home universe worked acceptably well, processing the data in a blink of an eye, the problem became when it was trying to find significance within the patterns. What was significance? What if you didn’t know in advance?

If significance was not ‘well posed’, then the VI could simply miss it and continue to optimise. The best way to avoid this was to integrate sapient observation, but since sapient observation was intensely slow compared to the computations, you needed good triggers for when it was called for.

The step already fully complete had been simple cropping. This required no effort, once programmed the computers ran through it straightforwardly. It was clear the Rejuvenation Society would not hide its heavy weapons too far away from one of the towns it held, or it could not access them in a militarily useful period of time. When that work was done, the real work started. The computer filtered images down to signatures appropriate for tunnels, or recently turned Earth, and analyzed forest canopies for heat differences.

When it pinged an anomaly, Fera’Xero brought it up and had a look. If the anomaly looked promising, then he could cue the sensors to sift through masses of multispectral data in the area to determine whether or not equipment was underground in bulk. At the same time, a second program was identifying all visible mining equipment. This combined third step was what he was still working on.

To accelerate it, knowing how dire the situation was, he now focused in on the mine entrances, having already having had several hits with equipment underground near the main towns. Track width in the visuals of tracks in the approach to the tunnels were compared with that on the equipment through a quick subroutine. Once it was clear there were three locations where they didn’t match, he ran the detailed detection routines through the tunnels.

Zhen’var didn’t speak again. She didn’t press him, she didn’t ask about his progress. He was being trusted by his Captain, but with that trust, he could feel the expectation that he would generate results. That expectation, implicit in her command, made him want to prove himself, and it was with extreme relief that he generated the list of three sites and shot it to Zhen’var, Tactical, and Operations. The statistical postprocessing completed a moment later. “Captain, I have the caches with ninety-nine two probability. No significant probability elsewhere.”

“Thank you, Commander, good work. Commander Saumarez?”

“They’re too close to towns for us to avoid collateral damage unless we use the fighters.”

Zhen’var activated a line to Lar’shan. “Major, what is your status?”

“Returning to the Huáscar to rearm, it will take twenty minutes to get even a single flight off from that, Captain.”

“Too long, they will have moved the equipment by then,” Zhen’var looked down, then back up, and spoke in general to her bridge crew. “Suggestions?”

At Navigation, Arterus paused in his completely mundane task while maintaining orbit. The question was open-ended and clearly meant for more than just the usual suspects. Elia Saumarez knew altogether very little about weapons effects, in fact.

He had felt embarrassed by his past answers to the Captain’s intent, but now, if he were to keep his honour, he’d make himself useful regardless. “Use the training settings, Captain, on the energy weapons. Long duration, tight beam, high-precision fires. Collapse the tunnels with minimum effect. Better yet, if we can deliver torpedoes accurately, fire the training torpedoes without warheads.”

Zhen’var didn’t need long. “Lieutenant Seldayiv, can we implement?”

And now it was the Dorei woman’s turn to feel on the spot. She knew that like Arterus her first weeks on the Huáscar had been rocky. But her Goddess’ attitude was clear, and the needs of the situation as well. Daria swallowed, considering the separation of only a few hundred meters between targets and towns. “Laying firing solutions in now, Captain.”

“Report when ready,” Zhen’var answered, and a dim feeling of pleasure seemed to reach Daria’s senses. It reassured her, and she completed the preparations in a bare minute of reprogramming, confirming lock-downs and repositioning torpedoes autonomously in the magazines.

“Ready, Captain.”

“Very good. You are to engage targets as designated by Science Officer at your discretion,” Zhen’var ordered. That one she had kept for herself.

Feeling like a natural extension of the team, Daria whispered a prayer for those on the ground, and started to fire. One after another, the tunnels collapsed. There would be no second rising today.

By the next day, the situation had fully calmed. There was no more organised fighting, though hit and run attacks by small groups were continuing here and there, predominantly the IARO. The Rejuvenation Society had accepted the order to stand-down with far more order.

It was right around lunch when Zhen’var got the request from Commander Imra for a meeting. It was tagged both professional and relevant to recent events.

She tapped an acknowledgement, and suggestion to meet for a working lunch, it would get her in immediately, and stop the Captain’s schedule from starting the inexorable rightward slide that would inevitably result from trying to fit a new event into it.

Commander Imra agreed, and arrived a few minutes later for the proffered lunch. The expected sartorial accoutrements of gloves and sunglasses were as present as ever, and she had her omnitool. “Captain, thank you for seeing me so quickly.”

“Your insights are often quite valuable, Commander. Please, have a seat.” She had a simple curried meat dish before her, as her hand gestured towards a chair.

“Of course, Captain.” She sat, and then turned to the replicator to make her order. “Kitfo,” she pronounced precisely. What appeared was a dish of minced raw meat with chili powder. She grimaced politely. “Forgive me, but of course, replicated meat does not harm any of Mother Cow, so I did not mean it as an offence, but thought it acceptable. It is -- all artificial, in the end.”

“What I believe is not a matter to be forced on others. It is not as if most Dilgar would hesitate even a fraction if presented with such a dish.” Her head shook slightly, as Zhen’var speared a bit of replicated lamb with her fork.

“Fair. The multiverse is very cruel, dharma probably the best hope of everyone, but I was raised Orthodox, and so here I am.” She ate slowly. “Captain, the Turians are coming to claim this world. For want of anything else, I was keeping up with the news reports from the treaty negotiations and allocations. We are partners in… I am oathsworn not to criticise my civilian leadership, however, we must be mindful that if this situation is not handled carefully the people of this planet will again be cruelly oppressed.”

“Agreed. We are limited in what we can do overtly, but… if word reached the two factions… they hate each other, but a Turian invasion? I am unsure.”

“The Turians may be willing to negotiate. The norms of the Citadel Council are basically democratic, and the Turians, exceptionally law-abiding. They brook no dissent, but they are not Nazis, and by contrast may be favourable. I… It might help if we could clearly differentiate the Bulgarian and Japanese populations from the enemy, Captain. Enemy in the Turian eyes, I mean.”

“Unfortunately, there are no Nazis for them to demonstrate that particular virtue against. That would be easy enough, if there were still Reich forces holding out.” Zhen’var sighed, and leaned back in her chair, food half-forgotten.

Rare for Abebech, she didn’t neglect hers. “That’s not completely true. There’s certainly holdouts and stay-behinds on the planet. Should we act this way, Captain? Risk problems for the Turians in favour of finding peace here and now, but gamble that everyone will be better off as a consequence?”

“I think it a better thing for the planet than letting them continue the way they are, Commander Imra.” She looked so uneasy about coming out and saying that risking this level of problem just might pay off.

“I believe I understand, Captain,” she said, sharply and very calmly. “Well, the next few days will be interesting in the Chinese sense of the word, not like we haven’t already had that. Speaking of, is Commander Saumarez doing all right?”

“No, but she is holding herself together and doing her duty. I can barely hope to understand the smallest hints of what she is going through.” Zhen’var spoke more softly and conversationally.

“I had thought as much. I…” She paused, and pursed her lips. “I feel regretful, for I stay away from other telepaths, on account of my past. I should not say more, for, it is what it is. I hope she will be well. You are a fine friend to have, Captain.”

About an hour later, Zhen’var’s omnitool trilled with a message from Elia. “Captain, this is Commander Saumarez. I’ve got a leader of the Rejuvenation Society on channel. He wants to come to the Huáscar to negotiate directly with us and is prepared to meet without preconditions with the Bulgarian National Council. Captain, I recommend accepting the proposal. It is without preconditions, and Mr., ah, Takahashi Gendo.”

“I concur, Commander. Inform him we are accepting his proposal, and prepare to inform the National Council of it as well - once we have sounded out the Rejuvenation Society.” The feeling that, perhaps, they were turning the corner and making progress made Zhen’var’s lips curl into a smile of their own accord.

“Understood, Captain. One moment.” There was a pause, and then: “We have beaming coordinates. Shall I bring him directly onboard and arrange for one of the conference suites? No party, it’s just Mr. Takahashi.”

“Please do. I will be down once I am presentable for a diplomatic meeting. Thank you, Commander.” She could not completely hide the grimace at the thought of yet another occasion to pull out her Alliance dress uniform.

Nonetheless, a few minutes later the Rejuvenation Society representative was there. He was a tough, calloused man with a balding head and graying hair, burly in the classically Japanese way, but dressed in Edo period finery. That was a shocking contrast to the jumpsuits and practical miner’s garb of the other Rejuvenation Society leaders seen so far. Elia was standing to the side, making sure that the shipboard hospitality was appropriate. Japanese was in some way the second great culture of her Earth, and she understood the appropriate forms.

Arriving, Captain Zhen’var pressed her palms together and bowed slightly. “Hajimemashite, Takahashi-san.” Having grown up on the same Earth, the Captain had her own understanding of the forms expected with one who did not speak the language.

He looked archly at the alien woman for a moment, and in particular at the sword buckled on her side. Then he bowed. “Hajimemashite, Battlemaster Zhen’var.” He had been doing his own research.

“The pattern of Dilgar ceremonial swords, and their art of use, is very similar to that of the katana, Takahashi-san. It was not taken as a prize in the war, it was forged for me when I was awarded my commission in the Union’s Navy.”

“I think we understand a great deal of each other,” he replied after a moment, very deliberately. “My people were once the allies of these Germans, but they undid us into utter ruin, such that we would have known a better fate to be defeated in that long-off war.”

“Sometimes one must endure the unendurable, that one may again find pride in a future that cannot be seen from the present. Please, sit. Thank you for coming, I hope we both find satisfaction in what we are to discuss.”

He sat. “Endure the unendurable. How true of you, Battlemaster. When my people made a choice to live, we had to reach our accommodation with this power. We could not forget who we were, in hope of the future and honour of our ancestors. I am one of those whose lineage remembers. The Rejuvenation Society speaks of moral, natural rejuvenation.”

“Such is what we have undergone as well, three lines of thought now coming together once more into one. We are few, but we have rediscovered our spirit and our pride. I encourage you in yours, so long as it does not lead to the crushing of others rising to find theirs again in so doing. Just the same, I will not permit them to do the same to you.”

“Battlemaster, your own situation is fortunate. When your rescuers came, you were under arms with a fleet in space. The reality is that you do not control our final fate. And this despite the fact our resistance to the Nazi tyranny has been long. After the defeat of the last resistance in the Americas in the 21st century, Dai-Nippon divided the world with the Reich. It was only as we spread beyond the solar system that we were brought low. But we were not the Reich, not in those days. I understand the Jews, what remained, were the friends of your Alliance from the first, and perhaps showed you the way to defeat the Reich?”

“I do not, but my voice, and my actions, to assist you in taking control of your fate.” A pause. “They did assist us, and fight alongside the Alliance in the final campaign. That is correct, Takahashi-san.”

“They got their technology from Japan!” He chuckled softly. “The Kaifeng Jews, the refugees of Russia and the east who came to our lands -- the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of the Soviet Union. These places we had Jews, we did not turn them over to the Reich. When the war was over and we were defeated, we could not bear to see our enemies complete our humiliation. One of my ancestors gave the order, and handed them several star cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, before committing seppuku to avoid more reprisals upon our people from the Germans. That is the story of how they escaped the trap the Reich had laid for them.” He followed her eyes, sharply.

She shifted, leaning back in her chair. “I will seek to confirm the information in a way that raises it to the attention of those responsible for the future course of this world, and others with your people upon them. It speaks very well to your people, and fits with the best of Nippon, her traditions, and her people.”

“I am willing to negotiate with the Bulgarian National Council on the basis of a single planetary government with community power sharing enshrined in the constitution,” he said after a silent moment. “We both have a long time, long history of resisting the Nazi power. Our peoples both fought in many different ways when we were betrayed, we are more alike, even in the ancient past the Bulgarians were Asians. We have common ground, and we are prepared to work to find it. Will you tell them? Will you support the talks? Their greed is short-sighted, but if we can make a mutually advantageous arrangement, we may still win them over.”

“I will. My Marines are holding a small fishing village that is now something of an island of neutrality between your peoples.” She went on, daring to hope, at least a moment. “Your effort has my full support, Takahashi-san. Your people, together, hold more right to this world than any others may, no matter what the extremists may wish in their short-sighted desires.”

“Tomorrow, a conference, if Alferov agrees. The place will be fine.”

“I shall contact him at once, then. Osaki ni shitsureishimasu, Takahashi-san.” She knew her Japanese was not the best, but she would make the effort. For a moment, at least, it seemed like Drachenfeldt might have an even shot at peace.

Stepan Stepanovich’s Outlanders Hotel was seeing more business than he had ever dreamed of since the Reich was overthrown. Turned into an impromptu conference facility, a solid hundred people, half from the Bulgarian National Council and half from the Rejuvenation Societies, were packed into its halls. It had been important enough for both Will and Zhen’var to go to the surface, with Commander Imra left in charge on the Huáscar.

The Captain, hiding her anxiousness, looked about the place, noting just how many were here, and her Marines, holding security in their best, guns pointed outwards and thankful for it.

“Opening session seems to be going well,” Will remarked. “For all the stereotype of diplomacy, nobody was really that unreasonable. When do you think we’ll need to mediate?”

“Details and timing. Grand statements are easy, concrete commitments are hard, Commander. They do not have a lot of time, either, and the Nazis put as much distance between them as they possibly could.”

“Do we have any idea of how to make it work? I know in the Colonies we had absolute Colonial representation regardless of population, but that isn’t considered highly democratic. Seems to be something like what Mr. Takahashi proposed, though.”

“Usually, it works either with an external threat holding everyone together, or an external patron forcing some sort of power-sharing, but those are unstable. His plan should work… if there is an external threat to remind of the alternative.”

“So, you’re saying my people are weird,” Will flashed a wry grin.

“Out of the usual ordinary, perhaps, but I would not call them weird, Commander. You chose your government, and to prevent tyranny against a lesser-populated division of a nation, it is not unheard of, at the least?”

“You’re right. If only it still mattered…” Will wasn’t the kind of man to dwell, though. He glanced over and started in surprise. “Hmm. I think that’s Alexandra Tambovna.”

“Alexandra Tambovna?” Zhen’var blinked and followed his eyes to the girl organising the serving staff.

“One of Gergena Tambovna’s children, I saw them in the recordings Stasia’s people took, from the trawler operation.”

“Ah. Brave of them. She must be taking day labour jobs for her family, then. The situation remains very unfortunate on the surface.”

“Yes it does. But maybe we’ll actually have a chance to help with that now.” Will glanced at his omnitool. “It’s almost time for the first session.”

“Well, cover me, I am going in.” She gave a thin smile, as the captain straightened and moved to take her position at the table.

Alferov and Takahashi sat at the sides. Most of the others weren’t even at the main conference room, they were there just because they were too politically important not to invite.

“Good morning, gentlemen. I and the Alliance are here to mediate, but the work of negotiation and agreement is in bulk, yours. This world is claimed by both of you, gained by the sweat and blood shed under Nazi oppression. I find both cases compelling, as shall my superiors.”

“There is land enough to share on Drachenfeldt,” Alferov said, using the German name. “We have always been prepared to share that. Captain, the Nazis have spent so long degenerating our culture. We want to celebrate it. That is where the crux of our separation comes from. It is not disrespect.”

“The mines, however, are an element that both sides require to be a state capable of standing without constant outside support in the multiverse. That is the issue, is it not?”

“They are the future prosperity of our people,” Alferov replied.

“They are the blood and sweat of our’s,” Takahashi countered. “We did not have a choice but to work them.”

“It was the Nazis who gave you no such choice, miner. As for us, they would let us own nothing else.”

“And yet you both need them, sirs. You both need them, as common heritage, or the other will be so weak that another power could swoop down, gain a foothold, and then threaten the one holding the mines. I do not need to speak in hypotheticals, neither can stand without them. Bulgarians do not work them, and Japanese were denied anything but working them.”

“We can bring…”

The look that Takahashi gave to Alferov made him trail off. “Machines? Buying them will cast you into slavery. Yet another group of castoffs? Fight two at once instead of one? Is this what you want to bring to your people?”

“You want the mines, and this…”

President,” Takahashi then addressed Alferov. “I want the Japanese people of Drachenfeldt to regain their pride. Once we built starships. I do not want us to be a nation in the mines forever.”

“And you, Mister President, want the Bulgarian people to do the same. You can have national pride without destroying the other. A condominium.”

“A Republic of Both Nations,” Alferov muttered, from some distantly remembered lesson of old Earth history, perhaps.

“We will share power, fairly. Half the seats in the legislature to each nation,” Takahashi pressed, seeing a moment.

Alferov looked up dimly. “But the mines? Wait, Captain, do you mean the mines?”

“I do, President. My suggestion would be that both states be confederated to act in common with foreign relations, in order that others may not pry you apart, both states fully sovereign, and with the mines under the control of both sides, equally, but owned by neither. The common heritage of the people of this world.”

“And the wealth we will lose? Private industry will clamour for compensation.” Alferov looked almost dazed.

“You would not like it if a true accounting of the cost of our forced labour were taken, President,” Takahashi replied.

“It is in both your best interests to accept that the mines are not a prize to be fought over, or an issue to be exploited.”

Will stepped in smoothly from where he had been silent at Zhen’var’s side. “Gentlemen, a proposal: All revenue from the condominion will belong to the State, but when the revenue is in excess of needs of both communities, it will automatically be paid toward a fund whose job is to invest and repay the interests of the former private owners.”

The men looked to each other. Alferov squinted. Several of his men were muttering behind him and to his left. There were many who wanted more.

Then Will turned and whispered to Zhen’var’s ear. “A Turian squadron is coming, Captain.

Then we’re out of time. In a moment, paths crystalized before Zhen’var. They deserve a chance. Deliberately, she turned her head, and asked clearly, with a momentary casting of her eyes towards the negotiators; “I am sorry, Commander, I did not hear that. Could you please repeat it?”

“Of course, Captain. A Turian squadron is coming to Drachenfeldt to claim possession for the Hierarchy.”

Alferov’s face lost all expression. His men muttered, and some cursed out loud. The Rejuvenation Society delegates were silent.

And then the Bulgarian man rose, and extended a hand across the table, his skin pale and a bead of sweat above his eye. “We have a basis for the formation of a provisional government, Mister Takahashi. Vice President.”

Takahashi shook his hand and then bowed. “We do, and we must be quick. Sir, we share this planet, and, if it becomes necessary, we will also defend it.”

The next day, Zhen’var gathered her command group for an informal dinner. Properly, Nah’dur, Fei’nur and Anna also counted, but Elia, Abebech and Will were the line officers, and they were all available, anyway, with Lieutenant Arterria watchstanding. Quite astonishingly, since Zhen’var had never seen her drink anything other than wine before, Abebech had a sour Flemish ale, which Elia gave in and followed suit with.

“Congratulations, we have successfully thus far stopped the planet from bursting into civil conflict on anything more than a moderate scale.” She herself nursed a Tiran fruit liquor, heavily cut with water. “Now the Turians are coming, and I am expecting to have an interesting conversation when they do.”

“The Colonies fought many wars like this and only the Cylons brought us to unify with each other,” Will answered. “Once we thought it was something of a wonder it had happened, but now I see it’s really rather typical.”

“I’d agree to that. There’s nothing quite like another threat to be the start of a peace between two rival factions,” Abebech answered. “Of course, the hate … Will linger. But much depends on what happens next.”

“Power sharing governments of the type they want don’t have a great history. Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Lebanon, in Earth history,” Elia said. “And some of their hatred seems scarcely different from what telepaths experience at the hands of normals.” She looked up wryly, glancing in particular to Abebech.

The woman, who was usually expressionless over such matters, offered a wan smile.

“The alternative is being under a Turian protectorate. Perhaps one might see it as the best solution, but if I endorse that, I endorse the occupation of my people the same.”

Abebech raised her beer. “God Bless the Ottoman Empire,” she said, in a half-serious and half-mocking toast. “Because people like to age with those who look like they do, and be close to one another, with those who think like they do. And so we are here today, holding them apart, and the Turians the next. Normally, to be honest, comrades, I would say a Government of Both Nations is a doomed cause. And yet… There is something to be said for the outside threat. But God forbid you ever see it without one. Forgive me for being a cynic.”

“It’s all right,” Will shook his head. “What was the Ottoman Empire?”

“A great old Muslim ‘Gunpowder Empire’ from the Early Modern age, still exists in at least one universe I think. Ethnarchs, different laws for different people, but at least in our history their officers in the Balkans would write letters to their friends, saying they were gaolers on a madhouse,” Elia explained. “I remember that part of the Corps political history lesson. The professor was very opinionated and absolutely convinced telepaths would have been treated better in the early modern nations. He was probably right, as sad as it is. There might be something to the Commander’s toast.”

“One can see some virtue - yet one living under an empire that uses force to keep the peace sometimes unbearable.” Sighing, Zhen’var swirled her glass. “It is not wrong, unfortunately. You can establish such states, but they are rare. Switzerland, for instance, is the famous example, as is Canada and Quebec.”

“Does that obviate us of the need to make the attempt? I think not,” Abebech replied. “So, perhaps we can nudge things. It is not our obligation as Alliance offers to allow the Turians to trample on the rights of others, that is a different thing than the promise of actual possession for this world.”

Will grimaced tightly. “Well, we can’t go against the agreements of our own government either, Commander.” Few people called Imra Abebech, rather than by her rank. But Will certainly felt in that moment she was trending toward something perhaps best not said out loud.

“Certainly not,” Abebech replied modestly. “Still, it is the general intent of the Alliance to promote participatory self-government and democratic norms. We all swore to uphold that. The Harris Station Charter doesn’t change it in the slightest.”

“The moral choices are the hardest part of our service.” Zhen’var’s eyes flickered around the table. “Regardless, we have our orders. The Hierarchy is coming, though I also see a responsibility to ensure that the coalition we have just helped to birth can negotiate with any effort to impose rule upon them.”

“Understood,” Abebech smartly answered. There was nothing more on it from her, but one couldn’t help but feel she had been given her marching orders clearly enough.

Violeta was sitting down, having a ‘Southwest Chicken Salad’ from the replicator and trying the coffee, which was at least authentic. The Hospitality section had installed an old style steel pot coffee maker because some of the crew from universes without replicators had actually grown up used to the subtle change in flavour from the keep-warm pot and preferred it, and there was no way a replicator could keep up with that. Apparently the rumour had it that’s all the Chief’s Mess drank, but there were nonhuman Chiefs so she doubted it. The original grounds were a blend called ‘Nantucket’ from some company in an American state called Vermont, she wasn’t sure of the universe. A part of her wondered why the hell she’d given in and tried it and another part was worried she was going to start liking it. Actually, that’s probably the same feeling. Sheesh.

The wardroom had the local news broadcast on the tri-dee. Some young Bulgarian guy with a big bouffant hairdo and an old-style business suit talked a mile a minute on it, everything he said was a lie (and sometimes patently racist enough to make Violeta’s eyes goggle), and it was great black humour if you were so inclined. A couple of pilots at the bar kept laughing loudly at every cringing, ridiculous thing he said, including claiming that the artillery of the ‘Panthers’ paramilitaries was blessed by God so that it would never miss and that the Alliance troops would have been defeated without BNC assistance, when of course the BNC troops had never left their cantonments to fight the IARO over the risk of defections.

The screen flashed to an animation of a stereotypical Nazi depiction of a Jew with his hands rubbing together. “In our next segment we will consider if a Jewish element incited the Internal Apraxin Revolutionary Organization through false-flag operations to attack the Bulgarian National leadership. Doktor-naut Bogdan Princip,” he welcomed his guest.

“Jesus Christ, that’s enough!” One of the pilots shouted and flipped the channel back to the Armed Forces Network in the middle of a segment on the importance of Fall Protection Training. “How the fuck did that Peacham dude let this shit on the air?”

Violeta sighed in relief. It was nice to know her crewmates had limits.

Another voice spoke up from the food replicators. “Lieutenant Ferguson, I do believe the Brigadier is trying to set an example with permitting a relatively free press. Unfortunately the sentiments of the people do not really live up to it,” Arterus explained from his food line.

“So they’re not really monitoring it? Then why was the pirate broadcast illegal?”

“Well, they’re trying to prevent specific incitement, so only approved channels are going up, but nobody is monitoring them in advance. I rather expect they will get in trouble for it later. Commander Saumarez explained to me what the problem with the Jews and the Reich was, though I confess I still don’t really understand it.”

“I don’t think anyone does, Lieutenant,” Ferguson answered.

Arterus shook his head wryly. Violeta gestured for him to come over. “Hey, Arterus. Come on.”

“Ah, thank you…” He trailed off for a moment. “Violeta. I confess I’m not used to that.”

“Oh, it’s fine.” She watched him sit. “I see you didn’t avail yourself of the coffee pot.”

“It’s hardly going to be as strong as hholaer,” he answered with a chuckle, gesturing to his cup on his tray.

“Rihannsu equivalent to coffee?”

“It’s more like the Indigenous American black drink, but much stronger. So yes.”

“What’s the food?”

Feihha. Chief Héen described it as, what was it, ‘Spanakopita stuffed with cheese, oysters and jalapenos’ when I got her to try to it.”

“...I might try that sometime, actually. How are things?”

“I think I’m starting to actually understand what the Captain is doing. I went to Commander Imra for advice and she gave me a reading list. To some extent I believe the United Federation of Planets practices a lot of this, just in a different guise. It’s interesting. Commander Imra’s reputation certainly doesn’t suggest she’d support it, but she does.”

“It’s kind of a mission-oriented tactics development for starship operations, in a way, I think,” Violeta replied. “You should forward me that reading list. Commander Imra is… Distant, but nobody is going to deny she’s one of the best starship commanders we have. Captain Andreys even said as much on the Aurora once.”

“She reminds me of a certain kind of stereotypical Rihannsu female officer, usually commanding a Warbird on the frontier until well past the age of a hundred and fifty. I’ve thought my cousin has the making of the type before…”

“Your cousin?”

Before Arterus could answer, his eyes jerked to his omnitool. “Hmm, perhaps we should bring the broadcast from the surface back up.”

“Arterus… Let’s not?” Violeta grimaced.

“No, no, it’s an official government announcement.” That got everyone’s attention, since more often than not Big Deal News was discovered by people in the military by watching news broadcasts, just like everyone else.

The screen returned to the image of the Bulgarian station, but the reporter was gone. Instead, they were focusing in on a podium, on which stood three Bulgarian and three Japanese men.

President Alferov was speaking. “People of Drachenfeldt, I stand before you today with representatives of the Rejuvenation Societies. We, of the Bulgarian National Council and the Rejuvenation Societies, have come to the true and profound realisation that Drachenfeldt is big enough for all of us. Tensions between our peoples were intentionally created by,” Violeta cringed and for a moment wondered what he’d say, then he continued, fortunately, with “the Nazi tyranny and exacerbated by disputes over the Mines.”

“The reality is that the Multiverse at large has many knives out for planets which can’t keep the peace among their own people,” he continued. “We cannot afford war among ourselves when greater, inestimably greater, challenges remain for the peace of our world. We have agreed to this and to a principle for condominion over the mines, to share the great wealth which will make us strong. Accordingly, we have agreed to a Declaration of Independence of the Confederal Republic of Drachenfeldt, on the basis of equality of both nations, Bulgarian and Japanese.”

“Third declaration of a new country for Drachenfeldt in a week,” Ferguson chuckled. “We’ll see how long this one will last.”

Arterus was looking thoughtful, though, as he turned back to Violeta. “Perhaps, just perhaps, longer than the others.”

Second Lieutenant James Canusco, Alliance Marines, had his platoon stretched across two roadblocks at a converging V intersection around a ‘flatiron’ building which had been lightly damaged in the fighting with the IARO. The primary function of the continuing roadblocks in the city was to prevent concentrations of troops and insure the security of the government district. They had sensors deployed in the sewers, drones on patrol, and forward detection sensors in the buildings out from the checkpoints for a quarter mile.

Against another attack by the IARO, it would have been totally adequate. As it was there was a small cluster of people with Bulgarian nationalist signs and placards who were protesting a hundred meters down the street, but they were outside of the mandatory stop line and hadn’t tried approaching it or started growing in numbers. A few beaten down old bums were drinking in the deserted streets, possibly from liquor bottles they had plundered from dead IARO men, but the bodies had all been collected and the fire department had washed down the blood and burnt debris. The calm was, in its own way, utterly unnerving.

There were a few businesses open since it was daylight, and people simply needed to get supplies considering they were all under a curfew. James stepped out of his headquarters to check on his men and take smoko. He lit up after checking the squads and stood still, taking a moment to watch some people going in and out of a deli. They were mostly carrying fresh baked bread, rough-hewn natural loaves, prepared food, cans of condensed milk with supplies from outside the city interrupted. It was bad enough to make field meals look appetizing, really.

“Lieutenant, Sir! We’ve got a signature!”

The voice of his sensors WO from inside made him drop the cigarette into the dry concrete of the street and dash inside. His sensor section for the platoon had one WO and two specialists, operating the complicated but highly automated network of drones and autonomous deployed sensors which instrumented the front they were covering in their sector.

“Go ahead, Kelli,” he reached for a water bottle and leaned in.

“Sir,” she tapped on the controller and highlighted a grid section, georeferenced with a 3D map of the city buildings. “There’s a group following the lateral Nederstrasse. The signatures are consistent with about twenty-two individuals in SS Panzergrenadier armour. And they’re using the stealth systems properly, I can barely pick them up at all.”

“Well, that’s considerably more competent than the last batch… Jesus.” He activated a comm channel. “Bikie to Shovel, we’ve got a detachment in SS Panzergrenadier armour going up the Nederstrasse.”

“Bikie,” the Dilgar’s voice answered in her growling British accent, “this is Shovel. Move out half your platoon and get in their rear. Further orders will be forthcoming from Condenser.”

“Understood, Sir.” Fei’nur’s voice was terse and she’d immediately moved on to other things. After the initial contact report it was his company commander’s job to give him orders anyway. What she was up to was answered moments later as James split his troops and started at a dog-trot down the right-hand street.

Explosions ripped the air as the company mortar section engaged and the crisp sounds of backwoods yankeedom echoed on his channel. “Bikie, they are confirmed hostile and we are providing support, get those positions now and cut ‘em off!” Condenser was already in action.

With a snap survey of the buildings and an omnitool projection showing their interiors, he selected positions above the strasse and broke off fire-teams with his heavy support weapons to hold them. Orders were given in radio silence with hand gestures as explosions erupted across the city. A few civvies were still running for cover from the streets, leaping into the entrances to the cellars of rowhouses. They ignored them and dashed up to their positions, ultimately James taking cover in the natural foxhole of a partial opening to a basement window a few feet below sidewalk level, facing the Nederstrasse. Another fireteam charged across the street, and as they did, disruptor fire erupted after them.

Explosions of mortar bombs rent the sky, his helmet’s auto-polarization protecting his eyes as the line of detonations walked the street around the attackers and covered the final dash of the fireteam. They made it all right across the street, and promptly began pulse fire toward the Panzergrenadiers. From above his head one of the heavy pulse cannon opened fire and caught a Panzergrenadier repositioning as the mortar fire faded. Satisfyingly, the suited figured dropped as a hail of fire swept the street, converging on them from buildings on both sides.

Even so, these men had responded professionally to being attacked from two directions at once and were holding their own, positioning a rear-guard as most concentrated to continue driving forward at all. They simply behaved nothing at all like the recklessly brave but ill-disciplined IARO men, and altogether a great deal like actual SS troops, which just a few weeks ago James had been fighting. He didn’t like that at all.

“Condenser, this is Bikie.” His Company commander was a dyed in the wool Rhode Island swamp yankee and grew up playing with steam tractors with her dad. It showed. Fortunately, she was clever enough to be quick on the uptake. His explanation was as blunt as it could be. “These aren’t IARO cunts. They’re Real Deal SS.”

“Roger that, Bikie. We’re getting multiple reports, and…” The rest of the sentence dissolved as James was bodily thrown back into the building hard enough for his armour to chip and unseat bricks. The explosion partially collapsed the hole as his armour padding compressed to minimise damage from the compression blow in the back and the hardshell rejected the concrete fragments in front.

A group of Panzergrenadiers from the rearguard stormed straight toward him, laying down their own covering fire with their suit-attached micro missile launchers, visible through the acrid smoke and clouds of concrete dust. There was only one pulse gun firing from his position back at them, and that meant nothing good, as he overcame the shock to his senses and opened fire with his own to augment it. The commo chirped, the message coming from the corporal leading the heavy weapons section in the building right above. “El-Tee, evacuate straight into the basement, we’re gonna put down a line of grenades on ‘em when they hit your position!”

That was insane, but he had only seconds and otherwise the SS had him dead by rights. “Fall back through the windows!” He shouted, and Private Marriss got on it, kicking them in. But Corporal Tucker was clearly never moving again and Specialist Anderson was twitching in the side of the pit. He lunged for the man, and dragging him by his feet, hauled him into the basement. As he did, one of the SS panzergrenadiers came through the window and the battered wall.

The moment that the attacker did, the world outside exploded as a hurled bundle of zip-tied grenades exploded in unison into the midst of the SS attack and the fireteam across the street raked the very position he had been in seconds before. The SS man inside the basement with him rose to his feet despite the blast, the building having partially shielded him.

There were only seconds, less than seconds, and James formed a hardlight blade from his omnitool and lunged, going for the close-quarters drill with a pistol in the other hand. The blade skittered across the armour until it caught a joint as he fired the pistol again and again, energy bursts pumping into the armour of the Panzergrenadier. They toppled back into the wall, but then a power-reinforced mailed gauntlet sent him flying away, slamming into someone’s pile of old boxes.

But the SS man was missing an arm, and as he turned one of his suit weapons toward James, Private Marriss’ rifle barked again and again. Gouges and chunks were torn into the armour at close-range on the max power setting for the rifle, and finally the SS trooper toppled down. A dim kind of calm prevailed, even as the roar of combat echoed unendingly outside. They were, for the moment, alive.

On the bridge of the Huáscar, the reports from Fei’nur had steadily become more abbreviated as the situation developed. Finally, she came back on the channel. “Captain, do you have a squadron orbiting with small-diameter bombs?”

“Yes, Colonel, we do have air support we can use in the city with minimal collateral.”

“Thank you, Captain. We need to deconflict this situation urgently. The primary target of the SS was not our forces, it was the Confederal Provisional Government and party offices and officers of the Bulgarian National Council. They were aiming for a decapitation strike on the Council, not a coup de main against us. The Panteri have deployed to assist us and are also involved in heavy combat with the SS, but there is no coordination.”

“Colonel, are you asking for permission to directly coordinate with the BNC and the Panteri officers to engage the SS stay-behinds?”

“Yes, Captain. It is the best course of action.”

“And Brigadier Peacham’s opinion?”

“Captain, I do not believe that man is suitable to make the best decisions for protecting our forces and defeating the enemy in these circumstances.”

Zhen’var flashed her fangs. That was a serious condemnation from Fei’nur, but hardly surprising in the context of what had happened during the IARO attacks. For affirmation, she shot a look to Will, who nodded simply. “She’s the woman on the ground, Captain.”

“Permission granted, reach out to Alferov at once.”

“Thank you, Captain.” The channel blinked off.

“There will be consequences,” Zhen’var remarked as Elia quickly went to work handling fire support requests. It didn’t take long for the consequences to materialise, either. Brigadier Peacham contacted her on a priority channel.

“Captain, I understand you have authorized collaboration with the Bulgarian National Council?”

“Absolutely, Brigadier,” Zhen’var answered calmly. “It was necessary in the circumstances to restore order, and I might add that your troops have also been very badly pressed. Surely you must have seen the necessity of this.”

“Captain, the Turians are arriving within the hour. We could have held on long enough to hand the situation over to them. You have now immeasurably complicated that process.”

“Brigadier, my first interest remains to preservation of life and defeat of the enemy. We were not fighting the IARO, but Nazis. My action is correct and I am content with it.”

“Correct, Captain?” He glared. “You are a Captain and I am the ranking allied officer and Governor.”

“That is… Incorrect.” Zhen’var folded her hands. “I am a Battlemaster as an allied officer. While a Brigadier in the Alliance military may rank me, a Brigadier in another associated military manifestly does not, and I was not placed under your operational command.”

“Very well, Battlemaster. You are the one who will give an accounting to your superiours for your decision to harm the conditions of occupation for the Turian Hierarcy. Do you think you have the right to order me to follow this course of action as well, then?”

“I believe I have the right as one officer to another to recommend to you in the strongest terms possible that you cooperate militarily with the Confederal Government,” Zhen’var answered. “Indeed, it will be I, not you, who answer for this course of action. Keep your men alive, Brigadier.”

“Very Well.” The channel blinked out without the usual pleasantries.

Growling, Zhen’var got up from her command chair. “Will, you have the conn. Let me know when the Turians reach orbit.” With that, she disappeared into her ready room.

She did not have to wait long, musing as she worked on reports and drank chai on why the SS had attacked at what was really the worst time for them. Perhaps they thought that the Confederal government meant they had lost their chance. Regardless, it had nicely completed the work that she had started with Will, Elia and Abebech. Sometimes one shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth, but it left Zhen’var with a naggling feeling.

Ninety minutes in, Will called her from the bridge. “Captain, the Turian General is hailing us.”

“Thank you, Will.” She sat down her more cup after emptying it, and without bothering to sign the last form, stepped out and back onto the bridge. They were still at modified stations, and she took her time to get settled into her command chair. “On-screen.”

The image flashed into existence, showing a brilliantly armoured Turian with a group of more around him on the flagbridge of his cruiser. “This is the Tarallus, General Keranus commanding. Captain Zhen’var, I have arrived on the behest of my government to seize, administer, and annex the planet Drachenfeldt for the Turian Hegemony. You are hereby directed to have your troops on the surface prepare landing positions for my troops and to take measures to secure the civilian population until we can assume responsibility for the maintenance of regular order.”

It seemed like every eye on the bridge of the Huáscar turned toward her. Notwithstanding her command style, this was one call Zhen’var alone had to make. She settled back, and for a moment was silent.

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Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Sat Nov 10, 2018 2:14 am

Act 5

“General Keranus,” Zhen’var replied calmly, though her claws skittered unpleasantly on the granite slabs on her armrests. “I cannot.”

“You cannot ? Captain Zhen’var, we are allies, and the situation on the surface must be immediately brought under control! The planet is a hotbed of armed factions with fighting already going on. I insist you assist me in taking immediate measures to impose order.”

She took a breath, and tried to will herself to remain outwardly composed. “I cannot, General. My forces are currently integrated with those of the Coalition government in defending against the attacks by the Reich guerilla forces. It would take some time to withdraw and re-deploy them, which I cannot begin to do until such time as the fighting is over. You will need to involve the Defense Ministry of the Confederal Republic in your planning if you wish it sooner than this.”

“Captain, this so-called Confederal Republic is pretending to territory that the Harris Station Charter assigned to the Turian Hierarchy and that I am under orders to place under Turian military administration as territory of the Hierarchy,” he answered stiffly. “Surely your superiours have made you aware of this.”

“They have, General. You were not present when the Werwolf elements attacked. I had no choice but to act. My orders have been given, and my forces are engaged alongside elements of the Republic in resisting Reich stay-behind forces. I cannot change those facts, General Keranus.”

“What you are telling me is that I must wait in orbit while substantial forces armed with Reich weapons consolidate their control over the surface with your assistance? This will lead to ten thousand dead Turians and a protracted guerrilla campaign, Captain. You have put me in a serious position.” His rigid, expressionlessly armoured face was a perfect glower of silver, though he knew the reputation of Dilgar enough to not even bother with petty attempts to intimidate her. Never had their like existed in the whole history of Council space.

“Only if you attack them, General. They are willing negotiators, with long histories of resistance to Reich rule.” She refused to be baited, refused to even admit she might have done something wrong.

“They are willing negotiators?” There was a pause. “I will not go to the surface until my troops have gone to the surface, Captain. However, I will meet with their representatives aboard the Huáscar. I am not pleased with this course of events, but nor am I interested in needlessly provoking prospective citizens of the Hierarchy when they are actively engaged with Reich holdout forces. We will talk. No preconditions, Captain, make that clear to them. I can give them no preconditions.”

“I do not believe they expect them. The Huáscar shall stand ready to assist. I shall inform them as soon as the fighting permits the effort.”

“I will be standing by with my staff for invitation to the Huáscar. Tarallus, out.”

Elia looked across the bridge to Zhen’var. “Captain, shall we raise the Confederal government, or wait until the situation has been stabilised?”

“Raise them now. As callous as it may sound, they will gain more with the Turians if their forces are still actively engaged when they sit down to negotiate.”

“Of course, Captain!” There was a little grin as she turned back to her console and ordered Lieutenant Tor'jar to establish the connection.

An hour later, Alferov arrived on the Huáscar with Noburo Shiba, the appointed Foreign Minister of the government, and a brace of guards from each of the Confederal Armies, who managed to be attired in disconcerting throwback uniforms to the last days of their respective ethnicities’ independence.

Zhen’var had insisted on full military honors for them all, as she herself felt her stomach flutter at just how far she had exceeded the spirit, if not letter, of her orders.

That meant full dress, and Abebech had offered to come, Elia was there as well while Will had the conn, both of them if anything looking happier in the stiffer, formal whites than they did in their regular service uniforms. She introduced her officers, in particular, “Commander Abebech Imra, Captain of the ASV Heermann.

“Captain Zhen’var,” Alferov offered. “Thank you for the invitation. The Turian General will be arriving shortly?” He was sweaty and nervous, Elia could feel the fear for the future of his people bleeding from him.

“He will. Turians are a very… military and ordered people. They also have their pride. You will have to make concessions. Possibly accept a protectorate, with terms you will have to jointly fight hard to keep tolerable. They are willing to invade if they think they have no other choice, that, you must remember, but we have given you a chance to prove your worth to them, not merely as subjects.”

“A protectorate? How is that better than what the Nazis gave us, Captain?” His hands fidgeted, he gestured idly, his eyes shook sharply.

Elia offered a bland smile as she breezed in to interpose herself and disrupt the Bulgarian President from working himself into a rage. “We can discuss, if you like, some options, why don’t we walk to the conference suite?”

“Ahh, Commander -- Saumarez, was it?”

“Yes,” she offered, proactively engaging rather than letting the anxiety the Bulgarian President felt continue to creep toward her. < He’s not thinking about immediately bellowing threats now,> Elia casted to Zhen’var. < All from surface thoughts, promise.>

“Turians do not mean it as a euphemism. They actually mean a protectorate in the proper sense. That your people fight against the Reich for generations, and do so now, will earn you credit in their eyes.”

“And what part of fairness…”

“Your Excellency,” Abebech spoke. She looked stunning in her full dress uniform. And a little bit like a dictator herself. “Since the Melian Dialogue of Thucydides one can hardly say that fairness has been an important calculation in the affairs of state. What I can say is that my Government is more reasonable than most. The Tarnovo Constitution of Bulgaria, which your people still celebrate, was not the constitution of an independent state. It was the constitution of a Suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, the Principality of Bulgaria. It was nonetheless freedom, and independence followed thirty years later.”

“You know our history very well, Commander,” he offered, brought up short. “You are… Correct. Do you think the Turians would accept the terms in the Tarnovo Constitution?”

“You might start with that as your negotiating position,” Abebech answered, “but it’s hardly my place to say more.”

The suite they entered had two sets of tables laid out, one with food for Turians, one for the rest. The hospitality staff was at attention.

Zhen’var gave a single nod of approval to the assembled staff, and spun to present herself at the entrance, waiting for the Turians. Her people had been coming together well, and the captain made a mental note to get them at least some on-ship liberty in the coming days if this all worked out, in the end.

Abebech had peeled off to return to the transporter room. She came back ten minutes later, leading General Keranus. “General Keranus, Commander, 82nd Combined Heavy-Assault Korps and 82nd Support Assault Taskgroup, Turian Hegemony. General, presenting to you Captain Zhen’var and Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez of the Huáscar, and President Ivan Alferov and Foreign Minister Noburo Shiba of the Confederal Republic of Drachenfeldt.” She bowed punctiliously.

“General.” Zhen’var stiffened her spine and saluted reflexively, internally cursing herself for it immediately after The Turians were still a ‘friendly’ ally, after all, and it wasn’t her they were here to negotiate with.

“Captain.” He looked to President Alferov and Minister Shiba. “If you gentlemen would sit,” he gestured to the table. “Our kind hosts from the Alliance are trying to find common ground for us. I admit the Captain’s resolve is impressive in this matter. Captain, you and your officers of course should join us.”

A Dilgar as a diplomat. Will wonders never cease? She moved to sit, after the delegation from the planet and the Turian force. What was to come would be intensely delicate, even now. All she had done was give it a chance .

“Our combined peoples have fought the Nazi regime for centuries of resistance, both in active combat and passive resistance, as circumstances dictated,” Minister Shiba began, rising. “You have suffered greatly in liberating the Reich from the Nazi Tyranny, and we respect that suffering from the Turian Hegemony, and the effort and treasure expended which without worlds like Drachenfeldt would be without result. However, the reality is that we have spent centuries under their groaning yoke. We are pleased to accept the assistance of our allies, but remember that we are your allies.”

“Here are the troops fighting on the ground,” the Bulgarian Aide-de-Camp to the President stepped forward in his crisp green and white uniform and brought up the holographic projections of the hard fighting in the capital that was still ongoing, tanks brake-steering on the street and firing into buildings as disruptor fire stuttered across buildings, aerials flying the National Tricolour of the BNC as men in camo hunched down in the tenuous cover of the back of the turret, wearing repainted Nazi helmets or in some cases, just bandanas wrapped around the forehead.

The Turians leaned forward in professional interest. After they had watched to their satisfaction, the image changed to one of Rejuvenation Society troops driving toward the capital in heavy articulated mining trucks formed into long convoys, shouting Banzai and thrusting their rifles into the air as the amazed Bulgarians in the towns near the capitol watched them go. “Our forces are under unified control and fighting for unfiied purposes,” Shiba said simply. “We in fact already have the situation well in hand, though the Defence Ministry is pleased to work directly with you to assist in the deployment of your troops. These Werwolf elements can be quickly suppressed at that point.”

“You are are very eager for cooperation, and it is good.” Keranus stroked his mandibles. “Of course, you think or speak little of the fact you should be citizens of the Hierarchy. In principle I have no difficulty operating with your improvised forces.”

“The matter is one of our cultural development, General,” President Alferov faced him squarely. “We are prepared to accept a relationship with the Turian Hegemony, that is not in dispute. However, for the sake of our long and continuous resistance to the Nazi Tyranny, we want the autonomy for the cultural development of our peoples. I trust that you are not an unreasonable man. Are we to become soft-skinned Turians? Surely it’s ridiculous for humans to live by your laws, but we are not a conquered people, you have just admitted that.”

General Keranus rocked back a bit, and then chuckled. “So I have, it does seem.” He flicked an eye to the ramrod straight soldiers of the two Armies. “Two separate military forces, one for each of your peoples.”

“Yes, but coordinated by a single ministry,” Shiba explained.

“We will coordinate operations with that ministry and allow your forces to keep order over your own people. I can easily offer that.”

“General, what we need is a permanent agreement covering our relationship with the Hegemony,” Alferov answered.

“We have a proposal,” Shiba added, and then, with a flourish, presented it, translated into Turian already. “Though it makes allowances for the nature of our confederal Republic, you will find it adapts to the practical position of Suzerainty the Hierarchy shall hold, and is based on the famous old Bulgarian Tarnovo Constitution. We are familiar with its principles and all agreed to be prepared to follow it.”

General Keranus held the document for a moment. He didn’t read it, he just regarded the two men. “You’re going to fight if you don’t get this,” he said simply.

“We are free peoples and we won our freedom ourselves. We are prepared to work with you, but it does not change that we are nations in arms who keep our own honour, General.”

Keranus looked sharply at Shiba and said nothing. He handed the document to one of his subordinates. Then, finally, he looked to Zhen’var. “Captain, I need secure facilities for consulting with my government.”

An hour later, General Keranus returned to the conference suite. When he did, one of his Aides started to go over the proposed constitution line for line. What followed was eight hours of debate that crystalized in the following agreement: The Confederation of Drachenfeldt will be under Turian Protection, but fully independent internally; the mines will operate under Turian law and trade regimes, but the joint ownership arrangement between the Bulgarians and Japanese will be recognised. The Turians will directly annex and rule those areas 100% German in ethnic character. The militaries of the two halves of the Confederation would remain separate and coordinated by the Ministry of the Confederation, and the Confederation would still share the Capital with the Turian Governor’s administration, the capital district being separate from both the Turian occupational districts and the Confederation and under its own autonomous municipal administration.

In that, Zhen’var could see parallels to Chandigarh, the famous planned city of horrifying architecture and capital to two states while belonging to neither--though at least Saackenweld would never be quite so horrible looking. Still, as she listened, and they concurred on sending the details of the final loose protectorate to the British Stellar Union for adjudication, she could feel a real sense of sincerity in both the Turian and Confederal representatives. Some of the decisions were odd, and sometimes they were clearly unhappy. Nonetheless, it was real diplomacy at work.

Before they had finished, the Turians had already received permission to begin landing troops, and Zhen’var mercifully got the updates from Fei’nur that their arrival, along with reinforcements, had immediately turned the tide in the city. Now it would just be days until they could withdraw fully and hand the planet over to the Republic and the Turians.

Finishing late in the evening, Keranus smiled, a glittering, dangerous thing as a Turian smile was. “You are lucky, President Alferov, to have such an excellent Alliance advocate in the form of Captain Zhen’var. And thank you for your hospitality, Captain.”

“You are welcome. I believe I have merely represented the best principles of the Alliance.”

“Perhaps you have, Captain. I am thankful to come to a fair agreement, though Drachenfeldt will certainly mean more work than we had originally thought. President, Minister.” He saluted.

After Keranus left, Alferov stepped close to Zhen’var, and then paused, an uncomfortable look on his face before it became a faint smile. “I confess I am very thankful for your wisdom, Captain. I did not know what to expect when aliens arrived, but you stood up for us as other humans would not. You will always be welcome on Drachenfeldt.”

“Thank you, Your Excellency, though it was as much the wisdom of my crew. I think you will find the prospects for advancement and recovery for your people much improved with your relationship with the Turians. We might have suffered for it, together, but there is very little which we are not glad for, giving you the chance to find yourselves after the long night after the Nazi Reich.”

Shiba bowed. “Your people will inspire us, Captain. Regeneration will, in time, come.”

Nah’dur’s sickbay was carefully configured to make patients as comfortable as possible. She had obtained holographic displays for the walls which displayed calming scenes and provided patients with headsets to play calming music. All of it was based on research into the psychology of healing, and the woman neglected nothing in the preparation of food and monitoring of patients.

It all felt a little overdone to James. He still felt like crap from the multiple broken ribs, though he was due to be released soon. The fighting had ended in the capital and on the planet generally after Rejuvenation Society reinforcements and the first tranche of Turian troops had arrived. He had remained in action in command of his platoon for twenty-two hours after his ribs had been broken, and still felt pretty much like ass, but with the painkillers in him he was sure it was fatigue by now.

His commander walked through the door, still in her field BDUs, though bereft of armour. “Hey, Bikie.” Sarah Travis rubbed at her face. “Wanted to come see you before I hit the shower. And everyone else.”

“Ugh, the Surgeon-Commander hasn’t told me how many we got in here, boss,” he sighed and squirmed and a bit. “All pulled back from the planet?”

“Naw, we’ve still got one company at Apraxin and another Company on special tasking with the Colonel personally, but all the security peeps have been recalled. We have the worst casualties though so we ended up going back up with security.”

“How many?” He asked tightly.

“Six dead, thirty-three in sickbay.”

“Christ, that’s rough. SS tossers.”

“I hope it’s the last time we ever fight these damn Nazis,” she agreed. “Look, I’m sorry about Corporal Tucker. You guys did good, got your job done… And I’m sorry he didn’t pull through.”

“Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time I’ve seen it happen. But if it’s the last time it’s with these shits… Good enough, I guess. I thought this goddamned war was supposed to be over.”

“When has it ever been that easy, I guess, right?”

“In hell, right next to the unicorns and lollypops.”

The Turian troops had been conveyed to the surface, and the Huáscar was in the process of recovering her own equipment. As part of her ongoing effort to reach out to the woman, Abebech had agreed to a private weekly dinner with Zhen’var, and arrived in mufti, a gracious but heavy green dress with traditional African patterns on the fringe and full length opera gloves, though her hair still aggressively pulled back to the point it looked like it had to hurt. The woman apparently, in the fullness of her own time, went decidedly classy at all costs.

Zhen’var might be the first Dilgar to choose a sari as her semi-formal clothing when she was in mufti, and she smiled to Imra. “Good evening… would you prefer your rank or your name in this particular setting?”

“You can call me Abebech, Captain. It is my name. I mean, the one I was given when I was born. I know there’s been some idle speculation on that, but I came in to the service cleanly.” She smiled faintly. “Thank you for the consideration.”

“You do intimidate most of our subordinates, Abebech. You may call me Zhen’var in private. That is my name, as much as propaganda from the world I was born on disagrees… or emphasizes, depending on the source.”

Abebech chuckled. “I would never think otherwise, Zhen’var. Your name is a reflection of who you are and an expression of belonging. For me, what I belong to is not really here anymore, so I cherish it all the more, but that’s beside the point. Why would a Dilgar not wish to cherish her clan? You are Var, and I, at least, think you have something to be proud of in that.”

The Dilgar woman’s smile froze for a moment, before she shook her head with a smile. “Thank you for that. On Earth, it was rarely so friendly, but now, my people and yourself… all accept that I am of a two woman clan, and that is that.” She took a sip of her wine with a still-pleased expression. “Anyhow, it was very fortunate the Nazis attacked when they did. It would have been much harder to give everyone a remotely acceptable ending otherwise.”

“Well, you’re quite right. The Nazis would have, attacking as the Turians arrived, turned themselves into leaders of a resistance movement.” She smiled tightly. “Of course, we have comms evidence that suggests they thought the Turians had already arrived. The fog of war causes such things for our enemy as well as ourselves.”

There was a flash in Zhen’var’s eyes, as they widened sharply for a moment. “I… see. It is to our benefit they made such an error, then. It has ended very well.”

“We are in the business of solving problems, Captain, and I believe we have done so in a way that will win us commendation from our commanders,” Abebech replied, looking idly at her own wine, or presumably so, from the angle of her opaque sunglasses.

“Well, you will be recommended for about three kinds of promotion when your next performance review crosses my desk, so do not think you will get out of eventually having to deal with things like this yourself. And I told you to call me by my name.” She finished with a smile, amused at her attacker commander’s reaction, and starting to wonder just what hidden depths Abech Imra held.

“Zhen’var, apologies. I am rather formal, but I suspect you noticed.” Her lips quirked into a hint of a smile.

“That we compete to be the best dressed woman in the room in civilian clothes has, in fact, crossed my mind, among other things. Now, just what mixture of raw meat have you come up with this time, and can I make it with pork? I find my tastes have shifted quite impressively.”

“I’m willing to try anything raw. For example there’s an excellent German dish of raw minced pork, that one is fine indeed. Shall we…?”

“Oh, let us indeed , though I am sure my mother would roll her eyes and tell me that cooking was invented for a reason.”

“It was, but it wasn’t my reason,” Abebech replied slyly. “Merciful God, but I find myself very grateful for your acquaintance,” she remarked as she keyed in the replicator. “For the most part, I enjoy serving under you because you are, indeed, a woman after my own heart.”

“I, in turn, think you should be at least a Captain of the Line, and am starting to have my suspicions confirmed, that you are… full of unexpected skills, Abebech. I intend to do my utmost to ensure the Alliance has a chance to make use of them.”

“We’ll see if the Alliance wants me in that role. In the meantime, I am pleased to be an expert of practice in my current profession, and your assistant. There is something to be said for the opportunity to mentor the young officers around me, as well, without an elevated position that would constrain my abilities. I have sought promotion, I do admit, and so far I have not received it to a further level, and was instead assigned to Huáscar. But if I am here awhile, it will be fine. Captain, I am not the kind of person who lusts for glory and fame. If I may do right in a Commander’s rate, it is fine enough. I should like to think my character carries through.”

“It does. That is why I am recommending you for promotion. Still, enough about that. Now, did any of those young officers stand out in the last action…?” Lapsing back into familiar, comfortable topics, Zhen’var found herself content with what she’d started to carve out with Abebech Imra.

They were about two days out from departure with the Turians settling down on the surface to the new arrangement with the Confederal Republic. Anna was drinking yet another mug of coffee as she sat in a sync meeting with flight operations. “So, the last issue right now is basically magazine handling arrangements with the spacecraft munition stores?” She used the table interface to generate the appropriate prints.

“That’s correct, Commander,” Lar’shan answered, glancing to Stasia. “Chief?”

“So, the problem is the anti-flash gasket. The autonomous handling carts can’t go over it, which means it’s a three person job to shift ammunition from the primary handling robot in the hoist to the cart. We need some way to make the autonomous carts go over the gasket.”

“How much does it interfere with the takt time of the ammunition loading procedure? I’m going to be honest,” Anna stretched and reached for her mug, “my automatic first response to someone suggesting we change ammunition handling arrangements is ‘no’.”

“Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Stasia replied from her own mug. “I completely agree with you there. We can’t accept anything that will damage the gasket… What’s takt time again?”

“Oh, but I thought that was a word from your world.”

“It is, but I’m a marine watch officer by experience, not a design engineer, which is who I think uses it,” Stasia blushed. “Also I came up the hard way, not through one of the Maritime Academies.”

“You’re smarter because of it,” Lar’shan offered.

“Thanks, I think.” Stasia flashed a grin to the Dilgar pilot.

“Takt time is how fast it should be taking to handle one bomb to keep up with arming demand, in this scenario,” Anna explained gently. “So, I’m asking what the delta is between the the current time to process a bomb rack from the mag and what we need to keep up with the ability of the armourers to actually load the craft in the strike wing.”

“Oh, uh,” Lar’shan and Stasia conferred, making a couple of calculations. They were both more comfortable with notepads for those than anything else.

Stasia looked up. “Eleven seconds. Two for each pass, two more for the extra time than the lift and set motions are split, and five for the handling robot turning around in a tighter space.”

“Eleven seconds per bomb rack, four bomb racks on a fighter-bomber, but divide by eight handling hoists for the entire wing, and then we’ve got the bombers too. Yeah, we need to fix this. For the fighter-bombers alone it adds six minutes and forty seconds to the arming operation for the wing.” Anna sighed. One more thing to do.

“Any solutions?” Lar’shan asked, pleased the Cheng had agreed with him.

“Not enough coffee for that,” Anna replied. “I miss Hargert’s Milchkaffee, speaking of. Why don’t we have a civilian café onboard? In all seriousness, I’m going to appoint a PDT with Lieutenant Kerrain in charge and I’ll closely supervise them. Once we have a solution we’ll test it in the holodeck through say ten thousand loading cycles to make sure it isn’t damaging the gaskets and we should have it deployed within two weeks, tops.”

“The Aurora had a civilian café ?” Lar’shan stared.

“Yes it did,” Stasia answered. “Something like twenty actual factual civilians onboard, no uniforms, not warrants, not enlisted, not officers, not police, freaking civvies. But Hargert’s food was so good, who cares? There was a big craving for non-replicated home cooking and some place to hang out like you were on leave, in fact inside the café off-base rules applied like you weren’t even aboard ship.”

“That’s so strange,” Lar’shan answered. “But I suppose it’s merely a quirk of the Aurora.

“No, it isn’t,” Anna interjected. “We’re supposed to have a civilian café onboard. In fact, our MTOE has fourteen civilians in it: Four engineering technical specialists, two psychotherapy and specialist medicine doctors, two non-uniformed religious officiants or priests as a contingency for religious faiths which don’t allow uniformed chaplains, and six ‘hospitality staff’ for our café. And right now we don’t have any of them, and neither any Chaplains, though the Aurora didn’t either. Setting up an interfaith Chaplain service, it turns out, is hard and politically complicated, and low priority in the middle of a major war for frankly stupid reasons since Chaplains are important for morale, but the end result is it’s been ad-hoc and mostly in the Army.”

“I get the feeling Captain Zhen’var doesn’t want any of those civilian billets filled, as an aside,” Stasia added.

“You’re absolutely right,” Anna smiled tightly. “This is the woman who restricts the holodecks to training, equipment testing, and time-limited rewards for exemplary ideas and work. ‘Good job, you’re authorized an hour in the holodeck’ is not something I thought I’d be saying on a regular basis, but...”

“Yep. She’s using ‘em exactly like a Hollywood shower on a submarine back home,” Stasia grinned.

“Exactly. Speaking of which have I mentioned that bathing is the most wonderful thing we have?” Anna smiled brightly and Lar’shan rolled his eyes.

“Well, ladies,” he offered a moment later, “it sounds like you both want such a café.”

“Yes,” they chorused.

“Perhaps we could go to Commander Atreiad together about it.”

“You don’t think the Captain would veto it?” Stasia blinked.

“I should think not, she was the one who started delegating, and the Commander is in charge of personnel billets. I’ll schedule an appointment this afternoon,” Lar’shan offered.

Anna frowned. “Sure, but part of the charm is Hargert. I’d hate for this to, I don’t know, go to open bid, and we’re stuck with some mega-chain from one of the big Republics.”

“I have an idea,” Stasia offered. “I know a Bulgarian girl who really needs a job, and a family who could really use some help…

Three hours later, they were all sitting in Will’s office, and explaining the idea to him. “So you already have someone in mind, too?” Will looked up.

“Her name is Alexandra Antonova Tambovna, and she previously worked as a secretary for the local Gestapo, I know I know, but what can you say?” Stasia gestured. “I certainly don’t mind. She’s a smart cook and hard worker, but not really cut for the fisherwoman’s trade. Her family also could use a renewed source of hard currency instead of another hand on the trawler. Bulgarian food is great, everyone will love shashlik . Except me, but I love tsatsa .”

“We’re going to need the full food service complement to operate the café. Let her hire other people from Drachenfeldt who need jobs?” Will asked, bringing up a document and scanning it on his terminal.

“I believe that makes sense,” Lar’shan offered, “though I suppose they couldn’t be German.”

“Well, maybe if we subjected them to extreme vetting, but it would be kind of ridiculous to have an SS plant. Still, we can advertise. Definitely Bulgarian or Japanese volunteers. This is going to be a very risky job, you know. There’s a reason the Captain doesn’t like it at all.”

“Well, yes, on the Aurora the civilians had to fight during the … Incident that left her heavily damaged,” Anna phrased it carefully. Large parts of that were still classified. “On the other hand, it’s a matter of naval policy.”

“Yeah, you’re right. All right. Two days to arrange recruiting and procuring equipment in--though I imagine you can fab most of that, right, Anna?”

“Yes, kitchen equipment will be an odd interlude for the machine shop, that’s all.”

“All right then.” Will smiled at Stasia’s grin. “You can go ahead and tell Miss Tambovna that she has a job, if she wants one.”

“And the Captain?” Lar’shan asked.

“Oh, this is my bailiwick.” He rubbed his head. “And you all owe me for it.”

It was about thirty minutes before they were due to leave orbit of Drachenfeldt when Will stepped down into the main cargo hold section of the engineering hull. He had just finished talking to the Captain about his authorization of the café two days before, and suddenly having civilians onboard, and now he knew his headache was about to get worse. He was standing in front of Colonel Fei’nur, and to be honest, the woman, who ranked him even though he was the XO (Abebech did too, which made his position especially weird), remained as intimidating as hell. They’d spoken occasionally outside of professional moments and staff meetings, and he got the feeling that he rated somewhat better than most other humans in her eyes from his colonial background, but that didn’t help much.

He was a lot younger, for starters. But this, this… “Colonel, I understand you pulled rank to use the cargo transporters to completely fill Hold Eight, with three two hundred and fifty tonne beam-ups. Would you mind explaining what the heck you were doing?”

She looked down at him, her expression inscrutable as she processed the request. “Yes.” the Dilgar woman replied, flatly.

Will ran a hand in his hair and stared for a moment. A long moment. “Okay, Colonel, I respect that. Really. But it’s my job to handle cargo space allocation on this ship. What are you doing in Hold Eight? I mean, you just beamed seven hundred and fifty tons onto the ship.”

“Rectifying deficiencies in the Marine contingent, Commander.” Fei’nur always spoke in an intensely clipped, accented voice when she did not want to answer questions, and this was clearly one of those times. “The allocation shall be permanent. I will require additional volume within Hold Eight as well, with additional life-support resources.”

“Colonel… Is there anyone you’re going to explain this to?” A pained expression flickered across Will’s face. This is pretty much the most bluntly disrespectful she’s ever been. What in Hades is going on?

Fei’nur gave him a lingering sharp look, before finally turning quickly on a heel. “Follow me, Commander.” She started walking without waiting for a response.

He fell in with a shake of his head. “I mean, if you just want to tell Captain Zhen’var, you can, Colonel.”

“It will be difficult to conceal. We are requisitioning use of Engineering staff for securing anchors.” She had a quick military pace, and there were sentries before the bay - she leaned down for the retinal scan of a hastily-fitted security lock, stepping in to the cavernous bay. A smile stole across her face as she glanced behind her. “I am very proud of our new Three Sisters, you know.”

Will stared. Then he stared again. “I, uh… I can see why.” Three super-heavy Mk.IX SS “Lowe” Panzers were sitting cheek to jowl in Cargo Hold Eight. “...Very well, Colonel, carry on.”

“I will not let my people be out-gunned ever again, Commander. I have requested another company from the Union to allow me to fill out a complete battalion with additional salvaged heavy weapons. They and their equipment should fill the rest of the bay, once sections of the remainder are converted to troop quarters.”

“Well, for our peace-keeping mission…” He grinned mirthlessly. “It actually makes sense. Carry on, Colonel. And sorry I bothered you.”

“You were carrying out your duty.” Fei’nur gave a nod, and moved further into the bay, inspecting the work carried out so far.

They were warping away from Drachenfeldt and toward the occupied Earth they had fought so hard to conquer from the Nazi regime, and then from there toward whatever their next mission would be. Elia took the time to send a message to Zhen’var asking for permission to join her for dinner that night.

She’d dashed back a quick agreement, then, and would be reading a book on her small couch in her quarters when the door chime sounded. “Come in!”

“Thank you, Captain,” Elia said, stepping inside and waiting for the door to close. Once it did, she grinned. “Did I ever mention, Zhen’var, that getting to hang out with you makes my day happier? Because it totally does.”

“I do not need to tell you that it does the same to I, Elia. Sit, please. What is on the agenda for today, hm?”

“Sitting down? Listening to Rihannsu classical music that Arterus loaned to me?” Elia sighed dramatically as she settled into a chair. “Alas, but there is a bit more than that. So.” A wry grin. “Drachenfeldt. Can you believe people weren’t shooting at each other when we left?”

“Well, come on, sit, and put on the music. Then we shall discuss Drachenfeldt, which worked out as well as I could dare to hope.”

“Ooh, as usual, the answer might be to the effect of ‘both’,” Elia laughed, and put the music on. “Do you feel,” she asked after that, “that perhaps the way the situation resolved itself was a little bit.. Weird? I mean, the way the Nazis attacked at more or less the worst possible time… For them.”

“Yes. I think… I think that Imra may be more than she appears to be, if you will permit. We had a very interesting conversation two nights ago.”

“I’m going to bear that carefully in mind… Zhen’var, you do know she’s a telepath, right? It would be hard for her to keep it a secret from me, of course, and I don’t think she really tries, but she doesn’t advertise it either. Has she told you?”

“She admitted it when I asked, at least. She does not really try to hide it, as you said. The woman is… full of hidden depths. I think she, by all rights, should be commanding this ship, Elia.”

“I think you should, Zhen’var,” Elia answered, “but she should probably have her own different ship. Or fleet. But despite that… I don’t know. I think she… Meddled, when it came to the SS attack. It’s too convenient, and I understand that you had … Talked to her about it.”

“I back my officers when they exercise initiative, and I do not think she would act with ill-will to us, Elia. I would like to think, perhaps, we may have a strange friendship if we have more conversations like that.” Zhen’var murmured, shaking her head slightly.

“I wish I was her friend,” Elia admitted after a moment. “I’ve been suspicious of her, but I think it’s mostly that I want to be friends with another telepath. But she doesn’t really want to be my friend …. I think.”

“Be honest with her. I get the impression that she appreciates directness, and will… perhaps not give a full account, but will explain, at least partially. I am sorry the Mha’dorn are… not quite the same? I do not… truly understand the details, only intellectually, but I do think that she… believes she acts for the best interests of the crew and those around her.”

“The Mha’dorn keep me on this ship, Zhen’var, I have good friends among them. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I was just raised to see consensus with other human telepaths as an important part of my life. I can subsume myself in a gestalt of Dilgar, and I have. I still feel a craving to be Abebech’s friend, though. Please don’t get me wrong, Zhen’var… Truth be told, some of it might be that I make friends with Dilgar better than humans at this point, so I wonder if I can ever really be myself in the company of other human telepaths again.”

“No, I understand , Elia. Mother and Father, yes? I do not have the same experiences, but I know what an unconventional family is like…. And socialization. We are quite the pair of misfits sometimes, are we not?”

“It’s why we’re best friends, Captain. And that’s why I’m going to trust you with Abebech.” She reached out, and through a gloved hand, squeezed one of Zhen’var’s.

“Thank you, Elia… now, let us listen to Romulan--Rihannsu?--music? Or was there something else work-related, my friend?”

“No, that was it, and it was probably silly. I mostly want to snuggle.” She flushed a bit, but it didn’t alter the sentiment.

“Creche for you, boarding school for me? We will have to watch more Bollywood, you know. Perhaps some of the new Dilgar musicals, they have a sort of quirky low-budget charm to them?” Hugging her friend, her best friend, Zhen’var grinned widely.

“Oh, brilliant. We’re now planning to watch low budget movies together. Yes, let’s.” Friendship is always a worthy triumph.


The Huáscar was tasting virgin space, and the Heermann was the point of the spear. In her career in the Alliance Stellar Forces, Abebech Imra had not done exploration before. In fact, she really hadn’t done it at all. Her career had been a decided bloody one, and there was no use dwelling on that.

This was the Huáscar ’s first trip to a completely new universe, on her originally designed exploration duty. Ahead of her was the version of Earth in this universe, now designated M5G8. There had already been Dilgar grumbling about that. The strange way that humans seemed blessed to live in every universe, and aliens were relegated to the universe they had evolved in -- just one.

Abebech had some idea why, but she couldn’t exactly share it with anyone, and the usefully relevant details were lost in the murk of deep time, anyway, even with her connections. And they were already picking up interesting readings from the planet. “Goodenough?”

“... Massively anomalous mass signatures in orbit, Captain.” He chuckled faintly at his own formulation. “Try hundreds of spacedock-sized, but less dense, objects, and there are entire clouds of sensor interference--space debris, most likely.”

“...Hundreds? Debris enough to jam our sensors?” Abebech stared at the screen, pursing gloved hands in front of her and folding her legs. “Bring us out of warp at a distance and maintain cloak, helm.”

“Aye aye, Captain,” Ca’elia answered from her post, the smartly put together Dilgar smoothly bringing the Heermann out earlier than planned.

“Full passive sensor sweeps.”

“Resolving…” Goodenough implemented the scans.

As he did, Abdulmehmet shouted from his own tactical position. “Captain! There are weapons signatures considering with a major engagement -- energy weapons -- near a large asteroid at the L-5 point.”

“Are there… Goodenough? Are you able to image the anomalies yet?”

“On screen now, Captain.”

The image that flashed into view was something she immediately recognised.

“A hab!” Ca’elia shouted. “Just like the Aururian ones.”

“So it is, L’tenant,” Abebech agreed softly. “So it is. ‘Hundreds’... Get me that asteroid in L-5, please.”

The image shifted. Fire swept across the flanks from vessels too small to see, hotly engaged with each other. Abebech watched it, watched it… And jerked sharply in her chair. “Get the Huáscar, emergency priority. This is turning into a first contact like no other. And lay in a course for that position at maximum warp.”

“Captain, we do not have orders to intervene,” Goodenough reminded her, formally.

Abebech seemed entranced in her chair. Her XO had certainly never seen her like that before. “Just get me closer. Under cloak. I need to see what’s going on.”

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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Sat Nov 24, 2018 5:17 am


“I still do not understand why you insisted on dragging me here, Nah’dur. The replicator already has so many options…” Fei’nur’s voice had almost a hint of a planitive sound to it as she glanced about the room, almost disturbingly large for a warship.

“Yes, but it’s a chance for us to socialise. Together. In public. Also, this woman cooks authentic Bulgarian food,” Nah’dur answered eagerly, traipsing up to the bar, which was finished with freshly planed lumber from Drachenfeldt, as were the barstools. The lights were dim, to accentuate the local pub atmosphere and make stargazing better, since of course the Café Varna was one of the only places on the ship with real windows (Prifly, the astrogation domes, and a couple of hangar control stations being the others).

The woman behind the counter was Alexandra herself, dressed in traditional Bulgarian national costume. She came over promptly, carrying a basket, which she slammed onto the bar. It was filled with breaded whole little fishes which immediately smelled utterly delicious; one thing that replicators had real (rather than imagined) trouble with was the taste of deep fried food fresh out of the deep fryer. “Fish.” She looked at the two Dilgar woman, insisting on using her own voice and the English she’d started to learn instead of a universal translator. “Dilgar like fish. Order beers? Bourgas 63?”

“Yes, I’ll have some rakija,” Nah’dur answered, and picked up one of the fish carcasses. The deep-fryed sprat melted in her mouth, and her eyes lit up in delight at the flavour, leaving her to exhale in happiness. “Now that’s good, Fei’nur, try it.”

Fei’nur gave Nah’dur a look, and picked up one of them carefully, throwing it back with a wary expression, before her face lit with delight. “This is just like karfi back home! A beer, yes, strongest you have!” With the smile still plastered on her face, she went for another, looking all together more carefree than Nah’dur had ever seen her.

“Good,” Alexandra answered. “Menus.” She tossed them on the ample bar in front of the two women, and headed off to get their drinks.

“So this is kind of like karfi?” Nah’dur asked, fascinated.

A moment later, Alexandra deposited their beer and a brandy snifter-sized glass of clear liquid, before heading back into the kitchen to deal with someone else’s order.

“A bit. Somewhat less salty, there was something in the sauce back home it doesn’t quite capture, but it’s closer than anything I thought I’d taste again!”

“That’s so nifty. It’s always made me sad to think we’ve lost the flavours of Omelos.” She ate a few more, smiling, and trying her rakija. Dilgar had been drinkers before Omelos was destroyed, a lot of the survivors had become functional alcoholics since then, though Dilgar were somewhat more resistant to alcoholism as a disease that destroyed functionality than humans, they also tended to be more susceptible to coping through it. Nah’dur knew all of this and didn’t really care, it tasted good.

The menus laid out before them offered an immense selection of meat. Meat plates. Fish plates. ‘Meat kompot’. Shashlik.

Fei’nur knew that this would be both disastrous for her needs to exercise and her flexible spending account… and right now, she didn’t care, as she looked for whatever plate offered her the best variety and largest total portion.

“Look, there’s a meat plank,” Nah’dur pointed on the menu. “I’m going to try, uhh, …”

“Plank. Gods, this is just like when we blew the Emperor’s Birthday bonus pay on leave that one year....”

“Plank?” Alexandra heard them and came over with a pad for taking down their orders. “You order the meat plank?” She asked Fei’nur.

Yes.” The grizzled Colonel replied with a wide, almost child-like grin. “And another beer.”

“Good.” A baleful eye looked to the much smaller Dilgar woman. “Eat more meat? Grow? Yes?”

“Uhh, yes! Kebapche.”

“Kebapche. Good.” Satisfied, Alexandra wandered back to the kitchen.

“...Worth it, Fei’nur?” Nah’dur looked satisfied, and not at all bothered by the terse proprietor.

“Depends on the slab.” Fei’nur winked and sipped at her glass again. “We’d need more concrete to get a bar on Omelos, back then. Too much metal for where I grew up.” She paused, for a moment. “Also too much meat, to be honest.”

“Nobody could afford it in the old Empire days. Well, mother did growing up, but that was a special case.”

“Your mother’s clan owned a meat-processing and ranching conglomerate.” The look that Nah’dur got in turn matched the sarcasm in the older Dilgar’s voice. “Now that we have a restaurant, this ship is basically a noble’s yacht… not that I mind.”

“Well, you deserve it.” Nah’dur finished her Bourgas 63 and leaned in her barstool against Fei’nur’s shoulder.

Alexandra arrived, grinning. She slammed the meat platter down in front of Fei’nur. It had some kind of sausage that was curled into a spiral, around three other sausages, each of a different kind, a grilled chicken breast, a pork cutlet, and a massive stick of the characteristic shashlik, with meat and onions and a few other vegetables. Nah’dur’s Kebapche consisted of a mix of sausage-shaped minced meat paste forms and a single patty of the same type. A bowl of garnish for them to share followed.

“I think I’m going to like you, Miss Alexandra.” Avaricious eyes looked to her plate, as she reached for her tableware.

“Thank you, Colonel Fei’nur! Salut!” She grinned cheerfully and headed off to another customer.

Kebapche, Nah’dur quickly discovered, was superb. “Gods, Fei’nur. Whatever else, this woman cooks.

Fei’nur gave the young woman she’d helped raise a funny look. “What else would you want from a chef?”

“...I don’t know?” Nah’dur rubbed her nose against Fei’nur’s shoulder. “Glad you came with me, my strong?”

Fei’nur’s response at least sounded positive, around the sausage she was consuming with relish.

With a bright expression on her own face, Nah’dur responded by cheerfully tucking in and enjoying dinner. She also got closer and closer to Fei’nur until she was pressed into the bigger woman, making soft noises from time to time.

Nah’dur.” Came from the taller woman, in a warning tone.

“Yess?” Nah’dur looked up, batting her eyes. “I like you, what’s the harm in being close?”

Boundaries before the crew, Surgeon-Commander.”

Nah’dur sighed and pulled back. “Another Bourgas, Miss Alexandra…” Her Omnitool chirped insistently, at the same time Fei’nur’s did.

“Oh, bother.” Nah’dur glanced up. “Well, at least we finished our plates. Sorry, Miss Alexandra! So much for that!” It was a message from the Captain, and she wanted them both at an emergency staff meeting in ten minutes.

“I shall return to this place again.” Fei’nur was already up and moving, speaking into her omnitool, alerting her duty officers to get the Marines shaken out for possible action.

Nah’dur remained in place for a minute longer, watching Fei’nur’s muscles through her uniform. Only when she had swished past the doors did the Surgeon-Commander follow her out.

Undiscovered Frontier Origins: Case Armageddon

Season 1, Episode 3

Act One

Another day, another staff meeting. This time, of course, it was on an emergency basis, and people were paying attention as they came in, for it might mean they would shortly be in action. The crew of the Heermann was not present, being on forward reconnaissance, nor was Lar’shan, prepping to launch in the CAP rotation. Everyone else arrived as instructed.

“Good morning, everyone. Time is short, so I shall keep this brief. Commander Imra has reported this universe’s Earth appears to be in the midst of a catastrophic civil war. Long-range sensors indicate the planet has undergone mass driver or kinetic bolide bombardment, and there are multiple fleet units engaged throughout the inner system. She is keeping close watch on the situation, but we are moving in ourselves. The situation, from a standpoint of sentient well-being, appears catastrophic.”

Elia stepped up to Zhen’var’s side, bringing up the briefing documents on the solar system, and then focusing on Earth. She did not apologise for the roughness, they all knew that there had been very little time to prepare these. “Earth-space in this universe is defined by a series of large anomalies at the Lagrange points, in some cases in two discrete clusters.” A close-up flashed onto the screen.

“Prototypical open-type O’Neill Cylinders in coupled pairs to prevent progression.” The image flashed in closer. Elia’s facial expression was wooden and grim. “As you can see, this colony in particular is massively rent by energy weapons fire. By definition that means we are looking at twenty million people who are either dead or homeless. There are large debris fields at the majority of the Lagrange points. Heermann’s latest sensor data suggest debris consistent with about only half of the colonies this Earth built still being intact. Based on the number.. A conservative estimate is five billion fatalities. Earth itself we do not have solid data for, but is showing coherent symptoms of nuclear winter.” She flashed into the next part of the deck. “Major weapons signatures … Most vessels are in the two hundred and fifty meter class, so destroyer sized, but we are reading fleets of hundreds.”

“I have already forwarded the initial report and a request for support to higher command, but we can expect to be on our own resources for some time. We will be in action, and I want all hands to know this, and what is at stake.” Zhen’var looked just as severe.

Daria nodded crisply. “Captain, Commander, understood. Do we have any information on their weapons or manoeuvring?”

“None yet, Lieutenant,” Elia answered. “Hopefully Commander Imra will find that out, but not the hard way.”

Anna laughed softly. She had seen enough, grown up hard enough, to know a little levity was important in the moment. “We often have, in the Alliance Navy. Captain, do we prioritize operational conditions for life-saving and humanitarian aid or direct combat? It seems like, for all the damage we have detected, the nations of this world are still in main combat.”

“Direct combat. We will not have the ability to provide aid and save lives until the shooting is over. We cannot fight that many ships to a standstill on our own.”

“Then we should maintain full ZEBRA from the moment we arrive in close Earth space. Commander Saumarez, if you can send me any sensor information at all we may be able to do an engineering analysis and route it to tactical in time to be useful.”

“Of course, Commander. Fera’Xero, if you could work with Engineering on that?”

“Certainly, El’sau.” The Quarian seemed bemused by something, and Elia grinned at being called by her Dilgar name by a non-Dilgar.

“Captain?” Arterus asked. “What is the protocol for responding to this kind of utterly destructive war in a pre-interstellar civilisation? Do we have any general orders to guide our operational objectives?”

“We do. We are to end the mass killing, with whatever means we have to hand. Massive military casualties are one thing, non-combatants dying as this is quite another. Expect that we will be in heavy action in the near future.”

“Well, Huáscareños,” Will said, rising to his feet. “Let’s show ‘em how it’s done. If you’re off duty, rest until you’re called to quarters. Otherwise… Comrades, please take your stations.”

Abebech had not required much analysis for the situation around the asteroid base before giving the order to move in more closely. Once they did the Heermann, sitting quietly under cloak, was the perfect platform for high-fidelity observation.

What she and her command staff saw was a truly incredible battle. Fleets of spaceships in formation moved to engage each other with massive rows of turreted and fixed beam weapons, in wild configurations that seemed unconstrained by the typical notions of gravity or physics, while around them small objects swirled and tangled with each other.

It was not hyperbole to say they were unconstrained by gravity and physics, either: Goodenough could see that there were particle traces throughout local space which were wildly exotic. He was recording everything, and sometimes tapped his own head in frustration. Being the closest thing to a science officer the Heermann had constantly reminded him that he was a Royal Navy Petty Officer in the first half of his life, had never seen the inside of a University, and had known more about tying knots than physics when he first encountered a Darglan brainwave infuser.

Still, it wasn’t like he quit. Anything. So next he resolved images of the small craft. Even Abebech made a small noise that sounded almost like a grunt, though it was gone as soon as it came.

“I hate to be the fool,” Goodenough hesitated, “especially since I’m the science officer. But the configuration of those ships makes no sense. Like giant flying men in space?”

“They’re using some kind of particle steering field directed from the arms and legs for precision manoeuvring,” Abebech replied. “The reason for the configuration is to make the steering completely intuitive, even to untrained pilots. They might operate on direct neural interface.”

“Don’t you have one of those?”

“It won’t interface with Darglan technology, but it’s rather mandatory if you want to get anything done in the Solarian territories, so yes,” she answered calmly, watching the flashes of lit and flitting vectoring suits. “Look at that one group, Commander. They cannot get the better of each other, the two suits, the one with the green gunboat on its side, but that fighter is moving to intervene. Do we know what side that is yet? Mehmet?”

“Tactical channels are picking up an Earth Federation fleet reference, Captain.” The lithe Turkish man glared at the screen for a moment. “Their encryption is perfectly advanced, however.”

“Of course it is,” Abebech answered drolly, but her voice faded as she did. Sunglassed eyes gazed out more, and more intently to the viewscreen. “There’s something…”

The Heermann, floating under cloak, was invisible to the combatants, but Abebech’s vantage point that it provided seemed to entrance her. Goodenough had been going to speak, but he held his tongue. He’d never seen his Captain this way before.

She watched the fighter come in again, and again. Both times it was attacked by close-range cutting beams on one of the variable-geometry units. The two units, mechs, for want of a better term, continued to duel, but the duel seemed fitful, distracted.

Abebech was nonetheless fixated on that, and nothing else in the battlefield at all. Around her, the alarms continued to indicate the Code Red status on the Heermann. As distracted as she was, Abebech would never permit her ship to be so close to an active warzone except on General Quarters.

Goodenough couldn’t help but observe that the strange duel between the unusual craft seemed as distracted as his Captain. That is, until it came to a sudden and violent denouement. In a flash, the curved but compact green gunboat swept in between the two mechs in what was a recklessly dangerous manoeuvre. When it did, fire lashed out, and caught in the crossfire, it was speared and gutted like a fish on a line.

Abebech bolted upright in her command chair and slapped the comm switch on the armrest. “Goodenough! Coordinates of that gunboat to TR One! Transporter Room One, lock to coordinates and beam up!”

Goodenough’s professionalism was such that he confirmed the coordinates and sent them immediately. Abebech’s disciplined crew had been infused with her expectations of speed and efficiency from top to bottom. The transporter chief activated on the coordinates immediately.

A young Indic woman in a shattered spacesuit appeared in the transporter room as the effect faded. Taking no risks with the shattered spacesuit helmet and serious injuries, the Transporter Chief activated the controls again and promptly sent her back on to sickbay in an internal transport. “Doctor Foru, human female, violent decompression and energy weapons injuries!”

Abebech heard that over the intercom, and nodded tightly. “Stand by…”

“Captain,” Goodenough’s crisp voice cut the tension on the bridge. “The mechs of both forces are turning toward us… And so are the ships. They have found our position.”

A chill cracked the feeling of tension on the bridge. Abebech said nothing. She offered no explanation for her split-second second to save the life of a total stranger. She just pushed down on the relay for the 1MC. “All Hands, this is the Captain speaking. We have been discovered and may be in action momentarily. Mind your stations.” Then she disengaged the channel, and pitched her voice. “TACTICAL, transfer power to shields!”

Goodenough couldn’t help a grin. He approved of the sentiment. Better to have them fighting fit and facing the enemy openly than to come under fire with shields down while hiding under cloak if they could be accurately targeted. “Their power curves are marginal and their accelerations in the tens of g’s, Captain.”

“Very good, Mister Goodenough.” The Heermann rippled into view, shields surging to power. “Bring us about, full impulse power, least-time course to outer Earth orbit.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” the stiff-backed Ca’elia spun them on heel, the engines ticking up to power, drive-trails glowing as the magnetic vanes steered her wake, her running lights showing as she flicked over on her port beam and showed the primitive human ships her tail with a surge of acceleration. The boxy little power-pack of a ship was, to them, as fast as a whippet, and Ca’elia put it all on display in getting clear.

The call had been the right one. The two groups of ships didn’t engage, and were rapidly left in their wake. “Patch me through to the Huáscar, I need to make another report.” The situation was more complicated than her crew realised.

Dr. Narus Foru was the only medical officer on the Heermann. As the ship’s Doctor, he found himself reporting to a much junior--but admittedly brilliant--woman in Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur on the Huáscar, who had command of the medical detachment for the much smaller attacker while it was detailed in the big exploration cruiser.

As an Alakin, he was also an alien to the woman on his examining table, and he had no idea what languages she spoke, though he did know her name. Handing her identcard off to one of his nurses, he annotated the log from the English inscription in it alongside the more ornate one in a language he was unfamiliar with. Lalah Sune.

Nurse Hilfer turned back to him. Dr. Foru wanted a human female present for when his patient woke up, but her expression was one of great surprise. “Doctor, that’s Lojban on the identicard.”


“An artificial language humans in some timelines created for interethnic communication. I learned it when I studied linguistics before entering nursing. I don’t really understand what the name means, but… Ensign Lalah Sune, Principality of Zeon Space Attack Force.”

“Zeon is the name of Zeon Zum Deikun, the great philosopher and creator of the Contolist school,” a voice came from the medbed, the Indian English accent strong, though unsurprisingly as it matched both her ethnicity and bindi.

Dr. Foru turned as the woman stirred, looking exhausted, broken down, a wreck at such a young age. But as she turned to face him, she gasped in surprise.

An alien, blue skinned, yellow plumage, an Alakin was anything but human, a proud member of an avianoid species instead. Dr. Foru knew these humans had likely never before seen aliens, and he tried to disarm with politeness. “You are quite cultured to know those details, then.”

“I wanted to understand Char,” Lalah answered, “and it’s all recent history, I…” There was a flash over her mind. “You’re familiar with humans, you live among them, don’t you?”

“...Yes, Ensign. Are you a telepath?”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Lalah answered. “Wait, no… Yes, I think you might be right. I am a Newtype, Doctor Foru. And you have changed everything by saving me. Gods, you have changed everything…”

“Ensign, I don’t know what we have done, but that we saved your life from your ship.”

She looked distantly into the wall, her mind very much on a scene elsewhere. “Yes, you have, but I expected to die. And now they both know, and they’ll both be coming here. For Me. Oh Char…” She closed her eyes and started quietly crying.

“Ensign? Who is Char?” But Doctor Foru received no reply, instead, he received his own question.

“Who was the Dark One who saved me, Doctor? Why did she do it?”

“The Dark One? I don’t understand…”

Standing well-off the Moon and the strange collection of untouched habitats which sat beyond it and were still undergoing analysis by Fera’xero, the Huáscar received the Heermann behind her protective CAP bubble. Immediately after falling into formation, Abebech hailed the Huáscar. “Captain Zhen’var, this is Commander Imra. I am requesting permission to come aboard and brief you in person while the Heermann retains an undocked alert posture.”

Zhen’var’s face flickered in a momentary frown. It had to be serious for her to request that. “Of course, Commander, permission granted.”

“A few minutes, then, Captain. Thank you. Goodenough, you have the conn,” she could be heard saying as she rose and deactivated the comm.

Exactly as promised, she arrived to the transporter right off the Huáscar’s bridge, and as a listed member of the crew did not ask permission to come aboard. Instead she came to attention. “Captain Zhen’var, Commander Imra reporting.”

“To my ready room, Commander.” Zhen’var was clearly tense, as she gestured with a hand and led the way to her small office off the bridge.

Abebech followed immediately, and remained at attention as the Captain sat. Gloved hands folded behind her back, and her eyes impossible to see -- so professional, but she might have as well been called to the carpet.

“Stand easy, Commander. Please, begin briefing me. The situation, as far as I can discern, is both serious and time-critical. I have already requested reinforcements, and am awaiting a response.”

Abebech seemed to try and force herself to relax. “If I may sit, that would be better for what you intend, Captain. The BLUF is that there are telepaths on both sides of this conflict.” She let that sink in for a minute. “The long form is--they’re powerful, untrained ones, lacking in social schema through which to express their powers. And…” She squeezed her gloved hands as if she did not really want to say it. “They are using psionically interfaced technology.”

“Is this… a great concern?” Captain Zhen’var’s expression carried a hint of confusion as she gestured to a chair.

Abebech moved to sit. She thought for a moment how to phrase it best. “Captain, my first training is as a historian, and I am very interested in the history of my people. Let me say that the only time such technology has ever existed in the Multiverse, with a few terrifying exceptions, was during the late Earthreign.”

“Mine, I fear, is not. You will need to explain more, Commander. This technology is the only outlier in this particular universe, please?” She was placing a stylus to pad on her desk to take quick notes.

“Well, they are also using a very abnormal kind of fusion,” Abebech answered after a moment. “But… You must understand that the Earthreign is a riddle in an enigma, boxed in several legends. It was thousands of years ago, and what most people know about it is that it was ‘terrible’ and that it was a totalitarianism of psions. Among biased sorts, the former is implied by the latter, and the latter is a supposition based on the former.”

“I do not see a mental link controlling technology as a situation that would call for such a belief or response, but…” She tapped the stylus down. “You see parallels, Abebech? That is not what concerns me.”

“It creates a pathway to kinds of technology that the Multiverse does not currently know. Among the Vulcans there was one similar device, it was called the Stone of Gol, I know that much from my studies of the Multiverse.” she paused, and her lips twisted into a grimace for a moment, and she dropped the train of conversation.

“Well, Captain,” Abebech continued, “I understand if you don’t consider this important enough. However, please be mindful that in this complicated political situation, these young, newly manifested telepaths are already part of the front-line war effort. I rescued one from her fatally damaged combat craft. She is aboard the Heermann receiving treatment right now. Ensign Lalah Sune, of the Principality of Zeon Space Attack Force.”

“I will wish to speak with her, but we must end the massive bloodshed…” She looked to her subordinate. “Abebech, what is your intent?” Her mind was open, as Zhen’var asked her attacker commander - she did not understand why it was important, but she accepted Abebech did… and so she asked in a roundabout way what the elder woman recommended she do.

“My intent is to allow us to end the bloodshed by finding the real cause for the bloodshed and eliminating it. Lalah Sune, Captain, is important in this. But I don’t know how. I just saw the battlefield, I could hear her death-cry, I felt something slip away, and I acted. It was not outside of regulations as Commander of the Heermann to save the life of one stricken in the void, even a combatant in the midst of battle between two enemies.”

“I am not second-guessing it. You have good instincts, Commander. You should warn your crew, however. I will likely be compelled to invoke Case Armageddon after speaking with this woman you have rescued.”

“I will make the appropriate preparations, Captain, for sustained heavy combat. They appear primitive, but both sides do use unusually sophisticated systems in certain areas. If they do not comply, the operation under Case Armageddon will be difficult. These people built hundreds of habs in the space of.... A hundred and ten years, captain. It is a particularly precocious instantiation of humanity.”

“I am aware, we will be hard pressed and likely take heavy damage, but… well. Harm’s Way is the Valiant Way, is it not? I will not see more habs destroyed if I can stop it.”

“Understood.” She rose. “By your leave, then? I will have Ensign Sune transferred aboard as soon as the Doctors clear her, and it shouldn’t be long.”

“Of course. You have clearance to use a priority override if there is anything you believe I need to know that can not wait for channels, no matter the hour or situation. Please brief Commander Saumarez as well. If there is a telepath issue, I wish all of ours to know if you are away from Huascar.”

“Very well. I will do that first, Captain.” She stepped out.

Just what have you given me to deal with, Abebech…?

It didn’t take long to get Lalah Sun transferred to the Huáscar, since she was well enough for transport. The moment she arrived, her eyes widened at once again another species of alien, in this case Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur. “Ensign Sune, is it?”

“Yes, I…” She fell silent. “Your teleporters. I wasn’t awake the last time.”

“They’re very efficient,” Nah’dur answered. “You’re probably curious about my species. I’m a pseudofelinoid, called a Dilgar. In a special arrangement with the Alliance, we provide half the crew of this cruiser. Come over here, please.” She personally helped the woman onto the bed which went into the main multidimensional imager. “I want to do detailed scans to make sure you are healthy.”

“...Just like at the Flanagan institute… What’s your name, Doctor?”

Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur,” she corrected, though gently. “Now just lay still, this will only take a few minutes.”

Lalah closed her eyes and folded her hands, trying to relax as the bed fed her into the machine.

Nah’dur took advantage of the scanning machine to activate her omnitool. “Captain Zhen’var, this is Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur. I have this Ensign Lalah Sune in the scanner, but you can speak to her as you requested the moment that she’s finished, so you could start down now if you like.”

“Thank you, Commander. I shall be down in a few minutes.” crackled from the comms unit in response.

It was as she said, a few moments later Captain Zhen’var arrived in sickbay, stepping straight for Nah’dur. “Surgeon-Commander. The scanning cycle is almost finished?”

“Yes, she’s coming out now, Captain.”

“I will wait in the main ward for her to be ready, thank you, Commander. This may take a while.” She stepped back, then, to wait.

One of the nurses wheeled Lalah Sune in a few minutes later. “Captain.” She rolled the wheel-chair up to the bed, and the alert woman’s eyes snapped to Zhen’var.

“You’re the commander of this vessel,” she asked as she was transferred. Or, not really asked. It was more of a statement of fact. “What is your good name, Ma’am?”

“I am indeed. My name is Zhen’var. You are Ensign Lalah Sune, I am given to understand, the Principality of Zeon Space Attack Force. You are not a prisoner, I shall also clarify at this time. I am considering you a rescued spacefarer at present.”

“Thank you, Captain. That is charitable.” She reached up to carefully rub her eyes, taking note of the woman’s English being much the same as her own.

“I would hear your version of the events and personalities that have led to the present intolerable situation my ships find themselves within, Ensign. Surgeon-Commander, if she is able, some chai for us both. The meeting room attached to your office has a replicator with better seating, yes?”

“Yes, and she can move. She’s recovering very well for someone who was… Exposed to vacuum,” Nah’dur offered from where she was standing behind Zhen’var.

“Thank you, Surgeon-Commander.” Zhen’var reached out a hand. “If you need the help, Ensign. Let us sit someplace more comfortable and speak.”

Lalah took her hand, with a tight nod, and rose with help, her eyes flashing as she did. “Kya aapane maingalor mein english seekh lee?”

“Yes, lekin yah ek jatil tale hai,” Zhen’var replied.

“It’s all right,” Lalah laughed, and pain flashed through her eyes as she moved to sit. “Main ek mumbai girl.”

“I was born in Gvangjsih - Guangxi. I was raised by my mother from when I was a baby in her home, Mangalore. As you may discern, it became even more complicated after that.”

“You have walked a strange road, Captain.” She smiled a little, and smiled more when the chai came, sniffing over the big mug first. “Mmn. It has been almost a year.”

“I suspect you have as well. If there is any food you would like, the replicators do spoil us a fair bit. Computer, neer dosa, kori gassi and mutton sukka with mango lassi.” Zhen’var smiled, standing up for the plate which she’d set on the low table between the two couches, along with the glass. “When you are comfortable, as I said. I would know your side of the situation. There is clearly another, but I shall hear yours, for you are here.”

Wide eyes tracked with the food. “I worry about eating too much, when I was almost dead, but, Captain, Haleem,” she requested, “and salted lassi.” She sipped her chai with her eyes on the replicator. “That could end hunger, but it must take so much energy yes?”

“Correct, though there are technologies, worlds that have reduced scarcity a great deal with such things. On a vessel, the use of energy is less a negative than the use of volume we would require for sufficient supplies on long-duration missions.”

“Volume is a brootal limitation, ke baavajood Minovsky physics,” she answered quietly, looking at her own food after Zhen’var presented it. She tried it, and smiled brightly. “It is very authentic, the system does well. Sab kuch k liye thank you, Captain.”

“I insisted on letting the crew tinker with the formulations until they were satisfied, myself included. Minovsky physics… the odd readings our sensors have been detecting from your vessels are related, I assume?”

“Recycling a pure Helium-3 chain reaction through a special design of multi-stage reactor produces a previously unpredicted particle named after the discoverer, Captain, it is what much technology on both sides is based upon.” It was hardly a detailed technical explanation, but it conveyed the gist. She switched more to English as the conversation got more technical.

“Hm. Interesting.” She did hide her interest, a previously unpredicted particle? Fera’xero would love the news, she was sure.

“Earth began to spread into the stars bahut samay pahale, Captain. Once there were four hundred and fifty-five bunches--couples of colonies--in orbit. Kya aap yahee jaanana chaahate the?”

“I would wish to know everything, but, yes. Just how did such a terrible war start, Ensign? It appears to be one to the knife, with all restraint abandoned in the pursuit of victory.”

“I only know what Char told me, Captain.” Her expression tightened into one of bitterness, flushed with shame. “Jab Zeon aaya tha, government officials kahana Earth chaklay lagna.”

“A civil war, then, or a war for independence, one that has grown extremely sharp indeed.”

“Captain, main ek Earth Federation Citizen tha, Earth was very troubled, no raw materials. But all manufacturing was there. Zeon diya gaya tha ajaadi many years ago. But there was a blockade, ajaadi kee keemat. They were isolated.”

“Where I came from, it was Mars and the extra-solar colonies who chafed, and eventually rebelled against the government of Earth when it fell into the hands of evil men.

“Mars does not have enough people here,” Lalah replied. “Zeon declared mukti yuddh for the Spacenoids, lekin badale they bombarded Earth with colonies. Government flee to a secret base in the Amazon, there was a truce, Zeon jameen par soldiers bheje gae, they conquered most of Earth.”

“A liberation war, we could have supported, but bombarding cities, civilians with the kinetic bolides that an O’Neil colony represents…” She grit her teeth.

“Captain,” she buried her face, and continued with great deliberation in carefully enunciated English, “The Earth Federation was brutally corrupt. I was sold as a prostitute for the workers building the great new planned cities in the Amazon. It was a man of Zeon who rescued me from this shame. That is why I am loyal to Zeon. Zeon welcomes anyone who wishes to live the life of a spacenoid. Even a Mumbai whore,” she almost spat the words, “can become an officer and gentlewoman in the nation of the Red Comet.”

Zhen’var clenched her teeth hard enough for them to make a gnashing noise as she planted her face in her hands. “Mother Shakti. I cannot support colony drops. Nor can I support abuse or oppression of an entire people. Ensign, you… thank you.”

“It must be told, Captain, you are a woman, you understand not to repeat these things,” She said very, very precisely in English before reverting to the more comfortable Hinglish. “The Zeon government arranged for me to study at a special institute for those with Newtype senses. They trained us to be warriors. And Char, the Red Comet, asked for me by name to fight with him, Captain. He is my love, my beau, voluntarily so. I am loyal to the man who saved me. Kisee aur ke lie war kaise lad sakata hai?”

“Be loyal to yourself as well, Ensign… but I understand that feeling very well.” She indicated herself, when she did.

“You have your own story,” Lalah replied. There was, to someone not used to telepaths, something disconcerting in her certainty. “I know you are not from this universe.”

“You take such information well. It is so, Ensign.”

“I expected to be dead, Captain, with a certainty that makes my life feel impossible.” She had fully switched to English.

“I have been called impossible before.” She replied with a grin, going on; “You must thank the commander of the Heermann, however. Commander Abebech Imra is the one who chose to intervene, though I support her completely in so doing.”

“The dark one…” She murmured. Then her eyes flitted up. “And not for the colour of her skin. Give her my thanks.”

The captain gave her a strange look - people with mental powers had called Imra dark before, and she herself did not understand it at all. “I shall.”

Finishing her food, she looked down, and bit her lip. “Earth Federation is on the offensive, Captain. Zeon retreated from Earth. We were fighting to spoil the advance on A Bao a Qu.”

“I understand. My people, the Dilgar…” She trailed off, a roil of emotions. “The war must end. The killing of innocents must end. Those in uniform do not deserve to die in the effort. Now, tell me the details, Ensign… I want, I need to know everything that has happened that you may tell me.”

“It’s better to use English for this.” She folded her hands, and looked intent. “Captain, I do not like killing, but for Char, I do what I must. I was trained at Doctor Flanagan’s institute, it’s in Side Six--at the L4 point, the Riah Republic. They declared independence when the war started, but they haven’t joined it. They’re the only ones untouched, except the outer system.”

“It must be a difficult place for them, to be between two powers seeking every advantage. You departed from there to the Zeon Space Attack Force, then, once your training was complete?”

“We all did. The institute was a front for Zeon, Captain. I was sent there at Char’s behest. Riah was attacked in fighting over the institute a few months ago, though.”

“I see. Ensign, you will remain aboard. I cannot let this situation continue. If you will give your parole, it will greatly ease your circumstances. I regret to inform you that under my fleet’s standing orders, I believe I must intervene in your peoples’ war.”

“Will you stop the killing, Captain? Can you?” They want it to continue… I think everyone does, I wish I knew who wanted peace.”

“I can. I will. I will accept your help, if you will give it, Ensign Sune.” Her determination was visible, as was her confidence, even the possibility of facing such long odds.
Last edited by Tomyris on Sat Nov 24, 2018 4:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: nUF Origins: Season 1 - Episode 2

Post by Tomyris » Sat Nov 24, 2018 4:23 pm

Act Two

Within another hour, Zhen’var’s request for urgent communication with headquarters had borne fruit. “Admiral Maran is on priority one, Captain,” CPO Bor’eri came over the intercom in her quarters.

“Patch him through to my terminal immediately, Chief.” Zhen’var moved to sit, adjusting her uniform as she did, swinging her chair to face the holo-pickup directly.

“Captain Zhen’var. As usual, my apologies for the delay.” Admiral Maran slowly seemed healthier the further away from the Reich’s surrender they got. The war must have posed unimaginable stress to him. “We received your message and the preliminary assessment as well. Clearly the situation is catastrophic for this Earth.”

“I agree, sir. They appear to have successfully gone onto the counter-offensive, but both sides still have a great deal of strength remaining, with atrocities aplenty on all sides. The Principality of Zeon appears to have begun the war and made repeated bolide attacks with large O’Neil type colonies. Our best analysis is that Earth’s greater resources have begun to tell, with various mis-steps on the side of the Principality denying them victory. One may say it is not dis-similar to the Second World War’s Eastern Front after the Battle of Stalingrad in general situation and mutual hatred.”’

“The assessments suggest billions are dead, Captain. Can we assess responsibility? Objectives? Ideology? I understand that you have a Zeon pilot aboard the Huáscar at the moment.”

“She was… treated in an ill-fashion by the Earth government. A Zeon pilot rescued her. She herself proved to have an aptitude for piloting, and serves them to repay his kindness with extreme personal devotion.” She paused, to gather her words. “It is an independence revolt with… overtones of fascist thought on the side of the rebels. They appear to have been the one to drop the colony in a failed decapitation strike. Rules of war were only mutually agreed after the first month, in which I estimate more than a billion died, sir.”

“Make sure no more civilian mass death occurs, Captain. You are authorised to negotiate any peace between the warring factions which does not tie our hands in seeking out prosecutions for crimes against humanity in the future.”

Her spine visibly stiffened, and Zhen’var’s voice came out crisp and clipped; “Understood, Admiral. Reinforcements may still be urgently needed if they insist on pressing the point.”

“Three cruisers can arrive within fifteen hours, Captain, with a squadron of attackers and a destroyer.”

“If it goes as it may, sir, I will need them. If I fight another fleet alone, I may have a chance. Wish me good fortune, sir, for I shall need to be moving in. Heermann and I have been noticed already.”

“May you always find courage in your stand against the Darkness, Captain,” he answered, almost like a benediction. “Take such actions as you deem necessary. You are authorised any exigency necessary to protect civilian life.”

“Thank you, Admiral.” As soon as the connection blinked off, she reached for her comms panel; “Officer of the Watch, full ship’s command meeting in fifteen minutes.”

Everyone arrived, including Héen and Dugan, for a full command meeting. Seconds of departments had the bridge. Some had been drawn from sleep, and were still waking up from it, Chief Dugan among them, who was holding an utterly massive styrofoam cup which said Dunkin’ Donuts on it.

“Seriously, Chief?” Elia, who was preparing another briefing deck, stared for a moment.

“It’s only five credits a month to sign up for their replicator program, you better believe it, Ma’am.”

“Does it actually make a difference in how the coffee tastes?” Nah’dur leaned in.

“Oh yeah, Surgeon Commander.” He grinned.

“Hmm. Perhaps I shall like this kind of coffee.”

Elia was looking back down at her interface, and glanced up again, giving a helpless you know what expression to Zhen’var.

Will saw it and stepped over, speaking sotto-voiced. “Is the holoprojector seriously broken again?”

“Please do not make me replicate a plotting board and some grease pencils.” Zhen’var’s tone was resigned. “Shadow puppets would be more reliable.”

The little knot of the ship’s senior officers couldn’t be ignored. “Ma’am, is the holoprojector broken again?” Dugan asked from down at the far end of the table. “I’ve put in five ServiceTrak requests with the Computer Engineering Detachment about that thing since we first deployed.”

“Anna, you are not getting out of at least some blame in this.” At least the Captain had a smile… that was more of a pained grimace, granted.

There was some kind of muffled Polish curse under her breath as she got up and walked around to the front of the table, holding her coffee. “Elia, do you have that little screwdriver you use to get at buttons you can’t depress with your gloves?” As she spoke, Fera’xero also got up to help.

“Yes,” Elia answered, reaching up to her collar and pulling it out of the breast-pocket with a flourish before handing it to the Chief Engineer. With Elia, Anna, Zhen’var and Will all clustered around the holoprojector at the head of the table, Fera’xero’s effort to help ended up leading to him simply standing there awkwardly next to the Captain’s shoulder, not sure of what to say or do and whether or not to retreat to his chair.

Zhen’var groaned. “The best and brightest from multiple universes... and we are being defeated by a holoprojector. This was never in the broadcasts about glorious naval battles. Still, it could be worse, at least we can be reasonably sure it is a design defect. Anna, you have my permission to make an OrdAlt. You can even take some ship’s reimbursables to make the entire room a holodeck at this point, that would work better than this flimsyweight.”

“One second please, Captain...” With a straining look of intense concentration, her face was smushed like a pastry up against the open casing of the holoprojector, three fingers managing to hold the screwdriver to something. Then with almost a growl, she shoved it about another half inch in, and the holoprojector activated. Extricating herself and closing the case, she shook her head wryly to Elia. “You can take it out when we’re done with the briefing.”

Elia buried her head in her gloved hands, chuckling. “No problem, Anna.”

It seemed almost like in the background one could hear Violeta saying to Arterus ‘you can’t make this shit up’, but it was quiet enough that it was hard for Will to tell. He shot a glance to Zhen’var.

She waved with her free hand, face buried in her hand, a look of pain on her face as she either softly laughed or cried, it was hard to tell. “Everyone sit down, please. The situation is as serious as our equipment is farcical on occasion.”

Elia waited politely for the others to get back to their seats after half flopping back into her own before composing herself. That female member of Psi-Corps instinct to never let yourself be seen as anything other than a perfectly kitted out doll in public was very strong in her. “With your permission, Captain? I know you have some topics of your own, but as you directed, I have the summary of all our intelligence-gathering to date on the situation ready to go.”

“Go ahead. You even have my report from the conversation, so all I have to add are our orders at the end.”

“Understood, Captain.” Elia remained seated. They were all comrades here, there was no need for formality. She clicked up the first projection. “The ruling family of Zeon. The Zabis. Degwin Sodo Zabi is the father, you can see he has suffered greatly from an early life in microgravity and sustained radiation exposure, but his children are part of the new, fit generations born in artificial gravity. Gihren, the eldest, appears to be the primary leading force of the war, the chief ideologue of the regime. Dozle, known for his temper but a devoted family man who was a practical spaceforce commander. Killed in action at that asteroid base the Heermann observed, several weeks ago. Kycilia, current head of the Secret State Agency and the Mobile Assault Force. Garma, Earth Attack Force commander until his death in action in mysterious circumstances. The Zabi family renamed Side 3 in honour of Degwin Zabi’s longtime friend and mentor, the philosopher Zeon Zum Deikun, whose philosophy of Contolism is critical to understanding everything we know about this war to date. Note that all this information comes from Earth Federation propaganda broadcasts to their own people on the surface, except for a few tangential references from our guest that seem to confirm broad particulars. But, treat the information suspect as you should.”

“The cliff-notes version of Contolism,” Elia grinned down the table, “is that it supposes that the next stage in human evolution will be obtained through evolution of the mind, to perceive others and things without moving--in short, telepathy, telekinesis, and so on. This is held to be a good, natural, spiritual development of humanity. Contolism holds that humanity is destroying its link with the Earth and polluting the sacred mother-world through overpopulation and resource consumption; the only solution is to evolve into a new form whose spiritual centredness is not linked to the Earth. That will happen inevitably and naturally through the migration of the human population to space. Zeon’s propaganda is nothing less than the argument that their objective is in fact to engineer total human migration from, and sapient abandonment of, Earth, as a political realisation of the beliefs of Contolism.”

“In reality,” her voice turned grim, “Zeon conducted Operation British, the first colony drop, with the objective of destroying the headquarters of the Earth Federation, regardless of collateral damage. Earth Federation forces diverted the Colony, but it crashed into Sydney, instead.” The crater was a graphic example of the scale of the destruction, and Elia showed that next and let them dwell on it. “Half the population of Earth has died in the past year, and it’s almost as bad in orbit. The combined total population was about twenty billion, by the way. And Zeon’s propaganda is not matched by behaviour in practice. The Earth Federation claims that they gassed the population of the Colony used in Operation British. Fellow Spacenoids. And they attacked the Riau Republic, neutral Side 6, on dubious grounds. The destruction of colonies has been conducted with wild abandon, though at least some Earth Federation guilt must be entertained, generally the Earth Federation seems to have evidence of major atrocities by Zeon during the Battle of Loum directed against other Spacenoids.”

“Again, this information is primarily from state propaganda sources, and most of them in the Earth Federation.” Elia paused. “We know, too, that Contolism’s new humans exist here: Telepaths. They are present in the armies of both sides, and the Zeonic forces, too, have fully integrated them--including with technology Commander Imra detected which may, in fact, harness telepathic abilities into physical effects and control of machines. This, combined with the Minovsky particle-based physics of the ubiquituous mobile suits makes our opponents more serious than a fleet which at first pass would otherwise be the 2180 Earth Force back home. The militarisation of telepaths is continuing and accelerating, and the Flanagan Institute is now known and was attacked, but probably continues research within Riau. The nature of this research is unknown, except that it produced Ensign Sune’s training and the telepathically controlled weapons pods she operated from her prototype fighter in action.”

“At this time, Zeon has been pushed out of most of the lower Sides and defeated on the surface of the Earth. However, Zeon still possesses several major fleets, and the massive asteroid base ‘A Bao a Qu’ which is strategically located across the lowest-energy routes to the far side of the Moon, the location of Zeon at the translunar lagrange point. The Federation fleet was mobilising to advance on A Bao a Qu when we intervened.” She finished cycling through the images. “That is all, comrades.”

“Our orders are simple. Case Armageddon has been invoked. We are to end the mass civilian deaths with any means necessary, and if possible, create a peace that does… not impair our ability to prosecute for war crimes in the future.” She grimaced at that last part. “Three cruisers, with a squadron of attackers and a destroyer, will be arriving in approximately fifteen hours. For once, we have reinforcements, which means this is as bad as you have all been secretly thinking it might be. My intent is to carry out those orders, no matter how confused or dangerous the situation may be.”

“What you need, get it to us now,” Will added simply. “We’ll make sure you’ve got what you need, but only if we know about it.”

“We are going to be attacked, we are going to be attacking. Beyond that, I cannot predict what the situation will involve. Ensign Sune may be problematic, her loyalties are personal rather than political. Full combat CAP, and Condition Yellow until relieved.”

There was a chorus of acknowledgment, but Elia was looking thoughtful. “Captain, in your report of your conversation with Ensign Sune, she indicated she’s following a man named Char, correct?”

“That is correct. My suspicion is that there is some sort of mental, as well as personal bond.”

“Possibly. But it’s certainly enough for us to identify the man. Char Aznable, the Red Comet. The supreme Zeon Space Attack Force Mobile Suit Ace of the war, unstoppable since it began.” She flashed the data-file out.

“Expect him to seek to free her. Lar’shan, he has gotten quite the kill count on fighters, have your people ready. Tactical, his tally in capital ships is equally impressive, if he can get past our shields somehow, it will go wrong very quickly for us.”

“We don’t yet know enough about their technology to speculate on that, either,” Anna said. “We have to assume they can hurt us.”

“I can begin an analysis of the Minovsky effect, Captain,” Fera’xero had already been making notes on his omnitool.

“And I’ll get a revised manning plan out to maximise crew rest in the short term without compromising Condition Yellow on the expedition of imminent sustained combat, Ma’am,” Dugan said from the end of the table.

Lar’shan and Stasia looked at each other. They had enough to go on. “Yellow CAP will be going up in fifteen minutes, Captain.”

“The usual, we may need the deck on short notice. I wish I had more information for you all, but I do not. Rush the crew through a last good meal and time to put personal effects in order, then get them to stations. We are into it now, Huáscareños.”

Elia leapt to her feet, and for lack of any formal salute to make or sword to draw, raised her gloved fist into the air. “¡Viva Huáscar y viva Huáscareños!”

The Zanzibar strummed under his feet. Inside of one of the spinning gravity chambers of the cruiser, a Newtype felt nothing even when some of the other crew might be queasy from the small radius and high velocity of the section, but instead of that typical feeling, the chamber was locked down, as the Zanzibar was in a continuous 3g burn which was driving the crew down toward the deckplates--all except Char Aznable, who stood tall.

The weight was painful, but part of the natural burden and experience of life as a Spacenoid. Unlike the gravity of bitter old Earth, it would fade, it was as transitory as the fuel for the reactor, gone in a moment to give light to the dreams of humans in stars. Char was not one to hold his desperate exile as a child with much sentimentality, but some of the story had crept into his bones and refused to leave.

In the Andalusian idle of their ancient fortress, the family de Mas had raised him—except they were called Mass, because of Prime Minister Marcenas’ spelling reforms during his effort to wipe out nationhood on Earth. Catalan in national origin, but staunch old National Spaniards loyal to the Bourbon King, the strange friendship of this father and that man, who clung to the old stories of the past, of knights and El Cid, had sustained him when otherwise he would have been a desperate orphan with his sister. The hot Andalusian nights, the strumming guitar and the tune El Blocao de la Muerte, the bitter complaints over the erasure of El Caudillo’s memory, these had left an indelible impression on his heart.

For someone raised to believe in the necessary migration of all of humanity from Earth, the taste of dust lingered with him, and actually reinvigorated his beliefs. As long as dust is still on our boots, it will tug at our heartstrings and have us return to the old tombs for honour’s sake, again and again. I spent just enough time in it to know why they love it too much to give it up of their own free will. In this moment, the noise of the Zanzibar’s engines, running at 140% power, sounded like the guitar, and the guitar melted into the Sitar… And he thought of Lalah.

For an aching, heart-breaking moment of certain rage, Char had watched her die. He had felt it start, he had seen it, it had ripped his heart. And then he had felt the life of air and a surge of hope fill her, a strange, disorienting displacement. As he had swept past his rival, his eyes had snapped, his sensors had tracked, and he had seen the strange and compact ship which had shimmered into reality.

In a heartbeat all of his terror and rage had snapped into a clarity of purpose. He had to rescue Lalah, at all costs. And so he had broken off from his original mission and summoned the Zanzibar. It was hardly a rogue mission. The moment Space Attack Force command had seen the data on the incredible performance of the mystery ship, his diversion had been authorised.

Initially, he had pursued only on the basis of his feeling of Lalah’s location. This had taken them far beyond the battlefield, burning through fuel reserves toward the area of Lunar orbit, but far from Luna and Zeon at the moment. The pursuit was relentless, and his officers were beginning to nervously check the fuel reserves.

“Sir! Long range scan is now picking up an anomaly--some indications of separation.”

“An anomaly with separation? More than one ship?” He turned toward the plotting board. “That would only be expected. I doubt a vessel half the size of the Zanzibar would be…” He trailed off. Interuniversal. The Zabi family did not need to know that. Let them think it was aliens and fear. But he knew. He knew. “Interstellar. Plot the necessary parabolic to intercept the fixed position.”

“We are exactly on course already, Sir!”

“Then hold course… And begin preparing our Mobile Suit complement.”

“Sieg Zeon!”

Char watched the dots slowly resolve on the plot. He knew, he knew, that Lalah Sune was aboard, and as long as he had a chance to rescue her, nothing else would, could, matter.

Amuro Ray stood on the bridge of the White Base, feeling like he was wilting into the deck from the continuous burn, and envious of the wounded Sayla’s composure. Captain Noa dragged himself through one step at a time, pacing in front of them in front of the plotting board, his head weighed by both gravity and plots.

They had told him everything. Everything. They’d had to. The fact that the mysterious ship had rescued a Zeon pilot through teleportation had been what had won Bright Noa over. It had been what he used, with less emphasis on the teleportation and more on the incredible acceleration and performance of the ship, to receive permission to break off from the advance on A Bao a Qu and pursue them.

If Zeon had more than one ship like that, they might well yet win the war. Not simply turn the Federation back from A Bao a Qu--win the war. “You’re sure she was still alive? That you could both feel her with your… Newtype abilities?”

“Yes,” Sayla said emphatically from where she stood. “It’s hard to understand, I didn’t know why I was feeling that, and I didn’t think, until the contact with that ship, that I could sense like that, Captain, but I could and I did. And so did Amuro. The pilot of that special Zeon Mobile Suit was in her cockpit one moment, and on the mystery ship the next.”

“And there’s something which is strengthening what you can do?”

“Or focusing it,” Sayla answered, a bit distracted.

“Amuro?” Bright asked a bit sharply, pressing him out of his reverie.

“Yes, of course she’s right, Captain! I can still feel her out there, we’re heading the right way.”

“Feel the Zeon pilot…” Bright muttered, looking back to the plot. He didn’t like the sound of it, even though he respected what Amuro and Sayla were going through and that nobody could control this, that if it was natural it was hardly their fault. He knew the crew of the White Base was too tightly knit, but already, back on Earth and in the Sides, a paranoia about Newtypes had begun to grow.

“It wasn’t like anything I can describe. But we’ve absolutely got to get to the bottom of …”

“I know, I know, Ensign.”

“Captain,” the crisp young woman at Navigation interrupted. “We are detecting an anomaly… Two, repeat two anomalies.”

“Ensign Yashima? Anomalies?”

“Orbiting masses. I’m not detecting drive output, but they’re almost certainly ships. We’re having trouble deriving any data from them at this range. No Minovsky particle signatures.”

“Two ships… Does the analysis indicate mass?” Bright was thinking again. This mission had been fine with one small ship, now…

“Indistinct, but the length of one of the returns is increasing as the aspect ratio changes. I think it might be over a kilometre long, Captain. In fact, I’m fairly confident of it.”

“A kilometre long ship, not an asteroid base?” He did some quick mental scaling from the White Base and paled. A kilometre long White Base, courtesy of geometric scaling, would mass 4 million metric tonnes fully laden, compared to the White Base, barely the size of a wet navy aircraft carrier.

“Stand by to report to Mobile Suits and fighters. I want to keep the White Base out of range of these contacts, but there’s no question they must be investigated closely.” If that is a Zeon ship, they could still win the war in an afternoon!

Will had barely taken over the night shift for the evening, from an exhausted looking Zhen’var. He’d found out pretty quickly what an exhausted Dilgar looked like, in several different flavours. Physically, in the gym, a human instructor who didn’t realise the physiological differences could push a Dilgar to insane feats of exertion--for about five minutes, after which he or she would be a ball of rolling, quivering muscles on the ground, matted with sweat. The only one that wasn’t true of was Fei’nur, who could run for hours like a human. It was pretty clearly her cybernetics.

Culturally, he wasn’t sure what a Dilgar said to a mental hygienist. Standards of care and practice were just too different for them to help humans or vice-versa, except Elia, and that entire thing was complicated. Human crewers saw Va’tor anyway, but Will wasn’t sure about that. He could, though, tell without much effort that the intensity of their mission was grinding on Zhen’var. They were at alert. They were alone and responsible for everything. Billions of people might die if they failed, and Lalah Sune’s story, whatever had passed between them, had left her in a very particular state.

One of the things they’d managed to incorporate in the design of the Huáscar was a sea cabin. Federation ships, the inspiration for the Aurora, didn’t have them. But at quarters with the ship buttoned up, the Captain leaving the vicinity of the bridge was almost unfathomable. So the tiny, closet-sized space with a washroom and real bed one door from the bridge was where Zhen’var was sleeping now.

Will was settling in for the equivalent of a long afternoon. Schedules were staggered so that Elia served Shift One, a rotating one of the ops Lieutenants for Shift Two, and Will Shift Three (with the option of assigning an Ops lieutenant if he got too busy--this was happening more and more often), but they were all awake during Shift Two. Now the night-watch was his job, multi-million tonnes of starship wrapped around him like a city and a cocoon all in one, and never sleeping.

“Sir, a contact just went hot in at zero-zero-five mark nine, range seventeen kiloklicks.” The junior Operations officer, an Alakin named Lieutenant Belzac, was glaring at his screen. “I don’t know why we didn’t detect them sooner.”

“Have Heermann and Patrol Two confirm the contact.” So much for even the smallest break. He snapped alert in the command chair, reaching for his coffee and drowning a huge swallow. Coffee was a part of human life on a ship for the thirteenth colony, in every incarnation. Anna and Violeta and Chief Dugan from the Captain’s home universe and Chief Héen from her indigenous community--And everyone on the Koenig as well. Heck, even Abebech, which as far as he was concerned was the only proof he had she was mortal. And so Will had gotten with the programme pretty darn fast. Only Elia was an exception, and she drank her tea by the pot, in cups blacker than Hades.

Heermann confirms, Sir.” A voice came up from PriFly, it was Stasia. “Patrol Two confirms contact, Sir.”

Speaking of, how the hell is she awake? “Set Condition Red, MC ZEBRA. Put them on screen. Is Patrol Two in a position to intercept?”

He knew Zhen’var would be out of her bed and here in about thirty seconds as the alarms began to howl and they again went from Yellow with modified-ZEBRA set to Red-ZEBRA “Yes Sir. Major Lar’shan is proceeding with intercept now.”

“Reinforce him,” Will ordered. Directives, let them do their jobs. He was learning too.

“Launching alert five, Sir.” Stasia killed the commlink.

Ahead of him, the image of a ship resolved itself. It was larger than an Attacker, but was pretty much a destroyer in size. And he swore he had seen them in the images Abebech had recorded during the battle at the asteroid base.

Will looked up to see Zhen’var padding onto the bridge. He rose. “Captain on the Bridge!” Standing orders during Condition Red meant there was no response from the crew, except to note it. “Permission to report to the Secondary Bridge, Captain?” This was what kept him physically fit: He had approximately two minutes to reach secondary control before the ship finished buttoning up.

“Granted, go.” Zhen’var moved to her command position, buckling in reflexively. Her eyes scanned the displays, and the running auto-log. “Incoming contacts may be presumed non-cooperative hostile, but do not fire until fired upon.”

Lar’shan was swinging ahead to protect the runabout. He didn’t like it, but they needed to investigate the contact. His four fighters were the very tip of his cruiser’s defences, but he didn’t know at all the strength of the enemy.

“There’s sensor interference at 4090-X-2, possibly a doppler effect,” Lead Two, ‘Jaunty’, reported tersely. As usual callsigns were chosen by others for maximum effect. Jaunty was very terse.

“Greenthumb, tighten up,” Lar’shan ordered to the second element in the Lead Flight. “Uncharacterised distortion was encountered by the Heermann as well.”

“Roger, Lead One.”

Lar’shan tapped open his comm to Prifly. “PriFly Actual, WC50 Actual. We’ve got interference undergoing a doppler shift around grid point 4090-X-2, triangulate please.”

“We can’t resolve it either, but … WC50 Actual, Mobile Suits closing rapidly on your position! Six repeat six bogeys!”

“Evasive!” Lar’shan snapped the controls on his Mongoose hard. The squadron began to separate by elements when the lancing of the beam weapons tore through them. Six mobile suits, each about twenty meters high, descended rapidly from the sun.

Their weapons slashed through shields like they weren’t there, the Minovsky particle effect disrupting the cohesion of the shields. It made weapons which otherwise would not have been able to penetrate any kind of shielding immensely dangerous.

Before Lar’shan could finish a yaw turn to bring his guns to bear, he saw a flash of the beam weapons ripping down the flank of his wingman’s Mongoose. They were coming from the distinctive, single red-painted Mobile Suit, and he acutely remembered in that moment the briefing.

Char Aznable, the Red Comet.

The stricken fighter raced on, the interior glowing as it vented plasma. “Jaunty, get out, now!” He had no time to spare as he sent his fighter screaming back on its original course, flipping the cover off his gun toggle. “This is WC50 Actual we are under attack by six bogeys and totally defensive we have lost Jaunty repeat we have lost Jaunty I am engaging under ROE.” Over to the flight comm. “Fire Free!”

“Lead Flight, SC4-2 is two minutes out at full burn!” Stasia’s voice was welcome, but the battle would be over in two minutes, and Lar’shan barely took the time to reassure himself that Jaunty’s locator beacon was flashing.

One of the Mobile Suits flickered into view for a heartbeat through his violent banking turn. His eye flashed recognition, he had them in the targeting sensor for just a flash of green to red, but it was enough. A gloved finger twitched on the trigger. A burst of pulse phaser fire from the newest mark of Mongoose cannon opened up. Like a modern version of a gatling gun, a series of clustered emitters each briefly emitted energy in sequence to avoid overheating.

The silence of the firing was rewarded by the silence of the flash of light. The Mobile Suit he had targeted exploded, decisively and violently. Even that brief moment he had exposed himself, and without thinking about it more than a heartbeat, Lar’shan threw the throttle forward and accelerated at speeds vastly in excess of what any of the Mobile Suits could manage.

His training and instincts had been exactly right, as the beams of the Red Mobile Suit ripped through the position he would have been in at that moment with his prior velocity. Now it was five to… Two. His pulse quickened at the realisation that Kenosha was already down. Lar’shan snapped around so hard the Mongoose creaked around him.

Lead, this is Greenthumb, I am totally defensive! The Red Suit is tracking me!”

“Hang in there, I’m coming around!” Lar’shan began to complete his turn before, abruptly, he came under attack by three of the other Mobile Suits. Lar’shan made the difficult deflection chip-shot through his manoeuvre which destroyed another of the enemies, and then ripped past them faster than they could counter, tracking and firing at him, but not matching his constant little jerky jinks with the side manoeuvring thrusters.

He skidded out of the turn and threw the throttles back to full. It was just in time to be too late. Greenthumb had turned back onto the Red suit to engage, but at the last second the Red Comet had jinked to the side and activated… a beam-sabre!? ...which neatly sliced the wing of the Mongoose off. The craft spun in circles, out of control with uneven thrust and mass. A moment later Greenthumb punched out, too, and Lar’shan was alone.

Alone, but not out of the fight. He fired immediately. Again, the Red Suit dodged, but this time, Lar’shan flicked himself out of the way, not to dare let himself come into close range. As he did, his acceleration quickly carried him far away from the four remaining Mobile Suits. The group of two surviving from his tangle with three moments ago were converging on the two, presumably the Red Comet and his wingman.

Lar’shan got a strangely quiet, intense expression, as he activated an open radio comm. “You are very good, but you have led these neophytes into an unfortunate situation,” he said, and then cut his fighter hard over. Using acceleration and velocity he ‘dove’ on the two Mobile Suits at a speed so fast their computers registered his fighter as some kind of frighteningly fast anti-ship missile.

They were quite capable of engaging, and spun about to do so, but then he turned violently to the side and skewed the front of his Mongoose to face them, letting their targeting parameters show the wrong aspect ratio and fire wide. Choosing one, a single, quick burst of fire, again on deflection, blew it up.

“You may be the best fighter pilot I’ve ever seen, but don’t you think that turn of acceleration is cheating?” The voice which came back over the open comm was speaking in cultured, polite English, with no particular accent.

“No more than your beam-sabre, Sir,” Lar’shan replied as he skid-steered the Mongoose by varying the engine throttles and kicked her right back around to climb up from below the remaining Mobile Suit in the first group.

The Red Suit kicked up to three times the acceleration of the others, but it wasn’t enough to bring him back into range in time. Lar’shan got a snap-lock with the laser seeker head option on one of his missiles which overcame the jamming from the drives on the Mobile Suits, and fired. The pilot detected it immediately and spun his suit to engage the missile, but that let Lar’shan buck his nose down as he continued upwards and again dispatch one of the suits in deflection.

Bringing his nose back up as rapidly as he could, he went to full power again to escape the abrupt onslaught of the Red Comet and his wingman. Pulling clear of their fire, he climbed high in the Z-axis relative to the plain the two Mobile Suits were holding, and then scanned through his sensors. The optical tracker and laser pointer on the targeting pod pinged the Zanzibar as he did.

That should get their attention. Lar’shan pointed his nose outward. “Cholita,” he called the flight lead for 4-2. “Grab the coordinates for their mothership off my taclink and go for it. I want ‘em scared.”

“On it, boss.” The four incoming Mongeese stayed at full power, curving toward the cruiser. The Red Comet, this far out, had no hope of rescue if he lost his mothership, and he had no choice but to lead into a full burn to interpose himself as the starfighters made for the cruiser.

As he did, Lar’shan pulled right and briefly made for the cruiser as he did. The Red Comet’s wingman began to track him, but as he did, the angle allowed Lar’shan to identify the Mobile Suits by letting his targeting computer take the difference between the distortion and the spreading drive tails of the fresh flight of Mongeese. The result was a full salvo of his remaining missiles that he dove on in behind.

Both the Mobile Suits violently exploded into evasive manoeuvres and turned to target the missiles, shooting most down. As they did, Lar’shan came in hard and fast, targeting the Red Comet’s wingman and taking him in a classic high-low pass as he was overwhelmed between missiles and the incoming fighter. A violent turn at the end carried him safely away from the Red Comet’s beam sabre.

“Well,” Lar’shan said a bit coldly into the open channel, not sure if all of his pilots had survived punching out, “now we’re even.”

The Red Comet’s suit spun hard to the left, tracking and firing. “Call your friends off, alien,” the voice answered. “I want this to be between just you and me.”

There was only one thing for the son of the Champion-errant of the Dilgar War to do. He agreed. Of course. “Challenge met, Red Comet.”

The Huáscar was moving forward … Carefully. Once it had been clear that the weapons of the Mobile Suits, though low-powered, were firing directly through energy shields like they weren’t there, Zhen’var had ordered the Heermann to cloak and manoeuvre to an advantageous position and for a half-deck strike to be immediately readied. Though the firepower of the weapons was pitiful by multiversal standards, the lack of effective shielding was ominous.

“Captain, the analysis of the Minovsky field effect is being complicated by the interference it also generates to the sensors,” Fera’Xero reported.. And then paused. “Wait, no, this structure is known. Ancestors, Captain, Minovsky Radiation is Polaron radiation and those are Polaron beams. Low power, but the signature is exactly the same. That’s why they’re going through shields like they’re not there. The fundamental physics of the weapons are identical to those used by the Dominion.”

“Find a way to do something about that, or we are going to be in a great deal of trouble. Pass word to Engineering, the situation just got much more complex. Data-packet to higher command as well.” Just in case the reinforcements end up having to be the ones avenging us.

“Pinging to engineering now, Captain,” Fera’Xero replied.

Anna’s voice came on a moment later. “Captain, I’ve got the information. We are probably capable of considerable resilience anyway, because the self-healing armour is meant to endure much greater punishment than weapons of this energy output can deliver.”

In front of Zhen’var on the viewscreen, the violent turning and firing of the Red Comet and Lar’shan continued. They were still going at it, without one or the other getting the upper hand.

“We have already lost all but one of the CAP.” Zhen’var replied to Ana, while she watched the tactical displays. “Prepare to open fire as soon as you have a lock, Tactical.”

“...the Major’s fighter is masking my optical targeting with that high rate of manoeuvre,” Daria answered in frustration.

Captain, there has been a series of bulkhead subdivision failures on Decks One and Two. We’re getting open blast door alarms,” Anna’s voice was suddenly worried, and confused, and not at all focused on the Minovsky field problem.

Fix them, and alert security in the event it is not a failure,” Zhen’var replied, feeling terse.

“Understood, dispatching damage control teams, Captain, I think it’s…”

Before anyone else could do anything, the doors to the bridge opened as alarms howled down the corridors, warning of blast doors improperly opened at ZEBRA.

The Captain’s hand flashed to the holster at her belt as she slapped the quick release on her restraints, reflexively rolling to the side. The first Huáscar had led her to work out a drill with Fei’nur on how to respond personally in such an event, as her mind skidded off-track in sudden alarm.

Standing there in a humble Mumbai-style sari that she’d replicated for herself was Lalah Sune, her face filled with panic and utter intensity. “Captain, you must contact Char! This is all a terrible misunderstanding!”

Elia had the most warning of anyone on the bridge except Daria, and at ops without orders was more free to act; she’d already risen and drawn her sidearm when the woman burst onto the bridge, shouting.

For a moment, the two gazed at each other--and both froze.

“Ops, do what you deem best.” Zhen’var’s voice came out over-controlled and flat as she kept her pistol trained on Sune from the deckplates. She recognised that posture in Elia.

“Computer, Override ORX-149 Saumarez Priority Algeciras for the ZEBRA interlock on the Manual Astrogation Access Tube,” Elia spoke sharply, and measured, and Lalah dashed to her side, wordlessly.

The small Mumbai woman flush up against her, Elia turned for the unlocking access hatch off the bridge, and began to climb with her through the doglegs in the armour, as fast as she could.

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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Nov 25, 2018 5:29 pm

Imra is a total boss.

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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Tomyris » Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:51 am

Act Three

Elia reached the top of the tube, and the beautiful dome with its precise optical instruments which could be used for navigation to the bridge in a true emergency, partially protected by heavy glacis plates flaring up from the armour over the bridge. She pulled herself to the top, helping Lalah with her.

Idly, as she spun the dome around based on the tracking information from the bridge, Elia wondered if she could put Lalah into a pair of gloves. The woman’s nudity was profoundly embarrassing to her. The distraction quickly added to layers of embarrassment in an urgent time.

<My apologies, Lalah,> she offered, the woman having felt the sentiment that Elia offered in close proximity. She did not reply, her worry suffused through them both.

Now, they had the view of Lar’shan and Char’s indecisive duel in close-up, and with that magnification, Lalah turned, her eyes widening in relief. Elia could feel that she hadn’t believed that she would live, that any of this could work. She was hopeful, excited, even, that Char was alive, even as Elia could feel the connection with another, a young man named Amuro.

And then she felt Char. The two together in the astrogation dome meant that the contact leapt to both of them, something that, as they were in physical contact, they both felt. Char was electrifying. Not incredibly powerful, but still powerful, and more importantly clearly there, and so alive.

His burning passion was like a flame in his mind, his psyche was given over to the intensity of his emotions, pride, chivalry, revenge. And he felt her, too. The burning need to prove herself among mundanes, the lust for the stars and a ship under her boots. The years of oppression that her psyche were shaking off, like a ten thousand tonner shakes off a great wave, at first rolling under and seeming to be lost, and then rising and lunging forth in a vast mound of spray.

<Char, break off. I live, I am fine, I was their guest.> Lalah’s sentiment flashed through them both, even as Elia was embarrassed to have something of an instant crush on her young guest’s boyfriend, a man only several dozen leagues higher in her estimation than her ex-husband, more or less instantly.

<Mmn, it’s all right,> Lalah’s mind was all laughter and confidence.

<A human Newtype… From another universe,> Char marveled for a moment. <Why did you come to us?>

<To stop the killing. And you, Char, must stop now. Pull back. Make peace. Before it is too late,> Elia answered.

<You know she is right,> Lalah added emphatically.

<I want to see the end of this duel..!>

<Shake his hand as a friend instead, and meet an alien of the same temper as your own soul. You have no quarrel with him, only the friendly rivalry of the joust.>

The crew of the Huáscar did not know what had happened, but abruptly the red Mobile Suit broke off. It spun away and burned hard for his cruiser, and an open comm-link activated over radio channels to the Huáscar from the tiny suit.

“This is Captain Char Aznable. I accept Commander Saumarez’s offer of a truce. Contact me when I have returned to the Zanzibar, and I will make arrangements to come aboard your ship to parley, and secure the return of Ensign Sune.”

The Zanzibar came alongside the Huáscar about an hour later, slowing into position. The pilots of the three downed fighters had been recovered and the situation was stabilised, with the Huáscar still at general quarters. She remained so until the transport took place; only once the Zanzibar’s commander was aboard did Zhen’var feel safe authorising Condition Yellow. In the meanwhile, their Mha’dorn mental hygienist was personally watching over Lalah, after Elia had briefed Zhen’var.

The transporter Chief homed in on the designated position which was supplied by the Zeon cruiser a minute later, and beamed aboard one life sign. For the first time, in person, Zhen’var, Fei’nur, Marine Lieutenant Koi’sar of the Mha’dorn, and Daria saw this man, a living legend who had destroyed three fighters despite being massively outmatched in technological capability. A man who had arguably had achieved a miracle by not killing any of the three pilots in doing so, though how much was a result of the disparate technology and how much luck and blind chance was impossible to tell.

Char, for his part, looked at four aliens of two species. He was silent for a moment, in his samurai-styled helmet and mask over a red piloting uniform inscribed with the rising bird of Zeon. Then he removed his helmet and bowed politely. “I will test your sincerity, but I appreciate the hospitality nonetheless, Captain Zhen’var.”

“Major Aznable, welcome aboard. I will forebear comment on your attack on my fighter screen. Shall we adjourn to a conference room to discuss the return of the Ensign, and the general situation while we hold truce with each other?”

“Yes, that will be acceptable.” He was as inscrutable as ever under his mask, but an almost radiating sense of poise, intensity, confidence came from him. He glowered a little even so. “Will Ensign Sune be present in the conference room, Captain?” Char added, pausing as they had started to walk from the transporter room.

“After the preliminary discussion, that is possible, Major. Verses and maths twirled inside her head, as Fei’nur gave him a glower right back, looking ready to flatten the human who dared to act so.”

“Very well.” He started to walk again, regarding Fei’nur very calmly. His hidden eyes meant he revealed little, but his poise was of a similar ken to her own. “Your interuniversal technology is a marvel for the ages. The only astonishing thing was that I saw that humans still live on planets when Ensign Sune reached out to me. Really, with this technology you could build a thousand worlds for every one which is needlessly polluted by a human presence.”

“There are some cultures which choose to live mostly in space, but most have emotional ties to the homeworld and usually have at least a managed population upon it. My people have had no choice.” She kept her thoughts tightly guarded, whirling nonsense about her head to provide the best blocks a mundane could.

“Yes… Emotional ties.” He said no more in response, though the word implied, not truly dismissiveness, but perhaps a frustration. And then they were in one of the conference suites, with food prepared. Nah’dur was waiting for them. By a certain level of irony, none of the humans in the crew were available for the meeting, they could not be spared from their duties.

“Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, Major. Please, sit.” She moved to her own chair, as Fei’nur moved to stand at readiness beside her. “We have some basic understanding of the situation from Ensign Sune.”

“She’s not stupid, Captain,” Char replied levelly before moving to sit, folding his legs and seeming unconcerned. “The reality is this: Earth abused the Spacenoids, negotiated a treaty with them, and then engineered terrorist attacks as cover for altering that treaty in their favour. Everyone knows it, nobody can prove it, and the Earth Federation uses a shield of lies to justify its behaviour toward the space colonies. As much to liberate the people of Earth from a rapacious kleptocracy did Zeon go to war as to secure the independence of the Spacenoids. It would be better if everyone was a Spacenoid, Captain.”

“They are not. And there is the matter of the kinetic bolide attacks, Major.” She folded her hands before her, interlacing her fingers. “They are unacceptable to my government, as is the ongoing mass death amongst the non-combatant population.”

What of Char’s face was visible ceased to have any expression at all. “What are you intending to do about it, Captain?”

“Preferably to broker a mutually acceptable cease-fire leading to an armistice.” Zhen’var spoke levelly. Her orders were not exceptionally palatable to her, but they did not rise to the level of her feeling a moral imperative to disobey.

“Is that all you’re going to do? It seems like you’d rather threaten Zeon,” Char replied. It was true, but the chance of it being his reading her mind was quite unlikely; it was inference from the dribs and drabs of surface emotions, and being a canny judge of people anyway. “Do you have orders from your government? What is your real intention?”

“I have no interest in threatening Zeon, nor intentions to do so.” That was, by a narrow reading, true. She had been given orders to broker or force a peace that allowed prosecutions for war crimes… something she thought was intended to force her into battle.

“Well then, what about Zeon’s… leadership?”

“We are discussing an armistice and my own services in brokering one, Major. Not a peace treaty.”

Char’s eyes narrowed for a moment. “Captain, I hope you realise that I certainly lack any authority to agree to an armistice.”

“Perhaps you should understand that I do not take kindly to mass murder, Major,” Zhen’var replied. “Nor does my government. Zeon is in an unenviable position, and if you are not able to negotiate, it would be wise for you to reach out to someone who can.”

“The House of Zabi will not be inclined to an agreement,” Char replied almost drolly. “I believe I know what the Alliance wants, at any rate. I understand something of your government from Commander Saumarez.”

“I’m sure if you had such a meeting of the minds that Commander Saumarez understands a great deal of you personally as well, Major. That is a two way street for telepaths, as you are doubtless aware--and so am I,” Zhen’var answered. “Will her words verify your own?”

Char stiffened, and opened his mouth to reply. As he did, an alarm trilled in the room. Will’s voice came from the bridge. “Captain, an Earth Federation vessel is approaching on an attack vector. We have identified it as the White Base.

“An attack vector…” Zhen’var pushed her chair back and rose immediately. “Lieutenant Seldayiv, you are excused from your general quarter. Please remain here as Major Aznable’s hostess.”

“Captain, send me out with your Major Lar’shan, I can certainly fight them at your side!” Char exclaimed, leaping to his feet.

“That will be quite enough, Major Aznable. You will wait here. I have no intention of fighting them.” She spun on heel, and strode from the room.

Captain Noa was staring at the sensor returns, not patient but calm. He was thinking. Gone were any symptoms of hesitation. What he was seeing was unambiguously from beyond Earth-sphere. He could see it in the flowing lines so unlike those of any of the spindly craft of Federation or Zeon, or even the form of the White Base herself. And the size… The size!

“She’s onboard the big ship,” Amuro explained.

Bright Noa was no Newtype, but he had had a feeling that was going to be the case. That didn’t make the situation easy, after all, so it was the most likely outcome. The unknown ship was more than two and a half times the length of a Degwin, utterly dwarfing anything except a station. Too lean, too much power, to be anything except a ship. If that vessel was Zeonic, the pursuit had been necessary, and had also exposed the White Base to almost certain destruction.

The likelihood of it being Zeonic was high, because of the Zanzibar-class cruiser laying close off of her. It was that combination which settled the scene for Bright. Sayla and Amuro had been right, and now the war hung in the balance. “Pilots, prepare to go to your stations. They have certainly already detected us.”

Amuro turned toward Bright instead. “Captain, they’re not Zeon.”

“They’re certainly acting like it, Ensign, and the slightest hesitation might mean our deaths.”

Sayla, too, hesitated, looking sharply at Captain Noa.

“Don’t tell me you think they’re..”

“They’re extrauniversal,” Amuro said, feeling through the link what Lalah felt, what she felt now. “They are, Captain. We just need to tell them the truth about the Federation and Zeon!”

“This is a risk to the entire ship and the entire Federation. If you’re…”

“Captain,” Fraw Bow looked up, urgently. “They’re hailing us, and you’ve got to see it to believe it! Their Captain is an alien!”

“What?” Bright hesitated for a moment, looked to the two Newtypes next to him. If… “Put it on,” he ordered simply. The future of the Federation might truly be at stake.

“I am Captain Zhen’var of the Alliance vessel Huáscar.” The face looking out of the viewscreen was assuredly an alien one, feline eyes piercingly fixing on Captain Noa. “Earth Federation ship, I shall defend myself if necessary, but I do not mean to take offensive action against you. Please advise of your intentions.”

“...We are pursuing anticipated Zeon contacts, Captain Zhen’var,” Bright answered. He wanted to think this was some kind of trick by Zeon, but that… That was an alien that he was looking at. First contact. “I am Captain Bright Noa of the White Base, Earth Federation Space Forces. I had not anticipated a foreign vessel to be laying alongside a Zeon cruiser. Earth is in the middle of a grave and terrible war, Captain.”

“I am aware. I am charged with my government with bringing an end to the mass deaths of civilians at any hazard. The Zeon cruiser is under truce to negotiate with myself, I extend to you and your ship the same courtesy.”

“You won’t be able to hold a truce with Zeon if you intend to halt the mass death of civilians, Captain. We are in the midst of serious military operations from which I cannot detach the White Base for long. If you can guarantee that the Zeon vessel will not reenter hostilities, then I will withdraw back to my operational duties and leave you to keep their peace,” Bright replied. “This will also give the Earth Federation an opportunity to make appropriate preparations and assign Ministry staff to meeting your own representatives.”

“I include Zeon civilians in that charge, Captain Noa.” Zhen’var’s expression did not flinch as she regarded the man before her. She would not be used by one side in an attempt to gain advantage.

“The Earth Federation stands for the principles of universal sapient rights. We will not destroy Zeon’s habitats in the same way they have ruthlessly attacked those of Loyal Sides and even Neutral ones. They gassed the inhabitants of three Colonies in preparation for Operation British, Captain Zhen’var. Sixty million dead, they killed five of their own Spacenoids for every person who perished in the...” He trailed off, not sure how to explain the Holocaust to an alien and not sure he wanted to, and unsure of what the ship’s name and the humans on the bridge meant for how much of human history this alien woman knew.

“It is true that Zeon’s leadership has committed great crimes in the pursuit of a goal their people supported.”

“Are you telling me, then, that you would stand between the Earth Federation and the successful conclusion of this bloodshed?” Captain Noa, in no way, wished to admit how young and inexperienced he actually was.

“If necessary, but I would prefer not to be forced to precipitous action, Captain.” The Dilgar woman watched him warily through the pickup, taking measure of her opposite number. “My understanding of the situation is still incomplete.”

The young blonde and blue-eyed woman in uniform at his side stepped forward. “Captain, we need to make sure they understand or anything we do…”

Bright held up his hand. “That’s enough, Flying Officer. Yes, Captain Zhen’var, I will bring a delegation aboard your ship to meet with you and explain the situation, understanding, I trust, that time is short. If you could help with our burn back toward middle-band orbits, I could guarantee you enough time to resolve this. We have plenty of evidence of the crimes of Zeon, and the Earth Federation is prepared to negotiate fairly with your nation.”

The woman’s expression was thoughtful, before she nodded once. “For now, that is provisionally acceptable. Fall in at my starboard side.” At least then I will separate the two.

Bright nodded, and looked a little relieved. “Very well. Helm, stand by to come about to starboard and commence a burn to one klick off the starboard beam of the Huáscar!”

Mirai Yashima’s competent and eager voice answered crisply. “Aye-aye, Sir!”

“When we are in position, I will comm again to make arrangements to quickly come aboard,” Bright promised. “Thank you, Captain.”

When the screen blinked out, Arterus shook his head. “Elements, Captain. They’re all so young.

“The pre-war cadres were likely wiped out. These are the ensigns and cadets who had to step up to lead when all else was lost. We knew the same by the time of Third Balos, Commander.”

Elia shot a quiet look to her Captain. Once, a long time ago in another life and another country, she had been one of those cadets, thrown in when all else was lost. Though she would not, now, allude to it, her friend could tell from the tenor of Zhen’var’s voice that a little bit of her memories of the Line had crept in, bleeding out of that medal on her chest.

With the situation what it was, Elia was sent to greet the cadre from the White Base when they beamed aboard. Bright, Sayla, and Amuro, they could spare no-one else, and Bright Noa wanted the people who had felt the crazy events which had led him here, directly at his side.

Elia came to attention. “Captain Noa. I am Commander Elia Saumarez, representing Captain Zhen’var for the Allied Systems Vessel Huáscar.

“No salut… Commander Saumarez. Forgive me, you have different customs, of course. The Captain is still meeting with representatives of Zeon?”

“Representative--but yes. This way, please.”

<You’re a Newtype too!? From another universe!?> Amuro’s bright mental voice and the spillage of thoughts, including ones about Lalah, made Elia blush.

<Discipline, young man,> she sent back. <Don’t bloop all over the place.>

<Blooping? What’s … oh.> He caught the mental sense of it and clamped down, looking embarrassed.

In a few minutes, the three Earth Federation officers drew up sharp and short to see Char Aznable lounging in a chair and snacking on satay and tea, in the flesh.

When Elia saw the look that passed between the masked man and Sayla Mass, she stiffened. More than a look had passed between them. So had a bond. Amuro, with his awakened powers but something of a sense of obliviousness, caught it but did not understand the significance. <Koi’sar, they have a long history,> she glyphed to the other Mha’dorn.

“Captain Zhen’var? I’m Captain Noa, and this is Flight Officer Sayla Mass and Ensign Amuro Ray.”

“Captain, Ensign, Flight Officer. Please, sit. What would you prefer for refreshment? I understand time is important for both sides, we are preparing to alter course towards the inner orbits as we speak.” She remained polite, watching the Earth group carefully.

“She wants to negotiate a peace,” Char said, faintly bemused. “Dangerous woman, though. Has a very dangerous pilot onboard.”

Amuro and Sayla looked at each other.

<Anything at all you want, we can generate through matter replication,> Elia explained.

“... Oh, some Chinese tea, then,” Amuro specified after a moment.

“Moroccan mint tea,” Sayla said very softly.

Nah’dur shot a look at the young woman--and another at Char, who had asked for the exact same beverage and was currently drinking it.

Zhen’var nodded to the steward at the replicator then, and folded her hands before her. “Peace is an optimal outcome, yes. Major Aznable and Ensign Sune have thus far given me the point of view of the Duchy.”

“A tyranny founded on a base perversion of the principles of Zeon Zum Deikun and on his own murder,” Sayla said sharply. Char didn’t interject. “A ruthless, scheming family, half clinically insane, who eliminated the founder, entrenched totalitarian hereditary rule blatantly, and then executed a war of mass murder, from start to finish, without the slightest constraint of human rights except those forced upon them. A humiliation and a shame to Spacenoids everywhere and an utter perversion of the true objective of Contolism.”

“Perhaps. The people of Zeon will need to decide their future path once the war is brought to an end, that is a matter we can find agreement within, I hope.” Sipping at her tea, she gathered her thoughts behind the swirling cloud of mantras that protected them from the Newtypes that filled the room. “A return to early principles for the Sides would not be unacceptable to the Federation, I expect?”

“An agreement on governance was signed, and the Federation as always upheld it,” Bright answered.

“That…” Sayla trailed off, silencing herself in the face of her superior officer.

“Is not quite true,” Char continued smoothly. “It’s not the real agreement, Captain Noa, everyone knows that, it’s just that nobody can prove it. The Federation has committed many crimes against Spacenoids.”

Noa gritted his teeth.

Amuro leaned forward. “Captain Zhen’var, ma’am… Where is Lalah Sune? We followed her here, is she all right?” The name came to him naturally.

“She’s fine,” Char interjected. “We are talking about serious matters, Ensign Ray. The Newtypes of this vessel are caring for her until we come to an agreement, and I want to get her released.” There was a warning glare even with the mask.

The Dilgar woman at the head of the table glanced between the persons present. “The matter is both serious and time-critical, none can doubt that, but you are the ones present representing your nations. Peace is an ideal, but I will intervene directly if we cannot reach agreement.”

“You will, will you?” Char straightened in his chair.

“I can feel that she will,” Amuro countered, glaring at him.

“Look, there are two different interests here,” Sayla said abruptly, her mind made up. “There’s the House of Zabi, and there’s the people of Zeon. And nobody here can make an agreement for the House of Zabi, nor should they, but…”

Char pushed himself to his feet. <Sayla, stop! You’ll ruin…>

Elia stared at him, and abruptly he felt a constricting block bringing his own uneven power to a sharp halt.

“...But he can make an agreement for the People of Zeon,” Sayla continued, pointing a finger at Char. “Because he’s Casval Rem Deikun, the eldest child of Zeon Zum Deikun. Don’t try to stop me, Casval, I know why you’ve been living this lie and it’s just going to get you killed and all that’s left of father’s dream destroyed! Here’s your chance! The Zabi are finished if this ship intervenes, don’t deny it, here’s your chance!“

“Officer Mass!” Bright leapt to his feet.

“Call me by my real name,” she said softly, so very, very softly that it was almost a whisper. “Call me Artesia Som Deikun. Casval’s safe now, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter…” She sank back into her own seat, as the pandemonium washed over them all.

An audible growl came from the woman at the head of the table; “I shall have silence! ”

The room’s noise drifted away until a pin could be heard dropping. People looked around the table in varying degrees of shock, bewilderment or confusion.

“You told me he was your brother, Sayla,” Bright said softly, finally, into the quiet. “But…”

“Well. It seems we have a possibility for peace.” Her eyes turned to the man who she had known as Char Aznable. “My orders are to ensure that no peace prevents the trial of those responsible for either ordering or committing war crimes.” The glare she was giving the man softened slightly as her thoughts fell into place, by how the man spoke before. “You are intending to avenge your father and his dream on the Zabi leadership, are you not?”

“Well, two of them are already gone,” he answered mildly. “Are you prepared to make an agreement, Captain Zhen’var? Because I can certainly help. Gihren’s defence plan around A Bao a Qu includes equipment the Federation is unprepared to face.”

“What are they planning?!” Amuro’s eyes widened.

“Agreement first,” Char chuckled, ignoring Bright’s stiff-necked look.

Zhen’var looked at the man’s covered eyes with a firm, level expression. “We can reach an agreement. I expect it to be respected in spirit as well as letter.”

“I want the House of Zabi destroyed,” Char finally admitted, explicitly. “So far I have seen only two of them fall. There are three left. But I will not permit the destruction of Zeon.”

“I have come to a similar conclusion, Major. I am given to understand that the two children are unequivocally guilty of sufficient crimes to see them fl… given a death sentence by any rational court. Do you agree with that assessment, Captain Noa?”

“There’s a lot more than just those two…” He stiffened. He wasn’t being asked that question, and he didn’t have the authority to lay down the law here. “Yes, we can unambiguously provide plenty of evidence to hang both Gihren Zabi and Kycilia Zabi. And Sovereign Degwin, of course, bears total command responsibility.”

“He may be of the age where a greater revenge would be taking his children from him.” She shrugged, glancing to Nah’dur. It was a very Dilgar thought, as she had decided upon her course, then turned upon it with an iron will. “If you accept this, Major, then we have the basis of an agreement. Now is the time for objections from anyone here.”

“There are none. If the Zabis are killed and Casval reveals himself, he can negotiate an equitable peace for Zeon. The people will follow him and are exhausted by war,” Artesia said flatly. “Already, he is the only man who could launch a coup d’etat. This removes the risk of failure, but we must act quickly. Brother, what are they planning at A Bao a Qu?”

“I want a guarantee that actions against the Zabi family will not negatively impact the peace… Status-quo antebellum for Zeon,” he observed, looking to Bright.

“Do whatever you want to those monsters, Casval,” Bright answered. “But you know I can’t speak for the government. Still, Zeon was independent when the war started. You can’t deny that.”

“Just strangled in a blockade. But that won’t happen again, either.” He glanced significantly to Zhen’var.

“I have called for, and have reinforcements on the way to assist my command as we speak. The Alliance will look favourably on bringing both nations into the multi-versal trade and diplomatic community.” She used that word quite deliberately as she replied to his look. Captain Zhen’var had long since exceeded her original intentions, but saw it as the best solution. “I shall assist with surgical strikes, Major, to ensure that the criminals do not escape. You have my word upon my clan to this.”

“Very well, Captain. I trust your word.” Casval looked around the table. “Zeon has been completing work on a fusion torch generator which can wipe out an entire fleet, called the Solar Ray. They’re going to ambush your attack on A Bao a Qu with it. That’s what the plan is.”

“I think we have our first surgical strike target, do you agree, Commander Saumarez?” Zhen’var’s expression was a calculating one, as she tapped a few keys before her, to bring up the holo-projector with a local tactical display.

“A Bao a Qu, the monster that guards the tower,” Elia murmured, and leaned in to her own interface. “Yes, Captain. I believe we do.”

There was no love between the living children of Degwin Zabi. There probably hadn’t been since Kycilia had been six, and seen the way her older brothers had been treated versus herself. Garma, Garma she had cared for. Garma had loved her. Dozle had been an oaf promoted to an undeserved level.

Gihren, she simply held in contempt, waiting for the moment when she would prove herself better than he was. In this moment, however, they needed each other. For a little while longer, at least.


“Kycilia, false kindness doesn’t suit you,” Gihren turned. The command and control facilities on A Bao a Qu were immense and superb for the battle to come. “Aznable has not returned from the attempt to intercept the alien vessel. Our long-range optical scanners have located, but it’s certainly moved since the last pass and the coverage isn’t good enough. I’ve been holding the Solar Ray in reserve accordingly.”

“What would you use it on?” Kycilia looked up. “Father has been negotiating with the Earth Federation Fleet for twelve hours now. It’s quite likely he has an agreement, or else the truce would have already broken off and the Earth Federation would have attacked.”

“An intolerable agreement,” Gihren sneered. “But it won’t matter. The Solar Ray is better turned on the alien vessel. When we capture a true interstellar ship, we will have plenty of time at Axis before the Federation can advance on it to reverse engineer the vessel and counterattack. There will be no mercy then, we will have the resource base necessary to scour Earth of all human life. The strong will migrate, and the weak will perish.”

“I agree that it’s necessary to capture the alien vessel if we’re going to survive,” Kycilia answered. “However, that means capturing it. Can we be sure firing the Solar Ray at it won’t result in its complete annihilation?”

“Our finest scientists have already analyzed the spectral readings from the optical observation. The hull is made of astronomically thick material. And the Minovsky charge on the laser is used in power storage only. We will have to burn through the shields, but we certainly have the power to do it. After that, we will need their interstellar drive disabled at close range, of course.”

“That will require the use of a mobile suit in the finest hands. A powerful one. And we don’t have Char available, whatever has happened to him.”

“Send Kusko Al with the MSN-02,” Gihren replied simply.

“She was training to operate a MSN-08,” Kycilia replied. “Johnny Ridden is our best pilot available.”

“She’ll be fine. Your precious Ridden isn’t a Newtype and can’t possibly use the MSN-02 to its full effectiveness. What I need from you now, Sister, is warning. The Solar Ray will be capable of disabling the enemy vessel’s shields as it comes in, then we will send in Mobile Suits at close range to cripple it and board. The fleet will cover the evacuation of the prize to Axis. However, a surprise attack on the Solar Ray…”

“You’ll have enough warning to engage. But I need to speak with Kusko Al, now. The MSN-02 is ready for launch, and I will need to cover the situation and the technology if this is the course you take.”

“Very well, I release her to her assignment, you had access to the Dash 02 anyway. But understand that she must be in position when the enemy vessel’s shields have failed.”

“You have no cause to mistrust me, Gihren.” She whirled on heel and strode out.

Gihren waited until she was gone, and then chuckled softly. “For now,” he said softly.

It wasn’t long until one of his officers approached, and saluted. “Sieg Zeon! This delay has proved quite fortuitous, Excellency. We have completed testing of the Solar Ray and several critical power couplings for the re-charging cycle had deficiencies corrected.”

“Very good then.” Gihren grinned. “We shall have the ability to fire in close succession?”

“Now that these repairs have been made, certainly, Excellency.”

“Then it appears we have a little surprise waiting for the Federation as well. Excellent. As soon as we receive confirmation of the approach of the alien vessel, target and fire on warning. There is no purpose in delaying.”

Sometimes dealing with the aftermath of an engagement was a nightmare, with wounded and slain and torn metal everywhere. On a carrier, it could be bad when damaged aircraft crashed aboard, beyond the other dangers which attended to any ship under direct attack--and a carrier need not be under direct attack.

Stasia was guzzling coffee in front of one of the more mundane but true pain in the ass moments she’d ever dealt with in the aftermath of an engagement. They’d lost three fighters but had three pilots back aboard alive. And they were going to be entering a severe test of the ship within a matter of hours. Well, obviously the Captain wanted the wing at full strength. She played with the ponytail she had sticking through the back of her CE7 Huáscar baseball cap (complete with a stylized image of the ship!) and tried to figure out what the hell to do next. Then the entire thing let loose, and Stasia winced.

“Motherfucker,” Chief Dugan said, standing next to her in a matching baseball cap and watching two of their guys go tumbling out of the null grav zone and slam into the deck. They were in full protective gear, but… “Motherfucker.” He sat his coffee down on a crash start cart and jogged over, yelling into his omnitool. “Corpsman to main fighter hangar, Corpsman to main fighter hangar!”

Spare Mongeese were stored on the roof of the hangar, between the main structural frame beams. Their fins and wings were stored in the main cargo bays, and already having been moved by cargo repulsor carts from the cargo bays to the hangar.

The problem was that the authorized way down for the fighters hanging in the roof was to set up a null-grav field generator under them and then uncouple them from the roof and gently push them down to the deck. This worked fine when there was plenty of time, but there wasn’t, and men were botching securing the hooks in fine form to haul them down to the ground, with this last group having fallen ten feet when they caroomed outside of the null grav field.

Stasia shook her head as Chief Dugan made sure that the men were stable for the Corpsman to arrive. They were probably fine, but of course he wanted to make absolutely sure before he chewed their dumb asses out. Now her problem was to still finish getting the last two reserve fighters they needed down from the roof to where her teams of technicians could finish assembling and upchecking in time to join the battle.

Stasia was doing manual controls for traffic around the null-grav field, but now she blocked the entire approach off and jogged over to PO Alvarez, one of the aircraft handling personnel who was operating the null-grav. “Just turn it off, turn it off.”

“Right, Chief.” He shook his head. “Who thought this was a good idea, Chief?”

“Fuck all if I know,” Stasia answered, and walked over to where the Corpsman had now arrived to check the two crewers who had fallen. “Looking forward to that NSF-110, Rick?” She couldn’t resist needling him about the accident report form.

“Oh, you betcha. You betcha,” he grumbled. “They’re both fine…”

“...But we’ve got to fill it out anyway. Later. Maybe we’ll get blasted to hell first and won’t have to worry about it.”

“Now that’s my Tlingit chick talkin’.”

“Maritime Highway all the way, baby,” Stasia answered, shaking her head. “Look, Rick, I’ve got a plan. I’m interfacing with the computer on the stored fighter, we’re going to have it drop the gear with the null-grav shut off, and we’re just going to throw a fucking grappling iron into the landing carriage, get an eye pulley onto the tie down point, and then haul it down from outside the null-grav field. Once it’s back on. How’s that sound?”

“Aand that’s why you were an officer on a ferry and I was just hauling motherfuckers drinking in the turret control room on a Nova up to the Captain for an NJP. Yeah, that might just do it. Look, Stasia, if it even vaguely resembles spotting cars onto a boat, I’m lettin’ ya do it, no questions asked.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and tried to look innocent.

Stasia laughed. “Yeah, you just go right on letting me be in charge. Left-right, left-right and all of that shit.” She tapped the control-commands into her omnitool and watched the gear on the two fighters drop and lock on the roof. Then she tapped open a channel. “Major Kel’dar?”

“...Chief Héen?”

“Sir, do you have anyone who’s good at grappling shit?”

As final preparations were completed, the Huáscar, her situation more certain, had recalled the Heermann for a check of systems before attack launch. When she did, Abebech had gone to Café Varna, her helmswoman tagging along after her. The Attacker’s commander settled herself at the bar.

Karvavitsa,” she instructed to Alexandra. The woman widened her gaze.

Karvavitsa? See, now here is a woman of taste.”

“And coffee, good, traditional style, hmm? But tea for the young L’tenant.”

“Yes, yes.” Alexandria hastened off.

Abebech smiled. “You’ll love it, I’m certain,” she offered to Ca’elia, before looking across to a small knot of people at one of the tables. It was Char Aznable--Casval Rem Deikun--with his sister Artesia, and Lalah Sune. Char looked quietly reserved between the two as they carried on an animated conversation.

“I am certain I will, ma’am.” She glanced around with brilliant green eyes, the idea of something like this being on a starship was still almost inconceivable. Almost as much so as asking what karvavitsa was….

“The House of Deikun,” Abebech observed softly. “They are like nobility themselves, pure and clear in spirit and much better heirs of Zeon than those that took their father’s memory.”

“They went through a crucible that would have seen them destroyed if they stayed, so they learned how to be more than a name. Dilgar nobility did the same, Captain.”

“Learning how to be more than a name is very hard,” Abebech replied quietly. The food came out for them, blood sausage in the traditional Thracian style.

Waiting for her commander to start before she sliced into hers, Ca’elia’s eyes lit up. “It’s so rich, it just melts in your mouth. This is wonderful, ma’am!

“Mmm-hmm, quite delightful, really, L’tenant.” Abebech was smiling. The moment lasted at least a little while. Then Amuro Ray entered. The conversation over at the table grew still, as Char looked up.

Amuro ducked his head away, focused on Abebech, and made a beeline for where she was sitting, with a purposeful stride. “You’re the Newtype I felt on the Heermann. Who rescued Lalah.”

“Yes, Ensign, I am,” Abebech said.

“I still don’t feel right, I knew doom, and then it was snatched away,” he answered, hesitantly sitting at the bar.

“Alexandra, kindly get the lad a beer,” Abebech said, and glanced over with sunglassed eyes, as concealed as Char’s. The similarity did not pass unnoticed.

Amuro stared at the table, where the three were now again talking, but in more subdued tones. “I feel like something terrible was supposed to happen and then it was snatched away,” he elucidated.

“Prescience is an inexact science in the best of times, but worst of all when you try to analyze the impact of one universe on another,” Abebech replied. “It will fade. Living, lad, has that effect on all of us. Sometimes it seems very strange, to still be alive. I expect Ensign Sune is dealing with more of it than you, for she was the one who faced down death.” She turned back to her sausage.

L’tenant Ca’elia still looked to the young man, before she picked up another piece of her food. “It’s best not to worry about paths not taken. Temporal mechanics and causality were enough to give a headache every time they came up in class.”

He smiled at the surprising warmth by the alien. “Thank you. I’m still trying to come to terms with it all.” He was only halfway done with the beer when he rose, having made his mind up. “I’m going to go talk to her,” he said, and started off.

Behind his back, Abebech exchanged a look with Ca’elia. She suspected the young Dilgar could figure out where this was headed as well as she could.

She leaned over to whisper in the quietest Dilgar she could, “Captain, what should I do if they start throwing punches…?”

“Oh, don’t worry, we’d have some fun then, but I think there’s only one chance in ten,” Abebech answered back softly. Her lips curved into a wicked grin, though; the question had genuinely amused her.

“Lalah,” Amuro began. “I still can’t believe the connection that we had together, even when facing each other like we did. I think it was something…”

“Meant to happen? Yes,” Lalah continued his sentence for him. “It was meant to happen. I’ve been speaking about it with Char and Artesia. We share something, and it was unique.”

Amuro managed a smile. “I thought that I had already lost you when I realised you had been saved. Come back with me to the White Base when this is over, then.”

“No,” Lalah answered. “I made my decision to die for Char already, Amuro. What passed between us as Newtypes isn’t going to change that. Surviving unexpectedly because of something beyond the fate of this universe isn’t going to change that either. Amuro, there’s so much we don’t understand… But a girl doesn’t fall in love because of a cosmic sense of perfection. That’s just the way it is in Bollywood, not in a living heart. Char saved me when my life was hopeless, we’ve shared things that nobody else can understand, too. I value loyalty in who I am, in my culture. There are things that … You can, and will, value more than a single moment of ineffable connection with another. I want to keep those things with Char.”

Amuro stared in shock, and then shot a glare at Char that looked like it could have turned him to ash on the spot. “You’ve had so long…”

“Amuro!” Sayla--Artesia, but he wouldn’t be able to deal with that for months, or years--snapped. “Come on now. Lalah is a free woman, being a Newtype, these mysteries we are learning together, can’t change that. The connection you shared with her, and I’m sorry my friend, just doesn’t change the fact that she wants to spend time with Char, to love him, anyway.

“You’re just saying that because he’s your brother, Sayla!” Utterly hurt, and spent, Amuro watched in a kind of emotional funk as Char rose, and in a courtly gesture, took Lalah’s hand and helped her to her feet.

“She’s saying that because she’s smarter and more rational than both of us,” Char interjected. “Ensign, with all due respect, I’m not upset about the fact that you share a Newtype bond with my girlfriend… And you need to figure out how to deal with the fact that the woman you share a Newtype bond with is my girlfriend.

“Our souls are connected, Amuro,” Lalah whispered. “But I am my own woman.” Together with Char, she walked over to where Abebech and Ca’elia were sitting.

Sayla reached out and pulled Amuro down to a seat. “Come on,” she half-hissed. “That’s her decision, if you’re bonded so close, Amuro, you must respect it. Here, I never thought I’d say this in my life to you, but they’ve got some hard stuff here…”

By that point, Lalah had arrived at Abebech’s side. “Commander Imra, I did not have a true opportunity to thank you yet for saving my life.”

“It’s fine, I’ve saved the lives of many Espers before, and I’ve also failed many times,” Abebech replied, looking down at the plate she had just finished. “I take my opportunities where they come, and I long ago learned to leave the failures behind. None of it is personal to me. I am merely glad you are alive, whereas if I had not intervened, you would be dead, and no good would have come it.”

“I will honour the fact that you saved me nonetheless. But if that is really all that you desire… Commander, we must talk about the Flanagan Institute.”

Abebech reached over and slid Amuro’s half-finished beer in front of her, calmly quaffing a solid half of what was left at once. Amuro, watching from the table with Sayla, stared wide-eyed at the gesture.

“Yes, Ensign Sune, let’s talk about the Flanagan Institute,” she said, oh so quietly.
Last edited by Tomyris on Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 59
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Tomyris » Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:52 am

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Sun Nov 25, 2018 5:29 pm
Imra is a total boss.
Thank you! We will steadily learn more about her as Origins goes on.

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Tomyris » Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:23 pm

Act Four

An hour later, Zhen’var’s ready room door trilled and the computer introduced two names rarely heard at once. “Commander Abebech Imra and Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez.” There had been a software “update” which had put the computer back on the default of announcing visitors, and Zhen’var hadn’t yet found a way to shut it off again.

Looking up from her desk and the pads there, the Captain’s expression darkened. “Enter!” This cannot bode well if they approach jointly.

“Captain,” they chorused, both standing at attention before Zhen’var. Elia took a half-step forward. “Captain,” she repeated. “Lalah Sune has told us some critical information which Char--Casval--broadly confirmed, about the Flanagan Institute that Zeon was running in neutral Side 6 territory. The experiments…” She grimaced, “included uploading telepaths against their will into command and control systems and other forms of human experimentation broadly like that the Shadows conducted. Worse, the individual responsible for this line of research appears to have defected to the Earth Federation--which uncritically perpetuated research into the technology.”

“Then we need to stop it, without alerting those who would attempt to hide this man and allow him to escape justice.”

“Fortunately, Dr. Moses himself was killed in a Zeon operation after his defection,” Abebech explained. “I doubt that will stop the research. Furthermore, there is another aspect to it as well. The institute may be near a way to create artificial Newtypes--to modify someone to have Esper senses. Need I say what the dissemination of this technology could do to the multiverse, Captain? It is precisely what I first feared when I came to you.”

“While I find the end result something that does not horrify me, the resulting response… we are going to have to stretch ourselves very thin to do all these things, Commanders. I think they must be done, the question is how many do we attempt at once?”

“We could raid the Flanagan Institute with a single ship, the Heermann… Or Casval’s Zanzibar, so we don’t force them to fight their own people,” Elia suggested. “Use the science shuttles, they have transporters and warp drive to scout ahead and can increase her speed by tractor beam assistance, while offering us nothing in a fight.”

“We will use the Zanzibar with a liason officer and support from ourselves. Regime loyalists of Zeon will likely fight us, I believe… I do intend to, if it comes to it, to let him pull the trapdoor lever. I was truthful with him. His soul will not rest until he has his revenge, and denying him it would make us an un-necessary foe.”

“We accrue no immorality by allowing him to act against the House of Zabi,” Abebech replied emphatically. “The only question is taking care that he can lead Zeon to peace when it is all said and done.”

“His sister seems far more likely to be able to do that, if we may be honest amongst ourselves here,” Zhen’var answered with a shake of her head.

“Granted,” Abebech smiled, and reached out a gloved hand to Elia’s. The woman squeezed it and then took another step to Elia’s desk.

“Captain, as I discussed with Commander Imra… I feel this mission is very important. Yes, the government wants us to save life, all life. And that’s important. But the beginning of fear, oppression, and utilization; the cycle has started for Newtypes here and we need to disrupt it decisively. Many of the researchers at the institute, like this Dr. Moses, were deeply bigoted men, Ensign Sune has made that clear. I know it will be a disruption to the ship going into battle, however, I want permission to take the Zanzibar to Side Six. After what happened back on Babylon 5… I need to make sure this gets right, Captain. For us.”

It only took a moment before Zhen’var nodded. “Permission is granted, Commander Saumarez. You may take Zanzibar to Side Six. It is the right thing to do, disruption or not. I am not going to deny you the chance to make such a change in the development of this place.”

“The Independent Command,” Elia smiled. “Thank you, Captain.”

“I am sure you will do well, Commander. I suggest you get to it, and speak with Casval. He will have some insights on the crew, and a change such as this will disrupt their cohesion. Fei’nur can provide an assault team for you.”

“I’ll need it to maintain the ship under our control as much as to hit the institution. Thank you, Captain. I’ll be about it.”

“Good hunting, Captain Saumarez. It will not be Algeciras, but everyone has to start somewhere.”

Damn the regs. Elia came to attention and saluted, Dilgar style. “Battlemaster, I will bring honour to my command. Place me on leave from my Alliance service, the Warmaster will not mind the wrath of a single world without lightspeed drives and we will make our name well-respected here.”

“Permission granted, Battle Expert. You had best get into proper uniform quickly. Time is short.”

An hour later, Elia was on the bridge of the Zanzibar in magnetic boots and a Dilgar Battle Expert’s Naval uniform, contrasting with the Army uniform Fei’nur, technically the ranking officer but not a fit commander for a cruiser, wore when standing next to her. Two full companies of Marines had been brought aboard, the Zeon crew having been spoken to at length by Char beforehand. He had left behind an officer as a symbol of his authority and to interpret the orders, and Elia swallowed at the gesture of confidence that placed her in from the Red Comet:

Lalah Sune.

Once again in Zeon uniform, but now breveted to Lieutenant, Lalah stood on the bridge in her own pair of loaned Huáscar gravity boots, as crisp as Elia, with her hair pulled back into a smart bun. <I wasn’t exactly expecting to be stuck on bridge officer duty.>

<That’s right, it’s a lot lower prestige than being a ‘Mech pilot here, isn’t it?>

<Yes. Char taught me to have some pride even though that wasn’t really me.> She reached into her breast-pocket and pulled out a picture.

Elia smiled at it. It showed Lalah and Char together, Char as serious and sunglassed as Imra, Lalah blushing a little, somewhere on Earth, gazing recursively at another picture. <At this point, you’re fighting to have that again.>

<Yes. I don’t understand the point of war, except when you’re stuck in it, to fight for your loves and comrades. Char’s both.>

<Sometimes people love ideals and nations as much, or more, than friends and lovers.> Elia projected an image of Anna’s passionate story of the uprising in Warsaw.

<...How strange,> Lalah replied. <You can’t feel them like a person. Well, Captain, we are here. It’s time for the brief.>

<So it is.> Elia’s spine stiffened. An Independent Command, the first.

The Zanzibar had been accelerated to considerable velocity by the Huáscar’s tractor-beam assist and the orbits were similar enough that a light burn was now underway, separating their trajectories and lining her up to bring what would be a long deacceleration burn to bring them into the neutral zone of Side Six. Sitting on the hull via magnetic clamp were ten science shuttles.

Elia began her summary brief. “Our destination is the Baldur’s Bay Bunch, two linked colonies in Side Six which have been used for covert research by Zeon. Despite the situation at A Bao a Qu, we know that a Zeonic force was in the area, but they have not executed any recent mission and, quite frankly, Major Aznable didn’t know what their orders were,” Elia explained, briefing both Dilgar and Zeon officers.

“Our objective is to evacuate the test subjects from this research institute at all costs and prevent the Federation from gaining control of them. Major Aznable has already directed you obey me, the mission is straightforward and we have the appropriate codes. Any questions?” She’d already been over the real secret orders with Fei’nur, in private, before coming aboard: Make sure that the scientists do not escape--to the Federation OR to Zeon. If they are detained, bring them directly to the shuttles to avoid the crew turning on us. And maintain a contingency to seize the ship if they disobey orders.

The veteran colonel had given her orders, taking the one company transferred aboard from back home in the Union as well as one of veterans she had led herself in Drachenfeldt. Her orders called to mind the old Imperium, which Fei’nur minded not at all.

“This mission will materially aid in Char’s plan for the future of Zeon,” Elia added to the Zeonic officers of the Zanzibar. “And is therefore critical for our shared success. I must have obedience in ignorance, are we clear?”

Sieg Zeon!”

Oh, what the hell. They expect it, they want it. She raised her fist. “Sieg Zeon! To your stations. We will commence our de-acceleration burn in twenty minutes.”

She clanked across the deck with Fei’nur and Lalah following behind, to the private Captain’s suite that had once been Char’s. The Huáscar’s Mental Hygienist, Va’tor, was inside. She’d already swept the room for bugs. “Battlemaster, Battle Expert. The room’s clear”

“Thank you, Hygienist-Commander,” Elia addressed her formally. “All right. I want to make it clear, Fei’nur, that I need your best company commander to stay on board, because I need to be going to the Institute--Lalah and Va’tor will go first, but ultimately this is a big enough job to need my personal help. We need to make sure the Newtypes there will actually trust and follow our instructions. And resistance has to end in minutes, if not seconds. We have the advantage of transporters and we’ll need to use it aggressively. Leftenant Sune and Hygienist-Commander Va’tor will need to accompany the first wave to make sure the Newtypes in the facility respond positively.”

“Combat Master Kei’dar will serve well for that. You intend my fire-teams to seize the local areas immediately, then. We can do that, if we can get a layout to match to our insertion plan. Otherwise, Battle Expert, it will be minutes, not seconds. You have my apologies.”

“I understand, Battlemaster. I trust you with the rest of the details--they are your right to decide on and execute, and mine to follow. My own mission, then, is to make sure you are supplied with the best possible layout charts from the sensors of the shuttles, correct, ma’am?”

“Correct. That will allow me to give you the best chance to gain the support of the Newtypes while I am neutralizing the guards and scientists. Leftenant Sune has already provided the overview and a writeup of her recollections. They will be adequate if the scans don’t come through.”

Lalah smiled in thanks at the praise.

“Understood. Now, we just need to avoid Federation attacks, other Zeon forces, and the Riah Republic deciding that now is the time to start violently enforcing their neutrality” Elia smiled mirthlessly. “Feels a little bit like Lord Gei’lar must have, going out to declare the Woman-Emperor to the people of Ogkharin?” There was no greater example of a situation from the Dilgar historiography describing a moment in which one expected a blade from literally every quarter.

“It will… yes.” Fei’nur’s face broke into a smile. “I will ensure it is dealt with, even so. I have a charge from the Captain to ensure you are successful, Battle Expert. Mha’dorn business, I am told.”

Elia winked to the Hygienist. “That’s one way to put it,” she laughed, “And a good enough one, too. Thank you, Battlemaster. I will return to the bridge now. You will get a two minute warning for the deacceleration burn.”

“Oh, it’s like basic training. How fun…” She still seemed in good spirits, as she turned to depart herself.

Traveling in company with the White Base, the Huáscar approached openly while the Heermann stood off her starboard quarter under cloak. The threat that the Alliance cruiser posed to the enemy would have been incalculable if it hadn’t been for the risk of coming under fire from Minovsky beam weapons. That made the fight considerably more ominous.

Down in the main science labs, Anna Poniatowska and Fera’xero were still working together when Zhen’var arrived, at consoles with a team of both scientists and engineers around them. Anna didn’t even look up as Zhen’var entered, instead just guzzling another pull from her mug of (presumably coffee) as she adjusted controls and re-entered new parameters, linked into the interface and ran another sim.

“I apologise for interrupting, but we are going into action. We have received serious new intelligence, the enemy has some type of fusion torch generator designed to wipe out an entire fleet, and I expect it to have been holding a charge to aim at us.” Zhen’var explained without preamble, her features taut.

“The rumours said we were trying to hit it before that happened, Captain,” Anna grimaced. “Fera’xero and I are almost on the verge of developing a shield auto-skipping implementation across frequencies which will prevent the instantaneous degradation that is the hallmark of Polaron/Minovsky fire. I’m going to guess we don’t actually have a chance to wait? I mean, we can implement it now, but…”

“We haven’t tested it, Captain,” Fera’xero added a bit glumly.

“Deploy it, we do not have a choice. Commander Saumarez is already detached on independent command. Long-range sensors indicate that something is happening in the area of the two fleets squaring off.”

“We might all die,” Anna muttered. “Of course, Captain.” She cleared her throat and started to sing, and not in Polish either, but an old Lithuanian song of the Commonwealth. The auto-translator did the job admirably: “Oh, dear rowan tree, where have you been growing in the middle of the swamps…? Ei, ei, ajajaj, in the middle of the swamps..” The rest of the lyrics continued in particularly bloody fashion: Oh, dear mother, what have you raised me up for? What have you raised me up for and conscripted me to a war? Conscripted me to a war and have forged me three trumpets?

She slapped a final command into the computer and grinned. “It’ll hold, of course, Captain. You have my word. All right. I can report to engineering and make preparations to go to quarters.”

“Thank you, Commander. We will be in very heavy action, even if the shields hold. I will be addressing the crew very soon. You both have done well, and I wish I could give you the rest you both deserve.”

Anna tossed a chipper salute over the shoulder. “I’ll just drink a little bit more coffee, Captain!”

“I’d rather make myself useful, if that’s quite all right, Captain,” Fera’xero answered as well. “The ship needs it. Let me get to the bridge and start some Minovsky detection algorithms for the enemy weapon, I might at least figure out whether or not we risk our shields against it, or find where it is relative to the enemy forces before it’s in position to fire.”

“It improves our odds of survival, so I shall not question that, Commander. I am unsure whether or not we will receive support from the Federation in our efforts, we are somewhat supporting a coup against the Duchy's government.”

“I am familiarizing myself with the briefs now, Captain,” Fera’xero answered as they walked together for the turbolift. “What I knew was already horrifying enough, to be quite honest. Sometimes humanity is amazingly obstinate.”

“That I cannot deny, Commander Fera’xero, that I cannot deny…”

Settling in the turbolift for the ride up to the bridge, Fera’xero continued, thoughtfully. “It would be wild to imagine Quarians collectively generating a war from rapacious oppression of others, an ideology of total abandonment of planets, and a bloody-minded quest for revenge in leadership disputed between three families--which then was resolutely pursued to the bitter end. We are rather more Gersallians. But you Dilgar are, in your own way, very human. No offense intended.”

“A great woman once said Dilgar and humans were similar reflections, that we could have swapped development paths with a few changes. I have found little to indicate she was not correct as yet.”

“I do not think the end of that story has been reached yet, Captain.” He folded his hands as they arrived on the bridge. “Nor our’s. We will find the enemy cannon, though it might be a matter of reacting appropriately, not acting appropriately.” That droll joke hanging in the air, he stepped over to the science station, and left Zhen’var with a moment to regard her bridge crew at stations.

Her eyes scanned the bridge, and she gave a single nod of approval before moving to her command chair. “Get me the shipwide address channel, please.”

“All hands, this is the Captain. We will soon be going into action against the primary defense line of the Principality of Zeon, and a great weapon, a massive energy cannon fashioned from an entire O’Neil type space colony. The Federation fleet stands no chance against this weapon, but we do, Huáscareños. This war ends today, on terms which stand in concord with those the Alliance holds dearest. Harm’s Way is the Valiant Way, and we are assuredly standing into harm’s way. I have full confidence in you and our ship. Make your final preparations, we shall be going to quarters in a few moments.”

As she finished, Zhen’var smiled tightly. “All right. We’ve got the position of the Solar Ray. Lieutenant Arterria, come about oh-oh-five mark three and bring us to full impulse. Let’s give them a targeting problem.” They would approach from the opposite direction that they had been certainly sighted in by now… Zeon’s tactics were not ready for a fleet which could alter orbit at will, and Zhen’var needed every little bit.

As Zhen’var’s speech finished coming over the intercoms, Anna looked around, now at Central Engineering Control. “This is going to be the first combat action by the Huáscar in space. We are untested, my children,” she said to her engineering space, gray eyes measuring each one of them in turn in their assembled ranks. “But not untrained. There is armour between us and the enemy. The ship will demand our utmost, so she maintain her utmost power when the Captain pushes her beyond her design limits. She will go far beyond them! I expect to make one-hundred and forty-five percent of design power in every subsystem before failure! You will know what to do to achieve it, and we will give the Captain what she needs to keep us all alive. And when the void comes calling, you will shore the internal bulkheads and keep her fighting fit. You have your charge. God go with you.” She crossed herself. “Stations!”

The alarms had already started to howl. Condition Red: General Quarters, Set Material Condition ZEBRA throughout the ship. Bulkhead doors began to close as warning alarms flashed. The ready storage lockers for the solar torpedoes were brought to combat loading and the magazine locker doors swung into the closed, secure position. In the space of a half-second they could open and the mechanisms gently but quickly move reloads across the gap, to automatically close again another second later.

At designated muster points throughout the ship, crew on Damage Control parties assembled, putting on their vacuum-proof suits, reserve air tanks, and radiation reflective anti-flash gear. Holding plasma welders, emergency sealing foam, pipe fittings and spanners as well as point fire-suppressant foam emitters, their job was to make sure that anti-fire systems (vacuum or exclusionary gas) were repaired if deranged, that breaches and atmosphere slow leaks were repaired, power-conduits diagnosed and fixed in real time, and the area around critical engineering subsystems sanitized. Junior engineering officers reinforced each group. The Huáscar had thirty teams of fourteen each, twice as many as in previous classes of her rate and reflecting operational lessons of the Nazi War.

Around them, the bulkheads had finished slamming shut. Each sector of the hull was now its own life support module. Christmas trees in Damage Control central and Bridge operations showed glowing green lights indicating spacetightness across the ship. The inertial damper reinforcement protocols were activated as Anna brought the reactors up to full power. These defence screens improved the resilience of the hull to fire and would be critical if they were brought under sustained attack by weapons which could penetrate their shields.

One entire company of Marines dispersed through the ship in quick reaction squads, guaranteeing that each hull sector had at least one in it. They were in full combat armour, power armour for a fire team in each, and breathing gear and air tanks for fighting in a vacuum to respond to boarders.

As each step in the preparations was complete, Petty Officers and technicians were pointing to the position of the indicator and verbally indicating, per Zhen’var’s operational directives, that it was in the correct position. “Radial bulkhead R-12-B, closed!”

“Indicator Torpedo Magazine three flashtightness, green!”

“Reactor N-4, automatic SCRAM controls, green!”

When the Captain called for General quarters, this vast machinery of war was brought into function by the precise activity of two thousand officers, sailors and marines. The time it took to complete readiness was less than three minutes from Condition Yellow to Red and modified ZEBRA to ZEBRA. The shields were energized to full power first in case of surprise attack. On the bridge, there was no indication of any of it except for the changes in indicator lights at some consoles.

The preparations were totally comprehensive. Pointing fingers and shouting voices cut through the air of each little section, each effort the most critical task for those executing it, the sailors and Chiefs who made the ship live. “Emergency evacuation route markings, glowing!”

“Sickbay Generator One, on-line!”

“Major Lar’shan, get your wing airborne!” Zhen’var’s voice echoed in Prifly. Lar’shan confirmed a moment later. “Launching now, Captain! PriFly, commence full deck launch.”

Full deck launch, confirmed,” Stasia said, pulling her headset down and swinging her chair around to the windows overlooking the tube launch points. With three runabouts already combat loaded and in space along with a dozen fighters, the rest came down to launching full deck strength as rapidly as possible. The abbreviation WC for Wing, Combined (strike) had become Wildcat when verbalised. “Wildcat 3 flight, PriFly Actual, you are go for launch.”

“Wildcat 3 Lead, PriFly Actual, commencing launch.” The pilots gave a thumbs-up signal to the tube operators and tossed a salute. They were flying through the accelerator rails a half-second later. Four out.

“Wildcat 1, 2, PriFly Actual, go for launch from portside tubes.” Then she swung over to Rocky 2 and 3 on the starboard side, her eyes glued on the indicator board which showed tube readiness and a bank of holo-projections which allowed her to sweep her eyes across the conditions in every one of the tubes as new fighters and bombers were brought up, spotted, and launched. There was nothing in her entire past life which compared to this experience, the sheer intensity, it was more anxiety than combat, trying to keep track of dozens of crewers moving purposefully across the decks, hands spinning with hand-signals and flashed salutes and thumbs-up as the positioning carts brought the wing into position in a continuous roll of motion.

Ahead and to the sides of the Huáscar, drive-tail after drive-tail blossomed as she quickly surged to having 60 fighters, 36 bombers and 4 combat fitted runabouts assembled as her CAP and main strike package. CAP was pulled back in with the strike package feeding data back, but reinforced to twenty-four from twelve fighters. The rest were going in with the runabouts providing sensor and targeting support.

On their sensors, they were now clearly resolving A Bao a Qu and the former space colony which hung near it ever so suspiciously. “Major, your group is in the air, Sir,” Stasia reported with a grin as the last of the flights tore into space. “Good hunting. PriFly Actual, handing over flight control.”

“Wildcat-50 Actual, assuming flight control. Good luck, Chief!”

Of course, there was still one combat craft waiting ready aboard the Huáscar. Inside of the main hangar, Char Aznable sat near his Gelgoog, holding his helmet. And as Stasia turned her attention to the holo, high above his position and invisible in PriFly, he turned to the camera and winked. She couldn’t help but grin. Around him the operations crews were still working to turn the last recovered squadron of CAP, which formed their combat reserve. The grin still on her face, Stasia reached for her coffee.

As a telepath, one of Elia’s most prized possessions was her watch. Other than a standard set of simple jewelry and piercings, telepath women in general were forbidden from showing the slightest deviation from being objectified, socially normal, prettied up dolls. But watches had still been in common fashion when the rules were drawn up, and so she had one, a very nice sealed chrono which was marking ship time back on the Huáscar as well as the objective times for the start of the operation. Now it seemed a silly affectation when compared to the Omnitool, but with the complicated de-acceleration burn calculations being double-checked on the later, she had her chrono to keep the time, and she rather liked it.

Ahead of them spread one of the most beautiful sights that anyone could ask for, at least if they preferred the wonders of manmade objects to those of nature. The forty Bunches of Side Six, eighty Colonies, blossomed like solar flowers, their spreading mirrors concentrating light and shining like a grove in space. This place had a population of 800 million and it was almost untouched by the War, but its neutrality had been repeatedly violated and millions had died--just those deaths were, as a portion of the population, much less than anywhere else in this universe’s humanity.

That made the flowers so much more bittersweet. Elia looked back at her watch intently, straining into her straps as the deacceleration burn continued.

“Do we have scans of the Flanagan Institute yet?”

“Yes, we’re resolving an installation at the position indicated by Lieutenant Sune.”

“Then dump them into the data-link for Battlemaster Fei’nur immediately,” Elia ordered.

“Zero-zero!” The helmswoman, Lieutenant Keitun, called out.

“All stop!” The engineers could barely dial down the reactors before the next order. “Execute closure manoeuvre!” Then she tapped her Omnitool. “Battlemaster, we are in position and you should have just received the precision scans.”

“Commence beam-ins,” Fei’nur ordered on the open line the shuttle pilots were listening for.

Elia whistled a chord of a song and flashed a thumb’s up to Lalah and Va’tor a moment before they disappeared.

“The authorities of the Riah Republic are contacting us, Commander, demanding to know our purpose in violating the neutral sphere of Side Six,” her comms Petty Officer reported.

“Tell them we are evacuating the Flanagan Institute and do not mean hostilities,” she answered, looking out at the vast exchange of Baldur’s Bay before her, the nearer and further colonies of the Bunch now dominating the view from the Zanzibar.

“Beam-down status?” Elia asked into her omnitool.

“Third commencing now, Commander.”

And then one of the Zeon crew looked up. “Commander, nine Drakens coming in.”

“They’re just looking to enforce their neutrality. They won’t be foolish enough to attack,” Elia answered. “Nonetheless, start passive optical targeting.” She tapped the omnitool. “As soon as transports are complete, detach the shuttles, raise shields and arm phasers.”

Then came a report of something altogether more ominous. “Commander, we’re being hailed by the 116th Assault Fleet, General Rimini commanding.”

“The 116th Assault Fleet? What are they doing here?” The grimace was locked on Elia’s face.

“Ma’am, may I remind you that they can countermand Major Aznable’s orders?” Keitun looked at her … Sharply.

“Very much so, Leftenant. Well, I’m going to sort it out with the General, personally. You have the bridge.” In her omnitool she tapped a command directing Captain Hei’gur to prepare to disable the crew as she calmly walked over to the private cabin. She really had one chance to keep this from blowing up and it was best to keep the questions to a minimum, so without further ado, she opened the closet and started trying to stuff herself into one of Char Aznable’s spare uniforms.

Within the Flanagan Institute, nobody was ready for what happened. They had Lalah’s recollections, they had the scans from the sensors, and for what really mattered, they had overwhelming firepower and total tactical surprise. It might be said that it was a massacre, except that enemy casualties were low because there were few targets.

The first Platoon sealed the exits, silently and without warning by opening fire, taking overwatch and covering the approaches. The second Platoon hit the researcher quarters. It was there that Lalah and Va’tor arrived, swiftly marking positions of the Newtype subjects in the institute. The third Platoon hit the quarters for the subjects. Finally the weapons and support group arrived outside to reinforce the first platoon. Even using the shuttle transporters, it took only four minutes.

Fei’nur activated her cloak and personally led the sweep through the quarters of the scientists. As her squad covered her, she went ahead of them, out of sight. A rippling series of explosions followed, neatly covering the fact that she was slashing the researchers to death and then planting the charges behind her to cover it up. Flames soon spread through the luxurious (by spacenoid standard) accommodations. She faced utterly no resistance. As far as Fei’nur was concerned, the best way to see it done was to make it done and done, eliminate the researchers who had used telepaths, eliminate the threat to Multiversal peace with simple, practical acts. And it was what her Warmaster would have wanted, anyway.

The attackers soon realised that there was no significant resistance. “Battlemaster, there were just two squads of security guards and they’ve been dealt with,” her radio squawked as she calmly decloaked, having passed through the residential areas. “Secure the technology examples and data from the research labs and stand by to clear out.” A pause as she switched channels. “Hygienist-Commander, has Battle Expert El’sau arrived?”

“She wasn’t able to join us, so I’m working with Lalah’Sune directly,” the harried woman answered. “They have an issue in space.”

“An issue. Thank you.” She activated the long-range comm. “Battle Expert? Is there a problem?”

“Yes, Ma’am, and I’m busy!” The channel cut at the same time.

Fei’nur’s eyes flicked up and her teeth gritted. “Well, we may be on this space colony for a while. At least it seems more pleasant than Balos. There are no Balosians, to start with.”

The Dilgar Marines around her stiffened.

“Secure the perimeter. I am certain Battle Expert El’sau will deal with the situation.” She had best. The Captain is surely busy right now.

As the Huáscar and her attack group closed with the converted colony from behind, every system was at the ready for action. The last squadron of fighters was being regenerated from their CAP patrols and prepared for launch. Torpedo tubes were loaded and held at the ready. The crew stood at quarters, waiting their first experience with space to space action aboard the Huáscar.

The fusion block engine that had been added to the converted space colony began to loom on the screen. “Stand by to fire,” Zhen’var directed, wondering if Zeon had butchered their own people to create the Colony Laser.

“...Captain!” Lieutenant Tor’jar at comms looked up. “We’re being hailed by the Great Degwin. Prince Degwin is contacting us directly and wishes to inform us that he has a truce with the Earth Federation.”

“...What!?” Zhen’var looked at the tactical display. The massive Earth Federation fleet… Was being led by one Earth ship.. And one Zeon battleship.

“Hold fire. Put the Prince on-screen.”

“Yes, Battle--” a pause “Captain.”

The screen flashed over from the external display to the visage of the short, gnarled old man who had spent a life in zero-gravity. In a gaudy royal uniform of Zeon he looked as comic opera as an Italian fascist.

“Prince Degwin. Understand that I cannot accept the legitimacy of your government,” Zhen’var said peremptorily. “I believe you unlawfully usurped power over the Autonomous Republic of Munzo from Zeon Zum Deikun and arranged his murder, and I have come to an agreement with his son and political heir, Casval Rem Deikun, and daughter Artesia Som Deikun, to arrange your replacement and bring an end to this war. You and your family have much to answer for, Prince Degwin, but I can at least arrange for your personal safety, fair trial, and a guarantee of the safety and independence of the people of Zeon under the terms of the original and accepted declaration of independence from the Earth Federation of ten years before.”

“Casval and Artesia…” He sank into his command chair. “I abused them so cruelly. I have been responsible for all of their misfortunes in this war. How did they escape? How did you, of all people, interuniversal alien, find them?”

“Casval is nobody else but the Red Comet, Prince Degwin,” Zhen’var replied. “Char Aznable will lead the negotiations with the Earth Federation.”

“Second communication coming in… It’s identified as coming from General Revil, the Earth Federation Commander.”

“Split-screen,” Zhen’var ordered. The bearded officer’s image resolved itself. “General. I am Captain Zhen’var of the Allied Systems Vessel Huáscar. This was an open channel, so I assume that you heard. We can end this war and end it now. You have already done good work toward that end. But you will now know that certainly, there will be no more fighting.”

“This is an internal Earth Federation matter,” General Revil replied. “Captain Zhen’var, you and your Alliance do not need to intervene. A cease-fire has been arranged.”

“That cease-fire may have been arranged, but the real concerns of Zeon must also be addressed or else wars will merely continue indefinitely in this system. General, we are prepared to be reasonable and provide support to comprehensive disarmament enforcement for Zeon, and the prosecution of war criminals. However, I must insist the Earth Federation Government…”

Degwin’s channel suddenly vanished, the image of the broken old man flashing away in a heartbeat.

“Science, what just happened?”

“Captain,” Fera’xero answered, his voice both puzzled and horrified, “there’s been an explosion on the Great Degwin.

Zhen’var looked back up to the screen and General Revil, but his image had vanished, too.

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Tomyris » Sat Dec 01, 2018 5:05 am

Act Five

Elia finished adjusting the Zeon dress uniform, sat at her desk, tightening her gloves, and activated the comm channel. “General Rimini, this is Major Saumarez reporting.”

“Major Saumarez. I’m not familiar with you.” The stiff-necked Zeon officer stared sharply for a moment, and then shrugged. “Why did you violate the territorial zone of the Riah Republic?”

“I was directed by Major Aznable to evacuate the Flanagan Institute,” Elia said in measured tones. “Newtypes are Zeon’s future and we had to secure them.”

“I was given the same orders by Lady Kycilia Zabi,” General Rimini responded, frowning. “Major, have you already taken measures to secure the equipment and data in the facility as well?”

“Yes, certainly. We’ve almost finished loading aboard the Zanzibar. Sir, if you enter the space of the Riah Republic, we risk a battle. They are already sending Mobile Suits this way and a Federation Task Force is in the area. Sir, I can complete the evacuation on my own if you provide distant cover.”

“Then we will not have enough time to transfer the subjects and equipment to my squadron to execute our orders.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Major, if you are under Char Aznable’s command, I trust you completely. You will link your cruiser to our data-links and follow us when we withdraw to our rally point. The Zanzibar will be the treasure ship, we will be the escort. Is that understood?”

“Yes, General.” Inside, her thoughts had hit a brick wall. Where are we going, then? I have been hijacked, and I’m also the hijacker… “Sir…”

“Not a word. You’ll follow us. You’ll see when you get to the rally point,” General Rimini answered. “Is that understood?

“Yes, sir.” She drew herself up. “Sieg Zeon!”

Sieg Zeon!”

The image blinked out, and Elia sank back down for a moment before she forced herself up to go out on the bridge. What the hell have I gotten myself into? But I have no choice; until Zhen’var is done with her own operation, I’m going to have to play this straight.

She stepped out onto the bridge after hastily changing back to her Dilgar uniform. “Crew, excellent news! General Rimini has confirmed our orders, as expected. The Alliance between the Alliance of Systems and Zeon continues as Major Aznable foresaw. Once we have completed our recovery of personnel we will be withdrawing in company with General Rimini’s fleet. The welcome and regular order you will find should leave you absolutely convinced that this mission was planned and approved as a collaboration between our peoples at the highest leadership by the lawful government of Zeon.”

From a certain point of view, it was even true. Considering these crewers were all loyalists to Char… They might just keep believing what they wanted to hear for long enough to make it work. As long as they had faith that they were following Char, she was certain that they wouldn’t turn against her and her Marines. Now, if only I knew what was happening with the Huáscar…

Gihren had been preparing for this for a while. His father was a liability, and he was no worse of a liability than when he was considering a cease-fire with the Earth Federation. Gihren had made absolutely sure that he was going to be removed as a problem, eliminated as an obstacle to the ultimate triumph of Zeon.

Now with the fleets in position and his father declaring on an open channel that he had a cease-fire, Gihren had no choice but to act immediately. He personally brought up the access codes, and sent the detonation command, to a bomb smuggled aboard the Great Degwin as a contingency operation.

There was absolutely no expression on his face when he did. He remained perfectly calm as the eruption of nuclear fire was tracked by the sensors on A Bao a Qu.

“Sir! Prince Degwin’s flagship…!”

“My father?” Gihren said, his voice as falsely sauve as ever when he wasn’t giving a speech. “What has happened?”

“It has been destroyed in a nuclear attack, Sir!”

He could spend time justifying the situation to his people, but he did not expect that the alien vessel would give him the time. He would instead let the timeline of events be absolutely clear-cut, and use that to allow the necessary conclusions to be drawn.

“Treason! The Earth Federation attacked my father to destroy our power and disrupt his agreement! The Solar Ray is to open fire on the Federation fleet.”

“Captain, power surge from the Solar Ray cannon!” Fera’xero leaned forward. “It’s dreadnought-scale power, Captain!”

“Target?!” Zhen’var watched the nuclear flames flick across the remains of the Great Degwin.

“The …”

Arterus brought up the parabolic on a split screen. “The Federation fleet.” Suddenly the image of General Revil’s flagship vanished as well, and with it, more than a third of the concentrated Federation fleet, wiped out in the space of seconds.

“The White Base?” Zhen’var thought of Artesia, Bright Noa, Amuro, the ship which contained their hope for a negotiated settlement with the Federation.

“Outside of the attack arc,” Arterus confirmed a moment later.

“Captain, the weapon is charging again,” Fera’xero reported, “and this time it’s on a target vector which will destroy the White Base and another third of the Federation Fleet.”

The open channel echoed with a voice, brought on-line by Tor’jar.

Soldiers of Zeon! My father, Degwin Zabi, has been traitorously killed by the Earth Federation after attempting to negotiate an honourable peace for Zeon with them. Our only choice is to use the newly unleashed power of the Solar Ray laser to destroy the Federation utterly and punish them for this outrageous attack. We will have our total vindication in the triumph of Zeon at A Bao a Qu…”

Zhen’var made a chopping motion across her neck. “I’ve heard enough of that petty little Hitler. Daria, target the Solar Ray and commence fire!”

Daria brought up the full forward Solar Torpedo banks and fired automatic 10-round bursts from each of the four main launchers. Forty torpedoes tumbled across space, accelerating down their final tracks toward the converted Colony.

“Not soon enough, Captain! They’re firing!” Arterus looked at Zhen’var urgently.

Daria glanced back, a sudden inspiration leaping into her head even though it might get her and her entire ship killed. “Captain! Warp drive! Interpose our shields between the White Base and the Laser, create a shadow with our shields!”

“Science, could we survive?”

“Yes, it’s diffuse effect, Captain,” Fera’xero answered. “It’s fatal to those ships because of nonexistent armour and no shields.”

“Arterus, course laid in?” Violeta said, her eyes freezing forward in fear but her hands moving quickly.

“You have it, helm!”

“Engage,” Zhen’var ordered, for in this she felt like a weapons release; it was a direct command to risk the ship. Then, grimly, she tapped the ship to ship. “If you don’t hear from me again Commander Imra, win this battle.

The Huáscar elongated and flung herself into warp for a fraction of a second, reappearing with her shields extended and cast as a wide net to starboard against the oncoming flaring, flashing beam of the Solar Ray.

“You heard the Captain,” Commander Imra said quietly on her bridge, the Heermann having settled into a nervous, tense silence. “Ca’elia, get us in close with the Solar Ray. Let’s finish the job! Commander Goodenough, stand by to de-cloak…”

Ahead of them, Daria’s torpedoes ripped along the length of the Solar Ray as the second shot finally ceased firing. They punched through the side of the Solar Ray and detonated within. The Solar Ray did not explode; instead, a beam appeared from it, heading toward the Huáscar again. In the intensity of the fire, the crew of the Heermann could not see whether or not their mothership had survived, watching with a numb dread as the weapon seemed to soak up the Huáscar’s fire without a glimmer of damage.

Abebech lurched in her command chair as she understood what had happened. “Of course! The interior is an energy concentrator and the walls are so thin the torpedoes went through before detonating!”

She continued a moment later: “Ca’elia, I need you to get us in against the mirrors before they can finish charging again! If we don’t destroy the focusing mirrors we won’t be able to knock it out.” She hit the channel comm selector in her chair. “WC50 Lead, this is Heermann Actual. Go for the capacitor banks behind that fusion bottle!”

The young Dilgar woman’s face shifted to a determined cast, gloved hands shifting on her controls as she spun the Heermann about on her axis, queuing up pre-programmed evasive patterns to throw off the enemy fire that would soon be coming their way.

“WC50 Actual confirms! Going in on the attack.” The fighters and bombers of the strike package, with the armed runabouts anchoring behind, dove for the Solar Ray as the Heermann radically manoeuvred under cloak to get into attack position on the focusing mirrors.

Goodenough took over the channel. “Heermann to WC50 Lead, warning, you have nineteen Mobile Suits identity code ‘Zaku II’ standing off the port quarter of that thrust block where they’ll be able to engage when you get in close.” Battle was joined.

For a moment it had seemed like they’d bought the farm. The Huáscar heeled hard on her side, thirty degrees or more, without the straps in the control chairs every crewer on the bridge would have been thrown. Violeta gritted her teeth and kept the thrusters firing, her starboard broadside to the Solar Ray as their shields blocked as much of it as they could.

“Primary shields failed!” Fera’xero reported. “Captain, secondary generators failing too!”

“Reactors three and five SCRAMed automatically from overload!” Anna’s voice cut out of the intercom.

Suddenly Lieutenant Orallian’s chair at Ops lunged to the side as the adjustor mechanism failed under the pressure of the ship’s heel, and the Gersallian ops watchstander was tossed against a console, a groan abruptly cut off. Several of the ship’s officers spun toward him, but none could be spared.

Steady on!” Zhen’var’s voice showed stress as she emphatically kept them focused on their duties, but no panic or worry as she was thrown hard into her restraints. “It shall pass!” She activated a commline to the nearest casualty clearing station. “Casualty on the bridge, corpsman!” Nobody could be spared for first aid, their first and only duty was to keep the ship alive and fighting.

“Secondary shield banks have failed,” Fera’xero reported, more calmly now, and even as he spoke more calmly, the ship herself seemed to calm. “The beam intensity is fading. Tertiary… Holding.” The force which had overcome the inertial dampers as the thrusters fought to compensate now faded and normal gravity restored to the ship.

“Prepare for imminent close-quarters-battle, our shields are degraded and they shall attack us with dispatch! See to your duties and prepare to engage incoming attackers! Status of the Federation forces?”

“We managed to put about half of the targeted fleet in our shield shadow, Captain, at least half their fleet and the White Base are still intact,” Arterus reported.

“Captain,” Fera’xero interrupted calmly, but urgently, “the torpedoes--the Solar Ray--it’s firing again.”

Daria closed her eyes. Though it had been impossible to realise at the time she had fired, she now felt tremendously guilty. She might have gotten them all killed with those torpedoes, their own fire coming back on them. Then they snapped open, and picking the target of the Ray’s thrust block, she fired again. She could at least stop the weapon now, perhaps, just perhaps…

“Sound collision and brace for impact.” Zhen’var’s voice still refused to show the panic or fear that even now battered frantically at her conscious mind - another blast like that, when they had already lost so much of their shielding? They would be crippled in the best case.

The shot slammed into the Huáscar and tore her to the side again. Violeta again compensated and held them in position, the ship heeling less severely than under the first attack. It seemed less powerful than before.

“Captain, it’s the energy from our own torpedoes detonating inside the plenum chamber! Because the mirrors are intact it was focused back at us,” Fera’xero explained even as the ship shuddered under the impacts.

“I’ve re-targeted against the engine so they at least can’t shift the aim-point,” Daria added. “But the chamber is so thin the torpedoes go through the walls and detonate inside.”

“We’ve lost shields, Captain,” Anna reported, a disembodied voice from Engineering, staying calm. “Minor hull breaches across decks three through fourteen. We’ve lost sensor input from PriFly.”

“Damage Control Central can deal with the matter. Alert the Marine and Security detachments to stand-to to repel boarders.” There was no need for the bridge to be overwhelmed by the caphacony of alarms that the damage control teams were having to deal with. “Keep firing as long as you are capable, Tactical. Helm, with our shields down, manoeuvre to protect the ship as able.”

“Bringing us hard to starboard to present our portside armour. Guns,” Violeta addressed Daria, “I’ll keep the port arcs to the enemy.”

“Confirmed,” Daria repeated.

Arterus brought up the tactical plot. “Twenty-two mobile suits type “Rick Dom” coming in.”

“I expect they intend to disable then take the ship. It is our responsibility to prevent this at any hazard. Tactical, the mobile suits and the boarding teams following them should be the full effort of your weapons. We must trust our support ships to take the Solar Ray. Divine guide their efforts, for we must look to ourselves now.” Zhen’var spared only a fraction of a second for a glance to confirm that a Corpsman had arrived to treat Lieutenant Orallian. Satisfied she turned back to the tactical display.

“Targeting Rick Doms with Model 2 PBEs,” Daria confirmed.

“Bridge, this is PriFly Actual,” Stasia’s familiar voice cut over the intercom. “Our backup shield generator is re-activated and we are operational but depressurized. I am preparing to launch SP-5 and Major Aznable.” Not about to trust vacuum more than she did the waters of the Bering Sea, she had gotten her people into full suits regardless of Alliance standard practice several minutes after the main strike launch had been completed. It had saved their lives.

“Understood, PriFly. Deflector shields are down, we have Rick Doms, two squadrons, inbound. I am expecting boarding teams to be following. All you have, Huáscar needs.” Her ship was badly hurt, hurt enough to make this a fight that had an outcome deeply in doubt.

“Launching now, Captain,” her ready American accent answered, and the channel went silent.

Daria selected her targets, using a visualisation scope, and began to fire. Suddenly, the situation looked a little brighter. The Rick Doms tried to aggressively evade, but the Huáscar’s port quarter erupted in flame and fire from the sweeping arcs of eight plasma beams stuttering toward their targets.

In the silence of space, the Rick Doms violently skewed and swerved to evade with the full potential of their Minovsky field generators, but limited to low-G accelerations, all the manoeuvrability in the world wasn’t fast enough for Daria’s firing. The aggrieved Dorei woman had her moment of vindication as the beams stayed with their targets, and eight Rick Doms were instantly speared through, cut open, and left to explode.

Almost as soon as the first group had died, she brought the beams onto the next group. The Mk. 2 PBEs were more than powerful enough for the job. The attack was being ripped apart.

“There are fifty capital ships moving up behind them, Captain,” Arterus reported. “And I think.. Science, confirm it but in Sector 11-09X I think there’s another group of Mobile Suits, possibly covering boarding pods.”

“For what we are about to receive, let us be thankful. Helm, work with Tactical to keep us covered as best as possible while keeping her arcs, Tactical, you know your priorities, use everything Engineering can give you.” She was watching the displays as the repeaters showed her ship’s situation and made a quick estimate. “... We are going to run out of range between ourselves before they run out of ships.”

Lieutenant Ca’elia was deep in concentration, a three-dimensional globe display projected before her, ships indicated by lines coming from it, length indicating distance from the Heerman. It was not the normal display a helmswoman would use, being more intended for a tactical officer trying to keep track of a swirling series of contacts around, but she found it useful for keeping situational awareness - something she very much needed as she moved to thread the needle of the Zeon defensive belt around the converted colony cylinder.

“Stand by to transfer power to weapons,” Abebech directed behind her to Abdul.

Her expression did not shift, utter concentration written across her face as emerald eyes watched her display with total attention, fingers shifting deftly across her controls as she ‘slid’ them through the gaps, carefully conserving and bleeding velocity as she had to, bringing them ‘inside’ the arc of the three great mirror arrays, between two and with line of fire to the central glass cylinder, rigid with tension.

“Stand by…” Abebech raised her gloved right hand. “Range?”

Abdulmajid was staring into his targeting scope. “...Five kilometres, Captain.”

“Cannon-shot,” Goodenough muttered.

Transfer power to weapons!”

Ca’elia’s hands slowed their movement, drawing less power from the engines, knowing they would soon reduce in maximum thrust as the weapons arrays drew power from the ship’s pools. May your God guide your shots, Abdulmajid.

“Allahueckbar,” he muttered under his breath as the cloaking device deactivated and he brought all the forward weapons into action simultaneously. A devastating wave of plasma cannon and phaser fire swept over the enemy while solar torpedoes swept from the launchers across the mirrors.

Behind the Solar Ray, Lar’shan’s fighters and bombers tore into the defending Zakus and the bombers swept over the fusion bottle, launching torpedoes at close range into the Minovsky charge capacitors located just inside the old colony atmospheric casing.

From two directions the fire converged on the guts of the Solar Ray. Covering his bombers, Lar’shan started to lure the Zakus away from the Colony, killing three in the process. It also kept him safe as the structure finally began to collapse.

A series of bright white-blue flashes erupted as the capacitors detonated, and rippling in a circle around the aft portion of the Solar Ray, Ca’elia was suddenly faced with a massive, detached, multi-kilometre long mirror fragment tumbling toward her ship in space.

Her eyes widened for a moment, but her hands were moving before her brain had even finished processing the situation, firing their side thrusters to start generating velocity… yes, she had gauged the vector correctly, as the helmswoman spun her ship about and fired the engines as she did, demanding all the power the current power distribution would allow… it would be tight, even so, and she called out; “Request tractors to repulsion, port quarter!”

“Do it,” she directed to tactical without missing a beat.

Mehmet needed nothing else from Abebech, his hands whipping over the board, setting the tractors, and kicking them on with almost exactly the effect and strength which Ca’elia had requested. The impact of the tractor beams with the object skewed them around sharply.

She had expected it, and used it along with their sublight engines to kick them the final distance clear, managing it by only a ship’s length from a protruding girder, swinging the bow back around with their main weapons facing the first waves of incoming Zeon craft.

“Leftenant, fire free,” Abebech ordered to Abdulmajid. “Major Lar’shan,” she next directed on the comms, “Form your wing on me.” Glancing to her right: “Goodenough, find us a way inside of A Bao A Qu. The Monster that guards the Tower is going down.”

She folded her hands for a moment. Stretched them, like a woman getting down to business. “Leftenant Ca’elia, full thrust! Close us to point-blank range with A Bao A Qu!”

“Aye, closing to point-blank, Captain.” The throttles went to the stops as her existence became the ship, it becoming an extension of herself.

Abebech finally activated the comms on the Federation tactical frequencies as they roared ahead. Still not able through the intense jamming and energy surge of the heavy fire on the battlefield to be sure if the Huáscar had survived, she resorted to making absolutely sure that she was going to obey Zhen’var’s final order. “All units of the Federal Navy! The Solar Ray has been destroyed! Close to point-blank range and commence the attack on A Bao a Qu! Gihren falls today!”

As Daria finished off the first wave of Rick Doms with the Mk.2 PBEs, Stasia completed the launch of the remaining squadron of fighters on the Huáscar and Char Aznable’s Gelgoog.

Hearing the strain under the deckplates, Zhen’var grimaced internally. Her ship was being sluggish to answer the helm, some of the titanic energies aimed at the huge vessel had degraded her engines, and the situation was steadily looking worse. Even the Red Comet could not stand off a force that large - he would run out of ammunition, if nothing else.

Not with weapons alone, though he might have given it a good effort. But he had another weapon. His voice.

“Comrades of Zeon! This is Char Aznable, who you chose to name the Red Comet! Today I come before you with my friends and allies in the Allied Systems, the spacefarers of a dozen galaxies, the realisation of my father’s dream! Yes, my father! I am Casval Rem Deikun, son of Zeon Zum Deikun, the founder of our nation! The murderous House of Zabi destroyed my father, murdered him, we have Degwin’s confession to his crimes. It was that confession, it was Degwin’s effort to surrender which caused Gihren to murder him, and we have proof of that too! You are fighting for kinslayers, usurpers and genocidal tyrants!”

“The true vision of Zeon Zum Deikun is to be found when we go to the stars! Gihren promises you an endless cycle of murder and death over Earth. Stand against him, and travel with a comrade to the stars. The door is open, the void awaits. Sieg Zeon!

As the declaration faded from the comm channels, Fera’xero spoke with swelling happiness in his voice. “Captain, I can confirm major structural damage to the Solar Ray. It appears to be breaking up. Commander Imra and Major Lar’shan got it, Ma’am.”

“It remains only to be seen how Major Deikun’s appeal is received, then.” She warily watched her tactical displays, as her ship stood to readiness once more, gathering her strength for the last desperate effort that would hopefully never come.

“Captain, Engineering,” Anna’s voice came up. “I’ve got overrides for the baffles on impulse banks three, four, and six coming up. When they’re done in another three minutes, it’ll restore partial ability to manoeuvre. I’ll also regenerate Reactor No.3 in four minutes. Five longer. Nothing else to report.” There were hull breaches, casualties, probably fatalities, but the Captain only needed to know about what would impact the fighting of the ship, and so all of that fell by the wayside.

“Understood, thank you.” She was grateful as she factored it in, checked the timing on the approaching craft. The Zabi loyalists would be a problem, what of them there were. She could not gauge the situation without seeing how the Zeon forces would split.

Lieutenant Tor’jar, trying to maintain the comms functionality throughout the ship, was diverted on his board to where an insistent sublight comm message was flashing, and took it. “Captain! The White Base is hailing us.”

“On my panel.” She would not occupy the main screen while they were in combat, swinging her personal display into position from the arm attached to the side of her command chair. The rest of the bridge could hear the speaker, it would do.

“Captain Zhen’var, Captain Noa. I appear to be in command of the surviving Federal Navy forces and I’m acting accordingly. We received a directive to press the attack on A Bao a Qu. In light of Casval Deikun’s declaration I believe this is the right thing to do. He’s upheld his end of the bargain, we’ll push the attack home on Gihren and count on surrenders and defections. But we’ve detected one hundred and fifty-one mobile suits converging on your position from behind those advancing capital ships. They’re taking advantage of the position of our own fleet and the battle around us to sneak in toward you, Captain. If you can start advancing directly on A Bao A Qu, then our own advance will put us in a position where I can have the Gundam hit them on the flank when they reach point-blank range with you. Is that an acceptable battle-strategy?”

“It shall have to do, Captain Noa. Helm, you heard the plan. Shape our vector towards A Bao A Qu. Tactical, ensure our timing is correct.”

Ahead of them loomed the great base, made of two asteroids fused together around a heavily armoured fabricated steel strength girder. Defended by 20 defence battalions of mobile suits and ground-positioned troops and heavy weapons batteries, it was equipped with beam shields, but they were scarcely the panacea that a properly functioning Darglan shield was.

“Long range fire-free, Tactical… we may be able to spook their leadership if they think themselves personally in danger.”

“Understood, Captain.” Daria wasted no time in cueing up a full bore torpedo salvo that would impact with A Bao a Qu at high ballistic velocity even after fuel was exhausted.

“We have another reason, Captain,” Arterus reported. “Long range sensors show Naqia emissions near A Bao A Qu. I believe Commander Imra has moved on to a new target.”

“She as always, has her eyes on the prize. Restore what we can, and prepare to defend ourselves. In our state, the fight shall be even.” The more damage was repaired, the more Huascar regained her ability to fight, to dominate her local battle-space, though the Solar Ray had done enough to require dockyard time, that Zhen’var could feel.

And then the open comm channel of the local Federation forces rang out with a panicked and inexperienced voice. “Here come the Zekes! AAAGH!” Moments later, boiling like ants from the sun, they were under attack. Dozens of Balls started to explode as the lead wave ripped through them.

“Tactical, you are fire free!”

At A Bao A Qu, Abebech Imra had exploited first, by closing the range. Then, with a series of rapid and precise orders, she formulated and implemented her battle-plan, wrangling in the Federation Mobile Suits attacking Sector S. Wedging in between the fleet forces covering Sector E, which seemed to be hesitating after Char’s announcement, and those in Sector S, she had worked Lar’shan’s fighters into position to attack below the Beam Shields. Now it was up to Ca’elia’s work at the helm to keep them alive as their heavy forward batteries stitched up position after position on the surface of A Bao a Qu, and Commander Goodenough tried to localise the beam shield projector to be targeted by the remaining torpedoes on the bombers.

She barely moved, eyes slitted, hackles reflexively raised and demi-claws trying to work through her gloves, explosions of motion as she needed it, whipping their attacker around like a runabout, occasionally slamming people into restraints as she exceeded the inertial dampers ability to keep up to dodge especially vicious torrents of fire.

With the shields properly calibrated, they were effectively holding off the Minovsky beam weapons. It gave Abel Veeringen down in engineering on the Heermann a thrill of pride at a job well done. Anna’s mods had worked, the damned Pole was a true engineer and more sympathetic to his views than most. With all systems running nominal and the shields’ main threat being the thermonukes Gihren’s forces were throwing at them, he had the Heermann operating as a fine-tuned machine for Ca’elia’s manoeuvres.

Goodenough, locked into his chair, monitored the processing of the sensor data and ran algorithms, occasionally providing an audio warning to Imra of something he knew his Captain would find important enough to warrant it. They were moving at low speed but high manoeuvrability, operating in closely defined proximity to the immense asteroid base. His education may have been with Darglan Brainwave infusers, but he wasn’t a slouch with the sensors and analyzers now, even if he found the role odd for an XO.

Wave-forms and energy had to originate, and be transmitted, from somewhere. They couldn’t exist otherwise. They might form a bubble or a wall in space, but at some level there had to be a connection to the original source. As it was, the debris made the situation easier to analyze. Perturbations in them indicated contact with energy fields. The computers pulled back the position of the projector from these data alone. It was going to have to be enough.

“Captain, probable location. Helm, you have it.”

Abebech looked at the arm-rest display and nodded once. “Good enough.” She cued her comm. “Major Lar’shan, we’ve got a location and Commander Goodenough is updating your wing now. Give it everything.”

Ca’elia was already moving to get Heerman’s weapons on target, slipping through the Zeon forces that continued to swarm all around.

“All right. Get us in, get the job done. We’ll open up a gap for the Federals to concentrate fire through as they close to contact. Weapons, full power charge ahead.”

As the Huáscar moved in with the remnants of the Federal Navy, lamed but recovering, the assault force led by Kusko Al closed to contact. With only a small area of shields active on the port-side, she swung in with her massive Zeong to the starboard, coming in from aft. “Target the bay doors on those big hangars, if we can crack them open the assault troops can land directly. I’ll suppress the defensive fire.”

And what a tremendous quantity of defensive firepower it was. The Mk.2 and Mk.1 PBEs and the PIBs opened fire, raking across the incoming mobile suits, now at close range and with full force. Fifteen of them were destroyed within thirty seconds.

Kusko Al and the big Zeong wasn’t one of them. She cut across the hull of the Huáscar, deployed her detached weapons and threading them around the fire to deliver pinpoint, precision converging fire directed by her mind, direct interface with the deployed weapons pods. Energy beam after energy beam was sharply delivered, not wasted on the immense armour of the monstrous interstellar ship, but striking home to derange and destroy firing aperture after firing aperture. Behind her, groups of Zaku IIs and Rick Doms raced in to take advantage of the gap and target the bay doors of the ship.

And then a prominently red-coloured Gelgoog swung down in front of her as she looped under one of the Huáscar’s nacelles. “Kusko!” The unmistakable voice echoed sharply in the earbuds of her spacesuit. “This is our chance! A land for Newtypes! Why do you continue to fight for the Zabi?!”

She directed the weapons fire of the Zeong against Char’s Gelgoog as rage burned in her, the red suit evading but not firing back. “Char, you understand nothing of what they put us through at the Flanagan Institute! This was our chance to prove ourselves to Zeon, to those like Gihren who dismissed us. You’re ruining it by turning on our people! You’re fighting with the Federation! The oppressors of all Spacenoids!”

Suddenly a massive white mobile suit, utterly distinctive but still smaller than the Zeong, descended on her, firing its beam. A warning, a sense of the individual’s mind, cued her just in time, and she ripped the Zeong away from the fire just in time. Presented with an opportunity by her sudden evasion, she spun around and concentrated against the ramscoop on the lead part of one of the Huáscar’s nacelles before pirouetting the giant mobile suit back around to track on the Gundam.

“Look at you, Char! You’re not one of us who went through the institute, we all looked up to you but you never had to deal with our pain once, but here you are playing these games of power and revenge, like an Earthnoid. And now you’re fighting alongside the Gundam!” She pulled into another turn just as a burst of fire streaked along the course she would have taken.

“Captain,” Daria was reporting on the bridge of the Huáscar. “We’ve shot down eleven Zaku IIs and eighteen Rick Doms but they’re coming in another wave, still targeting the bay doors. We’ve lost thirty percent of our defensive aft firepower against small craft.”

“Both the Gundam and Char’s unit are being drawn away by the one big Zeon Mobile Suit,” Arterus added. “But the Federal Navy is almost untouched, we’re attracting the full forward firepower of the loyalist Zeon forces.”

“Thirty-eight Zeon ships have switched IFFs and their commanders are overwhelming us with requests for orders,” Leftenant Tor’jar supplied his own summary.

“Redirect requests based on proximity to either Heermann or ourselves, what remains, Leftenant?”

“Could Commander Atreiad take over direction of friendly Zeon forces from secondary command?” Fera’xero asked.

It took Zhen’var only a moment to weigh the options “Agreed. Transfer incoming communications to him at once. Helm, use engine wash to assist in covering the bay doors. Tactical, keep up firing as long as we have emplacements aft, it is quite clear their objective. PriFly, evacuate your deck crews from the threatened area, Marines, if they get through, it shall be up to you.”

A chorus of acknowledgments sent the plans into action as the Huáscar pulled ahead and to the starboard, en echelon with the Federal Navy, leading in toward the swarming battle around A Bao a Qu. Around her, three Newtypes were locked in a deadly mobile suit combat that none wished to consummate.

Major Johnny Ridden drove his Gelgoog forward again and again through the teeth of heavy opposition. The pilot with his unicorn blazon was leading the Chimera Corps of Zeon aces deeper through the lines; the thirty-one pilots had already accounted for one hundred and eighty-five Federation mobile suits.

“Chimera Corps, form on my left wing.”

Acknowledged,” chorused the line. He flipped his Gelgoog casually and tore through a line of Balls with short-range before checking to dress ranks. Ahead of him was something entirely different from a Mobile Suit, and it wouldn’t be an easy capship kill, either.

The Newtype woman Kusko Al’s voice cut into his comm circuit. “Major Ridden, we’re commencing our final attack on the bay doors of the alien cruiser now. Get Chimera Corps in there and wreck it.”

“Copy and confirm,” Johnny answered. He seethed at taking orders from the much more junior Newtype, but the directive had come straight from Kycilia, and for his beau, the indignity would be tolerated. “Attacking now.”

The cluster of mobile suits swung around Federation ships to use them as cover for the final attack. One of the Gelgoogs spun in formation and opened fire, destroying a Federation cruiser.

“Lieutenant Diplom, cut it out! Save your ammo for the alien cruiser!”

“Acknowledged and con--” the channel abruptly cut off.

Ridden spared a look at his side visuals. A line of Gelgoogs in Chimera Corps had ceased to exist, seven elite pilots gone in a heartbeat, as the beams and pulses of the energy weapons on the enemy cruiser had gone through them like a knife through warm butter.

On instinct he kicked his thrusters to full and dropped down. A stuttering beam ripped through the space he had been in. They’re massacring us, he thought, his gut clenching as the screams of his pilots echoed through comms. They were veteran killers, and they were used to reaving like Gods of War.

Now they were finally meeting their match. Ridden snapped his Gelgoog through another crisp manoeuvre, working his way closer as the fire of the alien cruiser reduced his corps to a pile of rubble. With each loss, he became more determined to see it through. Revenge was in front of him, and an end to the massacre.

Again and again the beams of the cruiser tried to finish his squadron, and the losses piled up, but Johnny Ridden led his dwindling team closer with each jink and evasive manoeuvre, carefully choosing his course to evade and advance. He was going to get her, to get that damned devil-ship.

The gaping ruins of the hangar bay doors loomed in the aft dorsal surface of the ship. They were almost there. “Chimeras, call out!”

“Chaseman, here!”

“Ingrid, here!”

Three of us? For a moment shock almost stopped him from making the next evasive manoeuvre. Have we really taken ninety percent casualties? But they had. “Kusko, this is Ridden, we’re going in. What’s left of us.”

He brought his thrusters to full power and aimed for the bay. Now the cruiser’s hull was masking her intact guns. Three would have to be enough.

Lar’shan led his fighters down in close to the surface of A Bao a Qu. Slipping between beam shields, the attrited wing of the Huáscar dodged a line of last-ditch nuclear explosions fired by Zeon artillery pieces emplaced on the surface of the asteroid and followed the Heermann in. Four Rick Doms dove on his squadron from positions higher up the inverted cone of A Bao a Qu as they did.

He peeled off his with his wingman to meet them. “Keep it tight and cover the bombers!” Skewing hard at low thrust so that his manoeuvring thrusters pivoted the Mongoose on the dime, he caught one with a first of forward fire. The others dove back for the surface of A Bao a Qu.

Cancelling his forward velocity, he used thrusters to flip the fighter over and track. It was exceptionally dangerous, the fact that he wasn’t a moving target made him immediately subject to a concentration of fire from the surface defensive battalions, but his wingman stitched along them in a short pass with the forward guns.

Lar’shan instead skewed the nose, tracking the surface, and unleashed his last two underwing missiles to track for heat sources along the surface while firing on one of the suits as it reappeared, silhouetted against the distant light of the Earth. It was torn apart instantly, and Lar’shan shoved his throttles to full power and the fighter roared ahead to fall in with the rest of the wing. He had no torpedoes as he evaded the fire from the surface, but he needed to be here anyway, diverting enemy anti-air from the bombers, making a dummy pass.

Suddenly, the assembly of buildings they were targeting loomed up on the surface of the asteroid. The bomber pilots and the Heermann needed no more prompting. A massive concentrating of converging torpedo fire descended. The nuclear-scale explosions scoured the side of A Bao a Qu and left huge, spreading cracks in the rock. The station-keeping thrusters it had began to automatically fire to counteract the momentum imparted. Seeing one in his targeting sight, Lar’shan quickly fired on it and was rewarded with a massive blossom of fire from the surface close in the wake of the destruction of the beam shield projector.

The more important thing was that an entire sector was now uncovered by Beam Shields. The Federal Navy knew what to do. Instantly, the converging fire of twenty capital ships or more scoured the surface of A Bao a Qu as mobile suits dove in to spread out from the cone of death and destroy anything they found on the surface. This had abruptly gotten much too hot.

“All squadrons, WC50 Actual, break off! Pull back! We’ve done our job! Regroup around the ruins of the Solar Ray!”

“Captain, one of the defence sectors on A Bao A Qu just lost beam shielding,” Arterus reported. “We do have an engagement angle for the forward batteries.”

The last order that Zhen’var kept to herself, as the crew responded to the stressful situation around them, unlike any they had trained for.

“Tactical, give them everything we have left forward, empty the capacitors and magazines.” Her voice was still calm as she watched the tell-tales slowly flickering to amber or red as her command took more damage. It was not hopeless, not yet, their fire was telling, but the outcome remained seriously in doubt.

Daria cued up the forward batteries and started firing the Mk.2 PPCs and Mk.1 PPCs on the forward arc, leaping across open space to strike A Bao a Qu within a fraction of a second. The Solar torpedoes began to follow them in.

Chief Carstairs, standing in at Ops at this point, flung a look to the Captain. “We’ve lost the doors on the main hangar, Ma’am. A group tried to exploit; three of them made it through our batteries. They’re coming in, Captain--we have mobile suits boarding the ship.”

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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Tomyris » Sat Dec 01, 2018 6:08 pm

Act Six

Fei’nur had taken considerable measures to prepare the Huáscar against boarding. Part of that was driven by Zhen’var’s paranoia after the coup in her own crew. The Marine complement was more heavily Dilgar, and under Fei’nur’s command, Zhen’var certainly had a subconscious tendency to regard them as utterly reliable. Fei’nur for her part had picked people who were, in fact, reliable. The Warmaster’s step-daughter was a bit strange, but orders were orders, and Fei’nur had rather started to regard her CO fondly; she did have good instincts.

For this operation, Fei’nur had prepared her defences with special attention to the risk of heavy firepower being brought into the ship. She had, after all, put considerable effort into reinforcing her troops to deal with precisely that kind of threat.

Janice Armstrong as the Security Lead was coordinating the overall defences of the Huáscar against any potential boarders, but it was the Dilgar Major Kel’dar with the Marines remaining aboard who had the heavy weapons closest to the hangar bays when Armstrong’s message echoed in his headpiece in his tactical suit. “All Hands Stand By To Repel Boarders. Enemy Mobile Suits entering the main hangar!”

“Confirmed. One company standing by, Major, redeploying Charlie to Company to respond,” Kel’dar answered. Colonel Fei’nur, who would inevitably know exactly what to do, was not here. This was not at all a problem, because she had left instructions in the event of an attack of this type by the Mobile suits. Instructions that were mildly nuts, but Kel’dar wasn’t about to question a Spectre. He had served one tour on Balos as a fourteen year old conscript before being sent back to a depot on Rohric with wounds. No way would he question a woman who had survived years there.

“I can’t believe we’re about to do this, Sir,” Lieutenant Har’un muttered, “but the charges are properly set and armed.”

“Battlemaster Fei’nur says we do it, we do it,” Kel’dar answered. “This ship is much more rugged than our’s and we’re in our suits.”

“The crew isn’t, Sir.”

“And I don’t know how that started -- but just because there’s mewling idiots or nobles getting their fur fluffed every day somewhere at top doesn’t mean we need to bone ourselves for the sake of a couple of morons not in vacsuits!”

“Sir.” Har’un, who had been born after the war on Tira, thought some of the crew of the Huáscar would be really upset at that callousness, but they weren’t here to hear; the Major’s command staff was basically all Dilgar.

In the glorified arms-locker that served as his area command post, Kel’dar brought up an image of the massive suits now angling for the shattered doors of the hangar bay. “Inform Sergeant Waters’ detachment to stand ready.” He liked Sergeant Waters; she was one of the most reliable humans under his command.

“Sergeant Waters’ says Team Lion is powered up and waiting for orders,” Gunnery Sergeant Tir’ga answered a moment later. “She asks for clearance to detonate the charges.”

“Order her to stand by. We don’t want to give them a warning!” Then he switched to the Engineering code on his tacsuit. Fei’nur hadn’t asked, there hadn’t been time. There wasn’t really time now, either, but Kel’dar had learned something about covering your ass in Allliance service. “Major Kel’dar to Engineering - Is there anything critical in the starboard bulkhead of Cargo Hold Eight?”

Anna, standing in a torn vest and a rebreather in the midst of main engineering, who thought she was minutes away from restoring shields, got this expression on her face like she was personally aggrieved by the distraction, and pulled at her honey-blonde hair. She answered the comm with a glorious level of frustration at a damn marine asking her about a bulkhead in the middle of a desperate fight to save the ship. “Major… No. Now shut up, I’m busy!”

The Dilgar major shrugged and switched the channel without a word. “Damage Control Central, stand by imminent internal explosion, Cargo Hold Eight.”

The Marines looked at each other. Sergeant Waters was sitting in the turret of the massive Nazi Lowe in full vacuum rig, now repainted in Alliance colours. “Up-shot!”

One of the Dilgar rankers rolled out of the way. “Charge ready, Sir!” Echoed through Kel’dar’s comm.

“Gelgoog in the bay! Gelgoog in the bay!” The warning echoed over Kel’dar’s suit com. “Blow it,” he said simply.

The sappers dashed to cover, having frantically set their breaching charges to bring down the structural frames. “Fire in the hole!” One of them was still sliding behind the cargo containers when the signal flashed to the detonators, and a precisely timed chorus of explosions rippled across the bulkhead before the massive panzers.

The targeting sensors for the gunners resolved on the lead Gelgoog which had landed in the hangar bay and was still reacting to the abrupt explosions. “Take the shot!” Through the swirling air of partial decompression, with an enormous noise which could be heard throughout the entire ship, the three tanks fired in short succession.

These were no Earth Federation tanks with totally inadequate weapons. The main guns on the Nazi tanks were more than capable enough for what happened next. A Gelgoog’s left leg was blown off and the suit thrown violently into the far wall of the hangar. The second suit coming in behind it to help clear opposition for the boarders couldn’t pull back in time and met a similar fate, slammed into a tangled pile of debris in the main hangar, as even on the bridge the noise sounded more like they were an old dreadnought thundering main gun broadsides in the atmosphere than a proper starship.

A third suit halted on the edge of the bay and tracked down the holes in the bulkhead, opening fire with two beam rifles. It was a model none of them had seen before. The tanks were, based on the amount of bulkhead destroyed--the lower part of the bulkhead had been intentionally left intact--were essentially ‘hull down’, and the pilot confronted with the unusual scenario had tried to burn straight through the remainder of the blasted and rended bulkhead. His fire chewed through it, but failed to hit the tanks’ turrets.

Firing again and again, the guns of his suit quickly proved to have inadequate firepower to punch through the internal armoured bulkheads of the Huáscar--the Nazi cannon were designed to pierce immensely thick armour, the weapons of the Zeonic forces, conversely, to guarantee destruction of tin cans in space--they were very good at that and now inadequate for the task they were given. The suit activated its beam sabres instead and advanced.

Jess Waters certainly had a moment of sheer terror course through her. From a distance of less than a hundred meters, a charging Gelgoog with a glowing beam sword was rushing toward her and her three-tank section. She finished dialing in the gun on the charging form. “Guns, do we have charge?”

“Two seconds, Sarge!”

They would have been dead except for the need of the suit to surmount the barrier of the crushed, blasted, melted and rent bulkhead. She adjusted fire again to aim at the lower servos as she watched the suit move with the smoothness of a living being. “All tanks, on my sight, fire!”

A fresh burst of synchronized rounds dropped it to the deck with the others. One moment he had been ready to plunge them to death, to carry on his mission, and the next, the three shots tearing into the heart of the suit, it was sprawled across the sheared bulkhead, teams of Marines going in to secure it, the others, and the pilots. It was a moment of true bravery, but it had not advanced as fast as the Nazi guns recharged and tracked. Jess, with a tinge of reverent nervousness, patted the Zeiss sight and shook her head, tense and ready for the next attack.

Nothing else followed. They had stopped the suits cold. A moment later, working around the shock and the roars above her, Anna restored the full tertiary shield coverage for the Huáscar, and the threat was permanently ended.

Kusko Al tore through another lightning series of manoeuvres, closely followed by Char. Repeatedly she bore in on the Gundam just to be driven off by the Red Comet’s furious manoeuvres. Then the Gundam would come about and try to pin her down again, and she’d divert her combat remotes to face it instead. Properly trained in their use as an Elmeth pilot, she was confident that Char could have never equaled her on the Zeong. He had never been as powerful of a Newtype as anyone who had come out of the Flanagan Institute.

She was still totally defensive and she knew it, but the rage that suffused her from her days in the Flanagan Institute would broke no patience and no surrender. The steadily spiralling reports of major Zeon defections, fleets and squadrons declaring for Casval Rem Deikun, just drove her onwards.

“You are the new best pilot of Zeon,” Gihren’s voice echoed into her helmet. “Fighting the Red Comet and the Gundam at once you are our future. Hold your position and there will be help coming.”

A part of her vaguely wondered by the leader of the people of Zeon, personally commanding the immense fortress of A Bao A Qu, didn’t have anything better to do but try and encourage her. She didn’t need it. Kusko could feel both Char and Amuro, hesitating, still making appeals to her.

Then words of pure dread cut across the channel. “The interstellar ship, its beam fields have been re-activated!”

The despairing declaration from one of her surviving subordinate Mobile Suit pilots cratered her heart out. Major Ridden and the Chimera Corps had failed. They’d never be able to punch through them now. It brought her out of the total target fixation on her two rival Newtypes and led her to search for a solution to the desperate straits she was now in. Her command was going to be destroyed and Zeon was going to lose the war unless she stopped that massive ship that had conspired with Char to commit treason. And she needed the solution now.

Jinking clear of the Gundam and Char, she through her jets into a high burn and recalled her bit pods. Escaping from battle the thrusters still had plenty of power in a shock, sharp move to carry her clear as both of the rival suits moved to pursue, buying her seconds of freedom. It looked like she was going in the wrong direction to get anything done, though. Instead, she was looking for a way to save the battle.

She found one in a nearby Federation cruiser, repositioning itself to fire its main beam cannon on another sector of A Bao A Qu that had lost shielding. As it did, its bow arc was swinging toward the Huáscar. She dove on it and opened fire on the port thruster block with her mega particle cannon, casually dodging the defending fire of the desperate cruiser. Slicing it clean off the hull, she intentionally avoided a kill and then looped around the cruiser and swung herself back toward her enemies, splitting her bit pods up to engage with converging fire at both the Gundam and Char.

The crippled Federation ship was now spinning, uncontrolled, straight for the Huáscar’s shields. We are not finished! Not. Yet!

The bridge crew had barely stopped feeling good about the restoration of their shields. Daria had punched through another dozen Mobile Suits with the remaining light batteries. The boarding contingents were beating a hasty retreat. The battle seemed to be well-in-hand.

Then the Earth Federation Cruiser making its turn abruptly stopped and dog-legged back in on itself with partial thrust. That partial thrust was driving it straight toward them and their still-tenuous tertiary shielding.

Zhen’var saw it, and called out - “Incoming derelict! Emergency evasion! Tactical, target that cruiser, do not fire unless I order!”

The jury-rigged manoeuvring system Anna had supplied screamed as the vanes on the impulse engines countered the lack of starboard thrusters. Slowly the Huáscar started to turn, but the hull of the tumbling Federal cruiser was coming in faster.

“Collision alarm!” It was going to hit, Huáscar was sluggish, and her secondary systems like her tractors had been less important than shields and weapons. She had tried to wait for the last moment, and now it was here. “Tactical! Fi-”

As the Huáscar’s bridge crews and sensor operators watched the steadily looming cruiser a quarter of her own length, a shadow flashed across the hull. The Heermann had arrived, slashing down from the Z-positive.

Abebech Imra’s ship targeted a group of Gelgoogs still showing standard Zeon IFFs as she dived, her lighter weapons tearing through seven of them in the space of seconds. A main battery burst vapourised a Rick Dom in her way, leaving so much disassociated plasma behind.

The Ethiopian woman sized up the situation from the bedrock of more experience than she cared to admit, and saw exactly what Zhen’var was about to do. “Transporters, commence emergency beam-outs from coordinates being supplied by Commander Goodenough, now!” She looked to Goodenough with a single nod.

He needed nothing else to send the coordinates of the cruiser and drop their shields, that immensely risky act in the middle of battle. As the shields went down on the Heermann, the transporters immediately started working, and a moment later they had the range.

“Mehmet, tractors!”

Brace yourself!” He activated the tractors and, at high-vee relative to the target, locked on to the cruiser. The shudder was followed by a terrible whiplash which sent the Heermann ninety degrees over to starboard on her X axis too fast for the inertial dampers to compensate. The freshly rescued Federal personnel were bowled like tenpins and the bridge crew strained to keep their stations, but there was Commander Imra calmly hanging in her harness as if she had experienced the same a dozen times before.

The crippled cruiser lurched violently to the side and with her momentum cancelled, the massive bulk of the Huáscar swept past with a few hundred metres to spare. Her light guns were pumping fire into a group of Gelgoogs coming on to port as her beam was cleared of the cruiser. The Huáscar rapidly claimed four of them and the others pulled back and concentrated on the crippled cruiser rather than face the tremendous defensive firepower of the Alliance ship. The cruiser was not long for the world, but the beam-outs of the crew of the crippled ship continued until the last possible moment as the fire and explosions spread across her decks. Abebech stared intently at the tactical plot.

“Captain, shall we raise shields? The cruiser’s been destroyed!” The belowdecks of the Heermann were packed with survivors in spacesuits, stumbling about bewildered. There hadn’t been enough time for the Federation forces to be briefed, after all.

“Negative,” Abebech answered. “Commander Goodenough, you have the conn. Maintain evasive manoeuvres. Defensive only.” A mega particle cannon hit the Heermann hard enough to rip into the bare self-healing armour and Goodenough shot her a look.

“Captain? We are taking fires, Ma’am.”

She didn’t look up, but instead continued staring intently at the tactical plot. “I need to settle a situation quickly. I will be in main transporter control. Keep the shields down until I order otherwise.” With that, she unstrapped from her command chair, and strode purposefully below decks.

As Goodenough levered himself over to the command chair of the Heermann, checking systems, a petty officer taking over his own console, Captain Zhen’var’s voice came through the ship to ship. The ship’s armour was wracked with blow after blow, status indicators lighting up. The Heermann was not designed to take it like the Huáscar had been.

“Thank you for the assist, Commander Imra. Status?”

“Captain Zhen’var, this is Commander Goodenough. Commander Imra went below, she has a plan for… Something, involving the transporter. I was ordered to keep shields down and maintain an evasive and defensive posture until otherwise directed.”

“Understood, Commander. Tactical, cover the Heermann! Helm, keep our heavy launchers on that asteroid base as best you can!” As the immense Huáscar obeyed and swung to cover the smaller ship, the desperate fire of the mobile suits abruptly slacked, and Goodenough knew it had happened only one way, many of the Zeon pilots had abruptly died under the accurate fire of the cruiser.

He spared a glance to the long-range tactical. A Bao a Qu had huge missing pieces. The converging beams were stitching through the asteroids with such intensity that parts were glowing as lava fields. The defensive fire had considerably slackened, and the thrusters were no longer successfully holding position, so that the massive station was slowly rotating. That, however, was also bringing new sectors with intact beam fields and defensive battalions into the battle against the Huáscar, but it was now so heavily damaged that it scarcely had a dramatic effect. Even as the Huáscar turned to cover them, every heavy weapon which could bear upon the great fortress was still firing.

Goodenough only spared a single look for it. This was a battle as severe as any he had been in against the Reich, and with its own unique and terrible qualities. Now he just had to keep the ship in one piece for his Commander for a few more minutes…

Kusko Al had lost two of her remote units and was limited to the main body cannon and those on the command head structure of the MSN-02. She was still holding on in the fight against Char and Amuro, but as the Huáscar had cleared her last-ditch attempt to knock out the great starship’s shields, she could feel hope fade in herself, and confidence surge in the enemies around her. Self doubt gnawed: How can I take the best of both sides? By myself?

Aboard the Heermann, Abebech calmly worked an interesting transporter problem. Using the transporters tactically was rarely done. It was very hard to get a lock on a rapidly manoeuvring target, from a rapidly manoeuvring target. Still, it was possible, if you could forsee the next moment in the path of an object… Or a person.

For a brief instant, Kusko Al felt the power around her, cold and confident, in a way that none of the Newtypes yet were. But before she could react to it, Abebech had her lock, and in the same heartbeat reached out and activated the transporter mechanism.

In a flash, the MSN-02 was flying straight and level. Amuro swung in with the beam cannon and fired. One more kill for the Gundam. But even as he did, he realised he had not taken the life he had prepared himself so brutally to take, that he could feel, even then, still alive.

Instead, the young woman from the Flanagan Institute materialised in the transporter room of the Heermann. Abebech had already punched open the intercom to the bridge. “Commander Goodenough, get the shields up and fall in with the Huáscar!”

“With pleasure, Sir!” He answered, losing himself for a moment to his Royal Navy days.

Kusko looked around the transporter room in shock, composing herself. She reached out with her power and tested herself against Abebech, but Newtypes had not been trained in anything of the sort, even in the Flanagan Institute. There they had been trained to interface with technology and little else.

Anyway, Abebech had a solution for that. She slugged Kusko Al so hard that she broke the helmet to her spacesuit, her gloved hand acting like a heavyweight’s under a boxing glove, with no instinct to pull the blow. The young woman dropped like a rock.

Abebech looked down and shook her head. “You’ll thank me later,” she said, and then stuffed her into the equipment locker, sealed it shut, and jogged back to the bridge.

“Captain, the Heermann has brought her shields up and is falling in to starboard to cover our damaged flank,” Arterus reported on the bridge of the Huáscar. Suddenly another great moment of tension in the battle faded.

“Six hundred and fifty forward torpedoes fired, Captain,” Daria added her own report. “Down to fifty left in the forward magazines.”

“Cease firing with torpedoes for now, take us in closer, Helm. Give Tactical better sensor resolution, we need to make our shots count. I want that base knocked out… and I want sensor coverage in case our quarry attempts to escape.”

Barely had the confirmations been verbally affirmed when a new voice demanded her attention.

“Captain, this is Engineering,” Anna’s familiar lightly accented tone wafted to her ears. “My EVA teams have completed enough thruster repairs that I’ve disabled the baffle restricted regime on the impulse drives. You have full impulse. We also have Warp Six, and half strength on secondary shields to reinforce the tertiaries.”

“Helm, you heard the woman, take us in, Tactical, take down that station!”

“Tactical,” Fera’xero said urgently, “I’ve completed an analysis of the station structure and I have three likely points for the CIC. All three could be within range of our cannon with a preparatory bombardment by torpedoes. Data at your console, now.”

“We barely have enough torpedoes left,” Daria murmured. “Helm, stand by for target one.” She flipped the data over to Violeta.

“Target one at… Zero-four-zero…. Stand by… You are in alignment, Tactical.”

“Firing torpedoes.” A ten torpedo spread swept across the remaining space between the Huáscar and A Bao a Qu. A vast rippling series of thermonuclear grade explosions tore into the station. “PPCs… Firing.” A huge secondary explosion erupted. “Good hits, good secondaries. Clear for second target, Helm.” She was sweating, desperate to make it count, to end this miserable fighting.

“...Zero-two-niner… You are in alignment, Tactical.”


“Captain,” Lieutenant Tor’jar pitched his voice to cut through the noise of the bridge. “A Bao a Qu on the tactical frequency signalling their surrender!”

“Put them through! Keep an eye out for our quarry!” The Captain’s voice did not show any triumph or elation, just the same flat, calm tone she had through most of the battle.

Daria quietly reached over and activated the self-destruct transmission to the torpedoes before they reached the asteroid. If they had gone into it they would have certainly finished the total destruction of the base. The Captain had only reserved the order to take life, not to save it.

Gihren looked relaxed despite everything, calm under the crushing weight of acceleration. “We’ll have a second chance to get the interstellar ship when they pursue us to Axis,” he was explaining. “A force of ships was sent to recover the contents of the Flanagan Institute. With Newtypes and new Mobile Suits we’ll be able to ambush them when they move into the asteroid belt. Indeed, it may be easier, since they won’t have a federation fleet to help them.”

The ship they were on had already left A Bao a Qu well in advance of the surrender. Several entire fleets were falling back with them. The rest of the Zeon Space Forces had switched sides to support Char; there was little question that the majority of Zeon’s population was going to support the arrival of Casval Rem Deikun, the Red Comet.

Kycilia leaned back and shook her head. “Gihren, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where there’s one, there’s twenty. We lost our chance. Such a great Alliance has more ships, and those ships will be coming. You lost your chance to become the Liberator of the Spacenoids by killing as many of them as you did of Earthnoids.”

Gihren’s eyes snapped into focus, glaring at Kycilia. But her pistol was already out, and the beam lanced out, scouring the far wall of the cabin as it drove straight through his skull. A look of perfect surprise formed on his lips before his brain ceased processing his thoughts. He had never been prepared for the abrupt changes these interstellar visitors had brought. He had never been prepared for the Newtypes. And in the end, he had never given Kycilia her due.

As his body slid back against the rear wall under the influence of thrust gravity, she holstered her pistol, mussed her hair, and slid back to unslip Gihren’s gun from its own holster. “That was for father.”

For a moment, she regarded her brother and she tried to think of any sympathy or pity, but it had been long gone. In fact, though she had invoked Degwin, she wasn’t really sure that was why as the curious detachment floated over her, comfortably. The only thing she could think of was little Garma, pushed into war and responsibility too soon, and taken from her. Now that Char had revealed himself as Casval, she had plenty of suspicions about that. Consumed with those thoughts, she remained quiet as she pulled herself by the grab-irons out of the cabin and forward toward the bridge.

“Commandant Gihren took his own life,” she said quietly as she arrived. “In shame that his murder of Prince Degwin led to nothing but defeat. Set a course to rendezvous with General Rimini’s fleet, we will need them for what comes next.”

Onboard the bridge of the Zanzibar, Elia paced under the assistance of the steady thrust as they burned toward the outer system. Finally, she turned, and walked to the intercom. “Comrades, I’ve been transmitting everything we’ve picked up from A Bao a Qu directly to the intercoms for a reason. You’ve heard it for yourselves. The Red Comet, your commander, Major Aznable, is Casval Rem Deikun, the son and heir of the founder of Zeon. Truly our next leader. He has assumed the mantle of authority of the State, as a just response to the traitorous murder of Prince Degwin by his own son, during Gihren Zabi’s attempted usurpation of authority.”

“General Rimini’s forces are certainly aware of these developments, they have the same receiving gear we do. I am now going to issue orders in the name of Casval Rem Deikun to the fleet. If General Rimini does not acknowledge his authority, we will have a fight on our hands, and at the worst, we may be sorely outnumbered.”

“Stations.” She dragged herself to the command chair and strapped in as the alarms sounded. The crew obeyed her with alacrity. They were Char’s, and for them, the decision had been a simple one. Lalah Sune stood at the side of her command chair, expression intent on her face.

Fei’nur still had an expression on her face that could cut steel, braced against the command chair as the engines flared - for the first time, she ‘thought’ loudly. <Just what are you planning, Commander El’sau?>

Elia glanced toward her. <Well, I’m going to force them to switch sides. I don’t want to get to wherever we’re headed, and it’s a long journey on a slow boat.>

<They are retreating to join our true targets. The Zabi think like the Supreme Warmaster, but without her skill. They fall back to fight, as long as there is any hope at all. They want to draw us to our own Balos.>

<Are you saying you think that General Rimini will definitely refuse my appeal?>

<He may. I do not know his measure or loyalties. There were fools who stood against her on Omelos, no matter the damage it dealt to the war effort.>

<Understood. We’ll be doing this anyway, then. Fei’nur… If you want to help, and I mean really help, could you go stand by the bridge windows… And open your mind to me?>

<... I do not like this idea, El’sau.> The last came across with a wry tone, as she moved to stand at the bridge windows, forcing her mind to calmness.

<...I respect that. But I wear our uniform for a reason, and that will never change. Please, sight General Rimini’s bridge with your enhanced optics, and keep it in focus.>

She could feel a flash of realisation, as Fei’nur braced herself, cybernetic eyes stabilizing on the ship visible in their formation, and then disconcertingly closely zoomed on the bridge of the Zeon flagship.

“Comrades of Zeon, this is Commander Saumarez of Casval Rem Deikun’s flagship, the Zanzibar. We are loyal to Casval, Char Aznable, the Red Comet! The son of our founder and the visionary of our nation!” Elia’s voice cut through the void on the speakers of dozens of ships. “One of our great opportunities is to be a home for the evolution of humanity, exactly as Zeon Zum Deikun foretold in the Contolist Philosophy. That evolution has happened around us, with the manifestation of the Newtypes. It is nothing to be afraid of--it is the evolution of our shared future, which will make Zeon great and glorious in the future.”

“In Casval Rem Deikun, the future of the spacenoids will be realised. The murderous treasons which characterised the House of Zabi will end, and with them, the abuse of our fellow Spacenoids in other sides who we tyrannized under the false motives of the House of Zabi, when they should have been our comrades, our brothers and sisters whom we fought to liberate, not to destroy.”

“It was this error which led to pain and bloodshed in the One Year War instead of glorious victory. Now, as we work with Casval Rem Deikun to make sense of the pain, to rebuild, and to give a future to our descendants, the hour is at hand to make our choice. Do we follow the House of Deikun, the light which showed the way, or do we remain mired in darkness and defeat? Zanzibar will stand for the light, and against the darkness. If you wish to stand against us, remember that you also stand against the Red Comet!”

As she spoke, her mind came gently in touch with Fei’nur. The two were very dissimilar people. El’sau was an aristocrat, from an old military family, who had endured great hardships from being in the Corps, but had done with every resource she had needed to prosper. Fei’nur had known the typical life of a Dilgar of Ogkharin, a working class girl who had carefully hidden the ways she was not quite normal from family and friends, to fit into the regime’s expectations for what she should be.

Together, though, they shared a stubborn loyalty that few could match. And in Elia, that loyalty was now forever encompassing of the Mha’dorn, the Dilgar telepaths, as much as her own people. She was a woman between two worlds, in some respect half Dilgar and half human. Tira had changed her forever, and her words had been honest. There was no going back. Lalah knew the truth of it, as she reached out and had her training firsthand through Elia’s mind.

Together, linked, Fei’nur could feel El’sau see through her eyes. She reached in and focus on General Rimini’s bridge crew. The man had been handpicked to evacuate to Axis. Elia couldn’t directly see him, but she could feel the other members of the crew. Brushing aside the immorality of what she was about to do, she reached into the mind of one of the bridge officers through Fei’nur.

Her cybernetics activated, keeping her emotions calm, avoiding any spikes that could throw off a Mha’dorn using her as a bridge link. She was not a telepath, she never would be - but the Mha’dorn had always been an integral part of the Imperium’s war machine, and the Spectres had trained with - and against - them. Her mind relaxed as chemicals diffused into her bloodstream, letting as much of the telepath’s effort through her as she could.

She peeled away layers of the distant man’s mind, un-used to the idea of blocking, and dove in deep, grabbing control of his musculature, his movements. He slipped the gun from its holster, and she took his words. “Long Live Casval Rem Deikun! Avenge Zeon Zum Deikun! Sieg Zeon!”

The gun fired at General Rimini. The intensity of what they were doing, the cruel necessity, made the young Hyderabadi ensign tense at her side, but in it, too, her heartfelt love and loyalty for Char carried her on. This was the sausage-making of nations, as unpleasant as it was necessary.

As tenderly as she could, Elia withdrew from Fei’nur’s mind, respectful of the woman’s discomfort, of her privacy. Around her, the crew of the Zanzibar began to report ship after ship, proclaiming for Casval. The flagship was silent in the chaos she had caused.

The Federal Navy lay off A Bao a Qu with the Huáscar, in the general jubilation of a truce a few hours later. The formal peace talks between Casval and the Federation leadership would commence on the Huáscar in three days, assuming the Alliance didn’t countermand them.

Abebech stalked through the corridors of A Bao a Qu with a scanner and a squad of Marines. They’d had to engage a couple of Gihren loyalist holdouts, but for the most part all the Zeon troops were claiming loyalty to Char/Casval and being helpful. It was a group of them who finally led her here.

She paused and looked, intently, through her sunglasses at the scene in the room. It was a production line, and unfinished on it were three MSN-02 units with Psycommu fittings and the necessary manufacturing elements.

For a moment Abebech was very lost. And then she started softly humming a line of verse:

To defend
This is the pact
But when life's scorned
And damage done
To avenge
This is the pact.”

“All right, start setting the charges,” she ordered the Marines. Her mind was still aflame with distant memories of ships on fire across the rings of Saturn and a dozen other worlds, of seas of lava where people had lived. Of the keening scream in her mind of a Condor, offering both hope and death in the same hand.

She turned and stepped out of the assembly hall, then activated her omnitool. “Captain Zhen’var, I’ll be aboard the Huáscar to report in approximately fifteen minutes. One site to fire, no risk to the installation.”

“Understood, Commander. Well done, I assume. I look forward to hearing it.” There was a pleased undercurrent to the woman’s voice - she still held local command, on her badly battered ship.

“Thank you, Captain. I think you will yet find yourself remembered as a friend to Espers as well as a true Dilgar. Thank you for trusting me.”

“You are welcome. I await your report.” The comms unit clicked off, as Zhen’var leaned back in her ready room’s chair, the piles of paperwork that awaited any commander after a battle ignored as she stared at the bulkhead. The casualty report lay upon it, and her Surgeon-Commander was working to stop it from growing. It would remain to be seen if her commanders supported her initiative, or rebuked her for it, her runabouts still supporting rescue efforts in shattered mobile suits and capital ships in the massive debris field that remained of the battle.

The Ready Room door trilled. The computer, ever-too-helpful, announced the person at the door. “Lieutenant Arterus tr’Rllaillieu.”

Exhausted eyes looked up with a momentary flicker of confusion, which faded as she straightened her uniform and sat up. “Enter, Lieutenant.”

The Rihannsu man stepped in and saluted. He looked exhausted, but proud. “Captain. We’ve received a radio message from the Zanzibar. Commander Saumarez has secured the loyalty of a Zeon fleet that was evacuating to a base in the Asteroid Belt called ‘Axis’.”

“The base itself?” She had an interesting expression on her face - Zeon had not totally acknowledged Casval - a situation that left her in a somewhat delicate moment until reinforcements arrived.

“It’s in the asteroid belt, which is a half-month’s voyage for the local ships to conserve fuel,” Arterus answered. “Probably best to leave it until reinforcements arrive, if I may tender my advice, Captain.”

“I am not keen to have the Marines firing heavy ordinance inside the ship again, that is agreed. Continue to monitor the situation, please. We do not have the remaining war criminals in custody as yet.”

“Understood, Captain.” He came to attention. “It was an honour to see action under your command, Captain. The Elements permitted us to live the fate of a Huáscar. Apparently, the Surgeon-Commander has the pilots of two mobile suits that boarded us as POWs in sickbay. Luckier heirs of Captain Prat, Ma’am.” As a cultured Rihannsu, Arterus had made sure to fully study the history of the name of his ship.

“If we confirm them as being not implicated of war crimes, I look forward to arranging their repatriation. Heermann has transferred theirs aboard as well, I understand?”

“Those they recovered, Captain. There were just two. The rest of those they saved were Federation officers and men.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” She checked her omni-tool. Enough time to seek a parole from them before Imra arrives, barely. I’ll meet her at the transporter.

For a few tense hours, Elia Saumarez had in fact found herself the commander of a fleet, like her illustrious ancestors. Fei’nur’s speculation had disabused her of the notion that their mission was over. Instead, she kept them at enhanced readiness, and waited.

Completing her reports within her sea cabin, she felt the touch of Lalah’s mind, the warning. <A Zeon Vessel from B Sector of the A Bao a Qu defence forces approaching>, she flashed.

Elia got to her feed and worked her way out onto the bridge, reaching out to gently put a hand on Lalah’s shoulder. <You may not want war, but you’re a good officer.>

<I’m a good officer because Char needs me to be,> she answered, <but I understand more of the motivations of war than I thought I did, now.>

<Unfortunately, humanity is so very good at finding those.>

<Is it not forever so?> Lalah answered.

Elia strapped herself into the command chair again. She didn’t answer because it was true, and it didn’t bear endlessly reprising that truth.

Fei’nur was tense, and she barely restrained herself from pacing as her hand clamped onto the side of Elia’s chair. Anything approaching from A Bao A Qu was not good news.

“Do we have an identity on the incoming ships?”

“No, Commander Saumarez,” the lead comms tech answered. “They might be random ships that escaped the battle, but I don’t know why they’d be on a heading for Axis…”

And then the comm activated, on tight-beam transmission from the incoming ships to minimise the bleedback into the Earthsphere.

“General Rimini, General Rimini, this is Minister of the Interior Kycilia Zabi. We are joining your fleet in the retreat to Axis. Please provide us with an approach vector and burn schedule for synchronising our approach.”

When Fei’nur spoke, it was in Dilgar; “I suggest leading a boarding attack if we intend to take her alive, Commander.” <Or dead, it has been a long while since I removed such a high value target.> bled through from her thoughts, the commando’s posture betraying her eagerness.

“Answer through the flagship,” Elia ordered. “‘This is Commander Saumarez, Officer of the Watch for General Rimini. Stand by for your transmission.” She paused. “Then send them the necessary vectors.” A glance to Fei’nur. “Battlemaster, you rank me. Prepare your Marines at your discretion. You have your boarding action.”

Fei’nur gave a single nod, and started immediately transmitting from her sub-vocal implant. A boarding action of an enemy flagship? She had always wanted to try that.

Once Kycilia’s loyalists had shifted into position, Elia sent the next message, which was a simple request for General Rimini to have permission to transfer over by shuttle and make his report on the status of the 116th Assault Fleet in person. When it was accepted, she nodded sharply to Fei’nur. “Want us to go with you?” She asked, gesturing to herself and Lalah. “You can say no. Ma’am.”

“If you wish, you may. I can remove her myself. It is… what I was made for, after all. Getting out was often an ill-defined part of the plan, however.”

“We should try to take her into custody, Battlemaster,” Lalah said abruptly, stepping in to join the conversation boldly. “I know Char wants her gone, but it would be good to put a Zabi on trial.”

“Difficult, but a worthy challenge. If so, I very much want you both. I can incapacitate her, quickly, but I will need coverage exfiltrating with her dead-weight, Battle Expert. Draw weapons and gear, we need to move quickly before she grows impatient.”

The two women were in Zeon combat gear with a squad of Zeon volunteers. Unlike before, the crew of the Zanzibar was now unambiguously reliable. The ship Kycilia had escaped on loomed before them as they approached the docking bay, matching vee and then coming in on final approach.

“All I need is enough time to get there, then enough distraction to escape. Good luck, Battle Expert.” Before their eyes, she faded away, and disconcertingly, the feel of her mind faded as well, to a vague sense, even when they knew she was standing right there.

“I’ll never get used to that,” Elia muttered softly. She nodded to Lalah. “Stand ready…”

The younger, shorter woman took a breath, nodded back. <Ready.>

The hatch swung down. Dressed in Zeon uniforms the two floated down the ramp. They had to act immediately, since Kycilia likely knew who Lalah was. Ahead of them was the glassed in control position for the bay, and Elia reached out, gripping into the mind of the operator, peeling back the layers of any untrained resistance and seizing his upper body as she locked the rest in place. Immediately, she directed his muscles in the form and function necessary to deactivate the security cameras.

Lalah reached out, following her lead, and worked into the minds of the welcoming party. She slowed their reaction time to the strange approach as Elia completed the first step of her attack The moment Elia had finished securing the visual alarm systems, she turned her attention, mind joined with Lalah, and rapidly immobilized the full complement in the bay.

One of the doors cycled open - that would be Fei’nur, as the Marines came charging down the ramp at the first signal, thrusters firing softly as they moved - weapons cycled as fast as they could, stunning them as per their commander’s orders, who knew from hearsay the effects of being in someone’s mind when they died.

It was something that Elia desperately wanted to avoid, and especially for Lalah. There was a sense of relief as they drew back and let the men and women in the bay collapse from the stun-fire. <It’s all right. They’ll be fine.>

<I still want this to be over,> she answered. <Is this the last act of this terrible war? Truly?>

<With you at Char’s side, yes, I think it might just be.>

With a tight, but content smile, Lalah advanced to the forward positions with the Dilgar marines, Elia covering her. Now, they just had to hold for Fei’nur…

The whole point, of course, was to avoid detection until the moment was at hand. Nothing happened until Fei’nur reached the command suite within which Kycilia was waiting. Her red hair cut in the same length and style and her cool and composed expression in her ornate uniform made her something of a human, distorted mirror of Jha’dur. The mask accentuated the effect by hiding more of what was unambiguously human.

For a melancholy moment, the last Spectre paused. What was would never be again, even if she some day found where her Warmaster had gone. It could not be. It had ended, just as this must. The old days were lost in ash and dust. Only Shai’jhur remained.

She raised her weapon and fired at the guards first, on stun. They toppled, and Kycilia whipped around to face the empty space in the command bridge. It was too much of a shock, too much outside of their technological schema.

Kycilia opened her mouth, but before she could form a word, the next wide-beam stun shot dropped her. Moving rapidly, Fei’nur turned to suppress the rest of the bridge, firing as she ran, essentially in a circle around the open space available to her to leave their shots in return going wide.

Five more seconds on, and the crew in her sights was unconscious. She turned to Kycilia’s prone form and flung her over the chameleon net. Oh, now she was visible in the sense that a collapsed woman ‘floating’ down the deck was blatantly obvious, but hitting her without riddling their commander with fire in the process when Fei’nur still couldn’t be seen was an almost impossible challenge, and gave her the good chance to she had to make good her escape.

She kicked off, internal gyros keeping her oriented as she swung around corridors, back towards the hangar bay she had first landed within and the rest of her team. The alarms would be sounding as she moved, quick as she was able. Time mattered now, eventually they would throw enough desperate sorts before the commando to slow her down and get real sharpshooters in place.

Crewers were knocked out of the way, sent flying and in a few cases stabbed. There was no mercy, no slowing down. The extremely low gravity meant her speed was incredible with her cybernetic assisted muscles and internal gyroscopic stabilisation to keep her from losing her balance. Any issues the load of an unconscious human would have given her in full gravity were most assuredly not present.

She swung down through a hatch coaming, knocking two crewers out of the way who had been traveling up, responding to the alert. A beam of fire creased past her, but her knife settled the matter a moment later.

Next Fei’nur lunged down another deck, this time to find a crossfire sweeping through the space she descended. She dropped low, letting Kycilia’s body shield her. The curses of the crewers told her the effect it had, and she quickly returned fire, stunning those in one direction before wriggling forward in the other.

Then, abruptly, the fire slacked off entirely. <Go, Fei’nur!> Lalah Sune stood there, eyes flaring as the men were locked in place, at the end of the corridor.

Fei’nur pulled herself to her feet and slung her load back over her shoulder, taking off down the corridor. She was clear a moment later.

El’sau was coming up as she did, a grin on her face. “Battlemaster. Since we weren’t doing anything else, we decided to advance.”

“Well done, Battle Expert, but we have overstayed our welcome!” She wavered back into view as she spoke. “Fall back to the shuttle, we need to get clear before they make foolish decisions!”

Lalah stunned the men she’d immobilised with the Alliance weapon Elia had given her.

“Fall back, raid complete!” Elia shouted crisply. The Dilgar Marines covered them, falling back by the half-squad down the major corridors they’d occupied.

Fei’nur would hand off the unconscious Zabi to two of her Marines to concentrate on overseeing the withdrawal - the last one up the ramp, as she preferred, calling out as she threw herself for the ramp “Go, all aboard!”

With anyone who came close enough to face Elia or Lalah at once halted in place, they had suffered no further casualties, and as Fei’nur climbed the ramp, Elia pulled her in. The moment it was secured, the pilot hit the manoeuvring jets to blow free from the bay, backing clear of the cruiser.

As they did, the Zanzibar swung to face her, her beam gun ports charged. “Broadcast your surrender or we will open fire in the name of the Red Comet,” they ordered Kycilia’s ship. The game was over--the war was over. For a few billion people, it had never been a game.

The next day, Zhen’var called her staff together for the hotwash. She would have done it the night before, but they still hadn’t recovered Fei’nur and Elia and everyone was tremendously exhausted. The conference room was still a pile of rumpled uniforms, even Abebech looked like she’d slept in her’s, only Elia was perfectly made up. There was enough steam coming off the hot coffee and tea to make the glass of the table fog.

Three cruisers and a destroyer had joined them, too late for the fighting. Recovery operations had continued long into the night. The only noteworthy absence was Nah’dur, who had simply not shown up. “Captain,” Elia began, “The Surgeon-Commander’s apologies, but she has a backlog of life-saving critical emergency surgeries she’s still working through.”

“Mm. I shall not pull her away, after she finishes and has time to rest, we will have a smaller meeting with her. I will say to you all, very well done. We have achieved our goals, and we are still alive after having done so, if in need of dockyard time.”

“A week,” Anna sniffed. “There is much to go over, but, Captain, the most important lesson is that we were less damaged than we thought we were. The armour was penetrated only in six places, and each was with relatively minor consequences, contained by internal bulkheads. The problem was that the diffuse but high-power beam mission-killed a lot of our capabilities due to the concentrated damage on the starboard side.”

“The baffles, for example,” Violeta explained, “are intended to redirect thrust for manoeuvring. They’re massively armoured and controlled by mechanical linkages so it should be impossible to knock them out without repeated direct hits, but the sustained exposure to the beams weakened the material so that they bent and ultimately jammed. We could have had full power manoeuvring back faster if we’d realised the problem and replaced parts by feeding them out through the slats in the armour. It would have required depressurizing subsection XR-8 and opening access panels to get at the electrohydraulic actuator mountings, but we have could have done it.”

Anna nodded, and then gestured respectfully to Rick. “In the end it was the EVA teams which put us back in business, we assembled spare thruster blocks and started welding them to the starboard hull with flexible pass-thrus for the plasma once the restoration of shields made it possible for EVA teams to survive externally.”

“Awwh, shucks, ma’am, just doin’ our jobs…”

“The designers do not appear to have thought about what happens after the shields go down, in terms of damage effects, do they? Systems failures and damage, I mean to say. We had multiple system failures from the beams, and extensive damage from precise fire to exposed emplacements and equipment, correct?”

“Correct,” Will replied. “The self-healing armour did its job extremely well, the problem was the hardening of apertures against this kind of exposure to sustained energy at temperatures and power well in excess of what would be experienced in the outer layers of a typical system primary.”

Zhen’var frowned. “During the Reich War, most vessels that lost shields did not survive the experience, did they? Survivorship bias, do you think?” Her expression showed she was deep in thought, occasionally tapping notes into the tablet before her.

“Also, Reich weapons were optimized to penetrate deeply and gut internal systems,” Abebech spoke, barely more than a murmur, but authoritative nonetheless. “The Solar Ray produced an effect analogous to attempting to directly enter a Star, so it was broad-based across the entire hull. I expect that the designers simply considered redundancy to be sufficient and didn’t attempt to consider a scenario where every single one of a piece of equipment on one beam was knocked out simultaneously.”

“Suggestions for alternatives? Earthforce had similar concerns, if weapons and sensor emplacements could be taken out on a beam, the fighter complement was supposed to prevent it.”

“We could use fighters and drones to compensate for weapons and sensors, particularly when the fighters aren’t detached like they were in that action,” Lar’shan was both assiduous and modest in his tone for the assessment, at times very unlike a fighter pilot. “However, that would hardly help with the thrusters.”

“No, you’re right, Major,” Arterus found himself thinking, and thinking hard, for the sake of his commander and ship. Innovating, as Grandmother had done. And eager to make a contribution. “But if the Heermann were available she could lean in on the damaged side with tractors, we could establish links and use her to compensate in manoeuvring.”

“If it could be completely autonomous, both computers could be configured to handle that,” Violeta said, her eyes glinting. “In controls-theory terms they’d be one spaceship at that point. It has its own risks, of course.”

“Speaking of,” Fera’xero added, “I think we could have generated a bubble of similar size to protect the Federal Navy by stretching the shields with emissions from the warp coils, while keeping our bow-on to the weapon. That would have considerably mitigated the damage. I can have simulations completed in five days, and we’ll send them forward to operations. We’ve already sent the shield modifications forward, since they’ll be useful against the Dominion.”

“Excellent. Moving on to personnel operations…”

The next day in the morning, Zhen’var finally went to see Nah’dur. The woman had only just finished a surgery, gods knew how long she had been up, but she still seemed alert as she was going over some notes on her computer screen in her office. “Captain,” she greeted, covering her mouth as she yawned widely. “I’m prepping for the next surgery, but I have a few minutes.”

“I will not keep you long, then,” Zhen’var replied, and gently put a hand on Nah’dur’s shoulder. “How is it going?”

“Oh, it’s fine. I haven’t lost anyone yet. Six fatalities, all in starfighters destroyed outright. I’ve revived eight people recovered from space,” she had this almost insouciant look as she gestured at her screen, pointing to nothing in particular, “with wounds serious enough to puncture spacesuits. Three of our’s, three Federation, two Zeon. The longest was in a vacuum for fourteen hours.”

Nah’dur closed her eyes, from tiredness, not any emotional trouble. She gripped a mug of Khyla, a beverage comprised of a stimulant tea cut with meat broth, and carried on. “So, the worst I had on the Huáscar with two decapitations--total--and what I did this morning bright and fresh after waking up was the second of those. The longest was exposed to vacuum for three hours and atmosphere to four. Also a total of twelve other flatline cases have been revived, mostly by the other surgeons. There’s only two more of those which I’ll do personally before I finish, and I don’t really anticipate any problems with them. I’ve had six hours of sleep in the past sixty, but with stimulants that’s been enough to keep my work up.”

With her slightly-longer-than-bob auburn hair and intense expression, she was definitely calling to mind a certain woman Zhen’var had met before. Her look by that point was almost bored, though her voice inflected a certain degree of contempt as she continued into a rant, even if her words stayed polite.

“You know, Sister-Zhen, Alliance medicine has some real issues right now. Natural, expected ones. The ability of our Doctors and Surgeons to take up new skills is being taxed by the sheer quantity and scale of integration of twenty or so highly advanced medical technology schema, all of which are different and all of which have specific advantages. I’ve been using all twenty, replicating lots of cybernetics for bypasses based on designs from Solaris, medigel and dermal generators, targeted chemical therapies for damaged tissue, protective plastics--so of course my surgical department has saved at least seventeen who would otherwise be dead--take note of that! Our fatality rate would be twenty-three if we were another ship. But instead, it’s six. If brain tissue is heavily damaged in one area due to oxygen deprivation? Image it to record as much of the data, program it into cybernetics and put it in place of the damaged tissue. You should generally recover enough of the personality to allow some kind of recovery. The only problem I’m fighting right now is medical ethics boards, but if I look hard enough it’s been approved by one somewhere.

She waved airily. “Anyway, it’s not really the fault of other Doctors, despite my feeling rather indignant about it. And that’s because it’s quite hard to properly integrate these different medical technology schema. So people are dying unnecessarily. There. That’s my -- what is the human military term?”

“Hot wash,” Zhen’var answered, mildly dazed. Not like she hadn’t expected this from Nah’dur, but it was still incredible to hear her talking, half-asleep, about casually running through so many different technologies and synthesizing them into specific medical strategies.

“Very well then. Hot Wash,” Nah’dur repeated, shaking her head. “Odd term. At any rate. I will disseminate as widely as possible, this was my first major battle so it was my first attempt to put some of this to the test, but unless concerted action is taken at high levels to require this kind of inter-universal training in schema for all combat doctors in the service, more will die. It’s as simple as that. Now, I have my plan,” she had quietly gone back to multitasking on her computer, “and I would ask you to leave, so I may finish up and finally have some rest.”

The next day, before they departed for drydock, a visitor came, quiet and composed. She beamed aboard after requesting to speak to Zhen’var personally. Arriving at her ready room, her eyes still hung with bags, the woman looked mature beyond her years after surviving the events of the past days. She, too, had fought at A Bao a Qu, and for a year before that as well.

Unlike the other Federation personnel, revelling in the end of the war, the peace, the capture of Kycilia Zabi, she had lost any opportunity for pleasure or even peace in the conflict. Artesia Som Deikun, better known to all of her friends and frankly to herself as Sayla de Mas, stepped quietly into her ready room, wearing civilian clothes.

“Good afternoon, Lady Artesia. What may I do for you?”

“Captain… Please, there’s no need for a title,” she answered after a moment, almost taken aback. “I wanted to talk to you about my future. Someone unbiased and willing to look at the situation as honestly as possible.”

“Then please sit. Mint tea, I believe it was?” Zhen’var rose herself, to walk to the replicator and get herself a new mug of chai.

“Yes, please,” Artesia answered, her eyes flickering with warmth.

The Dilgar woman handed her the mug, then moved back to her chair. “If you are asking this, you are implying you do not intend to stay with your brother, then, or that you do not wish to do so. Please, speak your mind.”

“I love my brother immensely, but I have spent the year fighting against his comrades, against the nation of Zeon, even if it was for the sake of right, that is still something that cannot be undone. It would be easier for him if he did not have to explain me, and easier for me not to deal with the eyes and thoughts which come from having served in the Federation in the war against them, sometimes actively as a pilot,” Artesia replied. She didn’t sigh, but one could almost feel it in the air. “Nobody can un-do the past year, Captain.”

“Nor should one have to. It sounds as if you are trying to find a place in exile for some years, until passions cool and amity can be again found in this system. Is that so?” A stylus flicked between her hands, as Zhen’var pondered the point. “What do you wish to do?”

“I want to be myself,” Artesia shook her head. “Of course, I scarcely know who that is. Well, I was never given a chance to prove myself as a pilot on the White Base. I ended up serving as one, but… Yes, I suppose that’s what I’m coming here for. I’d like to go with you, and see humanity in the stars in a dozen-dozen universes.”

“Wonders and horrors alike… from what I have seen of you, I would sponsor your application to join our service as an officer, if you were not to take my path, from an associate state. Does that interest you, miss? Forgive me, I am attempting to determine exactly what you wish. I will also require your service records from Captain Bright.”

“Would you?” She grimaced. “I have occasionally been insubordinate. This war was complicated. On the other hand, you would find me quite incorruptible. But yes, I would like that… Though I am not sure my chance is great.”

Zhen’var waved her hand arily. “You have not yet seen how we run our Huáscar. I will take you as a Midshipwoman if I must and train you on the ship, if you meet the standards of my Operations and Medical officers, as well as my Wing Leader. If you wish this, I will explore your options before we depart. Is this agreeable?”

“Yes, certainly!” She took a pull of her tea and grinned. “I’ve never minded learning.

“Very well, then.” She rose, and extended her hand. “Provisionally, welcome aboard. I shall alert the officers you need to see, and if their reports are favourable, you shall gather your possessions.”

“Understood, Captain!” She leapt to her feet and took Zhen’var’s hand.

“Midshipwoman de Mas, or Som Deikun?” She asked, squeezing firmly. “Or does that depend which one, if either of them sponsors you as a loaned officer, since I suppose then it will be Leftenant when you come back, anyway?” She had a small smile when she asked, some understanding of the vagaries of politics growing with every mission.

Artesia smiled wryly. “Many officers of rank, I am given to know, serve under partial pseudonyms. I will be known as Artesia, but let’s see which last name makes sense. Ma’am.”

“Of course. Welcome to the Huáscar. Let me get you your appointments.” After the woman left, Zhen’var let herself give a small smile. As between worlds as you are, I have a good feeling about this.


At Gelmac station over Gersal, the Huáscar finally came to rest for repairs. They had already created quite a stir, since during the scratch repairs at A Bao a Qu someone had welded a flagpole to the frame at PriFly and put a metal Peruvian naval ensign and a broom on it. A Stencil’d Zeon flag had been added to the hull claiming one Golpe Estado to complete the effect.

She was hooked up to umbilicals for the first time since departing drydock for her shakedown cruise. Three weeks of repair work and modifications of shakedown punchlist items were promised, done mostly by contractors and engineering staff. Leave was plentiful for everyone else. Even the Captain was reputedly taking a few days to travel to picturesque sights on Gersal with Colonel Fei’nur, or so the rumour went.

Heermann had it even better. With no damage and nothing else to do in the general fleet drawdown, 85% of the crew was approved for leave at once, and they’d rotate with the small caretaker crew. With everyone else gone, more or less, Abebech wandered down to one of the tiny, storage-locker sized emergency habitation compartments that were the only spare space on the Heermann in event of deep-space rescues.

She cycled the overrides and the locks. “Kusko,” the Heermann’s commander addressed the woman inside. “Take these.” She handed over a package from under one arm--civilian clothes and a set of identity documents. “The chit has access to a Solarian interuniversal bank account with enough money to book the travel, and the instructions on what to say when you get there. My advice is succinct: Buy a nice pair of gloves, and give my regards to Captain Rhee Sueng. She needs some crack pilots.”

<I don’t know if I’m really supposed to be thankful at being given a line straight into another war,> Kusko Al answered.

<I don’t care whether or not you are. But I wasn’t interested in seeing you detained even just for a few months with the Gihren loyalists when you could so something worthwhile with the time or not. Consider it an alternative to prison if you like. But get the clothes on, and follow me onto the station. I can’t have you here for forever. And it is, as plain as day, forty shillings on the drum.>

The crew of the Huáscar had enjoyed at least a week of leave for every single one of them. Gersal was certainly a lovely world but for the rowdier part of the crew it offered few in the way of venal pursuits. Most had promptly booked passage to somewhere Dorei and close-by. Daria had spent the week on the surface visiting Gersallian groups that promoted collaboration with her order.

Now they were all back together. All systems were nominal, a few shakedown cruise punchlist items had finally been fixed, and the Huáscar was (a bit more modestly, they hadn’t been allowed to keep the stencil) ‘haze gray and underway’. There had been a few crew transfers and a few replacements, but the number was very small this early into her first commission.

The events over Zeon had left Elia in a better mood. The holoprojector was even working when they showed up for the briefing. That attracted some comment.

Woh,” Rick Dugan held his arms up in mock surprise. “The briefing’s already up?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it already working when I came in the room before,” Stasia answered. “This is some legit improvement.”

Anna glared at them.

“Be nice, Anna got less leave than anyone else trying to make everything work. Now, sit down everyone, we are going on a mission we are actually designed for this time.”

The Chiefs ducked off to the side and back to sit. Most of the others had sorted out their seating positions by that point.

“The mission we were actually designed for? You mean deep space exploration and general purpose operations?” Nah’dur asked, having, almost as always, found, a seat next to Fei’nur.

“Well, it’s certainly general purpose operations,” Will answered, nodding to the Captain.

Avarra, the station ship in The Triangle region of S5T3 is rotating home for refit. We are to be the station ship until they return. Border patrol, in the most classic star-fleet sense of the term.”

“Captain,” Elia nodded in acknowledgment, highlighting the area of space. “The Triangle is a complicated astropolitical region comprising one hundred and twenty M-class planets of consequence. It is ‘the triangle’ between the Klingon and Rihannsu Empires and the UFP. The Orion States are also a major presence as their territory, lying between Klingon and Federation space, includes the right to traverse the Klingon-Federation Neutral Zone, which functionally serves as a trade corridor for them to reach the Triangle. Piracy was substantially reduced after the Klingon-Federation alliance because of joint patrols across the Neutral Zone, but is still present in the Triangle.”

She started to highlight areas of space. “One of the peculiarities is that, by treaty, the Triangle is not part of the space of any one of the three Powers, however they do have member colonies in the Triangle. This means that unlike in other parts of the galaxy where say a Federation ship crossing the notional border in space would be a treaty violation, a Federation ship can legally enter a Klingon system in the Triangle--it’s more like international waters back home, national territory only extends to phaser’s shot from an orbital satellite, no further.”

“The Planet Geisling was a human colony, independent of the UFP, which was conquered and ruled by the Rihannsu for several decades in the last century. After a successful revolt, they maintained their independence for more than a century for a variety of reasons, and have become the first and so far only planet in the Triangle to join the Alliance; they have a population of one billion, twenty million, which is just above the old informal cut-off for Alliance membership. About twenty-two percent of the population is Rihannsu, and they were oppressed for decades, but a peaceful civil rights movement granted them full citizenship forty years ago. As our only planet in the region, they are our fleet base for the region, a single Class IX orbital garrison with the 92nd Attack Squadron and a wing of fighters; a second wing is on the planetary surface. Hadalib V has petitioned for membership status, but only has a population of a hundred million so is part of the population number debate, like we are,” she added, a glance around the table at the other Dilgar officers--which she was, despite being human, and did not forget.

“So, pretty much a wild frontier,” Violeta remarked.

“Yes, that’s accurate,” Elia nodded. “The largest native government is informally called Baker’s Dozen, which has a hereditary presidency but is broadly free. The biggest trouble-zones are the Orion worlds, where slavery is commonplace, and the Imperial Klingon States, best described for those of you familiar with 21st century as Enver Hoxha’s Albania during the paranoid Sino-Soviet split days; it’s a hermit Kingdom of failed contenders for power in the Klingon Empire. Almost every single planet has its own force of armed starships, but they’re mostly ghastly old designs from the big three or the Orions.”

“Best not to under-estimate canny sorts used to scraping what-ever they can together. The Union shows that you can come up with some very interesting ideas when you are backed into a corner.” Zhen’var softly interjected.

“You’re certainly right, Captain,” Elia dipped her head. “Well, there’s a lot more information with a full briefing packet, but in summary our job is to show the flag and respond to pirate attacks and reports of slaving activities. And of course to defend both our Member and our Prospective Member, but there haven’t been any threats against either. We’ll be here for at least a month, so it will be a good chance to settle into operating routines and I’ll be working from the Operations perspective to make sure that we take advantage of the opportunity.”

Zhen’var gave her a look. <Divine, Elia, did you have to curse it by saying that?>

<Bloody wars and sickly seasons, Captain,> Elia promptly teased back.

<Hrmph.> “We will be arriving in seventy-two hours, ensure ship and crew are ready, open door policy from me until then for any initiatives we may come up with.”

After the usual departures, Arterus lingered. In meetings, that kind of awkward stand off to the side as other people were talking and leaving inevitably meant the individual doing it intended to have a sidebar with the ranking officer or the presenter, and the way that Elia confidently left when she would have known the intent left little doubt the ship’s Navigator intended to speak with his Captain.

She waited until the rest had departed, before regarding the man. “Lieutenant Arterus? Sit, you clearly have something on your mind.”

“Elements, Captain, I’d just as soon stand,” he answered, clearly uncomfortable, it rippled in his musculature and reflected in the dark eyes of that olive face. Like many high-class Rihannsu he lacked the forehead ridge of the lower-caste which included those many of those power in the post-Imperial regime, and so superficially looked Vulcan. But a Vulcan would never express what his face did now.

“Captain, my cousin, she’s as close to me as the wind, is on Terramka in one of the Rihannsu agricultural settlements there. The government’s at least somewhat friendly with the Alliance. I was wondering if I could lead a little group to check up on her. She expressed some concerns in her last letter that the Tal Shiar might have become aware of where she was.”

“You may ask for volunteers, Lieutenant. I will shape our course for Altharra once I confirm our orders. If you choose to go on a small shore leave while there, I cannot disapprove, of course.”

A smile twitched onto the Lieutenant’s face. “As strange as it is here, Captain, I actually believe I won’t have any trouble finding those. Thank you.”

“You are welcome, Lieutenant. Good luck - I hope her concerns shall prove to be misplaced.”

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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Invictus » Sun Dec 02, 2018 5:13 pm

I wouldn't have guessed that the most unique thing about the Universal Century was psycommu technology. Purely mental interfacing with technology can't be *that* uncommon across all the possible sci-fi universes. Though the implications of being able to produce artificial espers are probably more alarming in this context, and it's just as well they arriving a couple of decades too early to encounter full-blown psychoframe technology. :)

With this diverging point I'm still deciding whether I should feel sorry for Amuro Ray, though.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Steve » Tue Dec 04, 2018 10:16 pm

Neuro-control technology is probably not too uncommon, no. The BattleTech universe has it, for instance, since said tech plays a key role in controlling BattleMechs (in fact, IIRC neurohelmets are also used by pilots of aerospace fighters). But psionic tech is a different beast; it's probably only in SOTS and maybe some concepts in B5verse.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 3 - "Case Armageddon"

Post by Tomyris » Wed Dec 05, 2018 2:16 am

It's not the same as neural interface technology. It interfaces with psionics. And that implies a capability which is underlaid by a very concerning fundamental understanding of how telepathy works.....

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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 4 - "The Border Patrol"

Post by Tomyris » Sat Dec 08, 2018 4:56 pm


Sometimes, life on the Huáscar actually was quiet. If one discounted the drills, and then the additional drills, and then the drills that followed those. But it at least had some kind of routine, and right now, in transit after leaving drydock, that was true enough, leaving the usual small knot of officers that had begun to gather at the ship’s civilian café. “It still kind of upsets me that she won’t let anyone use the holodecks for, well, anything,” Violeta grumbled softly, continuing the conversation.

“Except training, and then more and more training,” Anna answered, stirring her coffee. They were sitting by the windows in Café Varna, the stars streaking in front of them.

Already someone had dared remark on the similarity of the café’s name to the name of the Captain’s clan, which had gotten both a dressing down for impoliteness and borderline insubordination, and Alexandra’s epic rage as the woman had ranted about how Varna was a glorious and legendary Bulgarian city of seaside pleasure and relaxation. Thinking about Alexandra saying ‘pleasure and relaxation’ made Violeta giggle again, even though she felt like a bad person for doing it.

“Yeah, about that,” Violeta said as she shook her head. “I get the point. But the crew needs to unwind together, not just wander off on shore leave and get pasted at dive bars. And Gersal doesn’t exactly even have many of those.”

Anna rubbed her face. “You know, there’s a part of me that still gibbers that holodecks are magic dream boxes, Violeta. Maybe that has something to do with the Captain’s regulations, but I really get the sense that she thinks, sincerely, that they’re just unfair in their allocation of resources. She’s a straight shooter like that, you know.”

“Where’d you pick that one up?” Violeta asked, changing the subject. She didn’t want to admit she was just upset because she couldn’t continue her RPG. She thought she had other, valid points that were concerning, too. But a part of her was telling herself she was upset because she couldn’t continue her RPG.

“Oh, Chief Dugan, of course. He’s very quotable.”

“That guy’s something else,” Violeta laughed. “You wouldn’t think him the type, honestly, to do what he did for the Captain.”

“He has a really intense sense of right and wrong at the level of a common man’s fairness,” Anna countered. “It’s closeness to others which makes genocide possible, the cycle of hatred. The distance of humans and Dilgar meant he just felt they weren’t getting a fair shake, and that was worth fighting over.”

“It’s funny that you and so many people on this ship say that,” Violeta drank her own tea, her face twisting up in an expression of thought. “The common wisdom is that closeness makes peoples understand and respect each other more.”

“A maudlin sentiment of those who don’t know conflict, respectfully; ask a Russian if they like a Pole, or a German. But the French love us, in more than one universe too.”

“That’s kind of sad. Well,” Violeta cut off abruptly as a shadow crossed her.

“Commander, Lieutenant, forgive me,” Arterus began, holding a cup of his own as he stepped over.

“Oh, no, no, take a seat, we’re just discussing utterly irrelevant things,” Violeta waved her hand insistently. “That’s that terribly strong Rihannsu coffee you’ve got, isn’t it?”

“No, Alexandra convinced me to try the strongest of her’s. It’s… Tolerable,” he chuckled as he sat. But his own look was pensive. “Ladies, I admit I have an unusual question. I’m worried about my cousin and I wanted to go check up on her.”

“There’s nothing unusual about that,” Anna answered. She knew. Her own efforts to find her family had quietly consumed most of her leaves in which she had been able to return to her home universe, even though the chance was steadily fading that they had survived. “But why’s that related to the question?”

“She may be in danger, and the Captain granted me both leave and permission to take along any volunteers that I wanted to.”

“Ooh, I see,” Anna finished her mug with a swig. “Danger? Ask Colonel Fei’nur.”

“Do you really think…?”

“It’s worth a shot,” Violeta agreed.

“I suppose I must, then, if y--” He was cut off by a truly incredible sound. For the first time, Zhen’var had had Chief Dugan around when an alert was being called.

A bosun’s whistle was a particular kind of horrifying intense human invention which sent an electric shock down the spine. They all looked at each other in surprise. Then the alarms sounded, the klaxon blaring from stem to stern.

Condition Red, Condition Red, General Quarters! Set MC ZEBRA throughout the ship! All Hands To Your Battle Stations!

“...I thought this was supposed to be a quiet border patrol,” Violeta muttered. They were all already at a dead run, Anna peeling off for main engineering. There was nothing else to be done, but run and hope they got to their stations in time. Something, somewhere, had gone wrong and they were under threat. So much for a peace...

Undiscovered Frontier: Origins

Season 1 Episode 4

“The Border Patrol”

Act 1

It was unusual for an alert in that Abebech was on the bridge with the Captain, talking urgently. Will was below in secondary control, and Elia was frowning over at her Operations console. Then she looked up. “We’ve gotten the entire message, Captain, Commander.”

Abebech turned toward her, standing close to Zhen’var.

Elia bit her lip. “It’s a valid War Order, Captain. Not a drill. Nothing else.”

The Dilgar woman in the command chair nodded. “To my safe, Commander Imra, to review the IOP?” Her voice was calm and level, but her demi-claws were out and scraping along the stone facings of her armrests.

“Yes, certainly,” Abebech replied, and came to attention, waiting for Zhen’var to pass her heading to the Ready Room. “Commander Saumarez, direct any further communications to the Captain’s Ready Room. We can two-factor there ourselves.”

“Understood, Commander,” Elia answered, rising and stepping toward the centre of the bridge.

Zhen’var strode with urgency in her steps, to her ready room just off the bridge, and the small vault there that held the classified items that could not be trusted to the central computer, as she leaned in for the various scans meant to ensure that it was her, and that she was not under duress.

“I do not wish to contemplate a great deal what would have caused an Alliance War Order to be issued, Imra.”

“This procedure would only be declared for a serious event deep in the core territories of the Alliance,” Abebech replied. She gestured to the replicator as Zhen’var went for the safe. “Anything for you, Captain?”

“My usual. This implies one or more of the core worlds has been attacked, or are under threat.” She swung the heavy door open, and took out a single heavy red binder, laying it down on her desk, flicking to one of the marked dividers.

Abebech came over with the cups and watched her open the binder to the correct page. It was the only piece of paper documentation on the entire ship.

The directive was also plain and simple for their situation: Border Forces and Station Ships are to maintain an Active Combat and Patrol Posture to defend Alliance Territorial Integrity until Further Notice.

“I must confess, that was less drastic than I had expected…” She reached to her intra-ship comms array; “Commander Saumarez? Assume Wartime Cruising--Readiness Posture Echo.

“Aye, Captain. Schedule dawn General Quarters?” Elia asked promptly, referring to the old tradition in wartime cruising situations which would be applicable at scheduled ship’s ‘dawn’.

“That is correct. We have received War Orders, get us underway for Geisling, earliest possible arrival. Prepare for a meeting of the ship’s staff that can be spared, we need to defend two points at once, possibly more.”

“Understood, Captain. Standing down to Condition Yellow and relaxing to modified ZEBRA, staff meeting in ten minutes in Conference Suite One,” the conference suite immediately below the bridge precisely for these kinds of staff meetings.

Abebech drank her coffee, still standing. “Less than three months after the war with the Reich ended. Less than three months of peace…”

“The Alliance is a grand dream that has many enemies. It seems another has moved against it.” Carefully placing the binder back and re-securing everything, Zhen’var finally took a sip from her chai. “Come on, let us get down to the meeting.”

The crew was much more serious as the senior officers were drawn into the meeting than they had been in the heyday of having returned triumphant from A Bao a Qu.

“Good afternoon, everyone.” Zhen’var barely spared a glance around the room, her expression grim. “Details are scarce to non-existent as to why, but command has invoked the Alliance Integrated Operations War Plan. I do not have details to what has occurred, but I must assume a major world has been struck. Our role is to, quote, ‘maintain an Active Combat and Patrol Posture to defend Alliance Territorial Integrity until Further Notice.’ Are there any questions?”

“Well, that’s pretty straightforward,” Lar’shan said after a moment. “We really have no idea what’s going on?”

“No,” Abebech answered for the senior staff. “Major, every comm frequency to Portland will be jammed with communications as they coordinate the response. They simply don’t have the time or capacity to devote an entire transmission to a single ship in a low-priority sector. And the most help we can give our commanders at this point is to leave them alone.

Remembering what happened on their shakedown cruise, Will looked at Fera’xero. “Have you been monitoring the holonews broadcasts again? Anything there?”

Stasia rubbed her eyes and reached for her coffee. Her hair was wet, and the damp was starting to soak through her uniform in patches, having been in the middle of taking a shower when they called General Quarters. “They did always say the military usually found out about trouble by watching CNN, back home.”

“Unfortunately, Commander, Chief, there is only one relevant piece of news. The Gersallian Cooperative Information Service is not broadcasting, and neither is the Voice of Liberty. The other news broadcasts report an information lockdown with more news coming soon from Portland. Their feeds are just showing a rainy cityscape in the Capital, nothing more.”

“Gersal, and probably other points, including New Liberty, have been attacked.” Zhen’var stirred from the head of the table. “It is the common factor between the points of information. Higher authorities are trying to coordinate a response. What is relevant for us is whom did so, and what we can do to assist while here.”

“We only left there three days ago,” Violeta said quietly, stunned. Gersal was the linchpin of the Alliance.

“If we had been in dock, we may well have been destroyed without a chance to defend ourselves. We were fortunate, but there is nothing else that makes sense. Someone with an intra-universal drive has declared war upon the Alliance.”

“It could have been internal to that universe, the Coserian Emperor for example,” Anna objected.

“While it may be possible, are any of them that suicidal to risk it? The Alliance will respond with overwhelming force, the Reich War demonstrated our resolve even when it was not our planets under attack.”

“It might be another interuniversal power,” Abebech finally said, having hesitated a while. Her tightly pulled back hair leaned over her right shoulder. “I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, Commander Poniatowska.”

Anna sucked in her breath. “Very well. We’ll be to our destination in another,” she checked her omnitool, “forty-three minutes. Any instructions until then, Captain?”

“Pass the word to your Chiefs, let them filter it to the crew. They should know just what is at stake. I shall provide information to the ship data-net as it is received. I do not expect a combat situation on arrival, but we will reach our station and prepare to defend it.”

“You heard the Captain,” Elia added. “For further notice we are on Readiness Posture Echo, Wartime cruising, including Dawn General Quarters with ship time synchronised to Portland time. That means we’ll call the next alert at 0628 Zulu--in seven hours and fourteen minutes.”

“You are all dismissed to your stations, thank you.” Zhen’var was silent after giving them their dismissal.

“I’ll be reporting to the Heermann since she’s on Alert Five,” Abebech offered before heading out.

“And I to the wing; one squadron on Alert Five, one on Alert Ten, the rest at twenty minutes,” Lar’shan added.

The Captain acknowledged their reports, and would sit there until the last left, before rising to her feet to return to the bridge. Gersal… Divine, but what comes next?

Elia had been waiting outside, heading to the same destination. When Zhen’var arrived, she fell in with her. “Not going to try to take a nap, Captain?”

“How could I hope to, Commander, when things are so uncertain? It would be nothing more than staring into the viewscreen in my ready room, running scenarios through my sleepless mind.”

“Some soldiers get that trait, though, the ability to turn in ‘all standing’ or ‘take a caulk’ on the deck, in navy terms,” Elia grinned wryly. “I bet Rick’s one. I’m not, of course.”

“Of course the Chief is. He always seems annoyingly bright in the morning, but I admit never having caught him without his coffee.”

“This is a problem I’ve thought of before,” Elia continued, her hands folded behind her back as they rose upwards in the turbolift. “There are so many big foreign powers and we have spread through so many universes. Without it being unusual, we could still find ourselves in war after war after war. What will that do to the Alliance, I wonder?” Her tired dark eyes looked hard into the wall of the turbolift, as if she could see beyond it. Her expression was not negative. She could see the dangers, but she also wanted some of them.

“Force it to reform or break. We will see which, but either way, we will do our duty, Battle Expert.” Sometimes, her Captain showed flashes of a soul of sharp-edged iron which lurked behind normally calm eyes.

“A little like we’re in the Wars of the French Revolution.” She paused, and grinned wryly. “As the French. Well, then. You know, Captain, with all respect to what I expect your own position is, there are some people out there who need liberating. So -- Bon Chance, Mon Capitaine?

Zhen’var bared her teeth when she returned the grin. “Oui.” Together, side by side, Captain and Commander, Telepath and Dilgar, they strode out onto the bridge of their ship, coiled at Condition Two--Condition Yellow--and straining hard. For all the danger and uncertainty of the hour, it was thrilling.

They arrived at Geisling on schedule, dropping out of warp and into orbit. The Attacker squadron was waiting for them, with the fleet interrogatories having already flown back and forth as they approached. Zhen’var was the ranking officer, since the Station Commodore was a Captain of lower seniority. She created a conference link on the main bridge and started issuing directives to the Wing Commanders and Attacker Captains.

“One of the local squadron shall be at General Quarters at all times for further notice,” she ordered. “Maintain a full squadron CAP from each wing, including our’s, for three squadrons active with three early warning runabouts for each. Another three squadrons on Ready Five, and another three on Ready Ten as well as one of our bomber squadrons at each posture as well. All other forces to maintain Condition Yellow until further notice with ships at modified ZEBRA. Wing Commanders, Attacker ForceCom, establish patrol routines as you best see fit. Heermann may remain at MC Yoke while docked but not more than ten percent of the crew to be allowed on Huáscar at any time with all sleeping aboard; make sure either yourself or Commander Goodenough is aboard at all times, Commander Imra.”

The acknowledgements chorused. Abebech allowed a tight, grim smile after the others had closed off their lines. “Of course, Captain. Commander Goodenough will have the first watch.”

Then Abebech’s image disappeared, too. “Captain, the Geisling Defence Ministry is contacting us,” Elia informed her. “They seem pretty excited.”

“Rather not surprised to hear that,” Zhen’var shook her head wryly. “On screen.”

A Northern European Caucasian woman with sandy brown hair and sharp features blinked onto the screen. She was a severe looking woman with her hair going to midlength and not done up, and a lean face, who launched straight into the description. “Captain Zhen’var? I’m Anna Roschau, the Defence Minister of Geisling. To summarise what we know about the situation, a War Warning went out, and there are reports of multiple different attacks in different universes… Which has everyone pretty damn worried. We could be attacked at any moment. We’ve already got our old Chandley-class frigates and Genser-class escorts on outer patrol, but they’re all seventy years old and can’t do much. The Birds of Prey are still taking on their crews.”

Zhen’var glanced down to her display. They were all non-upgraded, early-model Federation ships of designs that the UFP had completely decommissioned. Clearly they predated the point where anti-military sentiment had led to the Federation completely banning foreign military sales, and the ships had been purchased at a fire-sale, and reality had required them to remain in service since. The eight Klingon Birds of Prey the planetary government also owned were newer, since the Klingons saw humans as allies in the past decade and unlike the UFP didn’t care about proliferation. They were also reserve ships with crews who might as well be a militia, and were still on the ground.

“Please get the Birds of Prey to full readiness as soon as possible, Ma’am,” Zhen’var answered very deliberately. “I agree with your assessment that we have been attacked in multiple universes at once. Can we prepone the coordination meeting scheduled for tomorrow to sometime in the next hour?”

Roschau looked at her for a moment, blinking, and then figured out the meaning of the unfamiliar word. “Isn’t it the middle of the night for you?”

“I’m hardly going to sleep until our defensive arrangements are secure, Ma’am,” Zhen’var answered with a shrug.

“We’ll get the briefings ready,” Roschau answered. “One hour precisely, we can do that.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.” Zhen’var watched the screen go silent, and then tapped the intercom to the Heermann. “Commander Imra, please come aboard the Huáscar after all. Elia, Fei’nur and I will be going to the surface for a briefing with the local government and I want you available to take overall command in the event we are taken under attack while I am on the surface. Will shall have the conn, but I want you in overall command of Huáscar’s operational assets. You would report to Captain Nansen, of course,” she referred to the Station Commodore.

“Understood, Captain.”

As the bridge for a brief moment went silent, Zhen’var shook her head. In another two days it was going to be her fortieth birthday and all she wanted for it was some kind of data on the situation.

Nah’dur was dealing with several interesting challenges in her spare time. The first of these was to sort out genophage details with Wrex. Well, Wrex could follow along to her status reports, but it wasn’t that he was a collaborator. Rather than try to immediately reverse what the Salarians had done, her first objective had been a simple change to promote regenerative fertility in Krogan females. Most females actually continued to produce new eggs, at least at a very low rate, during adulthood.

Nah’dur took the basic mechanism of propagation of the genophage (which had been nifty even if the rest of the work was slapdash and incompetent in her opinion) and had added a few factors to it which would drive increased regeneration. Since Krogan used a quantity-based reproduction schema anyway, next she promoted the release of more eggs during fertility events. Step one in overcoming severe attrition, if you don’t have another option, was to bring even more embryos into play. It was, in essence, reproductive materialschlacht.

She’d already designed an artificial womb, essentially, optimized for Krogan embryos which would be able to counter some of the neurochemical stressors which caused the high stillbirth rate and improve outcomes over traditional gestation. It was expensive, but it was a short term help, and there were plenty of Krogan with money, so she shot the design specifications off to Solaris where a company was now offering them to Krogan with enough money to pay, and then sent another copy to Wrex so he could look for cheaper suppliers. Now she just needed to finish the tests on the first round treatment and send it off Wrex. It might increase the successful pregnancy rate by 40%, which wasn’t enough but was close to enough, so it was a start which would staunch the demographic bleeding.

Her hands flew up to her mouth in an instinctive Dilgar gesture to cover her face as she yawned hugely. Broad, blue, feline eyes traced from side to side a bit suspiciously. Nah’dur hated admitting to those outside of her family she got sleepy. Her mother had been impervious to sleep, both of them actually. The number of alerts was getting to everyone, though. She looked down to her cup and frowned. She hadn’t yet found any coffee that she liked, except for one Marine officer who had given her this stuff from her homeland of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (humans loved long names) called Coffeemilk. That had been tolerable, but it was served cold, and she wanted something hot. Her latest attempt was no more successful and she gave up drinking it and wandered over to the replicator to get a proper Dilgar stimulant.

As she came back to her workstation, the chime on her office door pealed. Nah’dur blanked the screen to protect the data on the Genophage treatments. “Come in, please.”

The door opened. It was Commander Imra. “Surgeon-Commander, while I was aboard under the Captain’s orders, I decided to get my ninety day physical out of the way.” Like all Alliance officers, she was subjected to endless encouragements to get regular monthly checkups, but Abebech always stuck with the bare minimum ninety-day physical.

“Oh yes, I can do that,” Nah’dur answered. “The programme I’m running shouldn’t finish processing for another thirty minutes or so… Nothing’s changed, I take it?” She added, a bit lamely. Abebech was an enigma wrapped in a mystery cloaked in a riddle for her, or whatever that saying was; she couldn’t remember the order and didn’t really care. What more came to mind was an old Dilgar saying, not some pastiche of a human one, but really old: Every Predator also a Prey, and sometimes it was very appropriate, as Abebech seemed more of a predator than she was.

“Come on.” She wandered out to one of the bio-beds, regarding Abebech thoughtfully. People from S0T5 could be extremely unusual. Abebech was obviously a geneform, even though unlike most individuals on say Solaris, she looked superficially completely human.

As Abebech had requested, Nah’dur entered overrides that killed all the sensors and recording devices, activated a privacy lock on that sector of sickbay, and reached for a stethoscope. The woman pulled off her outer-coat and then very quietly removed her gloves--her hands were flawless, normal, but pale for Abebech’s natural skin-tone--and then reached up and took off her glasses. Those unsettling red eyes she had were very much the one Solarian geneform feature she did have, but unlike Solarians she hid, rather than flaunted, her difference.

“I don’t know what you did before you found me,” Nah’dur muttered softly. “To be honest, I’m not really sure how you got past the onboarding physical without a lot of questions being asked.”

“In the early days, the Alliance took a lot of people without many questions asked,” Abebech replied, almost as insouciant as Nah’dur usually was. “Satisfied?”

Nah’dur recorded the usual things, like the pulse of twenty beats per minute and the blood pressure of 90 over 60 which should mean that Abebech was unconscious and near death. Then she nodded and reached for the vial for the blood sample. “Just the usual disease screening.”

“Do you really need to again?”

“Absolutely. We have our agreement.” I want more samples. “I’ll gundeck the official results in exchange for regular tracking to make sure you’re actually healthy according to the genemods that you’ve had.”

“Very well, Surgeon-Commander, but I rather think you may just like sampling.”

Nah’dur rolled her neck. “Oh, it’s all in the name of scientific inquiry,” she said as the needle went in. Abebech flinched slightly, though her facial expression was always strange, rather than pained. Once she’d drawn the sample, Nah’dur stepped away.

Abebech put her uniform blouse back on and then her gloves, but left the glasses off as Nah’dur next tested her eyes. As usual she aced the visual acuity in all lighting conditions, and scored better than an Alakin on the audio tests…

“All right, go ahead and get on the treadmill,” Nah’dur said boredly as she recorded everything and checked it against her past physical on Abebech. Abebech pulled her pants off and put on a pair of workout shorts she’d brought and obligingly swung herself over to it, almost amused.

For this one, Nah’dur couldn’t help but watch in pained envy and fascination at the motion of human legs. She envied them so much. They just pumped, and pumped. Abebech didn’t even break a sweat. Nah’dur couldn’t bring herself to actually tell the woman to stop; she just loved the fascinating, wicked biological perfection of a creation which had come about being a predator in an odd way, the oddest of ways perhaps: not ambush, gods no, exhaustion predation, the one thing which made humans unique rather than the utterly average that they were in almost every other respect. Nah’dur had long already concluded, before contact with the Alliance, even, that the human adaptation for exhaustion predation was the main reason that humans were uniquely dangerous.

Abebech’s heartbeat made sense in the context of a geneform that had been optimized for long distance running. Naturally, Nah’dur loved watching her run. She could, in her mind, strip away the layers of flesh and fat, and imagine the muscles coiling and uncoiling, the tendons and nerves responding, the padding of the joints in the bones transmitting force through the continuous rhythm of impulsive motion…

Nah’dur could run faster than Abebech, for about the first five minutes. She was not in as good of shape as she should be, so she’d time out and collapse soon after that. Abebech could do this for hours. Any properly trained human could, but Nah’dur suspected, based on her current working hypothesis of Abebech’s genetic modifications, that she could do it for twelve or fifteen hours. Running continuously for that long was incredible.

But Nah’dur knew someone else who could do it for almost as long. In her imagination, Fei’nur’s legs slowly began to substitute for Abebech’s as she was quietly entranced by the rhythm of the running.

The reverie was broken by the legs slowing down. “I do rather believe that’s enough data,” Abebech said with a mildly disapproving tone.

You could run down one of your equines,” Nah’dur said, her eyes jerking up.

“How do you think humans tamed them?” Abebech shot back as she wandered over to the exam table and put her uniform pants back on.

“Hmf! I suppose you are quite right. Very well then, you’re fit for duty. Of course. I’ll put the values you asked in the latest report, again.”

Thank you, Surgeon-Commander!”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” Nah’dur said, wandering back into her office. She’d compare baselines on Abebech again later, she wanted to see if the simulation had finished…

Zhen’var, Elia and Fei’nur materialised in the courtyard of the small and tidy Defence Ministry that Geisling maintained. It was adorned with statues celebrating the successful revolt which had driven the Rihannsu off the world, frequently invoking the militaristic style of Old Earth in the 19th century, especially the Romantic period. That was common enough for the history of a world which had been written in blood.

A small honour guard of local troops assembled, and an aide approached. “Captain Zhen’var, Huáscar officers, I am Major Deborah Kielsen,” she introduced herself, “Aide-de-Camp to the Minister for Defence.”

“Major, a pleasure.” Zhen’var nodded her head sharply in greeting. “Commander Elia Saumarez, my Operations officer, and Colonel Fei’nur, head of my ground and Security forces.”

“A pleasure to meet you all,” she greeted them in turn. “Welcome to Geisling, they call us the Swiss of the Triangle for a reason.” There was a grin on her lips as she turned toward the entry-foyer of the building. Security interfaced with the omnitool of each of the three Alliance officers as they entered--Major Kielsen had an old-style scancard--and prompted a demand for their two-factor passcode for the security chip inside of the omnitool.

Glancing to the other two, Zhen’var tapped hers in, watching her fellow officers do the same, as Fei’nur glanced about in real approval. This was the right level of security for a colony.

“The Birds of Prey are standing up, they’re on three hours notice, which is enough time to have them up if Romulan Warbirds are detected leaving Romulan space,” she explained as she led through multiple floors and up to the top of the building and the airy conference dome set back from the sides for security. “Another ninety minutes and we’ll have them up.”

“Good timing, for a reserve fleet. I do not think an attack from that direction is imminent, unless they see an advantage to be seized.”

“The Praetor loves the Main Chance,” Kielsen answered, and then came to attention as she stopped at the bottom of the steps into the conference doom. “Generalleutnant Robert Nader, Vizadmiral Frederick Rieslich.”

Both of them were aging men, but Nader had brown color to his skin--probably Arabic--in contrast with the Admiral who was probably as German as the ranks.

“Captain Zhen’var, welcome. You’re a welcome sight after they pulled our last station ship and then this alert went down,” Rieslich offered. “Please, take some seats, all of you. We’ll have some light refreshments coming up in a moment, too.”

“Thank you, Vizadmiral.” The Dilgar woman glanced about, taking the measure of those around her - this was certainly one of the more militaristic Alliance members.

“”It’s not a problem,” he answered as the food was brought out, as well as coffee and tea. There was salmon and some chicken kebabs.

“The original colonists were from Bavaria?” Elia asked.

“You know about our namesake village in Regensburg? How brilliant, Commander,” Nader smiled. “Yes, in the majority. They established a reputation for themselves as excellent gem-cutters and jewelers in the early settlement days, carrying on some lost traditions from Earth. It’s said the Romulans spared our ancestors because they could not bear to destroy that which created such beauty. Well,” he chuckled, “we taught them the error of their ways.”

Zhen’var only nodded to that, not sharing the chuckle. Such things tended to make conquerors harsher if they ever came back. It was her responsibility on station to ensure that did not happen.

Rieslich brought up a holo-projection. It spent a solid minute wavering as the Major leaned in to run a diagnostic cycle on the projector before it finally settled down.

“Are your’s any more reliable, perchance?” General Nader asked.

“It was a critical element of our recent yard period, shall we say?” The Captain replied with a wry tone to her voice.

“I have this Klingon civilian model in my home and that always starts right up and works. Of course the resolution is terrible,” Rieslich grumbled. “At any rate. You can see there that we’ve been tracking an uptick in Romulan ship transits inside the Triangle. So we actually are concerned about opportunism now. We were concerned enough to plan a dedicated briefing on this before the WARNORD went out.”

“Go ahead with the briefing. We have some reports of possible Tal Shiar activity on Terramka we were planning to investigate - I still intend to do once it is safe to resume our patrol circuit.”

“...Several of the vessel tracks we’ve recorded could actually be heading to or from Terramka, actually,” Rieslich said, now interested. He started to run through the track lists, as well as intelligence estimates of the vessels, mostly older, second-line Romulan ships.

Zhen’var frowned to that. “Then I shall need to intend to make it the first priority after the war alert is canceled… unless there is a ship I can quietly send a team upon?”

“We’ve got a few heavily armed and shielded freighters we can use for covert ops,” General Nader replied. “But they’d also be useful enough in a pinch if we came under direct attack. I suppose one of the Peregrines wouldn’t attach much notice, but…”

“I don’t really feel comfortable reducing our defensive strength until we at least have a communique from Portland,” Rieslich agreed.

Major Kielsen had stepped over to a terminal, and now she turned back to face the table. “Sirs, the answers to our concerns may be at hand. We’re receiving a priority broadcast from Portland.”

“Finally,” Nader sighed, reaching for his coffee. “Put it on, Major.”

Zhen’var took her tea with an rigid grip, expression going flat. This was not likely to bode well.

The image resolved into a woman in an Admiral’s uniform who looked tired. Zhen’var recognised her, Admiral Dana Envers, COMNAVRESFOR. The fact that the commander of the Reserve Force had had some of the briefing duties parceled out to her showed how serious the situation was. In retrospect it made sense, though, since she was probably briefing like fifty planetary defence force commands simultaneously.

“Gentlebeings, this is Admiral Envers acting for the National Militaries Liason. Approximately two hours ago a major Cylon force attacked Gersal with total surprise. The first indications suggest it was a ‘signature’ terrorist attack aimed at the Great Temple of the Order, though substantial damage was also done to orbital infrastructure and casualties in the Gersallian and Alliance military forces were taken.”

“Simultaneously, a large force of SS starships attacked New Liberty with overwhelming strength. They destroyed the defending vessels and conducted a terror bombardment and several raids against what we believe are intelligence assets. They then retreated using interuniversal drive. The intelligence conclusion is unmistakable: The destruction of the throne-world of the SS was just cover for a retreat to secret installations at which they perfected test copies of the IU Drive we recovered from Welthauptstadt Germania, corrected the observed deficiencies, and now have begun a terrorist campaign using their remaining fleet, which may number in the hundreds of ships.”

“The timing of the two events is not a coincidence. It is possible the Cylons skipped into another universe and then returned to launch their attack on Gersal, since little else would explain their ability to bypass the Gersallian outer frontier sensor networks. It is clear that both attacks were precisely coordinated, and in combination with strong circumstantial evidence from the Battle of Welthauptstadt Germania, it is clear that the Cylons and the Schutzstaeffel are operating in Alliance with each other to pursue common aims against our government.”

“At this time, every planetary defence force in the Alliance needs to be ready and on alert for surprise attacks by overwhelming concentration of SS and-or Cylon starships, and we may expect the attacks to cease only when logistics force them to stop for refuel and resupply. Whether they have already exhausted those stores or if they could make another twenty attacks is unknown. We are reactivating major reserve fleet elements and sending them as reserve fleets to all major member worlds in the anticipation of creating rapid response fleets which can minimise the damage and catch them. This defensive strategy will persist until analysis of their attack patterns gives us evidence of the universe they are presently operating from, at which point we will bring together scratch assault fleets from those same rapid response forces to destroy their infrastructure and force a halt to attacks. That is all. God Preserve the Alliance.”

The message blinked out. The declaration of overt religiosity at the end showed the level of tension in the ranking elements of the government. Admiral Rieslich looked at his Army counterpart and then sank back quietly into his chair, saying nothing for a moment.

Zhen’var quietly took out her communicator and spoke in a completely flat tone. “Grau to Ray-Ban. Priority Override. Ray-Ban, alert as follows: Hostile IU-drive equipped raiding forces of Cylon and Schutzstaffel vessels operating freely and in in overwhelming localized strength within Alliance space and conducting surprise attacks on a planetary scale. Gersal and New Liberty badly struck in precision attacks. Set REDCON accordingly. Let the crew know in a controlled manner.”

“Grau, I confirm the situation and am taking measures,” Abebech’s voice echoed back, completely confident. “Complete your coordination preparations. We are standing-to appropriate readiness.”

“Thank you. Grau, out.” Zhen’var looked up again with that same expression of steel in her eyes, as the Marine Colonel barely hid how tense she was, and how uncomfortable how she was to be on a planet after that alert. “It seems we face a larger challenge than we expected, and will need to fulfill our station-ship duties with what-ever is left after defending this world. As an outpost in an isolated universe, we are a tempting target - Commander Saumarez, your views?”

“We’d be outnumbered ten to one even with every ship on hand, in the worst case, from the local forces and our own naval detachment,” Elia answered. “I think we need to investigate the Rihannsu manoeuvres in the Triangle despite this threat. Is there any way we can reinforce the local defences?”

“We have some reasonably good relations with nearby Klingon houses, we could ask for House ships to help defend us,” Admiral Rieslich said. “They would expect a favour from the Alliance or from Geisling later on, of course, but many of them were angry at being pulled off the line with the Reich when relations between the Empire and the Alliance went south with Gowron’s adventuring against the Cardassians, so we might be able to lean on that.”

“We will not be getting reinforcements, Admiral. We are all you can expect from the Fleet.” The Alliance was lucky with the Reich. This will expose the inability of the Alliance to defend itself against IU-equipped enemies. One cannot be strong everywhere.

“We need to go talk to the President, then. I’ll get back to you about your Romulan-hunting mission when we have an answer on whether or not we’re going to ask for Klingon help--and whether or not we’re going to get it.”

“I would return to Huascar, then, and see if we can leverage our assets to assist in your defenses.” Zhen’var itched to be back on her ship, not here, away from her command, when there was such a looming threat over them all.

“Very well then, there’s no need to keep you here while we attempt the diplomatic arrangements. Captain, you are dismissed,” Vizadmiral Reislich said simply, and rose. “We will all be very busy and hopefully that is all it will come to.”

“Thank you, Admiral. Grau to White, stand-by for three to beam up.”

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 4 - "The Border Patrol"

Post by Tomyris » Sun Dec 09, 2018 5:47 pm

Act 2

Over the next several days the situation calmed, somewhat. There were no further attacks, and other elements of the Alliance Navy were in hot pursuit of the SS raiders. The high level of alert continued, but they had to remain at Condition Yellow with the practical reality of having to avoid the crew simply collapsing in exhaustion. With movement in the ship hindered by maintaining modified ZEBRA, extensive travel through her decks still remained an adventure.

Nah’dur still found a way to get up to Zhen’var’s cabin during a time when they were both off duty. The Captain’s younger stepsister was politely put together, but still seemed brimming with her usual frenetic energy.

“Nah’dur?” Zhen’var was blinking in confusion as she opened the door to her quarters, gesturing in. “Please, come in. What brings you here? Anything I can get you?”

“Some Ytar, please,” she said, naming a broth tisane and smiling as she stepped into Zhen’var’s Captain’s quarters. “Thank you, Elder Sister,” she added, formal but not addressing her as a Captain.

“Well, sit down.” She brought Nah’dur the mug and moved to flop down in her own small sitting area, shuffling some datapads on the small table there into a neater pile. “What is it?” She was trying to think what would bring the Surgeon-Commander here - the journey at modified-ZEBRA was not easy from Main Sickbay.

“I wanted to ask how you’re doing, Zhen. This has been a very stressful time for the entire crew,” Nah’dur answered, taking the mug gratefully.

“As I tell Va’tor every week, as well as can be expected.” There was a hint of wary stress in that voice--Zhen’var was on a notably more frequent schedule of visits than most of the other members of the crew, for several reasons.

“That means you clearly need your sister,” Nah’dur answered, leaning in with her button-nose gently twitching. “Have you created that dating profile yet?”

“Of course not, when would I have had time for something as frivolous as that?” The Captain gestured to the pile of reports on her desk even now. Quite the birthday celebration, isn’t it? Paperwork and war alerts.

“Possibly your birthday?” She nudged at Zhen’var. “As good a thing to do as any, now. It won’t take long.”

Nah, I have reports to write.” There was a nearly wheedling tone to it, as she gestured to a wall chrono. “My birthday is over in two hours anyhow, this can wait, it has waited this long already, has it not?”

“No, it can’t. I want to see your cute girlfriend and then watch as you get mated! It will certainly happen soon if you have a dating profile. I know you’re very serious about commitment,” Nah’dur answered insistently. “Come on, you’re a prize for any Dilgar woman so inclined. There are not many active duty Dilgar warship Battlemasters. The social prestige is immense.”

“When would I have time even to date anyone, Nah? That would require leave back home, and that shows no signs of happening during this commission. I am a Captain now, it is not as if I am a young Combat Expert anymore.” Still, her refusals were growing less vehement, and more tired.

“Oh, come now. You could have an on-line relationship over the Extranet. And then when you finally meet it will be so sweet and romantic.”

“As if I even have time for…” Zhen’var sighed. “Stop looking at me like that. Fine, but I am making you help. I barely use the Extranet.”

“Brilliant!” She drank heavily from her mug and grinned. “Let’s get started. Of course I’m going to help. I love helping you, Zhen.”

“I am sure… now, how does this work…?”

Nah’dur leaned over the computer with her and brought up the extranet site. The Dilgar extranet was on the extreme corner of the system, and was still a reality of low-bandwidth, low-power technology to avoid detection; it had a charming clunkiness that someone who had grown up with the Earth 90s internet might appreciate. The result was a page with a simple search-box and rows of dating profiles in neat Dilgar script, under the banner (also in Dilgar script) of Union Female-Female Romance Services, By Women For Women. Each one was plain-text with a single picture and the search terms corresponded with some standardized entry boxes in the list.

“Divine, but this feels like a history lesson… I think one of the pictures Fei’nur took on Gersal will do best. What are these other fields…?”

“Interests, age, height, blood-type, you know, those sorts of things that other women might sort and search by! I’ve met a bunch of girlfriends on here--there’s nothing sweeter than a picnic at the top of a Mesa when you’re healthy on Rohric, and it comes rarely I know, but when you feel good enough to climb, it is a lovely world to share with someone. And Fei’nur took some pictures on Gersal? Yes, those will do! Here, you go to the upper righthand corner to create your own new profile. You should create a profile name for it.”

“A profile name? What is wrong with my name…?” Zhen’var blinked slowly, starting to become slightly worried at how enthusiastic her little sister was being.

“Well, nobody uses their real name at first. I think it’s a legacy of when this was all hush-hush in the Old Imperium Days--remember, this would have all been underground then. Usually they get exchanged when you meet in person or after a few rounds of conversation in a private message, you know, that sort of thing.”

“I am supposed to use a fake name on a dating site? Nah, this is… I have never done anything like this. Divine, I have not dated in years!

“Well, that’s why you need to use it. So we can fix that.” She wrapped an arm around her sister’s shoulders. “Come on. You deserve to be happy like everyone else.”

“I… all right.” She still looked skeptical, as gloved hands reached out to start typing.

“Can I look through the pictures of you and Fei’nur from Gersal to find the best one?” Nah’dur asked politely as she let Zhen’var type.

Distracted, the elder woman waved. “Very well, they are on my personal datapad, go ahead.”

Nah’dur was soon eagerly flipping through the pictures. All of them. When she saw Zhen’var was close to finishing, she glanced up. “Hmm. None of these pictures really, you know, show off the real you as well as they could.”

“The ‘real me’...? What are you talking about now? I was relaxed when Fei’nur took those, I thought they came out rather well, too.”

“Well, you know, you want to show that you’re a physically fit Dilgar female, and that … Those pictures are in a lot of clothes, Zhen. Perhaps you have one wearing exercise gear instead?”

Sister or not, Zhen’var gave Nah’dur a glare. “You want a picture of me in less clothing for this profile? I do not have candid photographs of myself working out!”

“Why not? I mean, you want to show them your muscles…”

“Why? It should be the profile that attracts them, not the picture! Look, I am certain that no-one else chose risque shots for their profile!”

Nah'dur immediately looked a little hurt.

“Oh Gods, you did.”

“....I get lots of hookups!”

“You are my little sister!”

“And that matters how? mother-Shai has always been supportive. Hmmf.”

“Kasme, you are so jungli sometimes!”

Nah’dur blanched and she had the decency to look embarrassed, the combination of her mother’s stories and the universal translator conveying everything necessary. “Sorry, sister. You’re right,” she finally allowed. “I suppose for the conservative serious religious type your going for your vacation pictures are perfectly fine. You’ll probably end up mating a Priestess or something and that will actually make you really happy and all of those other bourgeoisie contentment things. That is the human term, right?”

“Oh, come off it, Bollywood may be unrealistic, but it is not as if I am not open-minded, Nah.” The Captain still looked flustered.

“Well, yes, but what do you waaant?” She trailed the word out with a roll of her tongue with a kind of cute growling noise, leaning against her sister as she watched her finish filling out the dating profile.

“Someone… I can be comfortable with, who is polite, who respects me… I am not being too demanding, am I? The other things you mentioned would be… nice.”

“No, I don’t think you are asking for too much. Of course, there’s different kinds of politeness when your neck is the one being bitten than when you’re doing the biting, but you’ll learn that intimately with a good lover.. And it’s not really my job to educate you on that as my sister.” She nodded firmly and made an expression recognisable in Dilgar as yucky, more or less. “Namely I’m not an Islander,” uncritically referencing a popular stereotype that one of the few Prime Dilgar ethnic minority groups identifiable as such were obsessed with incest.

“Be nice, Nah, their traditions were held tightly through the Imperium, and they are true and authentic. Now that we are finished, you should get back to your quarters. It is getting very late, and we have dawn quarters coming up.”

“I’m also very hungry, and I’m certain you are as well…” Nah’dur tugged at Zhen’var. “Come on, we’ll go down to the Varna Café and get you something nice.”

“I have the replicator, it will be fine… you are not going to let me say no, are you?” The elder sister sighed audibly and stood. “All right. Let us get very familiar with bypass passages.”

“Brilliant.” She cheerfully led her Captain down through them, her eyes far too bright for the hour as she swung herself nimbly through hatch-combings and scrambled down ladders with a comfortable aplomb. “You should see Ca’elia do this, she can take it all at a blind run, Captain,” she reverted to formality in public for the sake of discipline.

“She impressed Fei’nur on the holodeck obstacle run training course, I recall.” Zhen’var replied, swinging along after. “I am quicker in zero-gravity, blame muscle memory for that.”

“I’m envious of that. I wish I’d grown up in space.” She sighed. “Of course, it’s not hard to want to grow up somewhere other than Rohric, despite how beautiful the planet is, and how interesting the ecosystem is.”

“That is a feeling everyone who has visited Rohric agrees with.” Reflexively, Zhen’var rubbed at her throat, remembering the agony even a short visit had left her in.

“I worry if I don’t solve the spores in another few years the planet will end up deserted,” Nah’dur sighed. Then she smiled as they arrived at Café Varna, and waiting before them… Was a little party at a table.

Elia, Ca’elia, Aur’ma, Fei’nur, and… Abebech.

The last made Zhen’var stare. Well, Ca’elia and Aur’ma were surprising too, but… Abebech? “... Imra…?”

“You can call me by my first name if you want to, Captain,” Abebech answered, and smiled faintly. “Happy Birthday, is how I believe they said it? I mean, perhaps it’s just an excuse for more Karvavitsa, but I really do think …”

Elia was laughing. “Happy birthday, Zhen’var.”

“Mother sends her regards to Ka’var’s kit,” Ca’elia added, daringly and chipper.

“You… are actually celebrating my birthday…” She sniffled and turned her head away with a violent motion. “Elia, I would have expected you if we were not on alert, and you, Nah’dur, but… the rest of you?”

“Well, Corps Birthday is best enjoyed with company, so why not your birthday as well?” Elia asked.

Fei'nur looked a bit sheepish. “Captain, of course I wouldn't miss it. You are my friend. Do you know the first time I visited a planet for pleasure? It was in fact with you at Gersal…”

“Thank you, Fei’nur… you are not escaping a rib roast on your birthday now, I hope you know.” She turned back, tears glittering in her eyes. “You… thank you, all of you.”

As she sat with her friends, a message popped up on her omnitool. Everything is kinda crazy on the Eendracht right now but Happy Birthday Zhen'var. Sharon.

Still wiping away tears, she tapped back. Here too. Thank you, Sharon. Thank you more than I can dare say.

When she got back to her quarters, a little glowing light indicated that she had another request to connect.

Glancing at the chrono, Zhen’var let out a soft little groan of tiredness before she tapped ‘accept’, after adjusting her jacket and straightening her hair.

“Oh, there’s no need to do that, it’s just Appe,” Kaveri was in her Dilgar duty uniform, sitting at her own desk, and used the comfortably familiar Tulu word for Mother, that unique and very matriarchal language which had reversed the root words for mother and father, alone among the Dravidian tongues. “Though I wouldn’t think in any eternities to stop you from being dignified, my daughter.”

Her face broke into an honest smile. “Mother! You called, I thought you would be far too busy with the re-mobilization! I… am glad to see you. I just got back, Nah’dur forced me to go to a surprise party in our ship’s cafe.”

“...Nah’dur is, I see, living up to her reputation in a good way. Wonderful.” A smile matched her daughter’s. “And, actually, we hadn’t gotten back to Rohric for the decommissioning ceremony yet, so Wrath is currently on a speed run to reinforce the garrison fleet over Germania even though I think the likelihood of a Nazi attempt on regaining their capital is very small.”

“Always the effort to secure what will never be attacked, when the frontier is far more vulnerable… she also... “ Zhen’var paused. “... Forced me to try to start dating again.” It came out in something of a quiet exhalation, rushed and jumbled together, unlike her usual poise.

“Are you comfortable with that? You’re not the kind of woman to let yourself be forced,” Kaveri answered, a thoughtful frown crossing her face. “You’ve never stopped being assertive, even when you were in that ashram recovering from the Line. So I hardly think this is Nah’dur being an impertinent little sister. Well. She’s being an impertinent little sister, but not in that way. In general.”

“I needed a push. You know it has not gone well for me before, mother.” Regret suffused her tone - it had not gone well, nor happened often in the past.

“I know. At a time when you should have been a bold young officer, you instead bore the terrible weight of that desperate fight to save our homeworld. Zhen, for so long you have had to neglect yourself out of duty. Don’t subsume that duty into a part of who you are. Don’t assume that just because it commanded you then, means that you are unfit because of the past. You’re one of the most loving people I know, actually.”

“We will see, mother. This is a truly inauspicious time to attempt any such beginning, but I have… still tried. If there is a response…”

“Do give her time, whomever she is, Zhen. I suspect from what your sisters have said you are focused on other Dilgar women, and the mass emergency mobilisation probably captures most of the sorts you’d fancy.”

“You and Nah’dur both seem to think so.” She shook her head with a small sigh. “Thank you for calling, Mother.”

“Now you need to get to bed, I suspect, from your shipboard time. But first: Happy Birthday, Zhen. You have your White Ship, and I pray her many successes. As for me,” a wry grin, “I have discovered perhaps the second thing I love in all the Imperium to Shai’jhur: When you execute a stop-loss for the entire crew of a ship, you only sign one form instead of one per crewer.”

Zhen’var’s laugh bubbled over. “The Alliance is not nearly so simple, mother! I feel a great jealousy now!”

“You say that, but I was recently tasked with serving on a committee reviewing the Articles of War for provisions in violation of Alliance law. You can quite well imagine how that is going, Zhen.” She was laughing too, though.

“Next time we meet, I will need to compare notes. I do not think I need to say more, do I?”

“Certainly not. I love you, Zhen. Stay safe and strike hard. Namaste, Zhen.”

Placing her hands palm to palm before her, Zhen’var bowed to her mother. “Namaste, Mother.”

Captains didn’t get to sleep in, so the birthday party inevitably meant a little less sleep than might have been optimal before the pealing of Dawn General Quarters work them all up onboard the Huáscar. After Zhen’var took the conn and conducted a short battle-drill with the orbital naval and militia squadrons, she replicated herself breakfast in her ready room (Poi bread with chorizo, since Goa was the only place she could think of that had meat with breakfast). Granted, these days she just had one piece of Poi and the rest of the meal was chorizo and sauce, but that was part of the gastronomic reality of being Dilgar. It tasted good.

Then the paperwork started, as ever. It was a quick way to pass the time, until a chime on the door reminded her that her Chief of the Boat was waiting for their thrice-weekly enlisted personnel status meeting.

“Chief Dugan, come in!” She called out from her desk, looking up with a smile on her face. She always would have a soft spot for the mustachioed Chief after the first Huascar.

“Captain,” he came to attention and moved to sit. “Might as well be on the love boat,” he remarked about the lack of saluting. “Ma’am. So, the BLUF is that the situation is definitely impacting morale. Not readiness, yet, but definitely morale. Everyone thought the war was over, and it turns out they thought wrong.”

“Hope taken away after being given is the worst, and our op-tempo has increased far above what was expected when we were dispatched. Consumables will be somewhat stressed, but we should manage, by my projections. I cannot spare shore leave, Chief, anything we do for morale will need to minimize impacts to readiness.”

“...Yeah, I get that, Captain.” He grinned. “So how about a steel beach party, Ma’am?”

“Chief, should I be concerned that the mental image of a grill full of poultry is making me ravenously hungry when you suggest that? I think that means the Dilgar half of the crew is going to like the idea, once it is explained to them, do you not?”

“I remain absolutely convinced the best way to improve Dilgar-Human relations is with a bunch of barbeques,” Chief Dugan deadpanned. “The Marines can fill their largest size of HESCOs with water to create some mini-pools, too. The ones the Alliance uses are waterproof plastic.”

That will go over less well, I am certain… still. You have permission to draw from the recreation fund if there is anything you need from the planet and plan a proper steel beach party - two drink limit, and I expect that to be strictly enforced, Chief.

His expression tightened. “Oh, you betcha, ma’am. And I mean it, too. If we let anyone have even a drop out of a third can, we’d get our ass canned by a squadron of Nazi cruisers fifteen minutes later. I know how the universe works. Every single one of ‘em so far, in fact.”

“Is there anything else, Chief? That was good thinking, something to take minds off the shock will go over well, I hope.”

“I heard about the operation you’re going to let Lieutenant tr'Rllaillieu undertake. You should keep it quiet from the crew, Ma’am. I understand the logic in it but a lot of people will think it’s a shore leave lark with a shuttle in the middle of a major alert if they hear snippets without any context. Definitely want the right people along to make it look serious and keep the El-Tee out of trouble.”

“I agree. If he asks Colonel Fei’nur, I am going to let her go, and she is capable of making anything look serious. I am concerned about covert erosion of our influence in the Triangle, a single ship is badly overmatched by the variety of responsibilities the Alliance faces here.”

“Yeah, news of this is going to break fast, and I’m sure when it does, every damn pirate and slaver in this joint is going to figure they’re back in business. Awh heck, ma’am, they probably all already know more than we do.”

“Commander Imra is going to be Captain Imra rather often, I think. We will be spreading ourselves as thin as we dare as soon as the threat of major raiders is reduced. If we adopt a bunker mentality, we lose everything but this one system.”

“My opinion’s worth about a penny about strategy, Captain, but if all we’ve got are attackers and a cruiser we might as well keep our cruiser as the battleship and send out attacker patrols. My deck crews can support them rotationally.”

“Point taken, Chief, if we can sustain that operations-tempo, that is what we will have to do until relieved.”

“We’ll manage that, as long as the crew doesn’t go stir crazy, Ma’am. So I’ll start putting the shindig together.” A pause, and he picked up his flimsy and then put it down. again “Now… Do you want the good news first, or the number of Dilgar sailors caught with hooch?”

Zhen’var let out a long sigh. “Let us start with the good news, I already know how depressingly high the second will be…”

The Local Defence Force had their own plan, and as it turned out, it wasn’t hot water at all. The next day, forty-two Klingon Birds of Prey, all older marks but serviceable, and a positively elderly (but refitted several times) D-7, arrived in orbit, to the usual alert when first detected. From the Condition Yellow that they were holding, the ship reached Condition Red in a well-drilled two minutes and forty-six seconds from when Will had called the alarm. That was satisfying, at least.

These were, of course, the legendary Klingon House forces, and ‘legendary’ was not necessarily a compliment. They were not controlled by the central government and so were wildly unpredictable and of course had provided various houses over the years plenty of military strength for such activities as civil wars. They had once been tightly controlled, a hundred years ago, but Praxis and Khitomer had finished that off as the Klingon government slowly collapsed into fundamentalism and factionalism. The Empire was not what it used to be, even if it had an outwardly strong face.

Their presence was still both welcome and useful. They would know how to fight and their sheer numbers would help give the edge against a powerful Reich squadron operating against the planet from the surprise of interuniversal drives.

Zhen’var arrived on the bridge, rubbing her eyes. “Good job with the alert timing, Will. Elia has secondary?”

“Yes. It’s a good experience for her when we call on the third watch so I start from the bridge. And I didn’t do anything to get her buttoned up this fast, that was all the section heads and NCOs.”

“True.” She grinned a little. “So, let’s see our Klingons…”

“About exactly what we expected,” Will said as he turned toward the screen. “Eighty year old veterans of a dozen fights, filled with warriors spoiling for a thirteenth.”

“Quite.” Zhen’var watched the old D-7 swing toward them and line up right ahead.

“The Klingons are hailing, Captain.” An Ensign Carter was in the rotation for comms at that hour.

“That is to be expected. On-screen, Ensign.”

The grim darkness of a Klingon bridge, set up more like a temple to the commander, an old bardic hall, than something that had been designed to optimise the operational art, certainly caught the eye. The shaggy, snaggle-toothed grimness of the Klingons matched their surroundings.

“Greetings, Alliance Starship. We have arrived at the request of the local government. I am Commander Krodak of the House of Ghu’prlal. We will assist you in your hour of need at the request of our friends.” He smirked. “Still, I mean no disrespect. I have studied the history of your ship, and though young, it bears an honourable story. Such a name!”

Zhen’var thought she had a fairly good idea of how to deal with this. “Indeed it is, Commander Krodak. And so I am inviting you and the senior officers of the House of Ghu’prlal to dinner tonight, where you can see the paintings in the officer’s mess.”

“I … Accept,” he saluted. “We will dine with you, Captain. In eight hours, send the beaming coordinates.” The screen blinked off.

“Well, Captain, we just got ourselves in for one hell of a dinner party.”

“So we have. Dinner should fit the Klingon palate, but not make my officers ill. The only one of us allowed to indulge in blood-wine is going to be Fei’nur… let us be about it, Commander.”

“I’ll volunteer to take the lead for organising it,” Will replied, shaking his head. “Gods, I must be some kind of moron.”

“But a moron who is a valued member of the command team.” Zhen’var grinned as comfortingly as she could.

By midday, Violeta was off shift and staring at a beer mug in Café Varna. Alexandra’s brusque approach to customer service was already becoming legendary on the ship. The woman brought her Gyuvech with a customary clatter of plates. Violeta smiled wryly. Hot and spicy soup was certainly called for.

“Here, eat food.”

“Thank you, Alexandra,” Violeta answered. The words got no reply as the woman, harried as ever, hastened on to the next table. With no shore leave, the crew’s only recourse for hanging out informally was Café Varna, and it was packed.

Violeta took out her datapad and finally forced herself to hit enter on the message she’d been mulling. Commander Saumarez, this is Lieutenant Arteria. Do you know if the final loss reports from New Liberty are in yet?

Quietly gnawing on her since the day the report had come down from the Captain on what the alerts were about, the reality was that the brief, brusque statement that New Liberty’s defending forces had been destroyed meant that it was entirely possible Caterina Delgado was dead. The guilt had been gnawing at her since. Survivor’s guilt, not like it was unheard of or uncommon for someone getting a transfer and then their old ship buying it a few weeks or months later with heavy loss of life. It had happened to Daria when she’d transferred to the Aurora.

She ate her soup and looked at the screen. It was delicious soup. The world seemed to have a certain lack of colour in it from her emotions, though. Fear and anxiety caused that.

No, Lieutenant, the message back flashed up on her screen, however, I could just try to raise the Aurora on fleet comms now. The traffic has died down to the point that we can do low-priority bandwidth again, within the past few hours.

Violeta’s eyes widened with a hint of momentary hope. Please!

No problem, Elia tapped back.

It became very hard to eat her soup as she waited for the reply back, or even nurse her beer.

And then the datapad chimed. I’ve got a line.

A moment passed, then another, as if the other side was preoccupied, or may not connect after all. Finally Cat's voice came over the line. "Hi Vee." There was no mistaking the anguish or exhaustion on the other end.

“...Oh Cat! We heard the entire squadron at New Liberty had bought it. You’re all right. You’re all right!” She nearly knocked her beer over. “And the Aurora is too since that’s how Commander Saumarez raised you.”

"Yeah. The ship survived. But…" It was clear Cat was trying to figure out how to say what was on her mind. "She's gone, Vee. Julia's gone. We… we think they might have taken her. I didn't find any definitive sign of vaporization and…"

“Oh no…” Violeta shivered. She had seen the emaciated survivors of the camps, even those who had been in them for just a few months having been captured during the war had suffered horrifyingly. The prospect that Captain Andreys was dead, though… She quietly had another drink of her beer, she drank beer so rarely preferring wine, but there she was. “Maybe she’ll be rescued when we nail their base. We can hope for that, right?” Right? …

"Robert and Lucy are off looking for clues. Somewhere in N2S7. I hope we find her. Or at least know what happened to her. I… I just don't know how things are going to go. I mean, we went through all of that fighting over Germania to stop this, and… it's like it's for nothing. We failed. And a lot of people on New Liberty died."

“You didn’t fail, Cat. We didn’t fail. If the Nazis had finished the drive when they still controlled their Reich and capital, they would have occupied New Liberty, they would have scoured Gersal, there’d be billions dead, not millions. You saved billions of lives. The Alliance will overcome this. I know we will.”

Silence followed, broken by a sniffle. "My head says you're right. It's just… all of the bodies, and the shooting… it was horrible. And if the Quarians hadn't shown up when they did… Sorry, I'm sure you've been worried a lot about us. Here I am, being all woe-is-me on you. You made it away from Gersal before the attack, right?"

“...Yes, we were three days out, bound for the Triangle in S3T5. We’re on patrol here. The only Alliance ship bigger than an Attacker in the entire region. The next closest is on the other side of the Cardassian frontier, a week away at high warp. Captain’s pretty nervous about it all. She’s been calling Condition Red at shipboard dawn every day whether or not there’s a threat to keep everyone on their toes.”

"That's really… I guess she's afraid the SS will show up like they did here. Out of nowhere, almost no warning. We got a little lucky from Angel's friend warning her about something being up, it led us to the warehouse they smuggled their sabotage teams through. And their jump beacon. It's the only reason we had warning to raise shields."

“Yeah. We’ve had shields up continuously for past three days now. Just two beam-down cycles for the Captain to meet the local defence forces and then return. And Heermann has been undocked the entire time. But we haven’t fought anyone, so we’re pretty lucky. It’s just a lot of waiting and being cooped up and not knowing what’s going on.”

"We're still repairing battle damage here. The ship took some casualties, we lost warp drive and several systems. Scotty and Tom have been working almost non-stop it seems. The Quarians are helping where they can, but there's a lot of debris to clear. Would you mind giving Fera'Xero a hug for me? I mean, I know he wasn't here, but the Quarians arrived just in time to save us. I'd be dead if they hadn't shown up when they did."

“I totally will. We owe him a lot already for what happened at A Bao a Qu.”

"I heard something about you being involved in some kind of big battle. Did they really fly through space in big space mechs? Like the ones in F1S1?"

“Oh you better believe it... “

Late that afternoon, before the final set-up for the Klingons to arrive, Arterus arrived at the Captain’s Ready Room. “Captain, permission to enter?”

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant. Please, sit.” Zhen’var put down a tablet and leaned back in her chair, expression calm. “To what matter of business do I owe this meeting?”

“I have received a letter from my sister,” he answered, and thrust over a hardcopy in the Rihannsu tongue. “It confirms she is being watched. Is there any way at all I may still go?” He looked both tense and reserved. He was a Rihannsu, and well understood duty.

“Yes, actually. You are not to speak of the matter further, due to the current situation. Who do you want for your team? The Triangle is unsettled enough that I am deeming the matter to be one of Alliance security. The Tal Shiar are not friendly to our interests.”

“I’d been recommended to ask Fei’nur, but the alerts have prevented me from doing so to date. Lieutenant Seldayiv as well?”

“I see no reason not to add her if you expect possible conflict. As a growth experience, I want you to put together an outline for the proposed team and a mission brief. I will review it.” She reached for her omnipresent teacup. “Work quickly, Lieutenant, I do not want you to arrive too late.”

“I understand perfectly, Captain. With your leave we will depart tonight after the dinner with the Klingons.” He rose. “Thank you. I believe you will like my cousin very much.”

“One might hope so. Do not, as an aside, speak of the mission generally. It would come off wrongly to the crew. Dismissed, Lieutenant.”

Khre’Riov! Understood. I stand dismissed.” He smiled as he came to attention, and then departed.

Arterus went immediately to meet with Colonel Fei’nur, starting to compose the outline for the proposed team and summary of the mission brief as he walked. Arterus deeply respected the woman, who his Dilgar comrades on the ship universally held to be an exemplar of honour, loyalty, professional acumen and competence. Everything he had seen only reinforced the view. To a Rihannsu, someone who rose from the ranks with no great family name was dangerous, legendary, or both. Fei’nur certainly was.

The woman in question was currently fighting the bane of her existence; Alliance paperwork, in the office she still marveled at actually ever having gotten. “Lieutenant.” She looked up with a querying look on her face, standing to her full height. “I do not recall you coming down to the Marine areas before.”

“Colonel, it’s so, but we have a situation and a mission that I would like to discuss with you,” he answered, drawing him up to attention, even as he shot his very brief, several-sentence preliminary drafts over to Fei’nur’s account.

The veteran officer glanced down at the notifications, frowning slightly, then her expression relaxed. “The Captain told me I should be on alert for a detached operation. This is why, then... Is there any further information on the situation, or what resources will be available?”

“We have the reports from the surface of unusual activity of the Praetorian government’s ships,” Arterus said the name he and his cousin used, bluntly denying them the title of Rihannsu, “in the Triangle, and a letter was delivered recently from my cousin confirming that she believes that she has been found out and is being watched. Of course, if it was a personal matter, I would not ask for this help… But we both know that when one is the heir to a throne, everything takes on a political dimension as well, and the Captain directed me to act on regular duty orders.”

“Then the understanding is that we are to move in covertly, with the ability to move to overt operation if necessary… we will need an intelligence ship, or the closest we can create, with support… a small team, then.” She read his plan, quickly, making a few markings as she went. Fei’nur usually went in alone, but she had led enough commando raids to be more than competent at this sort of operation.

“A single squad on a runabout? For the naval personnel it will be myself and Lieutenant Seldayiv, Colonel, assuming that she volunteers.”

“A runabout is not covert, Lieutenant. A small freighter, fitted for smuggling, provides cover for some moderate weaponry, comms gear, and other elements we will require. A heavy squad is for if we must switch to overt; they would follow, with some cover mission that keeps them on station in the event they are needed.”

“Understood, then. We can hire such a freighter from the surface, though we’ll have to make it quick. How do you go about hiring a freighter, Colonel? Or, I suppose, can you recommend anyone who would know?”

“Chief Heen would be the one aboard ship with the most shipping experience, at least above board. The sooner we do so, the quicker Engineering can make the modifications we will need.” She tapped a few keys. “I’ve sent you an authorization to expend funds for the purpose.”

“Understood, Colonel. With your leave, I will go to speak to her immediately. I was trying to leave tonight, but we may have to wait until tomorrow to line up the lease, so the sooner I am about it the better.”

“Granted. Be about it, I will prepare myself and my gear for an extended operation off-ship.”

He came to attention, and then headed out and straight for his next destination--Chiefs Country, which was actually the residence for all Warrant Officers and Petty Officers, but since a lot (though not all) of them were Chiefs, they were grouped together. All the Warrants and the NCO Chief Petty Officers then shared a mess in turn which the Marine sergeants also shared--Huáscar just had three big messes, one for officers, one for warrants and petty officers, and one for enlisted.

Arterus well remembered his grandmother’s stories from the fleet days. You cherished people like the human Chiefs. They had proved by long and hard service that they could get things done. In their area of expertise few could match them, certainly no generalist officer, and they were tactful enough to limit their hesitation and warnings to areas where their competence made them sure. They kept order in the lower ranks and when they were pleased with a ship, it always meant the ship was doing well. Conversely, however, nothing faster could bring ill-discipline than a corrupt Chief who had somehow gotten through the long and arduous process (especially in the Rihannsu Starfleet) to reach that rank.

PriFly had been fully repaired before they left Gersal. They had upgraded the transparent aluminium paneling to improve protection. Stasia was sitting at her swiveling control chair with her trademark pair of heavy-duty headphones and a microphone on, pulled over a crushed up dress cap of the blue uniform of the Starfighter Corps. She was wearing a sweater, though it was in the uniform allotment.

The woman was in an almost continuous chatter with orbital control for Geisling maintaining the local exclusion zone around the squadron. “Sarkauz 13-46 you are fifteen kiloklicks from our exclusion zone, come about on course heading 360-Z16 and begin to descend toward orbital plane Bravo. Dera 55-98, maintain separation one kiloklick from Eedam 10-90 on heading 090-Z40… Johnson 42-30 you are approaching the exclusion zone at twenty-three kiloklicks and need landing authorisation to descend on course heading 220-Z15 to orbital plane Alpha for reentry; contact Geisling primary on band 10-Alpha and confirm permission, reduce speed to 2 klicks-second to hold until permission received.”

She glanced up at Arterus and then killed her mic for a moment. “Chief Ter’yun, take control.” The second on watch seamlessly activated his console to take over lead for squadron exclusion duties. “Confirm, PriFly Actual at Station Two,” he declared as he pointed at the indicator light and then activated his mic and began to speak to the freighters.

“What can I help you with, Lieutenant?”

“Chief Héen,” he said, hesitating for a moment. PriFly was always a little overwhelming and the display had left him mildly guilty that he was about to disrupt her work-flow. But he’d already done that. “Chief Héen, I need some assistance with an authorised rental of a civilian merchant on Geisling for myself and Colonel Fei’nur to use, with the Captain’s permission.”

“Huh. That’s a new one. Are we talking about a wetboat or bareboat charter?” She answered as she flipped her console from displaying the orbital chatter to an extranet access terminal. “And did you check the UGP Admin website yet?” She added.

The Alliance Unified Government Purchasing Administration. Arterus tried to remember if he’d ever experienced something closer to hell. “Wetboat? Bareboat? Would they really have a lease?”

“I might be able to get a dry lease… It means no crew, by the way, bareboat, and dry should at least have provisions but not services,” she explained, “On UGP, though the interface sucks. We could also call down to the planet, but if I’m guessing that Colonel Fei’nur authorised this, she might not like the like eight forms she’ll have to sign afterwards.”

“...We are in a hurry, that might yet be necessary.”

“How soon?”

“Later today, optimally.”

Stasia cast him a baleful look. “Yeah… Screw UGP. Especially right now. It’s crashed ten times since the re-mob started. Okay, so the main spaceport on the planet is called Allen’s Town and that’s where most of the small independent traders go. There’s a few specialist ports for exports that pick up the big bulkers. I’ll tap the ATC network and make some calls, we should be able to get you something ready by 0400 tomorrow at the latest.”

“I’ll take that, Chief. Thank you.”

“No problem! I just like getting things done, and with every single warship we’ve got concentrated here but ready to cover a second planet a moment’s notice, traffic is as congested as hell, anyway. Need the break sometimes.”

Posts: 59
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 4 - "The Border Patrol"

Post by Tomyris » Wed Dec 12, 2018 5:50 am

Act 3

The Klingons were coming to dinner. The Huáscar ’s shields went down--and would stay that way, even as they remained technically at Condition Yellow, but reduced to MC Yoke. The situation, with rapid mobilisation of the reserves, had unambiguously improved in the past four days to warrant the risk for this--and they’d need to bring the Klingon commanders back to their ships rapidly in the event of an attack, so it made sense.

Violeta managed to not be involved because in the circumstances Zhen’var insisted on having one of her command staff on the bridge. Abebech, of course, was temporarily leading the defence force as the senior Alliance officer, and had pushed her attackers further out to provide more warning. That meant that Will was at her side, and so was Fei’nur, Nah’dur, Anna, Lar’shan (the schedules had worked out for his rotation on flight duty), Daria, Arterus, Fera’xero. All were in full dress uniform, except Fera’xero, but he’d put on his best sash.

Considering Klingon standards of honour, this included swords. Anna had a Koncierz given to her by a relative during a visit to Warsaw. Zhen’var, Fei’nur, and Nah’dur used their Dilgar service pattern swords, but Lar’shan carried an English sword given to him by one of his father’s human friends who had bitterly opposed the expulsion from New Eden. Daria brought out the memory metal blade she was still training with, Fera’xero demurred from the custom due to the risk to his suit, and Will and Arterus both used swords that had been given to them as gifts by Casval Rem Deikun after he had taken power in Zeon before their departure.

Both the transporter room and the conference suite converted to a banquet room had been selected to be directly below the bridge so that if an alert was called they could be to their posts in seconds while the Klingons were beamed clear. “Klingons signalling readiness for transport,” the transporter chief reported.

Will glanced around, satisfying himself everyone was put together. “Captain, with your leave?”

“So granted, Commander.” She imperceptibly stiffened. This is going to be interesting…

The transporter effect, different from that of this universe, flashed over the group of twelve Klingon officers. As it faded, bosun’s mate Tel’mur sounded his bosun’s whistle--Chief Dugan had personally trained the Dilgar. Krodak looked sharply, and then his eyes twisted back to Zhen’var. “Captain Zhen’var, qaqIHmo' jIQuch, ” A snaggle-toothed grin. “Or do you prefer Battlemaster ?”

“Both are correct ranks, Commander Krodak. I answer to either.” She gave a sharp nod of greeting. “My officers.” She would introduce each, in turn.

He inclined his head. “It is good. Your people were faced with destruction and dared great things in response. Of Dilgar bravery, there is no doubt.” Still, he left the word a bit hanging. “I have heard I am not the first Klingon to meet a Dilgar.”

“Colonel Fei’nur has done so before, that is correct.” She would not rise to the bait, even if Fei’nur slightly bristled.

“Battlemaster Fei’nur. Yes, that was the name I heard.” He made a gesture of respect. “It is said your drinking is legendary. You must be familiar indeed with the words 'IwlIj jachjaj to win such praise.”

“I have not lost any of it recently, so it may scream quite loudly, Commander.” She replied, baring her teeth fractionally.

He bared his teeth too, grinning. “ Qapla' !” Then he nodded with his head, sharply. “Let us sup, Battlemaster Zhen’var, as allies.”

“Indeed. Everything has been prepared.” She would turn to lead them towards the mess, as Fei’nur watched the Klingons warily. She knew that gaining respect could be a double-edged sword with these sorts.

It could, but the Klingons looked forward to the feast that the ship’s Hospitality Staff was laying out before them. They settled down with the officers of the ship. Elia was waiting, having stayed behind to make sure everything in the banquet room was in order, and Zhen’var introduced her.

“The last of my officers, but certainly not the least, Battle Expert Elia Saumarez, my Operations Officer.”

“We greet you in honour,” Elia presented herself to them. “Please, sit.”

“You have a Dilgar rank,” one of the Klingons, Lieutenant Varas, observed, with all the bluntness that befit a Klingon. “Why?”

“I am an old Huáscareno ,” Elia answered levelly, “which means I know no fear.”

“Hah. Those are strong words from a human,” Varas smirked.

“But I mean it,” Elia stared at the Klingons, and then gestured to the grand painting on the wall of the Battle of Angamos which had been moved from the wardroom for the occasion. Flanking it were several close-ups, showing the desperate struggle of the men on the deck. “Harm’s Way is the Valiant Way! That is the battle-cry of the Dilgar Imperium’s Navy in the old days, and we do not forget it. The Huáscarenos preferred to fight for Honour and Right above any other thing, and so we found ourselves windswept, but unbent and unbowed. May I tell you the story of the name, from these combats to the present?”

“Yes, come on with it, Battle Expert, let’s hear a story of war!” The Klingons roared as the liquor was passed around.

Zhen’var leaned back in her chair with a smile she hid with a cup. That’s it exactly, Elia. Now let’s just get through the night without bloodshed.

Elia pulled back into her sense of the epic based on her reading of O’Brien and Forrester and delivered a rousing tale of the Peruvian Civil War and then the War of the Pacific. She immediately got the impression that few Klingons were familiar with the incredibly bloody history of humanity. When she reached the Combat of Angamos and covered Grau’s heroic death on the deck in honourable reprise of the death of Captain Prat that he had inflicted against the Esmerelda , the Klingons roared.

When she got to the Combat of Arica and the death of the Chilean Captain Thomson in battle against the Manco Cápac, Commander Krodak laughed ferociously. “Battlemaster, you willingly sought out command of a ship whose namesake took three commanders’ lives in one war? Truly you have a heart equal of a Klingon.”

“An honorable death in battle, as they gained for themselves? It is not such a terrible thing, Commander.” She replied, carefully picking her words. “It is a wretched kshatriya who returns unwounded from battle.”

“Kshatriya. My translator struggles with it, but I think that is a human tongue’s name for a warrior, is it not?” He folded his arms, chuckling. “You are warriors, I don’t doubt that. Tell me, Battle Expert, did this first Huáscar fight again?”

“Oh yes!” Elia laughed brilliantly. “The War of the Pacific was won by Chile, but the Chileans were warlike people in those days, and fought a war over a tyrannical ruler amongst themselves as well, a decade later; it was called the War of Congress, and the Navy revolted against the President; they towed the Huáscar out of port in the middle of refit, and readied her for action in three days at sea…”

In the meanwhile, several of the younger Klingon officers near Fei’nur had started drinking with her. Aggressively. That the legend had been brought up meant it was going to be tested.

The old commando had a level expression as she took each mug in turn, and drained it in a calm, unhurried way, challenge glittering in her eyes each time she planted another empty vessel on the table.

Fei’nur’s amazing resilience to alcohol was steadily attracting more attention, but Elia was deft at keeping the attention of the crowd as she began to tell the story of theHuáscar of Tira. That was her story after all, the hour on which she had been brave, and chosen right over every kind of fear she had, and it was a chance to sing it.

Zhen’var had a real smile on her face, as she listened to her friend weave her grand tale - one that she deserved to be able to form - and tell others of the tale which had given such a shining moment of glory to that ship.

“And so, we found ourselves exiles for following the path of Honour,” Elia finished softly. “There is no shame in that, and never will be. When our cause it is just, then follow it we must. And so we have found ourselves here, on a third Huáscar, and we have already planted our flag in some glory…” She told the story of the Battle of A Bao a Qu, next.

The Klingons were cheerfully drinking and boasting as the stories finished. Krodak had a big snaggle-toothed grin. “Though your ship was much superior, it did fight thousands. You are truly writing a reputation for yourself, Battlemaster. Did you even need us to come? It seems as if you could have fought as gloriously here as Grau at Angamos if the whole of the Nazi squadron had come against you!” It was clear that Elia had completely won the Klingons over to a companionable night of drinking and boasting, and she had sat down to finally eat with a bright grin which inside telegraphed her happiness to Zhen’var at having smoothed potential snags out.

The Captain was well pleased indeed, though she gave a momentary wary look at how Fei’nur was building a pyramid of empty tankards of… something.

There were several Klingons looking increasingly incapable around her as she drank, and Krodak was distracted by it for a moment, staring. “Truly, Battlemaster Fei’nur seems unstoppable!”

“She is… unique. The last of an old breed from the Imperium.” Zhen’var replied, quietly, as the older Dilgar switched to another fresh tankard. The number of Klingons around her still able to meet her gaze was steadily falling.

“The Old Breed!” The Klingons raised a toast.

Elia had settled down next to Fei’nur, and gently offered a gloved hand to her shoulder--a sisterly sort of affection that Elia knew Fei’nur would not appreciate from any except a Dilgar… And her. < You’re doing great keeping them entertained and engaged, but please don’t hurt yourself. >

It was rare she formed thoughts, not jammed by her cybernetics, but she did. < The Supreme Warmaster crafted my liver and kidneys. I could survive a continuous flow of this into my veins if I had cause to.>

Some of the Klingons certainly wondered why Elia was laughing so hard, but most of them attributed it to the alcohol that had been passed around, not really noticing that she had imbibed little of it. Even some of the other officers thought they were finally seeing Elia a little drunk.

Krodak chuckled, shaking his head and quaffing from his stein again. “The legend of Fei’nur continues. Battlemaster Zhen’var, so, we have our combined strength to defend the planet. What of the Triangle?”

“That I shall be attempting to cover as much of as I can as a flying squadron, Commander. Reinforcements are not likely, so I must do my utmost with the forces at hand.”

He shook his head. “Battlemaster, the Orions are moving slaves again in the advantage that the withdrawal of the Alliance patrols presents. Not even the regular war with the Reich resulted in this much of a draw-down, and the Federation is distracted by the Dominion. There is no better time for them. My squadron has sensor logs.”

Her face went still, white hot fury boiling up in her. “Then I have a need to act.” If I am tied here, what evils will come to pass without my keeping order…?

“You wish to seek battle with them, and it would be honourable, if the force wasn’t so overwhelming. Here, we will detach some young officers with their ships that need blooding, you can send your cloaked ship with us can you not?” The Klingons did not, as a rule, bother with the dishonourable Orions or care what they did outside of Klingon space, but fighting was always a means to ingratiate oneself in Klingon society, the only acceptable one.

“Likely so. Much depends on whether my orders change, but something to restore order must be done. Commander Imra is a veteran who is skilled indeed.”

“Could you detach her ship to accompany a small squadron, now that we have arrived?”

“I can, and I shall. A peace is never won by hiding behind walls, and the longer we let them restore their influence, the harder it will be to lever those elements out again.”

“Excellent! Then we shall face battle!” The roars of Klingon delight were slightly quieter now, two of them having passed out against Fei’nur. The commando continued to calmly drink.

After the feasting, Fei’nur came up to Daria in the corridor. She looked remarkably functional for a woman who had just drunk a trice of Klingons under the table.

“Colonel?” Daria stopped, the Dorei woman turning back toward her. “Is something a-matter?”

“No, Lieutenant. Not as such. The Captain has assigned me to lead a covert mission in the Triangle, and I am attempting to assist in assembling a small team for it. I wish you to be on that team with myself.”

Oh. Can we talk about it somewhere?” Her ears flexed and her expression narrowed to reflect her attentiveness.

“That would be preferable.” She glanced about. “This way, Lieutenant.” Fei’nur had memorized the layout of the Huáscar for purposes of defending it, but it had other uses, such as now.

Daria padded along. “I confess, I thought you would be more inebriated than you are. Merciful Goddess, how did you do that?”

“State secret.” Fei’nur replied, utterly serious, before her face broke into a smile. “More seriously, I’ve had a lot of parts replaced over the years.”

Daria stared for a moment and then giggled. “Mother… You seriously were drinking them under the table with a cybernetic liver, weren’t you, Colonel?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny, Lieutenant, but Dilgar cybernetics may still, theoretically , be ahead of the multiversal bell-curve. Ah, here we go.” She stopped at a compartment that was currently vacant, tapping in an override for the two of them to step in.

Daria followed her in with a knowing smile. “All right then. So what’s the plan for this mission? What is it about?”

“Chief Héen is attempting to acquire a small freighter. Lieutenant Arterus’s cousin is in danger from the Tal Shiar . We are going to investigate, possibly get me on the kill-list of another intelligence agency, and extract her from her dangerous current situation. We have corroboration of their activities spiking with the withdrawal of our patrols.”

“...With all due respect, Colonel, I like Arterus and I don’t want to see his cousin get killed by the Tal Shiar or something else like that, but this effort for one person, a relative of the crew? It seems unfair.”

Fei’nur bared her teeth and rose to her full height. “L’tenant, reminding you of your obligations the Official Secrets Act, his cousin is the exiled de jure Empress of the Rihannsu .” There was a growl in every word, the Colonel having a flare of anger in her usually placid eyes.

Daria pursed her lips. “My apologies, Colonel. I actually hadn’t known that. He doesn’t talk about it very much. So this is regarded as politically important?”

“The Captain regards it as such, given the difficulties we face in the Triangle.”

“Again, my apologies. Of course I will accompany you.” She came to attention rigidly. “You have my utmost respect, Colonel.”

Fei’nur seemed to uncoil, shaking her head gently. “I know. I’m sorry, Lieutenant, there must be quite the culture shock for us both coming to Huáscar .”

“She is one of the more military ships in the Alliance, Colonel. I am thankful for her, because her tradition is very righteous and good, but she stands for a part of the Alliance I would have not normally sought out. There are those in high command who seek to make us more military.”

“I am not sure there are many captains more military than ours, Lieutenant. If you wish to discuss the matter further off-duty, certainly I am amenable… or on our journey undercover in a freighter, it seems.” She inclined her head. “Thank you for being willing.”

“It is not a problem. I wouldn’t want Arterus to lose his cousin. I did get the impression they were very close. When do I report?”

Fei’nur checked her chrono on her wrist. “I would start packing now, Lieutenant. We are only waiting on our freighter.”

“Understood, Colonel. By your leave?”

The Dilgar woman gave her a nod. “So given.”

“We have received orders to sail,” Commander Imra said without preamble as she stepped from her cabin onto the bridge of the Heermann. On the bridge before her most of the crew were drinking some kind of stimulant beverage, tea or coffee. She had her own heavy-duty handleless navy mug in hand as she stood there, looking like she’d be happier and more dignified with a pea coat over the uniform she was wearing.

“Captain?” Commander Goodenough looked up from the command chair, his dusky face flickering into a grin as he tossed his ponytail back and set his tea mug back into the rack on the armrest. To his background, that specific phrasing brought a bit of a thrill to his blood.

“We are conducting a sweep against Orion slavers that the Klingons identified the ratline for. We’ll be leading a squadron of six of those Birds-of-Prey that have functional cloaking devices,” she gestured with a gloved hand to the tactical plot on the viewscreen.

“Our own Preventative Squadron?” Goodenough laughed. “With pleasure, Captain.”

“You didn’t have half so many scoundrels as there are on those half ships, Commander, but at least they are spoiling for a fight, since I aim to get them one,” Abebech replied. “Lieutenant Ca’elia, you should have the coordinates. Set them in.” She tapped her omnitool. “Abel, we’re going hunting. I need Warp Seven in two minutes.”

“Warp Seven in two minutes, Captain… Bringing the reactor to full power now. Are we remaining at Condition Yellow?”

“For the moment, yes. Carry-on.” She stepped up to Ensign Carstairs at the science/sensor station where Goodenough normally sat. “Raise the Klingon Bird-of-Prey Karrex.Request they confirm their squadron’s coordinates and check them against our own, and to confirm readiness for warp.”


“Do you want the bridge, Captain?” Goodenough asked.

“No need for that,” she shook her head. “Keep your regular watch. It’ll be thirty-two hours to reach the location the Klingons described, or more.” A pause. “Lieutenant Ca’elia, is our course laid in?”

“Ready to engage on your command, ma’am!” The young helmswoman sounded enthusiastic, green eyes gleaming with excitement.

“The Klingons confirm their readiness, Sir,” Ensign Carstairs reported.

“Engines ready for warp, Captain,” Commander Veeringen’s voice echoed tinnily from her omnitool.

“Commander Goodenough, take the ship to warp. Ensign Carstairs, signal our allies to follow.”

“Lieutenant Ca’elia,” the Commander leaned forward. “Warp Seven.”

“Warp Seven, aye!”

The ship elongated and rushed ahead, stars turning to the streaks of warp drive. Abebech watched the tactical display adjust, and confirm that the Klingons had followed them to warp.

“I’ll let you know when to cloak, but probably not until the next watch,” she observed. “All’s well, Commander.” With that, the ever-enigmatic woman returned to her sea cabin.

Anastasia Héen had been true to her word. By 0400 a small independent trader was cleared ready at the spaceport, and Fei’nur had started pulling together the last of the team for them to meet at the transporter room and beam down to take control of it. Arterus and Daria both resorted to Niltox to deal with the Mandatory Fun excesses of the Klingon feasting and make sure they were in top form for the flight, administered by a Nah’dur who had given herself a dose first.

“Have fun with Fei’nur!” She had shouted as they departed, leaving both of them to stare at each other.

When they got to the transporter room Arterus couldn’t help but ask, “Colonel, is there a reason that the Surgeon-Commander brings you up every time she possibly can?”

“I have known her family a very long time, Lieutenant.” she replied, giving him a steady expression back that discouraged further inquiry.

“That would explain it, yes,” he acknowledged without further questioning. A Rihannsu knew not to press on matters of family, privately held. Also her look was quite intimidating. “Are we all ready?”

“We are. Transporter Chief, beam us down.”

“Aye-aye, Colonel.”

With that, the party disappeared from the Huáscar and reappeared at the spaceport. Fei’nur headed up to the entrance of the rental office with Arterus, who was asked to display his identification documents as an Alliance officer to prove his fitness to operate the freighter, while Fei’nur signed the financial surety documents.

She grimaced at seeing the estimated total replacement cost of the freighter. This is as bad as signing for the Marine TOE on taking command! Reasonable wear and tear of furnishings? We’re taking this on a covert mission, not an ore-hauling run!

In particular was a section of the terms which specifically placed Fei’nur or the Government liable for Loss or Casualty in Employment for Operations of War, Marque or Reprisal on the behest of Government officers or officials thereof and enjoined the vessel from being so issued except as requisition of the appropriate authorities.

Fei’nur quietly sent that one up to Captain Zhen’var, unsure whether she counted as ‘appropriate authorities’.

The message back was; If the Alliance won’t back us, the Warmaster will.

Gods, but I shall hope she does not have to. Thank you, Captain.

Fei’nur and Arterus finished signing and verifying documents, and then they were given the two-factor authentication chits and codes and the entire group was allowed into the secured area of the spaceport to pick up a 95-meter long freighter, much longer than it was wide, with a line of cargo pods down the sides and a forward control section and two old-style round warp nacelles.

“Well… it will do.” Her eyes scanned down both flanks, noting the old dents and scars of a long star-faring life. “Board and inspect her stem to stern, report any deficiencies, and prepare to lift off.” With two Engineering chiefs and two shuttle pilots as the ‘crew’ alongside Arterus as well as a squad of Marines, there wasn’t exactly a deep bench to operate the vessel, but fortunately it was highly automated, and they started their checks. Daria had enough qualifications to join in.

Once she boarded, Fei’nur went straight to the small bridge and glanced around. “Remember, we are an independent trader, act accordingly to all we encounter. Store uniforms and identifying equipment ready to hand but out of plain view.”

They started changing into mufti and finishing pre-flight on the trip. Arterus looked positively rakish in the trousers and white dress blouse he had selected and Daria took Dorei robes. Then they finished the positive pre-flight. “Permission to request take-off permission?” Daria asked to Fei’nur, lightly and bemused, hoping to be on more even ground with her.

“Oh, go ahead, my experience with piloting consists of crashing shuttles.” The commando wore a simple spacer’s jumpsuit, with masses of pockets and loops. She seemed far less strict and military, more like a grizzled old rogue of a free trader than the Fei’nur the Huáscar knew.

“Aye-Aye, Colonel!” With that, they requested permission and rose into orbit.

As they did, Stasia took over and directed them like any other trader away from the military ships and on their outbound warp trajectory. The warmth in her voice, however, she could not hide. “Merchant Vanir, this is Huáscar Actual. Bon voyage and safe travels. You are cleared for warp.”

Back on the Huáscar, Elia’s watch ended and she went over to the Captain’s Ready Room, knowing that Zhen’var would be in the cubbyhole of a sea cabin accessible through it, off duty and winding down herself. She chimed the door. “Captain, permission to enter?”

“Granted.” Came through the speaker, the woman in bed, working on a pad as she leaned back against the bulkhead, glancing up. Once the door closed, she would offer; “Elia, replicator is yours as usual.”

“Thank you. Is there anything you want as well?” Elia turned to the replicator. “Tea, traditional Guernsey, and a crab sandwich,” she instructed, using the voice activated feature to avoid issues with her gloves.

“Zhen’var Six.” She winked, leaning back with a sigh of tiredness.

“Zhen’var Six,” Elia added, and brought the plates and cuppa over to Zhen’var’s bed, sitting on it with her and arranging them on the nightstand next to it. “You look simultaneously exhausted and as comfortable as I can possibly imagine.”

“I think it is a Dilgar thing, honestly. I would rig a hammock if it would not cause comment.”

“Hang the comments,” Elia said, sipping from her cup. “I mean, really.”

“Do we even have one in the Requisition Portal? I admit I have not looked.”

“You could spend some of your salary on it, you know. It’s not like us officers and gentlewomen have much else to spend it on.”

Zhen’var gave her a look . “Counting the parts I do not donate, that… is a true statement, Elia. Granted, shipping is another matter.” She shook her head, and put down the datapad, carefully sliding it under her pillow.

“Oh gods, I’ll just buy it for you then.” Elia grinned wryly. “The Earth Alliance froze my trust fund, but there’s a hypothetical chance I’ll get it back.” She leaned back with Zhen’var, close enough to cuddle, albeit through clothes and blankets. But that was still close by telepath standards.

“Oh, hush, I shall buy a hammock! Please, I make more than you, and the replicator means my victuals do not cost more!”

“Fair.” Elia stretched. “I’m sorry about how hard things were for me lately. And if I maybe pressed telepath solidarity a bit hard when we intervened at Zeon.”

“I do not think so. Nobody else does, so someone has to push it all the harder, and telepaths do not know what to make of mother and I.”

“I just call you decent people,” Elia shrugged and rubbed her supplely gloved hands together. “I hope Artesia is okay. I’m looking forward to having her onboard in some capacity.”

“Oh, Divine, yes, she will be wonderful to have aboard! Though I do not think she will end up with her own winged eye, I have put in the formal request to have her assigned aboard once she finishes training - and I have put in a low-priority request to ensure she is alright after the attacks.”

“I’d have trouble seeing the woman who stood her ground and escaped from a disintegrating O’Neill cylinder could be hurt in what went down. And more seriously, there’s no training facilities for transfer officers on Gersal or New Eden. She’ll do marvelously.” Elia ducked her head. “I just wish I could get through to Abebech, too.”

“Give it time, Elia. She has likely seen a great deal, and it will take time . A very long time, until she is willing to share her demons.”

“She’s probably got a lot. The universe she comes from is, by all accounts, virtually insane, and telepaths--espers--have a freighted reputation there. I’ve read everything I can on the Earthreign, and pretty much it all just boils down to ‘it was a totalitarian dictatorship of espers and it was terrible’, with no proof and all the evidence lost to the ages. Kind of hard to conceive of a humanity spacefaring for four thousand years, too. It’s just, you know, any telepath I know should be insane from being that walled off and isolated.”

“All you can do is be open to it, and let her know that when-ever, if she wants to let down her walls, you are there.”

Elia nodded gently. “I know. Sometimes, though, she seems dreadfully scary. Dare I, as a professional naval officer, say that about a woman I respect and want to be friends with.”

“Friends can be scary.” Zhen’var mockingly bared her teeth in the most predatory face she could.

The telepath could only giggle, though, burying her face against Zhen’var’s shoulder. “For all I know you are actually a predator and that could actually be intimidating, in my best friend, I’m afraid it doesn’t have that effect!”

“Hrmph, I shall have to gnaw on you to regain my intimidating factor.” She yawned widely.

“Oh gods.” Elia was shaking her head from the intensity of her laughter. “Well, surely this has been quite the mission. I admit I feel a little bad about sending one