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

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

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Sun Jan 14, 2018 10:03 pm

I have been reading this avidly from the shadows and must say well done Steve! This in particular is a really compelling episode, for some reason the older I get the more I enjoy seeing people discuss regulations and ethics to decide the fate of the cosmos rather than the standard Hollywood solution of punching or shooting the bad guy (like Hawk and his halfwit gaggle of Social Justice Berserkers).

I mean lots of people are still going to get shot but still, everyone's at least trying to talk about who and why first.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Jan 15, 2018 3:19 am

Jesus Christ what assholes. :lol:

I love the mutiny dialog parts with Varma. Terse and tense as fuck.

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

Post by Steve » Mon Jan 15, 2018 9:34 am

speaker-to-trolls wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 10:03 pm
I have been reading this avidly from the shadows and must say well done Steve! This in particular is a really compelling episode, for some reason the older I get the more I enjoy seeing people discuss regulations and ethics to decide the fate of the cosmos rather than the standard Hollywood solution of punching or shooting the bad guy (like Hawk and his halfwit gaggle of Social Justice Berserkers).

I mean lots of people are still going to get shot but still, everyone's at least trying to talk about who and why first.
Ah, I was wondering if you were following along. :) I mean, I know you get busy sometimes and aren't around much, so I didn't know if you were able to read the progress of Season 3. I hope you've been enjoying it. We've had a lot of action and new arc material showing up. Plus Zack's return to his normal status as my main chewtoy. 8-) Oh, and between what I have now and what's planned, this year's theme is "Julia Andreys is a badass spaceship captain". 8-)
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Mon Jan 15, 2018 1:51 pm

Yeah I've been watching :)

Zack's arc has been... I'd hesitate to say it was my favourite or the best part, because it`s really bleak
and kind of a downer to read him mentally flagellate himself. Let's say the most affecting part :)

Early days but honestly Julia does seem a lot more captainy than Rob, at least more like a navy captain rather than heroic freewheeling space hero captain. You know, Rob was in the Navy but he wasn't a Navy Man at heart, is the impression I got.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Mon Jan 15, 2018 4:19 pm

speaker-to-trolls wrote:
Mon Jan 15, 2018 1:51 pm
Yeah I've been watching :)

Zack's arc has been... I'd hesitate to say it was my favourite or the best part, because it`s really bleak
and kind of a downer to read him mentally flagellate himself. Let's say the most affecting part :)

Early days but honestly Julia does seem a lot more captainy than Rob, at least more like a navy captain rather than heroic freewheeling space hero captain. You know, Rob was in the Navy but he wasn't a Navy Man at heart, is the impression I got.
Zack is at a vicious nadir, certainly.

As for the second, that's intentional. Oh so very intentional. Frankly I've been planning this from the start of the series.

Standby for the next update....
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

Post by Steve » Mon Jan 15, 2018 4:55 pm

The space over Tira lit up with energy weapon fire. Powerful bolts of sapphire energy erupted from the banks of the vessel Avenger and slammed into the unshielded hull of the Aurora.

Julia and Meridina materialized on the bridge and nearly hit the floor from the violent shaking. "Raise shields!" Julia shouted while stumbling to her command chair. She buckled the safety harness immediately. "Damage report!"

"They knew where they were aiming," Jarod answered. "Primary 1 shield generator is completely offline. They severed the power lines. Hull damage in Decks 7 and 8, section B."

"Switching to backups," Tom Barnes said from Engineering.

"Returning fire!" Angel added.

The Aurora's own plasma weapons retorted. The Avenger's shields snapped back into place a moment before they struck. Blue light fizzled around the bolts and beams of the same color. "Their shields are still holding," Angel reported. "The other ships are moving to engage as well. Shenzhou is opening fire."

More fire struck the Aurora's overtaxed shields. "Shields down to eighty percent," Jarod said. "The secondaries are up, but I'm not sure how long they'll last against the Avenger's guns." The ship shuddered once more as he finished speaking. "The Drazi are moving into combat formation."

"I've got activity at the system's jump gate," Lieutenant al-Rashad said from the science station. "It looks like someone's coming through…" She turned briefly. "Drazi, sir."

"How many?"

"Fifty… no, sixty… I have seventy individual signatures now through the gate." Al-Rashad blinked. "And even more now. Not Drazi this time… recognition profiles show them as Cascor vessels. A carrier group."

Julia swallowed. "Damn," she muttered.

But there was no time to dwell on that, not with the Avenger's fire again rocking their shields. "Evasive maneuvers. I want all fighters in vacuum, now. Open tac comm links!"

As she spoke the Drazi came in, weapons firing. The remaining Drazi of the first wave were focusing their firepower on the Aurora as well, although ten broke off to engage the Shenzhou and three more were maneuvering to try and contain the Koenig. Julia watched on the tactical map, hoping that the Brakiri and Hyach would remain out of it while focusing on the immediate problem.

Locarno was pushing the Aurora into the quickest maneuvers the kilometer-long starship could manage. The Darglan drives and systems running her made her agile for her size. But the Avenger enjoyed a similar profile, if not quite as nimble, and Hawk's people had clearly honed their tactical skills since the battle at Earth C1P2. Whomever was at the helm was keeping the Avenger on the Aurora sufficiently to allow its more numerous weapons to batter the Alliance vessel. Ruby energy fire from the Drazi Sunhawks joined them, pounding away at the Aurora's deflectors on the weak side and keeping Jarod from shunting power to face the onslaught of the larger vessel.

"They're throwing everything they have at us," Jarod said. "Shields are down to fifty percent."

"Get the squadron on those Sunhawks!" ordered Julia.

"Transmitting orders now," Meridina confirmed.

“What’s our tactical picture?” Shai’jhur asked as she settled into the bridge, glancing to Kaveri. She had arrived from the transporter room only a minute ago after returning from the Minbari cruiser, and had heard about the Drazi attack as she returned to the bridge on the Magaratha, or rather the attack of the Drazi and the Avenger. “Are the other League races also moving into position? If so we should hit them now.”

“Yes, Warmaster. They are moving into attack formations very similar to that used by the late-war Liberation Navy, aimed at Tira and ourselves. It is beginning.”

“All right, I want the Rohric Group to go in and pin the Brakiri head on. The Cascor ships arriving are trailing the Drazi and aren’t a concern yet, assuming they actually even engage as opposed to just hanging back and defending their carrier. Then the Tira group sweeps around -- see -- rakes the Hurr and Hyach from above and then turns into the rear of the Brakiri. Their ships will be caught between two fires and unable to answer and the Hurr and Hyach can only pursue by opening the planetary surface to us, so they might well not.”

“If they destroy the fleet, the planet is helpless, Warmaster. That lesson they should have well learned from the war. They will pursue. If they destroy the fleet, they are free to act.”

Shai’jhur grimaced. “Then we’ll pass through the Brakiri at point-blank range and detach our fighter groups to attack them as we do. That will allow us to support the Tira Group when the rest of the League squadrons pursue them, and if we carry through a very intense initial attack from catching them between two fires we can leave the fighters to finish the Brakiri.”

“And we can cover them, with their weak interceptors and lack of shields. It has tactical sense to it. Huáscar has not yet launched her own fighters, we may yet have a chance, but I expect… the Avenger will likely seek to repeat the turning point of Third Balos.”

“You’re right, they’ll concentrate on Andreys’ ship, if they remove the Aurora, we can’t stand against them. Well, forward the fleet! The sooner we hit the Brakiri the sooner we’ll have freedom of action.”

“Agreed, Warmaster.” Kaveri gave her a thin flicker of a smile. To fight alongside Shai’jhur after this long is a strange feeling, if not unwelcome.

The two Dilgar forces began to accelerate and split, the unshielded Tira force moving in to attack the Hyach and Hur as they prepped and launched starfighters. The fast Centauri models they had quietly purchased, embezzled from government stocks during the low points of the Republic, outperformed everything there except for the Alliance fighters.

The Rohric force swung into range of the Brakiri, and the Brakiri opened up with their massed energy beams. But with the lead ‘heavy’ Pentacon of Magaratha, two Sekhmets and two Tikrits, the mixture of deflector and grav shields and interceptor grids turned the opening fire. The reply was tremendously accurate even at range, the sensors on the three lead ships were better than those of the Centauri and so were their targeting mechanisms.

Magaratha’s main battery commenced fire, a blinding concentration of three Hyach spinal lasers replacing the infamous double-barreled mass driver of her half-sister Deathwalker. They tracked with their target, tearing through the armour of the lead Avioki as space blazed around them. The two battlecruisers on her flanks met her movements perfectly, engaging two more Brakiri ships with tremendous effect.

The first Brakiri ship collapsed into two pieces, drifting apart in a cloud of debris. “Shift fire!” Kaveri snapped.

Rushing in closer, their next target again was subject to that devastating power, the Brakiri ships indisposed to easily maneouvre while maintaining their own bearing on the enemy. Behind them, as Kaveri expected, the Hurrr and Hyach were breaking formation over the planet after the initial attacks by the Tira group, now maneouvring also into range with the Brakiri. But thrusting up from zero-zero relative the planet, they had a disadvantage, deep in the ‘hole’ of the grav well, and for a few brief minutes, Shai’jhur’s sweeping envelopment came together, Brakiri ships disintegrating under the fire, hacked in two by the beams or spinning slowly off crippled.

“As we pass between them, cut thrust and rotate Y-positive to fire into their starboard flanks. We’ll take their right flank and leave our guns open against the Hyach, they’re the biggest threat. Full thrust until the signal is given! To Death we dedicate this day! Rohricans, choose your routes and cut the Brakiri formation!”

The atmosphere on the bridge of the Huáscar was as tense as hell as they watched the fleets begin to engage. This was one of the largest fleet battles since the Civil War to happen anywhere, hells, larger than most of those. Major Foster was sitting in his command chair, the ship still at Condition Two. He hadn’t yet called stations, but now it was just a matter of time, and going from modified ZEBRA to full ZEBRA would hinder movement through the ship.

Lieutenant Reichert knew that much, and he knew how much of a problem that would be. More to the point, if they were serious about making their stand, they had simply run out of time. He wasn’t going to give Sharon a choice. Choices were for situations where there were multiple equally morally valid solutions. Here, there was just one morally valid solution, and it was going to go down. Even it cost him his life.

“Reading one hundred and ten Drazi ships, Sir,” the long-range sensor operator reported to Major Foster as the attack force swept in. “The Cascor and Brakiri are also moving in. Six Cascor, twenty Brakiri ships. Hyach and Hurr forces are positioning themselves to cover the surface of the planet.”

“Thank you, Jimmy,” Major Foster glanced around the bridge. “It’s clear that our allies are facing direct hostilities from the Dilgar and the Allied Systems. We’re going to act accordingly. Lieutenant Reichert?”

“Sir!” James Reichert stepped forward, his body tensed. He knew what he had to do. He knew the only way that would force them all to act.

“You are the Officer of the Watch. Sound General Quarters.”

“Sound General Quarters Aye Sir,” he answered, and began to turn toward the Bosun’s Mate. But as he turned, he flipped up the cover on the holster of his PPG instead.

Major Foster saw it and lunged to his feet to escape the command chair. As he did, still half-crouched over in front of, it, James finished spinning toward him and drawing his gun. The PPG spat fire, and Foster’s face twisted into a rictus of agony as the rounds blasted at power through his uniform and into his torso.

“All hands! All hands!” At the back of the bridge one of the former Nightwatch men was on the internal comms. “Lieutenant Reichert has just shot the commander! There is an insurrection against lawful order on the ship! Take immediate measures to secure seditionists and traitors! I repeat, our lawful comma-”

His message cut out as Reichert opened fire again, the man toppling away from his station in a burst of fire which left his head burning, blatantly dead, as a few missed pulses set consoles for the intercoms burning.

James looked up, expecting death. But when the Bosun’s Mate’s gun spoke, he was firing on the GROPOS at the back of the bridge. He took the unanticipated survival, at least for a moments longer, for what it was worth, and lunged to the deck. The fight was on.

Down in engineering, the declaration that Major Foster had been shot on the bridge had brought an instant halt to all effort. People stared at each other, and at the intercoms as continued communications suddenly were punctured by the sound of PPGs firing.

Sharon Farallon knew that the situation came down to her. She could either act or not act, and the thoughts of her friends, family, home, all came together. Chilè, beautiful Chiloe island, her parents were still alive…

She heard boots in the corridor outside of main engineering control. They know my politics. They won’t give me a choice. She snapped into action. “All right, break open the arms locker! Move! Move! Secure the blast doors on the double!”

They slammed down just in time as she jogged over, remembering she was the one with the access, entering the combination that opened the site-locker for arms on engineering. Passing them out to her crew, there were shouts beyond the blast doors, but nothing on the ship would get through those, not short of setting off a nuke. And there were plenty of access points through the reactor.

“We’re fighting for the Captain!” She announced as her people began to form in order, unaware of whose side they’d be fighting on. “We’re fighting for the Captain and for Right. We’re all going to stick together no matter who’s side we were on last time, we’re all comrades, we’re all going to do this right. We’re going to get up there and put Captain Varma back in command and we’re going to stop Major Foster’s mutiny cold, we’re going to stop this genocide cold. Are you WITH ME, Huáscarenos!?”

The space around the Aurora was lit up with weapons fire from multiple sources. The great Alliance starship was being hounded on all sides by her counterpart and their Drazi allies. On the Eagle Yonatan Shaham watched this occurring on his tactical map while, on the screen, a Drazi Sunhawk was belching fire and atmosphere from the impacts of the Eagle's pulse phaser cannons. A solar torpedo from the launchers slammed into the red bulb at the rear of the Sunhawk and shattered it. The Drazi ship was out of action. "Direct hit," Rebekah reported from tactical.

The vessel shuddered under them. "Another Drazi ship on our stern, above," Othello said from Ops.

"Evasive maneuvers," Yonatan ordered.

The Eagle pulled into a tight, corkscrewing turn to throw off the Drazi ship. Ruby fire filled the space in front of them; another Drazi was engaging. "Shields holding at eighty-five percent," Othello said.

"They're cutting us off," warned Benyamin. "I'm trying to get us clear, but there are so many…"

There was one less a moment later. One of the Alakin warbirds opened up on a trailing Drazi Sunhawk. The hits damaged the unshielded Drazi ship, forcing the Sunhawk to break off its pursuit of the Eagle. Benyamin used the opening to maneuver the attack ship around one of the attacking Sunhawks, getting them out of the immediate fire zone.

"Good job, Beni," said Yonatan. "Resume attack pattern. We must keep the enemy off of the Aurora!"

The Aurora bridge was shuddering yet again as the fury of the Avenger raked their failing shields. The two ships now "above" and "below" each other, with the weapons on the ventral hull of the Avenger raking across the same arc of the Aurora. Locarno was busy twisting the ship to present their port side while return fire struck back. From "above" and to port, Drazi Sunhawks continued to fire on the Aurora as well, keeping Julia's ship pinned in and unable to shift the shield arcs to deal with the heavy fire of the Avenger.

Nearby the Dorei starbird Keyan was firing. Purple-hued plasma energies also slammed against the Avenger's shields. Drazi Sunhawks peppered the bird-like Dorei ship with energy fire that met her shields in turn. The Alakin warbird Yreep exchanged fire with another Sunhawk; the other warbird, Greepk, was taking fire from two more. The Koenig moved in and blew one apart while being pursued by three. The Gl'mulli orb ship Tu'pam zipped "upward" and poured plasma fire into a group of Sunhawks moving in an attack vector against the Aurora. One burst apart and its compatriots broke away, simply to fly into the guns of the Eagle as they opened up. It lost a wing to the fire of the attack ship.

"The Dilgar are fully engaged with the Brakiri and Hyach," Meridina noted.

"Then I hope they take them out in time." Julia winced as the ship rocked again, throwing her against her harness. "How bad?"

"Shields are dropping below thirty percent," Jarod warned.

"All tertiaries are online now," Barnes added. "We can't reinforce the shields any more."

"If you can get me clear of the Drazi, I can try to direct shields against the Avenger," Jarod said.

"That's what I'm trying," Locarno said. "But there's too many."

Despite their own worsening situation, Julia's thoughts went in another direction. "What about our Marines?" she asked. "What's their situation?"

Meridina was quick to connect to them. A moment later Anders' voice came over the comms. "Anders here."

"What's your status, Major?"

The answer was clear when she heard the burst of pulse fire in the background. "We're holding," was all he said.

Cat looked up from the assembly of the material scanner she and Tra'dur had nearly finished. Below, at the ground level, she could hear the sounds of gunfire. She glanced about on the roof to see the reactions of the others. Lieutenant Pete Lindstrom was already looking her way with a grim expression. "You're hearing it right," he said. "Mass effect firearms and pulse fire. They're attacking us."

"I do not think they would attack us if their fleet was not also attacking," Tra'dur mordantly observed.

"Oh, they have," Lindstrom said. "Already got the confirmation. Hold tight, ladies, and finish your work quickly. Out here we're exposed."

"We're pretty much done," said Cat. She turned to the assembly and activated it. With her omnitool she was able to direct the delicate sensor. The quiet whirring of a motor within sounded. The tip, blinking green, turned until it faced toward the barrage gates in the distance. Cat brought up a screen showing the direct target of the sensor and shifted it toward the intakes on the filtration systems. "Have anything?"

"I am picking up traces," Tra'dur confirmed, looking on a results screen beside the device. "But the sensor must get a stronger signal to accurately resolve it."

"Continuing to shift…"

Their work might have continued in silence if not for the other development. Ensign Reubens called out to Lindstrom, "Sir, from the northeast!"

Lindstrom, not a small man himself, turned in the direction that his broad-shouldered engineering-rate officer called out. He could make out the form of the attack craft as it drew closer. "Take cover!" he shouted to the others. He found a spot behind one of the climate control units for the building and knelt there.

The crimson-tinted craft drew close enough that they could make it out as a Brakiri-built troop craft. A side-mounted particle weapon was its main armament. It's role was to deploy troops from the air, which in this case meant dropping them right on the roof with the security team. Lindstrom and his people opened up with their pulse rifles as the vehicle swooped in. Its hardened armor skin absorbed the shots from their weapons. The powerful pulse cannon of the side mount returned fire, spraying the rooftop with orange bolts that kept everyone in cover. Cat and Tra'dur had to abandon their place by the sensor assembly they'd built to avoid the incoming fire. Cat immediately transferred the sensor output to her omnitool and kept working. "I'm getting data," she said. "There's a chemical trace that doesn't fit our data on the planet or the gates."

"Let me see."

"Whatever you do, stay down!" Lindstrom shouted. He rose just enough to look over the climate unit. The assault craft was stopping just inside the edge of the roof. Armed Brakiri mercenaries started to jump off. Lindstrom raised his rifle and sprayed fire in that direction. He had to stop and go prone when the heavy gun turned his way. More fire from the rest of his team converged on the Brakiri troops. One lucky shot caught a Brakiri in the chest and dropped her. But no one could get anything but snapshots off with the speed in which the side gunner brought his weapon to bear. Thanks to his cover fire the Brakiri soon held a portion of the roof.

"Lindstrom to Anders. We need heavy support on the roof," said Lindstrom.

"We're a little occupied down here, Lieutenant," was the reply. "I can't get anyone up to you yet."

"Get someone soon if you don't want to give the Brakiri control of the roof," Lindstrom replied, frowning. What was going on down there?

The Dilgar of Tira built their cloning centers as semi-public places, where the colonists would come and interact with the personnel responsible for growing the new infants from the provided genetic stock of the colony. The front door led to an open foyer of two storey height where the colonists, pleased or not, would be directed to the doctors and other personnel that would match them to the children that their government mandated them to raise, and to seek medical assistance with the same. Of course, the building followed Dilgar standard public architect styles which made it essentially a heavily reinforced blockhouse within the limits of the materials from which it had been constructed.

Anders, now wearing a standard field power armor suit, was on the second floor of the foyer, watching his Marines pour their fire into the crimson-clad Krogan and Vorcha streaming through the front entrance. These weren't normal foes either; both species were incredibly resilient physiologically, with biological redundancies and healing that approached active regeneration. A number had already made it to the first area of extensive cover, a set of brass models depicting an ideal Dilgar family of two adults and numerous children playing around them.

Anders smiled thinly at that. He'd been hoping attackers would try that. "Everyone ready," he said into his command line. "Standby…"

He waited until the number of enemy troops using the stand and sculpture as cover was plentiful. Any moment they would attempt a charge toward the corridors and entrances that would carry them deep into the structure. It was only as they began to move that Anders spoke again into his comms. "Blow it."

The explosives that his Marines had hidden, at his direction, started to go off. They utterly destroyed the Dilgar sculptures - no loss there, as far as Anders was concerned, ugly things that they were - and the stand that they'd been built upon. In the process they turned the same into shards of metal and debris that further wounded the attacking mercenaries caught in the repeated blasts. By the time the last explosion cleared, they had killed at least a dozen enemy combatants and wounded more.

Furthermore, they had - as planned - removed that big piece of cover. The frontal assault of the mercs would now have to go through the killing zone of his Marines. Anders fully expected them to try, if only to keep him from diverting troops to the other entrances or the roof.

The roof was worrying him. He would have to get troops up there, and soon. But right now, he needed his fire teams here and at the other entrances. Lindstrom and his security team would just have to hold down a bit longer.

Anders took the time to contact the other buildings, starting with Lieutenant Sanger over in the clone warehouse where they'd started this whole thing. While he was physically here, his responsibility included every Alliance shooter in the colony, Marine and security, and he had to make sure they were all holding.

Meanwhile, confirmation came. The mercs were hitting the rear entrance too.

The rear entrance was more of a dock than anything, a place for the Dilgar to deliver heavy equipment to support their repopulation efforts. Now it was being assaulted by the native E5B1 mercs, primarily Human and more Brakiri. They came through the wall by blasting charge and were met by fire from armored Marines.

That alone was bad enough, but at least it was something they were used to.

Lucy Lucero? She was something they weren't used to.

They'd made it just past the bays when Lucy dropped down from the framework above. Her lightsaber flashed to life with a snap-hiss, buzzing loudly in the air as she brought it down on the PPG rifle of a Human merc.. The merc, another woman with the same light brown complexion as Lucy, gave out a cry of surprise at the blade that cleanly removed her hand and half of her arm while slicing her weapon in two. Lucy twirled and nailed her with a kick that sent her flying.

In her blue robes over purple body armor, Lucy was very distinct from the conventional dark color of the Marines supporting her. That brought attention. And weapons fire. Lucy's weapon became a blur, a solid line of blue tracing through the air and reflecting PPG bursts and other fire back into her foes. They fell, wounded and surprised, still firing as trained and only adding to their troubles by doing so. A Brakiri man tried to catch her from behind with a bayonet. She deftly avoided the blade and retaliated with an upward cut that removed his left arm.

With the weight of numbers showing, Lucy gathered her will in. When she let it out, it was in a wave of force emanating in all directions from her. Merc after merc was thrown back, smashing into the walls or the remaining bay doors with a loud clatter and loud groans. Lucy drew in the power and lashed out with it again. Mercs coming up to the bay doors went flying back out of them. Those who didn't were gunned down by the Marines in prepared defensive positions behind her.

Despite their clear advantage here, Lucy didn't feel any triumph. She already sensed the danger. Above her, and elsewhere in the building.

"They're getting inside," she said into the tactical channel, her lightsaber buzzing while intercepting more fire.

"Hold as best as you can. I've got people watching the structural points. We'll hit any team hard if they manage to get there."

"Right." I should be on the roof, protecting Cat, was Lucy's mental response. But she was needed here for the moment. She had to hope that Lindstrom was keeping Cat safe.

The order to attack found Wrex and Drack while they were sitting in the barracks area several buildings down from the cloning facility that was their target. Tral assigned them to a group heading through a side entrance to the structure while the other entrances were hit with full frontal attacks. With a platoon of Krogan and some of the Brakiri and Human mercs as support, they approached the door. Wrex held up a hand and motioned with it. A Human with a speciality omnitool stepped up to the door. "No need for a breaching charge," he said. "I can override."

"Hrm." Wrex didn't like the sound of that, but he did nothing to keep the merc from continuing to work. He wasn't about to let this apparent gift go unquestioned. He'd heard too many good things about the Alliance Marines.

"There, see? Easy-peasy," said the tan-complexioned Human. He hefted a PPG rifle. And went into the door. Others moved to follow. "Stupid Systemers think they're so much smarter than us, I'm going to enjoy shoving my…"

A pulse blast from the far side of the entrance struck the hacker in the head. With his brain flash-fried he died instantly. Wrex called out, "Take cover!" and did the same. He reached for his Claymore shotgun while Drack, moving up to the door, sprayed fire toward the Alliance troops with his M8 Avenger.

Wrex shifted, looking to take a shot toward their assailant, but the angle was no good. He had to wait until he had a better opening to make his move.

Drack took cover beside the interior door as well, barely avoiding the responding pulse fire. He glanced to the mercs remaining outside and frowned. "Get your asses in here," he demanded. "You know the plan. We keep going."

For a moment it wasn't clear if they would respond to Drack's order. Then the Krogan moved, coming through the door while Drack laid covering fire. Wrex helped where he could, getting a shot off that took down one of the Alliance troops firing at them.

"Screw this." Wrex turned away from the door and to the wall. "Stand clear!" As soon as he was sure the others had done so, Wrex focused until dark matter surged around him With the assistance of his biotic power, Wrex rushed forward and slammed into the wall. The material gave way before the power of a Krogan Battlemaster. Wrex stomped into the next room over, a supply room of technical gear, and hit the opposing wall with enough force to go through it as well. He stopped in the middle of a corridor of brown coloring with white floors. "This way," he said to the others.

In orbit over Tira the desperate fight continued. The Aurora twisted and turned, her failing shields enduring the wrath of her counterpart. The Avenger's pulse plasma cannons raked across the Aurora's port side as she maneuvered. From the starboard, several Drazi ships commenced another attack run. Multiple beams of sapphire energy from the Aurora lashed out at them. One faltered, trailing flame and debris from its wounds, leaving the others to pepper the Aurora with ruby light.

On the bridge Julia was watching the tactical display with frustration. The Dilgar were still fully engaged with the Brakiri and the other ISA races in the battle. Rather than go after them, the Drazi were focused on the Aurora. Even with over twenty of their number destroyed or crippled, they kept coming. With their numbers, they were overwhelming the other Alliance ships trying to help.

"Shields are below ten percent, cohesion is failing," Jarod warned. "We're taking significant bleedthrough damage to the hull armor. Major hull breaches have formed on Decks 6, 8, 12, 18, and 25."

"Armor self-repair systems are operating at full capacity," Barnes added.

"You can't get us any more shield power?"

"There's nothing left, dammit," Barnes protested.

"Avenger shields down to thirty percent," Angel said. "Maybe we should take a page from their playbook. Get the other ships to focus entirely on them!"

"Then the Drazi get to pick us off one by one," Julia replied. Looking at the map gave her an idea. "Locarno, full impulse, break away from orbit."

"Aye ma'am."

"The Drazi may turn their attention to the planet," Meridina warned her.

"They want us gone first," Julia said. "But don't worry, I'm not leaving just yet."

The Aurora broke away while red and blue energy played over her azure hull. The Avenger turned to give chase with a number of Drazi ships trailing. As Julia had anticipated (and hoped) the Drazi were more interested in defeating the Aurora than they were in performing their bombardment now.

On the tactical display Julia watched the growing distance with the Avenger. They were still taking fire - the Drazi were numerous enough that they were moving through another section off their force - but were at least taking less of a pounding on most of their arcs. "Get ready to put shields forward," Julia warned. "Mister Locarno, at my mark, a one hundred eighty degree turn, as quickly as you can."

"It won't be on the dime, but I might manage a nickel," Locarno replied confidently.

"Anything less than a penny and I'll have to be disappointed," Julia replied.

"A penny then…"

"Ready… ready…" The ship shuddered again. Their shields were virtually gone. "Mark."

Locarno used every trick in the book. He fired thrusters, he shifted engine priority on the fly. And with his expert hand, the Starship Aurora made a snap turn in space with surprising speed. Suddenly they were facing their attackers head on.

"Full impulse," Julia ordered. "Right at them. All shields forward!"

"Chicken?" Locarno asked, already enacting the order.

"Close," Julia confirmed with a nod. "Break topwise on my order. Tactical, everything you've got, on the Avenger, same mark. Mister Jarod, set the tractor beam to repulsion and hit that Drazi in the middle with it."


At the distance and speed, there were only ten seconds to go. The Avenger's crew apparently saw this as a challenge. Their weapons continued to blaze at the Aurora, battering her forward shields.

At the appointed moment, Julia gave the word. "Mark."

The Aurora's bow weapons and torpedo launchers erupted in fury at the Avenger even as Locarno maneuvered the ship "upward" to avoid a collision. The Avenger's shields held against the barrage with effort.

Then the tractor beam lashed out and struck the Drazi ship. Because of the angles it drove the Drazi "down" into the Avenger. Neither of their foes could react in time to prevent the resulting collision. Due to the energy of the Drazi ship in motion the Avenger's shields failed to hold it back. The Drazi ship went to pieces from the strength of the impact. The same impact ripped a hole in the larger ship's hull. Systems damage knocked out power in the entire area.

Nevertheless the Avenger refused to quit. Wounded and angry, she came about with the remaining Drazi and resumed her attack on the Aurora. "Torpedoes!" Angel cried in warning, noticing the other ship firing a full spread.



Locarno did try. The Aurora maneuvered to evade the incoming weapons fire. Her interceptors fired at the trailing sparks of blue-white light.

But it wasn't enough. The ship shuddered violently, badly enough that Julia felt like her harness might break.

Even before Jarod reported the result, she could already guess it. "We just lost a secondary shield generator and one of the tertiary ones." He looked back at her with a grimace. "Our shields are gone."

In the rear docks of the Dilgar cloning facility, Lucy's lightsaber continued to move in a sapphire blur. Plasma and particle blasts from the mercenaries were tapering off. The mercs were learning that volume of fire was just increasing the amount of fire Lucy deflected back at them. Their tactics now seemed to be firing from cover, as if to wear her down.

More than wear her down. Buy time.

And then Lucy sensed it. She felt the twistiness in space that always came when a biotic field was being generated nearby. It had a feel like nothing a life force wielder ever had. She fell back toward the other Marines. "Anders, they're in the building!"

"Yeah. Turns out they've got a Krogan Battlemaster. He brought a unit in the side door and knocked down a pair of walls to get around Charlie Squad's defensive position." Major Anders' reply was firm and to the point. "They're slacking up here, but not enough that I can detach everyone. And Lindstrom needs help on the roof."

"They're doing the same back here. Just enough to make sure we can't leave." Lucy fell back into cover and dropped to a knee. Her lightsaber disengaged with another snap-hiss of electronic noise. From her position she was able to make eye contact with Sergeant Coleman, the senior Marine at the spot. "Coleman, can you hold?"

"I think so!" he shouted back. He checked the charge clip on his pulse rifle. "We've got a heavy armor team if it gets hairy! You should go help Charlie Team stop that third group!"

Lucy almost agreed. But she took the moment to focus. She let the energy within her guide her thoughts. What was the best way to do this?

Immediately she knew where she needed to be. "I'll get to them when I can, but we've got another problem. Hold here while I handle it!"

Coleman didn't question her, even if he didn't particularly like the feeling that she was overriding his judgement. He'd heard enough to trust Lucy's instincts. "Good luck!" was all he said.

Lucy nodded in reply and fell back from the dock area.

Wrex's group managed to get halfway through the building before the Alliance troops finally caught up with them. A firing team of armored Alliance Marines met them at a waiting area filled with seating for civilians and a desk. A Marine popped up from the latter and fired off a quick shot. Wrex's biotic field took the hit without failing, buying him time to duck back into a corridor. More pulse fire came. "Looks like they've got something here to defend."

"One of the structural points. And the cloning tank rooms," said one of the Human mercs behind them.

"Right." Wrex looked toward Drack. "Cover me."

The older Krogan nodded and hefted his assault rifle into a firing ready position.

Wrex went out first, biotic field raised and shotgun at the ready. The moment the Alliance Marine popped into view his Claymore roared. The most powerful shotgun in the Multiverse proved its worth yet again. Armor yielded to its power and blood shot from the resulting holes. The Marine toppled back behind the desk.

Others rose to open fire on him and were met by a hail of fire from Drack. Drack moved into the room as well, his assault rifle blazing. The suppressive fire sent the Marines down for a few critical seconds, long enough for Wrex to close the distance on the desk. With a loud roar and a burst of both muscle and biotic power, Wrex knocked the desk clean off of its foundation and threw it backward. The soldiers behind the desk were already scrambling backward. "Fall back!" one shouted, guiding the other toward a nearby door. Fire from behind Wrex converged on them. One of the Marines went down to a leg wound. His buddy squeezed a shot off in the direction of the mercs shooting at him. He glanced toward Wrex, who remained with his biotic field up, doing nothing. The Marines got their wounded man out before more fire converged.

"So, we're here," Wrex said. "This is one of the points for the explosives, right?"

"Main support pillar, near the clone tanks," Drack confirmed.

"Then you know what to do," Wrex said, looking toward a Brakiri. "Get the charges set. We hold here."

The dreadful silence of isolation in Zhengli’s cell was abruptly broken by the sound of a PPG rifle cycling outside and shouting, some of it confused and incoherent. There was another period of silence, and then sobbing and a shuffle of a body. Footfalls reached the door, and a moment later the cell opened.

Standing in front of Zhengli was Elia Saumarez, a trace of blood dripping from her nose and a sheet-white expression on her face. She had one PPG rifle in her hands and one slung over her shoulder, and without even speaking she thrust the one in her hands to Zhengli.

“Thank you, Miss Saumarez. Link?” She needed information, trying to retake control of her ship, as she checked the rifle and held it at a low ready, adrenaline surging. “Let us get our destroyer back.”

“Of course, Captain,” she added a commlink a moment later, trembling a bit, but locking and checking her second PPG. On the ground in front of them one of the security personnel was shaking in place like he was having a seizure, crying and staring at the wall. Elia stiffly avoided looking at him.

“Come on.” She tapped the link; “All hands, this is Captain Varma! I am retaking command of this ship! This mutiny must end! Lay down your arms and I shall call for clemency!” She glanced to the telepath. “Let us be going, they may trace that transmission. We need to take the bridge, and quickly.”

“Captain, I’m not sure what’s going on there, but this started,” she stuttered and then spoke clearly, following at her side past the other dead bodies, “when Lieutenant Reichert shot Major Foster on the bridge. I’m not sure anyone is actually in charge there. Afterwards, Commander Farallon had her engineering crew start shooting at some of Foster’s people who came to arrest her, and that’s when she told me I was the only one in place to break you out. Foster sent Lieutenant Goodman to the Minbari cruiser and he’s still trapped over there.”

“Then we need the bridge or the main computer core, Foster should not have been able to lock me out of the systems yet. Most of the crew will be uncertain, and momentum in this sort of morale environment counts for a great deal.” Zhengli had exploded into motion, and showed not a hint of hesitation as she moved forward. Saumarez could feel the swirl of emotion within her, but not a hint showed in her posture.

“Right, Captain! Main computer core is closer. If we’re lucky we’ll….” She brought her gun up. “Someone coming,” she hissed softly.

Zhengli gave a single sharp nod, and slipped into cover. This is reminding me far too much of a Brown Sector sweep. Saumarez, nod if they have hostile intent.

Mercifully, she didn’t nod. A woman rounded the corner--it was the security guard from two days before. Corporal Watters. She jerked up to a halt, four other guards at her back. “Captain, ma’am! We’re for you!”

“To Computer Central then, and quickly! Let us take our ship back, Huáscarenos!”

“Come on, Huáscarenos! We’ll do it together!” It was a stunning sentiment to hear from the lips of a Psi Corps officer, and she jogged out to take the lead, screening the others with all of her senses, as no military telepath was supposed to do. But for all of them, there was no turning back.

“You heard the woman, let’s get moving!” Zhengli accepted it, as her mind calmed and focused. Victory or death, now, and I have to see all of mine through it.

On the roof Cat and Tra'dur were busy examining the sensor's data while Lindstrom and his security team fought the Brakiri mercs. Every few moments the big gun on the troop gunship would rake across the roof, forcing them to duck even further as bits and pieces of metal were shaved away by near hits. "Can't we do something about that?" Cat shouted.

"We don't have the hardware," Lindstrom replied. "We need the Marines up here, and they can't come right now!"

"Then what we are supposed to do?" asked Cat. "They're not stopping."

Lindstrom almost barked that he didn't need to hear that, but he didn't. He spotted one of the Brakiri mercs about to overrun Reubens' position and opened fire on the merc. The Brakiri ducked back into cover. Lindstrom nearly lost his head when the mercs' transport gunship raked its anti-infantry support weapon right over his cover. "Major Anders, we're not going to hold out much longer," he warned.

"You don't have a choice, Lieutenant. I've already got an enemy team inside our defense perimeter and the other sides pressed. I don't have reinforcements for you. If you have to, retreat from the roof."

Lindstrom looked to the roof entrance door. It was in the open, at an angle where the Brakiri ship could easily mow them down. "I don't think that's an option…"

The door flew open. Lindstrom watched Lucy Lucero storm through it, blue robe trailing, her weapon shining in the air. "Get down!" he shouted. "You're…"

It was too late. The dropship gunner was opening fire.

Lucy seemed to see it coming. Her weapon was a blur. The energy fire that could have killed Lindstrom or any of his people was knocked away upon impact with the blue blade. The other Brakiri mercs went for cover as their own ship's weapon fire was now threatening them.

Lucy's hand came up in a motion. There was a distant thump, a cry of surprise, and the fire suddenly stopped. Lindstrom glanced around the corner just long enough to see the gun was unmanned. "We're clear!" he shouted. "Secure the roof!"

The security team left cover only under the protection of each other. The mercs, deprived of their fire support, cut off from their transport a moment later when Lucy rushed into it, could only fire shots where possible at foes who were quickly flanking them. One by one they went down to stun blasts. Lindstrom finished off the last and immediately turned to his charges. "Are you okay?" he asked the geeks.

"We're okay," Caterina confirmed. Tra’dur had simply continued to work with a kind of single-minded sangfroid.

On the gunship, Lucy was standing behind the pilot, lightsaber up. "You're flying for us now, got it?" she asked. "And this way, you may actually avoid charges for abetting a genocide. That sounds good, doesn't it?"

The pilot dared do nothing but nod.

"I thought so." Lucy smiled sweetly at him before glancing back to Lindstrom and the others. "We have a ride, if you have a plan."

Cat and Tra'dur exchanged glances before getting right back to work.

In his post at the front entrance, Anders listened to Sergeant Coleman and sighed. He'd fully intended for Lucero to go after the Krogan Battlemaster and the group that got inside his building. But she was on the roof instead, and he was short of options.

"Perez, Janyam, Patel, you're with me," he said. "We've got to stop that team that got inside."

His choices all looked his way. Like Anders, Sergeant Janyam was in normal Marine infantry armor. The Gersallian man had a tanned complexion with dark eyes and hair. A family emblem of sorts was on the necklace with his physical dogtags. Corporals Perez and Patel, however, were in heavy infantry armor. Taking them from the front was a gamble, but with a Krogan Battlemaster in the building, Anders needed the firepower. There were plenty of reports in the Corps about the Krogan Battlemasters. Biotic powerhouses that were some of the most dangerous individuals of the M4P2 universe.

"We're with you, Major," Sergeant Janyam said.

Wrex supervised the charge being set with an increasing feeling that things were going bad. It wasn't just the flow of the fighting. The attacks at the front and rear were completely stopped. The force hitting the roof screamed something about a Human woman with an energy blade and stopped transmitting - presumably the same woman that the rear attack group had claimed was knocking them around earlier. The odds were good that the other guys were on the way.

No. It was something more than that. This job was about to go sour.

Then he heard the shattering of glass.

Wrex scowled. "Mind staying with him?" he asked Drack.

Drack nodded and hefted his rifle. Wrex returned his Vindicator to the mounting port on the back of his armor and stomped toward the sound. It was coming again, and again, followed by wet, meaty thumps.

He turned the corner of the gray halls into a room filled with monitors. Some were now going blank. But Wrex wasn't looking at the monitors.

He was looking at the little bodies now littering the floor. The smashed ruins of a generation being grown in this building. Even now a pair of Brakiri were stomping on the dying little Dilgar. At another tank a Krogan in Blood Pack armor was laughing in the moment before he smashed his armored head into another tank. Fluid drained out through the crack, pulling the little form inside with it. He immediately smashed the infant with his boot.

Something in his expression gained the attention of the Brakiri merc officer who followed his unit in. The dark-eyed Brakiri smiled at him. "Don't mind us," he said. "We're just doing a little follow-up work. The last team to hold the building only got around to removing half of the Dilgar clones. We're taking care of the rest."

"Then what's the point of the bomb?" Wrex asked.

"Oh, the bomb will finish them off." A savage gleam appeared in the Brakiri's eye. "But just in case it doesn't go off, removing a few more Dilgar from existence will make this worth something."

Wrex growled at that. "You're enjoying this," he accused the man.

At that the Brakiri laughed. "Of course I am. The Dilgar are animals. The entire species is a cosmic mistake, a nightmare that we're putting an end to. Did you know they did the same thing to our children. They did worse. Because that's what the Dilgar are. Vicious, bloodthirsty killers, every one of them." Hearing the growl in Wrex's throat, the Brakiri rolled his eyes. "Oh please, don't give me a moral lecture. You knew it was coming to this, mercenary. Did you think that bomb wouldn't blow these tanks apart? You're just as responsible for this as we are. That's what we're paying you for, after all. To help us rid the galaxy of the Dilgar once and for all. Just stick it out like a good mercenary and you'll get your money, then you can go back to that ruin of a planet you Krogan come from and continue to die out."

The words struck home. Wrex had, indeed, been ignoring what this mission meant. He'd done what he always did, focusing on the mission at hand. What the client did with his work was the client's business, so long as he got paid. That's what it took to survive now. Nothing changed that. It was galling to think that, for all of the reservations he'd stated to Drack, he'd still ultimately fallen in line like a good little merc. He'd become just another Krogan mercenary fighting for a chance to fight.

His red eyes wandered over to another shattered tank. A little Dilgar baby, this one fully grown and ready to be decanted, was ripped from the tank by an over-eager merc. For a brief moment, just a brief one, Wrex thought he could hear a cry come from the infant. If there was one, it was drowned out when another merc buried a fireax into the infant's head. A spray of dark blood came out through the thin baby fur.

Wrex closed his eyes to escape the image. But the image didn't go away. Instead his mind betrayed him. It twisted the image lingering there. The slaughter remained the same. The baby let out a cry before the ax came down and silenced the little life forever.

But now the baby wasn't a Dilgar. It was a Krogan infant that the mercs were slaughtering. All around him were the broken, ruined bodies of little Krogan babies, to join a thousand years worth of Krogan infants that the genophage had slaughtered in their mothers' eggs.

That forced Wrex to open his eyes. He looked over the room again.

"Now return to your post, Urdnot," the Brakiri officer demanded. "Leave us to our work, since you clearly have no stomach for it."

For a single, dangerous moment, Wrex simply looked at the Brakiri while thoughts filled his head.

"I gave you an order, Krogan." Now the Brakiri was frowning. And the other mercs were starting to notice. "What are you still doing here? Have you suddenly gone mute?"

The scowl disappeared from Wrex's face. "Ah, what the hell," he muttered, sounding defeated.

The Brakiri smiled.

The smile was still on his face when Wrex pulled his shotgun out from the small of his back. Indeed, it was only beginning to fade from confusion in the moment before Wrex's finger found the trigger.

The Brakiri's head exploded.

For a single stunned moment the other mercs didn't know what to do. Wrex used that moment to bring the Claymore over and fire it at the nearest merc. The torso of the Brakiri merc was nearly blown completely out by the blast. He fired again, killing the merc's buddy as he started to move, before he took cover behind a shattered tank. A moment later particle weapon fire from the various mercs converted on his location.

More than that, a loud roar filled the room. The Blood Pack Krogan didn't know what was going on, but had apparently decided Wrex was his enemy anyway. He charged toward Wrex's cover. Wrex figured what was about to happen. He'd already swapped to his Vindicator rifle and rolled back out of cover. A biotic field absorbed the incoming fire in the critical moment he needed to squeeze the trigger. With a loud series of shots Wrex hit one merc in the head and another in the gut. With only two mercs left in the tank chamber besides the Blood Pack Krogan, the odds had improved. They were still bad, but they'd improved.

Wrex had only one option to avoid incoming fire. He turned to the raging Blood Pack Krogan and charged him. The Krogan met his charge and the two went flying into the wall with enough force to smash an indention into it. Releasing his Vindicator rifle and letting it hit the ground, Wrex grabbed the Krogan and turned him toward his allies. This left him open to a vicious punch from his opponent. It was a good punch, too, but Wrex knew how to take them. He let go of the Krogan and threw his own. But his punch was backed by a burst of biotic power. The Blood Pack Krogan went flying back into another of the shattered tanks. He might not have fallen if not for losing his footing in the blood of the same Dilgar infants he had helped to slaughter. The Blood Pack Krogan did finally fall backward into the clone tank. Without time to pick up his rifle, Wrex brought his shotgun back out and shot the Krogan in the face.

Or rather, tried to. His shot did manage to rip chunks of flesh from the Blood Pack Krogan's head, but it was off given the particle blast that hit his arm and threw his aim. Wrex grunted and pulled back toward the wall, trying to get a measure of cover. It took a lot of effort to force his biotic field back to strength. By the time he finished and got the shotgun up to face the approaching mercs, they were already shooting at him. Orange energy pulses battered his biotic field back down.

The Claymore in his hands roared. The shot blew the guts out of one of the two mercs. Wrex swung the Claymore over slightly to shoot the other one.

But nothing happened.

Steam rose from the Claymore. It was overheated at the moment. It wouldn't fire again until the internal systems marked that it was safe to do so. That was likely seconds away.

More than enough time for the merc's next shot to get through the biotic field, and likely find Wrex's head.

Gunfire rang out. Another shotgun. The merc's arm was nearly stripped to the bone by the blast. His weapon dropped to the ground and he did a moment later.

Wrex looked over to the door. Drack stepped in with his shotgun raised. He swept the room once before lowering the weapon and walking over to Wrex. "Nice job, whelp," he said while Wrex stood up. "I was wondering when you'd make a move."

Wrex barked a laugh at the older Krogan. "So you're okay with this? I just wrecked our contract, and both sides will be after us now."

"Been there. Done that."

"Heh. Yeah." Wrex looked to the door. "We'd better stop the bomb."

"Already did," Drack answered. "The moment I heard the first shot, I put the bomb tech down."


"Probably wishes he was."

Wrex nodded in approval. His eyes went over to the clone tanks. The broken ones, and the intact ones. "This could be us," he said. "Can't you see it? We could use something like this to get around the genophage. And you know the damned Turians and Salarians would try something like this if we did."

"The Salarians would just bomb it from orbit and claim it was a rogue asteroid," Drack said.

"Yeah." Wrex stepped toward the door. "So, let's think…"

A loud roar filled the air. Both turned in time to get bowled over by the Blood Pack Krogan Wrex had shot. Even with half of his face a bloody mess, the Krogan was alive. Alive… and in the grips of a blood rage. Drack brought his shotgun back over and took a shot that blew chunks of flesh from the Krogan's arm. Heedless to the damage, the Krogan punched the old veteran hard enough to stagger him, then used his good arm to pull the shotgun away.

Wrex slammed into the Krogan from behind. The Krogan roared and spun. It wasn't thinking tactically, but its move nevertheless worked to send Wrex on and into another broken clone tank. The Krogan's eyes darted between them, as if deciding on who to kill first.

A massive blue pulse slammed into the chest of the Blood Pack Krogan. Even with his mass, the Krogan went flying and hit the blood-slicked ground. He roared and tried to get up again, but took another shot, and another, until the blue pulses left him a steaming pile of cooked flesh on the floor.

The two Krogan mercs looked toward their rescuer. They both recognized the Alliance Marine armor for what what it was.

Major Anders looked around the room. It wasn't the dead Dilgar children that got his attention - that was a sight he'd already endured - but the dead mercs? That was interesting. "So..." He stepped in further, allowing two Marines in heavy armor to squeeze through the door. They raised their arms to point their weapons at Wrex and Drack.

The two Krogan looked at each other. Both knew that the Alliance troops had them dead to rights.

"So," Anders continued. "Just what the hell happened here?"

In orbit the Drazi Sunhawks continued to go after the Aurora. Its sapphire beams sliced into them. One blew apart. The others peppered the unshielded armor hull of the Aurora with ruby energy, leaving scorch marks and debris.

The Avenger, however, was not joining them. Its weapons fire seemed to slack off here, with only secondary weapons firing in the vicinity of the Aurora's weapons mounts.

Given all the damage, the Aurora crew was working hard to keep their ship in the fight. One such damage control team was scrambling toward a patch of unrepaired damage on Deck 20 when they saw the lights. All four turned and spotted the six dark-clad humanoid figures that appeared from a Darglan transporter effect. The six figures raised pulse rifles. The lead on the team, Petty Officer Samaro Tenga, managed to get to her omnitool. "Boarders!" she shouted into the ship comm system, seconds before a pulse blast struck her in the chest.

The ship shook again below Julia. Not as severely as she imagined would happen, however. The Avenger seemed to be holding back now, using lighter weapons and going after the Aurora's weapons in turn. "We just lost one of the plasma emitters," Angel said.

Beside her Meridina relayed the information. "Boarding party spotted on Deck 20… another on Deck 10…. two more on Deck 20."

"They're after Hawk and his girlfriend," Julia answered. She tapped the comm button on her chair arm. "Bridge to Richmond."

"I already have teams en route, Captain," answered Richmond. "We'll stop them."

"I hope so." Julia returned her attention to the fight. The ship took another hit, this time from the Drazi. They smelled blood, and unlike the Avenger, they were willing to make the kill. "I know shields are out, but do whatever you can to keep the Drazi from hitting us somewhere critical."

"Doing what I can," Jarod answered.

"Same here."

"Still returning fire," noted Angel. "I got a few hits on them with their shields down, and it looks like their shields are already dropping below fifteen percent."

"That's better than zero, though. Do what you can to even the odds."

"Perhaps we should try the same?" Meridina suggested.

"Right." Julia activated the tactical comm. "Attention all ships. We're being boarded. I say again, the Aurora is being boarded. We have lost shields and the Avenger and Drazi have us pinned in. Whatever you can do to help, it'd be appreciated."

“Warmaster!” The Combat Captain at the sensor post turned toward the centre of the bridge, eyes sharp. “The pirate warship has knocked out the Aurora’s shields. We’re detecting multiple beam-in signatures, and they are requesting assistance.”

Shai’jhur looked at the floating wreckage of Brakiri ships to her sides, the smashed Hyach vessel they had out-shot ahead. It was like old times, but what came next wouldn’t be. “We can afford the heavy Pentacon. Form three-dimensional pentacon! Stand by for precision warp.”

Only the Dilgar, so new to the technology, would calmly think of demanding precision tactical use from warp drives they had purchased from Ferengi scrap dealers, that had been built by the Klingons seventy years before.

Kaveri was working at her console, trying to think ahead. Daring, yes, but Avenger will be badly distracted, and… they never used a three-dee pentacon before.

Shai’jhur glanced to her with a wry smile of two long-connected souls that sometimes had a virtually psychic intuition. “It was an old tactical plan of Warmaster Jha’dur’s. We implemented it. Stand by warp drive!”

“Warp drive synchronized throughout the pentacon, Warmaster! Route is clear of enemy shipping!”


The five ships went to warp for just a fraction of a second, lancing across the battlefield and reemerging before the Avenger as she stood off, transferring boarding parties to the Aurora. That meant the pirate’s crew was distracted, and that was just the moment that Shai’jhur could have hoped for.

“All ships, fire forward batteries!” The massed concentration of seven Hyach spinal lasers combined with the standard pulsars and bolters of the five ships as their three-dimensional pentacon covered the Avenger from all directions. Her shields flared briefly, withstanding the enormous power directed against them. But the Hyach spinal lasers on the three core ships cycled quickly, and the Avenger had no such luck with the next salvo. Supported by a flurry of ion bursts, bolters and pulsars from the five Dilgar ships, the Darglan shield bubble, one of the most advanced technology protective systems in the galaxy, failed. The Dilgar fire was unerring, they had the same X-RAY SPECIAL targeting sensors as the Huáscar on the three big ships, and not a single shot missed. Fire was ripping across the regenerative armour of the Avenger now, with the spinal lasers in particular carrying sufficient power to really make themselves felt, gouging deep through plate.

Explosions rippled across the hull as the Avenger, not a regular military ship and with her senior officers captive aboard the Aurora, thrashed like a confused tiger caught in a trap as the flash of vapor indicated Shai’jhur’s ships had vented air to space. Instead of raising shields immediately the crew finished their beam-ins of boarding parties rather than risk the death of their comrades, and in the meantime, Shai’jhur’s pentacon continued to hammer them. Finally they brought their shields up, the hull wreathed with plasma and huge gouges and lines raked across her armour. Coming about to evade the fire, the formation caught her in every direction, and for a moment, drove the merciless battlecruiser back.

It was only a moment, but Shai’jhur took it for all it was worth, and pressed home her attack. She had to keep them off the Aurora long enough for her crew to get a handle on the boarding parties, or else it would be all for naught.

“They will break out of the pentacon fire-cone momentarially, Warmaster. We are about to be very hard pressed indeed.” Kaveri warned, watching the power curves of the enemy ship shift.

“Stand by to reverse formation by pivoting about current heading. We’ll snap around and return them to it at least the first time. Implement the orders, Battlemaster.” Shai’jhur leaned forward into her straps, and for a moment, the ghosts of ten thousand ships surrounded her pentacon. She would not fail them.

“Understood, Warmaster.” The human woman’s voice started to roll out in accented Dilgar, preparing the squadron to execute the elaborate manouvre. “Ready.”

She watched the Avenger snap violently to starboard and accelerate. “Execute!”

Kaveri’s orders snapped out, and the complex three-dimensional formation turned about inside itself, a complex ballet as left became right and thrusters burned, hard, to kill their velocity and get them moving on the opposite vector. This sort of formation could have given the Nova squadrons a difficult time. It seems perfect to focus fire on a foe. Sometimes, she couldn’t help thinking of the past, of what had led them this far - and the mirror of humanity the Dilgar seemed to be, more often than not.

The commanders needed no further information. These were Rohricans, survivors of 30 years of waiting and Shai’jhur’s desperate secret operations. They had initiative that would have gotten them shot in the old Dilgar Navy, and it showed. As the evolution of the formation was completed, they immediately resumed firing upon the Avenger, once again catching her into the kill-box of the three-dimensional pentacon. Shai’jhur leaned forward, chin against her gloved hands, as the maximal concentration of fire from five ships again splashed over the great Darglan battlecruiser. “Kaveri?”

“Warmaster?” Kaveri glanced over to Shai’jhur, incongruous in her uniform to the other Dilgar, but now being respected--proved in battle.

“They wouldn’t be fighting, these others, if the Avenger wasn’t here. Third Balos works in both ways for this battle. Keep us on the Avenger! Just a little bit more time...
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Jan 16, 2018 12:40 am

Brutal. I love this, multi-layered warfare. What a great payoff, it's one of the best battle scenes so far!

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

Post by Steve » Tue Jan 16, 2018 8:44 am

Since this this is the kind of conversation material and literary examination Shroom loves to delve into, I'm C&Ping this from the Spacebattles thread for Season 3:
It should be self-evident that UF has an element of power fantasy to it, moreso than other works. The very founding concept is the very basis of a power fantasy; getting access to the means to enforce one's own will on the world, even against the massed might of governments. Robert got that power, and Hawk did. This, of course, is not an easy thing to write in a way that's interesting and doesn't dissolve into wankiness, and I hope I've managed it through exploring what it would be like to employ such and the ramifications (such as New Liberty's dark, seedy side despite the humanitarian motivations of its founding).

I've already commented on their different focuses - Robert is out to save the innocent, Hawk to punish the guilty - but I wanted to return to that because those motivations tie into the ways one can feel a power fantasy. The former is, of course, one being Superman; saving the day, catching the person falling from a building, etc.

The latter is, just as obviously, Punisher. We've all probably read books or non-fictional accounts that made us really deeply loathe someone. We saw some of that after 9-11 with the dark, vicious humor about nuking Afghanistan (or the entire Muslim world...). Or, say, reading an account of the Civil Rights movement and wishing one could take the likes of Orval Faubus or George Wallace and beat the shit out of them for being racist assholes. That's the kind of sentiment I tap when writing Hawk and his cohorts. That feeling that some people you can't just reason with or tolerate, that you have to beat the shit out of them (or worse) to set things straight.

This, of course, is rarely constructive. Beating the shit out of someone rarely persuades them their views are wrong, after all. At best, you make them afraid of another round of "get the shit beaten out of me" so they shut up. But they don't change their mind and, once they feel secure from another shit-beating episode, they'll probably be even more vicious. And if you kill them, that will cause people who might have been persuaded to follow you peacefully to recoil from you. You could end up pushing good people toward "the bad guys" with your violent behavior.

And yet... even I, knowing this, can still feel an urge like that. I've just read the section in William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream about Governor Faubus instigating the Little Rock desegregation crisis as a political maneuver to get votes. And I did indeed feel a desire to see Hawk wreck his shit. Much like the Dark Side, this approach is just so easy to take, is so cathartic against the stresses of dealing with the intolerable, that one can see why they'd fall into the trap. Even without the fact that they're gradually frying out their brains.

So, yeah, basically... Robert and co were the "heroic" power fantasy starting out, Hawk and co are the "violent" power fantasy, and it's an interesting dynamic to explore, and allows for some self-consideration.

(Note: I do acknowledge this dark side in me with a name. I call him Darth Martellus. 8-) ;) )
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Tue Jan 16, 2018 8:53 am

Another thought I just had. And Shroomy may love this one.

Namely... if he didn't try to kill him for being a "bad guy", Hawk would probably get along with Kylo Ren.


I say this because he and Kylo share that same sort of unfocused rage at the way things are. Kylo is now motivated to finish burning down everything, Empire and Rebels, to rebuild the galaxy as he thinks it should be done, with a clean break from the past. That is actually something Hawk might go for. As I've shown, he has no love for the established system, in the Alliance or elsewhere. Whatever force drives him, taking Kylo's route of "destroy it all and rebuild it into something you want" is an approach Hawk will probably move toward, if he hasn't become that way already.

There are differences, of course. Hawk's rage is very much based on the injustices he perceives in the world around him and a desire to end those. The Dilgar "getting away" with their crimes by hiding on Tira, and the government there being unreconstructed elements (albeit pro-social reform, but not liberalizing) , is the obvious motivation there for him. Kylo, OTOH, has his torn nature and the fact his uncle, his teacher, tried to kill him (since he doesn't know that Luke had already decided not to strike).

Just a little extra thought from me.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Jan 16, 2018 9:31 am

I do get that, but like when do you draw the line between justifiable interventions like pre-Aurora crew taking care of the Duffy people, versus "oh no so-and-so are bad because they beat up vile racists and politicians?"

It's not like Robert and co. won entirely through non-violent speech checks. I get it, Hawk don't have constructive follow-throughs and employ solely violence and single-minded so and so.

But where's the line? Would Robert and the Aurora crew (and by virtue of that, you as the writer of the narrative) be fine with the Boston Tea Party because speechify this and justifiable that, but then identify the Ferguson riots as Hawk-like and hate-filled and such because of broken windows?

Would the Founding Fathers be justified, yet Ho Chi Minh or Nelson Mandela or Filipino guerillas and revolutionaries of old be talked down to and speechified?

The "oh they're going too far and going blind in their feelings and actions" chiding reprimand can sometimes be off-point when it's something only those insulated and distant from the stakes can afford to utter (and you know why I'm not so hot when this comes from Robert - whereas when it comes from Yonatan or something I'd be more fine with it... Robert might not be wrong, but it's just different when it's from someone who's been in the thick of it, we all know it'd come off different if some moralizing spiel came from some North Point graduate who views some foreign war from a UCAV remote control, or even Robert despite his own family's tragedies which aren't the same thing even if they're personal pains).

You DID deal with these dualities, have Picard lecture Robert on this and Robert learn the ropes to this and learn to temper his own tendencies. And we see the crew reflect various aspects of this, from Angel to Julie to Meridina, etc. Kudos to that.

Hmm... I guess part of the deal is the power fantasy aspect, Robert's an outsider to a lot of these conflicts in a lot of the places in real-life(ish) Earth that he's intervened in and obviously the sci-fi alternate earths, and so the narrative is kinda skewered and follows Robert and his own decisions instead of being more immersed "on the ground' as a direct and "native" participant of said conflicts in said societies. I guess that's inevitable baggage of certain American-based fiction following certain American-based character archetypes.

I hope we get something more sophisticated from Hawk and the others. Yeah, he comes off as a Kylo and I guess that's the dark side of the Western power trip fantasy. And if he's actually not sophisticated and just as shallow as some /pol/ chanboard wannabe political idiot who got Darglan-tech, then that's a fair theme or thing to display too (it is a good commentary on modern sci-fi communities and members lol). Maybe you can keep this aspect yet somehow give them a little more dimensions?

I guess it would be a whole different can of worms if Hawk wasn't shallow, if Hawk was some Kurtz-ian figure who has been in the thick of it and warped because of the legitimately horrid things he saw, if he began just like Robert but got screwed over and had no choice other than to go down a darker path.

Or if he was actually like Nemo, or someone who was actually in the thick of something terrible, who isn't some pasty suburb-dweller who found a Darglan facility and decided to reenact HPCA spartafreedomerica team america nonsense. This would be more difficult, I guess.

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

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:50 pm

^Very good points all around.

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

Shroom I must agree the crew of the avenger don't seem like the equals of the main cast, intellectually or morally. Maybe there will be a flashback episode where we see their fall from grace?
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Tue Jan 16, 2018 4:22 pm

The Aurora shuddered beneath the impacts of enemy fire. On the bridge of the beleaguered ship, Jarod and Barnes cooperated from their stations to deal with the problems the attack was causing their beleaguered vessel.

"Damage report," Julia asked, desiring the update.

"Shields are still down and we've taken a hit to the port impulsor. From what I can tell, they're targeting our shield generators and engines." Jarod checked another screen.

"Hawk may have downloaded information from our systems during his prior incarceration in the brig," Meridina proposed. "The Avenger's fire is remarkably accurate."

"But no longer against us alone." Julia was observing closely while Shai'jhur's dreadnought and other heavy ships battered away at the Darglan-built battlecruiser. More and more fire from Hawk's ship was going toward them, not the Aurora, while the Dilgar fire was battering the Avenger's armored hull down. The other ship was resilient, but the lack of proper training and experience in the other crew was showing. Their maneuvering reflected what must have been a fear that going too far would leave their boarding parties isolated.

"Anything yet on those boarding parties?" Julia asked.

"Commander Richmond is already deploying security teams toward the brig," Meridina said. "Would you like me to go assist?"

The temptation was there. Meridina's skill set would make her invaluable to repelling the enemy. But she was also the First Officer, and had a critical role to play on the bridge given their combat situation. Ultimately Julia shook her head in the negative. "No. I need you here, Meridina. It won't do any good beating off the boarding parties if we lose the ship."

"Of course," Meridina said. A part of her felt it inappropriate to be here, to be in a chair relaying orders when her skills could be put to more active use. But she was no longer a Knight of Swenya, by her own decision, and by the same she had chosen to be Julia's First Officer. This was a consequence of those choices, and so she pushed those thoughts away.

I must trust Commander Richmond to do what she can, Meridina reminded herself, and she whispered a short wish, or prayer depending on one's point of view, for her former subordinate's success.

The ship's security teams were deploying, and Commander Richmond deployed with them. She was in action uniform and had a pulse rifle in her arms with the rest of Team A, now moving laterally across the ship on Deck 20. "Teams B and C, approach from Section H. D and F are coming from the aft," she said into the security teams' comms.

"Yes sir," was the answer.

The first indication of contact with the boarders was when they stumbled upon the prone figures of a damage control team. One of her people leaned over and scanned them with an omnitool. "They're still alive," the Asian woman said. "They were shot with a stun setting of some sort."

"That's awfully kind of our opponents," noted Richmond drolly. They'd behaved similarly a year before as well. "Mark them for a medical team. We're proceeding."

They continued toward the brig. One azure corridor after another passed by the team.

They nearly stumbled into the first strike team. The black clad humanoid figures came around a corridor just ahead of them. Their technique was sloppy to Richmond's eye; just moving in a mass, but they had at least been monitoring their sensors and knew her people were coming. They opened fire the same moment Richmond's people did.

The teams were nearly matched, seven on six with Richmond being the extra shooter on her side, but the exchange of fire proved even better for her. Blue pulses filled the space between the two teams. The first hits on either side were absorbed by personal forcefields, but only the first. Richmond's target went down. A cry beside her told her she'd lost one of hers.

The difference here was tactics. Richmond's people dropped to a knee, presenting a smaller target and stabilizing their aim. The other side didn't. Her people practiced concentration of fire, the others didn't. In the exchange that followed she lost one more member of her team, but they lost all but two. The last two finally ducked back into the corridor they'd emerged from. Richmond gestured and one of her people pulled a stun grenade. The object was the size of an orange and shaped like a control handle. The throw was practiced and precise. It hit the opposite wall of the corridor entrance and bounced further in. A bright flash of energy temporarily filled the air. Richmond glanced at her sensors and confirmed her targets were down.

She had a choice. Secure the boarders, or head on to the brig. Given the location of her people right now and the boarders, only the latter would let her arrive before they could take the brig. So she made that choice. "Team G, re-deploy to Section G Deck 20, marker is down. Secure prisoners."

"Yes sir," was the response.

She and her team continued on.

On the rooftop of the Dilgar cloning center on Tira, Tra'dur and Cat were finishing their examination of the explosives on the barrage gates. “It’s an Octaazacubane compound meta-stabilized by secondary compounding with a biogel, Cat,” she looked up, triumph flashing on her face before she fell back to a frown.

Caterina nodded at the result. Now that they weren't being shot at, she and Tra'dur were able to focus on the task at hand. "Octaazacubane. Hrm. I suppose we could synthesize a neutralizing compound. But I'm not sure my omnitool can replicate something like that."

"Besides, we'd have to hit every gate," said Lindstrom. Nearby Lucy was still on the Brakiri transport, making sure the pilot obeyed instructions. "If our new friend's correct, we don't have time for that. Any other options?"

"An electrical current would probably do it, if we could introduce one to the bombs."

“Correct, it could be destabilized by electrical current. That would deflag the explosive in a sub-order detonation. If we could control the electrical current supply we could control the detonation order and keep it from being strong enough to damage the gates,” Tra’dur offered, scribbling some set of calculations onto a small notepad and handing it to Cat. “Now, how to introduce a current…”

Caterina looked over the calculations and checked the scan results again. "The gate," she said. "The gates and barrage, I mean. They're made of metal. But the water's brackish. Do the records show if they use a sacrificial anode to protect against corrosion?"

Tra’dur blinked. “Oh right. We have such little water on Rohric…” She had an armoured box of a little computer that could access the Tiran network, and leaned into the cover of the massive concrete of the building, delicately tapping keys across finger-pads and the click of retracted demi-claws. “Yes, the barrage motor-generator rooms also have the galvanic rig in them.”

Cat grinned at that. "Perfect! If we can channel the necessary current into the wiring, we'll disable the bombs!"

“Galvanic lines are ‘dumb’ without a control circuit. We’d need to physically hook a pulse-modulator into the circuit or else hack and reprogram something already in the motor-generator room that’s linked to their power supply.”

"So we need to get over there," Lindstrom remarked.

"Well, we have one of their vehicles," Cat said. "We could fly there. They may not even realize it's us until we're already landing."

“That would still be a hot assault. The control centre is the perfect place to defend the charges from,” Tra’dur said quietly, fingering a bandolier of grenades she had somehow picked up during the day. Unlike Cat, she was perfectly comfortable with weapons.

Lindstrom activated the comm line. "Anders, we think we have a plan to eliminate the threat to the gates. But we'll need enough firepower to take out whoever is watching the place."

"I don't have any Marines to spare," Anders said. "But I might have something for you. I'll send them up."

"I wonder what he means by that?" Cat wondered aloud.

She got her answer a few minutes later when the roof door opened again… and two big, bloodied Krogan in battle armor stomped onto the roof. "Uh… hi," Cat squeaked.

Lucy looked over from where she was monitoring their captive pilot. "So you're the biotic I sensed rampaging around earlier."

One of the two, a red-eyed Krogan, eyed the lightsaber in her hand. "And you're that Human the mercs were screaming about." He chuckled. "Name's Urdnot Wrex."

"Nakmor Drack," said the other Krogan.

"And you were working for the Brakiri," Lucy said.

Lindstrom looked somewhat bewildered at that, but said nothing.

"Key word there. 'Were'. So." Wrex flexed his arms. "Major Anders said something about a hot landing."

"Those are always fun," Drack added

"We're hitting the control center for the barrage," Lindstrom said. "So our science officers can execute a plan to disable the bombs on the gates."

"Ah. Good plan." Wrex cracked his knuckles. "I'm not the best swimmer, so I'm in."

"Prosthetics and water don't mix. So let's get this done," said Drack.

Tra’dur, saying nothing of the abrupt change of heart, shoved her hands into her tactical webbing and glanced quietly from Lindstrom to Cat. Her anxiety over placing trust for the city in the hands of defectors was reflected only in the way her small claws silently flexed. But there was no other way.

On the bridge of the Shenzhou, Li watched the Aurora endure another barrage from the attacking Drazi. "They're not working together very well," she observed.

"Evidently not, Captain," Commander Otiros said from his seat beside her. "The Drazi are going for the kill regardless of their allies' efforts."

"We can't let them." Li frowned at the thought of losing the Aurora. The officers of the other ship had saved her from the hell of prison and given her an opportunity to live the life her dear mothers would have been proud to see her live. She would not let them be lost, not to these genocidal maniacs. "Helm, interpose us between the Drazi and the port side of the Aurora."

At the helm, Lieutenant Tabitha Crosswell responded immediately. "Aye, Captain," she said, her English that of the New Lancaster colonies descended from the northern English counties. "Adjusting position."

"Full power to shields, every itam you can manage."

Otiros' order was echoed by the other Dorei on the bridge, Operations officer Lieutenant Commander Turam Ipigos. The blue-skinned, teal-spotted Dorei woman moved her slender fingers over the controls. "Shields are now at sixty percent."

"I'm locking on the next group, Captain," said Lieutenant Enrique Medrano. The tall Cebuano was quick to anticipate her by adding, "Firing."

Sapphire bolts erupted from the bow pulse plasma cannons of the Shenzhou. They were not as powerful as their counterparts on the Aurora and Avenger, but against the unshielded Drazi they proved nearly as lethal. One Sunhawk spun away, leaking atmosphere and flame. The second hit by Medrano's fire blew apart another. Torpedoes blew the wing off of a third.

The Drazi attack didn't relent. With the Shenzhou in the way, firing her phasers and plasma cannons rapidly to cover the Aurora, the Drazi commanders started to go around her. This proved fruitless as the rest of the ad hoc Alliance squadron met them as well. The Koenig, Eagle, and Heerman cooperated in pursuing the Drazi maneuvering around them. The Dorei and Alakin ships moved up above and behind the Shenzhou to help take fire and block off the Drazi approach vectors. The Tu'pam zipped around between them, pouring plasma fire where she could.

Challenged, the Drazi pressed their attack in greater numbers. Wave after wave of Drazi Sunhawks flew in, their weapons blazing with ruby light that constantly met the shields of the Shenzhou and the other ships. The Alakin warbird Yreep lost shields first. The Drazi fire striking the bare brown and yellow hull of the winged starship left wounds spewing flame and atmospheric gas in the moments before emergency forcefields or bulkheads could contain the hull breaches.

"Shields down to forty percent," Ipigos warned. "We're taking so much fire the shield generators are being overwhelmed. We're already taking bleedthrough damage. Armor self-repair systems fully engaged."

Li nodded and gripped the arms of her chair, as if to provide additional support combined with her harness. Otiros gave her a concerned look. "Captain, we may need to resume maneuvering soon."

"We have to hold position with the Aurora as long as possible," she replied. "Otherwise the Drazi may destroy them." Even as she gave the command, the ship shuddered again, with an entire squadron of Sunhawks unloading their strongest fire into the Shenzhou's shields.

"Shields down to thirty percent."

I will buy you as much time as I can, Julia, Li thought. That is all I can do.

Julia did not miss Li's efforts, and those of the other commanders. "Can we get shields back?"

"Too many generators are offline from battle damage," Barnes answered. "We've got repair crews doing what they can, but it's going to take a while."

The ship shook again. "They just took out a plasma emitter, starboard side," warned Angel.

The Avenger's fire on them was nevertheless light. Most of its fury was being directed at the Dilgar pentacon that had come to the Aurora's assistance. Julia watched the holo-viewscreen as plasma cannon fire from the big Darglan-built ship savaged one of the Tikrit-class ships in the Dilgar formation. "Keep fire up, as best as you can," she told Angel.

"It would help if we could get the bow cannons back on target."

"Sorry, but with the impulsor damage, we can't outmaneuver them," Locarno said.

"Do what you can, Commander," Julia said. She turned her head to Meridina. "Status of the boarding parties?"

"Three parties defeated so far. Commander Richmond will be arriving at the brig just ahead of one of the parties."

"Hopefully she can hold them until the other teams get to her." WIth that, Julia returned her attention to the battle over Tira.

Richmond and her team arrived at the brig. The two guards on duty there already had their weapons out and ready. Behind them, the prisoners were sitting quietly in their cells, observing with obvious interest.

"Defensive positions," ordered Richmond. "And seal the door. They'll be here any minute."

"You should probably let us go," Hawk said. "If my friends have sent who I think they've sent…"

"Your input is noted," Richmond answered. "And ignored."

"Your bruises and broken bones, lady," said Hawk. in the cell beside him, Helen snorted.

Richmond turned her attention to the door. The seal would take time for her opponents to work through, unless they used a blasting charge. Which had a time delay of its own anyway.

But the unexpected happened.

With a loud shriek of protest, the door began to slide open again. As if someone was physically forcing it open. Gloved fingers appeared in the gap that now formed between the door and the side of the doorway. Someone was gripping the door and forcing it open, in defiance of the seal and all of the inherent mechanisms made to prevent someone from doing just that.

An object popped in through the now-open doorway. "Grenade!" Everyone ducked behind the workstation or into the open cells in the second before the blast shook the area. An energy wave dissipated against Richmond's personal shield A stun grenade of some sort, little different than the one she had used earlier, but less potent.

"Fire!" she shouted. Her team, and the on-duty guards, opened up on the doorway. The burst of fire hit a figure who impulsively rushed in. After a personal shield absorbed a couple of shots the attacker went down.

Return fire came around the edges, fierce and heavy. Richmond and her people had to keep to cover themselves, although not so much that they couldn't keep the fire up.

And then another grenade flew in, and another… these went further than the first had. One landed at the opening of a cell that one of her people was taking cover in. There was nothing that officer could do at that point, and the stun grenade knocked him unconscious despite his shield.

The next figure that came in was shot at as well. But unlike the first, this one had a long, massive tower shield formed in front of him, off the same silvery material that Hawk and Helen had used earlier. This one was using the Darglan enhancement nanites to form a protective shield for himself. Richmond thought it clever, at least for a short-term advantage. In the long-term she and her guards could maintain fire and batter through the nanites.

As it turned out, they didn't have the time for that.

Behind their shielded ally, the rest of the enemy team was moving in with weapons out and firing. After an exchange off fire another of Richmond's people went down. She noticed it and frowned. She looked over their opponents and hid a grin. "Cover me," she demanded, and the guards nearest her nodded.

With the cover fire of two of her guards, Richmond emerged from cover and held her rifle steady. She aimed low, almost to the ground, and spotted when she thought she'd find. The shield maker hadn't made his shield quite long enough. It hovered about twenty centimeters above
the ground. That gave her sufficient room to aim as his foot. She pulled the trigger immediately.

The blue pulse hit the shield holder square in the foot. A shriek of pain and surprise came. The shield-holder lost their concentration,or something to that effect, and the shield lost its cohesion and retracted a bit. This opened up a second shot that hit the man in the lower leg, and a third. The shield-holder toppled.

But the others were in now. The enemy took cover in the nearest cells, or on the opposite side of the control station. One actually went up to it and started operating a multidevice. It wasn't hard for Richmond to guess what they were doing. "Take out their hacker!" she ordered, immediately trying to shoot the enemy in question.

Before she could, another of the dark-clad figures shot forward and grabbed her, or rather her weapon. She held on for dear life, intending to wrest control of her rifle back. Richmond was stunned when she instead was lifted into the air with her weapon. Her attacker was strong enough to lift her with one arm. She got a glimpse of his face. An alien of light skin that would be Caucasian on a Human. Thin ridges - bone ridges? - were on the temples above the alien's thin eyebrows. From the angle she thought she saw more ridges on the visible ear, which ended in a point reminiscent of Vulcanoids. He glared at her and moved, pulling her in a motion while he seemed to be trying to yank her rifle away from her.

A moment later she was flying across the room, her grip on the weapon lost. She slammed into one of her guards and they went down. When she looked back up she noticed the alien man picked up and tossing another Aurora security officer. This one went flying back into the forcefield of Helen's cell. Given the force with which the field was hit, it was no surprise he went down unconscious.

She still had a couple guards in the fight, and Richmond herself pulled her sidearm out. They could still win it, she felt, if they could bring the alien down before he tossed them all around.

Then Richmond saw they were out of time.

The hacker succeeded.

The forcefields over Hawk and Helen's cells dropped. The two jumped into action. Nanite material flowed from their wrists and formed blades. Hawk's blade was sharp and strong enough that when the guard he attacked tried to block it with his rifle, the blade cut it in two cleanly. He followed up with a kick that sent the officer to the ground with a broken jaw. Helen didn't give such a chance to her target, striking with enough force in a push that sent her foe flying. She looked to the others. "About time!"

"Get everyone off the ship, now," Hawk ordered. He was speaking into his multidevice. "We…"

Richmond was already firing at that point. One of her shots hit Hawk in the chest, sending him down. The other hit the strong alien and did the same.

Unfortunately, her next shot didn't manage the same on Helen. A howl of rage came from Helen at the impact of the shot on her shoulder, just above the heart. Instead of falling unconscious, she merely snarled and whipped a hand out.

Richmond never saw the blades in mid-air. She felt them first, powerful impacts that tore through material and flesh to embed themselves into her right shoulder and arm. The shock of the impact caused her right hand to fall away from her weapon. One-handed, her aim went off and she only managed a glancing shot on the enraged Helen, who seemed to shake off the impact against her side. Before another shot could be tried, Helen was in close-quarters. Richmond had to pull her hand back to prevent the swipe from severing it at the wrist.

Then the other arm came up. There was nothing the Aurora security chief could do to keep it from plunging into her belly. Pain shot up through her torso at being impaled through the belly and lower spine. Richmond slumped against the wall.

Enraged, Helen stabbed her again. This time the blade went into her chest, cutting through ribs to slice through Richmond's lung. She let out a harsh breath at that. Blood began to fill her lung the moment the blade was pulled away. And there was yet more pain as Helen's other arm came back in and a third stab punctured her other lung. The fourth stab was lower, then higher…

Richmond coughed up blood when she tried to speak, stopping any words from being articulate in the hacking sound. Her green eyes looked up at Helen's face. Pure rage burned in those gray eyes, the one mark of East Asian ancestry on Helen's face, which was twisted into a ferocious, hate-filled snarl. But before the sixth stab could land, the strong alien grabbed her arm. "She's down," he said. "We've got to get back. The ship's taking a hammering."

"Fine." Helen's voice was a growl. She seemed to struggling against her temper. "Is he okay?"

"He'll be fine when we get him back to the ship," was the alien's answer. "We have to go. Now."

Helen looked down at her blood-soaked blades. One shifted shape and became a visible comm device. "Helen to Avenger. Get us out of here."

Richmond watched them disappear in flashes of white light. Darglan transporter signatures. When she tried to breath out, blood bubbled from her mouth.

At that point, she lost consciousness.

The commandeered Brakiri troop transport was approaching the barrage dam. In the rear loading area Lindstrom's security team finished final weapons checks. "What'll we do about him?" Lindstrom asked Lucy, gesturing to the pilot.

"We have an understanding," Lucy said from her place at the back of the piloting compartment. "Once we land he's going to give me his sidearm and leave."

"He's just going to raise his boss and tell them where we are."

"They'll know something's up with this thing anyway," Drack said. "The only thing he'll tell them is what they'll already know."

"What can we expect in terms of defenses?" Lindstrom eyed the approaching structure. They were maybe fifty seconds from a landing point.

"Human and Brakiri mercs," Wrex said. "The guard party for the control room. They won't have the arming codes for the bombs, though. Greden'll have the trigger, and he's probably across town in his HQ." Wrex pulled his shotgun from hits mounting place above his tail. The large weapon automatically extended to firing mode.

"A Claymore." Reubens' awe was evident. "I've always wanted to fire one of those."

"Hey knock yourself out." He offered the weapon. "The interesting part is when the recoil breaks your arm," Wrex added, grinning.

The grin turned into a chuckle at the look that crossed Reubens' face. Wrex withdrew the weapon a moment later.

"Landing now," the pilot reported. His voice made it clear that whatever happened, all he wanted to do was run.

The transport craft hovered to a landing on a cloud of dust and debris. One of Lindstrom's security personnel, Petty Officer Mreep, slid into the control chair for the support gun. The Alakin officer brought the barrel into position to provide fire support.

The moment the craft was landed, the pilot released his harness and jumped out the door to his left. He ran away from his craft and their destination, as expected.

"Let's move, people!" Lindstrom ordered, jumping off with pulse rifle up. The others followed, Wrex and Drack in the lead and Lucy remaining in position to protect Caterina and Tra'dur.

The control center was set into the middle of the barrage dam's structure, attached by a spit of landfill to the rest of the colony. Their landing site was on that spit, roughly thirty meters from the front door.

They made it twenty meters before the first shots rang out.

Ruby bursts erupted from the ground in front of Lindstrom. PPG fire. He reacted the only way he could in his open position; he started to run. The snap-hiss of Lucy's lightsaber sounded to one side. Beside him, Wrex was covered in the dark light of biotically-formed dark matter, a protective field that would take a few shots before it dissipated.

Mreep opened fire a moment later. The pulse cannon now under her control spat pulses of orange light into the control center's outer wall, and the windows being used as firing positions. The suppressive fire had its desired effect. The fire against them slackened.

They got to the door. Lindstrom's plan had been to kick it in, or blow it open. Urdnot Wrex had his own plan. A surge of biotic power struck the door and dented it in. It didn't come off its track entirely, however.

At least, not until Wrex slammed into it.

His shotgun thundered a moment later. There was a scream, calls for backup, and Lindstrom was inside with the Krogan. Fire was collecting on Wrex's biotic field. It wouldn't last more than another second or two. Lindstrom used that second to open up with his own pulse rifle. Blue bolts erupted, WHUM WHUM WHUM, and found a Brakiri merc in body armor. The merc went down regardless. The slacking fire bought time for Wrex to find momentary cover in front of the security desk near the door.

Drack entered next. His assault rifle swept in the opposite direction, toward a metal-backed door. Lucy swept an arm out and it opened, revealing a corridor of offices beyond where more mercs were hiding to evade the pulse cannon of the transport outside. Drack's assault rifle thundered a second before they could react. Two of them went down before the others could get to the protective cover of the offices in the hall.

But the direction that interested them was beyond the security desk. More fire came from that direction. They might have hit Drack from behind if not for Lucy, now working on deflecting fire back toward the shooters. With more of Lindstrom's people coming through the door, and Wrex popping up again to fire another shot from his massive cannon of a shotgun, they soon had enough fire and protection to move forward. "Opam, Bower, on that door, watch our back," Lindstrom ordered.

"Yes sir." The two security officers took up their positions with the desk as cover, freeing Drack to join Wrex again.

Beyond the security desk was another hall. The mercs they'd shot were in the open; the others had scrambled into the secured offices beyond. As they moved through Wrex and Drack cleared the offices like hardened veterans. Lindstrom was awed by the way the two Krogan moved with tactical finesse. Drack would open the door, Wrex would throw in a bolt of biotic force guaranteed to send anyone inside flying, and then either of their shotguns would ring out once or twice. Lindstrom figured it would have taken his full security team twice the time to clear their way down the hall, and that was if they were moving quickly and not concerning themselves with potential casualties.

They reached the control center for the dams to find the mercs had turned it into their hardened defensive point. "Allow me," Lucy said to the two Krogan. With what seemed like suicidal confidence she stepped forward, lightsaber in hand, and went into the kill zone. Any other human being would have died. Even the two Krogan would have faced so much fire they might have gone down. But with the powers at her direction, the speed at which she could move, all of the fire in the world couldn't stop Lucy. Her lightsaber was a sapphire blur in the air, catching seemingly every shot (certainly every one that could have actually hit her). Within a few moments she was at the first of the mercs. A swing of her weapon, a cry, and two dismembered arms and a rifle hit the ground. Without even looking towards them, Lucy sent two flying in a wild, unfocused surge of power.

"Huh." Wrex glanced to Drack. "Impressive."

"Yeah," agreed Drack.

With that exchange the two Krogan went in to join her. Behind them, Lindstrom kept Cat and Tra'dur back, allowing the two science officers to watch as the Krogan and Lucy worked together to clear the room. It didn't take long, between the fury of the Krogans' firearms or the speed and raw power at Lucy's disposal.

When the last of them went down Lindstrom tapped his omnitool. "Mreep, Liu, come in."

"What about this transport?"

"Blow it," he ordered.

By this point Cat and Tra'dur were heading to the controls. "This shouldn't take too long," Cat said.

"Whatever happens, we'll hold," answered Lindstrom. "Just make this work."

“I’ve modified this sensor pack to work as the modular, but Cat, I need you to interface with your multitool to figure out the length of the galvanic wires. We have to know the length to calculate the signal pulse modulation." The latter was for the benefit of Lindstrom and the Krogan. "If we get the energization pulse off we could end up destroying the gates ourselves.” Tra’dur knelt down with a bit of trembling freneticism finally showing through.

"I'm already calculating that, getting scan results to make sure," Cat said.

"How much longer?"

"Not long," Cat answered Lindstrom.

They were answered by the explosion outside. Lucy looked to the window looking out over the vehicle lot. The transport they'd used was a burning wreck, as was planned.

The group of Blood Pack mercenaries beyond it? Not as planned.

"Well, you may want to hurry up all the same," she said. "We've got company."

They had locked down the bridge’s access to the ship controls and left the Huáscar floating still in space, and now, they were nearly to the end of their journey. Zhengli Varma could feel the burn in her lungs of a strenuous exertion, of a series of desperate fire-fights that had brought them this far. She flexed her fingers around her PPG and nodded, looking about her little group. “Just one lunge left, and we will have the bridge. Everyone ready? Simmons, Glenkov, you will give us covering fire from that junction, Saumarez, do what you can, you are doing great, but do not kill yourself doing it. Watters, you are with me. We will take the security station and then I shall override the blast doors. Questions?”

“No sir!”

“No, sir!” they echoed.

Elia smiled, tho’ her expression was dreadful, wiped her nose, and reached out. “I’m ready, Captain.”

“Take it easy, Saumarez. I mean to get my crew through this, and that damned well includes you, Ensign.” She cracked a smile. “Battlefield commission. They can court-martial me for violating the MRA later.” She tugged part of her insignia off of a shoulder-strap, and offered it. “All right, thirty second count on my mark.”

The surge of pride as she took the insignia and affixed it was as intense as the one that Zhengli had seen on her comrades, felt herself, as they turned out at West Point to go straight to fighting the Minbari. She took her position with a tight little smile on her face that said all it needed to.

“Mark.” She took a few deep breaths, flexing her hands again, letting the pounding of her heart fade into the background, as she softly counted down. “Now!” The rifle came up, and she was moving to rush the control station, plasma blasts streaking out as she fired from the hip. I joined the Fleet, not the GROPOS!

It was a rapid fusillade of fire from her people, but there were only four defenders at the post, and Elia took them on in warfare both mental and physical while Corporal Watters led point. They were pushing themselves to the limit, but in doing so, they ended it in seconds. The wounded and dead lay around the post, and Zhengli was at the control station. It read an internal override lock, but as Captain she still had the code for that.

“Breaching positions!” She placed her people in what-cover was available, then keyed in the override herself. “Weapons down, now!” She half-screamed, already charging through the door before the crew inside could react. Let it end, please, I do not want to kill any more of my crew!

Inside was a charnel house, at least eight dead. One of the sensor techs, who had been unarmed and kept their heads down during the fighting on the bridge, was bandaging the Bosun’s Mate who had somehow survived. A few others were manning their posts, looking up in varying degrees of shock and relief as Zhengli stormed onto the bridge with her pistol. There was Foster, there were several other officers with Nightwatch backgrounds… Several of his men who had the same background.

Dead in varying degrees of squalor and PPG burns.

And there, toppled over the command chair, with twelve pulses scouring his body but his handsome, almost pretty young face intact, was James Reichert, pale and almost graceful in death, like some 19th century painting of war rather than the real thing.

“... Ah, James…” She stepped forward, and gently lowered him down to the deck herself, closing his eyes and shrugging off her jacket to place it carefully over his face. “Rest well, kshatriya, your duty is done and well.” She murmured it in soft tones to herself, before standing to press the comm controls; “This is Captain Varma, I am in command on the bridge once again. Major Foster and his mutineers here are dead. Those of you who remain, surrender immediately and you will be returned safely to Alliance space upon the end of these hostilities. You have sixty seconds to comply.”

The comm-line from engineering opened. “Captain, this is Commander Farallon. I’ve got engineering down tight and most of the aft spaces as well. What are you going to need from me?”

“Combat power, Commander. The battle is going poorly for our side, and we are going to have to bring Huáscar into the line as soon as we can.”

“Bringing the reactor to combat output now, Captain,” a grim, resigned, and exhausted voice answered. “We’re with you. But God, it’s the Civil War all over again.”

“Worse, Commander. Worse. Stand to your duty, Commander, it is all we can do.” She glanced down at the shrouded figure lying at her feet. “As soon as security reports the ship is secure, we will be clearing for action. Make ready, everyone.”

Elia was standing by the sensor deck, with its techs still alive and now resuming their duties as the Bosun’s Mate was carried away on a stretcher. Corporal Watters took up his position even though she was a Marine.

As she did, Elia turned to Zhengli. “I’m not sure we have the time. That big Dilgar dreadnought is taking a pounding from the pirate battlecruiser. If we hold engineering, the computer core, and the bridge, we can operate the weapons off remote, right? We should call stations now. And it might make the enlisted go to their stations even if they were fighting us, for fear of an alien attack. They don’t need to understand, just obey.”

The Sinic woman bit her lip, staring at the tactical display for a moment, before she gave a single sharp nod. “Corporal Watters! Sound Battle Stations! All hands, this is the Captain! Lay to your battle stations, Huáscarenos, we are going into action, this is not a drill or a trick! Clear for action and all pilots to your fighters!”

Elia took position next to the sensor operators. She didn’t know what to do, but she could sense when the operators felt they’d found something important. That would have to be enough, for the paucity of regular officers. After five painful minutes they finished working to stations, shields up and about half of their fighters successfully launching.

“Helm, new course, zero-six-five mark zero-two-zero relative, all ahead standard. Bring interceptors and shields online. Battery control, give me that enemy battlecruiser, both main beams!”

“...Locking.. Locked on target, Captain!”

Elia’s eyes widened and she snapped to address Zhengli before the sensor operator could open his mouth to report to her. “Their shields are down, Captain, we’ve got a chance to get the drop on them!”

“Everything, missiles, plasma cannons, particle beams, now! Alpha strike them, immediate!” Her orders snapped out to fire control, and she leaned forward in her seat.

“Aye Aye, Captain! Firing!”

As the Avenger came about from recovering her boarding parties from the Aurora, she was abruptly struck by the full power of the Huáscar’s batteries. The two main beams were powerful enough to heel her on her beam-ends, burning massive streaks down the Darglan armour with raw power to make up for their want of finesse, leaving weapons turrets wrecked and smashed, the Avenger’s defenses having been hit so hard by so many weapons that finally major systems were being smashed and destroyed with no protection from shields or armour.

“Burn, you pirates… keep firing, maximum cycle rate! They will recover, but we can do them real hurt until they do!”

As the Huáscar kept firing, the big Dilgar dreadnought, the Magaratha, pulled herself out of a dead spin as one of her starboard engines came back. Thrusting into formation with the two Sekhmets, the three ships all that remained of their pentacon, they swung back toward the Avenger… And opened fire with renewed intensity.

Magaratha, keep to our port! We can cover you with interceptors!” Her voice snapped out in Dilgar, as her eyes watched the display and she smoothly switched back. “Where are my fighters? Fire control, watch those Sunhawks on the starboard! Take them with the flank cannons! Hard to starboard! We have nowhere near won yet.”

“Nineteen fighters forming into coverage against missile fire, we don’t have pilots for the rest yet, Captain!” One of the comms ratings confirmed.

“Engaging as ordered,” weapons repeated back.

Elia looked up from the tactical display. “Sir, the Avenger is bringing her shields back up, but the energy trace already suggest localized failures. They’ve taken serious internal damage.”

“Keep hitting them,” Zhengli said tautly. Ahead of them the Avenger was coming about. They'd pay for it.

With the Huáscar’s precipitous attack on the Avenger, the situation for the heavy pentacon, which had seen one Tikrit destroyed and another disabled by the Avenger’s fire had abruptly changed. The accumulated damage had been so great as to temporarily cripple the Magaratha and destroy one Tikrit with another damaged when, abruptly, the tremendous forward batteries of the Huáscar had gored the Avenger like a lion on its meat.

“Warmaster, Huáscar has joined the fight! She’s hitting the Avenger, hard!” Kaveri Varma’s heart soared - her daughter must have retaken her ship, and brought her into the line without hesitation.

“Warmaster, we’re receiving a request to conform movements with the Huáscar, they need cover from the Drazi attacks on their flank.”

“Do so,” Shai’jhur ordered. She was hiding her own grin. Little Zhengli had been a name known to her for decades. There was something in her triumph which naturally thrilled the soul.

“I knew she could, Kaveri,” Shai’jhur said softly, and in English, to avoid breaking the tempo of the bridge, before switching back to Dilgar. “Now we need to finish this fight. What’s the status of the Drazi squadrons?”

“Pressing hard, Warmaster. We are on the verge of being overwhelmed in all sectors.” She kept her voice level, but the tactical plot had very little good news to offer.

“Detach the Sekhmet section to reinforce the main body. Direct them to conform to Captain Ming-Chung’s movements, she is in the best place to operate with them. I want to hammer the Avenger to pieces but we can’t lose the battle just to see it done.”

“Understood, Warmaster. Our own damage is becoming critical, though the repair parties are working to restore what they can.”

“Here, I have an idea…” Her eyes suddenly gleamed. “Detach them. Summon another ship from another direction to surprise them instead. It will be worth two battlecruisers locked in a turning battle.”

Ahead of them the Avenger, wreathed in the fire of her interceptor grids, was half covered in scars, but still a fighting warship. Shai’jhur intended to shortly remedy that.

Commander Abebech Imra was her own little legend in the Alliance military forces. With a pair of dictator shades, and a resume an arm long claiming she had fought for pretty much every decent regime within a hundred light-years of the Fracture, she had an isolated, rock-solid crispness that belied the Alliance stereotypes of S0T5. A few weeks after the constitution had been signed, she showed up and signed up for the Alliance Navy.

After serving on a succession of large ships, she had been the Operations Officer on the dreadnought MacArthur, shot down deep in the Reich during a major counteroffensive. Two hundred and eight survivors from the isolated squadron had been rounded up by Imra and told to hide. Somehow the SS patrols had failed to find them and their evasion and recovery had saved their lives, considering what the Reich did to alien and non-white POWs. She’d been given the Heerman after that, and in three months already made her mark

Even now in the heat of a battle that they had started while outnumbered almost three-to-one, the Old Woman was as calm and inscrutable as ever underneath her glasses. (She did smile when they called her that, though.) The battle raged all around, and her soft-spoken orders came only when necessary, directives to a well-drilled crew.

Her Helmswoman, Lieutenant Sarah Jenkins, glanced back to see her glancing at the tactical holo, the light from it illuminating the deathly pallor on her black skin, her hands clad in sharp gloves, as ever. There were times when the Old Woman came off as scary as hell, and serving under her was definitely an acquired taste.

“Helm, seventy-five degrees to starboard, nose up twenty-five, full impulse,” she said in precise English with a hint of Ethiopia slipping through, or wherever it was, since Ethiopia hadn’t existed for thousands of years in her home universe.

“Aye, Captain. Coming about..” She obeyed as the Heerman peeled to the Koenig’s port.

Imra’s hand shifted and the tactical holo flashed. “Torpedoes fire on designation,” she ordered as the designated target flashed for weapons. It was a Sunhawk trailing drive gas. The torpedoes lanced out and found the wound that had already been made. They burned bright in the flash of impact, and the ship’s drives went completely dead, crippled and spinning off as a hulk.

“Come about to starboard,” she ordered. “Then form on the Koenig again.”

“Weapons, target the enemy fighters,” she added a moment later, addressing the lithe Turkish man at the weapons station.

“Aye, Captain!” Lt. Abdulmehmet’s answered with alacrity now and a hasty salvo of forward weapons onto the crossing targets smashed four of the large and ill-manoeuvring Drazi fighters.

“Message from the Magaratha, Captain! They are engaging the Avenger in tandem with Huáscar; the enemy's shields are down, they need any help possible.”

“Before she can withdraw… And the Huáscar has switched sides again. How apropos.” It was an unusually extensive statement in combat from Imra. She keyed her tactical link. “Commander Apley, I aim to come about hard to starboard and thread through that central group of Drazi. I’ll be on the Avenger then and she’s uniquely vulnerable to an assault ship from the port quarter. Please cover me.”

“Clear, Commander. Forming to your port to engage the Drazi Centre…”

Sarah though her Commander approved of Apley. The orders rolled out sharp and precise, and they ran the gauntlet at close range, sweeping through unshielded opposition toward the stunningly battered hull of the Avenger.

“Weapons, target the port nacelles and fire.”

With that freedom, Abdulmehmet laid in the coordinates for the upper nacelle and opened fire with their full batteries. Lancing across the field in a strafing run, while the Avenger was engaged with the massive Dilgar warship and the huge Huáscar, a limping Aurora sweeping around to strike them from starboard, they now had the enemy boxed in.

The crew of the Avenger had just begun to charge their warp drives to escape when the concentration hit the nacelle. Piercing the ablated and wrecked self-repairing armour, it dug deep. The result was thoroughly dramatic. The upper left nacelle exploded.

“Cover us behind the dreadnoughts!” Imra snapped.

Sarah drove them on a pinwheel course up and under the Huáscar to evade fire from the veritably crippled Avenger, while behind them, the Aurora again opened fire.

Commander Imra clapped a gloved hand into gloved fist, and other than that, was as calm as ever.

The change in the tide of battle with the Avenger changed the mood on the Aurora bridge. With the Huáscar in the fight and the Heerman's attack run crippling the battlecruiser's warp cability, the Aurora was in position to finish her foe off. "I don't want them escaping," Julia said. "Target the likely location of their jump drive and fire."

"Firing now," Angel said, enthusiasm in her tone.

One by one, the plasma emitters and cannons on the starboard side of the Aurora lit up, scouring the same side on the Avenger. The battlecruiser strove to return fire with her own weapons, and where she hit the Aurora's unshielded hull was being blackened and broken. But with the fire of the Huáscar still on Avenger, and Magaratha supporting, the Avenger was in deep trouble, and her fire was clearly slacking from loss of power.

"Perhaps we should offer them the chance to surrender," Meridina proposed.

"Knowing them, they won't take it," Julia said. "But for form's sake…"

"Putting you on," Jarod said.

"Vessel Avenger, this is Captain Andreys of the Aurora," Julia said. "If you surrender now you won't be harmed. We will take you into Alliance custody." That was important. Julia already knew Shai'jhur wanted to execute Hawk and his allies, and Zhengli might feel the same way. Both saw Hawk and his people as no more than pirates. "You've lost this fight. Dragging it out just results in more of your people dying."

The Aurora shook again. Avenger was still firing. "More hull breaches, Decks 14 through 17 and 19 through 25," Jarod said.

"Armor self-repair is down to 80% effectiveness," Barnes added. "Damage has exceeded capacity."

"I think that was your answer, Captain," Angel noted. "I've got a target lock with torpedoes."

"Fire," Julia ordered.

The Aurora had come around enough to put her bow launchers on the Avenger. Two spreads of eight solar torpedoes fired from the launchers. With her weakened interceptors Avenger had no hope of stopping even a quarter of the torpedoes. The resulting hits blew chunks out of their drive and primary hulls. One torpedo impacted on the upper starboard warp nacelle and blew it apart. Flame and wreckage spewed from the wounds in the other ship, exceeding its armor repair systems' capabilities with the level of damage suffered. It was plainly evident to all that the Avenger was finished.

Even to the crew of the ship, apparently, given it moved to break from Tira. The Huáscar and Shenzhou, the latter damaged as well by her fight with the Drazi, both maneuvered to cut her off. More weapons fire carved into the Avenger.

"I'm picking up a particle charge," Lieutenant al-Rashad said. "They're opening a jump point."

"I'm trying to get their drive, but their drive hull's got internal armor or something," Angel said. "I don't think I can hit them enough."

Nevertheless she tried, as did the other ships. By the time the green vortex formed ahead of the Avenger, she was a burning, flaming wreck of a starship. With what seemed like a last gasp of power, her drives powered up and she flew into the jump point. Torpedoes from the Shenzhou and missiles from Huáscar pursued, hitting both the vortex and the Avenger even as she surged into the maw of the vortex. The point began to destabilize from the impacts. It was beginning to collapse.

Too late, however, to stop the escape of the Avenger.

"Where did they jump to?" Julia asked al-Rashad.

"I'm analyzing the jump point now, I think it was Universe A4P5."

Julia sighed at that. From this point in space, the spatial aspect of their jump would be unlikely to carry them into range of Alliance space in that universe. Even if the Alliance could spare the ship to vector in, they'd probably be gone, back to their Darglan Facility, by the time the ship got there.

"Status on the other ships? Could they jump and pursue?"

"I would not recommend it," Meridina said. "All ships report moderate to heavy damage. Only the Heerman and Greepk have warp capability currently."

"And there are still at least sixty Drazi ships out there, with another forty or so ships from the other League species," Jarod added. "And I'm sure they're pretty mad."

"So no pursuit." Julia muttered "Damn" under her breath. This incident had proven yet again just how dangerous Hawk and his people could be. With any luck they'd be out of action for months fixing their ship. And frying their brains trying to learn more to fix it more quickly, or to refit it… how much more powerful will they be when they show up again?

That consideration was for later. Julia forced herself to set it aside and focus on the present. "What about the Colony?" she asked. "Have they blown the gates yet?"

"No," Jarod said. He blinked. "And they may not get the chance. I'm picking up several of our people at the gate control center for the barrage. Including Lieutenant Delgado and Combat Master Tra'dur. And it looks like they're being besieged by some of the mercenaries."

Julia noted the worry that now showed on Angel's face. "Have security beam a team down as soon as they can."

"It's going to be a bit," said Barnes. "Our transporters are down from battle damage."

"See if any of the other ships can help," Julia ordered. "We need to make sure that barrage stays intact." Even as she gave that order, she knew that whether or not they could get help down, the survival of Tira was down to Cat and Tra'dur.
Last edited by Steve on Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Tue Jan 16, 2018 5:08 pm

Yet again, I am humbled that my fun little work can provoke thought like this. :)
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed Jan 17, 2018 1:25 am

The Avenger is a monster, jeez.

And their home-verse is the Pretenderverse?

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

Post by Steve » Wed Jan 17, 2018 2:26 am

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Wed Jan 17, 2018 1:25 am
The Avenger is a monster, jeez.

And their home-verse is the Pretenderverse?
No. It's just where they jumped first.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

Post by Steve » Wed Jan 17, 2018 5:50 am

Gunfire filled the hall outside of the control room. Lindstrom was too busy patching up the bleeding wound on Bower's lower belly to do anything. The security team members still capable of fighting were still at their defensive positions at the windows, firing to keep the enemy outside suppressed and unable to join those already inside.

Lucy stood near the entrance. "They're readying for another push," she said. "Mostly Krogan."

"Tral ran out of Vorcha," Drack observed. "He may be leading them himself."

"If you mean the guy in charge, I think so." Lucy grimaced. "The thoughts of what he wants to do to you are pretty graphic." Now she winced. "You have four?"

"Yup," Wrex answered, as if he were reading her mind. "Hey, how's that pulse coming?"

"We're almost ready," Cat replied. "There's miles of wiring we have to account for when planning this, and the pulse has to be precise."

"Right. Well, no rush, just a half dozen or so of Tral's best are about to rush this room, you've got all the time you need."

Cat winced and went back to work.

"You don't seem that worried," Lucy observed.

"When you get to our age, kid, this is nothing new," Drack answered. "I've lived through worse."

"It's just part of the business, really," Wrex added, hefting his shotgun. In the distance there was a roar of anger. "And there he is."

"Urdnot!" The deep Krogan voice roared down the hall.

"Don't mind him, the Weyrloc are always like that."

"Always so dramatic," Drack muttered in agreement.

The next shout was a roar, and it came from more than one voice. "Here they come," Drack said, readying his shotgun.

Six Krogan came barrelling down the corridor. Lindstrom opened fire first, spraying them with pulse fire. Their kinetic barriers absorbed his shots. Before his fire could break through the barriers, return fire from two of them forced him back into cover.

When they got close, Wrex and Drack leaned around the entranceway enough to fire their weapons into the Krogan. Wrex's shot was a head-shot, and even a Krogan couldn't survive one at that range from a Claymore. Drack's shotgun blew the leg out from under another of the Krogan.

But the four behind them - five counting Tral, who was now running to join - couldn't be stopped quickly enough. They barrelled into the room. Wrex fired another shot that tore into the guts of one, leaving his Claymore in a state of overheating. Drack has two shots before his shotgun reached the same threshold. One nearly tore the arm off the same Krogan Wrex had just shot. The other was a glancing hit to a second Krogan. Drack fell back and switched to the Phalanx pistol he was carrying. The heavy pistol barked and sent a sliver of metal into the jaw of the Krogan he'd barely hit. Wrex threw a biotic pulse into his opponent, sending the gutshot Krogan into his ally and down.

But in the process, the other two Krogan got into the room. Lindstrom was firing on them, but even his hits couldn't put the Krogan down in time before they got to his position. That left Lucy to intercept one. She sliced the arm off the Krogan and immediately had to duck and roll away to avoid getting shot point-blank by the other Krogan. The now armless Krogan charged at her, roaring in rage and pain. Lucy caught him with her life force power and sent him flying back. He slammed into the far wall and collapsed, allowing Lindstrom to put him down with another burst of pulse fire.

The fifth Krogan, still intact, fired his shotgun. Lindstrom couldn't get back into cover in time. He went down with a number of wounds on his side and arm. The same Krogan turned his gun over to Drack, who was putting a shotgun blast into the head of the gutshot Krogan to put him down. "Look out!" Lindstrom cried, even as he bled over the floor.

Drack didn't look. He dropped and rolled, a maneuver that made every joint, prosthetic or natural, ache. When he finished the roll he hefted his shotgun and fired almost blindly. Instinct and experience proved themselves; his opponent, still tracking with his weapon, took the hit and stumbled backward. His shotgun blast went over Drack's head.

There was a buzz in the air. The Krogan screamed in wordless rage at the loss of his arms, courtesy of Lucy's lightsaber.

The sounds of combat didn't end, however. They turned and found Wrex wrestling with Weyrloc Tral over Tral's shotgun. "I'll serve your quad to my varren!" the Blood Pack leader screamed.

Drack's gun came up. Lucy's lightsaber did too. But Reubens stopped them. "They're getting in!" she shouted from her window. "We can't stop them all."

Drack and Lucy exchanged a tired look. Even now more Krogan from the Blood Pack were coming down the hall. These had rifles, and formed a firing line. Drack pulled his own and Lucy brought her lightsaber into a defensive position. "Lindstrom, we'll hold them. You…" She stopped. She could sense Lindstrom had slipped into unconsciousness from his wounds. "It's you and me big guy."

"You hold 'em, I'll shoot 'em," the old Krogan answered.

"Sounds like a plan." Shots rang out and Lucy's lightsaber became a blur. It took everything she had to move fast enough to deflect the incoming projectiles with her weapon. Drack's weapon thundered behind and beside her. The angle wasn't good for him to hit anything - not around her weapon - but the fire did keep the Krogan from advancing closer.

Behind them, Wrex kept his hands on Tral's shotgun to keep him from using it. He didn't respond to Tral's threats, instead snarling and concentrating on staying alive.

Nearby, Cat looked over the data a final time. She didn't seem to be thinking about the violence all around them. "Okay, we have fifty one point three kilometers of wiring in the system. That means the pulse needs to be a strength of…"

“We can make it work at 56 volts alternating at 20 hertz, driving thirty-amp,” Tra’dur finished, concurring with Cat’s calculations, “And the wire will take that.”

"Right. Setting the system now." Cat went to work on her omnitool.

"Look out!" Tra'dur grabbed Cat and pulled her forward. A moment later Wrex and Tral landed where she'd been sitting, still struggling over Tral's shotgun. The impact knocked Cat fully into Tra'dur and sent both to the floor.

"Cat, finish it! Now!" Lucy shouted.

It was easier said than done, given Cat was now tangled up with Tra'dur in the floor. She got her arm free and ran her fingers over the omnitool. "Fifty-six volts, twenty hertz… setting ready, charge… now."

WIth a final press of her key, Cat sent the pulse into the wiring.

For a tense second she and Tra'dur, still on the floor, waited. Cat listened for any indications of the bombs going off, worried that maybe, in the end, the calculations were off.

But no such explosions came. Instead there was just the rushing sound of flare-off as the chemicals burned instead of exploding.

Tra'dur got free enough to check the barrage status displays. "The gates are intact!" Relief was visible on her face. "It’s finished!"

"We did it!" Cat shouted in agreement. She got back to her feet. "We… look out!"

This time it was Cat who tackled Tra'dur, knocking her out of the way. Wrex slammed into the display screen, snarling, Tral's shotgun no longer in his hands. Tral raised the same toward him. "Was this what it was all for, Urdnot?!" the Blood Pack leader bellowed. "You broke with our employers, you killed my men, for what? For them?!"

"No, you idiot," Wrex growled. "For us. Killing those Dilgar children, it's no different than what the Turians did to us."

To that Tral laughed. "None of that matters. Who cares about what the aliens do to each other. So long as they pay us for it and give us a good fight, it's all the same to me. Alliance, Brakiri, Turian, as long as the credits come in, I don't give a damn."

"I do," Wrex retorted.

Tral snarled and lifted his weapon. But as he did, a gun barked from a third direction, a heavy slugthrower. Again, and again, and again. The Krogan turned… And then as a fourth round drilled home, collapsed.

Tra’dur looked over the smoking barrel of the gun to Wrex. Wrex nodded to her and took in a breath. "Thanks, kid," he said.

“He had earned it,” she answered, her eyes fixed on a blank wall, saying nothing more.

All involved could hear that the sounds of battle had slowed. More pulse fire sounded in the distance, joined by mass effect firearms, but nothing concerning them. "The cavalry's here," Reubens said from her perch. A tired grin crossed her face. "It's Major Anders and some of the Marines."

"About damned time," muttered Lucy. She went over to where Lindstrom was unconscious and bleeding out. "Cat, I need a first aid kit," she said. "You'll have to apply the anti-septic foam. I'll keep him from bleeding out…"

Not to be outdone, the others went to work as well, disarming the unconscious and dead enemies around them and treating the wounded. There would be time to rest later; as things were, the battle was over.

For now, anyway.

Zhengli watched the last of the Drazi force withdraw to positions a few light seconds from the planet with a silent kind of numbness. When it was clear they were far out of range, she heaved a breath and rose. Looking around the carnage of the bridge listlessly, and ignoring the living crew, she moved among the dead instead, the dead from both sides.

Marking their position and status, and grimacing at having to interrupt, Elia drew herself up along the bank of technicians’ panels in CIC. She was the only other officer on the bridge. “Orders for Huáscar, ma’am?”

Zhengli had moved to kneel beside the shrouded forms beside the command chair, and one in particular. She glanced up at Elia’s words as if shaken from a reverie. “Hold station, Ensign. I think the fate of the ship is in the hands of the diplomats, now.”

“Aye Aye, Captain,” she answered, and quietly stepped back to the comms banks to attend to pressing questions--and give Zhengli a moment of relative quiet. She could feel the rawness in the woman who had liberated her, no scan required.

She caught a glint, and leaned forward - taking a hand that was growing cold, and running her thumb over the black onyx stone there. Foster. A graduate of West Point like me, and he took such a different course. She glanced at her own, at the barely visible scar, where a jeweler had changed 2248 into 2247, her passing out having come a year early, to throw the cadets into the war, into the last desperate hope of Line. Foster’s had the date of 2251, and she let out a soft, pained sigh. “That was the difference, wasn’t it? You joined right after the Line, when there was all the pain and blood, when we were all so desperate and so rightly terrified of the stars, when I remembered those heady days before, when it seemed we could do anything… and all those scars still weigh us down.” Her voice was barely audible, as she moved to stand once more, resting a hand on the captain’s chair. “You did good, Huáscar, you did good. May your next captain do right by you."

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 6 April 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording. With the retreat of the Avenger and Captain Varma regaining her ship, the fighting has stopped over Tira. The former League ships have withdrawn to just outside of combat range and seem to be waiting for reinforcements. We are much in the same position ourselves, given the state of our ships.

On Tira itself, the mercenary offensives against the cloning facilities have halted. Our control of the colony's barrage dam and elimination of their bombs means we now have the superior position on Tira. The Brakiri leader, Colonel Greden, has agreed to a ceasefire, and we have granted it for the time being.

Now all we can do is watch, wait, and deal with our wounded.

Marines wounded in the fighting below and crew by the fighting in orbit filled the wards of the medbay. Julia made the rounds of the wards with Leo accompanying her, silent. Her crew responded to her presence with nods and greetings. They knew the stakes, and they did not resent the risk she had put them through.

She would never know what the dead thought. They remained silent under their shrouds in the mortuary section of medbay, where Leo only gave her the barest glance.

"Twenty-six Marines dead, between our contingent and the Marines from the Shenzhou," Leo observed. "Another twenty security personnel dead planetside, along with eighteen outright fatalities up here."

"I was worried we'd get more," Julia admitted.

"We almost did," Leo said. "Doctor Walker did an outstanding job patching up the borderline cases."

"I'll enter her for a commendation," Julia said. She frowned. "Commander Richmond?"

Leo led her to the critical care ward. Their security chief was on a biobed being tended by a nurse. She was in a gown and sleeping comfortably. Bandages showed on her visible arms.

"We got the bleeding under control before she was a lost cause," Leo said. His expression was severe. "From what the others said, Commander Richmond shot Hawk, and then his girlfriend went ballistic and started stabbing her in a fury until one of the boarders stopped her."

"She struck me as having a shorter fuse," Julia said. "I'm just glad she didn't kill Commander Richmond."

"You and me both." Leo gestured for her to follow. "Something interesting came up in the security investigation of the brig. Lieutenant Yrapk ordered it sent to me and Lab 3 for analysis."


Leo led her into his office. Once there he went to his desk and tapped controls. On the wall monitor of the office an image popped up, a DNA helix. "What am I looking at?" Julia asked.

"A genetic sample recovered from the fight. Including on Commander Richmond herself, a sweat droplet."

"From one of the boarders?"

"Right." Leo motioned at it. "It's from an alien species we've never encountered before. A very strong species given what the testimony said."

"That means the Avenger has been making friends in universes we haven't been to yet," Julia noted.

"It seems like it, yes," Leo confirmed.

"So there's no telling what resources they might have." Julia sighed and grinned weakly at Leo. "Thank you for sharing this, Doctor… Leo." The correction was said with warmth. "I'm just glad we didn't take more losses."

"As am I, Julia," Leo answered. "As am I."

A tense night passed. Both sides continued to tend to their wounds. Julia awoke the next morning wondering what would happen next. Would the Drazi and Brakiri get even more reinforcements and fight? Or would their diplomats, and Sheridan, prevail in securing peace? It seemed like more than enough blood had been shed already, and all in the name of fear.

As Julia sat at her desk in her quarters, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand, her silver night robe shimmering in the low light, she wondered about it all. Just days ago - although it certainly felt longer - she had seen two sides that had shed each other's blood agree to peace, regardless of the violence in their mutual past. Now it seemed a dream. The races in this universe seemed so frightened and hostile toward the Dilgar that they weren't listening to anything said. Every argument, every point, was distorted beyond recognition.

How did you stop such hate? How could you get through it?

Julia wasn't sure. She just had to hope that cooler heads prevailed.

The bridge of the Aurora was running smoothly as always. Cat was back at her proper station, and everyone else was at theirs. Julia and Meridina were in their chairs. "They still won't talk," Julia noted.

"Indeed not," Meridina agreed. "Director Holloran has been unable to secure agreement to resume discussions."

"I wonder what they're waiting for…"

"Reinforcements, probably," Jarod said.

"Well, we know the Avenger won't be coming back, at least," Locarno pointed out. "Given the damage they took, they're going to spend months in drydock."

"Maybe, maybe not," Jarod said. "We still don't know what kind of technology the Darglan left in their Facility. With their advantages with the nanites and in weapon emplacements fitted on their ship, they might also have better fabrication and industrial work drones than we had. They could get her fixed faster than we imagine."

"I doubt it'll be soon, either way…"

Before the conversation could continue, Cat looked up from her station. "We have jump points opening, a hundred thousand kilometers to port bow."

Julia drew in a breath. "On screen." She found herself hoping it was the White Star fleet.

It wasn't.

Over a dozen jump points opened in all. From each flew fighters and warships. Most of the warships were darkly-colored, with red and black patterns that seemed to emulate war paint. Two large weapon emplacements were set into the bow of the ships, the most prominent weapons on their profiles. Julia recognized them from the profiles of E5B1 ships she'd been studying.

Cat reported on them. "I'm picking up two dozen Narn cruisers. Most are G'Quan-class, two G'Sten-class. Multiple Narn fighters are accompanying each. They're coming out in combat formation."

"Given the Narn and the Drazi worked together against the Centauri a couple years ago, I'm not liking our odds," Jarod said. "Especially since those G'Sten-class ships have full deflector shields and artificial gravity." A moment later he noted something. "The Drazi are hailing them."

"Put them both on."

One screen showed a Narn in uniform seated in a chair, wearing a harness. Another showed Tarinak, who seemed over-eager. "At last, you have come," he said. "Join with us, Narn, and help us wipe the last of the Deathwalker's legacy from the face of the galaxy, along with those who dare to take up arms alongside them!"

Julia couldn't keep her stomach from turning. There were enough Narn ships that, given their lingering damage, the fight was clearly against them. She drew in a breath and couldn't quite let it go while waiting for the Narn response.

"I will relay you to our commander," said the Narn. A moment later the screen shifted to another room on what was presumably one of the G'Sten-class cruisers, as the occupant was clearly enjoying artificial gravity.

Julia let go of the breath she was holding.

"The Narn Regime has come to uphold the InterStellar Alliance Declaration of Principles," declared the author of the same. G'Kar looked every inch the leader on the screen, wearing the same leather garments Julia had seen him in the prior year. "Captain Tarinak, Captain Tabir, I insist you stand down immediately."

The Drazi captain's eyes had widened. He began to splutter. "But… but… how can you side with the Dilgar?! They are a threat and they must be…"

"I am well aware of all that has transpired, Tarinak," G'Kar retorted. "And I know that if anyone has been emulating the deeds of that monster Deathwalker, it has been your people and your single-minded quest for genocide. The Narn Regime will not stand for such conduct, and we will oppose you, here and on the Alliance Council."

At that point another image popped onto the screen. Julia recognized one of the Abbai delegates, in a graceful, flowing blue dress. "This is Ambassador Forna of the Abbai Matriarchy. The Matriarchy joins the Narn Regime in opposing the brutal methods that the Drazi and Brakiri have sought to impose upon the settlers of Tira."

"The Abbai ships are taking up formation with us," Jarod said. "Their defense systems are activating. And the Orsala is also charging weapons and maneuvering into position with us."

Despite the growing odds against him, including a Minbari War Cruiser, the Drazi commander seemed persistent. "But this is our chance!" Tarinak protested, almost wailing in doing so. "We can finish them off for good! If we let the Dilgar live…"

Caterina interrupted Tarinak's protest on the Aurora bridge. “Captain, the Cascor ships are breaking formation. They're withdrawing from the Drazi and Brakiri fleet.”

An open audio transmission flashed through the system. “This is Admiral Timmar of the Cascor Commonwealth. We came here to defend the Alliance against Dilgar aggression, not participate in the genocide of a race. We will stand with G’Kar.”

G’Kar folded his arms and looked at Tabir. "Follow the honorable Cascor to reason, friend. If we let them live, if we join hands with yesterday's enemies, we demonstrate to the galaxy that we have moved beyond the pain and blood of our past," G'Kar finished for him. "We will show everyone that the Alliance looks to the future."

"And if you're wrong?!" This was from Tabir. "If the Dilgar prove to be our foe after all…"

"Then we will face that future together. That is the entire point of the Alliance. We are one. The League failed against the Dilgar because it was not united as one. We will be one. We will have no need to fear them then." G'Kar held his hands together by way of demonstration. He seemed to re-focus slightly. Julia realized he was looking at her. "Captain Andreys. Commander Meridina. It is good to see you again."

"The same to you, G'Kar," Julia answered. For the first time in days she felt relieved. Everything was finally working out.

Now Shai'jhur was showing on the screen too. "Warmaster Shai'jhur. We have much to discuss," G'Kar said.

“Much, G’Kar, much,” Shai’jhur answered softly from the bridge of the Magaratha. “I had held a fear that only the Humans would hear our efforts at peace. But I see it is not so. Let us sit, G’Kar, all at one table. And together, then, we will put an end to the Dilgar War.”

Several days later, several of the ships that had once been in orbit over Tira were now in the orbital spaces over Rohric. G'Kar's ship, the G'Sten, was flanked by the Orsala. The Abbai, Brakiri, and Drazi ships were in a loose formation with the Minbari ship; the Aurora had her own orbit, with the Magaratha having another.

Now two more ships moved into position. A White Star took up a position with the other ships. And the Sirian League carrier Majestic had an orbit of her own.

Given all of the large ships, it was nevertheless little surprise that all of the participants insisted on having their conference on the Aurora. Julia and her officers were yet again in dress whites, but this time the personages were even more plentiful and august than they had been at Cestus 3. Among the tables in Conference Room 1 sat President Sheridan, President Morgan with Admiral Maran, G'Kar, and senior leaders - if not heads of state and government themselves - from the other former League races. Shai'jhur had her own table; Julia sat with President Morgan and Admiral Maran while her officers were among the spectators.

There had been another surprise as well. Another Warlock-class Earth destroyer, the EAS Titans under Captain Susan Ivanova, had arrived at the Rohric Conference. She had completed an upgrade cycle like the Huáscar, and one of her missions was to carry a skeleton crew to reclaim control of the ship from Captain Varma and her renegades who had left so much egg in the face of the Earth Alliance. The second was to deliver a representative of the New Eden Dilgar to the conference.

The years had been far kinder to Ari’shan than they had been to Shai’jhur. The Warmaster was a living wreck scarred by decades on pitiless Rohric, where Ari’shan had become a family man on a lovely, perfect garden world. He was still the shortest and smallest of the sons of Supreme Warmaster Gar’shan, but he had grown into a dignified presence which none could deny.

Shai’jhur was speaking. “Of course, as we now meet, I am already making arrangements to complete the release of seven hundred and four prisoners of war that we presently hold in detention. All were held according to the Geneva Conventions after having been taken as survivors of ships destroyed in operations we conducted after the Fall of Omelos. Unfortunately, no prisoners were within my area of operations upon the Fall of Omelos who predate it; but under my authority the laws and norms of war were observed, and though I understand that there will be protests that some were held in detention for upwards of thirty years, their confinement met all of the standards of international law…”

Julia listened without comment to the ongoing discussion. The end of decades of declared war was not done in an hour's talk. There were legal issues to be handled, such as Shai'jhur's release of prisoners and the status of Tira. The entire peace treaty that had previously been held as in force had to be renegotiated with Shai'jhur and her Union, with every term considered, discussed, bickered over, discussed again, and finalized. It was stultifying work, but it was the basis of diplomacy, the grease that made the wheels of grander moments turn.

The details were still coming together relatively quickly. Shai’jhur asked only for the systems of Omelos, Rohric, Wahant, Innata, and Tira, as well as a region of space with ill-defined jump-routes between them that looped in a semicircle around the antispinward edge of the Tal-kona’sha. Tra’dur had a place, too, showing in a presentation which Cat confirmed as the unbiased observer that the region held at most one garden or water world, so that very little in the way of bountiful space and useful planets were being ceded to the Dilgar by giving them the corridor.

The Cascor had taken the lead in taking responsibility for the actions of the former League powers at Tira, acknowledging the ships Shai’jhur had salvaged from their old fleet as rightful spoils of war. In what had clearly been a bit of horse-trading, the actions of the other old League powers were being ignored in favour of a scheme where only mercenaries who had actively murdered the Dilgar unborn would have charges brought against them, and only of manslaughter, not murder and genocide. This concession had allowed opposition elements in the Syndicracy to take control of the negotiations, and though they were slow, there was clear progress. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be formed instead to evaluate both sides without bringing further charges.

“And I must say, G’Kar, you ought to lead that commission. It seems a perfect role for you,” Shai’jhur said as the conversation turned back to it in relation to claims by the POWs.

G'Kar nodded in reply. "I look forward to the task. Our peoples, all of them, must be given the chance to heal and move forward."

“Then we find ourselves looking at a future,” Shai’jhur answered, “in which the blood has finally ceased to flow…”

As they continued to talk, Joseph Carrouthers from the Alliance Foreign Office Admissions Department stepped up to Julia from the gallery. “If I can have your attention for a moment, Captain?”

Julia turned away from the ongoing discussion and nodded at the man. "Alright," she said.

“We’ve finished the preliminary analysis of the Union’s constitution. The governance structure is a series of five councils of parallel responsibilities, some split into two halves to ape a bicameral legislature, but they’re all small, nine members each. The Warmaster still has a fair number of reserve powers--but in principle the position is elective on a life-term, though standing for it is very difficult. To her credit, Warmaster Shai’jhur has put real effort into securing the independence of the judiciary. There are certainly concerns, but a lot come down to how hard the system is to evaluate because of how radically different from a traditional Earth democracy it is in structure. Based on that, it’s been decided to accept their candidacy. So, as the conference host, you can assure G’Kar that any observation mechanisms based on the Union being a candidate state can be guaranteed. Actual accession may be problematic, since they have such a small population, but that’s a political concern outside the scope of our office. Affiliate status like New Liberty and New Caprica may be an alternative.”

To that Julia nodded. "I'll relay that when appropriate. Thank you, Mister Carrouthers."

Once the layout of G'Kar's Truth and Reconciliation Committee was laid out, one of the Abbai Matriarchs raised the next point. "I would like to hear from the Allied Systems on the status of this Dilgar petition for admission, since it provides such an important foundation for this agreement."

Morgan and Maran both nodded to Julia - the President had certainly been informed beforehand - and she nodded back and leaned forward in her chair. She hadn't spoken much in these talks, even as host, allowing the others to guide the discussion as was warranted. Now some of the most important beings in the E5B1 Universe were giving her their undivided attention. "The Alliance Government has accepted the candidacy of the Union of Tira and Rohric."

"And if their candidacy is rejected by your organization?" That was from a Gaim. "What shall be our recourse then?"

"Well, there are alternatives to outright membership," Julia answered. "Even if their candidacy is ultimately denied, they are eligible for affiliate status with the Alliance, much as the New Liberty Colony and the New Caprica Confederation enjoy already. While this does grant more political independence than normal membership, affiliates are still subject to observation from the Alliance Government to ensure they are in compliance with the Alliance's foreign policies and standing international agreements. So essentially, whether or not they become full members of the Alliance, the Dilgar will be subject to the kind of Alliance oversight this treaty requires."

"Very well," the insectoid alien replied through the electronic voice of its translator. "The Gaim are satisfied by your response."

The other governments all echoed their general agreement.

As Julia was working on reports in the aftermath of the signing ceremony with G’Kar, President Morgan and Warmaster Shai’jhur, the soft trill of the door-buzzer intervened. "Come in," Julia said, looking up. The door slid open and the Warmaster walked in, a quiet expression upon her face. This time, she was alone.

“Captain Andreys. I wanted to take the moment to talk, if I may have some of your time.”

Julia nodded. "Is everything okay?"

“Better than it has ever been before, most likely,” she laughed, and moved to sit. “My latest talks with President Morgan were fortunately not about the peace here, but the war we will shortly be entering.”

"So you're joining the fight against the Reich?" Julia smiled a little. "Given the losses we've endured, you'll be welcome. We can use all of the ships we can get. The way things are going, the Aurora is going to wind up at the front soon."

“Considering that you’re maintaining a permanent neutrality patrol for our space, we had to do something to make up for it. Our starships are hardly like your’s, but forty-five of them will more than compensate for the five ships your government will keep on permanent picket duty. And I also agreed to provide crews and commanders for five war emergency cruisers that will be given to us as lend-lease. And we do have the equipment and ability to mobilize fifteen light divisions for service outside of the Union, so I also committed that to President Morgan.” From such a tiny state in population, it was an incredible effort, and Shai’jhur clearly knew it as she said it.

Julia knew it too. "It's sort of fitting, actually," she said. "I first learned of the existence of your species because people from this universe were comparing your old government to the Nazis. Now you'll be fighting at our side to put an end to the Reich."

“It is a chance for us to regain our honour and dignity. That is very important, for there to be symbols that we are valued and contribute, that who we are is not attrited by the path forward.”

Julia was almost ashamed of the thought in her head. That if any of those Dilgar were harboring doubts of Shai'jhur's reforms, if any of them were inclined to think there was nothing wrong with what their people did, being exposed to the Nazis' atrocities could certainly be persuasion to the contrary. She nodded toward Shai'jhur instead. "I don't think anyone can criticize you on that score if you're helping us put the Nazis down."

“Oh, I’m always ready to be surprised,” she said dryly. “Nonetheless, there are some ways that could help. It’s part of why I came here. I’d like your advice on how it would be possible to get permission for an actual Alliance ship to be commissioned which has a crew that is half Dilgar, and half from the rest of your member nations. I would very much like to have such a symbol of united forces as an inspiration to my people and the Multiverse.”

The thought was an ambitious one, Julia had to admit. "Well, I would bring it up with President Morgan and Admiral Maran, I suppose," she said. "And if you're ever in Portland, it wouldn't hurt to speak to Councilman Zoral from the Defense Committee, or Defense Minister Hawthorne. As much as Hawthorne's not one of my biggest fans, he's also got a lot of pull, and he might help you if he feels there's something to the idea." As the idea circulated in her head Julia nodded. "And I think it's a good idea. And with our shipyards implementing more and more Darglan technology, our biggest problem is finding people to crew ships, not getting new ones built."

“Then I will bring it forward. On the other side of things, I have given Kaveri and Zhengli both commissions as you know, and I intend to put two of the War Emergency Cruisers under their command. Assuming Zhengli recovers well enough for it.”

"I can't imagine what it'd be like to have my crew mutiny on me." Julia shook her head. "Although I guess I'm spoiled by the fact that many of my senior officers are people I grew up with, and with a couple of exceptions I've known them all for years. It's a luxury most captains don't get. I hope she recovers. She'll make a fine addition to the Alliance fleet."

“It’s just been very hard for her. Most of everyone she has known is dead, or thinks her a traitor. But she is not the only one suffering now. There’s the New Eden Dilgar, too.”

"I heard that Earth was expelling them." Julia shook her head. "It seems spiteful. I know that Humans in this universe haven't gotten over the Earth-Minbari War, but the way they go about things seems so counter-productive. I mean, the Minbari are basically gift-wrapping them new technology through the ISA, and some of them still believe this is all some trick to subjugate Humanity. We come along and they hate us too. It makes me wish we showed up a few years earlier in the timeline. Maybe we could have helped put Clark down in a way that didn't let his followers keep their influence…" Julia shook her head. "Although I know that's probably not how it would have gone."

“They’re getting eighteen months, payment at market value, and payment for new homes and relocation. We’re setting aside a more northerly archipelago on Tira for them. I hope their values will help the Tirans; I’ve asked Ari’shan to serve as the planetary governor. It’s still an expulsion, no much how much they’ve tried to sugar-coat it. As for trying to end Clark’s influence…” She shrugged. “Be thankful you are not the only heroes in the whole universe, Captain.”

"I know there are others. I'm reminded every time I get to see Madeleine - Captain Laurent on the Challenger - and Li." Julia's look turned pensive. "When I think about people like Clark and his followers, what they've done, what they might've done… well, I can see why some people think it would be so much easier to just shoot them and be done with it."

Shai'jhur's expression hardened. “Hawk and his people. I read the reports. They’re becoming monsters. Like drug addicts commanding a ship. We Dilgar were lucky, I fear for the next group, tainted by association, who faces their lynch law.”

Julia nodded. "The damn thing is that he, they, are utterly sincere. They think they're out to make the Multiverse a better place. It reminds me of why we can't go around 'killing the bad guys'. It becomes far too easy to start seeing the world in black and white and to think you can be the absolute judge of it. Getting to decide who lives and dies…" Julia shook her head. "...I don't think anyone should have that right. Not by themselves."

“Well. I won’t dwell on it, except to hope I won’t have to face them again. If nothing else, I don’t want any of my people being overzealous. The cloning chambers on Tira left a mark.” She stretched and flashed her claws for a moment, before her expression lightened and she continued. “I’m taking up too much of your time, for which I apologize. However, I did have another matter to ask about before departing, if I may.”

"Go right ahead." Julia grinned. "This is why I keep up with paperwork."

“Well then. I’d like for my daughter Tra’dur to be formally assigned as an exchange officer to the Aurora. She worked well here, got along with your crew, and contributed materially. You have helped us, we should repay the debt. And she’s very eager for the chance.”

Julia considered the idea. The reports from Cat, Lucy, and Lindstrom had all made clear how useful Tra'dur had been in stopping the bombs on the barrage gates, and the Dilgar science officer seemed quite eager. After several seconds she nodded. "I'll recommend it. Admiral Maran can put her into the Transfer Officer Training Program and get her into the next course right away."

“Thank you. I’d make one other offer--for a friendly baseball game between the crew-team on the Magaratha and your own--but Rohric is, alas, not very welcoming to foreigners. Perhaps when we visit you at another port?”

Shai'jhur couldn't have anticipated the wince that briefly formed on Julia's face. Julia noticed the confusion that showed on the Dilgar ruler's expression and fought to turn her expression into a friendlier one. "Sorry," she said. "Yes, that sounds like it'd be fun. There are quite a few baseball fans and players on the crew." But not the one who should be here…

“Well, if the chance comes… With my regards.” She reached down, and fishing it from her pocket, offered Julia a baseball. “It will be interesting. The Centauri only had a copy of the 1903 rules.”

"Oh, it will be," Julia agreed, forcing a smile on her face as she accepted the baseball. It looked off, which was understandable given the Dilgar were a century behind the game Julia learned about growing up. The hard part was the thought of Zack that went through her head while looking it over. "And I'm looking forward to the game." And hoping Zack will be back for it...

The talks had finished. The agreements had been signed. The old League races and the new races of the ISA were departing. Lawfully, formally, and in fact, there was peace. The Dilgar lived. And now, there were just the loose ends of the changes that had been wrought. Like this one.

“Good Morning, Ari’shan,” Shai’jhur offered as the legendary pilot entered. She was seated next to Kaveri with breakfast. “I know you look like you have something very important to ask me, but please, sit, we’ve enough food for you as well.”

He glanced between the two of them before moving to sit. “Shai’jhur. It has been a very long time since we’ve seen each other, even if that was only in passing. Miss Varma. A pleasure to meet you again.” The younger Dilgar inclined his head in respectful greeting. “I accept the hospitality.”

“A long time indeed. Certainly no chance to ever speak privately before. I’m sorry about the affairs with New Eden being what they are, but… My offer to tap you as the Governor of Tira is sincere, and I hope you’re giving it considerable thought.”

“The Earth Alliance has a similar divergence of opinion to… well, no. That’s not true. The civil war proved, as loathe as I am to admit it, that Jha’dur was right. The humans could have been us, with different pressures. Just as we could have been them. I will accept the position, with some reservations and caution. We need to move forward, and you offer our best chance of doing so, with the expulsion of my people from human space.”

“Thank you, Governor.” Shai’jhur grinned and leaned back. “Obviously, all of your reservations have to be within the constitution, but I don’t think that will be an issue. I will be appointing my eldest daughter Tai’jhur as my Seneschal, as I expect to be commanding the expeditionary force against the Nazis…”

“On the note of my sister, Warmaster… I cannot help but notice your daughters, some of them share a very… rare but storied clan name that differs from your own.”

Shai’jhur blinked, looking like a woman for all the world trying to avoid something she should have known was coming. “Well, they are related to the House of Dur. I’d hardly give that name to some of my children in idle…”

Kaveri spoke up, a softly hesitant tone in the way she spoke, “I had wondered the same, I admit. There were only two at the start of the war, and only one at the end…”

Shai’jhur stiffened, silent.

“If they are my sister’s, Warmaster, I do not hold it against them, or you. Jha’dur was… brilliant, a mind of the like not seen in a thousand years… but the burdens she bore… also turned her into what she became. Your daughters seem… very much like what I wish she could have been - what she wanted to be.”

Shai’jhur’s voice cut with unusual vehemence. “I had to find some way to honour her…. Honour our fleet! We fought, and we died by the tens of thousands, and I approved the curricula, I gave the orders -- no praise, no glory, no honour for all of those who perished…” She collapsed, weeping freely. “Damn it all, but all of those ghosts haunt me and I must tell them that they are remembered as a faceless mass led to die by the evil.”

“She was our leader. The Warmaster of First Strike Fleet. You know that, you know that. We all loved her. Every one of us would die for her, and most of us did. Ari’shan, Kaveri… She was our symbol, our commander. I had to honour her and the dead through her, somehow. So, I found my way.” She wiped at her tears and looked up, blinking wide, yellow eyes. “The genetic database of the Warmasters. I had Spectre Fei’nur salvage it. The second genetic donor to all six of my children is Warmaster Jha’dur.”

Ari’shan nodded, slowly. “I understand the bonds of comrades in war, Shai’jhur, and I understand the desire to find something to tell ourselves it was worth it.”

Kaveri looked more pensive for a long moment, before reaching out to embrace the smaller Dilgar and pull her closer. “You have done no evil in this.” A pause. “Do they know? I assume so, by their ages…” Kaveri would ask, pitching her question loud enough for Ari’shan to hear, as the aging pilot leaned back, shaking his head at the thought of what Jha’dur would have thought to have six kits… by Shai’jhur. Gods, but she’d have been furious, I think. I think.

“Yes,” Shai’jhur was answering Kaveri “I taught them honestly. They know she’s their mother, too, and they can make their own decisions about her as long as they understand the policy of the government. For the most part, I think they’re very mature… Though, Ari’shan, you may want to talk to Nah’dur someday. I think she quietly idolizes Jha’dur. She’s my youngest and she’s always been terrifically impertinent…”

“So was Jha’dur, once she had her confidence. I will try and give your youngest a further understanding of Jha’dur, beyond the likely ideal she idolizes.”

“Thank you…” Shai’jhur laughed harshly and bitterly. “Jha’dur commanded me to have children to do my duty by my race. I have done my duty. Her blood will enrich us for a thousand generations, more brilliant than any other Dilgar who has ever lived. The humans would never understand--present company excepted--but I actually think Supreme Warmaster Jha’dur might: I had a moral, ethical duty to keep her blood from perishing from the diversity of our race. And the House of Dur deserved my womb and household to its service, for no others could be trusted with the duty of raising up her line. Gods hold us fast.”

“She was always seeking to make herself difficult to understand, Warmaster. In the later months of the war… that side of her may not have. She certainly always felt the pressure of being one of the only Dur, and when her brother was killed… she changed. Despite everything, I…” Ari’shan trailed off. “She was my sister, and the Vorlons likely killed her. Not even seeing my pilot’s wings could shake her out of her course, when the EIA went to talk with her on Babylon 5, to try and invite her to New Eden. Her shadow will be something we may someday succeed in escaping, but her legacy is another matter.”

“I don’t wish to escape it completely,” Shai’jhur replied bluntly. “Oh, I have made myself more human than I often care to admit, Ari’shan. Let my daughters become more human than sometimes pleases me. I can love a human without being one. Gods, but it seems poor Zheng-li is more interested in our culture than her own at this point, so I understand the feeling of, ah, alienation. But Jha’dur did give one overriding objective in the war, that seemed to still be the reason she refused to come to New Eden, an objective sound enough that I obey it, gods protect the Alliancers from ever finding out. Keep the Dilgar, Dilgar.”

Ari’shan’s face pinched in a bit of upset anger. “I did the best I could to lead my people, Warmaster. The Alliance had requirements, demands, things that had to be done.”

“Oh, in your place I’d have done the same, Gods, don’t get me wrong! You had fifty thousand. Keep our blood alive and trust that the blood is strong! That was it, I understand. But for me, I wanted the political and cultural foundations of participatory governance and of Law to be fundamentally Dilgar, untainted by human example. I don’t know what she’d think, but I think this was the right cut to make.”

“You held to the old oaths, and the laws, as I wished we could have during the war. The Alliance… they never told me details of… anything, really. I had human friends, yes, before most died fighting the Minbari. What they did tell me, however…” He leaned forward, and whispered directly into Shai’jhur’s ear, before sitting back, holding a disquieted expression on his face.

Shai’jhur rocked back in her chair and looked between the two of them. “Gods. May I not live to see the day.”

“I would not hold out hope that fate is yet done with our people, Warmaster, but we are Dilgar, and we will go forward, together, all of us.”

“Excuse me? Battlemaster? Are you quite all right?” The nervously respectful Dilgar trembled, even at using the rank with a human, no matter what uniform she was in. He had come from the tiny glassware shop across the narrow hall on the station, and probably ran it. She had been there for several hours, not moving from the seat in the hallway, staring out at the stars. And she was far from the places that officers and government agents usually congregated.

“No, but I thank you for asking.” Her lips and tongue weren’t quite designed for the hisses and growls of Dilgar, but she replied easily enough, looking up and giving a polite, if strained, smile, keeping her ‘fangs’ behind her lips so as to not give unintentional challenge to a stranger. “Do you make your glass, or resell that others do? Forgive me for asking. Is my sitting here an issue? You may speak freely.” I think that may have been the most words I have strung together in three days.

“We make our own,” he answered proudly, “in the zero-gravity sectors. It is one of the few arts we can afford, and it is lovely. Would you like to come into the shop and see, M’lady? You’ve done nothing wrong, but we worried you were unwell and wished to call someone if you needed it and we might be of service.”

“We?” She forced herself to stand, brushing imaginary lint off her uniform jacket as she did. “Please, show me? It has been a difficult last few weeks, and I will be off to war soon enough, it seems. What is your name? I am Zhengli’Varma.” Somehow, the syllables rolling together felt right in her head.

The man smiled a little nervously. “It is a grand name, certainly, Battlemaster. Clan Varma is already well-respected, considering the stories that have been told around the Warmaster’s work. You were at Tira, then. Please, come as an honoured guest. The we is myself, my mate, my eldest who work this all. We are lucky, to be stationers, and lucky too, to have our own business when so much serves the needs of the state. I shall be pleased to show you our art.”

“I would be pleased to see it. Be at ease, I have come from humble roots, and not forgotten whence I did.”

“I would honour you for what you have done, not who you are, Battlemaster.” He paused at the front of the shop, hesitating for a moment. “In those ages past of my mother and father’s time, that was what we aspired to. To be judged by what we had done, not who we were. Now, the Warmaster teaches us that lesson well. Here, Battlemaster, come and see my wares, and judge us for what we have done, too. I shall be very proud if M’lady approves. If you are to be among us, it makes me happy that you would learn our art and our ways! I never dreamed aliens would do such.”

“An honest craftsman’s work is always worthy of approval. If you have some of our classical work that will survive most of what a spacer may throw at it, I shall be quite keen to acquire at least a small set.”

He paused, and looked at her for a moment at her use of our… And then smiled. “I do have some pieces in the classical tradition of Dilgar art, and a few of the solid glass ones will surely stand a pounding in the quarters of a starship commander…”
Later, looking back on that moment, Zhengli realized it was the first time she had really felt comfortable since she had involuntarily left Babylon-5.

Shai’jhur was sitting at her desk on Far Outer Station, reading through the copious masses of files she had to authorize, most of them relating to the admissions process for the Alliance that she had begun. Sitting there, sometimes drinking tea, she was thoroughly subdued until the moment of a familiar rustling.

Fei’nur at least had the grace to look uncomfortable, as she wavered into view. “Forgive me, Warmaster… but if I may? I don’t think Warmaster Jha’dur spared you solely due to your competence. In her personal effects salvaged from Vendetta, I found… this…”

In her hand was a ragged old magazine, glossy and plastered with gaudy advertisements, one of a multitude that had hawked cheap consumer goods on Omelos, before the war.

Shai’jhur saw that in block letters the advertisements had been overwritten by two words: Practical Cookbook. Quietly, and with a bit of trembling anticipation, she opened the pages. Inside, carefully and neatly cut, were parts of labels, carefully glued to pages. She recognized them immediately, though the words were preserved to remove any doubt.

Jhur Family Canned Meat Products
A Handy Recipe for Family Satisfaction
With meat from wonderful radiation-free Rohric!

“Warmaster, I believe that you were spared because of the memories she had of those cans, of what they had represented to her when she was trying to survive.” Her eyes flickered up to fix on Shai’jhur’s. “What yourself and Battlemaster Varma had done would not likely have otherwise been forgiven.”

“When she… I read the files, you well know. When she was an orphan, and dreadfully poor. Her and her brother must have half-lived off the cans my family’s ranches produced, didn’t they?” She looked at the pages, half trembling and half spellbound.

“She never spoke of such things, Warmaster. You know she was intensely private about her life, but… if you could accept the occasional bit of bloody coughing when the sterilizing didn’t quite work properly, it was the best canned meat you could get, on the kind of money my family had. She was always logical. Avoiding the sorts of contaminants in the other foods at that price point would be worth it.”

Shai’jhur grew very still, and stared down at the faded can labels glued onto the advertisements. They had been neatly, with a child’s hand, organized by type of recipe. They had been carefully pressed. It was a smart girl, taking special care to make a useful thing that would last. Old above her time, wise for her age. Brilliant.

But just a poor orphan girl trying to help her brother.

“Have you ever thought that life is just a collection of great circles, and that Jha’dur and I simply spent decades traveling ours?” Shai’jhur’s voice was cracked and hoarse, but not from the spores. She looked up. “Though she cannot know it, and did not know it when she gave the command, Warmaster Jha’dur saved the Dilgar.”

“I wish to think, Warmaster, that she would be happy for it. She did not want what was thrust upon her, the power, the responsibility. It destroyed her, but in the end… she won. We Dilgar endure, making our own path.”

“In another century there will be billions of Dilgar again. They will have the chance to set their own course, and the Alliance will shelter us until we can stand on our own feet. It will be their decision whence to take the next step in the journey. We will be in our graves… And I think I’m glad for that.”

“I hope the Supreme Warmaster has a chance to see this, and some-day live amongst us again, ma’am. She deserves that much, wherever she is.”

Shai’jhur stared at the wall for a long time. She didn’t answer the last Spectre’s comment. Then she quietly folded the cookbook closed and handed it to Fei’nur. “Give this to Nah’dur when she’s mature enough to understand it. She’ll be the one to appreciate it the most.”

“Yes, Warmaster, I shall. She will be proud of them all, I think.” The tall woman stepped back, and shimmered back out of visibility once more.
"A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air." – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

Post by Steve » Wed Jan 17, 2018 4:41 pm


The Starship Aurora continued a quiet orbit over the dead world, the last testament to the people who had made her and the organization she represented possible. The ship's vigil over the broken world of She'teyal, the homeworld of the extinct Darglan species, was a temporary assignment. The Shenzhou was now leading the Alliance task force monitoring the borders of the Dilgar Union, and her replacement as the ship overseeing the excavations on the Darglan homeworld would not arrive for another day or so.

Julia stood alone in her quarters looking out on the dead world. Her uniform for the next day was already laid out, while her silver nightgown shined slightly in the dimmed lights of her quarters. Sixteen months ago she had stood on the surface of She'teyal in an EVA suit, looking out on the ruins left by the species that changed her life long after they had been exterminated. It was that same mission that prompted their first contact with the races of the E5B1 universe and their first visit to Babylon-5, which in turn had made their participation in the history of the last two weeks possible.

The past few months felt like a whirlwind even by the standards of her life since the discovery of the Darglan Facility beneath the mound on the Dale family's farm. As Captain of the Aurora she had gone from a desperate battle against the Cylons to the stand-off with the Aururians, the Fracture survey mission and the encounter and battle there, and now the fight over the fate of the Dilgar. It seemed like these quiet moments were few and far between given those crises. She wondered if it would get any worse, and figured that it probably would.

At the same time, the accomplishments made it all worthwhile. Thanks to her efforts the Aururian Empire and their rivals, the League of Democratic Worlds, were allies in the war with the Reich. The Cylon threat had been thwarted. Princess Allura and her Castle of Lions - and that green lion ship piloted by Katie "Pidge" Holt - had been protected from being seized by NEUROM's sinister Ministry of Fate, winning the Alliance a potentially powerful ally in the long term, and in the process learning more about the origins of the Falaens of Universe A7R6. And this situation with the Dilgar… because of that, Julia had literally sat at the same table as the President of the Allied Systems while serving as the host of one of the greatest assemblages of leaders the E5B1 universe, maybe even the whole Multiverse, had seen. The likes of President John Sheridan and G'Kar had treated her as a figure of respect. Growing up, she had always anticipated becoming some business owner, or maybe a low level politician, when she dreamed about gaining responsibility and becoming a leader. Thanks to the Darglan, her dreams had become nothing compared to the reality of her accomplishments.

And yet… and yet there was a bittersweet taste to it. A bittersweet taste that became the center of Julia's thoughts when her eyes met the invitation Shai'jhur had offered. The Dilgar leader's interest in Human culture had felt bizarre at times but, in the light of what the Dilgar went through, understandable. That they picked baseball of all sports to emulate…

Julia found that, like before, she couldn't look at anything concerning baseball without thinking of Zack Carrey. He was her friend, and knowing he was out there suffering following the loss on New Caprica…

And then there was Robert Dale. Her oldest, truest friend in the world, the one person who was without a doubt her soulmate. Months in a coma, then waking up to find that the powers he'd barely been capable with were suddenly greater than he ever imagined. Cumulatively he'd been gone for half of a year now, a void that she thought of whenever he wasn't there to share breakfast or dinner, or to discuss their missions, or simply chat about how their lives were going. She found that, regardless of her success, she missed them both.

We're supposed to be doing this together she thought. The three of us, and the others…

Julia finally stepped away from the window and went over to her desk. She sat there for a quiet moment, looking over the Dilgar-made baseball Shai'jhur had gifted her, until she could no longer stop herself. A tap of a key activated the comm systems. The Aurora's interuniversal and subspace transceiver arrays stood ready to transmit whatever she wrote or said.

She smiled warmly. "Hey Zack," she said. "Uh… it's been a while and I just wanted to let you know that we miss you. I hope you're getting a handle on things. I know you've been through a lot, and I'm sorry that I didn't do enough to help you deal with it. Maybe then… maybe you wouldn't have left…"

A hundred light-years and a universe away from the Starship Aurora and the lifeless world of She'teyal was a garden world of Universe S2C3 that, two years before, was dubbed Guanxi. The settlers of the planet were initially Chinese from the planet New Guangdong in Universe L2M1. But as sometimes happened with these worlds the flow of migrants shifted and the primary settlement of Deng Guo City was now heavily populated by Caucasian and South Asian settlers from the D3R1 universe, mostly Colonial Confederation or individuals who decided the Arcturan Freeholds were a bit too "free" for their personal comfort (and safety).

The resulting melange of cultures and languages gave Deng Guo City - "Deegee City" to the local English speakers - some unique aspects, including a growing patois of Malayalam, English, and Chinese. What was certainly not unique was the usual kinds of establishments to cater to the ships coming and going from the Deng Guo City Spaceport. Guanxi was the breadbasket of the Allied System colonies in S2C3, and the spaceport was often full of ships landing to pick up foodstuffs for the mining colonies and settlements in nearby star systems while dropping off everything from raw ore to consumer goods manufactured elsewhere. The trading ships came from the local Human star nations to add their own goods to the local markets and to pick up Alliance-made consumer goods for sale elsewhere. Catering to these spacers and merchants were the usual assortment of bars, drinking holes, and brothels. Sometimes they were even under the same roof.

One such bar was an establishment with the eccentric name of "Pop Tate's Chocolate Shop". It was not quite disreputable but leaning in that direction. Inside a handful of patrons, mostly spacers or people passing through, were seated at tables. A holo-vid viewer displayed a news report about the war in S4W8. An old school jukebox was playing music from the local S2C3 Humanity's listings, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds". Only two men were up at the bar, nursing drinks.

One of them was Zachary Carrey.

He was in civilian wear, a jean jacket with a wool-lined collar over a faded blue shirt with the insignia of his old minor league baseball team on it. Blue jean pants the same color as his jacket were buckled by a black leather belt around his waist. A pair of blue sneakers covered his feet, which were perched up on the stool he was seated upon. A half-finished glass of bourbon was set before him while his eyes were fixed on the digital pad in his hand. Audio continued to play.

"Maybe then… maybe you wouldn't have left…" said the voice of the woman he loved more than anything in the Multiverse, a fact that further fueled the guilt he felt within. "I just wish you would stop hating yourself. You deserve to be happy too. Even if you go through with this resignation, if you leave the Koenig and Aurora behind… please, just find something you love doing, and do it. Don't waste your life away. Clara wouldn't want that. Rob wouldn't. I don't want that. Please. I know that you blame yourself for Clara…"

With a tap of a key on the device, Zack paused the audio message from Julia. A swipe of his finger brought up the image he kept on the display. Clara looked resplendent in her crisp white nurse's uniform. Her dimpled smile was as radiant as a star. Looking into those bright eyes, full of love, was like a stab to Zack's heart; those eyes would never be bright again. He closed his own eyes as tears formed in them and his mind flashed back to the mining facility on New Caprica. To the sight of Clara's body, riddled with bullets fired from a Cylon Centurion.

Although he knew it was futile to try, Zack grabbed the glass of bourbon and downed what he had left, as if it could wash away that painful memory.

"Too bad it doesn't work," a voice grumbled.

Zack set the glass down and turned his head to the left. Two stools down was another bar patron. He was an older man, probably in his forties Zack guessed, or maybe thirties and a very hard life. His black hair was grown out some, not quite to shoulder level, but his beard and mustache weren't. Bits of gray showed in the beard.

"My dad never gave up trying," Zack mumbled. "So it must have done something." He slid the glass forward and, after a moment of inward struggle, produced a plastic bill of currency for the nearby bartender, a grizzled man in his fifties with a dark bronze complexion. A bottle of bourbon whiskey was produced from under the bar and employed to refill his glass. The money disappeared.

"Lovely lady you've got," the other man said. "Sad story there, I'm guessin'." He produced his own currency. More brown fluid was poured into his glass.

"Yeah." Zack looked over his new drinking partner. He was in a white shirt, short-sleeved, with well-developed muscle on his tattooed arms. The shirt hung down over a pair of camo-patterned pants. There was a hardness in the distant look in his brown eyes. Zack spotted an object in the other man's hand, a photo of someone with a Caucasian skin tone. Given the position of the man's thumb he couldn't quite make out the face or other features, but Zack could see red hair that looked like it had been pulled into a ponytail. "I guess I'm not the only sad story." Zack brought the glass to his lips and took a small drink.

"You could say that," the older man said. "Your sad story?"

Zack took another drink and forced it down. The haze of the alcohol was spreading through his head. "She came out here because of me. She died out here trying to help people. And the damned thing is, I didn't deserve her at all. As much as I loved her, I'm in love with someone else."

"Right." The man nodded. He took a drink.

"Your's?" asked Zack.

"Not dead."


Even through the haze growing in his head, Zack could see the haunted look that came to those eyes. "Worse," was all he said.

Zack nodded wordlessly. And he took another drink.

The haze in his head was such that he didn't quite pay attention when the other man got a call. The voice of another man was speaking, a younger man with a crisp, military tone that reminded Zack of Apley. Zack caught a reference to the ship being ready but little else. When the discussion was over the older man quietly stood from his stool. He made sure to collect the photo of the red-headed woman. He left a small pile of bills on the bar. "Here. Another one, on me," he said to Zack.

Zack almost asked his name, but it came out slurred, and it was too late besides. His drinking partner was gone.

The bartender collected the cash and poured Zack another drink. Zack turned the message from Julia back on and listened to her plead with him to not Clara's death destroy him, how everyone cared for him, all of that fun stuff that was both true and yet not what he needed to hear. Zack finally sighed and turned the message off. He fumbled for another bill.

The bartender shook his head. "No more for you," he said, in an accent that was vaguely South Asian Indian. "Time to go."

Zack frowned at that. He scooped the money back up and went to the door.

He never saw the blow coming. Pain shot through the alcoholic haze and he span about, hitting the ground with a surprised cry. Bleary, he looked up in time for a man to grab him by the collar and haul him bodily into a nearby alley. Once there a fist slammed into his chest, right above his stomach and over his diaphragm, knocking the wind out of him. Zack crumbled to the ground. Someone kicked him in the side. He heard voices speaking but they made no sense. He looked up to see three men arrayed around him. He glimpsed something dark in the hands of one, who was shouting something to the others.

Then there was another voice. The men turned. One went for a weapon, but before he could bring the gun up he went flying. Zack nearly fell unconscious at that point and was only vaguely aware that his attackers were being beaten back. By the time his senses had returned - relatively speaking given how much bourbon he'd had - he was alone with just one other figure in the alley. His rescuer was in a jacket… no, not a jacket, a robe, of brown color, with a hood that cast shadows that obscured the face. He could just make out what looked like loose cream-colored pants on the legs of the figure. Something in his head told him he'd seen this kind of clothing before. It wasn't Human-style clothing, but something close…?

His rescuer reached up and lowered his hood. This revealed the face of a bearded man, the beard made of dark hair - darker than Zack's own - and well-trimmed.

But what finally caused Zack's mind to recognize his rescuer was the warmth in his familiar green eyes, the same warmth evident in the man's voice as he reached down to take Zack's hand.

"Hey Zack," said Robert Dale, grinning at his friend as he helped Zack to his feet. "It's been a while."
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed Jan 17, 2018 7:03 pm

Wait, you weren't kidding about a Pop Tate's... a LITERAL Pop Tate's. I bet those thugs were a gang called the Reggies. :P

I'm kinda glad to see Robert back, but not on a captain's chair. :P

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

Post by Steve » Thu Jan 18, 2018 3:50 am

Shroom Man 777 wrote:
Wed Jan 17, 2018 7:03 pm
Wait, you weren't kidding about a Pop Tate's... a LITERAL Pop Tate's. I bet those thugs were a gang called the Reggies. :P

I'm kinda glad to see Robert back, but not on a captain's chair. :P
I never actually got the reference until you mentioned something else about it, I was just going by your sarcastic comment about burning a flag if I had Zack and Robert meet at "Pop Tate's Chocolate Shop". :D Granted, you specified if it was in Oregon, so I put it on a colony world and have it being run by a Keralan guy. 8-)
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:37 pm

BTW, did you recognize Zack's drinking partner? :D
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:52 pm

Steve wrote:
Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:37 pm
BTW, did you recognize Zack's drinking partner? :D
Aha. :P

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

Post by wellis » Sun Jan 21, 2018 5:54 am

Steve wrote:
Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:37 pm
BTW, did you recognize Zack's drinking partner? :D

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

Post by Steve » Mon Jan 22, 2018 5:38 pm

wellis wrote:
Sun Jan 21, 2018 5:54 am
Steve wrote:
Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:37 pm
BTW, did you recognize Zack's drinking partner? :D
The clues are there. Guess. :mrgreen:
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by speaker-to-trolls » Wed Jan 24, 2018 7:48 am

"so you've been training on Gersal, learning to use those powers... So wait, are you a swervy, sweevy, knight-whatever? Holy shit, you are aren't you? This is your dream, you are an actual white knight."

"Well not exactly"

"Yeah exactly! I bet they have you a robot charger, and you're all running around saving maidens from being eaten by geth or whatever and going `forsooth and sirrah my lady!`"

"No it isn't, Zack! Well, OK, once"

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

Post by Steve » Wed Jan 24, 2018 9:47 pm

That made me LOL.

I look forward to revealing some of what Robert's been up to in the near three months in-setting from when he left for Gersal at the end of 3-02. :)
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