"A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

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"A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Thu Jun 13, 2013 2:02 pm

The following is a reboot of a fic I used to write a long, long time ago. One that eventually evolved into TGG as we know it, hence some of the characters that appear. I almost changed them, honestly, but decided that would be treating my audience like idiots (I was remembering the infamous Bat-Embargo that ruined story ideas for the Justice League series, as the powers that be at WB forbade Bruce Timm and co from using Bat-villains and Bat-characters, save Batman himself and one appearance by the relatively minor Clock King villain, because of the new Batman animated show in a new continuity that they didn't want viewers to get "confused" over).

And while the original version of this evolved into TGG... it has little in common with it besides a basic foundation point and some characters names. TGG is a serious setting that examines socio-political ramifications of an existing Multiverse and the resulting astropolitical issues. This.... this is going to be a fun romp with the rule of "If I can make it work, then by God it's going in!".

As for why it's called "Series Pilot", my idea is to structure the series like a TV series. The pilot to establish the characters and base premise and set up the series proper, which will be portrayed as "episode" stories, so many per "season", each of which encompasses a year in-universe. Well, in-multiverse in this case.


A large fallow field stretched out as far as the eye could see from the two story house that stood in its midst. Once the grains of the Midwest had swayed in the wind here. Once the barn had been full of the sounds and smells of animals, pigs and chickens that could complement the income of the farm. There had been laughter, cries of joy and irritation, and everything else that told of it being the home of a family.

Now there were only memories.

A lone figure stood in the summer sun. Habits of a lifetime urged him to get to work, to find chores to do, but the emptiness in his heart threatened to overwhelm him just as the paper in his hand made it all moot.

The barechested young man stepped back up to the porch and put the paper down on the table. He stared into a mirror that his mother had put up years ago. Stubble was forming on his jawline and chin. His green eyes looked hazy and unfocused, red from nights of crying in his sleep. His athletic build was starting to decay from lack of exercise and proper eating.

The light on the answering machine for the house's landline was on. There were five messages waiting for him.

"Mister Robert Dale, this is Adam Miller from the Kansas Farmer's Bank. We understand the tough times you are currently going through and you again have condolences from the Bank. We would like you to come in to discuss the remaining balance on your family's property and to arrange a new payment schedule or sale that would best benefit you..."

An angry hand smacked the skip button. "Hello, Mister Dale, this is Herb from Johnson Farming. We went over the list you sent and, well, I'm afraid the price you asked for is just too high. I...."

Another smack on the skip button. This time he only allowed the caller to get as far as "Mister" before he hit it again. "Oh Robbbb... It's Zack, buddy. C'mon, pick up man," the voice pleaded, its tone and sound comfortably familiar. The barest hint of a smile crossed the young man's face. "Tom and I are going to come and drag your ass out of that house if we have to, Rob. I know it hurts, but you've got to have a life and moping around your empty family house isn't going to cut it. We're your friends, man... we're worried about you."

The message ended. This time it was a female voice that came in, an alto that was just as familiar. "Robert, this is Angel. Julie and I have talked about it and we're coming over soon to check up on you. We can and will kick your ass if we need to, Robert. Don't you doubt it. I mean it. You're shutting us all out and it isn't right. We're all here for you, so stop being a hermit already!" There was a sigh. "Okay, like I said, we're coming over, and we're not taking 'no' for an answer."

The machine beeped again and went dead. Robert just continued to stare at the mirror until he forced himself to look away.

His eyes settled on a picture. It was ten years old, at a harvest festival. An old man with a balding head of white hair sat in the center, a wide smile on his face. On the one side was a man just shy of his 40s and a brown-haired woman in his arm. On the other was Robert, so much younger, and a little girl who shared the same hue of dark hair as his clutching his hand and smiling at the camera. The memory made him smile; his family, his closest family...

And now they were all gone.

Robert shook his head. He had to leave the room, before the memories drove him mad with grief again. Over and over the phone call from the county sheriffs replayed in his mind. The accident. The long-haul trucker with the heart attack. A sedan versus an eighteen wheeler.... his family never stood a chance. His parents and sister all died at the hospital. His grandfather... they'd lost him years ago. And his grandmother even before that photo.

He found himself walking the property, along the path leading to the mound. It was an aberration to say the least; their region of Kansas didn't have hills or mountains or anything of the sort, but the mound had always been on the family land. His grandfather had reluctantly allowed people to use ground-penetrating radar on it once, looking to see if it was some ancient Native burial mound or the like, but there had been nothing of the sort within. It was just a fun little mystery here, barely thought about, barely considered.

Robert clambered to the top of it. He looked out at the farm he'd grown up on, the place he knew as home, the fields where he'd led his little sister on so many chases.... and he simply fell to his knees. With tears streaming down his face, he felt like his heart was about to implode, like there was nothing to keep it going, nothing....

Then came the flash of light.

The roar of an engine reached the walls of the Dale home. The motorbike that came up was adorned with red and blue coloring, a sport competition model with a lone rider wearing a blue helmet. The bike came to a stop near the family car and the rider stood from the bike, a young woman in a light black rider's jacket and blue jeans that were flattering on her. When the helmet came off, blond hair cascaded down past her neck. Her green eyes looked toward the house. All she could do was sigh heavily. She went up to the door and knocked. "Robert?" When there was no answer she reached for the door handle and found it open. She walked in and looked around at the living room. She glanced toward the mirror for a moment and then to the family pictures. She was in a few of them, from the time she was little to a picture of her and Robert side by side, holding awards from school.

Looking around she spotted a piece of paper. Curiosity prompted her to pick it up even as she overheard the crunching of gravel down the road. The text of the paper made her draw in a pained breath and close her eyes, setting the paper back down. Tears were starting to form when the door opened. "Hey, Julie, I see you beat us."

Julia Andreys looked up and into the hazel eyes of Angel Delgado. Angel's light bronze complexion was a few shades darker than Julia's tanned Caucasian, an indication of her Latin descent. As was fitting Angel, she was in a green sleeveless shirt that was almost a tank top, baring finely muscled arms, and the insignia of the county's only martial arts gym emblazoned on the front. While Julia had full blue jeans, Angel had jean-material shorts that ended above the knee, showing part of her muscled thighs as well. She looked around the empty house. "So, where's Rob?"

"Probably out on the farm somewhere." Julia looked past Angel to a figure standing in the doorway. "You brought Cat?"

Angel looked back and smiled. "Yeah."

Caterina Delgado waved at Julia with more than a touch of the shyness Julia knew her for. The slight smile of greeting made dimples form on the corners of her mouth; considering the eyeglasses over her hazel eyes, being barely past one hundred pounds even when soaking wet, and being about five foot four to her sister's five nine and Julia's five eleven, it made her look like a cute geek girl.... which, of course, she was, as proven by her dark blue shirt and the decal on it of a lab-coated silhouette holding a bubbling beaker with the caption: "Stand back! I'm using SCIENCE!"

Before anything more could be said the sound of a vehicle backfiring resounded through the air. They all looked out to see another vehicle, a beat-up sedan, pulling up behind the smaller coupe that Angel had driven. A well-built, brown-haired young man jumped out of the driver seat, looking at the rising smoke coming from the hood. "Oh God dammit!", he shouted angrily, kicking the wheel.

The other doors opened. In the front seat a thinly-built figure jumped out, his red hair cut to the nape of his neck. He gestured wildly to the driver. "Well, open the damn hood already! I told you I heard...."

Angel broke out laughing. "I see Zack's car is finally giving up the ghost. Do you think Tom can get it working again?"

"Bet you ten dollars he does," Julia replied with a smirk. "But only after someone goads his ego. Otherwise he'll just gripe that he's an engineer, not a mechanic."

"Engineering student, I thought?", Caterina asked quietly.

"Try telling him that," Angel said.

By this point the third occupant of the broken down car had gotten out. He was closer to Zack in build, wearing a plain T-shirt with a medical school logo on it and long shorts to the knee, his dark hair cut close to his scalp. Unlike the fair complexions of Julia, Zack, and Tom, or the tanned bronze of Angel and Caterina, his dark complexion spoke of his African ancestry, not a common sight in the Midwest. "Leo?", Julia asked, walking out toward them. "My God, Leo, you're back already?"

Leo Gillan looked over and grinned at them. He accepted a hug from Julia. "Yeah, my classes are out. Three years down, five to go."

"'Doctor Gillan' has a good ring to it." Julia stepped back and let Angel have a hug as well.

"Hey Cat." Zack looked over to Caterina, who was standing further back. "It's been a while."

"Uh, yeah," Caterina answered.

Zachary Carrey gave the young girl a smile and stepped up to her. "You're looking good. Still the brainiest, cutest girl in the county."

Angel crossed her arms. "Zack, I know you can't help yourself around girls..."

Zack looked back to her, a gesture of surrender. "Hey, just saying 'hi'."

Their exchange was interrupted with a hoarse, "Your belt is shredding and you've got an oil leak, why the hell are you still driving this thing you dumbass?!" Thomas Barnes pulled his head away from the hood of Zack's car.

"Well, because I usually have a best buddy and wingman who fixes it for me," Zack answered, smirking.

"Oh, yeah. Because you seem to think 'engineer' means 'mechanic'", Barnes retorted angrily.

While that exchange continued, Leo shook his head. "Some things never change, do they?"

"Unfortunately, sometimes they do." Julia looked back at the empty Dale house.

Leo saw where her eyes went and nodded. "I heard. I... I just can't believe it. Rob's family were great people, I can't imagine how much pain he's in."

"I can," Julia sighed. "But what's important is finding where he walked off to and...." She saw Leo look past the house and looked that way as well.

Soon everyone was, as they watched Robert run up to them. He was almost breathless when he reached them, an almost wild look in his eyes. "Jeez, man, are you alright?", Zack asked.

As Robert leaned against Angel's car, catching his breath, Leo moved up to him and examined him. "Robert, look at me," he commanded. When he did so, Leo checked his pulse. "Okay..."

"Come with me," he wheezed. "I need to show you something."

Julia stepped up. "What? What is it, Robert?"

"I don't know. I... I just need to know I'm not losing my mind," he answered.

The others all looked at each other. There was sympathy in their expressions as they each gave a nod. "After you've had some water," Leo said. "I don't want you dehydrating."

Caterina ran ahead of them into the house, coming back a moment later with a water bottle from the fridge. Robert drank so greedily from it that streams of water went around his lips and ran down his neck and chest. Leo pulled the bottle away after a couple of moments. "Okay, show us whatever this is," Julia said to him.

Everyone followed him across the farm. Everyone knew what it should look like at this time of year; the fact that it was mostly fallow was just another indication of how terrible things had become. There were no words to be had.

They were all familiar with the mound. Robert led them to the very top of it, from which they could see the entire farm and adjoining properties. He got on the ground and looked like he was looking for something. "It's here. I know it. I... I triggered it."

"Rob?" Julia was the first to go up to him. She knelt beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. "What are you looking for?"

"I don't know what it is. But I know it's here."

She got closer and gripped his arm. "Robby, please..." He looked up at her at the use of his childhood nickname. "Talk to me. I know what you're going through, but you're starting to scare us."

Robert stared at her for a moment and looked down at his dirty hands. "I... I think I might be going crazy, Julie."

"What did you think you'd find up here?"

"I... I don't know what it was. But...." He reached a hand over and adjusted his knee. "It was...."

His weight shifted onto the knee he just moved.

Light erupted from the ground at the base of the mound. Everyone cried out in shock as the light formed a ring around them. Energy seemed to surround them all....

And suddenly they were somewhere else. Lights came on around them, showing a sterile gray chamber and a sliding door at the far end. Everyone was looking around with astonishment. "Okay.... that was crazy," Zack muttered.

"It's like some kind of... teleporter, like in sci-fi shows," Caterina murmured. She was the first to step outside the circle. "We must be deep underground, too deep for ground-penetrating radar. Maybe even under the Aquifer."

"Well, I've got good news Robert." Leo patted him on the shoulder. "You're not crazy."

"Or we all are," Angel murmured.

Robert gave a nod and a smile to Leo and walked past the others toward the door. As he walked up to it a pair of green lights converged on him, running over his body. There was a series of chirping and beeping noises from a module above the door. They ended with a loud tone and the door light turned blue. He looked back to his astounded friends. "So, want to come in with me?"

A couple of eyes glanced back toward the ring in the chamber. Julia kept her eyes on Robert. He'd been almost wild-eyed before, but now there was a calm sense in his eyes. A cool confidence, a realization that he was not insane and that there was something wonderous inside. "Let's go," she said firmly.

"This is already beyond awesome," Caterina said, stepping forward beside Julia. Amazement had removed all of her habitual shyness.

"Hell, I want to know what else is down here too," Thomas insisted, stepping forward.

"I'm behind you." Angel stepped up between her sister and Julia.

Zack and Leo each gave a nod and a grin. They stepped up too. "Let's see where this rabbit hole takes us," Leo remarked.

"Hopefully to something that won't eat us," Zack added.

Robert grinned widely. "Well everyone, let's see what's in there." He stepped up to the door and it slid open without a sound. After a quick collective breath to gather their courage, the seven friends stepped into the unknown.....

Big Steve Presents....

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Time For Heroes"

The chamber had been a closet compared to where they were now. The space inside was enormous, with pathways and catwalks criss-crossing everywhere. Tubes containing lifts met every major crosswalk and ladders were placed along the walls. "No damned way," Barnes muttered. "This... this isn't possible."

They walked along the path before them and found a stairway up to what looked to be a central command station. Chairs had been bolted into place at the major stations, each of which was covered in characters from some unknown language. Multiple monitors adorned the walls as well, showing various empty chambers. Some looked to be living quarters or storage rooms for equipment. Others were just empty.

But one wasn't. Inside was a structure. Not just a structure, but something that made everyone present think "ship" from the size. It looked to be the length of a naval warship and wider and even taller than such, with a hull of dark blue coloring and swept-back wings that made it look like a hawk or eagle diving. "Okay, either I'm crazy, or that's some kind of spaceship," Angel remarked.

"It is one," Robert said softly. "It's a spaceship."

"But, if it's supposed to be in space, why is it underground?", Angel asked. "What, does it fly through tunnels or something to get to the surface? Wouldn't something like that be easy to find?"

Robert gave a shrug and walked up. He set a hand on the controls. "I just wish I could understand these...."

Suddenly all of the control surfaces seemed to shift. Where alien characters had once confronted them they now saw them in English. Above the center of the room an image blurred into existence, a bipedal form with deep orange coloring and a high skull that was clearly non-human. It appeared for only a moment before being replaced by a well-kept Human in a nice suit. "Central systems are now online. I.... well well..." The image looked around at them. "I didn't expect this. I figured our people had come to man the station again. Are you Aterrans? Wait, no.... your language has too many differences. You're... you're native to this world aren't you?"

"Who are you?", Robert asked.

"I am the Control System for Emergency Facility A Universe Designation H1E4, created by the Darglan, native to Universe Designation E5B1 . Before you ask, my appearance is tailored to fit certain mental imagery found in the mind of the one who activated me. In this case, you." He looked to Robert. "You seem to have genetic structures that my sensors saw as Aterran. That would explain how you triggered the surface entrance and activated me."

"How does this place fit underground? There's no damned way something like this would be missed...."

The hologram turned to Barnes. "You are an interesting one.... oh, a mechanical mind, I think you'll enjoy the data you can be provided with. To answer your question, young Terran, the Darglan made many allies in their time exploring the universes of creation, and with those allies came technologies. A friendly alien in one of those universes demonstrated the use of dimensionally transcendental objects that the Darglan replicated in these facilities. This facility, as large as it is on the inside, on the outside occupies barely ten percent the space of the command center."

Caterina clapped her hands together. "So... it's literally a pocket dimension? Your people could make pocket dimensions?!"

"Not easily, mind you. And I cannot. These facilities were meant for emergency use. And I...." The hologram stopped. "Oh... oh dear. I...."

It was Leo who asked, "What?"

"I...." The holographic figure seemed stricken. "I just found a queued message in my receivers. It's.... oh my dear." The figure ran a hand on his head. "It appears my creators are... extinct. Destroyed. This is terrible, so simply terrible." He looked to them. "My young Terrans... please. I would ask your help. Please don't leave me here alone. If you man the facility, I can fulfill my purpose."

Everyone was looking around in wonderment as Control's pleading words reached them. "Well... I kind of understand what you mean and all... but what would we do with it?", Zack asked. "I mean... maybe we should have our authorities come and work with you instead?"

"Yeah, Zack, I'm sure that we'll find someone who believes us about the teleporter built into the mound that leads to the magic supertech underground base," Angel said, smirking in amusement. "And even if we did... they're just as likely to lock us up somewhere so they can keep it a secret."

"That's a bit paranoid of you, Angel."

"But she's right," Robert pointed out. Besides..." He inhaled slowly. "I've got nowhere else to go. I'm losing the farm."

Julia lowered her head, the only one not surprised by the news. "What?", Barnes asked increduously.

"They still call and talk about arranging a voluntary sale, but they've already started the foreclosure," Robert answered. "Dad had been keeping things afloat, barely. Now he's gone. And losing my family cost so much. " He sighed and blinked back tears. "Too much. I can't save it. I'm even going to lose the house."

Angel set a hand on Robert's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Rob."

"Maybe it's for the better," he continued. "The house is so empty now. Everywhere I look I think of Dad and Mom and Susan. So.... yeah, I've got nothing better to do."

"Aside from take care of yourself," Leo remarked. "Have you looked in a mirror lately, Rob?"

Robert smiled thinly. "Yeah, I have." He turned to the control system hologram. "So, just what do I do? I mean, besides living here. And I hope you have a way for me to get food..."

"I do have a supply of raw food material that our systems can produce into food items for your benefit," Control answered. "As for the more pertinent question... I am programmed to assist the personnel of this facility within the confines of rather broad ethical restraints."

Robert gave a nod. "What would they be?"

"Don't use this facility to embark on conquest and enslavement of other sapient species," Control answered matter-of-factly. "Do not commit genocide or xenocide. Do not use me to inflict harm outside of necessary defense of yourself and others."

"So don't be a murdering asshole," Angel answered, summing things up.

"Yes, a crude summation I suppose," Control conceded.

"Okay, that's cool." Zack stepped up to the hologram. "But just what is all this for? What will you have Rob doing? Sweeping the floors?"

"Oh, not at all. I have maintenance drones for that. Rather.... you could resume the Darglans' work. Recommence studying the Multiverse. That is what the ship is for; it is a specialized scout and combat vessel," Control explained. "Though I would recommend not getting into trouble without the full trained crew of forty sentients."

"Plus we don't know the first thing about how these ships operate," Caterina pointed out. "I mean, we don't know how to fly a spaceship, or how stuff in space works. I... I can theorize a bit..."

"Ah, no worries there. You Terrans, given the bioscans I'm getting, should be compatible with the data infusion system. The necessary data can be installed into your minds. I don't recommend trying to understand all of it, mind you. Too much data infusion has been recorded as causing mental trauma, even unbalance. Specializing may be a more sound approach. And training afterward of course." The control hologram put his hands together. "Shall we?" He seemed to step off the viewer, though the flicker made it clear that the internal hologram systems were simply changing projectors. "Follow me."

After a sight-filled trip down a transport tube and a contained deck, they were shown to a large room with a multitude of beds, each with a device hanging over it. "So, Robert is it? Please sit and I will give you a basic information download as a test."

"Are you so sure about this, Rob?", Zack asked. "All that stuff about mental trauma...."

"I'll risk it," Caterina suddenly declared, stepping forward. "I mean, I want to know more about this place. And the science. And all the astrophysics these Darglan must have known...!"

"Cat!", Angel called out with concern.

Robert smiled at the girl. "Thanks for offering, Cat, but I'm the one who volunteered. You'll need that big brain of your's for college if this doesn't work." He got onto the table, ignoring the sensation of cold on hia bare back and arms.

Julia leaned over him. "Robby, are you sure about this?", she whispered.

He looked back to her. "I am. Trust me." He reached for her hand and gripped it. "Thanks for being here for me, Julie." He stared up at the device and watched it begin to glow.

Suddenly he was tired. "Your brain is being coaxed into a sleep state," Control explained. "This will permit you to more easily process the new information."

"Been having trouble sleeping as it is," Robert yawned. "A little sleep might..."

His eyes fluttered close while a beam of light came from the device above, shining on his forehead. "This is ridiculous," Leo said. "You can't just download knowledge into someone. Knowledge comes from experience."

The heat in his voice made Zack look to him. "Are you okay?"

That led to a chuckle. "Oh, swell. I'm just being told that after thousands of dollars and my parents working themselves to death to make sure I could get through school, I can just get a light beam flashed over my head and be an instant doctor. I've apparently wasted three years of my life."

"No," Julia answered. "It actually gives you an edge over us. We're still going to have to train, you've already got some of it."

"Julie... when did we decide we were all going to do this?", Zack asked pointedly. "I mean, we do have lives to go to."

"Are you dense?" Caterina glared at him. "There's.... would you really turn this down?! I know I'm not."

"You're supposed to go to school," Angel insisted, jumping into the conversation. "You promised Mama."

"Angel, seriously? This.... look around you!" Caterina raised her arms. "This is beyond anything we could have imagined when we talked about our future. This... this is something far beyond what Mama had in mind when she asked me to go to school. She'd be with me on this!"


"Woh, time out!" Julia raised her arms. "Listen.... we all have to decide what we're going to do. Let's see what happens with Robert first."

Everyone was quiet until he started to stir. Leo was the first by his side, barely beating Julia to it, and was looking intently at him as Robert sat up and opened his eyes. "Sounds like you're breathing well," Leo said. "So... how do you feel?"

Robert blinked sleep out of his eyes. "No different. I'm not about to start laughing like a comic book villain." He rubbed his eyes. "And I think I can fly and fight with spaceships now."

"As stated, it was a basic packet that was not too taxing. The information necessary to understand starships and this facility's basic operation. It will be useful." Control put his hands together. "I am pleased that you were so compatible with the system. I would recommend against more than two more infusions over the next year. It's best if you use the baseline of your current knowledge for more conventional training. If I might inquire as to if any of your friends are interested?"

"I want one!", Caterina called out. "I want to understand the basics of your science!"

"Cat!", Angel growled.

Robert slid off the table and raised his hands. "Listen, this is my choice, it doesn't have to be your's."

"I want this though!", Caterina protested. She stared her sister right in the eye, even if it looked almost comical given their physical differences. "Angel, this is so much more than just going to university and studying a science field. This... this is light years beyond us. Literally! And I want to do it!"

Angel looked down at her little sister for several moments before setting her hands on her hips and breathing in a sigh. "Fine, fine. I'll be doing this though, then. Someone has to keep you and Robert from hurting yourselves."

Robert let out a low chuckle. "I'm reminded that you've hurt me quite a few times...."

The look on Angel's face turned mischievous. "Yeah, but sometimes you enjoyed it."

At that Zack snickered while a bemused smirk crossed Julia's face. Robert allowed himself a grin and looked up to Julia. "You're not the only one. There are times I think you used to invite me to your gym just to put me in my place."

"Maaaaybe," Julia joked. "Though I think Zack needs it more often." She took in a breath and looked to be thinking of what to say. "I shouldn't have to say I'll be going with you wherever you go."

"Getting to work on starship engines sounds a lot more fun than having to fix Zack's crappy car all the time," Barnes added.

This left Leo and Zack. The latter looked to be deep in thought while Leo was staring at the tables. "You're all serious about this. Really?" When he received nods, Leo drew in a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. "God, I must be crazy.... okay, fine. You're going to need me, and I admit I'm curious about just how crazy this is going to be." He looked to the hologram. "I'm going to need to know how your medical technology works."

"I'll prepare a data infusion package immediately. Ah, there." Control nodded. "It is ready. I will welcome any more requests for specialized information..."

Zack sighed. "So you guys are all really going to do this? Really? The lives we have now aren't good enough, you're going to just jump into... whatever this leads us to?"

"Zack, it's your choice, if you want to go back..."

There was a look of consternation on his face, like he was seriously considering that offer but couldn't bring himself to be the one who walked away. "I just... I just want a normal life sometimes, you know? But if you guys want to do this... I'm not going to let you do it alone. We do it together."

Robert stepped up and put his hand on Zack's shoulder. "Whatever comes, we're going to need each other. I don't think we could go without you, Zack."

"Oh, I'm sure you could." Zack smirked and patted him on the shoulder. "I'm just the skirt-chasing jock of our group."

"That's where Angel and I come in. We keep you in line." Julia looked to the tables. "So, if we're all doing this, we should decide just what we want to learn."

"I await your decisions," Control answered.

Among them Caterina was the first to get into a table and the first to awaken again. Robert started toward her as she sat up, wide-eyed. "Cat, are you okay?", he asked.

She stared at him for a moment. "I know four different ways to break the lightspeed barrier!" she said, her mouth spreading to a wide grin. "Maybe five! Not sure how the gravitic slips will work.... Oh, and quantum mechanics! I know quantum mechanics! I know subquantum mechanics! And subspace physics!"

Caterina's enthusiasm was infectious. "That's awesome, Cat," Robert said. "It'll come in handy, I'm sure."

The others began to wake up as well. "It's kind of... tingly," Zack remarked. "So what next oh fearless leader?"

"Well... he did say that spaceship was around to fly..."

After a quick return by Robert to his home for, of all things, a red polo shirt, they followed Control to a transporter room. The transport was slightly different this time, a tingly sensation with the transporter room disappearing and the bridge of the ship appearing around them. The control systems were already displaying in English, the stations arrayed around a center chair for the commander. Robert stepped to the station in front and found it to be the helm. "I recommend a short flight only," Control said over the comm system. "Without a full crew you will be unable to deal with emergencies."

"It's just a quick spin," Robert assured Control. He settled into the helm. "So, Julie, want to be the Captain?"

She smiled at him. "Sure, but I think I'll be needed at ops. Zack is going to have to help Tom in Engineering."

"Come on, wrench wrangler," Barnes called out as he headed to a door in the left rear of the bridge. "I'll be needing that second set of hands."

"Coming," Zack sighed.

"I'll check out the ship's infirmary," Leo offered. "I want to double-check things."

Caterina was already at the ship's main sensor station taking a seat. "Sensors ready for SCIENCE!", she giggled happily.

"That leaves weapons for you, Angel," Robert remarked as he checked the helm. "I've got helm control on standby. Just waiting for Tom and Zack to get the engines going."

"It shouldn't take them too long." Julia went over the controls. "Ship systems all good. What are we going to name the ship anyway?"

"Control, does it have a name?", Robert asked.

"No. The Darglan left it no designation."

"I see." Robert seemed to think a moment. "Okay.... how about the Kelley?"

"Just where did you get that from?", Angel asked.

"Just popped in my head. My parents knew someone with that name I think. Besides, it's nice and unpretentious."

"I've got no objections," Julia said.

When there were none, Control's voice returned over the intercom. "Kelley it is, then. I shall mark this in the data."

"Aren't you coming?", Caterina asked.

"Oh, I'm afraid not. My program is too large, to keep more than a few bare scraps of my code would be to take up crucial data space in your ship's library systems."

"I'll have to work on that," Caterina said sadly.

"You'll get your chance," Robert assured her. He saw indicators on his system confirming that Zack and Barnes had the ship's main reactors on. "Okay, we have main power. Preparing to initiate drives. Releasing all moorings."

"I'm linking our jump drive to the facility gate, space jump set for the dark side of the moon." Julia looked up. "We wouldn't want to be seen by the Hubble, I'm guessing."

"Oh, the Hubble isn't our worry, it's the many telescopes on Earth that would see us," Caterina corrected.

"Well, either way, she's right." Robert keyed the engines to pre-launch readiness. "Don't we have some kind of invisibility or stealth system?"

"The data infusion makes me want to call it a cloaking device." Julia tapped her control. "I'll cloak when we're through and secure. Jump gate activating now."

A circular shape in front of them flashed to life, creating a field of blue and green. Robert turned on the thrusters and the craft lurched as it came to life, moving forward into the swirling gate. There was a brief feeling of cold and dislocation and they were through, the silhouette of the moon's dark side on their viewer.

They were in space.

"This is so cool," Caterina murmured. Her fingers were running quickly over her controls. "And the sensors on this ship are awesome. I can read the surface composition of the moon! Actually, even here I can detect some of the stuff in Earth orbit!"

"Settle down, Cat," Angel urged, though it sounded more like she was just responding by habit. Even she was staring at the moon in disbelief.

Julia turned away from the screen long enough to operate her board. "Cloak operational. Nobody on Earth will see us."

"Then let's see what she can do." With a grin, Robert turned on the newly-christened Kelley's main drive. The moon disappeared quickly, replaced by open space as they began their maiden flight.

After a few hours, and everyone getting their chance at the helm, the Kelley's jump drive connected to the facility and they returned to their dock. Robert maneuvered the ship back into launch position before allowing the facility's umbilicals to reconnect. When all was done a touch of a button alerted Barnes to power down the main reactor. "Well, that was fun."

"We should have tried out the space-warp engines," Caterina sighed, looking as mopey as she sounded.

"We need a proper engineering crew for that," Julia remarked. "Not that I'm sure where we'll get one."

"We'll think of something," Robert remarked, standing from the station. "I'm guessing everyone wants to run home?"

"Well, some of us have jobs," Leo pointed out. "I've been doing volunteer work at the local clinic, just because we're flying spaceships doesn't mean I'm going to back out."

"Hey, I'm alright with that."

When they all emerged from the ship dock, taking that route this time, Control's hologram was waiting. "I hope you enjoyed yourselves," he said. "I believe I overheard something about work?"

"Some of my friends have obligations that mean going to their homes and getting rest," Robert remarked.

"Ah. Well, if you need to I believe we can arrange a beaming...."

"Oh no, my car is back at Rob's place," Zack said. "And..."

"....and it was smoking when you were last running it," Julia pointed out. "I doubt you'll be getting home in that thing."

"Crap. Alright. I guess Leo, Tom, and I need beaming then."

"I will program coordinates based on the maps I have found on your public networks."

Control led them off, leaving Robert with the girls. "I'd better get started in moving my stuff in here," he said. "That way there won't be anything left in the house."

"It's not too late yet, we'll help you pack," Julia said. Angel and Caterina gave nods.

As it turned out, Robert wasn't interested in the furnishings so much as the family keepsakes. His paternal grandfather's military papers, pictures, and medals, the gifts of books he had gotten from his mother's family, things that had strong connections to what had been.

After several boxes were accumulated and the sun had disappeared over the horizon, Angel reached over for her car keys. "Come on, Cat, it's time to go home."

"I'd rather stay," she said. "That place is so big, it'll take forever to explore."

"Hey, I'm not hauling your stuff too, so if you don't come none of your books or clothes will be coming back with me," Angel warned.

With a face in full-on pout mode, Caterina waved goodbye to the others and followed her sister out the door.

This left Robert and Julia alone in the kitchen, going over photos from his family pile while the local news played for background noise. "Hey, look at this." He brought up a picture from the county fair when they were kids, his grandfather sitting between them and joining them in eating cotton candy. "Grandpa always had a soft spot for you."

"I know." She let out a little chuckle. "He asked me to take care of you when I saw him last."

"He asked me to care for you too."

"'Just be ready for when Robby finally works up the nerve to get on his knees and show you the ring,'" Julia quoted, mimicking the late Grandpa Dale's voice as best as she could.

Robert chuckled. "Granddad is why you call me that sometimes, I swear."

"That and the fact I've known you long enough to remember when everyone called you 'Robby'. And a few even called you 'Bob', even if you hated it." She giggled at the pained look that came to his face. "So... you're just going to live down there? Alone?"

"I don't have anywhere else to go. I'm losing the house anyway. So why not?" Robert shrugged and put the picture in a box. "I've got nothing better to do. What about you? School is off-semester, there's no work around here anymore. You could join me."

"You and me, alone, in that place?" Julia raised an eyebrow. "That's a lot of space."

"Assuming the others don't move in full-time," Robert said. "Anyway...." He reached for the box and looked toward the TV. And froze.

It was a local report, showing a suited man emerging from a courthouse smiling. The caption read "Local Landowner Released: Charges Dropped". "Oh, there's a surprise," Julia sighed. "Old Duffy got away with it again. Angel's probably wailing away at her punching bag."

"Dad always said he had half the County Commission and the Sheriff in his pocket." Robert became quiet to hear Mr. Duffy's statement, asserting the case as a continued effort from "Washington liberals" in the Justice Department to attack his successful business. "There's not a farmer in this county who looks at his prices and doesn't know he's using illegals as slave labor."

"No proof." Julia shrugged. "And there's nothing we can do..." The look in her eyes made it clear that a thought had interrupted the habitual lament of helplessness in the face of something wrong.

Her eyes met Robert's. The thought passed among them silently, but it was Robert who spoke it aloud. "The hell I can't do anything about it, I have a starship buried under my house."

The next day it was well into the afternoon before everyone gathered again. Nothing much was said as things were brought to the mount and, by the transporter, down into the facility. It was only when they had put stuff away in the living area that Robert called them into the facility's command area. "So, I take it everyone's heard Duffy was let go again" Robert tapped the table in the middle. "And he'll be free to continue ruining everyone else in the county because he's a slave-driver, unless someone does something about it."

"And you think that should be us," Barnes remarked.

"We have a starship and super spacetech. Yes, I think we can do it. I think we should do it."

"You'll get no fuss from me," Angel announced.

"Just because we have a starship doesn't mean we can just hit a button and win." Julia shook her head. "We need to plan for this."

Angel nodded. "And just getting the workers out won't be enough. We'll need to do something more, get evidence on what he's done."

"So we need scans of his property, the likely location of his work force, and access to his computers." Robert tapped the central station. "Control?"

"Online, yes." The hologram flashed to life.

"Would bringing down a guy who uses virtual slave labor to make lots of money and undercut his non-slaving competition fall within your ethical guidelines?"

"Oh, absolutely. The Darglan were aghast at sentient enslavement. My programming will give me joy to undermine it."

"Then we'll need your help. We need a means to download everything on a computer in record time. And equipment to sneak around." Robert touched his chin. "I hate to say it, but even guns might be necessary."

"Understood. Give me the particulars and we will determine the best way to meet your requirements."

"The facility beamed us home, why can't we just bring them in that way?"

Barnes shook his head at Zack. "Yeah, it's a bit different when we're talking about that many people. And we need to know what we're transporting, I don't think we want Duffy or his employees in here."

"Yeah. We're going to have to go in." Robert leaned over in his chair. "And I have a plan for that."

Night had fallen, as intended, when Robert drove up to the Duffy property's main gate. Duffy had an armed guard at the entrance, the only major landowner in the area to have such. His grandfather's old truck backfired, drawing an angry look from the guard as he took down their names and waved them in.

After they were inside Robert looked over to the empty passenger seat. To someone else it looked like he was looking at something outside. But he wasn't.


He couldn't see the nod. "Yeah," Julia said. "I look invisible?"


"Alright, I'm ready."

Nothing more was said. Robert stopped the truck just outside the house. He saw security men checking it as he went up to the door, where he was patted down. He stood a few seconds at the front door when it opened, as if collecting his thoughts and soothing his nerves. He remained quiet until he was brought into a sitting room. Duffy was seated there, a glass in one hand, dressed casually. He stood and offered his hand to Robert. "Young Mister Dale, a pleasure. My condolences yet again."

"Thank you, sir," Robert answered. It had honestly been years since he had set foot in the house and it was clearly different than it had been with Duffy's father, a friend and fellow vet of Robert's grandfather. "I hope I'm not keeping you from anything?"

"Oh, no no, not at all. We had our celebrations earlier, I'm just... enjoying myself." Duffy put his glass down. "Having Washington bureaucrats constantly trying to wreck my business can get tiring, so I enjoy my victories when I get them."

"I remember plenty of Grandpa's rants about it," Robert said amiably.

"Yet the old man voted Democrat every year, until Reagan at least," Duffy laughed. "Mister Allen was a hell of a character, that's for sure." After sipping on his glass, Duffy sat it down and leaned forward a little. His blue eyes focused on Robert and an expression of curiosity came across his thin face. "Okay, young man, what brings you out here? Ah, let me guess..." Robert frowned at getting cut off, but said nothing of it. "You want to talk about selling me your family property."

That, of course, was the cover story, and so Robert nodded. "I remember you'd come to Dad a few times."

"I did. But times change. I don't mind charity where I can afford it, but my business has to be considered too. It would be cheaper just to buy it from the bank after they finish foreclosure."

And I wouldn't be surprised at all if your friends in the bank were behind the bank starting the proceedings so early. Robert shrugged. "Well, sir, if I may... if you buy it now, I won't have to sell all of the equipment and the grainseed. It could cost you thousands when you actuallly get the property."

Duffy scratched at his chin. "Good reply, good. Well, let's negotiate these things, shall we?"

"Yes sir." Robert hid his feelings on the subject; he had to buy time for the others to get their parts done.

Julia had been careful in slipping inside. It was astounding how many guards Duffy had, way too many to fight through if this 'personal cloak' that Control had provided failed. The eyepiece displayed the remaining power and estimated remaining time; she had about ten more minutes before the device failed. That should, at least, be plenty of time.

A quick check of the first floor revealed only the living room, den, kitchen, but no computer. Julia went to the stairs and the upper floor bedrooms, listening as Robert began his pitch to sell his property. A part of her regretted that they hadn't just transported in, but between inexperience with the transporters and people hearing it.... this really was the best way.

The first bedroom was vacant, as was the second. She got to the third and found a bedroom converted to what looked to be an office. "Bingo," she murmured. Julia went straight for the desktop computer, finding it on standby. She didn't dare turn the monitor on, the light might be seen in the hall or the window. She reached into her pocket and found the small case Catarina had given her. Inside was a small device with a USB connector. She found a USB port for it and plugged it in. She tapped an item on her wrist. "Cat?"

"Setting up connection now, Julie," Caterina answered. "Computer is password protected, but we have a supercomputer up here with enough computing power to outdo the entire planet, I'll be through the protection in moments. Want me to have Tom bring you up?"

"Not yet, I want to be down here if something goes...."

And that was when she heard the scream.

Angel had been hiding in the bed of the truck, activating the cloaking system only when Robert pulled up. As soon as he stopped the vehicle she jumped out and began moving toward the large work buildings near the house. She was invisible, but she made sure to walk quietly and softly to minimize footprints. She brought her wrist up and tapped the device on it. "Cat, are you there?"

"I'm here, sis," was the cheerful respnse.

"Guide me, Cat, there are a whole bunch of buildings here."

"I'm scanning for life forms now... Okay, do you see that utility shed? Northern-most building? I'm picking life signs there."

"Alright." There was a distance to cover, and Angel had to be careful not to make loud footfalls or anything that might draw attention to the pair of footprints appearing out of nowhere in the prairie grass and dirt below. It took a few minutes to cover the distance and get to the building. It was locked, not too surprising, but the windows were open. A sole security guard was patrolling the exterior. Angel could tell he wasn't paying much attention, absorbed in his thoughts and the boredom of his work. She waited for him to go past before looked back to the high window. It was too high to leap to. "Sis?" She hit the comm again, bringing it up to her mouth so she could whisper into it. "Can you transport me inside?"

"Tom says he's not sure he's used the transporter enough to do that, not with everything else inside."

Angel cursed and looked around. She found a crate that had been left out. When she went to pick it up she found that it was supremely heavy, filled with heavy objects of some sort.

Even worse, it was far noisier than she thought it'd be. Something instead clattered and did so loudly. She turned and saw the guard who'd passed whipping around. He caught sight of her holding the crate, though to his vision it was the crate being held in mid-air. His eyes widened and his mouth hung open in shock.

"Dammit." Angel set the crate back down, not wanting to make more noise, but the guard wasn't writing it off as his imagination. He approached, one hand reaching for the pistol in his holster and the other taking hold of the microphone. She was out of time.

So she shot him.

The poor guy probably had only the glimpse of a blue beam coming from nowhere, then blackness. The weapon was on what Control called a stun setting, a low level blast that did not kill but shocked the body enough to induce unconsciousness. Angel watched him crumple and went over to pick him up and pull him a bit further out of sight. It wouldn't last long; any further patrols or missed check-ins would cause an investigation.

"Ah, to hell with it," Angel muttered. She kept her gun out and went up to one of the double doors, closed with a bar held in place by a padlock. She fired it and watched the blue beam begin to turn the lock red. She halted firing long enough to raise the power and fired again. This time the lock fell off, creating small embers of flame as the superhot metal met the prairie glass below. She pulled the door open.

The stink hit her first, followed by shocked expressions and fear. The people inside were packed together closely, with very little living space. An angry frown crossed her face as Angel reached for her comm. "Kelley, I can confirm, it's them."

"Standby for beaming."

The people were milling around her, all curious and scared. "Be calm, you will be safe in a moment," Angel assured them.

Soon enough they were enveloped in light.

Robert had been discussing the cost of one of the machines on the farm when the scream came from upstairs. "What....?" It didn't sound like Julia, but it had clearly been female...

Duffy looked agitated and rolled his eyes. "Turn that movie down, Phil!", he called out. "Sorry, but you know Phil nd his movies..."

Robert gave a nod, not at all convinced with the claim.

Julia was quick to investigate the scream, leaving the office. She saw a figure stepping out of one of the doors she hadn't checked yet and recognized him as Phil Duffy. She stepped out of his way and tried not to give in to the temptation to hit the little bastard from behind. He went into another room, clearly a bedroom, and a bathroom beyond.

She checked the door he had come out of. The door looked reversed; the latch to lock it close was on the outside and not the inside. Why would....?

Julia swung the door open and stood, stunned, in the doorway. Her eyes focused on the figure in the center of the room, or rather taped to a pole in the center. A barely-dressed, curvy young woman with a light bronze complexion and curly dark hair that cascaded down around her eyes. Blood was running down her nose and mouth and had welled up at other parts of her arms, visible belly, and legs. "Oh my God," Julia rasped. Looking around she saw a full assortment of knives, blackjacks, sticks... enough to see what the room was meant for.

She'd known Phil Duffy was a skirt-chasing misogynist prick, but this.... this was beyond the worse thoughts she'd ever had about him.

Julia pulled out a small knife from her pocket and began to cut the duct tape holding the woman's wrists against the metal pole. The woman fell, forcing Julia to catch her. As she shifted her around, the hair fell from the woman's face and made Julia realize she recognized it. It was an old classmate, Lucilla Lucero (Or "LL" as she was sometimes teasingly called), one that had been appreciated and friendly even if she was never really with their group. Blue eyes looked up at Julia, hazed with pain, and Lucilla murmured, "What...?"

"Oh my God," Julia muttered. "You'll... you'll be okay Lucy," she said, re-assuringly. She reached around Lucilla to hit her comm. "Teddo, I need you to beam her up, now."

There was an inarticulate growl, making Julia realize she'd used Barnes' now-hated childhood nickname, but before she could correct it a reply came of, "Beaming now..." The weight vanished from her grip as white light coalesced around Lucilla and whisked her away.

Julia stood up and went to leave.... just to see Phil Duffy standing at the doors, eyes widened in shock. "Oh shit," Julia muttered as the young Duffy sprinted off shouting.

"....the harvester's engine," Robert said, finishing a summation of the repairs he'd done even after his family's loss. "That's why...."

"Dad! Dad!" Phil came stumbling down the stairs, almost out of breath, with one of Duffy's security people following. "She's gone!"

Robert took a breath and waited as Duffy almost barked, just to hold himself back. "Excuse me, Mister Dale," he sighed, standing up and movin toward his son. "Phil, we'll talk about this..."

Phil, however, was focusing his gray eyes on Robert. "You!", he spat. "I heard her up there, Rob! I heard Julia in the room! What are you up to?!"

Duffy raised a hand. "Phil, shut up now."

"They took that bitch Lucilla, Dad!", Phil declared, pointed an accusing finger at Robert. "She's been freed!"

Lucilla? Robert took a second and realized who Phil was talking about. LL?! What.... Then he remembered that she'd taken a job with Duffy's company over a year ago. And at the back of his mind, the pieces began to fall into place.

As they did so, the receiver in his ear came to life. "Oh God, Rob," Leo said, horror evident in his voice. "They... the bastards... I've got Lucy up here now and she's just a mess..."

That was when Duffy reached into the drawer of the nearby stand and pulled out a revolver. A gun he pointed directly at Robert. "Well, young man, I'm afraid to say that whether Phil is right or not.... you have heard far too much."

"What have you done with Lucy?", Robert asked quietly. "She was the reason you almost got caught, wasn't she?"

"You know, sometimes you think a few of them are normal Americans like the rest of us," Duffy replied. "But then they go and do something and remind you that they'll never be like us. I should have never hired that wetback bitch. She almost cost me everything. So... I'm going to ask kindly, what are you doing here?"

"Having a gun pointed at my face," he answered flippantly. It looked like wry sarcasm... but Duffy of course couldn't know that they were being overhead.

"If you're wearing some kind of wire, I know it's not transmitting," Duffy answered. "I'm very careful with these things these days. Don't know what the Feds will pull to try and destroy my business."

"You don't deserve your business," Robert shot back.

Julia had pulled the transmitter out of the computer when an armed security man ran into the office. He couldn't see her, of course, and quickly finished his sweep. "All clear, no sign of the subject," he spoke into the radio.

The subject. Not the prisoner, the captive, the torture victim.... the phrasing was too much. Julia pulled the weapon in her belt out and fired. The blast struck him in the back and left him unconscious.

"Julie, Zack here," a voice said over her comm. "Duffy's got Rob, he's got a gun on him."

"Bring him up then."

"Tom's not in favor of that, he thinks that if they shoot the bullets might be brought along in the 'matter stream' or whatever.... he thinks they can still shoot Rob if he beams."

"Can't he just screen a bullet out?"

This time Barnes cut in. "With time and practice, yeah. But I've just started to learn this goddamned crap!"

"Then be ready, I'll go help Robert out." Julia left the room and went back to the stairs.

She found Robert standing toward one edge of the living room, Duffy pointing a gun at him while Phil and a security guard watched. Julia knew she had to get Duffy's attention. Moreso, she knew how, and it was a way she would resolutely enjoy.

She walked up behind Phil, turned off her cloak to make sure they could see her, and took him by the shoulder. He cried out in surprise and couldn't react before her fist found his nose. The security guard went for his gun, but Julia's right leg came up in a quick snap kick that caught him in the belly, allowing her to follow up by slugging him in turn.

Duffy turned to face Julia, and that gave Robert his opening. He lunged forward, grabbing Duffy's wrist and twisting it until he dropped the gun. Duffy slammed his elbow into Robert's jaw, knocking him back slightly and allowing Duffy to go for the gun. But Robert recovered too quickly and grabbed Duffy before his hand could grip, throwing him to the side and clear of the firearm. He reached down and scooped it up.

Duffy screamed in rage and lunged at Robert. Robert twisted and, without even thinking about it, pulled the trigger. The gunshots were thundercracks that made every ear in the room explode with pain. Blood erupted from Duffy's chest and back as the round went into his chest. The older man dropped, his eyes wide in shock and terror, and was dying as he hit the floor.

"Dad!" With blood pouring from his nose, Phil scrambled over to his father's side. "Dad, no!"

Julia stepped over and helped Robert back to his feet. She pointedly ignored Phil's grieving and looked out the window at the gun-toting men beginning to circle the house. "Time to get out of here."

"Agreed." Robert tapped his ear. He thought his heart would erupt from his chest as he said, "Bring us up, Tom."

Phil had turned away to cradle his dying father, so he didn't see the white light gather around them and make them vanish.

The night wasn't over.

When Robert and Julia re-materialized on the bridge, Zack was at the helm and Cat at sensors. "We got everyone?"

"Yeah, and that's the problem," Zack replied. He pointed to the door. "Angel has them in the main cargo and shuttle bay trying to keep them from going crazy. I don't think they're too happy."

"Crap. Let's get down there then."

They took the lift to the bottom deck of the ship and on to the rear. The large bay was for cargo and the small two man "shuttles" tht they'd found in their first tour of the Kelley. There were about sixty people gathered around, yelling in Spanish alongside an irate Angel. She threw her hands up in exasperation. "We just rescued.... ugh!" She looked to Robert. "They want to go back Robert!"

Robert and Julia looked at each other. "What, go back home?"

One of those in the crowd stepped forward, an older man with grizzled hair. "I am Gabriel and speak English, please let me explain. If we are considered runaways, the coyotes' friends will hurt our families. Please, you must return us."

"Even with how badly those bastards treat you?!", Julia demanded. "I saw their torture room!"

"Worse will be done to our families," Gabriel insisted. "I know you want to help, but... this is the life we have, You only cause us hurt."

"And that's it?!"

Everyone looked to see Caterina enter the room. She looked irritated, almost upset. "So you're going to go back to being abused because that is 'the life we have'?" Switching to Spanish she continued. "You worry for your families? Fine! Let's go get them too! The place we got this spaceship from has lots of room! And we can even find a way to give you a new home! That has to be better than working hard so people like Duffy can get wealthier! This is the opportunity of a lifetime, don't throw it away!"

"Wow," Robert mumbled. He never thought he'd seen Cat as agitated, as full of fire, as he did now.

There was silence from the assembled. A few started to step forward from amongst them, then more, each asking to join. Angel put an arm around her sister's shoulders. "Way to go little sis."

Cat blushed. "Thanks Angel."

"Get a hold of Tom, let him know he'll be doing quite a lot of beaming over the next few hours," Robert said, grinning slyly. "But first, I'd better get down to my house."

Julia looked at him with concern. "Are you so sure? I mean, you know Phil has probably called the police and blamed you..."

"Yeah, he has. But I have a few things left there to grab real quick, then the police can turn it over all they want." He winked. "Just have Tom keep a lock on me, if you pick up cops coming for me beam me right up."

Julia gave him a smile and nodded.

Things had already changed.

Oh, the Dale house was as quiet as always. The family pictures removed from shelves and nightstands made it moreso. But the oppressive, crushing silence was gone. For as much as Robert's heart still ached for them, as much as he'd miss them, things felt better. He felt better. He had hope again.

As tense and fearful as the night had been, the showdown with Duffy and fighting for his life, he knew this is what he wanted. He felt more alive than he had in months. Seeing those people freed made him feel good. He wanted to do it again. He wanted to be the one who stepped in and saved those rendered powerless to save themselves.

The last items he wanted were quickly rounded up. Robert was moving with a new pace, a pace that belied the return of his optimism and drive. His old life was gone now, gone the moment Duffy turned on him, but a new one awaited with so much promise. All that remained was keeping that connection to his old, more mundane life that would remind him of where he came from and what he ultimately stood for.

There were no siren lights when the police pulled up. He heard them through the open window nonetheless, the soft crackle of the gravel driveway a dead giveaway. Odds were they were good people, even if their boss was a corrupt man; he didn't want to fight them and possibly hurt them. "Dale to Kelley, one to beam up please," he said into the comm.

"A freaking moment," Barnes answered, clearly exasperated.

"I don't have it," Robert replied testily, watching the first police officer approaching the door. "I've got the cops here." He heard a knock and a call for his name, which he didn't answer.

"Okay.... everyone off the pad now!.... Alright, locking and beaming."

The sheriff deputy at the door put his shoulder into smashing it open. As he did so, white light enveloped Robert and the bag of belongings, the last ones he needed from this empty house.

His old life was now and truly gone. It was time to start the new one.

The facility wasn't quite so quiet now, not with nearly two hundred people milling about, children shouting in Spanish and very bad English while the adults made use of the fabricators to make food and furnishings for their quarters. In the command center volunteers from the group were meeting with Angel and Caterina to discuss their data infusions and potential roles as crew on the Kelley, while on the ship herself Barnes and Zack were busy inspecting the engines and machinery after their spaceflights.

The medbay of the facility had several occupants, mostly the workers with injuries. A couple of the young women in the group were getting the attentions of Leo's volunteer nurses - like Lucilla they had been to Phil Duffy's private room - while Leo attended to Lucilla. Robert and Julia looked on quietly. "You should be fine within the day," Leo assured her. "The technology here let me repair the damage to your body, now it's just about rest."

"Thanks, Leo," Lucilla answered. She looked over to Robert and Julia. "I can't believe this...."

"Nor could we."

"What are you doing about Duffy?", she asked angrily. "He and that bastard son have a lot to answer for."

"We e-mailed all of Duffy's computer files to the federal prosecutors and several press outlets," Robert revealed. "With Duffy dead anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if Phil ends up in jail. Even if not, when the government's through with that company they'll be ruined."

"Good." She drew in breath. "So where do we go from here?"

"Well, you can just claim you were knocked unconscious by us," Julia pointed out. "Then return to town and be recognized only as our 'victim', not as our friend."

"Or you could join us," Robert added. "No pressure, but having you along... what you did, informing on a bastard like Duffy, took courage. We could use that."

"So just what are you planning to do?", Lucy asked. "Save the world?"

Robert allowed himself a grin. "Something along those lines, yeah.... maybe not the world, but there's a whole lot of people we can help."

"Well then.... count me in!"

Later that night Robert was trying to get some sleep in the quarters he had claimed for himself. He seemed to fade in and out of it as his mind wandered and refused to lie still. For all he felt the need for sleep he also felt himself animated like never before. He had real power at his fingertips here, power to do good in the world. To save people who would otherwise suffer hideously from the brutalities of the evil-hearted amongst them.

Or, at least, that's how he saw it.

As he turned again he heard his door open. He looked up to see Caterina standing in the doorway, in her dorky glasses and her equally dorky, if adorble, pink pajamas with the statement "Princess of Dorks!" written in light purple over the torso. "Cat?"

"You're never going to believe this!", she cried out. "Come on!"

Robert let out a breath and motioned for her to look away, giving him time to pull shorts on. "You'd be surprised what I believe now." At least before following Cat into the corridors. They met only a couple of people who were up late, receiving waves as they did so and making Robert self-conscious of the fact that A) he was shirtless and B) his physique was hardly as good as it had once been.

Barnes was waiting for them at the lift. "This better be good, Cat," Barnes warned.

"Oh, it is! I found it in the schematics!" They took the lift to the lowest level, so low that the "ground" of the facility disapeared. They emerged from the lift and into an observation room.

It was a launch deck and command rooom with views of various confinement values in the system. Beyond them, through transparent metal windows, was a surprise for Robert. "That's...."

"Another ship!", Catarina boasted. "And it's a big one!"

Indeed it was. It looked enormously long, a sleek blue sheened two-part hull with a wide front part that tapered to a thin point at the bow. There were four engine nacelles arrayed in a flat X around the aft part of the hull. Dark windows marked parts of the hull.

"Oh wow," Cat whispered.

"You said it, Cat," Robert agreed.

At that moment Control shimmered into view. "Ah, you found the emergency vessel."

The three looked to the hologram. "Emergency vessel?", Robert asked.

"Yes. The ship you dubbed Kelley is primarily a scout vessel, with a small crew but limited combat capability. If a threat presented itself the vessel would be inadequate. So the basic structure of a vessel was included. It was a late addition, admittedly. Not all facilities were given vessels, and those that were received incomplete ships such as this."

"Looks pretty complete to me," Robert remarked.

"Internally it is not. There are no weapons, no generators for navigational and defense deflection, indeed even the engines need to be completed. It will take you quite a while, I'm afraid, and quite likely require more data infusions for Mister Barnes and others trained for it to complete. But it is an option for the future..."

"Yeah." Robert sighed, a sigh that turned into a yawn. "Anyway, time to go back to bed. We have a lot of work to do starting tomorrow..."

End Act 1
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:18 am

I liked it, I have to admit your style doesn't generally agree with me, but I like the idea of an ongoing series of short stories based around not-particularly-serious adventure plots. So this could be fun.

It does leave a lot of questions about the story's internal logic though. Mainly A: how do they expect to track down and rescue these people's families when they could be anywhere? And B: Is no one concerned about what killed the unfathomably advanced aliens and who sent the message about it?
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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:30 pm

Woh. Damn, I forgot I'd posted it here. I just finished Act 7 this morning.

Guess I'll post Act 2 and go from there.

speaker-to-trolls wrote:I liked it, I have to admit your style doesn't generally agree with me, but I like the idea of an ongoing series of short stories based around not-particularly-serious adventure plots. So this could be fun.

It does leave a lot of questions about the story's internal logic though. Mainly A: how do they expect to track down and rescue these people's families when they could be anywhere? And B: Is no one concerned about what killed the unfathomably advanced aliens and who sent the message about it?
I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm curious as to what you dislike about my style. Mostly because I've never been sure about having one save my abuse of the thesaurus for describing how characters speak. 8-)

Anyway, will post Act 2.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:37 pm

I'll post weekly or at least every few days until caught up. Depending on activity, since I don't want to flood everyone.

Act 2

From space, Egypt at night was one long string of light following the Nile River. These lights represented millions of people, living together in close proximity as they hd for ages.

Sometimes they didn't get along well.

There was a building in an outlying area of Cairo that was barely lit and did not seem at all hospitable. It appeared to most as a vacnt apartment building between owners. But it had residents.

Not all of them were willing ones either.

The majority of Egyptians followed Islam, but there remained through the ages a minority who kept their Christian faith; they were the Copts. Many of their Islamic neighbors left them in peace. Sadly, not all did, and there remained a those who believed it was their divine right to take from the Copts what they pleased.

Things like their daughters.

In a quiet part of the building, there were two brief shimmers of light. When they ended, someone wtching might have briefly seen two figures, a male and femle, before they wavered out of sight.

"No splitting up this time." Zack checked the scanner display on his wrist device. The timer on his cloak was steadily ticking down while real-time sensor information from the Kelley showed him lifesigns.

"You're still mad about that dig site in Togo," Angel muttered, following him. Both were holding energy pistols out and ready should things get dicey.

"I got my jaw broken, so yeah," Zack pointed out irritably. "We're lucky Leo can fix things up so quickly...."

"Shhh..." Angel was concentrating as they neared a door. She saw that there were a handful of lifesigns within and gave Zack a nod. He stood watch while she pushed the door open. Within were four figures wearing local clothes, curled up on cots. She walked up to them and, checking on the nearest, glowered at the prominent acid burn on her right forearm. Most were asleep, but one was staring at the ceiling.

Angel turned off her cloak, drawing the girl's attention. "I'm here to help get you out," she whispered, hearing an echo of her voice that sounded in Arabic. "What's your name?"

"I'm... I'm Anaise."

"Are there any more girls here? Or is it just you four?"

"They brought in two more," she murmured quietly. Angel frowned, seeing she couldn't be older than fifteen. "We're to be sent off to be married tomorrow."

"No, you won't be." Angel tapped her wrist device. "Angel to Kelley. Lock on four life forms in this room for transport."

"I read you," an accented voice said on the other end. "Engaging."

The Coptic girl was looking at her in bewilderment, then shock as the transporter took hold of her. A small smile of wonderment was crossing her face as she disappeared in the white light.

Angel reactivated her cloak and left the room. "There are two more here," she told Zack. "We need to find them...." She was interrupted by a sudden outbreak of screaming.

"Looks like we have." With that wry remark he took off, Angel following. The screaming grew louder until they came to another room, this one slightly smaller, with chemical fumes in the air. There were two more girls present, one struggling and screaming as a pair of men held her down while another held her arm out with a cross tattoo pointed up, a fourth going for a pot of liquid. "Okay, let's...."

Before Zack could finish his suggestion for a plan of attack, Angel was already moving. She let out an angry battle cry and smashed the fourth man's jaw with her fist. She took the pot from him and tossed it into his face, causing him to scream in agony and writhe around as he fell. The other three men were staring in shock at this, only beginning to move when Angel flipped off her cloak and kicked the third one in the nose, freeing the girl's arm. The two remaining men took their hands off of her and let her slip away. Angel's fist found one, sending him to the ground. The other threw a punch that she avoided; instead she grabbed his arm in mid-air and hurled him over her shoulder and into the wall.

The third man, blood dripping from his nose, got to his feet and charged Angel. Blue light lashed out from nowhere and struck him, sending him down. Zack decloaked and fired into the other men, knocking them all out one at a time. "Zack here again, bring us up."

"Standby, we're transporting more rescuees from North Korea."

"We've got a few minutes," Zack answered, even as a walkie talkie in the room came alive with static-crackled Arabic.

Another gaggle of emaciated people materialized on the transporter. The man at the station was one of the "second batch" of rescuees named Miguel. He waved for them to get off with one hand while his other hand hit the controls to switch back to the signls from Zack qnd Angel.

"This is Suun, that was the last run, we need extraction now!"

"Standby, Suun," Miguel said as he worked on getting the lock on Zack and Angel. When he had it he activated the transport. Four figures coalesced from white light on the platform.

They had to immediately take cover as sparks erupted from the ceiling. As they jumped off the floor went nuts with sparks as well before the entire platform went dark. "No, no," Miguel cried out. He hit a key. "Engineering! Transporter is shorted out!"

"Suun here! They have RPGs! We need extraction..." There was an explosion in the background.

"Standby! Transporters have gone down!", Miguel shouted back.

It had been Lucy's turn to run Engineering, with Thomas Barnes off-shift and resting back at the Facility. Now she wished they'd swapped rotations as she went over every display, every control surface. "Shortout in the transporter systems, it'll take a mjor repair to get transporters back online!" She looked to Kwang, from their first batch of rescuees from North korea,, and pointed at the central table. "Watch the engine systems! I'm going to the main cargo transporter!"

"Yes ma'am!"

Lucy dashed off, as far as her legs could crry her. Thankfully the ship's small design put the cargo bay on the same deck as engineering, allowing her to avoid the lifts or the ladder tubes. The cargo bay was thankfully empty when she scrambled in and went to the trnsporter. Her fingers ran over the controls with blistering speed, aided by both the data infusions and months of practice. She locked on to the signatures of Suun and his team and triggered the transporters. "I've got them!", she crowed triumphantly as the figures materialized on the platform. "I've got...."

They finished materializing. And all Lucy could do was call for a medical team.

When the Kelley emerged from the dock's transport gate and latched onto the umbilicals, Julia couldn't get the ship into standby quickly enough. She handed over command to one of the "first group" rescuees and went straight for the command center, or rather a repurposed office nearby it.

It was with dismay, but not surprise, that she found Robert sitting at the desk, a holoscreen showing live television. He had clearly been asleep for a time, but even then dark circles had gathered under his eyes. A scruffy beard had appeared on his face and, after so much improvement the prior months, he was again starting to look like he was wasting away. "You're supposed to be off-shift," Julia said accusingly.

"I was looking up the media reports. Our op in Saudi Arabia got a little attention. How are the Briindleys setttling in?"

"Just fine." Julia walked up to him and forced the chair to spin. She stared him in the eyes, feeling hurt and upset and angry all at once. "God damn you, Robert," she hissed.

He looked at her like she'd gone mad. "Okay, should I be worried that Tom is playing around with the holo tech?"

"You're doing this again." She waved a hand over her face after taking too deep a breath. "And when is the last time you washed?"

"I don't remember." Robert tapped the table and some notes. "Anyway, with Control's help I think we've found China's new prison for dissidents, and the arrests that crazy Turkmenistani leader has made could bear some attention..."

Julia slammed her hand on the table, turning off the screen and making it vibrate from the harsh impact. "Robert, we have Control and otherr analysts compiling that stuff."

"I'm helping, though, it helps us compile targets faster," Robert replied. "And that means rescuing more people."


"I know, I know, I need rest," he continued. "And a shower. I... I just feel like every moment I spend doing something like that, another person is suffering horribly, in a way that I can prevent if only I were involved."

Julia took in a sigh. "You're not doing anyone any favors here, Roobert. We need you to stay fresh. And that's not all we need...."

"I know, I know," Robert said dismissively, as if being lectured by an aunt.

"Suun and his squad are dead, Robert."

The news made him visibly jolt. He looked at her with some confusion. "What? Their protection....."

"Not good enough against RPGs. And our main transporter went out, by the time Lucy hit the cargo transporter it was too late."

"Why wasn't anyone..."

"Because we're undermanned! Because we're only Human and we can only do so much. The Kelley needs maintenance work badly, not getting sent out every day with half crews when it's not ferrying people to Liberty." Julia gripped her shoulders. "You're... you're going too far with this. Yes, we want to help people. But we can't help them all. We can't. And if you can't accept that.... maybe you shouldn't be in charge."

He remained silent for a moment. After breathing for a moment he asked, "Tough love?"

"Oh no, this is soft." Julia grinned. "Tough love would be bringing Angel in here and letting her kick your ass."

He had to smirk at that. "Should I be worried that my dearest friend and ex-girlfriend are conspiring against me?"

"We're just keeping you from starving yourself." Julia stepped away from him. "You're doing good things, just remember that you can't let yourself go to waste trying to do too much. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a shower anyway and you need one even more than I do."

"I stink?"

"You rank with stinkiness," she clarified. "Your clothes are encrusted with sweat and BO."


"I'll make sure to have the cleaning systems wipe this place down, in fact, so the stink doesn't set in permanently."

"Double ouch."

"No." The denial echoed in the facility infirmary.

Caterina held her hands together. "Pleeeeease? It's the last one I'll ask for..."

"Doesn't matter, because you're not getting it," Leo insisted. He finished patching up the acid burn on one of the Coptic girls' arms. "You've already had your second data infusion. Given the size of the first one you can't take anymore for now, not without risking brain dmage."

"But there's so much to..."

"...to learn, yeah," Leo replied gruffly. "Same thing for me. And that's why I went to school for three years."

Caterina's eyes narrowed. "Angel put you up to this, didn't she?"

"She didn't have to." Leo looked up at the girl's vitals and, seeing they were well, smiled at her and bid her to go back to sleep. He moved Caterina away and towrd the side area he'd set up an office in. "Listen, I already know you're spending every waking moment not on duty reading library materials from the computer. Why do you want another infusion?"

"Because I want to understand this stuff..."

"More quickly?"

Caterina shrugged, sensing the contempt in Leo's voice. "Well... sorta?"

"That's the problem, Cat." Leo tapped her head. "You're a smart girl, but you're getting impatient with this. You've got to learn this stuff naturally. I know it's a lot to take in..."

"Oh it is! Learning all of these disciplines could take years!"

"Then get to it, Cat," Leo answered. "Stop trying to take the easy way out. And, well, I've got a couple dozen starving North Koreans to treat, so can you please resume your studies right away?"

Caterina made a pouty face, but it got her nothing but an eye roll and a sigh before Leo turned away. She sulked out of the infirmary.

The converted gym in the facility worked as training for hand-to-hand combat as well as simple sparring. A number of the people present, many of them young girls from across the globe, watched with enjoyment at the sparring going on in the left boxing ring and the two figures in black sports bra and biker shorts.

Julia gritted her teeth in the plastic teethguard she had as she ducked another kick from Angel. She retaliated with a quick jab that caught Angel in the belly, causing her to stumble back. Julia went on the offensive with a number of jabs and punches followed by a quick mid-level snap kick, the only blow that made contact with Angel.

Her success was explained a second later as Angel's fist crashed into her faceguard, delivering enough power to send her stumbling back. Before Julia could recover she took another punch to the face and a kick to the shoulder that sent her down. Angel descended on her and planted a knee to her sternum. "You're getting slower, Julie," she remarked.

"Not all of us get to do the constant Action Heroine stuff," Julia reminded her. "Someone has to run the ship after all."

"Yeah. And with Robert being stubborn..." She helped Julia stand up. "Is he in bed?"

"He should be."

"Because if he's not I'm going to go kick his butt," Angel continued. They got out of the ring and headed to the lockers and showers. "Sometimes I think we should be doing more, though. I see all of this suffering, and here I am playing around instead of doing something else to stop it."

"I know the feeling too, Angel," Julia answered. Seeing Lucy in the Duffys' torture room had only been the first of a number of horrible sights these past few months. "But we've got to keep our heads on as well. We can't save anyone if we get ourselves killed from lack of sleep or because the equipment fails."

"True enough." Angel sighed. "All I know is that I want a hot shower and a long sleep. We'll let Tom decide when the Kelley is going back out."

"Three days."

Robert, Julia, Leo, and Gabriel were sitting along with Barnes and Lucilla. "Three days before the ship is ready?", Robert asked increduously.

"Yeah, with normal shifts. And that's all we can damned do with how tired everyone is." Barnes tapped the table. "I might be able to shave it to two and a half if everything goes well, but the Kelley needs major parts replacements and a lot of basic maintenance work for her drives and power systems. We can't take the ship back out before it's done."

"We're due at Liberty in five days for the supply run," Gabriel remarked. Having been the leader of the rescuees from Duffy's farm, he had quickly ended up in charge of the handling of both the influx of new rescuees and handling the supply needs for the Liberty Colony. That he had an added benefit of age and wisdom to go with his younger cohorts made him arguably the most indispensible member of the "Oversight Council" for the Facility. "So you have plenty of time, Mister Barnes."

The meeting continued on to other little issues such as ensuring the fabricating of parts and supplies needed for the colony and the announcement that the famiies of the rescued Coptic girls had settled in, providing four recruits for the moment in need of data infusions after Leo vetted them. As it went to conclude, Leo spoke up. "One last thing. I believe we should have Robert take a three day leave effective immediately."

Robert shook his head. "That's not..."

"Seconded," Gabriel quickly said.

"Thirded," Julia added before a further protest could be had. "The ayes have it."

Robert drew in a sigh while Lucilla let out a giggle. "Okay, okay, I get the point. I slept well enough last night, I'll take it easy and get more to eat and all that stuff."

"Good," Gabriel said with the nodding agreement of the others. "If that is all, business is done and we are adjourned."

Robert had lied.

His bed was a mess from tossing and turning. Every second he was tormented by screams, the imagined screams of a world of victims calling out to him, begging for rescue, demanding to know why he hadn't saved them. Why he was laying on a comfortable bed in a climate controlled room while they were suffering in a filthy gulag or a dank dungeon.

When sleep refused to come he got up and hit the shower again, trying to focus his thoughts. This was stupid. He couldn't be everywhere at once. He couldn't keep going. He was Human.

I guess this is how Superman is supposed to feel, he wondered.

When he got out of the shower he laid back down. He felt more tired now and sleep finally seeped in.

As his eyes closed, Robert realized he had another issue. A guilt that had been silently building and, without work to keep it at bay, was refusing to die down.


Caterina was alone in Facility Command looking up the equations for subspace inversions when she saw Robert enter out of the corner of her eye. "Shouldn't you be on leave?"

"I am," Robert asked. "Control?"

The hologram flashed to existence in the center. "I hope you're not going to ask me for work-related information, Julia's orders were quite clear."

"Perish the thought," Robert sighed. "No, I need to know if you can fake a satellite hookup so I can make a phone call."

Caterina turned and looked at him like he was nuts. Control stared for a second. "Ah, yes, your form of telecommunication. I believe it is possible. I will need a contact number?"

Robert easily recalled the number from memory. A dial tone soon sounded over the command room's comm. A female voice answered. "Hello?"

"Hey cousin, how's the rainforest?"

There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end. "Oh my God... Robert?! Robert, where... what...."

"I'm sorry for not calling, I've been busy."

"Busy?! Robert! I have the FBI bugging me about you! People are calling you a murderer!"

"I was defending myself," Robert sighed. "Listen, I'm sorry about all this. I wanted to let you know I'm okay."

"You've got the FBI hunting you down across the country, Robert, I fail to see how that's okay! And you've lost Grandpa's farm too!"

Caterina was listening enough to wince. Robert drew in a sigh. "it was doomed, Beth, even if Dad had remained around. Duffy was ruining every other farm in the county."

"So that's why you shot him?!"

"He was trying to kill me, Beth." Breathing in another sigh, Robert rubbed his forehead. "Listen, I'd love to explain, but not over the phone. I'll talk to you later." He motioned to Control, who cut the line. "Control, you can beam me to the Portland area, right?"

"The Portland.... Ah, I see. Yes. It's outside the effectiveness cone for my systems in the facility so I'm afraid I can only transport three or so persons at the most."

"It'd just be me," Robert answered. "Not tonight. I'll find her tomorrow."

"I will be ready at your command, sir."

Elizabeth Rankin - "Beth" - worked in downtown Portland and tended to take her lunch near the Maritime Museum along the Willamette. She found a bench to sit at, watching tourists and locals walk by as she enjoyed the lunch.

A shadow moved over her, after which a weight settled on the bench beside her. "Excuse me, but..." She looked over at the figure in the hat and saw his face. Her eyes widened. "Robert?!"

"Hey Beth," Robert answered. "How's life?"

"Better when I wasn't being hounded over my fugitive cousin," Beth countered. "What are you doing here, Robert? Wait, no, please don't, I don't want to get arrested for helping you."

"Trust me, Beth, I won't let anything happen to you," Robert replied. "I... I needed to show you something. To show you that something wonderous has happened."

Beth looked at him. "Something like being wanted for murder?"

Robert shook his head. "No. Something truly wonderous. Something...."

A suited man was walking past them as he spoke. Suddenly the figure turned toward them and Robert found himself staring down a gun barrel. "Federal agent!", the man called out. "Don't move!"

Beth shrieked in surprise. Robert did nothing, said nothing, but stared into the barrel and the eyes of the man behind it until other men, wearing federal agent jackets, were on either side of him forcing him to his feet. He offered no resistance as they placed handcuffs on his wrists but did call out when they started to cuff Beth. "Wait, no! She's not involved in this! Let her go! Let her go dammit!"

For all he protested, it was no good, and both of them were soon in a black van being sped away through downtown Portland.

"He did what?!"

Julia fell back into her chair in the command room. "Control, you should have told me!"

"I did not forsee any issue," the system answered quietly. "I can, indeed, recover him now if you want?"

Julia rubbed her forehead even as one of the federal agents holding Robert was speaking, his voice carried unknowingly to them. "...right here. You'll want to think of cooperating while you wait, it will make it easier."

"I already told you it was self-defense. I just want to see my cousin and make sure she's let out."

"That's up to the Justice Department, we have her on aiding and abetting."

"Bullcrap, she hasn't done anything to help me...."

"She didn't report the phone contact you made with her, that's good enough for now..."

The door opened and Zack entered. "Leo just told me. Did he really get himsellf arrested?!"

"He was trying to meet Beth," Angel answered from her chair on the side. "They got picked up almost right away."

Julia stared daggers at her. "You should have also called me."

"There was no need," Angel retorted. "Robert can handle himself."

"Really?! Looking like he does, you think he can handle himself the way his mind is now?!", Julia shouted.

"Woh, hold it, hold it!", Zack called out, stepping between them. "I don't have a camera, so let's not have a catfight. We'll just beam Robert back."

"He's made it as clear as he can that he doesn't want beamout until he can confirm Beth will be okay," was Angel's answer.

"Alright... so why don't we go get Tom to get the Kelley ready for an emergency launch? We launch, use the sensors to find her too and beam them both out...."

"...and give the Federal Government plenty of evidence of our technological abilities," Julia finished for him, irritated. "Tom already took the sublight engines apart for the repair work, it'll be hours before he could put them back together. And hours more to finish the repairs to the power systems."

"If we wait that long, Robert might get moved. Something might happen and we lose track of him. And no telling what happens to poor Beth. Let me go get him out."

"Assaulting federal offices in the middle of Downtown Portland is not a good way to keep our capabilities secret either." Julia sighed. "Maybe... Robert." She keyed the system so he could hear her through his implant. "Let me know if you're alone enough to get away with a beamout."

"I understand, sir, why you need to hold Beth for the moment," Robert began saying. It was clearly code for understanding Julia's message.

"Our secret's going to be out eventually," Angel remarked. "We should just take him back, let them fret about our beaming technology."

"If it comes down to it, I'll do that, but only when we have no other choice." Julia settled back into the seat. "For now, let's see how things develop."

Robert was handcuffed to a table and alone in the interrogation room for a while before the door finally opened, admitting a dark-and-gray bearded older man in a black "I'm a Federal Agent" suit. He had a folder with him that he set on the table. "You'll understand if I don't remove the cuffs, hopefully you're not too uncomfortable," the man said. "I'm Agent Jones."

"Here I was hoping for an Agent Smith," Robert remarked sardonically.

The older man smirked. "Yes, well... we can't always have what we want."

"My cousin is innocent, please release her. I'll go on trial for what happened to Mr. Duffy but she had nothing to do with it and she hasn't been helping me."

Robert waited for a response, but he only got a blank stare. "Duffy? Who is.... oh." He nodded in understanding. "The man who you shot. Young man.... this is far beyond that." "Agent Jones" reached into the folder and pulled out photos. They were partly grainy in some cases, but all were recognizable for having Robert in them, and all showed him during the rescue missions he'd joined in recent months.

Jones was quick to the point. "How is it that a young, untrained farmboy from Kansas ends up raiding top security prisons and facilities across North Korea, Cuba, China, and a number of other nations?"

Robert remained quiet.

"We have several prominent dissidents from countries all over the world being rescued by a bunch of young Americans, who somehow scare the crap out of all of these governments to the extent that they refuse to hand over the tapes? Who, meanwhile, are accusing the US Government of interfering in their internal affairs, and are threatening action against us as a result. We are understandably concerned, young man."

"Maybe someone should be interfering in their internal affairs, if they're out torturing and brutalizing their own people," Robert retorted. He figured there was no point in denial.

"So that's it? You're mixed up in some kind of international radical society? What's their name? Their purpose? Where is their HQ?" When Robert didn't answer, Jones went on. "Young man, there's no way you are doing this on your own. Someone is overseeing this, someone with a lot of resources who can be very dangerous. We want names or any other information you can give on them. Before your efforts destabilize the world to hell and back." When Robert remained silent, Jones thumped the stack of photos together and put themin the folder. "You need to understand your predicament, son. There won't be a trial. You'll just sit in a cell while we let all the regimes you've attacked fight over you. Nobody will know what happened to you or your cousin."

"We have rights," Robert said through clenched teeth.

"Your rights? The world's quietly reeling because of you. Your rights don't mean a damn to anyone. Now, if you cooperate... we focus on your bosses and you go to Kansas for that whole Duffy thing. We come to bat for you, say you were helping a federal investigation, back your story that Duffy tried to kill you. That's the offer, son, take it or leave it."

He remained quiet for several moments. He had to avoid making it too urgent, and it was only when Jones stood and stepped toward the door that Robert called out. "I want to see my cousin first," he insisted. "Bring Beth here so I can talk with her. Then I'll give you what you want." He tried not to grin; he'd give them what they wanted indeed.

Jones looked at him for several seconds. "I'll see what I can do," he offered finally before stepping out.

In the Facility Command Room, the exchange was overheard. "It had to happen sooner or later," Julia sighed. "They still don't know the extent..."

"Send me and Angel in," Zack urged. "We'll get them out even if we have to shoot the place up."

"Even if we put you in the room with Robert, you'll still have to find Beth and hope they don't move her out of the building before you do." Julia smacked her hand on the station. "Dammit! He should have waited until the Kelley was done with repairs! Of all the times to be without our ship..."

Robert was thinking quietly to himself about this predicament. He didn't doubt the others would get him out.... but this changed things. Knowing that world governments were onto them, even with the Facility's capabilities he found it daunting having to consider taking them all on.

I've been naive. I've been childish. Of course they'd catch on eventually. Even if they didn't know the extent of what we could do, they'd know something was up.

And now he'd gotten Beth into trouble. He'd been arrogant, overconfident, and the lack of sleep and taking care of himself had dulled his mind. What if they didn't bring her in? What if he couldn't rescue her, and she went to prison because of his screwups?

For months now he'd agonized over resting because of the people suffering in the world. Now he began to wonder how many he could save if he didn't keep himself mentally and physically fit. And how many would he hurt? He'd already hurt Beth...

"It's going to change," Robert muttered to himself. "I'm going to do better."

After more silence the door opened. Jones returned and Robert's heart lifted when he brought Beth in with him. She was handcuffed to the same bar on the table Robert was. When she looked at him, her anger and frustration was evident, even though it was mixed with clear worry for him. "Robert..."

"If you cooperate, Mister Dale, we'll release Beth," Jones said softly. "Now, I have acted in good faith. I would like to see you do the same."

Robert nodded to him. He looked to Beth. "Beth, despite how bad it seems, something wonderful has happened." He took her hands with his own. "Something I want to show you."

In Facility Command Julia heard those words and nodded. "That's it, then. Control, he's holding her somehow. Get them both."

"And there goes our secret," Zack sighed.

The look on Beth's face turned to surprise as the sensation of the transporter took hold of her. Robert's expression brightened as he looked to Agent Jones, who was staring with a dropped jaw as light formed around them.

The interrogation room dissolved, replaced by Facility Command. Without chairs to sit in they both hit the floor. "What... what was that?!", Beth shouted. She began looking around in a panic, the sudden shift in environment and fall to the floor adding to her bewilderment.

"It's okay, it's okay," Robert urged her. He stood up and helped her to her feet. She looked around at the others. "Welcome to the Facility. It's...."

"I should punch you," Julia said coldly, standing up. "You idiot. And you knew the Kelley was laid up too!"

Beth had been about to ask "What is this place?" when she saw Julia and recognized her. "Julie Andreys? You're here too?"

"Hey Beth, don't know if you remember me..." Zack raised a hand.

She turned and rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, I don't always forget teenagers who hit on me, Zack Carrey" was her reply, causing Robert to smirk. Beth, for her part, looked on to where the Delgado sisters were sitting. "Angel, good to see you. And little Cat?" She turned back to Robert. "Rob... what the hell is going on here? What have you been.... what is this...."

"It's a bit much, I know," Robert replied. "I'll explain it to you."

Hours later, the cousins were enjoying a dinner together. Robert had answered all of Beth's questions as best as he could, the time reinforcing for her that this was "really happening". "So, if you have access to all this technology, why do you look like you're wasting away?", Beth asked pointedly.

Robert remained silent for a moment and put his hands together. "I... I can't sleep, or rest. Not without feeling that I'm letting people down. Honestly, there are times I think I can hear screams when I start to sleep...."

Beth shook her head. "Always the idealist, aren't you?" She smiled thinly. "Robert, you're not Superman. You won't be helping anyone if you work yourself to death."

"Everyone's been saying that, yes."

"And they're right. But if you won't listen to them, then you're damned well going to listen to me." Beth took a bite of her dinner. "So... I guess my life is over too now, huh?"

"I'm sorry, Beth. I... I never imagined..."

Beth stared at the plate for a moment. "Yes, well... my life wasn't exactly going in the direction I wanted it to. I'm a single woman managing a struggling retail store with little hope of advancement. But this? This really is wonderous." She raised her eyes at him and smiled. "Grandpa would be proud, Robert. He'd say you were doing the right thing."

Robert said nothing.

"But there is room for improvement," she continued. "This whole thing with your ship going down? You're not using the resources you have, not the right way. Well, I'm going to change that. You need a manager, Robert."

A small grin came to him. "The Council will welcome that."

"Good. For starters, you take two days off a week, more if you do a lot of rescue work. And we're going to have to see about having more ships built. Having just the one is a recipe for disaster."

"There's a ship in the bottom levels, but Thomas thinks it'll take a year, or more, to finish it," Robert answered. "And that's if we get someone who knows how to build spaceships."

"Then we find another way for the moment. Why not more ships like the Kelley? Presumably you have the plans somewhere...."

"That's a good thought, actually...."

Beth smiled. "And, as one last thing... just how the hell are we supposed to get my stuff? They'll be watching my apartment like a hawk and I'm sure they'll be taking stuff soon enough."

Robert thought for a moment. "Control?"

The hologram shimmered into view. "Yes?"

"My cousin has personal things she'd like to recover from her home. We can bet that police agents will be watching it, and they know we can transport things so I'm not sure we can sneak in and out. Do you think your systems could handle moving non-living items out?"

"Without a signal, sir, it'd be very difficult. But I could attempt wide area transports into a secure containment zone, and remove any unwanted items as needed," Control replied.

Robert grinned. "Go ahead then. We'll meet you at the containment zone."

The next day, Gabriel was introduced to Beth, who sat beside Lucy to listen as she gave the report on the Kelley. It would be ready for the next trip to the Liberty Colony. Afterward, everyone invited Beth to speak.

After going over some of the materials issues, inefficiencies in housing or staffing, she got to the gist of the matter. "We need more ships."

"It'll take us a long while to get the big ship at the bottom of the base going," Lucy remarked. "I mean, the internals have to be constructed and built...."

Beth nodded. "Yes, I know. But why not simply make more ships like the Kelley? Is it a lack of resources? I mean, you have the plans...?"

The assembled looked at each other. When he received nods from the others, Robert called out, "Control?"

The hologram appeared as requested. "Yes? How might I help the Council?"

"I feel stupid for never asking... but I know we have plenty of extra docks. Couldn't we put resources into building more ships like the Kelley?"

Control reacted quickly. "Ah... it is possible, yes. This facility was made to construct at least a few of these ships on existing resources. Eventually we'll need more exotic materials. We only have so much naqia for the reactors, for instance. And protocol dictates that we not hinder the potential development of the emergency vessel. But I believe we can build five or so ships of the Kelley's type without needing more resources."

"I'd like to be able to build more," Robert mused. "What if we just built, say, two more? And used those resources to build mining stations or whatever we need to have higher production?"

"There are some prefabricated parts for space stations and facilities that you have not yet used for the Liberty Colony," Control answered. "That would be an acceptable use."

"Make it three more, then," Beth said. "Four ships. That means that you can have two out of our solar system for whatever missions we need, one in the system should we need it, and one ship in dock for maintenance."

"If that is the will of the Council, I will make the necessary preparations and give Mister Barnes and his teams the assistance they need."

There were nods. Control's hologram faded from view. "I think we need to discuss yesterday on another matter," Gabriel said. "It's becoming clear that several governments are aware of us. They will take measures. We already saw that with what happened to Suun's mission."

"The North Koreans laid a trap for us, even if they didn't know what they were dealing with," Julia agreed. "We have to expect more along this line. And now that the US government knows we have super-technology at our disposal they're going to be looking for us."

"Still, do we have to stop helping people?" Robert shook his head. "We'll need the crews for the extra ships anyway, so I think we shouldn't stop. We'll just be more careful. We were getting careless. I'm guilty of it myself." He shared a look with Beth. "But there's something else as well, something to consider. Control's already showed us that the technology on the Kelley allows it to go to other universes. We haven't even bothered trying that yet."

"And you think we should start?", Julia asked.

"Why not? We might find other worlds with people who need help. Or we could find advanced societies willing to help us do this work."

"Or we could find crazy tyrants who will steal our technology and use it to conquer everything," Beth pointed out.

Robert had to nod. "Yeah, we'll have to be careful. But... I think this is something we should consider. Control even said that much, that these facilities were meant to resume the Darglan exploration of the Multiverse. The Darglan are gone, but we could take up that work."

"It's an idea, at least," Gabriel conceded. "But one we should wait on until we have more ships."

Everyone nodded. "Well, we'll see about building more ships. For now, I think we need to get ready to load the Kelley for our next trip to Liberty..."

Caterina was half asleep at her personal computer in her quarters. The materials of the Darglan computers still beckoned to her, but she was getting so tired, so so tired....

Her finger slipped and she shifted to another library in the system. This one was not science, though, but was clearly Darglan writings in the fields of history, philosophy, and religion. Her eyes glanced over the texts. "Hrm." She let out a yawn as the entries poked at her brain. Some, like "Key of Time" and "Essence Ascension", sounded interesting but not of immediate importance.... while "Mass Relay Network" sounded far more intriguing.

On the other hand.... an entry about "Asgard"? why did the Darglan even care about Norse mythology?

Another yawn came out of Caterina. She could feel her brain demanding sleep and decided to obey it. She quickly slipped into her "Princess of Dorks" jammies and went to bed.

The look of amazement on Beth's face was infectious as Zack brought the Kelley out of warp. Ahead of them an Earth-like planet was hovering, a blue jewel in the void. Robert stood from the command chair and put a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "There it is. We already know of six life-bearing worlds within ten light years of Earth, and there's a moon that could potentially bear life with work."

"It's just... it's like living in science fiction," Beth breathed. She looked to him and grinned. "Are they really ready for me?"

"I talked with all of the community leaders. They all agreed they need someone who knows about managing resources and labor." Robert nodded at her. "And we'll have you on comms to keep us in line on running the Facility as well. But there are now thousands of people here on Liberty who need your expertise. Granted, almost none speak English as a normal language..." He smirked. "But that's where the translator implants come in."

"Yeah." Beth nodded and looked at the viewscreen again. "It's just.... four days ago I was a manager of a craft store. Now I'm.... All of these lives are in my hands now. It's all so big now."

"Yeah." Robert sighed. "But it's worth it. We're helping people. We're building something. In the end, I think that's all that matters." He took her hand. "Here, I'll walk you to the transporter room."

"Yeah.... one moment though." She smiled and looked back to the viewscreen. "I want to watch as we make orbit. I want to see the sun coming up over the planet from this angle, just once."

"One sunrise coming up," Zack said from the helm, smiling as he adjusted the course. "Never let it be said that I disappoint a good looking girl."

"Funny." Beth smirked. "Since I remember a few comments to the contrary when I lived at the farm..."

Zack groaned and clutched jokingly at his heart while, unable to help themselves, everyone else on the bridge laughed. As the laughter died down, Beth took Robert's hand. "Take care of yourself, Robert. You won't do any good if you're sick and worn down. Take breaks when you need them. I'll be keeping touch with Angel and Julia to make sure you're not being an idiot anymore."

"I learned my lesson," Robert sighed. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."

The cousins took a last look at the sun coming up over the terminator of the planet below them. Beth's eyes teared up a little at the beauty of the scene, still almost convinced of its impossibility, before she allowed Robert to see her off to the transporter room.

End Act 2
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:40 pm

Oh, forgot your questions.
speaker-to-trolls wrote: It does leave a lot of questions about the story's internal logic though. Mainly A: how do they expect to track down and rescue these people's families when they could be anywhere?
Their families back in Mexico, with Gabriel and his people knowing generally where to find them. They got to them that night, hence the scene of Barnes not being able to beam Robert back up immediately.
And B: Is no one concerned about what killed the unfathomably advanced aliens and who sent the message about it?
For the moment it's not really registering. Don't worry, starting in Act 4 they start to realize the Multiverse is fairly dangerous, and in Act 7 they get into deep shit...
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Fri Aug 09, 2013 11:11 am

This is coming on well, more consequences piling up for the heroes even if it isn't anything drastic yet. I am looking forward to seeing the US and other governments go all out trying to catch them once they realise they are playing Aztecs and Spaniards and have picked the wrong team.

Something I missed; what expertise does Rob's cousin have to deal with the colony? I think they mention her going to the rainforest so, ecology?

Ok the thing about your style, partly I think I am just prejudiced because the first thing of yours I read was the Hypothetical Timeline of the Federations Descent into Dirty Pinkos, so I am sorry about that because that isn't fair. On the other hand, I think there is something about your dialogue, not so much in this story, but there's a certain bluntness to the way characters speak, like they just need to get information out, I think that's it but maybe I'm interpreting.

Looking forward to the next chapter!
"Little monuments may be completed by their first architects, but great ones; true ones leave their copestones to posterity. God keep me from completing anything."

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Fri Aug 16, 2013 8:59 pm

Beth has managerial experience, she has experience in handling the logistic elements of what they're doing.

Somehow I forgot about this again... On to Act 3.

Act 3

The torrential rains had soaked Angel to the bone, prompting her to growl inaudibly at how miserably wet and soggy she was. And despite it all, the heat was still horrible, altogether making her sweat even under the full-body dark and blue combat suit she had donned. The Darglan-make suit acted as armor while having an inbuilt scanning system that displayed from the left wrist. She looked over to her compatriot; Julia was equally as miserable, but was doing more to hide it. "We should've let Zack take this turn."

"It's Zack's rotation for command," Julia reminded her. "Even if he gripes about it... Okay, they're coming." She pointed to the holo display her suit was showing.

The life signs on the road came soon enough. A family of blacks in tattered, ruined linen cloth, carrying all they owned. "Their timing was lousy," Angel muttered.

"They couldn't know we were coming, can't blame them for trying," Julia whispered back.

The family ran by, at least until the mud gave out under the feet of the smallest, a child no older than six. "Oh Lord, John!", one of the figures cried out, a woman by the tone. The thin figure turned and helped the child to his feet.

There was a louder sound coming down the road, the distinct sound of more and heavier legs pushing through the wet soil. "It's da hounds!", the child cried.

"I think that's our cue," Angel remarked. She pulled out a sidearm she'd gotten from the armory. "Now to try this thing out in the field."

A lean, angry black hound moved into view, heading right for the fleeing group, a cacophany of barking breaking out behind it. Angel held the weapon up and felt the neural link from her fingers on the handle come into place, confirming the firing mode she wanted. Julia smirked and shook her head as Angel jumped out of the trees in a roll. She leveled out and pulled the trigger; bright blue energy pulses followed her aim and knocked the rushing canines back.

A gruff figure led a trio of horsemen who had been following the hounds. They stopped in a moment of startlement, their wide-brimmed hats protecting their faces from the rain. An almost stereotypical Southern accent called out, "What in the devil...?!"

Angel growled and leveled the weapon. This time when it fired it was a beam, and a wide one that struck all three horses and their riders at once. They all went down. But the horses had caught the brunt of the shots, so the riders slowly recovered.

Angel had holstered her pistol, preferring to punch ouf the slave-chasers, but Julia spoiled her fun with shots from her own gun. All three figures were soon out cold, getting rained on. "Spoilsport," Angel fumed.

Julia stepped out of the trees, holstering her weapon. They looked to the frightened family. "Please, don't run, we've come to help you escape," she said urgently.

They all stared wordlessly.

"Just once I want people to be amazed," Angel sighed. "Just once. If they'd just show some imagination..."

"Not a lot of time for that when you're a plantation slave in the Old South." Julia brought up her comm. "Andreys to Kelley, please tell us the queue is empty."

Zack's voice replied quickly. "Just have one more transport on the board."

"You're just doing this to get us soaking wet!", Angel charged.

There was a chuckle on the other end, allowing them to imagine the same goofy smirk. "What can I say, I'm good at getting girls..."

"Zack, if you say 'wet', I will make sure every eligible girl knows what happened with you and Clara Davis," Julia warned. "Every. Single. One."

"... I was going to say soaked?"

Julia and Angel looked at each other and rolled their eyes moments before the transporter whisked them away.

Robert was standing in Facility Control when the Kelley returned. Zack appeared on one of the screens. "Well, that was a successful run," he said. "One visit to an Earth set at 1852 completed successfully. They're a bit frightened but Kunta has been with them, so it's getting better."

"That's good. I'll hear from you when docking sequence is complete." Robert ended the transmission and breathed in a sigh. It had been hard enough with people from their world; checking out alternate Earths was making the job even more complex. But they're still people. They deserve a better chance. His eyes spied a news report being piped in; a reported mass hostage situation somewhere in Kansas not far from his hometown. He looked intently at it. "Control? Can you check on this news feed?"

"Checking now." Control flashed into place beside him, looking as dapper as always. "Hrm... I'm checking with our stealth probes now. There are indeed unarmed and armed people in that structure. I'm also reading several armed personnel on the floor immediately above. It's not consistant with more logical security plans by such men, and given similarities....."

"Another trap," Robert sighed. "Don't they get tired of this?"

"It is reasonable that the planetary governments of your world look to discover more about your activities. We displayed our technology rather brazenly."

"I know, I know, and my ears still ring with Julia's lecturing whenever I think about it." Robert tapped the table. "And the ships...?"

"The Rodriguez will be ready for launch at the end of the week. The Park and Weaver are on schedule. The Kirby is, however, not. I'm afraid some of our projections on resource allocation were off and we will need more raw trinium, among other rare materials, to finish full part fabrication."

"What the hell is trinium anyway...?" Dale held up a hand. "And no, Cat, I..."

"You should want to know," Caterina remarked defiantly. She was in her favored pink and purple outfit as always, though it didn't match the dorkiness of her favored pajamas. "It's a vital ingredient for starship armor and hull alloys. Even if we can only process alloys with a few parts per hundred..."

"Yes, I know. Thomas bored the entire Council with this talk."

"Given this is about the stuff that keeps us from sucking vacuum..."

"I know, I know..." Robert saw the Kelley had finished docking. "I'm going to go check up on Zack and the others. You're on watch now, Cat."

After an amusing debriefing with Angel and Julia still fielding damp hair, Robert and Zack stood alone in their conference room. The synthetic wood table was a newer addition, something to move away from the drab design the room had before, and Robert enjoyed the feel of the grain on the table even if it wasn't real wood. "So, how was your first command?"

"It went swell," Zack answered. Seeing that his tone had made clear other thoughts, he continued. "Okay, Rob? I'm not sure about this..."

"Why not?"

"I... okay, I do not think I could make the hard choices if it came down to it. And honestly..." He rubbed his forehead. "Okay, look... you've all found things here. You get to fulfill every idealistic fantasy of being the shining knight you've ever had. Julia gets to be the heroine while making sure you're okay. Angel, hell, Angel gets to beat people up who deserve it, that's good enough for her, Cat gets to play with superscience, and Leo is all gung-ho Mister Doctor in curing illnesses and the like. Me? I'm a fifth wheel here. Hell, even Beth and Lucy have found places they enjoy while I'm just... I'm just filling in." Zack raised his hands in frustration. "I don't know what I'm doing here."

It was with the affection of a long-time friend that Robert gave a nod. "I understand, Zack. And I don't want you to feel pressured about this. If you want to take some time off, hell, if you want to simply step away..."

"And do what, Rob?" Zack's voice took a small edge to it. "If they've got your picture they've got mine. I'd be snapped up as soon as they knew I was around. Hell, my old man might sell me out just for reward money. Or a lifetime supply of liquor..." He put his head in his hands. "I've got no life to go back to. Nothing I wanted to do. I gave it all up with the rest of you. And as fun as this is sometimes, and as warm and fuzzy as it can feel to save people from this horrible crap.... I don't know. I..."

"How about some time off then?", Robert offered. "Or maybe some time at the Liberty Colony? I mean, it's not all work there, and since you're with us they'd treat you well." Knowing his friend, Robert grinned and added, "Some really cute girls, I imagine."

"Oh, you know me too well." After that reply, spoken lowly but with some mirth, Zack shook his head. "I think... for now, let's stick with me flying the ship? I'm okay with that. I like flying the Kelley. And I'll think on the rest."

"Sounds like a plan," Robert agreed.

The sight of human suffering still made Leo's blood go cold, even after months of seeing it. He was running a device that the Darglan translator called a "dermal regenerator" over the whip-scarred back of a sixteen year old boy picked up by the Kelley's last run. "How you do dat?", the boy asked. "Not magic?"

"No, not magic," Leo sighed. "And the proper grammar is 'How are you doing that?'...." He stopped himself too late. White slave-owners of the old South didn't particularly care for education of their captive work force. "Keep holding still, the scarring is healing nicely."

Thankfully the boy didn't ask who Leo's owner was. He'd scowled the first few times; no matter how much friendship and even deference Robert, Julia, Zack, and the others showed, it seemed impossible to these poor broken people that a black person could be anything but a slave, or a subordinate. They were stunned enough to see that he was a real doctor, that he could heal wounds and treat terrible illnesses by himself.

A part of Leo was thinking of asking to join the next run to this 1852 Earth. A part that, for good or ill, wanted to do great violence. It was not a pleasant thing to consider. Leo saw himself as a healer, after all. He mended bones, he didn't break them.

Worst of all was the fact that, as a healer, he was capable of inflicting quite a lot of harm too.

The door whisked open and admitted Nasri, a Darfurian woman who, after her rescue and treatment by Leo and his nurses, had volunteered to be trained in the medical arts as well. Leo smiled at her with welcome and let her take over. "Getting the hang of it, I see."

"Yes," she said, her accent thick. She was endeavoring to learn English beyond the translator implants. She gave him a thin smile. "There are more in the other ward. I have talked to the young girls about what has happened to them, I think they are calmer now."

Leo's heart felt cold about what had been discussed; he'd treated far, far too many cases of such in these months. The tortures and violations he'd had to mend and heal sometimes made him feel doubt, doubt about the supposed innate goodness in people, or even if there was a benevolent higher power in the world. He found he'd stopped praying as of late.

Nasri finished treating the boy and looked over to Leo, seeing the stony expression on his face. "Are you okay, my friend?"

Leo shook his head. "I... I don't know if I'll ever be okay again, Nasri. I don't know if I'll ever be okay again. I'll be in the office."

His office was a nearby room set up with a desk, a personal comp, and displays on the walls for files. He'd put a few personal items in it, but a lot of his things were still in his quarters. Leo checked his requisitions requests to the staff manning Facility Command and the incoming requests from Dr. Gonzales and Dr. Huang on Liberty. He went on to looking over reports when the door opened. He looked up and saw Barnes standing there. "No."

Barnes looked at him. "What?"

"You're here to ask me for a data infusion. You've had two infusions inside a six month period, and I'll remind you that the last one left you with headaches for four days. Your brain can't take on the extra stress right now. You need more time."

"But I'm this damned close, Leo! I'm almost skilled enough that I can start work on the big ship in the bottom of the Facility!"

"It'll still be there in four months. That's the soonest I'll okay another infusion," Leo insisted. "Now, I'm busy, and you're supposed to be busy too as I recall."

"Yeah, yeah." Barnes walked off, grumbling.

Watching him go, Leo shook his head. His friends were the only light in his life; he'd be damned if he let them melt their brains from their own impatience. He went back to work, this time checking to see if everything was ready for Dr. Rheem to take over so he could join the next trip to the Liberty Colony.

When Barnes returned to the engineering chamber of the Weaver, Lucy was not waiting for him but already overseeing the teams installing the naqia reactors. He walked up and leaned against the wall. "Going good?"

"Yeah." She looked back at him. "He said no?"

"He said no."

"And I've already had my limit." Lucy sighed. "Oh well. Plenty of work left. I've been thinking of using some of our leftover materials for another project. A series of, well, not full ships, but they'd have the space-warp drives so they could run about for us, take supplies to Liberty and the mining stations and bring stuff back."

"Just how many people would these 'runabouts' of your's need?", Barnes asked. "Even with the new volunteers we'll be full up crewing the new ships."

"No more than a half-dozen, and only on long runs. Short ones could be as few as two or four."

"Hrm... bring it up with Rob, Julie, Leo, and Gabe then," Barnes said. "Now I want to check those drive plasma lines..."

"The ayes have it then." Julia smiled at Lucy, who was beaming. "The runabout production is authorized. You'll still have to do your scheduled shifts with the Kelley for our next trip to Liberty, but when you get back you'll focus on that instead."

"Of course," Lucy answered.

"If that's all our business..." Julia noticed Robert move his hand. "Yes?"

"I think it's about time we stopped ignoring the constant attempts by the US Government to trap us," he replied. "And I don't mind springing one just to humiliate them, I mean trying something to make them realize we're not a threat."

"They won't be happy unless we accept direction from them, and I'll be damned if we do that," Leo responded.

"On the other hand... trying to open talks should make them less paranoid," Gabriel pointed out. "Did you have an idea for that, Robert?"

"Not at the moment. But I wanted to broach the idea, and have a discussion on what precisely we're willing to offer to make them feel better."

"We could always offer them a seat on the Facility Council," Julia said. "What do you think?"

"I think this is stupid," Leo muttered. "Any US government agent we admit here is going to be a spy and will turn on us the moment he's ordered to. My vote will be no."

"I think it best we discuss this further before doing anything. Perhaps after we get the input of the Assembly on Liberty."

"Agreed," Robert said, nodding to Gabriel. "If that's all, I'll go get prepared for the mission."

They voted to adjourn.

The Kelley was coming out of warp past lunar orbit as it always did, fresh from a run of rescuees and supplies to Liberty. For the first time it was returning with cargo as well; the fruits of a mining outpost in the system with trinium and other rare metals they needed.

On the bridge, Robert was at command while the piloting was in the hands of Peter, one of the rescued youths from Togo. "Bringing us into orbit on the far side of the moon, sir."

"You're a natural at this, Pete. I should take lessons from you." Robert smiled and enjoyed the sunlit side of the moon passing below them. He didn't think he'd ever get tired of this. "Alright, prepare to link the drive to..."

"I'm picking up an emergency relay from Probe A4P5," Magda, a rescued girl from Colombia, said from Ops.

"Which universe is that again?" Robert got up and went over to Ops, on the left side of the bridge, to get a look. Several universes they had mapped had orbital probes seeded into them to let them know if something was up.

"The only one equivalent to our timeframe," Magda reminded him. "Relaying the signal."

On the viewscreen, a CNN feed popped up. "....reports of a bioweapon release at the Rose Bowl here in Pasadena. We're not sure of the extent...."

Robert knew he was paling, as were many others. "There must be thousands...."

"Over ninety thousand," Julia said from tactical.

Robert found his seat. "Okay.... okay. Magda, trigger the jump drive. We're going to deal with this."

The ship was cloaked as they achieved orbit; below decks Leo, Julia, and a couple of other crew members were putting on isolation suits. "We've converted the cargo bay into a quarantine zone for you, Leo," Lucy informed them. "Air circulation has been turned off, air pressure altered, and all the other instructions you left in the system."

"Good." Leo checked his suit's display. "I'm green."

"Green," Julia said. Two more nods were given. As one they stepped onto the pad. Lucy was running a scan from the main console to find a place to put them down. "We've beamed down a couple of probes that didn't detect any agents in the air of the outside stadium, so it's got to be somewhere on the inside. I'm beaming you into what looks to be a main center for ventilation, that should work."

"Send us in."

Lucy nodded and hit the control. White light enveloped them. There was the usual tingle effect and they were in a darkened room, a number of vents around them, and three figures laying on the ground. Leo brought out his scanner. "I'm getting concentrations of a bioagent. Preliminary readings say it's airborne, so make sure you use only internal air."

"Any idea what it is?" Julia nodded to their compatriots, who began inspecting the fallen figures.

"It's not in the database. Though it's already killed them, that's for..." Leo saw a blip on his scanner. "Wait a minute... this one is alive!" He knelt down over one of the figures, one wearing a rather plain jacket and pants. "He's got vitals, but I won't know if he's fighting off the illness or not until I get samples."

"Make sure Lucy has containment ready and beam up." Julia looked to one of the young crewmen, Kwang, who was checking the ventilation systems. "Find any dispensers?"

"I found two," he answered. He held them up; one looked fairly sophisticated, the other however looked like someone took common materials and scrounged one together. "Scans are showing distinct differences in what's left of the contents."

"Give those to Leo, we're going up into containment together."

Robert was out of his seat and pacing nervously on the bridge. A bioweapon... that was something new. Something he'd never thought of dealing with. I should have. This isn't a game. Oh God, what if...?

"Bridge, this is Andreys." Julia's voice came over the comm. "We've completed scans, no signs of the weapon, whatever it was."

Robert almost fell into his seat with relief. His hand reached onto the arm and hit the intercom key. "Julia, thank God."

She gave no sign of noticing the evident relief in his voice. "Someone put a second dispenser in that nullified the agent."

"Do we know the role of the survivor in this?"

"Scans confirm his fingerprints and skin cells are the only ones on the second dispenser, so it's pretty clear it's him. We'll have Cat confirm our findings when we get back, but I'd say we've got the good guy."

"And he's damn good too,," Leo added. "By our century's standards this science is beyond cutting edge. Man's a savant."

"How is he?"

"Concussion, a few bruises, some internal hemorraghing and organ damage. It looks like the agent was attacking his body before the counter-agent cleared it. He should be fine, but I want to do tests back at the Facility."

"Confirmed." Robert looked to Peter. "Take us out of Near Earth space. Prepare for jump."

"Moving us out." Peter's hands moved over the controls. The Kelley pulled away from Earth and accelerated away at high sublight speed. They moved past the moon.

"Bringing jump drive online," Magda reported.

The navigational deflection array on the nose of the Kelley lit up. Seconds later space tore open with green energy. There was a sense of dislocation as they went through; once on the other side Peter was quick to bring them to a stop inside the Facility. "Securing ship to docking bay," Magda reported.

"Excellent arrival," Robert said. "Let me know when docking is complete."

In the infirmary Leo looked over the reports from his medical staff. Aside from the survivor from A4P5 there were no occupants, allowing him to focus on logistics and give his nurses some time off. As he finished paperwork he kept looking back to the samples of the bioweapon from A4P5, inert in stasis. The computer simulations and the scans of the dead men made clear how horrible the contagion was. That people made such things...

He heard noise from behind him. Leo turned in time to see the door open... and the one occupied bed occupied no longer. He cursed himself for not securing the door. Leo's hand hit his comm. "Facility Control, our guest is up and running. I need security now."

He didn't know where he was. He remembered getting his dispenser working, seeing it spray the solution into the air and stop the attack... the pain of the beating he was taking, and of the plague working its way into him. When he fell unconscious he figured he only had a 50/50 chance of surviving. Even worse... he figured similar odds on getting taken by his pursuers.

It had been to his surprise to be unguarded, and to have only one person, a doctor possibly, looking over him. He took his chance and ran, hoping to find a way out and a chance to escape again.

He'd been expecting ceilings and halls or some kind of warehouse. Finding a sleek blue corridor was not what he'd anticipated. He ran on until he came to a portion where there were viewing ports. He looked out and froze, seeing what looked to be... a ship? No, not a ship for water, okay, some weird aircraft....

No. A spaceship. An actual spaceship. It looked to be at least a hundred meters long and the dock containing it was large enough to fit it three times over, minimum. The structure he was in had to be at least fifteen stories high as well...

There was noise behind him, driving the figure on. He found an elevator or lift of some sort and jumped on. But there were no buttons or controls.

He was about to speak when the door opened again. A tanned young woman stood at the entrance wearing a pink and purple suit with the phrase "Geek Girl!" written across the front. She looked up at him. "Are you okay? Do you need help?"

He swallowed. They'd have someone saying things like that. Or someone who didn't know better. "I... I want to leave."

"Wait... Oh! You're that guy Leo's caring for!", she said. "Please, just..."

Not waiting he pushed her out of the way, using his size to overwhelm her. She hit the ground with a cry of surprise and pain while he vaulted back out. There was a crosswalk he noticed, another path to...

As he got to the crosswalk a fist came around the corner, smashing into his jaw and sending him spinning. He fell against the wall and tried to get back to his feet. Another woman stood over him, of similar complexion to the first, with a fierce and angry snarl on her face. She brought her fist back just to have the first girl grab her arm. "Angel, no! I scared him! He's scared, it's not his fault!"

"He hurt you," Angel growled. "Nobody hurts you, Cat."

"Angel, please....." Cat didn't budge. She smiled thinly until Angel's arm came down. She looked over at him. "I'm sorry for scaring you. You're not a prisoner, we just picked you up when we were investigating the bioweapon report. Please, whoever you're afraid of... we're not them. My name is Caterina Delgado, and this is my sister Angel." She tapped Angel's shoulder. "My big sis is a bit protective."

"A bit?", he asked, a dubious look coming to his face.

"Well... okay, more than a bit." Caterina offered her arm. "You're with friends here, Mister...?"

For a moment he considered his options. There was something going on here, with the starship and the massive facility that seemed impossible to hide. And he had no idea of an exit, so the risks of going along for now weren't that great. "Sorry for hurting you, Caterina," he said in apology. "You can call me Jarod."

Robert was sitting by himself when Julia walked in, hands at her sides. "Angel and Cat found him. His name is Jarod."

"Jarod?" Robert nodded and looked back to a video screen showing the latest reports. There'd been another trap laid for them, this one by the Chinese. It was well-done too, with artillery guns dialed in on an apparent prison facility. Control's scans made it clear just how elaborate the governments were getting. "Leo says that what he did should not have been possible with the resources his dispenser device used. He wants him for our medical staff."

"Yeah, well, we have to see if he wants to stay first. And get his story."

"Did Cat confirm...?"

"Just before she met him, yes. Jarod's clearly the one who kept that bioweapon from getting into the crowds." Julia sat down. "I've asked him to tomorrow's Council meeting to explain what was going on."

"Good idea."

Julia saw his eyes drift back to the screen. "Okay, what's going through your head now?"

"What if I met with Jones? On open ground, with the Kelley observing from orbit?," Robert asked. "Just to arrange a communication line and try to smooth things out?"

"I think Leo's right, honestly. They'll just try to take us over. And if we don't let them, they'll keep trying to catch us."

"Maybe, but if we can reassure them to what we're really doing?" Robert tapped the desk. "We've got so many worlds to help anyway now..."

"Just so long as you don't go running off again," Julia remarked pointedly.

He cracked a grin. "Yeah."

Robert, Julia, Leo, and Gabriel all listened closely as Jarod laid out what had happened and where he came from. He kept the information simple to avoid trying their patience.

"You've got a place with us," Julia said when he finished. "You don't have to go back on the run."

Jarod nodded silently. "I'm not sure.... the Centre is still active, and I have questions about my past that they can answer."

"Given your descriptions of them, they do sound like the kind of people we're meant to go up against." Robert folded his hands together. "I hope you consider staying, though. I think you could more good with us. And it'll give you some security. Nobody hunting you."

"The thought crossed my mind." He looked at Robert and to Julia. Jarod folded his hands in front of him. "I'd like a few days to make up my mind."

"Sure," Julia said. "Take whatever time you need. You're a guest."

"Thank you."

They watched him leave. "I'm not sure he'll take us up on it," Gabriel remarked. "He seems fairly distracted."

"It's his choice," Robert remarked. "Anyway.... I was thinking about our prior topic concerning our relationship with the world at large. What if we simply make one contact? Just to test the waters? No guarantees made."

"It's a waste of time, Robert," Leo sighed.

"Maybe. But if we can at least make them feel a little less threatened..." Robert drew in a sigh.

"Might be worth doing." Julia tapped her hand on their table. "I'd vote yes."

"As do I," Gabriel added. "No commitments made, just an attempt to communicate."

Leo looked at each in turn. "Alright, I'm all for it too. Make the call."

Caterina didn't take long to find where Jarod was. He'd gone to the bottom floor and was looking out at the large yard where the incomplete "emergency ship" was still waiting quietly. "Are you okay?", she asked.

"Fine," he answered quietly, staring out at the ship. "It's just.... it's a lot to take in."

"Yeah, it is," Caterina agreed. She stood beside him and stared out. "I noticed that there was some unauthorized computer access a couple of hours ago. Someone tried to access the transporter."

Jarod remained silent.

"Don't worry." She tried to grin at him. "Word's getting around about what you told the Council. You've been on the run so long.... I guess it's habit to look to escape if you feel confined."

"It's not just that," he said. "I've been looking for my family since I got out. It's not easy when you're on the run, but I've still had success."

"I understand." Caterina set her hand against the window. "Angel and I... we lost our father when we were young. And then Mama... she passed a few years ago. Angel was just out of school, I was still in school, so it was rough. She... she knew how much I loved learning things about the world and wanted me to make the most of it." A sniffle escaped from her despite Cat's best efforts. She felt like an old pain in her heart was coming back. When she finished suppressing another one she looked up to see Jarod's brown eyes focused on her. "I'm sorry. I don't know how..."

"It's fine." He put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry for hurting you earlier."

Through the few tears that had formed in her eyes, Cat looked at him and shook her head. "Don't worry about it. I know you didn't mean anything. i just.... I know you want to find your family, but I hope you consider joining us anyway. We can help with that, we would, and you'd... you'd get to see so much. Seeing alien worlds and stars, I mean, and all the other sights..."

"It does sound wonderful." He looked back to the ship. "Is that...?"

Cat shook her head. "No, it's got to be finished. And we don't have the experience yet. We.... there are devices, data-infusers that put information right into the brain. But you can only take in so much in any given amount of time, and we haven't been able to learn enough."

He nodded. "So you use the other ship I saw?"

"The Kelley? Yeah, she was the one already built when we found this place," Caterina explained. "And we have three more ships now. Maybe even more as we rescue more people and get more volunteers."

Jarod nodded silently. He looked from the ship back to her. "Thanks for coming by. I'm going to get some rest, I think."

"I'll show you to the guest rooms then." Caterina led him to the lift.

The next day Robert and the others were assembled, planning Robert's meeting with, he suspected, "Agent Jones", when Jarod entered the room. He had a look about him that told the assembled he'd made a decision, or at least had come to a likely one. "I've been thinking about the offer you made," he told them. "I have a few questions."

Julia nodded at him. "Of course."

"As I said yesterday, I've been looking for the whole truth of my family for a long time. I don't want to give that up. Would you give me time to follow leads if I get them?"

"Of course." Robert nodded slightly. "And I think we all agree we'll give you whatever help you ask for, as much as we can give."

"Thank you." Jarod nodded to them. "If I join you, I'd like to go home first. I have some things hidden away that I'd like to keep. And I have a call to make."

Robert looked to Julia. "You were going to take the new volunteers from Liberty out for a training run, right?"

"Yes, we're going to leave tomorrow, as soon as Tom finishes checking everything," she answered. She looked to Jarod. "Making a training run to A4P5 will work just as well."

He nodded at her. "I've seen the people you've helped. I've been working for years to make up for the horrible things that were done by the Centre with my help. I think I can do even more with you."

Robert stood and extended his hand. "You'll get plenty of opportunities to help, don't worry." He waited for Jarod to take his hand. As they shook, he smiled at the older man. "Welcome to our family, Jarod."

Jarod was grateful when the sensor scans from the Kelley confirmed no stakeouts or guards at his hiding place, an unused warehouse not far from Pasadena. Nevertheless Angel had insisted on coming down with a personal cloak and a gun to watch his back as he gathered his things. The discs that held years of his sessions with Sydney, mementos from people he'd helped, and personal effects.

Angel looked around, partly to see if there were any threats but also out of genuine curiosity. "You stay packed I see."

"I have to. The Centre keeps me on my toes," Jarod answered, using a container provided from the Kelley for his electronics. He had only a few things left. "I make sure I can be packed up and running in the space of a couple minutes."

"Nasty life." She drew in a breath as she looked at a picture. It was a newspaper clipping of a little girl, announcing her death. "Do you always pick up on bad news?"

Jarod briefly looked over to what she was looking at. "The girl died in the hospital because an administrator replaced real medicine with watered down meds for anyone who didn't have health insurance. All to save money. I joined the staff as a clerk in the pharmacy and spent days getting the evidence together to make him confess."

"Wow, you study medicine then?"

Jarod grinned and shook his head. "They call me a Pretender. People like me... we can be anything we want to be."

Angel crossed her arms. "Anything?"

"Just about. I can watch people do their jobs and do them myself. It's a useful habit."

"Explains how you were getting into our computers your first day," Angel remarked. "And how you put together a counter-agent to a super-bioweapon in a warehouse."

"Oh, that was just chemistry work I'd already done before," Jarod explained. "I'd made the counter-agent years ago." The grin on his face was faded by this time. "As well as the weapon itself."

Angel stared at him. "You made that bioweapon?"

"When I was with the Centre," Jarod answered hoarsely. "I was given a simulation on the capabilities of modern facilities to make newer and deadlier strains of existing biological weapons and viruses. We called it the Annihilator. Then I made the counter-agent because that's what I was told was the goal." By now he was frowning. "As it turned out, the Centre wanted both."

"You should point out their HQ to us," Angel muttered. "We'll go in and clean house."

He shook his head. "They're bigger than that. They're spread out all over the place. It'll take more than attacking their main offices to put them out of business." He looked back to his boxes, almost done. "I'm hoping that with the technology and resources you've made available, I can help put an end to them."

"I hope so too." She saw him go to a phone. "Last minute phone call? Really?"

"It's necessary," Jarod explained. He dialed a number from memory. When he heard a voice on the other end answer, he replied, "Hello Sydney."

"Jarod? So you made it out?"

"Not without help." Jarod looked to Angel and gave a small smile. "Sydney... you and Miss Parker don't have to keep working for the Centre. I can get you both out now. Somewhere far away from them."

There was silence on the other end. "Jarod, it wouldn't work."

"Yes, yes it would," he insisted. "I'd do more to prove it, but... I don't want to cause you trouble if you say no. If the Centre realizes what I've gotten access to, if they think you've betrayed them for me..."

"Jarod, I'm telling you, the Centre has power you don't realize. It won't work. You've got to let it go."

Angel was watching as his expression fell. "It'd be so easy to just..." He bit down the word down painfully. "Goodbye Sydney. It might be a while before we talk again, but I'm not giving up. I'm going to finish putting together the pieces about my family, and I'm going to destroy the Centre. Whatever it takes." He hung up.

"Old friend?" Angel walked up to him.

"Closest thing I had to a father." Jarod reached over and hit the recall buttons on each box. They disappeared in shimmers of white light. "I thought about using the ship's transporter right in front of him. Or to bring him up to the Kelley and let him see...."

Angel nodded in understanding. "But if he says no, and this Centre finds out... they might come after him."

"And his family," Jarod added. "And I can't do that to him. Even if it means leaving him behind for now." Drawing in a sigh, Jarod took a final look around. "I meant it, though. I'm not giving up."

Angel gave him a grin. "Good, I'm not big on quitters." She reached over and touched her comm. "Delgado to Kelley, two to beam up."

The wind was chilly as raindrops splashed against Robert's windbreaker. He looked down at the empty Pacific beach and then over to the rusted iron structure settled in the sand, all that remained of the 19th century sailing barque Peter Iredale. Normally, even with the weather being what it was, some locals or tourists might have been expected, but they had the radio signals to confirm that the police had cleared the area at the request of federal authorities.

He stood at the edge of the tide and watched a lone black-clad figure walk down from the parking lot, not losing stride even in the soft sand. "Everything okay?", he whispered.

It was picked up by his comm, as a moment later a voice came back in his ear. "Yeah, they're being cautious. You've got quite a few vehicles with armed agents closeby, but they're not moving toward you."

"No snipers?"

"No snipers."

Robert nodded and waited until the figure got close. They recognized each other immediately. "Mister Dale," the older man said.

"Agent Jones," Robert answered. "I'm sorry for the rain. But I thought the scenery would be good." He looked up to the wreck. "My cousin showed me this a few years ago. A big change from Kansas to see all these hills and mountains."

"Indeed." Jones allowed a slight smile to come across his face, even if it wasn't genuine. "You called for a meeting?"

"Yes." Robert looked back to him. "We got off on a bad foot. I think some assurances are in order."

"Young man, you disappeared from my interrogation room," Jones pointed out. "Under active recording. And we've found further evidence that you have some kind of teleportation system. And you want to give assurances? You could use your teleporter to put a bomb in the Oval Office and there's nothing we could do about it, assurances aren't going to deal with that."

Robert nodded. "I can't argue with that. What would deal with it?"

"You're a smart young man, I think you know," Jones replied. "I can have a team put together to oversee your operations within a few hours."

"'Oversee'." Robert chuckled.

Jones shrugged. "I admit we'd want some control. Do you blame us, Mister Dale?"

"I guess not." Robert crossed his arms. "But we don't want to become an arm of the US Government."

"Then we have to consider you a rogue operation," Jones answered. "And you're already considered terrorists by other governments. So will every other state on this planet. And I'm not sure where you get your support, but do you think it can be sustained if the world's governments consider you little more than criminals?"

Robert crossed his arms. "We'll handle it."

"Young man, do not be a fool." Jones kept his hands at his sides. "You think you can just keep going without some kind of political framework? All these people you're snatching up... they're not going to accept having you and a couple other people governing their destinies. They'll want a voice and power to make decisions. You'll have to accept oversight from them, if not from us, and if you don't.... you might as well accept you've made yourself a dictator. And, Mister Dale, you don't strike me as the type to be a dictator." When Robert didn't answer, he continued. "If you were... you'd be far more violent than you are. So accept your limitations, young man. They're good qualities. Let us help you."

Robert took in a breath. "So that is your term? You want government agents working with us? Keeping us from doing things the US government doesn't want us doing?"

"I'm afraid we must insist," Agent Jones answered. "Make the right decision young man. Convince your friends to accept it. We'll be ready to hear from you whatever your choice." He nodded and walked off.

Robert watched him walk off. "Go ahead and bring me back," he mumbled. A moment later the Kelley pulled him away.

In the Kelley's engineering section, Barnes was giving orders and looking back to seeing Jarod watching. "Ready for your first data infusion?", he asked. "I hear you're a genius, but this stuff is so far beyond..."

"You might want to alter the field harmonics on the port nacelle," Jarod cut in. "It looks like it's slightly off."

Barnes gave him a glare. "Yeah, because you know so much about warp drive mechan..." He looked at the display. A surprised look came to his eyes. "How the hell did you... Hey Ramirez! Take Yoon and get the nacelle's field generators tuned! Harmonics are off!" He looked over to ensure they heard him and looked back to Jarod. "Okay, how?"

"It's what I do," Jarod answered, grinning. "Though there's a few things that I'm not sure of yet."

"Seriously, you haven't had your infusion yet?"

"Not at all. I just have a... gift for learning new jobs quickly."

"Really." Barnes frowned. The frown disappeared as a thought came to him. "Want to try your hand at starship construction?"

Robert was sitting at his desk in thought, Jones' words going through his head. He heard a noise at the door and looked up to see Julia standing there, leaning against the door. "Hey."

"You've been moody since meeting the government man," Julia said to him. "What is wrong?"

Robert shrugged. "Oh, he made some points. Leo's right, they want to run us."

"Yeah, when hell freezes over," Julia grumbled.

"He made some points I've been mulling over." Robert looked at the screen. "We're dealing with symptoms, not illnesses."

"Yeah. But nothing we can do about that."

"Can't we?" Robert scratched at his chin. "I mean.... we could do something. We could launch the ships and fire their weapons to take out military bases, government facilities.... anything. All of the rogue states doing horrible stuff, we could put them down in an hour of firing."

"We could." Julia gave a nod. "But then we'd hurt other people too. Innocent ones. And... we'd have to do something about the result. Do you think we could run a country? A real one? And we'd be the conquerors too. Do you want to be a dictator?"

"Yeah, I know." Robert smirked. "Hrm, President-for-Life Robert Dale? Or Emperor Robert, maybe?" He grinned at her. "I'd need an Empress."

"I'd kick your ass first," Julia retorted. "Robby, we can only do so much." She reached over and took his hand. "Don't let what he said get to you. We're doing fine as things are. If we have problems, we'll deal with them together. And I know it'll work out."

"Yeah." Robert drew in a breath. "Want to go get some food? Lucy fine-tuned the food replicators before she started working on her runabout project."

"Oooh, a date? Angel will be jealous." Julia winked at him. "Sure, I'm hungry. Let's go."

They stepped out side by side.

End Act 3
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Fri Aug 16, 2013 9:01 pm

Act 4

Facility Control was quiet, which was quite alright for Robert while he took a watch there. Reports from the field were coming in every hour; the Rodriguez was in orbit overseeing another operation - this time raiding an identified human-trafficking ship in the Mediterranean - and the Weaver was making a run to the new mining colony at Epsilon Eridani. That left Kelley - finishing another engine check - and the completed Kirby, which....

"Any word from Julia yet?", he asked Angel.

She gave him a nod. "They're still off in S5T3. We're getting some interesting relays from them, S5T3 looks like our first 'future' universe. Humans traveling with spaceships and everything."

"We'll have to go over that sometime." Robert crossed his arms. "When are Lucy and Jarod due back?"

"Two hours," Angel replied. "You're looking pretty restless."

Robert let out something of a sigh. "I just suppose I'm feeling nervous. I mean.... fifty thousand people, Angel. We're responsible for the livelihoods of fifty thousand beings."

"Yeah." Angel looked back to the computer station she was at. "It's intimidating."

"Very." Robert leaned back in his seat. "And every time the Liberty Colony gets a bit bigger... I don't know, I just feel like this whole thing is starting to get away from me."

"Or that we're becoming, well.... not as important?" Angel chuckled. "I actually like it a bit. We have more volunteers than we know what to do with. Leo and his medical staff are swamped dealing with the brain infusion requests. It's not just people who want to go off rescuing, it's just people who want the knowledge."

"It won't make up for practice though," Robert muttered. "And there's a lot of stuff we've infused into our heads that we still haven't done."

Angel looked to him. "Like?"

"Fighting an opposing starship." Robert tapped the screen showing the status of the Kirby. "S5T3 is the first, but there may be more out there. What if we end up running into trouble? We've done some practicing but we don't have any practical experience in starship combat. And that's something that could get us killed."

"True." Angel allowed a bit of a curl to come to her right cheek, almost a half-smile. "Maybe that will tell us how brave we really are. Are we going to risk getting blown to bits or will we chicken out?"

"I honestly don't want to find out anytime soon."

Mars was spinning quietly in her orbit through the bow windows of the Rio Grande, the first of Lucy's "runabout" spacecraft. She manipulated the touch controls with precision, testing the small vessel's maneuverability and systems, while beside her Jarod was monitoring sensors and the power systems. "The portable naqia reactor is working like a charm," he said.

"I thought that the warp flight was a bit bumpy, though," Lucy answered.

"Yeah, I think we might have to recalibrate the field again." Jarod checked the readouts. "We might have overpowered the ship a little."

"Yeah, well... it's a rough balance. The cold fusion systems the Darglan developed for their backup power aren't good enough for a ship this size, but the naqia reactors are overkill at normal size." Lucy chuckled. "It might have taken me months to get the reactor design trimmed down without your help, Mister 'I Don't Need A Data Infusion'."

Jarod let her see an amused smirk at that. "It's a gift. So.... why did you name it for a river?"

"Oh, the Rio Grande?" Lucy shrugged. "I'm half-Mexican through my mother, crossing the Rio to come to the US was the biggest decision of her life. For a lot of people it's a barrier, but it's... it's kind of like the Jordan River. You look at it and know there's something better on the other side." Her expression darkened a little. "Of course, that something might be working for slave wages on a farm.... but the hope is still there."

That prompted a quiet nod from Jarod. "I've been catching up on everything that happened before I joined. I'm sorry for what happened to you."

Lucy showed no immediate visible reaction. She looked at him with a very still expression. "Yeah... I mean, I knew Duffy was horrible. But what he had that brat of his do..." She swallowed. "I sometimes have dreams of it. Even now. Even when Julia came in like a phantom and rescued me, showed me this wonderful, wonderful world they stumbled into...."

Jarod nodded silently. "I know what it's like to dream things like that..."

"Kept captive until your mid-30s, I'd imagine so," Lucy responded. She swallowed. "Well... let's get back to business. We'll finish recalibrating the nacelle generators and try another warp flight."

"Getting back to business..."

The Kirby moved quietly as she slipped around occupied space, her cloaking device keeping local traffic from seeing her. On the bridge Zack Carrey was not content to remain sitting in the command chair, choosing to move about and watch everyone at their stations. The oldest of the Coptic girls they'd rescued, Nasira, was at the helm, but Zack was still having trouble remembering the names of the tactical, science, and ops officers (in fact, he had to honestly say he only knew Nasira's name because he'd been considering asking her out).

The man at Ops looked back. He was African, though whether he was from the contemporary rescuees that came from Africa or a rescued slave Zack wasn't sure. "You're making us nervous, sir." The accent was enough to say he was from one of the contemporary era worlds they'd found.

"You're all doing fine," Zack mumbled. "I'm the one nervous. I told them I don't like getting command..."

"Then perhaps you should offer to give it to someone else," Ibraham, a Lebanese Christian sitting at tactical, commented.

"Tempted," he muttered in reply. Nevertheless he forced himself back into the command chair. "I'm sorry. So, anything new?"

"Just the usual reading, plus lots of comm chatter," the older woman at science reported. Zack turned just to remember voice and face; it was a woman from one of the alternate universes they'd visited, Hava, a Russian Jew rescued from a pogrom detected from orbit. "Mostly on the subspace bands."

"Oh, nice. Cat will love it." Zack leaned back in the seat. He was simultaneously bored and irritated; he hated having nothing to do but watch. After thinking about this for a time he shook his head; if he wasn't careful something worse might....

The officer at Ops turned his attention to something. "I'm picking up a subspace signal... a distress code? I'm putting it on speakers."

A male voice crackled over the speakers in English. "This is the private shuttle Starrunner requesting immediate assistance, we are under attack from...." The signal died out.

Zack looked to Ops. "What happened?"

The man there shook his head. "I think it was cut off at the source."

Zack nodded and felt like letting the chair swallow him. This is not what he wanted, it was a decision he shouldn't be making.... He swallowed audibly. "Can you tell where it came from?"

"An adjacent star system, I can give coordinates."

"Then feed to Nasira," Zack ordered. "Set course, maximum speed, and engage drives when ready."

"Setting course now," Nasira answered. Her hands moved over the portion of the controls for calculating faster-than-light travel. The computer fed course data back and she put the data into the helm control. The Kirby changed relative orientation in space, never dropping from warp as their direction finished changing. Quiet descended on the bridge as the range ticked down.

"Coming into range...."

Nasira brought the Kirby out of warp. The screen shifted to show a vessel almost the size of the Kirby hovering in space, a single hull shape painted brown and orange, with a blue-toned energy beam gripping a small boxy white spacecraft that looked like a shuttle. "We'll have to decloak to fire," Ibraham reminded him. "I have weapon lock."

Zack nodded. He put a hand to his face and tried to control the beat in his heart. This wasn't busting into some slave plantation or work gulag with a personal forcefield, a cloak, and a transporter waiting to whisk him away to safety. If they attacked, and if he was wrong.... they could all die, or be captured by God knows who. This was no longer a game.


Zack was fully gripped in indecision. But it was soon clear someone else wasn't, with Hava calling out, "We have another ship coming in!"

The ship, as it turned out, was little more than another shuttle, even boxier-looking than the first. The small craft veered in and red energy erupted from its nose, peppering the larger ship at the base of the beam linking it to the captive shuttle. The beam winked out of existence and allowed the other ship to begin to maneuver free. The newcomer dodged a shot and let loose a repeated series of blasts that peppered the larger vessel, or rather said ship's shields.

The other ship was quick to maintain return fire, green energy erupting from emitters and striking both shuttles. The escaped captive took the hit badly, all acceleration ending with a direct hit totheir engine, but their rescuer evaded several of the shots. The one shot that did hit terminated against a field of blue energy. The rescuer shuttle came back around and fired its weapon again, striking at the shields of the ship in question. The last shot seemed to break through the shields and sent a plume of flame erupting from the attacker's hull.

"Wow," Zack mumbled. "How did he...?"

"It looks like that second shuttle has their power systems running at maximum possible capacity," the man at Ops answered. "But the other ship's shields are regenerating quickly. I don't think he..."

A series of shots lashed out again at the rescuer shuttle. Again a few missed, but two hits struck home. The first dissipated against the shields.... but the second lasted just long enough to slice along the hull, creating a fracture. The rescuer shuttle began to fail.

Zack had been mentally cheering for the second shuttle; seeing it fail made him smack the arm of the command chair. He swallowed and shook his head. "Okay, that's enough. Sound combat alert, Code Red! Ibraham, lock weapons! Ops, I want the people on those shuttles transported over!"

"We can't transport through shields, sir," the man at Ops reminded him.

"Nasira, get us between them, we'll put shields to one side for protection and the other can be used for transport," Zack answered quickly, his mind starting to race. "Drop the cloak and fire!"

Firing weapons in anger was something they'd never done before. There had been training exercises, simulations.... but not this. Ibraham was nevertheless quick to obey, as was the officer at Ops. Nasira maneuvered the Kirby to give Ibraham a good shot as the Kirby dropped her cloak. For the first time her cannons blazed in anger, sending pulses of blue energy crashing into the other ship's shields. Ibraham followed up with one of the "solar torpedo" launchers, sending a sparking projectile of blue-white energy forward to crash into the shields of the other vessel. A follow-up burst of fire tore through hull plating, creating gouges of flame and atmosphere to erupt from the wounds.

Nasira turned the ship slightly and presented its strong shields to the enemy craft while, on the other side, the shields dropped. "Transporting now," Ops reported. "I'm sending them to Dr. Rosenbaum."

"Alright, as soon as the transport...."

Hava looked up. "Something's appearing on sensors! It looks like a...."

The Kirby suddenly rocked violently. From their weak side, a vessel shimmered into view, a small green-colored ship with wings of green and red. Weapon mounts on the wing-tips began firing, sending bolts of emerald energy to crash into the unshielded hull of the Kirby. "Re-distribute shields!", Zack shouted.

Before that could be done, an overload in the ship's systems triggered a shower of sparks at the helm. Nasira fell back screaming, burns covering her hands and face. "Get a medical team up here!", Zack cried out, jumping from the command chair to the helm. In a second he had Nasira free and pulled her out, giving himself access to the helm. He triggered the controls and rotated the Kirby while triggering its drives, moving out of the line of fire.

At that moment the door slid open and Julia rushed in, her blond hair in tangles and her jacket top barely on. "What's going on, ZacK?!"

"Picked up a distress signal from a shuttle!" The ship rocked hard again, causing Julia to catch herself against the arm of the command chair. She slid into it and found the harness buckles. Zack didn't look back, as busy as he was trying to maneuver the damaged Kirby. "We intervened to help, but they had a cloaked ship waiting in ambush, opened fire on our unshielded side when I rescued survivors!"

"Make that two cloaked ships!", Hava cried out. On the screen another ship decloaked, the same as the first ambusher. Zack moved his hands on the controls and tilted the Kirby enough to take only glancing blows while its nuclear-disruptor arrays slashed at the ship with ruby light, making its shields flicker.

"Mbusa, did we get the people off the shuttles?", Julia asked, looking at Ops.

The man there nodded. "Yes, they were taken successfully."

"Okay. Do we have warp power? Cloak?"

"Warp is offline," Zack answered, seeing the red indicators on his controls. "We've lost the main power conduit to the port impulsor, I can't get us enough speed to break off."

Julia swallowed and nodded. "Okay, we can't run. We can't hide either, they'll hit us when cloaking.... can we jump?"

"We'd have to drop shields, if they get another big hit it could knock out or destabilize the drive," Hava pointed out.

"Okay.... Zack, keep up evasive maneuvers, and try to give Ib some shots from the main guns! Mbusa, send a distress signal back to the Facility! Now!"

Robert was turning in his seat reading an update on the Liberty Colony written by Beth when a tone came from one of the stations. Cat went over to it and hit the key. "Rob, it's from the Kirby. It's.... it's a distress signal."

Robert sat up in the blink of an eye, spine ramrod straight. "Put them on?"

The holotank displayed Julia, completely disheveled, shaking in the command chair. "Three enemy ships, maybe more. We've lost engine power and warp, we can't cloak without taking more hits. We need help!"

Robert was out of his seat. "Control! Send out an alert, all Kelley crew prepare for immediate transport to their combat stations!"

Control appeared in his usual holographic guise. "Implementing transport now."

The sensation of the transporter system filled Robert. He materialized with Cat and Angel on the bridge of the Kelley. Seconds later Jarod and Peter materialized, both going for Ops and the helm respectively. Robert found the command chair and buckled himself in. "Give me a status report."

Jarod was quick to check over things. "We're almost ready, a few people are still out of place. Engineering is fully staffed..."

Barnes' voice cut over the intercom. "Ship checks are already done. Naqia reactors online. We're ready to go."

"Set running status to Code Red!", Robert called out. Alert klaxons sounded four times while running lights shifted to red. "Jarod, do we have a link to the Kirby's drive?"

"It's inside the spatial aspect zone for the Facility," Jarod answered. "One AU margin of error."

"That's still like 93 million miles," Angel muttered.

"Uh, sis, for interstellar distances, it's massively close," Caterina retorted.

Ignoring them, feeling massively worried for Julia and Zack and the others, Robert put his hands on the chair arms. "Lock the wormhole generator on then, get us there now."

The Facility's wormhole initiated, carving a tunnel through time, space, and dimensions to the beleaguered Kirby. The Kelley moved through it quickly. As they came out Jarod hit the cloak while Cat scanned. "I've got them! Sending warp jump calculations to Peter!"

"Warp jump in 3... 2... 1!" Peter hit the control. The ship lurched as its warp systems engaged for just a moment. When the warp jump ended the viewscreen showed the damaged, nearly-crippled Kirby trying to dodge hits from three ships. They had it boxed in, giving it no reprieve or escape. "Lock on the nearest enemy ship, Angel."

Angel nodded and worked her controls. "I've got a lock, as soon as Jarod decloaks..."

"Decloaking now," Jarod confirmed.

The Kirby shook violently again. Mbusa checked his indicators and cursed. "Shields at twenty percent! Cohesion is breaking down!"

Julia cursed under her breath. But before she gave any orders Hava called out, "New contact decloaking! It's the Kelley!"

The Kelley was still shimmering into view when her weapons began to lash out in anger. Blue energy bolts hammered one of the green-winged ships, making its shields flicker. A pair of solar torpedoes struck the ship next, blasting its shields into brief collapse that let another barrage hammer the winged ship in the neck connecting its body to its head. Ibraham added shots from one of the nuclear-disruptor arrays, slashing at the enemy ship and blasting one of the wing-mounted weapons off. Badly damaged, the ship twisted out of their firing arcs and shimmered until it disappeared.

"That's it! We're free!" Julia smacked her hand on the chair. "Full speed, Zack! Get us out of the trap and prepare the jump drive!"

"Aye aye," Zack murmured in response, trying to keep the smile off his face as the Kirby's acceleration picked up. Her other foes were turning to face the Kelley.

"Connect me to the Kelley," Julia ordered Mbusa. When he nodded and hit a key, she called out, "Rob!"

"Julia, good to see you're okay. We'll cover you, jump out as soon as possible."

"You're still outnumbered two to one, Robert," Julia pointed out.

"You're in no shape to fight, you need to get out of here, now. If we have trouble we'll cloak and hide until help can arrive. Now get going!"

Julia let out a grumble of frustration. "Okay, we're getting out of here. Mbusa, connect the drive to the Facility, now!"

The Kirby's shields went down as it diverted power to the jump drive system. The deflector array at the bow lit up with energy as the jump drive opened the green, energized jump point that would take them back to the Facility.

Peter maneuvered the Kelley to avoid a shot from the larger of the two remaining vessels, keeping Angel on target to hammer away at the winged ship they were facing. Said ship had come around and was facing them as well, sending green bolts of energy and red-sparking projectiles into their shields. The Kelley shook as it took these hits. "Shields at seventy percent," Jarod warned them.

Just before the other ship broke off Angel let loose a final barrage and torpedo spread, a point-blank hit that overwhelmed the other ship's shields and inflicted damage on its main body. Peter dipped the ship "down" and avoided hitting the enemy ship, after which he put the drives to full. Angel sent out another torpedo with the aft launcher that hit the maimed enemy ship square in its engine. The main body of the ship burst like an egg, a fiery explosion engulfing the body and then the rest of the ship. "First kill!", Angel crowed.

"Status on the Kirby?", Robert asked.

"She's out, she's safe," Jarod answered.

"Good, we can go now." The ship rocked from a hit by the non-winged single-hulled vessel, now in pursuit. "Get us some space, maybe we can get around a nearby moon and have a few seconds of freedom to cloak or open a jump point."

Peter acknowledged with a nod. The Kelley's drives went to full, shields shifting toward the rear to deal with the battering they were taken. Angel used the aft launcher and array to swipe at the ship, but nothing dissuaded it. Peter made several maneuvers. "They're on us too strongly, I'm going to try to give us an opening to cloak safely." He maneuvered with a hard turn and direction change, throwing the aim of the enemy ship off.

Robert didn't say anything more, letting Peter and Jarod do their work. After several more sharp maneuvers, Peter got them sharply below the enemy ship. It appeared to have worked flawlessly.

Which, Robert realized, was too good to be true. "Don't cloak!," he called out.

But it was too late. Jarod had already hit the key.

The crippled winged ship reappeared from another angle. Even with one of its wing-cannons gone the remaining weapon, plus its torpedo launcher, still left it deadly. It fired as the Kelley began cloaking, its shields down in the process and rendering the ship helplessly. The bolts smashed into the bottom of the ship, vaporizing and blasting away hull material and exposing part of Deck 4 into space.

Then the torpedoes hit. The Kelley rocked so hard that Robert almost thought the ship was coming apart. "We've lost cloak!", Jarod cried out. "Jump drive not responding! Main power is going down!"

"Warp drive inoperable," Peter added. "I've only got twenty-five percent effectiveness on impulsors!"

"Tom!" Robert hit the comm button on his chair arm. "Engineering, we've lost main power! Engineering!.... Tom?!" The ship rocked again as his answer.

Barnes knew something had gone hideously wrong with the first rocking of the ship, but the blast that followed literally threw him on his ass.

Which, in the end, saved his life.

Across engineering the blast tore through the bulkhead. A horrifying whistle began to sound and a powerful force pulled at Barnes, dragging him across the floor toward the blast hole. One of his engineers screamed and flailed, trying to find a hand-grip, but all he managed to do was hit another engineer holding onto one of the naqia reactors and knock his unintended victim from his grip. Both men cried out for help as they were sucked through the hole.

"Engineering, we've lost main power!" It was Robert's voice, shouting over the comm. "Engineering!.... Tom?!"

I don't get paid enough for this shit, Barnes thought to himself. Struggling against the pull of vacuum, Barnes reached up and over to grip a console. He pulled himself up to it and, one-handed, hit several keys, routing emergency power from the small-scale fusion reactor on the ship to an emergency forcefield. The pull of vacuum ended, allowing him to stoop over the controls. He hit the comm on his wrist. "We just lost Abbas and Ramirez! Both naqia reactors are down!"

"We need to jump, Tom!"

"It'll take me time to get these things working, dammit!" Barnes wiped his brow, not thinking about how close he'd come to being sucked out into space as he tried to get at least one naqia reactor going again.

A hard enough task as it was.... and almost impossible with the ship rocking repeatedly.

On the bridge, Robert was trying to avoid the feeling of panic welling up within him. This was stupid, stupid! He wasn't trained for this! Not properly! And now he'd gotten some of his friends killed, or worse...

After another hit, Jarod cried out, "Shields down to fifteen percent, we've only got a few hits left!"

"We're not getting out of here," Robert muttered to himself. "Angel, Cat, Jarod, Peter.... I'm sorry. I'm sorry, dammit. Just.... send a message back to the Facility. Do not send a rescue mission, I repeat, do not send a res-...."

A torpedo crashed into the battered Kelley, interrupting him and sending feedback into some of the consoles. Peter cried out and pulled his hands back, too late to avoid getting burned as an electrical fire started on the helm console, quickly spreading to him. Robert yanked off the harness and went for an emergency fire extinguisher, grabbing it and dousing Peter and the console with it. He was knocked to the ground by another hit.

Jarod was quick to confirm the worst. "Shields at five percent! Next hit and they're gone!"

And then, to make things worse, Caterina began shouting. "I've got a new contact coming out of warp! It's..... it's big!"

Robert looked up to see the new arrival slip down toward their attackers on the viewscreen. It looked patently different; light gray hull color, multiple thin windows and plenty of running lights, and plenty long and wide. Each of its warp drive nacelles looked almost as large as the Kelley - they were certainly longer - and were connected by pylons to a hull that thickened as it grew forward, connected there by a wide, forward-tapered neck to a very wide saucer hull. The ship seemed to pull downward compared to the Kelley, showing the many running lights on the top of its main hull. There was writing there, but he couldn't make it out.

Two points of red light formed on a black strip that nearly circled the top of the saucer. They raced across the strip and met, form there emitting a beam of red, almost orange-tinted energy that lashed out at one of their attackers. The red beam played over the enemy ship's shields, joined moments later by a second beam that punched through the faltering shields and sliced into the ship.

One of the winged vessels, the damaged one that had crippled the Kelley, was coming up on the big ship's rear. Two beams lashed out from a point at the end of the ship's hull, between its nacelles, both striking the ship and draining its' shields.... leaving it helpless as two red projectiles raced out from a launcher at the end point of the rear hull and smashed into the winged vessel, blowing it to atoms.

The surviving attacker lashed out again, its green energy beam lashing into the big ship. Blue shields met and absorbed the shot harmlessly. The ship pulled "up" a bit, revealing a second energy fire strip on the underside of the saucer and a squat deflector array that seemed similar to the one on the Kelley and her sister ships. Both strips lit up, sending two beams that sliced into the enemy ship. Its shields failed again, multiple points of damage showing up across its hull. It twisted away, clearly seeking to escape now that its compatriots were gone. Another red energy beam played across its aft, taking out an engine. An explosion flowered up from the enemy ship's hull, toward the middle, followed by further explosions that traveled along the ship and seemed to gut it.

There were sighs of relief on the bridge, and Robert couldn't help but take in. But he wasn't so sure they were fine just yet. The Kelley was helpless, and this new ship looked far more powerful than the vessels that had been giving it and the Kirby fits.

"They're trying to hail us," Jarod reported. "Looks like an audio and visual channel, I can route it to the viewscreen."

"Sure," Robert breathed.

The figures that appeared on the screen were Human.... or so Robert thought until he saw a humanoid figure with a distinctly non-human forehead. His eyes settled on the central figure, who appraised him with an understanding grin before beginning to speak.

"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. We would like to offer you our assistance."

The man's accent sounded like a refined English one similar to the handful of distant relatives Robert had occasionally met on his mother's side, almost in defiance of his French name. His uniform was predominately red with black as a secondary color, and the four gold pips on his collar was clearly rank insignia. The arrowhead insignia worn on the right side of the chest seemed more than just decoration. And the uniform, in total, made Robert immensely self-conscious of his distinctly civilian, unauthoritative brown jacket and blue pullover polo shirt with blue jean pants. "Captain Picard," he said politely, standing from his chair. "I'm... Robert Dale, commanding the Starship Kelley. Thank you for saving our lives."

"We received a distress signal from a Federation-registered shuttle, the Starrunner,", Picard explained. "My operations officer tells me it is here but abandoned. Can you tell us what happened to its crew?"

"Our sister ship, the Kirby, answered their distress signal and rescued them," Robert explained. "They were damaged by an ambush and called us in for help. We were able to help them escape before we were crippled."

"I see." Picard nodded at him. "Your vessel's damage appears extensive. Will you be able to make repairs or will you require towing to a Starbase?"

As much as Robert was grateful for the rescue, that's something he didn't want. "Allow me to ask my engineer, Captain." He looked to Jarod, who took the hint and killed the audio. Robert reached down on his chair and hit the intercom. "Tom, I could use an update."

"And I could use two more pairs of hands, Goddammit," Barnes retorted. "It's going to take me six Goddamned hours, minimum, to get the damned reactors back online and the Goddamned drive stable for a Goddamned jump!"

"Not what I want to hear, Tom."

"Send Mister 'Learn Warp Mechanics In Twenty Goddamned Seconds' down and I might shave it to four."

Robert looked over to Jarod. "After we're off the comm, go ahead."

Jarod nodded. "Ready?"

"Yeah." Robert looked back to the viewscreen. He heard Jarod hit a key and smiled. "We're going to need at least six hours to get underway again, Captain. Thankfully we won't need towing."

Picard nodded. "Understood. The Enterprise will remain until you have completed repairs. In the meantime, Captain Dale, I hope you will accept my offer of a visit to the Enterprise. I admit to a great deal of curiosity about you and your ship."

At that Robert felt his mind pick up. They seemed nice enough... but on the other hand, what was to stop them from raising shields and holding him as a prisoner? On the other hand, if they were going to do something like that, they'd just be taking the Kelley.... "Give me half an hour, Captain, and I'll get back to you on that."

"Very well. Picard out." The screen changed to show the Enterprise hovering in space quietly.

By now the medical staff on the Kelly, led by Nasri, had arrived on the bridge. A nurse gently took Peter off the bridge, leaving the helm station - completely disabled anyway - unmanned. "Jarod, do we have interuniversal comms?"

Jarod checked the station. "Barely. Without the naqia reactors, and without killing vital systems.... I think I can get you audio."

"Okay, hail the Facility. Julia should have secured the Kirby by now, I need to talk to the Council. And fast."

Julia had Leo, Gabriel, and the three new members of the Council - Song Tae-Woo from the North Korean population, Sally Freeman of the liberated slaves from C1P2, and Ba Aye Yee of the rescued Burmese dissidents - together when Robert came over the radio and explained the situation. Julia remained quiet while Aye Yee asked the obvious question. "Can we trust them?"

"They did rescue us," Robert answered. "But I'm not sure, if they've detected anything about our technology, they might do something about it."

"What if we came in with both the Weaver and the Rodriguez?", Gabriel asked. "If it comes down to it..."

"The Enterprise made short work of those ships, I wouldn't want to take it on even with all four of our ships. I think it's better if I take the chance. If things go bad.... I'll have Tom blow up the Kelley."

"What if we brought just one ship to evacuate you if things go wrong?", Leo asked.

"Too much risk." Robert clearly sighed on the other end. "I just want to hear any directions you have for me. They could be of great help."

"They'd end up demanding the same thing the US government did," Leo remarked sullenly. "I think we need to be careful about that."

"I will be. Anything else?"

"Yeah, be careful Rob."

"I always am. It's been almost half an hour, so I need to get ready to transport over. I'll have Angel keep you updated as we go along. Kelley out."

After the communication was shut down Julia stood up. "i'll put together a crew for the Rodriguez right away."

"I'm not sure that's wise," Song remarked. "We're down to two functional ships as it is, and if we're afraid of them getting our technology sending another ship in is just adding risk."

Julia looked to him and frowned. "My friends are there," she said, her tone low and cold. "I am not going to abandon them."

In a moment Robert went from being in the Kelley's transporter room to one on the Enterprise. There was a woman on the other end of the controls present while two figures stood between the pad and the controls. Robert recognized the ridge-foreheaded alien he'd seen on the screen earlier as well as the bearded man who'd stood near Picard. He glanced toward their uniform collars, seeing the bearded man's rank was three gold pips while the alien had two. The different colors - the transport controller and the alien being in gold instead of red - made him curious. Before he could speak, the bearded man stepped up. "Welcome to the Enterprise. I'm Commander William Riker, First Officer. This is Lieutenant Worf, our Chief of Security."

Robert had to make himself look away from Worf and back to Riker. He remembered the brief glimpse Control had once shown of an orange-skinned and high-skulled figure, but for the first time he was with an actual alien. For that matter, his reaction made that clear to them. "Captain Picard is waiting for you in the ship's Conference Room."

"And he sent you to bring me up?", Robert asked. "Shouldn't you be on your ship's command bridge or CIC if he's not?"

"We have other officers who can maintain bridge watches for us," Riker explained. He gestured toward the door and led Robert out, Worf behind them. Robert thought he could sense a bit of anxiety from Worf, surprising since he was an alien, though Riker clearly considered himself in control of the situation. They came to an elevator. "Bridge," Riker said. The lights began moving and the lift had a very subtle sensation of movement. Seconds later they stepped out onto the bridge Robert had seen before. The various officers on the bridge were all at stations, though one gold-uniformed one was quick to move from the station at the top of the wooden horseshoe arch, allowing Worf to reclaim it. Riker led Robert over to the opposite door. On the other side of it was a conference room with a long, wood-paneled table. A viewscreen was on the far end, one side having windows of some sort to space outside while the internal wall had multiple golden models of various ships of similar saucer-neck-drive hull aesthetic, the top one representing the Enterprise while each model below it was smaller in turn. An aircraft carrier was at the very bottom. "All ships named Enterprise," Robert murmured.


Robert looked over to see Picard waiting for him at the head of the table. On the table's right side - Picard's left - was a dark-haired woman in a v-cut top and pants, violet-colored with darker trim, on the other another gold-uniformed man.... but on second look Robert realized he wasn't human given the pale gold skin and golden eyes. His rank insignia was three pips like Riker's, but one was black instead of gold. Lieutenant Commander, I guess. "Well." Picard smiled gently. "It does help explain more of where you're from."

"That's a long story, Captain Picard," Robert answered. "It's going to take me a while, and I'm not sure how much you'll believe of it."

"I would surmise your ship uses some form of wormhole-orientated drive system in addition to warp drive," the gold-skinned Lieutenant Commander said abruptly. "There is a distinct neutrino signature on the Kelley."

"This is Lieutenant Commander Data, my Operations Officer," Picard said, introducing the gold-skinned man. "And Deanna Troi, Ship's Counselor."

"Counselor?" Robert looked to her. He had to admit she was attractive, even gorgeous, but that she wasn't in uniform flummoxed him. "A psychiatrist, you mean?"

"Yes," Troi answered. "Does that unsettle you?"

At that he gave a small smile. "No, it simply reminds me of all the times my friends have told me I need one." He slipped into a chair at the middle of the table. "I'm sorry if I sound offensive, but can I ask what species you are, Commander Data?"

Data showed no emotion at the inquiry, merely shifting his head slightly. "I am an android," he answered.

"Android? As in... a robot? Well, not just a robot, but..."

"It would not be inaccurate to say that I am an artificial being of metal," Data clarified.

Note to self: Keep Cat off this ship, we'll never get her away from him. Robert answered with a nod. "I understand. Now, when it comes to what we are, well..."

Robert spent some time explaining to them where he was from and finding the Facility. Occasionally Picard and Data would glance to Troi, who would nod slightly. Picard seemed a little more interested as Robert explained what he and his friends generally did, though none spoke until he caught up. After he was done, Robert noticed they looked not as incredulous as he was used to. "Usually I have people questioning my sanity when I explained this story."

"In Starfleet we're rather used to the incredible," Picard replied.

"I would be most interested in observing this 'Interuniversal jump point drive' you speak of," Data remarked.

"I'll have to talk to the others." Robert put his hands in front of him. "Is there anything else?"

"I would like to arrange the return of the survivors from the Starrunner before you depart," Picard replied.

Robert felt it reasonable, but there was a tiny voice of suspicion in his head. Could this be an effort to trick him into pulling another ship in? Or something about the people on that shuttle? "I'll call over to the Kelley for that," he said, his tone guarded. "Is there any reason in particular...?"

Troi was giving Picard a look, one full of concern, and Picard kept his expression neutral as he explained, "They are Federation citizens, and as a Starfleet captain I am obligated to ensure their well-being."

"Yes, I understand." Robert nodded. "I will make the call."

Bringing the comm on his wrist up Robert opened a channel to the Kelley and asked for a connection through to the Facility. Soon enough Julia's voice, with some static, was coming from the other end. "Can you give me a status on the shuttle crews?"

"Leo is checking them over now. They were roughed up pretty badly, so Leo's keeping a close eye on them in the medbay. Do you want me to connect you?"

"Yes." Robert waited until Leo's voice answered. "Leo, can you give me a status on the people the Kirby rescued?"

"I've stabilized them for the moment, but I want them rested for a while. Their shuttles suffered from decompression..." He went on to list the injuries sustained. Picard listened intently, occasionally glancing to Troi who remained silent.

"How long until they're fit to travel? The people on this end want us to return them."

"Depends. Should they be returned?"

That brought a clear reaction from Picard, showing clear concern, but Robert quickly reacted. "They're not bad people on this end, Leo. It's not like returning freed slaves or people."

'"Well, if they want to go back that's fine. I'd say they'll be stable for a ship transit in about five hours."

"Good to hear. Talk to you latter, Leo." Robert hit the device again to cut the channel. "If it makes you feel better, Captain, I'll stay here until they're brought back."

Picard raised his eyebrows slightly. "The gesture is appreciated, Mister Dale."

"Can you tell me anything about our attackers? It looks like we stumbled into an ambush."

"They appear to have been renegade Klingons from the House of Duras," Picard answered. "The losing faction in the recent Klingon Civil War. We suspect they were trying to draw local patrol vessels into a trap."

"So we were just the unexpected patsies," Robert muttered. "I lost two people because of them."

"You have our condolences." Picard put his hands on the table. "While you are here, I would like the time to ask you more about this... organization you lead. Commander, Counselor..."

Data and Troi stood up and left the room quietly, leaving Robert with Picard. "I can understand what you've gone through this past year," Picard remarked quietly. "And finding the Darglan Facility you speak of.... very few could resist the temptation to make use of that, and you and your friends have been more responsible with that power than others might have. But I am concerned nevertheless." He leaned forward and put his hands together. "You say that you have spent these months... rescuing people. Political dissidents, victims of sentient trafficking or ethnic conflicts, and such. I find your devotion to helping others to be commendable."

"But you don't approve?" Robert blinked, a little puzzled.

"The issue of approval is not the issue. Rather..." Picard drew in a breath. "For every action, there is a consequence. That is a fundamental element that we must always face. And no matter how noble or well-intentioned an action can be... the consequence it yields could be disasterous. Your actions have the same, and I fear you have not considered those consequences when you have embarked on this mission of imperial kindness."

"Imperial kindness?" Robert showed his bewilderment at this term. "You're comparing us to some kind of Empire?"

"By your own admission, you are applying your vast superiority in technology to impose your will upon lesser-advanced societies," Picard pointed out.

"Only to help people who are powerless," Robert countered. "To protect them from governments and criminals who oppress them."

"And in turn you put fears into them. A strange and unknowing force comes in and whisks people away while their forces are undermined and destroyed?" Picard's expression became almost grim. "These people will react, and when they do, other people will be harmed. Tell me, this one universe you spoke of, the one before the North American Civil War, when slavery existed in the Southern states? How do you think your snatching of so many slaves, with such technology as you've shown, will go over in the South? Have you even been paying attention to what has been going on there?"

"We maintain some overflights," Robert answered. "Once and a great while we transport newspapers up with orbital scans. We do the same in Europe for our operations there. The Jews in Russia, for instance..." But even as he brought that up he remembered the last bits of news they'd picked up, and he stared blankly past Picard.

Picard was quick to pick up on this. "So what has been the reaction?"

"A push for a Constitutional amendment protecting slavery," Robert said quietly. "One that wasn't historical. And growing threats to secede if the Northern states reject."

"If you hadn't interfered in the natural course of that world, odds are good that they would have developed along the lines we know. Now... you have diverted them onto a new path, one that might not be as beneficial."

"Or maybe not," Robert remarked. "Maybe I can intervene and stop it."

"You would destroy their entire social system. They would resist you with force. Your intervention would become a war to impose your will, your kindness and good intentions, upon those who do not see them as such." PIcard moved his hands slightly, a gesture to fit his words. "At that point, you cease to become a liberator and are instead a conquerer."

He had heard those words before. These things had dwelled in his mind as he thought about the future of the cause he and the others had taken up. "So what is your solution? How do you handle these things? With this ship you can do even more that my ships can."

"We do not 'handle' them."

"Then how do you solve..." Robert realized what Picard meant. "Wait, you mean you do nothing?"

"Starfleet General Order Number 1 states that we cannot interfere in the affairs of other civilizations and cultures," Picard explained. "We call it the Prime Directive."

"So you don't get involved in anything? No matter how bad it is?"

"It is not our place to interfere in the development of others."

"Okay, so not normally... understandable." Roberrt nodded. "You don't want to get mixed upin a war that both sides are to blame for. But what about innocent people caught in the middle? What about campaigns of ethnic cleansing or extermination? Mass enslavement?"

Picard shook his head. "Any involvement at all can have a negative effect on a society's development."

"More negative than the suffering and dying of millions?", Robert retorted. As much as Picard's words had earlier made him doubt himself, to hear Starfleet's view was kindling a deep sense of anger in him. "Consequences or not, you have to do something."

"It is impossible to know how an intervention, even for noble reasons, can result," Picarrd pointed out. "You could make things worse, far worse."

"Then you do something about that too!"

Picard could sense the emotional momentum of the discussion shifting, Robert becoming more involved, more alive. "And where would it end? That would inevitably result in a broken culture."

"So maybe they change. But they're not dead."

"You have no way of knowing how things will turn up."

"They're probably damned well better than than dying!" Robert slammed his hand on the table. "Are you telling me, Captain, that if you saw a world where innocent people were being thrown into gas chambers by the thousands, where children were being shoved into mass ovens, you would do nothing?"

"It wouldn't be easy," Picard retorted. "But I am duty bound to uphold the Prime Directive and to not interfere. Otherwise who is to say what would happen? My interference may keep the planet's societies from become more enlightened from tht horrible lesson."

"Or you might allow the equivalent of the Nazi movement to overcome an entire world and cause even more suffering." Robert shook his head. "I... you want to scold me about not considering the consequences of my actions. What about the consequences of your inaction? How many innocent people have you allowed to die, Captain Picard?! How many people has Starfleet sacrificed to your 'Prime Directive?!"

"The Prime Directive exists to protect less-advanced civilizations from exploitation and destruction." Now Picard's voice began to raise in volume and his speech increase in speed from the calm and measured tones of before, indicating how much Robert's outrage was provoking him. "You are in no position to judge us. Not when you are blundering about in the name of a personal crusade to appease your own ego."

"And you have the right to judge us?!", Robert shot back. "When you freely admit that your reaction to injustice is to ignore it?! I may make mistakes, hell I may even 'blunder about', but at least I'm saving lives and not hiding behind a broad law to justify my own moral cowardice!"

"You are untrained, thoughtless, and arrogant!", Picard charged.

"If you want to call someone arrogant, you damn coward, look in the mirror!" Robert stabbed a finger toward the reflective surface of the nearby display screen. "Your Starfleet may have had good reasons to come up with the Prime Directive, but the way you're using it now... I don't know how people of this era value life, but I value it a damn lot more. Nothing about that law should stand in the way of the basic decency of saving someone from being butchered or degraded. It's okay to be afraid of power and its overuse, but the act of saving people being wrong?" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, I can't respect that. And I can't respect you being devoted to it."

It was clear from Picard's expression that he wasn't about to lose sleep over Robert's respect or lack thereof; the same was true of Robert. They remained silent for almost half a minute before Picard stood from his chair. "I will arrange an escort for you while we wait for your other ship to arrive. I recommend spending time in Ten Forward if you desire refreshment."

"I'll take that recommendation," Robert answered quietly.

Julia entered the Medbay and found Leo examining a little girl, maybe seven years old, with a dark complexion and braided dark hair. A young woman a bit past Julia's age, and of the same complexion as the girl, was fussing over her while an older man stood to the side. He looked back and nodded at Julia. "You're in charge?" he asked politely.

"Julia Andreys," she introduced herself, offering a hand.

"Carlton Farmer," he answered. "This is my daughter Caroline and granddaughter Linda."

"Hi nice lady," Linda said, waving

Julia smiled and waved back. "I'm happy to see you're okay. Are you ready to go?"

Farmer nodded. "Yes, I heard you got the Enterprise herself asking after us. We should be so lucky." He shook his head. "What you've made here is amazing. Dr. Gillam and his staff have explained to me some of this... I'd love to help."

"We'd love to accept it, though it's probably best for you to see Captain Picard first," Julia answered. "We wouldn't want him to think we'd kidnapped you or were coercing you."

Farmer chuckled at that. "Yes, I can imagine that."

"Well, they check out," Leo said, finishing his examination of Linda. "You can bring them along whenever you're ready to leave."

"What about him?" Julia pointed to the unconscious man on one of the beds. "How is he?"

"He should be fine, but he needs more time to recover. Comes with age. Now as for patient five..."

Leo indicated a figure coming up from one of the tables. He was a handsome young man of around their age group, wearing what looked to be a black and gray jumpsuit. "Hello," the young man said, nodding his head to Julia.

"Ah." Farmer nodded. "Julia Andreys, please let me introduce my shuttle pilot Nicholas Locarno."

"Nicholas?" Julia smiled slightly at him. "A pleasure."

"The pleasure is mine," Locarno answered, winking. "And my thanks for saving our lives."

"Oh, those thanks go to Zack more," Julia answered. "And speaking of Zack, he should have the Rodriguez ready. We'd better get going."

The Enterprise's lounge Ten Forward hd a steady stream of activity, all while Robert watched quietly from a window seat. Much like the Darglan base they had food replicators, though the final product felt lackluster compared to what the Facility had to offer.

He sat, nursing a soda drink that had taken him five minutes to help the staff put together, thinking about his argument with Picard. He'd been an idiot, in retrospect. Here was a man who had him and his closest friends at his mercy... and Robert was antagonizing him. It was a betrayal, a betrayal of the good faith that Angel and Cat and Thomas had shown him. Robert looked out the window and at the not-so-distant Kelley, her hull scorched on several spots and, though not visible from here, a hole in the bottom of the hull. It would be so easy for Picard to seize it, or to destroy it... God damn me, I'm an idiot. An absolute idiot...

"Do you mind if I take this seat?"

He looked up and saw one of the lounge attendees standing beside him, a black woman wearing a full purple gown of some sort with a square hat. "Sure," he murmured. "I'm Robert."

"My name is Guinan," she answered. Her eyes glanced out at the ship. "You and the Captain had quite the meeting, I hear."

"The man saves my life and I call him a coward," Robert muttered. "God I'm an idiot."

"You're young. It comes with the territory." Guinan smiled at him before looking out at the ship. "So, you go around being the white knight?"

"I just try to do what's right. I try to save people from being enslaved or massacred or tortured." Robert sipped at his soda. "I guess I just don't understand how someone could not want to stop these things."

"Captain Picard tends to believe in looking at the big picture. And, despite what you may think, he's capable of acting against the Prime Directive if he thinks it necessary." Guinan continued to show interest in the Kelley. "For what it's worth, he's not going to hurt you or your friends."

"I'd understand if he tried to take us. I've made it clear I'm going to continue working as I do. And there's the temptation of the technology we have..."

"Trust me. It won't matter to him." For a moment Guinan remained quiet. "My people used to tell stories about them."

"Your people... and who?"

"My people, the El Aurians." Guinan looked back to Robert. "We're not Human, even if we look it. As for who.... the Darglan, of course. They're orange, yes? Tall skulls?"

Robert thought back to the humanoid form that Control had briefly taken before shifting to his current Human look. "....yes." He stared at her. "You... you knew the Darglan?"

"Oh, I didn't. They were long gone." She sighed. "But we had stories of them. Watchers and learners, always looking for some new wonder to find. A little judgemental, though, and probably too curious for their own good. The stories say they went too far. The end result brought their civilization down. We never heard from them again."

"According to the living computer we met in their old Facility, they sent out a signal saying they were extinct."

"I see." Guinan let out a sigh. "A shame. They were a wonderful people."

Green light drew their attention. They turned in time to see the interuniversal jump point open. Rodriguez emerged and moved toward the Kelley. Robert and Guinan watched quietly as the point closed behind Rodriguez. "That's my cue," Robert sighed. He gulped down the last of his drink and looked toward the door, where Worf had arrived and was standing beside his security escort. "It was nice to meet you, Guinan."

"The feeling was mutual, Robert," she answered, keeping the grin on her face steady.

Picard and Troi were waiting in the Transporter Room when Worf led Robert in. He joined them in standing beside the curly-haired man at the transporter controls. "We've got a lock," the man said, his Irish brogue not too thick but fully evident. "Transporting now."

Four blue shimmers of light coalesced into two men, a young woman, and a little girl. Recognition was evident on Picard's face as they stepped off. "Ah, Mister Locarno," he remarked. "Quite a surprise."

Locarno was clearly not as thrilled, but he kept a neutral expression on his face. "Good to meet you again, Captain."

"Captain Picard." Farmer stepped forward. "Thank you for your concern for me and my family."

"I'll have Counselor Troi show you to your quarters, we'll have you to Starbase 14 soon enough."

"That won't be necessary, Captain," Farmer remarked. "I intend to return with these people and give them my assistance."

Robert said nothing, wondering if Farmer's motivations were fired by seeing the Darglan technology or... well, something else. Picard was clearly perturbed and looked over to Troi. "I sense no compulsion from him or his family, Captain," Troi said. "The sentiment is genuine."

Picard looked to Robert, who remained utterly, completely silent. A very slight scowl seemed to form on Picard's expression as he looked back to Farmer. "Sir, while I understand if you feel indebted to these people for helping you, I must point out that Captain Dale has already freely admitted that his people violate the Prime Directive. If you assist them in those violations it could be held against you upon your return."

"Only if I'm a Federation citizen or break the Prime Directive in Federation space," Farmer answered. "I was on my way out of the Federation when I was attacked, Captain. I was already planning on leaving it. I'm just pleased that we found somewhere better to go."

Picard looked again to Troi. "That was his plan, sir," Troi confirmed. "They're all in agreement."

Robert didn't know what sales pitch Julia or the others had made, but he remained silent, waiting to see Picard's reaction. When it came, it was a sigh. "Very well, sir. I wish you and your family the best of luck." He looked over to Locarno. "I presume you intend to join them as well, Mister Locarno?"

Locarno gave a nod.

"That is your choice, then." Picard turned to Robert. "Please, take good care of them."

"Thank you, Captain." Robert stepped up to him. He raised his hand. "I want to apologize, by the way. While I disagree with you, I insulted you and I shouldn't have. I'm sorry."

Picard considered the hand for only a moment for accepting it. "I accept. And I offer my own apology. You are trying to do the right thing. I have judged you harshly due to our disagreement, and that was not right."

"Accepted." They shook hands. Robert stepped up onto the transporter pad with the others. "Safe journeys, Captain Picard. Maybe we'll meet again."

"Indeed. Bon voyage, Captain Dale."

Robert allowed himself a slight grin. "Honestly, sir, I really don't have that for a title." He reached over and press his comm. "Dale to Kelley. Five to beam over." He nodded his head toward them and received respectful nods in turn before the Kelley's transporter activated.

As this happened, he noticed the wry smile that crossed Picard's face. "Not yet, anyway," Picard said to him as the Enterprise transporter room faded.

Once they were back on the Kelley, Robert led them all to the bridge. Peter was back at the helm, his hands healed, and everything was, if not normal, at least operational. "We have the jump drive online," Jarod said, standing from the command chair. "We're already locked onto the Facility and ready to return home."

"Take us home, Jarod," Robert said. He looked back to the others. "I don't know what lives you were giving up to join us, but I'll do my best to make sure you won't regret it."

"Oh, we won't, and you won't either." Farmer smiled. "I was an engineer and designer at Utopia Planitia for thirty years, young man. I think you'll have plenty for me to do."

Robert grinned at that. As he did so, one particular thought came to mind...

Zack and Leo were sitting alone in the infirmary, save for the comatose patient from the second shuttle. "I almost got everyone killed," Zack muttered.

"You've done what we've all be doing. Acting to save lives." Leo offered him a glass of soda fresh from the replicator before taking a drink from his own. "Did you think it'd always be easy?"

"I never thought we'd go that far, honestly." Zack took a drink as well. "I mean... we were pretty much playing a video game on God mode. Nobody could shoot us, nobody could take us, we just beamed out after doing the hero thing. Why go from the certain thing to the uncertain?"

Leo chuckled. "Yeah, it does seem silly. It's not like our work is boring anyway." He shook his head. "Hey Zack, you want my advice?"

"Leo, you like to give advice whether or not we want it," Zack jibed.

"Yeah, because someone has to keep you nitwits from being stupid," Leo retorted with a wide grin. He kept it on his face as he looked his friend in the eye. "Zack, you were the last to sign on for this. And it might be that... it's not something you actually want to do with your life. Maybe you need to do something else."

"There is nothing else," Zack snapped. "Even before we started doing this, I was just gliding through. Never had a thought but to get away from Dad. Now I've got a job, but I don't feel like it's something I can do."

"Then find another? Beth can always use help at the Liberty Colony." He smirked. "Plenty of pretty girls for a player like you."

Zack answered with a smirk of his own. "Yeah... none as good-looking as Julia though."

Leo chuckled. "Still going there, Zack?"

"Yeah, it's stupid." He sighed. "Julia's way out of my league. I just... okay, I'd like a bit of the old days back. Back when we'd hang out and just have fun. And I think we need to do that again. Just... take a day and have fun."

"That's an idea," Leo said. "God knows we need to get the workaholics under control."

"So says the head workahlic," Zack guffawed.

Leo chuckled at that. He raised a hand and went to speak when a groan came from the far bed. He jumped to his feet and headed to check on the comatose man, Zack standing a distance away. The man, an older and somewhat heavy in figure, opened his eyes and began to sit up. "Woh, hold it there," Leo said, looking at the data readout above the bed to get the man's vitals. "You took some nasty bruises and decompression trauma." He pulled out a pocket light and shined it into the man's brown eyes, checking his dilation. "Dilation looks normal, so no brain damage. I'm Doctor Leo Gillam, by the way. May I have your name?"

The man was still clearly dazed, but he recovered enough to look Leo straight to the eye. "Ah. Hello Doctor," he said in an accented voice. "Th' name is Montgomery Scott. But ye can call me Scotty."

Robert, Julia, Barnes, and Farmer stepped out of the lift and into the control room overseeing the "emergency ship"'s berth in the bottom of the Facility. Farmer's jaw dropped as he looked over the kilometer-long starship. "We don't build them that big in the Federation. And a quadruple nacelle layout? We gave them up from the power issues on the Constellations. I'd love to see what kind of warp core she has."

"'Warp core'?", Barnes asked.

"The main power plant. Oh, sorry, old Starfleet jargon there. Matter/anti-matter reactor, then?"

"Oh, ha." Barnes smirked. "The Darglan data I got says they used to have that, but anti-matter was too unstable. They found this substance, naqia, that acts as an energy amplifier. More energy for engine volume and far more stable."

"I see. Still, that ship will need a lot of power. How finished is she?"

"Barely." Robert brought up a holodisplay that confirmed the ship was mostly an empty shell. "And we can't become ship builders over night."

"A good thing you have me then." Farmer approached and looked over the schematics. "Yes, I could do a lot with this design. But it'll take time. A year, perhaps. At least six months just to get the ship spaceworthy."

"We've got time," Julia said. "We're down to two ships for a while, though..."

"I noticed how badly your ships fared in combat. They're too lightly armed if you're going up against serious opposition. Can you build any more?"

"Maybe one," Barnes answered. "But then we'd not have enough materials for this ship. Our mining operations are taking time to get the ore we need, and even then we don't have the ships to transport large quantities..."

"Transports? Those are easy. If you have sufficient amounts of naqia I can help you put together some cargo vessels with Warp 8 capability easily." Farmer looked back to them. "In the meantime I want to get to work on two projects. This..." He pointed to the emergency ship. "...this will be our long term project. In the short term, we build a proper combat ship for your force. Not too much larger than your current ships, but still... something with teeth."

Robert and Julia looked at each other, thinking of how hard the fight had been. "We look forward to seeing it."

The long day was almost over, and Robert had retired to bed, but Julia saw the message from Zack and Leo and paid a call to the medbay before ending her day. "How is he?", she asked Leo as she entered.

Leo led her up to where Scott was sitting up in his bed. "Are ye in charge here, lass?", he asked as Julia stepped up. "Can ye please have yer doctor let me out of this bloody place?"

Julia smiled and looked back to Leo, who shook his head. "You were almost killed, Mister Scott," she reminded him. "And Leo is a big mother hen when it comes to his patients."

"Aye, all good doctors are." Scott flashed a grin to Leo, showing him there was no real hard feelings. "I have t' admit, it's almost hard t' believe what ye've got here. But I've seen stranger."

"There are times I don't believe it, and I'm here," Julia answered. "So, Mister Scott..."

"Please, lass, call me Scotty."

"Okay... Scotty." She smiled. "You were a bit crazy there, trying to take on that ship with a shuttle."

There was the hint of a blush on Scott's face. "Ah, well. I thought I cud disable the tractors and get the other shuttle out. But my boosts tae the engines didnae hold."

"I was shocked to find out you'd managed to do as much as you did."

"Ah, well... it's a wee habit of mine. Starship engineerin' is my life. Almost thought of retirin', I admit, but....""

Julia allowed herself a smile. "Well, Scotty... if you're looking for a job, we might be able to provide it."

The Council had met and decided to accept Farmer's proposals for the new ships; Robert now stood among them. "Gentlemen and ladies, I've had time to think of this," he said. "After my discussion with Captain Picard, I've come to realize that what we do has unexpected consequences. I won't allow fear of them to interfere in doing good, but we should take them into account."

"Agreed," Gabriel said, with murmuring from the others.

"Thank you, Gabriel." Robert put his hands on the table. "C1P2 sees the United States of that world on the cusp of an early civil war, one that we have engineered. I do not regret this." He nodded to Sally. "But I do think we need to deal with what we've caused. I propose that we put a permanent ship in orbit with one goal; to interfere with the forces of slavery and oppression openly." He noticed the looks that came on their faces. "I'm not talking about raising a permanent military or outright fighting. I'm talking about other measures. We will not become conquerers. But we won't evade responsibility for the consequences of our actions, good or otherwise."

"How do you propose we interfere then?", Leo asked. "We can't just call them up, they have no radio communications."

"We interfere in other ways. We expand liberation of slave plantations to deny them workforces. We use scouting missions and transporters to remove sources of wealth and rob them of the ability to use force. We do everything we can to hollow their power, real or imagined. Because if we don't, we might cause things to get worse from our attempt at good acts."

There were nods, and in the end a vote held. Gabriel and Ba were slow to raise their hands, but in the end they did, ensuring the unanimous decision.

"But this is only for us. We won't force the Liberty Colonists to involve themselves if they don't want to. With your permission I'm going to ask their Assembly to support or reject our decision. If they choose to reject, then we give every person serving with us the choice of whether to help or not." Robert's jaw clenched briefly. "We lost Ramirez and Abbas. And we lost Suun and his team before. Others might die. I don't want their deaths to be in vain."

"Good," Ba said. "I am in agreement."

The others voted and agreed on the message to the Assembly. With that done, business was about to break up when Farmer raised a hand. "What is the name of the ship?"

"Sir?" Robert looked at him. "Which ship?"

"The emergency vessel, as Control calls it," Farmer clarified. "We should name the ship, I believe."

Robert looked to the others, who all nodded. "I guess we have been putting it off. Does anyone have suggestions?"

Julia raised a hand, and when Robert nodded to her she looked at him. "I think it should be representative of what we're doing. Of the hope we're bringing to people, changing their lives...." Her expression showed she'd come to the thought in her mind. "What we do... we give light to people who are alone, who are caught in the darkness of humanity. This ship should represent that new light. That dawn."

There were nods of agreement.

"The ship should be named for the dawn," Julia continued. "So let's call it the Aurora."

There was quiet for several seconds. Leo raised his hand in agreement. Gabriel followed, then Song, Freeman, and Robert. Everyone present was, in fact, nodding in agreement. Robert stood and nodded. "I think everyone likes it," he said. "The Aurora it is."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:17 pm

Act 5

It had been almost a year since the seven friends (eight when counting Lucy) had stood together in the Liberty Colony. They had, over time, seen less and less of each other even with work, and far less outside of it.

Now they sat together at a table, laughing and drinking some marginally-alcoholic ale, 'Liberty Ale' as everyone knew it, with every part made right there in the Colony. Spread around the central plaza of the growing colony were other people, of a multitude of nations and ethnicities and universe origins; sixty-five thousand people in all, with banners in a multitude of languages proclaiming the first anniversary of the colony.

"Please, my friends!" The voice filled the plaza, the hearty Yiddish of Menachem Godedsky being auto-translated for everyone's benefit. Attention turned to him as, one by one, everyone looked his way. "A toast, please!" He raised his cup. "To our brave young heroes! For the past year these fine people have given their time and sweat to bring us to freedom! May the next year see more success!"

Cheers erupted, much to the embarrassment of the friends. Caterina blushed deeply and was clearly the most affected, although the smile that crossed Zack's face made it clear how much he enjoyed the recogniton. After joining everyone in a drink and exchanging looks with Julia and Leo Robert stood up. "Thank you sir. It's an honor to be here and see just how well things are going for the Colony. I'm hoping for big things in the following year. Captain Farmer has our new ship joining the fleet this week and another transport is coming off the line. We've had success in C1P2 in undermining the South. We're even planning on expanding operations to Cuba and Brazil, and from there other spots on that world where slavery still rears its ugly head." He let the cheers die down. "Not that we haven't forgotten everyone else. Between Captains Farmer and Scott we hope to have more transports finished that will let us step up our operations. And when the Aurora is finished..." He shook his head and smiled. "Well, that will open up quite a few more options for us. As things stand now, though, I am made humble and, yet, very proud by what the Liberty Colony has accomplished. You all deserve the credit for making this colony beautiful and peaceful. My toast is to you, the people of the Liberty Colony!"

There was another drink and more applause.

As the celebration entered a wrapup period, Zack moved quietly away from the others. He'd traded the ale for a soda to sip on and ignored the festivities, focusing only on his thoughts. He heard a voice call out to him and looked over to see Caterina stepping up, wearing one of her more normal outfits of blue blouse and matching pants. "Hey Cat."

"You never told them why you turned down more ale, they thought you didn't like it," Cat pointed out to him. "Are you okay, Zack?"

"I'm just... thinking a bit," he said. "Shouldn't you be off charming the other kids with your cute, geeky brain?"

"I thought you needed someone." She walked up beside him. "I'm sorry."

He gave her a look while sipping at his soda. "Sorry? What do you have to be sorry about?"

"You... didn't want this," she answered. "But the rest of us pushed you into it without thinking. "

"Honestly, Cat, I don't know what I really want anymore," Zack sighed. "I mean, I like it that we've helped people. I get a thrill out of piloting the ships through space. But I just feel... I feel like I've got this hole in me, and I don't know how to fill it."

"There are lots of jobs if you want to try something else?"

"It's not that, Cat. It's not about the work I'm doing, it's...." He sighed in defeat. "Forget it. Come on, this is our celebration for a year of kicking around douchebags and flying spaceships." Zack put an arm around her shoulders. "Let's go rejoin the party."

"Sure." Cat smiled and looked up at him. "But you'd better pull that arm off, my sister might get the wrong idea."

Imagining Angel's wrath at anyone getting touchy-feely with her little sister prompted Zack to chuckle nervously and pull the arm back. "Point taken, Cat. Point taken."

From its founding onward, the Liberty Colony's housing was made up of re-designed Darglan colonial housing as stocked in the Facility. One such building had been set aside for the attendees of the 1st Anniversary celebration and it was to there that Robert was walking into one of the outward facing corridors, just sober enough not to stagger.

Standing at his door, in fact leaning against it, was Angel. She smiled at him as he approached. "About time. Tried another round?"

"No. Just watched Mister Scott drink everyone under the table," he chuckled in reply. "Remind me to never get into drinking contests with guys like that."

"Always a good rule." Angel put her hands on her hips and remained at the door as Robert reached for the handle. "I'm too buzzed to not be blunt right now."

"You're ever in a mood to be anything but blunt?" Robert smirked.

Angel chuckled at him and promptly pushed her lips against his. Surprise prevented him from returning the kiss. He put his hands on her forearms. "I thought we agreed that it was never meant to be?", Robert asked pointedly.

"We did. But that doesn't mean I can't try," she murmured in reply.

"I...I couldn't. It'd be taking advantage of...."

"Given how much you drank and how little I did, it's arguably me taking advantage of you," Angel pointed. "Listen, before you say no... this isn't a commitment. This is two friends deciding to try again, if just for one night, because they're happy and a little buzzed."

Robert looked at her quietly for a moment. Not just her sharp, lovely face but her lithe, curved body, the tight muscle under her soft arms. An old urging began to assert itself, remembering nights stolen in the barn back home or their bedrooms while family was out. The ale helped, dimming his self-control to the point that he warmly accepted a second kiss from Angel.

Julia was the last to be entering the apartment building where they were staying the night. She'd been a light drinker all her life and tonight was no exception, leaving her fairly sober and alert. She rounded a corner of white plaster and...

Her first sight ws Robert and Angel at one of the doors, embraced tightly and kissing with a ferocity that drew a blush from her cheeks. Before she could say or do anything the door beside them opened and Angel pulled him in. The door slammed behind them.

A part of her felt relieved, maybe even a bit happy, to see her closest friend rekindling a companionship that she felt he needed. Something to give him a life beyond this endless crusade. That part hoped that maybe this would become something for them.

Another part of her wanted to curl up and die, as a little envy and jealousy welled within her at seeing them together while she was still alone.

She heard footsteps beside her and looked over to find Leo there. "Something up?", he asked her. There was a faint hint of ale on his breath but, like her, he was clearly sober. "You look upset."

"I'm just..." Julia sighed. "Robert and Angel..."

"Say no more," Leo interrupted. "I saw her look earlier."

"It's good for them," Julia insisted. "It's a life beyond work."

"Yeah." He looked pointedly at her. "Which explains that bit of envy I see." When she looked directly at him Leo smirked. "After Patrick you've stayed away from pretty much everyone."

"Patrick wasn't a good representative of the guy population," Julia answered wryly. "I just... I haven't met anyone else..."

"....except for Robert, of course."

"What? No!" She shook her head. "Robert and I have been friends for so long... it wouldn't feel right. Even then.... I mean, I like our relationship as it is. Trying to make it romantic would complicate everything."

"Romance usually does." Leo rubbed at his head. "Well, that ale went straight to my head and I have some meetings in the morning before we head back. Have a good night."

It was the start of the morning shift in the Facility, which found Jarod and Lucy meeting each other on the lift heading to the Aurora. "I hear you smoothed out the problems with the Rhine's warp field?", Jarod asked, breaking the quiet.

"She runs like a champ now," Lucy boasted. "So now we have two runabouts. How is the work coming along?"

"The Park's systems are all fixed up. She'll be able to join the fleet soon," Jarod answered. "A good thing with all the crewers convinced the ship was cursed and wouldn't work."

"I'm glad we can prove them wrong."

When the lift opened, it didn't do so in the observation deck but further down. A connecting bridge with an electric transport car on it was waiting to carry them into the Aurora. They watched in stunned admiration as the massive starship drew closer, close enough that the window spaces became visible. Phaser strips designed by Farmer were being grafted into the hull by drones along with turreted emitter emplacements.

The car came to a stop at what would be, eventually, the backup starboard airlock entry in the drive section. They entered from there.

At one point this had been the only intact deck on the ship, reasonable since it was the location of Main Engineering and the already-installed banks of naqia reactors. From it one could look across and over to see the rest of the ship's internal structure and inner hull. But the prior months had not been wasted by Farmer and the others; the deck was now fully complete and the other decks were being filled in. They'd long ago memorized the path to take through the corridors to enter Engineering. They found the two deck high compartment as they'd left it, mostly, with generator-powered status displays while engineering crew trained by Farmer went over the banks of naqia reactors.

Farmer was standing at what would become the main status table and display system for Main Engineering. A display of the ship was visible, showing which decks were complete and what systems were in place. He delegated orders with firm hand motions and barked orders, the crew and the automated drones following his instructions expertly. Standing next to him was Control in holo-form. "So you will not be using nuclear-disruptors for the bow armament?", Control asked.

"Aside from the main strips, no." Farmer tapped a finger on the display. "Your fabrication systems let us turn the bow cannons into pulse plasma weapons, at least by the terminology I'm seeing here. Likely to be more useful. With all the energy we'll have from the naqia reactors..." He looked up. "Ah, Mister Jarod, Miss Lucero, good to see you."

"Looks like you're continuing to make headway here." Lucy looked around. "It's amazing how fast this is going?"

"Tell me about it." Farmer laughed. "Even with hull already assembled and the internal structure in place, back at Utopia Planitia this would've taken over half a year just to get where we are. The drone technology more than doubles the manpower and allows for continuous assembly, while the replicators... if only the Federation had this technology. I still have the engineering team double-checking installation, of course, but the internal sensors are helping to speed that along."

"So how long until....?"

He shrugged at her question. "I figure six, seven months. Nine at most. Until she's ready for her first spaceflight I mean. And speaking of spaceflights, our other little project has gone even faster..."

Later that day the Kelley returned to the Facility. The ship settled into its berth under the guidance of Nick Locarno, who put it into place with quiet precision. "And there we are. Establishing docking now, Captain."

"I'm not..."

Before Robert's protest could finish, Locarno looked back. "Starfleet habit, sir, still trying to break it."

That brought a chuckle from Julia, sitting at Ops and finishing her part of the docking sequence. Everyone quietly finished their task. Quietly, that is, until Julia spoke up. "So, I hope everyone enjoyed the anniversary party. I'm sure everyone had a good time."

Robert barely looked over to Angel, who was allowing herself a little smirk, but said nothing. Caterina did not remain so silent. "By good time you mean hooking up? Because I know I didn't get to hook up. Nobody my type."

Hoping to God nobody could see the red forming on his face, Robert went to reply but was cut off by Julia looking behind him to where Zack was checking a station, sitting in his place as emergency backup helmsman to Locarno. "I know some people did. How many girls did you get into your room last night?"

"Two. But only one stayed."

Angel rolled her eyes, but Julia grinned. "Ah, couldn't please both huh? Growing old, Zack?"

"You ladies can be exceptionally hard to please. Though given all the sound coming from Tom's apartment I wonder...."

"Wait.." Somethin ws clearly not computing in Julia's mind. "Tom's apartment? Really?"

"Really. I'm sure I heard at least three." Zack shook his head wistfuly. "Chicks dig the engineers, I guess."

"Before we go more into our lovelife, let's get the ship unloaded," Robert said. "I'm due to take her to N2S7 for our first survey patrol."

"You're going?" Julia looked back at him. "I thought we were giving that patrol to Nunez and the Rodriguez?"

"Had a message from the Weaver this morning, they need the backup in C1P2. And Kirby is still out scouting that desert planet that Cat found."

"Not really me, it was in the computers," Caterina corrected. "The Darglan scouted it millennia ago, apparently it was rich in naqia in this universe and others."

"Either way..... Kelley is going to N2S7. Only taking a few first crew, though so everyone else can stay and relax."

"Or just get piled on with work here," Julia muttered.

Zack watched from a catwalk as the Kelley disappeared into a jump point. He leaned against the railing and let out a sigh.

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

The accented voice caused his head to turn. Scott had stepped up beside him to watch the Kelley launch. "It's better on the inside," Zack murmured in reply.

"Oh yes." Silence continued a bit longer. "So, how are ye farin', Mister Carrey? Ye look like ye've lost yer best friend."

"Maybe I have." Zack tapped his fingers on the rail. "Last night was great, I mean, but we used to be like that all the time. Now if it's not related to this work, it's like we never see each other anymore."

"Aye, that's th' way of life, lad. Things change. But not all things." The old engineer patted him sympthetically on the shoulder. "But Ah sense there's more tae this than yer time with your friends."

"Oh, there is," he admitted. "I.... I feel like I'm lost. I've got no purpose here. Thinking about it, I've never had a purpose. Unless you count chasing girls." The older man let out a chuckle at that. "I mean.... everyone else has found their place here, it feels like I'm being left behind."

"Aye, sometimes it takes a good while tae figure things out." Scott sighed wistfully and looked on to the other berth, where the Park was still silent. "Ah've always been lucky, Ah ken from the start that Ah wanted tae be an engineer. But daennae ye worry about it, ye'll find something ye want out of life. In the meaantime, lad, ye've got friends. Daennae ye be afraid tae talk tae them."

A day of quiet patrolling in N2S7 had the crew of the Kelley feeling almost relaxed, enjoying the calm and the spectacular sights of space. Robert returned from a sleep cycle to find Cat staring at her sensor screens intently, a display of a nearby nebula occupying her attention. Ops was manned by Francisco of Equatoreal Guinea, Jasmine from Lebanon had relieved Nick Locarno from the helm, and tactical was manned by Jasmine's brother Yousef. "Cat, didn't you take your sleep cycle?"

"Tried, couldn't," she replied, yawning afterward. "Besides, I'm still going over some of thie data. I've picked up some interesting emissions in nearby space, we might be looking at an existing subspace comms relay. Different bandwidths than the one in S5T3 though."

"Any signs of ships?"

"None yet."

"Ah." Robert settled into the command chair, relieving Peter to go get rest. "Well, steady as she goes, I guess."

"Yeah. Uh... speaking of steady?" Caterina turned in her seat as Robert swiveled his chair to face her. "Are you going steady with Angel again?"

Red formed on Robert's cheeks and he had to resist the impulse to shoot a glare at the giggling Jasmine and chuckling Francisco. "Uh... well.... I'm not..."

"Rob, please be honest. With her, I mean. It hurt her more than you think when the two of you broke up."

"That was her decision," he protested, his cheeks burning.

"I got the feeling she only did it to get it over with," Caterina remarked. "It's just.... don't hurt her, please. If you're not going to get together with her, just say so..."

It was about that moment that Robert began praying for an alien to attack. "I won't hurt Angel, I promise," he answered, hoping that would bring an end to this.

"I just wanted to hear you say it." Caterina looked back to her screen. After several seconds she suddenly spoke up. "I'm detecting a clear subspace signal. Patching it to communications."

Francisco was quick to turn it on, leading to a voice talking frantically in an alien language. "Using translators... it looks like the Darglan database recognizes it. It should clarify..."

"...transport Dularan out of Payya, we need help. Under fire from pirate slaver. Engines out. Shields failing. Please..."

Robert's jaw tightened. "Jasmine, intercept course, maximum warp." He reached over and hit a button on his command station. "Code Red, everyone to battle stations." The klaxon went off four times as the running lights indicators turned to red.

Within minutes they were coming out of warp. The bigger ship was clearly the transport, complete with disabled engines and gashes along the hull from weapon fire. The ship attacking them was a bit smaller than Kelley, carrying a single warp drive nacelle on its back with yellow energy erupting in pulses from a crude turret on the bow. "Lock cannons and torpedo," Robert ordered. "Jasmine, bring us in. Fire when we decloak."

The Kelley moved in. At Francisco's command the ship dropped its cloak. Sapphire energy lashed out, the Kelley venting her fury on the pirate vessel. It had deflectors and absorbed the hits. "Enemy shields down to sixty percent," Yousef reported.

"They're tracking us... firing!"

Thanks to Francisco's warning they were ready for the yellow pulses to hit, smashing against the deflector screens of the Kelley. "Shields holding at ninety-one percent," Francisco reported.

"I'm picking up an energy surge, I think they're about to go to warp."


He said nothing. Instead he waited as his sister maneuvered Kelley to give him a shot. The pulse cannons built into the Kelley's bow blazed once more, joined by a solar torpedo. The drive field of the torpedo sparkled blue and white as it followed the pulses of energy that hammered the pirate's shields. When it hit, the shields failed immediately and energy washed over te pirate ship, knocking it around. A follow-up burst from the cannons blasted the warp nacelle off and dug deeper into the pirate's hull. Too deep, as it turned out; the small pirate ship exploded in a white fireball.

"Well, that was quick," Caterina murmured. She checked her sensors. "No pods. I think we hit an anti-matter fuel bunker or something."

"Nice shooting, Yousef. Status on the Dularan?"

"They have power failures and degraded shields, but I think they're all still alive." Caterina went through her various sensor readings. "I'll have to get Lucy or Tom to look on their engine and see if it's down permanently or not."

"Call down and bring one of them up."

"They're trying to hail us," Francisco reported.

"Put them on." Robert watched the screen bring up... well, they looked Human at least. The central figure almost reminded him of Duffy, if looking far nicer and a bit confused. "I'm Robert Dale, commanding the Starship Kelley. We heard your distress signal."

The Duffy-like figure looked at him intently. "You are not Gersallian," he stated matter-of-factly.

"No, I'm not. I'm from a species known as Humans," Robert clarified.

"Yet you have our language tied into..." He was distracted by a figure off-screen. "Thank you for the rescue. Please, we need help with repairs. Do you have anyone to spare?"

Robert nodded. "I'll have an engineer transported over right away."

"Then we will arrange to dock with your ship."

"That won't be necessary. Standby." Robert got back into his chair and hit an intercom button. "Engineering. I need an engineer or two to help this transport with repairs."

"We're a little short-handed, Rob," Barnes answered. "I can spare Lucy, but that's it."

"Have her report to the transporter room, then. Standard kit and prep."

"On it."

Robert looked up at the Dularan's captain. "Our engineer will be beaming over shortly. We'll stay nearby at alert to make sure no more pirates show up."

The captain smiled and nodded. "Thank you for your aide." The transmission cut.

"And now the long wait begins," Robert sighed.

Lucy was thankful for the translation systems when she beamed over. She arrived in what looked to be the ship's main engineering space. A reactor of some sort thrummed nearby while humanoid beings, human-like ones as well as a few other species that caught her attention with their colored complexions, milled around it. One such alien came up, apparently male with almost elven ears and a complexion that was teal of all things; purple spotting ran down the hairline to his shoulders before disappearing into his jacket. The translator had problems interpreting his language, but after a moment he seemed to swap to another one and suddenly broken English came over. "You speak Gersallian? I not good at it. Help with engine?"

"Uh... yes." She smiled slightly and nodded. "Show me the way."

He escorted her to various points. Something about him looked a little on edge; not a big surprise when you'd just survived a pirate attack. There were blown out conduits and messed up internal trunk lines, all sorts of little repairs.

As she helped with them, Lucy felt unease, which only increased when she noticed she was being watched intently. One of the female crewers, the human-looking ones, continued to appraise her with intense blue eyes. Lucy felt a chill in her spine, a sense that she was in danger, even as the little repairs continued.

Too many little repairs, she thought.

"Honestly, I'm not sure why your engines aren't working," she finally said to the teal-skinned elf guy, exasperated. "Your conduits are working, your lines are intact, and I saw now damage to the drive housing. You should have at least minimal warp."

"Engineers say bad plasma field. You fix?", the alien asked hopefully.

"That's something you should easily be able to tweak," Lucy protested, even as her head hurt more from a sense of terrible danger. "You know what? Excuse me." She stepped away and pressed her comm device. "Kelley?"

"Kelley here. Everything okay Lucy?"

"I'm... I'm not sure, Rob. Something's weird here. I'd like to beam back over and consult with-...."

Pain erupted in Lucy's back. Everything went black as she hit the ground.

Robert felt strong unease when Lucy stopped speaking. Was that the sound of an energy discharge...? "Lucy? Lucy, answer me please. Lucy!" Robert turned his head to Francisco. "Emergency beamout!"

Francisco nodded and went to use his controls when he stopped. "Their shields are going up!"

"Picking up energy buildup, they're charging a weapon!", Caterina shouted.

"Shields to full! Lock on that ship and..."

A purple beam fired from the transport vessel's bow. The Kelley shook underneath them as it struck the shields. The screen dissolved into static. "It was some kind of subnucleonic beam, sensors are overloaded!" Caterina worked frantically at her station. "I'm trying to adjust!"

When the screen returned to normal, the Dularan was gone. Robert thought his heart was going to end up in his gut. "Can we track Lucy's comm?"

"No good, it's not responding," Francisco reported.

"I'm picking up a subspace ripple consistant with a spacewarp drive. I'm giving the course to Jasmine now."

"Thanks, Cat. Jasmine, track that ripple, maximum speed!"

The Kelley turned in space and jumped to warp, pursuing her abducted crewman.

All eyes were on Julia and Angel as they went at it again in the boxing ring, and what had become a real apparent fight as the two threw punches and kicks that knocked one another around. After taking a punch to the chin and falling on her rump Angel finally shouted, "Okay, just what is it with you today?!"

"What is what?", Julia asked. "Weren't you complaining before about my competition not being good enough for you?"

"You're trying to break my jaw, Julie." Angel rubbed at her face, keeping her distance. "Is this because of the other night? It was just one night...."

"You mean you got drunk and horny and decided to just set the clock back with Rob." The irritation in Julia's voice was clear. "Seriously, Angel? You were the one solid relationship he had and losing you almost broke him. Now you're just coming back like that?"

"He knows it was a one night thing, Julie."

"But he's going to torment himself thinking it could be more. You've seen how lonely he is!"

"Then why don't you step in, huh?" Angel looked to the others. "And for that matter, why don't the rest of you take a hike, this is none of your...."

There was a beep on the intercom. "Julie, Angel? Zack here, up at Command. Rob just called, they've got a problem and might need some backup."

"Is the Park ready?", Julia asked.

"No, some systems are still down. But I've got Scotty here, he says we may have an alternative...."

When Lucy regained consciousness she found herself shackled to a metal chair in the middle of a darkened room. Her nightmares hit her full force now, making her think of the things Patrick Duffy had done to her. "What are you doing?! What do you want from me?!"

There was no answer. For a while Lucy could do nothing but sit there, trying to hide how close she was to breaking down from fear at what they'd do to her. Horrible scenarios went through her head, each more gruesome than the last, and soon she was on the verge of just crying.

She got the sense that someone was out there, though. At the sound of a door sliding open she looked up and saw a figure enter. She recognized the woman she'd noticed before, wearing a sleeveless vest and trousers of blue and brown color. Some kind of tool was hitched to her belt, as well as a gun of some sort. This close the light brown color of her hair was more easily recognized, brushed backward as it was with a bun at the back of the neck. The woman's bright blue eyes looked over Lucy and gave her the express feeling that her very soul was being scrutinized.

Suddenly there were words in Lucy's head. We must remain quiet. They had a strange harmonic quality to them, as if spoken in English and some other language simultaneously like a note and counterpoint note, and they were clearly not from the translator. Her eyes widened at the realization that this woman was speaking into her mind.

There was bewilderment and surprise on the woman's face. Your people have no farisas/mindtalkers?

Oh God she can read my mind she can read my mind! Lucy's breathing picked up from a mix of surprise and a bit of horror.

Do not fret, Lucilla Lucero. I am a swevyra'rase of Gersal. Seeing that continued use of "mind-talking" was making Lucy more panicked, the woman knelt in closer so she could be heard with a low voice.

"I am sorry for making you scared. My name is Meridina, and I have come to help you."

"What are you?", Lucy murmured. "You... you look Human."

"I am Gersallian," Meridina answered. "Human.... Is that what you are?"

"Yeah." Lucy pulled against a restraint. "Please let me go."

"They are taking us to a pirate station, it is best if I let you free there, Lucilla. On this ship you would be easily found and caught." Meridina put her right hand on Lucy's shoulder. "Stay strong. I will not abandon you." She seemed to notice something. "I must go!" She slipped out the way she had come.

No! Whether or not the alien heard her mental scream was something Lucy could not be sure of. On the other end of the door she noticed guards take up places. They're following me. I know they're following me.

They had been on course for hours and in all that time Robert never left the bridge. Locarno was back at the helm, keeping a steady eye on their heading. Caterina had relayed her sensor readings to Operations for the moment, allowing her to approach Robert.
"Don't blame yourself. Anyone you sent would have been taken."

"I should have known better," Robert mumbled. "I should have relized there would be a trap like that."

"You're not all-knowing, Rob."

"Tell that to Lucy. My God.... if they do anything to her...." Robert buried his face in his hands. "And what if it had been you, Cat? How could I ever look Angel in the eye again if I got you hurt?"

"In case you didn't notice, I want to be out here. The risk is something I'm accepting." She frowned and put a hand on his shoulder. "Rob, we'll get to them. I promise."

"Before or after they hurt Lucy?"

"She'll be fine if you stop worrying about it and focus on rescuing her."

Francisco intervened before more could be said. "I've got them on sensors."

Cat jumped back over to her station. "Nick, bring us out of warp on my mark." She fed him the timing data, since that was faster than saying anything. Almost immediately the Kelley came out of warp.

The Dularan appeared on their screens. It was not alone now; it had at least a dozen vessels milling around in sight, all attaching themselves to a long cylinder of a space sttion with two ends that contained a half-dozen extended docking ports. The Durlaran was into one of the ports. "Can you get a lock on Lucy?"

"Whole thing is shielded, we won't be able to beam," Francisco replied.

"Emissions shielding kept me from noticing it from warp," Caterina added. "I can't make out much of its power signature even at this distance."

"We'd have to infiltrate," Robert murmured. "And we can't do that easily with that captain around to identify us.... we'll need Lucy's runabout." He stood up. "I'll take a couple of crew. Bring us to the edge of the system, we'll warp in openly, you can follow under cloak."

"That's risky, Rob," Caterina said. "They won't recognize the ship design and might assume you're an intruder."

"If they're businessmen they're more likely to see me as a new client. I'll move around a bit and find a quiet place to cloak and find a way to sabotage them from the inside." Robert nodded to Locarno. "Nick, you have the bridge."

Jack and Patty Lawson continued the tendencies in Robert's group for family members to crew together. Rescued from the plantations of C1P2, they had volunteered almost immediately. Julia and Angel had taught them hand-to-hand as well as firearms and their training and data infusions had ensured they had basic piloting and operations skills, allowing them to fly the Rio Grande. It seemed fitting to Robert that he was coming to rescue Lucy in the ship she had built. "We're finishing the warp jump," Jack remarked, his voice still showing some of his old accent.

"Bring us up to the station." Robert turned to work communications. "I'll handle the docking request." He ran a request through the translator which transferred it to the one spoken by the Dularan's commander. After several seconds he got an automated response that told him to prepare a docking fee on arrival. "Great, no local currency," he muttered. He sent a reply saying he had precious materials to trade, knowing it was about his only hope of avoiding a fight right at the airlock.

The reply came, requesting, of all things, jade. Robert checked the replicators and confirmed they could make it, soo he created several raw chunks of it. He also made a few other bits he hoped would pass him as a materials trader.

On reply they were given docking permission. Jack moved the ship into place and set them on the docking pad. The adjustable airlock conformed to meet the hatch and they were in place. Robert put the raw jade into a spare metal casing and walked.

Like the Dularan's captain he noticed a couple of the men who met him looked fully Human, but their leader was more evidently alien; blue-skinned, purple-haired, and a line of light purple spotting running around his hairline from his brow. Teal eyes met his intently. "Ourr docking fee?"

Robert brought the case up.

The alien man looked through it, muttering in a language the Darglan translator didn't know yet. "Sufficient, sir. You've been very respectful. I'm on frequency 205 point 5 if you need any assistance."

"I'll keep that in mind." Robert waited for them to clear out before he moved into the docking area and, from that, the station proper.

Lucy trudged along reluctantly, her hands shackled at the small of her back, as she was led by her captors onto a space station of some sort. She resisted the impulse to look for familiar faces and refused to consider the prospects she might be facing.

They kept her away from the central part of the station; instead she soon found herself back in a chair with armed guards. One of her captors was waiting with her while the others were in an adjacent room, their mouths visibly moving.

Nor were they lone, as the figures they were talking to each briefly turned her way. One was a Human (or Human-looking alien) woman with blond hair that went down to her neck. Beside her was a dark-skinned man that seemed a bit older and balder than Leo. They would speak some to her captors, gestures would be made, and a clear argument was well underway.

Just what is going on?

The central marketplace was full of aliens, with a handful of the human "Gersallians", moving around stalls and buying or selling things. Some things looked like food. Others Robert were quite sure were drugs of some kind, and yet others had weaponry showing.

But his blood really boiled when he saw the stalls with live video of beings in cells and markings under them, markings that his translator turned into prices. I don't get it. Why would space-faring cultures even need slavery? Slave labor can't be that useful....

He stepped up to one of the slave traders, a yellow and brown-toned humanoid with four eyes. "Say, I'm supposed to meet someone with the Dularan, you wouldn't know where I could find them?"

"Why? I've got better stock than those pirates ever bring in," the being retorted. He motioned to his monitors.

"I already have arrangements with them. But if it makes you feel better..." Robert pressed one of his remaining chunks of jade into the trader's hand. "Here. Some jade, a tip for good services. So long as the service is actually good, because if not..." He lowered a hand to the holster for his pulse pistol.

The trader hadn't been fazed by the gun before; on the other hand, there was no telling what an unfamiliar face might be capable of, so he seemed a little intimidated. He pocketed the jade. "They'll be using the cargo areas near Dock 10. Can't miss it."

Robert stepped away and found a directory. The implant turned one set of the alien script into English, allowing him to figure out which way he was going.

Lucy looked up when the door opened. The captain of the Dularan entered, followed by the two individuals he had been arguing with. The man stood back while the blond moved forward. "And just where did you come from?", she asked. "I hear your ship had some form of... teleporter?"

Lucy stared at her, saying nothing.

The woman looked to the man and nodded. He stepped forward and pulled out a needle and syringe. Lucy was unable to fight back as he grabbed her arm and stuck the needle in. Dark red blood filled the vial at the end of the syringe. When he was done he pulled the needle back out.

The woman looked to the Dularan's commander. "We have tests to run. We'll let you know a final price when we get back."

"Just hope I don't get a better offer."

"You won't," the man said, being the first to step out.

The captain muttered something to himself and looked back to Lucy. "Heh, Maker knows what they want with you."

"We tried to help you," Lucy muttered.

"You bastards killed some good friends of mine and ruined my trap," he answered. "Feel grateful I haven't spaced you." He turned and left.

Robert tried to avoid attention moving into the cargo areas and the vicinity of Dock 10. He patted the pulse pistol as if to reassure himself that he had protection while walking beside tough-looking figures who shot him dirty looks. The old coat he was wearing at least helped make him look the part, or so he hoped.

In the distance he heard a figure murmuring "....human, then...." and moved toward it, just to hear a latch close shut; whomever had been speaking had entered a soundproofed metal door. He looked down the hall they had come from and continued. He had a hand on his pistol while another snaked quietly toward his personal cloak. He'd been reluctant to try it while in a public area, too much chance of someone running into him, but here.... he pressed it and continued on.

Suddenly he felt an impact against his back. A force grabbed him and twisted him around, a firearm of some kind pressed to his chin. Intense blue eyes glared at him. "Turn off your technology, now!", the figure hissed in a feminine voice.

Stunned that he'd been detected, Robert fidgeted for the cloak button and shimmered back into view. "How did you...?"

"It may hide you from sensors or eyesight, but I could still sense your life force and your mind," she answered. "You... you are the commander of the Kelley, are you not?"

"Yes. Robert Dale."

"I am Meridina." She brought the gun back down. Her brown jacket looked a bit more encompassing, with a hood that was lowered to around her neck, a yellow shirt and black slacks - or at least garments that resembled such - beneath it. "You're here for your friend Lucilla. Come, we don't have much time."

Robert followed her, struggling to keep up as he found his breath. "When you say you could sense my mind and.... how?"

"I do not have time to explain," Meridina answered hoarsely. "Now please be silent. And do not use your cloak again, sensors may draw attention to the loss of your life sign reading."

They entered a cargo area that was more like a jail, with doors secured by locks. Meridina walked up to another of the four-eyed aliens, wearing a grungy-looking long coat garment and leathers of some kind below as well as a fairly large gun on his hip. She stared at him intently. "I'm here to check on the prisoner from the Dularan. Please open the cell." She raised her hand and held it toward his head. There was a look of focus on her expression as she did this.

"You're here to check on the prisoner. I'll open the cell," the figure replied. He turned and hit several keys, but Robert didn't get to see the full operation as Meridina led him through the corridors. One set of adjoining rooms, clearly meant for observation, was revealed as their destination. The door was already opened when they got there and Lucy was sitting there. Robert was relieved to see she was okay, no signs of being harmed, though the trickle of blood on her arm made him curious.

Lucy looked up as they entered. "Rob?"

"Feel free to kick my ass later for not giving you an escort." He unlatched her wrists from the chair and helped her up. She rubbed at them. "The [i}Rio Grande[/i] is several levels down." He looked over to Meridina. "Do you need to be evacuated?"

"It might be best," she said.

Lucy frowned a little. "Rob, she can read minds. She could end up..."

"I'm willing to trust her, for the moment," he answered, though only just. He'd seen her mentally manipulate the guard. "Though we'll have to be careful."

"You refer to my mind-influencing?" Meridina showed a half smile. "It only works on the weak of will. You two in particular would prove highly resistant. And now, I'm afraid we must go."

They left the room. As they did so a collection of aliens was entering the area, accompanying a human-looking pair. Lucy recognized them immediately as the ones who drew her blood. "What the...?!" A figure Robert realized was the captain of the Dularan looked on in shock. He began to reach for his belt. "Stop them! Stop..."

Robert and Meridina pulled their sidearms together and began firing. The captain went down in the first volley, along with some of the others, while everyone else scrambled for cover. "It looks like we're fighting our way out. I'll take up the rear..."

"No. Lead us to your ship, i'll be at the rear," Meridina said. She reached her hand out. Robert and Lucy watched in shock as the Captain's pistol weapon left his belt and flew in mid-air to Meridina's outstretched hand. She handed it to Lucy. "Here. You will need this."

"Cat is going to go nuts if she meets you," Lucy mumbled, taking the gun.

Robert brought up his wrist to speak into his communicator. "Dale to Rio Grande. Still no luck with a transporter lock?"

"Afraid not," Patty replied.

"Okay then, change of plans. Break off from the dock and come to the upper ring. Dock the ship's side airlock to...."

On the Kelley, Francisco relayed the message from Rio Grande. Locarno turned the command chair back to the helm. "It might help if they have a distraction. Or if we can take down that beaming field. Mister Delga.... Caterina, any luck?"

Caterina tried not to giggle at Locarno's continued slipping into Starfleet-trained habits. "I've been looking over the field, but if you're hoping for a nifty techy solution I'm afraid I don't have one," she answered. "Their field is stable, there's no weak points I can exploit..."

"What about a cycling phase inverter?"

"Nope..... wait, cycling phase what? Just call it an inversion and be done with it. You're just trying to sound smart."

"'Trying'?" Locarno smirked and looked back to the viewscreen. "Get ready to bring the Rio back on board, then. We may only get one pass."

There was an audible thunk in the frame of the docking platform. Robert brought his comm up. "Was that you, Rio?"

Static answered him, but after a second it cleared. "...complete. We're overriding the airlock control now."

"I think we've got company," Lucy called out, causing Robert to turn and level his pistol. He fired instinctively, almost hitting one of the elvish-looking aliens as he rounded, a sidearm in his hand. The being fired back and forced Robert to jump for cover.

More of them were coming. "We've got no cover!", Lucy shouted, holding her gun up. They were in a killing zone.

"Get to your ship," Meridina shouted. She pulled off her jacket and threw it behind her. Robert expected her to pull guns, but instead she pulled an object that had been fixed to her belt. It almost looked like a hilt of some kind, but...

When her thumb pressed against the base of the hilt, there was a sharp sound. Metal erupted from the hilt shape in a way that was more fluid than solid. When it finished it had formed a blade with a slight blue sheen to it. Fire converged on Meridina, but her arms became a blur. The blue and yellow blasts of energy struck her blade and were deflected, some even hitting her attackers. Robert and Lucy didn't move for several seconds, awestruck by the display of superhuman speed. "It's like she knows where they're going to shoot..." Lucy murmured.

"Yeah." He nodded. "Let's get to the airlock."

They fell back, firing as they did to help Meridina, but it was clearly unnecessary. The group that had engaged them began to flee, shouting in alien languages their translators didn't know. Meridina joined them as they opened the airlock. "Is something the matter?" She slipped her thumb over the bottom of the hilt again. The metal blade became fluid and sucked inward until it settled into the hilt.

"You brought a sword to a gunfight," Lucy pointed out. "And you won. And how does it do that anyway?"

"You mean my lakesh. I shall explain it later, if you desire. But we need to leave, now."

Robert was already at the cockpit when they secured the airlock. Jack fired the engines and pulled the Rio Grande away from the pirate station and toward open space. They started to accelerate when the ship lurched violently. "Energy tractor!", Robert shouted. "Lucy! See if you can boost the engines!"

"On it!" She manned a console and brought up engineering controls. "Routing power to drives!" The ship's shuddering increased. "It's no good, they're increasing power!"

"Get the Kelley!"

The Kelley crew observed the yellow energy beam grab the Rio Grande and hold it in place. "Yousef, lock weapons," Locarno ordered. "Take out their tractor beam as soon as Francisco decloaks!"

On the [i}Rio Grande[/i], everyone saw through the cockpit as the Kelley shimmered into view. Blue pulses erupted from her cannon battery, striking behind them at the tractor emitter. The ship lurched heavily as it was suddenly freed. Ahead of them the Kelley's shuttle bay opened for them. "This is going to be close!"

We'd better look into a commendation for Jack was Robert's thought as he pulled the Rio Grande up into the shuttle bay. The ship popped up over the bottom of the bay and landed beside the closing doors. Robert hit his communicator. "Site-to-site transport, get me to the bridge and Lucy to Engineering!"

He noticed some surprise on Meridina's face as the transporter beam took him. When it ended, he was on the bridge. Jasmine was already heading off to another station to let Locarno reclaim the helm. He slid into place and triggered the engines in time to avoid a direct hit from the station's weapons array. "I'd say three-quarters of the ships in the area are arming weapons," Francisco declared from ops. "We made them very mad."

"They started it," Robert guffawed. "Fire at will, Yousef. Help Locarno get us clear."

As the Kelley came around they faced a pirate vessel, one of the larger ones, with a catamaran hull shape with blue and orange coloring. Yousef let loose with a full barrage from the pulse cannons and a spread of solar torpedoes. The hits were solid, but the enemy ship's shields held. Locarno twisted them in space to avoid the return fire, managing to evade some of the hits but not all. The Kelley shuddered under them. "Shields holding at eighty percent," Francisco reported after the barrage.

"They've got warp, but if we can get clear and a quick head start...."

"We might not need it," Caterina proclaimed. "Jump point forming!"

The green jump point finished forming above the station. A single vessel flew out of it, the same blue sheen and general shape as the Kelley but about a third of the way larger. It moved to target the pirate cruiser that had just shrugged off the Kelley's main battery. When it fired, thick orange pulses of energy erupted from the cannon emitters on the front of its warp nacelles and slammed into the cruiser. The shields fell as the volley blasted through them, the power of the cannon blasts going straight to the hull. Gouts of flame erupted from the hull as the cannon blasts moved along it. Solar torpedoes erupted from the launchers and slammed into the central section of the hull, nearly splitting the ship in two without shields to hold back the torpedoes.

As the ship maneuvered to find new quarry, its name appeared on the screen. Robert allowed himself a grin as he recognized it.


On the bridge of the Koenig, Julia failed to restrain her desire to smile. "Find us another target. We'll make the Kelley a good opening."

"That won't be hard." At the helm control Zack seemed more content than tense, maneuvering the Koenig to face a smaller pirate vessel. "All your's, Angel."

At tactical Angel was already triggering her weapons. The pulse phaser cannons - as Farmer had called them - lashed out once more, their fury ripping the ship apart in the first volley. "Target destroyed." Angel shook her head. "Farmer and Scott weren't kidding when they said this thing was powerful. We've got to be tripling the firepower of the Kelley."

"More than tripling." At ops Jarod was observing their sensor readings. "It looks like we've scared them, the other ships are starting to break off."

"I don't blame them," Zack remarked. "Pursue?"

Before Julia could answer the ship rocked beneath them. "Shields holding at ninety percent," Jarod reported. "They have a large battery on that space station."

Julia pressed the key on her chair. "Bridge to Engineering. Mister Scott, that was a nasty shake, is everything alright?"

"Aye, its nothing tae worry about, just a wee bit of breakin' in for our dampeners."

"And what about that subnucleonic beam that they used on the Kelley earlier? Did you..."

"Aye lass, sensors have already been hardened. They'll nae be blindin' us."

"Good." Julia allowed herself a confident smile. "Open fire on that station's weapon emplacements."

On the bridge of the Kelley, Robert and the others had been enjoying the show. The Koenig had scattered the enemy and sent them running. But he had other things on his mind. How many captives do they have on that station? We've got to rescue them.

The starboard entry door opened. Meridina entered and stood beside him. "May I see your communications staiton?", she asked.

"What for?", he asked.

"I want to keep you from inadvertantly ruining months of work," she answered politely.

He seemed to weigh his options for a moment, wondering whether to trust her. But he decided to try it and nodded, directing her to a seat beside Francisco. She slid into it and, with Francisco's help, found the controls to control signals.

She had only been at work for a minute when a surge of new contacts appeared on the sensors, confirmed by Caterina. Several types of ships appeared, with two distinct design paradigms; one favored a color scheme of brown and red, the other purples and greens and blues. The former designs seemed to be of more curved and rounded hull shapes with sublight drive assemblies on the rear while the latter had visible space-warp drive nacelles and were sleek and angled. "They're coming in with weapons charged," Caterina warned.

"I am transmitting them your ships' codes," Meridina said. "They will not harm you."

"Who are they?"

"Anti-pirate ship squadrons from my people of Gersal and those of our allies, the Dorei," she explained.

WIth the arrival of the other ships, many tried to flee the station, but most were caught and disabled by small spacecraft that made Robert think of fighter jets. The station's shields fell quickly when it was targeted and boarding actions began. "I've got an Admiral Maran on for you," Francisco said.

After Robert nodded he stood. An older Human-looking man appeared with graying dark hair and beard and a round, weathered face. "I'm Robert Dale of the Kelley. What can I do for you, Admiral?"

"Is Knight Meridina aboard?"

Robert looked at her with curiosity. She gave a nod and smile and stood up, walking into sight of the viewer. "I am here, Admiral."

"It is good to see you are well. Mastrash Ledosh was right to recommend you for this work," Maran remarked. "[i}Can you tell me who these people are? They look Gersallian but...[/i]"

"I am wondering that myself," she remarked, looking to Robert. "Robert Dale, would you be willing to meet with the Admiral at my side? I believe we have many questions for each other that can be answered."

"Sounds like a good idea," he answered. "It's a long story, though."

On Maran's flagship, the cruiser Lightrunner, Robert sat with Meridina and Maran and enjoyed a sampling of Gersallian cooking, something that looked like mashed fruits and a potato-like vegetable. He had explained everything about them and allowed the two to digest this. "I have to say.... you look Human to me. I mean.... I didn't think two different species could look alike like this."

"We have heard of Humanity in our universe," Maran remarked. "But they came and went long ago."

"Excavations of Earth have led to our anthropologists having some knowledge of your societies and customs," Meridina continued. "It was unfortunate that they destroyed themselves."

"Yeah." Robert sighed and took another bite. He supposed he couldn't be shocked to find such a universe. "I don't suppose there are any colonies?"

"None that we have seen. There are rumors and indications, though. But we have never substantiated them."

"Well, I won't bother you with it." Robert let his utensil set on the plate. "We've been doing this for a year, but we've never really permanently dealt with other space-faring countries. You're our second encounter."

"Our leaders would be interested in meeting with you, and discussing technology exchange and resource sharing," Maran remarked. "Your people seem to have a fairly good sense of moral obligation, one worthy of Gersallians."

"Thank you for the compliment."

"And your hatred of slavery commends you further," Meridina continued. "The Dorei will be especially well-tempered toward you for that."

"Hopefully so. I will, of course, have to consult with our Council before finalizing any deals." Robert put his hands together. "But opening relations with your people will be a big step for us, and I'm hoping to see it taken."

"We're glad you see it that way." Maran folded his hands before him. "I will await your meetings with your Council. Do you have any other questions?"

"Not for you." Robert turned his head to face Meridina. "As for Meridina..."

She had an amused smile on her face. "Yes, I sensed you had many questions for me, Robert."

"I saw you pull things with your mind, win a gunfight with a sword, and with a sword that melts in and out of its hilt at that. And you read minds." Robert smiled thinly. "Yeah, I'm curious. And a little scared."

"We are familiar with how those unfamiliar with psionics and swevyra can be concerned." Meridina put her hands together. "My people believe that all life has an innate connection to the universe. For most this connection is basic. It only provides our basic needs, the power for our souls you might say. But some of us are... gifted. Blessed with a stronger connection to the universe, one that causes the universe to respond to our thoughts and needs. We call such a connection swevyra."

"My translator isn't translating that term."

"The ancient Darglan had no equivalent term in their language. It has a meaning... it is very unique to our people, but to try to explain it... it means vibrancy of life. To wield swevyra, to be a swevyra'rase, is to have an innate connection to the forces of the universe."

"So the universe lets you pull something to your hand."

"Yes." Meridina gave a nod. "It lets me sense the intentions of others and to react to them immediately. By focusing my body becomes faster and stronger, more resilient to injury... indeed, we have many swevyra'rase who can even heal themselves and others. As do the Dorei, though they do not share our particular philosophy and see their swevyra as a result of the influence of divinity, or divinities in some cases. Dorei religion can become... complex."

"So can Human," Robert remarked wryly. Sometimes he found himself thanking God that the Liberty Colony had managed to have such a polyglot population without devolving into religious squabbles. A lot of energy being put into building probably helps.... "And you can read minds from this?"

"To an extent, yes. But I am also farisa. A mindtalker, if you will. A certain portion of Gersallians have this gift. Some have swevyra too, some do not. When the two overlap... it can be a blessing." Meridina blushed a little. "I am one of the youngest of our serving swevyra'rase."

"I heard the Admiral call you a Knight before. What does that mean?"

"It is a translation of a term that Swenya - a great teacher and founder of the current Gersallian institution for swevyra'rase - used to describe a field swevyra'rase."

"So it's.... it's the same as swev-eer'rassy..." Robert blushed at mispronouncing it. "It might be easier for me to just use 'knight'."

"If it pleases you. As for my lakesh." She brought it out. He could see her flip the switch, causing the metal on the hilt to turn fluid and form the blade. She deformed the blade after a second. "The term is 'memory metal', crafted in our foundries for this use. We use a long-life battery to generate a very slight charge that prompts the blade to form from the base. The metal is treated to provide deflective properties. Projectiles, energy fire, even fluids such as blood are repelled."

"Amazing. The Darglan records never mentioned something like this..."

"It is an old technology, and memory metal is not used frequently outside of crafting lakesh blades." Meridina returned the hilt to her belt. "Does that satisfy your curiosity?"

"Yes. Very much."

Days later, Meridina was standing with her wizened superior, Mastrash Ledosh, waiting alongside the Director of the Gersallian Interdependency and the Dorei Federation's Ambassador for the arrival of Robert Dale and his entourage. The Gersallians had prepared very nearly a proper state welcome even if Robert's people were not exactly a full state; news was spreading about the amazing contact and firing the imaginations of the Dorei and Gersallians alike. A Human civilization with ideals and beliefs that so closely matched their's... it seemed incredible, truly a moment for history.

Others were still milling and talking, allowing Meridina to resume a conversation with Ledosh. He looked at her with curiosity as he heard her speak of the others she had met. "That would be very interesting," he admitted. "Are you sure...?"

"I am."

"Something for a later time, then. Much later. For now we must see how things will progress with them. I want you to be quiet about this for the time being, until we get a better measure of them."

"If that is your will..."

the Kelley came out of warp in the company of the Lightrunner. Julia stood from ops as Locarno secured the ship from warp flight and brought it toward Gersal. "Wow..."

The amazement of all but Locarno was clear given the sight before them. Gersal's main moon had an entire ring around it with ships coming and going, while on the surface there were seas of light formed around biodomes. They flew past it and toward the planet, moving with the traffic of smaller and larger vessels toward a large space station, a long block with arms extending out from the center. The planet below was full of light on the side presented to them, the sun coming up over its north pole. "The computer is trying to calculate how many life forms are on the planet below, but right now it's got to be in the nine billion range," Caterina murmured. "And another 100 million on their moon. It's.... wow."

"I forget how new this stuff is to you," Locarno remarked. "Just wait until the day comes you visit the Earth I came from."

"Given how often we break their Prime Directive, I think it'll be a while before we're welcome in the Federation," Robert remarked. He stood up and moved to join Julia. "Ready?"

"Yeah." She smiled at him. "Ba is waiting for us at the Transporter Room already. Shall we let her take the lead?"

"Oh yes. I'm a horrible diplomat." Robert gave her a smile. "An alien homeworld, Julie. Did you ever think...?"

"We were so busy with other things I never even considered it," she admitted. "But it is awesome. And historic. And, if we're lucky, just the beginning. If our relations with the Gersallians and Dorei prove strong, there may be other states we can establish ties with. And with interuniversal jump drives, who knows? Maybe we'll even recreate the multiversal society that the Darglan had?"

"Something to strive for," Robert agreed. "Anyway, let's get going. We have history to make!"
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Thu Aug 22, 2013 10:18 pm

Act 6

A laugh came from the dock connecting the Park to its home dock in the Facility, after which Robert threw his arms open and let Beth come into them in a tight hug. "It's been months, Beth!"

"Well, you've been keeping us busy at the Colony, Rob." Beth accepted the hug warmly and sat back. "I work 12 hour days as it is keeping everything running."

"You're the one who wanted to be a manager," Robert retorted happily. "We're at what, ninety thousand now?"

"After that last round from C1P2 and the new arrivals from A7R6, we've actually almost hit one hundred thousand," she corrected. "Captain Farmer's bulk carriers are doing their work."

"He's said he'd go faster if he thought the Colony could take it." Robert tried to not think of what that meant; that thousands of beings were suffering longer than they should be.

"Still.... just how far back can we go? We've got 18th Century people too now and have little enough in common, how could we deal with those even older? If we find such an Earth are we going to start snatching Christians from the Colosseum? They'd have nothing in common, culturally... not even religiously."

"And so we should just leave them to die?" Robert shook his head. "We'll think of something."

"I hope so." Beth followed him through the halls toward another of the dock entrances. "So are you ready?"

"No, no I'm not," Robert admitted, looking uncomfortable in his fancy-looking suit. He missed the casual clothes he mostly used. "We've never had visitors like this before.

"But it's a big step. The Dorei and Gersallians have been especially helpful to us in supporting the Colony. And you have to admit their training is helping your crews."

Robert nodded. Admiral Maran had been particularly helpful, showing Robert and his commanders some of the ropes of space combat.

At the airlock they found Caterina and Julia waiting in conservative "church" clothes. Angel was sporting one of their first attempts at a dress uniform, a crisp black jacket and matching pants with her dark hair pulled into a ponytail. In lieu of actual ranks - they still hadn't decided on that, even if the Council was preparing to accept the Starfleet ranking system for any truly organized force - she only wore the torch insignia that the Council had agreed upon.

It was a fairly inspired moment, all things considered; the torch, the symbol of light being carried through darkness, as their insignia. Robert wished he'd thought of it, but it had been Paul Freeman and Juan Perez of C1P2 who proposed it, and as freed slaves he suspected it was particularly resonant with them.

Outside the window they saw the Facility's drive system fire up. The Kelley came out of the portal that appeared and quickly docked. "You realize Zack's going to kill you for making him command the ship for this?", Julia murmured to Robert.

"Likely," he agreed.

When the portal opened everyone remained quiet as the delegates came out. The first figure out was Mastrash Ledosh, followed closely by Meridina. "I have come to represent the Gersallian Interdependency," he informed Robert in a formal, clipped tone. "It is good to see you remain well."

"Thank you, Mastrash. Welcome to the Facility." He nodded to Meridina. "Welcome to you as well."

"I look forward to seeing this place of wonders," she answered. "The Darglan had a reputation among my people for their aesthetics."

They moved on. The next figure was a blue-skinned, teal-haired, teal-spotted Dorei male. "I am Dorm Kardai, a representative of the Daxai Mercantile Republic and Senator of the Dorei Federation," he stated. "I look forward to exploring the trade opportunities made possible by your technology."

Over the prior months Robert had learned a bit of the races of N2S7. Among the Dorei Nations and other races the Daxai were considered the pinnacle example of oligarchic, commerce-centered governance. He gave a friendly answer and waited for the rest of the delegates. Some were fellow humans, from a few universes they'd found with interstellar humanity, others were more aliens from the same universes or N2S7. A man who made Robert think of Woody Guthrie was the Federation delegate from S5T3; he introduced himself amiably as Sonek Pran. A pair of Alakins, essentially humanoid avians, nodded approval to him chirps from their long beaks.

Julia was leading them to the prepared conference room, where the Facility Council and the top leaders of the Liberty Colony awaited, while Robert waited for Zack to step out. "Oh, buddy, do you owe me," Zack mumbled.

When the last delegates were out of earshot Robert gave a nod and asked, "Okay, how do I make it up to you?"

"Give me a long term rotation on Koenig."

"Can't do it if you stick to helm. But if you'll do some command shifts..."

"If I have to."

Robert gave him a careful look. "Okay, who are you and what did you do with the real Zachary Carrey?"

"What? I don't want to command, but if I have too, better the Koenig than the other ships. There's just... something about her." Zack grinned. "Yeah, I know, 'guns strapped to an engine'. But she's got a good grace to her, even if she's a nasty, tough little ship in combat."

"I'll get the arrangements squared away after this meeting." Robert tried not to grin too widely. He'd been hoping for something to catch Zack's eye and settle him.

"You have fun with that."

So much for fun, Robert thought to himself in a sigh, unable to resist facepalming.

One of the delegates, a representative of "the Free Colonies" in Universe D3R1, was smacking his hand on the table and staring daggers at Sonek Pran. The Federation delegate had made a slight reference to the Federation's ideology of betterment and rising above materialism and selfishness.... and that had not gone over well with the fierce libertarians. "Are the free people of the Colonies supposed to endure this claptrap?!", John Morrison raged. "We separated from the centralizing socialists of our Earth to avoid this same doggerel!"

The representative of D3R1's Sol System Republic was quick to retort, "And as always you crazed Colonials act like maniacs whenever someone sees value in a society not built upon grasping for wealth over the bodies of those who didn't succeed!" The tanned Thai woman, Sriroj Thiang, spoke English with a fairly thick accent.

Another uproar was beginning to sound when Julia slammed a gavel on the table. "Gentlemen, ladies, please!"

"Yes." Saka Matanp of the Alakins chirped in agreement. "This ideological squabble is a distraction from the greater issues of application of the jump technology."

"On the contrary, Mister Matanp, it goes to the heart of the matter," the Colonial rep proclaimed. "Any state that first acquires the technology will get an edge over their competitors. And the Free Colonies will not tolerate this technology going to the SSR before we gain it."

"I would hope that served as incentive to sign on then," Julia said. "We're not looking to give one of you the edge over the others. This entire meeting is on fairly and effectively disseminating the Darglan drive technology."

"All well and good, Miss Andreys," Kardai began, "but implementation remains an issue, as does the prospect of some parties here looking to gain an edge to impose their socio-economic systems on the others."

"We're aware of that. We don't want to destabilize..."

"Then you should have kept to yourselves," the Sol System Republic woman pointed out. "This technology changes everything, as does other technologies present in this alien facility."

A hand went up and Julia looked to it with relief. The figure was Peter Morgan of H1E1's Earth Confederacy, that government's Vice General-Secretary (effectively a Deputy Prime Minister). "Secretary Morgan?"

"I understand some of you are afraid of what these technologies mean. And of what it might mean for your home universes. But let's look at the potential here. Exploring other universes provides a means for expanding scientific knowledge and the resource bases we enjoy. It means outlets for colonization to relieve population pressure. And by banding together we can avoid conflict between us and provide mutual security against outside threats. One of us could not attack the other, as it would invite the rest to come down on the aggressor."

Sonek Pran nodded from his seat. "Our worlds had the same motivation when we formed the Federation."

Morgan inclined his head toward Sonek and headed off the inevitable protest by speaking again. "A good point, Mister Pran. Although in our situation I think 'federation' may be too strong. We would be looking at a body with great latitudes toward individual members and only enough central structure to coordinate defense policy and multiversal expansion and diplomacy. An alliance built upon states with very basic points of mutual agreement; the concept of democratic and elected government, going by our attendance."

Robert heard his words and silently nodded. When Morgan finished speaking he decided to speak. "You mean that we should form some... alliance of democratic nations?"

A small smile came to Morgan's face. "A rather direct name, though the abuse of 'democratic'-named states by totalitarians with pretensions of popular rule might leave the wrong impression."

"Yeah." Robert smirked. "Or we can redeem the term."

"It's possible. But I think we need to focus on other matters first."

"It would be prudent, yes," the SSR delegate confirmed, glowering at her Colonial rival. "I suspect we all have ideas on what such an 'alliance' should entail."

The debate started up all over again.

After the meeting ended Robert was in the meal area, enjoying what passed for a meal from the Facility's food replicator systems. Some of the other delegates were around, a handful gathered around Sonek Pran and talking music of all things, while the others were undoubtedly in their rooms preparing reports or making plans.

Beth took a seat opposite from him, a basic meal of replicated turkey slices and rice on her tray. "We've got real food at the Colony now," she pointed out to him.

"I've heard." Robert put a hand to his forehead. "A part of me is wondering if we should have held the talks there."

"It would have been crazy." Beth took a bite and finished it quickly. "We're going to have to deal with our Earth's governments at some time, you know."

"It will be easier when we have a government of our own at our back. Then we're not just some band of stateless renegades."

"No, we're just the people who handed over advanced technology to someone other than our own world." Beth gave him a wry smile.

"Not by choice," Robert muttered. He could remember all the circles they'd made in the Council, trying to consider how to get the benefits of the Facility circulated without triggering problems. "It's good to see you're doing well, Beth."

"Me?" She gave him a sad smile. "You're the one who was coming apart when you introduced me to this."

"I can't argue with that. I...." Robert drew in a breath. "Do you regret the family losing the farm?"

"Of course I do."

"I didn't think you liked it, given how fast you were to leave."

"Robert..." Beth drew in a breath and let out a sigh afterward. "Kansas was... suffocating to me. Portland, the entire Northwest, was something new. I felt better there."

"And Grandpa? I know he had trouble understanding...."

She shook her head. "Toward the end he accepted it. I always liked pointing that out to people who insisted that people couldn't get over their prejudices."

"He always was about family..."

A shape appeared over Beth, causing them to look up. Peter Morgan was standing over them, a polite expression on his face. "Would you excuse me if I sought some of your time, Mister Dale?"

"Of course, sir. My cousin and I were just talking on private matters."

"So I see." Morgan slipped into a chair. "An interesting turn of events today. We came to talk about a general sharing of technology and support for your force of freedom fighters. Now everyone's mulling the alliance proposal."

"You were the one to broach it."

"Yes. And it's something I consider to be the best outcome available. This technology you've revealed to us is too much for any one state or species. If it was ever applied militarily it would give one side a major, perhaps insurmountable advantage. The Alliance is a solid means to coordinate the release of that technology."

"It won't easy to run."

"It never should be," he emphasized. "I'll leave you to your meal, hopefully we'll have a fruitful discussion tomorrow..."

The Aurora's engineering section was the site of a quiet thrum of activity with engineers milling all around on various tasks. "...tellin' ye, lad, the couplings cannae take that much strain, ye need reinforcement!" Scotty called up into an accessway for the impulsor drives.

"Not the standard ones!". Barnes responded. "But I've changed the alloy formula, the strength means it can hold."

"And what about the vibrations? 'Tis nae always strength ye've got to worry about!"

"Coated in a protective material. Seriously, Scotty, I've worked with these systems on the other ships, it'll be fine!"

The older engineer drew in a sigh and went over to the status panels. The Aurora's power systems were a tremendous work of engineering, a marvel that was something to be proud of. The last thing he wanted was to see it brought down by a simple coupling failure. He'd seen far too many projects of similar stature ruined by such things; a guilty memory came to mind, of the Starship Excelsior stranded in Earth orbit, its transwarp drive immobilized by very minor issues caused by him.

When Barnes emerged he went over to a station and brought up the computer simulations testing the coupling stresses. Looking over them, Scotty had to give a nod. "I see. I didnae think ye could get the stresses better."

"Just took me a while." Barnes began checking the other systems. "And we'll do test runs on the impulsors before we actually use them, if the vibrations prove more intense than planned I can always go back in and switch things. But this way the drive system is more efficient."

"Aye, that it is." There was silence between the two engineers. "Ye've got a talent, lad."

"Yeah, well... I had most of this stuff downloaded into my brain, the rest was all trial and error." Barnes tapped several keys to cycle through the systems. "You learned it the hard way."

"Ye wanted tae learn this, though. Ye've got curiosity, a need tae see how things work. Always a good sign in an engineer."

"Yeah, but I always seem to be fixing engines in my spare time. Zack was always bad about assuming that being an engineer made me a mechanic."

"Part of th' job, lad, just another part of th' job."

Julia and Robert each looked ready to die as Sriroj and Morrison continued another exchange, this time over the disposition of an unclaimed star system between SSR territory and the Colonies. The system information was recognizable; it was the system with another copy of that desert planet Caterina had cataloged that was rich in naqia. Before the system had been ignored by the two sides; now, however, the prospect of naqia had fueled interest, and to top it off, the system had some potential strategic placement if occupied.

"If you think we will allow the Colonies to range your fleets so close to Sol, you are mad!", Sriroj proclaimed. "Things were bad enough when you held Proxima!"

"You mean before you stole Proxima and subjugated the Proximans to your stifling government?!"

"I only remember seeing half-starved workers finally getting proper housing...."

"Enough!" Julia slammed the gavel down so hard she expected it to break. "If you're so concerned about one another having the system, we can arrange for someone else to take possession..."

"That is proper territory of the Colonies!", Morrison raged. "Any unauthorized vessels entering will be engaged!"

"If Colonial ships enter the Abdis system, Sol fleets will be dispatched!"

"Then it will mean war!"

"Enough!" Julia's shout upon standing broke up the threats. "Listen to yourselves! We invited you here because this is an opportunity to improve both of your societies, and all you can do is bicker about the past! Is that all you care about?!"

Before either could speak up in defiance, Morgan rose. "I believe our chairwoman has made an eloquent point. There are ways to handle the issue of the Abdis system through demilitarization and common use. And if you care one whit about the peoples you are representing you'll take them. If not, then I ask... why are you here?"

"We're not about to let the socialists of Sol get an edge on us," Morrison grumbled in reply.

Before Sriroj could respond Morgan started again. "We have talked about creating a common union of nations here, one that I will immediately point out is not going to interfere with your internal economic systems. And for all of your mutual disgust of one another, I will point out you both believe in a system of rights and limitations on government power over the common citizen. Your disagreement is how far that power can extend before it becomes tyrannical. That's fine; you're not being asked to merge systems. You're being asked to work together for something better for everyone."

"So we do all the work and then you make us share it?", Morrison charged.

Morgan leveled a gaze at Morrison. "It's a two-way street, sir. You get the same benefits."

"It has some promise," Kardai remarked from his seat. The Dorei man rubbed at his chin. "The Dorei Federation had similar issues at its foundation, given the multitude of our governmental and economic systems. If you are worried about being drowned in a sea of statist governments, Mister Morrison, you need not be concerned; many Dorei have similar views to my own."

Morrison slowly sat back in his chair, hands put together in thought, though he was still clearly worked up. Ledosh looked to Julia. "Might I suggest a recess?"

"That does sound like a good idea," Julia agreed.

Caterina was taking a watch in Facility Control that gave her an excuse to go spelunking through the Darglan records again. This time she was partaking of the listing of all the "exotic" materials and minerals that the Darglan had recorded. She'd learned a lot about naqia, and even how its enriched form allowed greater power generation or explosive power at the cost of instability, but there were so many other materials listed to be considered. She'd translated one material as "Quantium-40" and observed its unique effects on space-time and potential for hyperspatial jump generation, then there was dilithium and its ability to not explode when antimatter touched it, and oooh she really wanted to get her hands on some of that element zero stuff...!

The door opened and she looked back to see Meridina enter. "Oh, hey." She turned her chair. "Are you lost?"

"Um... no. I am simply looking around." Meridina looked around the room and to the dock areas beyond, the Kelley at rest in one window and the Park in the other. "And you say this is all in some bizarre dimensional field?"

"It's a dimensionally transcedental object," Caterina explained. "The Darglan got the technology after encountering a member of some ancient race in.... okay, I forget the universe. But it essentially means the inside is bigger than the outside. The space this facility takes up is, on the outside, a box about the size of this room."

Meridina's astonishment showed as she looked toward the central holotank. "Amazing. My people have so many stories of the Darglan."

"Do you know what happened to them?"

"Swenya wrote only that their curiosity was their undoing. That they found something horrible and were nearly destroyed for it; that, in the end, they had to abandon their exploration of the multiverse, and that is why we never saw them again." Meridina walked up to a panel and put a hand on it. The controls, once displaying in German, now switched to an alphabet that Caterina didnt recognize immediately but which she supposed to be Gersallian. "So amazing..."

"I can give you a tour after my watch," Caterina offered. "It's always fun to show this place off."

"If Mastrash Ledosh has no need of me, I will gladly accept."

Robert was taking a moment to try to ease the headache he had from the meeting when he saw Ledosh walk up. He nodded politely to the Gersallian swevyra-user and received one in return. "Master Ledosh? What may I do for you?"

"Given your headache, Councilman, I think you need more help." Robert didn't show immediate reaction to the "Councilman" title. Technically he was, but on the other hand something about that title irked him. "You look rather irritated with your title."

"I am not a politician," Robert sighed. "My inability to deal with Sriroj and Morrison should make that clear."

"It's not really your duty to do so. You brought us here to discuss issues together. It just so happens that those two nations have such enmity with one another that they cannot discuss issues without resorting to their continuing ideological feud."

"Yes, it's like one can't speak without the other reacting, and then you get that loop of reactions that makes it impossible to work with both." Robert stood silent for a moment. "That might be the solution, though!"


"We can't get them to agree in the open session, they're too likely to continue to argue. But we can approach them separately." Robert nodded to Ledosh. "Thanks, Mastrash," he said, smiling. "You've given me an idea." He brought up his comm and began walking away. "Julie, meet me in my room, I think we can approach this Abdis problem differently..."

Caterina had shown Meridina through the living spaces and the armory and the data infusion center since their tour began. Now they were on their way up to the top level of the facility. "I know you have a vessel construction dock in the bottom, but what is up here?", Meridina asked.

"The best part," Caterina said urgently.

The lift stopped and opened. They stepped out into a large and open space, blue-tinted on its surface like much of the rest of the base. Meridina looked around in confusion. "What is... it is an open space?"

"No, it's just not turned on." Caterina cleared her throat. "Oh Control!"

The Facility's AI shimmered into view in front of them. "Caterina, a pleasure. And swevyre'rase Meridina, of course."

"I want to show her what this can do. Please load the astrography program."

Around them the empty chamber became a sea of bright stars. A giant ball of yellow-and-white light shone to their left. "This is our section of the Galaxy," Caterina explained. Using the conrols she focused in on one arm of the galaxy. It zoomed in and, under Cat's control, continued to do so until it arrived on Earth and the Sol system.

Before either could say anyone, the starmap display shifted to show a different reach of space. Control looked ramrod straight and spoke with a sudden and mechanical tone. "A hidden program is becoming active in my systems."

He faded, and the figure that appeared made both gasp in awe. "A Darglan," Meridina whispered.

Caterina remembered the brief glimpse that Control had given them of the species, way back when they first activated the Facility. Now she had a good look. The Darglan was humanoid with three fingers and two opposable thumbs. The orange complexion was on the darker side with dark brown eyes. The skull was twice the height of a human one by proportion. A sharp chin and wide jaw were the main features of this version, which stood at about six foot five thanks to its skull.

And it was looking at Meridina.

Caterina's auto-translator kicked in as it began speaking in Gersallian. "Greetings child of Gersal, bearer of the legacy of the noble Swenya and her wise master Reshan. We are proud that our allies in war and peace have come so far and found their way here. This Facility will aid you in continuing the work we sought to accomplish in the development of a Multiversal society. To further aide you, we have prepared a prize for the Gersallian people." The figure gestured. A star on the map lit up with characters that the auto-translator turned into "Gersal" for Caterina. A distance away, a great distance away, another star lit up. While this part of the starmap remained active, a cutaway cube allowed a "zoom in" to show a star system with a blue sun and diverse mix of planets and moons. "Seek your prize here, noble Gersallians. Let your devotion to the forces of life bring you eternal wonder."

"That looks pretty far.... clear across the Frontier Regions for your people?"

"Yes. We know nothing of any races that dwell beyond," Meridina admitted. "But the prospective discovery is astounding, though it may take us years to get that far."

"Months for you, though the Aurora might make it in a few weeks if we get the max speed Scotty and Farmer have promised." She looked over at Meridina and smiled. "See what I mean? Best part!"

The Darglan hologram wasn't done, however, speaking again when the program detected them going quiet. "But be wary, good friends. Do not repeat our mistake. Content yourselves with the limitations of the drives. To pierce the deepest voids of the dimensions will only expose yourself to the Darkness that dwells there. The Ancient Ones will never tolerate that risk. You would be punished as we have been."

"'Ancient Ones'?" Caterina looked to Meridina who, in turn, shook her head to display her lack of knowledge. "And I wonder what it meant by 'darkness'?"

"Computer?" Meridina looked up to it. "Can I ask..."

The program vanished and Control reappeared. "It seems my creators set that to trigger whenever I detected a Gersallian in this chamber," he explained helpfully. He held out a hand and a data disc appeared in it. "Here, Meridina. This contains the data from the recording."

"Ehmmm.. thank you." She accepted it with a bow of her head.

"I didn't know you could do that!", Caterina exclaimed.

"Oh, a simple matter my young lady. The holo-systems do use replication for some items, reclaiming them as needed and if desired."

Meridina focused on the disc. "Control, can you explain what it meant?"

"What it meant?"

"'Ancient Ones'. The Darglans' mistake, and the 'deep voids' and 'darkness' that dwelled in them."

"I have searched my database and find no clear correlations. It would appear the data in the recording was not kept in my databanks. "

"Check again, please." Caterina moved to the lift. "Because some of what that thing said scares me to death."

"Checking... I am sorry, but it is not there. I am not detecting any memory faults."

"Okay..." Caterina sighed. "Anyway, back to the show, because you've got to see how well this thing emulates environments!"

Julia found Sriroj in her assigned quarters going over notes. "Madame Emissary, I hope I'm not intruding?"

"You are not, ma'am. How may I be of service?" She rose from her chair and looked straight at the younger woman. Her pose was diplomatic, but not entirely a front; without Morrison to prick at her Sriroj seemed genuinely friendly.

"I understand that your relations with the Colonies are very strained now, but I hope you will consider the compromise for the Abdis System."

"We only require a fair share of the naqia found there and no Colonial military presence, ma'am. If this is agreed upon the Sol Republic will be satisfied."

"Then I hope to ensure that..."

"....your concerns are met," Robert finished, speaking with Morrison at the observation deck for the Kelley. "You have to admit, sir, that it will be harder to extract Abdis' materials if you're constantly fighting Solian fleets."

That drew a scowl. Robert remained silent as he let Morrison mull those words. "Your words have merit," Morrison conceded. "I'm just not sure of having those areas under foreign control, even if it's well-meaning."

"You'd be given a proper share of the naqia and other resources. And I'd think that a new mining facility in the system would open things up for other ventures. Someone has to feed the miners and administrators, clothe and transport and entertain them."

Morrison nodded as Robert listed these thoughts. "Yes.... yes, there is opportunity here. Thank you, sir, I look forward to more business getting done."

On the Aurora, Farmer was standing with Barnes and Scotty. "Well, it's done," he said, looking around at their handiwork.

"Aye, it is," Scotty agreed. "What do ye think, Mister Barnes? Should we show it tae them?"

"Tomorrow, definitely," Barnes agreed. "Jarod should be back by then, and he deserves to be in on this as well."

The next day, Robert and Julia were smiling in contentment as Morgan finalized the compromise between the Sol Republic and the Colonies. He gave them an appreciative look; Kardai and Ledosh both showed their own indications that they knew what had happened.

The discussion continued with the parties discussing various particulars. The agreement over Abdis did not prevent Morrison and Sriroj from pecking at each other on other issues, but this remained a minor distraction at most.

When the meeting concluded, Morgan stepped up to them. "I hear you two did some very excellent backroom negotiating," he remarked with humor. "Perhaps you're better politicians than you imagined."

"I'll leave the politics to people like you, if I can," Robert lamented. "I'm honestly starting to miss having Klingons trying to blow me to bits."

At that, Morgan laughed and excused himself. As he stepped away, tones sounded on the wrist units of both Robert and Julia. They each found the same message waiting for them.

It's done.

The runabout Yalu settled into the dock arranged for her beside the Park. When the lock into the craft opened, Jarod emerged with a pack slung over his shoulder. Lucy was waiting for him. "How did it go?", Lucy asked.

"The Centre's hit at least two more of my safehouses," he answered, a bit of a smirk coming to his face. "My sudden disappearance must have Raines and Lyle going crazy."

"Tough for them," Lucy chuckled. "So, want to see it?"

"See what?

"The Aurora's bridge." Lucy smiled widely. "It's finished!"

The turbolift door opened, much to the excitement of those packed within. Jarod and Lucy had squeezed into the spaces around Robert, Julia, and Caterina. When they stepped out, a second lift on the other side stopped and opened, permitting Angel, Leo, Zack, and Locarno to emerge. Both groups moved to meet up, the group on the starboard side missing the door to the ship's main conference room.

Scotty and Barnes were waiting for them. "Welcome to the bridge!", Barnes declared happily.

It was roomier than the bridges on the other ships, that was certain. The rear display screen showed a large deck plan of the Aurora with an accompany LCARS-style control below it. In front of this was a seat and a station labeled tactical. Ahead of tactical was a trio of chairs, the outer ones having small holo-tank devices for control and displays, while the central chair had touch-use buttons for various functions. Ahead of them were two stations side by side, forming a double L shape with the bottoms of the Ls touching and the tops curving slightly inward. To either side were more stations set into the wall while facing forward and toward the inner angle so that those manning them could face the rest of the crew and the viewscreen; the starboard side ones were labeled "Communications" and "Secondary Tactical" while on the port they found "Sensors" and "Engineering Control". Behind these twin sets and on the outer edges of the deck plan screen were further stations labeled "Auxiliary".

"Wow," Caterina said. "This is so awesome!" She ran over to the Sensors station and sat down, looking at the controls.

Angel slipped into the seat behind the central chairs, the Tactical station. Bit by bit everyone found a station to sit in. Locarno got into the helm seat, the starboard of the two front L consoles, with Jarod sitting beside him at Ops. Barnes sat at Engineering. Zack found a seat at Secondary Tactical. This left Robert, Julia, and Leo for the middle seats. Robert and Julia each looked to the middle chair after which Julia slipped into the starboard chair. Robert tentatively, cautiously, sat in the mid and Leo to his left. He looked around. "So this is it?"

"Well, most systems still aren't installed," Barnes pointed out. "but yeah.... this is it. Cool huh?"

"Very," Robert murmured in amazement, settling into the command chair. "And I can't wait until she flies for real."
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Sun Sep 29, 2013 5:49 am

.....okay, I forgot to post the ending to this too. Ugh.

Act 7 coming up!

Act 7

The Kelley orbited lazily over the Chesapeake, her cloak active to prevent telescopes from reading their presence. Below them, on the planet, smoke belched from the smoke stcks of new industrial plants. It was 1853 locally, Universe C1P2.

In a set of private quarters, Robert was fidgeting with what now passed for a uniform worn by he and his fellows. The black jacket and color-coded trim was different from his usual pproach of "wear what is comfortable". The torch insignia they'd adopted was displayed on the collar. "I really prefer just normal clothing," Robert lamented.

"You need to make a good first impresssion," Farmer pointed out.

"Still... this is a uniform?"

"A very sopisticated one, honestly," he continued. "I saw some of the conceptual holos for the universalization of Starfleet uniforms in a couple years, it inspired me. Didn't like the gray shoulders though, if you're taking the department color off the jacket then why bother with a second color?"

"I'll take your word for it." Robert straightened the jacket up. "I was surprised when you said you wanted to come along."

"As much as I enjoy focusing on building ships, the Aurora is now in the capable hands of Mister Scott to prepare for her shakedown. I'm not needed at the moment. Besides..." Farmer smirked. "I'm really looking forward to seeing their reactions."

At that Robert could only smile. "Well... I guess we'd better get this done. What I wouldn't give to have swapped duties with Julie..."

The Koenig rocked under Julia, a jolt that shifted everyone in their seats. Energy beams played over their shields repeatedly from the strangely-shaped asymmetrical vessel ahead. "Enemy ship coming around," Jarod warned from Ops.

"Ignore him. Zack, Angel, deal with the pirate after those transports."

She was answered immediately and under Zack's control the Koenig shifted to avoid a big hit from the pirate's main gun. As that enemy's sister ship tried to hit them from behind Zack lined up the Koenig and gave Angel a clear shot. Orange blasts of pulse phaser fire lashed out and struck the ship before it could maneuver out of the way. It twisted and brought stronger shields to bear, dispersing the effect of Angel's fire.

Which was exactly what they wanted the pirates to do.

The Koenig went past the enemy ship and fired aft torpedoes into the now-barely-shielded quarter of the pirate. "Hang on!" Zack manipulated the controls and the ship spun around, hard. Julia barely got a chance to protest before Zack shouted, "Now!"

Angel was ready; her cannons hit the enemy ship in the weak side, blasting through the weak screens and into the hull. Flame erupted from the wounds in the enemy ship. A pair of solar torpedoes crashed into those wounds, blasting through to the other side. The entire ship disappeared in a white fireball.

The ship that had been pursuing them now faced them, having to maneuver to avoid the exploding remnants of its fallen comrade. Angel poured fire into the ship, stripping away its shields so that her spread of solar torpedoes could penetrate. The bow of the pirate ship almost disintegrated under the attack. The pirate ship tried to turn too little too late, as a follow up burst of cannon fire ripped into the wounded ship and destroyed several more sections. "And they're giving up."

"We'll let the convoy handle the prisoners. Can you raise them, Jarod?"

"No need. I've got one of their Starfleet escorts on speaker."

Jarod pressed a key. A female voice spoke over the line. "Koenig, this is Major Kira Nerys on the Orinoco, sensors are clear. The Bajoran Militia thanks you for your assistance."

"Any time, Major. We're always ready to help Bajor." That had, indeed, been the unanimous decision of the Council following the final examintions of S5T3's political situation. Aided, of course, by the continuing negotiations - now relocated to the New Liberty Colony - to form a multiversal alliance, which Bajor had been invited to participate in but respectfully turned down.

"It's appreciated. If you're interested you can dock at DS9 and have some leave time."

Given the material they'd reviewed of S5T3 in the past months, that invitation was rather inviting. A stable wormhole to the other side of the galaxy, a reputation for all sorts of varieties of characters to come through... And if I take it without Cat here she'll be so upset... Julia shook her head by reflex. "I'll have to decline, Major. The Koenig is due elsewhere."

"Understood. Orinoco out."

"We'll follow them until we're close enough to Bajor that there's no worry." Julia looked to Jarod. "So, how did we do?"

"No damage." He flashed her a smile. "We had shields drop to about sixty percent during the worst of it. We might want to have someone beef up the shield generators."

"I'll see if Tom and Lucy can manage that. In tthe meantime..." Julia finished giving some orders, and when they were put into effect silence was the immediate result.

"It's a shame we can't stop at DS9," Zack finally said, breaking the quiet. "I mean, lots of aliens, stuff from across the galaxy..."

"We don't have any local money, Zack, so how would we pay for anything?", Julia asked. "I doubt they'll take dollar bills."

"I dunno.... maybe if we trump them as collector's items?"

"Zack, no, just no."

"Oh come on, where's your sense of adventure? All sorts of interesting things happen on DS9."

"Cat would be furious if she wasn't here for it," Angel remarked.

"Yeah. So, how is she doing anyway? Getting her first mission as a commander, I mean?"

"Knowing Cat, even the most boring ice planet has her going nuts with excitement," Julia said, grinning.

The Weaver slipped out of orbit of an ice planet with grace, piloted by an exchange officer from the Dorei Federation. Cat was not in her command chair as she was intended to be; instead she was camped out at sensors while the actual sensor officer for the trip, Philippe, looked on in boredom and bemusement. "And look at those atmospheric effects! Isn't it stunning? I wish we could have sent a landing party..."

"Good luck getting a people to go down to such a world," Philippe remarked.

"There's got to be more to space travel than blasting pirates." Caterina finished examining the readouts from the planet.

"I think you should give Philippe his seat back." The Ops officer, Magda, had been Ops at one point for the Kelley; now the Colombian girl was acting as Cat's XO. "You can look over that data later."

"You're no fun. And sorry Philippe." She stood and let him take the controls back. Caterina let out a sigh and nearly flopped into the command chair. "Next planet?"

"Jovian-scale gas planet and its thirty moons."

"Oooh. Those should be fun to study. Vanrya, set a course."

The Daxai woman nodded. Caterina found her interesting as a "blue elf lady", though calling a Dorei an elf wasn't being accurate. "We're at full acceleration."

Caterina waited as they came up on the Jovian body, arguably larger than its namesake in the Sol system. She was about to see about commandeering Philippe's post again when he looked up. "I'm picking up some debris near the ninth moon."

"Oh? On screen?"

The viewer changed to show a field of metal flotsam arranged haphazardly. "Scans?"

"The material is reading as very old. This station was destroyed long ago. We'll need to examine it to determine what happened."

That sounded like a fun challenge, a very fun challenge. "Okay, transport it into the cargo bay."

"Doing so now." Magda remotely activated the transporter systems. "I'm having trouble locking on to some of the material."

Curiosity swelled up in Caterina. Transporter-resistant material? "Okay, we'll do this another way. Open the main shuttle bay and tractor everything in."

"We don't have the systems to examine it here," Magda reminded her. "We'll have to go back."

"We've only got a few space systems left on the list anyway. I want to get this stuff examined immediately." Caterina leaned back in her chair. "Get every piece we can and set the drive to return us to the Facility."

At Facility Control Julia was waiting when Robert returned. He gave her a look and drew in a sigh. "It didn't go well," she remarked.

"Well, they won't be going into civil war soon, I think," he answered. "We've given them a common threat. And I almost got beaten with a cane by a historical figure."

Julia crossed her arms and her expression became curious. "Oh? Who?"

"That guy from South Carolina who beat the New England senator with a cane." Robert looked deep in thought for a second. "Mom would be ticked that I can't... oh yeah. Brooks."

"And what happened?"

"Oh... um... I stopped Kwang from shooting him. Instead I just decked him." Robert rubbed his shoulder. "He winged me before I got my free hand on the cane."

Julia started laughing hard. "You mean you almost got caned by the guy behind Bleeding Sumner?"

"And then I punched him." Robert allowed himself a small laugh. "I got to punch a historical figure."

"Angel will be really jealous."

That brought more laughing until Robert noticed a ship through the Control window he hadn't expected to see. "Wait, is that the Weaver? Did something happen with Caterina?"

"She found some debris and decided to put her survey mission on standby to do a personal examination." Julia allowed herself a half smile. "Angel's going down to talk to her about it, don't worry."

"I won't." Robert went over to the seat by the main station, his favored seat in the Facility Control. "I'll be too busy worrying about the mess I've made in C1P2. No good deed ever goes unpunished."

Caterina had gathered four of her fellow science officers to go over the debris field, now moved by tractor drones to one of the cargo bays. "An interesting formula for an alloy," she muttered, looking at its molecular structure. "And look at that..... no wonder transporters don't like it, the disruption it causes..."

"Cat!" Caterina went over to where Simon, a Russian Jew from C1P2, was looking over a piece. "What do you make of this?", he asked.

She went over and found why he was so interested; it clearly wasn't a broken piece of anything. She looked over the rectangular object and brought up her scanner. "Hrm, a low level energy field of some kind from within. It might be a stasis container or something. If it's not letting us see what's inside on sensors, we'll need to start a quarantine procedure to open it."

"I can start whenever you're ready," Simon offered.

"Let's get everything else catalogued first." Caterina moved on to the next piece. She hadn't done more than a cursory scan when she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned. Angel faced her, smirking and crossing her arms. "Woh, sis, what is it?"

"We need to talk, Cat. Privately?"

She nodded and looked to the others. "Go on, I'll be right back." She turned and followed Angel to the control room for the chamber. "This is about me coming back early isn't it?"

"Just because you found something new doesn't mean you can drop everything just to see it." Angel let her admonishment hang for a moment. "Things are getting serious now, sister. Orders are given and have to be obeyed."

"But... Angel, it's just so... this is material that could alter how we use transporter technology!"

"And it'll still be there tomorrow."

"Something could have happened though! I can always go back out, but if something happened and I lost these samples...! And I'd rather be here doing science than doing that anyway."

Angel smiled at her with bemusement. "Cat... you do know the old saying, right? You can't always get what you want, ooo you can't always get what you waaaant..." Angel continued to sing the song until Cat playfully slapped her on the shoulder. "Isn't it your favorite?"

"It's one of my favorites." Caterina took a breath. "Let me finish examining this stuff and I'll go back out? Please?"

"I'll recommend it to Rob and Julie," Angel promised. This prompted her to get a glomp-style hug and a delightful shout that came out as "squee!" "Don't thank me, little sis. They might pile on more work for you as reprisal."

"That's fine, I'll do it!"

In Control Robert had put up a screen showing the Aurora. After all that time as a shell, the hard work of Farmer, Scotty, Barnes, and others had brought it almost to completion. "I see the weapons are in place. Engines?"

"Ready for shakedown." Farmer nodded to Scotty. "It's been a pleasure working with you and your teams on this."

"She's a beauty of a ship, that's for sure." The portly old Scotsman patted Barnes on the shoulder. "Me and the lad made sure she'll run like a champion. I can't wait tae see her go."

"We're hoping to shatter some warp speed records Scotty's told me about," Barnes confirmed.

"And I should know, I set some of them meself!"

"What's the status of moving things on board?" This was from Julia.

"Well, yer personal effects are in assigned quarters already," Scotty replied. "Unless ye're changin' yer minds on who's going tae be doin' what. And we've copied some of the Darglan database over."

"So does that mean Control is going to be on the Aurora too?"

"Regrettably not, Jarod," the AI answered, appearing beside them. "My personality matrix and memory core would take up too much space in your systems. It is better to have the data from the database."

Jarod crossed his arms. "I might be able to help with that. We might be able to compress your matrix enough to fit in an auxiliary core."

"The effort is appreciated, but not necessary."

"Well, we'll still be around," Robert pointed out, as if looking to reassure Control. "And it'll be months before we transfer permanently to the Aurora."

"Still the issue of command to work out..." Julia looked at the ship intently. Robert went silent for the moment; he wasn't sure which of them deserved it most.

"Just leave the engineering stuff to us and anyone can command the thing." Barnes nodded and noticed Zack standing, his arms crossed. "Hey, Zack, you alright?"

"He's still irritated that we didn't take a look at Deep Space Nine," a new voice teased. Angel stepped through the doors from the corridor. "I think he heard some stories about the Dabo girls and got bright ideas."

"I just think it's a wasted opportunity," Zack responded. "Dabo girls or no dabo girls... and I don't even know what 'dabo' is anyway."

Robert smiled a little. "I'm sure we'll all get there one day. Besides, if anyone had gone without Cat, she would've been furious."

"Speaking of Cat..." Julia looked over to Angel. "You two talked?"

"We did. She won't do it again. And she'll be going back out just as soon as...."

The alarms started to go off. Control was quick to provide the reason, shouting "Energy spike detected!"

Caterina was finishing the last catalogue of pieces while the others checked the unopened container. "Simon, how is that power flux?"

"We just finished scanning it with our best equipment. Near as we can tell, it's... it's opening, Caterina! It's opening!"

Full of shock and eagerness, Caterina turned and faced the others. The side facing away from her opened. Simon's expression turned to wonder to bewilderment.

A moment later, he let out a scream of terror as an energy beam lashed out and struck him.

Jarod had rushed to the internal sensor station the moment the alert came. "It's from Cargo Bay 10!"

Angel's face went white. "Cat!"

It took only a second for Jarod to check the readings. "Picking up large energy releases, various photon and gamma effects with x-ray emissions showing up..."

Control's face shifted to show what clearly came off as horror. "Oh no... power signature detected and matched with files!" The alarms grew louder and changed tone. Unused monitors across the facility flashed to life with orange and red light. His voice shifted to take on a more mechanical tone, booming throughout the Facility. "Omega level threat detected! Omega level threat detected! Initializing Omega quarantine!"

Caterina was in a bad place; the things killing the others were between her and the door. She rushed behind a corner and hit her comm. "Control, this is Caterina! Something came out of the debris, it's killing people! Please get us out off here and reinforce quarantine to max level! Please get us out!"

The stack of materials she was hiding behind disintegrated and almost made her lose her balance. She turned and stared down at the inhuman things that were facing her, the weapons that had killed Simon and the others pointing toward her.

A group of single electronic eyes, each a cold blue, stared back at her. A shrill mechanical voice dripping with malice came out clear, an announcement to her of her impending death.

"Your species is inferior! You will be exterminated!"

The others joined in.


"Power signature match confirmed. Dalek presence detected." Control's expression remained mechanical. "Maximum quarantine procedures initialized. Sterilization sequence on standby. Facility destruct sequence on standby."

Jarod was busy at one station, Farmer at another. Jarod looked back. "I can't lock the transporter onto Cat, the quarantine procedures have everything locked in."

"No!" Angel glared at Control. "You have to let us get Cat out!"

"Emergency override not recommended against Omega level threat," Control informed them.

Caterina didn't die. The machine-like things continued to focus on her, but none fired. Another was accessing the main control panel on the nearby wall. She could see the panel was not responding; quarantine procedures had eliminated its network connection.

Finally one of the lead things looked to her. The lights on its head lit up in rythym wiith its speaking. "You will open the central computers to us or you will be exterminated!"

Caterina swallowed hard and tried to not look at the fallen bodies of Simon and the others. How had the pod not been contained by the quarantine field? Even then... One mystery at a time, Cat. Just stay alive and give them a chance to rescue you. She inched over to a control panel. One of the things was trying to interface with it using an appendage that looked almost like a plunger.

Cat began tapping the control. The quarantine was at Omega level containment, which made it virtually impossible to circumvent it from inside. Even emergency override had to be confirmed from outside. She tapped a few keys and began typing a message.

"What are we up against?" Robert hovered behind Jarod, looking at the readouts. "What are those things?"

"Whatever they are, they're good at computer cracking. If not for the quarantine they'd already be hacking their way through Control's systems."

"Dammit, Control, get Cat out of there!", Angel cried out. "At least tell me how to take a Tactical team through the quarantine!"

"Again, emergency override is not recommended against Omega level threat. Sterilization procedure prepared."


To Robert's question, Control's answer was chilling. "Enriched naqia charge. Estimation is destruction of one quarter of the Facility."

"One quarter?! Are you nuts?!" Barnes took an extra seat. "There's got to be a better way to deal with these things... what were they again?"

"Threat detection confirmed: Daleks." Control showed none of the usual warmth and friendliness, like his very personality was locked down. "Universe Designation W8R4. Advanced alien species genetically engineered for heightened intelligence and aggression against other life forms. Threat level extreme."

"Okay. Tell me how to beat them and rescue my sister," Angel insisted.

"Accessing countermeasure plans... accessing... countermeasure found."


"Find the Doctor."

Robert looked back from the screen, bewildered at such an unexpected answer. "Repeat that?"

"Find the Doctor."

"Doctor?" Angel's expression betrayed the mix of confusion and fear in her. "What do you mean 'Find the Doctor'? Doctor who?"

"Find the Doctor."

Julia shook her head in disbelief. "It's been three thousand years, whoever this Doctor is I bet he or she is gone. Angel, get that tactical team."

"I've got Caterina over the network." Jarod brought up a screen. It showed a display from Cargo Bay 10. Caterina was standing at a station; around here were a number of the aliens and, sadly, the dead bodies of the others. For such deadly things a number of those assembled couldn't help but think the things looked almost like pepper shakers with attachments. "She's stalling, but there's not much she can do but communicate. The quarantine is pretty thorough."

"Could we draw attention with an attack?", Robert asked.

"The quarantine field doesn't let us in either." Jarod was checking various systems. "I can activate the override-"

"Emergency override not recommended."

"...-and let Farmer beam her out, but I'll be busy shoring up the firewall and preventing any breakthrough. We can re-initialize the quarantine one we get Cat out."

"Sounds like a plan. Get to it."

Caterina made a show of trying to work the systems, but in truth she was writing a goodbye to her sister and the others. I'm actually going to die was the thought in her head, and it made her want to quiver and whimper. But she couldn't let herself do that. She wouldn't let these things see her terror. Besides, she knew they'd get her out. Her sister and friends wouldn't let her die.

"You are incapable of removing the firewall," one of the things stated suddenly. "You are of no use to us. You will be exterminated!"

Caterina turned back and saw the nozzles on the things coming up. That was it; she was dead. I won't cry, I won't...

The aliens fired.

A column of light appeared in Facility Control. Caterina appeared from it and almost stumbled over. "You... you got me out?"

"The Daleks are breaking into the computer systems!" Jarod's work at the station was almost frantic. "I'm getting multiple attacks through the firewall, trying to lock them all off!"

"They're smarter than I thought and more of them are joining in!" On the screens they could see three Daleks at the controls.

"Control, restore quarantine!", Julia ordered.

"I cannot," Control answered woodenly. "Unspecified overrides have locked down the capability. Self destruct failsafes offline."

"So much for..."

"Angel, get your team together, now!" Robert's shout led to her nodding and leaving the room. Robert turned to Scotty. "Mister Scott, just in case... I want you back on the Aurora. Get her ready for launch."

"And start bringing people aboard," Julia added. "It'll take a while to get everyone in the Facility on the ships."

"Aye sir! Mister Barnes, I'd appreciate yer help."

"I'm there." Barnes typed several keys, after which he and Scotty were whisked away by the transporter.

"We're evacuating?" Caterina looked at them incredulously. "Over this? We can beat them!"

"Just in case we don't, Cat. If the Daleks are enough of a threat to make Control go into auto-destruct mode, we can't risk them taking this technology." Robert went back to Jarod. "Jarod...?"

"Not now!" It seemed like his hands couldn't move fast enough.

Control and the screens went blank. Over the central holotank one of the Daleks appeared. "This technology will now serve the Daleks. You will be exterminated!"

"Like hell," Julia shot back. "We're not out of the fight yet."

Looking to buy time, Caterina added, "We could help you get to your home universe if you let us!"

"You are irrelevant. You are weak. You cannot aid Daleks. You cannot fight Daleks. You will be exterminated."

"They have lift control!", Jarod warned. "I'm trying to keep them out of the transporters and jump systems, but..."

The Dalek wavered and disappeared. Control reappeared in his place, looking back to normal. "Control re-established. Thanks to Mister Jarod's efforts I have isolated the remaining key systems not yet slaved to the Daleks, they can only be controlled from here. I'm afraid my measures won't last long if the Daleks break into the main computers or take Facility Control."

"I'm keeping them distracted, but with the quarantine down they can leave the Cargo area."

"The moment they start moving route that information to Angel and the tactical teams." Robert went over to a station and hit the comm button. "Control to Medical. Leo?"

"I'm here. Just what the hell is going on?!"

"We have a dangerous group of aliens loose in the Facility. It's bad enough... Leo, get your patients and staff secured for immediate beaming to the Aurora med center."

"It's really that bad?"

"It is. Robert out."

"I'll get to the Koenig and start bringing people aboard," Zack offered.

"No." Julia shook her head. "Lucy can head Koenig. You and Locarno get to the Aurora's bridge to launch her."

Robert gave an agreeing nod. "Yeah. And you're in command, Zack. No buts! If you have to, get out without us."

"But..." Zack swallowed, seeing their expressions. "Alright, I'm going over."

After Zack beamed away, that left the others. "It all depends on Angel and the others," Julia murmured, standing beside Robert. "If they can't..."

"If they can't stop them, we'll have to blow up the Facility," Robert finished for her, frowning. "If they've locked down lift controls it means they're coming up this way."

"Do you want to go help?"

"You and I have something else to get ready for. If we have to... well..." Robert gulped and looked at the Kelley, thinking of all the adventures and time he'd spent on that ship. "The Daleks may have locked down the Facility self-destruct, but we have other destruct mechanisms."

Julia turned her head slightly. "You mean..."

"Yes." His frown deepened. "We'll blow up the Kelley, and other ships if we have to. Anything to stop the Daleks."

Angel had never imagined having to haul the heavy weapons out of the armory for this kind of purpose, but here she was, leading a combat team of various rescuees - as well as a couple of volunteers from the other universes - to head off the Daleks. The lifts were out of order, forcing them to take the emergency grav chutes and endure the G forces within. Her head spun as they came out on the cargo level. One by one the others came out behind her. "This way," she directed them.

As they moved along, Angel was again thankful for how quick and easy it was to get into one of the Darglan combat armor suits adapted to the human body. Going into this with a T-shirt and shorts would have seemed... silly. And suicidal.

The main lift in the area was in a useful position; the top of a T-junction. Scanners confirmed the Daleks were approaching from the stem hallway, letting her team take up firing positions along either side. Sweat began to build on her forehead and face as Angel waited, with failing patience, for the Daleks to come into range.

When they came, it was with a different one in the lead. It didn't have the "plunger arm", just a big weapon nozzle. When it fired a thick burst of energy lashed out and nearly hit a couple of the team despite their cover. Angel bent a bit over the side and swung her weapon around. She squeezed the trigger and felt slight recoil as a rapid series of blue energy pulses lashed out and played over the Dalek's surface. Amber energy met her blasts, absorbing them the shots from the others. "No damned effect!", she cried out into the comms.

"Bring up the power levels!", another voice cried. Everyone did so save Angel - her's was already at max output - and another barrage of fire focused on the Dalek... just as it fired. The blue burst struck the team members on the opposite side of the corridor. Their skeletons were briefly visible through their skin and then... nothing. They were gone.

Angel pulled back again and took in a breath. Four down in one shot, like their forcefields weren't even there. She pulled out a micro-naqia charge. "Everyone brace yourselves!"

One of the troopers looked at her like she was mad. "You're going to use that in here?!"

"Like I have a choice!" Angel looked around the corner and pressed the delyed fuse on the charge. She threw it a split second before the thing fired at her, barely evading the blast. It felt like the entire Facility raddled and even through her closed eyes it was like looking at the sun for a split second. With her weapon raised Angel looked around the corner.

The damned thing was still alive.

Without waiting to see if it moved Angel opened fire with her weapon at max power and rate, enough to drain the power clip in seconds. The others opened fire behind her, causing a massive barrage of blue pulses to converge on the Dalek's marred form. "You will not stop the Daleks!", it shrieked in rage. The top suddenly exploded, followed by other bits.

"Dalek down!", Angel cried into her comm-line. "One down, three to go!"

At that moment, she realized she didn't see the other three and wondered why. She soon realized why when cries erupted from both sides of the T-junction. Three more of her people went down. She turned to the cries nearest hers and saw two more Daleks, the normal models, bering down. Energy shots erupted from their nozzles and enveloped members of her team, taking them out instantly. A single Dalek was getting the same effect on the other end. "We're in a crossfire! Everyone into the main junction!"

In Facility Control, everyone save Jarod was paying attention to the tactical layout. The dots representing Angel's team were going out one after the other, the three icons of the Daleks coming in on both sides and thinning them out. Cries of battle came over the radio as they tried to follow Angel into a retreat toward the same Dalek they'd just destroyed.

"Angel, please," Caterina whimpered, her eyes bright with the tears welling up in them. "Please..."

The icons continued to go out...

"Fall back!" Angel motioned the others to go behind her. She cursed not having another micro-naqia charge; it might have actually worked. Even at max output her weapon couldn't break their shielding.

One of the survivors was one of the Mexican girls from their first rescue operation. Maria Ana grabbed her arm as she went by. "Aren't you coming?!"

"Take the others and get beamed out, Maria." Angel brought up her weapon's control systems. "I'm playing my last card."


"Go, now!" Angel's face tightened. The horror she saw in Maria's eyes told her that Maria could see what she was thinking; there was no coming back for her. "Tell my sister I love her and I'll always be with her."

"Go with God." Maria looked to almost be in tears as she continued down the hall to get out of the lines of fire.

Another death cry saw the fall of the last defender at the T. Angel finished modifying her weapon and brought it up. When the first Dalek came around the corner she muttered, "Burn you bastard."

Her finger squeezed the trigger.

The weapon whined in protest as the energy cell powering it dumped all of its capacity into the weapon's emitters. Instead of a series of bursts, the blue energy came out in a solid, crackling beam that speared the Dalek's shields. Amber light met sapphire.... and failed completely, the beam slicing into the Dalek's form with blue light and the familiar red of melting metal. The Dalek's death scream echoed in Angel's ears a split section before it exploded violently.

Another Dalek came around the corner, but it didn't have time to fire. The overloaded capacitors of her rifle were never meant to contain the energy she'd dumped into them. Angel dropped the weapon reflexively, but had no time to do anything else as it exploded. Heat and agony flooded into her despite her armor as she felt the blast throw her backward.

And everything went black.

"Way to go Angel!", Julia shouted in exhuberation when another Dalek icon disappeared. Everyone's spirits soared... until the marker for Angel flew backward at an impossible speed and faded out.

Caterina let out a wail of despair and began crying. Robert felt his legs weaken so badly that he had to grab his chair for support. "Life signs?"

Farmer was quick to answer. "Very faint. I'm beaming them to the Aurora's sickbay, but I don't know... and the Daleks are entering the lift. They're coming to this level."

"We don't have any more time. Jarod?"

"Trying to stall them, but that Dalek that's still in Cargo 10 is keeping me occupied. I can barely keep up with them."

Robert and Julia exchanged a worried glance. Nobody had ever been able to "keep up" with Jarod before. "Do what you can." Robert forced himself to stand. "Cat?" When he received no answer he walked up to where Cat was curled up in her usual seat, face buried in her knees and crying. "Cat."

"It's my fault!," she wailed. "I let them out! Oh God I let them out and they killed Simon and Alisa and Tamika and Angel oh God my sister is..."

"Cat!" Julia stormed up beside, and past, Robert to go straight to her. Julia took her by the arms and made her look up. Their eyes met and remained locked together. "Cat, Angel is still alive. Leo won't let her die. And you and I both know Angel will never give up as long as she has you. Now, listen, we need your help."

Julia's words made Caterina's crying subside to mild sobbing. Robert stepped up beside Julia and took Caterina's hand. "Cat, we need to make sure the Daleks don't get this technology. I'm going to use the Kelley, but I need to make sure it works. I need your cute, geeky brain here, Cat."

Caterina sniffled. Her mind began to race at considering the problem. It let her refocus her thoughts, getting them away from her guilt and fear for her sister's life. "A normal naqia explosion may not be enough," she said through a sniffle. "Unless we blew up the Aurora... no, what we need to do is to enrich the naqia in the Kelley's reactors. It'll make it unstable. It won't be hard to set up an overload in the engines once the process is finished."

"Okay." Robert brought her to her feet. "Cat, I need you to come with me and Julia. Help us begin this process in the Kelley's reactors and then get to the Aurora to help Zack and Nick Locarno, okay? Can you do that for me?"

Caterina fought down another sniffle. "Y... yes, I can."

"Okay. Captain Farmer?"

The older man nodded. He had walked over to the control room's small armory and retrieved a pistol, even if it was likely to be woefully inadequate against a Dalek. "I'll try to sabotage the lift remotely. They have lift control, but I can try to exploit access to tube control, and after that the emergency partitions."

"Good. That will give Zack, Lucy, and Magda time to finish the evacuation and get their ships out. But as soon as the Daleks get here, Captain, beam out with Jarod. We'll set the Kelley to explode and evacuate to whatever ship is available."

"Agreed." Farmer turned back and extended his hand. "Good luck."

"The same to you." Robert turned and nodded to Julia. She hit several controls on another station and transported the three to the Kelley.

Zack was sitting beside Locarno on the Aurora's bridge; with all hands busy with getting the ship's launch schedule hastened or dealin with the evacuation, they were alone and most of the ship's functions were shifted, rather badly, to Ops for Zack to use. "It looks like we've got almost everyone," he said. He hit a button. "Koenig, this is Zack. Lucy, are you full?"

"Full here, I've stuffed everyone where I can. Even the runabouts."

"Then get out of here. Jump to the lunar far side, we'll join you there." Zack switched the comms to the Weaver. "Magda, this is Zack Carrey. Hey, beautiful, how goes the evac?"

"We've gone past capacity, I've crammed 600 people into space for not even 500."

"Set jump for the lunar far side, then. Carrey out." He brought up a different screen. "Six hundred, five hundred... that leaves fifteen hundred, and we've gotten a thousand of them."

"This would be impossible without Control running the Facility transporters," Locarno remarked. "As soon as we confirm the last evacuees are on board I'll fire up the impulse drives."

"Are Scotty and Tom ready for that?"

"I would imagine so by now."

Zack nodded. His attention was drawn by a beep at his board. "That's odd, we have something coming down the lift."

"Someone overrode the lift controls locally?"

"I don't know. It might be...." He brought up the caera to the lift opening and waited for his hope and fear to resolve itself.

Zack's heart fell when he saw the Dalek emerge. "Closing the blast doors." After hitting that control he triggered a signal to the Kelley. "Rob, Julie, we've got a Dalek down here and I don't know how long the blast doors will hold it. What's the status on your bomb?"

Kelley was abandoned save the three friends in engineering, running from place to place with Robert and Julia doing the hands on work while Caterina shouted orders. "Regulate the particle flow! I need it reduced by twenty percent or we'll get early instability!" She reached over and hit a button to answer Zack. "Zack, we're coming along. How is my sister?"

"I haven't talked to Leo yet, Cat. How much longer is this going to take? I've got an unwanted guest at the door."

"It'll take as long as it needs to. If I go too fast the naqia will destabilize and blow up before it finished enriching."

"Not what I wanted to hear, but we'll do what we have to."

Julia looked up. "Zack! If you need to, get the Aurora out immediately!"

"I'm not leaving you behind, Julie."

"Yes, dammit, you're going to, because I'm not having you kill all of those people for me," she hissed in angry retort.

Caterina returned her attention to the display, trying not to think about her sister and whether Angel was even still alive.

"We're losing her!"

Leo cursed under his breath at Nasri's cry. Don't you die on me, Angel, not when Cat needs you. He moved away from the tactical team member he'd just stabilized to the bed where they'd brought Angel. He tried to detach his emotions as he looked at his friend and the charred remnants of large sections of her skin area. "Second and third degree burns over almost all frontal surface area," he noted, seeing the latest reading. "Internal damage is severe..." He swallowed. "Push ten ccs of dizaproregene and not one cc more."

"Dizap, sir?"

"No time, Nasri." He didn't need her questioning his use of the cellular regrowth agent; if too much was used it could cause cancerous growth. He checked Angel's failing vitals and grabbed an injector. Another chemical compound would calm her overtaxed body while they tried to heal it.

"Doctor, I'm losing this one!"

Leo temporarily left Angel to the care of Nasri, heading to another off the troopers. He looked over the severe damage to the man's body. A heavy, weary sigh came from him. "He's too far gone. Tag him." As the somber nurse did so, Leo felt like collapsing. Even if the grim necessity of triage was what he'd trained for almost from the beginning of his medical career, even before this wild new life began.... it felt like murder.

He looked back to Angel's bed. He knew that, honestly, she was damned close to that line too. Would he have to tag her as well? Dammit, Angel, don't you die on me. Don't you die on Cat.

In Facility Control, Jarod and Farmer were still busy at work, the former blocking one of the Daleks attempting to overtake control of the computers, the latter using the massive transporter capacity of the Facility to evacuate the last of its crew and occupants to the Aurora while throwing every obstacle he could before the two Daleks on their way to Facility Control. "They're getting through another bulkhead." Farmer's long Starfleet experience was helping him to hide the creeping desperation in his voice. "They're going too fast. It takes time to enrich even small amounts of naqia..."

"If we had another tactical team..."

"It is highly unlikely such would succeed," Control interjected. "The Daleks are... highly adaptable. They will not expose themselves to destruction as easily as the last time."

"We've got to delay them somehow!", Farmer insisted.

Jarod didn't turn from his controls, but he felt an idea pop into his head. "Control! When you went automated, your systems mentioned that the counter-measure to the Daleks was to 'find the Doctor'. What did that mean?"

Control was quiet only for a moment. "I've accessed my databanks. It appears that in the prior two occasions when the Darglan were threatened by the Daleks, they were aided by an alien being who referred to himself as the Doctor. He was of one of the ancient races of the multiverse and provided the Darglan with the means to develop dimensionally transcedental field technology."

"Not interested in that part, just his relationship with the Daleks." Jarod hit several keys, barely avoiding a penetration of the firewall.

"He appears to have been the greatest threat they knew of."

"Do you have his appearance on file?"

Control took a half second to check. "Strange. I have not one but two."

"Two?", Farmer asked.


Farmer bit back the question of why, allowing Jarod to finish explaining. "Control, intercept them in hologram form and pick one of the appearances. Make them think you're the Doctor."

"Ah." Control nodded. "An interesting gambit. I shall attempt it immediately."

Another blast door melted away under fire from the two Daleks. They pushed through the resulting hole and confronted Control. He shifted to have curly, light brown hair and a green jacket. The two Daleks stopped. "It is the Doctor! The Doctor is the enemy of the Daleks! The Doctor must be exterminated!"

Control's holographic visage turned and ran into an adjacent corridor, the Daleks pursuing.

On the bridge of the Aurora Zack and Locarno were busy monitoring the evacuation by transporter. Zack kept a nervous eye on the Dalek stuck at the airlock leading to the docking arm. "Any luck getting the arm to withdraw?", Locarno asked.

"No, apparently that's one of the systems the little bastards took over first." Zack watched the thing working at a console. "I think it's trying to override the blast door now."

"So how do we get it from getting aboard?"

Zack bit into his lower lip in thought. He brought his hand over to a control to re-route controls to his console and used that to re-route tactical. He brought up the targeting system, overrode the safeties, and targeted the starboard weapons on the docking arm. "If that thing comes through, I blast the arm off."

"Good plan!"

The shouts of panic filled sickbay. "Doctor, we're losing her again!"

Leo dashed over to see where Nasri was trying desperately to keep Angel alive. He looked at the readings. "Dammit! Prep for surgery! Get samples for the bio-replicators."

"Reactor 1 is done!" Caterina hit a key. "I'm preparing the overload to trigger, I'll match it to reactor 2 when it's done enriching!"

Robert looked up from the control panel he was monitoring. "Good!"

In Facility Control Farmer was busy shoring up the last bulkheads to the area while Jarod continued working at his station. Suddenly his console went dead. "Dammit. Jarod, I've lost transport control and we still have two hundred people!"

"I know! I'm having to give ground to keep the Dalek out of key systems." Jarod never looked away. "It looks like they realize our plan, it's trying to get to the safety field systems for the docks. The Kelley's explosion would be wasted. Aurora is going to have to complete the beaming themselves."

Farmer nodded and pressed his wrist device's comm button. "Farmer to Aurora. We've lost transporter control, you need to get the last couple hundred evacuees."

"We're transporting as fast as we can here, Farmer, but that Dalek is almost in control of the blast door."

"Damn." Farmer put a hand on his chin. "Let me help you, Jarod. I'm trying to restore transporter control."

It was new for Control to be running around "physically", so to speak. He was quite surprised that the Daleks were so willing to ignore their objective and pursue him; his creators had been spot on concerning the Doctor's importance.

Before they could see him he changed position, fading out his holo and reappearing behind them. "Are you looking for me?", he asked.

The Daleks turned their heads. "The Doctor must be exterminated!"

Control turned to continue running.... and his holo-Doctor disappeared. He ran an immediate diagnostic to ponder why, but it was too late. The Daleks stopped. "Deception! The Doctor was not real! Return to primary objective!"

A deep frown crossed Jarod's face. "Well, the good news is we have transporters back."

"The bad?", Farmer asked.

"I had to give up control of some non-essential systems, including the holo-projectors." Jarod kept working at it, switching code commands and fighting to keep the hacking Dalek at bay. "Our decoy just turned off. They know they've been fooled."

Farmer nodded and went back to work. "Control, how much help can I get?"

"I regret that much of my function is still tied up trying to aid Jarod's firewall," Control responded. "The Daleks are now at the third blast door. They are burning through."

Farmer keyed the Kelley. "We've only got three doors left! How is that enrichment coming?!"

"Enrichment process at fifty percent," Caterina said. "We need at least five more minutes!"

"Third door breached. Daleks approaching second door," Control informed them.

"You might not have five minutes!"

The operating room on the Aurora had an emergency crew working with Leo on Angel's body. It was not cut open; the technology aboard allowed projected tools and short-range transporters to be used in repairing or replacing bad organs. In this case, Angel's organs were badly damaged and she was further weakened by internal blood loss. With only 20th Century technology she'd already be dead; Leo's efforts to save her were only working because of the technology at his disposal. "The Dizap isn't working fast enough," he muttered. "Okay, we're going to have to focus the regenerators on the primary organs. We prioritize!"

"Yes, Doctor!"

Angel's life was still slipping away, but she'd not go. Not with Leo there to keep her here. "You're not dying, Angel," he murmured. "Your little sister needs you."

"Dalek breaching final door," Control warned them.

Farmer ignored that; he kept at the transporter controls. Under his hands the final group of residents of the Facility were whisked away into the safety of the Aurora. "All evacuees away!" He stood up. "Jarod, we can't do any more, see if you can lock down safety control long enough for the Kelley to go off."

"I'm trying..." Jarod kept at the control. "You'd better get to the Aurora. They'll be coming through any time."

"And what about you?"

"I have to finish this, I've almost got Facility Control isolated. It'll buy a little time..."

"The Daleks have gotten through the last blast door." Control looked somberly at them. "Evacuation recommended."

"Don't worry about that." Jarod went back to work, feverishly operating the panel and issuing commands and code changes into the systems.

Farmer looked back at the locked door. It glowed bright red. Blue light began to appear at the center of the red. "Jarod, I'll stay."

"You've got family. Get out, now!" Jarod brushed him off.

Farmer brought up his communicator. "Aurora, this is Captain Farmer. Standby to beam me straight to the bridge, follow my comm signal."

The door blew open.

"I've got it," Jarod said. "Now get...."

Farmer turned and slapped his comm unit on Jarod's free wrist. "Aurora, energize!"

The savant stared at him in bewilderment until white light covered him and stole him away.

Farmer pulled his pistol and fired it at the door. Amber light met his shots, rendering them harmless. One Dalek entered and then the second. "Human! You will surrender control of this technology or you will be exterminated!"

Farmer took in a breath and got behind Control's holotank for cover. "Like hell. I joined Starfleet to oppose monsters like you!"

"Exterminate!" The Daleks opened fire on him and began to approach.

On the Kelley Robert had the comms open to Farmer and overheard everything. "I'm going to help Captain Farmer," he said.

Julia and Caterina turned from where they were working to face him. "Rob, you can't," Caterina insisted. "You don't have anything that can hurt them."

"It'll buy us more time, and might save Farmer," he pointed out, going up to a control. "Finish prepping the Kelley and get over to the Aurora as soon as you can." He brought the transporter online.

Julia went up to him and twisted him around. "Don't get yourself killed," she demanded.

"I'll try."

She nodded at him and took a breath. Robert went to hit the transport control when she grabbed him and pressed her lips against his. His eyes widened briefly. When the contact ended Julia reached around him and pressed the controls. Before he could speak the transporter whisked him away. Julia sucked in another breath and looked over at Caterina. "How much more do you need to do?"

"I'm done with my end," she answered. "Now all we have to do is trigger the overload. It'll take a few minutes for the energy buildup to finish destabilizing."

"Then we'd better get going." Julia reached over to the controls again. "Tell Zack to launch immediately."

Caterina opened her mouth to ask why, but had no time to speak before the transporter whisked her away.

The moment Jarod appeared on the bridge Zack jumped out of the chair and went to Tactical. "Jarod, Ops, now! That Dalek's starting to go for our computers too!"

After a moment's bewilderment Jarod jumped into the ops chair. "He's already got control over the blast door, he's trying to override our force fields so we can't keep him from getting in."

"Keep him busy."

Zack brought the weapons online and locked on the blast door, waiting for the Dalek to come through. He heard a noise and looked up to see Caterina appear. "Cat! Science!"

She looked around, bewildered for a moment, but nodded and went to the sensors controls. "The Kelley's on her way to going boom."

Zack hit his comm. "Julie, you're done, get out of there!"

"I'm going to help Rob, Zack. Get the Aurora out, now. There's no more time."

A strong ache welled inside him. "Julie, we're not going to have time to get you out."

"Don't worry about us, we'll take the old entrance! Just get the ship out!"

Zack let out a growl of frustration and struck the controls with his palm. As confident as she sounded, he knew he was likely leaving them to die if he did that. And he didn't want to. They were his friends!

But so were the others. He was responsible for everyone on the Aurora, good people who would die if he didn't get them to safety. I'm not supposed to make these kinds of decisions, he thought. This is too big for me. It's not....

"Zack, we have to go, now," Caterina insisted.

"Can't we beam them out while going?"

"Only if you want the Daleks to take control of the Facility and turn on the containment systems," Caterina pointed out. "They have to be distracted. And once the portals are on the disruptions will block the transporters...."

God dammit... Zack bit into his lip while hot tears formed in his eyes. Losing Rob, losing Julie.... he couldn’t do this!

"She's flatlining!"

"God dammit," Leo cursed. He finished repairing one of Angel's bronchi and looked toward her stopping heart. "Nerve stimulators, now!" He went to work on the heart, regenerating cells. “Get valve pumps ready!”

Nasri and the rest of the team worked as well, Nasri taking the key job of operating the nerve stimulators. She was, in effect, trying to jump start Angel’s heart back into operation, in a way most people saw a defibrillator being used (if not the real use of it). With its tissues being repaired and the nerves being stimulated into function, Angel’s heart suddenly beat, and then beat again. A slow, steady rythym began.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Leo mumbled.

Robert materialized outside the entrance to Facility Control. He pulled out his pistol, set it to max power, and brought it up as he came to the door. The Daleks were starting to outflank Farmer, so he opened fire on one of them. "Hey rustbuckets! Over here!" He took cover beside the door and watched a beam sizzle beside him. He leaned back over, ready to take another shot.

"Your species is inferior! You will all be exterminated!"

Farmer acted first. He came out of cover and got to a control, which he tapped several times. He let out a laugh. "Lock out complete!"

"Farmer, look out!"

Farmer didn't react. "Tell Carol and Linda I love them," was all he said. Then he lit up with blue light, a skeleton briefly showing through the flash, and his body crumbled to the ground.

Robert took cover again and swallowed. Visions of Duffy bleeding to death from a gunshot came back to him, and the pirates on that station in N2S7. Someone else had died in front of him, right in front of him....

One of the Daleks moved over to the controls. "Attempting to restore systems control from this location."

Robert looked around the corner and squeezed off a shot. Not only did he miss wildly, but he barely got back into cover before the other fired on him. It began to approach the door.

"The Daleks have Facility Control, it looks like they're trying to re-establish the controls here to take over the computer systems," Robert said over the radio. On the Aurora bridge Zack heard those words and drew in a breath.

"I don't know how long Control can hold them now," Jarod said. "If they lock down the drive systems..."

"Zack." Caterina looked over from Sensors. "I'm sorry Zack, but..."

"Cat." He shook his head at her. His gut twisted and tears formed in his eyes. He couldn’t make this decision, he couldn’t....

He looked into her tear-filled eyes. He could see she still blamed herself for this. He wanted to hold her close and reassure her that she wasn’t, that this wasn’t her fault.

Even though what to come was certainly going to be his.

With Rob and Julie’s faces in his mind, Zack swallowed. It wasn’t what he could do that mattered, only what he had to. Every fiber of his heart screamed in protest, on behalf of the two of his dearest friends in the world that he was going to endanger, even condemn to death. "Mister Locarno, power up the drives. Mister Jarod, detach us from the dock."

The two went to work. Zack turned his attention to the firing board before him. The blast door was sliding open. The Dalek was through. He looked at the ugly damn thing, a children's toy that was forcing him to abandon his friends, and felt rage build inside of his very soul. "This is for my friends, you metal son of a bitch." He reached down and hit the triggering keys.

One of the phaser strips on the Aurora's starboard side came to life. Energy met on the strip and a beam lashed out, spearing the Dalek and the blast door. The Dalek exploded in a fireball.

"Airlock detached," Jarod reported. "Drive activation standing by.”

"Bringing impulse drives online." Locarno operated the board quietly, but a deep tone came from it. "I'm getting a safety warning through the system. Something's wrong with the impulse drives."

Zack began to sweat at that. "Bridge to Engineering. We need impulse power, now!"

The frantic pace in Engineering hadn't let up since Scotty and Barnes had beamed in. Scotty was directing the chaos of the engineering teams getting the ship ready to go, shaving precious minutes, while Barnes took charge of checking every piece of equipment.

Zack's plea came over the comms and he looked at the engines. "Oh hell." He saw indicators going red. "Dammit, the simulations were off! The vibrational stresses are going too high, the couplings are going to fail!" He reached over and picked up a tool and a kit at a nearby station and scrambled to the ladder.

Scotty looked over at him. "Lad, what are ye doin'?!"

"I'm going to reinforce those couplings! It should last until we get out!"

"Don't be daft, Tom! Ye're not in any gear, the vibrations will..."

"It's my screwup, Scotty. You were right about those Goddamned couplings." Barnes frowned and pulled himself into the workspace. As he moved along he could feel pain build inside. His ear hurt and his balance went off. Sweat clouded his eyes as he fought through it and got to the offending machinery. I'm not having my friends die because of my damned mistakes.

From Kelley's engineering controls, Julia had a screen showing the Dalek at the controls, another Dalek firing on Robert and approaching him. Just one hit and he was probably dead...

I'm not letting him die. I'm not letting these things win! She brought up Engineering's emergency ship controls and fired the Kelley's thrusters to change its orientation. As she did so, she reached over and hit another key. "Warning: Overload detected in reactor systems. Overrides disengaged. Reactor overload pending."

Julia finished the change in angle to face the ship toward Facility Control. Another series of presses brought up a weapons control board. She focused the pulse cannons on the Control room. "Control? Control, are you there?"

"Not very well, Julia. Over 99% of my functions are tied up delaying the Dalek in Cargo 10 from completing an override of my systems. I estimate I have five minutes before my last protections fail."

"So even if I destroy Facility Control, we still lose the Facility." Julia drew in a breath. "I'm sorry, Control."

"Do not be. My programming is fulfilled. My purpose is fulfilled. You and your friends are rebuilding that which the Darglan made. I am grateful."

Julia drew in a breath and triggered her comm. "Robert! Get away from the Control room door!"

"Julie, what are you doing?"

"I'm saving your life," she answered succinctly. She reached over and triggered the fire controls. "Okay Daleks, exterminate this."

The Dalek firing on Robert noticed the change in orientation of the Kelley. "New threat detected! Raise emergency defense screens!"

"Defense screens not responding!", replied the other Dalek. "Overloading portal system to form gravity we..."

The other Dalek was moving to the door to get away. But they were too late; the Kelley's main guns opened up.

Robert was moving away from the door and into cover when the explosion threw him off his feet. He hit a far wall with enough force that he felt two ribs crack. The world began to spin with color when he tried to get off the floor. "Unnnhhh."

He felt his arm grabbed. He was pulled to his fleet and looked up to see a familiar pair of green eyes. "Julie?"

Julia smiled at him. "I barely got out before the portal came online. Come on, we don't have much..."

There was a clatter of debris down the hall. They looked over and saw metal debris shift around, thrown away from the entrance... "Oh, you've got to be kidding...", Robert mumbled.

From the debris emerged a charred but intact Dalek. The voice that came out dripped with pure rage and hate. "YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!"

"I think I pissed it off," Julia answered. "Run!"

*listen only through the next two scenes*

Barnes thought his ears were going to explode as he finished the reinforcement binding. He struggled to twist around, knowing he had to get out before the impulse drives powered up fully. He crawled slowly toward the opening, but the pain in his head was becoming too intense. He couldn't concentrate....

At the opening he saw a familiar face appear. "C'mon, lad!" Scotty reached in and took his arm. The old man grimaced and groaned with struggle, while around them the vibrations grew worse as the impulse drives went into operation. "I've got ye!"

Groaning with effort, Barnes used every bit of strength he could to finish pulling himself out with Scotty's help. He almost lost his grip on the ladder beside the old Scotsman as he finished getting out. Scotty used a free hand and slammed the control to seal the access port. "Bridge, this is Engineering!", he called out. "Ye've got full power!"

On the bridge Zack heard that and shouted, "Jarod, lock on to Julie and Rob and beam them out!"

Jarod shook his head. "I can't! The Daleks activated the drive portal for the Kelley's dock! The interference won't let me get a lock."

God dammit. "Then get our exit active! Locarno, get us the hell out of here!"

For the first time, the Aurora's drives came fully to life. The ship began moving forward toward the swirling green and blue portal. The wreckage of the ruined docking arm receded beside it, while the crew focused their sight on the portal ahead. It drew larger on the screen.

The Aurora's speed picked up. Like a great eagle being freed from its cage, it soared on and into the portal, its freedom lying just ahead.

Leo looked up from his work and toward Angel's vitals. The EKG and EEG lines were stabilizing, finally. "I think we're out of the woods," he murmured. He looked back to the controls. "Looks like we'll need a new spleen. Of all the things..."

"I’ll get one replicated, Doctor," Nasri answered.

I knew you’d stay, Angel, Leo thought as he patted his friend’s shoulder. I knew you wouldn’t abandon Cat.

The Dalek was still pursuing them across the deck, with the exit looming. Robert had regained his steps, adrenaline helping to suppress the agony in his chest and limbs. The Dalek’s shots at them were going wide due to the damage to its weapon and its inability to maneuver the nozzle to aim. "We’ve only got seconds!", Julie cried as they came up to the door.

It didn’t open.

They grabbed it and pulled on opposite ends, but the door didn’t budge. A holographic sign came up; Control’s quarantine was still in effect. "Control, open the door!", Robert shouted.

"Control, we’re trapped in here! Override!"

"You will not escape!" The Dalek continued to fire on them, forcing them away from the door. "EXTERMINATE!"

As it continued forward, it was suddenly stopped by a blue energy field. Julia and Robert went back to the door in time for Control to appear in holoform. "Go! I can't hold control of these systems!" Control indicated the door, which slid open.

"Thank you," Robert breathed.

"No, my young Human friends." Control shifted in appearance to the original Darglan form he'd once briefly held when meeting them. "I thank you. My creators would be proud of you." As he watched them go through the door Control relinquished control of the holoprojectors again, letting his systems concentrate on holding the Dalek in place to prevent its escape. He sensed the Aurora about to enter its escape portal and found the transmission controls, abandoned by the Dalek in Cargo 10 in its frantic efforts to take control of the safety containment systems and prevent the Kelley from destroying them. He only had a short time, but it would be enough, as data flowed from his central cores into the Aurora's auxiliary computer cores.

Robert and Julia got up onto the transport platform. It was no different than when they'd first arrived nearly two years before. They took a look at the open Facility door and the Dalek there, screeching in rage. The Facility had been their home for so long that both felt pain at losing it. Robert reached over and put a hand on the control. "Hey Dalek," he called out. "Score one for the inferior species."

There was a bright flash in the distance as Robert hit the control. Light erupted from the platform and they disappeared in it. The Dalek screamed in incoherent rage... after which time it disintegrated, claimed by the energy wave erupting from what had been the Starship Kelley.

The Kelley's naqia cores, loaded with unstable enriched naqia, overloaded together. The energy release was massive, vaporizing almost everything it touched as it expanded out from the sacrificed vessel. The Dalek in Cargo 10 screeched in impotent rage as it tried to bring up a defensive screen to protect itself. It nearly succeeded.

Not that it would have mattered. The massive energy release claimed the generators and systems that sustained the DT field that allowed the Facility to exist as it did. The pocket dimension could no longer be sustained and the inside of the Facility began shifting back to normal space-time. Everything inside - everything left after the destruction of the Kelley anyway - was suddenly forced to occupy a space several orders of magnitude smaller. The result crushed everything inside into the resulting space. The remnant energy from the Kelley blasted the Facility's physical form to pieces and the transport station adjacent to it.

On the surface, light erupted from the mound and Robert and Julia appeared from it. It had barely started to fade when the land under them shook hard. Both fell to their feet and began rolling down the mound. This turned out to be a blessing, as the mound collapsed underneath them. A fall that would have been painful, even deadly, was avoided only by following their momentum until they hit the ground proper.

When they did so and stopped rolling, Robert let out a cry of anguish from his cracked ribs getting another impact. He picked himself up from the ground and got to his knees, pain filling him. But despite it all he smiled; they had survived. He stumbled over to Julia as she sat up, dirty from rolling in the Kansas soil. He offered a hand and, despite the explosion of pain in his ribs, helped her to get to her feet. She immediately grabbed him in a tight hug. "Ow!", he laughed, even as he returned the embrace.

They were still alive.

Both looked back to where the mound had once been. It was almost like it had never been there, its passing only marked by the bizarre pile of top soil and praire grass that had covered it. "I think I'm going to miss that mound," Julia sighed.

"Yeah." He returned to looking at her. "Thanks for coming for me."

"You don't need to. I couldn't let you get blown up, Robby."

He showed no reaction to her use of his long-abandoned childhood nickname. Instead he put a hand on her shoulder. "Thanks anyway. But... you could've been killed, Julie. I wish you hadn't..."

"Let's pretend I gave you the serious answer of 'Oh, you're my best friend in the whole wide world and I couldn't leave you to die', and I'll move on to the fun answer," she answered.

He chuckled. "And that would be?"

Her green eyes glistened with intent. "I'd never get to do this."

And then she kissed him again.

This time it wasn't the tight lip contact they'd had aboard the Kelley. It was a full kiss, their lips interlocking as they tasted one another for the first time. Robert felt resistance at first. Old worries about taking his feelings for Julia too far. She was his friend and having things go in the wrong direction could jeopardize that. The resistance faded, replacing by a deep raw need to feel Julia, to hold her. He found a wanting for her that he'd never considered before, and it drove him to return the kiss urgently, as if he was afraid she would end it.

There was a beep from their wrists. "Aurora to Robert. Aurora to Julia. C'mon... please tell me you're there. Please." There was an urgency in Zack's voice that demanded attention.

Their kiss stopped. They looked at each other intently for a long moment before Robert pulled his arm up and hit the button on his wrist device. "This is Robert. We made it, Zack. Julie and I are okay."

"Oh... oh God...."

"Standby for beamup." Robert looked at her and put a hand in her hair. "Do you want this, Julie? I mean... we've been friends for so long. And romance, it complicates things...."

"I just wanted to kiss you at least once," Julia answered. She smiled at him forlornly and took his hand in hers. "I think you and I both consider wanting more. And we... as much as we'd enjoy it, and as much as it might be what we really want... we can't go through with it. We've been in each other's lives since we could think, and we're.... I guess I feel that..."

"....that romance would complicate it," Robert finished for her, sensing the thought. "I know. It's funny, but we mean so much to each other that..."

"....that we don't want to risk losing that if we're wrong." Julia's eyes teared up a little, but she was still smiling. "It's okay, Robby." She put her hands on his head and face. "Nothing will change about how we feel about each other. Whether we each find someone else or decide otherwise.... I'll be here for you. I'll always be here."

"I feel the same way." Robert used his hand to touch her chin. A part of him wanted to push his lips against her's again, to taste that moment over and over...

There were footsteps crunching the nearby grass. Very light footsteps, but both heard it. They turned and looked to see what it was.

The children stood together, their dark chocolate complexions glistening in the Kansas sun. A boy and girl looking to be about the same age - maybe 11 at most - dressed in colored t-shirts and shorts, with a smaller girl between them several years younger with a cartoon girl character blouse and a skirt on. The three children looked at them quizzically. The boy stepped forward and motioned the other girls back, putting himself between them and Robert and Julia. "Okay girls, we're going back. We have to find Mom or Dad or Gramps." His look dared them to threaten his family before he turned back to the farmhouse, following the others across the flat farmland. With the mound gone they were no longer high enough to see anything of the other side of the house, but even from here a couple of vehicles were visible. For the first time Robert noticed that the farming equipment was active.

"It looks like someone bought the farm," Julia said. She looked back to him with sad eyes. "Are you... okay?"

As much as his heart ached for the loss of his family's old home (not to mention his aching ribs) Robert actually smiled. Tears formed in his eyes. "Didn't they remind you of anything, Julie?" He looked to her. "Maybe, just for a moment.... it made me think of when we were that age. And Susanna..."

She nodded. "Yeah, I guess it did," she agreed, teary-eyed but smiling as well. "Susanna always wanted to play too. And you always let her. You were a wonderful big brother."

"And.... yeah, the farm's gone. But look who bought it. It wasn't Duffy or someone like him. It was a family." Robert drew in a breath. "They'll make memories here too. And they'll hopefully pass it on. And more memories will be made. This isn't the Dale family farm anymore, but it is a family farm. Maybe... maybe that's good enough. After all..." He looked up into the sky. He could imagine the sight on the other side of the moon, where the Aurora and the Koenig and the Weaver were sitting silently. "...we have a new life, right?"

Julia nodded and kept smiling despite the tears on her cheeks. "Yeah. Yeah we do."

They hugged again. As they did, Robert reached around her shoulders and hit the communicator on his wrist device. "Dale to Aurora. Two to beam up." He looked past her at the field of grain he had seen since he could remember. All of those memories of his family, of this land, and all that he had become because of it. Someone else would have it now. But he could live with that.

He knew his destiny was elsewhere, with the ship that now pulled him and Julia away from their past and back to their future.

On the far side of the Moon, the Weaver and Koenig jumped to warp speed first. The Aurora turned briefly around the far side and into the sun, allowing sunlight to finally greet its azure hull like the dawn she was named for. Gracefully the vessel slipped out of its orbit and toward the stars. For the first time her engine nacelles flashed to life. Energy brimmed inside them and surged until, with a flash of light, the Starship Aurora took her first steps into the great unknown.

End Act 7
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Mon Sep 30, 2013 9:08 pm

Act 8

The Aurora entered orbit of New Liberty in the company of her fellow ships from the Facility and the various vessels of the negotiators on the planet below. In the conference room of the Aurora Robert was waiting with Julia, his ribs healed fully. Zack stood by himself at a window, looking out at one of the beautiful Dorei cruisers, but a distant look in his eyes. Julia stepped up to him. "Are you okay?"

"I left you and Rob to die," he answered hoarsely. "No, I'm not."

"Zack, you made the right call. You did the right thing."

"I made the necessary call, that's all. I'm just glad you got out anyway." He looked down. "I don't know if I can do it, Julie. Being a commander and having to send people to die, or letting people die..."

"None of us can," Julia admitted. She looked out the window as well. "It's just.... you have to keep your mind on the larger goal, that's all."

"Yeah. Locarno said the same thing. Maybe he should be in command."

"He turned it down. Said he wasn't ready to try it again."

"I feel the same way."

The door across the bridge opened and Henry Morgan entered. "I heard something was wrong," he said. "Seeing the Aurora is in space... what happened?"

Robert stood from his seat. "That, Mister Secretary, is thankfully not a long story. We have the logs ready if you want to watch."

Caterina was sitting quietly in the medbay, her seat pulled up beside the biobed where Angel was sleeping. The burns that had charred her face were gone, healed by Nasri after everything quieted down, but she was still fast asleep. Caterina was leaned forward enough to put her hand in her sister's.

"Hey Cat." She looked up and saw Barnes come up, a chair in his hands. He set it beside her to take a seat.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah, Leo just had to fix my ears. And make me stop feeling like a walking vibrator."

Caterina, despite herself, blushed a little. "Yeah. I'm just glad we all got out."

He nodded. "So, uh, how is Angel?"

"She's sleeping," Caterina murmured. "Leo says the surgery took a lot out of her, but she'll be okay." A sniffle came from her. "It's all my fault, Tom. It's all my fault."

"Cat? Any of us would've picked up that debris. Hell, I know I'd have asked for it. Transporter resistant exotic materials and all." He put an arm around her shoulders. "It's just a danger we never even thought of. We all messed up there."

"But all those people died," Caterina cried. "Captain Farmer died. If I hadn't brought that stuff back..."

"Then it'd have been something else, eventually."

"I almost lost Angel."

Barnes said nothing more, seeing Caterina was inconsolable. He brought her closer and put his arms around her shoulders, giving her a hug and hoping it would reassure her.

When the last of the logs were played out and everything explained, Robert and Julia waited quietly for Morgan to react. He seemed distant for several moments. "We will all mourn the loss of Captain Farmer," he finally said. "And the other deaths at the hands of these aliens. I believe a moratorium against further visits to W8R4 is in order."

"I'd agree." Robert gave a nod of his head.

"So that leaves what you have left." Morgan put his hands together. "As unfortunate as this has been... there is a silver lining in the cloud. The Facility has been something of a friction point in the negotiations. Some of us argued to leave it in your hands, others believed the new Alliance should control it."

"If it helps the negotiations for the Alliance then at least something good came of it," Julia remarked.

"For the time being, I believe I can convinced Secretary-General Rodenko to allow your ships to use Earth Confederacy bases for support. I think it best, however, if the Aurora remains here for the time being. The technology that went into building her should not be seen as available to any single state until we have an Alliance structure in place to assume authority over her."

"What is going to happen with New Liberty Colony?" Zack looked away from the window. "You've all got populations of billions. We don't even have a couple hundred thousand people. There's no way it gets to have a full voice."

"Protectorate status with autonomy in the Alliance," Morgan answered. "The Colony Assembly has been taking part in the talks and agreed to the provision. And any interventions we make for humanitarian concerns will see refugees directed to the Colony if at all possible. Should the day come that the Colony's population reaches sufficient size, it will be allowed to vote on full membership."

"That's going to be a long time from now."

"Agreed, Miss Andreys." Morgan stood up. "I'll have the logs shown to the negotiators out of session. I feel confident that all will agree your actions were the best that could be done in the situation." Seeing the looks on their faces, he pondered his words with a politician's care. "I've become convinced the Alliance is the likely future, and you still have places in it. You're young, skilled, and getting the experience to deal with the problems that the Multiverse will pose. The Alliance will need your services and I will make sure it finds an appropriate venue for you. You may be asked to undergo further training and education in the following months as we see where these talks go, and how long any agreement takes to finalize, but I am confident you will meet that challenge. Take care of yourselves for the time being." That said, he headed out.

"Whatever comes, I just know I want the rest of you by my side," Robert said.

Julia nodded. "Agreed. We have to stay together."

The door to the medbay opened and admitted Robert. He found where Angel was laying beside Caterina. "Hey Cat, how..."

"She's fine," Caterina murmured.

"Ah." Robert pulled up a chair and sat beside her. "Cat, please..."

"Don't tell me not to blame myself. Just don't," Caterina mumbled. She looked over at him. "So, are you and Julia....?"

He chuckled. "Oh, the kiss? No. No, that was just... well... she thought I was going to die and all."

Caterina giggled. "Yeah, I guess... it's just.... I don't know how to say this."

"Say what?"

"Julia is... she's my friend okay, and Angel loves her almost as much as she loves me. She says Julia keeps her sharp as a martial artist and is the best friend she has." Caterina sighed. "But she says Julia is why you two never worked as a couple, and I just don't want you to try it and then break her heart when it doesn't pan out."

Robert remained silent for a moment. He thought back to the point when he and Angel had last been together and how he missed that. "I didn't know."

"She's not jealous. At least, she tries not to be. It's just... this is why I asked you about breaking her heart again. She can't compete with Julia and she knows it."

"She doesn't need to," Robert said. "Julia and I..."

Caterina interrupted him with a head shake. "You two are soulmates. That's all there is to it. It doesn't mean you're going to get married, but you've been so close so long that you're soulmates and anyone who tries to get involved with you or Julia is going to have to fight through that. And Angel doesn't want to."

Robert thought back to their second kiss, and the conversation afterward. He knew Caterina was right. "Yeah. I understand. Angel will be okay, and I still want her as a friend."

A weak voice mumbled, "I hope so." When Robert and Caterina turned to look back at the bed, the voice added, "I am so going to kill you, little sister."

"Angel!" Caterina jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around her sister's shoulders before Angel could sit up. "You're okay!"

"I feel like crap," Angel mumbled. After putting her arms around her happy sister, she looked past Caterina to Robert. "Rob.... is everyone okay? I... this isn't the medical center back in the Facility."

"You're on the Aurora, Angel." Robert sighed. "A few things happened, but.... we're just happy to see you're okay."

Lucy was getting things settled on the bridge and found Jarod in the command chair, sitting for the watch. "Hey Jarod." She could easily notice his mood. "Well..."

"If you're going to try and cheer me up, you'll be wasting your time." Jarod stared at the viewscreen.

"I wasn't aware you needed it."

"I've had Thomas, Scotty, and Julia all try. And Zack suggesting we go planetside and find 'good company'." He smirked despite himself. "The fact is... Carlton is dead because of me."

"He saved your life, from what I hear. I doubt he'd think of it that way."

"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about..." Jarod closed his eyes and shook his head. His hand pounded the chair arm. "They outsmarted me, Lucy. They outsmarted me."

"The records said the Daleks were highly intelligent." Lucy got into the auxiliary seat to the command chair's left. She checked the systems through it before looking back to Jarod. "You did your best."

"And it wasn't good enough." He rubbed at his forehead. "It wasn't damned good enough."

Angel had been checked out from the medbay and decided to check on Caterina. She found Cat's quarters easily enough and knocked. After there was no answer she hit the door chime button. The door slid open seconds later. She entered to find Cat in her pajamas, sitting cross-legged on her bed with a portable holo-tablet in front of her. It was displaying a Dalek. Her eyes were red from crying. "Cat?"

"We'd downloaded parts of the Darglan database into the Aurora," she explained. "And more to the computer banks on New Liberty. I'm... I'm studying the Omega Threats. I won't get tricked again." She looked at Angel with tear-streaked eyes.

Angel frowned for a moment before forcing a smile on it. She sat in the bed next to Caterina and took her sister in her arms. "Cat, it's okay."

"No!", Caterina cried. "No it's not! Look at all we've lost! It's all because of me. Because I didn't think!"

"Cat." Angel tightened her embrace to make it more supportive. "Cat, we were all making mistakes. We should have had you bring it to a station or something. Somewhere not in the Facility. You didn't fail, the Council did."

"I was the one who brought the pod in!" Caterina leaned against her sister, breaking out into sobs. "I... I watched the Daleks kill them all Angel. And... and they were going to kill me..."

"Shhh...." Angel held Caterina closely and let her cry.

When the crying faded, Angel gently put Caterina to bed, making sure she was comfortable, and took the holo-tablet over to one of the basic tables in Cat's small dining area. She set it down and looked at the image of the Dalek, snarling. "There's more of you bastards out there, isn't there? And there are more threats too...." She reached over and began cycling through the records.

The first page was a ship, a nasty nightmare that looked like someone thought spiders made for excellent spaceship designs, with a profile of a twelve-eyed arachnid alien beside it. Another tap of the button showed a peculiar-looking alien, a cone-headed humanoid with eyes along the sides of the head. Then there was a weird-looking alien with a spikey shell and a three-pronged mouth. And a really nasty damn thing with dark skin, clawed appendages, and a long, black head with nasty sharp teeth.

Feeling tired, Angel just flipped through them, noting the ship shaped like a cube and the golden-armored ships with four big prongs and the one that looked like a cuttlefish. Lots of weird looking things.... seriously, that looks like a koala bear.... and okay, why am I seeing a cute cat with drooping floppy bunny ears... and how do those rings stay on their ears without....? Ugh. Evil bunnycats? I'm waaaay too tired. She turned the tablet off and got into bed beside her sister, holding Caterina close and settling into sleep.

The next morning Caterina woke up first. She left Angel to sleep and decided to take a shower, after which she checked messages and the schedule for the day. As she went through the messages, she found one with a peculiar header, and she opened it.

The holo-projector on the desk shifted to show Control as she'd long known him. "Caterina... I leave this message to you as I feel Aurora slip through the portal and to freedom. I know you enough to know you are hurting right now. You blame yourself for the Dalek attack and the losses it caused, including my own impending destruction."

Caterina nodded, feeling her eyes start to tear up.

"Nothing I can say will ease that pain. But I want you to know... I was happy to know you, and I do not want this to dampen that unquenchable thirst you have for knowledge, for learning new things and seeing new sights. All of your friends were a joy to me, as much as I could experience such a thing. But you were the closest I came to knowing my creators once again. Your love of discovery for its own sake, that desire to see everything that could be seen, are qualities to the Darglan people. They would have been satisfied to know such a being gained access to their legacy. Please, don't let this horrible tragedy change you and take that away from you. That would be the greater tragedy. Farewell, Caterina."

The message turned off. Caterina looked silently at her windows for several moments for drawing in a breath. She still loved being out here, still loved the thought of finding new things.... She would have to be more careful from now on, but Control was right; she couldn't let this cost her everything she was.

I'll do you proud. I'll do you all proud, she thought quietly before turning back to her studies.

As it turned out, Morgan had been understating how close the negotiators were to an arrangement. A week after the Aurora arrived in orbit, everyone was assembled in the ship's newly-opened lounge area to watch the holo as Morgan, Ledosh, and a host of other delegates from several alien races and thirty other interstellar states - some all Human and some mixing Humans and aliens - signed the New Liberty Treaty. Interuniversal transceivers were beaming the result to almost every universe Robert and his friends had made contact with. Morgan took the lead in speaking. "It is my pleasure to sign this agreement for the Earth Confederacy of H1E1 and to support the creation of the United Alliance of Systems. It is my honor to accept the nomination of my fellow delegates as the candidate to be the first President of the Allied Systems. If the ratifying governments will have me, I will devote myself to the cause of strengthening this new multi-universal society we have begun to forge...."

"Well, I guess Morgan's got the pick," Julia said. "I was hoping that Gabe would get it."

"Gabriel has made it abundantly clear that he is no politician." Angel was smiling as she said that. "He'd rather continue to oversee the incorporation of new refugees into the Colony."

"I'm sure Morgan will eventually convince one of our's to sit in his government." Robert crossed his arms. "Just so long as it isn't me."

"You mean you don't want to become President Dale?", Barnes teased.

"Never," Robert insisted, shaking his head.

"Never say never," Julia said, smirking.

They listened to Morgan finish the speech. When it was over and the signal shut down, Robert turned back to all those assembled. Julia and Zack were beside him, Angel and Cat beside Julie and Barnes and Leo beside Zack. Jarod and Scotty were standing to one side, talking quietly and looking at schematics of the ship's systems. Lucy was chatting up Locarno. Peter, Nasri, Magda, Jack and Patty Lawson, Hava, Philippe, Jasmine, Yousef, Nasira... many of those who had served beside them on all the ships in their fleet had finished applauding Morgan's announcement and were beginning to make small talk. Robert cleared his throat and picked up a glass of wine, from a batch given as a gift from one of their wealthy supporters in the interstellar states. The others all noticed this and conversations quietly ceased. Glasses full, half-full, or nearly empty were brought up as attention focused on him.

Robert looked out at them and felt proud. Despite all the problems they'd had, all of the stresses of their work, the inhumanities they'd faced (and some had endured), the lost friends and homes... they were still together. He and his closest friends had gone off on an adventure out of the best intentions, and the result was to be seen; a circle of friends and comrades that would forever remember one another and the creation of a new society that would bridge multiple universes together. "My friends. I want to have a toast... for our fallen comrades, to Suun, Kwang, Noh, Jeon, Ramirez..." He listed the names of their fallen, finishing with Captain Farmer. "And to what they, and we, have accomplished together. The Alliance being created is their legacy, and we will forever honor and defend it. To our friendship, to the Alliance, and to the cause of freedom!" He lifted his glass.

Some said friendship, some the Alliance, and most called for freedom, but everyone was smiling as the toast was had.

"We may not always be together like this. The duties to come may separate us for whatever reason," Robert continued. "But we will always remember one another and what we have come together to build. And I hope we will always stand together to do what is necessary to protect this beautiful thing we've built and to ensure its future. I look forward to serving with every one of you in that cause."

There was more agreement. Robert had nothing more to say; there was nothing more to say. The festivities were left to continue.

When everything was over Robert was standing alone in the officer's lounge, looking ou the window at the ships in orbit over New Liberty and the beautiful planet below. He drew in a tough breath. What if we didn't have the other states? What if this had happened a year ago? What would we have done, what could we have done?

He kept thinking of what happened, what he might have done differently. Traps for the Daleks? Micro-naqia mines? So many things he might have done... and he might have saved Carlton Farmer and the others. As it was, despite the Alliance treaty.... they had suffered a terrible setback. How much data had been lost forever?

He heard noise behind him and turned to see Angel standing there. "You're recovering well," he murmured.

"Leo deserves a medal." She stepped up beside him. "So... I know that look." She turned her head to look at him. "There is nothing you could have done better."

"Micro-naqia mines in the lift tubes."

"You're assuming the Daleks weren't smart enough to change lifts as needed, or to find ways to remotely detonate them. And even then, they survived those things, and you remember how tough the tubes were." She sighed. "And it doesn't stop the fact that they were going to take over the computer in time. Making them go defensive wouldn't have changed what we had to do."

"No, but Farmer and the others might still be alive."

"Assuming having six Daleks focusing on the computers wouldn't have quickly overwhelmed Jarod and Control." Angel slapped him on the shoulder. "Stop moping. You made the right calls, Rob. There's nothing to second guess."

"If you say so." He drew in a sigh. With her here, now, he had something else on his mind. "You overheard me and Cat. I... I'm sorry. I never realized. I'm sorry, Angel."

"Cat wasn't in the best frame of mind." She took his hand. "I can't compete with Julie and I don't want to. But I don't regret what we had. You're a wonderful guy and I enjoyed every bit of it. I just don't see this relationship going anywhere." She smirked at him. "Maybe the occasional fling if we're both lonely enough. But we should never kid ourselves that it'll be any more than that."

Robert nodded silently. "You're right." He looked at his chronometer. "It's getting late and we have meetings in the morning. Maybe we should..."

He didn't get the chance to speak any more, as Angel brought her head up and kissed him. The kiss was quiet, subdued, and he returned it. When it was over she gave a follow-up kiss to his right cheek, smiled at him, and walked away to leave him with his thoughts.

One Year Later...

The year since the loss of the Facility had seen spurts of activity bridged by periods of almost mind-numbing waiting. Everyone had initially lived on the Aurora, then had moved planetside when a deal was finally struck to have the Aurora completed in a yard deemed sufficiently neutral and under Scotty's watchful eye. From New Liberty they continued some of their rescue operations, increasing the population to nearly two hundred thousand, but increasingly there were other things to do. Topping that list had been training with their allies, preparing for wider responsibilities when the Alliance formed, and adjusting to a more regimented life (especially difficult for the likes of Barnes and Jarod). Admiral Maran had taken a personal interest in Robert and Julia's educations, putting them as unofficial advisors on his staff to show them the finer points of starship command, and some of the others had been given similar experiences. It was especially necessary given the loss of the Facility and its data infusion systems; everything had to be learned the old fashioned way.

And it had all led up to this day and this event.

Robert looked back at his friends and pulled at his collar. Each was in uniform for this event, showing the torch insignia they'd adopted nearly two years before as well as newer rank insignia. In honor of Carlton Farmer, they'd adapted Starfleet rank insignia, but with stripes instead of circular pips. The red trim on his uniform, Julia's, Zack's, and Locarno's marked them as command and navigation. Olive brown marked Angel as Tactical/Security, blue was for Leo as Medical, dark blue for Caterina as Science/Sensors, and beige for Jarod, Barnes, Lucy, and Scotty in their roles in Operations.

They weren't alone. Similar uniforms were worn by other figures in the seats of honor, including Admiral Maran and Meridina. A handful of different uniforms were also present, and across the way in an area for guests outside of the new organization Robert thought he saw Starfleet uniforms. All remained quiet as Henry Morgan led the procession of officials in the formal ratification signing of the New Liberty Treaty. "To the peoples of our systems across the Multiverse, I am proud to commemorate this momentous day," Morgan announced loudly. "Today, the United Alliance of Systems is now an official body, and I am honored to stand as its first President." Behind him a flag unfurled. Robert tried not to smile too widely when the same torch insignia he was wearing was prominent in the middle of the field, with blue, green, and white horizontal stripes behind it, twelve in all with four of each color. Above them fireworks went off and aerospace fighters soared in the sky; the crowd began cheering.

"I still think 'Alliance of Democratic Nations' would've been better," Robert whispered to Julia.

She responded with a smirk. "Nah, I don't think so. It sounds, well, kind of silly."

"I'm hurt," was his reply, feigning insult. This was answered only by something between a chuckle and a snicker.

When the celebration quieted, Morgan accepted an object from a figure standing beside him, an aide. "And with my first act as President of the Allied Systems..." Morgan turned to Robert and his friends. "Please, Robert Dale, everyone with you... step forward."

Robert's stomach was doing cartwheels as everyone followed him, all standing at attention before Morgan. "We owe the birth of this new Alliance to you fine young people. You embody the spirit we all want to see this new institution sustain, and I can think of no finer people to represent the Alliance in our dealings with the wider Multiverse. I hereby confer upon you the first commissions in the Alliance Stellar Navy." He took the stack of commissions and offered them to every member of Robert's party, announcing them as he did, with everyone returning to line after accepting their commission. "Captain Robert Dale, Commander Julia Andreys, Commander Zachary Carrey, Commander Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Commander Leonard Gillam, Lieutenant Commander Jarod, Lieutenant Thomas Barnes, Lieutenant Angela Delgado, Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero. I am honored to have you in our service." Morgan looked back to the podium. From there he continued the speech, and the celebration continued.

In the reception after the celebration, Robert and his friends split up and walked every which way. He met various leading politicians of the other states and exchanged pleasantries. Admiral Maran spoke with him, discussing the months this prior year Robert and Julia had spent as trainees on his staff. "The President is going to assign me as Chairman of his Defense Staff," Maran explained. "You'll be getting your orders through me."

"I'm gratified," Robert answered, "even if I know that now I don't get the luxury of that."

"True. You're in a real service now. Be careful."

That discussion done, Robert kept moving through the crowd until he found a familiar sight. He gave a small smile and stepped up to a figure in another uniform, this one red and black and which draped over him to the knees like a pullover top. "Ah, Captain Picard." Robert offered his hand.

"Captain Dale." Picard matched his grin and accepted his handshake. "I am pleased to see you are well."

"And I you, Captain. You're part of the Federation entourage?"

"The Enterprise was sent to ferry Ambassador Sokal to your new capital," Picard explained. "I heard about Captain Farmer. He died upholding the finest traditions of Starfleet. We are all diminished by his loss."

"Despite his disagreements with Starfleet policies, he remained a Starfleet officer at heart." Robert could still remember the sight of the Daleks killing the proud old engineer. "And he did a lot for us."

"Ah yes. I heard he helped you finish a rather impressive starship. Any idea on when she will be put into service?"

Robert shrugged. "The last few months Alliance engineers and techs nearly took the Aurora apart. I'm not sure who will command her. I'm not even sure what they're doing with me and my crew. I doubt they're sticking us all on the Koenig."

"Whatever they do, I am certain you will prove more than adequate to the challenges placed before you." Picard's expression turned only slightly more serious. "I believe that, whatever our differences on certain... philosophical issues, the Federation and the Alliance will both benefit from a close and friendly relationship."

You mean the Prime Directive and how much we disagree with it, Robert thought. He gave a nod. "Disagreements with friends can be trouble, but sometimes it helps. I've had my share of them with my own friends, and they usually result in something better as a result of the meeting of minds."

"The difference in viewpoints different peoples can have will enrich the whole if they are willing to show tolerance. That's part of the principle that the Federation is built upon. I believe the Alliance will be no different... even if I still have some concern about the trouble you may find yourselves in if you become too... assertive in those differences."

"The future will tend for itself in that, Captain. I think it may make us stronger in the long run, and save more lives."

With that said, it was clear to both men that the lines were still drawn as before. Picard was the defender of the Prime Directive, Robert its harsh critic. The two exchanged further nods. "I can see that the future ahead of us could be very... interesting," Picard said diplomatically.

Before Robert could respond, a happy shriek, or more like a "squee!", got his attention, Picard's, and several others around them. They turned and found themselves facing a peculiar sight; Commander Data, in Starfleet dress uniform, being met by a grinning, energetic Caterina who was bombarding him with questions. Robert grinned widely. "I'm afraid, Captain, that we need to hurry, or Cat is going to end up abducting Commander Data."

"Well, I'd hate for Federation-Alliance relations to get off on such a rocky start. You first, Captain..."

Julia was standing alone, sipping at a drink and taking in the sights. "Commander Andreys." She followed the voice and faced Meridina, wearing a new Alliance uniform in the olive brown of security-tactical. The stripes on her left collar were two gold and a silver, marking her a Lieutenant Commander against the three gold on Julia's. "I'm pleased to see you."

"Meridina." Julia smiled and nodded to her. "You're in the Stellar Navy too? I didn't know swevyra knights joined the military."

"It is an established custom on Gersal." Meridina smiled and nodded. "I am proud to be here, in this uniform, in the glorious dawn that has shined this day."

"It's living history." Julia put her glass down. "We're waiting for news of the ship we're getting. And finding out if Zack is going to be security chief."

"Oh, he is not," Meridina answered. "I have been assigned to your crew by Admiral Maran to be your security officer."

"Wow." Julia showed some surprise. "I... that's great. I mean, I look forward to it."

"As do I." Meridina's smile remained... stoic, it seemed. Not genuine mirth, but not fake either. "It will be an honor."

"So.... Zack ol' buddy." Barnes put down a glass and put an arm around Zack's shoulders. Zack had been consciously avoiding the wines and drinks, insisting on water whenever asked. "We're serving together after all. I thought you were cinched as commander of the Koenig?"

"That's what Robert and Admiral Maran led me to believe." Zack let out a dissatisfied sigh. "Eh, I don't know. I would miss you guys if we were separated. It's just.... the Koenig is the ship I love piloting above all else. And captaining a ship is... okay, it's almost piloting, right?"


"So I'd rather serve on her. God knows what they're going to give us."

Barnes smirked. "What, you don't think we'll get our ship back?"

"What ship? You mean the Aurora?" Zack laughed loudly. "Yeah, right. I figure they're keeping her in a nice, quiet dock to take her apart and put her together again, a chance to get more Darglan tech and such."

"Hey, you never know." Barnes shrugged. "Rob's got pull with Maran and our new President. Maybe he arranged something."

"I'll believe it when I see it."

"I bet you ten bucks we get her back then."

"You're on, Carrot Top."

After the reception, with everyone off to their planetary living quarters for transfer to postings the next day, Meridina entered her spartan quarters and removed the black jacket of her uniform, revealing the sleeveless olive brown garment beneath. She put the jacket up and heard her holo-comm chime. "Computer, identify caller," she asked in melodic High Gersallian.

"Mastrash Ledosh," the feminine voice replied.

"Activate." She turned to face her teacher, bowing as he appeared. "Mastrash."

"Commander Meridina." Ledosh nodded. "I trust your new posting agrees with you?"

"It does. But I am concerned..."

"Concerned of what, my student?"

Meridina swallowed and lowered her eyes. "Is it not deception to hide from them my true purpose?"

"They would not understand your true purpose amongst them Meridina. Not until the signs are clear and when we are certain. When that time comes, you may inform them of the coming Dawn and their roles in it."

"And the ones who might be trained..."

"Do not rush it, Meridina," Ledosh warned her. "Let them discover the power of their swevyra on their own. Be there for them when they realize what they have been gifted."

"At your command, Mastrash." Meridina nodded in acceptance of her directions. She still showed evident guilt about covering things up, but if Ledosh thought it necessary... "I shall be going to rest now."

"Understandable, it has been an eventful day. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Mastrash Ledosh." Meridina remained still as the holo-comm disengaged.

In short order she undressed and got into her sleeping robes. She got onto her sleeping mat and picked up the old book. The High Gersallian of the text was lovingly printed, the work of a master, its language archaic and thousands of years old. She enjoyed reading the old texts more than her fellow adepts ever had back in Temple, but this one in particular always excited her imagination.

In the final days of Swenya
The Grand Foundress felt the future.
The ones who would come
Kin of the Lost People
The Bearers of the Dawn

She cried onto her people
"Seek them, people of Gersal
Their Light shall bring salvation!"
The forger and the leader
The commander and the sage....

Meridina continued reading it. Its final line was her favorite. The promise of Hope and Victory, of the brilliant new age, made her feel excited. To think that she had stumbled into a future that Gersal's swevyra'rase had spent three millennia preparing to see...!

Smiling and drawing in a breath, Meridina let her mind quiet and soon fell fast asleep.

The next day the assembled were shuffled aboard a new runabout, built by one of the new Alliance members to Lucy's schematics. The runabout Susquehanna lifted off and moved with precision through the orbital traffic under Nick Locarno's expert piloting. Jarod and Cat were at the side stations and Robert was acting as Locarno's co-pilot; everyone else was standing around behind them without any difficulty; the flight was deceptively smooth s they raced on to the space station. Earth L2M1 - a 27th Century Earth where the Alliance Capitol was being erected in the rebuilt metropolis of Portland - circled quietly below them, while ahead of them the fleet base of the local government - the Federated Stars - circled quietly. "I think some of the starships they build here are beautiful," Julia said, commenting on a sleek, long FedStar cruiser they moved by, its gravitic drive shining blue at the rear.

"I think the Dorei make some beautiful ships myself," Angel added. "Maybe we'll get one of their starbirds."

"No data infusions for any of the Dorei languages, though," Barnes mumbled. "I'll just take a straight up Human starship."

"I think, everyone, that Morgan has a ship in mind for us already," Robert remarked as Locarno flew them toward one of the open spacedock berths. "We're at our coordinates." He motioned to the ship they were facing through the cockpit.

"You don't mean..."

"There's no way they'd let us...

"They'll be wanting to take it apart..."

Zack smirked and let out a sigh. He brought out a ten dollar value note of Earth Confederacy currency and slipped it to Barnes, who smiled and pocketed it.

Despite the astonished remarks of some of those present, everybody was ready for the sight before. Sitting at rest in the dock was the Aurora. Her blue sheen remained as beautiful as ever. Torch insignia now marked her upper warp pylons on the outside, with green and white stripes following the mid-point of her hull. Along the upper decks of the ship's rear drive areas, just forward of the nacelle pylons, were ports added in the prior year; ports everyone recognized as for a starfigher or aerospace fighter complement aboard the ship. Further head, between the striping at the middle of the lower half of the rear hull area, the registry number ASV-1701 was emblazoned in the middle of the stripes. "I cannae believe it," Scotty murmured. "They had tae pick that registry number?"

"That's the Enterprise's number in Starfleet," Robert clarified for the others. "I figured we'd get a '1' or something similar."

"Maybe it's a sign," Julia suggested with a grin. She looked over at Scotty. "I'm just surprised they're letting us take command. I figured they'd be taking it apart to study..."

"They tried, lass, but President Morgan backed me. I told them that there'd be nae dismantlin' her, she's a masterpiece. Reminded 'em a good man put everything he had intae her and wasnae here tae speak for keepin' her together."

Locarno pulled the Susquehanna up around the bow. The gold and blue deflector dish settled into the lowermost decks, about a quarter of the way down the ship's kilometer plus length, passed by, as well as the sensor pallets, the weapon emplacements, and they could even see through the trans-steel windows of the navigation bridge set into the bow. Above the very tip of the bow were more decks, including the windows of the main crew lounge, and the main bridge at the very top. The space halfway from the bow to the bridge was where the ship's name was repeated in large characters: A.S.V. Aurora.

"'Allied Systems' Vessel'? I wonder why it's not 'Allied Systems Ship....'" Caterina suddenly giggled. "Oh."

Locarno let out a laugh. "Yeah, I don't think they want us making A-S-Ses of ourselves to the rest of the Multiverse."

Everyone shared a laugh as they flew over the bridge and looked down the top of the ship down to the tip. Zack, however, quickly returned to a more somber, almost disappointed look. Julia noticed it and looked at him. "Is something wrong?"

"Oh, nothing much, it's just.... I..." He sighed. "I kind of wanted the Koenig. I mean, the Aurora's beautiful and all, but Koenig is just... She reminds me of you, Julie. She's quick on her feet, fast, packs a mean punch... pretty sexy if you ask-unnh!" He grimaced at getting a playful elbow in the rib. But the smile on Julia told everyone it was done in jest, not offense.

"I wouldn't worry about that," Robert commented. "Look."

The forward section of the main hull sloped downward by about fourty meters in the rear, heading toward the slightly slimmer drive section of the hull. The rear of this downward slope showed shuttle by doors adjacent to a big hatch, a hatch that was currently open. Zack looked inside the hatch and his expression turned to a wide grin.

Inside the Aurora's main launch bay was the Koenig, resting in docking struts. "They turned the entire space into a launch bay for the Koenig or similar ships," Robert remarked. "Did you think you were getting stuck as third-stringer behind me and Julie?"

Zack didn't respond; his eyes were riveted on the Koenig. "So... she's mine?"

"Yes," was Robert's answer.

"This is the best day ever," was his reply.

"Alright, everyone." Locarno banked the Susquehanna toward one of the side doors. "Time to get settled in."

"Last one to the bridge gets waste processing duty!", Caterina declared, giggling.

WIth the exception of Scotty, everyone went to the bridge and relieved the caretaker officers. Everyone knew their proper seats, with Carrey sitting beside Robert opposite of Julia's seat as the First Officer. Meridina found her seat at Secondary Tactical and Leo, for want of a better seat, sat down at one of the auxiliary computer controls. Robert settled into his seat and hit the intercom. "Bridge to Engineering. Find everything in order, Scotty?"

"Aye sir. She's just like I left her. We're ready tae bring the drives online at yer command, Captain."

"Well..." Robert settled back in his chair and looked over at everyone. "What do you think?"

"I think..." Julia smiled. "...I think that it's time we got out there."

"Oh hell yeah," Barnes added from the Engineering station.

"Connecting you to the dockmaster's station now, Captain."

"Thank you, Jarod." Robert shifted in his seat. "Dock Control, this is Aurora, requesting permission to depart."

"Permission granted, Aurora. Transmitting departure vectors now."

"Closing launch bay doors," Jarod added. "We wouldn't want something to happen to Zack's new girlfriend."

Several people began chuckling and giggling. Zack smirked and shook his head, taking the poke in stride. "Thanks for looking out for me, Jarod."

"You're welcome."

Julia was fighting down giggles. "Mister Locarno, as soon as all lights are green, take us out, one tenth impulse power."

"One tenth, aye sir."

The Aurora's engines came to life. With slow but sure movement she moved forward from the cage in which she had been berthed, heading out into the open spaceways. Other vessels kept a respectful distance as the ship returned to open space. Locarno's piloting was precise, moving the massive ship with ease far from any obstacle. "We're clearing the docking approaches."

"Good. Set course for the Moon, full impulse. We have a rendezvous to make."

"Aye sir."

Quiet briefly settled in, save the occasional beeps from the stations. Julia looked over at Robert, delighting in his wide grin. "It feels good."

"It feels right," he answered. "We're back where we should be."

"Amen to that," Angel agreed.

Mastrash Ledosh took his seat amongst his fellow Mastrashes, the leaders of their Order. "Meridina is in place with the others," he confirmed. "I... still feel uncomfortable about this."

The wizened old man sitting in the middle of their ranks nodded. "I understand your wish to bring Meridina in fully on the prophecy," Mastrash Maklir remarked. "But it is for the best. The Prophecy of the Dawn is a dangerous knowledge..."

"If it is even right." The harsh voice was from another figure, that of a Mastrash who had entered the Order in the same cadre as Ledosh. Mastrash Karesl crossed his arms. "It is not wise to rely on the glimpses of future that even a powerful swevyra'rase can have. It is always changing, as we have repeatedly found."

"It was not just any swevyra'rase who made it though," a gray-haired woman sitting beside Maklir poined out. "It is a prophecy from Swenya herself."

"You should know more than any of us how the origins of the Prophecy of the Dawn are muddied," Karesl said reproachingly. "She wrote it down, but there is just as much evidence that Reshan had the vision and simply shared it with her."

"Does it change anything if it came from Reshan?"

"Yes! Reshan is widely known to have been an outsider, and he wrote so little..."

"He was her teacher! Her wisdom came from him and shaped us, outsider or not!"

"Please, everyone." Maklir raised his hands. "Perhaps Robert Dale and his friends are those spoken of in the Prophecy of the Dawn. But whether they are the Dawn Bearers or not is not the issue; the issue is.... if the Prophecy is true, time draws short. We all know the true ending of the Prophecy."

"Which is why we should tell Meridina, she must know the full stakes..."

"It is best if we wait until we are more sure," Maklir insisted.

"Or not at all. Not all of us are as convinced as you," Karesl pointed out.

The meeting continued on for some time, but nothing was settled. Ledosh excused himself early and returned to his chambers. He had lesson plans to prepare for a youth cadre of mindtalker adepts. But he couldn't stop thinking of the Prophecy of the Dawn, and not with the enthusiasm he knew Meridina had for it. He couldn't have that feeling, not when he knew the true final line and all the horror it was portent for...

For with the Bearers of the Dawn
Will all be given Hope and Victory
When the Darkness come again

End Act 8


A single jump point formed in the empty space near New Horizon, the premier Allied Systems' colony (or rather what was now the Allied Systems) in Universe S5T3. The few ships in system both noted the new arrivals with interest; one a ship of legendary accomplishment, the other a ship of legendary promise.

Despite being smaller than her compatriot, Starship Enterprise still looked impressive alongside the Starship Aurora, her wide saucer and frame an interesting contrast to the long, sleek surfaces of the Aurora. The ships decelerated from their journey through the Aurora's jump point and came to a relative stop side by side.

On the bridge of the Aurora, the holoviewer shifted to show the bridge of the Enterprise. Robert stood from his chair and nodded as Picard stepped forward from his own chair. "Thank you for your assistance, Captain Dale," Picard remarked. "It was a pleasure to see you and your crew again."

"Likewise, Captain. I imagine we'll run into each other again some time."

"Yes." Picard nodded. "And I look forward to hearing of where your journeys will take you. Sadly, we must bid you adieu. We all have our schedules to keep."

Robert nodded. "Good luck, Captain Picard, and happy voyages to your ship and crew."

"Bon voyage, Captain Dale. Picard out." The holoviewer shifted to show the Enterprise as Picard was turning back to his seat. The crew of the Aurora watched as the Enterprise pulled away from them and, with a flash of light, elongated and disappeared.

"Well, that was nice for a first mission. Taxi service." Julia's smile was one of mirth.

"I'm sure they'll get harder," Jarod remarked.

"Of course." Robert settled into his chair. "Well, let's bring up our orders again..." He tapped a key and a small holo-projector on his seat arm lit up, projecting text. "Surveying systems in the Horizon Sector for further settlement. They're turning us into surveyors. Yippee."

"We can't always be shooting pirates or slavers," Angel pointed out with a smirk. "Sometimes I'm betting we do boring stuff."

"Hey! Scanning planets is not boring!", Caterina protested.

"That's because you're weird, little sister," Angel retorted, her smirk becoming a grin. Caterina smiled and stuck her tongue out at Angel in response.

"Oh, I'm sure we'll have less boring missions," Julia assured them. "Admiral Maran is relaying our orders directly from President Morgan, after all. We're going to get to do all the fun stuff."

"Yippee." Barnes shook his head. "That means more work for me."

"And me," Leo added.

"Well, we have work to do, we don't want to be late." Robert allowed himself a grin and hit his intercom button. "Mister Scott, we're running a little behind schedule. Didn't you once say you looked forward to seeing Aurora break some warp speed records?"

"Aye. Just tell me which records ye'd like tae break today, Captain."

Robert looked from Julia to Zack, seeing their growing grins, and then forward to where Locarno was in his seat and turned to face him. "I don't know, Scotty. How about... all of them?"

"Just give the order, Captain," Locarno said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what she's got."

"Set yer course and speed, Captain, me bairns will give ye all the power ye need."

"Thank you, Scotty." He pulled his finger off the button. "Set course for the nearest system to New Horizon, Nick. The best speed you can get out of her."

Locarno grinned and turned in his chair. As he activated the navigation controls he answered, "Yes sir. Best speed."

Julia smirked. "If it's not cars, it's starships."

"Boys will be boys," Angel teased.

Robert let out a short laugh.

And at the press of a key on Locarno's board, the Starship Aurora's warp drives powered up, sending ship and crew racing into their future.
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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:47 pm

Bravo! This was a lot of fun and I hope you continue with it if you have the time and inclination. Also well done on making the Pepperpots of Death menacing after recent tv appearances have subjected them to serious villain decay. So, anyway, in conclusion, I approve this story (for whatever that's worth:-P)!
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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Thu Oct 03, 2013 3:14 pm

Thanks, it was a lot of fun to write too. I spent a month chuckling randomly at how the Daleks were going to show up. I believe one of my friends not in the know responded "DALEKS! EVERYBODY PANIC!". :mrgreen:

Anyway, I've started preliminary work on season 1, though I've been focusing on TGG and "The Burdens of Command" the last couple of months.
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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Fri Jun 12, 2015 10:30 am

I reached Act 3 and was really glad to suddenly see Jared from THE PRETENDER. Me and my sistor loved that series, it was in StarWorld. It was the best.

Once the clunky intro* was through and they started saviorizing people, the flow and pace was good. The characters' charactering and their reactions were not unbelievable for folks encountering supertech, so this is goods.

*The sudden instant introduction to an ensemble cast while clunky is understandable and is... well, less of a pain in the ass than intricately gradually introducing them softly like in some long TV series. Get the show going pronto and all that. I am amused at how the description of the girls was like "their hispanic features"

I'm kind of ambivalent at how the second chapter had more distressed/tortured damsels when the first chapter climaxed with a distressed damsel's rescue from a torture bedroom chamber. This is just an observation though. And well, its a whole friends-clique collectively turning into knights and knightesses in shining armor, and badass women doing the saving, so cool.

What was Angel's background? Civilian person moving into hand to hand combat vs. multiple opponents, even seemingly preferring it over using weapons, was a bit of an eye raiser. Okay, aside from martial arts background, she must be insane also. :D

I... was less credulous about how geek girl was geeking for more Knowledge Infusions and bugging the doctor perkily-cutely when they just had the corpses of some Korean redshirts teleported in. If this was their first disaster... I thought these civilians who suddenly whimsied into superheroes would be more horrified and upset.

Crap my break's ending, gtg. Will post more commentations lator.

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Fri Jun 12, 2015 10:31 am

I reached Act 3 and was really glad to suddenly see Jared from THE PRETENDER. Me and my sistor loved that series, it was in StarWorld. It was the best.

Once the clunky intro* was through and they started saviorizing people, the flow and pace was good. The characters' charactering and their reactions were not unbelievable for folks encountering supertech, so this is goods.

*The sudden instant introduction to an ensemble cast while clunky is understandable and is... well, less of a pain in the ass than intricately gradually introducing them softly like in some long TV series. Get the show going pronto and all that. I am amused at how the description of the girls was like "their hispanic features"

I'm kind of ambivalent at how the second chapter had more distressed/tortured damsels when the first chapter climaxed with a distressed damsel's rescue from a torture bedroom chamber. This is just an observation though. And well, its a whole friends-clique collectively turning into knights and knightesses in shining armor, and badass women doing the saving, so cool.

What was Angel's background? Civilian person moving into hand to hand combat vs. multiple opponents, even seemingly preferring it over using weapons, was a bit of an eye raiser. Okay, aside from martial arts background, she must be insane also. :D

I... was less credulous about how geek girl was geeking for more Knowledge Infusions and bugging the doctor perkily-cutely when they just had the corpses of some Korean redshirts teleported in. If this was their first disaster... I thought these civilians who suddenly whimsied into superheroes would be more horrified and upset.

Crap my break's ending, gtg. Will post more commentations lator.

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Fri Jun 12, 2015 7:57 pm

I... was less credulous about how geek girl was geeking for more Knowledge Infusions and bugging the doctor perkily-cutely when they just had the corpses of some Korean redshirts teleported in. If this was their first disaster... I thought these civilians who suddenly whimsied into superheroes would be more horrified and upset.
I honestly don't remember anyone ever bringing up this POV before amongst those I had proofread this. However, I'll point out the corpses are not in the Facility infirmary, which is where Cat was wheedling Leo. And Cat's probably seen her share of malnutritioned people in the prior months.

Although you're right that I should've shown wider reactions than just Julia informing Robert. I must sadly hang my head and admit my performance was mediocre. Hopefully, however, further acts will prove themselves properly shiny and chrome. ;) 8-)
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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:04 am

Another meta-observation that I hope you won't mind.

I noticed how so super stereotypically American the do-gooders were. Not that I have anything against do-gooders, idealistic non-cynical protagonists are great, but these ones are notable in my opinion because their do-gooding is exactly the do-gooding you'd expect from Average Joes who get their info from standard sources like CNN or something (thank goodness not Fox News). Of course the first thing they'd do would be to rescue folks from the standard designated troublespots like in Egypt or in North Korea or Cuba. Which *are* legitimately troubled portions of the world, to put it lightly.

I'm just thinking how different it would be if, for example, the alienoid artifact was discovered by some young adults in the inner cities of say, Detroid or Chicago, then instead of acting on standard CNN stuff, they'd be springing brothers from those police department blacksites/torture stations and taking on unjust mayors or something. Which are legitimate injustices and troubles also screwing and killing folks over.

If that alienoid artifact was found by some kids being chased by Merkavas in Gaza... :D

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 10:33 am

It gets steadily much better the more they become the big damn space heroes they want to be and become less and less stereotypical CNN Amerikansis. And I really like the notion of the rotating council and the empowered and gradually badassening rescued characters, a deliberate and conscious effort to avoid Mighty Whitey being Big Damn Heroes and all that nonsense, especially considering how the work is totally Distilled Knight in Shining Armor-dom. I hope it goes even more that way with other liberated freemeng, freewomeng and freebeings becoming more and more prominent. If you were of the ruthless fictioning persuasion, they would form your second wave protagonists to fill the main roster when you start murdering your darlings ala G.R.R. Marting. :P

The encounter with the Federation and Picard is a good one, I feared you'd descend into typical crossover bleh but so far you've avoided it. I marvel at how you can write so many crossovers involving Captain Moff Picardkins and Darth Datas (well, the ones I've read tend to involve more mid-tier franchises, surprisingly I haven't seen much of Star Wars) and it must involve a lot of brain-rattling to keep it from becoming repetitive and stale not just within your body of infinite crisis of crossovers but also the crossovers of everyone else from TEO and SB and elsewheres. There needs to be interviews of infinite crisis crossover career guise examining massive fan-undertakings they've done.

I am surprised that the rescued are all hyper-competent cooperative cool cats. Like, it would be totally shit if the likes of Tony Montana were rescued from some Cuban prison. What the hell would the guise do? Thank goodness their initial steps went off relatively swimmingly, or else these clueless young adultoids would have one hell of a headache. :p

Hmm... what else? I appreciate the efforts to illustrate how complicated and potentially failure-prone even the most well-meaning interventionist attempts can be. It would be nice to see that, the gang of Big Damn Heroes facing an opponent that's not just simple easily-evil slavers (not only modern slavers, but traveling to the past for slavers there too! and to the space-future for space-future slavers!)... but complicated folks who are *also* doing interventionisms upon backwards and troubled nations, but horribly. Angel punches CIA spooks and Contra deathsquaders!

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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Steve » Mon Jun 15, 2015 5:25 pm

Shroom Man 777 wrote:It gets steadily much better the more they become the big damn space heroes they want to be and become less and less stereotypical CNN Amerikansis. And I really like the notion of the rotating council and the empowered and gradually badassening rescued characters, a deliberate and conscious effort to avoid Mighty Whitey being Big Damn Heroes and all that nonsense, especially considering how the work is totally Distilled Knight in Shining Armor-dom. I hope it goes even more that way with other liberated freemeng, freewomeng and freebeings becoming more and more prominent. If you were of the ruthless fictioning persuasion, they would form your second wave protagonists to fill the main roster when you start murdering your darlings ala G.R.R. Marting. :P

The encounter with the Federation and Picard is a good one, I feared you'd descend into typical crossover bleh but so far you've avoided it. I marvel at how you can write so many crossovers involving Captain Moff Picardkins and Darth Datas (well, the ones I've read tend to involve more mid-tier franchises, surprisingly I haven't seen much of Star Wars) and it must involve a lot of brain-rattling to keep it from becoming repetitive and stale not just within your body of infinite crisis of crossovers but also the crossovers of everyone else from TEO and SB and elsewheres. There needs to be interviews of infinite crisis crossover career guise examining massive fan-undertakings they've done.

I am surprised that the rescued are all hyper-competent cooperative cool cats. Like, it would be totally shit if the likes of Tony Montana were rescued from some Cuban prison. What the hell would the guise do? Thank goodness their initial steps went off relatively swimmingly, or else these clueless young adultoids would have one hell of a headache. :p

Hmm... what else? I appreciate the efforts to illustrate how complicated and potentially failure-prone even the most well-meaning interventionist attempts can be. It would be nice to see that, the gang of Big Damn Heroes facing an opponent that's not just simple easily-evil slavers (not only modern slavers, but traveling to the past for slavers there too! and to the space-future for space-future slavers!)... but complicated folks who are *also* doing interventionisms upon backwards and troubled nations, but horribly. Angel punches CIA spooks and Contra deathsquaders!
On the subject of the "hypercompetent and cooperative" rescued persons, it's sort of a self-selecting group in the story. The story covers the stuff the main protagonists are doing and the ships they're operating, which means that the rescued people we see working with them are by necessity of that going to be more competent and cooperative and in general interested in continuing the work Robert and co started. But when you consider they might have, at most, 2,000 people actively working with them (ship crews, operating the facility), plus a few thousand more operating the resource mines they've created... you're looking at just a fraction of the actual population they've amassed from peoples they've rescued. Most of which aren't going to be the Tony Montanas of such groups, save perhaps amongst the auxiliaries (miners and transport crew, etc.) The New Liberty Colony is generally peaceful, but I'm sure there are problems there. They'll have police and such.

But the pilot tends to focus on specific incidents or elements in each act, all leading up to Act 7's major action climax and how it sets up the status quo to be revealed in Act 8 and the Epilogue, thus leading us into Season 1.
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Re: "A Time for Heroes" - New Series Pilot Story

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Jun 16, 2015 7:09 am

The final segment with the Daleks was incredible, the akshun and the characterizationings was unbelievable and showed once more what you can do (and do... do a lot) Steve. A high point for the crossover genre/medium.

Sorry for continuing on the nitpicks of minutiae:
Steve wrote:On the subject of the "hypercompetent and cooperative" rescued persons, it's sort of a self-selecting group in the story. The story covers the stuff the main protagonists are doing and the ships they're operating, which means that the rescued people we see working with them are by necessity of that going to be more competent and cooperative and in general interested in continuing the work Robert and co started. But when you consider they might have, at most, 2,000 people actively working with them (ship crews, operating the facility), plus a few thousand more operating the resource mines they've created... you're looking at just a fraction of the actual population they've amassed from peoples they've rescued. Most of which aren't going to be the Tony Montanas of such groups, save perhaps amongst the auxiliaries (miners and transport crew, etc.) The New Liberty Colony is generally peaceful, but I'm sure there are problems there. They'll have police and such.
Oh man, I just re-realized the fact that they're actually outright creating a society with such disparate and damaged elements makes Robert all the more an idiot in wearing himself and his crew down in doing potentially fatal Shining Knight Akshun Hero BS when, if they weren't lucky with the narrative's mention of "amazingly these rescued folks were mostly pretty cool and got along well," their colony would have been in real danger of going... not so well without intensive time consuming headache-inducing success-not-guaranteed care by the hero peeps. Unless there were unmentioned off-screen trials and toils that the characters undertook to ensure the success of the very challenging task of nation/society building that larger, more-resourced organizations have tried and failed to do throughout history. :P

Also, I'm surprised that some veteran, say, Coptic or Kurd or Nicagaruan who's spent decades guiding groups of people for survival while pursued by shitloads of psychos and encountering insane brutal realities for decades while maintaining decency hasn't gotten a really prominent seat and provided a lot of these first worlder 20/30-something-year-older aspiring-hero/leader folks some really sound advice in these matters.

And another surprise is how, despite their reluctance to even contact the home country they grew up in and are familiarized with, or even other nations/factions of their home planet like relatively benign Canadia or Sweden or Denmark or the World Health Organization or the UN or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or whatever, these guys seemed pretty comfortable to negotiate with and even cede command and control to large space empire democratic republic federations from other dimensions. They must have gotten really familiar and knowledgeable of these vast and very powerful factions and their inner workings and on-the-ground-realities, and these factions must have proven themselves to be rather more benign and moral than usual, to be entrusted with not only trust, but also command over the Do-Gooder's organization, up to and including the utilization of their own ultradimensionaltech battleships and seemingly turning the Do-Gooders into their subordinates.

Of course, there's realities and also unseen off-screen developments in plot.

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