nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 8 - "Death Count"

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Shroom Man 777
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

You could integrate the callsigns to the cast of characters in the first page.

Jeez, I do appreciate how we get fundamental multiverse-defining information disclosed in this spin-off series. Real heavy stuff. So revelations aren't just because the Chosen Ones in the Aurora happened on all the verse-significant things. And implies that a whole bunch of Alliance vessels and crews may be uncovering all sorts of crazy stuff elsewhere.

Hmmm... your positing of the Earthreign history is interesting. My initial concept had the Earthreign utilize neuromonger psionic controls (with the mongers having to be grotesque slugoids as a requirement!) but with the ruling class not necessarily psionic*... now this idea of esper society ruling and growing corrupt has its own appeal, I like the strange memetic fluidity and variability and subculture formations you described!

Of course in SOTS' canon itself not everything has to be divulged of the Earthreign, to keep things mythic (and convenient!). It's strange but nice to see what you're doing with concepts that we in SOTS haven't fully expounded on.

And for something from SOTS-lore to become crucial in the making of the 'verses of actual franchises appeals to my vanity :P

*Initially the idea was that the neuromongers were warped mutated proto-espers used by the non-esper regime, people turned into instruments of control by the not-necessarily-psionic rulers who monopolized psionic capability, and one of the reasons for the Earthreign's collapse and the conflicts leading to Reignfall was the proliferation of uncontrolled espers in fringe world populations who could contest the neuromonger psi-monopoly of the reign's leadership, in conjunction with contra-psy tech being developed elsewhere (or introduced by alien forces with an interest of stymieing the Reign).

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

Post by Tomyris »

The subcultures are totally unbounded potentials, too. But you'll see more. We'll let you in on early drafts of the prequel.

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

Post by Invictus »

Ooh so is that what the mystery spaceship from Steve's Voltron chapter was.

There's a lot I can pontificate about that doesn't necessarily apply to this version of the Earthreign, but I'd say that the biggest mystery about Imra so far is how a survivor from the Earthreign even remembers the Earthreign.

By being in another universe when the final meltdown happens, probably...
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Steve »

Invictus wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:54 pm
Ooh so is that what the mystery spaceship from Steve's Voltron chapter was.

There's a lot I can pontificate about that doesn't necessarily apply to this version of the Earthreign, but I'd say that the biggest mystery about Imra so far is how a survivor from the Earthreign even remembers the Earthreign.

By being in another universe when the final meltdown happens, probably...
For the first item, I'll let the writer field it.

For the second... that is a possibility, I believe.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

There was a mystery spaceship in the Voltron chapter?

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

Post by Steve »

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 12:29 am
There was a mystery spaceship in the Voltron chapter?
The ship that Allura's mother was on, that jumped in at the end to shield the Aurora and Castle of Lions (and Koenig) from the Ministry of Fate forces and which opened a jump point back to the Voltronverse for them to flee through.

Actually, we do indicate the ownership of the ship in question in the final part of that episode, the bit that showed the Alekto and the other two Furies discussing what happened.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Tomyris »

Invictus wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:54 pm
Ooh so is that what the mystery spaceship from Steve's Voltron chapter was.

There's a lot I can pontificate about that doesn't necessarily apply to this version of the Earthreign, but I'd say that the biggest mystery about Imra so far is how a survivor from the Earthreign even remembers the Earthreign.

By being in another universe when the final meltdown happens, probably...

She was in another universe, from a certain point of view. You are unlikely to find out the entire story until Season 6 of the main series.

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act 5

Aboard the Huáscar, Va’tor cautiously made her approach to Nah’dur’s office. As the Mental Hygienist and lead Mha’dorn for the ship, she had been Read In, and so, thinking about it, what was happening wasn’t terribly surprising. But it was still disconcerting for all of them.

Nah’dur was curled in her office chair, eating some Tarik-gel soup, with her ytar at her side, looking half asleep. But her eyes shot alert as Va’tor approached, then she relaxed. “Va’tor,” she offered, looking abruptly very alert. “You have come to commence my project? We have enough time to do it now, before the enemy arrives. Even if the original motivation was overcome by events, I do believe it could be useful for propaganda purposes. I’ve selected a subject, one of the originals, who has military tattoos.”

“Ah..” Va’tor was drawn up short. The recovery of the mind of one of the Reavers? Gods, of course that’s what she wants to do, now, of all times. “Not quite. I was going to ask, how is Spacer Michaels? The man that Jubal Early killed.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Nah’dur answered dryly. “Why even ask that question? I finished the procedures and restarted his heart and confirmed brain-wave function hours ago.”

Va’tor leaned against the door-frame. The Dur, and the Jhur alike, were not telepaths. It was not really a surprise. “I just thought you should know, as a point in fact, that the telepaths on this ship can feel it when you bring someone back to life, Nah’dur. It is disconcerting to many.”

“Is that so?” Nah’dur’s eyes perked and she straightened, finishing her mug of ytar. “Can you elaborate?”

“Certainly. Both for us and the human telepaths death is commonly described as a door. It is normally thought that door is one-way, but as you know with sufficient experience, this is not strictly the case. People can come back from the dead.”

“Agreed. There is an afterlife, though there is no data on what it is. Those I have brought back remember the usual white lights, nothing more,” Nah’dur shrugged. “There is also a Hell, which I am more concerned about, for personal reasons unrelated to myself.”

“Does that keep you up at night, Surgeon-Commander?” Va’tor’s voice softened. The girl was not quite twenty, a kit, almost, and she had gotten the impression this subject was rarely far from her mind.

“No, nothing so crass,” Nah’dur transfixed her with a stare. “That is dangerous territory, anyway. To put it simply, Va’tor, I am realistic. The dominant species of the multiverse is humans, and humans permit no allowance for circumstance. They are relentless, committed, sincere, and savage. I love them as much as they infuriate me. They can produce the likes of Zhen’var, as good a Dilgar as we, and Ka’var, a resolute mother in truth; they can produce the likes of Chapel and Brogan and Hauser, who set our people up to die. They can produce these Reavers, this abominable government, Nazis and idiots like the Federation galore, and even a creature like Abebech Imra. There was never going to be an alteration to the end game for Her. Circumstances don’t matter. Just morals. Still, it bothers me that there is a Hell, even if it is an inevitability for Her. Perhaps it is the filial piety of a daughter and perhaps it is the irritation of a scientist with something she thinks it unlikely she can quantify. Either way, it is there. If I am stealing people from it, good. I cannot accomplish the one goal in regard to it I would really like to, but, if it has a Lord who lusts for peoples’ souls, I have wounded him.” She laughed. “Or they have returned from heaven, in which case I am saving fools.”

Va’tor knew exactly what Nah’dur was talking about, knew exactly what she used so many circumlocutions even now. She smiled tightly. “I was going to compliment you on executing what many would call a miracle.”

“Why? Four hours with a pulse blast through the heart? An hour floating in the void? I made these routine at A Bao a Qu. The elongation of this art will carry me to fourteen, fifteen hours, maybe more. I’m working on mapping degraded brain structure to duplicate with cybernetics so I can succeed in recovery of more comprehensively decayed brains. That is a challenge. Is it really so disconcerting, to know that I can bring the dead back?”

“No,” Va’tor answered after a moment. “No. It was just disconcerting for some. When there are casualties in battle, I will warn them to be ready.”

“Thank you. I dislike, immensely, causing discomfort to any Mha’dorn. But I can hardly stop.”

“You can hardly stop,” Va’tor agreed. “Do you fear a Hell yourself?”

“Hmm, no. Mother-Shai’s Dharma is servicable enough. I have not done anything that would cause me regret before the Gods. Though I will have something to regret if I don’t get the chance to bring back those Reavers, Va’tor. Since you’re here, will you do it?”

“The first principle of command is not to inflict on your subordinates what you would not do yourself, the humans tell me,” Va’tor replied levelly. “Yes, I’ll be the one to do the work.”

“Excellent.” Nah’dur jumped up. “Let get my scrubs on and call my surgical team. It’s time to go to war with some true morons, since nobody else would make this ridiculous thing, this Pax! Gods, Va’tor, they’re the same species as the Nazi! I love it! I hate it! It’s glorious!”

Kalista was stirring. Hooded, cuffed, shackled, bound, but on a camp mattress from the marines, in what had been the Captain’s Sea Cabin of the Francesco de Trier. The door opened, and she could hear it. She twisted her head to focus on the individual entering, to see, despite the hood, if she could match them.

It was Abebech. <Good girl, brave and loyal.> They were pitted against each other for a brief moment, and then Abebech was inside of her again, systematically. Their minds meeting. But this time, in a jumble of emotions, passions and memories, and Kalista could see, could see, Abebech, glasses and all, in a white uniform of black trim with gold adornment.

A massive tactical globe surrounded them, and in it, ships were burning and dying. Ships of the Reich. Ahead of them, a star was expanding, guttering, dimming as it disappeared and re-appeared through a steadily less real pulse of separating fractals of space-time. In their minds, it seemed that reality itself screamed and howled, buffeting the cohesion of their very consciousness, the perception of the universe itself. In the hearts of the telepaths around her, controlling their ship by thought, the sight and the feeling alike were putting terror into the hearts, into those hearts who were linked to the minds of the officers who ruled, in fear and pride, trillions of mutes. Abebech, though, showed none of it. She merely raised her hand and manipulated the plot through psionic feedback, as steady as Constantine IX at the Mesoteichion. A vaguely Hispanic man appeared in a sector of it and with a gesture his image expanded to overlay the tactical globe, the holo capturing the sweat beading from his face.

“Admiral Jimenez, the Fourth of Seventeenth shall advance three AUs and pivot forty degrees to port to lay covering fires….”

The vision snapped away as soon as it had come. Abebech ripped the mask off of Kalista’s face and stared deep into her eyes. The woman was abruptly confronted with a hideous presence, a power, an afterburn of something immeasurably dark and evil. It crashed over her like a wave, pounded and roared, until Kalista felt like she was drowning in it.

Then the wave passed, and only Kalista remained, alone in a tunnel. She followed it, confused, heart pounding, carefully scrambling over broken rock, scoured smooth by the power of the water.

She turned a corner, and there she was, in the lab, the ‘Academy’, being modified by the Government of the Union, pitilessly drilled and indoctrinated. Terrified and angry all at once, she continued to advance, looking at herself. But the other-Kalista, the young-Kalista, didn’t notice, the doctors, the guards, didn’t notice.

She reached the chair and lunged for herself, to unbuckle herself from the restraints. As she did, the mind’s eye curled in on itself. The younger woman in the chair was suddenly a slight Asian woman of browner skin, wearing the uniform of the Terran Reich. Dark eyes met dark eyes, and there was a sudden sense of ineffable kinship.

Kalista knew she was looking at the mother she had never had. The restraints would not come off, and she screamed in rage, yanking at them. “Mother!”

The woman strained at the restraints, and her voice, when it spoke, was high and sharp and furious. “I am offended for my great country,” she said, “that my daughter is a slave, and all I have fought for is undone.”

Kalista woke up again, and this time, screaming.

Abebech was systematically removing her restraints.

Kalista’s resistance guttered as she curled into a ball on the thin mattress, tears falling uncontrolled from her eyes as all the memories flooded together in a mad jumble. “Why… Why are you releasing me?”

“Because Leftenant Xin’s daughter is not a slave, and generally, an Esper is not a slave,” Abebech answered simply. “Welcome to the crew of your mother’s ship, Midshipwoman Xin. Revenge, plainly put, is one of the finer pleasures of life. Your mother was one of the engineering officers, I might add.”

“So this was your ship!?” Kalista shouted as Abebech turned and began to leave the cabin, remembering her words just before she had been stabbed.

“Oh, the de Trier was in the Third of Fifteenth,” Abebech replied with a laugh.

Rubbing her wrists, Kalista leapt to her feet and followed her.

“They’ve been gone a long while,” Zoe remarked, referring to Abebech and River and Simon. “So, what’s the plan, Sir?”

Mal shook his head wryly. Watching the preparations to fight the de Trier had been almost dizzying, and against a disciplined and organised military force he felt out of place. “War’s back on,” he answered, finally.

“Is that so?” Jayne almost growled it out. “I didn’t sign up to fight in your damn war, Cap’m. I’m a fighter, not a soldier, not a Browncoat. I do jobs and I get the hell out.”

“Including jobs like sellin’ me out, Jayne?” Mal swung his legs down and rose from where he was sitting, leaning over the bigger man, but far more intimidating. “It was your damnfool decision to come back after leavin’, too, which without the Huáscar would have been the end of all of us. You are lucky to be welcomed back as part of this crew and don’t start gettin’ ideas about double-crossin’ me again or cuttin’ out whenever an opportunity presents itself.”

Serenity ain’t a warship,” Jayne answered. “You think these folks with whatever they’re doin’ are gonna stick around? They’ll leave us in the lurch and we’ll find ourselves right back in Serenity Valley, ‘cept this time I’ll be stuck with ya there, probably wind up dead.”

“We’ve got more than Serenity.

“That girl I helped find you? Maybe some rustbuckets?” Jayne laughed. “Cap’m, fightin’ just don’t make no sense for me. I mean, the Huáscar might just lose right now.”

“And you think we can get away from fifty-six Alliance ships comin’ down on us if we cut and run right now, Jayne, is that it?”

“That just means we waited too long already. Shoulda got goin’ a while ago.”

“Well, we’re not goin’ anywhere, Jayne,” Mal leaned down, eyes narrowing. “We’re gonna fight. Because if we don’t, after this, there is no escape. They will hunt us down through the entire ‘Verse to make sure the story of this ship and what happened here never get loose. Even if Captain Zhen’var leaves They Will Not Rest, you hear me?”

Jayne shook his head and tried to look away.

“You want to end up in an Alliance camp, Jayne? They will put you there, even if they promise you money first.”

“I just don’t know what the hell we’re fightin’ for! What is it, Mal? What are we fightin’ for? ‘Cuz with this ship that River’s got the codes or whatever for, it sounds like we’re fightin’ for her. You’ve heard the star-folk talk about where it’s from, it’s from the damned Terran Reich, some kinda Empire. Empire of Telepaths, people like River, lordin’ over us regular folk, probably lookin’ in our minds whenever they feel like it just like River already does. She gonna make herself Queen of Londinium, Mal, is that it? Is that what’s gonna happen? Is that what we’re fightin’ for!?”

“We’ve been with River and Simon for almost two years now, Jayne, and I ain’t seen any sign of that in them. She’s a good girl and she’s healing by the day. If she has the power in her hands to take down the Alliance, when we don’t have any choice no more but to try, then I say we use it.”

“And you think that power isn’t gonna corrupt just like it has for the Alliance? You think she won’t want to use it for whatever the hell she wants inside of her crazy head?”

“I think she’s got a family, Jayne, and that’s what’ll make the difference.” Mal turned away. “And I think the Alliance, plain and simple, deserves to go down. I did when I fought before,” he forestalled Jayne with a hand, “and I lost that, and I accepted they were our Government now. But since they have gotten worse. They let the power over the whole Verse go straight to their heads and they are gonna keep running with it until they destroy us all or are brought down. Now I would sooner give River a chance with this ship than all the bureaucrats in Londinium. She has done good things, and I ain’t seen one yet out of ‘em.”

“Ai’right, we’re in this,” Jayne was shaking his head and rubbed the barrel of his rifle. “Ai’right. But what’re we gonna do?”

Mal hear the footsteps first and turned to face them. “‘Reckon we’re about to find out.”

River arrived, wearing a uniform of white with black trim and gold fittings. Beyond the Waffenrock, it extended to a knee-length white skirt with broad black pinstripes and black boots and stockings. Mal started.

Abebech was by her side, Simon following along. “Just in case, I resolved we could not say she was an unlawful combatant,” Abebech smiled thinly.

“It’s very pretty that it’s got a skirt, isn’t it?” River laughed, and twirled on one boot to let it flair. Even now she could be purely girlish.

Mal and Zoe looked at each other sharply. “Well, Sir,” Zoe shook her head, “she looks a damn sight better than a purple-belly. It’s got some class.”

“River’s very taken by it right now,” Simon explained with a wry shake of his head and a grin. “I would have never expected to see her in a military uniform in my entire life, but it grows on you a little.”

“Well, it won’t matter to the Alliance, but I understand the principle of it,” Mal answered, shaking his head. “What’s the plan, Commander Imra?”

“Get Kaylee and Emma from the ship and form a blocking detachment to guard access to the main bridge deck, just in case,” Abebech replied. “Their objective is certainly to board us, but we are preparing a surprise for them, and Bea’s Resistance people are crewing up the prizes.”

“Ain’t no place for an infant in a blocking detachment. Or Kaylee, really.”

“There’s no good place at all for them,” Abebech replied, “but they can stay with Simon at one of the emergency medical stations we’ll establish inside the bridge block. If the enemy gets past you… Well, the armoured keel of a Vengeur will be the safest place in this fight, I promise.”

Zoe smiled thinly. “You’re likely right about that. Let’s do it, Sir.”

“Well, she’s the mother. Let’s do it.” Mal smiled and tipped a lazy salute. “Not much longer than that.”

“No, but so much the better,” Abebech shrugged. “I tire of waiting.”

“Warning squadron, this is PriFly Actual. Commence launch sequence.” Stasia took a long guzzle from her coffee, and then added, softly, “Yan tután, aagáa yéi kgwatee.” Word of what Elia and Arterus were up to had gotten around.

“..What was that, PriFly? Over.”

“Have Faith, and It Shall Be,” Stasia smiled grimly. “Launch on discretion, Warning Squadron.”

“Confirmed, PriFly, launching by element. Over.”

Stasia watched the runabouts accelerating out of the main hangar. One after another, the twelve of them went spaceborne. Around them, the four earliest of the Resistance ships, converted freighters, had already arrived or were arriving. Their targets were the rest.

But most of all aboard them were two officers that Stasia deeply respected, and many pilots and other volunteers, going into a mission that most rational people would consider insane. She wasn’t at all pleased about that, but there was nothing to do, but whisper a battle-prayer and wait.

The runabouts ducked behind the de Trier and formed up. From a dead start they accelerated to match the relative velocities predicted for their final destinations, and then activated their warp drives, a moment later--none of the ships were far--deactivating them to slid in alongside. A few frantic messages were exchanged by tight-beam as the plan came together. Two went the shortest distance of all, and came in to meet the prizes.

After dropping off the volunteers, the last two runabouts went to collect more Resistance fighters. Then they leapt back to their muster point, masked by the de Trier. From that, they would be beamed aboard the prizes the Huáscar had taken. Many might be Union veterans, but they still had only five hours to bring the ships to life. It would have to do.

Zhen’var stirred from her hammock, rigged over her old bed in the sea cabin of the Huáscar, and a welcome addition that had been one of the positives about this mission, arriving just in time. Settling in at her desk after replicating herself a bowl of one of her dumpling specials, Laziz Lamb Handi, chai and a cup of raita to dip it. The more she read the reports, the more she frowned. Abebech, what are you up to? You are being too clever, I think… Glancing to the chrono, the Dilgar woman audibly sighed as she brought up her omnitool. ‘Commander Imra, I wish to discuss your intentions, if it is convenient before the action.’

Captain, of course.” An incoming visual on the small persocomp screen resolved itself into the bridge of the Francesco de Trier, Abebech sitting in the Captain’s chair, and a faint image of someone in a white and black uniform behind. “Captain. What do you wish to discuss? I aim to defend the de Trier to the utmost.”

“I agree it is necessary, but… you have other aims, I discern from the reports I am receiving. I would know what they are, if you are amenable to informing me.”

“The de Trier is not our’s to control, Captain. Not the Alliance’s.”

“Then whom is to control her, Abebech?” She slipped into informality, eyes shining with concern.

“The daughters of her crew. The Union Espers, Captain, and in River in particular. They were all intentionally gestated to have telepathy by secret modification behind the backs of their parents, using genetic samples from the mummies of deceased crewers of the de Trier.

“I can… accept that.” Her voice was soft, and her gaze distant. “It is fair, and just. Is that her behind you, in the strange uniform?”

“Yes.” Abebech altered the field of vision to focus on River as well. “I helped set the autotailor to produce the uniform of a Kapitan-de-Fregate of the Terran Reich.”

River waved lazily, her focus on her screen.

A soft hiss escaped as Zhen’var breathed in sharply. “As much of a statement as a Dilgar uniform, I suppose. You have been busy, Abebech. She is to be Captain Tam, then? And she has accepted, by her posture...”

“Kalista is with us, but she can’t be trusted by the Resistance so quickly,” River spoke up.

Abebech nodded. “She is the only one. Captain, I am a historian by education. To an Esper in S0T5, that means I collect things as tangible to me as books to you. Thoughts. One set of them was the encrypted fleet command codes of the Imperial Space Forces, passed from generation to generation as a memetic legacy in those who did not recognise their significance. This ship will not respond to any but a telepath bearing those codes in their mind, by design.”

“So the ship responds and answers to her… I start to understand more clearly.”

“And I.” Abebech coughed gently. “So other than defence against boarding and some damage control teams, it’s River and I fighting this ship in the upcoming battle. And we do have one main reactor, one main thruster block, and those eleven guns operational.”

“I shall keep what detachments from the Huascar you may need aboard, to assist you in fighting her in the coming action.”

“Thank you, Captain. We can discuss the next steps when we have won?”

“Agreed, Commander. Good fortune to yourself and Captain Tam.”

“Thank you.” Abebech dipped her head. “There needs to be no modifications to the plan we previously discussed. The de Trier’s batteries can do their part.”

“We shall be hard pressed, but the valiant way shall see us to the other side. See you there, Abebech.”

“And you, Zhen’var.” Abebech tipped a salute. “By your leave?”

“So granted. Thank you for explaining matters.” Blanking the screen, Zhen’var looked at the overhead. You are not yet telling me everything, Abebech…

The thought was interrupted by the door. “Commander William Atreiad.”

I am going to find a way to tear that speaker from the bulkhead… “Come ahead!”

The doors swished open to her ready room and then the sea cabin. Will stood at attention. “Captain. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain why, but it wasn’t even for a secured channel. Commander Fera’xero and I just recovered a Darglan interuniversal drive from the engineering spaces of the de Trier.

Divine, of course it was not even for a secure channel!” She had barely bitten back an exclamation in Hindi, her eyes widely huge. “That calls into question much so-called history…”

“Don’t I know it…” Will shook his head. “Fera’xero observed that the Reignfall, Swenya’s Darkness War, the scouring of our home Earth, and the end of the Darglan interuniversal era--all happened three thousand years ago. I thought about it for a moment, realised he was right, of course, and it chills me to the bone, Captain. Gods, it does.”

“It should. Some-day, I will be able to articulate what I suspect.”

“That they’re all related? That’s what I’m staring in the face right now, Zhen’var. This Vengeur-class dreadnought of the Terran Reich sitting in our faces with Darglan tech aboard.”

“Not merely related… but we will speak of it, some-day soon, I hope. We have a battle looming upon us, presently.”

“Understood.” Will pursed his lips tautly for a moment. “Point of fact, the enemy will be close enough to commence action with the long-range guns in another forty-five minutes. We should be beginning our final preparations.”

“Indeed, Commander. Call the crew to stations in another fifteen. This will be a hard fight, still, and we are not finished in this system even after that. We will prepare a physical report for Admiral Maran to be carried by courier as soon as we are finished here.”

“Understood. Gods keep us, Captain.”

“Sound General Quarters.”

The alarms again filled the ship. This time, every system was functional, the ship had warp drive at Zhen'var's discretion, and they knew exactly what they were getting into. The trap was ready, and it was time to fight.

“Time, four minutes, thirty-two seconds, Captain,” Lieutenant Orallian, the Gersallian Ops watch officer standing in for Elia, reported. “We are at Material Condition ZEBRA with all shields at full power, all weapons standing, by and full power available.”

The plan was, in a certain way, simple. The de Trier would slowly bring thrust up, creating an ionised drive tail. The Huáscar would pull away, commencing long-range fires from ranges at which the enemy could not reply. The fighters and bombers had already been launched, and were standing by in the wreckage of the de Trier to ambush the enemy when they closed with her to board. Bea’s squadron was standing by in the drive tail with the fireships.

While the Huáscar weakened the enemy, the fighters would harass and drive the enemy squadron toward the de Trier. Then the Resistance ships would lead the fireships into the mass. Staying under thrust, they would cut through and seek to escape. The shuttles hiding on the flanks of the de Trier would get the crews of the fireships off. Including Elia Saumarez, Zhen’var’s best friend.

Ahead the fleet loomed, fifty-six ships: Longbow, Trebuchet cruisers, Victoria corvettes, ELINT corvettes, and two utterly massive, ten-million-tonne Crete-class carriers, as large as the Huáscar. With them, Firefox fighter-bombers, Warhammer interceptors, both by the hundreds, and hundreds of cutters and short-range enforcement vessels, armed with their EMP generating charges, and dozens of assault landers waiting to convey Marines to the de Trier.

May the divine bless us with fortune…de Trier Actual, Huáscar Actual. We are cleared and ready for action.”

“Some of Fera’xero’s scratch engineering teams are still hydraulically jacking blast doors closed, but we have more time before coming under attack, Huáscar Actual” Abebech responded immediately. “I am preparing to bring up Main Thruster No.7.” The first challenge would be seeing if it actually worked, regardless of whether or not it said it was nominal.

“May your sword hold to the last blow,” Zhen’var offered from an old Dilgar benediction. “Huáscar out.”

The channel cut, and as the Huáscar steadily pulled away, she watched, from what had once been an enormous cluster of thirty-two engine bells, deceptively primitive looking, at the back of the de Trier, the multispectral image showing a flare as the gravimetrics kicked on and stabilised, able to redirect the thrust at will, and then a huge column of bright glowing blue ionised matter shot forth, and stabilised into a low glowing cyan, redirected slightly down and to the starboard to balance the thrust relative to the ship’s centre of gravity.

“Great Goddess,” Daria whispered. “She’s really brought power up.”

“Steady, guns. It is a sight no-one has seen in three thousand years,” Zhen’var acknowledged. “But we’ll be in range in minutes.”

“Aye-aye, Captain.” Daria took one last glance at the cylindrical thrustship of a monster slowly increasing her acceleration toward eight gravities, and began targeting with long-range sensors of the incoming fleet.

“Aim for the big ones,” Zhen’var said coolly. “I want to shake them.”

“Going for the carriers first…” Daria selected one of the massive Crete class ships. They weren’t in range yet, but she could start refining her targeting picture… The Huáscar turning to port and speed continuing to increase as their acceleration peaked past two hundred gravities. Having arrived in the local system, the pulse drives of the Union ships wouldn’t help them again, and without those long distance but limited mass-cancelling drives, their accelerations were poor enough that there was no way they could keep up. Hells, the converted freighters in the Resistance force could barely keep themselves in the de Trier’s drive tail as she limped her way up to eight gravities.

“They may not have enough information to realise that we’re going to be ranging on them and think we’re retreating,” Will remarked through the intercom as he watched the enemy fleet continue to fail to manoeuvre or otherwise respond to their actions.

“Perhaps, but I do not want any additional surprises. Disabuse them of the notion once you have the range.”

Will interpreted that literally, as Zhen’var’s command style dictated. “Daria, you are fire free.”

“Fire free,” she repeated, the Dorei woman studying sharply the tactical displays as they counted down the remaining range.

The counter ticked over and the indicators went green. Daria grabbed the trigger and fired a massive rippling broadside of forty solar torpedoes as the main PPCs opened fire on the starboard beam. They lanced across the stars to a target that would be perfectly invisible to the naked eye, now under the guidance of FTL sensors again with the jamming field completely gone.

The pinpoints of lights the flashes represented meant something else entirely on the tactical display, and to the approaching Union Government Fleet. It was a credit to their alert and capable sensor operators that they turned their autocannon on the incoming torpedoes. Even at high c-fractional velocities, they had just enough warning to turn the anti-missile defences on them.

Against the heavy PPCs there was no protection at all. The armour of the carrier was thick, but the immense power of the energy weapons scoured its length like the hand of a god. The carrier staggered, and turned away. As it did, three torpedoes slipped through the defence--which was superb, to take out thirty-seven--and exploded down her side in flashes of fury greater than even an atomic bomb blast of the heaviest type carried by their missiles. The ship lurched and went hard to port, a brave Trebuchet frantically interposing itself.

“One of the carriers has hauled out of formation, Captain,” Orallian called out.

“They’re massively attriting our torpedoes at this range, they have very good point defence, I’m restricting fire to PPCs only,” Daria added, “otherwise we’ll run out without much to show for it.”

The fleet reacted immediately. They started to launch their assault landers early, especially those on the second Crete. The first carrier, in fact, began to launch from her port bays despite the immense internal damage she had suffered. This fight wasn’t going to be so easy. Blossoming across the tactical displays, the Union fleet began to launch their maximal-range missiles in a salvo whose numbers steadily ticked toward a thousand. They were not completely helpless, and they weren’t about to let the distant enemy wound them without reply.

But at this range the Huáscar had plenty of options to attrite the salvo. “They’re launching, Captain. Full strength missile wave to overwhelm us, based on current course with a reasonable prediction cone,” the stocky Gersallian man quickly confirmed, highlighting the tactical display on the screen in sections and expanding them to provide the Captain the information she needed.

“A micro-jump to move clear, or stand and give them fire with our energy weapons, do you think?” The salvo was big enough to where the effort to jump would have been strongly considered in EarthForce. “Can the missiles be re-targeted onto our other ships if we make the jump?”

“...” Orallian frantically worked the computations through the massive computers of the Huáscar. “Not if we wait another two minutes. We won’t be in danger from the lead part of the wave for another three minutes, fifteen seconds. They can be brought back around on the de Trier at that point but they would be flying dead on ballistic trajectories, so any manoeuvring on the de Trier’s part at all would shake them.”

That was enough for Zhen’var’s crew to start getting ready. “Laying in a course at warp. Want me to come in behind them at weapons range, Captain?” Violeta hastily completed the computations. “Engineering, stand by for Warp Five.”

“Warp five at your discretion, helm,” Anna confirmed even as Violeta waited for Zhen’var’s decision.

“Engage in two-minutes, then. Alert de Trier of our intentions. Bring us in behind them at maximum effective weapons range.”

Tor’jar worked the comms. “de Trier Actual confirms, Captain.”

Violeta watched the timer zero out and activated the warp drives. For a moment they were in a blur of motion, and then they lunged out of position. It was worse than that for the Government fleet, which due to its sublight sensors didn’t realise they had altered positions initially, and then saw two of them.

Daria opened fire, targeting the second carrier she had already been hammering. The full forward batteries ripped into it and tore through it. A massive string of secondary detonations tore through the engine block and darkened it, the thrusters guttering out in the night as additional detonations rippled down the flanks of the immense ship. Now it was ironically the first carrier that had initially hauled out that was still limping toward contact with the de Trier.

“The missiles haven’t been redirected. They want the de Trier intact, Captain,” Orallian reported.

Zhen’var growled softly. “They are not fools, our enemy keeps their eyes on the correct objective. Keep up our fire, attrit them as heavily as we can before our wing must come to action.”

“Coming about to starboard to keep us within the engagement plan,” Violeta noted. Daria acknowledged and adjusted the firing pattern to account for it. The Huáscar slowly turned back in on herself, to keep the enemy from being tempted to follow her to the far side of the de Trier.

The enemy squadron was now matching velocity and approaching the ship’s great flanks, even as the long-range PPC fire picked off the first cruiser to be claimed in the action, the Government fleet powerless to reply. This was battle, in all of its grim majesty. For the moment they reaped like Gods, but a minute later their friends and comrades would be in desperate straits. The engines strained up to full power, and the Huáscar’s port batteries thrummed in her deck. “The White”, as her distant ancestress had been called in the War of the Pacific, turned back to close the range.

It was all mathematical now, the fire they could put out met by the Government ships’ ability to absorb it, and the Captain’s face was a blank mask as their fire lanced out. El’sau, please, come through this alive, I ask no more than that of the universe.

Artesia watched the approaching fleet match velocity and acceleration with the de Trier from her position at standby with her squadron, nestled by the docking tractors close up against the hull of the great ship, in amongst the ribs and shattered plates. It was intimidating simply to see the metres and metres of melted and shattered armour plates. Sometimes, now under thrust, some part that was loose and had not been dislodged in thousands of years of drifting brushed past them and tumbled out into a debris trail behind them, a haunting simulcra of how she must have looked first arriving in the system.

IR seekers on her missiles cheerfully began to chime as they locked onto a brace of Short Range Enforcement Vessels, and her micro-torpedo tube began to track a group of assault transports coming in. Still they waited. The Government fleet was de-accelerating above them, finally meeting zero-zero relative the de Trier.

She could see them, now holding position. There were still more than fifty ships, but even as they assumed their positions, turning into a half-globe formation to defend against the Huáscar facing out like a defensive hedgehog, another of the Longbow type cruisers was bracketed by heavy PPC salvoes. Pummeled over the course of a minute with the beams lancing in from the distant Huáscar, a pinpoint of starlight at long range, the cruiser began to come to pieces, fuel stores exploding around the engines in a furious white fusion detonation that blasted the after hull from the central pylon, sparking as plating went flying in a dozen directions.

If their troops retook the de Trier, it would be worth it for them. Mission Complete, regardless of the casualties.

Final target assignments popped up and Artesia grinned. Suddenly, comms silence was broken. “All squadrons,” Lar’shan’s voice boomed over the comm, “Commence the Attack! Rung-ho!

Artesia deactivated her docking tractor, manoeuvring thrusters spitting fire as she brought her nose up. “Epsilon wing, form on me! Full ahead!” She rammed the throttles back, and at hundreds of gravities, the Mongoose climbed like a rocket on takeoff from the hull of the de Trier.

The computer whined with the familiar indicator of tone lock, and she salvoed her anti-fighter missiles on fire-and-forget, then came around and shifted through armament. After she confirmed it was the micro-torpedoes for the transports, she opened fire as her fighter tore through them, pivoting the nose down and briefly cutting thrust to chew through yet another with her main pulse cannon before bucking the nose back around. A line of three enforcers were burning and exploding, and more were flaring up around them, the energies of the Alliance missiles far greater than anything they had been designed to face; it was one shot, one kill.

A squadron of Warhammers descended on her, and she coiled around another group of incoming transports. “Epsies, stay on the transports! I’ll keep the fighters off of you!” She flicked the switch to outboard and made her second kill with guns, and the first fighter, as she skidded across their course after ducking through their own transports.

And then Abebech’s voice cut the night. “All ships, this is de Trier Actual. Stay away from those cruisers! We are fire free!”

There were just the two of them on the bridge for command crew. Abebech didn’t trust Kalista with the codes yet. She’d have to prove herself first. But Goodenough, Ca’elia, and Abdulmajid were there. They couldn’t interface with the computers, but with River and Abebech setting up data-feeds for them, they could monitor the reams of information the computers were now providing and alert them to anything coming up, so they could focus on fighting.

With the sole operational main engine locked down to provide a constant eight gravities, massive banks of red and amber lights glowed around the bridge, indicating failed and critical systems. “Six hots and eight crits in the main weapons feed buses,” Goodenough indicated.

“What about feed-buses eleven and fourteen?”

“Both nominal, Captain,” Goodenough replied. The technical terms were familiar enough that the crash course in New Franconian and some help from the omnitool were mostly enough.

“That will do.” <River, get on it.>

<Routing mains through feed-buses eleven and fourteen,> she answered. <All right. We have mains power to the operational batteries and cannon.>

<Frigate-Captain, port turbolasers, engage!> “We are engaging,” she repeated for the benefit of her mute officers.

Four turbolaser batteries erupted fire down the de Trier’s port flank, with red bolts two hundred metres long flashing through the void. Each battery was a cluster of five cannon in an armoured housing, able to train and engage semi-independently but linked to a single power supply. After they fired, the heavy batteries took six seconds to recharge.

The battle had been shaped according to the plan that they were given with Zhen’var, because the port side was more intact than the starboard, and now Abebech had five of seven and two of four neutron cannon at her disposal to engage with. The turbolasers spake first, and when they did, a Trebuchet-class cruiser simply exploded. At point-blank range, the searing power of the main batteries reached the main reactors and fused the fuel on the ship, detonating her in an enormous fusion reaction which reduced the hull to embers and a brilliant white flare across the night.

Now Abebech p’grabbed the Neutron Cannon controls through the interface and opened fire with them as well. The two green beams lanced through the night, targeting a Longbow each. They had plenty of power on a single charge to scour down the length of the hull of the ships. In the darkness of space around them, she could feel through her powers, the chill of horror and terror spreading through the enemy fleet. If that fire kept up, they were dead by rights.

The beast within relished it. Fear us! Fear us! As it was in ancient days!

Elia had led her cruiser out of the drive tail the moment that Abebech had conveyed she was opening fire. Ahead of her, Bea’s Resistance people thrusted hard with their squadron, straight toward the fleet that heavily outnumbered them. On the screen, past the rack which had once held skulls, she could see that the de Trier really was in action. Longbow-class ships were burning ruins along her flank, neutron beams having done the job, as horrifyingly perfect as they had been against Earth in the late war. One of them was cut in two, just as cleanly as if the Minbari had done it at the Line. But now it was her enemies and the oppressors of telepaths who did it. A savage thrill cut the anxiety in her heart, strapped in as the cruiser and its skeleton crew burned hard on a final mission.

“Steady as she goes.” Ahead of them the eight Resistance ships--two Trebuchet-class cruisers and a Victoria-class corvette captured from the Government, plus five armed freighters--blasted into the heart of the enemy formation, salvoing their missiles. The two ships she was leading, one Longbow planetary assault model sold out to civilian service and captured by Reavers and one armed freighter, looked merely like the rearguard.

Behind her were sixty-eight solar torpedoes.

She activated the ship to ship lasercom. “Leftenant tr’Rllaillieu, take the port group. They’re cleaving and concentrating to bear their batteries against the wedge.”

“Aye, Ma’am. Arm the torpedoes?”

“At discretion,” Elia answered. It was only a small level of safety. “At discretion.” She leaned into her restraints and watched a wave of plasma pulse and autocannon fire converge on the squadron lead.

The nature of the weapons and sensors used by the Union dictated that the engagement ranges were much closer than Zhen’var ever tried for with the Huáscar in normal drill. It was the one thing which made the plan viable.

“The Lord Shall Prosper Us This Day,” Elia whispered as she watched one of the Trebuchet-class cruisers the Resistance fighters were crewing be chewed up from stem to stern by heavy fire of a concentration of the Government ships. Falling out of formation, her systems were killed by EMP bombs.

Elia tapped her omnitool. “Shuttle force, Leather; get the crew off the Achille, quickly now!”

“Leather, we are standing by to--”

“That’s an order, get them clear.” She turned to Lieutenant Ni’vur “Arm the torpedoes!”

“Helm, steer for that concentration of ships.” She patted the armrest of her acceleration couch and reached up, poised for a moment as she watched the final fate of the cruiser, torn apart by fire from a dozen ships until she erupted in a final intense gout of flame.

Now those dozen ships were starting to turn toward her. “Lock the helm!”

“Helm locked, Ma’am!”

“Thirty second timer.”

“Thirty seconds on your mark, Commander,” Ni’vur answered.

“Mark.” Elia tapped her omnitool. “Shuttle force; Leather. Carry us off!”


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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act 6

“Shuttle force, now would be a good time,” Elia continued, pitching her voice to be chipper despite the lack of response.

“Twenty seconds, Commander!”

The Government ships opened fire. “Helm…” Elia trailed off, remembering she had already ordered it locked down. The timer wouldn’t matter a whit if the torpedoes were energy fused by a good salvo punching through the old, deranged armour of the damaged Reaver ship.

Then a blazing flurry of green lances seared at the edge of her retina, exploding outward from the side of the de Trier. The energy bolts connected with their targets, two of the enemy cruisers burning, smashed open…. Rent from stem to stern. Abebech had grown confident enough to split her fire with two batteries laid on each ship. Venting debris, burning atmosphere and seared bodies, the two cruisers tumbled away, hopelessly crippled.

“Ten seconds,” Ni’vur prepared a countdown. “Ni…”

“Oh don’t bother with that load of rot, Combat Master,” Elia shook her head. “It’ll be fine.”

Another enemy squadron converged, guns tracking. Good, come on, get closer, if I’m going to die ten of you isn’t enough you sorry bastards. Shuttle force..?” She asked again.

Beaming, Commander!

“Might be a bit la--.” Mercifully, the word was cut off by the feel of the Darglan type transporters yanking her away from the hulk. She found herself flashing back into existence on the transporter pad of one of the cargo shuttles holding itself against the hull of the de Trier. Her crew would be spread around several others because of their small size, but Ni’vur was with her.

Elia looked to the Dilgar Lieutenant and smiled. “See, look what I told you. No need for that bloody countdown.”

“Err, certainly, Commander,” he answered, shaking himself. “Did we succeed?”

“I’m not sure the sensors of a shuttle masked in a dreadnought can tell us, but we certainly did ride it down their throats,” Elia answered, stepping over to the replicator in the back of the shuttle. “Thanks for the save!” She called to the pilot, before replicating herself a cuppa. “...Fancy any ytar, Leftenant? I shouldn’t want to leave you out.” She was quite worried about Arterus, actually, but as long as there were subordinates around felt nothing else would do.

“Commander Saumarez,” the pilot turned around. “We’re going to beam you with the rest of your crews to the de Trier in case the shuttles come under attack. No need to risk you.”

“Thank you, Leftenant.” A pause. “If I may, do we know if Leftenant tr’Rllaillieu’s group got off as well?”

“They did, Commander.”

“...See, I told you, Ni’vur, it all worked out perfectly fine…” She stepped back up onto the transporter pad and handed him his ytar just before they both again disappeared in a flash of white.

A large flare of white again dissipated into dust before them as a Victoria-class corvette was incinerated by the awesome power of the intact turbolaser batteries converging on it. <Good work, keep clearing the way for Elia.>

<Of course, silly, that’s more important than going for the big ones.> River flashed her a brief grin before turning back to her readouts.

“Captain, power surge on the …” Goodenough’s words were cut off by the tremendous detonation.

The lead fire-ship detonated, and moments later, the second. Immense white flashes as terrible, but worse still, than those inflicted by the batteries of the Francesco de Trier tore into the heart of the fleet, obscuring for a moment the flaring energy and anger of a neutron beam tracking across the battlefield. The beam found purchase nonetheless, and another corvette reeled, tumbling off course with a huge gash of flickering, melted metal across its flank.

It paled as nothing before the terrific damage of the conflagration. The spreading explosions had easily wrecked or damaged a dozen Government ships outright, vapourised some. In the guttering sparks of cooling metal debris across the battlefield, there were also the tumbling wrecks of vessels further out, driven and dashed against each other as pieces of flotsam battered in the surf.

Abebech folded her gloved hands. The thought was too intense to hide, the sentiment River could clear p’hear, hoping that Elia had survived. As the ships tumbled, spewing atmosphere and debris and bodies, twenty wrecks in the void, the shattered heart of a great fleet, it was all they could do.

Artesia snapped another nose pivot back toward an incoming squadron of Warhammers. Tone lock squealing in her helmet, she raked across one, then another, taking both en passant as the groups tore across each other’s courses.

The battle was not going well, simply because of how badly outnumbered they were by the enemy fighters. Even as she killed another two, they had started the engagement with odds long against them. One hundred fighters and bombers and twelve runabouts were going up against more than eight hundred fighters and an equal number of enforcers and cutters. All the technology in the Multiverse hardly mattered at sixteen to one!

She snapped into another violent nose-pivot, but this time laid on maximum thrust to avoid a brace of enforcers coming in close. Once clear of the risk of a collision, she brought the nose up again and fired across the belly of one, the pulse phasers ripping weapons mounts apart and dishing in the thin hull. Air fled in a trail, turning to ice as it did.

“All squadrons, pull back! Pull back!” Lar’shan’s voice echoed across the main channels.

Artesia and the other pilots knew what it meant, and she snapped her nose away from the globe of capital ships and again slammed the throttles to full. A moment later, she flicked shields double-rear as her periphreal vision exploded with white. The Mongoose violently bucked in her hands as Warhammers behind and around her and several enforcers and cutters were also torn to pieces, captured in the wave and buffeted until they shattered and their fuel was detonated by the energy of the blast.

“All squadrons,” Lar’shan was speaking again a minute later. “Form up off the port bow of the de Trier, we need to take advantage of their disorder from the blasts to dress ranks! Engage assault landers only on opportunity while concentrating!”

Artesia thumbed through channels to try and raise her squadron lead, but couldn’t get any response. “Epsilon flight, follow me forward,” she ordered, and there were only three of them now, not four. She cut down toward the surface of the de Trier, dodging around the massive turbolaser batteries lest they fire, and selected one of the bays. Most of the assault landers that hadn’t been destroyed before had already landed.

She made sure the laggards paid for it. Her pulse phasers spoke again, and again, and claimed two more of the transports on her run to the concentration point, the work becoming as sharp and precise, and unfussy, as an old woman strangling a chicken in the rural Catalan of her girlhood. Behind her, the explosions faded like the dying of a star.

On the de Trier’s bridge, the tactical picture updated again. Now it showed the cripples continuing to fall behind as they lost power, the rest of the Government fleet still in wanton disorder. Three-fourths of their strength was gone, annihilated, between the Huáscar, the torpedoes, and the fireships. These were the kinds of casualties which destroyed any military unit, no matter how strong or brave.

Once, this ship had fought in a battle just as hopeless as the one she now inflicted. Again River targeted and fired the turbolasers, blowing a Longbow in two with a violent shattering of hull, gouts of plasma driving the two halves of the ship away from each other. But the enemy did not surrender.

Abebech knew why. They were counting on the troops they had landed to take the de Trier. They would remain focused on their mission until the very bloody end. The promise of victory could yet make troops endure a terrific pounding. She knew it. She had led troops in doing the same before.

And as long as she and River were tied to the command consoles of the de Trier, the threat was real. They could not fight the ship and confront the boarders at the same time.

“Ray-ban, this is Leather.”

Abebech sank slowly back in the command chair, to an extent that she had not realised her tension. “I see, Commander, that Fortune yet favours the bold. Welcome back to the living.”

“Well, it was a nearer thing than I should have liked, but both crews were recovered. I’m here with Leftenant tr’Rllaillieu and, Commander, the enemy is pushing toward your position aggressively. Colonel Fei’nur’s marines are reporting telepathic assistance.”

<Other Operatives. Other sisters,> River paled, where first her face had brightened in relief that Elia had survived.

<Doubtlessly.> “Commander, is Midshipwoman Xin there?”

“She is,” Elia answered. “You want us to go forward?”

“Please. I believe she understands the plan. At all costs, we want defections, not a gunbattle.”

“Don’t worry, Commander.”

“I will trust in the usual reputation of Psi-Corps, Commander. See if you cannot link up to Colonel Fei’nur, but whatever happens, keep them from reaching the bridge.” She switched to the space comm. “Ray-ban to Huáscar Actual. The teams have been recovered, I repeat, the teams have been recovered. Leather and Feanor in the lot. Huáscar Actual, we have the better part of a regiment pressing as hard as it can with telepathic support for the de Trier’s bridge section. Please, we must end the naval battle as quickly as possible. The enemy is broken, they just don’t know it yet!”

On the Huáscar’s bridge, Daria could sense the relief in Zhen’var’s heart. She also realised that the challenge was her’s. Elia was alive, but her responsibilities in battle had usually included management of the tactical picture for Zhen’var. Daria had been more of a gunnery officer than a true tactical officer.

She had to pick that role up now. “Captain,” the Dorei woman said, carrying her voice to a pitch. “BLUF: The enemy fleet is hors d’combat and is now a distraction; the threat are the enforcers and the cutters.”

“Go on, Leftenant,” Zhen’var said simply.

Daria kept the PPCs firing on pre-planned barrages even as she spoke. “Captain, the enforcers and cutters are massing with the remaining fighters to attack our own wing, and they still have a considerable supply of EMP bombs. They probably held off using them on the de Trier worked about leaving her out of control, but they might employ them now. If we don’t prioritise them, Captain, they’re going to massacre our fighters and keep us tied down for long enough that their boarding parties can still win the battle.”

“Can you target them effectively?”

“I’ll need to get in closer.”

“They’ll attack us with EMP charges if you do, Leftenant.” Zhen’var’s claws scoured at the granite.

“Charges have no velocity, we have greater acceleration than any of them, Captain. We’ll launch slashing attacks. We can stand off far enough to guarantee they can’t put them in our course.”

“Leftenant Arterria?” Zhen’var’s cat-eyes sharpened. “Can you do it? Maximum acceleration, maximum de-acceleration, forward, aftwards relative the de Trier, again and again until we master them?”

Violeta turned back and her voice reflected true confidence. “I’ll make her dance, Captain.”

“Then warp us into position for the first run!” She tapped her comm. “de Trier Actual, Huáscar Actual. We are coming in. Stand by to hold fire.”

“Preparing to hold turbolaser fire,” Abebech answered. “We will shift neutron cannon against the cutters, we can range on them.”

“Acknowledged. Make it happen, de Trier.” A pause. “Helm, execute.”

Violeta tapped a single control to execute the warp manoeuvre she had laid in, at a leisurely Warp 2. It was still sufficient to put them right on top of the battlefield.

“Camel, this is White,” Zhen’var signaled. “Form on us, we are making high speed passes. Keep the cutters off.”

They appeared, and Daria’s quick blue hands worked the firing controls, ears flexing. A moment later the medium and light batteries opened fire in earnest. They ripped through the ranks of cutters and gunboats. Against the medium batteries, none of the cutters and enforcers were strong enough to survive even a single hit, and the light batteries were intended as anti-missile units and could track them through any evasive manoeuvre as it chewed them up piece by piece. Twenty of the craft, too large to be good fighters and too small to be as resilient as capital ships, were destroyed in the first five seconds.

They had the numbers on their side, and they had the weapon which had proved most effective against the Huáscar so far, EMP charges. But as they accelerated into attack positions, the great cruiser was moving faster. They knew their plan, they knew themselves, and they knew their enemy.

The Huáscar roared past them at maximum acceleration, easily pushing past them before they could catch up to close the range and use the EMP charges. As she did her medium and light PPCs spat fire again and again and again. Behind the mass of the cutters and enforcers, the de Trier was firing too, two Neutron cannon beams sweeping the battlefield, catching the small craft and destroying them in puffs of fire and air, sparks of molten metal drifting into space and cooling as tumbling pieces remained.

Lar’shan formed his fighters up to follow the Huáscar, staying on the outside and covering her. It was like a bullfight; as the Huáscar cleared the enemy, she de-accelerated and then spun about to accelerate again in the opposite direction. This time, her starboard batteries spoke, the fighters shifted to the opposite side and didn’t even engage.

The commander of the Government forces, the Captain of the surviving Crete which had pulled well back from the action, could just watch in despair as his small craft were systematically annihilated without the ability to engage the enemy. The Huáscar twisted like a fighter at the end of her runs, spinning back and standing on her beam ends through the sharp turn, just for Violeta to bring her impulsors to full power again, and again. Maximum thrust to the redline in acceleration for three minutes, de-acceleration for three minutes, and she kept varying the angle so that the enemy couldn’t predict their course and put themselves in a position for ambush.

It was a massacre, and to combat the demoralisation of the Government crews standing in place to buy time for their Marine comrades, they had only the thin hope that they would succeed, and take the de Trier.

Aboard the de Trier, armour was waiting for Elia. She pulled herself into it before she realised it was not at all of Alliance make, and then shrugged. Strength in metal doesn’t so easily yield over time. Not this ship, anyway.

Kalista arrived, already dressed in it, with the appropriate uniform under it.

<Midshipwoman Xin?>

<Commander Saumarez. Commander Imra told me to report to your position.>

<Yes. This is certainly our last chance to stop a great effusion of blood among telepaths. I’ve already worked with Fei’nur; she’s concentrated the Mha’dorn and we’ll be going to join up with them,> Elia replied. <Come on.> She gestured, clutching her pistol, and started forward.

The Marine detachment had eight Mha’dorn in it, and there was also Ensign Kel’dar who had been part of the group securing the engineering systems. Some of them were quite weak, but even the weakest telepaths could, when gestalted, use their talents against another, a reserve bank in a fight if nothing more.

Lieutenant Koi’sar was the ranking Mha’dorn besides Elia herself, and he came to attention to salute as they arrived at the concentration point. Lieutenant Gha’tir was right next to him; the others were rankers. <All right, where’s the attack developing?> Elia asked, letting it be clearly conveyed to all at once.

<Sector 19, Deck 52,> Koi’sar answered. <Blocking detachment by Serenity’s crew. All other stop points have been driven back.>

Elia pursed her lips. <Four people? Let’s roll!> She doubted they’d last a minute against what was coming down the pike for them.

Mal, Jayne, Zoe, and Inara, armed with a rifle taking from one of the arms lockers on the de Trier, a wickedly functional energy weapon. Mal had never expected to see his girlfriend packing a gun prepared to shoot purple-bellies, but there they all were.

Zoe, still shaky and looking a little sick, was settled in against a crew-served weapon, from the same armoury, with the other three covering her. There was a line of collapsed doors and metal access panels piled up to form a barricade.

Mal waited patiently. Isolated from the comms network they just had their own little battle to fight, not knowing the details of the general engagement. But they knew that beyond them was Simon, a field hospital, Kaylee, Emma Washburne -- and River and Abebech and the command and control apparatus of the de Trier.

There was a rustle down the corridor. Jayne leaned forward, but Mal quickly held up a finger, and he shushed down before he spoke. It was already growing louder; there was no need for a recon, there were troops coming down the pike. They were not friends.

Despite her condition, it was Zoe’s gun that spoke first, and the better for it. Red lances of light shafted their way down the corridor leaving a blur across their vision. They virtually tore the bodies of the purple-bellies rounding the corner to pieces. A group of four were dropped in barely more than a second, to the screams of others behind.

“The hell is that thing?” Jayne stared incredulously for a moment.

“Effective,” Zoe answered with a laconic bit of a smirk.

“An energy weapon, just like the big ‘uns on this ship,” Mal shook his head. “Inara?”

“Well, I’m going to wait for a target to find --”

“They’re comin’ on again!” Jayne shouted, and let loose with Vera. A man toppled in a well of blood, and then another.

Inara’s gun spoke sharp red energy bolts, smaller versions of those from the tripod mounted gun. Mal joined in with his pistol.

Between burns gouged through armour and good hits that left bloody traces across wounded and dead soldiers felled to the deck, they had quickly stopped another push. But from the rustlings down the side corridors, it was clear that they were going to be flanked.

“Zoe, you hold the middle?”

“Gonna have to, Sir, can’t move this thing.”

“Inara, come on, we’ll go left,” Mal said, then. “Jayne, take the right.”

“By myself? You tryin’ to get me killed, Mal?”

“You know your gun and you’ve got an armour-piercer. Do it.”

Jayne rolled out to the right, and the moment he did, there was a sharp crack of fire. He went to ground, bringing Vera up to return fire.

Inara and Mal managed to reach a set of doors the enemy hadn’t. They settled in to wait against them, and Mal took aim as the first of the purple-bellies began their flanking manoeuvre. He was surprised with the precision and surety by which Inara dropped the first with a single shot from the energy rifle.

The second went down to his pistol. It seemed like another probe that would melt away, when suddenly, eight of them rushed all at once. They both opened fire into the densely packed mass, felling them as they tried to press forward.

But behind them came a girl with a shaven head. Mal grimaced, and raised his pistol to take the shot.

Just as he did, she exploded into a pirouetting run straight toward their position, ducking aside both bullets and blaster-shots. A blade glinted in her hand, earnest and ready to deal with him and Inara using cold steel. Again and again they fired, and never quite hit her.

<FALL BACK,> the command echoed in his brain like a hammer. Elia advanced from behind them with her pistol levelled, and pitted herself against the girl, buried deep in her precog.

She was not alone, but represented just one arm of the gestalt. In the mental world she projected, she matched the single sword of the girl with a dozen about the banner. Three lions attacked and tore at her mental shields, while a wave of blood swept over them from above, mimicking the colour and heraldry of the flag of her islands, the Duchy of Normandy. She picked wedges into the shields with the coordinated efforts of eleven minds.

The girl’s shields cracked open. Her wail of desperation, mental, was strong enough that despite the lack of a direct line of sight, her sisters came running. Kalista and the Mha’dorn followed from their side, leaving Mal and Inara to follow that ineluctable compulsion back to reinforce Zoe against the regulars.

Exactly the way that Elia wanted it. She held her ground, and twirled a thought deep into the girl’s mind. <Iris. Kalista is here.> She led her consciousness up and around, surrounded by a wall of the others. Their ‘attack’ was a full disclosure, nothing less, and nothing more. A vision, of this ship, of ancestors they had not known, and of friends they did not know they had.

A vision, of the burning horror of a future where they were known only as enforcers. Where they were hated behind their backs, and feared to their faces. A future as sure as following their current course could be.

When the mass of Operatives ready for battle came around the corner, in aggregate they were stronger than the eleven they faced, all of them except Elia, who as a P9/10 outmatched them, and Kalista, their equal, were outmatched by the Operatives. The Dilgar around her were not strong. Kei’dar was a P6 as the strongest.

But they were united. They were gestalted. It was the telepathic equivalent of a testudo, pitted against a mass of wild and disorderly warriors.

Yet, for all of that, they might have forced it to be an unpleasant ending. The one unitary objective of the telepaths was to end the situation without bloodshed. In the end, their opponents, able to see what the Government had done to them, able to see their own past, now simply had the ability to make a choice, fully informed, of their own free will.

The Standing seemed to stretch into infinity. As it did, Mal found himself covering Jayne as he slowly fell back, and Inara covered Zoe. The purple-bellies kept trying to push for their objective.

Right up, anyway, until River arrived, and sent a dozen purple-bellies spasming to the ground at once. The firing abruptly slackened, even as they could hear it in many other areas ahead, as Colonel Fei’nur’s Marines executed counterattacks.

“Though you were supposed to be flyin’ the ship,” Mal remarked as he looked, even now more than a little shocked.

Behind River, Abebech padded quietly up. “Captain Zhen’var has settled the matter in the void. And we can receive positional updates even here.”

“Please secure the prisoners,” River offered. “We’ve got to... Take care of something.”

It was with an almost uncomprehending nod that Mal watched them go toward the left.

And it was River, not Abebech, that joined the gestalt. River, who greeted her sisters as a sister. River, who reached out and showed them how to not be alone, and form their own gestalt. All fifteen of them.

The brooding, dark presence at the end of the corridor was hauntingly familiar in some ways, even more than Elia and her Mha’dorn compatriots. The Consensus of the gestalt was clear.

The Francesco de Trier was theirs. Freedom was theirs, as it had been for their foremothers so long ago. There was no fighting.

Quietly, as a group, they simply filed back toward the command spaces, unmolested by Abebech’s troops, and with Abebech silently watching, at Elia’s side. That is, until River passed her.

Very deliberately, River stopped, and turned to face her in her Terran Reich uniform, and came to attention and saluted. Abebech returned the salute as a matter of course, like her entire being was trained to do it.

“Surviving crew of the Francesco de Trier fully present and accounted for, Admiral,” River said, a mischievous wink in her eyes. Then she spun on heel and followed her sisters, almost traipsing with delight at Abebech’s response, confirming what she had thought.

“...She’s still a bit strange, isn’t she?” Elia asked, shaking her head wryly and laughing.

Abebech just stood there, staring for a moment. Then she smiled, and nodded. “Good kid, though. I’ve certainly never served with finer.”

Abebech Imra entered Zhen’var’s Ready Room the next morning, fresh from the de Trier. Around them, there were now concentrated eleven Resistance ships that had survived the battle or arrived after it, plus four new prizes that had surrendered. Seven enemy vessels had escaped; forty-five had been destroyed. More than two hundred Cutters and Enforcement vessels had surrendered, as well as a hundred fighters, when it was clear that nobody was going to succor them before they ran out of fuel. Most of them had been moved with tractors into the hangers of the de Trier for want of anywhere else to put them; the logistics of dealing with the surrendered craft were almost overwhelming.

Abebech was still wearing the bottom part of her Alliance uniform, but had an Earthreign uniform top on, from the sports bra and tunic to the jacket, though on that there were no insignia. She came to attention before Zhen’var nonetheless. “Captain, reporting as ordered. My apologies about my state of dress, however, the autotailor we made to work on the de Trier wouldn’t make anything else.”

“It is acceptable in the circumstances, though perhaps you should have gone the rest of the way. The clash is… jarring, shall we say. You had promised me a fuller understanding and accounting, once the battle was over.”

“That is correct, Captain. May I sit?” Abebech’s face was politely neutral, eyes behind a different but no less opaque pair of sunglasses.

“Please, you are welcome to. Free use of the replicator as well, Commander. You may speak freely.” Her eyes studied Abebech carefully; something had happened over on that ship, and she was unsure just what it had been.

Abebech stepped over to the replicator and produced a traditional Ethiopian cup of coffee before moving back to sit at Zhen’var’s desk. “Captain, would it greatly surprise you to hear that I grapple badly with where to begin?”

“You commanded a battleship of the Earthreign in battle. I am less surprised by such a situation prevailing than you may expect, Abebech.”

“I am a specialist in the history of the Earthreign.” She paused. “I became a soldier because I was offended for my people, Captain.”

“I… perhaps understand more of that than you may expect, thanks to my time with Commander Saumarez.” Taking her mug of tea in hand, Zhen'var looked pensive. “As to how you are defining 'people’, I must guess.”

“No need to guess. The Alliance offers the only real hope for the future of Espers in the Fracture, torn between NEUROM and the sundry cults in opposition to it,” Abebech replied. “It was there I found what allowed me to control the ship’s systems. Thoughts, conserved for thousands of years. Encrypted thoughts. That was how security and authentication were handled aboard Earthreign ships.”

There was a slow nod. “From the little and less I know of the Earthreign, that is most logical. Preserved as a memory, a curiosity of the past, as some telepathic traditions pass on imprinted memories? It must have been indescribable to actually be able to use them.”

“A family heirloom, if you will; a reminder that once your family was part of the ruling class of the Reich, that once… You were a King, a Lordly folk, not subject to the madness, the fanatic cults and the pogroms of the Fracture,” Abebech answered, slowly and with great dignity. “I collected many of them.”

“Captain, when we boarded the ship, my objective was to storm her command spaces and take control by coup de main. I had, over the years, worked out what the encrypted memories were. I had a plan. But I encountered Operative Kalista aboard, and allowed myself to be captured to gain access to the heart of the ship, rather than risk her death. You can see that it paid off, as I created a situation in which I engineered the defection of all the Esper Operatives. Being so savagely abused by the Government, they were uniquely vulnerable to the restoration of their memories and my own projections of the story of the Terran Reich. So, once I realised the situation, part of my objective was to make sure that I prevented the deaths of any of those children. Do my actions begin to make more sense?”

“Not only more sense, but I am in agreement with them. I expect that others may disagree, but I am in concurrence with your actions so far. Expect another request for promotion on your behalf. I do. I much prefer defections rather than slaughter.”

“Now, in giving the codes to River Tam, the second-eldest and most reliable, the de Trier has a crew again and can serve as a base for the Resistance to fight back against the government. This allows us to withdraw from the system, Captain, having provided sufficient firepower to the Resistance to give them a reasonable chance -- fifteen capital ships, hundreds of enforcers and cutters and fighters, and a mobile base which no fleet left in the outer systems can overmatch. The overthrow of the Union of Allied Planets can be obtained without risking exceeding our orders or turning the people of the ‘Verse against the Resistance and the Outer Planets by giving them the impression that they are the puppets of foreign enemies.” A tight smile. “We can leave them with all the technology we are authorised to share, help them concentrate their forces, and then give them an excellent chance at winning their independence.”

Captain Zhen’var leaned back in her chair, her expression clouded. “I respect your judgement and counsel, Abebech… but I must disagree. A reasonable chance in the face of such immoral rule as the Union of Allied Planets practices is insufficient. I intend to move on Londinium with Huáscar as soon as practical.”

“Captain, are you not concerned that would exceed the scope of our operational orders for this mission?”

“I am not. I have further orders you are unaware of, Abebech.” Apology shone in her eyes, which she tried to mentally project as well.

“Of course, Captain.” Abebech betrayed no displeasure or emotion. “With your leave, then, I will return to the de Trier and prepare the hyperdrive for a jump in-system. If we are to do this, we will make it as emphatic as possible, certainly?”

“Correct, and I do, where possible, wish the local forces to have utmost control. The Alliance is intending to maintain a presence here in at least the short to medium term, Abebech.”

“I believe I understand.” Abebech could, in fact, directly see the astrostrategic rationale for the deployment. It would give the Alliance a secure base within striking range of Cylon space. “By your leave, then, Captain?” She finished her coffee.

“So granted. I will be relying on you for insight into local conditions. You have more first-hand experience with them than I do… thank you, Commander. Very well done.”

Zhen’var’s next order of business that morning had come when she received an excited message from Nah’dur. “Captain, I wanted to let you know that we are utterly successful. The plan you approved after our first fight in the system has worked.”

It took several moments for her to recall just what plan Nah’dur was speaking of, first, before recognition dawned in her eyes. “Excellent, Surgeon-Commander! Have we learned anything of use?”

“Yes. I chose the most useful of the Reavers as a subject,” Nah’dur replied after a moment. “Her name is Fei Mian and she was a Union officer before personal issues--I suspect related to her sociopathy--forced her retirement. She is from a ranking family and Sihnon and knew what the objective of Pax was; she volunteered in the hopes it would cure her. She has names, Captain. I selected her from a CORTEX site containing information on missing around the Miranda operation on just the anticipation of that and it’s paid off. Would you come down to speak to her?”

“I am on the way.” She rose from her desk, already starting to plan ahead.

When she arrived, the intensive care ward was completely filled with people. At this stage, twelve hours after the battle had ended, those that were still in intensive care were primarily those that Nah’dur had managed to revive. The crew had still suffered a total of forty-one fatalities over the course of the entire operation so far. It would have been eighty without Nah’dur.

The Dilgar Surgeon-Commander was checking over a bed in the isolation ward, which indicated it was safe to enter--she was just using it for privacy. Va’tor was at her side. In the bed was a woman of lean, corded muscle, Asian in ancestry, with pink skin everywhere from freshly healed scarification. She had no hair, it having been removed for the surgery, and Nah’dur was yet to put false skin over several cybernetic segments added to the skull. She was not restrained.

Neih hou.” came the polite greeting. It was not the same dialect, but it was, at least, mostly comprehensible.

The woman looked up and smiled vaguely. She was still heavily sedated. “Hygienist-Commander Va’tor says that she has suppressed most of my memories for my own sake. You must be Captain Zhen’var.”

“I am. A pleasure to meet you, Fei Mian.” It has been a radical effort, but a worthwhile one.

“Thank you… I remember… Starting to lose it,” she added, “You want to know about the Pax project?”

“No. What came before. The Union of Allied Planets… I wish to know more. The current situation is intolerable, but I do not wish to act on incomplete information.”

“The Union was founded fifty years ago on the basis of lobbying in the elites of Sihnon and Londinium that we needed an alliance of all the worlds of the Verse to remove sources of human suffering. It was actively promoted by some of the megacorps--Blue Sun and Weyland-Yutani--on the grounds of their ‘social capitalism’ policy. Sihnon and Londinium maintained the old Anglosphere-Chinese alliance of Earth-that-Was, but the movement was a peaceful unification into an actual government. Since then a combination of economic pressure and war was used to unify the rest of the ‘Verse, and the local governments in the Core have steadily had their authority reduced. And it worked, Captain. Poverty was eradicated in the inner worlds, and crime reduced, both rich and poor became more wealthy.” Fei Mian had never had faith in the government, she had been a sociopath and her memories were the memories of one even if her brain no longer functioned in either of its past states; it ironically made her far more objective in the moment. “Of course, to guarantee a wise policy, those outside of Londinium and Sihnon were required to earn their citizenship, so the voting population is concentrated there.”

“The outer systems have revolted once, and are on the verge of doing so again. I do not wish to destroy what has been built, but I cannot permit what was done with Pax, or the what has happened on the outer planets, or a multitude of other projects, as the Union tries to enforce its’ control.”

“The government is concentrated on Londinium but the main bulwark of support for the Union is Sihnon, which regularly turns out 80% electoral returns for the Government Consensus parties. Londinium still has an opposition based around the old monarchy and the westerners’ conception of individual rights. There isn’t a left opposition because the government co-opts its positions and twists them into meaninglessness as a matter of policy. I’ve heard as much in discussions my parents had growing up. Of course, they considered it a sign of pride that we controlled opinion so well.”

An opposition. That is useful information indeed. “Our old Imperium would have thought the same. Thank you, that is critically important information I was not aware of.” It is much more difficult to overthrow a regime when you actually care about the aftermath.

“Thank You,” she answered. “I will make a broadcast, if you want me to, Captain. I must.”

“You may. It will be a short while before we can get underway. Take the time to rest and recover, please.”

Nah’dur followed Zhen’var out at that point, speaking softly once they got back to her office. “I believe I have cured the sociopathy as well as the Reaver tendencies, but she needs long term care to really recover. The others are going to as well.”

“I know, Nah’dur. It should have proper telepathic and psychosurgery support as well, but that is lacking here.” With an audible sigh, the older woman started to pace. “They will need care, somewhere in the Alliance. The Mha’dorn are advancing quickly in the medical arts, with their sharing of knowledge with the Corps, it seems? Our skill at blending knowledge seems to apply with the mind as well as technology...”

“Yes, I think that best.” She paused. “I may have some useful information for another problem the Corps has been dealing with. I’ve discovered that Pax in theory works on another brain chemical channel. One very similar to the one that the human drug dust in our home universe works on.”

“Let El’sau and Va’tor know, the information will find the way to the right place. “

“It’s more than that, Captain,” Nah’dur interjected. “It didn’t work… On the 99.9%. It did work on the 0.1% -- in a twisted and perverse way. The Reavers actively experienced a kind of telesomatic pleasure from the agony of others. I believe it may be similar to the effect observed in Eubian Aristos.”

“Divine, but…” Her face twisted in revulsion. “It sounds similar, at least. You find matters that… Nah’dur, you are brilliant, but you delve into matters that make me very glad that Fei’nur is on the same ship.”

“Certainly,” Nah’dur grinned, “I’m also extremely happy that Fei’nur is on the same ship with me.”

“As well you should, with your projects. We will be moving into the inner system very soon, now. Be ready for it.”

“Understood. Captain, if at all possible, we should use that opportunity to repatriate prisoners. We now have so many aboard that we will run out of replicator material before we reach Earth again.” They had needed to convert all the empty cargo bays to bunk-space for Government POWs…

“Most of those we fight are not those we aim to fight - they serve an unjust government with good personal intentions.

“Either way, Captain,” Nah’dur smiled thinly, “We need them off the ship before we go home.”

The de Trier’s backup hyperdrive, a ‘Class 20’, was operational four hours later. The crew of the Heermann watched as the screens abruptly flashed into a static projection of the system, parabolics outlined with script indicating positions and coordinate lock-in.

<Make the jump to lightspeed,> Abebech commanded, and River executed the command. It was one of the few systems on the de Trier counted important enough to still require the input of a physical lever from River’s position.

The de Trier fired her stabilising thrusters for the last time and then suddenly accelerated much, much faster than a ship should accelerate. Ships in her home universe using modern hyperdrives didn’t do this; they also still relied on navigational beacons, though the bands of hyperspace they operated in meant they could fix on beacons that were in realspace.

The de Trier needed neither. She flung herself forward in a flicker of pseudomotion and then vanished in a flair of white light.

“What the …” Even Elia was surprised.

Violeta was too, but she remembered they had a lot of comrades aboard the de Trier and brought the Huáscar to high warp as planned to catch up and overtake her slow backup. The journey was a matter of minutes.

The Huáscar dropped out of warp at Quarters over Londinium. The planet was guarded by fourteen heavy orbital combat satellites. The plan that Zhen’var had already briefed her officers on was to engage them and destroy a hemisphere’s worth of defences and then dictate terms to the Government. She didn’t launch fighters, they had taken too many casualties already and would be utterly overwhelmed. Either they knock out the heavies and force the government to talk with a display of shock and awe, or they would have to retreat.

“Detecting signature consistent with… de Trier.

With a flicker of pseudomotion the three kilometre long dreadnought, looking like a ghostly ruin, exploded out of hyperspace and de-accelerated into low orbit of Londinium, standing off their starboard quarter.

According to the plan, Daria had already fired a full salvo of forty Solar torpedoes summed from all the launchers. Now she followed it up with the Mk.1 and Mk.2 PPCs, all targeting a single one of the combat satellites. The massive station was rippled with explosions and fires from top to bottom, massive gashes torn in the main hull and huge chunks blasted away by each successive torpedo explosion. They had been on alert, but they never had the time to bring up their defensive anti-missile batteries in the same way the ships entering battle with plenty of warning had.

Then the de Trier opened fire. Her port batteries targeted one station further afield around the equator to the one that the Huáscar had just eviscerated. Neutron beams tracking across its surface, severing weapons and docking platforms with surgical precision, the turbolasers gutted the hull of the station with a tremendous gout of fire. The raw energy was enough to fuse the station’s reactor fuel, and a moment later the fusion detonation completely consumed the combat satellite, filling the sky over Londinium with a brilliant flare of raw white, the blazing fury of a newborn and short-lived sun.

Her intact starboard batteries were weaker, but the precision fire of the heavy turbolasers deep into the satellite hull destroyed reactor power to the weapons of a third station within the same heartbeat while the neutron beams swept along the docking bays, destroying the fighters, Cutters and Enforcers before they could launch.

“Three stations down, Captain,” Elia confirmed as Londinium shone before them.

“Transmit Fei Mian’s recording, Operations. Stand by to give me a channel.” The message of a very personal account of Pax and the Miranda project was already going out.

Now that the Huáscar had the full codecs for CORTEX and the security codes from dozens of Government ships, with the time to process them, her enormous computational and broadcast power literally took the entire system over. She washed out the entire system with the power of the broadcast.

All firing stopped as the broadcast began, but it hadn’t been soon enough for two capital ships to be unable to finish two more stations, and gut a Crete that had been coming around to launch her fighters. Now, the weapons faded away and the communications warfare began, starting with the recording.

“We have control of all channels and all CORTEX interfaces, Captain,” Lieutenant Tor’jar called out. “The recording has gone out and you are now free and clear to broadcast.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” She straightened her uniform jacket reflexively. “I am Captain Zhen’var of the Union of Allied Systems. The crimes of the present government are intolerable to moral states. It is to resign in entirety, and new elections to be held under free and open franchise of all residents of the Alliance. Finally, all telepathic subjects of the ‘Academy’ experiments will be immediately rendered to my custody without harm to mind or body.”

The command was electrifying, and emphatic. Five stations and a carrier blazed, or were destroyed outright, in orbit, visible to billions of citizens on the surface of Londinium. The crew listened as it sank in to them that yes, they were simply commanding a government to dissolve itself. At gunpoint.

“Any attack on this squadron will be met by immediate and overwhelming force.”

There was no immediate attack, and no immediate reply. Elia grinned wryly from her position at Ops. “Do you think they’ll keep us waiting for a while, Captain?”

“Possibly. Give them footage of the battle at the de Trier to make it clear how hopeless their cause is.”

“Feeding to you, Leftenant,” Elia confirmed to Tor’jar.

“...And, Broadcasting, Commander.”

I can resume hostilities at any moment, Captain,” Abebech’s voice came over the tactical. “However, they are mustering small craft, at a respectable distance.”

“Monitor them.” She paused. “Record for transmitting; You have fifteen minutes to supply an answer to my ultimatum, or I shall consider the reply negative and immediately resume hostilities.


“We are being contacted,” Tor’jar reported three minutes later. “The identifications are from the House of Government in New Cardiff.”

“Put them through, Lieutenant.” Squaring herself up, Zhen’var raised her chin and brushed her black hair back, eyes level and burning with determination.

“This is Prime Minister Jonathan Zhang,” the trim Eurasian man with grayed hair at the temples sat at a desk, his features sharply and carefully composed. “You appear to control the orbitals of one of our core worlds. And you are asking my government to resign and convene elections contrary to Alliance Law.”

“I am not asking. I am ordering. You have eleven minutes.” Her voice had no give, her face, no flicker of emotion.

“Captain, if it is the situation in the Outer Systems that is the concern, would an immediate withdrawal of all government forces from those planets satisfy you? You are asking me to abrogate the sovereignty of the Union.”

“You surrendered any legitimacy your government may have possessed with the acts performed upon your citizens. This is not a negotiation, Excellency.”

He spluttered. The channel went dark.

“Ensure his people see that exchange.”

“Broadcasting,” again Tor’jar forced the video onto the whole of CORTEX.

With two minutes left, a new signal was received from the surface. “Second broadcast, still from New Cardiff. Shall I put it on, Captain?”

“Go ahead. Record for rebroadcast if needs be.” She had the same calmly inscrutable expression on her face as the screen blinked back to life.

A different man with sandy blonde-brown hair was on the screen, though in the same kind of formal suit. “Captain Zhen’var, this is Speaker Nathaniel Roberson.” He was speaking directly from the House, too, having not taken the time to leave the floor. His expression was pale and taut. “We voted no confidence in Prime Minister Zhang. I am the Head of Delegation for the National League of Londinium, but half the Government Members supported the motion. Will you work with me to de-escalate the situation?”

“If my second term, of a Union-wide vote for the future direction of the Verse is accepted, I accept, assuming, of course, that the third term is met within the next five hours. I have no wish for further bloodshed, or the destruction of the progress the ‘Verse and Union have made since your people’s exodus from the Earth-That-Was.”

“We will hold an immediate floor vote on the franchise and the appointment of a new Prime Minister on those terms,” he answered. “The Academy subjects will be handed over as you directed, within the five-hour timetable. Is that sufficient against your immediate deadline?”

“It is. I shall withdraw to high orbit.”

“We will stand down.” The message again blinked off.

When it did, Elia started to laugh. “Gods, Captain, but if anyone from the Earth Alliance sees me in a video of you doing that, they’d probably die.”

“You seem to think that is not going to end up in an Alliance news feed that ISN will re-broadcast, Commander.” She leaned back, feeling a tenseness she’d held for days finally start to relax. I will hope for a high death-toll, El’sau.

Nobody else on the bridge could really figure out why their Ops officer was laughing so hard.


Deep inside an ornate, Chinese-style castle on Sihnon, two Union political operatives looked at each other nervously. Neither one wanted this mission. They were both terrified of the wrath of the woman they knew as Lady Seng.

It was only when another figure arrived, sandals pattering down the corridors of the castle in the dim light, cloak billowing, that they decided better it be them than the figure who was approaching.

Together, as one, they opened the doors and pushed their way in, both bowing deeply toward the seat on which the frail woman with sharply done up, lividly black hair sat.

“Lady Seng. We have unfortunate news. Prime Minister Zhang has been sacked, and the government has agreed to the terms of the alien Captain.”

There was silence as Mariza, the third figure, approached from behind.

Then Lady Seng slowly opened her eyes, and the two recoiled from that sight they had never gotten used to. “The plan has indeed been interrupted,” she said softly, “but I am the one who gave permission to the Delegates to vote no confidence in Prime Minister Zhang. His usefulness was outlived by the exigencies of circumstance. We will find new opportunities; Captain Zhen’var is already negotiating for possession of Miranda as an Alliance base. Even if we have lost the Interuniversal Drive on Object Sigma, we will get another chance. And my dears, we will find the electorate in the Outer Worlds as easy to manipulate as that of Londinium and Sihnon. The words will change, but the price of a politician will not. Inform the board of Weyland-Yutani to take care to accept full responsibility. We will declare a reorganisation bankruptcy to protect the assets that we need for renewed operations. That is all.”

Bea, Mal, Simon, River, Abebech, Fei’nur, Elia and Zhen’var were sitting around a table in a conference room on the Huáscar, with the remains of a spread served up from the officer’s mess around them.

Mal smiled wryly. “Captain, we do owe you a lot. I thought you would headin’ out after this, and unlikely to return. But when I got the news of Miranda… Truth be told, I don’t like the idea of the Outer Planets seeing an even bigger power settled next to ‘em. We still got enough trouble with the Core. But it’s pretty clear that if they don’t like how the vote goes, you’ll be there.”

“I doubt it will be… forever, which is good. It means we will be there just long enough to… steady matters.” She was picking her words carefully. “I admit, what I decided upon was a compromise of what you had desired, Captain Reynolds, and I must apologise for halting short of what was deserved, Captain Tam.”

“You rescued all of us, that’s the important part,” River replied. She was in a flowing sundress, not the Terran Reich military uniform, but sitting with Simon at her side, she looked more mature than she had been seen before, even so.

“It was a compromise,” Mal shrugged. “It wasn’t sellin’ us out. I can tell the difference. We’ve still got the de Trier and fifteen warships if things do go to hell before more Alliance forces return.”

“Captain Reynolds is being modest,” Bea added. “I encouraged him to …”

“Don’t even bring that up! I ain’t the man for the job.”

“He really doesn’t like the idea of running for Parliament,” River said in a conspiratorial whisper to Zhen’var.

“One might say that the one who hates the idea of power, but grasps the responsibility, is the best choice of all. I shall, however, not suggest it, Captain Reynolds. It clearly has already been done.”

“Well, I’ve always done what I had to, to keep myself free,” Mal answered after a moment. “I suppose if that’s what I had to do to keep it, then I’d do it.” He glanced at Bea. “But there are certainly people more suited to the politics side of things.”

“We are forming a political party to contest the election,” the woman agreed. “My father fought with Captain Reynolds at Serenity Valley, and died there; I had thought we would fight together in a struggle against the Union government, but maybe, just maybe, it won’t be necessary.”

“That is my hope, at least.” Zhen’var took her ever-present cup. “If it comes to it, then we will fight together, but wars are uncertain and difficult things, as most of us know first-hand.”

“Of all the things you have helped us with though, Captain,” Simon added a quiet moment later, “before we go, the one I want to thank you most for is River. She had such potential, I saw it as her brother, we all saw it, and she deserved to have something more than what the Alliance left her with. You have given her her future back.”

“He’s just trying to embarrass me,” River said a bit sheepishly.

But as she said that, Mal looked almost, not quite but almost, like he was going to tear up. “Yeah.” He finally said, shaking his head. “She’s part of our family. The Serenity family. Giant old starship or whatever, she’s our River. And thank you for givin’ that future back to her.”

Four days later, the Huáscar stood off from the Francesco de Trier, and turned outbound. With Will on the bridge, Nah’dur took advantage of the relative peace and quiet to tug Fei’nur and Zhen’var down to Café Varna for a meal.

The Captain always looked a bit uncomfortable in social settings with the crew, and she often regretted letting herself be dragged along - it had been hard enough to get her down here for her birthday.

This moment was no exception, because she had caught a fair number of her officers in the middle of something. They were clustered around one of the large wood plank tables off in the corner, well, except for Elia and Goodenough, who were standing on top of it with tankards, leading the song.

Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain
For it's we've received orders for to sail for old England
But we hope very soon we shall see you again
We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors
We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas
Until we strike soundings in the Channel of Old England
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues

Anna was playing the accordion in the corner, and Abebech was strumming her guitar with a look of bemusement on her face, and Ca’elia was belting it out in true style along with the rest of them, as Abdulmajid tried to keep along and Abel did a much better job. Violeta had an impish grin, and Arterus was laughing and grinning at the table until he saw the Captain, and stiffened right up.

We hove our ship to with the wind at sou'west, boys

We hove our ship to, our soundings to see

So we rounded and sounded; got forty-five fathoms

We squared our main yard and up channel steered we

Elia finally saw the three of them and her dark eyes widened.

“I… carry on. My apologies for interrupting.” Zhen’var waved awkwardly, and hurriedly turned to depart.

Before she could, Elia looked a grin to Jonathan Goodenough and then struck up another song.

Come all you warlike spacers, that to the stars belong

I'll tell you of a fight, my boys, on board the Huáscar

It was of a Dilgar captain, her name was Zhen'var

With courage bold, she did control, she played her part so well!”

Oh Divine, you think singing about me is going to get me to do anything other than leave faster?!

That left the three Dilgar standing outside of Café Varna with Nah’dur looking confused. “Why did we leave?”

“You saw Arterus. The crew cannot really celebrate freely with me there. You two, go, enjoy your dinner, I insist.”

“But, Captain! You have to understand, it means your officers, they love you, Zhen’var!” Fei’nur exclaimed.

“Elia, at least, but you two, go. Enjoy, there is clearly a celebration, and you deserve to be part of it.

“Goodenough was in on it as well, sister, and he’s on the Heermann,” Nah’dur remarked calmly. “I agree with Fei’nur’s assessment.”

“It does not change the awkwardness nor inappropriate nature of my being present at such. Now get in there, you two.”

“And leave you alone? We should all at least decamp to Fei’nur’s quarters and try out replicator selections together.”

“I am the Captain, there is no need.” Zhen’var was starting to look fractionally annoyed at Nah’dur being stubborn, and Fei’nur’s discomfort was growing as she reached for the Surgeon-Commander’s elbow. “Another night, Captain. Nah’dur will not let you escape the postponement.”

Nah’dur sighed. “Yes, Fei’nur, where …”

“Another night, come now, Nah’dur.” The commando gestured the doctor back towards the doors. “I am sorry it did not work out, Captain.”

Zhen’var waved it off as she started to turn to go. “It sometimes comes to be. Do not let it trouble you.”

As she walked away, she was softly singing under her breath.

“I have watched my shipmates come and go, and worked while others died, there are no words to tell you what I feel inside.” Not all of them, after all, were going home. It was the Pilot’s mess which had no-one present at the little gathering. Almost half the fatalities had been theirs. And Zhen’var was the Captain of her crew. Each and every one, even those who floated in the driftless void between the stars of the Verse, having fought and died for freedom.

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

Post by Steve »

An excellent episode indeed.

Also, I'm curious what Invictus, Shroom, and the others think about what you've developed about the Terran Reich aka the Earthreign for this continuity.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Tomyris »

But Steve, I have barely developed anything definite at all. It's all being filtered through the attitudes of people with hidden agendas and personal biases.

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

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

Tomyris wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 6:21 pm
But Steve, I have barely developed anything definite at all. It's all being filtered through the attitudes of people with hidden agendas and personal biases.
And the Fracture itself has malleable memetics and history - but of course Imra knowing actual encrypted command thoughts makes her quite accurate. And is she really just a historian, with those memories of being actually there during the Earthreign just inherited memories? Or was she actually there and is some ageless being with some cryptic goals? :P

I liked the epic stuff, the esper characterizations and the celebration of Zhen'var at the end, and Imra being incredible.

But I kinda feel like most of the crew of the Firefly were superfluous, even River while getting fixed and such was still passively following someone else's lead, and so we have the Alliance forces just dictating everything and changing the whole 'verse in one visit while that 'verse's main POV characters get sidelined. At this point, "Alliance cruiser and paleo-Earthreign-vessel slag the enemy fleet" was evident, so I think even the tension of the fireships weren't that necessary anymore since that could've been used for more time with the Firefly crew. While I love the dabblings of the Earthreign stuff too, it seemed that it also overshadowed the in-universe stuff.

It's not quite "Balls!" said Alliance captain Wong as he shot down Satan but, eh. I don't have a problem with a curbstomp per se, just how the Firefly folks weren't even shown as much despite events being in their setting.

Tomyris wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:13 pm
Ships in her home universe using modern hyperdrives didn’t do this; they also still relied on navigational beacons, though the bands of hyperspace they operated in meant they could fix on beacons that were in realspace.

The de Trier needed neither.
Huh. I'm not fully decided on how SOTS hyperdrive works specifically, since various factions have different sub-types and variations anyway. For civilian vessels sure beacons are a thing. But more advanced ships? Probably not.

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

Post by Tomyris »

Unfortunately it is really hard to write a profound technological mismatch well. Blending the two plots was intended to mitigate this, and I grimaced a lot and felt like I was undercutting the Firefly characters, but I couldn't write myself out of it. In the end the result was 10,000 words longer than planned and to me not as good as Case Armageddon.

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

Post by Tomyris »

We will revisit the Verse though with the Firefly crew holding a much larger place in the action. And River also got to the bottom of Imra very cunningly. So, your answer to your Abebech question is right there.

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

Post by Steve »

Tomyris wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 6:21 pm
But Steve, I have barely developed anything definite at all. It's all being filtered through the attitudes of people with hidden agendas and personal biases.
Yes, it is. But even such a filter gives some idea of what's going on, albeit not a perfect one. It's still a fleshing out, and it hints at Imra's goals while giving us more information on what the Reich/Earthreign was like in some respect.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Steve »

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 2:27 am

Huh. I'm not fully decided on how SOTS hyperdrive works specifically, since various factions have different sub-types and variations anyway. For civilian vessels sure beacons are a thing. But more advanced ships? Probably not.
Those varaiations and subtypes are likely all based on the original technology used before the Reignfall, with three thousand years of divergence based on local conditions, developments, etc.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Steve »

Tomyris wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 2:52 am
Unfortunately it is really hard to write a profound technological mismatch well. Blending the two plots was intended to mitigate this, and I grimaced a lot and felt like I was undercutting the Firefly characters, but I couldn't write myself out of it. In the end the result was 10,000 words longer than planned and to me not as good as Case Armageddon.
You did it as well as could be managed given what you had to set up and establish. There's only so much the Serenity crew could do in this situation, letting them hold the line against boarders on the de Trier worked for that.

Plus the outcome means I have at least some opening for the Aurora crew to meet them in Season 4. :)

P.S. I really wish multi-quoting was on this board. On my phone so copy-pasting each quote together can be annoying.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Invictus »

Steve wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 12:47 pm
The ship that Allura's mother was on, that jumped in at the end to shield the Aurora and Castle of Lions (and Koenig) from the Ministry of Fate forces and which opened a jump point back to the Voltronverse for them to flee through.

Actually, we do indicate the ownership of the ship in question in the final part of that episode, the bit that showed the Alekto and the other two Furies discussing what happened.
I revisited the bit in question because it's entirely likely that I've missed a connection from earlier, but it's still barely more than a hint, is it :v

I mean, I see similarities in the general visual description, the way they out-mass everything else, the casual inter-universal capability etc., and I'm guessing that the de Trier and the mysterious War Cruiser are both of Earthreign origin, or at least were produced under the same technological basis of the interuniversal Earthreign/Alekto/Darkness brouhaha, with any quantitative differences owing to one of the ships being 3000 years out of date.
Steve wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 5:15 pm
Also, I'm curious what Invictus, Shroom, and the others think about what you've developed about the Terran Reich aka the Earthreign for this continuity.
The first thought being how this Earthreign's starships have a very different distinctive look than the one Shroom and I eventually settled on. Though I suppose the sheer age of the de Trier can mark it as being from a much earlier, not-as-decadent Earthreign...

Though the decision to code the Earthreign as vaguely germanic, in a story where there already are multiversal nazis, is interesting congruent with the meta-worldbuilding environment of this here website, right Shroom? :P
Steve wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:19 am
P.S. I really wish multi-quoting was on this board. On my phone so copy-pasting each quote together can be annoying.
It isn't the cutting-edge Xenforo software, I admit, but you can multi-quote by going into the reply window, scrolling down to the topic review showing the lasts posts in the thread, and clicking the quote button on those posts.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 6 - "Meta Incognita"

Post by Shroom Man 777 »

Steve wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:19 am
Tomyris wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 2:52 am
Unfortunately it is really hard to write a profound technological mismatch well. Blending the two plots was intended to mitigate this, and I grimaced a lot and felt like I was undercutting the Firefly characters, but I couldn't write myself out of it. In the end the result was 10,000 words longer than planned and to me not as good as Case Armageddon.
You did it as well as could be managed given what you had to set up and establish. There's only so much the Serenity crew could do in this situation, letting them hold the line against boarders on the de Trier worked for that.

Plus the outcome means I have at least some opening for the Aurora crew to meet them in Season 4. :)
Hmmm yeah the problemos of mismatched crossovers... though even if the Firefly crew couldn't have done much ass-kicking, they don't need to really do that. Perhaps there could've been more moments with them characterizing how they're lacking in capability, faced with such awesome out-of-context forces (to show how it's like from the perspective of out-gunned locals) and their mulling of the future of the Independents and The Verse and such - and philosophizing and such. The narrative did have moments of such, but they could've been expounded on? Bantering is one thing the Firefly crew is best at (of course that's hard to capture, though I think the glimpses we got here were well-done)! (Hmmm... Jayne being a scumbag is par the course, though did he regress in the Firefly comics? I thought post-Miranda he already had some developments)

Heck, a bit more perspectives from the local forces in the commandeered gov't vessels, with Mal and co. involved in these, would've helped. Or Mal demanding he and some of the crew being part of the rescue op on Zoe. Or more on River and crew during the confused boarding of the Earthreign ship - I mean, that could've been a great moment of them reckoning with their circumstances, maybe eerie moments with River and her realizations perhaps, instead of them arriving at the bridge when it's all done so Imra can tell them everything. I mean, we've already seen the Huáscar’s crew being badass all the time, so lavish details on fireship gambits and bayonet charges might've been less vital (though yes it shows how the Heerman crew loved Imra).

I guess it's something to mull about - like, how can one carry out crossovers even with massive firepower disparities while maintaining balance, without sidelining the in-universe stuff in lieu of meta-plot cool stuff.

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

Post by Tomyris »

*wink* Neither design actually originated in the Earthreign.

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

Post by Steve »

Tomyris wrote:
Sun Jan 13, 2019 8:29 pm
*wink* Neither design actually originated in the Earthreign.
:twisted: :twisted: 8-)
Invictus wrote:
Sun Jan 13, 2019 8:37 am
The first thought being how this Earthreign's starships have a very different distinctive look than the one Shroom and I eventually settled on. Though I suppose the sheer age of the de Trier can mark it as being from a much earlier, not-as-decadent Earthreign...

Though the decision to code the Earthreign as vaguely germanic, in a story where there already are multiversal nazis, is interesting congruent with the meta-worldbuilding environment of this here website, right Shroom? :P
There's a bit of French influence in the language used, I think? Presumably the Earthreign/Terran Reich originated as some kind of Franco-German pact. I'm sure we'll explain one of these days.
It isn't the cutting-edge Xenforo software, I admit, but you can multi-quote by going into the reply window, scrolling down to the topic review showing the lasts posts in the thread, and clicking the quote button on those posts.
*does so*

Huh. So I can. Thank you for revealing that.
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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

Post by Tomyris »


“I screwed up. Sometimes the regs aren’t enough,” Janice Richards was sighing. “If we had done pat-downs we might have found those grenades and recognised them for what they were, instead of the sensors failing to recognise what they were.” Her face twisted into a grimace. “And we nearly lost several people from it.”

The atmosphere around the table was quiet and serious. After returning to Earth-that-Was, the Huáscar had jumped and ultimately arrived at Doreia and the dockyards there. The sustained high speed running in both directions meant that the Huáscar would spend a week undergoing maintenance for her drives and reactors. It was time for the debrief.

“That’s not on you, Janice,” Will offered, shaking his head. “We all pulled through together. The only question is how to fix it in the future.”

“That’s easy. We go above and beyond the automated weapons-and-contraband detectors. We get actual images. Use the computers to address privacy concerns… Ugh, that puts us back in being dependent on the computers, y’all.”

“As much as it is a lot of effort, pat-downs for anyone except ambassadorial parties and such?” Violeta proposed, well into the spirit of the sessions now, having fully grasped the logic behind how Zhen’var ran the Huáscar.

“We should also task a Mha’dorn to just passively be around entering parties to detect any kind of hostility that may justify further surveillance,” Elia added. “We can set up a rotation among the Marines, it makes sense to keep them busy in regular operations.” She glanced to Fei’nur.”

“The fourth company allows the flexibility to do so, certainly, though we are asking much of the Mha’dorn of late. A rotation of those with such talents in general would help with any possible morale effect.”

“There is a certain esprit d’corps in the Mha’dorn,” Elia answered, “which helps. However, we also have three Gersallian farisa and Leftenants Seldayiv and de Más.” She didn’t mention Abebech since, as a Commander, rank hath its privileges. Really even Daria and Artesia was stretching.

“It’s true. I’ll speak to the contingent and determine if they even want the help.” Fei’nur made a few notes. “You are right, they can be quite closely knit, though a designated reserve will be welcome.”

“Can we do anything to improve upon our performance with the rules for escalation of force?” Elia asked. “I mean, the end result of that was that let those Reaver ships get way, way too close to us before we opened fire. That didn’t have to happen. Or did it?”

“I’m not really sure if we could have changed the escalation rules very much,” Arterus shrugged. “The Alliance, Commander, has made its decisions on what is acceptable and not for warships. We could backpedal, but that would encourage some foes.”

“With limited intelligence on whom we are facing, the existing standing orders cannot be justifiably modified. If we had known that the ‘Reavers’ existed, going astern would have been a logical response to allow completion of the ladder.” Fei’nur offered.

“I think that one is just part of the reality of serving on an Alliance starship,” Lar’shan interjected a bit sadly. “We’re expected to act according to a certain moral course of conduct, and it may impose excess risk against us.”

“Well, that may not have a solution,” Will sighed. “Anything else?”

“I left us temporarily limited to Warp 6 by not being more careful with the drive around the jamming field. It had no negative consequences, but it could have. I’m also not sure that taking the mains offline automatically in such a circumstance would be wise,” Anna added, going next.

“It seems like a specific technical problem related to the disruption field on the de Trier. Did we ever identify what was causing?” Elia looked around.

Fera’xero nodded. “It was a Wave Field Generator which produced powerful distortions in subspace. We are not sure how a Wave Field Generator works yet, however.”

There was some back and forth about that. Next, Will went. “I shouldn’t have pressed for the launch of the assault force as quickly as did. The burst transmission because the doors were open to the parasite bay was unforseeable as being the consequence that came about, but with an incident aboard the ship I should have been more cautious about committing to action even so.”

“Aggression is a valued trait in action,” Zhen’var corrected gently. “I think it was right, even with the consequences.”

Lar’shan was quiet during it, and very composed. He waited for the others to finish. Finally, with his hands folded, he began to speak. “Our fighters are optimised for the way the United Federation of Planets fights wars. They assume very limited numbers of fighters, close range engagement with energy weapons. The micro-torpedo launcher is ineffective against highly manoeuvrable fighters and the failure to increase the number of missile hard-points means we are constantly resorting to guns plane to plane when outnumbered. It removes our advantages. We should be fighting primarily with missiles. The Mongoose is inadequate for the full spectrum of threats we face, and we lost many good pilots because of it.”

“The Warmaster has heard similar complaints from other Dilgar pilots.” Fei’nur spoke, glancing about and shifting in her chair. “But they are what is issued, are they not?”

“Dilgar pilots back home are still mostly flying Centauri marks,” Lar’shan shook his head. “They were, but we are in an unusual circumstance. Still, it’s at least just something to bear in mind.”

“Maybe more than that. Give me a more detailed spec list of what you need, I will see what I can do.” the Marine officer finished.

“Certainly,” he answered, with a shake of his head. “The strategic mobility of warp drive helps, but when you must fight, to defend or attack a particular place, you cannot overcome fighters with warp strafing techniques.”

“It’s something we’ve got to get fixed,” Elia agreed. “The hardest challenge, but it’s hurt us the most.”

“Well, I think that’s about everything. Thank you all for the suggestions, and of course there will be progress updates. Dis-missed.” Will waited for them to file out, quietly shaking his head when the door finally closed. “I almost think Fei’nur and Lar’shan are really planning to get us new fighters.”

The next day, Vice Admiral Lakshamaran commed Zhen’var. He was the new commander of the Explorer Squadron, a Dorei man who had been given the job when Maran had found it too much to stay on top of his CNO duties and also directly order around the Alliance’s tiny fleet of, so far, only seven Explorer-type ships. Basically the same size as battlecruisers and the most prestigious ships in the fleet, they still needed some kind of order and organisation. Lakshamaran, though, still reported directly to Maran.

“Vice-Admiral Lakshamaran.” Zhen’var nodded politely. “Good morning. I have my first after-action reports and analyses ready to brief you upon, at your convenience. A pleasure to meet you, sir.” His appointment while they had been on their long mission had been something of a surprise upon their return, even if the Dilgar woman thought it overdue in hindsight.

“Thank you, Captain Zhen’var. Send them forward to me and provide your brief in summary as quickly as possible. I will then discuss the main reason for my contact, which is your next assignment.” He was level and calm, certainly a suitable subordinate for Maran in maintaining the same style of command.

“Of course. I secured a forward operating base on a planet long abandoned, and assisted in the overthrow of an oppressive government, while making certain discoveries that I will only send by courier. Short operational analysis is that the ship and crew performed reasonably well, but I cannot say the same of the Wing due to materiel shortcomings. Sickbay efficiency continues to remain several deviations above Alliance norms.” She replied in short, clipped sentences.

“There may be a full debriefing later this week. Thank you for the summary.” He paused. “You have a week at Doreia, Captain, to complete the adjustments to the engines. Cut leave as appropriate for your crew, it’s also authorised for yourself. After that, we have a special assignment for you to support what may be one of the first positive developments in reforming the League of Democratic Worlds in A2M6.”

“Of course, sir. I would request as much background brief as possible to start work on planning immediately, around leave blocks.” Zhen’var replied, eyes alert.

“The world of Garatnam has been occupied by the League of Democratic Worlds for the past sixty-two years, essentially as a colony. The indigenous population are the Numeraians, ‘root-building ones’, a semi-specialised pseudoinsectoid species. They have maintained resistance to the League occupation the entire time, and the League decided to bring in Alliance mediation to negotiate a withdrawal as the maintenance of the garrison no longer made economic sense. Our lead negotiator has indicated a desire for a cease-fire force to hold position during the evacuation.”

“Thank you, Vice-Admiral. That gives me a good starting point. I would request the full reports from Intelligence and the negotiating team on scene as well. As much as I would wish this to be a simple presence mission, Huáscar is often in harm’s way.”

“Certainly, Captain. You will see them shortly. Until then, make sure your crew has the opportunity to appreciate their return, and when the Huáscar is ready, I am confident you will go forth with your usual alacrity.”

Zhen’var gave a sharp nod. “Until then, I am at your service, sir.” As soon as the screen blinked out, she reached for her comms panel. “Commander Atreiad, we will be docked for the next week. Leave for all hands is authorized, schedule accordingly.”

“Damn good news, Captain. I’ll get started. The crew was really hoping for this, too.”

“They need it… and, Commander? I shall be taking a leave block, too.”

“I promise the ship will still be intact when you get back, Captain.” There was a grin in Will’s voice. “Go ahead and go first.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Zhen’var’s face broke into a smile as she switched channels. “Colonel Fei’nur, leave is approved, would you care to take an excursion to Doreia…?”

“That sounds like an excellent plan, Captain. Same plan as Gersal?”

“Indeed, Fei’nur, indeed. Would you inquire as to possible destinations?”

Undiscovered Frontier Origins : Golden Triangle
Season 1, Episode 7

Act One

Act 1

“Lieutenant Seldayiv, this is Colonel Fei'nur.” Her omnitool beeped. “Might I trouble you for a personal question?”

“Colonel.. A personal question?” Daria blinked in surprise in her quarters. She had been preparing to decamp to the Temple of Amilra where she had taken training. “By all means, I do suppose.”

“Captain Zhen'var and myself are about to take our leave on the surface. Would you be able to suggest any places of special interest to a pair of interuniversal tourists?”

“Well, the Temple of the Great Goddess in Felunura is certainly considered to be the most beautiful on all Doreia,” she answered. “And the Royal Gardens of Tirambina are open to the public. And there’s the Tirramka Falls, which are three hundred metres high where a great river sharply drops from a plateau--it’s like the Amazon going over a waterfall three times as high as Niagara Falls. And then there’s the Oulanta Bay, which is filled with ship-clans who live on boats around all of these tiny limestone islands left over from erosion which can be a hundred metres high with vegetable on top, rising out of the blue surface of the sea. That’s incredible. There’s arches and caves and such an entire floating bazaar.”

Brilliant! That sounds wonderful , thank you, Lieutenant! Enjoy your own leave as well.”

“Thank you very much, Colonel. I hope you and the Captain enjoy Doreia a great deal.”

“I hope so too. This crew is the most well-traveled Dilgar there have rather ever been, I think.”

“I am sure this is just the beginning. Until later, Colonel…”

“Until later, Lieutenant. Again, thank you. Enjoy your time at home.”

She finished packing and headed to the transporter room. Zhen’var was already waiting. “No Libo Briefing?”

“Will volunteered to do it,” Zhen’var answered. Her grin was distinctly… giddy, in the way a woman with a death sentence lifted might have.

“Well then. Brave man. Let’s go visit Doreia!” Fei’nur, for all her reputation, looked almost ebullient.

“Certainly, one moment. I’m waiting to make sure we don’t have to remove someone from the ship by force.”

Captain ?”

Just that moment, Anna Poniatowska arrived in the transporter room with a duffle bag wearing mufti.

“Excellent! Commander, you are to take five days of leave!” Zhen’var spun about with a grin on her face. “No arguing, they just need you to make sure they actually fixed the engines.”

As they spoke, Fei’nur was checking her omnitool. She had one last thing to follow up on. Nah’dur, you are such a silly kit sometimes for your age, but I think despite the fact your contact is much less than you think, the contact will still matter. Satisfied, she turned to the conversation between Zhen’var and Anna.

“Of course, Captain.” She sighed in an effort to relax. “So we part ways on the planet and I’m free and clear then?”

“Correct, as long as you are enjoying yourself.”

“Alright then.” She took one glance around. “Leave. What is that, again…?” The transporter twirled away the answer.

William Atreiad was standing in the main hangar on a small roll-out podium with a PA connection. Rick Dugan was standing next to him. In front of them were several thousand people who badly wanted to be on leave: Spacers, Marines and Airmen. The Officers, both commissioned and warrant, had already gotten their assignments.

Will read the cliff notes and then read them again. His expression got progressively more dubious. Then he leaned over to Rick and was about to whisper, before he paused, tapped the mic to make sure it was off, and then whispered. “..Do we really have to read them this crap?”

Rick whispered right back: “Well Sir, what if one of them comes back with two DWIs, a thousand credit bar tab, three women knocked up and a venereal disease? You ask them how the hell they did that all in five days before starting their Captain’s Mast, and they say ‘nobody told me not to.’”

Will twisted his face into a grimace, and then shrugged and stepped back behind the mic, and this time turned it on. “ Huáscarenos, ” he began, and everyone was standing at parade rest but the anticipation was bubbling out of control in the room. “All enlisted personnel have been authorised five days of leave.”


The hangar erupted into cheering. Will cracked a grin. “Officers will get eighty-four hours in two rotations and have already received their assignments. Ranks get five days starting now--as soon as we’re done.” That was a hard sell, they all wanted to leave immediately.

“There’s a few things we have to go over first.” The holoprojector behind him flashed with the first holoslide. “Anti-Terrorism Awareness is a critical part of who we are in the Alliance Military. Nazi and Cylon terrorist attacks can occur anyplace, any time. Recently in universe M4P2 there has been a large upsurge in terrorist activity by a mysterious group called the ‘Collectors’. I’ve seen them work first-hand, they wipe out colonies indiscriminately, focusing on innocent civilians. But they’re also involved in sapient trafficking. And sapient trafficking is usually linked to terrorism. There is a strong nexus between Nazi-Cylon operations and human trafficking by the Eubian Concord, for example. Because of that we need to make sure that everyone has the iSee App properly configured on their omnitool before going on leave so you can make reports while on Liberty. Remember, if you see something, say something.”

Next slide. People were already getting shifty on their feet.

“Alcohol is serious business. The Huáscar has had lots of problems with alcohol consumption and I want to make it explicit that we expect you all to come back from Libertysober. Observe a two-drink limit when operating motor vehicles and any kind of machinery. Remember that you should not be seen drinking more than two drinks while in uniform or while wearing identifiable government property, such as an omnitool. Especially remember that a single alcoholic beverage may contain more than one serving of alcohol. Use the buddy system: If someone is having trouble with their alcohol, look out for your shipmate. And remember, lots of spaceport bars are centres of sapient trafficking. If you’re out enjoying libations tonight and you see dancers or sex workers who may be held against their will, file an iSee report.”

Next slide. “Motor vehicle safety is critically important on Liberty. Seven thousand Alliance personnel die a year from motor vehicle accidents; it’s the second leading cause of death after combat. Obey all traffic and operating restrictions on Doreia, familiarise yourself with the local traffic regulations before you get in the driver’s seat, and use public transit wherever possible. Remember that at all times when on Liberty, traffic violations can lead to Captain’s Mast. And most importantly, if you’ve had too much,don’t operate machinery.

Next slide. “Sex is a part of life. Look, Huáscarenos, it’s been a long haul, and I don’t want to get out there and stop you from having fun. But remember that if you’re with a member of your own species or a related species, this can have consequences, even the kind of consequences that Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur can’t fix. Any sexual activity also carries a risk of disease, and there are some pretty nasty space bugs out there. Use appropriate protection for your gender and species and familiarise yourself with the age of consent for a species and the jurisdiction you are in before having any kind of sexual contact with a stranger. Furthermore, again, if you see something, say something. It is a Courts Martial, not just Captain’s Mast, to knowingly have sexual relations with a victim of sapient trafficking. But don’t try to go into a situation where you may be outgunned--don’t be a vigilante if you detect this. Use iSee as soon as you can.”

Next Slide. “Remember that it’s important to keep government information systems safe from cyberterrorism and espionage. Never share access on your omnitool with anyone. Never download programmes on your omnitool from any source except the AllNavy App Store’s approved download list. Do not use your government omnitool to interface with non-government computer systems.

Next slide. Will felt his soul puddling out of his body and draining into the deck of the hangar bay.

“Sailors and Marines are popular targets for financial scams. Keep yourself safe by making sure that you only use an approved banking app on your omnitool. Never pay credits to a vendor for something that you don’t receive at the time of purchase, unless it’s through a bank-authorized app interface. Avoid carrying more than thirty credits of cash at a time. And also remember to store valuables in your hotel safe, and always ask for a hotel room on the middle floors--never stay in the top or bottom floor of a hotel, and make sure your hotel has window bars, security cameras, and is on the Government Travel Approved List.” He manfully avoided a deep sigh, stepping away from the microphone after turning it off. “All right, that’s everything. Chief?”

Rick Dugan grinned at him, and then stepped up to the podium. There were no slides. His hand formed a knife shape as he leaned over the podium, but stayed high. He didn’t need the microphone. “Alright you benighted boys and girls, all that stuff the Commander just said boils down to three things: Headlines, Handcuffs, and Hospitals! You better sure as hell stay outta all three! And remember, the Surgeon-Commander is on leave too, so you need to come back actually sober, not show up staggering drunk to get some Niltox! Now with that said, keep the jackassery to a minimum and if you’re an idiot, I might as well know it now, so go right on ahead and drink and drive and do random alien drugs and knock a ho up and get in barfights, so we can get you in front of the Captain’s Mast and get you the hell off this ship! As for the rest of you, act like adults, do whatever it is that lets you come back here and be awesome again. And if you do have to start a fight, Huáscarenos, follow escalation rules and make damn sure our crew wins it ! Now get out there and enjoy Libo! Dis- miss .”

Nah’dur was still onboard for the first half of the leave, approximately. She had been granted an extra twelve hours that would overlap with Nah’dur and Zhen’var’s vacation. For the next three days, then, she’d be holding down the sickbay for the rest of her staff. She was the only Doctor onboard, but with only half the officers onboard and none of the enlisted, there was essentially nothing for her to do.

With Nurse Ritaram able to call her if someone actually needed something, she wandered over to the Mess. There were not many in it; however, the crew of the Heermannwas busier. Their heavily damaged attacker had actually been fully repaired inside of her bay, using the massive number of spare parts they had stocked for the long duration operation. Now a few jury-rigs were being fixed by the dockyard, but these would also be done within one week.

Still, it was much more involved than for the Huáscar. The enlisted had been given the same leave as everyone else for esprit de corps, but most of the senior officers on theHeermann were staying around to make sure the repairs were completed in time for the next deployment. Nah’dur remembered Zhen’var mentioning that she was plotting some way to make up for that and was still gunning on giving them forty-eight hour passes at the end of the docking because they could run a shakedown from the Huáscar while in transit.

Still. It left them fully on the ship for the moment, and Nah’dur wasn’t surprised to see Ca’elia settling down for her own replicated meal. “Ca’elia,” she offered, padding over the replicator to make her selections, ytar and terama-fish steak with a garnish of acara berries and seshma leaves. “How is the work going on the Heermann ?”

“Surgeon-Commander. Well enough. On schedule, at least.” The young helmswoman looked up at her and blinked widely. “... May I help you in some way?” A piece of Beef Wellington, with what looked to be a small carafe of coffee next to it sat before her.”

“Oh, I just wanted to talk. There is nobody left in sickbay except for myself and a nurse, and most of my acquaintances have gone to the surface,” Nah’dur explained as she sat down. “...You are eating human food, I see. Does it taste good?”

“Very much. Would you care to try some? A few modifications from different human chefs to make it more palatable for Dilgar, but it was near enough to perfectly all right beforehand, Mistress.”

“It looks like beef.” Nah’dur looked around, and then added, a bit softly, “I confess, I think those who take the imitation of the teachings of dharma that far are overdoing it. I believe in dharma, but we are not humans.”

Ca’elia winced sharply. “I apologise, Mistress. I had not intended to offer insult. It is, of course. Beef Wellington, they call it.”

Nah’dur reached out and took a piece. “You misunderstand. I am saying I don’t hold to the same belief about those restrictions. Thank you, Ca’elia. My mother let us form our own opinions of how to integrate our beliefs.”

“I think I understand that. I admit, I’m not very religious, but that wasn’t much encouraged on New Eden.” came the reply from the young woman before her, as she popped another piece of the filet into her mouth and reached for her cup. “Warmaster Shai’jhur seems very wise, an ideal regent for our people.”

“Mother-Shai is a cool hand on the tiller; which was exactly what we needed. She’s said to me in retrospect that if she had been in charge in the days of old, she’d have conquered the Alacans and declared to the people they were another breed of Dilgar so they could be integrated; and Tirrith and Roth and some border worlds from the Drazi, and then made peace and moved a few billion Dilgar. Jha’dur would have been tasked with curing the spores, and her brother given a scouting fleet to explore far beyond us, which might have found Tira and Anakamos. But instead, the Council was made up mostly of idiots, not the wise, and so she could only save scraps. The food’s very good, by the way.”

“If anyone left alive can kill those spores, it’s you, Mistress. I already know that you offer the best chance for the crew come out alive on the other side of these missions they give us if anything goes wrong.”

“I’m working on it, among other projects. I’ve had a few major steps along the way. Maybe another two years? That’s my current timetable, but biology is not rigid like engineering,” Nah’dur answered innocently.

“Another two years? Mistress, that is… wonderful .” Ca’elia remarked with a tone of awe in her voice.

“It’s personal with me and those spores,” Nah’dur answered with a somewhat baleful expression. “I’m not letting them escape alive.” She stretched and looked curiously at Ca’elia’s cup.

“Camp coffee, Mistress.” the young officer offered, to the unspoken question.

“...Coffee? But I have been looking for coffee to drink, and so far I have only found the national drink of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Coffeemilk, and that is served cold. Nothing else really seems tolerable to Dilgar tastebuds. That is hot coffee, Ca’elia. How do you stand it?”

“It’s Camp Coffee , Mistress. Normal coffee…” She made a face of disgust. “They kept trying to get us to drink it on New Eden, as it was in the rations. This, this is different.” She would drain her cup, and refill it halfway from the carafe, adding a bit of cream. “Here.”

Nah’dur took a drink from the cup. “... It’s wonderful! Thank you, Ca’elia. I have finally found a kind of coffee I can like. This is quite amazing.”

The young helmswoman dared a smile. “Thank you, Mistress.”

“You are most welcome,” Nah’dur looked so pleased, so stretched contentedly and then drank more of the Camp Coffee.

Looking over the rim of her cup, Ca’elia grinned openly at her. “So… are there any other human foods you are looking for tolerable versions of? I have quite the experience with trying to find them.”

“That would be amazing. I’m looking for authentic ones. Usually, the Captain has helped with the ones from the Indian Subcontinent, and some from China.”

“Well, we’ll have to synchronize our meal-times whenever Heermann is docked, Surgeon-Commander. I’d be happy to help.”

“Oh, I shall be most enthused. The only exception is when I get a chance to eat with Colonel Fei’nur, but that doesn’t happen often… Isn’t Colonel Fei’nur quite incredible? She’s actually very smart, you know, beyond the whole part of being the last Spectre.”

“So I have heard you say before. She… really is , but you mean she’s… more intellectual than most would expect? It feels strange to be talking about her like this, Surgeon-Commander.”

“Well… She’s been close to my family for a long time, but yes. I suppose, it’s all well and good.” her eyes glimmered. “Thank you so much, Ca’elia. You have shown me a kindness in introducing me to these things.”

“You’re welcome, ma’am. I look forward to our meetings, even if I can’t keep up with you in conversation!” Daringly, she offered a hand. “It’s nice to meet you… Nah’dur, if you will permit me the informality?”

“Oh yes, I do.” Nah’dur smiled. “Thank you again, Ca’elia. I must obtain my own Camp Coffee now.”

“I think I can help you with that.” Inside, Ca’elia thrilled. She’d made a friend on Huáscar!

Nah’dur had plenty of tasks to keep up on, including inspections and operational planning and various paperwork, but she considered this conversation more important than any of the others. Of all the things she was working on, the genophage was the most sincerely challenging, and she relished that challenge, she also relished the comeuppence to the arrogant Salarians who thought they were good at science, and to teach a lesson to those who though the Krogan dead, as people had accounted the Dilgar dead.

Also, it let her boast a little. She was following up with Wrex on her latest developments now that they had returned to Alliance space. She made the extranet connection request and waited.

The scarred Krogan Battlemaster’s face flickered into view. “Nah’dur. Been a few months.”

“We were operating outside of extranet connection range for an extended period. Very interesting set of events, I’m sure you’ll hear some about it eventually. Telepaths to save and governments to overthrow and that sort of thing,” Nah’dur answered cheerfully, waving idly at the screen.

“It’s been interesting here too. What do you have?” The Krogan was a gruff as his reputation implied, watching her carefully. She was remarkably cheerful.

“I have a strategy for correcting the genophage in part, it will restore the rate of viable births to about two-thirds of what it was before. It will require a retrovirus to apply, and is a genetic modification. So it will take time to come into effect. But it has worked successfully at the laboratory scale in all trials over the past months. It doesn’t cure the genophage, it just introduces a small genetic modification into how embryos form to make them resilient to the main mode of effect of the genophage. This should, however, build on the previous work to push you back into a positive population growth.”

He glanced at something out of view for a moment, before leaning in. “That gives us hope. You’ve done good. Now you be careful before someone tries to stop you from continuing your work, got it?”

“I understand. Mother has permanently assigned Spectre Fei’nur to this ship, and there are a lot of Mha’dorn here. I sleep with a pistol under my pillow even aboard theHuáscar, and I carry a top-rated Solarian personal shield. There are people who would kill me for my clan name, Wrex, let alone what I’m doing for you and the Krogan.”

“You are a friend to the Krogran. They won’t like what’ll happen if one of us catches up to them, heh.”

“Well, thank you. I do appreciate the relationship. We distrusted species need to stick together for our own mutual safety.” She grinned. “So, I’ll send the specifications with the usual encryption. However, I really need to go to living embryo trials before we release this retrovirus. For that, we are going to need to meet somewhere or have isolation tanks with sperm and eggs sent for me to work with. If that works, I’m going to have to get close enough to some Krogan to do a full-scale clinical trial. I can take a leave of absence for that, or the deployment schedule will work out. One of our officers has a contact with her own ship, a Rihannsu. She might be able to help.”

“All right. Difference between your homeworld and mine is that rather than the air trying to kill you, it’s the Krogan. I’ll be in contact. Good work, Nah’dur.”

“Thank you, Wrex. I have appreciated the challenge greatly. I am certain the Salarians will not leave it be… But I’ll blow that bridge up when I come to it. Actually, wait. I think I have a plan for spreading the retrovirus to Tuchanka. Do you think you could fund a month’s worth of operations from a dreadnought?”

“Kid, I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but let’s say I could…”

The two Dilgar women, for safety’s sake, were in their uniforms as they explored the planet. It was best to make it clear to those around them that they were Alliance personnel, even here on Doreia where they refreshingly didn’t encounter a single expression of fear or anger the entire time, just like Gersal. Instead, the first day was a whirlwind of temples and gardens, and on the second they had gone to the great falls.

“Divine, Fei’nur, it’s beautiful here, is it not?” Zhen’var marveled, looking skyward, through the rainbow-dappled mist that rose high from the base of the waterfalls.

“All of that water… It’s so wonderful to look at. There are falls just as big on the rivers leading to the great central seas on Rohric, though, as they drop down into the sea-plains. But it’s not exactly tourist territory.”

“Perhaps some-day they will be, when Nah’dur succeeds. Do you want to try the path up-top? It will take most of the day, if we try, and we have that reservation for tonight to try and make.”

“..We should both be able to handle that, since Nah’dur isn’t along,” Fei’nur grinned.

“Still not managing to get sister up to your standards? Your fitness regime certainly transformed my scores. I am all the way up to the top end of Tier Two!” Teeth flashing in a smile, Zhen’var slung her pack of her shoulders. “Come on, then, daylight is wasting, we can call an aircar from the cable station and ride it down to meet them when we are at the top.”

“Certainly!” Muscles pumping, the big Dilgar woman and the smaller beside her started up the long hike across the sheer granite switchbacks--with safety rails long installed, granted--to the top, showing incredible views of the far side of the great horseshoe falls. For the moment, then, they were perfectly happy and as far from Duty as possible.

Zhen’var was visibly exhausted, but triumphant when they reached the top, with the sun hanging low in the sky. “That… was… wonderful!”

Kind of damp, but at least it’s very clean water,” Fei’nur laughed. “It was a great hike.” She took out her camera to capture some 3-D’s at the top, too. For a moment, a pang over the lack of kits struck her. She wasn’t sure it was healthy for a Spectre and the Warmaster had come first. But her smile surged again. The Warmaster’s six daughters were a fine prize to have nurtured and there might yet be time. She took several of the captain, and traded the imager to get some of herself, too - another tourist, up top where the usual landing point of the cable cars was, would serve to get them both in a few shots as well.

“It was.” Breathing hard at the exertion, Zhen’var was feeling remarkably accomplished. “ Worth it .”

“Completely worth it.” Fei’nur agreed with a comfortable laugh, the sheer, staggering immensity of the water just continuously pouring off, the falls stretched almost to the horizon it seemed, they were 10-km wide here with a series of islands along the top dividing them into a series of massive channels. This was an otherworldly sight, as grand as any which could be imagined, a fairy-tale book of clean water and nature’s artistic hand.

A wistful sigh slipped out of Zhen’var’s black lips as she stared out over the landscape. “Until I began performing my work-outs with you, I would not have been able to do that in anything less than twice the time, Fei’nur.”

Fei’nur looked suitably pleased. “I’m glad I’ve justified myself. You’re a nice partner for leave excursions, Zhen’var. And friend.” In that moment, Fei’nur didn’t even stop to think for a moment what Zhen’var had once been. It had passed completely beyond her.

“Much the same, Fei’nur. Shall we linger a bit longer, or begin heading to our lodging for the evening? I confess a sonic shower sounds wonderful at present.”

Fei’nur snapped another Tri-D image and grinned. “We’ll go for sonic showers. I could stay, but then I’d have less time for other interesting things. Let’s go!”

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Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

Post by Tomyris »

Act 2

The temple of Amilra at Kelumar sat deep in a rain-drenched forest. Daria put on the robes of the temple, as was required for an initiate visiting it, and hiked the six kilometres in from the railhead. To her it was a light walk, as she had made many longer both in the service and in her training, or even in scouts in her childhood. Still, it was a chance with the rain dripping down onto her massive, wide-brimmed conical hat, to reflect on her renewed service.

Fighting the Cybermen had been to play with dark ones. Unstoppable, relentless, devoted to inflicting an evil fate worse than death on all sapient life, they had ground the crew of the Aurora down into nothing. It was natural, the priestesses had said, that for someone with any of the power at all, that, seeing as it had not manifested in childhood, it manifested then.

Then the Daleks had come. Everything that they thought they had faced as the worst that could be put against them was instantly redoubled. It could, and did, get worse. It very much didn’t stop. Daria stopped, standing on a natural log bridge over a creek, and minded her balance for a moment, as the thought had been so distracting and uncomfortable. She wondered how anyone else had managed to avoid going mad. How they all seemed to be going on with their careers.

To face training after that had been a true struggle, a struggle about becoming at peace with a universe which permitted the very nature of things to be unbalanced, unsettled, cruel and ill as few things were to imagine. Growing in the powers of the Mother, learning the power of the Goddess, it was like returning to the depths to contrast her love with the ill they had faced.

She quietly carried on past the hewn, mossy log and back onto damp ground of well-trod thick mulched soil. Her homeworld was at peace with itself and she could feel the life in every rock. That sense of growing strong in her connection to the multiverse carried her on to the vast temple of Amilra, with the Hall of Infinity stretching out over a massive rock-hewn outcropping and the great, sweeping arches supporting high curved-peaked roofs towering over hall and lodge, looming abruptly from the trees of the forest, where the falling of water around it obscured the sound of singing until the moment one was upon it.

Gliding into the temple, surrounded by other Dorei voices of women lifting their hearts to the Almighty, she felt perfectly calm as she approached the halls of the Matrias, and disrobed at the temple baths to cleanse herself before entering them.

Honoured Matria Rivalana was waiting for her in her cell, contemplating a half-finished calligraphic painting. “Child, I am thankful for your return. I will not ask you to continue your studies; I too have seen your course.”

“Thank you, Matria. I confess, it is hard. My shipmates are not what anyone would expect. Some of them have, I think, committed crimes in the past.”

“Do you think they serve the principles of the Alliance now?” The Honoured Matria looked archly.

“Unambiguously so, Matria. Even from one who walks with a pallor about them does righteous and heroic deeds in the service of the Alliance come.”

“Life is a journey. We are children of the light, daughter, ” she said, allowing the more intimate term for an Initiate of the Goddess. “Some are not so fortunate…. In ancient times there are tales of them. Dark Ones who could still reason…”

“Oh, it’s nothing like that! Mercenaries, commandos, killers. Not …. That.”

“Daughter, the difference is only in the power with which they were born,” the Matria replied. “It’s more than that anyway, is it not?”

“The Dilgar dominate the ship, as well as veterans of sterner services. They are harder in how they approach their duties and challenges. Sometimes I feel… Put upon to walk in a direction I should rather not. The Captain’s expectations are high, and I have let her down.”

“Do you really think their resort to violence is evil? The laws of the Alliance exist precisely to prevent it.”

“No, Matria. I don’t think they do wrong. But in the heat of the moment, I wish to err to the side of Good.

“They err to the side of action, do they not, and order? Consider, daughter, the soldiers marching through the village to protect it. Still, they form, as tight as the teeth of a comb. Their file-closers are stern, their officers arrogant. Yet without the order, they would break. Nothing our Mother gives comes free. The Harmony of the universe would otherwise be lost. You know that, Daughter.”

“You once opposed this path for me, Matria.”

“Our Mother moves in strange ways to perform her wonders. I have seen you on that ship, daughter. Take courage, they value you more than you realise. And you are more needed than you realise.”

Daria’s eyes widened. As usual, the insight was there. It was her wondering if she was valued from whence grew the suspicion. She bowed her head and made the pentacle.

“Rest with us, Daughter. But return to your ‘white ship’ confident in your friends. There is a plan… Though I know it not yet. There is a plan.”

Perhaps it was too much to assume that a Captain could really spend 84 hours on Libo without receiving some kind of call or other notification that something had gone wrong. Fortunately, Zhen’var had already gotten a full night’s sleep by the time her omnitool, on the side of her bed, was insistently chirping with the chirp that meant it was from the Huáscar .

Oh Divine, what is it now… Huáscar Actual here, go ahead.” She was still groggy, but waking up quickly as she hit the audio-only response key and pulled on her omnitool.

“Captain, it’s Will. The Minister of Security of the Dorei Federation is personally on the line for you and she is not happy. She’s, uh, very upset about some kind of security alert that she’s accusing our people of having triggered.”

Oh no , what… give me one minute, I shall take the visual. Thank you, Commander.” Rolling out of bed, she hissed at the feeling of a brush roughly ripping knots and tangles from her hair, before pulling on her uniform quickly. She counted fifty-seven seconds before she tapped ‘ Ready to Connect’.

A blue-and-purple spotted Dorei woman in what passed for a business suit among the Dorei appeared on the screen. “Captain Zhen’var. What is wrong with your crew? They generated a terrorist nexus assessed as a threat against government stability by the central intelligence database computers with no less than one thousand, three hundred and sixty-seven iSee reports in the space of two days!”

Her face barely managed to stay calm, when she wanted to gape in shock at the receiver, until her train of thought caught up to her reaction. It still came out a bit lame to her ears. “Madame Minister… they are Dilgar.”

“Well, what, so are you? Our computers alerted us to a potential terrorist incident at the space-port, but they’re just filled with all of these reports that are ridiculous… Like ‘suspected treason, I overheard a person criticizing the Alliance President’.”

“The discipline of the Dilgar starfleet, which more than half my crew has come from, Madame Minister, is such that the pre-liberty briefing, which as I believe you know, includes much emphasis on the use of the iSee application…” She looked sheepish. “The standard briefing includes a reminder that failure to report is cause for a Captain’s Mast. Dilgar military discipline is extraordinarily strict by Alliance standards.”

“You’re telling me… But they reported things like casual political debates between bar patrons, Captain!” The woman looked incredibly flustered, like Daria caught out.

“Our own democratic development is still within the earliest stages that the Alliance permits associates to have, Madame Minister. They will report anything that might fall under any of the iSee catagories… exactly as the briefing animations tell our people to do.”

“But nobody does that, Captain!”

“A Dilgar rating does, Madame Minister.” There was a hint of long-suffering patience in Zhen’var’s tone.

“...You’re telling me… They just didn’t know any better ?”

“Incredible discipline and an indescribable naivety about the norms of the multiverse are the baseline for my people at present, I fear. I apologise for the alarm and confusion caused by such strict adherence to instructions.”

“...If we hadn’t been relying on the programming of the automated system, it wouldn’t have triggered automatic alerts,” she answered after a moment. “It is a legitimate fault you’ve found, Captain. It seems even though individual iSee reports were weighted low, the sheer number made the computer erroneously claim there was an imminent threat.”

“Perhaps thankfully, there is only one Dilgar-crewed multi-versal starship, Madame Minister. As a temporary solution, perhaps secondary pre-processing of reports fromHuáscar- flagged omnitools… but such is your field of expertise, ma’am.”

She flexed her ears. “Very well. It’s clearly a programming vulnerability to false alarms we need to address. But do you crewers… Really, that many reports, Captain? There were fourteen omnitools that sent more than three dozen each.

Zhen’var half-mumbled; “Likely from my newest Marine company, they are relatively newly-arrived from Tira, Madame Minister.” This is not going well.

The woman sighed. “Very well, Captain. Please see to it that they learn some important lessons about our democratic freedoms.”

That isn’t going to go well at all. “I understand, Madame Minister. I shall add it to the ship’s ongoing education programmes.”

With a huff, the Minister nodded. “That is all, Captain Zhen’var. The alert is cancelled and we will have staff manually filter the iSee alerts until further notice.” With that, her image blinked off the screen.

Letting out a long sigh, Zhen’var flopped back onto her bed. “Commander, you caught all that, yes?”

“Yes I did, Sir.” Will rubbed his head. “How… How do I deal with that?” He finally admitted his helplessness in a sheepish expression.

“Form a study group of NCOs to add it to the ship’s ongoing education programmes, of course. If we are fortunate, the matter will be forgotten before the next round of Strategic Learning Initiatives is handed down.”

Will groaned. “And how do we actually keep the ratings from doing it again, Captain?”

“Find some movies about representative government that Dilgar will find interesting.” The smile couldn’t be hidden from her voice.

“...But most of them will think that representative governments need to know about traitors, too. Our sailors are good people, Ma’am.” He was grinning wryly.

“Ones with a Loyal Opposition , Commander. Surely in the Multiverse there must be enough of those, do you think?”

“...Actually, with how bad filmmakers are at representing democratic dissent, I’m not so sure.”

Zhen’var’s sigh was loud enough to nearly cause feedback over the omnitool link. “I will worry about it when my leave is over, Commander. If that is all?”

“Ma’am.” Will tipped a salute.

Arterus had known Duty his entire life, as governed by Mnhei’sahe, even when exiled from the Rihannsu Empire and the Starfleet, he had known that he was a Prince of the Imperial Family and that his duty to his cousin mattered. So he didn’t think much by spending almost two days traveling at high warp out to a rendezvous at an asteroid trading post on a third-rate liner, though he did pay for a first class cabin to make it relaxing.

There, on the edge of Dorei space, the Far Star had quietly docked. Heavily armed ships were less welcome deep into civilised sectors and space. Even just seeing the Orion ship, which Lial had already heavily modified, made his heart soar.

Lial wore a cloak to conceal her appearance and her old-style uniform, with the hood up, but he recognised his cousin the moment he stepped out of the liner, and the exiled Princess and rightful ruler of the Rihannsu spun her relative into an embrace. “Elements, my blood, you look well, and I am thankful.”

“Cousin, I owe you much for your encouragement to join the Alliancers. This crew I have found myself on is worth its water, the Dilgar…”

“Are a good fit for us,” Lial finished with a smile, reaching out and taking Arterus’ hand and leading him through the station. “Shai’jhur is like one of the great Mothers of the Ship-Clans of ch’Havran, it is a shame their people fell so, but they dared their Gods and paid the price for it.”

“Sometimes I fear we Rihannsu have done the same,” Arterus shrugged. “Still, you are right. Captain Zhen’var, Colonel Fei’nur, I am very honoured to work with them.”

They boarded the Far Star, and with partial armour in uniform, clenched fists held high, the guards interrupted them, until Lial made the countersign. “Those off the ship must be in civilian dress and cloaks, I broke that a little, but aboard we follow the old ways.”

“Are the crew mostly of us?” He asked, carrying on in English lest it bleed over to them as they walked.

“Mostly, but of course, many from lost colonies who have never known the Empire. Many half-breeds and such too. I have met a very brave woman of that extraction who has her own outfit, and I have taken into service some of the people she works with and rescues, who are more suited for me than to her. She is half-Japanese, and in the days before the Federationers forgot so much of who they were, their honour was ken to our own. I believe she also has contacts with the Tal Shiar, but is controlled by none.”

“Double games turn the blade of the knife into you soon enough, cousin,” Arterus answered with concern as they arrived at Lial’s tiny, three-room suite, just enough for Lial to settle down in with a table.

“I know, but you cannot avoid it when you play this game. It is a game that requires risks and trusts which a normal person, secure in her halls and the loyalty of her blood, would not seek out.”

“You do not speak these words without meaning,” Arterus frowned.

“You are correct, I do not, our friend will be arriving… Right about now.” The door chimed, as Arterus’ eyes narrowed.

A similar figure with a cloak tossed over a spacer’s set of overhauls and jumpsuit in black strode in, with a guard on each shoulder who saluted.

Lial returned the fist, rising. “Miss Corday,” she said politely.

“Your Majesty,” the woman tossed the hood of her cloak back and bowed, her boots clopping together gently in an old, old gesture, her hair tightly pinned back, gray-silver-platinum on otherwise youthful body, eyes… That shade like no other.

“Cousin…” He said, a bit darkly.

“She saved our lives, Arterus, I would give her shelter to the bitter winds of the fate her people deserves.”

Before departing, one of the guards placed Aafvun'in'hhui from the replicator and bread on the table, and the woman smiled fondly as she sat, crossing her legs. “I understand the initial distaste, and don’t think it ingratitude for the past, my dear friend Prince Arterus,” she continued in a slightly wheedling speech, eyes levelly on Lial.

“Some introductions are in order for the current circumstance,” Lial smiled.

“Of course. So, Charlotte Corday is an alias, but you all knew that when I gave it to you.” She said something of the exchange with Lial before. “You may call me Danaine Taruar. And I am here officially, as a personal emissary of His Majesty, Jaibriol Qox the Third of His Name. We have much to discuss.”

Am I Sayla or Artesia? That was something that was hard for her accept at this point in her life. She had enlisted under the actual spelling of her stepfather’s name, de Más,instead of the Mass she had used in the Earth forces, but she had taken back her given birth name of Artesia. Like as not, though, she’d find it easier to answer to Sayla. What did that mean to her identity?

Flopping onto the bed of her resort hotel room she turned on the tri-dee with a gently content sigh while she interfaced the hotel website with her omnitool to order a maniped and reserve a massage. Artesia took no shame in being a perfectly normal girl as well as a fighter pilot and honestly, the temptation of dancing and maybe just going on an idle date or two with no intention of anything serious sounded very strong at the moment. The tri-dee was more for mindless noise in the background than anything else.

Abandoning the omnitool, she rolled over to activate the comp-pad she had as a personal item, updating and interfacing with the network. There was the usual personal information--bills for the apartment she was renting that she hadn’t visited since she was assigned to Huáscar , ads and pointless adverts--as well as an update from the bank account her brother had set up for her. It was a significant sum of money that kept increasing, but she hadn’t touched it. She had her own, a much smaller amount, that came from her Alliance salary.

Artesia pursed her lips and rolled over on the bed. She could go back “home” to a place she hadn’t been since she was a small child--Zeon--and instantly be a noblewoman. People would grumble, but her brother was The Red Comet, would any turn against him for welcoming her back when she had fought against the opposite side? Well, possibly, actually. Her mind flickered back to the tumult and chaos of the rise of Zeon and she winced, remembering the bombings and poisonings.

Even without those lingering threats, she still wouldn’t have gone back. She was wedded to the Huáscar now. The dead in the fight over the de Trier had seared the squadron together just their losses had bonded them on the White Base. And she had sought that out again. At an intellectual level, Sayla knew that wasn’t necessarily healthy. Artesia… Wanted it anyway. But the burning need to prove herself had been finally quieted.

She pushed herself up and started changing into a cocktail dress, unpacking her libo bag as she did. Wandering into the bathroom to check her appearance, she headed down to the line of cabanas behind the hotel bar next to the massive set of pools that was nearly a water-park, with scantily clad Dorei waitresses in abundance. It was a dive that catered to foreign tourists, and she liked it that way. A massive pair of sunglasses firmly set on her face, she got herself something that called itself a mojhito using a local equivalent to mint, and found an open spot at a cabana. The surf was rolling in, and at least for a little while, as she gathered her thoughts and let the memory of the fight at the de Trier fade from her mind, the alien birds, the alien music, the very familiar scene of tourists, it all blended together, and that was just all right.

She couldn’t help but have her thoughts drift back to Elia Saumarez and Abebech Imra. Elia, who saw Artesia as one of her own, and Abebech, who… Probably did. Elia’s blushing embarrassment for her bare hands made her rather self-conscious about them sometimes. Even now, she spared a glance down at them. Isn’t that the truth of life? It was forced on them, and now they enforce it on themselves. Abebech, though. Abebech… There was no reason for her to wear gloves, though there were rumours from the de Trier that she had basically taken out an entire company of troops single-handedly. Everyone knew about her codes that had let her take the ship, now.

But she was a woman, like any other; she smiled when they interacted. Artesia even felt that her newtype senses, attuned somewhat differently than those of a Psi-Corps telepath, could make out a fond affection. The same that, despite the standoffishness, she had for Elia.

Artesia shook her head, and brought up an image of her brother and Lalah on her slimline, nightclub styled omnitool. It showed them on a balcony somewhere in Zeon, waving to an adoring crowd. To them he was as much Char Aznable as he was Zeon Zum Deikun’s son. To Lalah Sune, he was a lover and husband now. Together they made a glamorous couple. They would be leading Zeon into a peaceful future, Artesia hoped--together. They deserved it. Zeon deserved it. The old dichotomy for the Spacenoids was broken; Zeon, Riah, and the Earth Federation ruling the remaining ‘Sides could all prosper together.

Artesia wasn’t really sure what she deserved. She thought of Abebech, and the wild stories from the de Trier. Of what she had seen, of the girl, River, in her crisp white uniform with black trim. Somehow, Newtypes had a history. Not so new, she thought, wondering if she should get a Mai-Tai next, or maybe head down to the beach. She was not depressed, just acutely aware of her own lack of belonging. By working to make peace between Zeon and the Federation and save both her brother and Ray, she had taken this course voluntarily, but she had walked it nonetheless.

With a gentle little sigh, feeling airy, Artesia got up and adjusted her sunglasses, preparing to wander over to the open air bar. Everything about the place was exactly what you wanted in a beach resort, and the bar was surrounded by lush, soft, smooth tones of some local music. She felt it sounded a little like bossa nova. Settling at the bar, she mused about being adventureous and decided against it. “A Mai-Tai, please.”

Next to her at the bar, two brown-burnt human men were conversing with the relative anonymity of the vacation and the omnipresent sunglasses.

“Heh, I live on New Rauchmer. Same sector. We’ve got the same Senator, don’t we? What’s his name? Ro…”

“Rosati.” The second guy was staring intently at his Margarita. “You thinkin’ what I’ve been thinkin’ about?”

“His speech about the dangers of telepathy and all these metaphysical powers? Yeah. The ‘dangers of living in a comic book’, right?”

“Just right, man.”

A certain wryly intolerant expression of immaturity in others briefly flickered across her face, but then she tamped it down. No reason to get involved. The liquor, though, was reminding Artesia of just how much their words applied to her. It enabled a certain ill-discipline of the mind, loosened inhibitions and made them stronger. Newtype abilities had begun to manifest in different ways, but Artesia could certainly reach out and feel their thoughts and fears.

Their fears that right now, someone was doing that and more, much more, to their minds, even as they talked about the need to … “ Find some way of dealing with these dudes, maybe like that Psi-Corps thing. Gotta have a law about it.”

Gotta have a law about it.
Artesia looked down at her bare hands. Elia wore those gloves so that nobody had any doubt at all about what she was. She was courageous because she refused to hide herself. Even here, the sentiment seemed to be one laced with real suspicion. Sayla wouldn’t stay quiet.

She got out of her chair and grabbed her drink in her left hand, holding her right for emphasis. “Telepaths and other sensitives are people just like you, they just want to have normal lives like you do. You want to throw them all in boxes and think those regulations will protect you and that you can forget about it. That’s the exact opposite of what we need, which is virtue. If we cultivate virtue then you won’t have to fear the powers of others and they won’t be afraid of you, either, because everyone will treat each other with respect. You can’t have a republic without virtue, and when you lose it, you become a totalitarianism. It doesn’t matter what the final form is, once the virtue is gone, it’s a joke. And you’ll lose it the moment you start passing laws like that, that you stop thinking of your fellow citizens as people and start thinking of them as threats. Your beliefs might be casual, but they are a poison to freedom, and if you’re repeating what a Senator said, then I’m afraid for the Alliance that we have such people in the Senate.”

The two men were taken aback, staring at her. She stared back.

“What the hell do you think you know about these powers, girl? They’re capable of seeing everything you’ve ever thought, telling you what to do.. And you feel comfortable with that?”

“In orbit right now there are twenty Alliance starships, any one of which could override an authentication and level these city with two hundred megaton solar torpedoes. That’s a very scary power, isn’t it? What are you going to do about it? I think most people trust the virtue of the people in the armed forces. How is that any different? It’s not.”

“How do you know that?”

“I am one,” she answered, taking a sip from her Mai-Tai. “An officer, and a telepath. And a classy woman, I might add, not a girl.”

For the moment there was a completely, dangerously real confrontation. But the two men saw something in her eyes. They were not the eyes of a random blonde at a resort bar. The two men beat a retreat.

As they did, a Dilgar came padding up behind her. “Leftenant, do you need any help?”

Artesia turned in surprise, and then laughed. “No, Spacer, it’s all fine,” she answered, seeing the group of five more Dilgar behind him who were getting up from their chairs. Apparently the cheap drinks and chance to sunbathe had lured them to the same place. Grinning and shaking her head, she reflected on what would have happened if one of the officers had gotten into the Chief’s handcuffs, and then headed over to the table to impose herself on her shipmates. It just felt warmer at the moment.

When Nah’dur had received her invitation, she had very nearly bubbled over. The giant bay filled with floating bazaars and homes and unusual rock formations sounded like a positively splendid place to capture tri-dee images, and spent time with her elder sister, and most of all, Fei’nur. She had not taken a vacation in quite some time, and affixed her backpack and hiking gear and sun visored cap with neck flap and all the other things which made her look like a proper explorer, and then headed to the transporter room to beam down for the rendezvous point. If Wrex is right, I’ll have to be much more careful with shore leaves after this, she thought to herself.

A moment later, she was near the maglev stop which led to the beginnings of the interlocking ferry and boardwalk routes which traversed the bay, her giant sunglasses proudly settled onto her face.

Oh dear gods, she looks… Fei’nur’s thoughts didn’t reach her face, at least. “Nah’dur!” The commando waved, Nah’dur’s elder sister beside her, both still in their Alliance uniforms.

“Fei’nur! Zhen’var!” She took a few bounds over, grinning. “Have you been having fun without me? It was very quiet on the Huáscar, since nobody’s come back from shore leave yet.”

"That has not stopped me from getting work comms, even so." Zhen'var was smiling as she reached out for a quick hug of her youngest sister.

“Oh, that’s such a bother. What about girlfriend comms?”

Nah’dur!” Zhen’var looked momentarially mortified. “I have been… I… no, but…” The subject could leave the woman’s normally quite formal speech tied up in knots.

“Have you been faithfully sending her pictures, hmm?” Nah’dur grinned chipperly and saddled over to stand close to Fei’nur.

Occasionally we have short vid-chats, but…” Zhen’var trailed off as Fei’nur scanned the area around them reflexively.

“Well, are we to get aboard one of the ferries now, then?” Nah’dur asked, her eyes behind the sunglasses scanning everywhere, and obligingly taking her tri-dee imager to take pictures of various flocking crowds of Dorei.

“Indeed we are, Nah’dur. Please, stay close to one or both of us.” With the young doctor there, Fei’nur’s professional wariness was on full display as Zhen’var started to lead the group along the street.

Nah’dur really didn’t mind a suggestion to stay as close to Fei’nur as possible, and promptly did so as they headed down to one of the small, open ferry terminals which shuttled people about the bay and got in line to board.

Fei’nur looked down at the auburn-haired doctor with a flash of long-accustomed resignation, before shaking it off, as Zhen’var presented herself at the ticket booth. “Three day passes, please.”

“You can get a family pass for the two of you and your daughter for only half the price,” the Dorei woman behind the counter offered cheerfully.

Fei’nur barely kept a smile off her face, as Zhen’var’s face froze in a look of surprise. “Ah… well, we are family, yes...” Nah’dur explosion when she hears about this? Inevitable.

The major delay suffered was by the fact that Nah’dur was distracted taking tri-d images of the boats. She jerked her head up abruptly and stared, words half processed. “But-but, Zhen’var, we are… Fei’nur!” The busy lady behind the ticket counter didn’t even miss a beat, handing the ticket over to Zhen’var and calling “Next!”

Ushering them on, Zhen’var started giggling as soon as they were on the way down the gangway. “We are family, Nah’dur… and…” Impishly, she used her omnitool drone to snap a holo of the three of them. “You can see the reason, can you not?”

“But I want Fei’nur!”

Nah’dur …” the Spectre in question let out a softly warning growl.

Nah’dur abruptly grinned. “All right, all right. You’re my mother now, and I suppose that means I shall just have to be an Islander.”

“Nah’dur!” Zhen’var sounded scandalized, as Fei’nur rolled her eyes.

“Oh, oh, all right.” A sigh, and she took out her tri-dee again. “Look! I can really see some of the rock pinnacles, and they even have palm trees on-top… There must be lots of nesting places for birds. I wonder if we shall see many.”

“The colourful ones are always so fascinating to look at.” Fei’nur offered, as she leaned down to look closer. “Sea-birds, I‘d think, there would be plenty? Unless birds here are nocturnal, but I don’t think they are.”

“I think that hardy likely… Ooh, I think I spotted one, come, here, see, Fei’nur..” Nah’dur had been thoroughly distracted, and forgotten the earlier comment. That was also Nah’dur.

Leaning in, the elder Dilgar looked to the viewfinder. Zhen’var mentally let out a soft sigh of relief. Never change too much, little sister.

They did, all things said, look very much like a family, clustered together on the deck as they approached one of the great rock-towers and a massive cluster of floating homes and barges around it.

They were a family, to Captain Zhen’var’s eyes, and she leaned on the railing, letting her eyes roam. “It is utterly beautiful…” And so is having friends and family as this.

After everyone else had gone on leave, the Heermann ’s crew, with all the repair work and integration to do, was finally getting their own. Abebech had given a succinct and terse Libo brief which gave no doubts of her expectation for her crew, and then changed into mufti and fallen in with her officers heading down to the surface.

“What are you plans, Leftenant?” She would ask abruptly of Ca’elia as they walked.

Is this a trap? Flitted through her thoughts, as the young Dilgar turned her head sharply. “I… am not sure, Captain. New Eden and Tira didn’t prepare me well for liberty taken planetside.”

“I had thought as much,” Abebech answered. “You did an excellent job aboard these past days. The rest of the crew is fairly well sorted out, but I was a bit concerned that… If I may be indelicate, you might be feeling a bit lost. Well, I am heading off on my own, but I can point you in the right direction first if you’d like.”

“I would much appreciate that, Captain!” Her enthusiasm was visible, and immediate. “It’s not indelicate at all, if it’s true!” Her wide green eyes looked up at Abebech with keen interest.

“Well, I suppose it is,” Abebech laughed wryly. “I’m going to Deramom, which is commonly held to be the second city of Doreia, though it isn’t a usual tourist destination. We’ll get you sorted out and off on some package tour you’ll find interesting, or you can figure out how to do explore yourself..” She moved to stand on the transporter next with the Leftenant at her side, eyes as sunglassed as ever.

“Well, if it’s the right sort of package tour, ma’am…” Reflexively, she stiffened to parade rest, wearing her uniform. Most all of the Dilgar were. The pre-liberty briefing had suggested it, after all.

“What are you interested in?” Abebech asked, carrying through the teleportation effect from ship to surface, where they materialised under the sun. Abebech grimced, popping an old-fashioned parasol open that went very well with her traditional Ethiopian dress.

“Oh, everything, really. I love seeing new things, ma’am, and I love adventure legal adventure, ma’am! I’d planned to meet up with Aur’ma, but our leave blocks don’t overlap this time, unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry you couldn’t spend time with your sister,” Abebech answered with the casual comfort of a veteran of urban areas as she navigated their way to a tram and hopped on.

“It happens. We’re fortunate enough to be part of a married pair of ships already, Captain.” Natural agility allowed her to keep up, but Ca’elia’s experience with cities had only begun when she’d joined the Alliance service.

“Do you have any preference at all about what you’d like to see?” Abebech glanced at her omnitool on one arm as she used the other to hang onto a strap.

“I read many grand human adventure novels… Hornblower, for instance, one of the officers was kind enough to leave a set for our library.”

“Did you know Commander Saumarez is also a great fan of those novels?”

“I… can see it, ma’am, but I haven’t had much chance to talk to her. She’s the Operations Officer, I’m just the lead helm.”

“You are an up-and-coming Leftenant, Ca’elia. We are all officers, you must be able to dare to make friendships up. Mentors and guides are a necessary part of a career.”

“Is that what you’re encouraging me to develop now , ma’am? If I could be an officer half as skilled as you are.. If you will permit me to be informal, Captain!”

“I think you can be such an officer. Perhaps more than half as skilled, if you bear in mind that much of what I do is experience. That is, indeed, exactly what I am encouraging.”

“I will try and reach out to her then, ma’am, and anything you ever have to offer a young officer such as I, I am most keenly interested to learn…”

“I like educating others in how to be successful at our profession, Leftenant. I regard it as one of my jobs as Captain,” she smiled, almost shyly, with her glasses and her parasol tucked under an arm while in the relative cover of the train car, flipping up when she led them off again.

“I am very grateful, ma’am.” The Dilgar woman’s green eyes blinked widely as they debarked, taking in the area around.

It was a relatively run down neighborhood comparatively, but in the distance there gleamed the golden spire of a Dorei temple to the Great Mother. “This is the Temple of Alaminat, it has a unique custom around it, which is that anyone, no matter who or what they are, is welcome to worship. It’s said to be the place that the great sage Theremi Sarinteriya found a devil praying for mercy because it wished to be more than it had been created to be. So she blessed it and built a temple on the spot where the priests will turn away no-being, for anything, and they are safe as long as they remain. Under Dorei law, even a war criminal can find shelter in those walls if they do not leave them and do not cause trouble in them.”

“Sanctuary, as the humans would call it… is there a specific reason we are going there, ma’am? I understand the virtue of such a place, there were even such places on Omelos, they tell me.” I suppose I wasn’t expecting leave here, but… it certainly is new. I wonder what sort of people there are there?

“Oh, I just wanted to visit it,” Abebech answered. “My hotel is nearby. I will go to it later. I intend to get you set on your vacation first. You still haven’t yet related to me what you actually want to do, Leftenant.”

“I don’t truly know, I fear, ma’am. All I did on Tira was get a small sailboat and break her in, a little, my house is barely even finished. Certainly no tourist cruise would be anything but unbearable, but this planet is exhilarating to see first-hand.”

“Hmm.” Abebech was heading toward a hotel which was a bit shabby now, but once had clearly catered to interstellar business travelers. She started tapping on her omnitool. “The largest sea near here is anaerobic and it seems unlike humanity, the Dorei didn’t love bottom-feeding fish so much as to destroy all the wrecks with trawling. They offer a submarine shipwreck tour over a couple of days, would that excite your interest?” She shot the information off to Ca’elia’s omnitool with a fond and almost motherly smile creeping into play below her glasses.

“Oh! That sounds wonderful, ma’am! Mayhaps a bit maudlin, but certainly! Thank you , Captain!” She tapped through the omnitool with an eager grin.

“Well, you can do it a day at a time, so if you want to see something else, you can follow up recommendations from the tour submarine docent,” Abebech offered, and waved a hand around. “This planet is grand. With luck, you will leave wishing you had more time on it; that means it was worth it.”

“I shall take the advice to heart, Captain. I hope you enjoy your leave as well, if you’ll permit.” She stiffened, not saluting her superior while Abebech was in civilian clothes. “I shall stop taking time from it.”

“Thank you, but I think it was time well spent… And I assure you, Leftenant, I will. What else am I going to spend it on? Have a good leave, Leftenant.” Abebech wandered off toward the hotel entrance, that smile still on her lips.

Libo had passed, and the crew returned in varying states of functionality. There had only been two barfights and the Captain’s Mast list was only twenty-three long… “Which considering the cultural issues with the crew is totally an excellent result,” Chief Dugan continued with a kind of perfect mock cheerfulness. “The critical thing is, NO HEADLINES and NO HOSPITALS. We did get some handcuffs, but the crew’s just rough, ma’am. Most of ‘em were over that station-side barfight last night and the crew of the Minkoma started it to be honest. There were just a couple of Dilgar who didn’t understand that using chairs to beat people with was not an appropriate escalation.”

Around the table, the usual mugs of coffee and tea were steaming. The ship’s senior officers were settling back in their routines, all of them from Zhen’var and Fei’nur and Will down to Violeta. The crew of the Heermann wasn’t present, due to their abbreviated Libo Zhen’var was letting them stay out until the very last minute, they could prep the Heermann en route to their next destination inside the bay. There were still bleary eyes as they were all catching up, but Chief Dugan had more to say.

“Now, I’ve got one case to bring to the attention of the ship’s officers to try and figure out what to do. Private Lak’kar in the 15th Assault Company,” referring to the fresh Dilgar unit brought onboard to beef up their ground troops, “filed an iSee report which led to the successful apprehension of a pimp trafficking runaway alien teenagers at an illegal spaceport brothel. But he also filed a total of fifty-three other iSee reports including on how someone complaining about the President’s Agricultural Trade policy was conspiring to overthrow the government.”

Zhen’var impassively sipped at her chai. “So the local security minister wished to tell me… personally… at dawn… on leave. We are apparently responsible for a local imminent terrorist activity alert due to our crew’s… enthusiastic interpretation of the Libo brief.” She gave Chief Dugan a thoroughly deadpan look.

“Well, Ma’am, maybe we should just tell ‘em they programmed their computer wrong.”

“Already done, Chief, but I fear I must ask you to increase the rotation of Your Government and You targeted service insertions on the ship intranet to the Dilgar crewers from the Union.”

“You mean the ones that talk about the government in a way that a six year old could understand?”

Unfortunately .” Zhen’var replied in a very long-suffering tone, as she took another deep draught from her mug.

“But those go out to everyone !” Anna protested.

“Then write a targeting schema , but it is a requirement, unless you truly want an Inspectorate General investigative agent to come aboard in response to local government complaints.” The Captain looked like she was nursing a massive headache already.

“Yes, Captain.”

“We’ll get ‘em up there, right alongside ‘Black Ice, Not Nice.’” Rick had an utterly massive grin under his mustache.

“Thank you. Next item on the agenda; we have our next set of orders. Commander Saumarez, if you would kindly begin the briefing, please.”

Elia rose and activated the projector. “Fellow officers, we have received orders to deploy to Universe A2M6 to provide peacekeeping support for a negotiated withdrawal of League of Democratic Worlds forces from the planet Garatnam which they were occupying as a colony, and have recently agreed with Alliance negotiation to grant independence to after a long and extremely brutal insurgency with the Numeraian, the indigenous insectoid species. The objective is to use our onboard forces to prevent terrorist attacks on League units during the final two weeks of the withdrawal when they have pulled enough troops off the planet that they can no longer secure the installations that the remainder of their personnel are in without help.”

“I note Huáscar appears to be developing a speciality in putting Colonel Fei’nur and her ground troops in-between people with weapons who want to kill each other.” Zhen’var remarked, leaning back in her chair.

“Because of how the agreement between our governments formed out the ground complement, we have much more troops than the average explorer,” Lar’shan answered. “It will also press the wing heavily on overwatch.”

“I do not think we are going to be able to get Dartfighters as easily as an assault company; what do you need, Commander? It will be two weeks of very high tempo operations, it is true, we cannot show any sign of weakness.”

“See if we can’t take on spare drop-tanks, Captain,” he answered. “And increase the store of air-to-ground munitions and atmospheric capable surveillance drones.” He glanced to Fei’nur, who so far hadn’t spoken about the mission. “I’ll defer the rest to the Colonel.”

“We will be overstretched. We still have our full war complement of troops and equipment, but given the mission, I do not regard the situation as optimal, nor calming. I intend an agile deployment, with limited static tripwire forces with heavy air and surveillance support, backed by larger reaction forces with pre-cleared transport areas. Command continues to under-estimate the level of troops and equipment required for presence operations as this, which can quickly deteriorate… especially, as, Commander, A2M6 remains dangerously tense, does it not?”

“Yes it does. We are warned that the Aururians regularly patrol regularly close to the border there and they have funded, extensively, the armed movement on Garatnam, including covert provision of guns and arms, but since this is a withdrawal, they were rated unlikely to intervene.”

“Whom-ever made that rating has not looked into the universe very closely. They have a pattern - the Banyuwangi Doctrine, which is spelled out in several of their academic journals. The simple form of it is, ‘One who supports the breaking a state is responsible for the actions of their agents in so doing.’ Commander Saumarez.”

Everyone was staring at Fei’nur. ‘Colonel Muscles’ had just said something worthy of an academic professor. Nah’dur barely avoided clapping her hands together in a gesture of adoration, which was really quite valiant of her.

Elia smiled. “Thank you for the explanation, Colonel. I actually agree with you. It’s foolish to assume that there’s going to be no intervention. They will try to manage the aftermath.”

“‘ If you break it, you bought it’, would be the the human colloquialism.” She looked to Chief Dugan. “That was a correct use, yes?”

“Better than some humans use it, Ma’am,” he grinned.

“Wonderful. It means I will be requesting, though I do not expect to receive it, sufficient reinforcements to turn the breakthrough armour company into an assault armour company. A planetary garrison support unit, too, but, alas. We will like, as not, have to make do. That Empire is one of the more militaristic unfriendly neutrals we have encountered, I remind us all. Is there any further intelligence?”

“Yes,” Elia answered drolly. “You’ll love this. It’s just a note that part of the agreement for the League’s withdraw required us to work with them to eliminate a major drug trafficking and production network on the planet associated with the liberation movement.”

Fei’nur put her face in her hands. “Gods preserve us. Thank you, Commander.”

Zhen’var’s expression had become studiously blank. “I believe I should sign off on your request for further reinforcements, Colonel. We are to work to eliminate a major drug network, which is associated with the new government, with the former colonial overlords… very well, we have our work cut out for us. So we have been charged, so we shall accomplish.”

“It doesn’t really seem like the Foreign Ministry was taking this one seriously when they negotiated it,” Anna groused.

“They decide, we execute,” Arterus shook his head. “It will be a messy business.”

“We’ve dealt with worse already,” Elia reminded them with a smile. “We’ll make it work, because we’re Huáscarenos .”

“Yes, El’sau, but they got worse. This one is starting off at almost that level, before it degenerates.” Fei’nur remarked, already starting to sketch out requisitions on her data-slate.

“Well, at least the Aururians are rational…”

“And more dangerous for it. Finish your preparations, everyone. Commander Saumarez, if you would stay after the others, please?”

“Of course, Captain.” While the others filed out, Elia got herself another cup of Guernsey cream tea.

Without a word, Zhen’var slid a security chit across the table.

Elia looked at the chit, and then scanned it once she had confirmed it wasn’t marked classified. “...Six hours a week of holodeck and no explanation, Captain?” Her dark eyes flashed surprise.

Zhen’var’s teeth flashed as she smiled proudly at Elia. “I put in the request to Training and Development, and it was approved. You are hereby authorized and instructed to take Remote Learning Course 1062195, Commanding Officer Development and Duty Certification .”

“...Command Officer School Prep?” Elia’s eyes widened. “But I barely have any experience.”

“You have a baton in your knapsack, El’sau, let none tell you otherwise. My reviews and Commander Imra’s concurrence appear to have been sufficient to convince higher command.”

“...Thank you, Captain. And I will thank Abebech as well. I am truly honoured, and I will not let you down with your confidence in me. I hope I can soon follow from…” A sheepish grin, as she had to read the number, “RLC 1062195 to formal command school… Though I will miss being on the Huáscar even a short time.”

“Ah, but El’sau, I remind you that being command certified permits a brevet to independent command in an emergency at the discretion of local authority?” Her captain winked at her.

“And on Huáscar, may that emergency never come. I like you and Will. And Abebech. But still, thank you. Ma’am!”

“Dismissed, Commander. And, El’sau? Good luck.”

Posts: 69
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

Post by Tomyris »

Act 3

The gray-green of Garatnam appeared before them as they dropped out of warp, the ship at Condition Yellow. A squadron of the slick warp-equipped cruisers of the League of Democratic Worlds orbited the planet as well as a civilian Gersallian courier.

“Announce our presence, comms. Bring us to orbit, Helm.” Zhen’var watched the tactical displays. “Give me local scanning, tactical picture, please.”

Under the chorus of acknowledgements, the new Petty Officer Remaria, a Dorei woman at comms, sent the message as Violeta settled them into orbit and Elia started scanning the planet.

“Responding transmission from the League flagship, Captain,” Remaria reported.

“On the main display, please.” Zhen’var leaned back in her chair, folding her hands in her lap.

The white uniforms of the Admiral’s staff and the flag-bridge of a League cruiser resolved before them with the Admiral standing in place. “Captain Zhen’var of the Huáscar?”

“That is correct, Admiral. We have arrived, as the withdrawal agreement requires.” The Dilgar woman took in the bridge before her, scanning the League officers and their comportment.

“I am Admiral Pierre-Jacques Bonnet, Captain, aboard Justicia. We will need a meeting to coordinate the withdrawal as well as the operation to eliminate the Hularya drug production. I will allow you to reach out to your negotiator before scheduling it. We will provide mutually supporting top cover as required.”

“Of course, Admiral Bonnet. I thank you for the opportunity. We shall meeting shortly, I am sure.” They certainly seem professional, at least.

“Certainly, Captain. We will be waiting further communication. Justicia out.” The screen blinked clear with an already waiting message from the Gersallian courier standing by.

“Bring the courier on-screen, please. Let us hear what they have to say.” Zhen’var spoke over to the communications console, shifting in her command chair.

“This is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peace Outreach Yulassana,” the Gersallian woman, older with whisps of gray in her hair, introduced herself, wearing traditional Gersallian robes, as she resolved into view. “Thank you for your prompt arrival and correct introduction with Admiral Bonnet. I wish to transport aboard to discuss the situation on the planet with your command staff.”

“I receive the idea with congeniality, ma’am. My transporter room will be standing by for your arrival, and I shall call a meeting of my officers.”

A few minutes later, a CPO led Yulassana into Briefing Room 1, where the command staff was assembled to await.

The Captain was in her usual place at the head of the table, with the lectern swung out for the briefer, projector brought to stand-by, and the Dilgar woman nodded politely. “Secretary Yuassana. Welcome. My officers.” She indicated the assemblage with a gesture of her hand. Each rose to introduce themselves in turn.

“Thank you, all,” Yuassana offered before moving to sit. “I am pleased with the progress we have made here on Garatnam. It offers, perhaps, the first sign of a new direction for the League, and that may have great influence on the Alliance diplomatic posture in this universe. Your crew will be an important part of that.”

“I am most keen, ma’am, to know what that part will be.” Colonel Fei’nur rumbled from her position at the table. Her gaze was narrowed, and she sipped at a cup of ytar with a wary look to the diplomat who had come aboard.

“Unfortunately, the Garatnam Liberation Force, a broad-based coalition of clans and political sectors, was funding its liberation movement with drugs. You have been briefed on that much. The League considers the drugs enough of a problem that they are prepared to withdraw in exchange for Alliance support in eliminating the drug production. We believe that there is a convenient, biological solution for the elimination of the drug production.”

“A targeted retrovirus,” Nah’dur yawned. “That would be much easier than a counterinsurgency. What are the drugs made from, Madame Minister?”

“...It’s an enzyme Numeraians create when partially digesting the Tiral plant to cement the walls of their hives. The idea is to use a targeted retrovirus so the Tiral plant process no longer produces this enzyme,” the Secretary explained.

Nah’dur’s eyes narrowed. “So we’re genetically modifying a plant which is a major part of the cultural practices of the Numeraians based on … Data from the League?”

Yulassana coughed. “Of course not, Surgeon-Commander. We’ve vetted the information in Alliance contractor laboratories. Eliminating the enzyme process won’t negatively impact the Tiral plant.”

“But I assume I am to organise this effort as the ranking medical officer on the scene?”

“Yes, Surgeon-Commander.” The Gersallian woman folded her hands with a polite smile.

“Then pursuant to Alliance Unified Code of Regulations 28-1-1 subpart D I am going to have to conduct a final on-site environmental impact assessment before commencing the operation,” Nah’dur replied.

The Gersallian’s smile vanished. “One has already been completed, Surgeon-Commander. All of these operations are intensely time-sensitive to secure the League withdrawal. That won’t be possible.”

“Including subpart D paragraph 4--site assessments? I don’t see how that’s possible without physical sampling of the impacted area.”

“Captain…” Yulassana glanced to Zhen’var.

“The Surgeon-Commander does have valid concerns, ma’am. It is possible for her to receive the assessment before commencement, I do hope?” Zhen’var had weighed it for a moment; Nah’dur clearly had qualms, and she trusted her sister to have good reasons for them.

“A site assessment wasn’t done,” Yulassana admitted. “We relied on the Alliance Review Board for Socio-Environmental Impacts in the Foreign Ministry, which issued a FONSI. Is that adequate, Surgeon-Commander?”

“No, Paragraph 5 explicitly excludes the issuance of a FONSI for planetary-scale impacts, and the Numeraians are a planetary-scale civilisation and this impacts their traditional agricultural and building practices, which means planetary-scale impacts. I don’t see how anyone could have signed a FONSI on those grounds.”

“Because it only impacts drug production, Surgeon-Commander,” Yulassana answered in rising frustration.

“No, it doesn’t, it impacts the use of the Tiral plant planet-wide,” Nah’dur’s eyes narrowed.

“But it has no impact, it just removes the necessary proteins for processing to create the enzyme!”

“How do you know that has no planetary impact, Madame Secretary, if you have not conducted a site assessment? As the authority for the executing agency, which is the legal position you just gave me in this briefing, I have both the right and duty to expect a site assessment. I can’t accept the FONSI unless Alliance Naval SEMO’s legal office says there is no planetary-scale environmental impact, and I seriously doubt anyone will actually sign that opinion unless a site assessment has been conducted.”

The only thought Zhen’var could muster was Little sister is learning Alliance bureaucratic technique very well.

Half of the senior officers looked desperately like they wanted to fall asleep. Violeta was staring at Nah’dur with this partially amazed expression, not necessarily in a good way. Stasia and Rick were exchanging a look which pretty much said it all: Yep, we work for the Government.

“We are trying to end an insurgency that has lasted for seventy years, Surgeon-Commander, and taken more than three million lives in that time,” Yulassana, a Gersallian, was at least very good at remaining calm. A human in the same spot would have probably lost it, pulled rank, and started punching the table by that point.

“Ma’am, do we have an irreconcilable dispute between two rulemaking agencies as described in 28-1-2?” Zhen’var finally spoke, already regretting it. “If so, shall we begin the emergency mediation procedure in Subsection C?”

“We don’t have time for this,” Yulassana protested. “Please, be sensible. We need to get troops down to the surface immediately as part of the agreement.”

“We can deploy peacekeeping forces without settling this matter,” Anna offered. “We were already planning to do so before it came up.”

“Anna is right,” Abebech added drolly.

“...We’ll speak about this after the meeting, Captain, alone,” Yulassana said, signalling her assent. She looked to Fei’nur with a frown. “Are you ready to land your peacekeeping troops?”

“I am, madame. I have misgivings of the intelligence analysis underpinning the deployment, but beam-down can begin immediately.” The veteran Marine Colonel answered without hesitation.

“It is merely a temporary measure to allow the League personnel to evacuate without casualties. We trust the people of Garatnam to organise themselves once the League is gone,” she answered mildly.

“If they are given the chance.” came the counter. “I have concerns on that front. The Aururian frontier is not far.”

“We are realising a long-held objective of their’s, why would they cause another diplomatic incident, Colonel, when they only have to wait a few days to open trade with the free government of Garatnam?”

“That may not be their objective. Certainly it is not within their strategic doctrine, Deputy Assistant Secretary Yulassana. Their doctrine speaks to the responsibility of a great power in times of disorder.”

“That may be the case, but it is important for us to guarantee self-determination for Garatnam as a demonstration to the League that it may trust us to assist in more withdrawals of this type,” she answered, “and so we must proceed with the operation.” The woman was clearly frustrated by the resistance she was seeing from the Huáscar’s crew and she wanted to move ahead quickly with the mission she felt was so important.

“As I have said, I am ready to begin deployment immediately.” Fei’nur had said her piece, and inclined her head in assent.

“Then do so, Colonel. Captain, if I may speak to you alone now?” Yulassana inclined her head stiffly.

“Of course. Officers, you stand dis-missed.” Zhen’var spoke calmly as she rose to replicate a new mug of chai. She waited for the door to hiss closed before returning to her chair, her gaze placidly calm as she looked up at the Alliance diplomat.

“Captain, what is wrong with your crew? I hope you understand that the whole point of the creation of the Huáscar experiment was to demonstrate that your people were worthy of being a full part of the Alliance, and it seems like you actively don’t want to participate in a process which could bring peace. I don’t understand it, we are talking about millions of lives, and most importantly, about creating a new era of good relations with the League so that we can actually stand up to the dangerously expansionist Aururian Empire.”

Zhen’var’s eyes flashed, but her voice was exceptionally calm when she replied. “Ma’am, my crew is demonstrating their desire to stand for the forms and ideals of the Alliance! Colonel Fei’nur is a long-service veteran whose independent initiative and planning was critical in preventing the situation on Drachenfeldt into deteriorating into bloody civil conflict. Lieutenant Commander Nah’dur is a brilliant doctor and biologist whose very well known clan name means she is most scrupulous in following the principle of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. What we are concerned of is what appears to be failures of intelligence and planning driven by a desire for expeditious resolution of the situation and over-focusing on the desired result rather than the process of achieving it.”

Yulassana settled back, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “The League would agree to no other terms, Captain. We tried, but these were the only conditions under which they would withdraw from Garatnam, and the Foreign Ministry desperately wants to establish new grounds under which to collaborate with them and show them it is safe to give up their colonialist practices.”

“My crew is wary of being caught in an impossible situation, Deputy Assistant Secretary.”

“Do you feel they have given us an impossible situation, Captain?”

“The lack of discussion of the Banyuwangi Doctrine in our briefing documents did not fill Colonel Fei’nur with a great deal of confidence, ma’am.”

The woman frowned. “The Banyuwangi doctrine, Captain? I am… Not familiar with it, I confess.”

Zhen’var’s face twisted into a pained grimace. “It is an Aururian geo-strategic doctrine which is… several centuries old by now. Colonel Fei’nur knows more of it, but as I understand the matter, they regard a power which destabilizes a regime as responsible for the consequences; they have been supporting the insurgency here, have they not?”

“Yes, that’s a known fact. That’s precisely why we are moving in… To reassure the League that if they decolonise, that we can prevent the Aururians from entering the vacuum,” Yulassana explained flatly, “and thus turn them into friends we can live with. I will be honest, Captain, I know about Warmaster Shai’jhur’s contacts with them about the restoration of Omelos.” Her eyes were narrow. “And it seems to me as if perhaps that is behind some of your reluctance.”

Zhen’var’s look of confusion was honest. “The restoration of Omelos… Divine, but that would be…” A look of honest, wild hope flared in her eyes, and she smiled without thinking. “I had known there were some formal contacts, but, a project so grand…? I can see the reason behind it now, but I had not known. Likely to ensure that I would not be tempted from even-handed pursuit of duty.”

Yulassana frowned, pursed her lips, and then nodded. “I will take you at your word, Captain. That was an intensely genuine reaction. Yes, Warmaster Shai’jhur asked for assessments of the feasibility of using solar concentrators and Aururian terraforming techniques--which are the best in known space--to restore Omelos. It is somewhat concerning, I will be honest, the Aururian Empire is aggressively seeking influence in many places in the multiverse.”

“Of course they are. They are used to being a Great Power in their galaxy - a wider multi-verse has opened, and left their relative standing much diminished. They practice power politics, as any other outward-looking state does.” Zhen’var shifted in her chair, sipping at her mug. “They also look at the world through a Mohist lens.”

“Please explain, Captain. There are many human philosophies.” She was on the back foot against the starship captain, she knew it, but she wasn’t exactly going to get out of it by simply denying it. Gersallian culture pushed back against the very idea of that.

“Mohist consequentalism is, to be simplistic, defining the morality of an action by how it contributes to the basic needs of a state. It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone. It is inexact, I fear. Proper followers of Mohzi would say ‘promoting the benefit of all under heaven and eliminating harm to all under heaven’ - by what Colonel Fei’nur has read, if you replaced ‘heaven’ with ‘The Empress’, you would have what the Aururian state believes to be its’ own philosophy perfectly.”

“That sounds like a perfectly reasonable moral philosophy,” the Secretary answered. “And yet we are here with an expansionist Empire which you say will threaten us peace-building on Garatnam, which granted, we were not un-prepared to encounter, but you certainly speak of it as being more urgent than we anticipated.”

“They were likely planning to move in as soon as the League left for their own peace-building efforts. Theirs is an older type of politics; we should expect them to intervene to protect what-ever they see as their own interests. Depending on the reach of the drug-running… they may not be willing to sit back and let us establish ourselves. Have they not replied with full-throated efforts short of violence to any of our efforts, near or within their space, or within the enclaves of influence they are establishing elsewhere?”

“You are correct,” Yulassana conceded. “Captain, while you are correct, the fact remains that our national interests mean we cannot simply cancel this operation. You must make it succeed. Work with me. What can we do to speed up the implementation of the anti-drugs measures?”

“Nah’dur is brilliant, but Dilgar are incredibly wary of anything... involving virus-bombing a planet.” The last part of the sentence came out hesitantly. “We are not seeking to cancel it, but our operations have had a habit of spiraling outside briefing parameters. We will do our utmost, but… the local populace, they are not likely to cooperate, are they?”

“It is their livelihood in many areas most impacted by the insurgency, but many Numeraians oppose the fact their people rely on the drugs trade,” Yulassana countered. “We hope we can reach in to provide alternatives and conduct nation-building that will keep them out of the hands of the Aururians.”

“We can hope, but it will not be simple. It never is. Forgive me, ma’am, but my people are used to being burned and left to pick up the pieces. We will be pressed. We may well be attacked if they realize why we are here, and I confess I am hesitant of the retroviral plan… are we certain it will have no ill-effect? If we are wrong… we will have handed the planet to the Empire with a gift wrapping.”

Yulassana sighed. “Can you do the site assessment, Captain? With the resources onboard your ship, right now? That would avoid the jurisdictional dispute and let us proceed.”

“Yes, I can. We are an Explorer, after all.” That was ground the Captain understood, and she straightened in her chair. “I can order Lieutenant Commander Nah’dur to begin field work as soon as Colonel Fei’nur has the first landing sites secured.”

“Please do so, Captain. I will acquiesce and not file a protest, if you can proceed quickly with the site assessments. We need to keep the timetable as best as we can, or the entire agreement could fall apart.”

“We will do our utmost, ma’am. Huáscar has not failed in a mission yet. I can offer no more than that.”

Yulassana rose. “Then we have an agreement, Captain. I will entrust you to your own duties, and seeing to it that the Surgeon-Commander understands her role.”

“Thank you.” Rising, Zhen’var offered a hand. “Your support is most appreciated.”

Yulassana took it, and dipped her head. “Harmony for you and your ship, Captain.”

If fate is kind, which it rarely is.

Having selected the landing zones, the Huáscar deployed her assault shuttles to secure them, using the lead Marine companies of her now six-company strong “battalion”. Two companies went down on the assault shuttles, which was the normal complement, and in doing so secured the LZ’s. L’tenant Har’un reported the first LZ. “LZ Alpha secure.”

Bikie was on the second. “LZ Bravo secure.” In total there were eight LZs, one for each platoon, staged around the capital region of the twin cities of Cite-Liberte and Nova Murcia, located about seventy-five klicks apart; this area with the large human population the League had already organised its withdrawal into.

Major Armstrong looked to Fei’nur. “Colonel, we have the first two Landing Zones.” Once each Landing Zone was secured by a single platoon, then they were supposed to beam down two platoons of marines and one platoon of security personnel. The cargo transporters would deliver heavy weapons as support personnel from the additional support companies arrived after that point.

“A good start. We will see how long it lasts.” Fei’nur leaned over to watch the displays. She would keep herself with the rapid reaction force on Huáscar, under the current plan. That was the power armour company--and the heavy tanks.

Slowly the reports trickled in. At least coming down to the surface, they were not encountering resistance, but wasn’t that how it always was with counter-insurgency operations? Going in was easy, staying was hard. “We’re all down, Colonel. Eight company-tripwire positions to cover the urban areas of two million person cities.” Janice grinned ruefully.

“Such as it always is. Full long-term force-protection measures. I am doubtful hearts-and-minds will work once they find out why we are here.” Fei’nur grumbled like the grognard she was.

“Confirming now…. FPCON Charlie in effect. We can organise watches for the QRF now?”

“Yes. I expect it to take it some time before they start probing.” Fei’nur glared balefully at the readouts. “Be ready to move to FPCON Delta when necessary.”

“Understood, Colonel.”

Major Kel’dar arrived and saluted. “QRF and Tanks in readiness, Battlemaster,” he offered with a true Dilgar contempt for the Alliance informality.

“Thank you, Major. I will lead them down, whenever it is. You will relieve me if I am needed back on the Huáscar and Major Richards will take the QRF” Fei’nur returned the gesture. “Gods preserve us, for the plans of the diplomats will surely not.”

Sickbay was not very busy, fortunately. There were a few follow-up appointments for people who had gotten minor injuries on Libo, but beyond that it was generally a downswing following the heavy casualties in the ‘Verse. Nah’dur was in her office with a steamy, giant, bowl-shaped mug of ytar.

“Nah’dur. You look quite pleased with your mug. May I come in?” Zhen’var leaned on the hatch coaming with a soft smile on her face.

“My mug is large, and it is filled with tasty stimulant broth,” Nah’dur said in perfect seriousness… And then her lips curled into a big grin and she nodded. “Of course, sister.” it was impossible, except when Nah’dur wanted you to, to tell when she was being serious or not with her sometimes odd behaviour, but in fact she was perfectly mature when she wanted to be.

“You have come up with a plan to proceed by now, I assume?” the Captain asked idly, dropping into a chair before the surgeon’s desk.

“I have been assembling my reports and assessments on the situation... What do you mean by a plan to proceed, Captain?” Nah’dur blinked owlishly. “We’re not actually going to do that utter foolishness, are we?”

You are going to do the site assessment, Surgeon-Commander. We will proceed only if you deem it safe to do so. So it was agreed.”

“Oh. Well, good.” She sipped her ytar. “Yes, I have a backup plan for that. Of course.”

“May I hear it?” The older Dilgar asked, leaning forward in the chair with honest interest.

It was in the middle of the night for Zhen’var, because of course everything happened in the middle of the night, when Will called her. “Captain, we’re getting an all-channels broadcast from the surface, not originating from League positions.”

“Understood, you know the drill from Drachenfeldt!” She was already rolling out of her hammock to bring up her terminal, grabbing for the uniform that hung on the wall, ready to hand for this exact sort of circumstance.

“Roger that, Captain.” Will immediately ordered full power jamming of the signal, letting it go to space where the Alliance could track and record it, while at the same time preventing it from being repeated or heard except in the immediate vicinity of the broadcast back on the ground.

“All right, let’s see what this one involves…” Please be just a normal political broadcast, not some new call for violence...?

It was in Numeraian, but the autotranslator worked perfectly and even captured a certain amount of the flare, with the usual expected awkwardness.

“People of the Home-rock, people of our race and nation, the hour has finally come where our enemies retreat from us, where the humans of the far stars, the evicted, the homeless, retreat back to their far-stars and pull away from our home. The rooted, who helped us, now will preserve us against the threat of the rootless, and the countries of our people shall know freedom. On this day we declare our liberty, and permit nothing to stand between us and the aspirations of our people to once again hold fast our homes. We will face the homeless of far-stars as a sovereign, proud, people, indivisible for our land, who could not be conquered and will not be beaten. Together, arise, and make forth a clattering which lets the far-star kin know their day is done, the home is reclaimed by the people! The liberty of our Queens and our Countries is at hand through all the federation! Our sovereignty is resumed, and henceforth shall not be abandoned!”

“Well, that does not sound positive for our efforts, Commander, unless we are the ‘rooted’. Which I doubt.”

“Should I increase our readiness posture in orbit at this time, Captain?” Will answered, his throat going dry as he did. The Aururians.

“That would be wise, I believe. We do not know when they will arrive, but we must assume this was pre-planned, and this transmission will get out on the surface once they realize they were jammed. Please get me Deputy Assistant Secretary Yulasanna on the line. I think certain assumptions have just collapsed...”

“Understood, Captain. I’ll have you patched through to the DAS now.”

She had just enough time to replicate a mug of chai for her desk before the connection went through.

“Captain Zhen’var, Harmony to you. There’s something going on planetside, I take it?” Yulasanna’s image resolved before her.

“Subchannel one. I will wait for you to view. The transmission was jammed, but enough regional stations picked it up to where we have only delayed, not stopped it from going planetwide.”

She could hear Yulasanna pursing her lips and frowning. “They mean the Aururians, do they not?”

“If they do not mean us, there is none other that meets the inference, Secretary Yulasanna. My ship is moving to a higher alert state as we speak. My ground troops are already on the highest possible long-term alert.”

“What will you tell the League commander?” She seemed to sound almost demoralised by the event.

“That is now a political question, Deputy Undersecretary. What do you wish me to do? You are the ranking government official on the scene.”

Yulasanna froze for a moment, like she had been expecting Zhen’var to just go haring off on her own. Now she was on the spot, and legitimately so. Finally, she smiled a little. “Tell them the truth. That we expect the Aururian Empire will be arriving, and that we will keep the peace even with this additional complication. We will have our work cut out for us, Captain. I will ask for reinforcements, but they may further inflame the matter.”

“I think the matter is already inflamed, by the last time a direct contact was made between the Alliance and Empire.” And the League being here adds as much complication as then.

“Do you want the reinforcements, then, Captain?”

"They may worsen the situation. Not having them if they are needed will be far worse. I request them, yes."

“I will put in the request. We can instruct them to hold and await further orders at a trans-universal point from which they can arrive in a minute or two, Captain. When they come, and of course, with no guarantees on their strength. But it will be taken seriously from a negotiator.”

“Then I shall hold the situation to our favour as long as I am able, and pray it does not become untenable, madame.”

“Of course, Captain. Stand by for an update as soon as we receive a response from headquarters. They may contact you directly. You may reach out to the League forces at your discretion, based on this discussion, Captain. Military to military comms to keep the peace.”

“Understood, Madame Secretary. Huáscar is ready.” I hope ready enough…

It was easy enough for Will to link her through. The ship’s alarms were still at Condition Yellow, but they had just gone to ZEBRA. Zhen’var, of course, was in her sea cabin and attached ready room, and could be on the bridge in less than thirty seconds even at full ZEBRA.

Admiral Bonnet’s image appeared before her on the screen. “Captain, I thank you for jamming the message from the Garatnam terrorists. You have helped preserve the peace and the agreement between our nations.”

“We have only delayed the transmission, Admiral, not stopped it, and in so doing, we have intervened decisively in the planetary politics. It is the belief of myself and the Deputy Undersecretary that an Aururian presence is en-route under a pre-planned scheme. The Alliance intends to keep the peace in this system.”

“I will conform my movements to your own, Captain, despite the difference in rank. The League is absolutely committed to defending the peace process on Garatnam and the elimination of drugs cultivation on the planet. If it comes to hostilities, we will have your back.” It was with a sharp promptness, really almost too prompt.

“Of course. Thank you, Admiral.” They so desperately want a flashpoint that binds us into a war alongside them, don’t they? It made her almost sick to her stomach, informed from a read of the after-action report of Aurora’s encounter.

“Thank you, Captain. We will place our ships on alert. Vive la Liberté!” The screen blinked off.

Divine protect us… “Commander, Admiral Bonnet will conform his actions to ours if fighting breaks out. We will not fire unless fired upon in space.”

“Isn’t that what they offered the last time too, and they probably caused all of that?” Will asked trenchantly.

“The Admiral responded with that offer very quickly, you are correct, Commander. Sleep is not going to come for me any longer tonight, if you need me, I will be in my ready room.” Zhen’var had a resigned tone to her voice.

Will knew better than to suggest she get something from Nah’dur. Even speaking that aloud, Zhen’var would frown on. She took her duties so seriously. “Of course, Captain. But I have the Night Watch well in hand.”

“You still have the ship, Commander.” A hint of a fond, if chiding tone came through the comm link, before the connection closed.

It was four hours later, when Zhen’var was finishing her Chai and Chicken 65, far into the land of guilty pleasures by that point. Will had just been preparing to hand the watch off when the lights snapped red in Zhen’var’s sea cabin, which could of course only mean one thing. She was starting to move even before the klaxon started to sound.

On the bridge just beyond, the clipped tones of General Quarters--Condition Red--could be heard. With the ship already at Condition Yellow and MC ZEBRA set, there was not much time required for her to be fully ready for action. The screen flashed with the image of Aururian ships arriving in a dispersed formation.

“Captain has the deck. Tactical picture.” Zhen’var headed straight for her chair, adrenaline surging and driving fatigue away for now.

“It’s a standard Aururian frontier reaction squadron with one battlecruiser detached, reading three repeat three battlecruisers and one fleet carrier, four heavy cruisers, one light, action group of eight destroyers…” She trailed off and shook her head. “The League squadron is raising shields and arming weapons, but they’re not making any moves, Captain.”

“Good enough. Hail the Aururian squadron, request their intentions.”

“Aye, Captain,” Tor’jar answered at communications. “They are answering the hail with full visual-audio comms.”

“On the screens, then. Standard focus on me.” Zhen’var straightened her uniform jacket and stiffened her spine, crossing her hands in her lap and folding one leg over another.

The screen blinked on to reveal a sharp looking shortish woman compared to those around her, with mahogany skin and a single tied braid that forced curly hair into order. She was addressing someone, and then turned to face the screen in a crisp motion. The uniform was a crushed peaked cap, a jacket with visible fleece lining on the collar flaps over a skirt, and it was predominantly in white. She was almond eyed and oval of face, and her expression was completely composed. “Commander ASV Huáscar, I am Rear Admiral Afyhovindriyambohimanga of the 29th Quick Reaction Squadron.” The Universal translator blerped and tried to translate the name from Malagasy to English as ‘Fire-servant lady of the Royal Hill’ before giving up and unmasking it, considering she was speaking in excellent English. Tor’jar stared in blank aghast amazement.

“I am Captain Zhen’var. State your intentions, Rear Admiral Afyhovindriyambohehmanga?” She tried her hardest with the name, but Dilgar vocal cords weren’t meant to produce some of those sounds.

She pursed her lips. “You may address me as Afyhova,” the woman allowed. “Captain, we are here at the request of the national government of Garatnam on the basis of their declaration of independence.”

There was a flicker of a frown, and Zhen’var wanted to swallow before she replied in a calm voice; “The Alliance recognizes no declaration of independence, Rear Admiral. We are here to oversee a decolonization per an already negotiated agreement.”

“Decolonisation ends in independence, Captain. The League is withdrawing from Garatnam and your government has recognised the independence of the planet. We are making sure that the liberty the people of Garatnam now enjoy shall not be disturbed by disorder. At the invitation of their lawful government. Accordingly, we will be remaining in the outer system to observe the final withdrawal of the League occupation forces. We have never accepted their colonisation of Garatnam, we merely extended the courtesy of not contesting that illegal action to them per the Treaty of Caldane. Now that they are voluntarily withdrawing from the planet, Caldane no longer applies.”

“Of course, the Alliance is working to guarantee the League completes their withdrawal in safety. At that point, you are correct, Garatnam will be fully free and independent.” This has become a diplomatic tinderbox.

“Perhaps it is not very respectful toward freedom for the enslavers to get to choose when their slaves become free,” the Aururian Admiral answered, her voice turning dark, as she glanced over to a Ralsan of Captain’s rank who saluted and came to her side. Then she looked back to Zhen’var and smiled. “Still, we have no quarrel with the Dilgar. I will hold position in the outer system, as I stated.”

“In negotiations, not everything is as one wishes.” She felt shame flicker across her face, but the Alliance was rapidly getting into a cold war with these people. “Thank you for your forbearance, Admiral Afyhova.”

“Your reputation precedes you, Captain, I thank you for the consideration.” She raised her hand formally, and the screen blinked off. The Aururian squadron hung, posed in space, gleaming like gunmetal in the faint light of Garatnam’s star.

Posts: 69
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

Re: nUF Origins: S1 - Episode 7 - "Golden Triangle"

Post by Tomyris »

Act 4

A few hours later, Nah’dur was standing in front of the exhausted Captain. She had methodically worked through her test plan, and considering the way the chemical was used in its normal, non-illicit drug application, it became quite clear what she needed to understand to complete an EIS. The paperwork presented fascinating new challenges in the dark arts of bureaucracy and had certainly been entertaining, but now she was confident that she could use some VIs she had helped Fera’xero to programme to actually execute all of the writing and save her a great deal of time, so she really only needed to get the data, which would keep her interest longer than the paperwork ever could.

“Ma’am, I’m going to need to enter a hive-city and conduct sampling. You’ll need to get me permission from the locals. There’s no other way to assess the Environmental Impact.” Fera’xero nodded glumly. “It involves quite a lot of testing that can only be done from sampling. Biospheric environments are too complex to model at the micro-scale.”

“Finding of no significant impact my…” Zhen’var grumbled, the only sign of how exhausted she was being that she actually let the thought slip into speech. “Understood, Surgeon-Commander. How much of a team, and how noticable will it be?”

“Four or five technicians. I should lead them. I mean, the issue is any cultural risk of scraping things off and taking core samples and so on,” Nah’dur gestured. “They might get upset.”

I will consult with our local expert and detail Colonel Fei’nur for close-in security. I am not taking chances.” came the Captain’s response. “Prepare your team, Surgeon-Commander, and expect the worst.”

“Ooh, I get to be with Fei’nur. Everything will be fine then.”

Fera’xero stared at his colleague in blank incomprehension.

Zhen’var gave her stepsister a look . “Even the Colonel can not manage every eventuality. Be about it, Commander.”

“You will let me know when permission has been obtained?” Her eyes shone. “I will prepare the briefings and review the documentation in the meantime, and make sure everyone understands what we need for the sampling plan and the security plan.”

The older Dilgar woman nodded, face showing hints of a fond smile. “I shall, Commander. I have full confidence in your leadership of the detachment. Dismissed.” Once they had departed, she reached for her console; “Comms, I need the Deputy Undersecretary at her earliest convenience.”

Three minutes later, Yulassana answered. “Captain Zhen’var, firstly, I want to thank you for keeping the situation calm with the Aururians. What do you need?”

“We need to send a team down to take samples in a hive city in order to complete the impact study, ma’am.” She mentally grimaced, doubting this would result in any sort of pleasant reaction.

“The official hand-over hasn’t happened, we need to conform with the requests of the League until that point, Captain. They don’t want us leaving the secured Massif. We just have one diplomatic contact with the Numeraians…” She looked at Zhen’var. “You are really causing a … We can’t meet our obligations to the League without this, can we?”

“Not in a timely fashion, no.” The picture of the ship in her report is not going to be a very flattering one…

“Let me reach out to Admiral Bonnet. He is acting as the Planetary Governor for the course of the withdrawal. Please stand by, you should likely expect a meeting.”

“Understood, ma’am. I will be awaiting further communications.” Zhen’var nodded her head fractionally before the connection dropped. As soon as it did, she leaned back in her chair and let out an explosively loud sigh of exasperation.

“Captain,” Elia’s voice chimed almost a moment later. “The Aururian Admiral has invited us to dinner on the … Resolution, I think the name translates as.”

“... Wonderful. As a forewarning, I am expecting Admiral Bonnet to invite us to dinner in about five minutes...” Gods, but this is a comedy waiting to happen.

“...What does that mean for what I should tell her, Captain?”

“We accept, but caution her that I may be unable to attend, and extend my apologies. Colonel Fei’nur is my equal in rank and can stand in my stead, while Commander Atriad keeps the watch aboard.” Her mind could just see all the ways this could go wrong, and it showed in the grimace on her face. “The mission comes first, if Admiral Bonnet wishes a meeting, the Deputy Undersecretary will expect me to prioritize it.”

“She acknowledged,” Elia answered a moment later. “That seemed a little tense, though.”

“I am not surprised. It looks, diplomatically… bad , in a word. I shall hope for there to be no schedule conflict between the two. Your read of the current situation?”

“I really want to see the results of the EIS,” Elia answered after a brief hesitation. “I think we’re getting had.”

“I have concerns along similar lines, but we will, of course, remain even-handed until such time as we have proof, one way or another. Be as wary and careful as you were raised to be, and perhaps we shall come out the other side to our credit.”

Her persocomp indicated another incoming call from Yulassana. That had fortunately not taken long.

“Secretary is calling; brief you later, Commander.” Zhen’var had an apologetic smile before she transferred links. “Yes, Madame Secretary?”

“Admiral Bennet will see you, as well as Director Merenteram of the National Transitional Council. Dinner going to work? I will host it aboard my ship to use the replicators to comply with species dietary requirements.”

The Captain was very proud she managed not to groan audibly. “It shall, ma’am, certainly. I shall attend; is a selection of my officers wished as well?”

“Please, the League will certainly bring their own.”

“Of course, I thank you for hosting the event. Link it to my calendar, and we shall be there.”

“Thank you, Captain. I will see you shortly.” The screen blinked off and the invitation appeared a moment later.

Zhen’var silently tapped up an invitation to a staff meeting to her senior officer’s and senior NCO’s omnitools; with a note attached; Arrive in dress uniform if you wish an opportunity for attending a diplomatic dinner . She added a note to Fei’nur that, unfortunately, for her, it was required .

Which of course begged the question of who would be going with Fei’nur, a matter Zhen’var was still musing over when she arrived, in her dress whites. Fei’nur looked less than well pleased as she sat there; the look she gave her Captain was almost a glower. Almost.

In the meanwhile, Will and Fera’xero and Anna had all volunteered for the diplomatic dinner with the National Transitional Council and Admiral Bonnet, and that left… A different sort of crowd of potential officers to go along with Fei’nur. Will of course got the short stick; he was the XO, and the ship needed a commander.

Nah’dur had expressed an interest, at which Fei’nur tried not to cringe; her eyes scanned the room as to whom else was left. Elia… and Commander Imra. Ye gods . “It seems I have my volunteers to meet the Imperial Admiral, Commanders?” She could hear Zhen’var starting to brief her group on the other end of the table.

“Of course, Colonel,” Abebech smiled. “I always love being sociable.”

“...They are an intensely interesting people,” Elia added. She seemed to be, in part, coming out of loyalty to Fei’nur from a Mha’dorn.

There is no need for you two to go if you do not wish to do so. Nah’dur wishes to get a chance to make medical contacts with a people who fascinate her. Fei’nur ‘thought’ rather hard at the two of them.

< Why Fei’nur, that’s nice of you, but don’t worry. The Aururians are interesting to me. They seem like… Fundamentally decent people, actually.>

< Actually, I’m certain of that,> Abebech rejoined.

“We will talk more on the way, then. Surgeon-Commander?” Fei’nur’s gaze fell to Abebech. “How are you certain, if I may ask? Most of the Alliance does not share the opinion.”

Nah’dur fell in cheerfully with them.

Abebech smiled at that and looked sharply to Fei’nur. “They don’t ask how Aururians actually solve disputes internally, which at the lower levels of their society is very collegiate. They have made the Ralsan very collegiate as well. The Alliance just looks at the position of the Empress, and proceeds on stereotype. A failing of our’s.”

“An Empress which has a lineage of…” She trailed off. “Obeying the constitutions they grant when it is wise, and overthrowing them when necessary. I believe the multiple and open voting is also a matter of poor optics to much of the Alliance, without even bringing up the issue of classical power politics.”

“I never thought I would hear of a state where the entire population returns to the towns of their foremothers in some great assemblage like Caesar’s census to hold elections,” Abebech shook her head wryly, “but the wonders never cease. Her line is one of the oldest around, though even in other universes where their fate is much less strange and filled with glories, the peoples of Australia had an unparalleled history in oral storytelling of high fidelity and accuracy.”

“Possibly as good as telepathic memetic transfer,” Elia explained. “I mean that literally. Though you won’t hear many other telepaths admitting to it. We have our own biases.”

“Yet we know relatively little about them. I have read the League’s reports, that of the crew of the Aurora , and that of our own analysts, and it all-together tells me very little useful; what I saw on Germania told me more than all those. Enough to be… filled with disquiet over them so rapidly becoming a concern to politicians.”

“We will find out a little bit more today,” Elia offered. “War with them would only come through a mistake, not their conscious act.”

“There are plenty of opportunities for mistakes in situations as this. I am concerned by how matters have developed thus far.” Fei’nur worked her hands into fists, before forcing them to relax. “My galaxy has seen this road walked repeatedly.”

“Then we will be honest with them. The Captain did not restrict what we can say, and we really have nothing to hide,” Abebech observed. “Well, pardon me. There is one thing. I really don’t think we should mention the plan to use a genetically engineered plague to eliminate the drug-producing enzyme. Not yet.”

“Commander Nah’dur will be discreet about that, I am certain, with how badly she regards the idea.” Fei’nur answered, her own expression showing a flicker of distaste.

“I need to get to the surface of the planet,” Nah’dur answered as she prepared to peel off and get her dress uniform. “Then I will know a lot more. I am certainly not going to admit to the Aururians that I may have been ordered to commit a crime.”

Elia grimaced. “I suppose that’s where we find ourselves.”

“I prefer to think of the matter as attempting to correct an imbalance of diplomatic effort.” Fei’nur shrugged. “We shall see. I do not think this invitation was offered from mere politeness.”

Arriving on Yulassana’s ship, Zhen’var, Anna, Fera’xero and Arterus were greeted by a brace of guards who led them to a tastefully laid out, calm-projecting Gersalian conference room. Admiral Bonnet and his staff, minus the Chief of Staff notably--who presumably would handle the squadron if anything went down--and three Numeraians, six-limbed but able to stand on two with multifaceted eyes, regarded them sharply. Admiral Bonnet watched carefully and Yulassana rose.

“Captain Zhen’var and her officers, being her Chief Engineer, Science Officer and Navigating Officer,” she presented, supplying names. “Ter’int’mahn of the National Transitional Council and staff; Admiral Bonnet of the League of Democratic Worlds and Staff.”

An smile crossed Zhen’var’s face as she clicked her heels and gave a small bow of her head to Ter’int’mahn, and another nod to Admiral Bonnet. “A pleasure to meet you, and finally in person, Admiral Bonnet.”

“Captain,” Bonnet rose. His staff reflected the inherent tension the League had with aliens, but they were all strictly professional. Now the food was laid out, a different meal for everyone at the table, except Anna and the League men, who shared dietary options. It almost - to Zhen’var, at least, who was a special case - seemed like some strange dream, where the concerns of nations were discussed over genteel place-settings.

“You want access to our hives,” Ter’int’mahn observed. “They are our traditional motherlands. Many live outside of them now in artificial structures, but each Numeraian has a clan into which they were born and a Mother-Queen to whom they ultimately owe their loyalty, to whom they have their heritage. It is a system we were working on reforming to conform with the progressive ideals of the League for independence, so we could keep the Mother-Queens in certain traditional roles while incorporating ideas of liberty for primary decision-making.”

“It is so. We wish to ensure that no harm comes to them via what may be introduced from the wider multiverse. Ecologies are complex things, as are traditions. I understand that it is an imposition, Ter’int’mahn.”

“Traditionalists are the greatest problem to our reforms. The problem is that inside the old hives, you will find the supporters of the traditional rule by the Queen-Mothers, who have long conducted an insurgency against the League,” the Numeraian answered.

“We certainly cannot guarantee your safety, nor can the government,” Admiral Bonnet said.

“That said,” Ter’int’mahn continued, “There are several hives directly under the Xiteran Plateau that your troops are on. They are aligned with the NTC. We could try to set up secure conditions for one of your teams to enter one.”

“However, there is a very real risk of attack,” Bonnet interjected again.

“It is necessary, Admiral, I fear I must insist, even with the risk.” Zhen’var turned her gaze back to the Numeraian. “The effort would be greatly appreciated.”

“We will do everything we can to guarantee the security of the team,” Ter’int’mahn replied with a soft chitter. “Completing the withdrawal is important to the legitimacy of the National Transitional Council and our interests in receiving help and assistance from the Alliance to maintain our reforms.”

“For that, you have my thanks. We shall continue to do our utmost to ensure the success of the League withdrawal and the transitional period thereafter.” Zhen’var was honestly pleased by the helpfulness of the NTC’s representative, at least on the surface. It was, however, an open question of what was happening on the Aururian flagship with Colonel Fei’nur…

Fei’nur, Abebech and Elia had arrived by shuttle on the Aururian flagship.

Brushing away imaginary lint, Fei’nur turned to stride down the gangway. She had almost worn her Dilgar uniform for this, thinking it would give a better impression. She had resisted the urge, however, and she stepped down with medals and ribbons adorning the green dress jacket. “Permission to come aboard?” She asked crisply, in untranslated English, saluting the sunrise-adorned Imperial Crest on the bulkhead.

“Permission granted!” A fleece-coated Ralsan woman saluted with sharp pride and then extended her hand. “Captain Mirrawi Kerolit of the Resolution, Colonel. Admiral Afyhova is waiting for you with the rest of her staff.”

“Thank you, Captain. May I present Commander Abebech Imra, Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, and Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez, who are of the Heermann , and the last two of the Huáscar, respectively.

“This way, Colonel, Commanders.” She started off. “We are very proud of our battlecruiser, she is certainly one of the finest ships in the frontier fleet. Admiral Afyhova was an upperclasswoman in my section when I was new in the Academy,” the Ralsan woman’s tail flicked. “She sets a very fine table.”

“We look forward to the opportunity to sample her hospitality, Captain, it shall certainly be more congenial than some I have had the misfortune to experience.” The side of Fei’nur which had been the secret emissary of the Dilgar to the multiverse on full display.

“You are a carnivore are you not? The Admiral sets her table from Madagaskarian tradition and she certainly has prepared on that assumption.”

“Preferential, yes. I do not believe we have any specific dietary restrictions amongst our party. It will be most welcome. I do not believe I have as yet had the experience of sampling cuisine from that isle.”

“The more raw it is, the better,” Abebech confessed with a wry smile.

“Oh, I am sympathetic. You might like Ralsan dishes then, we often like to cook with marinades instead of heat,” the Captain explained. “There will be some.” It was a large group of officers, with the Admiral in her dress uniform coming up as the Captain saluted.

“Colonel Fei’nur. I understand you were sent as the commander of the ground expeditionary force?” Afyhova asked.

“I am so serving as, yes, Admiral. I am the commander of the Huascar ’s Marine contingent, and second only to Captain Zhen’var on her rank table. She extends her most sincere apologies she could not make it this evening.” She herself saluted Afyhova out of reflex, trying to be on her best behaviour with a foreign Admiral.”

Afyhova returned the salute. “Then please, sit with me at my table as my guest with your fellow-officers. You are welcome among us, Colonel Fei’nur. Indeed, is your not your Dilgar rank Battlemaster, so that really you should be something of a Senior Colonel?” She was very well informed, and for whatever reason in what the Aururians were planning, willing to share it.

“That is correct. Captain Zhen’var ranks me by less than a week of time in grade.” A hint of wariness coloured her voice, and Fei’nur wondered just how thick the file on her species that this Empire’s intelligence services held was .

“I take it that the Captain is meeting with my counterpart from the League?” She asked, her smile affable, as the table was set out and glasses filled around by liveried attendants, mostly young Ralsan women.

“She is meeting with the Alliance Deputy Undersecretary. Admiral Bonnet may also be a guest.” Fei’nur hedged carefully, glancing about the compartment, and she offered a nod and murmur of thanks as her glass was filled. “There is every reason and incentive to ensure the League’s withdrawal is expeditious.”

“Well, I regret the lack of ability to meet her,” the Admiral answered. “With that… Let us get started.” She tapped her glass. The Aururians began to rise, and of course it was the youngest officer, a shining dark eyed black woman with curly hair, who rose eagerly at the table in her dress uniform and presented her glass. “Her Majesty, the Empress of the Sun!”

“Her Majesty!”

Fei’nur raised her glass herself and joined in the toast; it was polite and diplomatic, even if she wanted to raise her own - most impolitic - one in response.

As the toast finished, though, the next seniormost officer raised her glass. “To His Excellency the President of the Alliance.”

That hadn’t been the toast Fei’nur had thought of, but she raised her glass by rote in the classic style. “His Excellency!”

But the Aururians were quite aware of some of the nuances here. Now a Lieutenant Commander rose. “Her Eminence Warmaster Shai’jhur of the Honourable Union of Tira and Rohric!”

That was enough to make a smile cross Fei’nur’s face as she quite enthusiastically returned that toast. The Alliance President was not her President quite yet.

“I confess that we would all like to see the Dilgar remain independent,” Captain Mirrawi admitted boldly to Fei’nur, with Nah’dur blinking in interest. “In fact, there is a children’s adventure book about the Warmaster and her wife available in the Empire these days; my own eldest daughter had a copy at home, much to my surprise.”

It was not often that anyone at that table had seen Fei’nur at a total loss for words. “A… children’s adventure book? That is… I admit, I had not expected such a thing. Certainly there are debts to be repaid, however, that cannot be ignored.”

Afyhova looked bemused. “That’s Lady Rawlins’ ‘ Adventurous Romances in Foreign Lands ’ chapbook series, is it not, Captain?”

“Yes, it’s entitled The Castaways, ” Mirrawi explained. “Colonel, Battlemaster, we understand perfectly that you are not in a place to do anything except go all-in for the Alliance, because otherwise you would be chopped to bits. But still, we were excited to be able to help with Omelos, and I think us Ralsan especially feel a kindred with you. Once we thought we were tops, too, until we ran into humans. It only went differently because of the Her Majesty’s Ancestresses.”

Fei’nur gave a single quick look to Nah’dur. “I… admit, I also have real excitement at the prospect. We have found peoples amongst the stars… painfully similar to ourselves.”

“Wait, you’re doing some kind of project with Omelos? Why, surely…!” She almost bounced out of her chair.

Admiral Afyhova looked at Fei’nur.

“It has been kept a close-held secret so far, Admiral… Surgeon-Commander, the Warmaster has been in negotiations with the Aururian Empire for the purposes of contracting with them to restore the biosphere of Omelos to an extent that it may once again support Dilgar life upon the surface. Initial surveys have this far proven to be promising."

“You would, really? ” Nah’dur’s eyes lit up.

“We would, even if you become Alliance members as I fear you must. It is an unmitigated Good thing,” Afyhova answered. “Healing a world such as that always is, that was once a healthy biome, and restoring it to what it was.”

“There’s still life in the deep ocean abyssals,” Nah’dur immediately started musing. “It takes a long while to freeze the sea, if it would ever happen at all…”

“Indeed, and we shall protect that.”

“I will ensure you are copied on the various briefing and proposal papers, Commander.” Fei’nur added, into the pause after the Admiral’s comment, though she did give a glance to the other two Alliance officers there. This was the sort of thing the Alliance government was concerned of, the relentless Aururian efforts to expand their influence in other universes.

“It will be good to see our homeworld restored,” Elia answered, taking a defiant stand as another Dilgar officer.

“You are a citizen of the Union?” Afyhova looked surprised.

“I am, Admiral. As a telepath…”

“Ah, indeed. No need to say more. We are aware of that situation.” Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Colonel Fei’nur, I am not interested in a fight here. What I am interested in is making sure that the Numeraians have a safe, truly free transition to self-governance, and we have concerns that the National Transitional Council, a creature of the League, really plans to take that course.”

“We are, thus far, proceeding off the briefing we have been given by our diplomatic office. It indicated the Council was endeavouring to establish a constitutional and democratic regime.” Fei’nur sipped at her glass. “I understand Banyuwangi requires you to ensure the end state is as noble as the aim.”

Afyhova tipped her brow with a gesture of her hand. “You are correct, Colonel. In this case we have serious concerns that the NTC really intends to represent the will of the Numeraians and indeed whether or not this is just an attempt at continued economic domination in disguise.”

“I am…” Fei’nur paused, before she went on with a mental wince that did not show on her face. “ Reasonably certain the Alliance would not permit such a thing to come to pass. We will be investigating conditions ourselves, of course, as much as we are permitted and able.”

“The NTC need only sign those agreements with League corporations,” Mirrawi leaned in. “Even in sovereignty, their nation would be destituted to foreign powers. How do you propose to prevent it?”

“Would one say the Union is destituted to the Empire, if we sign agreements with you ?” She asked, with a hint of challenge to her voice. “The Captain must weigh what she sees while she is here, and give the wisest council she may to the government.”

“Of course, but we will not tolerate a government for Garatnam that does not represent its population. The NTC has never been anything other than a creation of the League,” Afyhova answered, all too calmly.

“Nor will any Alliance we are sworn to. Huáscar has something of a reputation, I am certain your files will indicate.” Fei’nur was starting to see the direction the conversation was going; it was a warning , and she started to feel a worming current of tension in her gut.

“One question is whether or not there is any sincerity in what the League does,” Mirrawi leaned, her green eyes flaring and ears flexing down. “Colonel, I still have the pictures that my grandmother took when she was liberating the camps, when she was part of the Army which brought the honour of the Empire to liberate the remains of the Ralsan Imperium. They are the children of genocidaires. They speak from two mouths at once, and have no respect for any but their own blood.”

“You understand, Captain, why the matter is less certain to the Alliance government.” She had a real disquiet that was making this feel awkward. She did not wish to defend a people she did not trust. “Much has been staked upon this negotiation being successful.”

“They take advantage of simplistic comparisons and easy moralising.” she countered.

Afyhova raised her hand.” “Be not so unkind, they come to us honestly. Colonel, you may be assured that we would render aid to your forces if the locals attacked, and try to restore the peace.”

“While I thank you for the offer, I do not think the League would see it as any but an invasion, until such time as they have formally withdrawn.” The Dilgar veteran murmured, glancing to the well-experienced Abebech. Why does it always rain when you left your tent behind…

“You are right, but we will still come if it is necessary to restore the peace.”

Abebech straightened slightly. “Admiral, you have spoken many kind words but what remains is the fact that it is your allies who can dial the tension up or down against us.”

“Commander, we cannot control the anger of others at the defilement of their homes.”

“It can be cautioned that we of the Huáscar are not here to support the League. We are not the team that has been here before.” Fei’nur looked down at the table for the moment. “Captain Zhen’var does not accept what she is told without verifying it.”

“Then you may find answers you do not like, Colonel.”

Very early the next ship’s morning, Nah’dur stood in front of Zhen’var and Fei’nur. “So there’s my plan for the mission,” she was concluding, “and our personnel are already preparing themselves for departure. Do you have any questions, Captain, Colonel?”

Zhen’var looked up at her with a mildly quizzical look. “Correct me if I am wrong, Surgeon-Commander, but can not your security plan be distilled down to ‘Colonel Fei’nur’?”

There was a twitch of muscles on the Spectre’s face as she valiantly avoided a grin appearing.

“Well, one merely has to have Fei’nur identify a threat, and then the rest follows,” Nah’dur answered nonchalantly. “She really is highly effective.”

“And if the Colonel is, fate being unkind, neutralized or separated from your team in some way?” Zhen’var’s tone was not sharp, but she was expressing her own line of thought and trying to solicit further elaboration.

“Oh, then of course I’ve covered the tactical dispositions for the tac-com net for interfacing with the NTC forces, I’ve gotten a plan down to exfiltrate to their nearest post, and how we will overcome transporter interference. I’ve also covered rules for joint coverage of teams and staying together against kidnapping attempts and have a complement of anti-bomb detection drones linked into our omnitools,” she answered nonchalantly.

“That is all I was looking for. Thank you, Commander. Colonel?” Zhen’var glanced over.

“I have no questions. The Surgeon-Commander has carried out the planning to her usual high standards. When Commander Nah’dur is ready?”

Nah’dur looked like she was almost going to jump in the air, though she just came to attention. “Of course, Captain, Colonel. I will be departing within thirty minutes, then.”

“Leave is granted. Good luck, and be careful , both of you. Dismissed.”

After they left, Nah’dur sniffed gently. “You know I would never neglect those things,” she protested gently to Fei’nur.

“I know that, and the Captain knows that, but she wants to hear your planning. It soothes her fears as your sister, and her worries as your Captain. You will not be a Commander forever.”

“You think she is actually afraid for me?” Nah’dur’s skin rippled with a sheepish look crossing her face.

“As much as your mother and I am, sometimes. Fate is often most cruel to Dilgar.” came the reply, in a lowered voice.

Nah’dur paused, and looked around them. “Another woman would have told me to change my name,” she answered bluntly, getting to what she felt was really the point.

“Perhaps, Nah, but none of us have. Nor will we.” Fei’nur’s gaze swept the corridor. “When you grow famous enough, you must be ready for what is to come. Until then, you are Zhen’var’s sister.”

“I think she’s braver than I am,” Nah’dur said idly. “Braver than you. Maybe not Tra’dur and Mother-Shai, though.”

“If you define bravery as you are doing, I would not disagree. Everything I did during the war, I did to try and get home.” The sentence ended in a quiet growl. “I intend to get you home, too.”

Nah’dur curled a bit and reached out to Fei’nur. “I’m sorry, Fei. I won’t be so trite anymore, or at least I’ll try very hard. I…” I forget that you lost everything. We were your only reason to live.

“All I will ask of you, child of Dur. Come, we have a mission to execute.” She squeezed Nah’dur’s hand, before her usual detachment settled across her features as they turned onto a main corridor.

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