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

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act 5

Arriving on the surface of the planet, Nah’dur and her team got to work. As promised she had five technicians, plus Fera’xero, a security squad, and of course lurking somewhere around, Fei’nur. They rode vehicles from the Marine vehicle pool out to the entry-tunnel gates of the selected hive-city so that they could beam down inside of a secured area, but they were unarmed utility vehicles, in case they had to be abandoned.

A bejeweled and robed older Numeraian bowed and scraped his upper limbs to the ground when they met their welcoming party. “I am Sub-Vizier Ter’mitran. Queen Tisararam is ever-pleased to be of assistance to the National Transitional Council, and you shall be follow us to let you begin your sampling.”

“Sub-Vizier, we are honoured. I am Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur. Please do lead on.” With a nod, they started below, Fera’xero with a drone at his side, sampling as they moved further down into the hive city.

While the appearance of things was as expected, that had not stopped Fei’nur from flexing her fingers on her sidearm during the entire journey, starting as soon as they had headed underground. She could never forget Balos.

As they approached the lower caverns, they saw before them, illuminated with bioluminescence and some artificial light, an immense expanse of open caverns, in which buildings were made of stalactite and stalagmite-shapes inside of open halls, with many of the Numeraians moving about. Nah’dur stopped for a moment. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“And all natural, they’re converting the dirt to cement with their own bodies’ enzymes through the Tiral plant,” Fera’xero added, studying the output from his sensors. “They’re able to build underground caverns as large as we can with those techniques.”

And that is what this… targeted lacing of the planet might interrupt… Fei’nur glanced about. The open spaces, at least, were quite different. “It is impressive, I admit.”

“All right, let’s start by sampling the main structural supports,” she gestured to the columns that had been left in place and successively plastered again and again with enyzmes until they were like concrete bridge pylons.

“Agreed, Surgeon-Commander,” Fera’xero concurred, and started for one at the centre of the great market down in the depths of the city. Around them, tens of thousands of Numeraians hummed and chattered.

Gods, but could it be more exposed? Fei’nur shifted to at least get a wall at her back. I have an ill feeling of this. As long as her tactical links stayed up, the Colonel could convince herself it might be nothing.

Back aboard the Huáscar, life went on. The regular watch rotations held, and Zhen’var was in her office while an Officer-of-the-Watch held the ship, going over reports and holding meetings. Toward the end of her office hours, Lieutenant Arterus tr’Rllaillieu, the ship’s Rihannsu navigator, came in for an appointment that he had requested.

“Lieutenant tr’Rllaillieu. Sit, and be at ease.” Her ever-present mug of chai was on her desk, as she folded her hands before her and leaned fractionally forwards.

He moved to sit, but being at ease seemed beyond him in that moment. “I meant to have this meeting sooner, but the needs of our deployment made it impossible, Captain. As you know, I visited my cousin while I was on leave.”

“You are here now, and I am so aware, Lieutenant.” Her tone was casual, as Zhen’var tried to divine the direction the meeting was going.

“She reintroduced me to the woman who saved our lives from the Tal Shiar,” Arterus said, and hesitated. “I do not understand it at all, Captain, but… She introduced herself to us. Her name is Danaine Taruar. Captain, she was one of the most honourable humans I know, she had Mnhei’sahe in her veins, she was a woman of fire as the Elements go, and stronger and steadier than many Rihannsu.” He looked down for a moment. “And she’s an Aristo.”

The Captain’s mouth opened fractionally, her eyes widening in shock. “You… mean to say… are you certain, Lieutenant…? That matches nothing we know so far of them, as you know. Do you think there is anything untoward about her actions thus far..?”

“Captain… I shall be plain with you. She introduced herself as a personal emissary of the Eubian Emperor. And she said she wanted to meet with someone in the Alliance who was absolutely trustworthy, with whom she could establish a line of communication.”

Without even thinking, Zhen’var let out a soft puff of a sigh. “Arre, you mean me, do you not, Lieutenant? If so, very well.”

“Khre’Riov,” he addressed her, stumbling and then pushing himself up to attention. “It is uncomfortable for me. Her people are thought the most evil known, now that we have beaten the Reich. But she said she needed our help and that her Emperor needed our help, and she wants to talk. And I owe her my life, and my cousin’s life as well.”

Veherr, Lieutenant, I do not speak dismissively. I am willing - eager, even, to, assist. Even if I feel io stelam 'nil io cehlaer sometimes.”

He laughed, the tension broken. “Thank you, Captain. I have secure comm codes to the Far Star for you. I owe it to do right by her, and you.” He extended the small chit.

“Thank you. I shall use them when there are not multiple warships who might be far too eager to eavesdrop within hailing distance.” Taking the chit, she stood. “If there was nothing else, I need to take supper before standing watch.”

“Of course, Captain.” It was as they both rose that the alerts started.

On the surface, Nah’dur and Fera’xero had been carefully leading the sampling effort when Fera’xero, inscrutable under his mask, took a few steps over toward Fei’nur and activated the short range commlink channel. “Colonel, we are being watched. There is an automated sensor grid feeding information out on us. Inconspicious and very sophisticated.

“I am not surprised.” the burst transmission came back, as her cybernetics started to move to a higher energy consumption state. “Be ready for ambuscade.”

“Surgeon-Commander!” She called out, with a hint of exasperation projecting into her tone. “How much longer will it be?” When Nah’dur turned, Fei’nur delicately scratched at her cheek, with a single extended claw.

“Thirty tango charlies,” Nah’dur answered. That sounded like some form of time measure to confuse the person surveiling them, but actually it was a warning to the rest of the team in turn. She had gotten it, and immediately, too.

The sensors were foreign, Fei’nur could divine that much, which meant her people were - to her reckoning - about to end up in the middle of some proxy skirmish. As to which power vying over the planet it was, that didn’t matter, not yet. She started to wander off - trying to break contact enough to have a chance to activate the stealth gear that was her equalizer in such a situation.

A group of Numeraians rushed out from the midst of the market toward one of Nah’dur’s outer sampling teams. One of the security team with them spun toward the attackers. “TIC team four engaging!” Crackled over the comm as a burst of charge fire seared into the carapaces of the group of attackers.

Shovel to White, we are under attack! Beam up if possible!

The request was met with static, nothing more than static, as the distinctive sound and sight of Aururian guns firing from the group of Numeraians. The security personnel who had accompanied them from the NTC forces were already gone, disappearing just as the group from the Huáscar prepared for the ambush.

Nah’dur was already on her belly with her main group, firing in enfilade down on the group attacking her team, even though they only had sidearms. The other four outlying sample teams were pulling back when a cart next to a stand in the market exploded, and one of the science techs and a Security Corporal collapsed from the massive shock from an IED overwhelming their personal shields.

Fei’nur bit back the curse that wanted to slip from her lips, as she activated her stealth gear and tried to break contact to repay the ambush. Nah’dur’s efforts were going to be tested; Imperial weapons would do heavy damage to anyone not in full armour, and most of the team was very much not. The massive number of shield activations the distributed flechettes produced would also serve to quickly drain the shields

Nah’dur’s central group was laying down a heavy fire with their pulse pistols, which led to Team Four begin to fall back toward the base of the column. Hundreds of Numeraians were fleeing in every direction, but dozens were also approaching.

Shovel,” Nah’dur’s voice crackled over the comm. “Smarty.” Some wondered if Nah’dur actually grasped her callsign, but she had accepted it regardless. “Can you finish supporting team four? I can try to reach the wounded from team two if you do.

Two clicks over tactical comms were the reply as Fei’nur started moving. If she could be picked up by the enemy’s sensors, this was going to be very painful.

Nah’dur, covered by two security personnel, dashed down toward the fallen from team two. Ostensibly an ambush, Fera’xero’s drone began to attack the ambush position, having detected it from where it flitted above. Nah’dur fiddled with something and threw an object through the air which exploded in a sheet of flame nearby, before rolling down under the cover of the two pulse rifles toward the wounded. A few flechettes spattered off her shield to no effect.

Fei’nur’s stealth held up. She was down among the attackers in an instant, and using first silenced gun and then knife began to methodically demolish them as Team Four retreated back toward the central column. Splashes of ichor and shattered carapace as knives found chinks and rifle made them, the Spectre demolished her enemies invisibly, sowing panic in them. Practicing to survive encountering the Gaim had served her well.

Team Four was exfiltrating its own wounded back into the central position. Nah’dur went over the two wounded by the bomb. She paused, pale for a moment, at the question of which one to pull back, as they were both bad off. But then Fera’xero was at her side.

“Surgeon-Commander, you could use a stretcher-bearer.”

“I haven’t any stretchers, Fera’xero, but here we are.” And with that, Nah’dur grabbed the science tech and slung her over shoulders with her pistol out and barking to keep heads down. By contrast, Fera’xero could only half-drag the security man back, but he kept up with Nah’dur’s frenetic sprint.

As they fell back, Fei’nur did too, but she left behind an annihilated attack force in a carnage of shattered limbs and bodies. The fire was still coming at them from the curved walls of buildings rising like droplets from the floor of the cave around them, where Numeraians in position fired up at them, but it didn’t offer the same kind of cover as buildings above would have.

There had been sixteen, and four were wounded, two seriously. Nah’dur looked at her patients and then at her pistol, and spoke aloud, as though she were simply absolutely confident that Fei’nur was there as her broad feline eyes under that distinctive bob of red hair swept around, seeing clearly in the bioluminescence as a human might not, seeing the dashing groups of Numeraians converging.

“Battlemaster, thank you. We succeeded at our tactical objective of evacuating the wounded, but I am concerned that this has all the makings of a last stand.”

“Fera’xero, try and get at least a pulse code through the jamming. Nah’dur, prepare your teams to attempt extraction!”

Nah’dur nodded and issued the order, and then dropped her voice. “Fei’nur, I have the samples. Someone really wanted us to not get those samples. Please take them and exfiltrate yourself beyond the perimeter of the jamming. You can send for help, and you can get the material they didn’t want us to have, out.”

Damn you, Nah’dur. Damn you for having your mother’s pragmatic wit. Hold, Nah, hold, I will be back. Samples, now, seconds count.” The Colonel’s voice was thick with emotion.

Nah’dur handed them up and smiled. “I’m no more interested in dying than she was. Give me your rifle, Fei?” Fire cracked into the cemented dirt around them.

Appearing was a combat pack, ammunition, and rifle, as the samples vanished. A quick feeling of a hug was the last Nah’dur felt, before there was a soft; “Good hunting.”

Nah’dur checked the rifle and looked around at her group. She had thirteen effectives, two of them wounded, and there must be around two hundred Numeraians shooting at them. She sighted down the barrel of the rifle on which Fei’nur had taught her to shoot quite a long time ago, and caressed the familiar trigger. A Numeraian clinging to a building toppled off in a desperate screaming skitter of legs still trying to work.

“Fera’xero, make sure the drones are still up and focus them on covering us from being flanked!” The Surgeon-Commander was unquestionably in command of the defence as she adjusted the positions of what was really a squad.

“Commander, I’ve got three hundred and sixty degree coverage.”

“Then I’ll synch with my omnitool for targeting…” She watched as a holographic heads-up display was projected from the omnitool that automatically adjusted for the capabilities of even the old but highly effective rifle in her hands, a derivative of a Centauri make. Crosshairs centred around another Numeraian and she fired again. “Synch your omnitools to the drones and project targeting aids!” She ordered, mostly for the effect of the science techs who weren’t trained in the technique. Even as she spoke she focused in on another target with the assistance of the drones and fired again. Another Numeraian dropped.

As Fei’nur reached the bottom of the hill, she did what she could to make the odds better for the young woman she had raised from a kit. She didn’t have her rifle, but she had her knives. A squad of Numeraians pressing in on the flank of Nah’dur’s position disintegrated into a flurry of ichor and death as she passed through them, not sparing even a second to come to a stop as she escaped, because even one second could be one second too late--but that didn’t stop her from descending on them like a ghost and killing or maiming or wounding a half-dozen as she passed through them.

Above Fei’nur on the hill, Nah’dur made the familiar sound of her rifle bark again. As long as it was firing when she returned, all was well.

On the bridge, Zhen’var and Arterus reached their stations at the same time.

“Report!” Zhen’var’s voice cracked across the bridge as she moved in a beeline to her command chair.

Will Atreiad, on duty as the ship’s XO and tired, bags under his eyes, but now sharply alert, rose to give Zhen’var the chair, finishing off the last of his coffee. “Captain, we just received a burst transmission from Colonel Fei’nur. Nah’dur’s team is pinned down inside the city under attack by hundreds of insurgents. They’re being jammed. Once we knew what to look for, we were able to pinpoint the jamming field. It’s preventing comms and transport. She wants the QRF and fast movers, ASAP.”

“We can launch Alert Five and have fast movers over the city in eight minutes, Captain,” Stasia Héen’s voice came in over tactical comms from her position in PriFly.

“Do it, Chief. Comms, deconflict with the other ships… and prepare to Away the Reaction Force, with alacrity! Major Richards, bring everything!”

“We’re going to need a secure perimeter to bring down the tanks since they can’t beam manned,” Major Richards answered from tactical control in the Marine wing.

“Can we have the wing secure the perimeter?” Will asked as the tactical plot was brought up by Elia as her first action on arriving on the bridge straight from sleep. She was somehow as perfectly made up as ever. That let Will point to the tunnel entrances. “We could establish a clear perimeter and attack anyone who moves into it.”

“Chief Héen?” She threw the question to the Air Boss; not the Wing leader who was still in the midst of scrambling and sorting out his squadrons.

“Each ready bird launched with two cluster bomblet dispensers, Captain, precisely for CAS. We could do it. Need some way to warn people to stay clear by the ROE.”

“Options, everyone?” Zhen’var was throwing problems at her subordinates, and trusting them to come up with solutions.

“We can beam drones down first to warn the locals,” Janice answered. “I’ll start implementing immediately.”

“As soon as the drones are in place, we’ll prep the cargo transporters for the tanks and then execute as soon as the ready flight is in position to intervene,” Elia answered.

“Execute immediately.”

“Roger that, Captain,” Janice answered. “Ops, stand by for drone transport tags…”

Come on, come on… Zhen’var quietly murmured a prayer inside her own thoughts, as Fei’nur, her mission completed, had reversed course, sprinting back the way she came.

“Drone transport complete,” Elia reported. “We have an incoming communication from Secretary Yulassana’s ship.”

“Put her on my side screen. What is our estimated time over target?”

“Two minutes, thirty seconds. I cleared them, Captain, but they’re not cleared hot yet,” Stasia answered.

The Gersallian Undersecretary appeared on splitscreen, looking furious. “Captain, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I must make it clear, under no circumstances can you damage the integrity of that city. It’s a critical base of support for the National Transitional Council. Firing into it and opening it to light would be a grave act by Numeraian morality.”

“Undersecretary, I have troops in contact and multiple wounded, they are under heavy attack and on the verge of being overwhelmed. I am deploying my QRF. Unless you wish me to ask for help from the Empire or League forces, we are at extreme risk of losing the entire survey team under those restrictions.”

“A survey team may be a necessary price for peace,” Yulassana answered. “I am truly sorry, Captain, but you must not damage the city.”

Zhen’var’s claws scraped across her armrests, and her lips pressed into a flat, thin line. “Huascar Actual, Out.” She killed the connection herself. “They can courts-martial me if it becomes necessary. Alternatives?”

They were looking around uncomfortably at each other. Stasia broke the silence, thinking back to her life in the opening years of the 21st century and all the lore of that time. An idea hit her. “As much as I hate to set someone else up for a shit job, Captain, why not have the tanks do a thunder run to reinforce their position?” She added, quietly: “Ready flight capping.” Nobody had told Stasia to stop working, after all.

“Transporting tanks now,” Elia affirmed. This was the Huáscar, they didn’t need orders to do their jobs.

“It is an acceptable plan. Keep the ready flight orbiting on station as long as possible.”

“We have armed locals approaching the tanks, Captain!” Stasia’s voice pitched more urgently. She brought up the drone footage which showed Numeraians dashing and covering toward them before the entrance to the city. As she did she was saying “continue continue continue” in the background to the pilots who had asked for weapons release authority, indicating directives to maintain holding pattern and not engage.

“Combat beam-ins commenced,” Elia stripped everything from her speech except that needed to convey the urgency of the situation.

“Ground forces are fire free. Wing, I need craft down there with weapons that will not cause structural damage.”

“They can’t establish a perimeter in time, Captain,” Elia went to the wide-screen view of the drones as a tactical output. “Does the Wing have permission to engage hostiles on the surface?”

“They cannot damage the hive. With that restriction, they may engage!”

“You are cleared hot for popcorn,” Stasia directed immediately with her old-school headphones fixed over her hair in the glass dome of PriFly.

The Ready Flight lead was Lieutenant Artesia. “Four-Eee Lead,” she identified herself, meaning SC-4 Flight Epsilon, “to PriFly Actual, we confirm, cleared hot for popcorn.” She flipped to her inter-bird channel. “We’re rolling hot--popcorn only. Arm and confirm.”

As the chorus came back, she brought them around on heading November Echo zero-five two. “Engage as fragged,” she ordered, bringing up her tactical display that linked to the drones. Cluster munitions were assigned to individual areas of armed activity, she could even see the guns firing as they engaged Major Richards’ QRF. Her in-flight computers confirmed targeting assignments and adjusted the cluster munitions pattern. The HUD indicator went red.

“Pickle One.” Her leftside cluster munition dispenser flushed eighty taclink guided grenade-sized bombs whose fins popped out and began to guide them into the pattern. Engines roaring the four fighters completed their attack with a scream in the distant sky.

Eighteen seconds later, the bomblets, “popcorn”, started to detonate in a crackling series of explosions, sparks and smoke around the beam-in position of the QRF.

“Check turn one-eighty left.” Artesia brought the wing back around as the smoke cleared and activated the short-range taclink. “Motown,” she addressed Janice by her code name, “this is Ready Lead. Are you clear?”

“Hostiles neutralized Four-eee, we are clear.”

“Four-eee to Flight, cease fire and cap.”

“Targets neutralized, the QRF is assuming defensive positions and Leftenant Har’un’s tankers are mounting up, Captain,” Elia reported with quiet satisfaction.

“Shastra se shakti. They are released to push to the survey team’s location with all dispatch.”

“Confirmed,” Major Richards reported. “We’ll follow them in, Captain.”

Will and Elia exchanged a glance. Elia looked at her chrono. “Twelve minutes since we went to alert, Captain.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Her hands had not moved from where they clutched her armrests all the while. In a firefight as had been reported, that was an eternity.

“The tanks are going in.” The viewscreen flashed to the drone view showing the three massive beasts, repainted in Alliance Marine colours, lunging into the tunnel.

“Gods help them,” Will muttered under his breath.

When Fei’nur had reached the column, she could see the chatter of many rifles around her as the Numeraians fired into the base of the column. She could see, still, the sharp, crisp shots of the rifles from the top. The drones had been taken out, all except for one, Fera’xero’s personal drone--but one was enough, the rifles kept methodically taking shots and kept methodically killing. Fei’nur had not been too late to get back. The Surgeon-Commander had now held her position for twenty minutes--thirteen against hundreds, she had done well by any measure, but there were fitfully few in the way of rifles still shooting, and the enemy pressed closer and closer.

Her eyes swept the scene - it was taken in with a moment’s pause, then she was moving again, scrambling up. One of the enemy with a proper long range weapon, or a satchel of grenades... that would be her first target. She had to turn the situation, and fast.

She saw a knot that had been delivering a barrage of rocket-grenades while working a light squad weapon, and moved toward them decisively. The fire kept up a methodical tempo from the base of the column, so accurate that they were firing slowly, aimed shots that didn’t miss, to conserve ammunition.

It was a movement of second nature, her first knife slipping into her hand… She moved, low and quick, from cover to cover, using the noise of combat to mask her approach. Close enough for a final rush, then contact, as she lept, the first strike sinking deep between chitinous plates. Already she was moving, the blade yanked free by her off-hand and another striking for another of the gun crew.

It was a massacre in stealth. Wounded Numeraians retreating, chittering in fear, the entire line in that area again quieted as the ghost returned, this invisible figure who had been tearing through them before, and now returned to tear through them again. Stumbling away from where Fei’nur was, it left her a free path with the weapons to the top of the scree slope.

Fei’nur lost no time in grabbing the launcher and as much ammunition as she could, lifting it with a grunt, displacing from the scene of slaughter she had created… for another firing point. Fire and move before they counter...

Arriving at the best firing point she could, the gunfire against the position of Nah’dur and her team was starting to increase again, as the Numeraians recovered their situational awareness and once more pressed the attack.

Burn. She opened fire, three rounds, as quick as she could, then displaced at a run, targeting enemy heavy weapons. Once clear, she fired again, then repeated the tactic.

Against any lesser concentration of numbers, she might have single-handedly defeated the attack, but now, crawling over the bodies of others, Numeraians continued to push closer to the position of the Surgeon-Commander and her technicians and Marine guards on the unengaged side of the column, even as Fei’nur worked her way around, disrupting the attack as best she could.

This is not going to work… Fei’nur thought to herself, almost in despair, as she read the tactical situation. There has to be an enemy command group for coordination… Working blind, she tried to use her omnitool to trace Numeraian tactical signals. She found there were none, though there was a troubling anomaly that the omnitool kept trying to classify as a chemical weapon.

It was enough for her to activate the built in filtering she had been given, which replaced most of her sinuses. Pheremone-driven communication, like other insects… Nah’dur will be interested later. It was an idle thought as she, in that moment, wished Aururian weapons had power cells that overloaded as easily as Klingon disruptors.

Then there was a rumbling in the distance, growing swiftly louder. It was familiar to her heart and soul, it was the brutal, churning, clanking, grinding of a heavy tank. And it was drawing very rapidly closer to her. A moment later, a distinctive, hideous sound of a heavy disruptor cannon tore through the air and disturbed the bioluminescence around her.

Her heart surged. This close… “This is Shovel. Stand by for tac-link.”

“Shovel, this is Panzer!” Leftenant Har’un’s voice came through. But it scarcely needed introductions. The shattering and crashing sounds of the deflector shields on the tanks having been configured like cattle catches and plows on locomotives, battering aside any vehicles in their way as they charged down the streets, was soon clearly heard. The main guns weren’t firing, but the pulse disruptors used as light guns on the tanks were firing continuously at anyone armed that came within sight of their HUDs.

“We’ll be at your position in two minutes, Ma’am! This city isn’t big!” One of the tanks power-skidded through a turn with one track locking, bashing two cars outside of the way with its deflector shields, setting off airbags and crumpling metal. Now it was lined up in a straight shot to the column.

People were fleeing absolutely as fast as they could, emptying the streets and running. Soon there were no more vehicle impacts because there was no more left in their way as the tanks rushed onwards.

“Painting targets, Panzer. Friendlies marked.” Fei’nur’s clipped voice came back. She knew by the original plan that the power armour company would be following. “Fire free.”

The tanks zoomed down the radial streets that converged with the column, and now they opened up once more, firing as they drove, tracking and engaging with both of their light guns each, the one normally for anti-air/anti-missile and the anti-personnel cannon. Flames and searing energy criss-crossed the battlefield from the disruptors until the tanks rushed out toward the column and began to circle it into defensive positions, firing as they did.

On top of the hill, the firing slacked. Nah’dur, fastidious and practical, put down the rifle and picked up her medikit. All of a sudden, they had gone from barely hanging on to a surfeit of firepower. They had gone from hopeless, personal shields down, to an overwhelming position.

“We are in position, Shovel!”

“Prepare to extract multiple wounded! Hold the perimeter via fire!” Fei’nur was clambering up the column as quickly as she could. “This is Shovel, away team, give me a status report!”

“Seven C-200’s, two tulips,” Nah’dur’s voice answered methodically. “I’m treating everyone.”

By now there was no more shooting in the city. As the power-armour came charging down, the attackers melted into the mass of the fleeing and hiding civilians. Except for the howling of automated alarms and the confused warnings of loudspeakers to seek shelter, a kind of brief silence, punctuated by occasional shots and by the whine of the tank engines, now fell over the entire hive-city.

“Shovel to White, prepare for emergency evacuation of the survey team! We will investigate the scene.”

There was still static from the jamming. But now, Elia’s voice came through. The powerful transmitters on the tanks could burn through, partially. “White Actual to Shovel, you’re going to evac them by ground, we still can’t beam.”

“Understood! QRF, prepare detachment to evacuate casualties! Scan your local areas and gather what evidence you can!”

The personnel from the QRF went to work securing the perimeter as a group brought up the light tactical vehicles to evacuate casualties. Major Richards stepped up to Fei’nur and saluted. “We came as quick as we could, Colonel.”

“I know. We have losses. We need to get them to beam-up as quickly as possible. Back the way you came is quickest, but they might attempt another attack. Unlikely, however. Opinions?” Clipped and sharp, the old Spectre was taking in the scene and weighing her options.

“The faster we move the better. Do we have what we came for? Let’s bug out, Colonel. Unless they left anyone for us to interrogate, but I doubt it.”

“I will sweep. Thank you, Major. Be ready to depart as soon as the Surgeon clears us to.”

“Understood.” Above them Nah’dur was supervising loading the casualties. Now that she came into view, it was clear she had understated a few things; she actually had a bandage wrapped around one of her arms, with blood leaking through it, but seemed completely unaffected.

Fei’nur snapped holos, grabbing samples and weapons for later study, working her way up towards Nah’dur.

“Colonel,” she nodded almost formally as she got another casualty secured, and then looked up with guileless eyes. “Are you proud of me?”

All Fei’nur could get out, seeing Nah’dur wounded, but having kept her team alive, was a silent, jerky nod of affirmation.

“It’s nothing. I’ll run the dermal regenerator on it on the way back so I can start the surgeries myself,” Nah’dur answered mildly, and then reached with her good hand for the grab-iron. “Shrapnel from a rocket grenade, that’s all. They managed to burn through my personal shield, you know.”

“Of course. We… will speak later, Nah’dur.”

On the bridge of the Huáscar, there was no time for the tension to lessen. Elia’s lips were tightly pursed as she looked to Zhen’var. “Captain, the Imperial fleet has raised shields.”

“Get me communications before this escalates further, please.” Tension underlay the command, as Zhen’var frowned darkly.

“Commander Huáscar, this is Admiral Afyhova. You have conducted an engagement against the surface of Garatnam. Why?”

“A scientific survey team was attacked by a heavily-armed and numerous unknown force inside a hive under the Xiteran Plateau, Admiral. I deployed my Quick Reaction Force to attempt a rescue. The survivors are being extracted now.” Her voice was clipped and quick.

“You have my condolences for the attack, Captain Zhen’var. However, one of my duties is to insure the safety and security of the Numeraian people. You have informed me that the sovereignty of this planet remains under the League. Why didn’t the League respond instead of your forces, Captain? Why didn’t Admiral Bonnet respond?”

“The situation devolved rapidly, Admiral, and the Alliance is providing security for League forces during the final period before their withdrawal.”

“If the League cannot maintain order on the planet, then they do not have effective sovereignty over it, Captain!” As though to someone just outside of the audio pickup, and very intentionally so that her own voice was in the audio pickup, she spoke again immediately. “Move the Task Force into orbit of Garatnam and prepare the Fleet Marine Forces for a landing. I want a brigade on the planet in one hour and the full division on the planet in eight.”

Zhen’var’s finger reached for a button on the arm of her chair. An ear-piercing klaxon began to sound. “Admiral, if you take this action, I shall be forced to interpose my ship between yourself and the planet. My orders are explicitly clear. The situation on the planet is under control.”

“You are killing Numeraians, Captain. That is not under control.

“I was not going to leave my crew members to die.” Zhen’var was being forced onto the defensive, and she hated it. This entire mission had pushed her to the back foot and kept her there.

There was a pause, and the feed was good enough to pick up the sound of the Malagasy Admiral’s breathing. “Very well,” she said after a moment, perhaps having put herself in Zhen’var’s position emotionally. Perhaps having been deterred by the prospect of a fight with the Alliance. Perhaps both. “Let me see if there is any information we can provide you about the attack.”

Elia almost physically sagged in relief at her post. A slow string of tension started to ease from the bridge.

“Your help would be appreciated, Admiral. Operations, stand the ship down to Condition Two until the survivors and QRF are back aboard, thence resume Condition Three.” She didn’t let the relief show, but they had come dangerously close to a war.

“Now, Comms, please get me the Deputy Undersecretary. I will take it in my ready room.” Time to pay the piper…
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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act 6

Yulassana looked like the legendary calmness of a Gersallian had been badly impacted by the recent events when her image formed on the holo about five minutes later. “Captain Zhen’var?” She asked almost hesitantly.

“Deputy Undersecretary.” She nodded her head sharply. “The science team was extracted with two fatalities. The Imperial squadron has been held off by threat, for now. The local situation is, in a word, catastrophic.”

“...To put it mildly. Do you believe it was instigated by the Aururians, then? Shall we begin to coordinate with Admiral Bonnet to hold the planet? I could go over to the Aururian flagship and negotiate for us, Captain…”

“I believe someone wishes us to, ma’am. As to whether it was , that is less certain. I would not have confidence in such an assertion at present.”

Yulassana took a breath, and looked at Zhen’var narrowly. “Captain, powerful people back home want us to be friends with the League. Regardless of what the facts on the ground are.”

“I do not think a friendship built on a foundation of lies is one worth having, ma’am. Once my teams are back aboard, I will be attempting to move forward with decolonization support, as per my orders.” Her voice was deceptively calm.

“You will keep your tripwire forces in place on the planet?”

“As long as they can carry out their mission, yes. I will regenerate my quick reaction force as rapidly as I can, Madame Deputy Undersecretary.”

“When will you have the results of the analysis? The Surgeon-Commander’s, I mean.”

“She was also wounded, as soon as she can be spared to give me an estimate, it shall be shared.” While she understood the impatience, Nah’dur was also her best surgeon.

“I understand, and you have my condolences about the entire situation, Captain… But if violence begins on the surface of the planet at this point it is now very unlikely that we will be able to keep it from spiralling.

Zhen’var’s expression stiffened. “If open violence begins, the Aururians will land, ma’am. I cannot stop them. What we are at in orbit is now as the surface; a tripwire that will not stop what-ever force trips it.”

“Then ask the Aururians what we need to do to make sure that we secure the independence of Garatnam,” Yulassana answered, plainly. “It is our shared objective, after all.”

“You may not like the answer, ma’am, but I shall get it for you.”

“I can work with the answer, Captain. Let’s not let Garatnam down.”

“I understand. Until later.” Zhen’var would wait for the connection to drop, before letting out a soft sigh. “Communications, I need a channel with Admiral Afyhova, without any other vessels outside her fleet knowing.”

“Let me speak with Commander Poniatowska for a moment, Captain,” Bor’erj answered from the comms section.

“Thank you, Ensign.” While she waited, she sent a normal-priority request for updates to Nah’dur’s omnitool.

The evacuees had reached an evac transport, since some were not stable enough to be recovered via transporter, and were now on their way to the ship. We’ll be able to begin surgeries in five minutes, Nah’dur said cheerfully when she got the alert.

Thank you. We have just almost gone to war with the Aururians, so your original mission retains a priority second only to life-saving. Was the admittedly somewhat terse reply sent back.

Oh, well, I don’t want to go to war with them! Don’t worry, I think I can save everyone.

Thank you, Nah’dur. I will buy you the time you need.
Dropping the connection, Captain Zhen’var reached for her mug and cradled it, leaning back in her chair. It never seemed simple for her ship, never at all…

“Message coming in for you from the Resolution, Captain,” Elia’s voice sounded over the intercom. “We’ve got the link secure.”

“Thank you, Commander. Link it to my Ready Room terminal.” Straightening, Zhen’var squared herself to face the pickup. She was not a diplomat… but, just perhaps, she could avert the conflict that seemed to threaten to erupt over this world.

“Captain, we speak again rather quickly.” Afyhova looked like she was in her own ready room and perhaps completely alone, which would help, perhaps.

“We do, and on a more pleasant note, I hope . I wish to extend an invitation to you; to present the terms under which that your Empire would support the independence of Garantam.” It was the first time the Aururians had even been consulted in the matter.

Afyhova was actually silent for a moment, staring sharply at Zhen’var. Then, a faint smile touched her lips. “Of course, Captain. We want the Assembly of Queens to have the ability to veto the sale of land or mining rights on the surface, and the assumption of foreign debt. If the constitution of the National Transitional Council is amended to include those terms, specifically that the Assembly will include all the Queens, regardless of their political orientation, then we have a basis to be confident that the government of Garatnam is protecting the interests of the Numeraian people.”

Zhen’var’s expression froze for a moment. “That… is all?” Disbelief coloured her voice. That seemed so simple to her, at least. Perhaps she was mistaken, but… Oh. The conservative and reformer divide. That is likely the issue .

“Of course, we want guarantees Garatnam’s system will not be used by League forces. But that is a matter between the two of our nations,” Afyhova said modestly. “Yes, we are satisfied the Numeraian Queens will find their own way to protect their people, if they are given the chance to. The concern is that the brave women who have ruled their hives by custom for centuries, whom we have worked with to free their people, were seeing themselves be sold into economic slavery under the simulcra of independence. Our intention is merely to preserve for them their freedom of action and thus the liberty of the Numeraians. They have committed not to resort to arms in that case, and so we will satisfy our own obligations viz. the planet, since their hives were who we armed.”

“May I have a moment with the representatives of my government to communicate your terms, Admiral?” It seems a breakthrough, if the NTC will accept it… if.

“If you want, but the Ambassador in Portland communicated those terms a month ago,” Afyhova sniffed. “I am sorry, Captain, but your government has not left you in an enviable position. It seems they were led astray by the slick League briefings on the drug production problem on the surface.”

The Dilgar woman’s face visibly fell. “I… see. I shall still make the utmost effort at a local resolution, Admiral, even if it may take longer than I had hoped.” She was holding the situation together by the tips of her demi-claws, barely, and was unsure how much longer she could.

“I will give you your time. We can wait. We have requested the Queens not make any moves, and they assented.”

“If they have any information regarding the attack upon my survey team…” Her voice grew leaden as she glanced down to Fei’nur’s initial report. “The attackers were armed with Imperial weapons, Admiral.”

“I am not surprised. Send me the serial numbers and I am sure I can match them to weapons captured by the League during our past wars. Might I remind you that probably a million or more small arms have fallen into their hands in major battles? We have not been victorious in every fight, and even in a victory the enemy may capture some of our arms,” she answered, looking sincere. “Of course, they’ve probably been burned off.”

“You understand the optics of the situation, I am sure. I shall communicate your terms, and if you wish, we can continue the negotiations in person, aboard your ship?” Trying to show trust, for now, this was the danger point in space. The planet was another matter entirely.

“That’s agreeable. You’ll bring the Undersecretary?”

“That is my intention, correct. Thank you for your kind forebearance thus far, Admiral Afyhova. My communications officer will be in contact. We will speak again shortly.” As soon as the connection dropped, she was back on her console; “Captain to Flight Operations, please prepare my yacht for departure. Communications, get me Deputy Undersecretary Yulassana once again, please. Commander Atreiad, I will be departing the ship for negotiations.”

“On it, Captain,” Stasia’s voice came back. “We’ll have you ready to go in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll update the Watch rotation,” Will Atreiad answered back.

“Deputy Undersecretary on your line, Captain,” Bor’erj reported.

“Well done, thank you.” Her expression was guarded when the comms-line flickered back into view. “Deputy Undersecretary, I have the Aururian terms, and have arranged on your behalf an in-person negotiation with Admiral Afyhova. My yacht is being prepared for the two of us to depart.”

“Thank you, Captain. I will beam aboard and meet you at your yacht, then,” she answered after a moment. “I am thankful you were able to obtain the willingness of the Aururians to meet.”

“We will speak once you arrive, ma’am.” Zhen’var’s voice was starting to show some of the stress she was feeling, being balanced on a knife-edge so long. As she cut the connection and moved to get her dress uniform, the Dilgar woman shook her head slightly. It was getting harder and harder to divine the true motives of everyone around.

Meanwhile, Nah’dur had arrived back on the Huáscar. Having already run the dermal regenerator until her wound was healed, she flexed confidently at it, sprayed over with plastic synthflesh to keep the regenerated tissue from cracking open. It hurt, and it was a bright hairless pink blazon across her arm, but it was fully functional.

“Commander Fera’xero?”

“Surgeon-Commander?” The Quarian Science officer looked back.

“My team can prep the surgery. Let’s get the samples started before I go in for the first one, it won’t slow it down, and you can finish the analytics while I’m in the surgical theatre.”

“You think it’s that important?” Fera’xero’s vocoder flashed.

“I believe it is a matter of objective fact that it is so important,” Nah’dur replied. “Possibly far more important than the lives of anyone I’m operating on, though don’t repeat that, please.”

“...Of course, Surgeon-Commander. Let’s get started.”

“Good!” She was already off at a brisk pace to the biohazard lab. “Even all that said, we don’t have much time.”

Fera’xero had mixed feelings about the biohazard lab. A suit breach there was definitely instant death, but on the other hand, it also put all of the other humanoids on equal terms with him. He followed, shaking his head at the young Dilgar. She was not afraid of the biohazard lab. Their universal vaccine remained a source of wonder, awe, and for Quarians, envy.

Ten minutes later, Zhen’var’s Captain’s yacht was pushing off from the Huáscar, with Yulassana seated by her in the travel lounge. It was a short trip, with warp drive.

“The short briefing, Madame Undersecretary, is that the Aururians want certain traditional rights of the Queens protected as part of the constitutional regime after independence.That their Assembly can exercise a veto upon the assumption of external debt, or upon the sale of land and mining rights on the surface of the planet. Their suspicion comes from them having communicated these terms to Portland a month ago, and having received no reply to them.” She spoke quickly, accent rising and falling.

“A decision was made that the Aururian terms were anti-democratic and that by working closely with the League we could successfully transition Garatnam to independence without consenting to those terms,” Yulassana answered, finally admitting to the background behind the entire affair. “So here we are.”

“Aururian negotiation, Colonel Fei’nur tells me, rarely involves retreating from a formal position. Once it is so stated, so it remains, to be accepted or rejected.” Her shoulders visibly slumped. It had seemed so simple to her .

“You are really upset about this, Captain,” Yulassana said softly, maybe even a little wondering. The Mess Tech on the yacht brought them both tea, the Gersallian woman looking thoughtfully at the Dilgar for a while.

“It had seemed a very simple solution, given my own complex history and the cultures I have known. India was birthed in agreements of accession, as were elements of the Imperium.” The Dilgar woman paused, and sipped at her tea. “I have no interest in being the Captain responsible for starting an inter-universal war, Madame Deputy Undersecretary.”

“You’re an interesting case in the Alliance, Captain. There are some who think the concession of appointing you was too great, that you are too friendly to autocrats and laws which lead to bad ends. There are others who think you are too soft. Your appointment was at a high level for diplomatic purposes, and of course, some people have second thoughts at Warmaster Shai’jhur’s structure of government, and at the independence of her policy. Your late exploits have definitely made your name known in Portland as one of a dozen or so of our active Starship Captains who make waves.”

“Not all states…” She paused. “ Why is a monarchy with a constitution guiding it considered so ill? Sometimes autocrats create good ends, when the situation is unfortunate enough. What we must do is manage the transition back to one founded in freedom and natural law, for autocracy has never stayed good. My family, we are aristocrats, if relatively minor ones. My thoughts should be expected, should they not? I seek to follow my oaths and my orders.”

“I don’t know… Yes, harmony is better. Customs are better followed than abrogated. It’s a complicated situation, Captain. Numeraian Queens are far more intelligent and capable than their specialised children, but the hive population is still individually sapient. They came from insects that were not quite as controlled as stereotypical species of ants or bees, they are like, ironically considering the connection with Aururia, Australian bees in that case. So there is a certain measure of resentment by the social reformers the League created toward involvement of the Queens in politics. Namely because the majority of a hive-city’s population will vote in lockstep with the Queen, trusting her to have the best judgement, it happened that way during past experiments the League conducted in allowing limited self-government, so they ended them, which started the insurrection.”

“By which you mean, the NTC will find such a concession nearly intolerable, do you not?” Zhen’var’s face was stiff. “Not to mention the League.”

“You are correct,” Yulassana affirmed. “You are correct.”

“Captain, we’re approaching the Resolution now,” the yacht’s Dorei pilot reported from ahead on the flight deck.

“We are talking, at least. If we can get something from that…” Zhen’var fell silent and tugged her uniform straight. “We must, for Huáscar cannot hold against them alone.”

“I will do my very best, Captain. Thank you. You have been a better exemplar of our virtues than I have been, so far, on this mission.” She rose. “Let us.”

The Aururians met them with a full side party. Captain Kerolit led it. She regarded Zhen’var sharply and crisply, her own broad, purple eyes almost catlike as well, ears sticking through hair, tail swishing. They had swords and dress uniforms in the old style. The Ralsans and the indigenous Aururians stood together as sisters, a single uniform, a single service, speaking English as their language of command. It was gloriously weird, and it was a sisterhood of arms.

Stiffening sharply, Zhen’var clicked her heels together. “Permission to come aboard Her Majesty’s Ship?” Voice pitched to carry, her gloved hand made a motion, as it would have if her Dilgar blade had been drawn up in salute before her.

“Permission granted. Welcome to the Admiral Afyhova’s hospitality, Captain.” She raised a gloved hand of her own in a tipped salute and the whistle blew and the side-party announced her. Then Captain Kerolit fell in alongside the two, walking with them. “The Admiral extends her compliments and thanks you for proposing the meeting aboardResolution, and as her Captain I am honoured to be your hostess, Captain.”

“Thank you. I wish to extend my apologies for not attending at the earlier invitation, if I may. I present Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peace Outreach Yulassana, whom you have certainly heard of, if not met. She is the ranking Alliance diplomat on the scene, and will be the primary negotiator.”

“Deputy Assistant Secretary,” Captain Kerolit gave a hint of a smile, showing her sharpened teeth. “A pleasure.”

“Of course, Captain.” Yulassana made a bow of greeting as they arrived at the meeting room, where Admiral Afyhova was waiting.

“Deputy Assistant Secretary,” Afyhova clicked her heels and bowed in return. “Captain Zhen’var. A pleasure to meet you at last. Be seated, we have some tea and hors d'oeuvres for you.”

“Thank you, Admiral. If the Almighty is kind, we may find success in our meeting this day.” She moved to sit, beside Yulassana, whom she left the central seat across from the Aururian admiral.

“I don’t want to go to war,” Afyhova answered with plain bluntness. “It would be a terrible thing in every respect. But I am not going to leave Garatnam without ensuring that the planet is at peace and is free, either. Isn’t the liberty of a world worth something?”

“Of course, Admiral. The Alliance has no wish for a war either. We share objectives , at the least, do we not all agree?”

“That is so,” Afyhova agreed. The tea was put around, and a plate of chicken satay placed in front of Zhen’var, a Gersallian dish for Yulassana. “Our terms were straightforward, Captain, Undersecretary. Why are they so unacceptable?”

“Because they would lead to the undermining of support for the National Transitional Council,” Yulassana answered. “In an undemocratic fashion.”

“If you held a plebiscite, the NTC would never have legitimate power,” Afyhova answered drolly, drinking her own tea.

“Only if you allowed the Queens to endorse positions,” Yulassana countered. “As figureheads of their hives they must be silent about politics to allow democracy to flourish.”

Afyhova snorted softly. “In many third-world countries abandoned by the northern nations in the 21st century, the traditional monarchies continued to function because the people implicitly respected their rulers even when their legal power was stripped from them. Now you’re telling me the Queens will be integrated into the system by banning their right to endorse political platforms, essentially making them slaves of the few ceremonial roles they will be given. Breeders for a people.” She looked archly at Yulassana. “If they were merely private citizens, then the NTC would last until the first election. No more.”

“The definition of democracy is… cultural.” Zhen’var said, quite hesitant and wary. “It can still be democracy.”

Yulassana leaned back and looked at her. “The Alliance has accepted the very unique Dilgar democracy Warmaster Shai’jhur implemented, yes. Go on, Captain.”

“Is it… possible for the Malaysian system, or… some form of…” She paused. “The Aururians want the Queens to have a voice. We do not wish them to dominate the system. They must have power and debate amongst themselves , a… legislative chamber, or ability to elect a… tribune?”

“The traditional function of the Queens is to preserve the integrity of the hive and the land on which it depends for its survival,” Afyhova answered. “We are not, and have not, ever tried to make the system a collegial autocracy.”

Zhen’var’s omnitool chirped ominously, then. “Captain, it’s Colonel Fei’nur.”

Afyhova nodded significantly to Captain Kerolit.

“An Imperial Marshal has approached one of our forward posts with a group of Numeraians under arms and several more under guard. She says as she has an important message.”

“... Go ahead and patch it through, if that will be acceptable. I am with the Deputy Undersecretary and the Aururian Admiral.”

“That will be appropriate,” Fei’nur answered after a pause. An Imperial Marshal was no-one to be trifled with.

“Captain Zhen’var,” a very calm voice speaking Received Pronunciation came onto the line. “I am Marshal Kerowalas. I wish to turn over to you some prisoners involved in the attack on your forces. They have not been interrogated by my person or my forces, however, I do know the content of what your own interrogations will reveal. The League was behind the attack on your forces.”

The Dilgar Captain’s face visibly twisted in a real concern, as she turned her gaze to the Gersallian woman beside her. “It is a serious charge, one that you understand we must confirm with our own people, Marshal.”

“That’s why I am handing the prisoners over to you, Captain,” the Marshal answered, unperturbed. Very faintly the woman might seem Ralsan from her accent, but of course a Ralsan could be an Imperial Marshal too.

“Thank you, Marshal. You have… been most helpful. Admiral, I believe the Deputy Undersecretary and I must withdraw for consultations, if we may…?” The reason why they would have risked so much… still eluded Zhen’var, but she had a rapidly growing suspicion.

“I am sorry our visit was short. I hope you enjoyed the chai and the satay, at least.” Afyhova nodded to Captain Kerolit, who rose.

“It was quite excellent, thank you.” She rose, and nodded politely, before heading back where they had came. As soon as the hatch cycled closed, Zhen’var growled in frustration. “I have a concern that the survey team will find something very worrisome , ma’am.”

“Like what?” Yulassana was clearly very tense. “Do you really believe this allegation in the slightest?”

“If it is, and I must plan on it being so, as such would be the worst-case… the original plan of whom-ever is attempting to arrange this, would have, I think, likely have been for our deployment of the agent to be the catalyst for conflict.”

Yulassana’s face turned grim and cool. “How long will it take Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur to have a result, then?”

“She had begun work before I left the ship; my science officer is currently running tests while she is attempting to save the lives of the other survey team members, Deputy Underscretary.” The stress was getting to her, by how her voice held an edge to it.

“My apologies.” She stiffened. “But we may soon have many further casualties here.”

Nah’dur came out of the first operation looking tired, but the expression vanished the moment that she saw Fera’xero standing there. She started pulling off her scrubs. “You have data so soon, Commander?”

“Yes, Surgeon-Commander, I do. It’s very simple, actually. The enzyme the League wants us to destroy will, if the retrovirus is allowed to spread through the planet, destroy the structural integrity of the bio-concrete in the hives. It’s still, in a sense, alive, through the bacterial growth, and the enzyme is still reactive. This proposed retrovirus would cause uncontrolled corrosion of the hives’ walls, columns, and other structural members. It would literally rot every hive-city on Garatnam out if we deployed it.”

Nah’dur sniffed sharply through her button-nose. “That is about what I thought.”

“The Captain returned in great haste, and got back about five minutes ago. Shall we go report?”

“Of course,” Nah’dur answered, taking the flimsy from him and abandoning taking off the rest of her scrubs. “Nurse Terixamu, delay the next surgery thirty minutes, it can wait! Get the other two into stasis. I have a genocide to prevent.”

Three minutes later, Nah’dur breezed onto the bridge with Fera’xero and chimed the door to the ready room where Zhen’var and Yulassana had returned. “Captain, we have our results!”

“Come ahead, Commanders.” Zhen’var’s voice betrayed her stress, though she masked her frustration with the diplomatic corps reasonably well in the calm expression she wore.

The two stepped in together. “I will be brief with you, Captain,” Nah’dur said urgently. “Destroying the enzyme will literally make the bio-concrete of all the Garatnam cities rot. It’s a living system, if you remove the enzyme the bacteria in it will tear it apart, break it down. The structural strength of the cities will literally rot.” She flung the flimsy down on the table, almost vibrating.

“By the Almighty, Nah’dur, this… this…” Horrified eyes swung to the Gersallian woman. “If the League refuses to withdraw after we refuse to use this , I am tempted to open fire, ma’am!”

Yulassana sank back in her chair slowly. Even to a Gersallian, she was completely shocked, and rather deflated. “That corroboration, that’s more important than actual interrogations, isn’t it? To know what they really intended?”

“It is. Shall I contact Portland, or act immediately, ma’am? I know our orders come from very high in the government.”

“Act immediately,” Yulassana swallowed. “I will defend you, Captain.”

“Of course, Deputy Underscretary. Captain to Bridge! Set Condition One , get me the Aururian fleet! I shall be on the bridge shortly! Colonel Fei’nur should prepare her forces for possible operation against hostile forces. Order the courier to break orbit and move to the outer system with dispatch!”

“Back to medbay for me!” Nah’dur answered, looking chuffed. “First genocide prevented!” She shook her fist in the air before she ran off, as Fera’xero moved to take his post with the Captain.

Still in her dress whites, Zhen’var burst onto the bridge at a jog, as the alarm klaxons began to sound. “Possible threat is the League squadron and ground forces , comrades! Stand to it!”

That left her looking far more military and professional than the rest of her crew as she settled into her command chair and the Huáscar rapidly came to quarters. Elia looked down at her from Ops. “Captain, the possible target is the League squadron?” She bit it off, though; “Admiral Afyhova coming through for you on main comms.”

“Thank you. Admiral , I am inviting your squadron to join me in orbit. This also serves as notice that the terms presented by you during our discussion are acceptable.” From the last time they had met, Zhen’var looked far more confident and put-together. Her doubts were gone.

“You found out something about Garatnam, I take it, Captain? I will not turn you down.” She turned to the side and started crisply addressing Captain Kerolit for a moment before looking back.

“You may say so. I do not intend to encrypt my communications with Admiral Bonnet. I do ask for your restraint, Admiral.” Her black demi-claws were out, and pressed tightly into the stone of her armrests.

“Of course,” Afyhova said, and there was a twinkle in her eye and almost a wink. “We will conform to your movements, Captain.”

“Thank you, Admiral.” She cut the connection. “The League’s anti-drug agent would have resulted in the rot and collapse of the structure of every hive city on the planet.” Zhen’var announced, glancing around at her crew on the bridge. “We have as yet unproven claims they were also responsible for the attack upon our survey team to prevent the discovery of this effect. They will be withdrawing from this system, one way or another. It is possible, perhaps even likely, Admiral Bonnet is not aware of this.”

Elia sucked in her breath sharply. “It would have guaranteed total war between the Aururian Empire and the Alliance,” she said, gaining her composure first, perhaps because telepaths were so used to bad things happening.

“And painted the Dilgar with an old and bloody brush; the willing agents of xenocide.” There was an audible scrape as her fingers clenched. “Someone wished that to happen. Whom, we are not aware as yet. You may draw your own conclusions, but we have our orders. This world shall be free .”

“When the Aururian fleet enters orbit, the League is sure to go to stations,” Elia warned, noting the thermal spikes commencing on the League ships.

“I know. Our timing just be precise. Get me a channel to their squadron, no encryption, as soon as we are cleared for action.”

Elia looked at her indicator as the counter went down.

“We’re prepping the side launch tubes for a mass fighter strike,” Stasia reported over the horn.

“...Green across the board,” Elia confirmed a moment later.

“Hail Justicia, Comms.” Zhen’var forced herself to sit still in her command chair, gaze looking across at the main screen rather than her usual personal comms pickup.

“Admiral Bonnet, your line, Captain!” The main screen flashed into view of the bridge of the Justicia.

He looked tense, certainly not ready for this. “Captain Zhen’var, what has taken place? You have brought your shields up and we see the energy signatures aboard both your vessel and the Aururian fleet, we are going to alert ourselves.”

“The Alliance has lost confidence in the League as a decolonization partner worthy of trust, Admiral Bonnet.” Her voice was flat and cold. “You will withdraw your ships from orbit. We will oversee the departure of the remaining League citizens.”

“That is contrary to the agreement between the League and the Alliance, Captain, I…”

The Aururian fleet jumped in. The carrier positioned in the rear immediately began to launch her area CAP as the lead battlecruiser’s gun turrets swung out to starboard to clear on Bonnet’s flagship.

Captain, the Aururian fleet! Now is not the time for this!” Alarms were blaring on the bridge of the Justicia behind him.

I called them in, Admiral. This is not a negotiation, it is an ultimatum!” A snarl and hiss accompanied her words, eyes flaring with fury. “You will withdraw, or we will force you to do so . The League’s solution to the drug trade would have resulted in the total structural failure and collapse of the hives! Claim ignorance if you wish, but agreements are made between partners . The League has forfeited that consideration.”

“What kind of mad talk is this, Captain? How could the elimination of a drug cause structural problems for the bugs’ damned cities? ” he looked incredulous--and more than a little scared. Indeed, the fear that this might be the beginning of a war was real, and without the Alliance on their side, the prospects were not good. It was not the fear of a coward, but a sane man facing a grim fate.

“The retrovirus your scientists provided, to eliminate the enzyme responsible for the creation of drugs from Tiral ? It does not effect the plant , That enzyme is also responsible for controlling bacteria in the hive structure that would otherwise rapidly rot and decay what the Numeraians create.. I am giving you the opportunity to withdraw. I suggest you take it.”

“Third party comms request coming in from the Resolution, ” Elia said, temporarily muting the line.

“Feed it to my omnitool earpiece, Commander.”

“We are prepared to issue an ultimatum to the League, if you like, Captain,” Afyhova’s voice sounded through the earpiece.

“Captain, you have no proof. You have only supposition. We had no intention to harm the Numeraians--the Amazons are using you, Captain!” Bonnet was almost shouting--at the end he was shouting.

“My survey team, which was attacked on the surface, confirmed via their sampling and laboratory results that this is the case, Admiral.” Zhen’var’s voice had lost allemotional tone but that of frigid formality.

“My God Captain, we are on the same side! Have you gone mad ?” He looked beyond her, to the bridge crew of the Huáscar within the feed.

Side , Admiral? I am an officer of the Alliance , not the League! Withdraw your ships .”

He stiffened, and glared at her. “We will defend the National Transitional Council, Captain, we have honour. They will be against the wall if you let the Aururians impose their precious reactionary regime! That is what this is really about, you know. That is what it is always about.”

“I find it unlikely they will have much interest in standing with you after what has been done, Admiral.”

Elia muted the channel. “I think we need an ultimatum at this point, Captain,” she said softly, almost biting her lip.

“Admiral Afyhova, the time has come, I believe.”

The channel synched into a three way. Afyhova looked to Bonnet for a moment. Their lines descended from the same world. But they had been irrevocably separated by a symbiot which existed only in this Earth, this timeline. The uniforms nonetheless shared a European influence, they both spoke western European languages, at least in command. Afyhova switched to French for this.

“Will you get to Antananarivo in time for Vespers, Admiral?” Afyhova asked, her voice filled with scorn. It was a deep historical allusion of two orders, the kind the Aururians, so conservative by the nature of the Australian peoples, had bestowed on their entire Empire.

“Perhaps you may believe that the Alliance and League are on the same ‘side’, as you have said, Admiral. Perhaps that is even true. It does not change that if you do not depart orbit within one hour, I am willing to use force to compel your compliance.”

“France does not abandon her obligations, Captain,” Bonnet answered. “The League is her daughter, we will not surrender the National Transitional Council to you.”

“One hour,” Afyhova repeated simply, refusing to be baited, and nodded through the line to Zhen’var before the image blinked off.

“Commander, you have the bridge. Undock the Heermann. The Deputy Undersecretary and I need to urgently relay the situation to our superiors… and summon our reinforcements.”

As the two women--Yulassana in the jumpseat--rose and the Heermann deployed, they couldn’t help but feel the terrible inevitability of war.

As it turned out, it was only twenty-two minutes until Elia commed the two of them, having made their reports up their respective chains of command and called for reinforcements.

“Captain, there is a transmission from the surface.” Elia shot a significant look and put the proclamation on the ready room screen instead of her own face, with the autotranslation. “I am Queen Tisararam of Xiteram’mer,” the youthful Numeraian queen, still an immense and ominous figure, began. “I have supported the National Transitional Council; however, the com-interception broadcast which was displayed around the planet shortly before has changed this matter, my children. Though it is certain that the comms eavesdropping capability was the result of the technology of the Aururian Empire, many of my sisters trust the Aururians. Furthermore, it is clear that they are sincere words of the League. Nobody would have trusted them, or the Council, if they had known of any kind of risk to the saliva which builds our cities. Nobody would have seriously believed that the silly inebriation of the humans from our hives would justify any Action of this kind. The humans have lied to us, children. Accordingly, the government they proposed ends now. I have seized the National Transitional Council. I will negotiate with my sisters to establish the government of independent Garatnam. Remain calm, and follow the instructions of the sub-Viziers. The hour of our independence remains at hand. The rootless aliens in orbit do not know how to untangle themselves from the risk of war to have free reign to threaten us again. The centuries of our oppression are at an end, and the subterfuge of our oppressor undone!”

Zhen’var was quietly shaking her head. “... Colonel Fei’nur has her orders. Almighty willing, she will be able to carry them out. This is… what I had feared would happen when Admiral Bonnet was stubborn.” The two women looked at each other, and returned to the bridge.

“Captain, we are receiving a communication from the Justicia, ” CPO Bor’erj reported. The bridge remained as tense as a knife, nobody having gone off-post in those twenty-two minutes, every station crewed.

The Dilgar captain paused, before returning to her command chair. “I will take it, Comms.”

Bonnet looked relieved. The truth was out now, and one could see the next steps written on his face. He was a man of honour, who had been left looking for a way out. A way to save face as a military man. And the Aururians had given it to them. The supposed warmongering Empire had known that unless they flipped the Queens supporting the NTC, it would be a war. They had avoided it by working that angle in the background.

“Captain, in light of the failure of the National Transitional Council to retain control over the planet, and in the interests of interstellar peace, we are prepared to withdraw from Garatnam within the one hour you have given us.”

“In the interest of continued peace, you have my thanks, Admiral Bonnet. I will stand my ship down from combat stations, and my ground forces will continue to protect your cantonments until all your citizens are withdrawn.”

“The military did not know, Captain. You have my word of honour as an officer, the military did not know,” he answered stiffly, repeating himself emphatically, shaken.

Zhen’var believed him. Growing up, serving as an officer in the Earth Alliance, she believed him. But somebody did, she thought stiffly as the message blinked off. “Get me Admiral Afyhova, please.”

The screen flashed promptly back to the bridge of the Resolution. “Captain,” Afyhova acknowledged. “I am given to understand the League Admiral has agreed to withdraw.”

“Correct, Admiral, within the hour he was given. You have my thanks for your cooperation in helping keep the peace.” Left unsaid was how the Aururians had outmanouvered them.

“It was not really me. The Lady Marshal acted according to the dictates and judgement of her position,” Afyhova answered frankly. “I am just glad it did not have a recourse to arms.”

“Your forebearance made it possible. Again, you have my thanks. My ground forces will shield the League civilians until they are evacuated, as per my orders. Garantam is free.”

“I will make your job a little easier for you, then, Captain. I will withdraw as well,” she answered, significantly, a flicker of expression of surprise from Captain Kerolit behind her.

There was a flash of relief across Zhen’var’s face. With the Aururians withdrawn, their allies on the surface would be much less likely to act against the Massif. “ Namaste , Admiral.” She pressed her palms together and inclined her head.

Afyhova reciprocated the gesture. “ Namaste,” she replied, “Alinga be your sure friend, you travel the solar vastness fast and sure, Captain. You have done honour today.”

Zhen’var nodded, and broke the connection, mentally mumbling to herself I doubt Portland will see it that way.

See it one way, or see it another, when the sun set on the Massif that night, Garatnam was a free nation, the Numeraians a free people, and there was peace.


“Have you ever actually testified before a Military Oversight Committee meeting before, Captain?” Abebech asked, sitting at a table with Zhen’var and Fei’nur, collectively (and embarrassingly for Will as the XO) the highest ranking officers on the ship, as they settled into the vast dockyard around Portland in geosynchronous orbit which up until that point the Huáscar had never actually visited before. It was their first trip to the capital of the Alliance.

“No, but I was with General Leftcourt as his aide when he did in Geneva, Commander.” Her hands desperately wanted to do something, but she held them rigidly in her lap. “It will be unpleasant, I know.”

“Project confidence and focus on the soundbytes, most of them will follow along with what you say if they think the media will like it,” Abebech answered, sipping her coffee. She was as enormously composed as ever, having returned from her trip to Doreia looking a bit healthier and with the Heermann having avoided action on the late mission. The scuttlebutt aboard the Huáscar was that she had gone back to the Solarian League for some kind of medical treatment, but Nah’dur flat-out insisted she wouldn’t need it.

“It remains to be seen. I am sure the Foreign Office wants my head.” Her nerves were so shaken, Zhen’var didn’t even have her usual chai before her, just water with a lemon slice.

“They haven’t cancelled our next mission to negotiate with the Quarian Admiralty, Captain,” Abebech reminded her gently. “It will be fine.”

“I will remember your words after the hearing, Commander Imra. Until then, my fears have reign of my mind.”

“I have always admired your honesty most of all,” Abebech said, abruptly. She rarely delved into such things. “Not simply telling the truth. But the honesty of self. You may let your fears reign over your mind, but someone like you doesn’t have anything to be afraid of, really.”

“What the Deputy Undersecretary told me on my yacht indicates otherwise, Commander.” Zhen’var murmured, gaze flickering about. “But I shall try and remember your counsel.”.

“You have as many powerful friends as enemies, Captain. Bear that in mind when you go.”

“Thank you, Commander.” It was a conversation Zhen’var kept in mind the next several days, including during the long several hours before the Military Oversight Committee’s inquisition into her actions. She never flinched from taking full responsibility for the outcome and process of the action; on behalf of her crew, and even the Deputy Undersecretary. It had been her actions which had led to the outcome; a Garantam that was in the orbit of the Aururian Empire, and a massive setback in relations with the League.

On Omega Station, under Aria t’Loak’s thumb, interuniversal connections meant the scale and scope of crime had only unfathomably multiplied.

The group of Salarians, hyperactive and nervous, almost screamed ill-intent as they leaned in together with their contractor. Contractor was a good word for it, neutral, divorced.

“It is not enough to kill the Dilgar scion, no, no,” the lead Salarian insisted. “We need the destruction of the plans confirmed as well. There are other Dilgar of that house, it is famous for its outlier intellectual potential. We need the plans.”

“That increases the complexity of the operation massively.”

“Cost is not a concern; cost supports the increase in complexity. The plans must be destroyed, the family is extremely capable at cross-functional intellectual performance. One of the others may finish the work even if the scion is eliminated.”

“That ship is a very tough nut to crack, gentlemen…”

“Two hundred bars of gold pressed latinum,” the first Salarian said simply.

“I’ll see what I can do to put a team together.”
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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

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

Post by Tomyris »


Commander Abebech Imra, the Captain of the Huáscar ’s parasite ship Heermann, and Colonel Fei’nur, the Spectre and Marine Regiment Commander for the Huáscar , arrived at the invitation-only function room attached to Café Varna last. The two had been sparring, and incredibly, Fei’nur looked like the one who had come off the worse, though the two of them walked side by side, with the easy confidence of people who had earned each other’s respect.

Inside the room, William Atreiades the XO, Elia Saumarez the Operations Officer in her prominent telepath’s black gloves, Arterus tr’Rllaillieu the Navigation officer and Rihannsu (or Romulan) Star Empire’s heir’s cousin, Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur, the Captain’s younger sister and already legendary Dilgar Doctor and biologist (with a very ominous clan name), Chief Warrant Officer Anastasia Héen, the Tlingit Airboss, and Master Chief Petty Officer Rick Dugan had already settled. With them, very hesitantly, was a newcomer: Artesia de Más, a/k/a Artesia som Deikun or Sayla Mass, who had been invited to the ship by the Captain and now was worried about her professional future.

The other officers of the Huáscar were there in spirit, if not in person. Anna Poniatowska, the ChEng, had the bridge watch. Lar’shan was completing a special evaluation Fei’nur had sent him on, as she was never content when it came to the risk of wasting time. With the Huáscar in dock, Daria and Violeta had been dragged to mandatory training.

The rest of them were there. And they had good reason to be. Their Captain, Zhen’var, daughter of Kaveri Varma (and adopted by Shai’jhur, the Dilgar Warmaster) and f/k/a Zhengli Varma, was being grilled before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Senate Service Holovision Channel was a rare voluntary choice for a private function, but it was on today, as Alexandra brought out plate after plate of Bulgarian cuisine and plenty of beers. No-one wanted to be completely sober for it.

“It’s a disgrace.” Fei’nur murmured, loud enough to be heard, but soft enough to be deniable, as she watched the holo-feed. “Previous witnesses’ recesses delayed the start?”

“Of course they did,” Stasia offered, rolling her eyes. “There’s zero respect in the Senate. Grandstanding did more of it, actually. Welcome, Colonel,” she added informally, but there was respect there too. Both the Chiefs got along well with Fei’nur--which for Rick in particular as a human from the same galaxy was quite an accomplishment.

Abebech, wearing a traditional Ethiopian dress and full-length white opera gloves and her customary shades, had yanked her amazingly curly and huge mass of hair back into a usual restricted bun, and looked up at the screen methodically. She waved off the beer and watched as a plate of Karvavitza was put down in front of her. Other than that, she had water and an empty glass into which she poured a dark and rich wine of her own. It was the first time anyone at the table had seen her drink.

Fei’nur picked up her usual, of the specialty meat plank of Cafe Varna and grozdovallozova. She gave the screen a glare as she settled in.

Nah’dur would have looked dejected if only Dilgar ears could flop. To another Dilgar the gesture was clear, anyway, her nose hovering over her drink. Her eyes were distracted to Abebech’s drink. “What are you drinking?”

“A kind of Solarian wine I picked up a few cases of whilst I was on shore leave before the mission to Garatnam,” Abebech replied simply. “It’s all genetically engineered. I doubt you’d like it.”

“It’s beginning.” Fei’nur muttered as the chryon flashed across the screen indicating the hearings were about to resume. Zhen’var’s image flashed across the screen, rigid as she held up her hand, swearing an oath before questioning began.

All together, the table quieted of its own volition. They would have all been there, but it would look bad, and Zhen’var would have never permitted it. And so they had to settle for the holovid projector in Café Varna.

There was the strike of a gavel. “Our meeting will come to order. Today we are considering the matter of the world of Garantam, and the recent operations concluded there by the Alliance Navy and Diplomatic corps.”

“Princess Marigold,” Abebech’s eyes narrowed for a moment and she shook her head and laughed. “Well, that will be entertaining. Avalon is one of the Psychocomp civilisations nearer to the Fracture.” It was an opening moment that made Abebech the centre of attention for the moment. She raised her glass to her lips, looking like Malbec.

“They’re the civilisations which reverted to historical memetic forms as a coping mechanism with the Fracture during the Reignfall,” Abebech explained as Elia and Artesia were almost transfixed with her steady drip of information. “She’s actually quite likely to be friendly to the Captain, I expect.”

“They will not all be, or there would not be hearings.” Fei’nur countered, swirling the liquid in her glass. “Someone had to request them and summon her.”

They watched as, with enormous dignity, Zhen’var fenced the Senators away from ‘gotchas’ and prevented anyone from saying she had exceeded the bounds of her duties as a Captain. They watched as she foiled with them, speaking plainly to the fact that Garatnam was an independent country now, and without violence. She graciously acknowledged the contribution of the Deputy Undersecretary for Peace Outreach Yulasanna, and refrained from calling out the errors of intelligence which had nearly led to disaster.

“They don’t deserve her,” Stasia muttered as she watched the holo-feed.

“Of course they don’t,” Nah’dur added, and one could almost hear her add ‘because she’s part of my family’, but she managed not to, despite her already infamous lack of a filter.

“It will take months before they come up with a report, anyhow.” Fei’nur offered from her place, setting an empty glass on the table. “And they can only make recommendations to our Admirals. Such a silly, redundant system.”

“It does prevent mistakes, as a balance of powers often does,” Abebech observed, smiling wryly to Fei’nur. “At least in theory, at any rate.”

“A terrible theory. Did not the Lady Sta’ria state in her Great Commentaries that division of the supreme power was necessary to prevent stagnation, but that a collegial form was required to prevent anarchy?”

“Of course she did!” Nah’dur bounded. “That’s why, in fact, we just have elected collegiate positions instead of an actual legislature in the Union.”

Abebech smiled. “Separation of powers based on function rather than talent does run the risk of of a government being based on form rather than competence, Sta’ria was right about that.”

"I dare say she was right about more than that." There was a tone of challenge in Fei'nur's voice as she indicated the holodisplay.

“How …” Even Abebech trailed off and shrugged. “Well, you’re likely right, in certain respects. The Captain is making them look bored, though, she’s not giving them a single opening in her duties or her privileges,” she offered to the Dilgar Colonel.

“The Battlemaster is the epitome of professional, like Warmaster Dar’sen was.”

Elia nodded slowly. “It’s strange to think of her up there. I have enormous sympathy for it. When Deputy Directors got grilled by the Earth Alliance Senate back home, you know, they couldn’t say a single thing wrong. She must feel much the same.”

Huáscar and our people, she represents both when she sits before the records and Senators.” Fei’nur spoke, slow and careful in her words. “If she demanded less than perfection from herself, she would not be the Captain she is.”

“Will it really take months for them to clear her?” Nah’dur asked with a frown.

“Yes,” Elia answered, “but it isn’t clearing per-say. It’s just a fact finding report. It can’t be used for discipline or anything else in the military… Officially, anyway.”

The Marine officer growled softly under her breath. “A negative report can and will be used to generate official proceedings, however.”

“They don’t got shit on her,” Rick sighed and rolled his eyes. “They just wanted her to screw up on camera, and she didn’t. It’ll be fine.”

“If politics do not intervene. Still… you are correct, Chief. We have another long duration mission to prepare for, and our Captain will be leading us.” Fei’nur’s expression admitted no uncertainty.

“Are we sure it’s going to be all right?” Artesia asked. “They really seem to have it out for her?”

“No-one with the power to force Admiral Maran to act, however, but such is a discussion dangerously close to breaking regulations, Lieutenant.”

Artesia sighed and nodded.

“Hard for someone from the White Base?” Elia asked with a gentle smile on her lips.

“Yeah… About that. Yeah.” Artesia’s face flicked back into a smile. “Thank you, Colonel, Commander. She’s a good woman and we owe her everything.”

About an hour later, an exhausted Zhen’var was heading to Admiral Maran’s office. She went through security, waited for ten minutes in a mild daze in the waiting room by the secretary, and then was invited into his office. There was a hot cup of chai waiting on the table.

“Captain, please have a seat.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Gratefully, with her head still somewhat fuzzy from the last several hours, the Dilgar Captain sank into the chair. The act of will to not stare longingly at the cup was, she would later marvel, nearly a miracle.

“By all means,” he gestured to the cup. “You comported yourself well,” he added. “I do not think it will be a problem. The actual objective of the mission was met. Some in the Senate simply expected there would be additional implicit advantages.”

“I have concerns of that, sir, but you are correct.” She took the ceramic in both hands and took a thankful sip. Zhen’var had more to say, but what she had said was already pushing the bounds of military propriety she had drilled into her as a young woman.

Maran sized her up for a moment, thinking. Her disinterest in continuing was clear, and really, so was his. “We have a new mission for the Huáscar, Captain, and it is an important one, you have established your reputation already as one of the foremost of our Explorer Captains, and I do wish I could offer you more than that praise, but it is deserved. This one will still be a challenge. I need you to lead negotiations between the Alliance and the Quarian people.”

“The Quarian flotilla, sir?” Her brows visibly knitted. “ Huascar is not known for our diplomatic record, Admiral, but more a most aggressive peacekeeping posture.”

“I think you will be a particularly respected Captain among the Quarians, and the Naval Board and the Foreign Ministry agree. This is a situation in which diplomacy led by an Explorer Captain is actually highly advantageous, due to the cultural respect for Captains which the Quarians hold. So that is the decision which has been made for the assignment,” Maran explained.

And of course, not my Science officer… “I believe I understand, Admiral.”

“You will depart in two days, Captain. The Migrant Fleet is in the terminus systems… And the objective of the negotiations is to establish the terms on which they will become an Associated State and move into another universe to find a suitable planet for habitation.”

“Admiral, we are speaking of the Migrant Fleet . We will need an Interuniversal Gate, and fifty thousand ships…” She shook her head in disbelief at the scale . “Two gates, then. A realspace transit… what universe is being considered, and what support shall we have to keep the fleet moving onwards? Away from their technological base here… they will be reliant on us to be their support once their own resources are depleted in an… exodus of the type you describe.”

“We will need to organise two hundred full sized fleet tenders to support the movement,” Maran agreed. “In regular, continuous convoys, for several months. They will leave through one of the established gates, but we will have to build one on the other end. We haven’t identified a world yet, Captain. This will be months in the planning, and Huáscar will be assigned to identify that world--the needs of Quarians are unique, and it will be an enormous challenge to find a suitable biome. It’s conceivable this mission could occupy the Huáscar, with a few breaks for shore-leave and maintenance, for an entire year.”

She had not expected the mission to take so long as that; Zhen’var had thought they had possible worlds already, and a hint of a frown crossed her face. “Is the intention to have the Migrant Fleet depart M4P2, sir, and take them to another that we will scout, or for Huascar to scout with Quarian support?”

“For Huascar to scout with Quarian support, locate and confirm suitability of a world, and then return to lead the Quarian fleet through it, Captain. You may be drawn off to other missions but that will be your primary objective for the foreseeable future.”

Captain Zhen’var felt a weight settle on her shoulders as she gave a single nod. “I understand, Admiral. Huáscar will not fail.” Just the future of an entire species resting on us, that is all.

Undiscovered Frontier Origins : Death Count

Season 1, Episode 8

Act One

They had managed to cut orders for 36 hours of leave for the officers after the crew had gotten 60 hr passes on Earth. This meant a fair number of them had only recently returned from their leave as they began to filter into the familiar Conference Room One. It looked like Anna was glaring at the Projector, daring it to cause problems after the work done it.

Nah’dur wandered in with a bright look on her face, early enough before the meeting that she felt comfortable talking to Zhen’var semi-informally… And Fei’nur close at hand. “Captain, I am sorry you were not able to go to the surface. Do you know what I discovered?”

“No, Surgeon-Commander, but I suspect you are keen to tell me.” Zhen’var couldn’t help a small smile at her little sister’s enthusiasm.

“I discovered,” Nah’dur continued, “that there is a subnational territorial unit on the North American continent which is named Wisconsin, and it is famous for Cheese. I toured five factories at which cheese is made,” she continued, and presented triumphantly a bag of small pieces of cheese to Zhen’var. “They even sell the immature cheese as a delicacy, sort of like eating the calves of rightbeasts. Have some, sister. You too, Fei’nur!”

“You came back with… Wisconson cheese curds.” Zhen’var blinked. “Captain Sheridan would talk of such things from fairs when he was a child, and frying them in breading, I recall…” She reached in and took a piece, only for her eyes to widen in surprise when it squeaked as she bit down.

Fei’nur’s expression was wary as she nibbled a piece off, though it faded as she chewed. “Commander, this is certainly an acquired taste, but I could see myself acquiring it. It is digestible enough, I assume?”

“Oh, of course, perfectly so,” Nah’dur answered. “I got to inspect every part of the production process after all. Isn’t the squeak so neat?”

“Almost like the experience cuisine from the old Empire, where certain of the food was presented live. They are rather a pleasant experience.” Fei’nur reached for another curd, as Zhen’var looked to her for a moment, before following suit.

“Yes exactly my thought,” Nah’dur grinned. “I cannot understand why everyone dislikes the Armed Forces Network. Without the public service announcements on it, I would have never known that Wisconsin existed.”

Both the older women immediately turned withering looks on Nah’dur’s innocent grin. “It is good that someone appreciates it.” Fei’nur managed to growl… while sneaking another cheese curd.

It was then that Fera’xero arrived.

“Commander, good morning. Sit, please.” Zhen’var quickly resettled her ‘professional’ look on her face. “We will have much to discuss, and you shall be rather intimately involved in the planning of our next mission.”

“Captain?” Fera’xero asked, collecting a drink bulb, as he moved to sit.

Zhen’var waited until he did, before she went on, not smiling; “We are going to make contact with the Migrant Fleet. I am to lead negotiations on the terms of them Associating with the Alliance, and the mechanism by which we shall find your people a new homeworld in another universe.”

“The homeworld decision,” Fera’xero’s vocoder flashed. “I understand why you ask me to come, yes. There has been much debate in the Fleet. I have participated in it from afar where I can, Captain.” He composed himself, sucking from the bulb. “Where shall I begin, my Captain?”

“I understand the basic history, of the Morning War and what comes after, and the biological limitations on a world that can be found. It is expected our mission may take a year or more, with a Quarian squadron traveling with us. There is the Admiralty Board and the Conclave, and both must be won over, yes?”

“A year might be a reasonable estimate,” Fera’xero said, glancing to Nah’dur.

“Statistically speaking,” Nah’dur explained, “competitive evolution of bacteria and virii and fungii is collectively so common that there is a small, but concerning, possibility that we will fail: We may find that, in fact, even in the entire possibly infinite multiverse that Rannoch was the only planet with a sophisticated ecosystem to take the evolutionary direction that it did and evolve a collaborative system of evolution,” Nah’dur finished with a blunt shrug. “Now, is that likely? No, I think we can find a planet they can live on. But the statistical probability of Rannoch is low enough that it could be the only one.”

“We will need to use non-standard intelligence sources to give us hints at where we should be directing our search, if the situation is so rare… or we will need to engineer a world.” There was a hint of a wince.

“It’s really a big data problem,” Nah’dur scrunched up, her nose cutely flaring for a moment. “We have some evidence of panspermic exchanges of bacteria, the Perseus Veil probably helped prevent that for Rannoch. So the first way to narrow down the search will be to look for areas where astrographic conditions make it hard for rogue asteroids and comets and bits of planetary matter to be exchanged on an interstellar basis. Since those areas will usually be the same from universe to universe, it’s a managable problem, don’t you agree, Commander?”

“Very clever, Surgeon-Commander. Yes, it should be something we can approach,” Fera’xero answered.

“Beyond that, we just do massive correlation of all observed data from ships, reports of traders, studies, etc, in all of the societies whose data we have access to,” Nah’dur explained. “Once we have those two sources narrowed down, then it actually makes sense to begin searching in those areas first--correlating with systems that have Rannoch-like stellar conditions first using a genetic search algorithm and then spreading out to less likely hits.”

Raising her hands, palm out, Zhen’var spoke; “I leave it in your capable hands, Commanders. An abstract of the method is requested for when I must open negotiations with the Migrant Fleet, so I may present a plan .”

“Understood,” Nah’dur answered immediately. “What next, then?”

“I can explain the political situation in the Fleet,” Fera’xero offered

“Please do. I have the general Alliance brief, which goes about as deeply as a tourist pamphlet.”

Fera’xero nodded, putting the bulb aside. “There are three factions. The outer settlement faction wants to find another settlement. Admirals Shala’Raan vas Tonbay and Zaal’Koris vas Qwib-Qwib represent this faction. Han’Gerrel vas Neema and Rael’Zorah vas Qurron have been known to favour turning back to achieve victory at any cost over the geth. Admiral Daro’Xen vas Moreh… Is a complicated matter. I will be honest, she has reason to be wary of non-Quarians, and has been very cautious in stating a preference. The Conclave is… Closely divided in the same way. I think you will have to win over Daro’Xen vas Moreh to any plan of settlement.”

“I admit, all I have on an intelligence folio is an indication that the Surgeon-Commander might be the best suited for the effort. She is a head of research, is she not?” Zhen’var checked her omnitool.

“She is,” Fera’xero concurred. “The essential problem is that many in the fleet do not want to abandon the dream of Rannoch, Captain. It is our Walled Garden. That means something, even as you Dilgar have, it turns out, taken out a very considerable mortgage to restore Omelos”

“Settling Rohric and Tira did not end our dream of Omelos, Commander. Finding another world, that the Quarian people are not reliant on an aging fleet… does not end the dream of Rannoch. I can see how it will be a difficult effort to prove the point, however.”

“It would be so very hard for us to adapt to another world, Captain. If Rannoch was ever regained in the future, it might be very hard to regain it in those circumstances, we have always been a suited people when traveling elsewhere, and you can read the accounts of the Asari who had Quarian partners in those days if you like. They’re a memory of a vanished world. We were already having problems, trapped in suits on the surface of our own planet, because of the biological disaster of first contact.”

“I admit… I… am not sure what we could do. The Surgeon-Commander has been studying it, I know, but…” Zhen’var found it quite the knotty sort of problem.

“I think we should take the opportunity offered to us no matter what, Captain. But that is why there will be resistance, those are the terms they will frame it in. I am very appreciative of Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur’s efforts, of course, but announcing them, despite the formidable reputation she is already accruing, would not be wise at this juncture.”

“Agreed, Commander. Your home universe has its’ own hidden currents and dangers, as any other.”

“Then the main thing is to give the Quarians confidence we can prepare a world for them,” Nah’dur noted.

After the meeting, Nah’dur headed back to her CMO’s office and activated the privacy routines she had hacked into the local computer system quite seamlessly. There was no need for anyone to know about this, as she reached out to Wrex once more, now that she had confirmation.

“Nah’dur.” His holographic image ghosted into view, the Krogan clan leader’s gruff tone coming through the encryption clearly enough.

“I have good news. In another two days we will be making a rendezvous with the Migrant Fleet for negotiations. It’s the perfect time for you to bring me the samples I need for the trials, Battlemaster,” she grinned.

“So it is. Send the coordinates, I’ll be there. Watch yourself, Nah’dur.”

“Yes, I know it’s a dangerous and exposed position. I won’t be leaving the ship at all; we can do a rendezvous at the edge of the fleet, and we have a number of small craft for that. So many traders come to and from the Migrant Fleet, and it has so many different kinds of ships, that will be easy to be lost inside of it.”

“That dangerous woman you hang around with? Keep doing that. It’s easy for people coming after you to get lost in it too.”

“You’ve heard of Commander Imra? You’ve been doing research on us, I see. She is exquisitely dangerous.”

“You don’t get to live as long as I have by being stupid, kid.”

“Oh, well, of course.” Nah’dur smiled sheepishly. “Yes, I would try to have her handle the transfer.”

“Good.” The Krogan’s eyes seemed to bore into her. “We’ll talk later.”

“We’ll be monitoring Channel 24 Gamma for when they arrive,” Nah’dur answered confidently. “We’ll talk later.”

Elia Saumarez was browsing through her e-mails, deleting three for every one she read, with the long practice of someone used to having a government account. She had gone off-shift from her bridge watch thirty minutes before and didn’t really feel like sleeping.

It was then her hand hovered over one that looked like spam. Alliance All-Service Continuing Education University. With a grimace at the name, she paused, and then opened it.

And then she double-checked the origin, the signature and the digital verification. Yep, that’s real. You’re going to command school, sister, she thought to herself with an almost weightless feeling. Her electronic learning course Zhen’var had gotten for her had paid off. She was going to command school.

She was also going to have to be off of the Huáscar for three months. Already, Elia had come so close to the rest of the ship’s crew that it hurt to think about it. But this was also the future, and exactly what her friend wanted for her. She grinned, a bit nervously, and shifted a gloved finger to select the comm line for Zhen’var.

“Good evening, Elia.” After two chimes, she had an answer. Zhen’var was at her desk by the image, as she pushed some datapads away from the audio pickup. “What is it? You are smiling, so that is a good sign.”

“I have been accepted to Command School, Captain,” Elia answered. “ Zhen’var, you did it for me! Thank you!”

“That is wonderful! ” A smile blossomed across the Dilgar woman’s face, teeth flashing. “Ahead of the curve, too!”

“...Thank you,” Elia glanced widely with her eyes, making a cute little expression of happiness. But then her face fell a bit. “However, the orders are abrupt. Apparently there was a slot for me in the next class, so they want me to depart in forty-eight hours and report in ninety-six.”

“So be it. I shall miss you… let me draw up orders to prepare a shuttle for your use, you are qualified, I recall?” Zhen’var reached for her terminal.

“I am, Captain,” Elia answered, and drew herself up. “You shall find me returning a better woman than I left, I promise; I won’t leave this opportunity to pass me by.”

“That reaction is one of many reasons I put you forward for this chance, Commander. Go with my blessing.”

“Zhen’var, you will always be my friend.” She reached for a kerchief, trying to hide the tears forming in her eyes.

“Thank you, Elia. You have time to pack and brief the hand-off, I shall leave you to it. Let me know when you are departing, and I will see you off myself, my friend.”

The rendezvous had required the Huáscar to arrive before the Quarian fleet in a remote system in Terminus. Sitting at MC Yoke and normal cruising stations, the Huáscar had settled into wait. The abrupt departure of Commander Saumarez for training and the anticipation at the arrival of the Quarians were the main chatter aboard in the meantime.

Ten minutes before the arrival of the Quarian fleet was scheduled, Zhen’var came on the bridge. Daria had been temporarily promoted to one of the Officers of the Watch, and had the conn. Lieutenant Orallian was leading Ops, and Daria had bumped up her own officers into the Watch for Tactical.

“Commander. Keep the conn, I wanted to be up here to see the Migrant Fleet arrive.” Zhen’var offered, after her arrival was acknowledged.

A moment later, Abebech arrived on the bridge, as well, stepping quietly to the side. “Captain, it is going to be quite the sight,” she observed mildly.

“Of course, that is why I came up here. The same for you, Commander? The grandest my galaxy has ever known was the Combined Fleet at First Balos. This is… more.”

“Of course it is. There are legends of greater fleets, but…”

“But they are legends. The Migrant Fleet is very real.”

Abebech looked distant for a moment. “Perhaps they are. Having seen what we recently saw, I am not so sure,” she answered. “But this is here, in the present, sure, real. Yes, I very much want to see it.”

“Perhaps we should have gone to one of the celestial domes.” Zhen’var murmured, watching the mission clock scroll onwards.

“Here’s their expected time.”

“Ah, it’s appropriate to be on the bridge, enough, Captain,” Abebech answered… And the first flash rippled. Ten ships. Frigates.

“109th Forward Picket Group requests we identify ourselves,” Bor’erj reported from comms.

“Send confirmation of our identity,” Daria ordered, “And hold position.”

“They confirm, Ma’am.” Just as Bor’erj finished speaking, his eyes widened.

With a ripple, ships started to arrive. Ten like before, and then another ten, and another, and another, and another… And these were all frigates.

“To think, these are just the scouts… do salute each ship that offers us one, please.” Zhen’var gently offered.

“Render honours when given,” Daria instructed, leaning forward with her ears flexing.

“One thousand ships,” Orallian reported. “All frigates.”

“Here it comes…” Abebech murmured. Just as she did, the cruisers started, wave after wave… And as they formed a circle behind the scouts, the three utterly massive LiveShips appeared in the middle of the cruisers, and then suddenly in a surge around them, all the uncounted ships of a dozen races began to surge forward in a continuous rippling flash of arrival that seemed to just go on and on.

Even the Captain could not completely hide her awe, as ship after ship, squadron after squadron, came pouring into the system.

Abebech breathed slow and steady, and watched sharply on the screen. “That is the entire Quarian species, seventeen million of them, and yet their fleet … Is rivalled by few in space.”

“Unfortunately, it is a most fragile fleet, I fear… but that is why we are here.” And I am to negotiate with them. Divine, but this is not a small challenge.

“If little Quarian children don’t have to grow up in bubbles, we may account ourselves of having done something really grand, ” Abebech smiled. “It was marvelous. I won’t forget it,” she added, as the fleet finished arriving.

“Agreed. I thank you for your presence, Commander.” Zhen’var had a small smile on her face as she turned. “Carry on, Commander Seldayiv.”

Artesia was in Café Varna eating cuts of lukanka alongside of a bowl of Pacha and a big slice of black bread, looking out the windows at the immense glittering vastness of artificial stars which represented the points of light that were the Quarian Migrant Fleet. She was continuing to try and experiment with all the different foods that Alexandra could make out of a mix of curiosity and a vague sense of guilt that most people just came in and ordered shashka and meat plates.

“Lieutenant.” The voice that seemed to float into her ear came in a low rumble, from a figure holding a plate of meshana skara.

Artesia looked up, and offered a smile. “Colonel Fei’nur, a pleasure to see you here,” she gestured with a hand to the table. “Have a seat if you like?”

“Thank you. I would.” Slipping in, the tray slid onto the table with barely a sound as Fei’nur moved into the opposite chair. “You have been exploring the menu, I see. Familiar to dishes from your youth?”

“None, actually; the dishes I mostly remember are Spanish, and Catalan, ones,” she answered with a smile. “You would doubtless like Spanish pork dishes, Colonel. I just want to try something new, and explore. My childhood was war, longing, and flight. It feels very odd to be comfortably seated at a table, even on a warship, getting to try all these dishes I never have before. I think I’d like to try Dilgar cuisine next, actually.”

“That will be… harder than most, Lieutenant de Mas.” There was something in the Colonel’s eyes as she said it. “Not as hard as Quarian, I will grant you.”

“Well, at least I will make you Tostón asado , Colonel, if you like. I will just need to find suckling pigs…” Artesia offered a grin.

“A pity, we could have gotten them on Drachenfeldt.” Fei’nur returned the grin. “We will surely find them on some planet.”

“I think we certainly will,” she nodded.

“In a more serious vein, I will speak to you about my business once our meals are completed?” The older Dilgar woman proposed, as her fork went back to taking a morsel of meat from her plate.

“Certainly so, I agree,” Artesia nodded, working to tuck in to her food, every so often glancing up to be reassured and amazed by the glittering stars of the Migrant Fleet.

“As the Sides you knew, but even grander for being mobile…?” Fei’nur asked, with a slight lilt to her voice.

“Probably about the same mass of steel in the fleet as in the sides. The LiveShips, now those are impressive,” Artesia nodded.

“To think, once they were dreadnoughts, I recall. Our greatest fleet… was ten thousand ships, and it staggered the galaxy to see and hear of such a feat, this…”

“Nobody should underestimate them,” Artesia said flatly, hands going up as she finished her food, to gesture. “ Nobody. They kept this fleet going, added ships, for centuries of wandering. I like ‘em. They’re resourceful.” And there was a bemused glint in her eye. “And spacenoids.”

Fei’nur’s grin showed teeth. “That leaves us with the idea for business. A bit of our plates left, still.” She sounded quite amused herself.

“You’re taking your time with explaining it, Colonel?” Artesia asked, bemused, and now a little curious, too.

“If I am going to be blunt, I have concerns , Lieutenant, and with Commander Saumarez absent, I am intending to propose that you take her usual place on the Captain’s diplomatic entourage.”

Artesia blinked. “You know I’m not nearly as skilled at reading people as she is, Battlemaster? Is this because I am an officer and -- capable of being polite? I admit, Newtypes have a certain … Battlefield sense.”

“And, as you said, Lieutenant; spacenoids. It is not optimal, but I do not believe you will be a fighter pilot your entire career.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Artesia answered, and grinned. “We’ll get Mobile Armours and I’ll switch straightaway.”

“Mmm.” Fei’nur made a noncommittal noise without returning the grin. “Perhaps.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing what one with this technology can do. Yes, Colonel, I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Is there anything you will need? I have not interacted with Quarians before, other than Commander Fera’xero, though I do admit some sympathy.”

"Absolutely not, Colonel. I will be ready. Like you--I think they deserve it."
Last edited by Tomyris on Sun Nov 17, 2019 5:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 69
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act Two

The pilots generally didn’t come down to jarhead territory. Of course, nobody would dare call Fei’nur a jarhead anyway, and maybe that had something to do with it, since the reputation of most pilots was that they couldn’t control themselves when it came to humour at the expense of the rest of the military.

Lar’shan, on the other hand, broke all the stereotypes. And he certainly had plenty of reason to have a conversation with Fei’nur, especially since he had returned to the ship since his short leave, which had been taken somewhere. A very interesting somewhere.

Fei’nur’s personal space on the Marine decks lacked the stereotypical battle trophies, decorations, holos, flags, and all the rest which seemed to slowly take over the offices of a senior officer. Simple and spartan, like the woman who ruled the ground-pounders of Huáscar with an iron fist, and who stood to greet him. “Welcome back, Lar’shan.”

“Thank you. It was a busy few days to get the wing in order once I returned. I apologise for not making the meeting sooner.”

“Nonsense, official duties almost always come first. Our lords and masters rather prefer it. Ytar? I hope the journey was productive, I know that it was not a simple task I asked of you.”

“Thank you, I would like the Ytar. ” He paused, and then nodded. “It was a strange and unfortunate experience to see the ruins of a culture. The Kilrathi have taken the loss of their Empire truly hard. But they are alive, and in numbers which would make most of us envious, I think.”

“Agreed. They will eventually recover, but what form that takes is uncertain. Their spirits were shattered. We were broken, but not our spirit was not routed as theirs was.”

“I agree. There were elements which behaved and thought righteously inside of Kilrathi culture, but whether or not those win out is a matter of uncertainty at the moment,” Lar’shan answered. “So, they let me test-fly almost all of their fighters. Some of them are quite impressive.”

“Impressive enough to expand the contacts we have made thus far, Battle Expert?” His Dilgar rank emphasized the unofficial nature of those contacts.

“Yes. I am not sure that the lady’s clan actually has access to an old Bloodfang, but they may know where one crashed and could be retrieved, perhaps by Arterus’ cousin,” Lar’shan answered, “so it wasn’t actually all smoke and mirrors. They seemed receptive to diplomatic contacts as well, and I’d like to encourage… Some of the more positive elements,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. “In particular, the technology in the Sorthak is of interest though the lack of manoeuvrability and inadequacies in the design of the aft turret mean it would need modification to be a truly superlative heavy fighter. The Dralthi Mk.VIII is superior to the Thorun in its current mark, but not to the Mongoose. The Paktahn Bomber, on the other hand, is superior to anything we have, period; its throw-weight in torpedoes and missiles and handling while carrying it is superlative.”

“I shall inform the Warmaster of the useful nature of those craft, that we can do our best to study them, and of the lead on acquiring a crashed example. Thank you, Lar’shan. You certainly can keep up your contacts. I will do the same, and recommend to the Warmaster we expand our outreach.”

“You are most welcome, Battlemaster,” he smiled. “I think if we can build a strong alliance of races around us who account us friends, we shall in time be stronger than ever before. It is a worthwhile endeavour. Flying against me, I think the Kilrathi already learned to respect Dilgar.”

“Most pilots with any sense learn respect quickly, when they fly against a Shan.” Fei’nur answered with honest amusement on her face. “For what is worth, I agree. Even if Nah’dur’s effort of outreach seemed silly on first glance, I have since changed my outlook. You stand dismissed, Battle Expert.”

“Battlemaster.” Lar’shan came to attention and saluted, but there was a little grin in his eye.

The first hours after the Huáscar ’s arrival at the meeting-point and the jump-in of the Migrant Fleet had just been an exchange of protocol notes and beam-through protocols and a medical review by Nah’dur of the ship’s environmental systems, while Chief Sherrod was making sure that the Food Management Team had everything ready for the unique dietary requirements of the Quarians.

Finally, all of the Dilgar personnel, because the ship was to be “dressed” for diplomatic guests, were already in dress uniform, and of course that meant everyone else on the Huáscar had to follow suit.

Zhen’var was grateful for the excuse to make her ship look at least a little smarter, walking the decks for quick spot inspections of the critical parts of the preparations. One could be very proud, at this point, that the Huáscar truly turned out grandly. The Captain was, if she was honest with herself, killing time before the Quarians agreed to send their first delegates to her ship, but it gave her a warm feeling of gratification to see everything coming together.

After a few more hours, Abebech, ‘floating’ since the crew was a bit overtaxed with Elia gone, commed her. “Captain, the Quarians are satisfied with the reports from the Surgeon-Commander and the Admiralty Board is ready to arrive by shuttle. They won’t transport because there is some concern, despite Commander Fera’xero’s assurances, about quantum scale suit fissures from the transporter process. They are rather paranoid about that.”

“Very well. Prepare the side party for the main shuttlebay, please. I will be there to greet them. The best impression we can present, of course”

“Of course, Captain. I will see you there,” Abebech answered mildly.

“Thank you, Commander.” A warmth suffused Zhen’var’s voice as she let the comms connection close, and she turned her path through the corridors that led aft.

Marines, Security, sideparty, Abebech and Fei’nur. The assemblage growing in the bay when Zhen’var arrived was in dress uniforms, with pulse rifles for Marines and Security, and the bay glimmering. Stasia had provided plenty of room for the Quarian shuttles, and the fighters and shuttles looked splendid.

A single nod to each officer was the Captain’s response, but her gaze shone with pride as she looked about, taking her place at the head of the welcoming party, gloved hands folding behind her reflexively.

Each Admiral arrived on a separate shuttle.

A single glance up in the direction of the landing director was the only hint of nervousness Zhen’var expressed as she picked out the moving stars that resolved into shuttles. Each from their own ship, each shuttle had its’ own story, she was sure, by how many ships were no longer completely Quarian in their parts heritage.

And each one in turn was guided smartly into the bay without a problem by Stasia and her team, and spotted in order. The Quarians didn’t leave their shuttles until the bay doors sealed behind the last.

The opening of the hatches saw the Dilgar captain straighten her back, heels clicking together as she stiffened to stand at attention for the arrival of a board of Admirals. This was diplomacy of a type that was still foreign to her, but there was no choice other than to do her utmost and carry it out.

Five Quarian Admirals, three men, two women. Han’Gerrel, Zaal’Koris, Rael’Zorah, Daro’Xen, Shala’Raan. With their staffs in support of them, there were more than thirty Quarians coming on board the Huáscar, plus the shuttle crews, and the band played, the pipes whistled, and the companies came to attention.

Rael’Zorah exchanged a glance with Han’Gerrel, and the line presented and identified themselves as the music finished. “Permission to come aboard, Captain?” he asked formally, for even the Quarian Admiralty Board needed permission, and respected Captains. Zhen’var was the Captain of her ship, and they had done some reading of their own.

“Permission is so granted, Admirals.” The Quarian music faded away as Zhen’var met the diffuse glowing eyes of a Quarian behind their faceplate. “Welcome aboard Huáscar. The hospitality of the ship is yours while you choose to remain aboard her.”

“We will stay until the conclusion of diplomacy,” Zaal’Koris answered. “Thank you, Captain.”

“We shall see if the reputation of Alliance diplomacy holds true.” came from Daro’Xen, as Admiral Shala’Raan finished the round of speeches with a gentle “I expect that the Captain’s reputation will, at least.”

With a nod to the assembly, Abebech flawlessly handled the delicate process of forming honour-guards while dismissing the review, and falling in at Zhen’var’s side for them to go to the negotiation suite.

I hope I am doing well so far, Commander. You certainly are, to my view! She ‘thought’ rather hard in Commander Imra’s direction, as she led the way to where their negotiations would begin.

< It’s fine, Captain, and you’re fine,> Abebech answered her explicitly.

The suite had neatly separated sets of dextro- and levo- food, there was an auditorium for declarations and speeches, a conference table room, a central projector room. Chief Sherrod even had different sets of liveried crew from the Food Management Team so that the orderlies could be told apart based on what they were serving, though it wasn’t that big of a deal since all of the Quarian food was in prepackaged bulbs and vacuum pouches and the other food… wasn’t.

At least she knew that the dextro food had been prepared to the highest standards; the levi food certainly looked wonderful… but this was a serious negotiation, not a social function. “With your understanding, Admirals, there will be a series of experts brought in during these negotiations to cover various points in the Alliance position, with reciprocal permission being, of course, extended.”

“We will find it more convenient to synchronise our omnitools and suit links with them, and we expect that will be permitted,” Rael’Zorah answered smoothly. He seemed composed and calm about it all, the sort of person who was always looking for an advantage.

“Of course, Admiral.” Zhen’var answered. “There will be monitoring for unusual communications, but no decryption of communication being sent on Quarian channels.”

“That is agreeable.”

They would go to the auditorium first. There, after introductions, Zhen’var would have to give a speech essentially speaking to the vision of peace and good relations, confirming the intention to assist the Quarians in finding a new homeworld. These events just required speeches.

Keelah si’yah. ” Zhen’var began, with her head bowed, as she invoked the Quarian benediction. “It is with the intention to bring this hope into being that we are gathered here today, and to this cause that the Alliance has tasked my ship and crew, though a hard journey to the farthest stars. It is to this hope that we pledge ourselves, we people of the Union who serve aboard Huáscar, who have known the wrenching agony of being cast out of our own Edinnu , and whose desperate efforts and toil were in the end given reward.”

Her back spasming with nervousness, Zhen’var swallowed past a dry throat as she went on. “It is my hope to see the Quarian people to be given a place where their natural talent will be recognized, where malice and prejudice have no place and no home. The approach of the Flotilla should not be a cause for concern, and the Alliance reaches out its’ hand to the Quarian people, in immediate assistance freely given, and in hope for a stable, permanent future.”

“She hit the right notes,” Abebech whispered to Will as the two politely applauded along with many of the others. “That was exceptionally hard for her, though.”

“I don’t know how they select starship captains to also be diplomats,” Will admitted with a grimace. “I’d never do that well.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself,” Abebech answered. “Let’s see where this takes us.”

Zhen’var stepped away from the lectern with a smile that somehow looked genuine, despite how her emotions roiled as she moved to sit at her place on the table. Now she had to lay out the Alliance proposals for how to turn pretty words into reality.

After several briefings on the agenda and summaries of work, they broke to settle in the conference room. It was there that Rael’Zorah first touched on the problem which Fera’Xero had alluded to. “Captain, you speak fine words, but you are proposing something that might not exist. There is one world that we know is safe for Quarians: Rannoch.”

“We will not know if we do not make the attempt, Admiral. My ship’s Chief Medical Officer has briefed me on her understanding of the situation, namely that there is some evidence of primordial bacterial exchange, which the Perseus Veil likely prevented on Rannoch. Our intention would be to concentrate the search on areas where astrological conditions also greatly reduce the chance of such exchanges. It is a multiversal big data problem, as we are approaching it, searching through observed data of these areas in all universes we have access to, then a joint task group of my ship and a squadron of your own would conduct a search, starting with the most likely areas first, over several years if needed. There is support for this, but no political will for any violent conflict with the Geth, Admiral.”

“The logistics effort of moving the entire fleet to another universe are an overwhelming problem,” Han’Gerrel countered. “Is that, and a search that may last years, really cheaper than a war that with your assistance might be over in a week? Captain, your nation will need to help support the Fleet for the years you are searching. Otherwise, the peoples of this universe will only turn harder against us. Indeed, if we are to follow your advice, we might as well leave now!”

“If a decision is made by the Conclave that it wishes to travel to Alliance space, then the Flotilla may do so .” Zhen’var leaned forward. “It is believed that approximately two hundred fleet tenders would be required, and I have the authority to indicate that we will support the Migrant Fleet if our proposals are, in some form, accepted. Whether or not it is cheaper, Admiral, the Alliance government will not support the Flotilla in a war of offensive character, when it can extend a hand of support and friendship in peace to the Quarian people.”

“You speak words we have not heard the like of in many years, Captain. I wonder, do you truly know the scale of what you are glibly offering?” Admiral Daro’Xen mused, with a sharpness beneath her words.

“Replicators have made morality much easier for the peoples who have them,” Abebech offered from Zhen’var’s side in response to Admiral Daro’xen.

“Such a technological advance would greatly improve conditions within the Fleet, and reduce the need for Alliance support.” The avarice that the head of Special Projects regarded replicators with was not well-hidden.

“That is certainly a matter for discussion during these talks, Admiral.” Zhen’var replied, already feeling her head starting to pulse with pain behind her eyes. I feel as if I am outnumbered five to one…

The discussions went on from there as the Quarians tried to understand the full range of what was being offered to them. It was clear that Fera’Xero’s intelligence had been largely correct, though the Commander himself was absent. Will had pointed out that it was unfair for him to have to participate where there might be a conflict of interest between his oath and his people, he could be a resource, but he shouldn’t be at the talks.

The first day ended with Zhen’var trying to figure out whether or not the Alliance could actually provide the level of support the Quarians wanted when moving into another universe to wait out the discovery of a homeworld. That was the key thing, the Quarians were actually quite willing to move: This universe had done nothing but ill-will to them for centuries, and so even without a homeworld, the prospect of leaving was a desirable one if it meant less abuse of Quarian youth and more opportunities to engage in resource extraction without fighting. But one of the key paranoias that Daro’Xen, Han’Gerrel and Rael’Zorah had clearly expressed was over how to get back if a new homeworld wasn’t found.

The matter of how to handle supporting the Quarian fleet for a sustained period of time was one she found herself mulling over long into the night after the receptions had ended, as she moved to the comms terminal in her quarters, moving to sit with a mug in hand. Now it was time to see if she could come back tomorrow with data. She looked at the problem from several angles… Possible. Difficult, but possible. “Get me Portland. I will wait.” She spoke into the pickup for the duty comms officer on the bridge.

As she waited, the door chimed. They still hadn’t disabled the computer voice function since the last update. “Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur.”

“Come in, Commander!” she called out, while pressing the door release.

“Captain,” Nah’dur offered solicitously. “It seems the first day of negotiations has gone well,” she said, moving to stand by the chair in front of Zhen’var and her desk.

“To a point. Stand easy, Commander. Sit, if you wish.” The seal on the projector behind her and the ‘Waiting to Connect’ screen showed rather well what she was doing

“Ooh, that screen. I’m sorry.” Nah’dur murmured before moving to sit. “I need Commander Imra to undertake a small mission to pick something up for me, Captain.”

“You need… please explain?” Zhen’var’s voice was quizzical, though she covered her confusion with the ever-present mug on her desk.

“I’ve been providing medical assistance to the Krogan, Captain. It’s within my remit for independent study as an Alliance Medical Officer.”

“Whenever you immediately provide justification as that, Commander, I admit some concern. When you say you are providing medical assistance to the Krogan… do you mean of a sort that has strategic implications?” She almost did not want the answer, but had to confirm her suspicion.

“They have a right to not die just like we do, and it is within my ethical duties as a practicing Surgeon in the Alliance,” Nah’dur answered levelly, looking a little challenged. “Of course I am trying to cure the genophage, who else could?”

“The point is granted. I am not attacking you, Commander, but you do understand the consequence … is Colonel Fei’nur aware of this activity, Commander Nah’dur?” Zhen’var’s expression had not sharpened, but she had a flicker of worry across her face. This was a wasp’s nest that her sister was going to be shaking violently with her actions.

“I am something of an open book to Fei’nur,” Nah’dur answered frankly, and stretched her shoulders. “Captain, I just need biological samples to be picked up from a ship Battlemaster Urdnot Wrex is sending them on, and conveyed back to the Huáscar. I need to do critical embryo testing to confirm that my solution is actually safe. I am, in fact, rather close to being done.”

“I am not pleased to discover you have been doing this without informing me, Nah’dur…” Her sister’s gaze flashed with annoyance. “You may ask Commander Imra, yes, but you are not to carry out projects that may jeopardize yourself or the ship without at least informing me, Nah’dur. If the Citadel Council finds out you are doing this…”

“Wrex is trying to save his people from extinction,” Nah’dur’s face pouted up. “Isn’t that what the Alliance is supposed to be about? I mean, really, the Citadel Council can go hang.”

“Is that before or after someone attempts to make a shuttle you are traveling on explode , Nah’dur? The Council Spectres are this universe’s counterpart to Fei’nur, and someone will send them after you if word of this becomes generally known.”

“I carry my personal shield with me everywhere and I sleep with a gun under my pillow,” Nah’dur protested.

“What if they do not care for collateral damage, sister…? I worry for you, not just as your captain, Nah...”

Nah sighed. “Sister-Zhen, how will I redeem Dur without feats like these? What better challenge can I lay at the feet of the multiverse? I want to help the Krogan to show how it is done, and to give us a reputation.”

“I do not say you should not, or you can not… but I beg you to be cautious to nearly the point of paranoia. You make enemies of sentients full of hate and guile.”

“All right. I’m sorry, Sister-Zhen. You will send Abebech..?”

“Of course I will. You will fully brief Colonel Fei’nur, in turn, that she may plan accordingly, is that understood, Commander?”

“Understood. I will find her at on--” Nah’dur trailed off as Zhen’var’s comm started chirping with the connection finally having gone through. “...Right now,” she added, and rose, snapping a crisp, jaunty salute to Zhen’var.

“Thank you, Nah’dur.” Came the Captain’s reply, with an honest smile, before she spun her chair, straightening her jacket, waiting for the soft noise of the hatch closing before bringing up the connection.

The screen resolved into the figure of the Alakin Vrishke, who was the Undersecretary for Fleet Diplomacy Initiatives--the person with the awkward job of coordinating the situations in which, like in Starfleet, the Alliance military was leading diplomatic efforts.

“Undersecretary.” Zhen’var inclined her head politely. “The Migrant Fleet wishes to depart this universe while waiting upon the discovery of a new homeworld. They will return only if we fail at finding one - I privately suspect to attempt an assault on Rannoch.”

“Do they propose a plan on where to go, Captain?”

“Alliance space.” Managing not to flinch at the implication was rather impressive, she would tell herself later. “The details depend on the vote of the Conclave.”

“Supporting the Migrant Fleet ourselves will be… A significant concession. They can process raw materials themselves, correct?” The Alakin looked almost perturbed at the prospect of it. It was easy for the Alliance to want to help the Quarians settle… And another thing entirely to maintain a fleet of 50,000 ships at government expense.

“They do have factory ships, yes. The other alternative, though I know it has knock-on effects, is to supply replicator technology, which would reduce the mass requirements tremendously by only requiring us to provide fuel, sir.”

The Undersecretary paused. “They would need to have their association agreement signed just as your people have, Captain,” he answered. “It would be the best alternative. I agree that getting the Quarian fleet to another universe is important; its movements cause continuous risks of conflict throughout Citadel and associated space.”

“Agreed. I will present an association agreement, sir, but if we can give them the support they need…” Zhen’var paused. “There may be less than twenty million Quarians, but every power in this universe has been criminally foolish in not taking them in.”

“I agree with you,” the Undersecretary chuckled, which from an Alakin was a kind of cawing. “If we can put them down in an un-colonised region of space to collect fuel and equipment themselves and supply replicator technology, it will be easily approved, Captain. If fuel support is needed, that will entail a more substantial debate in the Senate.”

“They are used to supporting themselves, if they can concentrate on seeking out fuel, I am sure there will be hundreds of ships soon enough doing just that. If a draft association agreement can be sent, along with the specific elements of permitted technological sharing under the same, I am present it at our next session. I think this is a promising start.”

“I will have my staff get that out to you by early tomorrow morning, Captain.” Which was reasonable, since of course considering the vagarities of space, the Navy ran on Portland time.

“Thank you, Undersecretary. I shall update you based on the reaction.”

Nah’dur, in the meanwhile, had made her way down to the Marine spaces in the engineering hull where Fei’nur was berthed. She had insisted on being with her troops, and it made Nah’dur getting down there from Officers’ Country in the upper saucer a bit of an adventure through the kilometre long starship.

As she passed into the Marine spaces, there was a slight change in the feeling around her. Marines squared up their posture and offered a sharp, formal. “Surgeon-Commander.” in greeting as she passed. Fei’nur was in her office; she kept the door held open most of the time she was in residence. She heard a polite; “ Huma ta Humas, Highness. Thank you.” before a console bleeped.

Nah’dur rapped her gloved knuckles on the doorjam. “Colonel Fei’nur,” she said. Her voice needed no introduction to Fei’nur who had known her since she was a kit.

“Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur! A pleasure, do come in, sit.” The marine closed the hatch behind the doctor, and her face did break into a smile. “What brings you all the way down here, Nah’dur?”

“Exercise,” Nah’dur teased. “I walked the whole way. The turbolift seems like cheating.” She decided not to comment on the conversation she had heard the tail end of… Until she had impulsively changed her mind a moment later as she stepped in and closed the door. “Were you… Did you make a new friend, Fei’nur?”

“You were there at our hot-wash, Nah’dur. You heard what I said.” came the quick, easy answer.

“Oh.” Nah’dur opened her mouth and then closed it again. “Well.” She changed the subject. “I wanted to talk to you about Battlemaster Urdnot Wrex.”

Fei’nur audibly sighed, and leaned back in her chair. “Your Krogan contact. You are preparing to do something that can no longer be hidden, Nah’dur?”

“I got the Captain’s permission to send Abebech to recover biological samples from a contact ship,” Nah’dur answered. “It’s second-stage clinical testing for a partial cure for the genophage.” She looked inordinately proud.

“I want to know, in exacting detail, very single time, place, and method of communication you have had regarding this project with someone. The only exceptions are in-person communication on a Union planet , or aboard this ship when we were not docked.” Leaning forward, Fei’nur’s eyes had locked onto Nah’dur, narrowed and dangerous.

Nah’dur rolled her eyes, sighed, and reached down into her pocket for a small Centauri style data crystal. “Of course, I expected you would ask, so I prepared it on an isolated persocomp I wiped afterwards. I’ve been communicating with Wrex through a secured private comms link that runs from Alliance territory through the Solarians and then into the Thessian financial services. So the message is being burrowed through the security applied to interuniversal stock transactions.”

Fei’nur let out a grunt. “Which means there are likely only three to four intelligence agencies who know about this. Our issue is that one of the likely suspects cares .” She took the data-crystal. “Nah’dur, as long as we are in this universe, you are in grave danger. Outside it, you must exercise extreme care. You are almost certainly marked for death by the Special Tactics Group. Do you understand me, Nah? ” Her voice turning gravelly with emotion by the end, Fei’nur’s almost desperate look stayed fixed on her old ward’s face all the while.

“Yes I am. Just like Brakiri Intelligence and Drazi Intelligence and at least some rogue elements in Narn Intelligence probably also have me marked for death, along with all of my sisters?” Her eyes flashed. “I am not afraid of having taken on the danger, Fei’nur. But I am aware. I have put myself in danger, and I probably can’t leave the ship.”

“Not without me with you, no, and it is different . They want to kill you for revenge without bringing the Alliance down on them. STG wants to kill you now and before you succeed. I cannot predict how desperate they are. Desperate assassins are dangerous, as they often do not care about extraction afterwards. Remember everything I have taught you.”

Nah’dur stiffened to attention and brought her hand up in salute. “I will honour your lessons, Battlemaster. I am doing this for our people.” One could see it in those green eyes. She meant it.

“I will brief Security, without details. And… Nah’dur? You are doing well. She would approve of your fearlessness.”

Nah’dur’s face shone with pride. “We will have friends when this is done. We will write a new chapter of glory… Thank you, Fei.”

With a single nod, Fei’nur cycled her office hatch. “Thank you for stopping by, Surgeon-Commander.” Turning her comms panel after a last smile and nod to the ship’s doctor, she keyed up intra-ship comms. “Colonel Fei’nur to Major Richards, would you be able to stop by my office? We have a situation to discuss...”

Storing one perfectly good spaceship inside of another one was always one of those odd decisions which the crew of the Huáscar just had to make do with. Abebech settled into her command chair, holding a mug of coffee and looking at the display read-outs.

“Christmas tree green across the board,” Lt. Veeringen reported from engineering.

“We have clearance, Ma’am,” the comm rating, 1PO Getty, read off.

“Helm?” Abebech asked Ca’elia simply at those words.

“Ready to answer in all respects, Captain.” came the quick reply from the Dilgar at the console.

Abebech took a drink of her coffee and nodded slowly. She knew the reason for this mission--Zhen’var trusted her with it--but she’d have to be circumspect with the rest of her crew. “Take her out, Leftenant.”

“Understood. Clearing all moorings… zero-zero. Thrusters, astern one-quarter...” There was no need to rush the intricate process of moving one full-grown starship free of another.

Abebech waited patiently, listening to the status reports and letting Ca’elia do her job. Her eyes were not focused on the Dilgar Lieutenant, she expected her job at shiphandling to be precise and competent by now. It was not long before she called out to the Captain; “Free, clear, and awaiting a course, Captain.”

“System sector K-49, X-19, Y-20, Z-1,” Abebech instructed, giving the coordinates in local reference rather than a fixed stellar position, which was unusual to begin with. “Full impulse.”

“System sector K-49, X-19, Y-20, Z-1, full impulse, aye, Captain.” Her hands moved over her console, bringing the engines to life, spinning Heermann about to the required course.

“Kept up a careful watch in the midst of this fleet and obey Traffic Control from the Quarian fleet at all times,” Abebech observed.

“Keep careful watch and obey Quarian Traffic Control, aye.” With Abebech being hands-off, Ca’elia was watching her repeater displays warily, weaving through the incredibly congested local space with a deft touch.

“We will be making a rendezvous with a Krogan owned vessel and taking aboard hazmat samples to return to the Huáscar for analysis,” Abebech explained matter-of-factly. “It would not be appropriate, I am afraid, my crew, to explain more.”

Privately, Abebech wondered if her absence from the Huáscar was really that wise.

It spoke well for her crew’s faith in her that they didn’t even glance to each other with the unasked questions such a pronouncement had to generate.

“It’s nice to have business in the midst of the diplomacy.”

“Certainly, Commander,” Goodenough chuckled. “We don’t know what it is, but well enough, anyway.” The crew of the Heermann had adapted to the little legend that Abebech had become after ‘The ‘Verse Mission’. They had all been ordered to secrecy, but nonetheless, the whispers, the sense of it all, continued.

Abebech smiled affiably. If anything, she seemed more laid back after that, with her crew on the Heermann. She had taken to trusting them--implicitly. They had earned the finest, closest kind of bond that existed.

“Something of a fifty thousand body problem, isn’t it, Leftenant?” She asked Ca’elia comfortably.

“Yes, Captain.” came the reply from the young Dilgar, sounding as distracted as she actually was , manouvering their attacker through the congested tangle of the Migrant Fleet.

“We just have to trust everything will go fine with these negotiations,” Abebech remarked as she finished her mug and looked to Goodenough. “My personal objective is to see a day when Quarian children aren’t in bubbles.”

“I’d drink to that, Captain.”

“And that’s why you’re a damned good man, Jonathan.”

The next day started with the complicated ceremonial of avoiding offending anyone with the split breakfast, and then getting down to the details of negotiations. On one side was the heads of State of the Quarian nation, and on the other side… Well, at least Zhen’var had a conversation to go off of with an Undersecretary!

“Good morning, Admirals.” Back in her dress uniform again, the Dilgar woman looked far more confident. “Based on our discussions yesterday, I can, subject to negotiation on certain conditions, confirm that the Alliance would permit and welcome the Migrant Fleet to enter our space. Admiral Daro’Xen, with regards to your inquiry, replicator technology is available to any state willing to enter Association with the Alliance, as the Honourable Union of my people has.”

There was an exchange of glances among the Quarian admirals. Han’Gerrel seemed to make a frustrated noise. “That is an obfuscation. We will need more than just replicators to safely sustain the fleet in another galaxy, Captain.”

“Of course, Admiral.” She brought forward a datapad, sliding it across the table. “This is the listing of technology permissible to associated states as per the latest regulations. The current thinking is to send the Flotilla to an uninhabited area, thence free permission to harvest resources in the region to your Migrant Fleet.”

“That is how we normally operate, while trying to trade. Would we be allowed to trade?” Zaal’Koris asked.

“Better to provide fuel,” Rael’Zorah said, sotto-voice.

“Trade permissions are included in most Association agreements, I am waiting on Portland to forward me a customized proposal for yourselves and the Conclave to view and debate, sirs. A request for fuel supply can be made, but would require debate by the Senate to consider whether to move the relevant budgetary appropriation, a political matter that I do not have the authority to promise.”

Daro’Xen had gotten her hands on the datapad, and her eyes could be seen moving as she scrolled down the list.

Han’Gerrel looked frustrated. “Scavenging far from our usual sources, we would be dependent on you for fuel, and you cannot make us guarantees? Captain, we might be a derelict nation, without means of survival, if that came to pass! How can you offer us something better than returning home in that?”

“You are saying you are unable to harvest fuel from planetary sources, Admiral? I had been unaware, and the offer had been made on the assumption that a concentration upon a singular resource would greatly improve the Fleet’s mining efficiency.”

“It is unwise to maintain the survival of a people on a single resource,” Han’Gerrel answered, and rather fuming, stalked off back to the beverage bulb line.

Daro’Xen instead quietly broke the conversation to lead Zhen’var away. “Captain, that old War-Horse is utterly determined to crush the Geth in main battle,” she said softly. “It is a fool’s errand. They are our creations, our inheritance. Our problem, in the end. One we can solve from galaxies away as easily as next to them, where their power reaches. Ancestors, but even his officers are such martinets they might as well be VI’s themselves.You shouldn’t think too much of his protests. Of course we can suck down a gas giant to refuel the fleet. We have done it before in part. He just didn’t want to admit it.”

“The Geth problem can be best approached by a Quarian people who are safe and secure. If you can make everything with energy, then…” Zhen’var gestured to encompass Huáscar . “If we can ensure the Fleet is safe and secure while we are searching for a homeworld, we can take the pressure off your ships’ systems, and I can not find fault with such an outcome.”

“You have won me over,” Daro’Xen answered frankly. “Rendering retaliation against our people impossible makes the Geth problem one we can deal with. Widespread access to technology and trade is more important. Your own people provide an example of this, and frankly, I am very impressed by Dilgar abilities in numerous fields. There is certainly enough room in the multiverse for both of us to specialise in the same way.”

“If one is to be stereotypical, a Dilgar makes three universe’s technologies work together as if it was intended from the start. A Quarian builds a starship from a food processor, circuit board, and chunk of eezo, if you will forgive that flippancy, Admiral. Most Dilgar see in Quarians a people similar to us; and ones we are most eager to work alongside.”

Daro’Xen seemed suspicious for a moment, but one got the impression of a coy smile even if one could never tell through the mask. “Well, Captain, I do indeed believe that will be a profitable relationship. Let us see, then, if we can win over Han’Gerrel. The old warhorse needs to accept that the universe has changed. I think that Rael’Zorah will be more practical when the time for a final decision has come, I respect his intelligence.”

“As you say, Admiral. Thank you for the confidence. Alas, but there are not a great many surplus dreadnoughts about, but there are the dregs and cast-offs of the Reich’s War Machine, which could perhaps be acquired.”

Daro’Xen eyed her for a moment. “I admit, I was not expecting you to offer suggestions on how we could acquire dreadnoughts.”

“As I said, Dilgar have on the whole, great sympathies for the Quarian people, Admiral. We would have done such things ourselves, but if we were not economically prostrate.”

“If you were not economically prostrate, we would not be having this conversation,” Daro’Xen answered cynically. “However, I am not here for counterfactual postulates. For now I would rather deal with your people than any others. If we can work out the details of the support, we could carry the vote now, but for this issue I will instead try for unanimity, Captain.”

“I agree with the wisdom, Admiral. I hope to have further information for tomorrow’s session.” She clicked her heels, and bowed her head. “Admiral.”

Elia had tried to make the best possible time to Naval Station Armstrong to report for routing to the final location of her class, folding and unfolding a paper copy of her travel orders because it was quite likely that her omnitool would be rebooting at the exact moment she needed them out. She’d managed to catch a ride on the Minneapolis, one of the big new Darglan tech dreadnoughts under the command of a newly minted Captain Danielle Verdes. They had fortunately managed a long and rather entertaining conversation on the Huáscar ’s starfighter operation tempo.

Making the connection to a commercial liner, she had barely gotten any sleep, considering how hard she had worked to transition her department in the few days she’d had before departing. Running on about ten hours in four days and unable to sleep between the constant transfers, she’d finally gotten to Naval Station Armstrong at about 0200 Portland. The Navy Lodge was stuffed into one of the docking arms and she had to take the internal tube train to the opposite end of the station to reach it. By the time she arrived she figured the bags under her eyes were larger than her eyes themselves, and her efforts to hide them by applying more makeup were steadily starting to fail.

Travel is always hell, no matter which way you’re doing it, she mentally groused as she arrived at the desk and rang the bell a few times, unslinging her duffel. Nobody showed up. The temptation to unstrap her backpack as well was steadily growing overwhelming. You know if you take it off that the desk clerk will show up.

She gave in and started to take it off anyway. Precisely at the moment that she was slinging it to the floor, the guy behind the desk showed up, wearing a Polo with a logo declaring him to be a proud teammember of Precision Support Services. Contractors. In fact, the Corps generally had a good relationship with its own contractors, who were often P-1s and P-2s who weren’t legally in the Corps but who still had a hard time finding work in the civilian market, but she had been steadily learning that for other governments … This was manifestly not the case.

“Welcome to The Navy Lodge at Armstrong,” the man said in only the most bored tone ever. “Can I see your travel orders, Ma’am?”

Elia made a little noise and fished out the paper, handing it over. He looked slightly irritated at having to unfold the unfamiliar paper copy and then run it through the scanner, but it at least flashed green afterwards, which was all that really mattered. “Okay, I’ve got your overnight assignment as a visiting officer. You’ll have one of our private hotel style rooms…”

“Can I just have the key, please? I really need some rack time.”

“I just need you to burst me your government travel account code.”

Elia sighed and linked the omnitool. At least she could tell he had no interest in her, no contempt for telepaths, not even any real recognition of the gloves. She was just another Damned Officer showing up in the Middle of the Night and distracting him for the tri-dee he would rather be getting paid to watch. It was rather refreshing, actually.

“Thank you Ma’am.”

Walking past him and into the confusing warren of rooms, she found her own and keyed through. Unfortunately the habits ingrained in her after decades of Corps life couldn’t be escaped. She stripped, used her makeup removing towelettes and moisturizer on her face to make up for the constant layering, and only then collapsed into bed.

She woke up nine hours later, which gave her just enough time to take a hollywood shower, dry her hair, put on her makeup, get in uniform, pack up, sling her bags, breeze out, and get to the Training Office exactly on time, one more traveling officer on the big station.

She read the name of the Petty Officer behind the desk. He’d probably always been a pencil pusher, but Elia was impeccably polite by nature. “Hey, Chief. Here are my orders,” she said, and synched her omnitool. “I just need to know the next leg to the training site and when I’m supposed to depart. My orders were only to the depot here.”

The Chief ran the orders and then frowned and typed in something else. Elia tried to keep herself from audibly sighing. Of course some database is broken and he has to do everything manually. She could feel his bored and confused frustration, but it only grew as the minutes past. That bothered her.

“Lieutenant Commander?”

“Yes, Chief?” Elia glanced back over, her own face pursed in consternation now, as well.

“You’re not in the system. You weren’t selected for training.”

“But those are valid orders, Chief.” She could sense the frustration in people piling up behind her.

“Yes--I know, Ma’am. But you’re not in the training database. They were issued by mistake.”

“Are you sure it isn’t just an error with the training database?”

“There isn’t even a profile.”

“What if it was accidentally deleted?” Elia speculated, feeling like she was flailing.

“Why don’t you call Rear Admiral Tiywinit yourself since she signed the orders?” The Chief pushed back. “Ma’am, there’s twelve people in line behind you now.”

“I will,” Elia answered in frustration, taking the orders back. She didn’t even bother to leave, and standing there, commed the Admiral’s office directly from her omnitool.

The secretary took down the notes quickly. “I’ll check it out for you, Lieutenant Commander. I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on. Please wait.”

“Of course,” Elia answered. With a soft groan, she wandered off to find a replimat and get herself some tea and a scone. Having done so, she found a tri-dee that wasn’t on yet and looked up a Test Match, India versus Ireland in some universe. About twenty minutes later, the Admiral’s office commed her back.

“Commander, this is Admiral Tiywinit’s office. That isn’t the Admiral’s valid signature. The signature record in her 2FA doesn’t have it. Ma’am… It almost looks like these orders were forged.

“Nobody on the Huáscar would do that to me,” Elia answered defensively. “And I sure as hell wouldn’t drag myself to Armstrong and back for no reason.”

“I know, I know. It doesn’t make sense. But it’s all I have, Ma’am. There’s an IT security detachment on Armstrong, you should take the files to them.”

“Thank you.” I think. When the call ended, she started off immediately.

What followed was a bizarre journey that lasted five minutes of walking an hour of waiting as they wouldn’t let her in past the office after taking the data. Some bored person in the section was only helping her, she could tell, solely because it let him get out of the mind-numbing mandatory training he had due for another day, so he coded it urgent and started working.

She brought the Test Match back up on her omnitool. This is surreal.

It was 1352 Portland time when the cryptanalytic Warrant Officer returned with a seriously concerned look on his face and a Alakin Commander in an Intelligence uniform following.

“Commander Saumarez?”

“Sir?” Elia turned the Match off again and go up to stand at attention. “I take it you’ve found something?”

“Your personnel records were hacked, Commander. Do you have any idea why?”

Elia was almost floored by the news. It sounded ridiculous. She stood there for a moment, thoughtlessly. Then she jerked in place. Normally in the diplomatic talks I’d be an extra layer of security. If they didn’t want that there… “The only thing I can think of, Commander, means that we should urgently alert the Huáscar. Someone may be planning something at the diplomatic talks with the Quarians aboard.”

He looked like he didn’t want to allow it, like he was more suspicious about the entire situation in general. But then he allowed a single nod. “We’ll send a single alert and direct Security aboard to begin their own investigation. Then I’d like to ask you some questions about the circumstances of how this happened.”

“Of course, Commander. Let’s just get that alert out, quickly, please. It’s the second day of the talks.”

“We’ll send it from here.”

"Like hell you will, that's my ship!"
Posts: 69
Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act Three

In the afternoon, the meetings resumed. Now they had reached the point that Rael’Zorah was taking point on trying to extract as many concessions as possible over the details of support, the right to select the destination universe, and guarantees of support in settling and terraforming that he could. All-in-all, that actually meant that the situation was looking good for a consensus agreement. Daro’Xen clearly felt so, and worked in her own technological concerns and expectations as they went. 

Feeling more than slightly outgunned, and lacking political support Captain Zhen’var was trying to give concessions she actually had the authority to, having to more than once answer that “Such a question will require a Senate debate, Admiral, I am not authorized to make such a commitment.”

It was very manifestly a case of five Admirals, used to exercising political power, all sitting around and engaging with a mere Captain, who precisely because she respected them, felt a little tug of being at least somewhat deferential. This foreign policy process was in fact strange--and without Abebech there, the woman who seemed steadiest and most comfortable as her support in this kind of affair wasn’t available for her. Fei’nur was gone too, taking a turn leading the security efforts so Richards could actually get some rack time. 

She still was not sure why the Alliance had decided to refrain from sending a diplomat from the foreign office for the negotiations, but she did her best. “I think, Admirals, the afternoon recess is upon us. Shall we?”

Artesia was talking to some of Shala’Raan’s junior officers. She found them companionable, dedicated people who were trying their hardest to grapple with interuniversal logistics for their Admiral, who had been one of the most positive. She wanted the civilian ships away from the hate, the bigotry, the geth. The Alliance provided that and Shala’Raan had a fundamental confidence in her people’s ability to deal with resource extraction in another universe even if the details of the material support from the Alliance were not ideal. 

She watched the Captain and the Admirals start to move to the refreshment line and collect the offerings in packaged food provided to them. The ship’s crew could enjoy real refreshments… But it felt a little hollow when the polite people that you were talking to were stuck slurping out of bags. Artesia--sometimes she still regretted not just joining up under Sayla--wanted to be more courteous than that. She settled for a cup with a lid and a straw, it seemed symbolically equivalent. 

A few minutes after they had gone through the line, as Artesia was socialising with some of the Quarians, she abruptly saw one of the Quarian representatives from Han’Gerrel’s detachment begin to shiver and shake, and then collapse onto the ground, on the opposite side of the Conference Suite from where she was standing. Oh crap.

Chief Sherrod looked transfixed with horror and embarrassment at the fact that one of the Quarians had gotten sick, but she was immediately on it. “Medical Emergency in Conference Suite One, Main Hospitality Room.” 

Nah’dur was in one of the other rooms and came at a dead run. She had been conversing with the Quarians cheerfully--she had been extensively talking with Admiral Daro’Xen and her staff in fact (Daro’Xen’s eyes always seemed to be bright when talking to Nah’dur)--she raced up to the side of the collapsed Quarian where several other Quarians clustered around him. Nah’dur was always prepared, and in this case she had a backpack on for the conference with her full medical kit. 

“It was an incorrect chiriality beverage, Surgeon-Commander!” One of the other members of Han’Gerrel’s staff urgently said. 

“That’s ridiculous, everything was colour-coded, shape-coded and served from separate tables, we had every passive protection possible,” Nah’dur snapped as she ran the scans, frowning, and frowning again.

“ Keelah, I saw it myself, Surgeon-Commander.”

Nah’dur grimaced and turned away from the Quarian’s friends, rising as the crash cart arrived. “Treat as reverse-chiriality poisoning,” she instructed to the medical team as she swung in with them. She still sounded almost grudging about the diagnosis as she focused on the results of her scanner with a suspicious look dominating her face. 


Daria was drinking lltahk tea on the bridge and observing the manoeuvring plots for keeping them out of trouble in the midst of a fleet of fifty thousand ships, whose blips completely dominated any tactical display. As the Officer of the Watch, it was all her job and her responsibility with the Captain conducting diplomacy as well as most of the senior officers.

She paused, flexed an ear, and looked back to Lieutenant Orallian, who had asked the question. “Go ahead, Ops.” 

“We’re getting a priority message from Naval Station Armstrong. It’s from Naval Intelligence. It says that Commander Saumarez’s orders were faked and… Getting a live message.” 

“Put it on,” Daria put her tea aside, blinking in confusion. Then she heard the familiar voice. 

“ Huáscar Actual, This is Commander Saumarez. I believe there is a threat to the ship…”

“ Elia?” Daria answered, blinking hard. “Why do you…?” 

“Leftenant Seldayiv, it might happen at any time..!”

Daria thought about the embarrassment to the government of having an alert in the middle of the conference. She wasn’t sure in the slightest what was going on. But she trusted Elia Saumarez. 

One of her blue fingers slipped down across the selector and firmly depressed the button which indicated a security alert. 

“My orders were faked, Leftenant. They wanted me away from the conference,” Elia was explaining, and it sounded like shushing someone else speaking in the background as she did. 

Daria tensed. “Alert’s called, Commander.” 

Artesia was wearing a small, unobtrusive earpiece linked to her Omnitool. The alert chimed into it. She spied Nah’dur and frowned. Something was wrong, just wrong, about the entire situation, and she started to move toward the crash cart as it was leaving, following them, and moving from a fast walk into a run as she listened to the report from the bridge. 

As she did, Fei’nur heard the same report, and started running into the Conference Suite with her own emergency response group. But Artesia was closer, and it was Artesia who left the Conference Suite and hastened up to Nah’dur’s side, reaching her several frames ahead. Her hand flashed with a combat sign warning the Surgeon-Commander as she flickered up in confusion. 

Nah’dur halted the cart. “Clear out!” She ordered her team with a voice that was so emphatic it was difficult to believe. They scattered instantly, not questioning the order as Nah’dur brought up her scanner--and then started in a dead run for Artesia. “ Go, Go, Go! Flying Officer, move!” 

Artesia felt her veins chill and time slow down as she realised how acutely dangerous this was. Not without you, Ma’am. Her eyes flickered along the corridor and she spied one of the blast reinforced emergency decompression shelters. Lunging with one hand out, she grabbed Nah’dur and diverted the woman’s momentum so that they both went crashing in. 

Fei’nur and her team had gone pounding through the conference room as Quarians retreated and turned away in confusion, surprise and concern. She reached the Admirals and Zhen’var--both the Quarians and her Captain turning toward her--only seconds later.

Looking around, and realising Nah’dur was gone, a terror flickered through her eyes that Zhen’var had never seen before. It passed without words or other expression. There was no time for anything else. 

The bomb detonated. The powerful mini-fusion device ripped into the hull of the Huáscar. It incinerated the corridor, including the robotic Quarian body controlled by a VI that had contained it, and the crash cart. A wave of plasma swept from the inside out into armour meant to blow out in similar conditions to minimise damage, into armour meant to handle explosions from the outside, not the inside. 

As the armour did its job to make sure that the ship was safe, it also peeled outwards and downwards from the ventral surface of the saucer. A splash of white hot plasma surged through it, venting quickly to space. As the overpressure from the plasma was vented into space, the doors which had been in front of them buckled… And then bent back from the depressurization when they had already failed from the overpressure damage. 

Air erupted out of the Conference Suite, an outrushing explosively through the heavily damaged sector which threatened to drag people off their feet.

Captain Zhen’var felt her shoes starting to slide over the deck as the air whipped around her, and she frantically tried to shift, before an iron bar of an arm slammed around her midsection as Fei’nur bodily yanked her off her feet, holding her close to a surprised yowl from the Captain as the Spectre planted herself, as unphased as if she was rooted to the deck.

Fei’nur leaned away with the Captain locked against her, balancing herself precisely with her arms like iron around Zhen’var. Then, abruptly, as stars were starting to form in Zhen’var’s head from the lost oxygen, the feeling snapped off as a distant, faint sound in thin air boomed, the emergency doors for the conference suite slamming shut. Still being held by Fei’nur, she went to her omnitool, asking for an automated status update. She was a Captain, and her ship had been attacked.

For a moment, there was perfect silence on the bridge as the shudder finished running through the Huáscar. The officers and ratings were looking to Daria. An alarm began to insistently beep on Lieutenant Orallian’s console. He looked to Daria. “Ma’am, the hull has been compromised. We’re losing air through Sector 10-19.” 

“Set Material Condition Zebra throughout the ship,” Daria answered as her hands gripped down on the granite of the Captain’s armrests. 

“Ma’am, we are not at General Quarters, we’ll trap people in their berths when they’re losing air…”


“MC Zebra,” Orallian repeated, the Gersallian sense of social duty winning over respect for life as he activated the control. Alarms began to howl throughout the ship as the emergency bulkheads slammed closed and the doors began to automatically seal. 

Daria flipped her intercom to shipwide signals. “General Quarters, General Quarters. This is the Officer of the Watch, All Hands to General Quarters!” That order cut like a knife while the bulkheads were already closing. It meant that everyone would be stumbling from their bunks and forced to undog and dog hatches in prescribed sequences according to the Damage Control Bill for their sector to reach their GQ post as rapidly as possible. With the ship damaged and with areas in vacuum, that was hell itself. 

They’ve got us. The Heermann, damn, she thought. “Comms, warn Ray-Ban in code to be alert for hostile action!” They were also the only fighting fit combat unit they had in the area.

“Yes Ma’am!”

It was then that Daria saw the trilling, angry symbol on the command chair display, and selected it. “Captain, Ma’am. Huáscar Actual, ” she enunciated herself to show that she had positive control of the ship from the bridge as the Officer of the Watch and the Huáscar was not out of control. 

“Understood. One of the Quarians was a bomb in disguise. There likely are more intruders. I shall leave you to the ship. I will see to the Admiralty Board. Zhen’var, out.” Short, sharp, direct, and not questioning Daria’s decisions as the woman on the spot, that was her Captain’s style.

As soon as that connection dropped, however, there was another flaring to life on the display.

“Colonel?” Daria asked. She didn’t know that the two women were standing next to each other, Fei’nur having only just released her iron embrace of Zhen’var to keep her on her feet. 

“Continuing on the Captain’s observation, Commander, the Quarian-shaped bomb in question was brought aboard with Admiral Han’Gerrel’s staff.”

“Thank you, Colonel.” Something was still wrong, as a chill gripped Daria’s heart. “We’re acting on it. Got to go, Ma’am.” she flipped the intercom line over to PriFly. “PriFly Actual? Get every sensor you have and point it at Admiral Han’Gerrel’s shuttle.”

As Zhen’var and Fei’nur turned toward Han’Gerrel in the still thin air of the conference suite, a voice crackled overhead through a dimly functioning and staticy intercom. “This is Lieutenant Hia’zhir, Assistant DCO. I have DCC. I assume all duties and responsibilities for damage control onboard Huáscar. ” This declaration to the entire crew was, from a newly transferred aboard junior officer, utterly matter-of-fact and completely calm. 

The Union trains them well, still. Zhen’var stepped closer to the Quarians assembled, watching the ice crystals from the sudden pressure drop still melting away. “Admirals, we will be evacuating you from Huáscar until such time as the situation is under control!”

“Half my staff is missing,” Han’Gerrel thundered. “How will you find them? What happened to Tar’Fenrel with your Surgeon-Commander?” 

The other Quarian Admirals were already looking to him with none-too-kind looks. 

Fei’nur’s look was dangerous , and she stepped dangerously close. “ Sir , either through ignorant incompetence or malice you have brought explosive devices, one of whom was in the shape of your aide aboard this ship. I must assume that your missing staff are hostile agents if they are no longer under your command. You can evacuate voluntarily, or be carried after being stunned. The choice is yours. I suggest you choose quickly.”

“I will go with the others,” he said after a sallow, pregnant pause. 

“This was not an act of Quarians,” Rael’Zorah came as close to snarling as any Quarian they had heard. “You have my word, Captain.”

“I accept it.” Zhen’var was not even grudging. “This is much more the work of Special Tasks or Commandos, I would say, given the intended target.” Her worried look to Fei’nur spoke volumes.

"Possible, even probable. I will be leading my team in before they can cause more destruction. Captain." The colonel finished with a nod of respect to Zhen'var, before turning and jogging off.

Lieutenant Hia’zhir was looking at far more experienced Petty Officers around her who expected her to know how to do this. The holoprojector in the middle of DCC showed the Damage Control Bill and the secondary one was projecting the ship condition status. There was no report from the DCO; she was in charge. Because of the configuration of the ship, the damaged decks were the responsibility of Repair 1 since they traveled continuously through the ship with the ‘neckless’ configuration of the class from fore to aft and integrated with the hangar decks in the engineering hull. Unlike Federation ships the Huáscar was not designed to ever be split in two and that section was her massive armoured keel. 

With the crew trying to struggle their way to stations through closed bulkheads and spacetight doors, damage control was a mess. She put a headset on so she could speak without the chatter behind her. “Repair 2, this is DCC Actual. You are assuming response duties for Repair 1, muster at designated muster point 23-Delta and take leadership over personnel of Repair 1 in the saucer section to begin advancing. We are linking you sensor indications of fire, null-sensor compartments and sensor indications of vacuum now.”

“This is Chief Melkampf, I am ranking in Repair 2 at muster point 23-Delta at this time, Ma’am. I need a report from the bridge so we know which sections have personnel in the survival shelters.” 

“Understood, Chief. You’ll have it by the time you muster your full crew at 23-Delta.” Hia’zhir thought about it and turned to one of her ratings. “Fi’jar, pull that directly from the sensors, don’t bother the bridge with it.”

“I obey!” 

It sounded a little like a Dilgar ship. Hia’zhir reached out and grabbed futilely at her uniform shirt, wishing it had buttons so that there was a hole for her to stuff her hand into to get it out of the way and look dignified. Gods, gods, gods, if I screw this up it will reflect badly on the whole Union. 

But she didn’t reveal any of that. “Get me Repair 9,” she directed, looking at the status reports. They shouldn’t have been a problem, but.. The EVA team. “DCC Actual to Chief Dugan, I don’t see any of your people greenlighting at the hangar airlocks, please report.”

“DCC Actual,” Rick’s voice conveyed so much sarcastic confidence in that moment. “We have a problem. You need to pull back Repair 3 through 3c, Propulsion Repair 6 and the Aviation Fuel and Repair Team and Crash and Salvage Team now, Ma’am. There’s going to be a second explosion in the main shuttle hangar and it’s going to be a big one.” 

For a moment, Hia’zhir’s eyes glinted very peculiarly. Then she calmly asked the human Chief: “Do I broadcast on 1MC?” 

“Yeah, do it. We’re not negotiating with these shits, Ma’am.”

“DCC Actual out.” She flipped the channel to the 1MC. “All hands this is DCC Actual. Pull back from Sectors 0 thru 22 Gamma. I repeat pull back from Sectors 0 thru 22 Gamma. Repair Threes, Repair 6, AFR and CST, pull back to Section Xulu, Section Hotel, Section Foxtrot. I repeat pull back to Section Xulu, Hotel, Foxtrot according to position. Dog and secure all Class W hatches on retreat. I repeat, Dog and Secure all Class W hatches on retreat.” 

Then she flipped the intercom again, standing as composed as she could with the crew in DCC working around her. “PriFly Actual this is DCC Actual. I am preparing to kill distribution power to Section Gamma. Please confirm if you need any circuit buses energized.” 

“Bay tractor beam distribution power,” Stasia’s voice answered. Even Hia’zhir could hear the tension across the species boundary. “I’m trying to keep you out of a job in Gamma. Out.” 

When the rumble went through the ship, PriFly, on the elevated viewing position on the upper-aft-right quadrant of the saucer at the neckless-neck of the ship where it could survey all landing and hangar operations from a traditional offset, hanging from its own pylon with windows in every direction--even some through the floor--was the most heavily shielded and also vulnerable place on the ship. Stasia at any kind of alert had her full crew in suits with helmets ready to don. PriFly had vibrated, and it was a peculiar thing, not like the normal experience of the ship.

Then all Hell had broken loose. Alarms howled through the ship and the space-tight doors began to close. It wasn’t Stasia’s job to worry about internal parts of the ship away from the hangar bays, but she couldn’t help but think about the fair number of friends she had aboard who might be in harm’s way, or already dead. 

She had certainly felt that unfortunate feeling before, on both the Aurora and the Huáscar. Stasia could see nothing around in the range of her sensors except for the Quarian fleet, but the Quarian fleet was utterly massive. How hard really would it be to slip a ship into this mass with all the foreign vessels? This was her job. “Stand by all alert flights,” she ordered into her mic. “Alert Flight, Launch on Warning, ” she ordered first, and then to the others in Combined Squadron 2 of Combined Wing (WC) 50: “SC.2, Alert Five.” 

And then only minutes later, Daria’s voice, chill and very precise, overrode her channel. “PriFly Actual? Get every sensor you have and point it at Admiral Han’Gerrel’s shuttle.”

Stasia paused for a moment, and then--she heard the chatter on the intercoms, she knew it was a bomb--wordlessly brought her controls for the bay instrumentation. “Nothing out of the ordinary, Ma’am,” she answered after a moment. “Synching the feed to the bridge…”

Ensign Melkaria, sitting at science, ran the continuous feed from PriFly, and then ran it again. “Chief Héen,” the Dorei said, “there’s a waver in the K-band.”

“Sensor auto-diagnostic… Checks out, Sir. That’s legit, which means…” Stasia trailed off. “That sensor image is false.” 

“Concur,” Melkaria nodded. 

Daria closed her eyes. Oh Goddess, it’s big enough to wreck all of the engineering hull if it has a fusion bomb inside of it. “Get that shuttle off the ship, Chief!” 

“On it, Ma’am.” Stasia swiveled her chair and brought up the holoplots. She grabbed the shuttle in the docking bay and started to move it while she overrode the lockdowns on the shuttle bay doors and opened them in rapid emergency mode and then sounded the evacuation alarms which would have her personnel evacuating the bay proper. “Ma’am,” she said as the shuttle started to move, “I have SC.2 on Alert 5. I have the Alert wing ready to go. I want to launch them.” 

“Wing?” Daria answered, synching Lar’shan into the conversation. 

“The launch tubes may be misaligned,” the Marine Major answered. “I’d like to have…”

“Sir, your pilots will die in their tubes if this thing goes,” Stasia interrupted him.

“Do it, Chief,” he answered. 

“Alert Flight, Launch! ” Four Mongeese exploded out of the forward tubes, two simultaneously each time at a two second interval. “SC.2, stand by for emergency launch. Confirm spacetightness and go.” She handed them off to her second, Chief Petty Officer Gerrik, and focused all of her attention on the shuttle. At least if they got the fighters in space they’d have twenty starfighters between them and whatever was gunning for them if they had spaceborne reinforcements, though it seemed impossible if they would in the middle of the Quarian fleet, it might be a hostile faction…

Then a voice spoke, fast, disorganised to a human mind, on the open channel in the base. “ Huáscar bay control halt immediately! You will suffer consequences if the body of the Surgeon-Commander is not confirmed! This shuttle is rigged to explode!”

Stasia flicked the mic on. Nailed you, you fuckers. “With you in it?” She brought up the video feed from the bay, and watched as spacesuited and armoured figures began to spill out of the shuttle as it moved, using thrust packs and gravity boots to secure themselves as Stasia killed the bay gravity instantly to make it as hard as possible for them to escape. 

It was a race. The team inside the shuttle had been waiting for someone else to do the termination job, the confirmation job. The shuttle bomb was probably a backup option--one they were using because the crew of the Huáscar had quickly caught up to what they were doing and in consequence to it had started to eject their shuttle into space. Otherwise it was there to secure their escape, which they’d have to arrange some other way now. 

But it meant that Stasia had a window to actually complete her mission. The team inside the shuttle had to get out of the bay before they could set the bomb off. Stasia’s hands flew across the controls as she worked the bay tractor beam controls and accelerated the shuttle toward the open bay doors. “ Huáscar Actual, power down the warp drives and begin to evacuate the engineering spaces!” 

Daria confirmed it at once. “Engineering, power down the warp drives and pull back from the bay and the aft actions! Marines, pull back from Sector Foxtrot to Hotel!” 

The team from the shuttle were cutting through closed bulkhead doors to escape from the shuttle bay. They used energy field disruptors to take down the shields trying to prevent them from doing it, and then in a flash and a spurt of air, they were through, using their own portable shield to seal the airlock behind them as the rest of the team went charging in. Stasia snapped one of her spare tractor beams on repulsion and aimed it at that section of the deck and the rearguard of the team went flying into bulkheads and across the metal decking. That’ll slow ya.

The shuttle was now at the cusp of the doors as the rearguard of the team recovered and hastened on to the airlock they had blasted through and reestablished. Stasia tensed and bit her lip. “Our shields should hold but hang on,” she called out as the shuttle cleared the bay and then she barked “Bay doors closed, now!” 

One of her subordinates as on it and she stayed on the tractors, bringing the primary docking approach tractors up to full power and snapping them on to full repulsion. As she did, a massive flash rent the dark of space right aft of the Huáscar and the blast washed over the engineering hull and the upper nacelles. The bay doors, partially jammed, showed through her scanners a howling flare of plasma and radiation bake their way into the shuttle bay, crumpling scanner-heads and searing paint lines off the deck. The camera went to static for a moment before the image from further back in the hangar returned. It had been below the threshold to destroy small craft in the hangar, which meant the damage wasn’t serious, though the main hangar doors were jammed open and buckled with a visible bent angle. 

Stasia let her breath out slowly and sank back into the plush fake leather of her control chair. She pushed the equipment away. “Did SC.2 get airborne before it went off?” She asked quietly. 

“We got ‘em out, Chief.”

“Thank God.” She pulled one of the flexible arm mounted interfaces back over and selected the bridge. “ Huáscar Actual, this is PriFly Actual. Threat is neutralized. Main bay is out of action, doors are jammed and deranged. Internal subsystem damage… Based on our vantage point, I would check the warp drives before charging them.” 

“Good work, Chief,” Daria answered. “DCC Actual, this Huáscar Actual. I want EVA teams checking the integrity of the drives.” On the bridge, the tension didn’t change. They had dealt with another threat, but they were isolated, disabled, fighting their wounded ship, and not sure if they were in the midst of friendlies or hostiles. 

The familiar image of Fei’nur was a sight to rally and steady most of the security and marine personnel now still gathered in the  Conference Suite. “Double-check suit integrity, we are going in! We have hostiles in the ship and casualties to extract. Team leaders, sound off readiness!”

A chorus of “Squad ready” as they checked their suits--using the ready reserves positioned in the Conference Suite to secure into them and activating personal shields to protect them with--answered back to her. Only the Marines had full armoured pressure suits as opposed to standard emergency suits with shields to protect them, though, and that was only because the armour was integral to a pressure suit when the helmet attachments were snapped on, precisely to allow a quick conversion to vacuum operations. 

“Colonel Fei’nur,” Major Richards’ Nawlins voice cut in to the channel as another shudder ran through the ship--which made many of Fei’nur’s troops exchange glances. Another shudder was Not Good. “We have what is tentatively an STG team coming up from the main shuttle bay through the engineering hull. They briefly negotiated with Chief Héen and they threatened to detonate a much larger bomb--it’s just been neutralized, the ship took more damage but not bad--if we didn’t allow them to confirm the Surgeon-Commander’s… Neutralization.”

“Major Richards, you have command of the effort to delay and contain the enemy advancing into the ship. I will take command of the response team. We will meet them head-on in the damaged areas. Marines will take point!”

“Understood, Colonel. We’ll stop them. Colonel, I have some good news. Internal security sensors can confirm that there are four indeterminate life signs in the vacuum area--seem like they’re still reading as Quarian. But there’s also at least fourteen life signs in the broader area in the survival shelters. The indeterminate life-signs are working their way back around to the area of the survival shelters, Colonel.”

“They are seeking to finish off the Surgeon-Commander.” Her voice was utterly flat. “Thank you, Major. We are going in.”

Lieutenant Callahan finished forming up the troops as Fei’nur finished her conversation. “We’re ready, Colonel,” he said simply. “We’ll need to find a suitable set of bulkheads to make our own airlock.”

“Follow me, Lieutenant. We do not have much time, we will depressurize another corridor if we must. Expedite .”

There were times when a Captain simply had to trust her crew. For Zhen’var, with her background and circumstances, that was the psychological challenge she was faced with right then and there. She had to get the Quarians to their only means of evacuation, since they wouldn’t use transports--her Captain’s Yacht at the centre-ventral point of the saucer section. 

“Admirals, follow me, please. You will be evacuated via small craft and returned to your ship with the utmost alacrity.” Mentally, she was wincing at the need to get through the spinal area of the ship under ZEBRA, already tapping her omnitool to come up with the DC overrides she would have to work before and behind the evacuation party, as well as the map of the doglegs that would have to be traversed to avoid setting off the master alarms.

Arterus arrived with the rest of the staff from the other part of the suite. “I can take the Yacht to return them to their ships, Captain,” he said smoothly as he arrived, looking at the door on the far end of the conference suite from the detonation and the steel wheel they’d have to spin. 

“You are the Captain and this is your ship,” Daro’Xen’s eyes glowed sharply. “We will make sure that the Fleet supports you the moment that we can communicate with our forces. Do we know who caused this, Captain?” 

“Our working assumption is the Special Tasks Group, but confirmation shall wait for forensics, Admiral.  Lieutenant, your offer is accepted. Let us begin at once. This will not be a simple transit through the corridors.” She gestured for Arterus, to assist her in un-dogging the first of a great many hatches they would have to move through.

The strength of a Rihannsu man was considerable, and he put his back into it, and they moved into the first corridor. They were evacuating something like sixty people in all including the food service staff. But as they passed through, the Quarians turned back to the hatch. They knew what to do, they were a spacefaring people and had been for centuries. They quickly moved to secure it of their own volition--they would keep things moving. As soon as the telltales flashed green, Zhen’var bent her own strength to the next hatch, checking her omnitool at each compartment to guide the group onwards.

Shala’Raan leaned in with her. Despite their fragility in their suits, Quarians were actually incredibly strong. They were starting to catch up, of course, the group would never be as fast as a damage control crew, but it was something. “You must wish to get to a control station as soon as you can, Captain.” 

“My crew has the situation in hand, Admiral. They would not hold the positions they did if I did not have confidence in their initiative. The mission puts your safety as a higher priority than effort to get myself to a command position, and they know it.” She glanced up after she’d finished the little speech.

“Then let us get ourselves out of your feathers, Captain.” She cheerfully went to another spacetight door. The natural sociality and helpfulness of Quarians extended, for the most part, to their admirals. Behind them, though, Rael’Zorah quietly fumed; Han’Gerrel’s incompetence with his own security arrangements all but guaranteed the Return faction’s defeat.

The survival shelters placed throughout the ship were fitted with large numbers of adjustable fit spacesuits and emergency response equipment. They were meant to shelter a small number of crew as they suited up, and they were everywhere, stationed at regular, convenient intervals down corridors and with increasing density in high traffic areas where there would be more people. 

Artesia’s lunge had carried her into direct contact with Nah’dur and then toppled the Dilgar into the survival shelter. And now the two of them were trapped in it, the display readout inside, powered by a battery, clearly showing the vacuum beyond. 

Artesia sat on the floor, looking up at the uneasily standing Nah’dur. Nah’dur was looking back at her. 

“You know,” Nah’dur said emphatically. “Will you tell anyone?” Her surface thoughts on the hour of death had flung back to her mother. 

Artesia knew. She shook her head. “How could Artesia Som Deikun condemn a woman for the circumstances of her birth, Surgeon-Commander?” 

“Hypocrisy is the universal constant,” Nah’dur flipped back and then shrugged. “We don’t need to talk more about it. Help me with the plasma welder, please.”

“Sure, Surgeon-Commander. Why?” Artesia asked as she rose and helped Nah’dur lever the instrument down, and immediately pop out the control panel.

“I am hot-wiring it to remove the safeties. That will give us enough range to make it a useful weapon.” She looked up. “We are not out of danger yet, Leftenant. They will be coming for me.”
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Joined: Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:21 pm

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

Post by Tomyris »

Act Four

They were running silent and under cloak as they left the Migrant Fleet behind. Ca’elia had the bridge, and everything was normal as the Heermann carried on. It was a good opportunity to stand the watch, after they had stood out from the dense traffic of the Migrant Fleet.

The command chair was far less comfortable than it looked, the young Dilgar lieutenant thought, perched on the edge of it as she looked across the crew at their stations. Not a great many Captains would have given as young an officer as her the watch without staying on the bridge themselves, she thought.

Then the message indicator chimed for PO Ghisi at comms and the Alakin turned to her. “Ma’am, priority comms from the Huáscar, under code. It’s an alert signal for hostile action.”

Without hesitation, she flipped up the cover on her armrest that sounded the battle stations klaxon. “Sensor sweep out to maximum range, call out any unexpected contacts.” She was already un-fastening the lap restraint she kept on per regulation. The chair would not be hers much longer, Ca’elia strongly suspected.

About fifteen seconds later, Abebech appeared, throwing a jacket over what seemed like a mix of uniform and nightclothes which managed to be reasonably dignified enough for an extended action. “Report, Leftenant.” It was not a question.

Ca’elia rose from the command chair, automatically moving to helm. “Priority signal from Huáscar, coded alert signal for hostile action. I have ordered a full sensor sweep and called the crew to stations, Captain.”

“I have the bridge,” Abebech confirmed, indicating that Ca’elia’s decisionmaking had been correct as she moved to sit, and then activated the intercom. “All hands, this is the Captain speaking. Assume Material Condition Zebra throughout the ship!”

It was with a feeling of relief that Ca’elia settled back at the helm, tapping the configuration back to her preferred settings, with the repeater displays and sensitivity dialed up moderately above baseline.

Goodenough arrived a minute later and took up position at his own panel. “A warning from the Huáscar, Captain?”

“Yes,” Abebech answered. “What’s the chatter in the Migrant fleet?”

Goodenough turned toward the comm channels, and a moment later his face twisted into a sharp grimace. “Nothing good, Captain.”

“Splitscreen,” Abebech directed, and a moment later she frowned and reached for the coffee that Mehmet had dropped off as he moved to his own station. She still had time for a flashed smile of thanks.

The splitscreen showed Migrant Fleet rebroadcast footage from many angles of a fusion explosion ripping from the inside out, scattering hull armour plates, on the lower port ventral side of the Huáscar’s side. “Near the conference suites,” Abebech said simply. “A terrorist attack on the talks.”

Huáscar is still under control, Captain.” Ca’elia called out from the helm. Focusing on that made it easier to ignore that the massive explorer that was their host ship was wounded and under attack from within.

“Yes, she would be… We have a sincerely good ship, Leftenant,” Abebech answered, pausing for a moment, her eyes narrowing. “I’ve seen it before, I’ll see it again. The crew on the bridge rallies, Damage Control Central takes over the fight, the ratings struggling into position through undogging and dogging hatches, the work is done.... No matter how bad the initial blow, the ship fights on. Good morale, good training, esprit d’corps. Now let’s see what’s around us. Goodenough?”

“We have our rendezvous ahead, Captain,” the former Royal Navy Gunner answered.

“Vector is set, Captain. Moving us closer.” The Dilgar helmswoman called out. “Are we clear?”

Mehmet bent over the tactical display. “I… No. Captain, six small vessels, no IFFs, bearing one-four-two mark six.”

“On screen, full magnification.”

It took only a moment before Abebech nodded sharply in the wake of her own words. “Hirelings. They’re coming for our rendezvous.” A pause. “We are in a combat zone, the Huáscar has been attacked, we must assume these events are linked. Come about, one-eight-six mark two. We will plot an intercept course, helm.”

Tapping at keys, it was barely a second before Ca’elia called out; “One-eight-six mark two, aye aye, Captain. Intercept course... “ A few seconds later came the confident. “Plotted, ma’am!”

“...Countermand. We must be mindful of the rules of engagement,” Abebech corrected herself quickly. “Proceed to our contact, at best possible speed, and take up a position behind her. Goodenough, stand by to deploy a communication probe on my mark.”

The helmswoman’s hands flew over her console, lining up the short burst of warp drive that would deposit them directly behind the contact. “Proceeding at best possible speed, aye aye, Captain! Warp coils charged...”

“Engage,” Abebech ordered sharply, and then activated the intercom. “All hands, all hands. This is not a drill. We expect imminent hostile action.”

The whine of the engines, throwing them forward in the sudden elongation and a flash, shifted abruptly as Ca’elia swung them about sharply to bring the fore weapons to bear as soon as they slowed back to sublight speeds.

“Deploy the comms buoy and mask us behind our contact,” Abebech ordered, first to Goodenough and then to Ca’elia. Then she looked to Mehmet: “Stand by to transfer power to weapons.”

“Comms buoy out,” Goodenough reported, watching the display as the Heermann interposed their contact between them and the approaching enemy.

“Mask us behind the contact, aye aye…” The engines flared to life at lower power, swinging them into position.

“Goodenough, synch the communications probe…”

“Done, Captain.”

Abebech stabbed a button on her armrest. “Unidentified flotilla, this is the Alliance Starship Heermann. The contact you are on an intercept course with is under our protection. You will stand down and withdraw or we will be forced to take appropriate measures to defend them.” She hit mute on the feed. “Helm, fastest possible manoeuvre to clear us to firing position. Stand by.”

There was beeping from the helm console before Ca’elia called out; “Maneuver to firing position laid in, Captain!”

“Alliance starship, we are here on Council business,” a voice snarled back a moment later. “Stand down or we will engage.”

Abebech reactivated the channel. “No.”

The laconic response did not receive an immediate reply. Abebech watched sharply as the squadron, lined up and in position, opened fire… On the position of the communications probe.

“I believe that demonstrates hostile intent against an Alliance warship.” Abebech sent a final tight beam to the comms probe that they hadn’t hit yet: “If you fire on our contact, you will be fired upon.” Then she killed the channel. They finally hit the probe a few seconds later. “Stand ready.”

“Bringing us about to firing position!” came the call from her helmswoman, reading intent in what Abebech had said and acting immediately upon it.

When the comms probe exploded, the attacking mercenaries knew they were being played. Whether or not they understood precisely what the true level of stealth technology the Heermann had was, or if they thought it was a feint from the damaged Huáscar, Abebech didn’t know or care.

“Tactical, target the second ship,” Abebech directed, noting their angle.

“Second ship in line targeted, Captain,” Mehmet confirmed. “Captain… They are firing.”

Abebech watched the first railgun rounds lash out. The Krogan mercenary frigate began violent evasives, still not sure where help was. Abebech was about to provide them with an answer.

“Transfer power to weapons!”

“Transferring power to weapons!” Veeringen’s voice from engineering echoed over the comm.

“Tactical, fire torpedoes!”

The forward torpedo tubes erupted with the ready stock salvoing as the power surged and flared sufficiently to accelerate them down the tubes as the Heermann rippled into view. The first torpedoes roared down en echelon to the target and detonated.

“Cannon, same target.”

As the second authorisation was given, the pulse cannon fired as well, and following in on the solar torpedoes which had brought the shields of the light mercenary attack ship down… The corvette was blown right to hell in a guttering explosion, followed by implosion of the Eezo core, as the bursts of fire tore deep into an unprotected and already damaged hull. Abebech allowed a very small smile. “Helm, evasive.”

The young Dilgar at the helm swung Heermann into a sharp, twisting ‘dive’ relative to the ship she had just destroyed without hesitation, steering them violently away from the firing arcs of the mercenary ships.

“They’re ignoring us, Captain, and coming about on our contact,” Goodenough reported crisply. “They’ve got their eye on the prize.”

“And what a prize it is,” Abebech muttered tautly. “The rendezvous is blown. No need to fight five to one. Helm, Science, get us between the enemy and our friend and link our FTL sensors to the contact ship. That should give them enough precision to do an FTL jump directly into the middle of the Quarian fleet. Science, alert the Quarians that a friendly will be coming in danger close. Any ship violating assigned vectors is at a risk for collision. Now helm, buy enough time for them to get out, please.”

“Understood, Captain, interposing and buying time for the friendly vessel!” Now just to not let us be hit too hard ourselves! Ca’elia’s nerves tingled as she swung Heermann hard over at full thrust.

She was rewarded with the objective, as the Heermann snapped sharply and buffeted under the impact of the massed weapons fire.

“Shields holding, Captain,” Abel reported over the intercom.

Abebech looked at the screen. “Tactical plot. Science, update?”

“Working on synching to their drive coordinates data-system,” Goodenough gritted his teeth. “It’s not easy.”

“Captain, they’re firming up their firing solutions, continuing to evade as long as possible.” Ca’elia called out, rolling up and over on their beam ends before spinning into a ‘dive’ relative to the mercenary fleet.

Mehmet salvoed the forward pulse cannon as he got a chip shot. So far they had not held a perfect firing solution for him to reprise his success against the first ship, but he had kept firing to keep their tails off of the Heermann as much as possible, anyway.

“Now would be a nice time, Goodenough…” She looked down at her gloves and then curled a lip. “Helm, turn into them. Weapons, stand by forward batteries…”

“Bringing weapons to bear, Captain, aye aye.” came the quick reply from her helmswoman, as the Heermann came about.

Mehmet needed no orders. As the batteries roared in the deckplates and the torpedoes salvoed, the enemy flushed into their own evasive manoeuvres. The first encounter had taught them respect for the firepower of the Attacker.

As they did, Goodenough let out a cry of triumph. “They’re well and away, Captain… And we’ve confirmed their arrival inside the fleet,” he added a moment later, as the instant of hyperlight travel ended.

“Evasive, get us out of here, helm,” Abebech squeezed her armrest and gave a sharp nod. “Good work, Commander.”

Freed of the need to shield the ship they had come to meet, Ca’elia gyrated the ship around another burst of weapons fire before slamming the throttles to the stops.

Abebech grinned. “Good work, everyone. They’re welcome to follow us into the middle of the Migrant Fleet if they really want to. Somehow I don’t think they’ll be that entertaining.”

Fei’nur hated working in vacuum. Adding zero-g to it just compounded the problem. Even a Spectre’s counterpressure suit restricted mobility, and the lack of sound reduced her to barely better acuity than another soldier. She had gravity boots, of course, as did the rest of her team. That still left their pace plodding.

Corporal Ti’fiit was on point with her, and Sergeant Divya, a short Indic woman, carried the rear of the main body, two security officers out on each flank and a central group with plasma cutters and bomb-defusing gear numbering six in total. Conditions were eerie.

The reality of depressurisation was that as vacuum reduced pressure and the loss of heat reduced temperature, air could hold less and less moisture. But the water has to go somewhere, and so first it turns into a fog, and then it freezes. As it freezes it condenses out of the air, and so there was a thin film of ice on all the once-alive corridors, rendering the dark scene viewed through goggles an unnatural air.

The inability to advance quickly left them slowly leapfrogging each other from cover to cover, on-edge for the slightest hint of movement or contact, with hand signals passed between the group. Any transmission would alert their enemies, before contact was made.

The good thing was the lack of bodies. They advanced close to the explosion, and even there didn’t see any, though in the corridors that were blasted and twisted with fusion power scouring the tritanium and trinium, it would have been harder for mortal remains to still exist. Still, the passive sensors showed, comfortingly, many life-signs in the survival shelters. The warnings of Elia and Artesia had mattered.

If they could not fix and finish the team which had caused the damage in the first place, however, getting those survivors out would not be possible; with that thought in mind, Fei’nur moved forward again, always taking point with the thinking her enhanced vision stood her the best chance of avoiding an ambush that would wipe out half her team in a split second.

Now they moved into a more wrecked area. There were gaping holes in the floor of the corridor, which was only supported in places by the main frame of the ship. They were almost there, working their way around in a big semi-circle back to where the blast had taken place, and the survival shelters nearest to it. The place, in short, that she would find Nah’dur.

They had to deactivate their gravity boots now and move on floating over the twisted gaps in the corridor plating, looking down to other shattered corridors below. They had to be very close, and that was a vulnerability, but an agnostic one. Their enemies would have to float across the gap, too.

With a flurry of gestures, Fei’nur slowed her team’s advance, hyper-alert for imminent contact. Adrenaline and a cocktail of synthetic chemicals coursed through her blood. The action that loomed before them promised to be short.

Ahead, she could see a dim flicker of a moving light. There was someone using a torch.

Arterus had gotten the Quarians clear in the Captain’s Yacht, upchecking it in record time. A group of crewers in the area had filled out two more crew slots aboard who had the right qualifications but weren’t part of the Damage Control Muster for that sector, and Chief Sherrod had insisted on going to make sure there was someone along on the trip for hospitality purposes as Arterus made his way to each of the Admirals’ flagships.

That left Zhen’var to make her way up-ship, with the bridge located directly above her, now. Climbing through the vertical access hatches was a chore above all others.

“Captain, this is Commander Atreiad. I am at secondary control. Do you want me to take over from the bridge?”

“I do not think that necessary as yet, Commander.” Zhen’var paused after opening one of the between-deck hatches. “I believe they have the situation well in hand, and I am heading for the bridge now. Continue to monitor, and use your judgement as to a need to take the conn if the situation worsens before I reach the bridge.”

“Understood, Captain.” A pause. “Marines have the STG team pinned down in Foxtrot Sector, F-22 at the moment. They’re still trying to work their way around for the saucer section.”

“I have full confidence in our Marines, alert the Colonel if the team successfully breaks for her position, she has enough of immediate concern last I saw her.”

“Understood, Sir. No confirmed fatalities at this time,” Will added, trying to give Zhen’var some good news.

“Thank you, Commander.” She was already climbing again, trying to gain her destination as quickly as possible, where Huáscar’s Captain belonged in a crisis.

Each ladder and each hatch pushed her to the limit, even with Fei’nur’s efforts to make her fit, she was still a woman about a year out from an utterly massive surgery, when her body was still healing and she was still under Nah’dur’s medical care. Fei’nur’s physical fitness had honed muscles meant for an ambush predator, but the grueling climb was a challenge as complete as any that Fei’nur had come up with for her.

She was very proud of the fact that she was not wheezing when, with muscles aching and wobbly on her feet, she spun the last unlocking wheel and staggered up and onto the bridge deck. The wheel spun and automatically dogged behind her as she slammed it down, and then she was stepping onto the bridge.

“Captain on the bridge! Maintain stations!” Daria ordered as she rose and came to attention. Even across species, Zhen’var could clearly see the relief that flooded her that the Captain had finally reached her position.

“Very well done, Leftenant Seldayiv. Situation report.” She reflexively gave a quick salute in response to her subordinate’s gesture of respect. Still breathing hard, in a now rumpled dress uniform, there was a momentary flash of almost-triumph at having made it as far as she did.

Daria remained at attention as she gave the report. “We have Repair 9 out conducting inspections of dorsal drive alignment now, Captain. Repair 3 is working to cut off the deranged bay doors so we can resume flight ops with bay air shields only and recover our fighters. We have twenty fighters on CAP. The Heermann and her rendezvous are both within the Quarian fleet defensive perimeter. Full combat power, full shields, and speeds up to Warp 8 at your discretion. Repair 1 and Repair 2 have completed 85% of the spacetightness inspection for the ventilated perimeter. Estimate another twenty minutes before they can begin moving in for sector-by-sector repairs to restore hull integrity. We have an STG team of twelve life-signs, confirmed Salarians, pinned down in Foxtrot-22. Two down, ten still fighting. Two full Marine companies deployed to contain them. Six lifesigns still showing as Quarian in the area where Colonel Fei’nur and her twelve-person squad are operating. 114 life-signs in survival shelters in the ventilated sectors. Ma’am.”

With a single nod, Zhen’var let out a breath she did not know she had been holding. “Thank you.” She gave a nod of approval to her subordinate, before pitching her voice for the rest of the bridge. “Captain has the conn.”

“Captain has the conn!” Daria acknowledged, and turned to step away and assume the tactical board. The relief radiated from her.

The older Dilgar woman’s relief at being able to sink into her command chair was carefully concealed, though her legs thanked her. “Now, everyone, what can we do to assist our security and Marines…?”

Having made the signal for the team to settle down, to avoid vibrations or anything else that might be detected on the passive sensors of an STG team, Fei’nur gave a signal to Corporal Ti’fiit. The other Dilgar reached out and gave Fei’nur a gentle push.

Now, with no vibrations to provide warning, slowly but surely, Fei’nur was drifting into firing position for the STG team. Of course, to be able to evade their return fire, she would have to activate her gravity boots to move, but for the moment, the tense seconds wore down… As she drifted through a zero-g vacuum.

Experience and cybernetic enhancement allowed her to precisely calculate the moment that she would open fire, floating closer. As soon as she fired, they would react, but the longer she floated, the greater the chance they would notice her… And… now!

Cybernetically enhanced muscles and senses created by Jha’dur Deathwalker were pitted against the finest Salarian commandos alive. The charge rifle fired at the same moment that Fei’nur activated her gravity boots. The Salarians, clustered around the door to a shelter, watched as the member of their team wielding the plasma cutter went flying as his gravity boots were wrenched off the deck by the shock and a puff of air turned to frost and dissipated as the armoured spacesuit was punched through at the highest setting--she’d only have a few shots--and vented to vacuum.

Fei’nur recoiled backwards, but then she activated her gravity boots. The Salarians responded instantly, and to their credit, their speed was excellent. Three of the remaining five had clear arcs and they fired in lethal unison. If she had kept recoiling in zero-g without activating the boots, they’d have been right on target.

Instead, the Dilgar slammed down into the deck and the shots went wide behind her. She already was aimed at a second Salarian, now one of those gunning for her, and fired instantly. Another snap of light and sizzling gut-wound obscured by frost erupted from her second target. By the time it had, she had already activated her stealth suit, and lunged as fire converged, again from three Salarians as those few heartbeats were enough for another one to get into position; but she was already kicking her grav boots off and moving.

The old commando recognized she was in a desperate fight for her life. She quietly gave thanks that Commander Poniatowska had been able to help her finally complete the war-era prototype of a stealth suit for vacuum use. Without it, she would have been not long for the living, as she kicked hard off a projecting shard of metal to change her vector slightly.

Their target disappearing gave the Salarians pause, and then the rest of Fei’nur’s squad came in, hard. As they did, the Salarians reacted to the targets they could see, and that gave Fei’nur free space without covering fire against her in which to prove she was still there.

She leveled her rifle and fired. Another Salarian was slammed into by a burst of rounds in the midsection, neat and ruthless. Her squad was firing with her now, covering her and attacking the STG team themselves. A fusillade tore across the vacuum and missing shots gouged into carbonized, ruined metal fragments.

She fired off another two shots from her rifle, before discarding it while dodging to the side, pistol slipping from her holster as her knife went into her other hand. Spectres were at their most dangerous close in, where there was no report of a weapon to give their position away.

“Hold fire!” Fei’nur snapped, and suddenly the fire vanished. Another of the Salarians was already down from the fire of her squad and then she was in the others, the knife slipping into the joint of the force and slicing up, the specially designed vibro-weapon, procured on Solaris, ripping through the reinforced joint material of the Salarian spacesuit and venting it to vacuum.

Then the final Salarian was slammed into the wall by a burst of pulse fire that kept on hammering until the spasms of the amphibian came to an end in the gouts of freezing moisture and dissipating air. Corporal Ti’fiit raised her gun. “I obeyed what you meant like the Captain taught us too, Battlemaster,” she said sheepishly. Once Fei’nur had given away her position by killing the first, her firing arc was clear, so she’d used her initiative to kill the second rather than stay under their fire.

“No, Sergeant Ti’fiit, that was exactly what the Warmaster wants from her people.” Fei’nur’s voice was relieved, and rather prideful too.

“Thank you, Battlemaster!” The Dilgar marine swelled with pride as she floated closer to the scorched hatch on the survival shelter. “How do we get them out?”

“There should be suits in the shelters, they’re where the emergency ones are stored. We just need to let them know it is safe to un-do the interlocks. Pass me my rifle. Nah’dur should remember the tap-code.”

“Colonel,” Sergeant Divya came on the line, pointing to one of the floating bodies. “Those aren’t Salarians. The one Ti’fiit shot. It’s partially melted toward a pseudo-amphibian form,” she gestured, using her suit omnitool as a tricorder. “The suit on that one is ventilated. It’s a chameloid, a shapeshifter, Ma’am.”

“Get samples, put them in stasis if they have some method of destroying the evidence. What they are matters somewhat less. “Fei’nur to Richards. At least some of the enemy appears to be able to shapeshift.”

“Well, just what I wanted to hear. Colonel, we’ve got our own problems, they’ve split in two, the larger group is covering a smaller one that is working around us. Very heavy fighting in the corridors. It’s two hundred and sixty to twelve and the larger group seems hell-bent on sacrificing itself to let a team of three through.”

“I am moving to intercept, Major. We’re having some problems getting the shelters open.” She killed her transmitter, and leaned in to go helmet-to-helmet with her newly minted sergeant, letting the vibrations transmit her message. “Get the Commander and the Lieutenant out of this sector, no comms unless attacked!”

“Understood,” Ti’fiit confirmed. “I think Sergeant Divya almost has the code finished…”

Barely had she said that when the Indic woman finished punching through, and the door hissed open, the dry air rushing out, and revealing two space-suited figures, one of whom was holding a plasma cutter with the side opened up, in position to be used as a weapon.

Fei’nur’s expression of raw relief cascaded across her face, visible through the faceplate of her helmet. In Dilgar tactical sign, she gave her orders to the two figures in the shelter; Follow her, retreat. Hostiles approaching. The bodies scattered about punctuated the point.

The figure with the plasma cutter lowered it and seemed tensed and ready to rush into a pouncing embrace, when the Dilgar tactical sign triggered something fundamental drilled into her since she had been a little kit. She raised her off-hand and acknowledged it, and fell in with Ti’fiit.

Artesia spared a look behind her, and then flashed a thumb’s-up to Fei’nur and followed Nah’dur out of the shelter.

Fei’nur gestured for the remainder of the team to follow her; she had Richard’s transmissions to populate her tactical map, and that would do, to get her and her support into what would hopefully be an ambush position.

No notification of their recovery was sent. Zhen’var would be worried about her sister, but Fei’nur knew she’d stay calm about it, and Fei’nur knew, too, that she had no interest in making this easy on her enemies.

As Fei’nur proceeded forward through the ventilated compartments, working around the site of the bomb blast and now moving further aft, she knew that what followed would be an exceptionally lethal encounter. The STG team would be the very best the Salarians could send against her, and they had already risked an enormous effort, assets, prestige, and reputation, to try and stop Nah’dur.

But Fei’nur also knew that she was standing between a living, breathing Nah’dur and the Salarians, and that gave her all the motivation in the Cosmos that she needed.

Then a voice split the ship’s open tactical channels, showing they had been hacked and reassuring Fei’nur that her decision to not report Nah’dur’s rescue had been the correct one.

Huáscar Commander,” the Salarian voice said matter-of-factly, “our mercenaries placed six bombs in the Quarian quarters aboard your vessel. We are within range to remote detonate them, and we are interested in the safety of our people, at the cost of life if necessary. If you do not hand over Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur and allow us to wipe the databases aboard the ship and confirm the destruction of her notes, we will detonate the bombs.”

“The Alliance does not negotiate with terrorists as a matter of policy, sir, nor do I negotiate with those who would have every interest in detonating those bombs to guarantee their escape.” Zhen’var replied, demi-claws scraping along her armrests. “Chief Bor’erj, get me a secure link with Engineering, Security and Marine commanders, now.”

“They hacked it with a direct tap, Ma’am,” Bor’erj answered, and accessed the informations systems nodes and hacking protocols. “We can physically isolate that part of the internal comms system. Doing so now.”

“Let me know as soon as you have the links securely established.” She folded her hands before her, waiting to hear if there would be anything further from their unwelcome guests.
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